How the GUARDIANS Movie Reinvigorated Marvel’s Cosmic Comics Frontier

Marvel Comics October 2014 solicitations
Credit: Marvel Comics
new Guardians of the Galaxy poster
new Guardians of the Galaxy poster
Credit: Marvel Studios

This month’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie was perhaps one of Marvel Studios’ biggest gambles since the risky proposition of self-financing their own movies began with Iron Man, but that risk has paid off – and in some ways paved the way for an entirely new space-based group of books in its home front of comics. Marvel comics have published comics set in outer space for decades intermittently under the nickname of “cosmic,” but despite that realms’ boundless measure it’s only played host to one ongoing series at a time, or two at most even during the early 2000s with “Annihilation;” but now, after the announcement of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie sparked the company’s comics line to revive its comic namesake, that flicker has grown to a firestorm encompassing seven ongoing series – with more on the way.

The flagship in this informal cosmic line is for all means and purpose Guardians of the Galaxy, which has been written by Brian Michael Bendis since it’s revival in 2013 on the heels of the movie announcement. That title – and the popularity of the accompanying movie – has prompted Marvel to spin-off two of its characters into solo books: The Legendary Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon; two characters, that for a period in the late 1980s and all of the 1990s, counted themselves luckily if they showed in Marvel Handbooks, let alone in actual comics.

A third title has dovetailed into the upward trajectory of Guardians of the Galaxy with both a membership and a new setting: Captain Marvel. In 2013, the company relaunched that series with a new #1 as the titular star joined the Guardians team and title, and changed her solo title’s setting to match that of her new affiliation, in space.

Credit: Marvel Comics

A fourth title set in Marvel’s “cosmic” quadrant and eve with ties to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie is the ongoing series Nova. Although the young Nova at the center of that series, Sam Alexander, was not seen in the movie, the use of the Nova Corps and their insignia so prominently would easily lead to the assumptions of future presence by the Nova Corps – and possibly a Nova Corpsman – in future Marvel Cinematic Universe releases. That comic series has featured appearances by several members of the Guardians, but for the most part has focused on the Nova character’s history – both as part of the Nova Corps and his personal history with his father, also a member of the Nova Corps.

Another facet to Marvel’s group of cosmic titles is Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Mike Allred. Currently the series had had no affiliation with the current Guardians of the Galaxy series or movie, but for a time the so-called sentinel of the spaceways was considered the face of Marvel’s cosmic titles during his first ongoing series, which ran from 1987 to 1998.

Those are the last heroes with ongoing series that some would consider “cosmic” on the surface, but Marvel has been shuttling several of its Earth-bound heroes into the blackness of space and the allure of extraterrestrial actively.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The recently launched Cyclops series saw the time-tossed teen Scott Summers leaving All-New X-Men to re-connect with his long lost father, Corsair, who coincidentally happens to be a space pirate. While the X-Men have had numerous cosmic adventures, neither them nor Cyclops would be pegged by anyone as a cosmic hero – and that marking provides to be the catalyst for the Cyclops series to work, providing a proverbial “fish out of water” scenario for the younger Summers.

In addition to those seven ongoing series, Marvel announced three more books for release later this year which will join in the growing constellation of cosmic books – with one, like Cyclops, featuring a distinctly un-“cosmic” character getting in on the action.

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier will see the one-time Captain America sidekick (and Cap himself for a spell), take off on a new, as-yet-unspecified, mission into the outer reaches of space. Series writer Ales Kot has avoided spelling out specifically what and why Barnes is heading out into space, but his reticence is tied to the forthcoming finale of Original Sin which could perhaps see the former kid commando take up Nick Fury’s role as ‘Man on the Wall’ for Earth in Marvel Comics.

Credit: Marvel Comics

The second series that is going cosmic is Angela: Asgard’s Assassin. While in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Asgard is sometimes referred to as extraterrestrial, in comics it’s other-dimensional but series co-writer Kieron Gillen says Angela will crisscross both space and dimensions. Jim Starlin, who is considered the originator of the term “cosmic” for Marvel, had stories featuring characters going into space as well as other dimensions, so that could equivalently make Asgard part of the extended family of Marvel comic.

Also there is the most direct tie-in to Guardians of the Galaxy – a second ongoing title featuring the original incarnation of the team in Guardians 3000, written by one of the writers who created the movie incarnation of the team, Dan Abnett.

Speaking of Starlin, the Detroit-born cartoonist has been doing a series of space-based stories in miniseries and graphic novel form centered on Thanos, set in space, and in some instances including the Guardians of the Galaxy. From Thanos: The Infinity Revelation to the recent Thanos Annual with promise of more, Marvel is using the creator considered the forefather of cosmic titles to add more depth – and take advantage of Thanos’ popularity of course – to their comics titles.

Credit: Marvel Comics

In addition to all these ongoing series, graphic novels and miniseries, you can’t forget another big push into outer space for Marvel: last year’s Infinity event series. Although the series starred Earth’s Avengers, series writer Jonathan Hickman added a number of space-based secondary characters to the team in advance of that series such as Captain Universe, Smasher, Ex Nihilo, and Abyss. Adding to that is the space-based setting of the series and of course the book’s antagonists: Thanos and his Infinity army, as well as the mysterious Builders who came and went from the series without any firm explanation of their true connections to the Marvel U.

When asked about this explosive growth of space-based titles at Marvel, Newsarama asked the company’s Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso what he thought and he succinctly said “Mission accomplished!”

Alonso went on to tell Newsarama that these titles were part of a concerted effort internally at Marvel conceived after they learned Marvel’s film division was prepping a Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

Credit: Marvel Comics

“Once we got word that the studio was gearing up for a Guardians movie, we set our sights on narrowing the gap between Earthbound and Cosmic super heroes in the pages of our comics,” Alonso says. “It’s called the “Marvel Universe” for a reason: the stakes have never been just Earth. Going into this, we viewed Guardians as a franchise that featured five bona fide lead characters, an amazing rogue’s gallery, and a virtually limitless backdrop, and we decided to go all-in in terms of talent and promotion. It just so happened that Jeph Loeb had some very cool ideas for Nova, so that became a part of the plan. And of course, all of this made for a more receptive environment for launching Captain Marvel, Silver Surfer and Cyclops.”

Currently, Marvel has its comics titles segregated internally into separate groups based on the ‘family’ of character’s it’s a part of; Executive Editor Mike Marts oversees the X-Men related titles, Senior Editor Nick Lowe supervises all Spider-Man related books, while Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort along with Wil Moss, Mark Paniccia and Bill Rosemann oversee the remainder, grouped under the moniker of the ‘Heroes’ books. These cosmic titles, while fitting under one label, don’t fit strictly under one editor; the X-Office handles Guardians of the Galaxy, The Legendary Star-Lord, Guardians 3000 and Cyclops, while the Spidey-office shepherds Nova, RocketRaccoon and Captain Marvel. The remaining titles, Silver Surfer, Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier and Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, are overseen by Tom Brevoort and Wil Moss.

Credit: Marvel Comics

When asked about the possibility of the cosmic titles being regrouped into its own line similar to how the X-titles were in the late 1980s, Alonso dispels that notion as might go against their plans to integrate them as fully as possible into the larger Marvel universe.

“We regard all of our characters to be part of the same universe, and we work every day to reinforce that with readers. It’s part of the reason that Iron Man joined the Guardians of the Galaxy during its launch,” Alonso said. “So, no, we don’t regard the cosmic titles to be a satellite or “sub-line” to the Marvel Universe. The Marvel Universe is more than just Earth. Always has been.”

Although these series already in the works, and in most cases being published, before the explosive success of Guardians of the Galaxy at movie theatres this month, Alonso says that the movie has an effect internally on what they do next.

“Look, our goal was to make narrow the gap between cosmic and Earthbound heroes, and translate this into increased sales of cosmic comics sell before the movie, and we did that,” the long-time editor explains. “Now that the Guardians’ Q-rating has gone through the roof, we’ll do everything we can to ride the wave of interest in all things cosmic.”

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