This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on May 6, 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…
Venom: Space Knight #6
Written by Robbie Thompson
Art and Colors by Ariel Olivetti
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Venom: Space Knight #6 is a paint-by-numbers superhero comic. You know this story. You know this exact story and you’ve read it hundreds of times before. The hero is in a tight spot, but has a plan. A well-timed reversal gives him an opportunity and colorful allies come to the rescue. There’s a climactic battle where the day is saved, but the bad guy gets away. Parents were rolling their eyes at this stuff in theaters during the 1940s. What’s really unforgivable is that there’s nothing more than superficial tweaks to this formula.
Artist Ariel Olivetti’s style is certainly unique within superhero comic. A blend of digital rendering and painting, it creates an effect that appears to be aiming for realism, but hits closer to mech-centric anime cartooning. While not easy to put your finger on, his dedication to this highly rendered form is interesting. The mechs on display inVenom: Space Knight #6 are worth admiring in their detail, even when replicated from the same 3-D model. That format does pull focus from the painterly style of characters when set in the same panel though, as the two approaches fail to cohere in a single moment.
The action and chases of Venom: Space Knight #6 are less static than earlier issues. Characters appear to actually move here and their bodies are not too rigid on the page. While an inability to establish clear geography still slows the pacing of action sequences, explosions and punches land with enough impact to not be ignored (except by most of the characters). The better those moments function the less time there is to be distracted by the constant grimacing of human faces. The monotony of expression on display is only altered by Venom, a character so prone to morphing that he cannot help but be overtly expressive in Olivetti’s hands.
While the mixed strengths and flaws of Olivetti’s work establish it as interesting, the same cannot be said of the scripting. The hackneyed plot that forms the skeleton of the issue is only reinforced in dialogue. Characters spend much of their time explaining the plot to one another. When not doing this, one-liners are utilized in all too familiar ways. A potential love interest stakes a claim on Flash Thompson in the same manner as another alien did inGuardians of the Galaxy #7 at the start of this series. Not only has everything here been done before, down to the last-minute escape complete with cursing of the hero, but there’s no attempt to obscure that fact.
There is a sub-plot regarding Venom’s urge to be a hero and comparing his backsliding towards violence with alcoholism. It is handled with the same subtlety found in an episode of Duck Dynasty. Venom does something wrong, someone points it out, and then he apologizes. The final page is meant to be a foreboding look at the future, but the story the precedes it lacks the gravitas to provide any meaning to this moment.
Venom: Space Knight #6 is defined by an anatomically unremarkable skeleton of a story wrapped in Olivetti’s flesh. The result is something that might appear briefly intriguing at times only to reveal its lack of substance. There is no strength or driving force to this comic beyond filling the lack of a Venom in space comic. And was that really a void anyone noticed or needed to be filled to begin with?
Guardians Wrap Up
If nothing else, it’s clear why movie tickets don’t translate into comics sales. The popularity of the Guardians of the Galaxy film may have assured a place in the Marvel Universe for all of these titles, but it certainly didn’t guarantee they’d match the levels of action, fun, or wit found on the screen. This batch of books reads like an office worker going through the motions after two decades. They understand what it technically means to be a superhero comic, but bring no joy or life to that understanding.
With the notable exception of Rocket Raccoon and Groot #4, these series appear to be functioning in the same way coma patients function. They are technically alive and certainly have a body full of operating organs, but why would you want to spend any time with them? Marvel might be making money on these, but they probably aren’t earning any new fans. It’s a sad lot that suggest maybe the only thing they should have double downed on from the cinematic success were the non-humanoid members of the team.