Based on reaction to the first official trailer, “Guardians of the Galaxy” looks like it could very well extend Marvel’s winning streak at the box office (we’ll just go ahead and assume “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” will be a hit) when it blasts into theaters in August. Blending sci-fi and super heroes as well as action and humor, it’s been drawing comparisons to everything from “Firefly” to “Farscape” to “Star Wars.”
Yet there’s still one question that could be front and center in the minds of folks who aren’t steeped in Marvel lore: who the heck are these guys, girls, raccoons and trees, anyway? Unlike “The Avengers,” which starred some of the company’s most well-known heroes, several of whom had already had solo films, “Guardians of the Galaxy” features a cast of characters even regular comic book readers might not know that well since they’ve often been in stories set far from the mainstream Marvel universe — and Earth, for that matter.
Fortunately, even though the Guardians of the Galaxy is a name that dates back to the late 60s, the team in the movie has a history that is only about five years old. That means you don’t need to do too much reading if you want to find out more about Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon and the gang before the summer.
Keeping in mind that the Marvel Cinematic Universe can vary at times from the one in the comics when it comes to character origins and motivations — Drax, for example, supposedly is seeking revenge against Ronan instead of Thanos — here are some collections to seek out for a little advance preparation:
(Note that while we have links to the Amazon listings for each trade paperback, the Bam! Smack! Pow! crew always endorses seeking out your local comic shop to purchase any of these books!)
Even though this crossover was a sequel to the 2006 event “Annhilation,” it’s a standalone story with a brand new threat. Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning handled the main mini-series, adding to their well deserved reputation for having an excellent handle on Marvel’s cosmic characters.
During a wide-ranging struggle against Ultron (a bonus, since he’s going to be in the spotlight in the second Avengers movie) and the Phalanx, this story plants the seeds for Star-Lord to gather together the heroes who become the Guardians of the Galaxy. Other characters who are in the upcoming movie, like Korath the Pursuer, also make appearances here.
If you really want to jump in with both feet, “Annihilation: Conquest” is coming out in a hardcover omnibus edition in May that collects the entire event. That timing is probably no coincidence, since it leads directly into …
“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2008) Vol. 1 – Legacy
Abnett and Lanning pick up in the aftermath of the “Annihilation” stories with art by veteran Paul Pelletier. This is probably the closest the Guardians ever get to the team you’ll see in the movie, though Adam Warlock, Quasar, Bug, Major Victory and Mantis are also along for the ride.
There are some really cool ideas introduced in this volume, including the team’s base at Knowhere and Cosmo, the telepathic dog that helps watch over it. The combination of action and humorous character interactions is a trademark of the writing team and appears to be the tone the film is striving to achieve.
Though this collection consists of just the first six issues of what ended up as a 25-issue run, it establishes the Guardians as a proactive team devoted to fending off interstellar threats and shows that this isn’t your normal group of heroes.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2013) Vol. 1 – Cosmic Avengers
Actually, maybe this is as close as the comics get to the movie team, seeing as the only extra presence in this relaunch is Iron Man. Yes, Tony Stark is on the Guardians of the Galaxy and two different teams of Avengers. He’s a busy guy.
Anyway, forget Shellhead. We get some more insight into Star-Lord from the high profile team of writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Steve McNiven, as well as a new status quo where no aliens are allowed to touch Earth. Of course that doesn’t stop the Badoon, who decide to invade. Good times.
This series is currently ongoing, so if you pick up new issues of “Guardians of the Galaxy” during 2014, this is the story they are following up on.
While those books should be more than enough to get you familiar with the main players in the movie, here are some more worth considering for background on other characters either known to or rumored to be popping up on screen:
- “Guardians of the Galaxy” – Earth Shall Overcome: Just in case you want to learn more about the original team, this collection features their first appearances. The 60s team is from the future (which turns out to be an alternate timeline, because comics) but dips back into the past, which at that time was the present, to get help fighting the Badoon.
- “Infinity Gauntlet” - Not a Guardians story at all, but cosmic Marvel at its finest. Drax is in here, as is Nebula. And the main villain is Thanos, who appears to be pulling the strings in the movies. The concept of the Infinity Gems is definitely alive in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and this mini-series shows exactly what happens if they fall into the wrong hands. Er, hand.