A little late I know but in my defense I was very drunk this weekend. So, in case you haven’t heard, Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge hit last year. Chances are you probably knew that, what you might not know is that Disney/Marvel is actually looking to capitalize on this success in a more meaningful way than usual by giving the Guardians an animated series. The show premiered on Saturday and it’s…harmless. The Disney television animation studio’s seen better days certainly but if you were hoping recent hits like Gravity Falls or Stars vs. The Forces of Evil might signal an uptick in quality temper those expectations.
However, this recent twist of fate is all the excuse I need to showcase the best Guardians of the Galaxy comic covers…of the original team. Yeah, little known fact but the original Guardians of the Galaxy are a team of genetically altered humanoids and aliens who act as the last resistance of a far flung future where humanity and most of the galaxy has been crushed under the heal of villainous lizard men known as Badoon. They appeared briefly in the well remembered Korvac Saga and enjoyed a surprisingly long lived solo series, that’s what I’ll be drawing from for this extra large list.
I love this cover and guess what; the reason why involves more back-story. Even though the Guardians of the Galaxy team that comics fans now choose to lord over movie fans as a mark of true devotion first popped in the mid ‘70s the team name and general appearances first showed up in 1969. I haven’t read the issue of Marvel Super-Heroes in which they appeared so I can’t speak to how much of the ultimate character lore was initially there but the basic character designs of Yondu, Charlie-27, and Martinex were all represented. This cover from the ‘90s solo book is a direct homage to that original cover and actually addresses that previously unmentioned original appearance. I’m a sucker for these kind of throwback antics and references to the weird tidbits of comic history modern fans prefer to sweep under the rug so this had to make it on the list. What’s more I absolutely love the bizarre costume redesign on Charlie-27 putting him in that big yellow jump suit and making his head somehow look like flan.
Most of these covers are making it on for the awesomeness of seeing classic ideas and characters reimagined for the Guardian’s take on the 31st century, starting with this one. It’s interesting how much the Guardians comic actually ended up setting the tone for Marvel’s much more well-known and beloved 2099 initiative a few years later, though I definitely prefer the Guardians weird imagining of the future in all its insane glory. Rather than 2099’s cyberpunk affect Guardians tended to favor a kind of bizarre blend of Flash Gordon-esc space opera scope blended with the dark extremes of the ‘90s. What I really like about the Guardians though is that they always dug deep into the characters whose natural immortality meant they really would be still around in the far-flung future and the Phoenix is a great example of that.
Speaking of character’s with natural immortality. Weird reimaginings like Silver Surfer as the Keeper are exactly what make the original Guardians of the Galaxy comic as striking and memorable as it is. This is a great reworking of Silver Surfer and an interesting extrapolation of where his character might be so far into the future. I especially like the idea of him coming to possess Quasar’s quantum bands at some point and no longer needing the board. The cover is admittedly pretty simplistic but the visual redesign of the Surfer is honestly all this needed to make a serious impact. I also especially like the bizarre movements of his new cape and the way it seems to deny all laws of physics or logic, it just adds to his mysterious ambience much like the lens flair adorning his head.
This is another interesting play on the concept of heroes of the future, one that never really made it into 2099. There’s a lot of interesting aspects to this design, like the perfect amalgam of design elements forged by the mix of tattered Spider-man costume with the futuristic tube. It reminds me most of the Robin costume displayed in memoriam in the Bat cave, only the clash of time period and relic make it seem strangely off. That offness is clearly deliberate as its accentuated by the assembled team’s perplexed and shocked looks and then finally crystallized with that speech bubble. I’m a big fan of speech bubbles on covers so it’s always a treat to find one featured on a more modern cover design. The sub-title of “The Amazing Spider-Man on Mars” certainly doesn’t make the situation any more clear.
What more of a cover is really needed beyond just Galactus? Over the course of the Guardians comic they had actually interacted with many of Galactus’ heralds like Silver Surfer and Fire Lord so his arrival was already a long time coming when he finally made his major arrival in the comic with this great cover being the perfect punctuation mark. I like the way he towers over everyone involved but even more I like that he’s actually too big for the array allotted to him, his horn and helmet extending past the logo. Combine that with all the radiant energy coming out of him and this cover really does a good job capturing Galactus’ unstoppable majesty. It also helps that the previous heralds are on hand for the event, lending a greater air of seriousness and raised stakes to the proceedings; the big guns are already here for this one.
I honestly have no idea what’s going on in this cover but it’s so crazy I had to put it on the list. It’s partly obvious they only threw together this visual because it was the ‘90s and Terminator 2 was setting the world on fire but that in no way undercuts the weird ridiculousness of what’s happening. I’m not sure if the robot skeleton we’re seeing is a Doombot or a weir robot duplicate of Wolverine built by Dr. Doom but whatever it is it’s a great robo-design. I especially like the discarded Doom mask laying behind it, easy to miss till you read the subtitle of the comic and start looking for it. I don’t think they needed to give Rancor such an ample and in-our-face bosom or tat her current pose is like physically possible but that just adds to the wonderful lunacy of this cover. This is the kind of visual stew that could only emerge from the bizarre era of the early ‘90s, when the new trends were beginning to take over but were still in relative infancy.
Okay, if that last cover was early ‘90s with an emphasis on the lovably over the top and confused visuals, this cover is pure mid-‘90s idiocy and I love it. The character on display here is Charlie-27, the flan head guy from #13. He’s a genetically engineered humanoid designed to survive the extreme gravity on Jupiter and he looks absolutely ridiculous here. I don’t even know what the best part of this cover is; the weird flaming background, the ludicrously sized gun, the insane proportions on Charlie-27 that don’t even make the slightest bit of sense, or that hilariously failed attempt at a bad ass line in the word balloon. Though honestly what really sells this cover is Charlie’s face and head; that perfectly realized angry snarl that defies physical ability mixed with the flattest flat top man has ever seen. Seriously, his hair looks legitimately like a helmet or chocolate coating in this cover. All of this combined with the fact his costume hasn’t been updated or altered at all from its ‘70s visual design is the icing on the cake of horrible trends.
Hero quitting covers are a weird element of comics. They’re rare enough that most people don’t know they’re a thing but within comics they happen with enough frequency that even obscure superhero comedies like Ambush Bug can get in a few jokes about them. This is by no means the best instance of the trope, that honor probably still belongs to The Flash #159, but it’s a strong entry all the same. I like that even though Vanth Astro is quitting the Guardians he’s not actually giving up any of his superhero paraphernalia, taking his shield and costume with him as he walks away from the team. There’s also something about the plane white background I weirdly like, it adds to a kind of surrealism that really elevates the cover. When I look at this cover I don’t assume Vanth Astro is quitting the team I assume he’s quitting the comic, literally, like the character has gained sentience and is just walking out of this book. That probably wasn’t the intention behind the cover but it’s what I get out of it anyway.
Now here’s an idea that would come back again and again throughout Marvel’s ‘90s “renaissance.” For whatever reason Ghost Rider enjoyed a major resurgence in popularity in the ‘90s which led to him crossing over into a ton of other books he normally wouldn’t be in. Ghost Rider was so big at the time he even managed to appear in all of Marvel’s animated shows and had his own toy line. This same idea of future Ghost Rider appeared in 2099 as well but I love this cover too much not to mention it. There’s the very subtle bestial extenuations to Ghost Rider’s skull, the way he’s actually crushing the logo between his hands, or just the image of him having crushed the Guardians. What’s most impressive is how awesome this image is despite its own stupidity, like Ghost Rider’s horrible new outfit. I don’t know why future Ghost Rider needs a massive armored cod piece or what seem to be blue fishnets and inverse spurs but whatever the reason he makes it work perfectly.
Another great throwback cover that plays on the many immortal threats of the Marvel universe. Part of my love for this cover comes from my great admiration for this basic cover set-up- the visual design of the villain literally holding the heroes. It’s a great look that instantly puts you into that superhero mindset with how unique it is to this very medium. It also helps that Dormammu is just massive in this cover. Dr. Strange’s archenemy looks like he could legitimately go toe-to-toe with Galactus in this visual and it helps him come off thoroughly imposing despite his admittedly silly design. I haven’t read the issue so I don’t know if the two groups of Guardians are forced to fight each other at some point in this issue but I can only hope that was the case based on this cover. Finally I really like the smoke design of the background around Dormmamu’s head, it gives this a very silver age-esc look.
Speaking of Silver Age, it’s hard to imagine a time more recently than this when Asgard was portrayed as classically as this. That’s something that’s been seriously missing from the Thor mythos since the events of Thor: Disassembled, a more classical depiction of Asgard with the kind of bright color combinations of classic Marvel comics. The idea of returning the Bifrost to a literal rainbow bridge or throwing Loki back in his bright neon green duds is actually really appealing to me as it’s been far too long since we’ve had something so classic feeling pop up in the comics. While the background of this cover is a little fuzzy, space looks infinitely too full in the portions we can see, the building tension of the foreground to the front is perfectly managed. I especially love the framing of Mjolnir right at the front of the comic, it’s a great eye catching visual that really sets the tone.
So it turns out future Ghost Rider is so awesome he demands to be on this list twice. Everything I liked about the first cover is present here only dialed up to 11. Ghost Rider looks more bestial and alien than ever but his costume looks actually respectable. He comes off ferocious and dangerous only now there’s a fully realized background instead of awkward white void. Best of all though is that beautiful flaming space motorcycle. This is one of this instantly awesome images that demands to be painted on the side of a van and fist-pumped for all eternity. I love the way the whole space-cycle ignites in the vacuum of space and somehow leaves a burning trail in its wake. This is the Ghost Rider the ‘90s fell in love with, insanely awesome while making exactly no sense.
As with most of these covers I haven’t read the actual issue this is attached to so I don’t know what’s going on here but I assume knowing would only spoil it. I’m a big Punisher fan, as was most of the ‘80s and ‘90s, so seeing what looks like a whole legion of Punishers is absolutely amazing. I’ve long maintained Punisher sort of works as Marvel’s equivalent of Judge Dredd and this cover basically turns the badge of Punisher into that kind of status. What’s more this reworking feels more faithful to the idea of the Punisher than Punisher 2099 did. To be clear, when I say the idea of Punisher’s character I don’t just mean “Death Wish but with more skulls,” I mean his initial appearances and the weird role he has within the Marvel universe. Remember, when Punisher first appeared he was totally willing to shoot Spider-Man in the face, that’s the vibe I get from these Punishers. Best of all this is a cover that just instantly grabs and makes me want to know what’s going on. I may never have read this issue but I’m more motivated than ever now to track one down and see what’s inside.
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