So You Want to Read… Guardians of the Galaxy: Part Three: Team-ups and Solo Acts!

Welcome to So You Want to Read, a series about starting franchise comics, either from the beginning or by my own recommendations. Whenever possible I’m going off of the Trade Paperback/Collected Editions.

In this installment, I’m breaking down the various solo titles and spin-Offs the Guardians have had and helping navigate through those rocky waters, which may just be more confusing than the main series. I have not included Rocket Racoon or Groot’s series, as they’ve had enough to get their own article, and for you long-time fans, I am not forgetting the original Guardians, I’m gonna get to them last. But for now, let’s dive in!

Solo Guardians

Star-Lord:

Star-Lord has had appeared in several series over the 30 years before he joined the Guardians. The Peter Quill who appears in these stories is vastly different than the ones who’ve shown up in the movies or newer comics. After his mother is killed by aliens, Peter Quill dedicates his life to getting to space and hunting them down. He gets into NASA and is then fired after being too unstable. Some cosmic schmo named the Master of the Sun offers one human the ability to become the Star-Lord, the representation of a perfect being. So naturally, Peter breaks into NASA and guns down everyone in his way so he can be that person. Taking pity on him, the MoS grants him the power of the Star-Lord and the revelation that revenge won’t fill the void. With that, he decides to be the cosmic protector; Star-Lord.

So yeah, a little different. There’s a lot of weird Sci-Fi stuff like making out with his ship, apparently being the reincarnation of Jesus, and having planet fall in love with him and commit suicide when he leaves. There are a lot of talented people on these books though, Steve Englehart and Carmine Infantino for starters.  X-Men Superstars Chris Claremont and John Byrne work together for the first time on Star-Lord. The comics are all interesting, even if they’re not all particularly good.
Every Star-Lord story before 2003 is available in one paperback Star-Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy.

During Bendis’ run on Guardians two solo series were launched at the time of the first movie to capitalize on the success, however, they both turned out to be really solid. Rocket Racoon and the Legendary Star-Lord were two of the most purely enjoyable books at Marvel at the time. I’ll get to Rocket Racoon next time, but under writer Sam Humphries’ pen, Legendary Star-Lord and its two successor series were smart, charming, and sweet. Like actually really sweet. Focusing more on Peter Quill as a character and focusing on his growth and personal relationship with his father, his girlfriend Kitty Pryde, and his distance from Earth, LSL did what a solo series should do. It told stories that could only be told with this character. It explored him in ways, that despite him basically being the main character in Guardians, that book couldn’t.

Also, it was basically a relationship book between Kitty and Peter and was really cute.
Legendary Star-Lord is collected in two volumes Face It, I Rule and Rise of the Black Vortex. And once again the Black Vortex crossover messes up your trade reading. Rise contains the three issues before Black Vortex and the one immediately following it. But once again doesn’t contain the rest of the crossover, which is mostly a Star-Lord story and the first and last chapters, as well as a Guardians Team-Up issue, are written by Humphries making basically part of the series. Once again, those are in the Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: Black Vortex Collection. There’s really no good way to get everything without double dipping.
During the Secret Wars event, Legendary was replaced with Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde. While Legendary veered into rom-com, this one crashes full force into it. On Battleworld, the planet made of fragments of alternate universes, Peter Quill has survived the destruction of the multiverse and taken a job as a lounge singer in an attempt to evade the eyes of Emperor Doom. One night, he sees Kitty Pryde, but not his Kitty. This Kitty is an agent for Doom, tracking down artifacts that might disprove Doom’s godhood. Peter reacts in the worst way possible and interrupts her meeting with Gambit the Collector, outing himself as one such anomaly. They end up handcuffed together and using her powers and Peter’s thieving skills, they decide to take down the Collector together and retrieve the artifact she was after, all the while Peter tries to convince her to give him a chance. It was one of my favorite series from Secret Wars and considering how much I loved the entire event that’s saying something.

After Secret Wars, the series was relaunched without the “Legendary” in the title, but the trades had them, so that’s good if you’re a trade reader. Volume 3, First Flight, is an origin story and takes a lot more than you might expect from the original. An 18-year-old, Peter Quill, the janitor at NASA, spends his nights testing flight simulators in attempts to join the space program and find the aliens who killed his mother. After stealing a Kree ship that NASA was attempting to reverse engineer, he launches into space only to be taken in by Yondu Udonta and the Ravagers. After being their janitor for a time, he learns to be a proper space pirate until the NASA crew gets out of our solar system and is captured by the Ravagers. He has to decide to help them or turn them over to the Ravagers, who have the location of his mother’s killers.

The fourth and final (or fifth and final) volume, Out of Orbit, reveals the reason behind Peter and Kitty’s break up as they’re captured by the Collector, who now collects emotions,  forces them to relive it. It’s a fun short story, but the rest of the graphic novel is padded by old Collector appearances, which is a little disappointing. Still a solid read.

At this point, Humphries left Marvel and began writing Green Lanterns for DC, which is good and you should read, but there is one Star-Lord book left. Writer Chip Zdarsky (Jughead, Sex Criminals, Howard the Duck) and artist Kris Anka (Captain Marvel, Uncanny X-Men) launched a new series. After the Guardians split up, Peter is stuck on Earth and as the only two people on Earth he knows are Howard the Duck and Kitty, he gets a job as a bartender and has to fulfill court-ordered community service. After bonding with the old man he has for service hours, turns out the old dude is an ex-supervillain and the two of them get involved in a heist. Guest-starring Daredevil and Old Man Logan! It’s a gorgeous book, Anka designs a new uniform for Star-Lord and NAILS it. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s emotional, Zdarksy is on point. Only real problem is it was too short as the series was canceled after six issues and an annual. The whole series is coming out in June as a paperback titled Star-Lord: Grounded.

Drax:

Written by wrestler CM Punk and comics author Cullen Bunn, Drax’s ongoing series, launched in 2015, has Drax to detective his way and find some missing children, and then use his parenting skills to corral them back home. Meanwhile, he has to deal with assassins, the dragon Fin Fang Foom, and his ex-sidekick Cammi. It’s actually a really fun series. Completely available in two volumes; Galaxy’s Best Detective and Children’s Crusade.
There is also a Drax miniseries collected in Annihilation Volume One. It’s the series that relaunched Marvel Cosmic in addition to making Drax the alien dude we know him as today.

Gamora:

Gamora has only had one series, Gamora: Memento Mori, but it’s written by the co-writer of the first film, Nicole Perlman and that’s pretty cool. Delving into Gamora’s past as the daughter of Thanos, it was announced shortly after the movie but was delayed until last year. It sadly only ran for five issues. The trade is out in July.

There are also two different trades that contain Drax and Gamora’s earliest appearances by Jim Starlin, but I’m saving the Starlin stuff for Infinity War. If you’re interested, those are called Drax: Guardian of the Galaxy and Gamora: Guardian of the Galaxy respectively.

Also available is the Guardians of the Galaxy Solo Omnibus, which contains all of the [Character]:Guardian of the Galaxy trades as well as early Rocket and Groot appearances.

Other Team Stuff:

The last two Team based Guardians series (excluding the original Guardians) is a short, but fun team-up series and mini that only tangentially ties in, but is fun and completists might want to read.

During the Bendis run, a spin-off, Guardians Team-Up was launched. It’s a fun series of mostly one-shots, with the exception of the first two issues, written by Bendis with art by James Lestein and comics legend Art Adams. The two-parter has the Guardians teaming up with the Avengers to take on a Chitari invasion, led by Nebula. It’s a good jump-in point if you’ve only seen the movies. There is also a really good issue by Javier Pulido in which Spider-Man and Star-Lord team up to recover Quill’s Element Gun after it’s stolen by Black Cat. Other highlights include a Pet Avengers team-up (co-written by Andy Lanning), the hilarious pairing of Drax and Ant-Man, and a Groot/Silver Surfer team-up. Collected in Two volumes; Guardians Assemble and Unlikely Story.

During Secret Wars there was a series called The Infinity Gauntlet (not to be confused with the 1991 series of the same name) that featured alternate versions of the Guardians and Thanos but mostly focused on a family trying to stay together in a bug-infested wasteland. The long-lost mother, member of the Nova Corps., returns to the family and grants them powers, but also enlists them in tracking down and protecting the Infinity Stones. The family’s new traveling companion a Titan named Thanos might have over plans for the Stones. The writer of Infinity Gauntlet is now writing the Guardians ongoing series and has hinted elements from it may appear. So maybe check that one out if you’re inclined. It’s completely self-contained and well worth a read.

There’s also a collection called Best Story Ever, but I’m not sure what’s in it. I’ve said, I’ve read almost everything after all.

If you’ve enjoyed this, give me holler, comment with what you liked and how I can improve.

 

Next time: Rocket and Groot

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So You Want to Read… Guardians of the Galaxy Part One: ANNIHILATION! The Abnett and Lanning Era

With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 rapidly approaching I figured it was high time to write another reading guide, this time focused on the cosmic misfits. Then as I remembered that I’ve read almost everything they’ve been in, I decided that I’d write a complete guide. This is the first in a series of Guardians related SYWTR; each covering a different era of the space-faring super-team.

After writer/artist Jim Starlin left Marvel, their space comics (referred to as “cosmic” comics by fans) kind of sputtered out. In the fall of 2005, Marvel relaunched the “universal” part of the Marvel universe with several miniseries under the banner Annihilation. Writers Dan Abnet and Andy Lanning (known collectively as DnA), along with Keith Giffen, were the core architects of the series. The storyline was massively successful and led to a sequel. The sequel, in turn, led to the formation of the modern day Guardians of the Galaxy. This is the era that most directly influenced the movie, and if you don’t feel like reading everything, there’s several good jumping on points. This article provides a reading order for their series. It might seem a bit daunting, what with the amount of series involved, but that’s what this whole thing is here for.

Annihilation:

Annihilus, the warlord king of the alternate dimension, the Negative Zone launches an attack into the positive matter universe. His forces destroy the galactic peacekeepers, the Nova Corps, save for human member Richard Rider. The Annihilation Wave ravages the galaxy, conquering all for Annhilus. The only hope is a ragtag resistance group including Rider, Ronan the Accuser, Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, and the former Heralds of the world-devouring Galactus, who is enslaved as the Wave’s power source. But first, they have to survive long enough to meet each other.

The story takes place in several miniseries arranging the players and is resolved in the main series, but the three paperback collections now available collect them in chronological order, as well as the preceding Drax the Destroyer miniseries. Annihilation is a really great story with massive scope, great character work, and sets up the new cosmic order. It has most of the characters you’d expect from a pre-Guardians series. You really only need background on who the Silver Surfer is, otherwise completely accessible.

(Also of note Thanos issues 7-12, are not part of Annihilation or included in the collection, but introduces Star-Lord to the Marvel Universe proper. Not necessary reading.)

Available in three paperbacks or a hardcover omnibus (out of print).
Also available as three volumes digitally and on Marvel Unlimited.

Annihilation Conquest:

The sequel to Annihilation, the galaxy is recovering from the Annihilation Wave, but after Quill and Ronan broker a peace treaty, the technological race, the Phalanx attack and start assimilating the Kree empire and then the Galaxy. Bending beings to their will, the Galaxy’s heroes have to free the universe from being mindless drones and drive back the Phalanx’s leader-Ultron.

This series introduces a proto-Guardians team in Star-Lord’s suicide squad. Assigned a regiment as part of the Kree Military resistance, the team consists of Quill, Mantis, Captain Universe, Deathbird, Rocket Raccoon, King Groot of Planet X. All of the members except two will join the Guardians during their ongoing series.
Conquest reads pretty well without having read the prior series. You will miss some character stuff, but the core story works well if you just want to jump on here and see the beginning of the Guardians.

Available as two (out of print) paperbacks and an omnibus that might still be in print.
Also available as two digital volumes and on Marvel Unlimited.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2008-2010):

Abnett and Lanning, now without Giffen, take the name of super-hero team that readers had long since forgotten and created something new with it. Star-Lord. Rocket. Groot. Drax. Gamora. Phyla-Vell. Adam Warlock. Aided by telepathic Cosmo the Russian space dog, they close dimensional rifts in the universe, heretical space religions, as well as any other threats to existence itself. After saving future hero Vance Astro from one of the rifts, they take the name of his team, The Guardians of the Galaxy. They’re caught in between a shifting future timeline, a War of Kings and the eternal battle between the concepts life and death. It’s great stuff that’s really accessible to new readers despite the sci-fi rigamarole and makes great use of Marvel history without being impenetrable. Also worth noting is that several parts of the series take place during the War of Kings crossover. You don’t need to read it, context clues will guide you through, but it will provide background. Also, it’s pretty good.

Available in two paperbacks and an omnibus.
Also available as four digital volumes and on Marvel Unlimited.

The Thanos Imperative:

In the final issues of Guardians of the Galaxy, Adam Magus, a corrupted Guardian attempts to defeat Death itself. Death has other plans and after its avatar, Phyla-Vell dies, it resurrects Thanos as its new avatar. Thanos defeats the Magus, but events in War of Kings and Nova open a breach to the Cancerverse. There, Life had won and the was no more Death. For anything. A nightmarish realm full of corrupted Avengers, The Guardians, Nova, and Thanos enter the undying universe to destroy it before it spreads to ours.

This marks the end of the Abnett/Lanning Guardians run as well as their run on Nova. It’s a fantastic climax to the characters’ stories (at least by the authors). Characters from these books would continue on in Annihilators, a series about the cosmic protectorate filling the void left by the disbanded Guardians.

Available in paperback as well as digitally and on Marvel Unlimited.

Further Suggested Reading:
Nova:

Although technically never a member of the Guardians, Nova is their closest ally during this era and a personal friend to Quill, as well as lover to Gamora. It was the flagship book of the Abnett/Lanning era and has some of their best cosmic stories. Well worth the read if you’re starting from Annihilation or Conquest. If not, you can skip it, but you’d be missing out.

War of Kings:

The Inhumans are now the rulers of the Kree Empire and they’re attacked by Vulcan, mad emperor of the Shiar Empire. A galactic war breaks out as the Starjammers, led by Vulcan’s brother Havoc (of the X-Men), attempt to reinstate Lillandra as the head of the empire. The Guardians show up briefly, but their part is mostly covered in their own series. It’s solid space politics and I do so love my space politics. Highly recommended if it’s your thing or you’re confused by the Guardians tie-in.

Annihilators:

I have not actually read this, except for the Rocket and Groot backups, but essentially it’s a team of cosmic heavy hitters formed to take down powerful cosmic threats. Ronan, Silver Surfer, Beta Ray Bill, Gladiator. I keep meaning to read it, but every time I do, I just reread Thanos Imperative.

I’m really hoping that sometime in between Guardians 2 and Avengers 4 Marvel will rerelease all of this stuff in affordable paperbacks. Next time is the just concluded Brian Michael Bendis era, and boy, is there a lot of it.

Mental Health in Superhero Comics

Superhero comics aren’t particularly known for accurate representations of neurologically divergent people. Besides the fact that neurodivergent people are often shown as “mad scientists” or the “crazed murderer “ in pop culture, it can often be worse in comics, especially in superhero comics with your evil clowns and your Doctors Octopus. However, through the seventy plus years of superheroes, there are a few particular standouts of well-portrayed mental illness.

jqk8vcqbr48l8kgl5x8rArt by Chad Hardin W/color by Alex Sinclair

Harley Quinn:

Now the Caped Crusader’s entire rogues gallery is made of inmates with one-note mental issues in nightmarish 1950’s style asylum, of them, Harley stands out as a positive portrayal of mental health. She is portrayed as a victim of both her relationship and obsessions, without ever losing the fact that she’s a person rather than a gimmick like Two-Face and Riddler. Being a psychiatrist prior to her being a super villain has helped Harley keep perspective, if not her sanity. That’s especially highlighted in her often and deservedly praised solo series by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor. Harley has imaginary friends, violent urges, and a functional life. A chaotic and messy one to be sure, but she’s happy and that’s what counts. Well, that and maybe property damage.

tumblr_inline_o2ecndH1Mq1qlme1v_500Art by David Marquez W/ colors by Guru Fx

Reed Richards:

In the 2012 graphic novel Fantastic Four: Season One, Reed Richards, Mr. Fantastic, states that he has a case of self-diagnosed Autism. He shows traits mostly commonly characterizing the diagnosis formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s was an Autism Spectrum Disorder characterized by obsessive interest, trouble understanding and empathizing with human emotions, and often time sensory issues. It has since been folded into general Autism Spectrum disorders although the terminology still exists inside the community.

While some of Reed’s older portrayals have been troubling, the character as now established as often being distracted by science to the point of obsession and isolation and he misses obvious social cues if his full attention isn’t devoted to the conversation. However, he is also a devoted and caring father, who puts family above everything including the universe. Literally on several occasions.

Self-diagnosis is of note as a hotly debated issue in the autistic community. Some people will claim to have it as an excuse to act like jerks, without any real proof of their condition. So while those people lack empathy; it’s for entirely different reasons. Lower income families or ones with less knowledge or resources may not be able to diagnose their condition and others who may only realize or need to cope with their feelings in adulthood often use this as a template to help themselves.

Daredevil:

Matt Murdock is a troubled man to say the least. He has crippling and repeating clinical depression. Perhaps the most well-documented representation on this list, Mark Waid’s recent run on the series is notable for dealing with mental health head on. The series goes into the mental health of not just Matt, but also his supporting cast. Foggy Nelson constant checking up on Matt’s health while never letting it over take him.Foggy is a realistic portrayal of a friend of someone who suffers depression. Matt’s mother deals with post-partum depression and it’s effect on families and how it can define dynamics is shown deftly.

Hank Pym, Giant Man, also appears in the series, although he has a myriad of mental issues, often defining and poorly portrayed, his depression is the focus in Daredevil. He and Matt bond over this, providing each other with a support group outside of their usual social circles. Waid followed this up in an Age of Ultron one-shot which is one of my personal go-tos for showing not only Waid’s character work, but also well-written mental illness.

yomtfaWArt by Joe Quesada

Scarlet Witch: 

Scarlet Witch is a nasty example of the “women driven insane by the death of her children” trope. Well, driven insane by the revelation that her children had part of a demon’s soul, but that’s semantics. In the Avengers Disassembled story, she destroyed the Avengers after experiencing an “episode of madness” rendering Wanda, formerly one of the strongest Avengers, fragile. This state of fragility lasted for several years until she faked her death and her madness was revealed to have been manipulated by Doctor Doom.

Comics.

After that, her issues seemed to be trust related with her mental state not addressed, presumably “fixed”.

James Robinson, despite some rather heated controversy about another series last year, is addressing that in his current Scarlet Witch series. In little ways, like Wanda focusing on herself and how she needs to cope and function as a person. She’s fixing herself and fixing magic at the same time while not letting her past define her.

Other examples I can recommend are Joe Kelly’s Deadpool for a very ill, but nuanced anti-hero and X-Men: Legacy by Si Spurier dealing with Legion Professor Xavier’s schizophrenic son and the illness in a respectful and thoughtful manner. These aren’t enough, we as a culture need to put more focus on positive and accurate representation of mental health in our media.

Header art from Daredevil volume 4 #10 by Chris Samnee W/colors by Matthew Wilson

Nicoli Raymond is an autistic writer based out of Illinois. He writes scripts, short stories, and articles on pop culture. He tweets at @NicoliRaymond Contact him at n.raymond616@hotmail.com This was originally composed as a submission piece for a website. As such, this is a slightly modified version. If any language was wrong, let me know so I can correct it. 

All art copyright to Marvel Entertainment and DC Comics.

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