Guardians of the Galaxy


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Guardians of the Galaxy

(pop culture)

The idea of comrades-in-arms struggling against tyranny is a mainstay of fiction and folklore older than Robin Hood. Superhero comics have long provided a natural stage for stories of such underdog heroes. The Guardians of the Galaxy, originally created for a one-shot Marvel Comics story (Marvel Super-Heroes vol. 1 #18, 1969) by writer Arnold Drake and artist Gene Colan, carries this time-honored tradition forward into the year 3007 C.E. By this time, Earth, the other planets of the solar system, and the human colony at Alpha Centauri have all fallen under the dominion of the Badoon, a hostile race of sentient alien reptiles.

The Badoon invasion brings together a disparate group of humans who hail from points all across the solar system and beyond, echoing Akira Kurosawa’s classic 1954 film The Seven Samurai (and its 1960 American clone The Magnificent Seven). Charlie-27, a human soldier who has been genetically enhanced (with gigantic muscles and natural body armor) for life on a Jupiter colony, returns from offworld duty to discover his Jovian home overrun by Badoon forces. Teleporting to Pluto, he encounters that world’s only survivor, Martinex (a crystalline human, genetically altered to survive the frigid Plutonian environment). To thwart the Badoon occupying Pluto, Charlie-27 and Martinex work together to sabotage the planet’s industrial infrastructure before teleporting to Earth, where they meet Vance Astro and Yondu. Astro (a.k.a. Astrovik) is an Earth-born, twentieth-century astronaut recently awakened from a cryogenic suspension that has given him powerful psionic abilities while dooming him to live out his life inside a protective suit that keeps him from aging naturally. Yondu is a nonhuman native of Alpha Centauri, and the last of his kind. The pair have just arrived on Earth after fleeing the Badoon-overrun Alpha Centauri system in a commandeered, faster-than-light starship. Though Vance and Yondu fall into Badoon hands on Earth, Charlie-27 and Martinex rescue them, whereupon the quartet adopts the collective name the Guardians of the Galaxy (not to be confused with DC Comics’ blue-skinned alien Guardians, who presided over the Green Lantern Corps in the Silver Age [1956-1969] and Bronze Age [19701979] of superhero comics). The sworn purpose of this small group of crusaders is to drive the Badoon from every one of their strongholds across the entire galaxy. They flit around the Milky Way in a spaceship called Freedom’s Lady.

Although the Guardians vanished from the comics spinner-racks after their 1969 debut, they reappeared half a decade later (Marvel Two-In-One #4 and #5, 1974), under the creative direction of writer Steve Gerber and penciler Sal Buscema. It is now 3014 C.E., and Captain America and the Fantastic Four’s Thing (both from the twentieth century) become temporarily embroiled in the Guardians’ ongoing battle for freedom, as do the Defenders (also from the twentieth century) a year later (Defenders #26-29, 1975). Together they help drive the Badoon from Earth’s solar system and the adjacent regions of space. Inspired by Captain America (Astrovik is a particularly enthusiastic fan of Cap’s wartime exploits), the Guardians name their starship after him and take the craft on an interstellar journey of discovery and adventure.

During these wanderings, the group encounters and inducts other members: Nikki (a human woman genetically engineered to survive the heat of her homeworld Mercury), and a pair of physically/psychically melded Arcturians named Starhawk (a former Defender now caught in a time-loop that forces him to relive his life repeatedly) and Aleta (Starhawk’s former wife and present foster-sister, who has the ability to manipulate light energy). Now a septet, the Guardians explore the galaxy and defend it from the Badoon and other superpowered menaces in the pages of Marvel Presents (beginning in issue #3, 1976). Unfortunately, writers Steve Gerber and Roger Stern, and penciler Allen Milgrom, failed to sustain a large enough audience to continue the series, and the Guardians feature died a quick and ignominious death (along with Marvel Presents itself, whose twelfth and final issue was released in 1977).

The Guardians subsequently reached their highest 1970s readership levels when they time-traveled back to the twentieth century to help resolve the “Korvac saga” of 1978, a story arc crafted by writers Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo, and David Michelinie and artists George Pérez, Sal Buscema, and David Wenzel. In this story, the Avengers struggle to prevent the sudden omnipotence of a previously ordinary man (Michael Korvac) from wreaking havoc across the cosmos (The Avengers #167-#168, #173-#177). Before returning to the thirty-first century, following Korvac’s defeat, Vance Astrovik meets his younger twentieth-century self and talks him out of becoming an astronaut in order to prevent his becoming forever trapped in the containment suit. Unfortunately for both Astroviks, this action creates a psionic backlash between the two men, prematurely awakening the younger man’s psychic abilities, thereby allowing him to become Marvel Boy in the later series The New Warriors (1990-1996, 1999-2000). This development split the Guardians’ future off from Marvel’s main timeline, sequestering it in one of comicdom’s many “alternate futures.” Undeterred by being rendered effectively apocryphal, the Guardians forged a prominent one-shot partnership with Spider-Man the following year (Marvel Team-Up #86, written by X-Men scribe Chris Claremont with pencils by Allyn Brodsky), but made only infrequent guest appearances during the ensuing decade (The Avengers #264, 1986; The Sensational She-Hulk #6, 1989).

But the Guardians were not destined for permanent obscurity. In 1990, Marvel placed the team in the hands of writer-artist Jim Valentino. Valentino’s nearly three-year tenure with the Guardians reveals his abiding love for Marvel’s superheroes and their history, delving more deeply than ever before into the motivations of the team’s individual members. Returning the Guardians to their alternate thirty-first century, Valentino began the series by taking the team on a quest for the indestructible shield of Vance Astrovik’s most revered hero, Captain America (Guardians of the Galaxy #1-#6, 1990). The quest succeeds, although the Guardians are faced along the way by such powerful foes as Taserface (whose powers are self-explanatory), Firelord (a former herald of the world-eating Galactus, who subsequently becomes a reserve member of the group), and the Stark (aliens who have based their technology and weaponry upon the armored twentieth-century superhero Iron Man, a.k.a. munitions manufacturer Tony Stark).

Under Valentino the Guardians became less a gang of ragtag freedom fighters and more a band of explorers and adventurers, an amalgam of Avengers-type team superheroics and Star Trek-style space opera. The Guardians still found the time to overthrow despotic rulers, however, unseating Rancor, a descendant of the X-Men’s Wolverine who had taken over a lost human colony called Haven, which is ultimately destroyed by a future version of the world-devouring Phoenix after the Guardians evacuate the planet (Guardians of the Galaxy #9-#12, 1991). The Guardians subsequently add a shapechanging Havenite named Replica to their ranks (Guardians of the Galaxy Annual #2, 1992).

After Valentino’s departure from Marvel for Image Comics, the Guardians’ series continued under writer Michael Gallagher, finally concluding in 1995 with issue #62. But the Guardians weren’t quite ready to vanish into comics oblivion, turning up again as guest stars occasionally during the 1990s in various Marvel titles and headlining in a four-issue miniseries written by Valentino’s successor, Michael Gallagher, and penciled by Kevin West and Yancey Labat (Galactic Guardians, 1994).

The writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning introduced a new team of Guardians, set in the present day, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 #1 (May 2008). Members have included Adam Warlock, Bug (from The Micronauts), Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, Groot (a monster created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Tales to Astonish #13 in 1960), Jack Flag (a former protégé of Captain America), Mantis, Martyr (the reportedly deceased Phyla-Vell, the daughter of the original Captain Mar-Vell), Moondragon, Rocket Raccoon, Star-Lord, and Cosmo the Spacedog (a talking canine with telepathic powers). This new series and the original one are linked through the presence of Vance Astro, now also known as Major Victory, who has become a member of the present-day team. —MAM & PS