Even heroes eventually grow old, if fate is kind to them. In Wastelanders: Star-Lord by Sarah Cawkwell, Peter Quill, A.K.A. Star-Lord, and Rocket Raccoon have managed to achieve old age. But they’re no longer the heroes they once were. The rest of the Guardians are gone, it’s just Quill and Rocket trying to make ends meet. So they take a questionable job from an unknown employer for a huge sum of credits. What could possibly go wrong? Since it’s the Guardians, the answer is everything. Everything could, and will, go wrong.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Aconyte for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of Wastelanders: Star-Lord contains some spoilers!]
Time comes for us all, even Star-Lord
The Guardians of the Galaxy were once heroes known across the universe. They had even saved it a few times. But that was then. Now, Quill and Rocket are just a couple of mercenary thieves pulling jobs to scrape by. Their latest one is set up with someone they don’t know doing who knows what. When they show up to meet with the client they discover it’s the new Collector.
She wants the Guardians to track down an item called the Black Vortex. It’s an ancient object of immense cosmic power. Legend has it that if someone is willing to submit to the Vortex then they will be granted unlimited power. To ensure that the Guardians don’t double-cross her, the Collector tricks them into putting on adamantium guillotine necklaces that will decapitate them in exactly one week if they don’t deliver the Black Vortex to her. The Collector provides them with a map to the Black Vortex. The map leads them back to Earth, to the black hills of South Dakota. But the map is incomplete (of course). So once they get to Earth they still have some searching to do.
Unfortunately, their return to Earth isn’t quite the triumphant arrival that Peter Quill envisions. They crash land in a desolate wasteland that used to be the American midwest after being attacked without warning as they approached Earth. They quickly learn that Earth is not the planet they left so many years ago.
Furthermore, in true Guardian fashion, they manage to run afoul of the authorities pretty much as soon as they land. Now they get to search for the Black Vortex while avoiding capture. As time begins to run out for Quill and Rocket, it turns out that they’re not the only ones looking for the Black Vortex. Others seek its formidable power for their own villainous reasons. Will Rocket and Quill find it in time to avoid a gruesome death? And what will be the cost to recover this dangerous cosmic relic?
What happens when heroes age?
What I found most interesting about Wastelanders: Star-Lord was seeing Peter Quill and Rocket as old men (okay, Rocket’s not a man, but you get it). Heroes are always presented as young and virile. But if we’re supposed to really think of them as real people then eventually, assuming they aren’t killed, they will get old. While it might be hard for us to see our heroes get old, think about what it must be like for them. To go from being super powerful and saving the world to being weak and vulnerable has to be really hard on someone psychologically.
Showing Rocket and Quill like this humanizes them and makes them feel very real. But the inspiring thing is that even if their bodies aren’t what they once were, their spirits are still those of heroes. When they see an injustice they are compelled to act. It’s not so surprising out of Quill, his boyish enthusiasm and slightly warped view of himself and his abilities have always driven him to do great things. But Rocket has always worked so hard to appear disaffected. So when his golden heart comes shining through it’s a real heart-wrencher. And it makes a great point that we can all be heroes, even if we aren’t the perfect archetype like Captain America or Superman.
That Guardians humor with a Grumpy Old Men twist
The Guardians of the Galaxy are known for being the funny bunch of Marvel. They always have a lot of zingy one-liners and a huge part of their charm comes from the way they bounce comedic retorts off each other. Cawkwell keeps this humor alive in Wastelanders: Star-Lord but mixes it with a Grumpy Old Men vibe as Rocket and Quill rip on each other.
Their chemistry is absolutely hilarious. And the care and sentiment that obviously lies just under their barbed words make it endearing. I loved how they were constantly going at each other but in the way that best friends or old married couples do. You can feel the love and it’s a great feeling. Their squabbling somehow makes them more likable. It works very well for them and it’s exactly how I would have envisioned these two aging if I had thought about it before reading Wastelanders.
Another Marvel hit with Wastelanders: Star-Lord
Cawkwell manages to cash in on that Marvel magic with Wastelanders: Star-Lord. She really nails the blend of comedy and emotion that works so well for Marvel. Now it should be mentioned that she adapted her tale from a scripted podcast by Benjamin Percy. So the overall story isn’t her creation. That nod goes to Percy and he absolutely created a great story. But Cawkwell has filled in the basic story and dialogue with a rich background and internal worlds that are very enjoyable.
Anyone who likes Marvel, and especially Guardians of the Galaxy fans will love seeing how that band of misfits ended up as they aged. Just be aware, this story isn’t all fun. There are a lot of emotions explored in Wastelanders: Star-Lord and readers should keep a box of tissues handy, they’re gonna need it. So make sure to check out the newest Guardians adventure now!
My Rating: 9/10
Wastelanders: Star-Lord by Sarah Cawkwell is available now from Aconyte Books! Will you be checking this one out? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.