Guardians of the Galaxy #1
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Juann Cabal and Federico Blee
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
While the Guardians of the Galaxy are firmly embedded in the popular consciousness thanks to a quartet of successful Marvel movies, they haven’t quite coalesced in a similar fashion in their own comic books just yet. From Brian Bendis’s run to Gerry Duggan’s relaunch to Donny Cates’ recent series, nothing seems to have stuck for this gang of intergalactic misfits the last few years, so it makes sense that writer Al Ewing and artist Juann Cabal are shaking things up with a retooled new roster. And in many ways, Ewing and Cabal do everything right, at least in terms of execution - but it’s hard to shake off the feeling that this doesn’t quite feel fresh enough to really make an impact.
There’s a line early on in the book where Gamora asks “didn’t we just go through this?” - and Ewing’s self-awareness notwithstanding, she kinda has a point. Donny Cates recently shook up the Guardians’ roster as they battled the Universal Church of Truth… and Ewing is doing much the same, this time pitting the Guardians against the pantheon of Zeus and the Olympians. To his credit, there are some interesting wrinkles here - Ewing’s take on Nova feels particularly inspired, as Rich is already threatening to cave in thanks to the litany of trauma he’s recently endured - but I’d also argue that history has shown us the Guardians’ popularity makes them resistant to line-up changes. Ewing works hard to make cast additions like Marvel Boy feel justified, but continuity rarely stacks up against strong relationships, which beyond Star-Lord and Rocket feel a little lacking.
But that said, if you haven’t read Cates’ recent Guardians of the Galaxy series, you’ll probably find a lot to like here. In a lot of ways, this book feels very similar to Ewing’s criminally underrated Mighty Avengers run, in the sense that he’s got the action beats down to a science, nimbly throwing in characterization for added flavor. There’s a bit where Nova and Phylla-Vell stare down an angry Zeus, and while Phylla says she’s a Captain Marvel who has spanked gods before, Nova is all-business, giving just his title and serial number while reading the renegade god his space-Mirandas. And while the concept of the Olympians feels a little played-out, Ewing works extra-hard to justify them, with Artemis and Hermes quickly unraveling the Guardians’ attempts to infiltrate their city. By the end of the issue, Ewing is hitting us with so many different perspectives that we’re clearly meant to feel as overwhelmed as his heroes - I’m not sure the effect necessarily lands as sharply as intended, but it’s a trick that’s smart enough that I’m glad he and Cabal attempted it.
And speaking of Cabal, he does some strong work here. While it still feels like a mistake to adhere to Star-Lord’s classic design - which feels a little like a nondescript blond guy every time he ditches his metal mask - his take on Rocket feels really expressive, and thanks to Federico Blee’s colors, Phylla-Vell really steals the show every time she pops up on the page, even if she doesn’t necessarily have a ton to do. Cabal even takes his best shot at a Kirby homage with the Olympians’ new designs, and honestly? I respect the hell out of him for even trying. While the quieter first half of the issue doesn’t necessarily do Cabal’s talents justice, once the plot kicks off, you see him trying some really ambitious stuff, like a maze-like double-page spread that feels like Cafu’s work on Midnighter, or the staccato pacing of the Guardians’ frenetic final battle towards the end of the book.
There’s a reason why Al Ewing headlines one of Marvel’s highest-selling books, and it’s because Immortal Hulk constantly succeeds based on both execution and high concept - the thoughtfulness that permeates that series constantly reveals new layers for Marvel’s Unjolliest Green Giant. But for Guardians of the Galaxy, I’d argue that while the execution feels more than solid, the concepts grounding the series still feels a little underdeveloped - a deficiency which feels even more pronounced given the number of relaunches of the past few years. That said, if you’re going to relaunch this series, you could do a whole lot worse than Ewing and Cabal - while the jury is still out as to whether they will stick the landing in future issues, if they can’t bring the Guardians of the Galaxy to the heights of their cinematic counterparts, who can?