Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers Volume 1 trade paperback
Writers: Arnold Drake, Steve Gerber, Roger Stern, Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Scott Edelman & Stan Lee
Pencils: Gene Colan, Sal Buscema, Don Heck, Al Milgrom & John Buscema
Inks: Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Vince Colletta, Pablo Marcos, Al Milgrom, Howard Chaykin, Terry Austin, Bob Wiacek, Dave Hunt, John Tartaglione & Joe Sinnott
Colors: Stan Goldberg, Petra Goldberg, George Roussos, Irene Vartanoff, Al wenzel, Glynis Wein, Phil Rachelson, Janice Cohen & Don Warfield
Letters: Herb Cooper, Charlotte Jetter, Annette Kawecki, Dave Hunt, Karen Mantlo, Joe Rosen, John Costanza, Denise Wohl, Irving Watanabe, Jim Novak & Sam Rosen
Cover artist: Al Milgrom
Editors: Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman & Archie Goodwin
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $39.99 US/$43.99 CAN
A few months ago, I got a chance to pick up this trade paperback and Tomorrow’s Avengers Volume 2 for a paltry $20 (total, not each). It was too good a deal to pass up, and I relished the chance to read this Silver and Bronze Age material. That sort of classic material is almost always entertaining, be it for its campiness, bombastic qualities and even as fine representations of the craft of comics. That’s what I hoped to find here, and there was some of that entertainment to be had. But unfortunately, what this book spotlighted more than anything was how the publisher and the creators tasked with these original Guardians comics really didn’t know what they wanted to do with these characters and concepts. The late Steve Gerber was known for his unconventional and avant-garde storytelling, but his scripts later in this book read like ham-fisted attempts at classic Star Trek episodes featuring few characters anyone’s going to like at all.
Four men in the 30th century — the super-strong Jovian named Charlie-27, the crystalline controller of heat and cold named Martinex, the blue-skinned wielder of the Yaka Arrow named Yondu and Vance Astro, a 20th century astronaut with telekinetic powers — come together to fight against the Badoon, alien occupiers who have enslaved humanity on Earth. With the aid of heroes from our time, they’re able to overthrow the Badoon and free mankind, and afterward, they embark on a new mission, guided by the enigmatic Starhawk, to travel the spaceways righting wrongs, becoming guardians to the entire galaxy.
The late Arnold Drake is best known for co-creating the Doom Patrol and Deadman at DC Comics in the 1960s, but he paired with legendary artist Gene Colan to craft the first Guardians of the Galaxy tale, which opens the book here. It’s an intriguing plot about rebellion, it boasts the same sort of seeds that made Star Wars the popular franchise. Drake’s story does little more than introduce the players and set the stage, though, so what’s truly interesting about the first Guardians comic is the art. Science fiction isn’t a genre with which one would typically associate Colan, and his eerie linework here is unlike what one might normally expect. He seems clearly influenced by the sci-fi comics of the day; I’m reminded of Carmine Infantino’s style in Colan’s approach here, for example. The color palette is unconventional and sets the art apart as well.
That introduction is followed by reprints of a couple of early issues of Marvel Two-in-One featuring the Guardians. Written by Gerber, they’re unlike the other stories to come in this volume, though, as they’re traditional super-hero team-up tales. They’re familiar, by-the-numbers stories, but fun and entertaining. The Thing and Captain America are really centre stage here, though, so these aren’t Guardians of the Galaxy stories, per se. I’m a sucker for these Bronze Age team-up books, though, so I enjoyed these chapters.
It’s after that point the material weakens, beginning with a reprint of a Giant-Size Defenders #5 that was written by committee. And man, does it show. Everything about it is terribly random. I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like as a reader who’s new to the Guardians characters and premise trying to make sense of it here. The action is driven by an uninteresting villain that’s spawned from a ridiculous plot device, and the attempt to blend the science-fiction of heroes from a far-flung future with the mysticism of Dr. Strange falls flat. That story is followed by regular issues of the Defenders title, penned by Gerber, that brings the Guardians’ mission in the future to a ridiculous tidy closing, but not before putting the heroes through a weird, random series of challenges. Don Heck’s art for Giant-Size is awkward and the design for the monstrous villain is uninspired, and Sal Buscema’s art for the regular Defenders issues is marred by the quick but overpowering inks of Vince Colletta (a common occurrence in many Marvel and DC titles of the day).
It’s when the Guardians shift back to top billing in their own title (well, in a series of issues of Marvel Presents) that things really get odd. Gerber clearly tries to transform the Guardians into a Star Trek-like crew (which is painfully apparent when one sees how the team’s starship looks very much like the U.S.S. Enterprise), but there’s no captain, no mission, and no rhyme nor reason to any of the plots. The heroes keep visiting worlds that are Earth-like in their cultures but populated by gaudy and weird aliens. Vance Astro is an ass almost all of the time, while everyone keeps questioning what Starhawk is all about but never insisting on any answers. The introduction of a female member, Nikki, brings a more relatable voice to the mix, but the role she’s meant to play, other than offering a female character to the audience, is never clear.
The art on those Marvel Presents issues is cluttered and clumsy, and there are frequent panel layouts that don’t flow logically at all. The alien designs are uninspired and unconvincing, and look like something a kid would come up with. The inclusion of a Guardians story in which they just view a recording of a past adventure of the Silver Surfer, penned by Roger Stern, was befuddling as well. Perhaps it was meant to be a fill-in issue, but more than likely, it was an effort to boost sales by including a popular character of the time who never actually interacts with the regular protagonists.
There are hints of great ideas here and there in Gerber’s plots, chief among them the Topographical Man, and efforts to criticize elements of 20th century society, such religion and the culture of crime. But the meandering quality of the plotting never appears to be headed in any particular direction, with the heroes never having any particular purpose beyond what issues they stumble upon by accident. Roger Stern is brought in to take over from Gerber’s run, and his issues close out this collection, adopting a more traditional, super-hero genre approach and a focus on Starhawk’s origins.
Given the 30th-century setting for these characters, I can only assume the property was a response to the popularity of DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, a team of teen super-heroes active in the same fictional time period. But if that was Marvel’s intent with the creation of the Guardians of the Galaxy, it completely missed the mark. Had I paid the full price of admission for this book, I would have sorely disappointed. I can only hope the second volume, with its inclusion of some classic Avengers stories guest-starring the Guardians, will be more satisfying. 4/10