The Guardians of the Galaxy keep showing up in all my regular comics -- whether it be via crossover like in "All-New X-Men" or guest appearances in "Captain Marvel." Despite not being a big fan of crossovers I found I enjoyed the characters, so thought I'd give them a try on their own in Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Bradshaw's "Guardians of the Galaxy" #14. The results were somewhat disappointing. This double-sized anniversary issue includes two ten-page short stories in addition to the regular 20-page Guardians story by Bendis, Bradshaw and an army of artist assists.
Newer readers will find it difficult to connect to the regular Guardians story. The characters are largely spread out and separated from one another as a function of the plot, and thus a lot of their charm -- i.e. their fun rapport with one another -- is lost. The story is high on action but it's all a rather dull set up to a larger plot. The argument between Quill and his father feels pretty unremarkable and childish. Of all the characters, Venom comes off as the most interesting, and he's one of the most recent addition to the team. Bendis does leave readers with the Guardians in dire straits, but it's emotionally difficult to connect with the story. The plotting feels potentially stretched too thin and awkward, as it jumps from character to character. Just as readers finally engage in one story, it jettisons them to the next.
Bradshaw's crazy detailed and stunningly unrestrained style is generally a good fit for a weird title like "Guardians of the Galaxy" that includes a talking raccoon and tree as members, but this isn't his best work. There's some dilution, likely thanks to so many artists assisting him. Jason Masters, Todd Nauck and Walden Wong assist with both pencils and inks and while they do a reasonable job, it's just too many cooks in the kitchen for the book to feel and look as cohesive as it should. There's nothing offensively bad about the art, but it just doesn't look and feel the way a book of this caliber should.
The first short by Andy Lanning and Phil Jimenez is a semi-origin story for Groot, or at least how he came to leave his home planet. Jimenez's visuals are absolutely phenomenal -- emotional, riveting and completely engaging. It's incredibly impressive that despite none of the dialogue making a lick of sense (it's all naturally "I am Groot" or similar), the story is perfectly understandable. Though all comic artists should be capable of telling a story without words, it's precious few that can actually pull it off. Lanning plots a fine story and though the writing is little more than window dressing, it's a credit to him that he kept it simple enough to be executed in only ten pages and with only visuals -- very smart.
The second short by Dan Abnett and Gerardo Sandoval is the polar opposite of the Groot short, lacking every bit of the story's nuance, emotion and charm. It relies heavily on clichés to make itself utterly forgettable in every way. Introducing readers to a host of future characters that are impossible to care about, as well as confusing stakes, the story lacks a clear focus for the reader. The writing is exposition-laden and unremarkable at best while Sandoval's art is too flashy with deliberately weird panel borders and action that reads more like a series of uninteresting pin ups than real storytelling.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" #14 is a very expensive, mediocre issue with two shorts -- one exceptional and one exceptionally bad, but neither very relevant -- and leaves me on the fence about coming back next month. The characters are interesting, but judging on this issue alone they worked better as the guest stars in other books than as the stars of their own.