Writer: Donny Cates, Artist: Geoff Shaw, Colourist: David Curiel, Letters: Cory Petit.
It's difficult today to imagine a Marvel Universe without the Guardians of the Galaxy being an important part of it. Once upon a time however, there was so little editorial will at Marvel to support a Guardians of the Galaxy comic that the team — as well as many of Marvel's other cosmic characters — spent almost 15 years in publishing limbo.
Whilst It's understandable that so many people credit the 2014 movie with breathing fresh life into the franchise, you actually have to go back a little further to Keith Giffen's 2006 big event Annihilation and Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy (Vol 2) to really get to the truth of how the team as most fans now recognise them came to be, and — with only the occasional change — that team roster has remained more or less the same ever since.
That was more than a decade ago however, and in recent years there have been few Guardians story lines that could be considered significant or have lingered long in the memory, and a title that literally had the whole galaxy as it's playground was starting to feel small.
It was undoubtedly then the right time for a change, with the job of saving the title from once again disappearing into the void of obscurity falling to writer Donny Cates and artist Geoff Shaw.
Guardians of the Galaxy #6 represents the last issue of "Final Gauntlet", their first story arc on the book, so how have they done?
In a word: AWESOME!
From the first few pages of the first issue when Cates assembled pretty much every cosmic character to have ever graced the pages of a Marvel comic in one place — then promptly tried to kill them all in one fell swoop — it became quite clear that this would be a story of great depth and scale. Literally everything about it has felt BIG.
Part "Whodunnit?", part heist movie, part chase movie, part galactic war story, part love story, #6 neatly ties up these disparate story elements through the medium of a great big fight as the Guardians try to keep it together long enough for one final big push to try to stop the Goddess of Death, Hela, from resurrecting her love Thanos.
Quill's ad hoc Guardians team is a rabble of cosmic powerhouses as exciting as they are dysfunctional. The presence of characters like Gladiator, Lockjaw, Nova, and Beta Ray Bill on the roster — as well as antagonists like Cosmic Ghost Rider, Hela, Starlord, and the Black Order — give it a real feeling of being something new and fresh. Whilst a spine made up of old favourites like Starlord, Gamora, and Groot help it maintain a sense of familiarity, where as the return of former members Moondragon and Phyla-Vell put it in touch with some of its more distant roots. It's a team that definitely feels much greater than the sum of its parts.
It's not all stabbings, blastings, and fisticuffs however. No, the title also has a heart as it resolves the tensions between Quill and Gamora left over from the recent "Infinity" crossover event that had left their relationship with an uncertain future...and Gamora's sword in Pete's chest.
Oh yeah, and It's also got a gun in it that shoots black holes!
The gun shoots...black...holes!
Perhaps the only disappointment is that the excellent Geoff Shaw leaves the book as of this issue. He will be handing over the artistic responsibilities to Cory Smith, who is an excellent artist in his own right with a style that fits the tone of the book, so I feel that we're in safe hands.
Make no bones about it though, what you have here is not just one of the best Guardians of the Galaxy stories of a generation, but also one of the strongest opening arcs of any new series that I've seen in recent memory. It's also one of the finest titles currently being published at Marvel from a creative team that are one of the hottest properties in the industry at this moment.