Marvel Presents #3 (February 1976)
"Just Another Planet Story!"
Steve Gerber-Al Milgrom/Pablo Marcos
Doug: I can honestly say I got more from Al Milgrom in this issue than I expected, but way less from Vance Astro. So should I applaud Pablo Marcos and pan Steve Gerber -- is that what I'm trying to say? As we go through the month of August (and a temporary return to weekly partner reviews -- how's that for a taste of the past in a mag about the future?), I am confident that I'll be analyzing what it was that I liked about this incarnation of the Guardians. Of course the heavily-publicized feature film debuted just days ago here in the States, and I admittedly have no knowledge of the present team (I am assuming that these modern versions of Gamora, Groot, and Drax have no relations to their Bronze Age namesakes). So I'm definitely looking at the first five issues of the Marvel Presents Guardians series with an eye toward successes and failures.
Karen: I had most of the issues of this short series, and recall liking it well enough. I also enjoyed a lot of the more recent Guardians stuff (back when I was actively buying comics) although the original team are still the "real" Guardians to me -it's just a matter of perspective. I can say before we even get started, that this series is drenched in 70s attitude, most of it of the negative or bad variety, so on some level I have an automatic appreciation for it, although it gets a bit too bizarre for my tastes.
Doug: I think we can all agree that Steve Gerber often (OK, always?) injected his own politics into his stories in the form of satire. This series seems to be no exception, as right from the front page we get some POV narration from Gerber about the significance of the Milky Way, the Earth, and life. It ends well enough, and sets up the story, but I thought it read just a bit heavy. So do you suppose that imposing his own point of view on readers led Gerber to the Guardians strip, or would he have played it as heavy-handed in any title on which he would work? Gerber's writing style is quite different from that of Denny O'Neil, yet as I've read through the first few issues of this series I have found Gerber writing with as heavy a hammer as O'Neil in his Green Lantern/Green Arrow feature.
|Sorry - small scanner bed!|
Karen: I guess all's fair in war, huh? In retrospect, this was shockingly violent.
Doug: Once reunited, the team quickly discovers that they have been victorious over the Badoon and have effectively freed the Earth! As the comrades celebrate, Vance Astro wonders where Starhawk is, and why he didn't help out. And then Astro seems to become a cipher for that guy on the street, the one who used to turn up from time-to-time in the Lee/Kirby books, doubting the heroes, dwelling on the power they have and that they don't have to answer to anyone for it. It's an odd voice I hear coming from Astro, as I don't believe it's the same characterization we've seen in the Marvel Two-In-One two-parter nor in the Defenders stories. I think in those stories Astro had more of a Captain America-type voice; here he's a grump, even a loose cannon. Maybe that's Gerber shaking things up, bringing us the unexpected. So we see Starhawk, rather aloof from the fighting, who takes off to survey the damage and to see what the next steps will be. He listens in on some Earthlings railing on about an eye-for-an-eye form of justice, and then Gerber gives Starhawk the moralizing voice, thinking to himself that the challenge will be to create a new society based on dignity, not hatred.
Karen: To play Devil's advocate, I can see why Gerber gave Vance Astro the personality he did. In his other appearances, he was a pretty bland guy -sort of your generic hero, nice, upstanding, etc. But if you start thinking about his situation, and the extreme, ironic cruelty of it all (the thousand year old man whose mission was pointless, and who can never leave his foil suit), well, making Astro into a somewhat bitter, angry guy makes a lot of sense. He's not the most pleasant character, I'll grant you that, but he definitely has some layers. All of the characters have something of an edge to them, and looking back, it's surprising that a lot of this made it past the Comics Code!
Doug: I agree with your assessment of the change in Astro. Prior to this issue, ol' Vance could have been a cut-out from a Silver Age DC comic. So he provides some depth, some controversy on the team. I guess he was odd man out, huh? I couldn't have seen this personality being foisted upon Yondu or Martinex, and Charlie-27 is sort of a gentle giant, like Ben Grimm. Yup -- Vance was the guy. But what a jerk...
Doug: But just as we think the worst is over, there's a relapse to the situation. Another starship is landing -- a Badoon starship. Immediately Charlie-27 joins the Astro I-don't-trust-Starhawk chorus, this time to be coaxed back to his senses by Martinex. Everyone is understandably on edge, but in this short time span of a few panels it reads as over-the-top to me. But most fears are allayed -- or at least confused -- when the ship lands, opens, and out walks the female Badoon. We're reminded that the two Badoon genders hate each other and only reproduce to continue the species. The males are warlike conquerors, while the females are rational and would like to keep the males in check. They have come to take the males away and to deal with them. Of course the males want no part of this, and actually encourage the Earthlings to flay them alive! Wow... The man on the street, all couple hundred of them, of course think any Badoon is a bad Badoon and don't trust anything about this -- nor do they trust Starhawk, who seems to be in league with the Badoon women. The Badoon queen, growing weary of the arguing and accusations, basically says "you want the males dead, fine -- deal with them yourselves" and turns to leave. Astro steps in to calm the crowd, but Starhawk interrupts him. This causes friction between the two, and Astro again states his opinion about Starhawk's lack of assistance during the fighting. Starhawk says he answers to only himself, and one other -- and the other one is not Astro's god. We then get an odd page in the story, half art and half text, where Starhawk explains his position.
Karen: It sure seems like Gerber used a lot of text boxes, doesn't it? I can't think of another writer who had large runs of text like that. The mystery of Starhawk was one of the more interesting aspects of the title and the way it unfolded was well done. He certainly had an angelic aspect to him, and Astro's sarcastic response of "I suppose He speaks to you directly" properly shows the friction between the two of them.
Doug: To close the issue, we again get one-page vignettes focusing on each of our main characters. Yondu heads to the forests of Earth, which reminds him of his homeworld. Yondu is a bit of a mystic, and in his meditation is nearly taken down by a... caveman? Wait, wait, wait. Every Earthling in the first half of the story, despite the advancement of time, was dressed much as we are. But only months later, and on the same planet, Yondu is attacked in the woods by a caveman? Who cannot speak? And as the guy leaps from a tree Yondu runs him through the vital organs with an arrow -- and then says he'll nurse the guy back to health? A few months later Martinex is hoping to get back into the science game -- that's his background. But while inspecting a command center of some sort, he's told by the resident director that the knowledge fell to the will of the Badoon -- there was time and space to craft shelter for humans or for their physically stored knowledge. But not both. And during the conversation, in a human effort to console, the Earthman reaches out to touch Martinex, but draws back. Martinex picks up on this and asks him why. And here Gerber asks us to consider bigoted behavior.
Karen: The scene with Yondu is a bit puzzling. I assumed that some humans had reverted to a more primitive state -that's really the only explanation I could come up with! The more disturbing thing here is that Yondu was considering suicide before the attack, but was convinced that his reflexive defense was a sign from his gods that he was not ready to die yet. Then again, he (like Martinex and Charlie) is the last of his kind - the Badoon really did a job on the galaxy! The encounter between Martinex and his colleague was very well handled by Gerber and Milgrom. Martinex, like Charlie, is of human descent -his ancestors were humans with genes altered so they could live on Pluto. He's not an alien. But his appearance causes unease. Despite helping to free the Earth, he has no place there.
Doug: On the west coast, Charlie-27 has gone to work for a construction company. He's a grunt, with a tyrant for a foreman. Toward the end of the shift Charlie finds that he can take no more. So, right before the whistle (why all these 20th Century conventions for a story set in the 31st Century?) to end the day, Charlie decides to wrap the boss in a girder... and leave him there. Lastly, we look in on Major Vance Astro. He's in a strip club (seriously? I was only 9 years old when this was on sale, and I could tell you 2-3 grocery stores/drug stores where I could buy this off the spinner racks) feeling sorry for himself due to his condition of advanced age -- after all, if not for his containment suit, he wouldn't exist. He cannot eat, cannot touch, nothing. So when one of the ladies strolls over and asks him about a good time and all that, Astro brushes her off. He's mocked by a nearby patron, and Astro's response was -- to me -- startling. I don't know that he was vaporized, but I'd be willing to bet he got more than a taser's worth of shock from Astro's mind blast.
Karen: All four of these vignettes stuck with me from when I read them as a kid, but the one with Astro really got burned into my brain, because you just did not see super-heroes in strip clubs back in the 70s! I don't know that I truly grasped everything that was behind this scene when I first read it, but upon re-readings as I got older, the meaning became crystal clear. Again, how this got through the Comics Code I have no idea, as it speaks of sexual frustration. The shot with Astro staring at the dancer's torso and the jewel in her navel pretty much says it all. I felt that this scene laid out the reasons for Astro's borderline mental breakdown later on -all of the normal physical activities that humans engage in are completely denied to him. Who wouldn't be angry and even a little nuts from that?
Doug: We end back on the Captain America, as Vance Astro is teleported aboard. He's, in his own way, happy to see his teammates. The same could not be said, however, for his greeting to Starhawk as the mystery man informs Astro that they are embarking on a mission of his own choice. They are leaving Earth for the stars, on a pre-destined course of travel. Astro's not sure he's given his consent to any of this...
Karen: Who's leading this thing? And we've got a crew of outcasts and malcontents -oh boy...
Doug: I can't say that I truly enjoyed this story much past the nostalgia factor. In fact, if I were to put myself in the shoes of the current film's producers and this was the issue I was shown as backstory for the original characters, I think I might have gone with the updated incarnation of the Guardians. We'll see how this goes as we move through the next four issues (week #4 of our series will be a two-for-one, as we were originally going to end in the middle of a story), but I have to say as we begin that I'm a bit edgy about Gerber's style and the art -- it was overall better than expected, but could still be uneven here and there.
Karen: I still have fondness for these issues, but I'm trying to evaluate them on their own merits. I have to say, this issue is pretty dark! But it's entirely set-up, so I'm prepared to see where it takes us. The art was solid -I've found Al Milgrom to be a mixed bag, really varying in quality depending on who's inking him. Here, Marcos is a good match.