The Guardians of the Galaxy are a mess. Rocket is dying, Drax has been killed, and the rest of the team have been enslaved by a death cult, the Universal Church of Truth. Over the past year, the self-proclaimed Guardians have cycled through lineup changes, chased the ghost of Thanos across the stars, and struggled to find their place in an increasingly dangerous galaxy.
While Marvel fans will have to wait until next week to see how Donny Cates' run on Guardians ends, the series' next writer, Al Ewing (Immortal Hulk, Ultimates), offered a look into the future of the new Guardians of the Galaxy and how the team's interpersonal relationships inform their adventures together.
According to Ewing, Guardians of the Galaxy #12 (due on December 18) will wrap up "a whole bunch" of [Cates'] space-related arcs over the past few years, and his ending is sure to put the Guardians "through hell." Then, in January, Ewing and artist Juann Cabal will be taking over the series. In addition to facing the never-ending threat of intergalactic war, the Guardians will be facing off against the reborn Dark Gods of Olympus in the first arc.
"So that's where we're picking them up: on the other side of a brutal, bloody experience, shell-shocked, licking their wounds, and most of all trying to forge something good out of it all," Ewing told SYFY WIRE this week. "They're a family that found each other, a gang of outcasts that have come to belong with one another. All they want is a moment to breathe and be happy. Of course, the universe won't give them that. Why would it?"
In Ewing's run, the Guardians will be adding some new faces and keeping some old favorites. Alternate versions of old team members Phyla-Vell and Moondragon now have a spot alongside Peter Quill, Rocket Racoon, and Groot. Additionally, superpowered beings Nova and Marvel Boy (Noh-Varr) will be major parts of the Guardians moving forward. Also, according to an exclusive preview of Guardians of the Galaxy #3, old teammates Gamora and Drax may be joining the fight as part of a new team, the West Spiral Arm Guardians.
"I've got a tight five or six in mind as our 'main crew' — you've seen the Issue #1 cover — but there's a whole universe of other characters who'll interact with them and drop in and out of the proceedings as the story demands," Ewing said. "There's a lot of emotional stuff in this — compassion is always a touchstone with me in terms of what I write — and with that in mind, this isn't going to be a team of badasses quipping their way through a death toll of thousands. These are flawed humans — and aliens, and raccoon-like individuals — with depths that we're going to be exploring."
Cabal's art on Guardians is dynamic, fresh, and provides the "secret sauce" of the book, Ewing said.
"When his art started coming in, all my thinking crystallized; he experiments, takes risks, does new things, he's constantly pushing," he said. "I've compared this book privately to French New Wave Cinema in its constant experimentation and Yacht Rock in its sexy melancholy glamor, and that's all him. In #1, he pushes every layout to the next level. This book is a sumptuous feast, quite frankly, and it's all him."
Ewing told SYFY WIRE about drawing inspiration from first appearances, his newly assembled Guardians of the Galaxy, and the history behind Rocket and Peter's friendship.
Can you tell me about the research you did to get ready for this book? Were there particular arcs or Marvel moments you wanted to circle back to?
A lot of what I do involves going right back to the first appearance of a character — not because I think that's the best they've ever been and deviating from it is blasphemy, but because I think there's usually a nugget of primal mojo that you can find there while the idea's fresh and not fully coalesced. With Immortal Hulk, vast swathes of my run are informed by the chaos of the first six issues, and especially by the unforgettable moment of Bruce Banner staring out of the panel waiting for night to fall, cementing it as a horror book.
But to get back to Guardians: Star-Lord's first appearance is weird as all get-out, set in some alternate future and 100 percent not in continuity, so you'd have thought that technique wouldn't work this time — but when I looked back at it, it did have one of those little globules of primal magic in it that I'm going to be making a lot of use of over the first year.
Talk about returning to Rocket in this book, considering you wrote his solo series a while back. What do you like about the character and his relationship with Peter?
I've spoken about Rocket at length in the past — my thing with him is always the difference between his original appearances, when he was a funny animal character who made a lot of puns, had a lot of wild adventures, and got into a lot of scrapes, and his modern appearances, where he's a violent, somewhat amoral thief. (I won't get into what's going on with him right now — that's a cliffhanger that's yet to be resolved — but we'll be addressing that in the book.)
There's a fall from grace in his past, essentially — at some point, he lost everything that made him who he was and became a different character. Which is a noir trope, and the source of the sadness that's always in him; out of all the Guardians, he's the one who's in the most pain, physically and emotionally. I guess what I'm saying is that it'd be terrible if something like that happened to him twice.
His relationship with Peter ... they're the originals. People forget that on-panel, Rocket met Peter before he met Groot — they were the first two modern-era Guardians, back when Mantis and Captain Universe were on the team. Both of them coming into that narrative from circumstances that are almost, but not quite, outside standard continuity — it's almost like they were born at the same time. Issue #1 is, in a lot of ways, the story of two people, both getting old, both working through some stuff, who get each other in ways that nobody else does.
Speaking of Peter, he's been a bit of a mess over the past couple of years. I was wondering if you had any plans to address that, or is that just Star-Lord? Seems he's most effective when he's got a good support system behind him.
Oh, Peter's a total mess. All the old guilt is back. Old false memories, strange dreams where he's asked if he feels the purpose of his life is wrong. He's got his support system, his found family is around him, but as we'll see, he's still got that deep-down need to atone for the past. Put simply -- he can't sleep at night. We've got a journey for Pete to make over the course of this book -- it's a journey that's been waiting patiently for him for a very long time, and it's a journey he might to have to make alone.
Could you run down the new team and explain why you wanted to include them, what they bring to the team, and maybe tease a bit about what's in the future?
Noh-Varr (Marvel Boy)
To avoid confusion, we're calling Noh-Varr "Marvel Boy" for this run. He's pretty much the same as the last time I wrote him — a hip young gunslinger loaded with cool gadgets. My editor Darren Shan wants me to lean very heavily into the "organic tech" of Marvel Boy, so expect to see some old favorites as we get further into the run — exploding fingernails, LSD saliva, wall-crawling, etc.
I'm thinking of him as a kind of James Bond figure for the Utopian Kree, a faction of Kree who've broken from the main Kree Imperium to pursue less militaristic, more utopian goals. We'll see if that causes any conflicts in his role as a Guardian over time.
Phyla-Vell and Moondragon
I do think of these two as one unit — they have their differences, but they're more different to everyone around them. They're dimensional refugees — they're big darn superheroes from a superhero dimension, somewhere less flawed and fallible than our own world. That means they're first into battle, and the first to make the big sacrifice — but they're also slightly distant from the more complex people they live with now.
And where things get problematic for them is that Phyla is the only Phyla, but Moondragon isn't the only Moondragon — reports of the death of this dimension's Moondragon were greatly exaggerated, so there are two Heather Douglases running around. And if you found that there was a better, purer, more heroic version of you out there, who'd made none of your mistakes, who was married to the great love of your life who you'd seen die ... how would you react? Not well.
Juann Cabal draws the very best Nova I've ever seen. Every particle of Nova's extreme damage is there on his face, but he's also incredibly hot. But to get back to the damage — Nova has been through some stuff. He's a veteran of war on an unimaginable scale, and he's experienced things that have left any number of mental and physical scars. He's become such a legend throughout the galaxy that his 10-digit serial number is the "007" of space — but he can't talk to most of his friends anymore.
He goes back to Earth and nobody listens to him — but then, nobody listens in space, either. He's combat-happy, they say. He's a conspiracy theorist. He thinks the galaxy is headed towards a total collapse, which is clearly the ramblings of someone with way too much trauma. Here's the thing. Nova's right. Nova's been right the whole time. (That's your cue to start making "Richard Rider was right" T-shirts, internet.)
How do you approach a book like this when space is so enormous? You talked a little bit about viewing it through the lens of a political landscape, so I was hoping you could expand on that.
It's very big and very small at the same time. It's big in terms of these massive space empires that I'm trying to keep track of — for example, I'm not really in charge of Shi'ar space, that's very much the X-office's baby, but I can get a heads-up on developments there and incorporate them into the overall political landscape. The Skrulls and the Kree I have a little more control over, but it's still like trying to steer an oil tanker — these are gigantic fictional realms with a life of their own, and while I'm in a position right now where I can exert a lot of push over the general direction, I have to flow like water a little with the political ins and outs as they come up in the books.
Another example — originally, the Pan-Worlds Treaty that kept the Nova Corps going was going to be a big part of this — well, the Nova Corps are dead now. But that's very good for me, it turns out, because it accelerates things in the direction I wanted to go anyway. One of the advantages of being a bit of a creature of chaos as a writer, rather than a very ordered planner, is that I can morph and change to fit the circumstances, especially in a story that's all about gigantic sweeping changes in a previously ordered system, trending towards total breakdown.
On the micro scale, it's a story about people. I could tell a story about empires collapsing and crashing and going to war, but without that human connection, nobody cares. So Guardians is about the Guardians, the people you all know and love, the outcasts who came together as a family, as they navigate these times of massive change. If we're playing the "meets" game, it's Mission: Impossible meets Years and Years. The first five issues involve some seismic emotional and character beats that will almost push the larger scope right into the background, so hopefully this is going to have something for everyone.