This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on May 5, 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…
Written by CM Punk and Cullen Bunn
Art by Scott Hepburn and Scott Hanna
Colors by Matt Milla and Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Drax #6 certainly reads like a comic influenced by a professional wrestler. It knows who its faces and heels are and makes damn sure its audience does too. There’s no degree of subtlely acceptable within this narrative; the action and words on the page are designed to deliver the text, all of the text, and nothing more. That sort of blunt force comic book works well with a firm grasp on craft and genre, like in Rocket Raccoon and Groot, but here it results in something middling.
Artists Scott Hepburn and Scott Hanna provide workable layouts (Hepburn) and pencils (both), but they also don’t match the delivery in earlier issues of the series. Even within the pages of Drax #6 slight changes show a rush for deadlines. Gratuitous lines and increasingly blocky figures fail to capture and speed and power found in the best moments of their work. A few early pages in which Drax is fleeing across a jungle terrain are the most finely tuned in the comic. With each step forward it feels like something, albeit a very small percentage of something, is lost.
Drax #6 spends so much time with its typically solemn leading man talking with his compatriots, villains, and other random encounters that there isn’t much time for action at all. Even in the final sequence, a long battle and chase, it feels like words come before the images. There is so much to be said that panels are worked around bubbles packed with exposition. Splash pages are utilized as an opportunity to monologue and action sequences are never given a moment to breathe. Here the wrestling influence is showing once again, but it’s something that comes at the detriment of the comics medium.
The new villain of the issue, Killer Thrill, summarizes these visual and storytelling problems perfectly. In a splash where she stands over Drax, she is shown striking a standard pose and explaining everything about herself and her plan. Not only does this bring the action to a grinding halt, but it feels unrealistic, even within the genre of superhero comics. Every bit of her action is driven by explaining her powers and being evil to an inanely silly level. No one is laughing with Killer Thrill though, they’re all just laughing at her.
Her design leaves something to be desired as well, like most of Drax’s crew mates. There is a gothic lolita vibe in her dress and makeup, but it’s unclear how any of this relates to her character. It’s as if someone decided that high school girls were the most terrifying thing in the galaxy, but forgot to play on that joke in the comic itself. Killer Thrill’s neon pink hair stands out both for its lack of interior linework and coloring that diverges wildly from the rest of Drax #6. It is a visual focal point that serves no purpose, simply interrupting the flow of pages.
Drax #6 is a comic that does a lot of work to bury its strengths. The pencil work of Hepburn and Hanna, reminiscent of James Harren’s fast and mean qualities, is something to value. Yet every chase and action beat is buried in text and designs feel either rushed or are focused on characters that do not appeal to their style. There’s some enjoyable violence to be found in Drax, but the series will make you dig for it.