We are a year into Al Ewing's Guardians of the Galaxy run and it feels like Guardians of the Galaxy #13 is a bit of a reset. Over the past 12 issues, he's torn the team in two, brought in new members like Marvel Boy and Hercules, killed Starlord, and then revealed that Starlord was sent to some distant corner of the universe where he lived for over a hundred years before being pulled back into the present to fight Knull and the revamped Olympian gods. So a lot has happened in the pages of Guardians of the Galaxy in the last year, to say nothing about the galactic power shifts that happened in the Ewing co-written Empyre event.
The galaxy looks a bit different today than it did a year ago and its heroes need to reflect those changes. Ewing and new-to-the-series artist Juan Frigeri pack a lot into Guardians of the Galaxy #13, working to establish a new status quo while trying to find some space for the baggage of these characters' past.
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Juan Frigeri and Federico Blee
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Peter Quill, Starlord, has lived a whole lifetime away from his teammates and away from Gamora, the galaxy's deadliest woman with whom he had developed a close relationship. While it's been months for everyone else, for Peter these are people that he knew over 100 years ago and he's grown in ways that they cannot understand. He's not the same Starlord that they or we knew. Ewing has taken this character who has always been somewhat malleable to begin with (see what he started as and where he is now) and created this fascinating twist on him. This issue acknowledges that twist but doesn't do much with it. Well, it does drop a big new bombshell but just as quickly shrugs it off for the next fracas with some generic enemies.
There's not too much exploration of these characters and how they fit into this newest incarnation of the team as they face two or three different threats. Ewing and Frigeri spend this issue defining the threats to the galaxy without spending the time to let us get to know who these characters are at this point in their lives.
One fun aspect of this team since it was revitalized by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning has been how it has had a strong core of members (Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot) but has allowed for all of these other characters to enter in and out of their orbit, characters like Nova, Quasar, Phylla-Vell, Moondragron, and Marvel Boy. Frigeri and colorist Federico Blee step into this expansive series and find ways to highlight all of these people without ever getting lost in the action.
With everything that Ewing is trying to fit into this issue, Frigeri and Blee keep all of the action clear and concise. If anything, Frigeri's pacing in this issue could be a bit more manic as the new Kree/Skrull alliance under the rule of the Young Avengers' Hulkling is attacked. As the new galaxy order is almost immediately threatened, this issue could use a bit more chaos and mayhem in the artwork but Frigeri controlled tempo helps keep all of the various settings and character groupings straight for the reader.
The recap page reminds us that the Guardians "have been many things: soldiers, misfits, thieves and, above all… family." But now, it tells us, the galaxy needs superheroes. That's how Ewing is writing this issue - not about the cast as a family or any of those other things but as superheroes and that takes some of the air out of this cast. Part of the fun of this series over the years has been seeing how more traditional superheroes like Nova, the Thing, and even Kitty Pryde fit in with this group of misfits. With Ewing's expansive cast here, everyone acts like superheroes and is missing the little ticks that made them unique and fun before this. This issue promises cosmic adventure with strong ties into the foundation of the Marvel Universe (more on that in a moment) but it also robs the series a bit of its foundational essence of the family of misfits and outcasts that this group has been. Suddenly the Guardians of the Galaxy are a superhero team? Ewing has earned a degree of trust to see where this concept goes in the future but for this one issue, it feels like this cast is just a little bit less special than it deserves to be.
Guardians of the Galaxy #13 preview
And then, in the end, Ewing and Frigeri introduce the newest threat or the newest member (maybe both) to the team - Doctor Doom! Doom appears to be the puppet master behind all of the chaos of this issue and Doom may be the chaos agent that this storyline needs. As the team has put most of their personal issues behind them and accepted their roles as galactic superheroes, it seems only right that these superheroes would have to face one of the oldest and most diabolical villains that any Marvel hero has faced before. Doom can be a fascinating character when he's playing the role of anti-hero (see the recent Christopher Cantwell/Salvador Larroca series) but here he comes in full of the standard supervillain bluster and bravado. Doom appears as part of the cliffhanger and again, maybe we have to have a bit of trust in Al Ewing to see what he does in future issues.
This comic goes for capturing a truly cosmic scale of adventure, trying to establish the intergalactic jurisdiction of the team. It creates stakes that at once fee large but also impersonal and distant. Al Ewing and Juan Frigeri provide a timely reset for these characters, giving themselves the ability to re-establish who and what this team is. But by taking this moment to do that, Ewing and Frigeri lose a bit of sight of the magic of this cast. By showing them as galactic superheroes, we end up missing the more personal and established interplay of these characters that all of the incarnations of this title have been built on. When you make the Guardians of the Galaxy into a superhero team, that's what they are - just another superhero team.
Some of the Guardians are on our list of the best cosmic comic heroes of all time.