Under discussion: Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers Vol. 2.
Includes issues: Thor Annual #6; Avengers (1963) #167-168, #170-177, and #181; Ms. Marvel (1977) #23; Marvel Team-Up (1972) #86; Marvel Two-In-One #61-63, and #69.
The main emotion that one experiences reading the issues contained in the Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers Vol. 2 trade paperback is one of displacement. Displacement from oneself, from one’s surroundings. The time isn’t the only thing out of joint; almost every character is out of joint with themselves. Starhawk can’t see. Vance Astro is a coward. Nikki turns into a froth-mouthed rage-killer. Through the course of these issues, almost everybody gets a turn trying on those ugly clothes.
We’re still dealing with the Guardians from a thousand years in the future, a team consisting of psychokinetic man-out-of-time Vance Astro; the crystalline scientist Martinex; the fin-headed archer Yondu; resident meathead Charlie-27; the flame-haired miniskirt-ninja-acrobat Nikki; and the light-riding precog Starhawk, the “one who knows.” In these stories, the Guardians have been stranded in the past, in America circa nineteen-seventy-whatever, and end up teaming up with the Avengers, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, and the Thing.
There are two types of plots in this collection: those in which something out-of-time is corrected or redeemed and those in which something out-of-time must be destroyed. The first type of story is written up by a stable of well-known Marvel writers including Mark Gruenwald, Chris Claremont, and others. The latter are almost entirely written (or at least plotted) by Jim Shooter.
The bulk of the collection is made up of the “Korvac Saga,” which runs roughly from Avengers #167-177. The story follows Korvac, a sneering future villain whose torso pops out of what looks like an old Commodore 64 console and who sneaks onto Galactus’s ship, reinvents himself as a god (with legs instead of a Colecovision!), and travels back in time. There, he uses his godlike power to hypnotize a fashion model who comes and lives chastely with Korvac, who has renamed himself Michael, in the New York suburbs. The fashion model turns out to be the daughter of the alien Collector, an Elder of the Universe, who has sent his daughter to spy and report back on Michael. But Michael ends up killing the Collector long distance instead, because reasons.
The Avengers finally track Michael down with the help of the Guardians, who have chased Korvac back a thousand years through time, and the team is unable to overcome Michael’s near-omnipotent power. In the end, Michael only dies because he allows himself to, as does his fashion-model-from-outer-space girlfriend. The girlfriend, similarly cosmically powerful because why not, dies the same way for the same reason. The story ends with Moondragon insisting the Michael acted benevolently in his omnipotence, but what good ever came from listening to Moondragon? (I mean seriously.)
The problem with the Korvac Saga is that it is weird in ways that it doesn’t seem aware of. Wonder Man acts embarrassed when Ms. Marvel flirts with him, saying something like “I just don’t know what to do with these modern women, yeesh!” This, despite the fact that Wonder Man’s alter ego, Simon Williams, is an actor. (The excuse is that he’s been in suspended animation since the 1960s, because everybody was a nun in the 1960s.) Then there is the fact that we’re supposed to believe Michael and his moll are madly, spiritually in love at the end of the story even though he hypnotized her into living with him and she was a spy for a space immortal. There’s also the scene where young Vance Astro (who grows to be an astronaut who takes a thousand-year journey before becoming one of the founding Guardians of the Galaxy himself) is almost run over a truck for no reason, a scene too random to be an effective red herring for the Korvac plot. The list goes on.
A superhero who can fly, is superstrong, and is also a successful actor doesn’t know what to do when a woman flirts with him. Hm. From Avengers #172.Grounding the Guardians on earth tends to rob them of the weird imagery and associative plots that their earlier stories held. Here, they are beholden to the street-level plot of Spider-Man stories in Marvel Team-Up #86 and to the super team soap opera of the Avengers stories, where they really don’t have all that much to do except act as guest-star thugs and beat on the bad guys. It’s not a matter of the talent set to making these stories–Chris Claremont pens the Ms. Marvel and the Marvel Team-Up stories–it’s just that, on earth, the Guardians are just another set of superpeople, a roster of abilities to call on strategically when the battle or the story need a jolt.
The stories that get closest to the weirder, better earlier Guardians stories are the three-issue Marvel Two-in-One story running from #61 to #63 and the final Marvel Two-in-One story with the Guardians, #69. The first draws heavily on and owes a heavy debt for its strangeness to, Starlin’s Warlock run. In it, a being known as Her seeks out the corpse of Adam Warlock on counter-earth, which has been hauled across the universe by intergalactic movers. (See? It’s already awesome.)
The last story shows Vance Astro haranguing his younger self to not make the mistake that he made in signing up for a 1,000-year space journey. The temporal frisson caused by their conversations creates a fog that the Guardians and the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing vanquish by confronting the older Astro, a battle which accidentally awakens young Vance’s psychic abilities early, therefore setting Marvel-616 earth, the main Marvel Universe, onto a different path than that of older Vance Astro’s timeline. The question begged by the plot is: Why save a reality in which you are promised a thousand years of pain? Astro basically whomps his former self in the head, pushing the train onto a new set of tracks, headed where, nobody knows.
The last story is a nice deconstruction of the “make sure everything is exactly how we found it” plot of a lot of time travel stories, and here, as in the Gerber-penned earlier Guardians stories, we see darkness and dream-logic sitting side-by-side with punchlines and phaser blasts. There’s a story (apocryphal?) that people tell about the writing of the Guardians move where a draft came to Joss Whedon to review and he sent it back with a short note: “More James. Make it weirder.” One feels the same way about the stories here. They should be weirder.
It should be noted that aside from a one-panel appearance in a mid-80s Sensational She-Hulk comic, the Guardians of the Galaxy don’t appear again until they get their own ongoing series in 1990. That’s a decade without a real story. In hindsight, it’s amazing that the title survived to be reborn out of the Annihilation cosmic comics event and then to become a smash-hit at the global box office. It’s easy to imagine the whole thing just going away forever, never to return. Instead, the second movie might make a billion dollars in 2017. There is no good reason for comic readers to deserve a movie as good as the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. And who knows? The second one might even be better.