‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Primer: All the Questions You Need Answered About Marvel’s Super-Weird Superhero Team
Who are these Guardians of the Galaxy people?
Great question. The Guardians are based on the second iteration of the Marvel Comics space-based superhero team of the same name. They–
Wait, there was a previous Guardians of the Galaxy team?
Yes. Don’t worry about it. It’s pretty complicated in that totally comic-book-y, alternate-dimensions way.
OK, so who are these Guardians of the Galaxy people? And what’s up with the talking raccoon and the tree guy and the green people?
The Guardians of the Galaxy are a space-based superhero team, based on the Marvel Comic of the same name, consisting of five bipedal eukaryotes of varying planetary extraction.
These characters were all created in the 1970s, a decade that began with Jimi Hendrix dying, ended with disco, and was basically Quaaludes, prog-rock, Led Zeppelin, and a bunch of serial killers in the middle. So, the Guardians’ comic origin stories are b-a-n-a-n-a-s.
The Guardians are…
Rocket Raccoon: an anthropomorphic raccoon from the planet Halfworld. Rocket is an arms and explosives expert as well as an accomplished pilot.
Created by writer Bill Mantlo and artists Keith Giffen and Terry Austin, Rocket was inspired by the Beatles song “Rocky Raccoon” and in fact was originally named Rocky in his 1976 debut in Marvel Preview no. 7 (a quarterly title with black-and-white artwork, kind of Marvel’s rip-off of Heavy Metal), presumably before the lawyers got involved. Rocket’s backstory would be explored six years later in The Incredible Hulk no. 271, written by Bill Mantlo with art by Sal Buscema. The issue features a truly insane story in which the Hulk wakes up on the planet Halfworld, a world that’s half sentient machines and half sentient animals (why didn’t Hulk turn back into Banner when he was sleeping?), where he ends up allying himself with Rocket and his buddy Wal Rus (yes, a talking walrus) against the forces of an interstellar industrialist mole named Judson Jakes. I know the words in the previous sentences don’t really make sense in that order, but stick with me.
Drax the Destroyer: A once-human real-estate agent and former jazz saxophonist; now a citizen of Saturn’s moon Titan.
Drax’s government name was Art Douglas, and he apparently used to smoke a pipe, sell real estate, and look like Will Ferrell in Anchorman. Back in 1953, Art was making the drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles after seeing Elvis at the International Hotel and Casino. Thanos, the Mad Titan, was scouting the earth for future conquest when he thought that Art had spotted his rocket ship, so he killed the Douglas family with a laser beam. Which is just kind of a classic Thanos thing to do. (Actually, in the comics, young Heather Douglas survived and eventually became the telepath known as Moondragon. Does that matter? I don’t know. Maybe.) Thanos’s father, Mentor, intercepts Art’s immortal soul while it is floating around between dimensions, and, with the help of the gaseous cosmic entity Kronos, uses it to create Drax the Destroyer, a living weapon designed to do one thing: kill Thanos. Anyway, that might be the worst origin story of any Marvel cinematic hero.
Wait, why do I know who Thanos is?
You’ve either (1) read Marvel comic books, or (2) watched The Avengers and were like, “Who is this dude with the wrinkly chin at the end of the movie and why are all these nerds so excited?” and then someone who read the comic books told you who the guy was. But let me get back to the Guardians before I start in with the villains…
Groot: a floral Colossus from Planet X. He’s the muscle, and best friends with Rocket.
Debuting in the Marvel anthology series Tales to Astonish in 1960, Groot’s original incarnation was as your typical alien invader looking for humans for experimental off-world orifice-probing. The modern incarnation of Groot has been retconned into your basic strong-but-cuddly good guy whose entire vocabulary consists of the words “I,” “am,” and “Groot,” always vocalized in that order. He’s like Hodor, but a tree, and with 300 percent more things to say. He’s also very hard to kill; Groot can regrow parts of himself that have been destroyed. For some reason, he (?) and Rocket have formed a tight bond of friendship.
Gamora: A genetically augmented, highly trained Zen Whoberi assassin.
Gamora is known by the charming title “The most dangerous woman in the universe.” She’s the last surviving member of the planet and species Zen Whoberi. After her planet was wiped out by a rapacious alien race known as the Badoon, Thanos found her and raised her as his daughter, while also experimenting on her and training her as a professional killer. Gamora is highly proficient with all manner of weaponry and hand-to-hand combat. She’s like a much meaner, much more mentally coherent version of River from Firefly.
Peter Quill, a.k.a. “Star-Lord”: a native of Earth. He’s the pilot and leader of the team, inasmuch as this outfit actually has a leader.
The best way to think of Star-Lord is as a poor man’s Han Solo; he’s your basic space-jerk with a heart of gold. (Or, technically, since both Solo and Quill — and Grantland — are Disney properties, perhaps it’s more accurate to say a really wealthy man’s Han Solo.) He’s your basic space-jerk with a heart of gold, even if that heart is coated in a thin layer of space-slime. Fun fact: Steve Englehart, Star-Lord’s co-creator, named him that because “Peter Quill — Peter as a reference to a dick, and Quill as a reference to a dick.” Quill is a smuggler, a thief, and has a fondness for the opposite sex of various alien species. Quill was kidnapped from Earth as a child, which explains his sentimental attachment to 1980s Earth technology.
OK, can we get back to Thanos?
Created by writer and artist Jim Starlin, Thanos has been a core Marvel villain for 40-plus years. A native of Saturn’s moon, Titan, Thanos is a super-strong, power-mad alien who has a crush on death. Like, he is actually in love with the Mistress Death, the female embodiment of the end of life, and basically everything he does — stuff like killing everyone in the galaxy — he does to impress her.
One of the things Thanos is kind of known for is the Infinity Gauntlet; he’s always trying to assemble the Infinity Gauntlet, or about to use the Infinity Gauntlet, or actually using the Infinity Gauntlet. The Infinity Gauntlet is a glove with six Infinity Gems embedded in it, which imbues the wearer with the ability to manipulate time, space, and the very fabric of reality; it’s essentially a cheat code to the universe.
So is Thanos is the main villain in the movie?
No, the main villain is Ronan the Accuser. Ronan is a member of the Kree race, one of the O.G. alien societies of the Marvel Universe. He’s a large, unyielding blue alien with a sledgehammer. Fun fact about the Kree: All of their history and culture is stored in a huge biological computer called “The Supreme Intelligence,” which is basically a 20-foot-tall green head with tentacle hair in a vat of bubbling liquid, though you might be disappointed if you’re holding your breath to see that in the movie.
How is this movie connected to the other Marvel movies?
Thanos was the first (non-shawarma) post-credit reveal in The Avengers, and the character’s comics history is significantly intertwined with the Guardians, as mentioned above. Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige has mentioned that the Tesseract from Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers is actually one of the Infinity Gems, and many comics fans believe that the Aether substance from Thor: The Dark World is another. So, summer of 2018 will probably feature Josh Brolin’s Thanos wielding the sparkly glove of ultimate power in the third Avengers movie.
Now that I know everything there is to know, should I see this movie?
I’m not here to tell you what you should do, especially when it comes to corporate superhero movies. That said, the source material for Guardians of the Galaxy is some of the most original stuff in the entire Marvel canon. Removed from the earthly continuity and commercial responsibilities of Marvel’s A-list characters, the Guardians have taken part in some of the weirdest, most action-packed epics that the company has produced in the last decade. Blowing up the Earth really isn’t on the table for Dan Slott or whoever else is writing Spider-Man. Out in space, anything goes. You can blow up whole solar systems out there. Annihilation and Annihilation Conquest, the two multi-title crossover story lines that gave birth to the modern Guardians, are, in my opinion, the strongest crossover story arcs in Marvel’s post-bankruptcy resurgence, precisely because creators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning had the latitude to do nearly anything they wanted to. Stuff like Knowhere, a sort of international space station built out of the decapitated head of a Celestial (a mysterious race of giant godlike beings from the early universe) that acts as the Guardians’ base of operations. Or Cosmo, Knowhere’s head of security, a telepathic Russian cosmonaut dog in full space suit and helmet. Or the Cancerverse, an evil alternate dimension where life grows unchecked by death. Add director James Gunn’s Troma-verse background to that core of swashbuckling sci-fi source story, built around some of the most psychedelic characters in Marvel’s stable, and there’s a good chance that what comes out is the most unconventional conventional comic-book movie yet.