Quarterbin Folllies #8: To Guard the Galaxy

Quill v. QuillLast Spring, my business partner and fellow ScoBlo nerd Barry Tetz texted me, “have you seen the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer?” I had not and said so. He told me I should stop whatever I was doing and watch it right now. I told him I would get to it when I got to it.

This I did. It was unlike anything I’d seen in a trailer. It didn’t try to sell me on the movie by hinting at a plot, or by talking about how awesome the flick or the hero was. It didn’t even claim to be sexy. It was simply fun, and right then and there, Hollywood earned $6.50 from me.

I was utterly unfamiliar with the Guardians as a concept or as characters, my only exposure being a half-remembered issue of Marvel Two-in-One or Giant Sized Avengers (and, yeah, those weren’t even the same guys). So, my reaction had nothing to do with fan loyalty (excepting the case that I have been very pleased with Marvel Studios’ recent output). Instead, having of recent years become quite a fan of space-travel action, I was pretty excited for August. This was not the case for my friend, Brandon.

Brandon is a far piece younger than myself, but he has been into comics for proportionately longer than I have. And he was a huge Guardians fan. When he learned I’d seen the trailer (during a Munchkin match, if I’m not mistaken) he HAD to know what I thought, HAD to know if I’d read the comics. Brandon, he was cautiously, uh, cautious. “Optimistic” is too weak a word, but “excited” shoots past the mark. He was somewhere in the middle. Regardless, for the next few months, every time I would run into Brandon, the Guardians movie would come up, and his reactions, well, they were comical to say the least. He would increasingly be a little more nervous, a little more frantic. (I shouldn’t make my friend sound like a nutter, but I found him funny enough to mention here. Courage, dude.)

So, here it is, many whiles past August, and Guardians has come and gone from movie houses across this country. Also, I took the time to read some Guardians comics, so you all get two reviews—Call it Rhys’s Two-in-One.

In order of occurrence, I saw the movie first. It was, as advertised, an fun-and-adventure filled romp through the dark corners of Marvel’s cosmic universe, complete with nods to nerd favorites like Howard the Duck and the Infinity Gauntlet (Infinity War, coming summer 2018–or not–I don’t really speak for Marvel). It was just this last year that I discovered Chris Pratt on Parks and Recreation and the Lego Movie (and, oh, what I could say about that flick!), and so it was little surprise that he was enjoyable and fun in this movie. His Peter Quill, a rascal through and through, was more than a little endearing in an impetuous Han-Solo fashion. And the rest of the cast was good, too. There were some great cast dynamics and story interplay, even in the subtext. But it was Quill’s story that I really want to key in on.

In the film, young Peter has a close relationship, as many sons do, with his mother, a women stricken with cancer and on her last leg. Peter has never met his absentee father, but he has been told many wonderful things about him. Next thing you know, Mom dies, and the momma’s boy Peter is kidnapped by aliens. Flash-forward twenty years, and the boy-who-never-had-a-father has grown into a man-without-a-clue under the watchful eyes of a band of space-pirates headed by Mallrats’ Mr. Svenning. It is clear that Star-Lord (as he named HIMSELF) is stuck fast somewhere between ne’er-do-well and ineptitude. He is a compulsively fornicating frat-boy without the good sense to look before leaping. And it is these very leanings that wind him up in jail and in a position to become the captain of a team of misfits as out of place as he is. And that, for me, is the thing that sets the movie apart.

Unlike his spiritual brothers, Malcolm Reynolds and Han Solo, Peter Quill has NOTHING going for him – at least, so far as he knows. He has no hope, no future, and only a tenuous grip on the past in the form of a mix tape from his dead mother. That is precisely where destiny, so called, finds him. He is a loser that suddenly has to learn from and lean on those around him to survive. And these guys look to him like a leader. It makes old Pete really stand up and take notice that he can be something more than a bottom-feeder. He can be a hero.

Now, while this is not my favorite Sci-Fi story, not my favorite adventure story, and not my favorite tale of redemption, it is damn good. Real damn good, truth be told. Another one hits the back wall! DC drops it in the outfield, and Marvel is rounding second – no it’s third – there is no stopping Marvel today, folks.

(And last year, DC release RED 2. Hrm.)

Image3 (1)As is wont with the big theatrical releases, there were any number of tie-in, cross-marketing products at our local Box Store (We have a Wal-Mart!). There, I picked up a mass-market trade reprint of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis. (Now, any folk that have known me in the real world are probably well aware of my mixed to poor opinion of Brian Michael Bendis, so bear that in mind). I instantly found that volume a strange choice for a mass-market tie in for several reasons. First, because of the author. Now, here I am not trying to say anything snide about Mr. Bendis (well, not here), but because the “modern” team was developed by the writing team of Dan Abbnett and Andy Lanning. They built the team, and their work was what worked up the fans to the point where this was a movie that made sense to make, before it made dollars and cents. The second big question that seemed to hover about the air was “Why this story?”

I want to try to keep this as spoiler free as I can, so bear with me here, but Cosmic Avengers is hardly a jumping on story. After a $0.01 issue (that lays out the 616 origin of Peter Quill, but does not match the narrative of 1-3) we are introduced to a team that is not quite working together. We meet Peter’s father, and we instantly learn that they do not get along. Furthermore, we are plunged neck deep into Marvel cosmic politics, so deep I had to read the “diplomatic” sections twice to understand what was going on (and even then, I am not convinced it makes sense).

A big part of that feeling is, I know, because of Bendis’ writing. I have never cared for it—it seems weak, like low-fired pottery. His narrative jumps about without explanation, and his dialog lacks the conversational fluidity of James Robinson or Geoff Johns, the expositional utility of Denny O’Neil or Roy Thomas, or even the realism and distinctive voice of Chuck Dixon. Bendis seems only to be able to make his characters just say, well, stuff. Stuff filled with attitude laced one-liners, sure, but it is just stuff. So, I know that part of my dissatisfaction with the trade is the voice of the author. The other part is the dichotomy between the cinematic Peter Quill and his 616 counterpart.

In the book, Peter Quill is a man who watched his mother die, murdered as collateral damage in an interstellar war. Young and practically an orphan, Quill knows his father is out there. He has excelled, joined NASA, and formed himself into a specimen of heroic accomplishment on his quest to make it to space and seek out his absentee father. As I mentioned, in the film, Peter starts at the bottom and begins to climb out. He was a victim of circumstance trying to find his way and his footing. The 616 Peter Quill is still an ass, but he is not a feckless one. He has no need to become a hero, to be something greater than what he is, because his personal moral issues are not representative of a wholly unfit person. In the film, Peter’s sexual history is just that, a metaphor for his scavenging, bottom-feeding lifestyle. In the book, Bendis paints a picture of a competent soldier who can do anything he wants. So, when he propositions questionable company, yes, he could do better, but he just likes a little skeez in his day.

Once Cosmic Avengers closes in a fashion that hardly feels like a climax, the first issue of Tomorrow’s Avengers is thrown in. This one follows the guardians as they go on about their lives and are eventually gathered together by Peter. It appears there has been some falling out, as they must assemble to face some unknown baddie. Or something. It left me wondering whether that last issue was supposed to be printed first. It just doesn’t seem to fit into any sort of order, and it ultimately hurts the quality of the trade and left a bad taste in my mouth. And I don’t suppose that is the way to leave a book. And this is no way to leave a review, but I really have no idea where to go from here, so I suppose I will take a cue from Bendis and just stop.

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Mathew D. Rhys

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