Under discussion: The first five trades of the Brian Michael Bendis Guardians of the Galaxy series including Cosmic Avengers, Angela, The Trial of Jean Grey, Guardians Disassembled, Original Sin, and Black Vortex.
I’m a heavy reader of everything: magazines, books, and–yeah, sure–comics, too. But even so, I really don’t get all that much in the way of gossip or scuttlebutt about what’s up in mainstream American comic books all that much. Being an omnivore prevents everything but the most noisy or noisome judgments from reaching me. On my desk right now are A Contract with God and Persepolis. I just read Charles Burns’ Black Holefor the first time. I’m the best at what I do and what I do is read very, very, very s-l-o-w-l-y. Which means, for example, that when the name Chip Zdarsky pops up in my newsfeed, I have no idea what the dude is writing right now. (Although I’m sure I’ll like it!)
But even in my sequestered (quarantined?) state, I still wasn’t immune to the common wisdom regarding certain judgments form certain people regarding the current state of our favorite team of cosmic super-slobs:
Some people don’t like Brian Michael Bendis’s Guardians comics, the talk goes.
Now comic readers say stuff like this all the time. Part of it is no doubt driven by the individual quirks of the individual personality of the individual banana factory excreting these pronouncements, just popping them out like gumballs from a metal flap-mouth. Part of it, also, is that because comics is a marginalized art form, that means that performing your aesthetic judgments–declaiming that this is better than that, that that is better than some other thing–becomes a way to sort of reverse engineer some kind of respectability for the medium and–maybe! one day!–some respectability for yourself as someone who loves that marginalized medium.
But I have to say, I think everybody who doesn’t like Bendis’s run is crazy.
It’s breezy and fun and cinematic and not at all serious and all of that is a flarknarding compliment. The comparison that inevitably gets made is back to the Abnett and Lanning run, which was absolutely a great run. Frutackingly inspired. But it’s apples to oranges. Abnett and Lanning were working over characters that hadn’t seen the light of day in a decade, sometimes two, sometimes five. (Right, Groot?) They were reinventing characters as they went, trying out ideas about cosmic heroes and rejiggering their specific brand of space slob zero-to-hero superchamps.
But when Bendis took over, a 100-million-dollar-plus blockbuster movie was on the horizon, and the task of the series writer was no longer to experiment, it was to institutionalize. With the release of a major motion picture from Marvel Studios, Marvel comics had the opportunity to expand their cosmic line in a way that hadn’t been done since Annihilation. But this time, it wouldn’t just be a bunch of cosmic titles that all felt beholden to a pretty (let’s just say it, okay) turgid space opera style of phaser guns and melodramatic monologuing. This would be the launching of a series of weirdo loser-as-hero underdog stories in Guardians and its tie-in series, a fair number of which veered wildly from Marvel house style. (And let’s remember to celebrate every single time Marvel has the guts to abandon its house style!)
Sam Humphries’s inspired Legendary Star-Lord stories. The Groo-ish glee of Skottie Young’s Rocket Raccoon stories. The return of the original Guardians of the Galaxy (briefly, at least) in the Dan Abnett-penned Guardians 3000. (It’s always good to see you again, Charlie-27). This was a chance to plumb the wells of creativity, to loosen the restrictions on storytelling styles, to utilize a range of old and new comic-making talent. But it could only work if the main series was a hit.
And it was, you ungrateful flarknards.
What I suspect that many readers were responding to in the change from Abnett and Lanning to Bendis wasn’t just the tone change, it was the pacing. Abnett and Lanning’s stories are plot-heavy, word-heavy. The Office-style speak-to-the-camera trope slowed down the reading of every issue, not in a bad way, but it set a really different pace. I enjoyed that series most when I was doing one issue a day.
But the Bendis run moves much faster. There, I enjoy it way more if I read a trade paperback at a time. That’s the pacing. It means that his entire run can be read in a lengthy afternoon, sure, but the art and the story and the world-building are such that it would be a very, very pleasant afternoon, indeed.
The truth is, in the future, who knows which one of these characters could get picked up for their own movie or series of movies or series of series of movies, inspiring millions of people around the globe. It could easily be Drax or Rocket or Groot or Star-Lord or Gamora, all of whom either had series, have upcoming series, or have ongoing series right now. And each movie might inspire some of those viewers to go check out the cosmic comic adventures of their favorite character, but they can only do that if those series are all there to read in the first place. And that means somebody has to be manning that main series, keeping the ball in the air, which isn’t a guarantee in mainstream American comics even with a AAA film property tie-in like Guardians of the Galaxy helping you get eyeballs. Because even if you get some eyeballs, that doesn’t mean you’re going to keep them.
And Bendis held down the fort for everybody, and he did it with style and panache and great jokes. And as always, he made it look easy. And making it look easy sucks, because then people start thinking that it is easy. But that’s the job. The job is to make it look easy.
NOTES TO SELF
This pretty much ties up my Guardians of the Galaxy coverage for Hey Storytellers. That means that I still haven’t read:
Rocket Raccoon and Groot ongoing
All-New All-Different Guardians of the Galaxy
Star-Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy (70s and 90s stories)
The Jim Valentino Guardians of the Galaxy stories
Which is a bummer, because I’d love to read all of that stuff, I just don’t have time right now.
But it’s also great, because now I have something to look forward to reading before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 comes out in twenty-twenty-whatever!