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Abhay Khosla

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1 by Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven, John Dell, Justin Ponsor, VC’s Cory Petit, Manny Mederos, Ellie Pyle, Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, Axel Alonso, Joe Quesada, Dan Buckley, Alan Fine, Tom Brevoort, David Bogart, Ruwan Jayatilleke, CB Cebulski, David Gabriel, Jim O’Keefe, Dan Carr, Susan Cespi, Alex Morales, Stan Lee, and Niza Disla, published in March 2013 by Marvel Comics:

I was catching up with SCARLET and the latest POWERS relaunch, so while I was at it, I thought I’d check in with what Bendis was up to in the mainstream. I picked up this, and two of his X-Men comics (issue #3 of UNCANNY X-MEN and issue #3 of SOME MORE X-MEN).

Going in, I was expecting to like GALAXY more than the X(s). Boy, I was wrong– the X(s), Bendis really seemed to show up for those way more. The shifting alliances and competing philosophies / views-of-mankind an X title invites seem really suited to Bendis’s strengths. Bendis writing Magneto in particular seems to make a particular sort of sense, mathematically. Whatever Bendis found exciting about working those comics made it onto the page, and with a noticeable confidence.

GALAXY #1, on the other hand, Bendis focuses on an action scene…? Why? Are there people who tell him he’s good at action scenes? Do those people have their own internet? Why is he writing this comic, other than that there’s a movie coming out soon?  After #1, I couldn’t say. The story promised by the last page of GALAXY is a fart: inconsistently designed spaceships attacking London…? Go, Aliens, Go! Blow all those people up, them and their erotic Jon Lewis snowmen. USA! USA! … Will aliens blow up London?? Too much suspense.

Never read any of this generation of GALAXY comics? Reasonable minds differ on this point apparently, but issue #1 didn’t explain who the GALAXY were, why they were a team, what their mission was, or why a talking squirrel or a talking tree were in outer space (??). (Footnote:  This has been the third first issue I’ve talked about this week that has been just mystifying, in some respect…)

Granted, he was working with better artists on the X(s)– Stuart Immonen and Chris Bachalo are veterans, whereas GALAXY’s Steve McNiven… McNiven doesn’t draw the moon, in a splash page of the moon. He just pastes a photograph of the moon onto the page; calls it a day… Facepalm: they hired a guy who can’t draw THE MOON to draw a comic set in outer space. (Was it a photo-realistic painting of the moon?  It looked like a photo) Plus: science-fiction comics, you want an artist with design skills– those are pretty important for an SF comic. McNiven’s spaceships don’t really reflect him having ever focused much study time on drawing tech before, while his Iron Man armor… No. No.

Sure: I don’t care. I’m not sticking around for any of these. Mainstream comic publishers are too gross; I don’t trust anyone at that company to tell me a story, instead of using the comic I’m reading as a paid advertisement for some rip-off crossover. I don’t want to pay for advertising for a movie I won’t want to see.  I was just curious what Bendis was up to. But if you want to be in that world? I’d go with the X(s). Seem more fun.

GALAXY was interesting at least one way, though: it’s another example of how Bendis so often seems to commence his runs with a long-standing status quo becoming unmoored because of a Spoiler Character.

His Daredevil run starts with the Silke character organizing a coup d’état against the Kingpin. His Avengers run starts twice– once with the Scarlet Witch “disassembling” Avengers, and the second time with some shadowy character engineering some jailbreak. Spiderwoman starts with that character trying to recover from having her identity stolen by the Skrull queen, when she gets recruited by SHIELD or somebody right…? GALAXY starts with somebody’s dad showing up and yelling that all the rules of outer space had changed (in what I took to be a visual homage to that staircase shot in Howard Chaykin and Jose-Garcia-Lopez’s TWILIGHT…? yes? no?).

If I were to think of other writer’s opening gambits, I’d think “our old patterns no longer suffice– we must become new” (a Morrison opening), or “a bold new status quo! … and a bold new threat!” (I imagine most mainstream books use this gambit, to diminishing returns) or “a startling new mystery that reveals a sinister expanded world that the main character was previously unaware of” (e.g. Snyder’s BATMAN #1; Fraction-Brubaker IRON FIST #1 back when, maybe?), or “everything we thought we knew about this character is wrong” (e.g. The Anatomy Lesson– which is pretty, pretty close) or “orifices, they need shy boys to fill them” (e.g. hentai).

Who else does “the Spoiler Character unmoors a long-standing status quo” opening other than Bendis? Who else leads with a Karen Page from Born Again?

And say hypothetically that I’m right, and that Bendis has had this career-long opening gambit that’s semi-unique to him. Why has that opening gambit connected repeatedly with readers? Why are they so moved by these Spoiler Characters? The people reading it—what do they get out of it? In my head, I’m just picturing some adult child of divorce, wanting to yell at his mom’s boyfriends. “Everything was great until you got here, Barry!” But that’s.. I would assume Bendis’s 13-year long success streak in mainstream comics isn’t thanks to a guy named Barry having sex on top of everybody’s mom(s). If you take into account Barry’s refractory time, there’s just not enough hours in the day for that to be true. Even for sexy, sexy Barry.

I’m sure all fiction plays to some insecurity or another, but that seems to speak to such a specific, small insecurity, being constantly afraid of a bully coming and kicking over your sand castle. That your destiny is ever controlled by the whims of malevolent strangers, that you’re standing on a rug that someone will come out and pull out from under you, that other people can and will be the source of ruination … It’s just sad, to think about too much– to think that a large swath of this audience all sharing that same insecurity. It’s sad to think some part of us is trapped in our heads that exact same way, prisoners of that same anxiety, cell-mates for life, building walls that don’t need to be there.

10 Responses to “ GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1 — Giuoco Piano ”

  1. “Why has that opening gambit connected repeatedly with readers? Why are they so moved by these Spoiler Characters?”

    I think it’s a mistake to think that they are – and in fact, it’s a mistake to think that most readers of Bendis’s writing are moved by Bendis’s writing in any meaningful way, or that most Bendis’s readers are actually Bendis fans in any meaningful way. Rather, I would argue that they are fans of certain major characters and properties (the Avengers, the X-Men, the “Marvel Universe,” etc.) which have happened to be associated with Bendis (“Shit, I gotta find out what happens to all my favorite characters in this summer’s amazing superhero crossover, written by Brian Bendis! … man, that kinda sucked, but now I have to catch the amazing fallout in ‘Avengers’ and ‘New Avengers,’ written by Brian Bendis! … well, okay, this is pretty lame, but I can see how it’s clearly setting up the next big crossover, written by Brian Bendis! …” etc.)

    Many, many people have observed that Bendis’s best work has tended to be on single character books, even while his most commercially successful work has been on team books (like Avengers) that he tends to write horribly (writing a dozen characters with the same voice, introducing new characters and immediately letting them drop into the background, etc.). Combine this with something like Moon Knight – a book that was prominently hailed as the return of Bendis/Maleev, but attracted none of the readership of Bendis’s Avengers and was cancelled after a polite twelve issues – and I think it’s clear that very few people were reading Bendis’s Avengers run for Bendis; rather, they read it because of the ingenious (from a mercenary standpoint) strategy of using the title as a vehicle for connecting every major crossover event using every major Marvel character. In a dozen different ways, Marvel essentially told its readership that if you were only going to buy one book from them, this was the one that “mattered,” and that book was Brian Bendis’s.

    That strategy made Bendis, by default, the most important writer at Marvel. He could have filled whole issues with Spider-man and Wolverine sitting in a kitchen clipping their toenails – and for all I know he did, I’ve forgotten most of that run – and it would have sold because it had Spider-man and Wolverine in it and nearly every issue was either the lead-in to, a tie-in to, or the epilogue to a crossover. And since writers at Marvel and DC aren’t evaluated based on their ability as actual storytellers, but based on their sales, Bendis has been placed on another Big Important Book, which is to say, one which will be spinning off a crossover and a movie soon. The people who will buy this book (other than a handful of Guardians of the Galaxy fans) are largely not die-hard fans of Bendis’s storytelling tics and techniques – they’re buying it because they’ve been told it’s Important.

  2. First, whoa, no jump daily content? Gracias.

    Second, I don’t remember any Karen Page in that DD run. Now, I do recall she showed up in Kevin Smith’s run right before Bendis, with that miracle baby.

  3. “I don’t remember any Karen Page in that DD run”

    Oh, I was being too fuzzy there– I can never be clear enough. What I meant is how… in Born Again, Karen Page is the Spoiler Character. She’s the one who disrupts the status quo. She’s not the major villain of the piece, or a villain at all really. But she’s the reason for everything that happens to Daredevil in that story. I was trying to draw an analogy between the Spoiler Opening that I was trying to talk about, to another famous run, not reference her specifically or imply that Bendis worked with that character. Words are hard. Sorry.

    She definitely was not in Bendis’s run, for various reasons which… I guess I shouldn’t spoil for you…?

  4. When it comes to Bendis, fuck spoilers. Tell what happens so you can save people having to overpay for a piece of shit book.

    As for Karen Paige, she was DD’s girlfriend when the character debuted but was phased out around the early 70s, going to the west coast to become an actor. Miller, showing the earliest signs of being a mysoginistic little shit, had her reappear in Born Again after over a decade, a pathetic, D-List whore with a heroin addiction, fucking strangers and appearing in fly by night porn videos. Desperate for a fix and having no money and having the scarlet letter of a junkie whore who has already fucked every two-bit drug dealer for heroin twice over, sold out Daredevil’s secret identity to a low level drug pusher, who ultimately gives the secret identity intel to the Kingpin, who scorch earths Daredevil’s entire life as a result.

  5. Bendis has mentioned in interviews that his target audience is Barry Allen.

    …on my internet.

  6. That Guardians issue was labeled #1, but it was more like issue three or four between the .1 issue and the digital character pieces. That was one of the worst Bendis first issues I’ve ever read. Gamora fighting armed guards in the garb of the king was undeniably stupid. Iron Man’s prescence was pointless as well. Just bad comics dressed up with recognizable names.

  7. The .1 issue of Guardians was light years ahead of the first issue and I worry (well I’m not really worried) that McNiven won’t be on too long.

  8. “GALAXY #1, on the other hand, Bendis focuses on an action scene…? Why? Are there people who tell him he’s good at action scenes? Do those people have their own internet?”

    Well, YEAH, it’s called iFanboy. Over there they have columnists that write perplexing articles about how “Age of Ultron is actually JUST LIKE World War Hulk… but even BETTER!” And in advance they basically called out anyone who was prejudiced against Bendis’s Guardians of the Galaxy as lame for thinking that it would be “just another talky decompressed Bendis book”. Then when it turns out to be, very much, “just another Bendis book” in all the negative senses, they basically said “So what?!” and still gave it four stars. It’s IN over there. It’s hip.

    I’m shockingly surprised by his recent X-stuff, though. It’s not perfect by any means, but every issue seems like it advances the plot far enough while providing fairly good instances of fairly good characterization.

    But didn’t Guardians of the Galaxy #1 just sell 200,000 copies? I know that was because of variants and retailer deals and such, but it’s still mindblowingly inexplicable to me, in much the same way that his monthly 100k sales figures of New Avengers five years ago was baffling.

    It’s pretty easy to see that there’s Good (or at least Decent) Bendis… and there’s Bad Bendis. Readers with any perception have a very easy time avoiding the latter, thus saving time and money. It’s painfully obvious when Bendis is actually putting effort into things and when he really isn’t. When he isn’t, he relies on the same lazy tactics, which one can see a mile off: opening-issue shock-value, chatty dialogue that seems as if he wrote it off the top of his head and never looked back, and decompressed storytelling that allows him to only have to think of real story ideas once every six months, minimum.

    Why do these things still continue to resonate with certain readers, who have brought probably a couple HUNDRED of Lazy Bendis comics at this point? Much like what moose n squirrel said above, I don’t think they actually DO resonate with these readers. Rather, these readers of continual victims of this stuff because they simply don’t realize that it’s happening, aren’t good enough readers to notice it all that often, and when they do notice it they actually like it, because it’s superficial and goes down easy, all within a candy-coated shell of “Bendis is a smart hipster writer; so really this drivel is actually intellectual. Wolverine and Spider-Men eating breakfast cereal together and bickering like the Odd Couple for ten pages — Brilliant, hilarious, and bravely avant garde! What, you say they’re both out of character? Err, I didn’t notice–but who cares!”

  9. Naaah, I don’t think I accept that audiences have been “fooled” for 13 years. Comic fans are always invited to imagine Worse Fans, but I’m tired of thinking that way (even though I’ve seen some stuff, sure). I just think– what I’d like to think, at least, maybe y’all are right and this is wishful thinking, but what I’d like to think is there’s something about what he’s doing, what Millar does, what Geoff Johns does, that made them stand out among the mainstream guys. That there’s some unspoken technical values that satisfies their particular audience– maybe not in a satisfies-like-art-satisfies way but …

    Like, what I’ve seen of Millar or Bendis or Johns, they all can convey an epic scale of the events in their comics, no matter how drab those events are on paper. It’s not just that they’re the ones getting to write the epic events– it’s something else in tone… And I’ve seen other people fail to hit that tone, people I think of as good writers maybe, but who haven’t had their careers.

    I just think whatever that Thing is tends to get buried by other surface considerations, Millar’s crassness, Bendis’s pacing or schtick, Johns’s violence… Which aren’t UNWORTHY of talking about. But I don’t worry about those things getting talked about, say. It’s not what I go looking for when I see one of their comics…

    My go-to example: Millar has this thing he did throughout one of his comics where bystanders would yell things out but it’d always be a two-sentence thing of “EXTREME OVER-REACTION. Statement of exposition.” So, it’d be like “ALL OF OUR LIVES ARE FORFEIT. Wolverine is eating a sandwich.” So it’d just be Wolverine eating a sandwich but he’d make it seem like a LOT was at stake…

    Look, if you want to argue that those guys have wrongly benefited from crossover culture at the expense of younger writers, writers in the same position they were in years earlier, I’m totally on board. If you want to talk about why whatshisname’s Avengers sold more than whosit’s Avengers, sure, you have to talk about one of them “mattering” and one “not,” and how gross that is. I think a crossover-driven event- driven culture distorts values. But that it’s JUST that, and that Bendis didn’t earn his place and continue to earn his place in that scheme… people had opportunities to jump off Avengers, or to not jump on X-Men, and they didn’t take it. So there’s something else going on, arguably. Arguably…

    But granted… Jeph Loeb… There’s no explaining that. There’s just no explaining that. So what do I know…

  10. Is it wrong that I would totally read a comic where Wolverine ate a sandwich, and the fate of the world hung in the balance?

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