The December issue of Guardians of the Galaxy shipped with a curious hint across its cover: “LIFTOFF in 4…3…2…1…”
It didn’t take long to figure out what writer Al Ewing had planned. With issue #13 (or #175, if you pay attention to legacy numbering), the Guardians are full-fledged superheroes again, committed to being “the Space Avengers,” as Ewing put it in a Marvel press release.
If you were expecting the newly-commissioned Guardians to take orders, however, don’t be nervous. “We’re not your soldiers or your cops,” Richard Rider says early in the issue. “We’re super heroes, guarding the galaxy.” The Guardians will never match the X-Men when it comes to found-family vibes, but this band of misfits are united by far more than simply a commitment to be universal do-gooders. They have history—romantic, personal, or otherwise—and Ewing does well to lean into it here.
Hulkling and Wiccan, two welcome additions to the cast, are not only a royal couple, but teammates with their own valuable skillsets that come in handy when invaders attack the throne-world of the Kree-Skrull alliance. Gamora is still reckoning with Peter Quill’s transformation into a “Master of the Sun,” an ordeal that brought him to a faraway planet, where he entered into a longterm polyamorous relationship.
Then there’s Moondragon, who is now a hybrid of herself from the main Marvel timeline mixed with a version from a utopian dimension. (Gotta love superhero comics!) This new Moondragon is distinct from the one Phyla-Vell fell in love with and their dynamic has been rocky. Notably, the former lovers are on different missions in this book, still adrift from each other.
The Guardians as a whole are united again as the galaxy’s protectors, a conceit that widens the cast while expanding the purpose of where this book fits into the Marvel Cosmic line. I can envision a time when Ewing’s Guardians serves a similar role to Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers—books with a sprawling cast that rotate in members as they fit into the publisher’s broader storylines. We’ve seen hints of this kind of connectivity in Ewing’s other space book, S.W.O.R.D., which is bound to intersect with Guardians soon enough.
There’s a risk to this approach, but Ewing’s track record has me assured that any new characters will be well-served by the broader story. While there tends to be a tradeoff—especially in big, team books—between widescreen action and the quieter, character-driven moments that longtime fans crave, Ewing’s superpower is to ask, “Why not both?”
Since taking over Guardians in January 2020, he’s given several main characters an issue-length spotlight and managed to incorporate the political fallout from King in Black and Empyre into the book’s overarching plot. Star-Lord, most known to moviegoers (and Marvel Cosmic newbies like myself) as a wisecracking twit, was returned to his roots in a spellbinding issue that leaned on Steve Englehart’s original, cosmic design for the character.
The secret sauce for that issue is Juann Cabal’s majestic artwork, which combines character designs straight out of the Frank Quitely tradition to panel layouts that have the symmetry of Dave Gibbons with the cosmic experimentalism of Steve Ditko. The ambition of Cabal’s panel design—which he expounded on in this excellent interview—is sorely missed here, though new series artist Juan Frigeri has a comparable style that is well-suited to the book’s high-flying, heroic era. It helps too that series colorist Federico Blee is staying on. The characters have a visual consistency they otherwise would have lacked.
Frigeri gets little time to settle in, as Ewing stuffs a lot of plot mechanics into this already-oversized issue. We get some gorgeous double-page spreads featuring the team and one of an especially ominous-looking group of cultists. I especially like the detail Frigeri uses in one scene with Groot, as branches and leaves protrude from his body and soil covers his head. Frigeri’s ultimate flex is in the final-page reveal, where a much-loved Marvel character finally joins the cast.
It’s always a weird thing to tiptoe around spoilers that Marvel has already publicly announced, but if you happen to be the spoiler-averse type, I’ll just say this reveal is quite fun and sets up a fascinating dynamic for the book going forward.
This issue does not exist in a vacuum and certainly leans on threads from Empyre and Ewing’s prior Guardians stories, but it’s as good a jumping-on point as any for new readers. The new Marvel Cosmic age is here and I cannot wait to see where Ewing and co. go next.
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