Star-Lord is finally back, the King in Black is here, and Guardians of the Galaxy #10 shows what happens when a Master of the Void meets a Master of the Sun.
If Al Ewing were not writing this book, I’d find it concerning that Guardians have to rush into a big Marvel crossover so soon after a defining issue for one of their lead characters. Last month, writer Ewing and artist Juann Cabal crafted a psychedelic resurrection story that brought Star-Lord to a “land beyond all suns,” showed him in a queer, polyamorous relationship, and, after decades had elapsed, returned him to his teammates in time to meet Knull, god of the Symbiotes.
It seems almost cruel that Quill has not a moment to catch his breath before clashing with Knull, but if anyone can mine gold from tie-in issues, it’s Ewing. Some of the most memorable issues of Immortal Hulk were one-shots that tied into events like Absolute Carnage and Empyre. With Guardians, Ewing has leaned into the team’s role in the broader Marvel Cosmic landscape, using recent arcs to explore the fallout of Empyre and tease the coming of Knull, a genuinely scary character whose invasion of Earth is key to the King in Black crossover. Tie-ins aren’t a distraction for this book; they’re often been used to help draw out the story Ewing wants to tell.
So when Knull does appear in a stunning splash page that opens the issue, it’s less of a groan-inducing moment than an occasion for awe. Cabal has done career-making work on this book and pages like this are the reason why. Narrative captions inform us that we’re seeing a “composite image” created by a computer whose “logic circuits melted under the strain of the knowledge it was forced to bear.” What Cabal and colorist Federico Blee produce from that demanding description is nothing short of extraordinary: a pixelated portrait of Knull, whose sharp fangs and dark eyes evoke a demon straight from some cyberspace hell. In Immortal Hulk, Ewing famously ends each issue with a splash page, but this time he opens a story with one, giving it the sensation of a roller coaster just beginning its descent.
This is the Guardians after all, and big bad Knull certainly isn’t going to stop them from cracking jokes, however devastating his rampage across the galaxy might be. What distinguishes the humor here from the quippiness that populates the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the sad, almost painful, subtext. Characters like Nova and Rocket Raccoon are struggling under the weight of their responsibilities to the team and dealing with guilt from Quill’s apparent death. Ewing has even shown Nova receiving therapy in a previous issue, still struggling with his inability to stop being a superhero. Gupa, a lizard-looking alien whose homeworld was eradicated by Knull, all but identifies the theme of the book when he tells Nova, “I understand the need to assert your personhood in the face of absolute cosmic horror.” That sentiment encapsulates the character work Ewing is doing with the team, who might be best known when played by Bradley Cooper and Chris Pratt on screen, but have undergone a very different journey in the comics. These are people who’ve been through nonstop war, faced Thanos, died over and over again, and can’t help but search for some light amid the darkness.
Quill, a freshly-minted “Master of the Sun” with powers that nod back to his origin under creator Steve Englehart, reunites with Rocket and Nova before the team takes on one of Knull’s Symbiote dragons. Cabal mixes up the panel layouts to spectacular effect here, bringing in diagonal gutters and bright, yellow backgrounds that were used so powerfully in last issue’s Star-Lord-focused story. Letterer Cory Petit keeps everything flowing smoothly, which is not always easy in cosmic books where there are always characters like Rocket, Super Skrull, and Knull who require specialized word balloons.
This issue won’t generate the buzz of last month’s Star-Lord extravaganza, but in its own quiet way, it serves as a reminder of how impressive even regular issues of this Guardians run have become. Next month’s issue promises a return to the events of Annihilation, the genesis of the modern Guardians of the Galaxy team, and hopefully a reunion between Star Lord and Gamora. Like an album you can’t turn off, this book just has no skips.
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