I’m been a Guardians of the Galaxy fan for the last seven years or so. It’s been one of my favorite comic books in general.
And I was particularly a big fan of the Bendis era. I had some scepticism going into the All-New Guardians of the Galaxy title in 2017. I hadn’t particularly liked any of the solo titles that followed the break-up of the Guardians (with the exception of the Gamora series, which I did like – and I reviewed here).
And I wasn’t immediately enamoured with the visual style of this new series. However, I decided to commit to it anyway: and here is a brisk, issue-by-issue review of All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #1 – 11.All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #1 is a fun little caper to kick things off in a new direction. There are little tidbits and intrigues scattered about to set things up for this arc, with the main story focusing on the gang being manipulated into going up against the Collector.
There’s plenty to like here. The gang pulling off a heist, posing as a giant Galactus, is genuinely a funny touch. I’m generally happy to have the gang back together after a year or so of (mostly not-very-interesting) solo stints. The characters are presently somewhat estranged from one another, still playing out the aftermaths of their own private experiences. Admittedly, there’s something enjoyable about a pacifist, peace-loving Drax the Destroyer who likes to meditate.
I still have the sense here, however, that the GOTG books are going to struggle to recapture or retain the quality levels of previous years, particularly the Bendis era. It’s the same problem, I feel, that is hampering the X-Men books, which – through all the rebooting and reorganisation – keep experiencing dips in quality and consistency.
That being said, the Guardians are a smaller ensemble and franchise, easier to manage: and All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #2 ramps up the fun factor, flowing from start to finish with vitality, humour and oddball weirdness – which is to be expected from a mission to infiltrate the hideaway of The Collector and try to steal from him.
This provides a fertile playground for especially imaginative visions and conceptual art, with a few perception-tricks thrown in. The Collector’s domain is kind of like a bigger, cosmic version of a visit to Doctor Strange’s house, lending itself to a suitably off-kilter visual book.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #3 is a mini masterpiece. It’s the first chapter in this run to have really compelled me and captured my imagination.
Both the themes and the visuals meld beautifully to create a stunning, compelling reading experience. Centered entirely on Gamora, this is a mystical, esoteric interlude, which is endlessly fascinating.
I’m not sure I even entirely understood the nature of what Gamora is experiencing here; but that’s arguably a facet of the mystical experience. Best as I can understand, she is in communion with a part of herself – a part of herself that was absorbed into the Soul Gem world or something like that and has remained trapped there.
This is a fascinating interlude, evoking mysterious issues of the soul, consciousness and esoteric dimensions of being; aided in massive part by the way this book is visually channelled.
Frazer Irving’s art throughout this is mesmerising. The chalky, highly impressionistic style really suits the esoteric tone of the narrative sublimely. The way this style of visual depiction plays with perspective, giving the entire thing a subjective, warped quality, compels you from the start to the finish. This really would’ve made a great graphic novel in its own right, with the same theme/story expanded more to fill more pages.
As it is, this experience leads Gamora to the conclusion that she has to go find the Soul Stone, and that’s where we end.
But this book isn’t just a rung on the plot ladder to get from A to B – it’s an absorbing, rich world of its own, that draws you in deeply and keeps you fascinated throughout. It helps to be grounded in Gamora’s character and history; but, even if you’re not, you can still enjoy the visual and conceptual experience a great deal.
In terms of the art, All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #3 is a masterpiece.
This really got me thinking. Because two of the individual comics I’ve enjoyed the most in recent months are this one and Avengers #4 (the Kang-centered story – which I think I reviewed here) and the reason, I think, is the same for both.
Both comics were centered entirely on just one character and their inner journey and struggle and both in somewhat mystical ways. And both therefore had a stunning continuity of conceptual art and highly stylised visual style.
It makes me think that books that focus on a sole character’s inner world are more likely to boast a stronger visual experience, allowing it to feel highly stylistic and very consistent. It also helps that I have a longstanding nostalgia from Gamora’s history and particularly the Warlock & the Infinity Watch days: and we get homage paid to that here.
In case it isn’t clear, All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #3 is a stunning book, for story, concept and art – you could enjoy it on any of those levels; and if you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy it on all of those levels.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #4 takes us back to the ensemble structure, but sustains a good quality level. Returning us to the gang’s encounter with The Collector, we get good mix of weirdness, wit, laid-back cool (we get a casual reminded here of what an amoral killing machine Rocket really is) and slow-building intrigue.
The setting affords the book some odd visuals and perspectives, allowing Aaron Kuder to create some interesting images.
The Collector himself is always entertaining. What keeps things ticking here is the uncertainty of what’s going on in characters’ heads, what their motivations are. We somewhat know where Gamora’s at, thanks to the ANGOTG #3 interlude, but even she is still somewhat difficult to read at this point: other than her single-minded determination to acquire her Infinity Stone.
What’s made clear in the book, however, is the continued lack of unity and trust in this newly re-formed GOTG gang. No one quite knows what their team-mates is up to.
We also have the curious sub-plot (which, no doubt, is soon to become a major focus) of what’s going on with Groot that no one knows about – or, more specifically, the field of Groots being grown on some mysterious planet.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #4 is a fun offering that ticks most of the boxes and keeps momentum flowing nicely – though I really can’t think of much to say about it.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #5, like #3, is essentially a solo book focused entirely on Quill. It’s nothing like as good as the Gamora issue was; but it does seem to capture that distinctly (or at least contemporary) Peter Quill vibe, particularly with its focus on the mix- tape motif. It’s not a particularly interesting comic, but it has some charm to it.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #6 takes us back into the main narrative, forwarding the arc a little more – though nothing much remarkable happens here and it is a mostly forgettable issue.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #7 does a little better, being another break from the main arc to give us a Drax-centered interlude. I’m liking this sequencing that’s going on in this title, with main-arc chapters broken up by focusing on a single character every other month.
In this instance, we get some flashback explanation for why Drax has gone into this pacifist mode of his. It’s not particularly fascinating, but it holds form nicely with the earlier Gamora and Quill chapters. It also gives us some nice Drax/Gamora interplay.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #8 offers a sprightly, well-paced chapter, full of action and high stakes, while introducing a couple of new elements to the growing tapestry of this arc. The showdown with the Shiar Raptors is basic comic-book fun, with a threat to Rocket’s life providing some time-sensitive tension to Quill’s against-the-clock swashbuckling.
There are various intrigues and elements dancing around here, all of it promising to come together more as the series unfolds.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #9 then shifts the focus again, with an old-style Rocket/Groot adventure – but, more importantly, it’s a flashback Rocket/Groot adventure that finally shows us what happened to Groot, as well as who the mysterious figure is who’s been harvesting a field of vicious Groot creatures.
Aside from being an entertaining story (or backstory, as it is) in its own right, it also figures superbly into the structure of this series so far – with each month alternating between the main or central (present tense) narrative and non-sequential interludes that cover individual situations or backstory elements to this arc.
That unorthodox, non-linear structure is working terrifically. In this instance, we’ve been seeing glimpses of the unexplained Groot situation here and there for multiple issues, but the questions have remained unanswered – and here, eight chapter down the line, we start to get answers.
I still think the quality level of individual issues has been shaky at times – but, as an overall arc, this run is doing a really solid, interesting job.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #10 is another solid offering, with the gang returning to the Grandmaster, only to find the plot thickening and more puzzle pieces emerging. This particular issue (though, in truth, this whole series) is a great read for anyone who’s particularly into Marvel’s cosmic arena (infinity stones, Cosmic Elders, etc – hell, all this is missing is Adam Warlock).
The Collector’s reunion with his ‘brother’ here is played half straight and half comedy, but it generally has the right measure of both. This is a fun chapter, with a lot of ideas and plot elements being juggled, as various elements from the last several months start to come together.
The Gardener being revealed as the source of Groot’s situation was a fun reveal in the previous book; here, we get a little more exposition and background and, crucially, we get some more non-linear storytelling, this time with Loki‘s previously unsuspected role in the affair being revealed.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #11 exemplifies that idea perfectly: another ‘prequel’ story, set before this series’ main arc/narrative, this chapter focuses solely on the Shiar Raptors and a previously unexplored backstory involving Richard Rider, his brother, and the Nova Corps. In doing so, it acts as a prequel to All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #6 and #8.
Again, this non-linear structure to the overriding arc is working really well, keeping everything fresh and interesting month to month. Thankfully, I’d read the first couple of issues of the current Nova title a few months ago, so Richard Rider’s appearance here didn’t take me entirely off-guard.
Again, we’re getting big pieces of the complex puzzle in careful, well-timed doses; moving back and forth across the chronology of the storyline to get the right elements at the right time.
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #11 is another solid, intriguing chapter – and it doesn’t feature a single appearance (or even mention) of any of the Guardians of the Galaxy characters.
It’s a credit to Gerry Duggan’s writing that this series is paced the way it is, with well-timed reveals and well-placed back-and-forths in the chronology. The non-linear pacing is in fact what keeps this current run feeling dynamic.
It keeps you engaged, wondering what’s going on, from month to month, always getting answers, but always also having more questions. It’s a complicated tapestry and we’re slowly walking along the length of it, seeing a bit of the picture at a time.
I still don’t think this current Guardians run is as solid as some of the previous series’. But Duggan has adopted a very clever way of crafting out this story arc: making it well worth the commitment.