Story Title: “Somebody’s Got To Do It”
Published: 14 May 2008 (cover-dated July 2008)
Story Title: “Legacy”
Published: 18 June 2008 (cover-dated August 2008)
Story Title: “Beyond Belief”
Published: 10 July 2008 (cover-dated September 2008)
Today, Marvel Comics’ Guardians of the Galaxy are well-known as a group of reprobates-turned-heroes thanks to their inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), however I think 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 before the release of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014). As I have already explored, the cosmic team was initially very different when they debuted in the pages of Marvel Super Heroes! #18 (Drake, et al, 1969) and, despite strong sales of the team’s debut issue, the Guardians of the Galaxy remained dormant for about five years and also underwent many alterations as they graduated to their own self-titled series. Between 2006 and 2007, Marvel Comics published a cosmic crossover series titled Annihilation (Giffen, et al), a sprawling storyline in which Annihilus spread destruction throughout the galaxy with his “Annihilation Wave”, an event heralded for proving such epics could occur without Marvel’s flagship characters at the helm. From August 2007 and June 2008, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning spearheaded a follow-up miniseries, Annihilation: Conquest, out of which was formed a new line-up of Guardians that served as direct inspiration for the MCU’s movies and subsequent multimedia iterations of the team.
In place of the usual text boxes, the story is intercut with log debriefings from the Guardians as they reflect on their mission, and therefore jumps about between a few different time periods, which makes a step-by-step recap a little difficult so, instead, I’ll try and go mostly in chronological order. Two weeks ago, Star-Lord, Phyla-Vell/Quasar, and the last surviving member of the Nova Corps, Richard Rider/Nova, were discussing the power vacuum in the galaxy after back-to-back destructive conflicts with Annihilus and the Phalanx. Both battles caught them completely off-guard so, rather than establish a peacekeeping force like the Nova Corps, Star-Lord suggests assembling an “ass-kicking force” that can pre-emptively tackle threats before they can escalate. The first person Star-Lord recruits is Rocket Raccoon, primarily for his “military smarts” and also because he’s “the best tactical mind [he] ever met”. Although Star-Lord tries to grease the wheels by tanking Rocket up with alcohol, he didn’t need to do this, or pile on the compliments; recognising the guilt Star-Lord carries after unwittingly causing the Phalanx’s invasion, Rocket agrees to help but only if Peter quits giving himself a hard time over it, especially as they won the day in the end. Quasar then paid a visit to the grieving Drax the Destroyer whose daughter, Heather Douglas/Moondragon, perished in a previous battle against Ultron. Filled with regret over never having a “regular” relationship with her and having lost his purpose now that he has slain Thanos, Drax considers himself a liability to others because of his thirst for death, but Quasar offers him purpose and direction as part of Star-Lord’s team. Nova then went to recruit Gamora, who was incensed at the suggestion, and that Nova never tried to get her into bed following their victory over the Phalanx. However, despite her stubbornness, Gamora is won over not just by the prospect of a booty call with Rider but also by his compelling argument that she’s tired of being an emotionless killer and desires something more out of life. Together, the group turn to Adam Warlock/Him for further support; troubled by the recent incursions, which have weakened space and time so badly that fissures into extradimensional universes are threatening to spill God knows what into the galaxy and tear it apart, Warlock agrees to join them in order to ensure the stability and continuation of life across our universe.
The fledgling Guardians soon came into a violent conflict with the Universal Church of Truth, a group of zealots who, in an alternate timeline, worshiped Warlock like a God. There were some teething problems throughout this battle; Star-Lord struggled to pull these volatile egos together, leading to Warlock, Gamora, and Drax heading to the control deck to tackle the root of the problem. The Church’s templeship is powered by “faith”, specifically faith in life (which Warlock notes is ironic as the Church’s plan will destroy life rather than grant it) and, once they realise their sacred ship is in danger, the Church’s founders, the Crusaders, promptly teleport away, leaving their devout followers behind, much to the disgust of Warlock, Gamora, and Drax. By the time the others reach the control deck, their options are limited as the templeship is already breaching a fissure; to make matters worse, a gigantic, disgusting eldritch abomination comes through the breach. However, Quasar and the others are able to hold it back to buy Rocket time to destroy the control deck with a grenade; the remaining energy is absorbed by Warlock and Quasar and the threat is summarily ended. They promptly teleport victorious (though Rocket claims the bulk of the victory for himself) to Knowhere, an interdimensional crossroads on the outer edge of time-space that allows them to rapidly transport anywhere using their “passport” bracelets and which happens to be housed inside the severed head of a Celestial! Knowhere is maintained by a group of strange alien lifeforms and overseen by Cosmo the Spacedog, a telekinetic Russian-born hound who has a rivalry with Rocket, acts as their chief of security, and has been busy getting Knowhere up and running for their services. Knowhere is also home to a thriving alien society, including a marketplace and economic system, and to the steadily growing sapling that was once Groot and Brandt/Mantis, an empath who has the unenviable job of maintaining the psychological well-being of the team and facilitating their disparate personalities. However, her precognitive abilities also alert her to an impending betrayal from within, though she’s unable to inform them of this as it could threaten the delicate balance of the timeline. No sooner are the Guardians back at Knowhere that Warlock detects another fissure on the ice asteroid of 5G Hydronis, a place where time and space are being torn apart and where, upon melting away some of the ice, the Guardians are stunned to find the Avengers Mansion contained within!
Before they can properly process the implications of this, they’re attacked by more Lovecraftian beasts, this time giant, slobbering worms that burst up from the ice and ensnare them. Luckily, Major Vance Astro/Major Victory of the original Guardians of the Galaxy happened to be frozen on the planetoid and briefly helps the struggling team before promptly collapsing in a fit of confusion and exhaustion. Star-Lord and Rocket hold off the creatures to cover Drax and Gamora as they tend to Vance, then the group promptly teleports out of there as Warlock and Quasar destroy the asteroid and its monstrous inhabitants. Star-Lord sees providence in Vance’s appearance, especially the symbolism of the shield he carries and the importance both it and Captain Steve Rogers/Captain America had on the legacy of the Avengers. Still encased in his protective suit and apparently dislodged from the time stream, Vance suffers from crippling amnesia and can only remember some vague importance about being at exactly this time period. Mantis tends to Vance to try and acclimatise him to the time period and help him recover his lost memories; though Rocket, inspired by Vance’s story, is more concerned with pestering the team into adopting the Guardians of the Galaxy name. After picking up another fissure, the team head to a seemingly abandoned Dyson Sphere – a literal sun encased within an artificial shell – where they are attacked by Raker and his knightly Cardinals. Sent by the Matriarch of the Church to seek retribution and garbed in gleaming golden armour, the Cardinals are powered by the prayers of their faithful, proving a formidable threat since they are capable of doing anything as long as they believe it, including conjuring weapons and shields of golden energy. Offended by Warlock’s magic and with no time for the team’s heathenistic explanations, the Cardinals make short work of the group simply by believing they have the means to overpower them, meaning they not only break Star-Lord’s hand but also run the mighty Adam Warlock through with a sword. As the Guardians struggle against the self-righteous Cardinals, Vance is suddenly attacked by the time-displaced Stakar of the House of Ogord/Starhawk, who takes even Mantis off-guard thanks to being completely invisible to her mental powers. Starhawk attacks the confused Vance with very familiar claw-like appendages and their battle rages through Knowhere, destroying six of their teleportation batteries, before he teleports out without a single word and leaving the perplexed Vance to incur the wrath of Cosmo for all the damage he caused in the fight.
Having accomplished their mission, the Cardinals return to their homeworld; however, many are also dissolved when the Dyson Sphere’s population rises against them; reduced to a corrosive bio-mass after their genetic experiments opened a fissure in their very DNA, the inhabitants have become a tortured, grotesque hive mind. Already beyond salvation, absorbing the Cardinals only accelerates their instability and threatens to open a more destructive fissure. As Gamora tends to Star-Lord’s wounds, he shares with the group his plan to lift the shield that protects the surface from the sun’s rays, a strategy that will fry the entire Dyson Sphere and its out of control inhabitants in one swift move. The idea works and the bio-mass is summarily set ablaze, but Peter’s plan to teleport to safety is scuppered thanks to the damage caused by Vance and Starhawk. With the protective dome fading quickly, Drax and Star-Lord both volunteer to restore it; unfortunately, Quasar’s power is taxed to the limited just trying to keep them safe, so Gamora opts to handle it herself. Thanks to her healing factor, and the limited protection offered by Quasar, Gamora is able to reach the controls and restore the dome and, though she survives the ordeal, she’s left chargrilled and mutilated by the heat of the supernova. Still, her teammates are impressed by her bravery and her actions galvanise the team yet, despite their victory, Warlock remains disturbed not just by the fact that He was unable to save that advanced civilisation but also by the motives behind the Universal Church of Truth’s attack. An epilogue reveals that the Matriarch sent Raker to engage the Guardians not to “purify” them for their interference in their plans, but to verify that Warlock is actually the real deal as it’s revealed she has His protective cocoon resting in her palace, indicating the presence of an imposter.
The story’s action is peppered with log entries from the individual Guardians that offers insight into their character and commentary on their actions; Star-Lord is cautiously optimistic about his new team despite their inelegant solutions to problems, Quasar had her doubts that the mismatched team of egos could pull it together despite Star-Lord’s determination, Rocket expressed regret at being talked into joining such an outfit and venturing into the dangerous depths of space, Warlock has His doubts but recognises the value of the Guardians given the short lifespan of the cosmos, and Drax bluntly refuses to elaborate on his many experiences with death. Gamora is easily the most vocal about her scepticism; almost every line she has questions their purpose and direction, to the point where even Drax, who was equally sceptical about his value to such a group, calls her out on her lack of team spirit when she boasts of her healing factor to the less-fortunate Quasar. This makes her selfless act to endure the searing heat of the sun’s flames all the more impressive and goes to great lengths to earn her the respect and admiration from her teammates. One of the things I loved about the MCU interpretation of the Guardians of the Galaxy is their dysfunctional dynamic; they banter with and aggravate each other, to the point where they generally spend more time arguing than co-operating, which lends to their charm. Those aspects are alive and well here; in the heat of battle, the team are more focused on coming up with a name for themselves than fending off their enemies; Warlock, who’s had some experience in leading teams, is the first one to point this out and even Star-Lord, for all his enthusiasm, begins to question his decisions when their distractions send him hurtling out of a window.
There’s some concern, mostly from Gamora, regarding Warlock’s nature; His talk of altering the timeline and general demeanour have Gamora questioning how much He’s changed since she last saw Him. It’s clear that Warlock has changed recently and knows far more than what He’s letting on to His teammates; His philosophy seems to be to simply tackle an issue before it can escalate and explain the why of the matter later since it’s inconsequential against the need for action. As much as I love Dave Bautista’s portrayal of Drax as this loveable meathead, this version of Drax is far more coherent and sensible, though he is a bit of a blunt instrument; he’s aggravated by Warlock’s complex explanations, Quasar’s constant questions, and sees little point in cooking when they have perfectly good bars at Knowhere. While the others are intrigued by the puzzle of Vance Astro, Drax couldn’t care less about the former Avenger, not least because fighting alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes directly led to his daughter’s death. Indeed, as much as the Destroyer would rather just get to the point (and the fighting), Drax is just as apt to make quips about Warlock’s out of date hairstyle as Rocket, resulting in a more well-rounded character than his MCU counterpart, for sure, but one far less entertaining, in my opinion. Rocket’s characterisation should be pretty familiar with fans of the MCU, however; he’s a trigger-happy, snarky little rodent who cares for Groot and begrudgingly follows Star-Lord’s lead presumably because he has nothing better to do. Star-Lord may lack the multiple pop culture references of his MCU counterpart but much of his character is familiar as well; this is actually a very different version of the character to how he was first introduced, where he was a little more bland and less prone to self-deprecation and quipping. Here, he’s desperately trying to atone for his actions in unleashing the Phalanx and is determined to make this team work, despite how inelegant their approach is. Though unsettled by the symmetry of Vance’s appearance to Captain America’s own dethawing years ago, Peter is excited at the idea of the group rallying around the iconography of the shield, though he remains completely unaware of a possible traitor in their midst since Mantis refuses to divulge this information just yet.
It’s nice to read something a little more modern from Marvel Comics; there’s something to be said for the simplicity of older tales, which are generally far less complex in their narratives and easier to digest in a single readthrough, but the dialogue and, especially, the art are far more appealing in modern tales, at least to me. While they share a colour scheme in their vaguely-matching uniforms, the Guardians are all very distinct personalities and characters despite their similarities: for example, Star-Lord and Rocket have no powers, relying on their helmet, weapons, and gadgets to win the day but are clearly unique since one is a talking raccoon! Gamora and Drax are also somewhat similar, being battle-hungry killers looking for a greater purpose, but Gamora has her healing factor, cynicism, and promiscuousness and Drax carries his guilt and an almost self-destructive thirst for combat. Quasar and Warlock also have some similarities in that they’re both, essentially, cosmic wizards but Quasar’s powers are limited in a way Warlock’s aren’t; Warlock is also seen as the expert in the time/space fissures and clearly the heavy-hitter of the group, yet He’s still vulnerable and requires the aid of His teammates to combat these threats. I liked the appearance of Vance Astro, too, as a link to the original Guardians of the Galaxy and a mystery for the team to solve over subsequent issues; Knowhere also functions as a very visually interesting and fun homebase for the team, not least because of Cosmo and it being the head of a Celestial, and the story arc was brimming with personality and mystery. The Universal Church of Truth are very intriguing villains; essentially a gaggle of cosmic zealots who wield incredible power simply through faith, they betray their own cause through their destructive ways and have spread death and discord rather than life and hope. The Cardinals, especially, prove a fearsome threat; there’s a suggestion that they could’ve easily killed the Guardians were it not for the bio-mass suddenly attacking them and the nature of their mission, which again adds to the appeal of the team: they’re already flawed and volatile personalities but they’re not infallible and even the almighty Adam Warlock can be killed, which makes them very relatable as a dysfunctional family that’s more human that their appearances may suggest. All in all, I really enjoyed this three-issue arc for the fledgling Guardians of the Galaxy and would absolutely want to read more from this run based on the strength of these issues alone and how impactful this period was to their live-action interpretation.
What did you think to this new incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy? Which member of the team was your favourite? What did you think to Universal Church of Truth and the threat posed by the Cardinals? Did you enjoy the banter and team dynamic between the group? What did you think to the mystery surrounding Vance Astro’s appearance? 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? Be sure to share your thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy in the comments below and on my social media, and check out my other Guardians of the Galaxy-related content on the site.
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