Reading Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Guardians Of The Galaxy a few weeks ago yielded an epiphany of sorts. I realized, or rather remembered, I shouldn’t look for comics that feel like James Gunn’s oh-so-perfect film. Rather, I should embrace the Guardians as they are in the comics which will always be a different animal. That’s how it works. The comics inspire the films but each is unique unto itself, shaped by the vision of its creators. I’d never went backwards before, from the movie to the comics, and I guess I wasn’t ready for the differences when encountered from this direction. But I fell in love with Abnett and Lanning’s Guardians, no matter how different they were from Gunn’s, because they were great characters involved in exceptional stories. Naturally I couldn’t wait to meet their next incarnation, Brian Michael Bendis’s take on the team!
In retrospect, it seems clear Marvel was getting ready for/hoping the movie would be a huge hit. The possibility of adapting the Guardians as a film was first mentioned by Kevin Feige at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con – when Abnett and Lanning’s “obscure title” (in Feige’s words) was beginning its final bow with The Thanos Imperative Ignition #1 published the same month. Feige then announced the film was in active development at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con and revealed the film’s team would feature Star Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon – a far smaller roster than Abnett and Lanning utilized. Less than a year later, in March of 2013, Marvel would resurrect the comic (cancelled in 2010) with all-star writer Brian Michael Bendis at the helm. Given where the film was in its production, it’s not surprising this team featured Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot with (surprise!) the addition of a space-faring Iron Man (the MCU’s poster boy) to the roster.
I’m not saying this isn’t a great comic in its own right (it is!) but the marketing tie-in/move to get people (or at least active comic readers) ready for the Guardians film is evident. A little over a year after Bendis brought the Guardians back to comic stands, the film was released on 1 August 2014. Overnight, the Guardians of the Galaxy went from all-but-unknown obscurity to a near-Star-Wars-level phenomenon. Brian Michael Bendis would see their comic through this transition from the margins to superstardom, writing the title until April 2017.
Despite a similar team in roster, Bendis certainly put his own stamp on the book. In certain instances and in some ways, we see characters evolve from their Abnett and Lanning roots to something more closely resembling their movie counterparts. In others, we see what makes them unique from their cinematic counterparts continue to shine though. While not as diverse as the Abnett Lanning run, Bendis does bring some fresh blood to the team having Kitty Pryde, Flash Thompson/Venom, Angela, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Ben Grimm/The Thing, and (obviously) Tony Stark/Iron Man each join the Guardians on their adventures for a time. The stories are cosmic in the best possible way – bouncing from Spartax to Hala (the Kree homeworld) to Moord (the Brotherhood of the Badoon homeworld) to Knowhere to Chandilar (the Shi’ar throneworld) to the Negative Zone and beyond. And they team-up with the X-Men! TWICE!
As I researched for this post, I found Bendis’s run to be divisive among some fans. While I can say there were certain points where I felt he leaned too close to the films needlessly, by and large I found these stories to be great fun. In fact, if an MCU fan who loves James Gunn’s films wanted to try the comics…I think I’d recommend they start here. I think Abnett and Lanning – as weird and wild as they are – are a better fit for more avid comic readers. If you’re a newbie to the genre who loves the movies and wants more, I think Bendis is more accessible and gives you more while (masterfully) branching out from an already familiar framework.
However, again, these aren’t simple adaptations of the films nor are the characters mirror images of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel. The biggest difference? Peter Quill and Gamora are never a couple in the comics. This blew my mind! It didn’t happen in Abnett and Lanning’s original run. I knew it doesn’t happen in Gerry Duggan’s current run. And reading Brian Michael Bendis’s run was the final piece of the puzzle. In the MCU, Peter and Gamora are second only to Tony and Pepper as the most prominent couple. But they were never an item in the comics. They didn’t even have a will they/won’t they thing going on!
We see Peter flirt, in the faintest possible way, with Mantis in Abnett and Lanning’s run. Then, in the Bendis era, we see Peter inexplicably embrace his lothario nature from the films (even though it was never hinted at in the A&L era) before beginning a beautiful relationship with Kitty Pryde. I love it! I know I’m prone to excited hyperbole but they quickly became one of my favorite comic couples. Just look at how cute they are together!
While I resented Peter being so sexually promiscuous so suddenly (as he wasn’t that way in the original run and we we given no reason to explain the change), I did appreciate the growth his character went through alongside Kitty. As to Gamora…she totally hooks up with Tony Stark!!!! And it’s this one night stand where she throws him off afterwards. It was kind of refreshing to see the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist be playgirled by Gamora.
However, Gamora isn’t one for one night stands nor is romance really in her wheelhouse in the comics. It’s not that she’s against it by any means, it’s just not where she’s at/what she’s looking for. She is hunting Thanos and guarding the galaxy and woe to anyone who gets in her way. I love Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. I think she’s one of the brightest spots of those movies and she’s the only character I think has to make the transition, should they decide to do an Infinity Watch film for the MCU. But Gamora feels fuller in the Bendis comics than she has in the films, if that makes any sense. She’s constantly introduced as “the deadliest woman alive” and we certainly see that. She and Angela single-handedly take down an entire planet of Badoon soldiers. She is feared everywhere she goes and there’s nothing she can’t handle. Hell, she knocks Captain Marvel flat on her ass.
I appreciate seeing her cut loose in battle. I like seeing the scope of her strength, focus, and power. I like how dedicated she is to hunting and killing her father Thanos. But she’s not all fight/kill. Her loyalty is so complete – both in what she offers to others and what she expects in return. We also see moments where her walls come down…and we see her struggle to hide those most tender moments from her team. Of all the “movie Guardians,” I was most interested in how Gamora was presented here.
Drax would be a close second. Drax has surprised me a lot, reading these comics. In the film he’s bold and brave but he’s also this big lovable goof and I love how Dave Bautista plays it. I’ve always thought it was a HUGE improvement over the Drax I knew from my youth, reading cosmic comics in the ‘90s. Then Drax was just a big, dumb Hulk knockoff. He spoke like a baby but never had Hulk’s charm, heart, or rage. He annoyed me sooo much in those comics. But this Drax – in Abnett and Lanning’s run as well as in Bendis’s – is a quiet warrior, filled with nobility and strength. His power is off the chart and watching him balance his strength, temper, and drive makes him such a fascinating character. I also love how aware Bendis is of his history with Gamora and how he highlights that. I like him. I like him a lot.
Outside of his relationship with Kitty, I struggled with how Bendis presented Peter Quill though. Guardians Of The Galaxy #14, released in April 2014, sees Peter take on his movie costume exactly. His special elemental gun keyed to his DNA has now changed shape and he has a new mask and leather jacket, matching Chris Pratt perfectly. We also see a blue Walkman with orange headphones (just like the movie) in a scene in Guardians Of The Galaxy #22. Groot has been taken over by the Venom symbiote and is tearing through the ship when we see the Walkman bounce across the foreground of the scene. The comic was released in December of 2014, after the Guardians film had exploded. It’s a clear nod to the film everyone fell in love with, even if music/the Walkman was never mentioned in any Guardians comic before. More than the aesthetic changes though, it was the changes to his character that bothered me.
I feel we see a devolution in Peter’s character. Obviously owing more and more to Gunn’s vision of a lovable loser conman-turned-hero, Peter Quill becomes a bad boy, gunslinger looking for the easiest way out and the fastest score possible. This is most clearly illustrated in “Black Vortex,” the second Guardians crossover with the X-Men. (But “Black Vortex” and all it raises, I think, is a story for another post.) It’s…it’s a weird experience. I love Peter Quill as I met him in the movie theatre in August of 2014. I adored Guardians Of The Galaxy. I still do. But, seeing his character change so much in the comics to fall in line with the movie bothers me. Peter Quill was never perfect. But this lazy, “bad boy,” conman is nothing like the hero who first formed the Guardians of the Galaxy in the wake of the Annihilation War. He is nothing like the man who, alongside Richard Rider’s Nova, sacrificed themselves to hold Thanos in the Cancerverse as the universe died around them. I love Star Lord in the movies. He’s perfect. But I came to love him in the comics too and this…this isn’t him. And it bothers me…a lot more than I expected it would.
He’s not completely derivative. There’s his previously mentioned relationship with Kitty. They stick to his original origin; he isn’t from Missouri. He wasn’t abducted by pirates. Meredith Quill lived alone on a farm in the Colorado mountains when J’son (the ruler of Spartax)’s ship crashed near her farm. They became lovers as he repaired his ship and he refused to take her to space with him as he was in the middle of a war. That war allowed him to establish the Spartax Empire but it also left many angry. The Badoon came to earth to strike at Meredith and her son Peter – whom she was pregnant with when J’son left – as a way to wound J’son. They killed Meredith but Peter survived and spent his life growing up in orphanages.
Another interesting difference is the name “Star Lord.” In the film, it’s a term of endearment Meredith called Peter as a child and when he adopts it as an adult he spends a lot of time trying to get people to use it as his “outlaw name.” However, in the comics, it’s his royal title. His father, J’son, is the King of Spartax – a galactic empire the Guardians spend a lot of time fighting and foiling in Bendis’s run. As J’son is the ruler, Peter, as his son, has the title of the Star-Lord Prince of Spartax. He wants nothing to do with this title though. He resents and rejects being the Star-Lord.
My issues with some of the development of Peter Quill aside, I really did love Bendis’s run. I felt the 2015 incarnation of Bendis’s Guardians Of The Galaxy was more unique too. It’s as though he leaned waaay into the film and then reasserted a little comic creativity. Post-Secret Wars we see Peter standing as the newly elected King of Spartax. Kitty is his fiancé and leading the team in his absence. Venom has a more prominent role and is more fully fleshed out as a character. I love Flash as Venom!! His bonding with the symbiote was something that really intrigued me but, while his solo series (Agent Venom) didn’t hook me, this was everything I wanted and more. Also, the Thing joins the team! And Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax are in residence as per usual. Against all of this we see Annihiuls and the Brood Queen plotting to take control of the galaxy now that the Galactic Council has all but crumbled (J’son being deposed and the Kree and Shi’ar shaken after the battle for the Black Vortex) and Thanos will eventually come out of the shadows to menace the Guardians and the galaxy once more.
This whole run was “cosmic Marvel” at it’s most fun and fanciful. Comic books – without a special effects budget or the rules of reality to constrain them – are only limited by the imaginations and talents of their creators. Brian Michael Bendis and Valerio Schiti (as well as all the other artists on this run) made the most of this creative freedom.
It was fascinating to watch the Guardians’ evolution, as they transitioned through their cinematic debut and subsequent skyrocket to superstardom. Brian Michael Bendis had a tall order before him. He had to balance the Abnett and Lanning legacy with his own creative ideas/desires and the need to make the comic recognizable to new readers seeking it out after James Gunn’s film. While it wasn’t always perfect, in the hands of a lesser author it would’ve been a disaster. This was a lot of fun. And there wasn’t one issue that didn’t make me smile.
Most interesting to me, on a personal note, was how much the blatant moves to mirror the movies bothered me. Since I returned to comic reading I’ve wanted to read Guardians Of The Galaxy but I could never jump in, unable to find a comic that gave me the same feelings James Gunn did with his film. After finally meeting the comic incarnations of the Guardians of the Galaxy on their own terms, I found I now had the opposite problem. I fell in love with who they are in the comics too and, just as I want my cinematic Guardians to be honored, I don’t want to see their comic counterparts forced into an unnatural, inorganic role just to make cross-company marketing easier. Rather I just want to love my movie Guardians in the movies and my comic Guardians in their comics. If nothing else, it’s a great time to be a Guardians of the Galaxy fan because there is a lot of Guardians out there to love :).
Brian Michael Bendis wrote Guardians Of The Galaxy from March 2013 to April 2017. If you’d like to read more about their comic history, here are their other eras!