Wednesday, January 20, 2010

IMPERIAL GUARD #1-#3, January - March 1997

Imperious Wrecks!

Credits: Brian Augustyn (writer), Chuck Wojtkiewicz (penciler), Ray Snyder (inker), Brad Vancata (colors), Jon Babcock (letters)

This is a bit of a curiosity. Terry Kavanagh is credited with editing this comic, even though he left Marvel’s staff years earlier. It was mentioned in the Bullpen Bulletins around this time that Kavanagh returned for a few weeks to help during the holiday rush, but it doesn’t seem like he would’ve been there long enough to oversee a three-issue miniseries. Chuck Wojtkiewicz is a penciler who I believe showed up as a fill-in artist on comics Kavanagh edited in the early ‘90s, and this mini is hand-lettered, which was already rare at Marvel by this time. Connecting this deeper to the early ‘90s is a Malcolm X baseball hat worn by a random pedestrian. However, the story explicitly takes place after the Onslaught crossover, and ties in to the Shi’ar/Phalanx storyline that was running in Uncanny X-Men at the time. So, was this mini sitting in a drawer for a few years or not? It’s possible that it was, and a few tweaks were made to fit it into continuity. Or maybe I’m just thinking too much.

This is a rare Marvel job for Brian Augustyn, so maybe it’s fitting that he’s writing a team of Legion of Superhero stand-ins. With the exception of Mentor (who’s clearly supposed to be LoSH’s Brainiac 5), Augustyn actually isn’t playing up their similarities, but he is keeping the tone similar to that of a less-crazy Silver Age DC comic. It certainly doesn’t feel like anything the X-office was producing at the time. The story has the Imperial Guard assigned to Earth, on a mission to observe, and protect us backwards creatures if necessary. Gladiator is upset that the Shi’ar Empire has been attacked while they’re away, but he respects Lilandra’s order to stay on Earth. This leads directly to his appearance in Uncanny X-Men #341, which had him sending the X-Men to help the Shi’ar in his place. While on Earth, the Imperial Guard face the Underground Militia, an anti-superhero paramilitary group. The story ends with Gladiator mysteriously losing his powers during the fight. Augustyn isn’t doing anything momentous here, but it’s an entertaining action comic, and the Guard is at least given hints of a personality. Wojtkiewicz’s art, which resembles an early McFarlane without the elaborate detail lines, is distractingly ugly, though.

Up From the Depths

Credits: Brian Augustyn (writer), Chuck Wojtkiewicz (penciler), Ray Snyder (inker), Brad Vancata & Graphic Color Works (colors), Phil Felix (letters)

Following last issue’s cliffhanger, the rest of the Imperial Guard succumb to the radiation that overpowered Gladiator. Only the newest member, the Kree soldier known as Commando, is able to endure, due to a mysterious rush of energy. Later, Commando has a sudden burst of inspiration that tells him that the Underground Militia is actually a group of pink-skinned Kree Freemen. They want revenge on Earth’s superheroes, due to the events of “Operation Galactic Storm.” Apparently, the Avengers are somehow responsible for the destruction of the Kree’s planet, although this is really the biased account of the villains. (The post-Onslaught status quo of the Marvel Universe is an awkward place to set this story, since most, if not all, of the Avengers involved in that story are believed dead during this time.) Tying this deeper to the mainstream Marvel Universe is a Rick Jones cameo. After it’s helpfully pointed out that he used to hang with the Avengers, he suddenly has a cosmic vision that ends with him developing blue skin. This, obviously, has very little to do with the X-Men. The Imperial Guard first appeared in Uncanny X-Men, but so did Alpha Flight and the modern-day Ka-Zar. That doesn’t mean their corner boxes should have giant “X” logos either.

A Mad God Awakens

Credits: Brian Augustyn (writer), Chuck Wojtkiewicz (penciler), Ray Snyder (inker), Brad Vancata & Graphic Color Works (colors), Janice Chiang (letters)

Primus, the leader of the Kree Freeman, unleashes his plan to expose Earth to radiation he harvested from the remains of the Kree’s planet. A mysterious voice grants Rick Jones power, which he uses to aid the Imperial Guard against Primus. After Gladiator disposes of the reactor and Rick absorbs the radiation, the Kree Supreme Intelligence reveals himself. He’s been manipulating all of these events so that he can reemerge on Earth. Commando’s character arc is completed, as he rejects the Supreme Intelligence and sides with his teammates in the Imperial Guard. This is all traditional superhero material, right down to the churlish new member who eventually warms up to his teammates and becomes a true hero at the end. Even though there aren’t any surprises here, Augustyn does a competent job throughout the mini. It’s too bad Wojtkiewicz’s art never finds its footing, though. And, really, labeling this an X-book wasn’t exactly fair to the readers. It was already hard enough to be an X-completist during this era; grouping an unrelated miniseries under the X-banner while a thousand other limited series and one-shots were being released was extremely shortsighted and greedy.


Matt said...

I really liked this mini when it came out, but I was always a fan of the Imperial Guard characters to begin with -- particularly Nightside, who happens to be one of the members chosen to star here.

I think I re-read it a few years later and thought it was just "okay." I haven't looked at it since, though.

Teebore said...

so did Alpha Flight and the modern-day Ka-Zar. That doesn’t mean their corner boxes should have giant “X” logos either.

Very true, but Marvel really tried to get Alpha Flight, at least, under the X banner at various times.

I don't think they ever branded it as such, but they came pretty dang close IIRC.

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