Friday, February 28, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy, Day 5: What to Read


Well, if you’re still reading these entries on my fifth day of obsessive fangirling, you’re probably serious about digging into the world of Guardians of the Galaxy. So here you go—your dubious reward. The reading list. And if you’re in a big hurry to start reading, scroll down to the bottom—there’s two books that are both great starting points. If you don’t read any other GotG titles, read these.

One quick thing
This list is by no means complete. I haven’t read all of Cosmic Marvel, or even all the storylines that have come out since the mid-2000s, when things really started kicking into high gear. This list is based on my own collection and the bits I think you’ll find most helpful as you investigate this new-to-you corner of comicdom. These are the books I would lend to my friends—in fact, in many cases they’re the books I have lent to my friends. They’re good books.

But they’re not self-contained. Cosmic Marvel is big, it’s complicated, and its branches are heavily intertwined. Major storylines move from one comic-book title to another, and one book will often reference events in another book as if everyone in the story has heard of them. (Of course, that’s because those events tend to be big things—such as the destruction of a populated planet—that you’d expect people in the story to have heard about.) There’s some stuff you’re just not going to get unless you read every single issue of every single title, and unless you’re way more of a completist than I am, it’s not worth your time to do that. So expect to do a little Googling, and expect to leave a few questions unanswered. The stories are still good, and the books I’ll list are still ripping good yarns, but you will need to make your peace with incompletion here.

Still with me? On we go!

Early stuff
If you want to read the oldest Guardians of the Galaxy stories, be prepared to do a lot of digging. I’ve been collecting Star-Lord adventures since I was 13 years old, and not only do I not have them all, I don’t even have a complete list of them. The same goes for Rocket Raccoon, Drax, Groot, Gamora—everybody’s history is all over the place. But here are two good starting points, recently published, that will help to catch you up on two of the most popular Guardians.

None of the stories in here involve this outfit.
Thank God.
1. Star-Lord: Worlds on the Brink. This was a big fat comic book—cover price $4.99—that came out a few months ago, reprinting classic Star-Lord adventures. It includes the best version of his origin story I’ve ever seen (okay, it was the one I grew up on) and a couple of the better stories from the classic run. There was even a story I’d never seen before from the 1980s. All in all, it’s well worth your five bucks if you want to see Peter and Ship soaring around the cosmos before everything went wrong.
2. Rocket Raccoon: Tales from Half-World. Another reprint issue, also $4.99, this one reprints some of the better Rocket stories from before he joined the Guardians. At least, I think they’re the better stories. I didn’t actually read anything with Rocket Raccoon in it before GotG came along, so I wouldn’t know. They’re definitely good stories, though, if a bit weird. But come on, it’s a gun-toting space raccoon. You were expecting maybe a comedy of manners?

DnA kick off
If you’re going to dig into the stories that inspired the movie, learn the acronym DnA and the two names behind it: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. The two were a writing team for a number of years, though they’ve recently broken up, and their names appear together on most of the Cosmic Marvel titles that reinvigorated that whole universe and gave rise to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Here are the titles that will give you the best insight into how the Guardians formed.

1. Annihilation: Book Three. Yes, I’m starting with Book Three. I’ve read some of the earlier stuff. It’s nice, but if you want to know where Star-Lord becomes a player—and where his relationships with Richie and other characters lead to the formation of the Guardians—this is it. This volume covers the climax of the Annihilation War (remember, the one with the bugs?) and there’s a whole lot of shooting, blowing up, major characters dying, emotional trauma, and space cussing. Here’s a hint—“das’t” and “flark” mean about what you think they would …
2. Annihilation: Conquest: Book One. This book collects two limited series, one of which (Annihilation: Conquest: Star-Lord) shows the formation of Star-Lord’s first team, his spacefaring Dirty Dozen homage. It also marks the first meeting between Rocket and Groot, and one of the few comics where Groot says something other than “I am Groot.” In fact, he’s quite chatty; apparently the writers decided only later that he shouldn’t be able to say things like, “This will be a glorious death, as befits one of my stature.”

The main event: The Guardians of the Galaxy title
Obviously, if you want to know about the Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s a good idea to pick up one of the Guardians of the Galaxy collections.

1. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Legacy. This collection covers the formation of the team, including the discovery of Major Victory, the beginnings of their conflict with the Universal Church of Truth, and the revelation of a secret that very nearly causes the team to disintegrate. In fact, a bunch of people quit and Star-Lord goes missing. I won’t spoil the secret, though. It’s way too much fun.
Yes, it's the same cover layout.
But look! It's a gun-toting raccoon!
2. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: War of Kings, Book 1. This book picks up where the previous one left off, with the team in tatters and Star-Lord AWOL. Most of the volume is about Star-Lord getting involved in an extradimensional prison break (hello, Jack Flag!) and Drax and Phyla going on a quest to bring Moondragon back from the dead. Rocket is awesome in this book.
3. Volumes 3 and 4: War of Kings, Book 2 and Realm of Kings. Honestly, I haven’t bothered to pick these two up yet in trade form, though I bought the original comics. There’s more fun space stuff. People die. People come back to life. Rocket is hilarious. Peter is harried. Explosions happen. Time travel and magic continue to screw everything up. If you liked Volumes 1 and 2, then 3 and 4 will be your cup of tea.

Oh, and about the “War of Kings” / “Realm of Kings” thing you’re seeing in those titles … GotG often tied in heavily to whatever bigger storyline was going on in Cosmic Marvel. There are collections of the main War of Kings storyline and the like, but I didn’t buy those series and enjoyed my comics just fine. Seek them out if you’re interested; otherwise, don’t bother.

4. The Thanos Imperative. This is worth your time, I can pretty much guarantee. Besides being the storyline that ended the main Guardians of the Galaxy title (well, until it was restarted), it’s the storyline that exemplifies Cosmic Marvel under Abnett and Lanning better than anything else. There are about twenty different plotlines running at once, the cosmic abstracts get involved, and not one but two universes come crashing down around everyone’s ears … but ultimately, as you know, it all comes down to two guys in a crater, screaming into the face of Death. Epic.
5. The Annihilators and Rocket Raccoon & Groot: The Complete Collection. These two titles came out of Thanos Imperative, and they go in very different directions. Annihilators follows a team of high-powered cosmic superguys, including the Silver Surfer, the Quasar who’s not Phyla, and an alien version of Thor named—I kid you not—Beta Ray Bill. Basically, all the big guns who wouldn’t return Star-Lord’s calls jump into saving the universe now that he’s dead. It’s a fun punch-em-up, with a lot of humor from Cosmo.
Rocket Raccoon & Groot was originally a backup feature in Annihilators, a series about Rocket and Groot roaming the galaxy, starring in a horrible reality TV show, and discovering that Rocket’s origin story isn’t exactly what he thought it was … and just maybe Groot’s isn’t, either. Well worth your dollar if you’re interested in those two characters.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers. This is the rebooted GotG title. It’s pretty much about the movie lineup of characters getting into trouble—most notably, trouble that results from a bunch of alien leaders declaring Earth off-limits to extraterrestrial meddling. This, naturally, attracts all the most determined meddlers, and trouble ensues. Subplots include Peter’s escalating war with his royal father and Tony Stark’s little space vacation, which starts out as a lark and ends in tears before bedtime. Not least because he sleeps with Gamora. Doesn’t anybody watch old sci-fi movies anymore? Stay away from the green girls! Long story short, this book is amusing and a good introduction to the current GotG series, but I’m still annoyed that it stars the dumbest version of Peter Quill I’ve ever met. It’s probably closest to the movie, though. Sigh.
If you’re interested in Thanos …
1. Thanos Rising.
This series came out last year and purported to be the definitive origin of Thanos, exploring his twisted romance with Death as never before. And … yeah, it did. Thanos is one sick puppy. If you want to know what makes the purple guy tick, Thanos Rising is your book.

Two great books to get you started
You just scrolled down here from the top, didn’t you? Oh, fine. Here you go.

If it was worth using once, it's worth using twice.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Legacy. This book is the best guide to the GotG oeuvre, in my humble opinion. You’ve got the big cosmic conflicts, the team infighting, the talking animals … it’s just bonkers and it’s great. If you can handle a story that doesn’t wrap up in one volume, this is your entry point. If you like it, read more. If you don’t, now you know.
2. Avengers Assemble Vol. 1. If you’d prefer a more accessible and self-contained version of GotG, perhaps in more familiar surroundings, check out this collection of the Avengers Assemble comic, which was designed to present self-contained stories featuring the Avengers that everybody saw in the movie. This story is mostly about Thanos messing around with Earth and trying to gain ultimate power. The Avengers fight him off once, and then the Guardians of the Galaxy show up to reveal the bigger plot and drag the whole team off into space for some true Cosmic Marvel insanity. The action and banter are dead-on, and the story’s not too concerned with continuity—which is probably why Star-Lord spends the whole story wearing his pre-Kyln costume and his team flies around in a craft that looks remarkably like Ship. Still and all, it’s a good story and a great introduction to the characters. Oh, and it contains one of the better “I AM GROOT!” moments ever.

Well, that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed this entirely-too-long magical mystery tour of Guardians of the Galaxy and my own minor obsession with the title. With luck, you’ve come away with a clearer understanding of how the story works and whether you want to see it on the big screen. If you enjoyed this series, let me know in the comments or on Facebook and I’ll do another on Captain America: The Winter Soldier before that movie comes out. I’m not sure I’ve got five days’ worth of stuff, but I can probably string together a few interesting entries for you.

Thanks for reading, and until next time, if Death ever comes your way and won’t let you pass, make sure you scream right back in his face.

But then, you really shouldn’t trust anything I say. Most of the time I just make stuff up.

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