I started this li’l series a while ago, when I finally read Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Guardians Of The Galaxy run, the comics that inspired James Gunn’s films. I had so much fun writing about my experience of meeting the Guardians in that way, as I continued my journey through their comics, I did another post about Brian Michael Bendis’s time writing the title. Naturally, next up is Gerry Duggan. I feel enough time has passed (now that we’re seven months into the Donny Cates run) that I can thoughtfully reflect on Duggan’s vision of the team. For me, this ended up being a shocking-yet-classic example of the truth of being careful what you wish for…
One of the threads running through all my comics-related posts on the Guardians of the Galaxy is my struggle with the tonal connection between the comics and movies. Seeing Guardians Of The Galaxy before I read a single comic left me wanting comics that felt like Gunn’s film. Then, after reading Abnett and Lanning’s run, I found myself with the reverse problem. In reading Brian Michael Bendis’s run, at times, the comics felt too similar to the films.
If some character changes felt inorganic with Bendis, Gerry Duggan’s work was a complete shock to the system. While I initially loved how perfectly he captures the tone of the film, it came to be what I resented most. Reading the first page of the Free Comic Book Day issue that opens All-New Guardians Of The Galaxy – heck, the entire first half of Duggan’s run – is as close a comic book approximation of James Gunn’s characters as you could hope for. You can hear Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Copper, and Vin Diesel’s voices in most of the lines. So, when I first read this issue it was exactly what I was looking for. Now though…not so much. I’ve realized NOTHING on this page connects in any way, shape, or form to who these characters have always been in the comics.
While Bendis began to push these characters (too directly at times) towards their cinematic counterparts, Duggan does so with a jarring force. The Guardians were always a team of misfits and outsiders but they certainly weren’t criminals or conmen. They weren’t looking for a quick score. Peter Quill was their (admittedly morally compromised) leader but he was a leader, not a grifter. Rocket, in many ways, was the more noble character and heroic to his core – sassy and hilarious yes, but not the grouchy, surly thief we see here.
Peter is now constantly playing classic rock (while Bendis tossed his Walkman in a panel, his taste in music was never even hinted at before this). They randomly decide to steal a new ship which just happens to be the Milano. After they bust out of jail (as Rocket tells Groot, “I love a good breakout” (even though we’ve never seen them in jail before let alone breaking out of jail in the comics)) they go rob a bank because the Grandmaster paid them to break into a vault and, uh, they do that now?
Um…what?? I mean what?!? This is NOTHING AT ALL like the Guardians who’ve been bouncing around the Marvel Universe since 2008. And while I liked it at first because it felt familiar, it now really bothers me because it feels inauthentic. It feels like cheap marketing tie-in, sacrificing the comic continuity to try and grab a few new readers from movie fans.
Even the recap page is incongruious! It reads, “Black sheep, scoundrels, and weirdos, Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot learned to look after their own interests, then discovered they could not stand by when the universe was in peril. They have no official jurisdiction , but if you’re in trouble (or if you’ve got a line on a score) in the Milky Way, you can call the…All-New Guardians of the Galaxy.” First, this was not at all how the Guardians formed. Peter Quill and Mantis pulled a team of cosmic heroes together in the wake of the Annihilation War to be proactive in protecting the universe from cosmic threats. There was no self-interest plaguing them nor was there any overarching desire to “score.”
Second, this is a far cry from those proactive protectors in Abnett and Lanning’s run. These Guardians are easily used by the Collector and Grandmaster to ascertain the fate of their siblings. And when the Guardians learn someone is attacking the Elders of the Universe (someone they presume to be an escaped Thanos) they have to talk it out and vote as to whether or not they are going to try and stop this threat. Ummm…stopping threats to the galaxy is literally why Peter and Mantis formed this team to begin with.
In issue #3, Rocket tells Groot, “After this job, we can all afford to stop taking down scores. Go our separate ways and live quiet lives.” Again, note the character shift. While this is exactly what Rocket or Peter would say in one of Gunn’s films, I can’t imagine Abnett and Lanning’s version of the characters saying it, nor Bendis’s for that matter. I grant characters change over time, especially characters in a serialized adventure like comic books with new adventures regularly coming out every month for years if not decades. Character growth is important too! What bothers me here is the inexplicable and abrupt nature of these changes. There’s no sense of why the characters are this way…outside of a blatant marketing tie-in.
At the end of issue #1 Duggan acknowledges the dramatic tonal shift in narrative. As they board the Milano Groot asks, “I am Groot?” Rocket replies, “I dunno. Everything’s just different now.” He then goes on to talk about Drax, Gamora, and Peter’s character/actions but that’s all that happens. It’s as though Duggan brought it up to let readers know he was aware of it only to simply brush it aside.
Perhaps Gamora is closest in character to her authentic comic book self. She is focused and deadly and just about unstoppable. However the similarities don’t last long. There is a darkness growing in her. Gamora believes part of her soul is still trapped within the Soul Stone and, as a result, she abandons all else outside of finding it. Once one of the most noble and honest Guardians, Gamora now freely lies and only fights for herself. I get Gerry Duggan was laying the seeds for what would happen in his “Infinity Wars” but what he does with Gamora makes no sense, even within the limited context he creates. We never learn enough to understand why her fear about the Soul Stone so drastically changes her nor why she disregards the warnings of trusted friends like Drax, Adam Warlock,and Doctor Strange to not pursue it.
This isn’t to say there’s nothing good in Duggan’s run. In fact, he begins (blatantly forced characterizations aside) with so much potential! As All-New Guardians Of The Galaxy opens, Gerry Duggan has the Guardians emotionally distant from one another. The reader is unsure what has caused this and even the team isn’t fully aware of what’s transpired in each other’s lives since they left Earth. All the Guardians (well, save Peter) are broken in their own way. Drax is haunted by events that have caused him to refuse to take another life. Gamora is desperately trying to find the Soul Stone. Groot is unable to regrow because Baby Groot was such a hit in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 they wanted the same thing in the comics for reasons unknown. And Rocket is haunted by mistakes he made that led to Groot being injured in the first place. Also the rise of the Fraternity of Raptors, intent on bringing all sorts of bad into the galaxy in their own warped vision of protecting the Shi’ar Empire, had a lot of promise as villains.
All of this brings the potential for real growth and conflict but I just don’t think Gerry Duggan delivers. Despite the serious emotional turmoil he wraps the characters in, the story beats are played mostly for laughs until the drama of the “Infinity Wars” begins. Then the tonal shift in narrative is as abrupt as the character shift was. My major issue with the overarching narrative is a) how different the Guardians are from their former comic book selves with no explanations for such abrupt changes and b) how many plot points are forced in to setup Duggan’s major Marvel event crossover, Infinity Countdown/Infinity Wars. I didn’t enjoy that story (at all) so it’s hard to appreciate the pieces that led to it…even if I can read them and wonder what could have been all the same.
HOWEVER, one of the unquestionably great things about this run is Aaron Kuder’s art! He delivers the weirdest and wildest alien races and alien worlds – and I mean that in the best possible way. I have this memory from childhood, reading the Archie Comics Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and there was this extended arc where the Turtles travelled through space. My young imagination was captivated by the crazy cosmic diversity those issues held! Kuder’s art delivers an adult version of this. There’s a wonderful weirdness to it all I adore. This is kooky cosmic Marvel at its best! Also, Marcus To, who drew the final “Infinity Quest” arc (before the series stopped to let Infinity Countdown and then Infinity Wars take its place) was excellent too.
Save Kuder’s art, it all got worse in Infinity Countdown and Infinity Wars. The Infinity Gems (now called “Infinity Stones” because, you know, the movies) have returned. We get no reason why other than “something” has “subtly changed” in the universe. But presto! Hey! The Stones are back! There’s a mysterious new villain named Requiem (well…mysterious for four pages until her identity is revealed) who kills Thanos and then takes the Infinity Stones for herself. Who is Requiem? Well Rocket shoots her helmet off and it’s…drum roll please…Gamora. Gamora?!? Yep.
This could be an interesting plot twist. After years trying to destroy Thanos, Gamora ends up becoming her father after all. EXCEPT I have no real sense of why this happens. It’s clear she’s become obsessed with thinking some part of her is trapped in the Soul Stone. It’s clear she wants it. It’s also clear something’s wrong/changed/dangerous about the “new” Soul Stone. But I’ve read this whole run through twice and I still have NO IDEA why Gamora abandons all she’s stood for to covet the Stones/control of everything with such homicidal intensity.
Her actions with the Stones are just as confusing. When Thanos had the Infinity Gems he wiped out half of existence to try and prove he was worthy of Lady Death’s love. But Gamora wipes out half of existence…by sucking everyone into Soul World inside the Soul Stone and folding them in half (so Captain America and Doctor Strange become Soldier Supreme and Spider-Man and Moon Knight become Arachknight, etc.) because Marvel wanted a bunch of comics of mashed up characters to sell….uh…..um…………some reason. Also Loki is obsessed with some multiversal mystery (which is never defined nor his involvement explained) and he convinces Gamora it’s important…somehow…and then she decides she cares too for…reasons.
This series was so frustrating and underwhelming I cancelled Guardians Of The Galaxy from my pull list afterwards. I knew a new creative team was taking over in Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw but I just couldn’t do it. I needed time away from these characters and Marvel’s cosmic stories. In fact, after rereading all these titles to write this post, I was still frustrated enough that I needed to wait over a week to write this. I’d go so far as to say rereading this makes me want to read the near-universally panned “Civil War II” because I doubt it can be as bad as this was.
The one brilliant thing to come out of this whole convoluted mess is the return of Phyla-Vell and Moondragon! I loved them in the Abnett and Lanning run. They were two of my favorite characters on the team and I really missed them in Bendis’ run. So, if nothing else, this whole mess gave us Phyla-Vell and Moondragon back. Look at that! We just made some lemonade! Given the first trade collection is coming out in a few weeks, I’m ready to give Donny Cates’s Guardians Of The Galaxy a shot. I’ve heard great things about it, especially in regard to Cates abandoning the just-be-like-the-movie format that’s increasingly haunted the title since Bendis started writing it.
After a long time wishing for a comic just like James Gunn’s movies, I learned I really didn’t want that. In learning this lesson, I found the brilliant characters and adventures inside Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s, as well as Brian Michael Bendis’s Guardians Of The Galaxy. Now, having weathered Gerry Duggan’s All-New Guardians Of The Galaxy and his Infinity Wars, I’m ready to see what the future holds with Donny Cates :).
Gerry Duggan wrote All-New Guardians Of The Galaxy (which became Guardians Of The Galaxy which became Infinity Countdown which finally became Infinity Wars) from May 2017 to December 2018. If you’d like to read more about their comic history, here are their other eras!