Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Overdue Fourth Guardian


Practically every super-group Marvel has formed has had a character who mainly filled out the roster--someone who wasn't really in the same league as the other characters, but who was felt to have other things to contribute and who would serve to balance out the team's power quotient. Ant-Man and the Wasp would fit that description for the Avengers; Sue Storm for the Fantastic Four; Nighthawk for the Defenders; the Angel for the Champions; Tigra for the West Coast Avengers; a toss-up between Marvel Girl and the Angel for the X-Men. For the original Guardians of the Galaxy, who premiered in January of 1969, you might think the team's member in that respect would be the vulnerable Vance Astro--"the 1000-year-old man" who at first had to guard against his copper suit being punctured, exposing him to air and causing him to age rapidly to his death (nevermind how the guy managed to breathe); but Astro would prove to be resourceful as well as a decisive leader, and he also had a formidable "psyke-blast" to use against opponents.

The Jovian, Charlie-27, of course had his massive bulk and strength, gained when his form was adapted at birth to withstand the conditions of his home, Jupiter--while Martinex's crystalline form was similarly adapted for life on Pluto, combined with the ability to convert light waves into extremes of heat or cold. Which left us with Yondu--a native of Centauri-IV, the planet Astro would arrive at after his 1000-year journey from Earth. Yondu's name was just used once in that first issue, and only by a Badoon guard in passing; and while Centauri-IV was an Earth colony, he couldn't share the same sense of pride that the other three Earthmen did when they chanted "Earth shall overcome!" when they decided to band together to bring humanity back from the brink. Yet Yondu could still battle alongside the three against the enslaving Badoon, who had given him common cause with these men when the aliens conquered his own race along with Earth and its other colonies--and he had other things to bring to the table, though it didn't seem so at first glance.

A good example of that would be his introduction, where he and Astro have been captured and brought before the Badoon in order to mock Astro's pointless historic journey:



Yondu and Astro have no real connection at this point; instead, their bond will be formed "on the job," when Astro tricks the Badoon into returning Yondu's bow. But as we'll see, Yondu's weaponry is given much more exposure than Yondu himself:




And if you're agreeing that there's little of substance to Yondu here, you may have stopped to ask yourself: If the "living metal" of Yondu's yaka arrows reacts with his whistle commands to make a much more deadly projectile, why would he need to be given a bow?

The story perhaps takes Yondu's "native" status on his world a little too far, giving him rudimentary speech and instinctive reactions to hostility while in the company of Astro; even in later stories where the Guardians are more developed, he would be regarded as a "primitive" by his teammates, if a highly respected one. When we next see the Guardians, he's at least been given something of an upgrade:



It's a sensible label to give him, one that doesn't really change the character but acts to perhaps reveal abilities he always possessed--and the Guardians would definitely benefit from having a weapons master on the team. Though we'd later see that his more classic talent had been retained:



Despite the return of the yaka arrow, I was gratified to see that Yondu was being handled much better--perhaps not given the degree of exposure that the others received (in a way, you could say the same for Martinex), but developed in ways that made sense for the more spiritual character that he would be revealed to be. And when the Guardians received their own limited series, the journey he was beginning showed a decent amount of promise:




On the other hand, this scene also demonstrates the possibility that the series might pour on Yondu's spiritual nature a little too heavily, which would have his character bordering on becoming a cliché; the Guardians don't need David Carradine as a member, after all. But for the present, Yondu's development has finally allowed him to "balance" the Guardians, rather than detract from them. Now that Earth has been freed from the Badoon, and the Guardians have chosen to pick up the pieces of their lives off-world with their enigmatic fifth companion, Starhawk, it seems that Yondu is now a full-fledged member of this group, rather than on the fast track to becoming a fifth wheel.

(But what do you say we either toss that bow overboard, or ditch the yaka-metal arrows, eh?)

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