Donny Cates has become well known for his work in the Marvel universe by playing with high, grandiose concepts and spinning them with his own personality. This approach to his comic writing has become the backbone of his Guardians of the Galaxy run, creating one of the most stylistic and atmospheric comics in recent memory. Infused with his punk-rock vibe through and through, Cates’ Guardians brings a much-needed breath of fresh air to the franchise, which has frankly struggled to find a solid footing since the departure of legendary writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning in 2011. Unfortunately, a comic can’t survive on aesthetic alone. Guardians of the Galaxy #10 is a prime example of the book struggling to balance its personality with a fulfilling sense of progression.
Honestly, the issue itself is not bad. It drives forward a story that reintroduces and reimagines the Universal Church of Truth, and it brings mainstay Guardians Drax and Adam Warlock back into the fold after their demise in the recent Infinity Wars. There is plenty for fans to be excited about, but to be honest, this progression falls flat in the face of storytelling that somehow feels rushed and meandering at the same time. Cates relies heavily on emotional beats to drive the issue forward, and while they are not necessarily unearned, they just don’t land quite right. What should be a heartfelt scene between Rocket and Groot, with one friend literally dying in the other’s arms, ultimately becomes too drawn-out to elicit any real emotion. Decompressed over three pages, Groot and Rocket have a back-and-forth that ends up feeling quippy rather than emotional. That is not to say that Cates can’t write these moments well; Drax and Peter’s reunion feels tense and powerful. However, this is immediately subverted in order to introduce the new big bad villain, the Destroyer Horde. These emotional missteps plague the issue, made even more frustrating by the fact that Cates has proven to be able to nail these themes of family and loss in both his current Venom run and his myriad of indie works.
That being said, even if the execution isn’t perfect, Cates introduces some fun concepts to the mythos that, with any luck, will be used for years to come. The Order of the Healing Truth is a fascinating take on the Church of Universal Truth as an organization and as a cult, and it helps to flesh them out in a way that has never really been done before, even when they were featured as main antagonists in a substantial chunk of Abnett and Lanning’s cosmic saga. With the Church itself being reinvigorated by J’Son, the many facets of the cult truly begin to take shape on the page and morph to become a new and thought-provoking beast all its own. With any luck, future creators will take this momentum and carry it forward, establishing it as a new status quo for the Church. The prospect of seeing one of the most interesting antagonists in Marvel’s arsenal continue to grow and evolve is thrilling, to say the least.
The art throughout the issue is quite perplexing. On one hand, penciller Cory Smith and inker Victor Olazaba manage to exactly capture the atmosphere Cates is going for. The facial expressions are clear and full of life, the linework is detailed and cuts no corners. Colorist David Curiel adds vivid hues of blue and purple, which pop against more subdued earth tones, again nailing the aesthetic of the book, alien yet grounded. However, Smith’s composition can tend toward cluttered and at times even cut into the impact of the scene. The pivotal moment of the issue, a double page spread in which everything comes together to move into the final phase of the run, feels claustrophobic at best. This isn’t always a bad thing, but this situation is meant to feel epic; Cates spent pages building up to this one moment, but it feels unfulfilled without the triumphant splash it deserves. Again, Smith and Olazaba do great work, especially in their character acting, but had their work been a little less dense, it might have helped facilitate the epic story beats better, leading to a cleaner finished product.
The best word to describe Guardians of the Galaxy #10 is “disappointing.” The issue truly has a lot going for it, and it’s unfortunate to see that it just couldn’t live up to its goals. The story beats, while potentially interesting, meandered to the point that nothing feels accomplished. The emotional beats feel hollow when their intended weight is considered. On top of everything else, the main thrust of the story feels absent. There are no revelations regarding the Church of Universal Truth or their plans, no explanation or clarity given as to why they are conducting this master plan. Both Cates and the Guardians franchise as a whole are capable of much better, and it’s frustrating to see the potential from both ends seemingly squandered. The arc itself is interesting enough as a whole, but as a single entry into the narrative, Guardians of the Galaxy #10 fails to provide any meaningful substance.