The year is 2014, and I am 13 years old. I’m seated in a cinema watching Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy, based on a comic I was totally in love with. On the screen, a lone figure walks through a deserted planet; it’s dark and isolated. He takes off his mask to reveal Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, the protagonist of the film. “Cool,” I thought, “so he’s like an Indiana Jones-type scavenging rogue.” And then I was totally thrown for a loop. Quill picks up some Walkman headphones and puts them over his ears as his Walkman clicks into gear. He starts to move, and suddenly, Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” plays. I started grinning like an idiot, and I didn’t stop until the movie ended.
I’m well aware that many people don’t like the direction that James Gunn took the Guardians of the Galaxy in, be it issues with the tone or the way the characters were portrayed. It’s not an opinion I share, but I understand where those people are coming from. But one thing I don’t see disagreement on is the music. The use of 70s music in the Guardians films was a genius idea. It gave it fun throwback energy that worked wonders with the space opera style, and it gave them a unique groove. However, the key thing is that, like all good needle drops, the music connected us to the characters and put us in tune with their emotions; it works perfectly as an extension of Peter Quill, a character who has always acted as more of a fish out of water. Peter is our entry point, and through him, we get to experience this crazy cosmic world for ourselves. So by using music, there is always a tangible link to Earth that we can latch onto and relate to; it’s something that Peter clings to the same as the audience.
Of course, the movie was incredibly popular, which meant the comics followed suit, being made by creators like Brian Michael Bendis. However, Quill’s music from the film wasn’t as much an element of these stories at the time. That would come later. This brings us to what we’re looking at today: All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #5 by Gerry Duggan, Chris Samnee, Matthew Wilson, and Cory Petit. All-New Guardians was a great series that was gone far too soon, I think. It leaned into the film iteration of the characters, and, unlike some previous work, it brought in elements of the broader comics continuity. It felt like a merger of the two different versions of the Guardians. That’s evident in Quill’s new suit, which retains the mask from the film but has a suit that harkens back to Annihilation Conquest and his original pre-Marvel Universe days.
Duggan also made sure to include the music, and with this issue, he put it at the forefront. This series had an interesting release schedule since it was twice monthly. So issues would alternate between the main story with art by Aaron Kuder and standalone issues with rotating artists. I think that this issue right here was the highlight of those. In large part because of the great Chris Samnee on pencils. Samnee is, of course, a beloved artist due to his work on titles like Daredevil and Thor: The Mighty Avenger. He gives expressive cartoony life to whatever story he’s drawing. That vibrancy was a perfect fit for the Guardians of the Galaxy, especially this issue he did here.
The issue opens with Quill escaping from Agent Adsit; a character used and ‘created’ (I use that term loosely since he’s literally just a Marvel version of actor/comedian Scott Adsit) by Duggan in his work on Deadpool. Adsit is now working for a Nova Corps struggling to rebuild its ranks and become a galactic superpower again. As part of his recruitment drive, he aims to recruit our very own Star-Lord. Peter objects, of course, and makes his getaway with some gear he needs. It turns out this gear is to repair one of his Walkman cassettes.
Honestly, it makes sense that cassettes would get damaged while adventuring around in space. So Peter takes his box and takes to the stars. To repair the broken cassette, he needs to tape those songs onto a new one. So Peter is looking to find and record the songs he wants through radio waves from Earth. Those radio waves he can only access at the right spot as they are sent out into the universe. That’s it. That’s the conflict of this issue. Peter Quill wants his music. It’s just a story about a man trying to find some music. There’s no conflict in this story outside of that chase at the start and a brief comedic abduction in the middle. It’s simple, low key and character-focused. So why do I like it so much?
Well, a large part of that is just what the whole thing is about; it speaks to why Peter loves his music and, by extension, why we all love music. Being out in space with loads of alien tech, there’s the obvious question to ask. Why does he even bother with the cassettes? Why not just download everything from some vast futuristic database. This issue answers that as Quill talks about why he goes to such extreme lengths for his music. He prefers the analog, something real, something tangible. That makes sense for a character whose link to a planet far away is through this music. You would want something real, something to hold onto; in this way, the music is a way for Peter to remember his past. That’s shown in Samnee’s art, which is hyper-detailed in a way that feels scrappy and barely held together. There are smudges on the tape player, bits of tangled wire around the ship. Samnee makes everything feel real and tactile, highlighting the fallibility of Quill and his music.
One of my favourite things about this issue is just the attention to detail in every panel. We see this best illustrated in a fantastic double-page spread. Here we see Peter’s entire mixtape collection. Each one labelled connecting it to a different memory. You have cassettes labelled ‘Dolly, Willie, Johnny’ and ‘Space Jams’ and cassettes for specific Guardians like ‘Rockets favorites.’ They’re each a piece and an era in Peter’s life, representative of his nostalgic attachments. There are also some really fun easter eggs in here. A few of the cassettes are turned over, with Samnee drawing little snippets of different eras of Star Lord’s character. There’s his original look alongside Nova, a look at the Bendis era and one from the DnA days that is even labelled DNA.
Similarly, we get an INCREDIBLE page by Samnee of Peter moving back in time, riding across the soundwaves. Samnee manages to showcase the change in music across time beautifully here. Colours change as Peter’s ship streaks through the cosmos, moving from vibrant blues to muted greys. We get glimpses of Elvis Presley and Kurt Cobain, all artists whose music endures across the stars. These songs are old, but they still have audiences even on the other side of the galaxy. It’s a great way to show the timelessness and immortality of music.
The final moments of the issue are where it all comes together for me and solidifies itself as a favourite. As Peter gets closer to his music, each page is broken up into smaller close-up panels. We get little glimpses of Peter’s ship as he gets ready. Peter charts a map with different historical events he hears on the radio, like Reagan’s inauguration and the death of John Lennon. It’s the death of Lennon that slows us down. The ship stops, Peter disables the gravity, and a mug starts to float. The very last page is Peter Quill, floating upside down with the beauty of space behind him, listening to The Beatles’ “Across The Universe”. It’s such a gorgeous melancholy panel. I love the buildup to this moment; the book builds and builds until Peter finally gets his music.
It’s a perfect final moment. It’s a long, tedious process for Peter to get his music like this, but it’s worth it for moments like these. Samnee kills it with this final page. It’s a perfect literal image of what it feels like to listen to great music. That wonderful transcendent feeling of being lifted off your feet, where gravity seems like an illusion and the world fades away. It’s what comics are great for; they take these relatable things and blow them up to larger, more operatic levels. No one ever raced across the galaxy for a song, but that feeling of chasing the music, chasing the memory, is relatable. That nostalgia is represented really well here since this final page mirrors the first page. The first page of the book is a young Quill floating in a lake listening to music. It bookends the issue, connecting Quill’s past and present through his music. It’s great stuff and a perfect capstone to an incredible issue. (Sidenote: I wasn’t much of a Beatles kid growing up, so this was my first exposure to this song. It’s one of my favourite songs because of it).
Gerry Duggan, Chris Samnee, Matthew Wilson and Cory Petit do exceptional work with this issue. This is an all-timer right here, one of those comfort food comics that I come back to repeatedly. It’s a gorgeous little comic that I can recommend to anyone. It’s a great story that’s more than just a fun space romp, it’s saying something, and it sticks the landing with an ending full of heart and passion. So if you haven’t read it already, give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed. That’s all from me. So long, I’ll see you a little further along down the Road to Knowhere.