One of my favorite runs in comic book history was the semi-recent saga of Marvel’s cosmic characters, starting with Annihilation and ending with The Thanos Imperative. Written almost entirely by the team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, the epic ran through numerous mini-series and was anchored by two ongoing books, Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy. The Thanos Imperative is one of the most perfect mini-series to come out of superhero comics, and it was damn sad when both books (and, ostensibly, the cosmic line) were cancelled in the mini’s wake.
It wasn’t surprising to fans of those series that, when Marvel was making their plans for upcoming movies, Guardians got greenlit really fast. While obscure, it’s a very marketable franchise with an entire franchise of epic movies already written in that run. Also not surprising that, fast on the heels of this announcement came another that Marvel would be giving their cosmic line another go.
I was less than thrilled when the creative teams were announced. DnA were nowhere to be found. Instead, Nova was being written by Jeph Loeb, literally my least favorite writer in comics, and drawn by Ed McGuinness, his frequent collaborator and one of my least favorite artists. Guardians was to be written by Brian Michael Bendis. I’m extremely hot-or-cold when it comes to Bendis. I felt he was a bad choice for this book, and was deeply bothered by some of the implied politics behind him being chosen. My fears were only made worse when I read how he wrote them in Avengers Assemble. It was like he was trying to write an Aaron Sorkin show in space, the characters all felt wrong, and two members, Star-Lord and Drax, were inexplicably far less dead than we last saw them.
Despite my intense misgivings on the creative teams, I don’t want to see a Nova or Guardians of the Galaxy book fail, so with a discomforting mixture of trepidation, hope, and worry, I decided to check them out. “Nova #1” dropped last week, while Guardians of the Galaxy started things off with a .1 issue this week.
“Nova #1” was so good it shocked me. I’ll freely admit it might be because I had such low expectations, but it was definitely a very good issue regardless of that. Nova starts fresh with a new protagonist, Sam Alexander, who has appeared as Nova in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon. I’m a huge fan of Richard Rider, the classic Nova, but I’m totally OK with a new character donning the helmet. Nova is one of those rare Marvel characters who can truly pass on his mantle and be a legacy character, and besides, Rider’s dead. Not surprisingly, this is an origin story, and I gotta say that I like Sam. The issue focuses on his rocky relationship with his father, and it’s the best writing I’ve seen from Loeb. Loeb doesn’t really have any other projects really going on right now, and with how personal this story is (his son Sam died some years back), you can tell this is the most he’s ever put into a comic. McGuiness also delivers his best. His extremely cartoony style usually bothers me, but is a great fit for this book. My biggest gripe with his art is how overly muscled and disproportional all of his characters look, but he manages to channel those tendencies into a few characters who benefit from it while showing restraint on the others. While it’s good all around, there are even a few panels that are beautifully cinematic and stand out. Like I said, very surprisingly good stuff.
Granted, it wouldn’t be a Jeph Loeb book if he didn’t screw something up. In Nova, it’s the timeline, where we get the Guardians of the Galaxy appearing in flashbacks from 30 years in the past. The Guardians as they exist now only came about in 2008’s Annihilation: Conquest; before that, they weren’t the same concept, muchless team. While this might sound nitpicky, their own book acknowledges this past, causing a slight bit of inconsistency between the books. Also, the combination of that and the cover of “Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1” featuring a child Star-Lord had me a little worried Marvel was rebooting the line a la New 52, and that would have made for an angry Jay.
Bendis also impressed me with Guardians of the Galaxy. This was also an origin issue, focusing on the Guardian’s leader Star-Lord. I was familiar with his origin, but I don’t know if his youth has been explored this deeply before. If it has, I haven’t read it, and I felt Bendis did a very good job making Peter Quill an even more compelling character than before. This was apparently a .1 issue because Bendis wanted to write Star-Lord’s origin, but have the actual first issue be plot-driven. I can’t find fault with this idea, and the results were just fine. Art was handled by the always-fantastic Steve McNiven. His art looks exactly the same as it always does. If you like it, as I do, then you’ll enjoy the art here. I’m still bothered by the unexplained reappearance of Star-Lord and Drax. It’s still not addressed here. I mean, Star-Lord’s death had a very easy, obvious out written into it, but we saw Drax get straight-up disintegrated. What’s he doing there?
The most interesting thing about Guardians was actually the post-script by editor Steven Wacker. In it, he talks about plans for the book and Bendis’s general enthusiasm for it. Most importantly, he talks about how important the past stories were, so I believe there will be a respect for them. Combined with the quality of the book, the whole thing assuages many of my fears. The new cosmic line is off to a strong start with these books. I was sure that these would be awful, but both writers impressed me, and finally having the backing of editorial, these characters are finally getting the attention they deserve.