Monday, February 9, 2015

A Colorful Cosmic Convergence: Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex Alpha #1

The following is my review of Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


What is it about power that makes it so corruptive? Like a drug with well-known side-effects that everybody ignores, its capacity for abuse makes heroin look like a bag of gummy worms. Many epic stories, both fiction and non-fiction alike, are structured around those who succumb to this corruption. It’s a story that’s present in every culture and every civilization for some form or another. Yet for some reason, every king and despot ignores it.

The same can be said for a long list of characters in the Marvel Universe. There’s Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force, Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, and Tony Stark and a bottle of bourbon. Time and again, they are overwhelmed by immense power and eventually abuse it. At this point, it’s gotten downright predictable. Any character who attains any level of power whose name isn’t Superman is going to get corrupted by it. So how can that story remain compelling? Well if Spinal Tap has taught us anything, turning the volume up to 11 can sometimes mix things up.

This is premise for Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex #1, the first issue in another major crossover event between Marvel’s breakout stars and the stars that Fox has securely in their greedy clutches. The Trial of Jean Grey showed that these two unlikely teams can create a compelling narrative. This time, they’re not dealing with something as inane as the grossly unfair Shi’ar justice system. They’re dealing with the Black Vortex, an ancient relic capable of giving anyone an overdose of cosmic-powered heroin. It sounds like one of those serious threats that deserves its own Congressional sub-committee. However, the end result is actually a lot more fun and a lot less corrupt.

The narrative is predictable in some respects. Starlord and Kitty Pryde find out that Mr. Knife, who also happens to be Starlord’s now-deposed father, managed to obtain the Black Vortex with the help of the Slaughter Squad. Knowing that a cosmically powered father would ruin every one of his and Kitty’s date nights, they steal it from him. They then enlist the help of the X-men to help them deal with it. Given their experience with cosmic powered people, it saves them the trouble of placing an awkwardly worded Craigslist ad. But the predictability doesn’t keep the story from being fun.

The tone and dynamics of the story are rich in detail. There is some exposition, but it never feels excessive. There is some humor as well, but it never seems overly juvenile, even when Iceman plays a joke on Groot. There’s a fairly solid balance of character interactions and conflict that help make the Black Vortex feel like it’s not just an Infinity Gauntlet rip-off. There is a unique history to this relic that makes it feel unique in a universe full of obscenely powerful artifacts, most of which are probably in Odin’s dresser drawer. It doesn’t try to reinvent the concept that writers like Chris Claremont have perfected with the Phoenix Saga, but it doesn’t have to.

While the concept and execution of the story itself is sound, there are some issues with the overall setup. The manner in which the X-men enter the conflict isn’t as fluid as it was in their previous encounter with the Guardians of the Galaxy in The Trial of Jean Grey. It’s not entirely forced, seeing as how Starlord happens to be dating Kitty Pryde. However, the way in which they get involved is somewhat rushed. It’s like they skipped a few steps between just hanging out with their space buddies and confronting an ancient relic.

Even the concept of the Black Vortex itself might seem somewhat rushed. It’s oddly convenient how Starlord and Kitty Pryde drop in on Mr. Knife after he somehow got his hands on this ancient artifact. It’s actually not quite as convenient as it looks. The Black Vortex has actually been part of a number of stories preceding this one. It has been a driving force for the plot in Starlord’s solo series and it also was mentioned in Cyclops’ solo series. But those who don’t follow these books will likely miss that so it makes the story feel forced when it actually has a couple of prequels. And unlike other sci-fi prequels that involve Jar Jar Binks, these prequels actually contribute something meaningful to the narrative.


It’s still possible to follow this story without following the supporting books. It just makes the story feel more forced than it actually is. It succeeds in bringing the X-men and the Guardians of the Galaxy together in another compelling conflict. Once again, they’re up against a powerful enemy with strong personal ties to certain characters. It has all the elements that made The Trial of Jean Grey work so well. It just has a more chaotic and disheveled structure. It’s like starting a movie after skipping 20 minutes ahead. Unless it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie, it’ll still make sense.

There are some aspects of the story that could use more detail and depth, but it isn’t horribly lacking in any particular area. It also has plenty of strengths beyond just throwing a bunch of well-known characters together in a way Donald Trump can make a reality show out of. There’s the relationship between Kitty Pryde and Starlord. There’s Jean Grey’s history of being overwhelmed by cosmic power. There’s Hank McCoy’s lingering baggage about messing up the time stream. There’s a lot more going on here than just fighting over an ancient relic.

The structure of Guardians of the Galaxy and X-men: Black Vortex #1 may seem confusing, but it throws all the right ingredients into the mix. For a crossover story of this scale, that’s important. No cake was ever made delicious by skimping on the frosting. It’s safe to say that the first layer of frosting has been spread on this story. Whether it’ll add the hot fudge and sprinkles remains to be seen.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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