In a short period of time, writer Donny Cates has turned himself from fan-favorite indie creator of much-loved books like God Country, to probably the fastest rising superstar in Marvel Comics’ bullpen. And he’s been eclectic while doing it, hitting disparate characters like Dr. Strange, Thanos and, of course, his towering Venom work that’s led into the Absolute Carnage event.
Somehow, Cates weaves that all together in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1: The Final Gauntlet.
Okay, so there isn’t any Dr. Strange, but Ghost Rider was in Damnation, and this brand new Guardians book features Cates’ most boldly batsh*t creation, the Cosmic Ghost Rider — though not as much as you might think. He plays both sides of the conflict, and is overshadowed by the characters you’d expect to see in a book with this title. Not that there aren’t fun shouts for minor players in Gauntlet, like with the Wraith, best remembered for his role in Annihilation: Conquest, and who is now (here we go!) connected into the Venom saga.
Other Annihilation favorites like Moondragon and Phyla-Vell are here, too, but they don’t get quite the same love. The most surprising cameo in Final Gauntlet is from the big purple guy around whom the premise of the story is built, as Thanos’ will reveals his consciousness has been uploaded into someone and he will return shortly. “Shortly” may have a double meaning here, but see for yourself.
The conclusion of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.1 continues to show that Cates is not afraid to subvert expectations — in fact, he thrives on doing so. There are multiple issue-ending or even page-turning cliffhangers that surprise the reader upon completion. A big one sadly falls completely flat, though, not being believable at all, with a clumsily handled follow-up. It’s a major mistake that tragically brings the whole work down.
Still, Cates hits more than he misses, and it keeps the pacing of Gauntlet fresh and exciting. Characters are pushed forward and left in new places, even when we never actually see them on the page. What really happened to Rocket??? Tune in for the next volume, True Believers????
Those pages are beautifully drawn by one of Cates’ regular collaborators, going back to God Country, Geoff Shaw. Shaw’s use of perspective matches Cates’ forward-thinking writing, and his figures and faces are remarkably realistic for, um, a bunch of space monsters.
Marte Gracia colors the first three issues, with David Curiel picking up the second half of The Final Gauntlet. Though you’d never know it just by reading the book, a credit to both for making sure consistency is key. The two hit the bright colors where appropriate, and bring the dread with the creepy darks in the foreboding scenes.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1: The Final Gauntlet is a fine addition to the developing Donny Cates-verse within Marvel Comics. It alludes to and utilizes beats from his previous stories, while teasing further connections to come. More importantly, Gauntlet stands on its own as a self-contained, emotionally difficult adventure for characters both familiar and less-often seen. One major miscalculation puts a damper on the overall story, but that shouldn’t dissuade someone from picking up another fun piece of the puzzle.