Brian Michael Bendis just wrapped up his Guardians run a month before the second movie (allowing a new series to be launched just in time, funny how things work out isn’t it?). Lasting from February 2013 to April 2017, his run is massive. I’m splitting it into two sections, this is the first, covering everything before Marvel’s universe resetting Secret Wars event. I believe he has written the Guardians longer than any other writer in Marvel history while leaving very few lasting marks on the franchise. Partly because he was brought on to provide star power, but also to make the comics more like the then upcoming movie. After that, he probably had to keep them in some sort of homeostasis and most character development and story progressions done by him are reset by the end of the series to provide room for the next writer and Artist to make their mark.
Bendis wrote Avengers for eight years, redefining the franchise. When the Avengers film came out, Marvel wanted to launch a new series to bring in new readers. Meant to be accessible to people who only saw the film, Bendis was the obvious choice. The Avengers face down a new incarnation of the criminal cartel the Zodiac. Turns out they were given powers by Thanos for reasons…? The Guardians show up and Thanos gets his hands on a Cosmic Cube (remember? The Tesseract? From the Movie? Guys, remember?). The two teams team-up and take him down and they’re a team. It’s fine. It serves it purpose, introducing new readers to the comic book versions of the Avengers, provides an introduction for the mid-credits scene dude and introduces their next franchise. It also bridges the gap between Bendis writing Avengers and Guardians. Completely supplementary and aside from one line of dialogue (literally one line of dialogue) has no impact on his Guardians run proper.
It’s not all bad though. The dialogue is solid and Mark Bagley’s art is dynamic and well constructed.
Available in paperback, hardcover and as part of the Guardians of the Galaxy by Brian Michael Bendis Omnibus.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2011):
When the movie was announced, obviously a comic revival was also announced, and so Bendis and superstar artist Steve McNiven relaunched the series. It’s supposed to follow the events of the Abnett/Lanning run, there are some differences to bring the characters in line with the (then upcoming) movie. Star-Lord and Drax are A)not dead and B) Quill’s personality is completely different than in the previous series. Whereas he was a hardened ex-war hero and deadpan snarker, here he’s more of a joker and womanizer. Also, a blond now, I guess.
So I’m going to be breaking this down in chronological order based on the graphic novel numbering, which is pretty straightforward. Until it’s not. I’ll walk you through it.
The first volume of the new series is very much a high-action “here is the mission statement” story. The Earth is attacked and the Guardians protect it. Iron Man, in space at the time, and being from Earth, decides to join the Guardians as their representative from Earth and also to get Avengers fans to read the book.
There is also the revised origin of Star-Lord as well as several short stories of Quill recruiting the Guardians back to the team. The team breaking up and reuniting is a recurring motif in Bendis’ run. It does its job and the Star-Lord origin issue is pretty solid. It’s a really fun start.
The Guardians do what they do best (at least in Bendis’ run) sit in a bar and let trouble find them. No, seriously.
Then they get an alert of a cosmic type causing a ruckus. They run into Angela, a warrior woman who doesn’t seem to know where she is or the rules of the universe she’s in. (This is explained in a Thor story. Surprise! She’s Thor’s sister.) Anyway, the Angela stuff is actually a lot better than I make it out to be, partly due to Angela’s creator Neil Gaiman co-writing two issues. Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man collaborator Sara Pichelli does art and it’s gorgeous. Especially the facial expressions, which are important with a book that relies heavily on banter like this one.
Then S.W.O.R.D., Earth’s defense group against space gets attacked during Thanos’ assault on Earth in Infinity (an Avengers event), The Guardians show up and save the station. Francesco Francavilla does god-tier art. Even if you don’t like Bendis’ writing, you should check out these issues for the art because it’s stunning.
There’s also a story that has art by Kevin Maguire and kind of encapsulates the whole run. It’s fun but leaves no lasting impact.
Trial of Jean Grey
Not labeled as a volume of Guardians of the Galaxy or All-New X-Men with which this is a crossover. It’s really an X-Men story and the Guardians just kind of ferry them around. It is a really good X-Men story, mind you, but the only real impact on the Guardians is that Kitty Pryde starts a long distance relationship with Peter.
However, don’t necessarily think you can skip it because the art by Sara Pichelli (Guardians) and Stuart Immonen (X-Men) is great. There’s really good body language, facial expressions, and visual comedy. They’re also two of my favorite artists currently working in the superhero genre. If you’re into comics for the art, which you kinda should be considering the medium, then it’s still worth a read.
Guardians are split up and have to find each other again, for the second time. Peter’s evil emperor father J’Son sells the Guardians out to their most hated enemies, hoping that their dissolution will make his son embrace his destiny as the Prince of Spartax. It does not go his way.
Nick Bradshaw is the main artist on this arc, with assists by David Marquez, Michael Omeing, Jason Masters, and Cameron Stewart. It’s notable mostly for Venom joining the team and then instantly being ditched, and for having Captain Marvel on the cover of two issues she’s not in, then having a cover she’s not on but is actually in the story. (SIGH.)
There are a couple short stories, first printed as part of issue 14, which would have been the 101st issue if they never renumbered. There’s a beautiful Groot story by Andy Lanning and Phil Jimenz. Also, in the issue (which is how I have it), there’s a story featuring the original Guardians by Dan Abnett and Gerardo Sandovaul. I don’t know if that’s in the trade, it’s in the first Guardians 3000 trade, which I’ll cover later.
This volume is marketed as a tie-in to Original Sin, a Marvel event where character’s greatest secrets were revealed. Good news if you didn’t read Original Sin, it only thematically ties in. Some people did complain, kinda fairly, about that. I like thematic crossovers though, so it’s not an issue for me. Also, Original Sin and most of the comics with the branding kinda rocked…? And I’m not one to usually praise big crossover events.
Anyway, The secret of how Star-Lord, Drax, and Thanos survived the Cancerverse is revealed! And the final fate of Richard Rider (inexplicably spelled as Ryder sometimes, but not all the time in this story) Ed McGuinness draws the “lost chapter” in between The Thanos Imperative and Avengers Assemble. It’s blockbuster action at its finest and probably my favorite Guardians arc by Bendis, which I guess does speak something that my favorite is when he tackles another creators’ version of the characters.
In the second story, the Guardians remember they lost Venom, so they save him from the Skulls that had captured and torture him. The symbiote goes crazy and possesses the Guardians one by one, taking control of the ship, piloting it to destinations unknown. It’s a fun Alien homage and one of the better stories in the run. I actually don’t want to spoil it because the outcome, if not the destination is pretty surprising. Valerio Schiti joins as the new ongoing artist and remains it until Bendis leaves the book. The book really starts to come alive as with Schiti, Bendis finds his groove.
Black Vortex/Through the Looking Glass
The next part of the series is kinda hard to describe. Issues 24 and 25, the next after the Venom story, are part of the Black Vortex crossover, which is mostly a story that affects Legendary Star-Lord, one of Guardians’ sister books (I’ll cover it in an upcoming column). You can get it in two volumes; either the Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex hardcover or paperback, that contains the whole crossover, but then you’re missing out on the last three issues of Guardians. Through the Looking Glass contains just the Guardians issues and wraps up Bendis’ first Guardians series, but then you’re missing most of the context for Black Vortex. I’ll go more into Black Vortex next time, but I will say that I am dissatisfied with this way of publishing crossovers. I don’t mind the crossovers being in a separate volume, but I don’t like the reprinting of material collected otherwise. No one likes double-dippers, not in food and not in books.
Other than that, there’s the annual; a fun one-off story with art by (sigh) Frank Cho. Despite the sigh, the art is good and the story is basically that the gang runs into Nick Fury and the cast of 1970’s S.H.I.E.L.D. (60’s is more accurate, but Jessica Drew is there). They’re recruited to fight some Skulls who apparently S.H.I.E.L.D. has been hunting for years. Obviously, that doesn’t entirely check out, and therein lies the story’ conflict. Also, Captain Marvel does something. She just kinda, doesn’t do much for the rest of the run.
The last story in here is a two-parter that mostly just sets up the next series. If your evil emperor is deposed and defeated seemingly for good? Well, if you’re the people of Spartax, you vote his son who deposed him in the first place to be your new king. Peter, at the urging of his then finance Kitty Pryde (It does seem sudden unless you’re reading Legendary Star-Lord too), takes responsibility for his people. Him actually ruling? That’s covered in our next installment.
There are also series of hardcovers containing two volumes of the graphic novels each, this series includes the Trial of Jean Grey, but not Avengers Assemble or Guardians of Knowhere. Three volumes are currently out, with a fourth in November, volume five, probably releasing next year, will wrap up Bendis’ entire run.
Conversely, there is a Guardians of the Galaxy by Brian Michael Bendis Omnibus containing everything from Avengers Assemble to Guardians of Knowhere. I’d assume a second, containing the All-New All-Different series will eventually be released.
Next time: Secret Wars and Emperor Quill!