Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers (collects Guardians of the Galaxy  #1-3 and 0.1, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow's Avengers #1)
Credits: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Steve McNiven, Sara Pichelli (artists), Yves Bigerel, Michael Del Mundo, Michael Avon Oeming, and Ming Doyle (short stories)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Release Date: August 28th, 2013
With Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 releasing this weekend, I thought it'd be worth it to dive into a Guardians comic and see what the big-screen heroes look like in their original comic world. We start with Cosmic Avengers, which was released several years after the "new" Guardians team (the one we're familiar with from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) made their debut.
This trade begins with Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1. The "0.1" issues were a series of comics released by Marvel during from 2012-13 era where certain series were given a soft "relaunch" of their origin stories for any new readers, or different details about their pasts were given in order to establish a new storyline. This was part of the "Marvel NOW!" initiative, one of several attempts Marvel made to match DC's successful "New 52" (that is to say, successful until it wasn't). This particular issue gives us some of Peter Quill's origins: how his father, J'son of Spartax, crash landed at his mother's home in Colorado, how she nursed him back to health, and how he eventually left her to return to his people's war and conquer his enemies. Peter's mother was forced to raise her son all by herself, until the fateful day when her home was invaded by J'son's enemies, hoping to wipe his bloodline from the universe. After that brief flashback, the story moves to the three issues of the "Cosmic Avengers" storyline.
We find Peter Quill hanging at a galactic bar, making his moves on a Kree lady, until he's interrupted by his father who tells him that Earth is officially off-limits to all galactic empires, including his own. Peter balks at this, of course, and flaunts the ruling when it matters the most: the alien race known as the Badoon launch an attack on London, and it's up to the Guardians of the Galaxy (alongside a space-traveling Iron Man) to stop the invasion. Doing so puts them in violation of J'son's treaty, and as such the Spartax empire arrests them all. They break out (of course) and wreak havoc, and the three issues ends with Quill flaunting his escape to the entire Spartax empire.
There's a lot more to it than that, including one of my favorite segments where we see this Galactic Council which is made up of leaders of various Cosmic Marvel civilizations, including (but not limited to) Freyja of the Asgardians, the Kree Supreme Intelligence, and the Brood Queen. J'son has called them all together to discuss the possibility of preemptively destroying Earth before they achieve intergalactic space travel (haven't most of them already?), and brings up the improbable statistics of humanity's achievements, including the creation of mutants and Inhumans, successfully pushing back Galactus multiple times, housing the Infinity Stones, defeating Thanos, extinguishing the Phoenix Force, and producing individuals capable of altering the space-time continuum for their own petty needs. It's somewhat comforting to know that bizarre alien beings are just as baffled by Marvel's earth as fans are.
Prolific Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis does an excellent job hanging a lampshade on the ridiculousness of the comic, even when the plot tries super hard to explain away its nonsense. The attack on London, for example, is allowed to occur undeterred by any of Earth's 5-million superhero teams, because (wave magic wand) the attacking aliens have technology that blankets ALL COMMUNICATIONS. This explanation is so lazy it's insulting, but Bendis makes up for it with some choice dialogue:
I hadn't read any Guardians comics before this, and I was surprised to see that this series came out over a year before the film's release. It makes me wonder how much inspiration they took from this storyline or the previous ones, and how much characterization here influenced the film. The characters in the movie are more fleshed out, but the comic versions are not a far stretch from their movie incarnations in both personality and design. All of the characterizations that fans of the film expect are on display, if in a limited timeframe: Star-Lord is a womanizer but a suitable leader; Drax is an invincible and stoic fighting machine; Gamora is the deadliest woman in the universe; Rocket is a foul-mouthed, trigger happy murder machine; and Groot, well... he's Groot. Throwing Tony Stark into the mix seems a little odd at first, but he doesn't take away from the experience.
The ebook version comes with several short stories designed to be read in a guided view, as the dialog boxes change on the pages. Each of the stories show what the Guardians were doing right before Quill picks them up before this story: Drax is at a bar, mourning his lack of purpose, when he's jumped by some warriors looking for a fight. Rocket is at a different bar, regaling its denizens of his attack on Ronan the Destroyer (which no one believes) when someone tells him that they've seen another just like him. Gamora attempts to free slaves of the Badoon working under her father Thanos. And Groot helps some alien farmers with their "protection" problems in a pleasingly violent way. All of these vignettes are worth the time to read through, and are welcome additions.
Overall this isn't a terrible introduction to the comic universe of the Guardians of the Galaxy, or of the expansive and storied Cosmic Marvel universe. It's not a great plot (it's oddly convoluted and not well planned), but there are great moments of dialogue and characterization. To be fair, some of the attempts at humor are hit or miss. The art can be a bit wonky at times too, as it seems like the artists change every issue, creating drastic quality differences (outside of the short story vignettes at the end, which are meant to be done in different styles). Rocket, in particular, looks incredibly weird throughout the entire adventure, his head a little too big, or his mouth a little too small. But if you can look past that, it's an action-filled space adventure starring a unique cast of characters, and just enough for a small Guardians fix right before the big release this weekend.