In case you’ve been under a rock the last month, the Guardians of the Galaxy went from relatively obscure comic book heroes to global superstars. As of August 25, the film has raked in over $500 million worldwide, with more than $94 million of that coming in opening weekend in just North America. 44% of its opening weekend audience was female, beating the last record holder of 40% female audience for The Avengers. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s entertaining as all get out.
Tying in to the film’s release, Marvel released several comics to sate fans looking for more Groot-y goodness. To that end, let’s dive into Legendary Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon.
Legendary Star-Lord: The half-human, half-Spartoi Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, was created by Steve Englehart in 1976. After the Badoon killed his mother on earth, he was sent to an orphanage before joining NASA. Quill was initially denied the mantle of Star-Lord, but swiped it anyway. He’s Marvel’s answer to Han Solo, a good guy pretending to be a jerk, the kind of dude willing to sacrifice himself to Thanos and the Cancerverse to save the rest of the multiverse. Star-Lord appeared sporadically over the years, but it wasn’t until the mid-aughts that his storylines kicked up a notch. In 2014 he got his first solo title. Avengers comics vet Sam Humphries does writing duty, with penciler Paco Medina, inker Juan Vlasco, and colorist David Curiel getting cover credit. Issues #1 and #2 are out now, with #3 coming September 3.
Rocket Raccoon: Rocket made his first appearance was in 1976 as Rocky in Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen’s Marvel Preview #7. The genetically modified raccoon from the planet Halfworld in the Keystone Quadrant proved a little too out there for Marvel, and only appeared in less than a dozen issues until joining the group that would soon call itself the Guardians of the Galaxy in 2007; he became a full-fledged member in the 2013 GotG series. The 2014 solo title is Rocket’s first. The great Skottie Young does words and art, and is supported by color artist and long-time Young collaborator Jean-François Beaulieu. Issues #1 and #2 are out now, with #3 coming September 3.
Legendary Star-Lord is a wasted opportunity. When I picked up #2, I had to re-read #1 because I couldn’t remember what had happened. Before writing this review, I re-read both again, as they had gone right out of my head once more. I literally just put the issues down and they’re already fading from memory. Issue #1 was something about a stolen gemstone hidden in an orphanage, but mostly about Quill taunting a bunch of flarking Badoon, while #2 explores the new character of Victoria, Peter’s militaristic half-sister. She plans to hand him over to the mysterious new villain Mister Knife and collect the bounty on Star-Lord’s head. Bickering and bonding ensue.
Given that Peter Quill is now a famous superhero, you’d think Marvel would want his solo title to be equally as thrilling. Quill is as endearingly cocky and irritatingly charming as ever, however, he’s not as much fun without Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax to bounce off of. The alien baddies and female associates give him enough to play with to keep him from getting boring and repetitive, but the secondary characters are woefully underdeveloped, especially Victoria. Much of her personal growth happens off camera, leaving the reader without any reason for her to make the life-threatening and life-altering choices she does.
The storylines aren’t very strong, either, more like filler episodes in a defanged network television show struggling to produce 24 hours worth of material. Medina’s work shifts from very good to not so good from panel to panel, and I’m not entirely convinced he knows how to properly draw expressive faces. Give him freaky space monsters, though, and he’s out of this world. Right now, there isn’t much reason for this series to exist except to tap into all that GotG cash. To be fair, I suspect Star-Lord will make for fine reading once the whole series is out. It feels like the kind of comic made for binge reading, where all the wonky/uninteresting/poorly crafted stuff will get smoothed out over the long run by the rolicking bits.
Rocket Raccoon has already secured a place in my Top 5 favorite comics of 2014. It’s weird—boy howdy, is it weird—but in the craziest, awesomest way possible. The main arc is rather simple: Rocket’s ex-girlfriends form an army to destroy him while another genetically engineered talking raccoon gets Rocket framed for murder. But it’s the gorgeous art and hilariously creative subplots—Rocket’s failed first date at Groot’s wrestling match, the two of them escaping from prison, and the subsequent Space Battle of the Angry Exes – that make the whole thing a joy to read.
Skottie Young’s art is stunning, visually exciting, and detail-ridden. It took me ages to get through the two issues because there’s just sooooo much to look at on each page. Where Medina’s art falters repeatedly in Star-Lord, Young’s execution is frenetically energetic and jam-packed with Easter eggs and pop culture references. Lesser writers might have gone über goofy or tried to counter the innate silliness of an anthropomorphic space raccoon by going too gritty, but Young’s youthful, sparky irreverence is absolutely perfect for this title. Humphries fails at character growth and audience empathy, but by showing the reader why Rocket cares so much about being the only one of his kind (as well as what it means when his entire identity is suddenly false, and how he reacts to that) we connect to him in a way we can’t with Peter Quill or Victoria. A Rocket solo series shouldn’t work, and it says a lot that a story about a talking varmint wins such high marks while a comic book Han Solo is barely mediocre.
The comics are more diverse and have better gender dynamics than the film, although I’d like to see more inroads made with LGBTQIA and other ethnicities. Also, someone really needs to teach comics artists how to draw breasts. And is it too much to ask to have a few more regular women writers and artists working on these titles? Rocket at least has two women on staff, but Star-Lord is a total sausage party.
With Guardians of the Galaxy now in the middle of a crossover with the multi-title spanning storyline “Original Sin,” it doesn’t seem like Marvel has any intention of welcoming new readers into that particular fold. N00bs, especially those of us coming from the movie, can’t easily jump into the GotG comics. It’s possible to start fresh with Star-Lord and Rocket, but the best part of the movie is watching the group interact with each other. Each are interesting on their own, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, particularly with Peter Quill. Rocket Raccoon is a must have. The jury’s still out on Legendary Star-Lord. If it were handled better, it could be a great series, but as of now it’s shaky at best. Young’s Rocket is a pleasure, from plots to characters to art to everything in between. Out of the two series reviewed here, the only one I plan to continue with is Rocket Raccoon. Skottie Young has a new lifelong fan in me.
Tune in next month for Lumberjanes…
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.