The early 2000s represented a kind of renaissance for Marvel’s cosmic stories. It began with, ironically, an event: Annihilation. The fate of the universe was in the hands of people with insanely over-the-top powers, but we had a strong center of lesser-powered characters and, more importantly, the characters were still written like real characters rather than vessels for these amazing abilities. Here we are a decade later and things are still going strong in the Marvel cosmic U. After the enigmatic Mr. Knife was able to recruit Thane and finding the titular mysterious key to limitless power riiiiight before it’s snatched away by Peter Quill and Kitty Pryde. Now the Guardians and the X-Men are at a crossroads of what to do with the device as more and more about it is slowly revealed. Sam Humphries starts with a bang, juggling many disparate groups and doing a generally great job of it. There’s plenty of room for some chuckles (another key to making cosmic stuff compelling to read) amongst both groups, and Humphries really manages to nail down a defining characteristic of each player within a page or two of their introduction. It’s a great, shorthand way of catching everyone up to speed.
Ed McGuinness supplies most of the pencils, along with Kris Anka, and they both do a really great job of communicating the over-the-top body language and tone that the characters have gradually tended toward over the last couple of years. This is a very frantic issue, but the pace never feels like it gets away or becomes rushed. One of McGuiness’ biggest weaknesses from earlier in his career was a tendency to draw most of his characters with the same basic shape, but that is clearly no longer the case as everyone has their own high distinct height and build, another absolute must with a cast this large. Anka’s work actually transitions fairly smoothly in and out of the issue, it’s very clear when it’s happening, but the two have a similar cartoonish style that makes the transition a smooth one. Anka’s also on inks, along with Mark Farmer, Jay Leisten and Mark Morales and it feels like they’re another big part of what makes this book so easy to follow: the inks are solid without being overpowering. They give the characters weight and definition as well as increasing the bold, wild colors of Marte Gracia and Marcelo Maiolo. The colors in this book definitely do a great job of keeping a sense of whimsy and wonder while also hinting at what’s to come with an incredibly dark undertone.
Somewhat by necessity, this issue jumps right into the action and while it does a great job of introducing the main protagonists, the antagonists get short-shrift. Mr. Knife, Thane and the newly crowned Slaughter Lords’ motivations aren’t made terribly clear and if one hasn’t read LEGENDARY STAR-LORD, it becomes difficult to understand what, exactly, they’re doing. This also represents the beginning of another multi-title cross-over and, regardless of the quality of the storytelling, it’s always a bit frustrating to have to collect titles you may have no interest in to maintain a cohesive story. Tie-ins are one thing, but these are all required reading.
A great start to an ambitious project. The mysteries of the Black Mirror are teased through a combination of flashback and present experimentation, and while the team has a thrown-together feel, there’s something to be said for hitting the ground running. The art looks great, Humphries does a great job of investing the reader immediately in the lovable cast and there’s scarcely time to catch one’s breath as the action explodes across the page along with an already great cliffhanger ending.