If there’s one thing I’ve always been adamant about, it’s preparation. Okay, that’s a lie, I’m never prepared, I’m almost always overwhelmed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Regardless, one thing I am overly prepared for is sharing useless comic book knowledge, so it will be my goal and distinct pleasure to be your tour guide into a wonderful world of talking trees and belligerent raccoons. I have made it my sacred mission in life to spread the joy and weirdness of comics, like a communicable disease. Let me infect you (that came out wrong).
Most people that have lived a productive life (not reading comics) have probably never heard of the [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073). A lot of casual passers-by on the street probably have a passing knowledge of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men (word of advice, don't ask passers-by on the street random questions about Spider-Man). Many are now familiar with Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America thanks to the wildly successful Marvel films. Point being, Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon aren’t exactly household names, but they’re about to be, so if you want to be the cool kid (another lie) at the party, reading this will give you the capability of dropping many comic book facts during a conversation, because the ladies (or gentlemen) love comic book facts.
With your social well-being in mind, I’m going to do my best to tell you as much about the history of these wonderful characters as space and sanity will allow. (Like most Marvel movies, I'm sure extensive comic book knowledge won't be required to enjoy the movie, but, uh ... I'd appreciate it if you kept reading anyway.)
Off we go, into a brave new world
First appearance: Marvel Preview #4 (Jan 1976)
Created by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan
Star-Lord was born with the name Peter Quill, both of which are euphemisms for male genitalia, intentional on the part of writer Steve Englehart, who purposefully wanted to see if he could create a hero that was a massive prick. Englehart was also big into astrology at the time, so Peter originally got his abilities and identity of Star-Lord from a space wizard, which is both the best and worst thing I’ve ever heard. Fortunately for movie-going audiences, the space wizard and astrology aspects of Star-Lord have all since been excised from his history in modern comic book appearances. The streamlined version has his mother Meredith meeting an alien that crash-landed on Earth, and while nursing him back to health, they fall in lust for each other. A baby was created, as sometimes happens when lust is indulged, and so the alien father got the heck out of there as fast as he could. This alien was later revealed to be J’son, the king of Spartax, making Peter the prince of a galactic empire. Being of royal blood makes him a bit of a target to rival empires, so hideous and evil aliens of the Badoon traveled to Earth to murder Peter as a young boy. The Badoon succeed in killing Meredith, before Peter uses the weapon J’son left behind to defend himself and kill the Badoon assassins. This has a profound impact on the life of young Peter, as alien assassination attempts tend to do, and he dedicates the rest of his life to helping others, while also helping himself, only he does it while in space. Which makes him better than you.
While Star-Lord was originally created to be a massive jerk, he very quickly became your standard heroic superhero, before being reinvented in recent years as a loveable rogue with Han Solo type charm and funny quips. If you really want to sit down and analyze it, and obviously I do, he’s a product of equal parts compassion from his mother, and selfishness from his jerk father. He’s an enigma wrapped in a pretzel, or whatever the saying is.
Star-Lord would only make sporadic appearances since his debut back in 1976 (which will be a theme for most of these characters) before being revived and reinvented for the 2006 comic book event Annihilation (also a theme). (Annihilation, and its sequel Annihilation: Conquest, were comic book events Marvel published in large part to take advantage of their underused space-faring characters. They will be referred to quite a bit, and are highly recommended for anyone interested in reading more comics.)
First appearance: Tales to Astonish #13 (Nov, 1960)
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created superstar Marvel characters like Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, Unus the Untouchable, and The Hulk, they created a throwaway alien invader by the name of Groot. Back in the days before Marvel began reinventing superhero comics, they were publishing monster-of-the-week science-fiction tales with mutant gorillas and giant ants. As much as names like Monstrom, Gorgilla, Krang, and Vandoom fill my soul (or approximation thereof) with joy, you probably shouldn’t ever read these comics. Unless you’re like me, in which case, I’m so very sorry for you.
Tales to Astonish #13, introduced Groot, the Monarch of Planet X, a sentient tree-like creature that invaded Earth intending to abduct humans for experimentation, before being defeated by termites. No, not special space termites, regular termites. Killed him all the way dead (except not).
After he got better, Groot would only make the most random of appearances over the next 47 years, before being plucked from obscurity by Keith Giffen during the universe-spanning Annihilation: Conquest storyline. (Fun fact: the villain of Annihilation: Conquest was Ultron, who’s about to make a splash as the title villain in the upcoming Avengers movie sequel. Okay, maybe it wasn’t fun for you, but it was for me. Don’t worry, my wife can sympathize.)
DRAX THE DESTROYER
First appearance: Iron Man #55 (Feb, 1973)
Created by Mike Friedrich and Jim Starlin
Drax began life as a normal everyday human being named Arthur Douglas, until his family was brutally murdered by the cosmic villain Thanos (remember the purple faced guy grinning during the mid-credits scene of the Avengers movie, that’s the guy). The cosmic entity Kronos took Arthur’s soul and placed it into a powerful new body, making Drax his champion in the never-ending battle against Thanos. Drax would play a significant part in various battles against Thanos throughout the years, most notably in the classic limited series The Infinity Gauntlet (another comic that will be referenced a lot, and another that is highly recommended).
In 2004, Drax’s appearance and powers were revamped in the four-issue mini-series Drax, losing the goofy purple cape and skull cap, and gaining some pretty sweet tattoos. The mini-series was a precursor to Annihilation, in which Drax would play a major role. He would continue on from there into Annihilation: Conquest, and my heart.
First appearance: Strange Tales #180 (Jun, 1975)
Created by Jim Starlin
Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, and the last of her species, which pretty much means her life sucked early on. She was raised as an assassin by Thanos, who intended for her to one day kill a character by the name of Magus, who was an evil alternate future version of a character by the name of Adam Warlock (not enough space to cover here). Apparently Gamora became quite good at the assassin thing, as she earned the title of “deadliest woman in the galaxy.” With the help of Adam Warlock, she would eventually come to realize that Thanos was too big of a threat to the universe, and joined the Avengers in trying to defeat him.
Gamora had significant parts in storylines like The Infinity Gauntlet and The Infinity Watch, alongside Drax and Adam Warlock, but only sporadic appearances before playing a prominent role in Annihilation.
First appearance: Marvel Preview #7 (Summer, 1976)
Created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen
Rocket Raccoon was created as a nod to the 1968 Beatles song Rocky Raccoon. He made his first appearance on one page of a back-up story in Marvel Preview, before making a more substantial appearance in Incredible Hulk #271. In 1985, he received his own self-titled four–issue mini-series, by Mantlo and artist Mike Mignola (who would later go on to create a character by the name of Hellboy). In the series, Rocket serves as the “Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant,” and hails from a planet called Halfworld, an abandoned refuge for the mentally ill where animals were genetically manipulated and anthropomorphized to be the caretakers of the patients left behind there. It’s a real acid trip of a comic story, with talking animals and evil clowns (which is exactly how I envision my ideal birthday party).
Not surprisingly, the mini-series was not a massive success, and Rocket pretty much disappeared until his co-creator Keith Giffen brought him back in Annihilation: Conquest, where he obviously had a significant role. (I recently got a Rocket Raccoon tattoo, which would normally be like triple-stamping my virginity, except I’m already married.)
First appearance: Avengers #257 (Jul, 1985)
Created by Roger Stern and John Buscema
Nebula burst on the scene claiming to be the granddaughter of Thanos, and together with a band of space pirates, came into conflict against the Avengers, Firelord, and the Silver Surfer, on various occasions. When Thanos gained control of the Infinity Gauntlet, giving him god-like omnipotent power, he used that power to (among other things) torture Nebula, who he denied any relation to. During a moment of distraction, Nebula actually wrests the gauntlet away from Thanos, giving her the power, before the heroes band together to defeat her and dismantle the powerful object (spoiler alert). Nebula has largely been inconsequential since, and was last seen as one of Gamora’s followers during Annihilation.
It appears that the backstory for Nebula will be much different for the purposes of the movie. Thanos adopts her (which sounds much more benevolent and less murder-y of families than it probably is) and raises her as an assassin alongside Gamora, with the two of them spending their childhoods fighting and training against each other. This suggests that Nebula will serve as the dark mirror to Gamora, who changed her ways and fights for the forces of goodness and fun. I like this backstory much better than the comic version.
RONAN THE ACCUSER
First appearance: Fantastic Four #65 (Aug, 1967)
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Ronan hails from Planet Hala, capitol of the militaristic alien Kree empire. He becomes a member of their accuser corps, who serve as military governors and judge-jury-executioners, eventually rising to the exalted role of Supreme Accuser. He would spend most of his comic history as a villain, fighting the Fantastic Four and Captain Mar-Vell on multiple occasions.
During Annihilation, Ronan is falsely accused of treason, but he quickly learns he was framed by prominent members of the ruling Kree House. Aiding the heroes in saving the universe, Ronan clears his name, executes the corrupt leadership of his people, and becomes supreme ruler of the Kree empire. He would continue serving as a powerful ally for the forces of good in Annihilation: Conquest and Guardians of the Galaxy.
THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
The first team to ever call itself the Guardians of the Galaxy was created in 1969, and actually operated in the far future of the Marvel universe (the 31st century to be precise). They debuted in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes #18, and achieved varying levels of success throughout their publication history (a 1990s series by Jim Valentino being the peak). This team has very little to do with the version that will appear in the movie, though original member Yondu, a blue-skinned archer with a Mohawk, will appear in the movie played by Michael Rooker.
The groundwork for the team that will be featured in the movie started with Annihilation: Conquest, written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Groot (and other characters not important right now) would team up to help prevent Ultron and a techno-organic race called the Phalanx from taking over the universe. Drax and Gamora would join them for the climatic battle. The following year, they would make their official debut as a team in a brand new Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series. The series was loved by a core group of fans, but ultimately didn’t sell enough to prevent cancellation. In the final storyline, The Thanos Imperative, Star-Lord and the original Nova seemingly sacrifice their lives to stop Thanos once and for all (also a highly recommended comic book). Star-Lord and Thanos later reappear alive and well in the Avengers Assemble series, with the details of their return as yet unrevealed.
Thankfully, a brand new Guardians of the Galaxy series launched in late 2013, written by fan favorite comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, with art by Steve McNiven, who redesigned many of the characters appearances. World domination is sure to follow.
There you have it. I tried to keep this as simple and succinct as is possible for me, which probably isn’t very much, but hopefully you found something of interest in the random collection of words and punctuation above. If not, it was a big waste of time for you, and I can empathize if not apologize for that. I’ll try to do better next time.
I have written far more extensively about Annihilation and the Guardians of the Galaxy at The Comics Cube, starting here.