Asgardians of the Galaxy. The name of this comic is perfect for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a great pun -- it’s so good, in fact, that writer Cullen Bunn freely admits in the back matter to the issue that it was the germ of the whole idea. More than that though, it exactly fits what this comic is -- or, perhaps more accurately, Bunn writes a great first issue that lives up to the premise of the concept. And like the B-Sharps in The Simpsons, it’s a name that’s funny at first, but grows more and more appropriate the more time you spend with it. The reason for that is pretty simple: with this cast of characters, Bunn hasn’t just gathered a group of Asgardians to “guard the galaxy.” They’re the misfits, the A-holes, a ragtag team of fringe Asgardians that never quite seem to fit in, a team that's been brought together by subterfuge and circumstance to become the unlikely heroes that we as the audience see in all of them. Even the frog.
Asgardians of the Galaxy #1 does what every debut issue of a team book does: it gets the band together. Archaeologist Annabelle Riggs is our surrogate here, and we follow her as she’s dragged from her romantic moment (ain’t it always the way?) into the cosmic madness that will undoubtedly follow this team around. Bunn moves us forward and backward through the narrative freely in order to pace the issue effectively, and through Riggs’ counterpart Valkyrie we see both reasons why she’s a part of the team: her archaeology skills, and her ability to kick some ass.
It’s the former attribute we see first, as Angela -- long-forgotten sister to Thor and Loki, and the apparent leader of the group -- is utilizing Annabelle’s gifts for relic hunting to interpret the runes on an ancient monument. As the issue progresses from one action scene (involving a veritable “who’s who” of alien bad guys from dozens of Thor back issues) to the next, we discover that Angela is on the hunt for something, and has enlisted the help of these criminals and misfits to achieve it. Obviously, Annabelle reasons, whatever Angela is up to is something she can’t turn to Thor or Odin for, so instead she’s assembled fellow outcasts who won’t shy away from a fight, but neither will they turn her in.
Another thing Bunn freely admits is the fact that both Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War have influenced this issue, if not directly within the narrative then by allowing a concept like this to see the light of day. It’s clear that the current direction of cosmic Marvel in the Cinematic Universe has influenced this issue, but that’s not a bad thing. Asgardians of the Galaxy would conceptually fit right into the MCU, down to the fact that at least two of the characters share the look of their big screen counterparts, as well as the blend of humor and action that Bunn balances so well here.
There’s a small concern that fans of the movies who might see this issue and want to pick it up (and they absolutely should) wouldn’t know who half the cast is, but Bunn manages to convey their characters and personalities really well without resorting to lengthy, unnecessary exposition. There’s also a brief guide at the back of this issue just in case more is required. Really though, this could and, in some cases will be the reader’s first introduction to these characters; their strange and highly implausible backstories aren’t necessary homework in order to “get” this issue, much like -- to continue the comparison -- the history of each of the Guardians wasn’t needed before you saw that first movie.
Artist Matteo Lolli is a great fit for Asgardians of the Galaxy. His history on Deadpool comics means that he has the knack for visual comedy down and, along with Bunn’s script, provides some truly funny moments thanks to excellent pacing and characterization. Throg (a frog with the power of Thor, obviously) is bound to be a highlight in that sense, and Lolli uses both the introduction and visualization of him to full comedic effect, not to mention the terrified reactions of the bad guys when they see what this little Amphibious Asgardian can do. You get the sense that Thunderstrike -- essentially a dude-bro Thor -- and Throg could be the next Rocket and Groot.
There are multiple moments that call for the widescreen treatment, and Lolli delivers. A field of battle, a cosmic graveyard and a mythical fleet of ships all get double-page spreads, and colorist Federico Blee brings each page to glorious life with rich, otherworldly blues and pinks. This is an adventure not just in the stars, but in the grand Marvel cosmos, and as such, there’s not a single panel that’s not drenched in bright alien colors and hues.
This may be one of Cullen Bunn’s finest superhero books, and although he accredits its timing to the ongoing Infinity Wars event -- the events of which are directly referenced in the narrative, and could indeed play a more significant part going forward -- it’s clear that the success of movies like Thor: Ragnarok has made this a very timely debut indeed. There is humor and action here, but also the smallest twinklings of heart appearing, as well as the promise of some genuinely fascinating interplay between the characters. Almost all of the cast has strong, complicated histories, but Bunn manages to remain faithful to each of their personalities while also refreshing and updating them, and proving that there’s room for more than one team of A-holes.