You have to admit, the Guardians of the Galaxy were a funky bunch. They consisted of a seven-foot-tall ambulatory tree, a raccoonoid, a green-skinned lady, a humorless muscleman, and a Han Solo wannabe. Frankly, we’re surprised Jaxxon or Howard the Duck weren’t part of the regular crew. They would fit right in.
Calling them heroes would be a stretch, however. It’s questionable whether these “Guardians” actually guarded anything, galactic or otherwise. Rocket Raccoon, for one, would rather spend his time gambling. Drax was only interested in destroying and revenging. Peter Quill’s “inability to resist a pretty face” kept his team bouncing from one misadventure to the next. And as the adopted daughter of Thanos, Gamora had a ton of family issues to work out. Only Groot could arguably be called a hero. He was the only one who possessed anything resembling a moral compass.
But one thing was certain; the Guardians were a quirky genre-busting aggregate. And because of their disparate natures they had the potential for outlandish (and otherworldly) humor. On a good day they resembled Sun Ra’s Arkestra with Chewbacca at the microphone. In our opinion, that put Quill and his pals a notch above the Herculoids and the Crystal Gems.
On a bad day, unfortunately, the Guardians were just another dumb collection of superhero ciphers. Take this particular novel, for example. It follows a familiar Guardians of the Galaxy template. The gang quibbles like cranky siblings and they get swept into a wildly preposterous caper. In the end, they settle their differences and abscond with some kind of treasure or reward. Taking a tip from the song “O-o-h Child,” they put it together and they get it undone.
But the success of any Guardians adventure isn’t strictly about the adventure itself. Mostly it’s about a loose confederacy of freebooters and their personal relationships to each other. The adventure is only the petrol that keeps the crew moving forward.
For some reason, the author of this book never fully commits to the characters’ screwy charms. Peter Quill is certainly an unrepentant horndog, Rocket Raccoon can’t escape his Napoleon complex, and Groot continually sheds leaves everywhere he goes. But for a big chunk of this novel, the “castaways” are scrubbed clean of all their idiosyncrasies. That’s a shame.
To make matters worse, the plot is dull as dirt. The crew is marooned on an uncharted planet (“Only about 350 light years off course,” says Quill sheepishly) and in short order they get caught up in a messy civil war. Quill spends his time “fighting and feasting and frolicking” (off the page mostly), and there’s a lot of boring chitchat about military strategy.
Like the Guardians themselves, the locals are flat and unremarkable and there’s not an ounce of nuance in sight. Even the Duke of Vylara, possibly the nicest man since Atticus Finch, doesn’t exhibit any of the duress you’d expect from a magistrate in the throes of a revolution.
In the end, the gang unravels the crisis and solves a big mystery that’s haunted the planet for generations. We admit, it’s actually a nice moment that eschews the typical slam-bang superhero finale. But in no way does it excuse the previous 213 pages.
Maybe next time, Quill, Rocket, Gamora, Groot, and Drax will return to the bad behavior that made them compelling antiheroes. In other words: we’d like to see more canoodling, more destroying, more wiseassery, and more funny business. More guarding of the galaxy would be nice too.
[Guardians of the Galaxy: Castaways / By David McDonald / First Printing: August 2016 / ISBN: 9781772752045]