Monday, May 1, 2017

Tie-ins, Part XXIII: Guardians of the Galaxy #31

A scattershot history of 
Guardians of the Galaxy, Part 1
 Guardians of the Galaxy #31

It feels like this series deserved to be "Annihilated" 

"Prelude to a Kill"
Writer – Michael Gallagher
Pencils – Kevin West
Inks – Steve Montano
Letters – Kenny Lopez
Colors – Evelyn Stein
Editor – Craig Anderson
Editor-in-Chief – Tom DeFalco
December 1993

They came first in our timeline, yet second in their own.

First appearance of these folks was January 1969 by writer Arnold Drake (of DC's Doom Patrol fame) and artist Gene Colan. I was almost two years old.

The Guardians of the Galaxy's original lineup looked nothing like what you will see in theaters. They were:

Major Vance Astro (Major Victory) – An astronaut from the 20th century who spends a thousand years in experimental suspended animation while his ship travels to Alpha Centauri. Perhaps the result of the process used to freeze him, Vance developed psionic powers during the trip.

Get this: by the time he arrived at his destination, he found a thriving colony of humans from Earth already there. Back on Earth, the ability to create ships with faster than light drives occurred while Vance was slumbering, making his entire voyage and the sacrifices he made for no real purpose. Talk about a bummer!

Vance formed the Guardians to free future Earth from the Badoon, who conquered it in the early 31st Century. Vance is both the team leader and a huge Captain America fan. Somehow he acquires Cap's shield in the future, which is okay since Cap was dead at the time and really not using it much.

Yondu – a native of the Centauri IV planet that ends up being Vance's destination, Yondu is the last survivor of his species. A blue-skinned humanoid with a Mohawk like fin protruding from his head, Yondu is a spiritual warrior who can control arrows via sound waves, most commonly by whistling. HIM we've seen a version of in the GotG movie.

Charlie-27 – the last surviving "Jovian" or genetically engineered human created to live in Jupiter's crushing gravity. All other Jovians were killed in the Badoon's attack. Charlie-27 looks a bit like a more human version of Ben Grimm's Thing and acted both as ship's Captain and the group's "tank".

Martinex T'Naga – a crystalline humanoid from Pluto who could emit heat and cold from his hands. He was also the last survivor of his planet because all other Pluvians were killed by the Bado*…yah know? I'm sensing a pattern here. Anyway, Martinex served as the ship's scientist and technician.

The Guardians in this incarnation struggled to hold on to a title. They didn't even receive a shot at one until 1990, twenty-one years after they were created. Even with the likes of Jim Valentino at the helm doing both words and pictures, the title failed to attract legions of fans. A modest seller, it survived for close to six years, the first three featuring Valentino and the bulk of the ending two by the gents at work here: writer Michael Gallagher and artist Kevin West.

I find it difficult not fault someone for the failure of these characters. Mainly because they were replaced by a team that contains a talking raccoon and a "Space Ent" who only knows three words. And that team is WAY more interesting than five (I'm counting Starhawk) characters who all have speaking parts. Maybe it was just the 90's vibe or the fact that they were separated chronologically from the ongoing Marvel continuity. I don't know.

I met this version of the Guardians when they appeared in Thor and the Avengers' saga of Michael Korvac. They seemed okay there, although they had interaction with the active Avengers' roster which made things better. Here we have a small bit of that too, but not really enough. This issue is near the start of Gallagher's run. Juggling several plotlines, the book's timing appears off and like so many 90's titles, there is that vibe of style over substance at play.

Yondu and Martinex aren't along for this issue, which means I don't know any of these characters going in. No one. Not one familiar character.

Well, okay. I know THAT character, but how was I to know they were doing a time travel issue?

This is where I'm going to step out of the story for a bit. The original Guardians series biggest problem wasn't just the rotating roster. It tried to follow the Avengers model of teammates joining up and then leaving suddenly. The revolving door of membership meaning only Vance and Charlie-27 of the original quartet are present for this issue and we have to figure out who Starhawk, Nikki and Talon are. Starhawk and Nikki I know from my Korvak read through, but I have no clue about the other one.

While lineup changes are typically not a problem for team books, it might have been one of the reasons for this version not becoming more popular. Most of their add-ons couldn’t be featured in any other Marvel books due to the fact they existed in the 30th century. This limited their exposure and subsequently their popularity.

And about that issue of these guys existing in the future: there are far too many crossovers and time travel tales in the run. Marvel in the 70's and the 80's was a hotbed of hero A muscling in on hero B's book. The Guardians didn't have an ongoing of their own, but bounced from Marvel Super-Heroes, Marvel Two-in-One, Defenders, Thor, and Avengers, just all over the place really. Most of these adventures taking place in those book's current continuity. That meant time travel. Lots of time travel. Every story was the Badoon doing something in the past that needed undoing. It was excessive to the point of being silly.

What Guardians settled for when they couldn't do time travel tales, were sprinkling in characters from current Marvel continuity existing in the future. In the handful of issues I have, we see Firelord, a Ghost Rider, Wonder Man, Dr. Strange and Doctor Doom. If my cover search is correct, the series also pulled in the corpse of Wolverine walking around like some type of admantium terminator.

What I'm saying here is the guest starring syndrome that affected so many other Marvel books was at work here, but it felt more forced than ever. A cosmic book like this one set in the future tried to pull in sales from every conceivable area to stay afloat, and some of those seem a bit contrived.

Anyway…Vance is in the past, training with Captain America, his hero. In the future Vance is the bearer of Cap's shield, an honor that the book took up its first six issues for him to accomplish. Cap shows Vance a few tricks with the shield and then they have an awkward moment when they both go to retrieve it at the same instant.

I get a very "Lady and the Tramp" feel for this panel ordering. I expect them to kiss or something. 

Instead they are interrupted by Dr. Druid, who had Vance leave his "future copy" of the Shield with him. Seems he wants to talk with both star-spangled heroes. 
Note: is it odd that Vance wears the stars and stripes costume while flying around the galaxy? I mean, is he still trying to represent "America" to all of outer space? Just looks odd to me.

The main contingent of the Guardians is still far in the future, hovering above the Badoon homeworld in a stalemate of genocidal proportions.

Charlie-27 and his crew kick around the idea of how the Badoon could have figured out they were there.

And Starhawk isn't present because he is currently having a fight with his sister. Which is a big deal because, well…Starhawk is special. Starhawk is actually a guy by the name of Stakar, who is fated to reinhabit his infant self every time he dies. This has led to Starhawk attempting to subtly alter the timeline with each itineration of his life in order to change things. Thus sometimes things don't work out the way Starhawk envisions them owing to his manipulations of the current timestream he inhabits.

The event that led to this "curse" was his attempt to resurrect an ancient space "Hawk God" with his (unknown to him, adopted) sister, Aleta. The attempt succeeds, however the deity gives them powers but only allows one of them to exist in the real world at a time. The other is shunted to an alternate "limbo" realm. Eventually the two find out they are not related, have their timesharing existence nullified by the Hawk God, get married and  have kids – which turn into space vampires and then Starhawk is forced to defend himself against which leads to their death…and, yah…they've got some issues to work through.

Needless to say, Starhawk won't be joining our trio for their big Badoon Day standoff.

I won't comment on the convoluted mess above, much of it attributed to both Valentino and Steve Gerber as writers, except to say…what is it about space Hawk-gods and resurrected couples? Because that OTHER comic book company has one of those pairs as well.

We get two pages back on present-day Earth of a guy by the name of Redd being tortured to give up the secret of some kind of broadcast called Realiteevee that a villain named Retox wants back online. A secret that only Redd appears to know. I don't know Redd. I don't know the woman Retox's head badguy Flashframe brings out as an added incentive to get Redd to talk, Tarin, whom Redd professes to love. I don't know what Realiteevee is or how it works or why. What's worse is I don’t care. Find me something I care about book. Quickly!

So it does, or at least it tries to.

Back to Cap and Vance, this time with Dr. Useless…er, ahem…Dr. Druid giving them back their respective shields after placing an enchantment on them. Why you may ask?

Oh, the destruction of the Time/Space Continuum. Isn't that commonly referred to as Space-Time Continuum? Just saying, I think the Doc isn't as sure of what he is saying as everyone in the room believes. What does his spell do, anyway?

I've never found anything Druid did really useful. I mean he could have just said for the two heroes not to use both shields or something. Hell, in the Korvak Avengers, Vance wouldn't even SET FOOT on Earth for fear of jerking up his past or bumping into his child-self. Now that he does come down, he forgets he is using the same exact shield as Cap's? But whatever. The book needed a Cap crossover and this is how we get one. Lame.

In the bottom panel directly below this we find out it WAS Vance that warned the Badoon because he couldn't bear to have his friends responsible for genocide. Better they just get killed by hostile aliens you've been fighting against your entire adult life, eh? This book has people doing things for some really screwed up reasons.

Speaking of those friends and the Badoon, the aliens open a channel of communication again…right after firing a nuke near their position to get their attention. Which, in story terms, could have caused the Guardians to fire their doomsday option, killing every Badoon on the home world of Moord. It is a dumb story device to make things seem more exciting. Which I'm not sure how that is supposed to work since we don't see the missile being fired or the explosion, just watch the characters talk about it happening. Dumb…

As is this:

Which could also result in both sides being destroyed and at least two races completely wiped out. Why so much brinkmanship? I mean now is the time for cooler heads to prevail. And finally they do, with Badoon offering this compromise…

The Guardians suspect a trap, which it kinda is and kinda isn't…but even if they lose, the Badoon aren't saying they will be killed. They are saying they lose their ship and crew to them. Unless they are counting the Guardians as the crew, not sure what this really sets them back.

However, the Badoon offer up the location of their hatchery in exchange for an agreement to the conquest. With the hatchery containing all the next generation of developing Badoon. The Guardians are skeptical, so they probe the area.

The flame-headed chick is Nikki. She and Charlie have a love affair at one point. And then they don't. Because of things and stuff.

The Badoon seem good to their word, leaving the team one task: deciding who should be their champion. Meanwhile someone lurking in the shadows decides to not show themselves because we need a mystery for next issue.

We switch gears in a manner like stripping them, moving to another part of the galaxy still in the 31st Century, to meet up with this quartet of bad guys/gals.

Yup, that's Doc Doom in the future. No clue how he survived for a thousand years, but seems to me this gives him a big advantage over the Fantastic Four, since they'd be dead for at least 900 years. Also he is forcing Shaddo, Batwing and Rancor to do his evil bidding. They would do it anyway, because they are evil.

Something about Rancor seems familiar. And I don't just mean the "90's jump out of the comics panel with multiple speedlines" half-page, either. Let me look her up…Oh my Gawd! Rancor is a distant relative of Wolverine. Look at her hair and costume. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. Wolverine with boobs. That. Is. Just. Awful!

Dr. Doom handles this busty female Logan-knock off with exactly the right amount of respect, zapping her on her butt before force choking her air supply away. He lets her live, which is to his benefit, but not to the audience's.

Evil female Wolverine. Still speechless.

On a more positive note, we get a decent scene of Cap and Major Victory jumping across rooftops while Vance worries what he may have caused by opening a line of communications to the Badoon to warn them, but instead just closing it without saying anything. He's worried about his team but also about the morality of what they were attempting, which would have spelled the end for the Badoon forever. As always, Cap knows exactly what to say.

Sadly, this doesn't make me want to read the book more. It makes me want to skip this and go find a copy of Captain America's mag. None of these characters really connect with me. And it appears we are going to be adding more current popular characters to the mix to be sure we keep our audience size.

Meanwhile, all three of the Guardians at risk think THEY are the obvious choice to fight in the gladiatorial arena. Looks like Major Victory's leadership is sorely needed with this bunch. Both Charlie-27 and Nikki start to tussle for the chance to combat the evil lizard-people's strongest warrior.

So we get some 90's hero-on-hero action that seems so stale these days. 

Shouldn't they be thinking about the damage they might do to their own ship? Not to mention being on a deadline. Nikki's blasting does earn her the right to compete. Well, her blasting and threatening the lives of her fellow teammate.

Yeah, I can see why I didn't care much for the Guardians. They seem to have no team spirit and lack a strong leader. In story terms, I'm not finding much to root for here. And as evil as the Badoon are they at least seem to have one thing on their side…

A secret weapon that USUALLY only goes to someone worthy of the honor.

Yup, that's the Captain Universe powers, which are powers that travel from person to person, race to race, only appearing when fate has a hand in deciding the outcome of something SUPER important. No clue how this trumped up contest counts, but there it is. The Badoon are going to wipe the floor with Nikki. Heck, with that they could wipe the floor with all the Guardians. The Cap Universe powers are just that strong.

For my first book-length read of a Guardians title, you can color me unimpressed. It doesn't help that the team is scattered, that we have many unconnected plotlines happening in the same book in different eras and that the gratuitous cameo steals the issue instead of reinforcing its validity. Had the past issues been this scattershot, I don't see how the title made to issue 30.

Being this is only Gallagher's second issue, I should cut him some slack and the art is very good in places. Next review of a GotG title, I'll show you how he finally got most of his act together.

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