Sunday, August 16, 2015

Comic Book review: Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex

Following up on the previous X-Men/Guardians of the Galaxy team-up, this latest mini-crossover sees Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, and Groot, with Captain Marvel and Agent Venom in tow, cross paths with two teams of X-Men: the modern day team, led by Storm, and the time-displaced youthful versions of Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast, Angel, and Cyclops, who were largely at the center of their last encounter. This time, the premise is heavier on the cosmic fanfare typical of Guardians comics. An ancient artifact known as the Black Vortex has fallen into the hands of Star-Lord’s nefarious father J’son, and so Peter Quill and his now-girlfriend Kitty Pide decide to steal it from him, not understanding the extent of its powers, but knowing that J’Son only intends to make use of it for his own selfish, evil ends.

This trade hardcover collects significantly more issues than a typical Marvel release – mind you, it’s not as thick a graphic novel as the likes of much larger crossover events like Infinity, but a little more than twice the size of a regular single trade release. Included are Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex Alpha #1, Guardians of the Galaxy #24-25, Legendary Star-Lord #9-11, All-New X-Men #38-39, Guardians Team-Up #3, Nova #28, Cyclops #12, Captain Marvel #14, and Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex Omega #1. While it is a breath of fresh air to have characters like Captain Marvel, Nova, and even Ronan the Accuser steal the spotlight for a bit, their time on center stage is very brief, and this ties into The Black Vortex’s most prominent problem: there is simply too much going on in this storyline.

At the outset, accounting for the Guardians, present day X-Men, and their youthful X-Men tagalong companions, there are sixteen heroes on the playing field, pitted against J’son, his loyal team of Slaughter Lords, Thanos’ Inhuman son Thane, and Ebony Maw. And they only add more characters from that point forth, granting most of the characters only one major moment of heroism. In a similar vein, there are nearly a half-dozen subplots that the story jumps through, some of which are meant to round out narratives set in motion quite some time ago, such as where Thane disappeared to after he escaped Earth in Infinity, and the romance between Peter Quill and Kitty Pride. On their own, each of these smaller stories are decent, but when they get tossed into the already complicated mix that is The Black Vortex, many of them ultimately feel like distractions from the main plot.

That main plot, of course, being concerned with the mystic and dark powers that the Black Vortex can bestow upon anyone who willingly submits themselves to it. Almost immediately following its acquisition by Peter and Kitty, there is an involved debate over whether or not the heroes should take advantage of it. While some of the more level-headed characters are opposed to taking such a huge gamble with an unknown artifact, and Drax thinks it should simply be destroyed, the Slaughter Lords descend upon them, weapons drawn. In the heat of the ensuing battle, Gamora, Beast, and Angel all submit to the Black Vortex, upgrading to incredibly powerful versions of themselves, albeit at the cost of being detached from mortal concepts of time, space, and morality.

While this second crossover of the two teams certainly leans closer to the territory of Guardians of the Galaxy, it is written with the intent that it is easier to access for any readers that might not have a wealth of familiarity with the cosmic misadventures of Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot. The tradeoff for this, however, is that the writing style is dumbed down considerably, to the point where it is somewhat boring dialogue throughout for anyone who has been following along with the Guardians comics as of late. Iceman is fun during the moments that he is allowed to get in a few quips, and Nova’s standalone comic is still up to the quality I’ve come to expect from his current ongoing series, but when all is said and done, the heroes who see the best payoff in terms of noteworthy character development from The Black Vortex are Star-Lord, Kitty Pride, Cyclops, Gamora, and Beast. The rest of the cast fills in the gaps - Storm and Captain Marvel championing mentor and leader roles, while X-23, Agent Venom, and Rocket are conveniently absent or simply forgotten about for the majority of this tale.

My rating: 6 (out of 10)

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