Rocket Raccoon graces the standard cover of "Guardians of the Galaxy" #3 antagonistically beckoning the reader closer for a sample of his blaster's contents. Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli load this comic with more world-building, more character definition and a ton of action.
Bendis piles drama into this book like football players pile food on their plates following two-a-days. There's drama between Spartax King J-Son and his vizier, between J-Son and the other members of his secretive council of the galaxy's most powerful rulers and especially between J-Son and his estranged son, Peter Quill, better known as Star-Lord. J-Son's got some major-league control issues and a tenuous grasp on his own kingdom, which seems to be cracking more and more as Quill overtly attempts to erode his father's base of power.
That, combined with the thwarted Badoon attack, spikes the drama into anger and rage, giving McNiven and Pichelli ample opportunity for brilliant drawings. You can see the spittle fly as J-Son rails against the Badoon representative Y-Gaaar and almost hear the shouts echo. It's not difficult to project this comic book into live action as Bendis grounds each character with flaws and foibles innate in humanity on all levels and his art meets that humanity with an appropriately disparate array of facial cues and posturing.
When Groot joins the action, it's all-out awesomeness. I'm fairly certain Pichelli's soundly entrenched at this point. The splash page of Groot thrashing Spartax soldiers is completely sold by its composition and detail. Groot's not a flashy creature and the Spartax crew wear gray and black, but this page is still filled with explosive detail and stunning motion. Immediately following that, the creative team places Groot in a terrible dilemma that imbues the character with emotion and begs the reader for empathy. While McNiven won't be remembered as one of the greatest contributors to the "Guardians of the Galaxy" legacy, there is no doubting the polish he has given these characters and their environs. Pichelli, for her part, is proving to be a more than adequate replacement, every bit as capable of filling pages with fantastic imagery as McNiven, and hopefully just a little but faster.
Justin Ponsor's coloring really completes this book. From the spraying mist of bursting life stasis tubes to the tint of activated holograms, the imagery gains extra life and dimension from its coloring. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Cory Petit's lettering. While it's likely most of the Council of Rulers voices and word balloons are homogenized by the universal translators, at the very least Rocket Raccoon and Groot have established word balloon styles that have simply ceased to be.
I'm more than willing to roll with the changes and tweaks made to characters personalities and appearances. After all, "Guardians of the Galaxy" is set to become a multimedia cash cow for Marvel Entertainment, so some things are going to change to be more palatable for Mr. & Mrs. Everyperson, but Bendis reduces Rocket Raccoon to a parody of Lobo at best and an unrecognizable character at worst. Yes, Rocket has a short temper and, yes, he's fond of ordnance, but to have him shouting out "Blam! Murdered you!" over and over takes it just a bit too far. Maybe this is a subtle development and we'll learn that Rocket somehow contracted space rabies, but for now, I'm not enjoying Bendis' take on Rocket Raccoon at all. His other characters are close enough to their recognizable essences to accept, but this one just reeks of uncertainty at the expense of the character. Bendis seemed to have a stronger notion of the character in the free Infinity Comics one-shot, but that was limited and Rocket was most likely inebriated.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" needed to come out with a strong showing. This closing installment of the first chapter buttons up a decent enough story, but doesn't do enough to reel in very many readers, especially with the delay this issue experienced. That said, this issue is strong enough to not chase any readers away, but the title needs to step up a bit to strengthen readership before the inevitable film release in 2014.