First issues, like breaking up, are hard to do. They’re tasked with setting up a compelling character investment, a world worth caring about, a unique artistic angle, and a reason to come back next time. First issues that do all of that and need to flip the narrative of well-established characters like Peter Quill or Logan, or Hawkeye, or any of the old men and women Marvel have introduced before him then, are especially hard to do.
With the introduction of Old Man Quill, however, writer Ethan Sacks (Old Man Hawkeye, Star Wars: Age of the Republic) and artist Robert Gill (Iceman, Book of Death) have carved a mostly delightful niche out of a difficult situation. One that will certainly pay off in future issues in spades, even if it has definite flaws out the gate.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
Meet Peter Quill. He used to be Star-Lord – you know, the legendary outlaw – but it’s been quite some time since he’s gone by that name. Taking over for his father as the Emperor of Spartax, Quill put the life of spacefaring adventure behind him for one of leadership and responsibility. Quill grew up. But things didn’t go as planned. Decades have passed, and Peter is haunted by tragedy. Down and out, Quill’s existence means nothing…until the former GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY drag Peter out of his funk for one last mission! The heist of a lifetime – and Quill’s harrowing quest for redemption – begins here!
Woof. Sounds dour, huh? It certainly is. As there’s a very immediate end-of-the-universe-as-we-know-it threat from a foe that should be familiar to all Guardians of the Galaxy comics fans at the forefront of this narrative – to say the least, they’re winning. It’s not all fun and games. Would you want anything less, though?
It’s off kilter to see Star-Lord as an entirely abject Kurt Russell lookalike wallowing in his self-pity, and that’s the inherent strength of these kinds of visual and narrative 180s. If this were simply “Star-Lord but he looks older” it wouldn’t be in the spirit of the stories that make up the quasi-connected universe the old man series has existed it, and choices like these are essential and welcome. Especially when they’re true to the character like they are here – this isn’t necessarily the growth we might’ve wanted for our intrepid star trekker, but it also makes sense given everything that’s happened, and it’s quite apparent Sacks has given good consideration to that kind of character-first plotting. That being said, the narrative and dialogue also does a great job of balancing this devastation and desperateness (in both character arc and world-building) out with a trademark Guardians‘ levity that is wholly welcome. A cane-supported Rocket quipping that “all this murdering is murder” on his back fits right in, and you feel at home both in a world familiar but strange — appropriate to the inciting incident, and hopefully, to what will play out over the next eleven issues as this story blossoms outward.
Less successful is the breakneck pace with which everything is introduced. We go from a fatherly emperor Quill, to a lonely old man, to a reunification with the Guardians, to a battle with The Brood, and even still more twists and turns. The creators obviously had a lot of ideas for this world, and while I think that’s great, they’re simply too disparate and unevenly introduced without credence to work effectively in setting any sensible stakes or comprehensible hook.
Gill does a commendable job of keeping up with that demand, but its apparent that as with the narrative, the character work came first, and the world second. The introduction of the old Quill, (again, looking like Russell – a great choice if not just a flat-out wink and nod to the films) and eventual introduction of the older Guardians as well, is the best stuff here. There’s a lot to love about their designs: the slight pouch of Quill’s stomach, the ragged age of Rocket’s fur, the slightly broadening wrinkles of Drax’s torso, etc. Comparatively, though, the spacescapes and star ship interiors, entire planets – important set pieces to this story and universe – feel plain and static. It’s simply a matter of split focus, and I greatly appreciate where the effort went, but it is apparent.
All said and done, this is an issue facing a monumental task that does well because it focuses on the things that matter in first issues, and especially first issues like this. It succeeds in flipping the characters and introducing a new paradigm for them even if it gets over its head in trying to do that for the world too quickly. I care enough to come back for the next one because it’s so obvious everyone here has given consideration to what’s realistic and what isn’t rather than just cashing in – isn’t that all you can ask for in the end?