Under discussion: Guardians of the Galaxy by Abnett and Lanning: The Complete Collection Vols. 1 & 2 and The Thanos Imperative, including Guardians of the Galaxy #1-25, The Thanos Imperative: Ignition, The Thanos Imperative #1-6, and The Thanos Imperative: Devastation.
There’s a conceit at the beginning of The Hypernaturals, the creator-owned space opera superhero comic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, that suggests that you, the reader, are scrolling through options on the world wide web of the far future, searching for something to read or watch. You settle on a summary of daily information, then a Wikipedia-style article entry on something called the Quantinuum, and then a link to a live newsfeed of the first mission of a team called, of course, the Hypernaturals, which is in its centennial year of existence.
The conceit is ambiguous as to whether the reader is supposed to be the one ostensibly flicking through the offered hyperlinks or whether you are instead watching someone else doing the flipping and, if it is someone else, what their motivations might be in learning all about the Hypernaturals. It’s ambiguous as to whether this opening conceit, presented on the first page of issue #1, is a preamble or whether the story proper has in fact started already. That ambiguity puts the reader a bit back on their heels, changing up the rules of the comic interface to get you curious about what’s going on, what’s about to happen. It’s a good hook.
Abnett and Lanning first made a name for themselves with the Legion Lost series over at DC, bringing an unsentimental speedplotting style and British wit to what can lovingly be referred to as second- or third-tier characters. They carried this style and narrative strategy with them when they came to Marvel to participate in the Annihilation series, helping to relaunch Marvel’s cosmic line of books, which their Guardians of the Galaxy title spun directly out of.
And this lineup of Guardians should, finally, look familiar. Silver screen team members Star-Lord, Rocket Raccon, Drax, Gamora, and Groot are all joined here by Marvel universe characters that haven’t made their big-screen debut (yet): Adam Warlock and Phyla-Vell aka Quasar aka Martyr and, later, Jack Flag and Moondragon. (Cosmo the Space Dog, also present here, was technically in the first Guardians movie, but had no lines.) The overarching plot involves rifts in spacetime threatening to tear the universe apart and end existence as our heroes know it–you know, that old chestnut–and the full 25 issues of the Abnett and Lanning Guardians series stick to that A-plot pretty well. There are major subplots, including head-to-head confrontations with the Church of Universal Truth, the resurrection of Thanos, and some inter-team rivalry with a group called the Luminals who are headquartered, as the Guardians are, in the floating space-god-head known as Knowhere.
As in Hypernaturals, Abnett and Lanning aren’t above deploying a formal narrative conceit to take a standard mainstream comic book and make it feel like something else. Here, the Guardians all have on-camera discussions with an unseen interviewer. The British Office aired in 2001, and the American version of that same show started in 2005, so using on-camera conversations to comment on the action of a particular plot, or to pause the plot, or to infuse some humor into an otherwise punch-heavy or melodramatic story, well, Abnett and Lanning didn’t invent the move, is what I’m saying. But deploying that style when dealing with galactic assassins, talking raccoons, and walking trees all on a superhero team together does feel inspired. Revelatory, even. One of the sight gags used here even makes it into the movie, the shot where Groot has to bend down to get in the frame. Which is pretty good for a comic built out of spare parts and forgotten characters.
The comic does a great job of juggling the ongoing plots of the book with Marvel mega-events, which, in the span of 25 issues, includes Secret Invasion, War of Kings, and Realm of Kings. But Abnett and Lanning do a great job of balancing the ongiong momentum of the longer story with these short diversions, using them as opportunities to focus a bit more on individual characters and set up some fantastic action set pieces. (The scenes in the Negative Zone with the Guardians battling Blastaar’s forces are particularly rad.)
The Thanos Imperative brings in a bit more of the Marvel cosmic universe than the main Guardians books, and the books feel a little less jaunty, a little less bouncy because of it. Nova, the Inhumans, and Quasar (Wendell Vaughn, this time) are all cosmic save-the-day heroes, not who-put-us-in-charge heroes, and conversations can veer towards the melodramatic. But the world-building of the Cancerverse and the bad guys, who are seriously nasty throughout this whole series, make up for the muted Guardians snark. I haven’t read the other cosmic crossover events, but I really enjoyed this one. It felt much more nimble and weird compared to the mainstream marvel mega events.
The sad news, for me at least, is that these 33 issues are all that I’ll read of Abnett and Lanning’s, at least until I pick a Marvel cosmic project in the future. There’s a lot of good writing here, and a lot of great character moments, and character development. There are some kinks to work out in the first year of issues, for sure. Star-Lord hasn’t yet become the Star-Lord we know and love, and Drax and Gamora both sound more like the sarcastic Peter Quill that we all expect when we watch a Guardians movie or open up a Sam Humphries or Brian Michael Bendis comic. But there are ample joys throughout, great plotting and weird imagery, and the whole endeavor feels like it was really fun to make.
Part of that, of course, is that there wasn’t much at stake at the time. Nobody knew when Abnett and Lanning started that there would be a movie starring these characters that would make 700 million dollars worldwide. They were just guys who loved comics, storytellers who were just screwing around.
NOTE TO SELF
The non-Guardians of the Galaxy comics I’ve read in April so far (just so I can keep track of them) are.