52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Dan Abnett and longtime co-writer, Andy Lanning, were key figureheads for revitalizing the cosmic Marvel line of comics back in the mid-2000s. Signing an exclusive contract in 2008, the two writers got to work on improving the cosmic tapestry by crafting the cosmic crossover, War Of Kings, followed by Realm Of Kings before completing their story in The Thanos Imperative. The work the two writers are perhaps most well-known for during this time period is their ongoing series for Nova and Guardians Of The Galaxy, elevating the characters associated in the two series to new levels of popularity. Now, years removed, the two writers no longer work together due to creative differences but their work together helped to influence the recent Guardians Of The Galaxy film that was released to wide-spread fan and critical acclaim.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Ultimate Collection Volume 1
Following two near successive annihilation level events in outer space, the Marvel Universe has been left unstable with the constant fear of more potentially destructive moments coming its way. Peter Quill, also known as Star Lord, sets out to assemble an ace team of heroes who would attempt to circumvent any future incidences by retroactively dealing with them before they ever have the chance to evolve into anything near a detrimental level. Bringing together Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Adam Warlock, Quasar, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Mantis, this unlikely band of misfits form the Guardians Of The Galaxy, set in their ways to protect the galaxy in any way, shape, or form that they can muster up. The Guardians face an immediate threat to not only the galaxy’s safety but their own as well on their first day on the job when they take on the Universal Church of Truth, a group of radical religious beings who seek to accelerate the end of the universe. There appears to be no down time for the team though as when they aren’t dealing with the Universal Church, they’re trying to figure out why time displaced heroes are in their timeline, how the skrulls have suddenly infiltrated their base on of operations on Knowhere, or if there is any way to stop King Balstaar in the Negative Zone from invading their dimension. Yup, they’ve got their work cut out for them but in their books, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning help to give the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe the shot in the arm it deserves with their run on Guardians Of The Galaxy, with all of it starting in the pages of this recently re-released collected edition. Abnett and Lanning (or as their fans refer to them, DnA) show why cosmic comics can be equally fun as well as terrifying through their use of inventive characters, awe-inspiring settings, and intricate plots. To put it bluntly, this is not your average superhero team based comic book and that’s why it largely succeeds with what it tries to accomplish, throwing together a ragtag groups of heroes who definitely don’t belong together as the first line of defence against galactic level threats. The Guardians are assembled together to be the team that beats the bad guys to the punch, hoping to stop any future conflict dead in its tracks before it even gets a chance to get off the ground running.
This story wouldn’t be the same without the roster Abnett and Lanning assembled for this new-age Guardians Of The Galaxy team. The team consists largely of the same characters seen in the recent blockbuster Guardians Of The Galaxy film, with that film actually drawing inspiration from this story. Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord) leads the team as the slightly over-confident but wildly brave leader, who has a tinge of scoundrel in him but still easily draws comparison to Harrison Ford portrayed characters like Indian Jones or Han Solo. He’s the perfect type of guy who you just can’t help but love, regardless of the awful decisions he may make. Behind him stands the characters of Quasar, Adam Warlock, Drax The Destroyer, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot, with each character bringing a much-needed element to the team that, without them, the team just wouldn’t work or be the same. Quasar and Adam Warlock are your typical mystical/cosmic style characters who have powers that are easier explained once seen. You get your physical elements of the team from characters like Gamora and Drax who are highly trained and efficient killers who don’t lack a sense of humour. They flip from comedic to serious in the bat of an eye, buckling down and doing what needs to be done to ensure no one gets hurt or that the mission is successful. Groot is a character who falls into a similar role as Drax or Gamora, being a serious heavy hitter but spends much of this volume in the background as he’s “in recovery” (you’ll get it when you read it) and is a character whose dialogue only consists of three words, one of which is his name. It’s when you get to the character of Rocket Raccoon that you see the heart and soul of the team. Rocket has a brilliant strategic mind, a quick trigger finger, and a heart bigger than anyone else in the story. His comedic timing is impeccable and brings so much levity to the heavier scenes throughout the story. He’s a character who is balanced out brilliantly throughout the entire story, serving as someone who can both raise or alleviate the tension that’s built into a scene, which is something that, as a reader, you find immediately endearing. Beyond your core cast members, characters like Bug, Mantis, Major Victory, Cosmo and many more just show you what a brilliant cast Abnett and Lanning have formed to maximize your reading experience.
Part of the reason the roster feels so strong for this title isn’t just because they selected perfectly awesome characters, it’s because by the end of this first volume you feel as though the team dynamic is something these characters have had to fight to earn. Through these first twelve issues you see characters and their relationships develop and evolve in ways that completely change the trajectory of the story. By the midway mark of this series, the nature of the team for the first six issues is entirely thrown out the window and forced to begin a stage of rebuilding from there. It should be kept in mind how unlikely of allies this team appears to be, which ultimately strengthens and weakens the core dynamic between many of these characters as you watch conflicts arise between characters like Quill and Warlock, Quill and Rocket, or Drax and everyone. This is a group of individuals learning to be a team and, as a result, becoming better and worse people all in one motion. How the core cast even interacts with secondary players like Major Victory, Mantis, or Cosmo is constantly evolving and paying off as a reader. No matter where you look there is consistent progress, whether it be positive or negative, all across the first twelve issues of this series with this surprising large and rich cast of characters.
Enough about the characters though, let’s move along to the plot, which is ridiculously fun and welcoming to readers new or old. The essential premise is that following back-to-back “wars” in space, there feels as though there is a vacant power vacuum just waiting to be filled by the next “big bad” to strum on along. As a result, Peter Quill teams with Mantis to assemble a team that would retroactively defend the galaxy against any forthcoming invasions or assaults, hence the eventually name of the team “Guardians Of The Galaxy”. The team is quickly placed into conflict with the Universal Church of Truth, radical religious men and women who want to destroy the galaxy. From there the story spins out into what feels like a dozen different plot threads but never feels too overloaded with all the plates that it is handling. Every character feels like they serve a purpose to the plot because Abnett and Lanning give each character an objective or goal to reach. Quill and Mantis need to keep the team tight and focused on the tasks at hand while Adam is motivated to discover what the Church is actually up to. Drax is attempting to find purpose following the completion of his reason for existence, to kill Thanos, and works with Phyla-Vell (a.k.a. Quasar) to help move past the death of his daughter, Moon Dragon. Rocket and Groot just want to save the galaxy and stay out of trouble while keeping this band of misfits together. All of these plot motivations for these characters intersect and conflict with one another to always keep a heightened sense of drama that bleeds over to the secondary cast as well, seeing characters like Cosmo or Major Victory also dealing with their own character arcs and problems. This results in never getting the feeling that Abnett and Lanning are just spinning the same wheel over and over again, as they always push forward to some form of progress with this title, whether it be for the entire team or a single character.
There’s always plenty going on in the story but Abnett and Lanning do a great job of guiding the reader through the story, regardless of the multiple different perspectives that are present. They make a brilliant decision in terms of storytelling, setting the story slightly in the past and informing the reader of forthcoming events by having the cast reflect on the events you’re seeing unfold. The characters submit video logs to Mantis after every mission they go on for psychological evaluation, with clips of these video logs being displayed over the action that you’re seeing unfold, even though it’s already technically occurred. For example, there may be a huge firefight going on between the team and the Universal Church Of Truth with Rocket Raccoon making some form of joke. The next panel, Rocket is sitting in front of a camera recollecting what he said to then make a comment about how he nearly died five minutes after the joke he made, with the action cutting to that moment where he nearly died or something to that effect. It’s a clever little piece of writing by Abnett and Lanning as it completely eliminates the use of captions to show a characters silent thoughts, something that was a common way of telling stories decades ago but doesn’t really suit modern comics too neatly unless it’s in a Batman comic. In writing the story this way, we’re given personal insight to each character’s thoughts as events are unfolding to help inform the direction of the plot as well as give us a common style of narration, just done in a more modern way. In short, it’s brilliant with how simple but effectively it is executed. It’s a neat little element that you come to miss when it isn’t present in the story, but it’s also not overused to the point where you get sick of it as a plot device.
Collects: Guardians Of The Galaxy #1-12
Best Character: Rocket Raccoon or Cosmo. Seriously, take your pick because they’re both awesome.
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “In twenty four hours’ time, the team will agree on “The Guardians Of The Galaxy.” It would be an abuse of my precognition to tell them this.” – Mantis
Best Scene/Moment: The Guardians come together in the Negative Zone – Issue 10
Best Issue: Issue 10 – Blastaared. I actually largely consider this a proper end point to this volume as the two issues that proceed after it are quite self-contained and follow the exploits of Drax and Phyla-Vell. This tenth issue ends off with the Guardians on a fairly heroic note, as it’s a silently defining moment for the team. There’s a fun, if underwhelming showdown in the Negative Zone, development on the Universal Church Of Truth front, some legitimately hilarious moments that truly define the tone and direction of this book, and to top it all off the unofficial epilogue of this comic gives you a chilling “S#!* about to get real” sense. This issue epitomizes everything Abnett and Lanning set out to do with this Guardians series, which is make cosmic comics fun AND serious.
Why You Should Read It: This is a high-caliber superhero team book. You’ll be hard sought to find a book that better develops not only the individual characters but the team as a whole in a more convincing way than Abnett and Lanning do here. Each character has a distinct voice and personality, brings something important to this team as well as the adventures they face. The plot itself does plenty of great things, with each arc having the team deal with different but fascinating scenarios. To an even further point, this book doesn’t behave in the way your typical team book does just based around the direction it heads in after what you’d consider your first two arcs in this collected edition. By the time you reach the end of issue six, the entire team dynamic that you’ve become surprisingly cozy with has suddenly changed in a way that still engages you. I can gush all day about this book as it falls within my favourite era of Marvel comics ever. Believe me when I say that from the Marvel cosmic event, Annihilation, all the way through to Thanos Imperative, the work that Dan Abnett, Andy, Lanning, and more do is stellar, with Guardians Of The Galaxy being a can’t miss piece to the beautiful space-faring tapestry they’ve created.