This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on May 2, 2016.
Comics Bulletin critic Chase Magnett has been working his way through Marvel Comic’s biggest franchises since the publisher relaunched (don’t dare use the word “reboot” anywhere Tom Brevoort can see it) their superhero line in the wake of Secret Wars. From the X-Men to the Avengers to the Inhumans, he has tackled five comics in a single week to check up on these big teams along with their individual members. There was at least one big gap left in his series of expeditions though: the Guardians of the Galaxy.
In the last few years the Guardians of the Galaxy have gone from Marvel’s unloved 80s space series and a second-rate knock off of the Suicide Squad to one of the most precious properties in publication thanks to the surprising success of a single movie. Instead of having only one or two series, if any, in publication, now the team has a reliable ongoing and a solo series for almost every one of its members. That’s not to mention other tangential titles that can’t be squeezed into this week. So has the success of the movie Guardians of the Galaxy translated into some quality comics? Let’s find out…
Guardians of the Galaxy #7
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Valerio Schiti
Colors by Richard Isanove
Letters by Cory Petit
This series of reviews is starting to feel like an abattoir. I’m not sure if it’s accidental or intentional, but all of the franchise anchoring team comics published by Marvel resemble the blandest, most unremarkable version of superhero stories possible. Extraordinary X-Men, All-New, All-Different Avengers, and Uncanny Avengers are all titles without notable ideas or creative input being sold as the most important elements of the biggest publisher in American comics. Guardians of the Galaxy is no different. If this is what is being sold to the mythical movie-turned-comics fan crowd, then it’s no surprise that box office is growing while comics remain a niche.
Guardians of the Galaxy #7 is unremarkable on its most fundamental levels. This is a plot that has been played out one to two dozen times with very little fluctuation in superhero comics over the past year. Some heroes fall into enemy hands only to turn the tide with their plan and save the day. That’s not to say that this very well-trodden series of plot beats and twists can’t be changed to something new, but that is not the case here. The Thing and Rocket Raccoon run roughshod over Badoon (a villain no reader has any reason to care about) to save random aliens (victims no reader has any reason to care about). It’s almost like this is a comic no reader has any reason to care about.
What about the charm and style of Bendis’ Mamet-influenced scripting though? If Guardians of the Galaxy and his other series published over the past couple years are any indication, the last of Bendis’ charm died a painful death in the early phases of his X-Men run. Both the humorous and romantic elements included in Guardians of the Galaxy #7 are painful to read. Rocket goes off on aliens speaking in an untranslated language in a series of non sequitur jabs made to sound funny by a lack of context. They lead nowhere and are not particularly funny, unless you’re a five-year-old who finds animals making vulgar references funny on basic principle. That’s understandable, if you’re five years old.
The equivalent of bottom-tier Simpsons shit-posting coming from Rocket isn’t as troublesome as Ben Grimm’s odd love story jammed into this issue to give it some sort of… drama? Maybe this is what is considered drama at Marvel Comics these days. The Thing isn’t very enthused about saving a planet stacked with slaves until a particularly attractive slave woman approaches him. He starts to act like a randy wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon, minus all of the charm of a Tex Avery cartoon. Not only is this disturbing based on the context of him coming onto a slave who is just now being rescued from years of servitude, but how the comic presents her returning his affection. She is not even given a voice within the issue. Instead a child translates some things for her, and just makes faces at the dirty talk. This enslaved woman, the only woman in Guardians of the Galaxy #7, is reduced to being a sex object and reward for one of two male heroes. It’s pretty fucked up.
I won’t discount artist Valerio Schiti’s style, which sets a high-bar for the house efforts at Marvel Comics, but it doesn’t add much to the issue or diminish these problems. The Thing’s enslaved sex toy is visually treated like a… sex toy. It’s meant to be rewarding for male readers to see big tits and thick hips wander across the page with no real range of emotion. The violence on display doesn’t satisfy any more than the hollow sexuality does either.
Most of the big panels showing The Thing trading blows with over-sized Badoon warriors could be pulled back more than two decades to the “Death of Superman” event. He puts his fists together to crack them in the jaw. It’s big action with wide swings, but there’s absolutely no impact or visceral connection. There is only violence carbon copied so many times that the result is a blue you stare at hoping to feel something. The lines are crisp and the colors sharp (although not additive), but there’s nothing to care about here. You will not be shocked or awed, even if you’ve never picked up a superhero comic before.
Whether or not this is your first exposure to superhero comics, it’s one that cannot be recommended. People who loved the Guardians of the Galaxy movie won’t find any of the quick wit, fast action, or oddities they may have loved about the movie here. People who love comics won’t find anything they haven’t seen hundreds of times before. The only thing Guardians of the Galaxy #7 might be useful for is as a case study for the concept of “corporate superhero comics”. It’s a thing produced because it must be produced, meeting a set of standards and expectations not concerned with anything close to art or storytelling. It is digestible, but that also means it belongs in your bowels.