The Marvel U never slows down, and neither does the Marvel Rundown! This week a brand-new Guardians of the Galaxy series is launching from superstar creative team Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw. How does this new band of ragtag misfits come together? Plus, the celebration of Marvel’s 80 year history continues with the horror throwback, Crypt Of Shadows. And how about the return of Cyclops in Uncanny X-Men Annual #1? We’ve got coverage of all the biggest titles from the House of Ideas in this week’s The Marvel Rundown!

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

Written by Donny Cates
Illustrated by Geoff Shaw
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Cover by David Marquez & Dean White

Alexander Jones: AJ, Joe, the Guardians of the Galaxy are starting fresh. While it is truly odd to think of the title rebooting yet again, I found that writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw had a few really fantastic ideas, and they brought great energy to the title. This truly does feel like the new guard of Marvel taking over a major property. What were your impressions of the issue?

Joe Grunenwald: I’m mostly familiar with the Guardians from the movies, where there’s the human one, the green girl, the darker green guy…uh, the tree guy? And the talking raccoon. And I didn’t see most of those people here, so I’m confused.

AJ Frost: Hey Alex and Joe! Great to be back with you for another round of the Marvel Rundown. For my part, I really enjoyed this issue. I thought it was funny, had a great and intriguing story, and included plot twists that felt somewhat natural. It really seemed that Cates was having fun with these characters and it reflected in the final book. And Joe, don’t be so flippant about the tree guy. He’s selling like hotcakes!

Jones: Let’s get right to my biggest critique of the issue. I found Groot’s characterization to be truly over-the-top. His spiteful reactions to Star-Lord took some of the joy out of one of my favorite characters. I hope Cates will figure out how to characterize the antagonism between those two better, and that future writers don’t continue down this cycle.

Grunenwald: I took the interaction between Groot and Quill as an indication of bad stuff that’s gone down in the past that I’m just not aware of (why aren’t they talking about Rocket, for example), so that didn’t bother me as much. Obviously I was joking about being confused, though I do come into this book pretty fresh, and from that perspective I found it really accessible and entertaining.

Frost: I wasn’t too bothered by Groot’s characterization here because I thought, like Joe pointed out, there needs to be a little bit of internal conflict to orient the broader problems that the characters have to overcome.

Jones: I like the really desperate tone that Peter had overall. The slight level of animosity that he had brought a really nice sad element to the script. It is also thrilling to see a downtrodden Quill rejuvenated at the end of the issue. Something about Groot’s spunk and mohawk rang false to me. I hope subsequent issues find a better way to balance his personality out. Aside from that I was thrilled with the comic. I loved Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Paul Pelletier’s run on the title and this brought all the Marvel Universe cosmic weirdos out to play. Beta Ray Bill is back, you guys!

Grunenwald: Cates must have a fondness for Bill—he used him in Death of the Inhumans to great effect as well.

Frost: I was super stoked for Beta Ray Bill epic-ness. The whole sequence of Thanos’s “funeral,” with all the cosmic characters in attendance, was one of the highlights of the book for me. And even though it was a really serious sequence, Cates found the humor. It all flowed so naturally.

Grunenwald: I laughed out loud at one point during that funeral scene. I don’t know if it was supposed to be a funny moment, but the ridiculousness of it really got me. This issue is also my introduction to Cosmic Ghost Rider, and he seems like a pretty entertaining character.

Jones: I really appreciate that Cates brought such an unexpected tone to the story. I wasn’t expecting to get a funeral or quite as many cosmic heroes as we did. The way that narrative collided with the original members towards the end of the issue felt especially cinematic. The comic also feels fairly grounded for as weird as the issue actually is.

Frost: Controlled weirdness is the best way to describe what’s going on here. It’s all so ridiculous that everything works in the end. And Joe, totally agree with you about Cosmic Ghost Rider. He’s a complete nut, but brings a nice levity even when everyone is serious (well, serious in the campy sense).

Grunenwald: I also appreciated the brisk pace of this issue. Things are already apparently in chaos across the galaxy as the story begins, and they’re thrown even more into disarray just a few pages into the ‘funeral’. Once that happens it’s off to the races until the issue just stops like it ran out of pages. I instantly wanted to read more once the comic was over.

Jones: Artist Geoff Shaw is great. He has a really fantastic streamlined style but his art has more personality than some of the Stuart Immonen-influenced creators you have been criticizing over the past couple weeks. There were lots of great splash pages. When we are done with this discussion I’m probably going to continue trying to find out who’s who in that funeral scene.

Frost: Man, I sound like a broken record. The art is good, but it’s not particularly memorable. Shaw is a great artist but there’s nothing to me that sticks out. It’s all house style. I’m not saying it’s bad by any means.

Jones: Joe, talk some sense into him!

Grunenwald: Sorry, Alex, but I feel largely the same way as AJ. The art served the story well, which is great, but stylistically it didn’t do much to differentiate itself in my mind from the other Immonen-lite artists Marvel has in their stable.

Frost: I’ve been reading so much indie stuff lately, fellas. This superhero stuff is all about the same to me! But Shaw does the genre proud!

Grunenwald: His work is solid! That’s not a bad thing!

Jones: I love it. His scratchy, but clean line art is bliss. This issue has so much great detail crammed into some of the pages. I enjoyed looking at some of the elements like Peter’s unkempt hair and some of the expressions from the huge amount of cast members in the issue. I think Shaw’s work definitely suits this kind of story really well, and he’s a great match for Cates’s script.

Grunenwald: It’s certainly never boring to look at.

Frost: The vibe of this issue is just really great. I think everything about it really clicks and pops!

Jones: The script packs a lot into the large running time. The ‘post-credits’ scene was a really great surprise and fit nicely as a transition from the final double-page spread. I wasn’t expecting this kind of pacing or approach to the work.

Grunenwald: The ‘post-credits’ scene felt to me like a wonderful play on the mid-credits intro of Thanos from the first Avengers movie. The final-page reveal is not one I ever expected, but it makes so much sense that I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Frost: It was a great twist in an issue full of twists!

Jones: I’ve been missing this direction for the property. The film versions of characters were really starting to grow stale, and introducing people like Moondragon and Phylla-vel back to the book while taking familiar characters like Gamora and Drax out feels like the right direction for the property right now.

Frost: Agreed! This was such a breath of fresh air for the franchise on the page.

Grunenwald: Agreed, and I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say how refreshing it is that the whole new team is together by issue’s end.

Jones: It is interesting to hear you say that. I just read “Young Justice” # 1 and felt that the title was determined to introduce the entire gigantic cast in one issue. This story brought the whole team together and really carefully and methodically. When they were together at the end it felt like pay-off for the rest of the story. It is hard to walk away from the new Guardians of the Galaxy #1 without feeling accomplished.

Grunenwald: Young Justice did a nice job at least giving readers a glimpse of all the members of the team in its debut issue, but Guardians #1 has it beat as far as putting them all in the same room goes.

Frost: That ending was so well done. There was so much happening within this book, but that last splash page was such a great reveal.

Jones: Do you gents have any final words before we give a final verdict on the issue?

Frost: An all-around solid number 1 issue with plenty of story to keep the kiddies entertained for a solid amount of time. And it’s so dense with background characters that it will keep readers glued to the page for hours! This is a BUY from me!

Grunenwald: I think I’ve heaped enough praise on this issue already. I wish all first issues were as good as this one is. It’s the easiest BUY for me in a long while.

Jones: This felt like coming home for me. I really missed these characters. I’m going with a BUY!

Final Verdict: It’s a unanimous BUY from Alex, AJ, and Joe!

Crypt of Shadows #1

Written by Al Ewing
Art by Garry Brown, Stephen Green, and Djibril Morissette-Pham
Colored by Chris O’Halloran
Lettered by VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover by Kyle Hotz & Dan Brown
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald

As part of Marvel’s celebration of their 80th anniversary, the publisher is revisiting properties and genres from years past. This week’s Crypt of Shadows one-shot is a throwback to Marvel’s pre-Comics Code horror titles of the early ‘50s. The issue’s three stories deftly combine suspenseful scripting and some truly terrifying imagery to deliver a supremely satisfying comic.

Writer Al Ewing has garnered much acclaim over the past year for incorporating elements of horror into his Immortal Hulk stories, and his script for Crypt of Shadows #1 lets him flex those skills to great effect. Over the course of the stories, Ewing weaves an intricate web of interconnected tales that pays off in a big way at issue’s end. The narrator of the issue is complex and unreliable, which makes reading his stories a great exercise in identifying what’s true and what’s not. Ewing incorporates genre elements expertly—in particular, the second-person narration, a hallmark of so many classic horror comics, is used perfectly in the “Grave Errors!” story. The turn at the end of the final story places everything that’s come before in a different light, and you’ll want to go back and reread the issue immediately to pick out clues you might have missed the first time around.

As pitch-perfect as the script is, the art in this comic is just as spot-on. None of the three stories relies on overt visual gore to get its point across, instead smartly leaving the worst moments up to the imagination of the reader. The main framing sequence and final story of the issue, “Cynophobia,” is drawn by Garry Brown, and his scratchy, jagged linework and dark inks instantly give the issue’s proceedings an air of dread. Stephen Green draws the aforementioned “Grave Errors!” with a similar style to Brown’s, creating a nice cohesion between those two stories, to the point where it’s hard to tell where one story ends and the other begins. The third story, “A Moment of Madness!,” is the outlier stylistically, as artist Djibril Morissette-Pham renders the tale with a clean, polished look reminiscent of the romance comics of Marvel’s past, but with a sinister edge that works perfectly for this tale. Chris O’Halloran provides colors for the full issue, adding further visual connective tissue that allows the reader to stay engrossed in the twists and turns of the story.

I was legitimately shocked by how much I loved this issue. Horror has never been a genre that I’ve gravitated towards, but the strength of Ewing’s script and of the art team that brought it to life sold me on it. It’s a shame this is only a one-shot and not the beginning of a new series, as I’d happily add it to my pull list if it was. You’ll want to read this comic.

Final Verdict: BUY for a set of chilling, mind-bending tales from a creative team at the top of their game.

Uncanny X-Men Annual #1

Written by Ed Brisson
Illustrated by Carlos Gomez
Colored by Guru-eFX
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover by Salvador Larocca & Rachelle Rosenberg
Reviewed by Alexander Jones

If Marvel was going to bring a character as controversial as Cyclops back to life, some serious thought needed to be injected into the narrative. Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 turned out to be just the narrative to justify the return of Scott Summers. Due to recent events and continuity with the character, Summers is irreparably damaged and needs a significant amount of justification to return to the land of the living. Writer Ed Brisson joyfully steps up to the plate, infusing Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 with the right amount of heart and joy that the core titles are missing. Brisson does an excellent job untangling the continuity of Cyclops and slotting the story in with recent X-Men events. This installment is crafted for readers who have a deep love and understanding of X-Men continuity. New readers may have a difficult time keeping up with the pace of the script. The X-Men line has always moved at an incredibly fast pace, but this issue immediately hits the gas pedal and directly explores X-Men related events from the past few weeks.

Brisson does an excellent job justifying and giving more context for some of Scott Summers’s most recent decisions. Summers has gone through game-changing life events that have made him difficult to empathize with. Brisson not only puts the ideas behind his life events in context, but he also starts to explore who this new Summers is from an emotional standpoint. Readers get to see his new outlook on life and there is even context for why Summers is different as a person. Plus, the supporting cast in the title adds just the right amount of heart and intrigue. With so many deaths and rebirths in superhero comics, many issues feel editorially-driven with the story coming second. Brisson makes the rebirth of Cyclops look like it was a carefully planned decision considered over the past year thanks to the great plot retcons and emotional material in the story.

Carlos Gomez’s art is a great asset to the title. His carefully drawn flashback sequence is a neat visual trick that pays off later in the narrative. Gomez’s great composition and anatomy serve the issue incredibly well. The artist is definitely influenced by creators like Stuart Immonen and Pepe Larraz, and a really complicated story like this is well-served by such a clear artistic vision. While Gomez’s pencils are beautiful and creative, it would be great to see his work have a more clear sense of identity making him different from some of the other great recent Marvel artists. Gomez does a fantastic job rendering the scenes which require a heavy dose of talking heads and cerebral sci-fi explanations for plot events. All the big spreads and plot moments are depicted with lots of great emotion. Guru-eFX’s colors are incredibly lush, making the issue truly beautiful to look at.

The return of Cyclops is a difficult story to tell, but Brisson and Gomez make the issue feel effortless. The amount of heart and interesting plot beats in the issue are staggering. The title as a whole adds vivid, complicated layers to the X-Men Universe that I hope future Scott Summers writers will pick up on. To true blue X-Men fans this comic is a no-brainer, but readers unfamiliar with the events of the past couple years may want to brush up on some history before diving into the issue.

Final Verdict: For hardcore X-Men fans, Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 is a definitive BUY!

Next week, the Age of X-Man begins!


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