Stuck on Earth and scattered across the planet, if there’s one thing that can bring the Guardians of the Galaxy back together, it’s a common enemy. On April 12, “Grounded” reaches its conclusion with the final issue by writer Brian Michael Bendis in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #19!
After close to five years of wandering around the universe and sometimes saving the day, it’s time for the Guardians to part ways with one of Marvel’s most prolific writers. An era of Guardians history comes to a close in this special doubled-sized issue, featuring work from Valerio Schiti and an all-star team of guest artists.
To celebrate the achievement, Brian gave us a retrospective look at his favorite moments alongside the most dysfunctional super group in the galaxy.
Marvel.com: Let’s start with the best of the worst: favorite villain?
Brian Michael Bendis: Peter’s father. It was one of the reasons I wanted to write this book, having done the research working with the Marvel Cinematic Creative Committee. They were debating whether or not Guardians was a movie franchise—this was when Guardians was as cult as it gets. They sent me some material and some things they were thinking about and I started reading—and I had read it as a fan—but to read it considering its global potential was an interesting thing to do. And then reading Peter’s origin story was so exciting to me because, if you read it, it’s as good as Spider-Man or Superman, it’s just not as well known. The purity of narrative is beautiful. This king crash-lands on Earth in the middle of a space war, falls in love with an Earth person, knocks her up, goes back to his space war, and she’s left on Earth with a half-alien baby—and the boy will never know. This is phenomenal stuff. And then he grows up to find out who he is and “Oh my god, your father’s an a-hole across the galaxy!” Most kings of anything are not known for their warmth. So, to dive into that and cover that for almost the first entire volume was very fun and something I was dying to write.
Marvel.com: Favorite guest star?
Brian Michael Bendis: Just last night, I wrote my goodbye to Guardians, so it’s all fresh on my mind. I think having Tony Stark up in space for as long as we did in the middle of golden run as a movie star was pretty exciting. Also, we had a lot of fun with him—what a great field trip for Tony to go on. And then, hilariously, him and Gamora hooking up, which shows up on my Tumblr feed every three days. It’s going down well as one of the great super hero hookups.
Marvel.com: Favorite event or tie-in?
Brian Michael Bendis: I’m very, very fond of “The Trial of Jean Grey,” even though that was a self-executed mini-crossover. I love when the X-Men go off into space, I love the weird X-Men stories. And the idea of bringing Jean Grey into the present and Jean Grey being a gigantic cosmic serial killer, as far as most people are concerned, a genocidal maniac. To put her on trial and be actively writing both books, making sure the trial happened organically in both books, was very exciting. It was like, “Ooo, you know what’s never been told before, this story. And I’m writing both books!? And, oh my god, Kitty and Peter fall in love in the process!” So everything about that, I really enjoyed and I hear from a lot of people about that. That’s probably everyone’s favorite story from my run? That’s the one I hear about the most.
But the one I think is my favorite tie-in stuff is probably the Black Vortex stuff, which is Sam Humphries’ storyline, but I thought it spoke well to what we, as a group of writers and artists, added to the galactic books over the course of the last couple years. There were interesting interactions between all the characters. We were just way into it.
But I also gotta say, for as weird as it is, the Guardians were always kind of in their own little world, and I know people like that about them as well. One of my mandates was to bring them more to a centered position in the Marvel Universe, so I added them into Infinity, which was the first time they crossed over in one of my books. Just having them show up in the event was so surprising because they’d never shown up in anything before. So that moment was really exciting for me.
Marvel.com: Favorite fight?
Brian Michael Bendis: Kevin Maguire is one of my favorite comic book artists of all time and we got him to do a couple of issues. And it was an issue with a Gamora and Angela team-up, [GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #10], I thought he did an outstanding job with that issue. It was a big, big fight, breaking into a planet, and I thought he did an exceptional job.
Marvel.com: Favorite Groot quote?
Brian Michael Bendis: I actually have a very funny story about that. We were making the “Powers” TV show last year and I was on set, because I wrote episodes. And I’d be in the video village and I had a little desk where I’d sit and literally write Marvel comics while they were setting up the lights and stuff. There were sometimes hours where I literally had nothing to do, so I’d sit and type. So I was sitting in the corner, typing. And one of the actors, whose name is Sharlto Copley, he’s in the show—he keeps looking over, thinking I’m writing the TV show. And I’m writing GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Sharlto comes up behind me and just out of nowhere, reads what he sees on my screen, and yells “I am Groot!?” And it turns out, Sharlto has no idea who the Guardians of the Galaxy are, he never saw the movie, he has no idea what “I am Groot” means. And it was one of the pages where Groot keeps interrupting, that’s the joke, he’s just saying “I am Groot, I am Groot,” so Sharlto looks at it and thinks I’m crazy. He yells, “I am Groot,” everyone else in the video village jumps because they’re like, “Why is he yelling ‘I am Groot,’” because they get the reference. It was a totally unique, once-in-a-lifetime, hilarious moment where he’s yelling “I am Groot, I am Groot” and has no idea why people are laughing.
But one of my favorite moments of writing the entire series was the variant cover that Dale Keown did where the joke is that Jean Grey is talking to him and she can translate “I am Groot” into his actual words and his words are very poetic—and I probably worked harder on those words than anything I worked on that year. You got a little taste of what goes on in Groot’s head for real and I heard from a lot of people on that, so that went well.
Marvel.com: And favorite Guardian?
Brian Michael Bendis: Ahh! See, having written other team books, it’s never about “favorite Guardian,” it’s really “favorite relationship.” We knew that Rocket and Groot are the relationship. But when you discover friendships, or antagonisms, or a new type of relationship within the group of friends, that’s always my favorite stuff. So when something like Angela and Gamora—they really like each other. I think Angela just adores Gamora, and they fight well together and are happy to know each other—that kind of stuff I really like. And I liked writing Tony and Rocket, because Tony is sometimes like Rocket, but in the Avengers. He’s kind of caustic and like “I know everything and everyone’s gonna do what I say.” So for him to [be] faced with this little animal version of his own ego, on a ship—it’s really fun to write. On Avengers, it was discovering that Luke Cage and Spider-Man were hilarious together. That was a surprise, it wasn’t planned. The same thing happens here, where the characters start to gravitate towards each other or away from each other, and the towards each other is always the most fun stuff. And you can’t force it.
I also like this—and I know people really like this and it’s the thing that I’m [guiltiest] of—but, if Kitty Pryde’s not busy, I will grab her and put her in my book. And the most outlandish incident of me doing this is putting her in outer space for a while. I thought Kitty’s no-nonsense, once-a-teacher, strong-Jewish-woman-up-in-space was a ton of fun. And her juxtaposition to Gamora was a great bit of fun. I think her presence on the team, with Tony’s, was very different. What I wanted, and liked, was adding this element that wasn’t in the movies. Just to see what shakes out differently—and with Tony and with Carol [Danvers] and with Kitty and Venom and Ben Grimm, I thought we were able to do that every time.
Marvel.com: What about the team dynamic did you enjoy writing most? How did you approach the characters differently as time went on?
Brian Michael Bendis: I kind of got it in my head that they’re kind of on a road trip that never ends. They’re in a big RV, or on a tour bus, and the tour never ends—the dynamic of a tour. Traveling with family or traveling with friends—you ever go on a long trip with friends? It’s unique. So I wanted that dynamic to be constant, fighting over food and chairs and where we’re gonna stop and where we’re gonna eat. Just making sure that the life seemed like it was being lived inside that ship in a way that most people can relate to—you get on each other’s nerves, you laugh at stupid stuff, you get the giggles. Just normal traveling stuff. I also like that they all go away from each other for a while too.
It’s a very unique book in how they interact with each other. They are as close to family as anything in comics, but they also have their adventures. Always making sure that it felt like they were living together. There’s a lot of detail in the scripts about what’s in their rooms; Peter’s room is messy, Gamora’s room is perfect—how their lives interact with their environment. It’s a fun part for me.
Marvel.com: And finally, what are your overall thoughts looking back on nearly five years with the Guardians of the Galaxy?
Brian Michael Bendis: When I got the job, I originally came into comics as a crime fiction writer, and the things I was most known for, Daredevil or Jessica Jones, real-world crime fiction, that is what’s been my additive element to comics—my love of this and where my strengths are. So I found myself, just a few years later, writing a talking raccoon book—and dying to do it. That’s the other thing: I wasn’t doing it just to see if I could; I really wanted to do it. And when I got the call to do it, I was so excited because the challenge is enormous. Because, we haven’t mentioned, when I got the book, the book hadn’t been produced for a while. The last volume [before] was considered one of the great standards of Marvel Comics and one of the great runs of all time. The reason that there’s a movie is because of them. Stepping into a book that was already so well-loved among the core fanbase, no matter what I had accomplished in comics, I knew I was going to have to prove myself over time. So I was grateful that I was allowed the chance to do so.
The other thing that has to be mentioned is that there wasn’t one issue of any Guardians book that I had my name on that wasn’t drawn by one of the great talents of this generation of comics. From Steve McNiven, to Sara [Pichelli], to Frank Cho, to Kevin Maguire, and finally with Valerio Schiti—every annual, every special, every tie-in, everything we did had these great artists, including our finale, which is packed full of these awesome artists that I love so much. People just love these characters so much and they love drawing them, so every time you call up anybody in comics and say “Hey, you wanna draw raccoons and trees and spaceships for an issue?” the answer is “Yes I do!” So I was, and will forever be grateful, that the book was so beautiful, and exciting, and poppy on every single page. This book was gorgeous.
I also became very aware, of all the books that I write—and I write some very mainstream books that people have heard of—from the moment that I took the book, all the way through to this weekend at a sleepover that my kids had, if you tell kids that you’re the writer of Guardians of the Galaxy, they crap their pants. And I write Spider-Man and Avengers and Iron Man, but Guardians—my children’s friends stare at me like Rocket Raccoon actually just walked in the door. So, of all the books that are out there right now, I think Guardians is the one that has the most gateway potential. Kids are going to be seeing this and I’m so proud that when they see our stuff, they’re going to be seeing such beautiful comics—because on top of the characters, that’s how people fall in love with the medium. And I hope, when people see Valerio’s work or Steve’s work—and how exciting a visual and inspiring for the imagination it is—that people will find a way to stay with us. So my takeaway is that I’m very happy that the movie took off and that I bet right—because I bet on this a year before the movie came out and I was very happy that it did. But I’m also immensely proud to have put my name on such beautifully illustrated books.
Witness the end of an era with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #19, by Brian Michael Bendis and artist Valerio Schiti, on April 12!