Guardians of the Galaxy #4

Artist Sara Pichelli joins frequent collaborator Brian Michael Bendis on "Guardians of the Galaxy" #4 for a nice interlude that gives the team some downtime and builds up the relationships a bit. This is exactly the type of issue new artists should always receive. The quiet exposition of the issue gives Pichelli time and space to introduce readers to her take on all of these characters.

Pichelli quickly wins readers over with her ability to master emotions and character acting. The major beneficiary of this acting is, surprisingly, the always-wooden Groot. The issue opens with Peter Quill and his team celebrating their defeat and humiliation of the Spartax. Toasts are raised to Groot for saving the day and Pichelli draws a most unexpected reaction from Groot that made me chuckle and confirmed one thing: Pichelli's name deserves to be in the same breath as Kevin Maguire. Not only does she have a strong mastery of expression, but her page construction is clean, her storytelling is crisp and her knack for details is most impressive. I know she's not the quickest of artists, but she's already one-third of the way to being on this title as long as previous artist Steve McNiven.

Bendis' story is written to highlight Pichelli's skill, with each of the characters receiving spotlight moments and the book itself running the full gamut of action to accomplishment. Tony Stark still struggles to find his spot among the stars and feels tremendously out of place, except for putting the moves on Gamora. Those moves aren't really impressive, but Bendis makes the love connection for the two characters. Part of that might be to teach Stark a lesson, but more extensively it reduces Gamora to a plot device. At least until she's presented with an opportunity to kick some butt. It seems like Bendis might still be figuring out everyone's roles and purpose on the team, but some are more further developed and integral than others. I'm still not in love with his choices for Rocket Raccoon, but at least his treatment of the character is consistent.

Quieter issues like this do wonders for the creators and the readers, giving everyone a chance to take a breath and assess the situation. Bendis and Pichelli manage to keep "Guardians of the Galaxy" #4 from feeling like a by-the-numbers fill-in comic book by layering in a subplot that bears further investigation and giving every character room to stretch as the series prepares to bring Angela, fresh from her Marvel Universe debut, into the mix.

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