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Incredible Hulk #207

Incredible Hulk #207

When they say Hulk meets the Defenders, they mean it. This reads just like a Defenders of the era — Sal Buscema art, Hulk calling Nighthawk “Bird-Nose,” Doctor Strange as an old man in a flying bathrobe, Valkyrie hitting everything with the flat of her blade … the works! Hey, even Red Guardian is here, throwing her belt buckle at the Hulk. (Like that’s going to help). Hulk is on a rampage because Jarella is dead and he has some notion that Doctor Strange can fix it.

He can’t. For whatever reason, this is one death that Marvel can’t reverse. (This time). Hulk takes the news hard and wrecks a freeway. But buried beneath all the “Hulk Smash” is some genuine pathos from writer Len Wein. The Hulk has lost his love; he’s grieving, and coming to terms. Poor guy. The end of the issue promises a bold new direction for the Hulk in the month to come but I recall it was the same creators doing pretty much the same stuff, so not sure what to make of that. The boring predictability of mid-to-late Seventies Hulk was half the charm of this series. Don’t mess with a bad thing!

  • Script: Len Wein
  • Pencils: Sal Buscema
  • Inks: Joe Staton

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Thor Annual #6

Thor Annual #6

Thor is plucked out of 1977 and flung forward to the 31st century, where he pops in on Korvac, who rants and raves. (If you were a shopping cart from the waist down, you’d rant too). Korvac sends Thor out into space, where he freezes over. While this enables a nice call-back to the Avengers finding a frozen Captain America in the drink, it doesn’t make a lot of sense — I recall Thor flying through deep space in his cape and boots all the time. (Then again, I just saw something very like this scene in Avengers Infinity War, so I guess that’s ANOTHER thing we owe to the deeply-missed Len Wein).

Korvac plans to blow up the sun, but how his incompetent band of underling losers are to help in this is not clear. (To be fair, the slime guy was pretty cool). Punching and hammer throwing ensues. It is all very passable, and instantly forgetable. Sal Buscema was rarely better than his inker, and he has Klaus Jansen here, so he’s pretty good.

  • Script: Len Wein & Roger Stern
  • Pencils: Sal Buscema
  • Inks: Klaus Jansen

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Avengers Infinity War: The Kree-Skrull War

Wrapping up Longbox Graveyard’s run-up to Avengers Infinity War, we take a look at the last time the Avengers fought a big war in outer space — the Kree-Skrull War!

I’m four decades past my own personal comic book Golden Age, so I don’t expect everyone else to attach a lot of importance to many of the books I’ve examined here at Longbox Graveyard. Titles like Ms. Marvel, Micronauts, The Defenders, and Deathlok were obscure in their day — I’ve celebrated them here but I am fully aware few of today’s fans share my enthusiasm for these moldy oldies. But there are some titles from my heyday that I would expect to resonate with “kids these days” — titles with characters that are still active today, with events that form the historic underpinnings of continuing comic book universes.

I thought the AvengersKree/Skrull War was one of those events, but no dice. My twenty-something office pal — who loves comics, and previously borrowed my copy of Avengers #196 to read the origin of Taskmaster — had never heard of the Kree/Skrull War!

What are they teaching in our schools??

Listen up, you whippersnappers! Before Avengers vs. X-Men, before Secret Wars, before Crisis on Infinite Earths, before even the Avengers/Defenders War there was the Kree/Skrull War! This was a mega-crossover in the old school style, the natural evolution of storytelling in a single book — not a mandated summer crossover, not some bloated high concept that poisons an entire comics line for six months of the year, and definitely NOT an imaginary story!

The Kree/Skrull War story arc ran from issues #89-97 of the Avengers (though when Marvel reprinted the saga in 1983, they restricted themselves to just the final five issues of the run). Nearing the end of his iconic six-year stint on Avengers, Roy Thomas — along with artists Neal Adams and Sal & John Buscema — delivered what was up to then arguably the longest and most complex continuing story in superhero comics, as Earth became a battleground between the warring Skrull and Kree star empires. Nowadays, company-wide meta-stories sprawling over dozens (hundreds?) of issues are a recurring summer plague, but in 1971 any story running more than a couple issues was a big deal.

The tale is deeply enmeshed in Marvel continuity but in the style of the day, it’s easy to jump on board as a new reader, thanks to liberal flashbacks and recaps of what has come before. Summarizing the tale makes it seem more complex than it reads, but I’ll give it a go anyways.

The action kicks off with Captain Marvel cracking out of the Negative Zone, then racing off half-cocked (and leaking radiation) on a mission to steal a rocket to return to his Kree homeworld. But no sooner do the Avengers lay him out cold than everyone is attacked by an awakened Kree sentry, acting on the orders of Ronan the Accuser, who has staged a coup against the Kree Supreme Intelligence and is seizing the moment to settle old scores with Mar-Vell and everyone else on Earth. The battle with the Kree sets off a worldwide alien panic, aided by a Skrull agent provocateur masquerading as a Joe McCarthy-style Senate investigator, and suddenly our heroes are facing some classic, shades-of-grey Bronze Age comic book hard choices as they decide whether or not they should turn Mar-Vell over to the authorities.

The public turns against the Avengers while Mar-Vell, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver become hostages of the Skrulls. The series climaxes with the Avengers facing down the Skrull warfleet, while Rick Jones — captured and brought to the Kree homeworld — is empowered by the Kree Supreme Intelligence to end the battle via a (frankly disappointing) deus ex machina. The story ends right when it should be getting started, offering an unfortunate and arbitrary end to what had been a superior run.

Despite this disappointing climax there is a lot to like here. The series is broad and ambitious, and there’s always something impressive about watching the Avengers fight in outer space, as they would later do in memorable issues of Captain Marvel and Warlock. But those later battles were all-hands-on-deck affairs for the fate of the universe. This battle was just a few Avengers in the lonely void of space against an entire Skrull battlefleet, made to feel underplayed and epic at the same time through Roy Thomas’ borderline-purple prose storytelling.

One of the strongest elements of this run is the way Roy Thomas handles the Vision. Introduced by Thomas in the classic issue #57 of Avengers, the Vision would evolve from android assassin to one of the most unique and fascinating members of the team. It’s hard to overstate what a superstar the Vision was during the 1970s (and one of Marvel’s great sins is how they so thoroughly worked over this character for no real gain in their late 1980s-era “Vision Quest” storyline). It is in this arc that we see the Vision’s soul well and truly begin to evolve, first by brooding on his sense of separation from and yearning for human emotions …

… then finding himself prey to all-too-human emotions as the long-simmering romance with the Scarlet Witch come out in the open in issue #91 (which also featured the debut of the Vision’s characteristic “rounded rectangle” word balloons, though they wouldn’t be yellow until issue #93):

What follows is the right kind of comic book soap opera, where the characters spend several issues coming around to what the reader has already accepted — that these two characters are made for each other. Roy Thomas gives us a master class in superhero romance.

The run is also kind of haphazard. Thomas admits he didn’t have a masterplan for the Kree/Skrull War, and the event really is more like a continuing subplot than a world-shattering event. Reading these issues today, you might be disappointed that there is so little waring between Kree and Skrull in the Kree/Skrull war! The event is largely off-stage, and while Earth is threatened with becoming the key battleground in the war between the empires, that event never materializes, as our heroes head off the worst of the war before it can get started. Likewise, issues devoted to the Inhumans and an (admittedly very cool) issue where Ant Man explores the innards of a deactivated Vision distract from the war, but it is important to remember that this was almost an accidental event, and that unlike the top-down editorial events of the present age, the point wasn’t to replace the rhythms of the host book so much as it was to provide context and color to the usual Avengers adventure of the month.

the Kree/Skrull War begins (and also rescues the Avengers from a tight spot in issue #91)

It’s worth noting how Roy Thomas assembled pieces from all over the Marvel Universe to create a story that was greater than the sum-of-its parts. Always a fiend for continuity, Thomas reached all the way back to Fantastic Four #4 to find the Skrull secret agents central to his story, and the Kree — who had been kicking around Marvel stories since 1967, mostly as the heavies in the pages of Captain Marvel — suddenly seemed more interesting, coherent, and purposeful than we’d seen them in earlier books.

The art, too, deserves mention. Even Sal Buscema — whom I’ve damned with faint praise here at Longbox Graveyard — turns in notable work, with clear storytelling and a bit of visual flair.

a nice three-panel sequence from Sal Buscema in Avengers #90

John Buscema is his reliable self here, coming to the end of his legendary Avengers tenure, but it is Neal Adams who is best remembered from this run, and it is easy to understand why. Adams’ realistic approach to composition and anatomy set him apart from most artists of his day, giving the Adams Avengers a kind of rooted and believable quality more akin to film than comic books.

Also deserving accolades is Tom Palmer on inks, who handles the final issues of the series, and smooths the transition between alternating John Buscema and Neal Adams chapters.

So what do you think? Am I living in the past by insisting events like the Kree/Skrull War form an essential part of the Marvel canon? Should I have picked a more recent Avengers event to celebrate here on the eve of the movie’s release? Or is this Avengers run a classic despite my callow twenty-something office mate’s ignorance of these mighty events? Assemble your Avengers reactions in the comments section below!

The Day They Walked Away: Captain America!

Longbox Graveyard #116

Super-Blog Team-Up #2 of 6!

Welcome to a new feature: Super-Blog Team-Up, where I and a select cohort of blogging pals all tackle a similar issue on the same day. For this inaugural feature, we all look at a time when a superhero decided to hang up his mask!

For my favorite superhero — Captain America — that particular moment came in issue #176, in the summer of 1974, marking a bold high point in author Steve Englehart’s long run on the book.

Captain America #176 cover by John Romita

That 1974 date is critical to putting Cap’s decision into context, and that context can best be summarized in one word: Watergate.

Goodbye, Dick! Watergate, 1974

The greatest political scandal in American history, the Watergate affair led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, and sent the United States into a tailspin of shame, despair, and self-examination. Even as a twelve-year-old, I felt the sting of national embarrassment as the Watergate scandal dragged on and on, dominating the news cycle and providing one final, fatal flashpoint in the national debate about Nixon’s controversial terms in office.

Nixon would flee the White House in August of 1974, but Captain America’s identity crisis — sparked in no small part by Tricky Dick’s malfeasance — would continue into 1975, concluding with issue #185. It is the length of Cap’s absence from his own book — as well as the reasons why he quit, how Cap handled his own hiatus, and how the experience changed the way we regard the character — that makes this particular resignation saga unique among the many times this trope has been examined in comics.

So pervasive was Watergate that the scandal is scarcely referenced in the comics — we don’t need a reminder for why Captain America might be feeling a crisis of conscience over the country he embodies. Instead, rather than Watergate, the roots of Cap’s fateful decision reside in the “Secret Empire” story from issues #169-176. Here, Cap found his public image smeared by the “Committee to Regain America’s Principles” (an allusion to the real-life Comittee To Re-Elect The President, which was saddled with the you-can’t-make-this-up quasi-acronym of CREEP). Cap’s quest to reclaim his good name brings him face-to-face with the leader of the Secret Empire, who was, in all but name … Richard Nixon!

Captain America witnesses Nixon's "suicide" -- issue #175,  by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

When “Nixon” kills himself, Cap decides he’s had enough. America isn’t a country he recognizes anymore — it has become a corrupt and ambiguous place unlike the nation he fought for during World War II. After a bit of soul-searching, Cap decides to give up his identity, provoking incredulity from his fellow heroes, including a “nosey” Iron Man who appeals to Cap’s sense of duty …

Iron Man offers advice, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema -- note the "nose" on Iron Man's mask!

… as well as more personal appeals from Cap’s partner, the Falcon, and Cap’s World War II-era love interest, Peggy Carter.

Falcon Confronts Captain America, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Captain America's friends react to Cap's resignation, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

But for Cap, what was once simple is now complex. In the wake of Watergate, and the Vietnam War, America is uncertain of her place in the world … and so is Captain America.

Captain America's identity crisis, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

And so, Cap makes an impossible declaration.

Captain America Must Die! by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

So far, so good. Cap is suffering from a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing “Nixon” top himself, uncorking all his long-simmering anxiety over representing an America that has come off the rails. Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a superhero hang it up, and even twelve-year-old me knew our hero would have to reverse his decision eventually.

But the following issue makes clear that this isn’t a crisis that will be resolved quickly. Steve Rogers is resolute in his decision to give up his Captain America identity, which is as much as his partner, Sam Wilson, can take. As the Falcon, Sam would become the book’s headline hero for the next several months …

Falcon & Captain America's partnership dissolves, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

… but the name on the masthead was still, “Captain America,” and to keep the character present in his own book, Englehart developed a clever subplot where substitute heroes — with no particular powers — sought to take up the uniform, with uniformly disastrous results!

Captain America impersonator, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Man of action that he is, Steve Rogers can’t help but be involved in fisticuffs, but coming to the Falcon’s aid in a street fight backfires when Sam’s deep-seated “sidekick” insecurities are laid bare.

The Falcon tells off Captain America, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

The only person in Steve’s life who seems content with his decision is Steve’s lady love, Sharon Carter. Having resigned her job as a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent, Sharon seems only to want to play house with Steve. Frankly, this isn’t Sharon Carter’s finest moment — she spends most of this saga acting frivolous, or pouting when Steve begins to reconsider his decision (and in this her behavior is in marked contrast to how Steve Gerber was writing Sharon in the contemporaneous Marvel Two-In-One #4-5, where Sharon elbowed her way into a time travel adventure with Cap and the Thing, then put it to the Badoon alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy!).

Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter are happy Captain America resigned, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Despite this dissonance, Cap’s resignation is nicely handled in the rest of the Marvel line (and it helped that Englehart was also scripting The Avengers at the time). Cap’s decision sends ripples through the Marvel Universe, prompting Steve Rogers to come under attack from the obnoxious “Golden Archer” …

The Golden Archer, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

… who proves to be Hawkeye, hoping to convince Steve to more fully examine his decision.

The Golden Archer is Hawkeye! by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

It weirded me out that under his Golden Archer mask Hawkeye was wearing … another mask! But no matter, it’s the thought that counts, and in this as in many things, Hawkeye proves the right kind of crazy, inspiring Steve Rogers to take up an entirely new identity!

Captain America gets a bright idea -- Nomad! by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Now we’re really onto something — the story has taken an unexpected turn, and Englehart revels in it (“You thought this was just a rerun of a thousand old plots.”) From the end of Captain America we are now present at the birth of a new superhero — Nomad, the man without a country!

But first, there has to be a costume montage, with a not-so-subtle Batman reference …

Nomad costume montage, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

… and who knew that Steve Rogers suffered from Cape Envy?

Steve Rogers has "Cape Envy" by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

The Nomad, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Hmm. Not a great look, Steve. That plunging neckline is especially daring, but … sheesh.

No matter. Cap — I mean Nomad — is soon in action, and his new costume scarcely survives its shakedown cruise. Cap learns that capes are reserved for DC superheroes …

Nomad in action, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

… but Steve’s fashion crime isn’t severe enough to cost him his Avengers membership, as the team is eager to welcome him back, whatever his identity.

Nomad and the Avengers, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Alas, things go from bad to worse for Steve, as the Nomad soon bottoms out, battling against … the Gamecock? Oh, Steve, say it isn’t so!

Nomad vs. The Gamecock, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

Still, Steve seems to have had genuine affection for his alter-alter ego, and might have remained the Nomad indefinitely, but he would soon learn that Captain America wasn’t something he could just pack away in a box.

The public’s confusion over Cap’s decision would come to weigh heavily on Steve, who did himself no favors by renouncing his identity while Cap was still under a cloud from the Secret Empire’s smear campaign …

Nomad wrestles with his conscience, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

… and so powerful a symbol was Captain America that aspiring heroes could not leave it alone. First played for laughs, Englehart’s subplot about the substitute Captain Americas took an exceedingly grim turn when the last of Cap’s stand-ins was gruesomely murdered by the Red Skull!

Captain America crucified by Red Skull, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

The Red Skull’s reappearance sparks another identity crisis for Steve. At first he seems to cleave even more strongly to his Nomad identity, but in the span of a few panels, Steve has an epiphany about the power of symbols, as well as his own central role in the pinnacle of symbolism — the “American Dream.”

Nomad reconsiders his identity, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

And just like that, Steve realizes that Captain America isn’t a symbol of America as it had become, but instead a symbol of America as it should be.

Nomad makes his decision, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

And so Captain America was reborn!

Captain America reborn, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

In short order, Cap would put paid to the Red Skull and restore his good name. With Captain America restored to the Marvel Universe, Steve Englehart would depart the book, but he made a mark on the character that few creators can equal. By positioning Captain America as the guardian of the American dream, Englehart simultaneously insulated the character from future political scandals, and elevated the character to mythic status. Captain America because Marvel’s elder statesman, more purely heroic than ever before, and occupying the role of the one superhero in the world that everyone could agree was truly … super.

In giving up his Captain America identity, Steve Rogers finally discovered what Captain America was all about. There would be dozens of different takes on the character in the years ahead (Jack Kirby’s idiosyncratic take on Cap in his 1970s return to Marvel would commence within a year), but Cap’s role as the voice of moral conscience would be core to the character, echoing down through the ages, lending additional authority to countless “Cap speeches” and possibly reaching it’s ultimate expression when Cap chose to side with the spirit of America over the letter of the law in Marvel’s 2006 “Civil War” event.

That will do it for my look at the day Captain America walked away, but our Super-Blog Team-Up continues over at Flodo’s Page, where Super-Blog Team-Up #3 (of 6) looks at the time Green Lantern told the Guardians of Oa to take their ring and shove it! And be sure to check out all the articles in our “Day They Walked Away” Super-Blog Team-Up series …

#1 Silver Age Senstations: The Thing
#2 LongBox Graveyard: Captain America
#3 Flodo’s Page: Green Lantern
#4 SuperHero Satellite: Superman
#5 Chasing Amazing: Spider-Man
#6 Fantastiverse: Hank Pym … COMING SOON!

And you can always see the latest Super-Blog Team-Up project on the team’s very own page.

Thanks for reading! Share your thoughts on Cap calling it quits — and on all our Super-Blog Team-Up efforts — in the comments section, below!

Read The Collection: Amazon

NEXT WEEK: #117 Top Ten Superhero Lairs!

Guardians of the Galaxy

Longbox Graveyard #93

There’s a brand-spanking new Guardians of the Galaxy comic series shipping from Marvel today …

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

… and there’s a feature film on the way in 2014, set to feature my old pal Star-Lord.

Guardians of the Galaxy

And here is the FULL movie trailer!

You are forgiven for wondering how the heck this is happening. DC Comics still can’t get a Justice League movie on track and Marvel is bringing a B-team to the big screen? Actually, calling them a B-team is giving them all the best of it. The Guardians of the Galaxy are a tertiary property (on their best day), and I really can’t explain how they’ve been fast-tracked for stardom. I’ve enjoyed their recent comics series but this seems a gigantic risk.

But while I can’t explain the inner workings of Hollywood, I can write about something close to home — namely the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves!

No, I don’t mean these guys

The NEW Guardians of the Galaxy

I mean these guys!

Marvel Super-Heroes #18, Gene Colan

These are the original Guardians, circa 1969, as imagined by writer Arnold Drake and artist Gene Colan for the cover of Marvel Super-Heroes #18. From left-to-right we have Major Vance Astro (cryogenically-preserved spaceman of the 1980s), Charlie-27 (Jovian militiaman), Martinex (genetically-engineered inhabitant of Pluto), and the weapons-master Yondu, last survivor of Alpha Centauri IV!

Yes, the Guardians had been kicking around the Marvel Universe for decades before the Guardians of the Galaxy trademark was resurrected for the post-Annihilation series of the same name in 2008. The original Guardians were nomads of the spaceways, perpetual guest-stars and try-out book headliners that took decades to (sort of) break through and earn a book of their own.

They’re just the kind of obscure and loveable losers that I can’t resist here at Longbox Graveyard!

Marvel Super Heroes #18, Gene Colan and Arnold Drake

The team’s fast-paced origin story in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 doesn’t afford a chance to do much more than put names to faces. Earth and her colonies have come beneath the heel of the baleful Badoon, a race of remorseless, reptillian interstellar conquerers, and our four heroes are the last of their kind — genetically-engineered human colonists of the outer planets, indigenous aliens, or star-lost men from the past. When the story is complete, our heroes have come together and pledged to liberate a captive earth …

Marvel Super Heroes #18, Gene Colan and Arnold Drake

… and that might have been the end for this one-and-done science fiction superhero team, had not Tony Isabella and Steve Gerber conspired to resurrect them. A full five years passed before the Guardians next appeared, in Marvel Two-In-One #4 and #5. Written by Steve Gerber, these issues saw Captain America and the Thing transported into the future, where they met the Guardians and helped continue the fight to free the earth from the Badoon.

Marvel Two-In-One #5, Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema

It was an action-packed and frankly bizarre tale (though not bizarre in the usual Steve Gerber way — that would come later). What was most strange was that these Guardians were given a second chance at all. This kind of intellectual property dumpster-diving was more Roy Thomas’ line of work, who delighted in unearthing Golden Age treasures for Silver Age audiences. Interested as he was in socially-relevant superhero stories, it’s hard to understand what Steve Gerber saw in these intergalactic freedom fighters — yet there they were, in all their generic Sal Buscema glory, clobbering bad guys along with Ben Grimm in the pages of his team-up book.

Marvel Two-In-One #5, Sal Buscema and Steve Gerber

I bought that issue of Marvel Two-In-One off the rack in 1974 — I liked it at the time, and it even fared well in my recent re-read of the full run of Two-In-One. I think I responded to “Superheroes In Spaaaaaace!” and there was something cool about discovering these obscure characters. As a tender youth of twelve this was a mind-expanding moment for me, first-hand proof that the “Marvel Universe” consisted not just of Spider-Man swinging around Manhattan, but also a cosmos full of aliens and forgotten freedom fighters, with a future history our heroes may or may not be doomed to live out. I was also taken with the story of Major Vance Astro, who sacrificed his humanity to explore the stars, only to find out he’d been made obsolete before his voyage had scarcely begun.

Marvel Two-In-One #5, Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema

Gerber so liked the team that he used them again in Defenders #26-29, more firmly cementing them into the Marvel Universe, and doing a bit of clean-up work on the Guardians’ origin and backstory. After crashing the Guardians’ time-lost ship on Earth in Giant-Size Defenders #5, Gerber teamed the Guardians with Doctor Strange, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, and the Hulk to mostly put paid to the Badoon occupation of Earth. Along the way, he indulged in some characteristic Steve Gerber weirdness (casting the Hulk in a kill-crazy reality television show!), but he also fleshed out the Guardians mythos by showing us peculiar details of Badoon culture, and constructing an elaborate future history for the series, which included ozone depletion, bionics, world war, and even a Martian invasion (resisted by a guy named Killraven).

Defenders #26, Sal Buscema and Steve Gerber

That Defenders run is also notable for introducing Starhawk, a character I’m still trying to wrap my head around going on four decades later. Starhawk is an enigma, popping up unbidden, referring to himself as “The One Who Knows,” and winging off to his weirdly prosaic little house on the galactic prairie between adventures …

Defenders #29, Steve Gerber & Sal Buscema

… which was all well and good, but the Guardians themselves were still a reasonably unknown quantity at this point, and there seemed plenty of stories to tell about the original cast without introducing a mysterious new character. Starhawk would be even more front-and-center (literally!) in the Guardians solo series that kicked off in Marvel Premiere #3.

Marvel Presents #3

It took seven years, but thanks to Steve Gerber’s efforts, the Guardians of the Galaxy had finally earned a series of their own! But now that the Guardians had the stage to themselves, this pack of perpetual second bananas seemed a little lost. First, there was the distracting presence of the enigmatic Starhawk, who seemed to suck the air out of every scene, gazing into the distance and promising that in time all will be revealed while the rest of the Guardians (and at least one reader) wished he’d just get to the point. Second, Gerber decided that the Guardians’ war against the Badoon had run its course, and wrapped up our heroes’ raison d’etre the the final defeat of the Badoon in the first issue of their solo run. Once again, Starhawk was on hand with moralistic advice about how the defeated Badoon should be treated, courtesy of one of Gerber’s signature typed-text pages.

Marvel Presents #3, Steve Gerber & Al Milgrom

Gerber’s vision was for the Guardians of the Galaxy to start living up to their name, and to guard not just Earth, but the Galaxy, and so our heroes were packed aboard a starship and sent off to confront a mysterious being at the center of space. All well and good, but it wouldn’t be long before the series took a turn for the silly, first when that mysterious being turned out to be a giant space frog …

Marvel Presents #4

… and then when — with all the universe to choose from — Steve Gerber had the Guardians land on an alien asylum planet that just happened to be a weird replica of New York’s Times Square.

Marvel Presents #5, Steve Gerber & Al Milgrom

In this run of Guardians of the Galaxy we found out the hard way that the cosmic wonder of the Marvel Universe matters only so much as it is connected to our mundane lives here on Earth. Galactus can eat all the planets he likes — but it’s just backstory until he confronts the Fantastic Four over the fate our our planet. Thanos can destroy half the universe with a snap of his fingers, but what we really care about is what happened to Mary Jane Watson. In a fictional construct as interconnected as the Marvel Universe, you strike out on your own at your peril, and by putting our men of action on the bridge of a starship and having them fly off on an abstract adventure with one-off characters in places we’d never seen before, Gerber unfortunately delivered stories that provided the worst of all worlds.

Marvel Presents #6, Al Milgrom

If the plotting was a drag, Gerber did wring some personality from our heroes. Yondu got to be a noble savage, and he did tricks with his bow (always the same damn trick, but it was better than nothing). Martinex became more brainy and alien. All of our characters came to feel like outcasts and freaks as the last of their kind. Vance started to behave erratically, living in a shipboard room reconstructed from his memories as a twelve-year-old …

Marvel Presents #4, Steve Gerber & Al Milgrom

Gerber added a female Guardian, too, but the team just never seemed to jell in their own series — absent outsized personalities like Ben Grimm or the Hulk or Doctor Strange to play off of, the Guardians were revealed as a B-team of generic comic heroes without a cause.

The series went into rapid decline as the big energy frog storyline wrapped up. A Silver Surfer reprint was awkwardly shoe-horned into issue #8, and then Steve Gerber would transition off the book in favor of Roger Stern, who finally revealed Starhawk’s origin — a messy mash-up of alien prophecies and a vaguely incestuous body-sharing relationship between step-siblings that somehow involved a giant Hawkman robot.

Marvel Presents #10, Roger Stern & Al Milgrom

It was a mess, and so was the book by this point, so it was a bit of a relief when the series met its inevitable demise after issue #12.

I will admit to being a bit disappointed revisiting the Guardians after all these years. But the improbable tale of the Guardians of the Galaxy was far from over. They would next appear in Thor Annual #6 to kick off of one of the biggest Avengers events of the decade … but that is a tale for another time!

(And for those of you who soldiered to the end of this article looking for relevant information about the new Guardians of the Galaxy, check out this excellent scorecard at Comic Book Resources).

Al Milgrom, Marvel Presents #12

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