And no, I did not go all pedantic fangirl on you. I kept it light/brief.
When Marvel announced that they were making Guardians of the Galaxy as part of their cinematic universe, even comic book readers were scratching their heads. Guardians of the Galaxy is a pretty esoteric title even by Marvel fans’ standards. It was an unusual choice, but now we can see how a team in space will reveal more of the Thanos story hinted at in the end-credits scenes of The Avengers and Thor: Dark World, the story that is probably what is going to tie the entire multi-franchise films series together. And it looks like a hell of a lot of fun while getting rave reviews from people who have attended advance screenings.
GoG opens this August 1st in the U.S.. I’m not sure what the international dates are.
Obviously Marvel will set this up so that non-comic book fans can walk into the theatre cold and enjoy the story, but for those wanting a little more background here’s the comic book skinny. I am not a regular reader of GoG by any stretch, but here is what I know and have gleaned:
The original Guardians of the Galaxy first appeared in 1969 in Marvel Superheroes. Like Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Presents, Strange Tales, etc., Marvel Superheroes was one of those series both major comic book houses have to play with one shot stories and introduce new characters and teams to test them out on the audience before devoting an entire comic book series to them. The original Guardians of the Galaxy was a departure from the established Marvel Universe; a group of aliens set in a possible future (31st century) who help Captain America liberate earth and the rest of the galaxy from a tyrannical empire (the Badoon, which makes me wonder if they were the inspiration for Doctor Who’s Jadoon much like Capt. Jack Harkness was named after Marvel’s Agatha Harkness). None of the characters in the current team were in the original one.
At the time, the Guardians did not quite make the grade, especially where/when Marvel heroes tended to be more Earth-based than their DC counterparts. (Indeed, where the DC is set in a fictional universe with Metropolis, Star City, Gotham, etc., the Marvel Universe is set in the “real world” of Manhattan, Los Angeles, London, etc. Marvel comics has also been braver about tackling real world issues.) But they never quite went away as writers would find excuses to use them again time to time in the Avengers comic book or other collection series. Eventually, they were given their own comic book in 1990 which ran to 1995.
Then in 2008 Guardians got an entire reboot as a new team was brought together to fight off an invasion from the Negative Zone (another dimension). While characters come and go through their membership, the core characters are the ones you are going to become familiar with in the film. All of them had long past in the M.U. on their own before joining the GoG, all first appearing in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Now, these are the comic book versions of the characters, the film is probably going to rework their characters and backstories.
StarLord/Peter Quill: Peter Quill is the result of an encounter between a human and an alien prince. He was raised on earth and eventually found his way to space. After finding his father, he turned down being heir to the throne to run off and have adventures. He often finds himself at the center of major events affecting the galaxy and the universe, sometimes attempting to broker peace. But Quill is not a pure hero. While he is usually on the side of the angels, he is an abrasive (and funny), ends-justify-the-means person, occasionally tripping over the line into amoral. (For example, he asked a telepath to influence individual members into joining the GoG.) But he is not without a conscience and once gave up the StarLord identity in guilt over taking thousands of lives to stop the Herald of the planet-eating Galactus. He is also a cyborg, requiring cybernetic implants, etc. after serious injuries.
(I doubt they are keeping the “alien royalty dad” thing, but it looks like the film-Quill is going to be one of those “suddenly transported from everything he has ever known” tropes who, instead of whinging about wanting to go home, embraced his inner nine-year-old. “WHOOHOO! I’M A SPACEMAN!”)
Gamora, Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy: The last surviving member of her race/species, Gamora was personally raised and trained by the inter-galactic tyrant Thanos to be the perfect warrior/assassin in order to take out one of his enemies. Unfortunately, before she came into her full skills, she was ambushed and gang raped. Thanos saved her and their father-daughter bond tightened. He enhanced her physical abilities, strength, speed, sense and a healing/regeneration factor. Eventually when she discovered that Thanos was going to attempt galactic genocide, Gamora rebelled and helped stop her adoptive father. She then went on to have adventures of her own before joining the Guardians. So, bad-ass chick with conflicting feelings about her enemy and a big chip on her shoulder.
Drax the Destroyer: Originally designed as protagonist to Thanos’ antagonist, Drax has gone through many re-imaginings as writers tried to find a way to make the character work. His story has remained the same: Thanos killed his family and he is out for revenge, but his personality has drastically altered though time. For a while the character simply became a joke, a stupid, angry strongman, but in 2005 one writer took on the character in Drax’s own miniseries and dragged the character back from the depths of ridiculous cliche. He is a not merely a raving madman, but a ruthless and cunning opponent.
Rocket Racoon: Rocket is a former police/military officer from a planet that was an asylum of insane aliens that were abandoned by their caretakers generations ago. Left to their own deceives, some of them began running genetic experiments on their pets, creating intelligent creatures to care for them. Some of the creatures were made to be the police force/military, bred with enhanced tactical minds and trained for advanced equipment and weaponry. Eventually, the insane humanoids of the planet were cured and Rocket was able to leave with others to go off and have his own adventures, showing up in various Marvel titles (even sharing an adventure with StarLord) before eventually joining the GoG. Rocket’s unusual back-story and trope lampshading personality (and the bad-ass raccoon thing) made him an fan cult-favorite for years before he joined the GoG. Think of a smaller version of Wolverine, only not as nearly as angst-ridden and much smarter.
Groot: Don’t let the very limited vocabulary fool you, that is his Majesty King Groot the 23rd, last of his species and genius in physics. Even by comic book standards, Groot was an esoteric character when he joined the GoG, having only made two appearances in stories since 1960 in a traditional monster role. Groot and his peculiarities are so cool, I don’t want to spoil it for movie goers, but he is the most purely good character of the group.
Four other characters who look like they will feature heavily are:
Thanos: I question whether we will see much of him in this film, but his presence will be felt heavily. Thanos is the most powerful villain in the Marvel Universe (Galactus really is not a villain, but a force of nature), a tyrant who’s empire spans galaxies (it’s so big, he just assumes he rules the entire universe) with a romantic obsession with the anthropomorphization of Death. He is Doctor Doom times a billion; knowledge and intelligence far surpassing humanity, powerful, an ego that stratospherically surpasses “arrogance” in his utter belief in his superiority over everything in the universe, and controlling in the same way Doom is controlling. He doesn’t micromanage and is not concerned with what the “lesser beings” do amongst themselves until they can help or hinder his plans. Marvel fan’s have a pretty good idea what the Thanos arc is, but we won’t spoil it for the rest of you.
(Any resemblance to DC’s Darkseid is completely coincidental. 😉 )
Ronan the Accuser: Ronan is a Kree, one of the most prominent alien species in the Marvel Universe. Earth has often been caught in the middle in the hundreds-years old ongoing conflict between the Kree and the Skrulls, neither side really giving a damn about stomping on the human race in the process. Ronan is the “Supreme Accuser” for the Kree: The pinnacle of their judicial system, the judge, jury and executioner responsible for the carriage of justice in the empire. In D&D alignment terms, Ronan is true Lawful Nuetral caring only about justice, order and protecting the Kree empire. This means he can be a hero or villain depending on the circumstances, and he is generally dickish the whole time.
Nebula: Space mercenary/pirate, and not the fun kind. Nebula has grand ambitions of conquest far above her station and abilities because she believes herself to be the granddaughter of Thanos. (Thanos has denied it.) Power hungry, she has destroyed planets in her attempts to establish her own empire. Attempts which always fail either because of various superheroes or because of Thanos himself had just about enough of her shenanigans.
The Collector: The Collector is an Elder of the Universe, one of the most ancient beings in existence (older than Thanos). The Collector does what it says on the tin: He collects and preserves artifacts, inanimate or living, whether they want to be preserved or not. (Often, it is not.) He does not do so out of greed, but out of obsession and fear of the apocalyptic destruction of the universe.
One of the reasons I think Marvel films are enjoying such success is that they contain an essential ingredient Marvel comics have forgotten: They are fun. Marvel comics have long tackled real world issues with intense drama and often dark character development, but for most of their history they were able to balance that with fun and uplifting stories. In the 2000’s the comic books lost sight of that with constantly dark, morally ambiguous and depressing storylines. The film have brought back what superhero comic are supposed to be: Flawed, human heroes fighting impossible odds to do the right thing, and emerging victorious.
(Oddly, with DC comics the situation is flipped, their comics are fun, but the films have gone overboard into angsty and gritty.)