Back Issues [Sci-Fi Sunday]: Marvel Super-Heroes! #18

January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I’ll be spending every Sunday of January celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.

Story Title: “Guardians of the Galaxy! Earth Shall Overcome!”
Published: January 1969
Writer: Arnold Drake
Artist: Gene Colan

The Background:
Nowadays, Marvel Comics’ Guardians of the Galaxy are quite a well-known team of reprobates thanks to their inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); when Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014) was produced, it’s fair to say that the team (and the concept) was relatively obscure compared to other Marvel heavy-hitters like the Avengers and Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Fans of the films and the MCU may be surprised to learn that the cosmic team was quite different when they first debuted in the pages of Marvel Super-Heroes!, a Marvel spin-off title that told standalone side-stories and was responsible for debuting many of the publications supporting characters. The concept began life as an idea by writer and editor Roy Thomas about super-guerrillas fighting against Russians and Red Chinese that was altered into an interplanetary situation by writer Arnold Drake and the legendary Stan Lee. Despite strong sales of the team’s debut issue, the Guardians of the Galaxy remained dormant for about five years; eventually, though, the team earned their own solo series and underwent numerous alterations over the years before evolving into something resembling the team dynamic reflected in the MCU and it all began with this bizarre space adventure about a team of misfits from the year 3007.

The Review:
As mentioned at the end there, our story opens in the far-off future of 3007 to find the Earth, and dozens of other planets, united as the United Lands of Earth Federation (U.L.E.). However, conflict is still rife throughout the various star systems of the galaxy and it is into this squall that we are introduced to Charlie-27, a stout, semi-cybernetic inhabitant of Jupiter who is finally returning home after six months of “solitary space-militia duty”. Expecting a big parade for returning as a conquering hero, Charlie-27 is confused to find the immediate area deserted and lifeless except for a contingent of the nefarious Badoon, a reptilian race of warmongers who have overrun the entire planet and captured its inhabitants, including Charlie-27’s father. After disposing of a couple of Badoon using his massive bulk, Charlie-27 follows a prison transport and finds his fellow Jovians are being forced to mine “high-intensity Harkovite”, a substance that will cause them all to die of radiation poisoning within five days.

The crystal-bodied Martinex helps Charlie-27 escapes the Badoon forces who have over-run Pluto.

Realising that it is suicide to take on the invading Badoon forces alone, Charlie-27 desperately dives into a teleporter and randomly arrives on Pluto hoping to recruit an army to aid his cause and finding the ice-planet equally empty of life an, d overrun by the Badoon. Set upon by a Saturn Hound-Hawk, Charlie-27 is rescued by Martinex, a Pluvian man comprised entirely of a crystal-like substance. Though Maritinex harbours resentment to people like Charlie-27, who refer to him and his kind by the derogatory term “Rock Head” despite both races being descended from Earthman, Martinex catches the Jovian up with event son Pluto and uses a radio transmitter to cause a distraction that allows them to take a Tele-Train to Earth. Like Jupiter and Pluto, however, Earth has been enslaved by the Badoon; Drang, the Badoon supreme commander, is overjoyed to find his men has captured Major Vance Astro, the so-called “Thousand-Year-Old Man” who was the first Earthman to visit the stars. Curious to learn his story, Drang subjects Astro to a painful Memory Probe that quickly recaps how he came to be in the year 3007: back in 1988, Earth had established a small Moon colony and had started making excursions to Mars and Vance volunteered to be cryogenically frozen for a thousand years in a bid to explore beyond the reach of Earth’s solar system. Awakening a thousand years later, Vance was forced to remain forever garbed in a copper foil wrapping lest his centuries of slumber catch up to him and found his trip was ultimately futile as humanity learned to travel faster than light in the intervening years.

After a brief misunderstanding, the four misfits join forces against the Badoon as the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Thanks to his unique knowledge and experiences, Vance is spared the Badoon’s usual slave disk and seemingly agrees to aid Drang’s dreams of conquest. However, when Drang puts Vance’s loyalty to the test by having him execute his comrade, Yondu Udonta, Vance reveals it was all a ploy to reunite his blue-skinned friend with his special bow-and-arrow, which Yondu is able to control using whistles to take out Drang’s forces and allow them to escape. Vance and Yondu immediately run into Charlie-27 and Martinex, with each duo mistaking the other for an enemy; a fight between the two teams breaks out, in which Martinex showcases his ability to freeze air molecules and Vance reveals that he has (somehow…) acquired psychic powers, but they are soon interrupted by their actual enemy, the Badoon. United against a common foe, the group dispatch the Badoon guards and teleport themselves to New New York, determined to find the rumoured free colony and free the Earth from Badoon enslavement as the Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Summary:
When I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy, I was intrigued by the presentation of the film, which gave off vibes of Firefly (2002)/Serenity (Whedon, 2005) and the J. J. Abrams Star Trek films (2009; 2013), I knew absolutely nothing about the characters, the team, or the concept beyond a very rudimentary familiarity with the likes of Drax the Destroyer, Gamora, and Nebula thanks to having read The Infinity Gauntlet (Starlin, et al, 1991). No doubt to capitalise on the release and success of the first film, Marvel released a collection of Guardians of the Galaxy stories as part of their “Marvel Platinum” range of graphic novels and this is primarily where my experience of the comic book versions of the team comes from. Reading the Guardians’ debut issue is a bit jarring for anyone who is a fan of their MCU counterparts; the only character that carries over to the films is Yondu, here characterised as little more than a simpleton rather than the leader of a band of space pirates. There’s no Peter Quill/Star-Lord, no Drax, Rocket Raccoon, or Groot and rather than being a band of well-meaning reprobates, the original Guardians of the Galaxy are a rag-tag collection of oddballs united by a common cause.

This is a very different team of Guardians than you may be used to…

Each of the Guardians is the last of their kind either due to slavery or the slow passage of time and are very bold, independent characters…with the exception of Yondu, who is denied any kind of in-depth backstory and whose character is reduced to a couple of throw-away lines from Vance. Aesthetically, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy! Earth Shall Overcome!” is a bit of a mess; taking place in the far future, we find that colonisation has extended far into our solar system and rendered even gas giants like Jupiter entirely habitable but evolution has also caused Earthlings to adapt in radical ways to survive in their new environments. A lot of the backgrounds and the comic’s more cosmic-trappings are very reminiscent of the works of Jack Kirby but, while this is very fitting, it does make for quite a cluttered and messy presentation. The issue has its work cut out for it by introducing four brand-new characters in about thirty pages of story, something I find early Marvel Comics often struggled with, and while there are some interesting elements to each character (Charlie-27 seems to be going for a self-entitled righteousness, Martinex hints at possibly being racially targeted, Yondu is a monosyllabic grunt, and Vance has his whole, very rushed, “man out of time” thing going on), I can’t really say that I was massively blown away by either their characterisation or their abilities (which are, for the most part, vaguely defined).

The Badoon are a major invasion force for the fledgling Guardians to unite against.

I’m not massively familiar with the Badoon; from what I can tell, this story wasn’t their first appearance but they really don’t seem to be that much different from other monstrous, semi-humanoid galactic conquers like the Free and the Skrull (despite, obviously not having shape-shifting powers). As a villainous force to unite against, they’re relatively unremarkable; while we can assume that they’re a formidable force since they have completely enslaved Jupiter, Pluto, and the Earth, Drang’s forces crumble like paper whenever they engage with the Guardians. Still, they have the numbers advantage, which is a great way to show that even a veteran like Charlie-27 knows when to fight and when to flee, and it’s pretty clear that the main aim of this issue was to bring together these misfits to continue telling stories of their struggle against the Badoon in subsequent issues. Still, as interesting as it is to see how the Guardians first came about the Yondu’s wildly different initial characterisation, there’s not really a whole hell of a lot to really say about this first Guardians tale; this isn’t the team that’s been popularised in the decades since, inevitably the writing and presentation is a product of its time, and the art isn’t particularly engaging or eye-catching (or even good, at times) so this is more of a quaint look at the Guardians’ humble beginnings rather than a bombastic showcase of what the team is truly capable of and probably has more appeal to die-hard fans of Marvel’s cosmic stories than the more casual Guardians readers like myself.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read the Guardians of the Galaxy’s debut story? If so, what did you think to it, especially compared to the various interactions of the team that have come since? What did you think to the idea of setting the story in the year 3007 and of the Badoon having conquered the solar system? Which of the original four characters was your favourite? Which version of the team is your favourite and why? Are you a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics and, if so, did you like the MCU’s interpretations of the characters and concepts? Would you like to see the original team get a larger focus in the MCU someday? Share your thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy in the comments below and check in again next Sunday for more sci-fi content.

4 thoughts on “Back Issues [Sci-Fi Sunday]: Marvel Super-Heroes! #18

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