Spending time up to now negotiating various crossover events and establishing a Cinematic Universe-friendly status quo, the latest issue of Guardians of the Galaxy finally offers a story capable of being judged by its own merits. Writer Brian Michael Bendis turns up the fun and weird but doesn’t cut ties entirely with the greater Marvel tapestry, effectively utilizing Venom as special guest star and plot device.
While bringing the high-profile symbiotic character on board could be superficially dismissed as a transparent marketing ploy to drive even more eyeballs onto the pop culture success story of the year, it is also a huge vote of confidence to have Marvel’s newest pet franchise tackle a mystery that’s been quietly gestating for over three decades. In terms of “exploring the unknown”, examining the origins of the belligerent alien goo sounds more like a job for the Fantastic Four- at least on paper. Heck, Venom’s most recent host is Agent Flash Thompson, a member of the Avengers. As such, they could’ve easily done one of their own a solid and looked into matters themselves. During this year’s Free Comic Book Day special, Tony Stark outsourced that involvement as Agent Venom began an underwhelming stint as Guardians wallpaper. What seemed like such a casual sloughing off at first has actually blossomed into the Guardian’s first real test of owning their place in the MU.
Venom isn’t the book’s only guest star to act as a tentpole, either. X-Man Kitty Pryde makes an impactful and awkwardly hilarious three-page appearance via long-distance hologram. Her role in this is a bit more subtle but certainly no less important, acting as Star-Lord’s inspiration and moral compass. Since the Guardians’ beginnings in the wake of the Annihilation events, Quill’s consistently shown difficulty with the actual mechanics of team-building. Now it seems he has someone to turn to and “What would Kitty do?” is assuredly a mantra he’ll come to adopt in adventures ahead.
Something to behold in the immediate, though, is the artwork that Valerio Schiti delivers this issue. Fresh from a run on Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers, he brings a nice balance of humanism to the outlandish. Densely populated alien scenes are almost always fraught with science fiction easter eggs and Schiti plays into the tropes just as well as any before him. Instead of just packing a who’s who deep into the woodwork, he also incorporates designs and cinematographic homages right into the page layouts. Flash Thompson skulks about with the Venom symbiote draped about him like a Star Wars Sith Lord. He further intimidates a drunken Kree in an alley in a fashion instantly recalling interaction between Lt. Ripley and a Xenomorph from the Alien saga. Even the weapons store shopkeep has a look and attitude vaguely reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. It’s also during this segment that the allusions prove to be equal opportunity, with a crowded street fight between Venom and Gamora playing very close to a scene from the Guardians’ own movie! None of this is done too “winky” but rather helps to flesh out the scenarios through use of the familiar. All of that goes to the side, though, as the art really opens up once the symbiote goes wild with rage.
One small sidenote regarding the art, Schiti appears miscredited with cover duty when the initials “NB” appear quite visibly in the piece itself and done very much in the style of Nick Bradshaw. Just a minor point but worthy of noting to give credit where it’s due. Regardless, Schiti has proven a worthy partner to Bendis in this one issue alone. Bendis’s stories are notoriously slow starters but this one seems to be the exception. Sure, the cliffhanger is an old beat from his bag of tricks but it is no less effective or entertaining when a talking tree and a space raccoon are thrown into the mix.
CBH Score: 3.5 out of 5
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