You've seen and loved the film! After doing so, you may have been intrigued enough to look into the comic book and its history. If so, you may well have been stunned at how complex and intricate that history is. For you, here is a simplified, easy-to-red real-world-perspective guide to the history of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
When I first heard that Marvel was planning on making a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, my first reaction was the same as many: “What is Guardians of the Galaxy?” I soon found out that it was a comic book that had only been launched in 2008. Intrigued, I tried to look more into the history, and was just about overwhelmed by what I found.
The problem with Guardians of the Galaxy is that it is not just a simple comic book series with a singular history, like Spider-Man. Rather, like the Avengers, it pulls together various characters from throughout Marvel’s history, in this case, characters that occupy the cosmic side of the universe, the interplanetary, space-saga stories. Yet, unlike the Avengers, these are not popular characters who carried their own title, but rather, more obscure figures from around the universe, who often debuted in other titles. In addition, the film in question features several villains also culled from their own spheres of the Marvel Universe. Looking into the history of one of these character leads into looking into another, and another. It is diving into a tremendous pool of stories in a process that seems to never ends (i.e., a universe).
After a long, long time of researching, I have finally compile a record that sums up the history of these characters and events leading into the series itself. This article does not seek to summarize the events in the series itself, merely it's origins over several decades. If you are someone who likes to know the backstory of what they see onscreen, this should help you to better appreciate the film, or even make you able to pick up the comics' first issue, or watch the film, with adequate knowledge.
Besides the Guardians themselves, Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon, other Marvel Comics characters featured in the film are the villains Thanos, Ronan the Accuser and Korath the Pursuer (and their race, the Kree), Nebula, and The Collector, as well as the hero Yondu, and the organization called the Nova Corps. Whether these at all elements of the Marvel Universe factor into the Guardians series, or are simply adapted into the movie, I have included their comics history here, for those who wish to know the history of what they’re see onscreen.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the history of the Guardians of the Galaxy!
1950: Marvel Boy
In what is possibly Stan Lee's first still-canonical creation, the character of Marvel Boy first appeared in Marvel Boy #1 (Dec. 1950) by Stan Lee & Russ Heath. The character, Robert Grayson, was the son of a Jewish scientist who fled Earth during the rise of the Nazis, settling on the Uranus, where Robert was raised among the Uranian people. When he came of age, Robert was given a pair of very powerful energy bracelets. He used these to return to Earth and fight crime as the superhero Marvel Boy!
Marvel Boy's series was soon changed to Astonishing, and he stopped appearing after issue #7 in Dec. 1951.
Tales to Astonish #13 (Nov. 1960), by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, introduced the character of Groot. Even this was still before the creation of The Fantastic Four, usually dubbed the debut of Stan Lee's Silver Age of Comics.
In the story, Groot is a wood-based alien who falls to Earth and grows larger by absorbing wooden objects into himself. He arrives at a community and tells the people there that he is the monarch of Planet X, and that he has come to take a small human community back to his home world to study. Able to control trees and plants, he plans on using them to create a massive net to allow him to carry the town into space. The townspeople have no luck in defeating him until a scientist unleashes a makeshift army of termites at him, destroying him.
This story was fairly isolated, but never forgotten, and was eventually made a part of the Marvel Universe. Replicas of the various creatures featured in Tales to Astonish, including Groot , would be produced to menace the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk Annual #5 (Nov. 1976). Peter Parker would later have a dream featuring Groot in Sensational Spider-Man #1 (Jul. 1997).
1966: The Collector
The Avengers #28 (May 1966) by Stan Lee & Don Heck, introduced the villain The Collector, a mysterious little man who enjoyed collecting unique objects from all existence. In his first appearance, he was interested in The Wasp as a unique individual. He appeared as a recurring character ever since, and would ultimately be revealed as one of the eons-old cosmic beings of the universe.
1967: The Kree, Ronan, & Captain Marvel
Fantastic Four #64-65 (Jul.-Aug. 1967) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the Kree. When the Fantastic Four find and accidentally reactivate one of this ancient race’s ancient robotic sentries, they are forced to combat and destroy it. In the following issue, the Kree, a militaristic race, become interested in Earth once again, and send an accuser (their form of a law-enforcement individual) called Ronan to put them on trial. The Kree, and Ronan, continued to be mostly villainous presences for a long time.
This introduction preceded the debut of the new superhero, Captain Marvel, essentially a Kree soldier left on Earth, four months later, in Marvel Super-Heroes #12 by Roy Thomas & Gene Colan. He is pictured here in his first appearance and his later, better, costume.
Fantastic Four #66-67 (Sept.-Oct. 1967), also by Lee and Kirby, introduced “Him,” a superpowered human being created by the genetic experimentation of a corrupt group of scientists called “The Enclave." In the end, the being destroys his creators and escapes. He would later have a run-in with Thor in Thor #165-166 (Jun.-Jul. 1969) before being more expanded on as a character.
The character of Annihilus first appeared in Fantastic Four Annual #6 (Nov. 1968) by Lee and Kirby. Essentially, he is an alien warlord from the Negative Zone (the alternate dimension that Reed Richards discovered) who continually tries to break into our own and conquer.
1969: The Original Guardians of the Galaxy
The first team called “Guardians of the Galaxy” debuted in The Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (Jan. 1969) by Arnold Drake & Gene Colan. The team would make sporadic appearances in various comics over the next couple of decades, not getting their own series until the 1990s. Although the stories apparently took place in the future of a universe separate from the main Marvel one, the characters would still occasionally cross over with our favorite Marvel heroes, and eventually, the new Guardians
The story followed a 20th century astronaut named Vance Astro, who spends a thousand years in suspended animation while traveling to the Alpha Centauri system. Once there, he unites with a group of aliens, each the last of their kind, in a struggle against an evil alien force called The Badoon, who wish to conquer, of all places, Earth.
Frankly, the details of the team members aren’t important. One member of the team, however, the blue-skinned alien Yondu, or at least some version of him, appears in the film.
1972: Adam Warlock
The character of “Him” was revived, and given the new name of Adam Warlock, in Marvel Premiere #1 (Apr. 1972) by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, which then spun off into the series The Power of Warlock, Essentially, the character encounters the cosmic being know as the High Evolutionary, who entrusted him with the powerful object called the “Soul Gem” as he continued to have adventures in outer space. The series ran only eight issues from Aug. 1972-Oct. 1973.
1973-1974: The Thanos War
From February 1973 to July 1974 took place a massive storyline by writer-artist Jim Starlin with writer Mike Friedrich, that would introduce Thanos to the Marvel Universe. In Iron Man #55 we are introduced to Saturn’s moon Titan, which actually has an advanced, idyllic civilization living beneath the visible surface. The ruler of this civilization is called Mentor, and he fights a war against his own son, Thanos, who seeks to usurp power with an army of mercenaries pulled from around the galaxy. Mentor appeals for help to the cosmic being known as Kronos, who creates, from the ground itself, Drax the Destroyer, a powerful being whose sole purpose is to defeat Thanos. Their battle brings them to Earth, where Drax enlists the help of Iron Man, before continuing the war on Titan.
This storyline would then mainly take place over nine issues of Captain Marvel, #25-33, and spill over into Daredevil #104-107, Marvel Feature #12, and The Avengers #125.
In the main story, Thanos has since succeeded in conquering Titan. Now, his forces attack Captain Marvel, and ultimately kidnap his sidekick Rick Jones to learn the location of the Cosmic Cube (the cube, Rick’s knowledge of its location, and his relationship with Captain Marvel, are all their own story). Thanos goes on a quest and finds the cube.
Over the course of this story, a greater history is revealed. Kronos, as it turns out, is the actual Kronos (or Cronus) of Greek myth. But contrary to mythology, he was a peace-loving man and scientist. In addition to the gods of myth, he he had another son, A'Lars. One day one of his experiments went wrong, which transformed him into the cosmic being we now see. The throne of Olympus was then taken by his more savage son Zeus, who banished his peace-loving brother A'Lars the to the stars. He ended up arriving on the moon Titan, which civil war had torn apart. There, he met the lone survivor, a woman named Sui-San, whom he married. Together, they formed a new civilization on Titan, and had two sons, Eros and Thanos, and A'Lars became known as Mentor.
A related story in Daredevil also introduces Moon Dragon (previously shown as an apparently misunderstood "villain" called Madame MacEvil in Iron Man #54), a woman born on Earth as Heather Douglas, but raised on Titan. It is shown that her family was killed in a car accident as a little girl, and she was taken by a benevolent visitor from Titan, and there she has developed great mental powers. After the events of Daredevil, she allies up with Captain Marvel, Drax, and even the Avengers, to defeat Thanos. Later, it is revealed that the mind of Moon Dragon’s father, Arthur Douglas, was persevered by Kronos, and ultimately formed into none other than Drax.
In the end, Thanos gains the cosmic cube, and uses its power to become one with the universe. However, by smashing the cube itself, Captain Marvel apparently manages to kill Thanos. Despite now remembering his previous life, Drax now feels his purpose is finished, and leaves to wander the stars.
Next up: Star Lord!