With all the buzz surrounding The Avengers it is inevitable that they would adapt other famous properties into movies; Dr. Strange, Black Panther, a new Hulk movie, and Guardians of the Galaxy. While many who are even peripherally into superhero comics might have heard of Dr. Strange or Ant-Man, most of the most die hard comic book fans have never read the Guardians of the Galaxy comics. They are missing out.
Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the flagship books in Marvel’s recent ‘cosmic’ series. Unlike the Avengers or Spider-Man, the modern cosmic story-lines only lasted a few years so there aren’t that many comics to catch up on if you’re interested. You should be. Guardians of the Galaxy is awesome like Star Wars, epic like Lord of the Rings, and hilarious like Firefly.
The first series is called Annihilation. It is a new reader’s introduction to the characters that will one day make up the Guardians (brace yourself for a silly sounding comic book plot synopsis). Basically, the universe is being invaded by trillions of evil bug warriors. Nobody was prepared for their surprise attack and entire races are being consumed. It falls to a C-List Marvel superhero Nova to save the day; picture Peter Parker with Green Lantern’s powers. That’s Nova in a nutshell.
What you get is an epic space war with oodles of weird characters rallying behind Nova to defend the galaxy. They are fighting to retake their homes and Nova is fighting to stop the bugs from getting to Earth. It’s a coming-of-age story and a brothers-in-arms war story.
Annihilation kind of throws readers into the deep end. Characters like Ronan the Accuser and Gamora are thrown at the reader without any offering of an origin story and that’s OK. The lack of confusing explanation is actually what makes the comic so readable. Gamora is a femme fatale assassin, Star-Lord is a disgraced starship captain, and Thanos (the ugly purple guy from the end of The Avengers movie) is evil incarnate. The fact the Star-Lord appeared in a series in the 70s and romanced his talking spaceship is besides the point. This comic is a fresh start for the reader and for these characters.
Where Annihilation is a simple war story establishing a friendship between these characters, Annihilation: Conquest is a twisty tale of intrigue and betrayal. Annihilation: Conquest is available in two volumes of paperback (Annihilation: Conquest 1 and 2, natch). Since both series are collected into five books it is fairly easy to read through both series. The books stay engaging and you know that since they mean to tell the whole story, you aren’t missing out on important details in spinoff novels. The only weak one of the bunch is Annihilation book 2. It focuses on characters who mostly don’t return for the rest of the series and is the least approachable. If you are feeling crazy or love the setting, go for it, otherwise it can be skipped.Annihilation is available in three volumes of paperback (simply called Annihilation 1, 2 and 3), followed up by Annihilation: Conquest. This is where all of the characters you grew attached to in Annihilation really get to shine. The surviving heroes of Annihilation attempt to rebuild galactic society but are infiltrated, this time by a race of machine people. These machine people are not interested in killing organic life as much as assimilating everyone into their computer network. Hero turns against hero until the third act and what you get is a story surprisingly similar in structure to the Avengers movie.
But wait, I’ve described two series but never mentioned the Guardians of the Galaxy. Spinning off from Annihilation: Conquest, Marvel launched two series, Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy. Both are excellent, if anything better than the first two series. However, now a casual reader has the problem where they need to seek out spinoff books and preludes and epilogues to get the full story. Don’t worry, we can talk through this.
The next big story is called War of Kings. There are seven or eight paperbacks that deal with the whole story. Forget about all of them. What you want is Road to War of Kings, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 and the book simply called War of Kings. This story is much more political. It’s more Game of Thrones in space than it is a Michael Bay movie. I personally started with this storyline before reading the earlier ones and was completely hooked.
This is a story about bodyguards, rebels, assassins and arranged marriages. It is also the first time the Guardians of the Galaxy are assembled as they will probably be seen in the upcoming movie. They are crazy in only a way that a comic book can be. This is the only book where a sword-wielding warrior woman and her bald psychic
half-lady half-dragon lover will team up with a gun toting raccoon, a telekinetic soviet dog, and Groot the King of the Trees. They are the weirdest team Marvel has ever assembled. But it works. The Guardians of the Galaxy walk the fine line of being self-aware without being ironic. The writers know that a space raccoon and a tree-man are strange but dammit if you don’t care about their relationship and character growth as much as their more human companions.
The series concludes in two last volumes, Reign of Kings and The Thanos Imperative (the latter being cited as the main inspiration for the upcoming movie). Now that you know and love all sorts of bizarre alien characters from across Marvel’s diverse galaxy, the time has come to put them through the ringer. Reign of Kings discusses the peace that follows the three devastating wars. Thanos Imperative brings everything full circle and confronts the heroes with a terrifying version of the Avengers as if written by H.P. Lovecraft with the desire to kill Death… it’s better than it sounds.
These books are comic book fare; there’s drama, melodrama, excuses for friends to punch each other, resurrection, and silliness. If anything, the cosmic Marvel books are superhero comics concentrated into their most potent form. Simple morality plays with space assassins and talking animals. It knows that comics are really weird so instead of grounding itself in the gritty and believable style of Christopher Nolan it leaps in the opposite direction. The place where fun is a means and an end.
If you loved The Avengers and want to get ready for the next slew of Marvel movies, check out these books. Even if you just wanted to get into superhero comics, this is a unique way to go. No comic book is more of a comic book than the Guardians of the Galaxy.