The penultimate chapter of Donny Cates’ Guardians of the Galaxy saga is one of payoff and one of personal struggle, in every sense. Where the rest of the run has quite frankly been plagued by shaky characterizations and missed emotional beats, #11 serves as a reminder of Cates’ skill in portraying the raw emotional struggle of the broken protagonist. The issue collects what have until now been seemingly disparate themes and storylines, both from the arc and from the run as a whole, forming them into a coherent tale of loss and the characters’ coping mechanisms in its fallout.
From a story perspective, the current arc has been dissonant at best. At once tackling both Rocket’s absence post-Infinity Wars and the strained relationship between Quill and his father, the book has struggled to truly find its feet on either front. The Guardians are at a low point after the loss of Drax in Infinity Wars and the disappearance of countless comrades at Thanos’ wake, and their individual coping has largely disassembled them. The success of this issue largely comes from the team being reunited, their personalities finally being allowed to bounce off of one another. This brings clarity to the issue of characterization, as the juxtaposition of each character’s suffering highlights the overarching story of managing pain.
In the wake of this trauma, we see Quill turn to the bottle, devolving to the failure he sees himself as. We see Rocket’s struggle physically manifested as a life-threatening injury. We see Moondragon dealing with, and eventually coming to terms with, her father’s death. We see recovery attempts on all accounts and the varying amount of success in each. The opportunity to see all of this together does offer insight into Cates’ vision of the team- a family continually pushed to the brink of despair by universal forces, but one that fights against this grief to ultimately do good in any way they can. However, this message feels muddled by the narrative being split between this character-driven tale of coping with trauma and the driving story of the Universal Church of Truth. This brings a dissonance to the story being told, as the focus shifts from one story to the other.
So how does this issue work within this narrative? With the story at hand, the delivery of this chapter is more elegant than previous entries. The convergence of the plotlines helps this feeling, as the team is able to communicate directly and showcase their struggles. The framing of the main fight sequence is sufficiently epic in the vein of Cates’ cosmic work and the introduction of the brainwashed army of cosmic characters will surely lead to both interesting character moments and intense fight scenes. The art from Smith, Olazaba, and Curiel is kinetic and sharp, with bright splashes and detailed action. As a whole, the issue is a strong entry into the narrative, and it does a good job of setting up the finale to Cates’ run.