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 anomoly. 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

So You Want to Read… Guardians of the Galaxy: Part Two: New Guard! The Bendis Era: Part Two

The second half of the run seems a lot less focused, much like the title of these Bendis reading orders, but it only has five arcs to get through and one is completely skippable if you want. Still, there’s some good character stuff in there and is worth reading. Especially if you’ve gotten this far.

We begin the second part of Bendis’ run with there being no galaxy to guard. In Secret Wars, a big event comic by Jonathon Hickman and Esad Ribic, the entire multiverse was destroyed and the remains were reconstituted as one patchwork planet ruled by Doctor Doom. It is one of my favorite comics of all time, I recommend reading it and if you need the Guardians connection, it has a couple big Star-Lord and Groot moments.

Guardians of Knowhere

Even with no Galaxy, there are still Guardians. Battleworld has only one thing in its orbit. Knowhere. The head of a celestial that dared defy God Doom. Gamora, Drax, and Rocket serve as the outlaw protectorates of the head, converted into a space station. I don’t know why I’m explaining Knowhere to you. You’ve seen the first movie.

Anyway,  they’re hunted down by Yotat the Destroyer, who wants revenge on Drax. After that battle, they’re confronted by Angela, who is a Thor (the cops of Battleworld). They’re also attacked by a woman calling herself ‘Hala’ (the name of the destroyed Kree homeward, which doesn’t exist in this universe), anyway it’s mostly fighting and nonsense until Star-Lord shows up and recruits them to fight Doom.

None of that matters as the universe is reset in the aftermath of Secret Wars. Mike Deodato Jr. is on art duties and it’s pretty alright, but while Bendis and Deodato have done good work before, he doesn’t mesh as well as Schiti’s with this book.

All-New All-Different Guardians

After Secret Wars, The Marvel Universe relaunched with all-new series taking place eight months later. With a new series, there’s a new status quo. The trades are listed as Guardians of the Galaxy: New Guard on Amazon to differentiate it from the first series, but I don’t believe the physical copies have that distinction.

A note I want to make is that I was buying this series in single issues and they mostly felt unsatisfying. As single issues anyway. When I reread them as story arcs to write this, they felt a bit better, so if you’re reading them for the first time in graphic novel, you’ll probably appreciate it more.

Emperor Quill

When we return, Peter has taken over the Spartax empire from his father. And he’s not loving it. He’s bored out his skull wishing for adventure. The Guardians are still continuing without him, but the line-up has shifted drastically, Rocket, Drax, Venom, and Groot stick around from the previous line-up. Ben Grimm, the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing, and a new Star-Lord, Kitty Pryde, join the team.

After recovering some alien tech, they turn to Quill to get it analyzed. Gamora falls from the sky and the Guardians fight *new* threats. Hala and Yotat.

Again.

Really.

As usual Schiti’s art is great and all of new designs are really cool looking. Just not a really remarkable story.

Wanted

The Guardians split up, save some people, and take down a Badoon prison camp. It’s kind of a collection of single issues taking place at mostly the same moment in time, cool in concept, but nothing really new from the series. There are actually some really good character moments with Kitty and Venom. But mostly, it’s what you’ve seen before. It seems a bit like a filler arc, I can’t say too much about it.

Civil War II

It’s a tie-in to a big Marvel event, but mostly it serves to set up the next arc. It has very little impact on the Guardians overall and less on Civil War II. I specifically read Guardians because it mostly stays away from crossovers like that. It has it’s own cosmic crossovers, sure, but not usually the hero v. hero big event ones. It’s fine, Gamora has a really good character arc in the end, but mostly forgettable.

It also has a story drawn by Kevin Maguire. The Skulls kidnap Spider-Man in an attempt to get their hands on the Venom symbiote. It’s really a Venom character study and one of the better Venom stories as part of this series. Fun read, that one.

Grounded

After their ship was shot down, the Guardians are stuck on Earth. What’s a cosmic team of badasses to do? This arc is made up of one-shots going into just that. The Thing decides to go hunt down Doctor Doom. Groot gets a Dr. Seuss style story, it’s really cute. Gamora faces down S.H.I.E.L.D. to hunt down her father. Angela finds her girlfriend missing.

The finale is really, really satisfying though. Thanos and the remainder of the Galactic Council invade Earth and it’s up to the Guardians to stop it. IT’S ACTUALLY REALLY GOOD AND I HAVE A LOT OF EMOTIONS ABOUT THE FINALE AND DRAX KICKS THANOS IN THE NUTS!!!

So yeah, that brings us up to the present in terms of graphic novels. If you want a good place to jump on single issues now, All-New Guardians of the Galaxy issue 1 by Gerry Duggan and Aaron Kuder, just came out the Wednesday I’m writing this. It looks fun, and this Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, there’s also a free ANGotG book by them just for that day, go pick it up. Support your local comic chops.

Next time: The Guardians; Team-Ups and Solo Outings!

So You Want to Read… Guardians of the Galaxy: Part Two: Cosmic Avengers! The Bendis Era: Part One

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.

Avengers Assemble:

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.

Cosmic Avengers

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.

Angela

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 Disassembled
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.

Original Sin

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!

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.

So You want to Read…Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad

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. I’m not super well-versed in either of the subjects of this edition, haven’t read a ton of this, so I collapsed them into one list.

Batman Adventures:

Mad Love:

Oh, man. Oh, man, this comic.

This is an Eisner-winning comic and it deserves it. (The Eisner are the Oscars of comics) This comic told Harley Quinn’s origin for the first time and was the first time she was the focus of any kind of story. Written by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm with art by Timm and Glen Murakami, the book is stylish, well laid out, and so sharply written you may forget you’re reading. It delves into her relationship with the Joker in real depth and makes the formerly minor character into a real person.

It was also adapted into a fan-favorite episode of the New Batman Adventures. The cartoon is good. The comic is great.

Currently available in a volume with other stories titled (fittingly enough) Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories.

 

Batman Adventures:

Okay, so Harley doesn’t show up until Issue 12 in Volume 2 (her first comic appearance), but I’m recommending this entire series regardless. It’s based on the seminal Batman the Animated Series and is somehow just as good. Currently available in several volumes of paperbacks.

 

Harley and Ivy: 

Again written by Paul Dini with Timm on art, Harley and her bestie Poison Ivy (the girlfriend thing comes later) go on a rampage through Gotham and end up in Hollywood. The paperback currently available also includes other The Batman Adventures stories including the super fun Batgirl Adventures one-shot.

 

Harley in the DCU:

The above comics are based on the animated series and Harley ‘s appearances in those; the following take place firmly in DC’s standard publishing universe. (If it’s too much for you, these are comics with continuity from older comics, the other ones are comics based on a TV show based on older comics.) On a related note, none of these HAVE to be read after any other series, but the listing is chronological.

She didn’t actually appear in the main DC Comic Universe until 2000 in a one-shot entitled, fittingly enough, Batman: Harley Quinn. It was collected in a paperback of the same name with another assortment of Harley-centric stories.

This is part of the No Man’s Land crossover, although it doesn’t impact the story much. If you’re a completist, No Man’s land is collected separately in three paperbacks.

 

Ongoing Series:

After that Harley got an ongoing series. I haven’t read it, but it’s highly regarded.

Oddly enough, the paperbacks of the series are not numbered. The volumes are in the order that follows:

1.Preludes and Knock Knock Jokes

2.Night and Day

3.Welcome to Metropolis

4.Vengeance Unlimited

 

Gotham City Sirens:

Paul Dini wrote the first book in this series starring Harley, Ivy, and Catwoman with a second volume by Peter Calloway, once again, have not read, but have heard good things.

 

Classic Squad:

Legends:

Legends was a DC Universe crossover where the modern incarnation of squad first debut. Not required reading by any stretch, but if you want to see them from the start, here you go.

 

Suicide Squad by John Ostrander:

THIS IS IT, BABY. This is the good stuff. The series established what the Squad was and why it mattered. It wasn’t afraid to be dark and was certainly not afraid to be funny. It was smart, sexy and scary. (And by sexy I mean sleek and spy like. Not the gratuitous way Harley has been sexualized for the past decade.)

If you’re going to read one Suicide Squad series, it NEEDS to be this one.

 

Secret Six:

This title by Gail Simone is not technically a Suicide Squad book but is very much its spiritual successor and a great series in and of itself. Much of the cast of the movie also appears in it.

 

New 52:

 

Suicide Squad (New 52):

I’m putting this up because it’s there and a Suicide Squad series. It’s there if you want to read it, but I say avoid it like the plague. This is the series that started Harley being over sexualized in the comics and is just not a great book in general.

There’s also a follow-up, New Suicide Squad that’s supposed to be much better.

 

Harley Quinn’s New 52 Ongoing:

Harley got a solo series in the New 52 that reconciled her original version with the New 52 reboot and returned  agency to the character. The closest thing DC has to a Deadpool series, it’s fun and mirthful.Harley is established as bisexual, goes to Comicon, and even gets over the Joker. It’s a series well worth checking out.

There are also two spinoff series. The first is Harley Quinn and Power Girl where the Clown Princess and Kryptonian heroine go on an adventure through space.

The second spinoff is Harley’s Little Black Book, where Harley teams up with the heroes and villains of the wider DCU. There doesn’t appear to be a collection yet.

 

 

Additional Reading:

Gotham Academy-Killer Kroc

DC Comics Presents: Batman and the Outsiders or Katana by Nocenti-Katana

Flash: Dastardly Death of the Rogues-Captain Boomerang

Flashpoint: Secret Seven (Collected in World of Flashpoint: Batman) –Enchantress

 

Nicoli Raymond is a 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 . He’s probably not going to see Suicide Squad in theaters. As always, feedback is welcome.

Image Copyright of DC Comics