In part 2 of the “Planet of the Symbiotes” arc, the Venom symbiote, thought to have been captured by the Guardians, has done what parasitic aliens do best and escaped captivity, and is bouncing from Guardian to Guardian in in an attempt to commandeer their spaceship for a mysterious reason. Meanwhile, on Planet Spartax, the power vacuum left by the deposition of Star-Lord’s father, J’Son, leaves it’s remaining officials to make an unconventional choice for their next ruler.
It’s refreshing to read a comic that isn’t already tied into fifty-five other events, and instead focuses on advancing it’s own plot. Guardians of the Galaxy #22 is just that. Bendis juggles the two plots well, and the jumps from the Guardian’s exploits to the galactic politics unfolding across the galaxy are just lengthy enough to be interesting, without distracting from the meat of the book: the cat-and-mouse game between the Guardians and the Venom symbiote. Bendis handles this hunt like an homage to Ridley Scott’s Alien; with the symbiote hiding potentially anywhere in the ship, and our heroes bumbling through shadowy mechanical corridors after it.
However, these entertaining sequences come at the cost of some real storytelling potential; Flash Thompson, current host of the Venom symbiote, and a complex character in his own right, is out of action for the entire issue, and at this point, merely feels like a plot device so the Guardians can fight the symbiote. Also, for an issue that is the second part in a three-issue arc, this issue doesn’t really do anything to move the plot of “Planet of the Symbiotes” forward. At the end, the Guardians’ situation is more or less unchanged from the conclusion of last issue, and we are still no closer to the much-advertised symbiote homeworld. This issue potentially sets the stage for a rushed and over-crowded third act.
The real star of this issue is ultimately the art. Valerio Schiti imbues both the humanoid and the whimsical members of the team with equal personality. He also fills the wide shots of the Guardians’ ship with clever easter eggs. Sharp-eyed readers will catch several nods to previous iterations of the team, and the rest of the Marvel Universe in general. Schiti’s interpretation of the Venom symbiote, though, puts all others to shame. Whereas other artists typically render the alien as merely black slime, Schiti’s symbiote has structure and variation, vaguely reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing, without losing the iconic gooey consistency that popularized the symbiote race.
David Lopez, also the regular artist on Captain Marvel, pops in to illustrate the issue’s political segments. Lopez manages to pepper his urban landscapes with enough alien details to seem truly different, and seeing his version of Carol Danvers play in them is a welcome addition. In fact, having the regular artist of Captain Marvel serve as guest artist for Guardians of the Galaxy is a great way to make the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe feel cohesive and more like an actual universe.
All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy #22 manages to somehow be important yet unimportant at the same time. If you’ve ever wondered what the Guardians would look wearing the Venom suit, a fun ride is all you’re after, and the journey is more important to you than the destination, then this is well worth a read.
– Halden Fraley