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INTERVIEW: Bendis on the Changing Face of Marvel’s “Guardians” and their “Galaxy”

by  in Comic News Comment
INTERVIEW: Bendis on the Changing Face of Marvel’s “Guardians” and their “Galaxy”

Comprised of a complex network of interstellar empires, geopolitical crises occur on a massive scale in the Marvel Universe. When change arrives, it affects billions of life forms, from average citizens to soldiers, from criminals to the champions that protect the galaxy’s inhabitants from threats both large and small. The greatest of these heroes are the Guardians of the Galaxy, who will find themselves dealing with the collapse of great intergalactic powers when “All-New, All-Different Marvel” arrives in October, bringing with it a brand new “Guardians of the Galaxy” #1 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Valerio Schiti.

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Jumping eight months into the future and picking up from the book’s previous volume, the relaunched “Guardians of the Galaxy” will feature a very different galaxy than the one that existed prior to “Secret Wars” and the team will be dealing with a very new dynamic as Ben Grimm and Kitty Pryde join their fellow cosmic heroes on the squad. CBR News spoke with Bendis about the new cast dynamics, what the Fantastic Four’s Thing and the veteran X-Man bring to the table, and the turbulent state of the cosmic corner of the Marvel U.

CBR News: October will see the release of a new volume of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and like Marvel’s other All-New, All-Different titles this one will be jumping eight months into the future. I know that’s a literary device you enjoy, but what is about jumping readers into a story en medias res that you like so much?

Brian Michael Bendis: I like having the reader go, “Whoa, whoa whoa! How did that happen?” It’s fun. I’ve done this in my creator-owned books; skipping a year here and there and not doing flashbacks unless there is some really interesting way to do them.

In this instance — and god bless [“Secret Wars” writer] Jon [Hickman] for setting up this situation — we get to open up basically a year later on the story we were already telling in the last volume. So at the end of the last volume Star-Lord is presented with the idea that he should be the leader of the planet his father used to lead, Spartax, his other home planet, and he was torn between that and being a space pirate and his relationship with Kitty Pryde. It’s heady stuff.

So we pick up almost a year later and the Guardians have a different shape to them than they did a year before. Peter is somewhere and Gamora is somewhere. We’ll find out where they are and what they’ve been doing. Some people have noticed that there are some characters not on the cover to issue #1 and they’ve already asked, “Where are all the ladies at?” I’m happy to say you will find out in issue #1.

So even though Gamora is not on the #1 cover that doesn’t mean she’s not part of the book?

Yes, and for those of you looking for Gamora and what’s going on with her I highly recommend picking up [the “Secret Wars” series] “Guardians of Knowhere.” There’s a lot going on in that book that will fall out into this new volume of “Guardians of the Galaxy” including the debut of two major cosmic villains that will find their way into the book very, very soon. So if you want to see their first appearances check out “Guardians of Knowhere” featuring art by Mike Deodato, Jr.!

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I read that when you pick things up Rocket Raccoon is now in charge of the Guardians, and if I remember Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” run correctly this is not the first time he’s been in that position, correct?

Yes, that is true, but here it’s what kind of leader he is. Some people assume the mantle of leadership just by their actions, and other people stand up on a table and go “I’m in charge! ME! And everyone is going to listen!” Meanwhile there’s characters like Kitty Pryde, Ben Grimm, Drax and Flash [Thompson, AKA Agent Venom] who has a lot of military experience. So there’s a lot of quality leadership on that team and just because you stand up on the table and scream that it’s your ship and you’re in charge doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to happen.

You mentioned that Peter Quill has become the leader of the Spartoi and on the cover of issue #1 Kitty appears in her new identity as Star-Lady. Can you talk about how they are adjusting to these new roles when you pick up with them in this new volume of “Guardians?”

Well, in the grand tradition of drama — not well! We’ll see what kind of leader Peter is. We’ll see how Kitty is faring out in the world. All of this will be answered in the very first issue with wonderful artwork by Valerio Schiti, and like David Marquez on “Invincible Iron Man” and Sara Pichelli on “Spider-Man” he’s really bringing everything he has. I’m really happy to be here while all this is happening with him artistically.

Let’s talk about the Guardians’ other new team member, Ben Grimm, a character I know you’re very fond of. What made you want to bring the Thing into the book beyond your love for the character?

I do love the character, and I had put him on my original list of “Wouldn’t they be great” characters to put on the team. The reason I had was because he wanted to be an astronaut! He wanted to get out there and explore space, and life took a turn; a rocky, orange turn. At that time though he was very, very busy in other’s people’s books. So I didn’t even ask out loud. Then he became available. At a retreat one of the editors said, “By the way Ben Grimm is up for grabs.” I raised my hand and they said, “Yeah, we knew you were going to do that.”

The other interesting thing about Ben is one of his obstacles in life over the last few years is his orange, rocky monstrous look, but out in space next to Drax, Groot and Venom he doesn’t seem so monstrous. So maybe on places like Knowhere that’s not even part of the equation for him anymore? No one is judging him on his physical appearance. In fact he might even be considered cute! So we’re going to see how Ben reacts to not having to deal with that any more.

There won’t be any self-loathing. I’ve never written a non self-loathing Jew before. I’ve never been one. I’ve never lived with one. I don’t know how I’m going to do that. So that is the biggest writing challenge I’ve ever set up for myself.

I was looking at this book and it was like, “Kitty Pryde. Ben Grimm. I want to call this book ‘Jews In Space!'” [Laughs] I’m very excited. One more and they have a minyan! That’s a Jewish joke, but publish it and four people will get it.

[Laughs] What can you tell us about the overall dynamic and purpose of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” when you kick things off in October’s issue #1?

The team dynamic is very interesting. We’re having a lot of fun. I do think that mixture of drama and fun is where it’s at. These characters do really like each other. They’re all getting along well even though they’re very different. They’re like the best summer camp bunkmates ever, but they are very different people and very peculiar people.

Many of them have a lot of team experience though. So they kind of relish everyone’s differences instead of bickering and sniping at each other, and when it’s all said and done I think they’re going to be up against some really big players very, very soon. We’ll see if this is one of the best grouping of Guardians we’ve had.

When it comes to dynamics between individual characters I’m especially excited to see Venom and the Thing interact considering how similar they are.

Yeah it’s interesting. I’ve written a couple issues already. So I’m into it and I’m just letting these characters find each other. I’ve done some writing exercises for myself, that I’m not running in the book, of things like them playing poker together. It’s got a good feel. I’d like to hang around with these guys. It’s like the movie you want to hang around with them, but it’s a different dynamic because they’re different people.

Let’s move from the Guardians themselves to the galaxy they they’ll be guarding. What can you tell us about the shape of the galaxy and the great powers that make up its landscape when you pick things up eight months after “Secret Wars?”

I’m going to skip over some of the “Secret Wars” stuff and stuff I can’t talk about, but people who read the “Black Vortex” crossover and the stuff going on in my book towards the end saw a lot of changes happen. The Kree Empire has fallen, and the Skrull Empire has fallen. There’s been this giant power vacuum. Spartax has been been overthrown. A lot has gone on.

There was this group of kings that would get together and plot, and one by one they’ve fallen by the way side. So now the only people left in that group are the Brood Queen and Annihilus. We catch up with them right away. So there’s a lot going on.

We have a new character in Yotat the Destroyer. We have a new character who’s going to be debuting in the next issue of “Guardians of Knowhere,” Hala the Accuser. These are some big, big players who are going to shed some new light on the galaxy.

Earlier you mentioned you’re going to continue your collaboration with Valerio Schiti, who is one of Marvel’s Young Guns. It seems like he’s getting better and better with each issue and story. What’s it like launching a new volume of “Guardians of Galaxy” with him? Iteems like you guys were really starting to gel, especially with the “Planet of the Symbiotes” arc you did together.

Absolutely! To me he’s like Stuart Immonen in that everybody’s personality just explodes off of his pencils. He’s so good at character acting. He’s so good at page design, and he’s just getting better and better.

This is a very difficult book to draw. It’s fun because you get to draw all this cool shit, but you have Ben Grimm, Groot, Venom and Rocket. Look at those four characters. There’s some very expressive acting and cartooning going on in every single panel, and it’s almost a different style of cartooning for each character; a different set of tools is being used.

In a book like, let’s say, “Avengers,” normally the characters are all mostly humanoid. So you can use the same tools to express happiness, sadness, or quirkiness. What Valerio is doing is so interesting because he’s getting it all accomplished, but there’s a rocky guy, and a tree guy. It’s all working too! It’s quite exciting to watch the pages come in.

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You have experience balancing out the exploits of characters who have their own solo books from your time writing the Avengers, but it’s interesting to note that with this volume of “Guardians” it feels like almost every team member has a solo book, except maybe Ben Grimm.

Yeah, and isn’t that interesting. I’m excited about it and I’m in good hands here because Nick Lowe is editing all of the cosmic books. Nick and I have been working together since our early years on “Ultimate Spider-Man” and we worked together on my X-Men run. He’s a very good group editor and he’s already created what he calls a “Galactic Bible,” which lays down everyone’s plans as they are so far. Everyone has their own corner of a giant galaxy.

When you’re writing the sort of flagship book because it’s the “group” book with all these characters people tend to think that you’re planning things for everybody’s book. That’s not the case. Everybody plans their own book. Then the editor masterfully allows them to live and breathe on their own. I think it’s safe to say though that we’re certainly building towards a galactic event that’s going to come our way some time next year.

With the “Guardians” people are like, “Just do the movie! Do those guys! Don’t add or subtract anything. Just do that!” It’s like the Avengers though. I think it’s fun to mix it up. I think it’s fun to drop something new in and perhaps pull something out. Maybe Venom will go away at some point and Mantis will come in? Moondragon might pop in. I think the exciting thing about having the Guardians be part of the Marvel Universe is that we get to be additive to the group as a whole and the characters.

I think it’s great for Ben Grimm to have this experience away from his family and to get to experience the life he always wanted. He knows exactly what he’s fighting for. It’s just cool stuff.

It’s so funny every time we announce a new addition to the team people go, “NOOOOOO!” Then as as soon as that character leaves they go, “NOOOOOOO!” People were apoplectic about Angela. Then as soon as Angela wasn’t in the book for five pages they were like, “What? What did you do?” So it’s very funny.

We’ve got some great plans. We have a wonderful cast of characters and it’s just a wide open landscape in which to do battle. Most important, are these new villains. I think that’s the part of the cosmic Marvel Universe that’s most deficient. We’d always drop in Thanos every time. The Marvel Universe has 25 outstanding A-List villains, and Marvel Cosmic has like four. So I think it’s time to add stuff.

It seems like they’re coming in right at the time where they could do the most damage too, since the galactic great powers are in disarray.

Damn right! Things are in flux. There’s damage to be done, and territory to grab if you’re in the territory grabbing business.

I think we’ve just scratched the surface of the fun we can have with the book. This is a very unique experience too. Because this is a gateway book! I had this experience a lot on the early years of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” That realization of, “Oh shit! I’m on a gateway book! For a lot of people this could be their first comic!”

That’s because “Guardians” came out as a movie and soon it will be a cartoon. So that younger audience that doesn’t necessarily read comics is super hungry for more and more. Then they come to our book. So I want to tell a great story, but I also want to show them how beautiful comics can be; how gorgeous and emotional they are, which are things we all know.

So the mail I get on “Guardians” is from so many brand new readers, and even with my daughter’s friends that’s the book they’re impressed that I write. It’s very funny. You’d think Spider-Man would be equally impressive, but it’s like, “‘Guardians?’ Your dad writes ‘Guardians?'” My daughter had a popcorn party at our house and the boys were over for the first time. There was a shelf that had all the books I’ve done, but it was, “Oh my god! ‘Guardians!'” They didn’t even notice the Avengers or the X-Men. They all know what those are, but “Guardians” was the biggest head turner.

So it’s nice to be that. I love being part of somebody’s first experience reading comics. So we’re going to do it again and we’re going to have a lot of fun. For fans who have been with these characters for a long, long time I haven’t lit this thing on fire yet even though you thought I was going to. So brace yourself for the new. We’re going to have a lot of fun.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” #1 is scheduled for release October 14 from Marvel Comics.

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