By Matt D. Wilson
Wednesday marked the release of the fourth and final installment in Marvel's Infinite Comics prequels to its new "Guardians of the Galaxy" series, each one focusing on a specific member of the team, and all written by Brian Michael Bendis. The newest one focuses on tree-like hero Groot, with previous installments centering on Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and Drax the Destroyer.
Starlord didn't need a introductory comic, I guess.
The easiest asset to spot in all four of these digital issues is some truly stunning art. Michael Avon Oeming makes the Drax issue, which largely consists of a bar fight between Drax and some galactic bounty-hunter types, really kinetic and explosive, which is what a fight with such super-powerful characters should be.
On the Rocket Raccoon issue, Ming Doyle brings an expressiveness and humor to a story that starts off with RR telling tall tales and ends with him making a pretty shocking discovery. There are a lot of reaction shots, and she nails them all, whether they're for laughs or for pathos.
Michael del Mundo handles the art on both the "Gamora" and "Groot" issues, though only eagle-eyed readers (or the ones who looked at the last-page credits beforehand) would know it.
Groot's story, in which he saves a farm family from invading soldiers, has a real warmth and heart to it, while Gamora's near-wordless slave-freeing space-ninja piece is more cinematic, intense and harsh. In both cases, del Mundo devises some ingenious action, but where the Gamora story is nothing but that, the Groot story has a lot of heart, too.
Of the four, Groot's Infinte comic feels the most like a complete story, which may be in part because it's largely told by another character, one whom he helps. Groot also doesn't need a lot of explaining. He's kind of a wood version of the Iron Giant, and that's all you need to know.
I will say that all four of these stories do a good job of clueing readers in to the key details of each character -- Drax is a wanted man and a vicious fighter; Rocket Raccoon is a big personality who longs to meet another humanoid raccoon like him; Gamora is Thanos' daughter and feels a degree of responsibility to make up for his misdeeds. Some get this point across a little more elegantly than others, though. The Gamora story in particular just gets that information out of the way via narration as a way of fitting in more action.
Really, none of these issues amount to much more than a single scene, though the Groot one does have more of a complete arc. Rocket Raccoon's is maybe two scenes. I get that's really their stated purpose -- introduce the character, have him or her do something, and get out -- and they're free, so why am I complaining, but they do feel more like extra material rather than something substantial. It would have been nice if Bendis had devised some thread running throughout them beyond simply Starlord coming to call them back to the team.
In regards to the Infinite presentation, each artist kind of does his or her own thing with it. Doyle uses it for some great staging during Rocket Raccoon's storytelling scene, such that there's a lot of him moving around while what's around stays static. It says a lot about the character, and it's visually compelling. Oeming sticks to a more traditional comic format, such that a lot of the Infiniteness of his story is based on word balloons popping in and panels shifting into place. It works, though.
Del Mundo's work verges on being animation in some places, particularly in the Gamora issue. There's a nice sense of movement and pacing, but Marvel's Infinite boosters have said time and again that these aren't motion comics. His issues come pretty close in spots.
All in all, my gripes are pretty minor, though. I could think of much worse ways to become acclimated to these characters if you're not among the familiar and want to check out the new series or simply gear yourself up for next year's movie.
And hey, they're free. Free comics are always a good deal.