A Marvel #1 Worth Guarding

Guardians #1
Marvel Comics – Marc Sumerak (w); Casey Jones (p); David Self (i)Let’s be perfectly clear on one thing before we start: Marvel puts out entirely too many books in any given month and the vast majority of them are absolute crap. I mean, 17 new #1s in the July issue of Previews? That’s reaching, if not exceeding, a mid-90s level of output (though, to be fair, quite a few of those are mini-series and not more ongoing titles) and I think we all remember what the end result of the past decade was for Marvel: bankruptcy.

That having been said, if more of Marvel’s new books were like Guardians, I probably wouldn’t say a damned thing about there being five or six new titles launched every month.

I don’t have much more than the most passing of familiarities with the previous Guardians of the Galaxy titles, so I can’t comment on how this new incarnation stacks up against the last (i.e., I don’t know if the characters here are retconned / updated versions of the ’90s Guardians). Let’s just treat it like this is a book about completely new characters, because they might as well be as far as I’m concerned (and considering my general ignorance of the subject, it’s possible that they are new).

To compensate for his parents’ marital difficulties, Vince Armstrong (apparently your typical white, middle-class, socially-inept adolescent) leads an active fantasy life. Rather than being the younger of two children living in a dysfunctional home, he holds the rank of Captain in and serves as de facto leader of the Guardians, a group of self-appointed protectors of the planet Earth (read: his equally clueless classmates). One night, awakened by the latest episode in the white trash melodrama that constitutes his parents’ failing marriage, Vince’s sleepy eye catches a glimpse of what seems to be a meteor, falling to Earth and coming to rest in the woods behind his house. With his small group of friends in tow and his overweight and long-suffering older brother maintaining a fashionably aloof distance, the Guardians dash into the woods to investigate.

They are initially downhearted to find that apparently Vince’s barely-waking eye had deceived him, with no evidence of an extraterrestrial crash to be found. However, they quickly find a downed spacecraft, hidden from their view by means of some sort of cloaking device. Adding to their excitement, they rescue the craft’s occupant from a neighbor’s overly aggressive dog, an incident that culminates in the alien pilot bestowing upon Vince a token of his gratitude: a carved stone pendant that marks him as friend of the alien’s people.

The story then flashes forward a few years. Vince and his friends are no longer grade school / junior high students, but young adults finishing high school and branching out in university life. The rest of the Guardians seem to be doing quite well, having long since been convinced by child therapists that their adventure in the woods did not, in fact, actually happen. Only Vince clings to his childhood memories, touting his pendant as “proof” of the alien encounter. However, even he must grudgingly admit, by the issue’s end, that even if the Guardians did meet an alien visitor, it’s had no positive effect on their lives (Vince himself having lived with the mantle of “the weird kid” for all of his school career since). Finally abandoning the hope that Dre’kk, the pilot of the otherworldly craft, will never return to Earth, Vince tosses his pendant aside and puts the entire affair out of his mind. However, events are coming together that will force him to reconsider his new stance on life from other planets.

OK, so what’s good about it? First of all, that’s probably the most I’ve seen happen in a Marvel #1 in a long, long time. It felt like their standard decompressed crap when I first read it, simply because the issue is mostly talking heads interrupted only by the scene where the flying saucer crashes and Marvel’s conditioned me to hate that — but after a second reading, I realized that Sumerak really gets a lot accomplished in 22 pages. I mean, if this were a Bendis or Millar book, the issue would have ended when the Guardians turned around and saw the alien on the ground. Then the next issue would have been them fighting off the dog and getting the pendant. And that would have been followed by an issue where Vince decides to forget about the alien and then struggles internally with that decision. And so on and so on; you get the idea.

But what’s even better is that what Sumerak does gets accomplished is really quite good. Personally, I think this is the sort of stuff that new Marvel titles should be focusing on: all-ages (but not, by any means, dumbed down for a younger audience) books featuring new characters in stories with less of the hand-wringing and navel-gazing that has become Marvel’s stock in trade. Not a grittier look at Bishop or another chance for Gambit to have his own series, not another Spider-Man book, and sure as hell not a new Elektra mini-series (which is twice as stupid as the other examples, since they just cancelled the ongoing).

Another nice touch was the fact that the Guardians are a multi-ethnic and mixed-gender team, but Sumerak didn’t feel the need to highlight that by making the black guy speak in nonstandard English or have the Asian kid go out of his way to mention how great his math scores are or have the female pontificate the latest in feminist thought. Not every non-white male character needs to be a stereotype and Sumerak should be applauded for realizing that. I think it’s sad that I have to pat him on the back for doing something that should be common sense, but it’s a sad reality, and its existence speaks poorly of the industry, not Sumerak.

So that’s the good. Where’s the bad?

Well, I must confess to being a bit irritated by Dre’kk’s name. J’onn J’onzz has always been a source of amusement to me, in that DC simply took a human name, spelled it differently and used unnecessary apostrophes. Here, Marvel is taking a word for fecal matter, adding a “k” to it and throwing in a random apostrophe. ‘Cause, y’know, he’s an ALIEN. It’s just dumb, man. Then again, it’s possible that Sumerak is lampooning DC’s Martian naming conventions (yeah, try saying that in public) and I’m just too dense to see it, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.

And unfortunately, Guardians highlights the biggest flaw in Marvel’s “flood the shelves with new books” policy: good books are going to go unnoticed. I mean, knowing how fanatical X-Men fans are and how they’ll gobble up anything even tangentially related to the X-Men universe (even if it’s complete shit), do you think they’re going to give a second look to a book with an unnecessarily vague cover (it’s just some hands being held up in the air) and title when they know there’s going to be a flood of new X-Men solo books coming out any time soon? Hell no, their comics budgets are probably already overtaxed by the glut of existing X-Men titles (most of them shipping twice monthly) and if they’re going to stretch it even thinner for anything, it’s going to be another X-book. The rest of the Marvel readership has been burned so damned many times by these false starts, where Marvel launches a new book and then cancels it a year later (y’know, like every book in Tsunami except Mystique, coincidentally the only title in the imprint with a solid X-Men connection), that they’re mostly just ignoring the majority of the new books on the shelves now, if the charts are anything to go by.

So it seems there’s little chance that Guardians will make it past its initial 5-issue run. All the same, there’s hope that Marvel will recognize and support a quality title (they did keep Runaways going for a year and a half) and randomly latch onto it with no reason to expect a sales jump (like they’ve done with Thor: Son of Asgard). At any rate, you should do your part and pick up Guardians, because it’s a standout book and worth your support, even in a week where the shelves are pretty cramped with quality titles (as this week is).


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