Digital Comic Overlook #4: Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite #1-4
Click, click, click.
This is the sound of the future of digital comics, as the pundits say. Though, in my case, it was swipe, swipe, swipe.
There’s been some talk about how the “powerpoint” style of comics is going to become the next big thing for digital comics in the future. Now, I know we’ve heard the talk before, and a lot of us are plenty skeptical. The reality, though, is that the big boys, Marvel and DC, are both rarin’ to try it out. Over in their corner, Marvel’s been trying the technique out in their newly launched “Infinite” brand, which is digital only and available on the Marvel app; most are not currently on the Comixology app.
Aside: the awkwardly titled Ultimate Spider-Man Infinite IS available on Comixology for free. I would suggest not getting that one. It’s … pretty horrible. I know, it’s aimed for kids, but man, even if I was part of the intended age bracket I’d feel cheated by such a lightweight story with parts where Spider-Man goes super-deformed for some reason. Seriously, the Spidey Super Stories were less pandering. Also, for a title that includes “Ultimate” in it, it’s a comic about Peter Parker, and not Miles Morales, the current Spider-Man in the Ultimate titles. In fact, pretty much none of it, save maybe the Sam Jackson Nick Fury, seems to be set in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. (And even then, the Sam Jackson Fury is the current one in the baseline series.) Why even use “Ultimate”? Why? Why do you have to make things so hard, Marvel?!?!?!
So anyway, back to Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite #1-4, which are currently free to download on the Marvel app.
So what in the world is Guardians of the Galaxy? Well, clearly they’re currently Marvel’s hottest property at the moment. They’re being prominently featured as the next big Marvel movie franchise, which will directly lead up to the second Avengers movie. One of the characters even showed up in the latest Marvel vs. Capcom game.
Yeah, I’ve never heard of them either.
And really… no one has. The Guardians of the Galaxy are Marvel’s space-faring superhero franchise du jour. Now, an old comic fan like me is far more familiar with the Starjammers or Adam Warlock or that one team that had the guy with the huge mohawk. But Guardians of the Galaxy? Wikipedia tells me that they’re based on an obscure team created in 1969 by Andrew Drake and Gene Colan. The original incarnation had team members with names like Martinex T’Naga and Yondu Udonta. Not … not quite Thor or Captain America. At this point, though, pretty much most of the well known heroes have had movies made out of ’em. You kinda have to give Marvel some mad props for taking risks and digging deep into some ridiculously obscure concepts, then securing the budget to make a movie out of them.
Then again, Hollywood just recently made a movie based on the Battleship board game, so maybe it’s just full of people who’re throwing money at every stupid concept coming their way.
There’s plenty of things that Guardians of the Galaxy has going for it. First of all, thanks to the double whammy of J. J. Abrams (Star Trek) AND J. J. Abrams (Star Wars), space opera is all of the sudden cool again. Second of all, the current roster is not quite as inscrutable as the original line up. Marvel (and parent company Disney) are probably banking that general audiences will probably thrill to at least two of the characters: a surly, talking raccoon who was named after a Beatles song and a space tree. What do the Starjammers have? Cyclop’s pirate dad in an open-shirt disco outfit and an albino cat girl? Get out of town, ya weirdos!
Now, while the raccoon and the tree are self-explanatory, the rest of the cast needs some explaining. Who’s this guy that looks like Piccolo from Dragonball Z? Who’s the green lady? And that guy wearing the Call of Duty outfit? Clearly each of them needs a dedicated story … and that what each of the Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite digital comic brings, one issue at a time.
And these comics are not tossed together throwaways by a bunch of C-list creators. At the helm is none other and Brian Bendis, the guy who’s been charting Marvel’s destiny for the last decade or so. The art’s pretty stellar too. Michael Oeming is probably the best known contributor… and surprisingly, he’s probably the weakest one on the title. Ming Doyle (on Issue #2) and Michael Del Mundo (on Issues #3 and #4) may be less known, but their styles resemble the sort of thing you’d find in an issue of Heavy Metal … you know, if it was done for the PG crowd. Doyle loves to draw aliens stuffed in fashions that look like they were purloined off the shelves of Wal-Mart, and Del Mundo has a painterly style that emphasizes how blindingly bright everything is on otherworldly planets. Those styles, to me, are more appropriate for stories of a space faring crew as opposed to Oeming’s more standard superhero poses and gestures. (Though, let’s be clear here, Oeming’s stuff isn’t bad. In fact, plenty of his scenes look positively Kirby-esque.)
Also on hand? Why, it’s our old pal, Yves Bigerel! I hadn’t realized it back when I linked to his project on DeviantArt, but Bigerel is Marvel’s go-to expert for all the creative scene transitions in the Infinite titles. His name even appears in the credits for the Ultimate Spider-Man Infinite comic. I’m being completely sincere when I say that I’m genuinely happy that one of the Big Two comic publishers was willing to give him a platform to put his experimental theories into practice.
Now, as for actually how that theory’s put into practice…. Back when I talked about this method the first time, someone in the comments suggested that reading this sort of comic is a lot easier if you use the space bar. I imagine there’s truth in it. Hitting the spacebar is easy, tactile, and natural. However, I was reading this comic that the industry insists is the right way to read digital comics: on my iPad. Which means: slashing right to left on your screen. For those of you who were complaining about clicking with your mouse, let me assure you that this is way, way more annoying. Sometimes you’re swiping across the screen to get to the next page, and it won’t do it because the image is still loading… and thus there was more than one moment where I was staring at the screen like an idiot waiting for the scene to change.
As a comparison, I downloaded the same comic on my iPhone, and it is a lot easier to swipe across the screen with your thumb while the phone is comfortable cradled in your hand. Downsides: you have to hold the phone sideways, and the text gets way too small.
The “infinite” format is used in Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite (Good Lord, that is a long title to type out) comic to emphasize movement and action This means that Brian Bendis really doesn’t have that much to do. You don’t get much of the witty repartee that you’d find in his Ultimate Spider-Man comics. It’s actually more like some of his Avengers comics. In that respect, I do have to say that Guar… um, GOTGI does a better job executing. With Avengers, the interminable action sequences, often lasting 6 issues, felt excessive and gratuitous. (Seriously, does anyone remember anything that happened in Bendis’ Avengers other than the standard “team comes together” plot?) Here at least you get to see different settings and it serves to establish the characters… even if their only traits, it seems, are that they’re all badasses who punch a lot.
The creative frame-to-frame transitions achieve varying levels of success. The first two are kind of awkward. Frames within frames. Static images, except with one character moving and different word balloons. Is the “infinite” format better than if the same story was told with a traditional layout? I can’t say the Drax the Destroyer and Rocket Raccoon chapters would pass the sniff test.
Things pick up considerably when Bendis and Bigerel are paired with Del Mundo. The chapter on Gamora (who, it turns out, is a green lady and not a space turtle) is nice, but the real stand out is the chapter on Groot. Here, the pace slows down a bit, which is a blessing to my pointing finger. Early on, we see two alien farmers are hauling junk that’s landed on their field. They stare out into the bright skies, which gradually reveals to be tiny dots of light in the bright sky where an interstellar battle rages. The pan to the that shot? Fantastic. Later, after Bendis wisely holds off on the reveal, we come face to face with Groot (the aforementioned space tree). We get a good look at his face, then with a swipe we pan down to his hands. One swipe later, his hands transform into clubs for pounding. It looks great. The less jumpy the frame of reference, the more successful the execution, it seems.
It’s still a little early in Marvel’s little experiments with the “infinite,” so there’s definitely doing to be some trial and error involved… as well as, perhaps, discovery of new techniques. Still, for an early foray into this technique, it wasn’t too bad. I wish there had been a little more content: four issues in, and I still have no idea what the Guardians of the Galaxy are about. But that wasn’t the aim of these comics. No, the aim was to have the characters in flip-book style semi-animated fight sequences. (The really important and essential stuff is probably being saved up for the movie.) Some of it worked. Some of it didn’t.
I’m still not convinced that this isn’t going to turn out to be anything more than a short-term gimmick, destined to be tossed into the same pile as motion comics and Zuda-like Flash-style comics. However, I do admire the drive to experiment with something new. And, unlike some of Marvel’s recent efforts where they ask you to pony up $4 an issue for more or less the same thing, at least these GOTGI digital comics are free.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).
Posted on June 8, 2013, in 3 Stars, DIgital Comic Overlook, digital comics, sci-fi webcomic, superheroes, The Webcomic Overlook and tagged Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Groot, Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel, Marvel Comics, Marvel Comics Infinite, Rocket Raccoon, WPLongform. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.