Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw, together again on “Guardians of the Galaxy!” It should’ve been a can’t-miss proposition after their work on “Thanos Wins.” Yet Shaw only wound up drawing the issues in this volume and Cates wrapped things up after twelve issues. I’m inclined to wonder “What went wrong?” under these circumstances, but another theory presents itself after reading this volume: This was all the creators had time for. Cates has a full dance card given his Marvel and Image projects while Shaw does his best work six issues at a time. So while Marvel may have wanted them to stick around longer, these creators only had time for a couple things. Namely, put the “Guardians” back together after the events of “Infinity Wars” and wrap up the legacy of Thanos’ Last Will and Testament.
That’s what most of Marvel’s cosmic bigwigs find themselves witnessing as Eros unveils it for them at the beginning of the volume. While Thanos’ body is well and truly dead, the message he left in his will shows that he has one last trick in store for the universe: His resurrection. Thanos’ took measures to upload his consciousness into someone else before his untimely death. Letting everyone know about this is just part of the fun. Except that Eros has a very good idea who the prime suspect is in this case. That’d be Gamora, who still has plenty of people looking to settle the score after what she did with the Infinity Gems.
Surprisingly, one of them isn’t Peter Quill. Even after she stabbed him through the chest to get her hands on the gem he had. No, Peter is traveling the backways of the galaxy with a Groot who is solidly into his teenage years trying to forget about what Gamora did to him when he gets word of what has gone down at the “reading of the will.” Not the whole “Thanos uploaded his consciousness” part, but “The Black Order has broken in and is trying to steal his body,” part. Someone out there has plans for Thanos’ body, and now Peter has to get back in the saddle again with a new set of Guardians of the Galaxy whether he wants to or not.
Cates’ run may have been meant to fill in the gap between the Duggan and Ewing runs on “Guardians” but it doesn’t have the same “fill-in” feel of his memorable runs on “Thanos” and “Doctor Strange” where he had the freedom to throw some crazy ideas around. No, you can feel the hand of Marvel Editorial at work here as the writer is doing yeoman’s work here. In that he has to find a way to bring a team back together that was fractured as you can get after their central role in an event a few months earlier, but not make it come off like the joyless editorial mandate it is.
It’s one thing for an event to have consequences… but, show of hands here, who really expected or wanted the Guardians to be broken up for very long? Credit to Cates, though: He does do a good job of digging in to try and sell us on the idea that Quill is In A Bad Place right now through lots of drunken speeches, late-night phone calls, and unpleasant flashbacks. It’s to a point where the now very surly and actually communicative Groot has to act as the voice of reason here. I wasn’t sure what to expect with a Groot that can actually talk, but he’s actually got some good things to say here and I doubt his “mutiny” would’ve been as fun to watch if he hadn’t been able to say them.
So there’s a solid through-line to follow regarding the traditional Guardians members that becomes more clear when Gamora properly re-enters the picture. Before then, there’s A LOT of characters jockeying for space. In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned there’s Beta Ray Bill, Moondragon, Phyla-Vell, Nova, Gladiator, the Black Order, a certain “Thor” villain, Silver Surfer, the Starjammers, and (of course) Cosmic Ghost Rider. That’s a large cast by any standard and you shouldn’t go expecting them to have the same level of development as the core Guardians members. Still Cates gets their personalities right and finds ways to use them for decent comic relief more often than not.
Shaw, on the other hand, is certainly up to the challenge of drawing all these characters and the crazy stuff they encounter. The first issue alone has Knowhere blowing a hole in a giant spaceship as an entry point for the Black Order’s raid. And that’s BEFORE they escape into a black hole which sucks in most of said cast. While there’s more where that came from (and lot of cosmic superhero fisticuffs), the real surprise is how much simple character work we get to see Shaw do. One of the reasons his and Cates’ breakout series “God Country” succeeded as well as it did was because they were able to blend mythic characters and action with down-to-Earth human emotions. This isn’t on that level, but the scenes like seeing Quill drunkenly chat up Kitty Pryde late at night, witnessing his ultimate reconciliation with Gamora, or just seeing Moondragon and Phyla-Vell cuddle have their own special charm.
In the end, all of the Thanos business is wrapped up reasonably well. At least until Marvel decides it’s time to finally bring back the Mad Titan to headline some event down the road. There’s still the business with Rocket to deal with and that’s what the next volume will be about. The solicitations have been keen to stress that all of Cates’ cosmic stories have been leading to this. Given that they’ve never had a singular plot driving them all, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t quite believe we’ll be getting a climax for the ages here. Still, this was ultimately a very entertaining read and something I’d recommend to fans of both Cates and the Guardians.