It’s been interesting to watch the rise of Brian Michael Bendis. In Sean Howe’s excellent “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,” the author traces Bendis’ career at the company from a fill in writer for Kevin Smith’s embarrassingly bad run on Daredevil to a man who morphed with the times, becoming the poster boy for The Ultimate line with his exceptional early issues of Ultimate Spider-Man to changing into the face of editor Bill Jemas’ decadent and depraved Marvel Knights line. Howe sets Bendis up as a chameleon who morphed as Marvel changed in a tumultuous time, rapidly becoming the authoritative voice of the company.
I think it would be hard to argue that Bendis is the main voice of Marvel and he’s done it by being everything for everybody. His authorial voice is talk heavy, soapy and often spineless with his heroes’ voices blending into a sea of characterless noise. When there’s a big, universe defining crossover event that needs written, there’s one guy the House of Ideas turns to because they’re going to get a bombastic, non-upsetting singular voice. Those books pay off big and give Bendis a lot of leeway, letting him take over the X-Franchise after the dubious success of his Avengers run and now establishing Marvel’s cosmic characters for the first time in years.
What started as insultingly blatant teases for the new Nova series in Avengers vs. X-Men, has blossomed into Guardians of the Galaxy, a series which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be coming out if the movie wasn’t forthcoming. I know I’m a cynic but Marvel and DC have both played this game for so long, it’s hard to not see the pattern. This week’s preview issue “Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1” makes an incredible case for why this could be much more than a cheap tie in.
Jeph Loeb’s Nova and the new Bendis’ Guardians are really my first introduction to Marvel’s cosmic characters. I know my Shi’ar, Skrull, Kree, Brood and Phalanx but as far as the good guys out there who aren’t part of the Summers family, I was lost. With that being said, I’ve been impressed with how Bendis, and to a much lesser extent Loeb, have been able to organically introduce the stars.
Bendis goes with the very typical origin story for Peter Quill, the man who would become Starlord. It’s the classic Marvel tale of a a typical kid with an Oedipus complex gaining an identity through heroism but what makes Guardians shine is Steve McNivens. McNivens delivers instantly iconic art for what could have become a throwaway issue.
What’s most surprising about how well the art works is how much Bendis lets the art speak for itself . One of the most valid criticisms of the writer’s work is how chatty he is. Characters talk and talk and talk and panels endlessly featuring chatting heads are the norm, particularly during Avengers. Instead of falling back on his own style, Bendis wisely gets out of the way and lets McNiven tell the story. A beautifully splintered splash page in the issue shows the burgeoning relationship between Meredith and J’Son is one of the most organic, albeit stereotypical sequence that wonderfully sets up her character. I always hate describing comics as cinematic but it captures the trope we all know and the next few pages capture the rush of feelings that come from whirlwind love.
Bendis and McNiven did exactly what they set out to do with their prologue to Guardians of the Galaxy. This was a book that I ruled out from the beginning but in an exceptional issue, I’m hooked. Bendis’ ability to reign in his chatty tendencies and let emotionally sweeping art shine through has made the Guardians into what could be a great cosmic companion to Jonathan Hickman’s slightly over-saturated Avengers and I can’t wait to see what these characters get up to.