Brain Michael Bendis is given the full breadth of an entire issue with "Guardians of the Galaxy" #1 to convince readers that the Guardians still have an enjoyable role to play in the Marvel Universe. Thanks to Steve McNiven's pencils, John Dell on inks and Justin Ponsor on colors, Bendis almost does it. Unfortunately, Bendis-style kicks in and this issue is over before I could be completely hooked.
Marvel has provided "Guardians of the Galaxy" appetizers in the form of free Infinite Comics featuring individual Guardians over the past few weeks, stringing along interest from readers who were brought back out to the far reaches of space when Bendis incorporated the Guardians into the launch of 2012's "Avengers Assemble." The Infinite Comics are fine placeholders (especially for free) and probably even serve as nice primers for readers making their first foray alongside Peter Quill and his crew, but everyone was really hankering for this, the proper start of the Marvel NOW! "Guardians of the Galaxy" series.
The issue's opening sequence between Peter Quill and his father, the King of Spartax, scratches Bendis' talking head itch while providing readers with sufficient background regarding the state of the universe. Bendis' take on the rest of the crew mirrors the difference that Steve McNiven has put into their appearances. While McNiven's style adds a harsh edge to Groot and Rocket Raccoon, some of the visual changes are just flat: Star-Lord's trademark helmet has been replaced by something more in line with Gatchaman. Shoe-horned-in gateway character Iron Man is gifted with, hands-down, the most hideous attempt at armor redesign Tony Stark has ever suffered. I'm not sure what's wrong with the original space armor getting a tweak, but this suit looks overly fussy and downright ugly. As for Gamora and Drax, they slide by with minimal revamp. Drax is still shirtless and tattooed while Gamora is a little more modest in her attire. Other than some really uninspiring design choices, McNiven is aces. The grungy starport Star-Lord is in at the start of the issue has a quasi-"Star Wars" feel to it, with lifeforms that look alive, wearing clothes that are lived in and inhabiting an well-drawn and detailed environment.
Ponsor's coloring stretches far beyond simply filling shapes. His colors and shadows are effective, intriguing and enjoyable, adding dimension to McNiven's characters and settings. Given the nature of the adventure and the scope of space battle, Ponsor, like his artist, is pushed by new challenges and answers marvelously.
While there's plenty to gripe about in "Guardians of the Galaxy" #1, there is no mistaking that Brian Michael Bendis and Steve McNiven have shown up to tell their story of the Guardians, not to interpret Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's Guardians. Taken for what it is -- an offering for uninitiated movie buffs and lapsed comic fans enthused by the upcoming feature film of the same name -- this comic book offers quite a bit to enjoy, but needed to be just a little bit longer in order to completely satisfy. This is a good, solid start, but it needs a little more punch to secure the readers' interests.