I was revisiting Suicide Squad #1 (1987) earlier this month and what impressed me most about the kickoff of this classic series is how much it accomplishes in a single comic book. It introduces a wide array of characters, establishes its tone and sense of humor, delivers a great action sequence, and leaves the reader with a clear mission statement and premise. There are no questions to be asked when it arrives at its final panel, simply the month long wait for a second issue to be endured. What marks this accomplishment as being particularly impressive is how few new superhero series manage to offer that clear introduction in a #1 comic today. However, those that can accomplish stand out as cleareyed accomplishments and that's precisely what readers will find in the pages of Guardians of the Galaxy #1 this week.
The Guardians brand at Marvel Comics has become increasingly muddled ever since the first movie took audiences by surprise and became a smash hit. The core group of five Guardians from the films have been smashed into plenty of new series, each with their own reason for being, and that makes it difficult to jump into any specific #1 issue. Writer Al Ewing acknowledges and addresses that problem as gracefully as possible in these pages. In the first half of the story, he introduces every member of the new team while also informing readers where they have been recently and why certain familiar faces (e.g. Groot, Gamora, and Drax) aren't on the cover. It's a lot of expository ground to cover, but that exposition is naturally folded into dialogue with only a few exceptions, and those possess a sense of humor and style, if nothing else.
Past runs have failed to provide a clear mission for a spacefaring team of misfits, but that is made central to the team's introduction here. The Guardians have never been the most powerful or tradition-bound team in superhero comics, but they face cosmic challenges. That imbalance is made the heart of Guardians of the Galaxy #1, folded into the issue's title "Then it's us," as it's made clear that the Guardians are the team who will do the hardest jobs because they're all that's available. It's a stirring, underdog perspective and one that ties the team to its past reputation while simultaneously keeping them facing the future.
The issue wisely balances all of the talking heads sequences, as emotional or humorous as they may be, with an excellent action sequence that showcases Cabal's skill with layouts. A parallel set of spreads early in the series reveal a love for Kirby Krackle and ability to imbue amble power in individual figures and landscapes. That early preview pays off with an expansive battle at the end. Cabal's ability to track more than one dozen individuals and their unique contributions to a battle is stunning. He does not simply track the Guardians already multi-faceted plan, but also tracks each element that goes wrong along with the rippling effects of those problems. Variations in page design make the busy nature of the sequence a delight, rather than overwhelming. Dense layouts and complex spreads are balanced with vibrant splashes. The cliffhanger promises readers that there's plenty more bombastic battles to come, too.
It's easy to recommend Guardians of the Galaxy to any reader with an interest in the specific property or superheroes writ large based purely on the craftsmanship of its creative team. This is the exceedingly rare #1 issue from Marvel that manages to provide readers everything they need to know when deciding whether they want to stick around. There's some continuity silliness to be navigated, but the characters and concept are fully formed on the page. Even if they don't capture your interest, Ewing's ability to quickly and elegantly deliver so much information combined with Cabal's mastery of action sequences and varied layouts still provide plenty to appreciate. Guardians of the Galaxy #1 delivers an excellent mission statement for the series to come and offers a standard to which other new series should aspire.
Published by Marvel Comics
On January 22, 2019
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Juann Cabal
Colors by Federico Blee
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Juann Cabal and Dean White