Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Ed McGuinness and Kris Anka
Colors by Marte Gracia, and Marcelo Maiolo
Published by Marvel Comics
One year after the Guardians of the Galaxy and the X-Men teamed up for the first time in “The Trial of Jean Grey,” the two teams reunite to contain the mystical artifact known as the Black Vortex. After glimpses and whispers of the artifact in the pages of Legendary Star-Lord, does the power of the Vortex justify the massive amount of characters in play here? And is there enough intrigue and mystery to last thirteen issues?
First things first. There are a LOT of characters to keep track of here, even for the first chapter of a book. And with the promise of more characters on the way, there may be a struggle to keep the narrative focused and relatable. For now, though, writer Sam Humphries does a good job of keeping the event focused on the same characters that were at the core of Legendary Star-Lord: outlaw and galactic guardian Peter Quill, and his girlfriend and mutant educator Kitty Pryde. It helps that this issue picks up directly where the last issue of Star-Lord left off; with the couple deciding to take a page out of Bonnie and Clyde’s book and steal the Black Vortex from Peter’s father, J’Son. And while the introduction of the Guardians and X-Men to the larger story feels rather abrupt, Humphries does a good job of establishing the core traits of the characters right off the bat, allowing them to flow right into the cosmic hurricane that is to follow.
Where Humphries falters more, however, is the villains opposing the Guardians and X-Men. J’Son, a.k.a. Mister Knife, and his Slaughter Squad, along with Thane, the son of Thanos, are all after the power of the Black Vortex. And while Thane’s motivation (to protect the galaxy from his tyrannical father) makes sense, the plans of J’Son and his compatriots make no sense to anyone not reading Legendary Star-Lord. Even then, it’s still very vague at this point. However, Humphries uses an extended flashback of an alien race that destroyed themselves 12 billion years ago with the power of the Vortex. Clearly, there is a dark side to the Vortex, and this adds depth and intrigue to be explored in the next chapters of the event.
Tag-teaming on art duties, Ed McGuinness and Kris Anka lead the charge with pencils for the book. McGuinness handles the majority of the book, and he captures a multitude of situations, from a cosmic Dungeons and Dragons campaign, to a inexplicably romantic heist, and a massive brawl between the Guardians, X-Men, and Slaughter Squad. He also gets the chance to design several characters transformed into cosmic gods by the Black Vortex, and the results are aesthetically brilliant, combining classic and modern elements of the characters into something truly new. If nothing else, “Black Vortex” will be remembered for these redesigned characters.
Kris Anka is no slouch either, capturing the team in quieter, but no less dynamic scenes, from the first reunion between the Guardians and X-Men in a year, from a eclectic alien orphanage filled with inquisitive extraterrestrial children. Anka excels at exaggerating faces without distorting them, and is able to draw outlandish characters like Groot, Rocket Raccoon, and Beast just as well as the more humanoid characters. But what makes both pencillers truly shine are the colors by Marte Gracia and Marcelo Maiolo. Together, they fill the book with vivid purple and orange hues, and make the colorful costumes worn by the heroes pop out, without becoming a smattering of nonsensical colors.
Overall, The Black Vortex Alpha #1 is a solid start to a cosmic crossover of epic proportions that hits the ground running. Most of the problems of this issue can be chalked up to being the first chapter of a story, and with 12 more issues ahead, there is plenty of room to make up for those. If the crossover is to succeed, the focus needs to stay on the personal effects of the conflict without getting too caught up in the cosmic majesty and massive battles. The Black Vortex itself should be a catalyst for characterization and drama, not an excuse for costume changes and power-ups.