After a cluttered front half, the focus of Marvel’s cosmic “Black Vortex” storyline tightens this issue but also curveballs, surprisingly spotlighting the unlikeliest cast member. This midstream maneuver by writer Sam Humphries is an unexpectedly bold choice in a tale already overrun with protagonists and slow to gain momentum. It’s also doubly bold as the new Guardians Team-Up book is yet to find proper footing. Indeed, risk as its own reward is thematic as the mic passes to… Ronan The Accuser?!
Thugging his way into the proceedings a few chapters back, the leading Kree fascist appropriates the mirror-like Vortex mcguffin for his militaristic empire only to find himself caught in a philosophical tug-of-war regarding power and responsibility; the age-old battle of direct orders being in conflict with the greater mandates of one’s station. Being a man (male space-being?) of action, this rankles The Accuser to no end as debate prevails over ceasing death and destruction.
Historically a character reduced to two dimensions (his portrayal in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie did not help), Ronan can be quite complex when properly handled. As such, any fleshing out of his personality is a snap-shot well taken. It may not be the strangely compelling characterization from the phase wherein he was married to Crystal of the Inhumans but Humphries handles Ronan well enough, steering clear of the earlier one-note danger zone during Brian Michael Bendis’s All-New X-Men segment. Along these lines, it’s also curious that Ronan is the first character to feature with issue-wide first person narration. This may just be an arbitrary whimsy to break up monotony but there could also be significance to this device as the epic progresses.
Also bringing something new is the injection of art team Mike Mayhew and Rain Beredo. Individually with tons of credits (Mayhew as the renowned Mystique artist and Beredo as noted colorist of various Bendis-era Avengers endeavors), this is not only the first bit of Marvel work from either in some time but their first collaboration. While none of it is technically or compositionally bad (maybe making Ronan stand out a bit more from the garden-variety Accusers would’ve been appreciated), the art is wildly inconsistent throughout.
From the scratchy, loosely-penciled cover to the more impressive interiors employing computer-assisted digital renderings and photo realism, Mayhew and Beredo go through the paces playing a page-by-page artistic version of “crack the whip”. To their merit, they effectively mask themselves as three different art teams but in a story already plagued with too many contributing hands, this further dilutes rather than highlights their collective versatility.
That being said, consistency is the real name of the game on several levels. After a delayed-yet-slapdash initial two-parter from Brian Michael Bendis and company, tonal expectation for the title is still anyone’s guess. Superficially, the concept simply appears to be a rotating creator free-for-all featuring the Guardians plus special guest(s). The series premise works well in the context of this individual issue however it leaves itself wide open for all sorts of erratic ongoing results, undoubtedly frustrating as many as it may please. Editorial expectation must not be that great either as these one-off creative arrangements offer very little room to gel a truly commendable unit, leaning more on a fleeting “what you see is what you get” shrug.
It’s hard to get around this title serving any function other than acting as an additional placeholder to keep Marvel’s improbable multimedia hit red-hot and in your face at all times. Technically, it’s already been one giant team-up since their 2013 relaunch- if not longer (Iron Man, Angela, Captain Marvel, Venom, etc.). Again, for the sake of the near-weekly “Black Vortex” serial, the “bonus book” fits the momentary mode well but the real test of redundancy happens on the other side of the Secret Wars overhaul. For the issue, it would’ve worked just as well, if not better, as a Black Vortex: Ronan one-shot.