While we spend a great deal of time engrossed in the current crop of comic books, let us not forget those fantastic tales from the past that still sit in amongst our collections and are always worth revisiting...
Writer: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Art: Paul Pelletier, Rick Magyar & Nathan Fairbairn
Matt C: It all seems so obvious now, but back then? Back then it was anything but.
In 2005, via a Drax The Destroyer miniseries and then an event book, Annihilation, writer Keith Giffen revitalised Marvel’s cosmic properties, bringing them back to the giddy heights last witnessed when Jim Starlin was doing his thing in Silver Surfer, Infinity Gauntlet and all the related series in the early ‘90s. It was then the turn of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning to take the baton, penning a new Nova series and a sequel event called Annihilation: Conquest. From that they spun out a second ongoing series, Guardians Of The Galaxy.
It took the name but this was an entirely different set of characters than the original team who debuted in 1969 and were based in the 31st century (making occasional trips to the 20th century for team-ups with likes of the Thing and Captain America). Peter Quill aka Starlord was the leader of this new, disparate band of heroes, his aim being to work proactively to prevent any other unstoppable incursions into the universe as witnessed in both Annihilation series, guilt over his perceived inaction driving him forwards. It’s essentially the same team as the movies, with the additions of Quasar and Warlock (Groot was relegated to twig-mode in the early stages), and this debut issue set the template for what was to come, arguably igniting the spark that transformed a movie that many deemed to be Marvel Studios’ riskiest gamble at that point into one of the most successful and beloved additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far.
The issue tells its tale utilizing the to-camera-post-mission-breakdown trick, a device that’s been done to death but at this point was still relatively fresh and unusual in comics, with the various team members reviewing their explosive encounter with the Universal Church Of Truth. The enemy doesn’t get much in the way of an opportunity to state their case – that was established in earlier series, and to be honest their motivations are a bit irrelevant to what’s going on here. The key thing that makes this issue work, that made the whole series work, and was something the 2014 film captured so effectively, is the energizing dynamic between the cast of characters. They all have different backgrounds, different reasons for being involved, and a different way of looking at situations, but the appeal is how they come together with a common purpose and form a unit that has its frictions but functions (relatively) cohesively and (mostly) successfully.
It has action, it has humour, and even at this stage there’s a distinctive chemistry manifesting between some of the players, producing the kind of bond that makes this sort of group arrangement so compelling. You could argue that the same exists in other team books but James Gunn and Marvel Studios clearly saw something unique that they could work with on a cinematic canvas, and against the odds (or, at least, the odds as many calculated them) they were proven right. But credit where credit’s due: Abnett and Lanning set the template with some bold, thrilling cosmic superhero storytelling that focused on an endlessly entertaining dysfunctional ‘family’ dynamic that was propelled forward with laughs, tears and, mostly importantly, fun. It may not be one of the best issues of the last decade (indeed, later chapters of this particular series showed increased confidence and flair) but considering its legacy, it’s certainly one the most important.
Oh, and on the back cover of this comic? An advert for the first entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Iron Man. Who would ever have guessed that, nearly a decade later, Shellhead would be preparing to star alongside the characters on the front cover - Starlord, Rocket et al - in a galaxy-spanning movie blockbuster called Avengers: Infinity War?