Guardians of the Galaxy #1 has the potential to be as good as the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning era of the cosmic comic franchise. Yes, that’s a bold claim to make after just one issue, but it’s true. The story Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw have crafted fits nicely into the overarching cosmic craziness currently occurring in the Marvel Universe, but it's also a solid jumping-on point. As far as deep backstory, the only things you really need to know going in is that Thanos is dead and Gamora is no longer a well-loved character in the galaxy…oh, and that there is a version of Frank Castle from the future who has been imbued with cosmic powers and the Spirit of Vengeance (make it your mission to read Cosmic Ghost Rider if you haven’t; it rules).
Fine, so maybe it isn’t the perfect jumping on point, but man, is it good. My relationship as a reader to Donny Cates' work has always been up and down; some of his creator-owned stuff is quite entertaining (Redneck), but I find a lot of it a smidge too pedestrian and derivative (Babyteeth and God’s Country). Now, that’s not to say the latter comics are bad. They’re executed well enough, but they feel too familiar, as if you've already consumed a version of their story in a different medium. Ironically enough, where Cates really shines in my book is when he takes on a character (usually a villain) who I thought I knew everything there was to know about them, and shows me something brand new.
For example, Cates’ run on Thanos was as if all the insane heavy metal album art you’ve ever seen became a narrative and played out in a comic book. Currently, his ongoing series, Venom, has taken the titular anti-hero and redefined his origin while simultaneously bringing him back to the horror genre. Similarly, Guardians of the Galaxy is giving readers something new, but this time, Cates is focused on a large cast of characters.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a team book, first and foremost, so going in I was curious to see if there was going to be a lot of long form narration with an almost biblical cadence in vein of Cormac McCarthy or if we'd be hit with a ton quippy one-liners (Cates seems to vacillate between these two extremes from page to page in most comics). It's a pleasant surprise, then, to discover there wasn’t much of either. Guardians of the Galaxy #1 has wonderful pacing, and every character on the page gets a moment to shine. No one is drowned out by soliloquies or snarky remarks.
As for the plot, it's pretty straightforward: Thanos is dead, but there is a chance he could be resurrected or have his consciousness transferred to another body (I know, shocker, right?). A gathering of cosmic characters, including Beta Ray Bill, Moondragon, Eros and Cosmic Ghost Rider, discuss just how dire the situation is, and before a plan is set forth to prevent Thanos’ return, things go off the rails in the best way. And thus the new team of Guardians is assembled. There's a lot in the middle that I won't divulge, of course, because this is a comic that needs to be experienced first hand.
Geoff Shaw is simply stellar, here, and is right at home working with Cates again (the two previously collaborated on Thanos and God Country). His sketchy line work and use of heavy inks help give this issue a stern tone, which is a good call. What could potentially happen after the events of Guardians of the Galaxy #1 will have some dire consequences if the villains' plans come to fruition, and Shaw's art conveys this point wonderfully. Marte Gracia's colors are surprisingly muted, a move that perfectly compliments Shaw's pencils and inks.
Guardians of the Galaxy #1 is a return to form for a title that has often been the red-headed stepchild of Marvel Comics. Having a lot of new team members join the roster helps breathe new life into the canon, and the initial conceit of this first issue is genuinely exciting. Cates and Shaw have a pretty solid track record. and it looks like Guardians is going to keep that rolling along nicely.