Review by C.J. Bunce
Guardians of the Galaxy–the game–is space fantasy action with comedy notes, available now at Amazon for PS4, PS5, XBox, and more. A new tie-novel is a prequel to the game, and it’s not a book to be overlooked. After more than a decade of reviewing nearly every tie-in novel produced by Marvel and DC, I’m going to say M.K. England’s Guardians of the Galaxy: No Guts, No Glory is a contender for the top spot. You need to get a lot right when you’re crafting a tie-in for familiar characters–one wrong bit of dialogue and you’re sunk. It’s going to be more of a challenge if the team you’re writing about is as diverse and different as the members of the crew of the spaceship Milano. You don’t need to know anything about the game to jump right in, and readers will find the characters and their backstories are 99% consistent with the characters as seen on the big screen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And fans of the comics can look forward to 300 pages of humorous banter among these beloved space adventurers.
The Guardians–Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, Thanos’s adopted daughter Gamora, Drax the Destroyer (and rumored killer of Thanos), and the dynamic duo of Rocket and Groot–make up the ship’s crew, and this is in large part a “space-faring vessel” story. Think space navy. Think Aliens and Firefly, not Star Trek’s more organized Enterprise (but there are some scenes that evoke “Yesterday’s Enterprise”). Think of that feel of real-world soldiering that was expanded into the future in Edge of Tomorrow, while maintaining the intrigue and grounded beats of The Hunt for Red October. Yes, this is less the typical “space marines” story and more naval strategy vibe. But that’s just the framework.
If you paid close attention to the Marvel movies, you may know that the races and places referenced in Captain Marvel are closely linked to the Guardians. As far as I am concerned, you can scrap any mention of the Avengers going forward and just focus on expanding the space fantasy world of Marvel, and a story like this one would be the right start.
Not only does it stand strong as one of the best superhero tie-ins to date, its characterizations of the members of the Guardians, especially the dialogue, are perfect. England knows these characters and captures the essence of each, the family squabbles, and that required, convoluted journey back again to camaraderie.
New characters are rarely as strong as the familiar leads in tie-ins, and the balance between development of new characters and delivering what fans want of the key characters is often askew, but that’s not the case here. The soldier leader Ko-Rel, expanded and adapted from a Dan Abnett character from a brief run of comics in 2007, is a superb character that now needs to be pulled into the movies. Her story is shuffled into this novel twelve years before the current events of Peter Quill’s latest, failed mission to make some money. As walking disaster, sci-fi captains are concerned, at least in worlds of the tie-in novels, Star-Lord leaves Mal Reynolds in his dust.
Readers will want to know more about everyone who comes and goes. Yes, this absolutely fun romp will make you wish Disney would dump the rest of the Marvel movies and spend all its money on an ongoing Guardians of the Galaxy Disney Plus streaming series. The world of Guardians is layered with many great environments from Knowhere to Mercury to the Kyln. This is far from the “same old, same old” of the Marvel superhero movies and series. It’s so much fun to get sucked into. It also contains a good mystery.
Bonus points to England for Drax’s literal interpretations, especially not understanding phrases like “splitting hairs.” Brilliant choices! The last chapter is a solid springboard into the video game, too (but don’t look for Lady Hellbender in this story).
Highly recommended as one of the best reads of 2022, for fans of the game, the characters, or anyone who loved the previously reviewed game tie-in Guardians of the Galaxy: The Art of the Game (reviewed here), Guardians of the Galaxy: No Guts, No Glory is now available in paperback here at Amazon from Titan Books.