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Groot: The Guardians of the Galaxy Star’s Strange Journey to Comic Book Fame

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comic News Comment
Groot: The Guardians of the Galaxy Star’s Strange Journey to Comic Book Fame

One of the things that has made the success of “Guardians of the Galaxy” so impressive is how the lead characters aren’t just obscure in terms of movie audiences; until recently, most of them were also pretty obscure in the comic book world from whence they sprang! No character quite symbolizes this rise from obscurity quite like Groot, who is not only the oldest character of all of the Guardians, he’s older than pretty much the entire Marvel Universe! So how did a character who’s first two appearances happened over a forty year span become an honest to God icon? It all began before there even was a Marvel Comics!

RELATED: Vin Diesel Says We Haven’t Seen Groot’s Final Form Yet

In 1960, the company we know now as Marvel Comics was still called Atlas Comics (although that name had begun to die out – the company had gone through a series of unofficial names since its 1940s heyday as Timely Comics). It was best known for three types of comics – western comics, “Patsy Walker” comics (Atlas’ female version of Archie Andrews) and monster comics. In “Tales to Astonish” #13 (by artists Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers and likely a plot by Stan Lee and a script by Larry Leiber), the world met the evil alien invader from the Planet X, Groot!

Far from the kindhearted creature who just says, “I Am Groot,” the original version of Groot was your typical alien conqueror, who laughed about all the terrible things that he was going to do to planet Earth…

However, by the end of just seven pages of story, Groot was defeated through the use of some handy dandy termites. That was pretty much it for Groot for the rest of the 20th Century. We say “pretty much” because in the 1976 “Incredible Hulk Annual” #5 (by Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Sal Buscema and Jack Abel), the Hulk faced off against replicas of a bunch of Marvel’s most memorable monsters from the monster comics era, including Groot…

Note that while Groot was notable enough to show up in this annual, he wasn’t notable enough to actually be brought into the comics a foe like a fellow early Marvel monster, Fin Fang Foom.

So it was back to limbo for Groot until 2006, when Groot met his best friend. No, not Rocket Raccoon, but Keith Giffen. Giffen launched a short-lived comic book series called “Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos” about a special SHIELD unit made up of, well, monsters. A Frankenstein’s monster, a vampire, a werewolf, a mummy, a zombie and, of course, a Gorilla-Man. Most of the characters were ones that had been rolling around the Marvel Universe doing nothing for decades. Later in the series, Giffen and then-series artist Derec Aucoin introduced a whole other group of refugee monsters. In #5, they meet Groot…

The series was over with the next issue. Groot’s big comeback might have only lasted one issue. However, lucky for him, Giffen wasn’t done with him just yet!

RELATED: Marvel’s Pint Sized Groot Undertakes a Strange Adventure

Giffen had been the main writer on the first “Annihilation” crossover, but for the follow-up crossover, “Annihilation: Conquest,” Giffen was playing a supporting role. However, his supporting role ended up becoming extremely important in the long run. Editor Bill Rosemann and Giffen put together a sort of “Suicide Squad” team of obscure cosmic characters in the 2007 miniseries “Annihilaton Conquest: Starlord” they led directly into the “Annihilation: Conquest” miniseries. Drawn by Timothy Green II and Victor Olazaba, Giffen brought Groot back as a member of the team, and actually paired him with Rocket Raccoon for the first time…

Giffen’s take on Groot, however, was still that of an old school comic book alien conqueror. The idea was that, even though he was slumming it with this suicide squad team, he was still the regal monarch, acting a lot like an alien tree version of Doctor Doom…

Groot ended up seemingly sacrificing himself to save the team, but Rocket Raccoon kept a piece of Groot, which grew back in time for the main event. Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (and artists Tom Raney and Scott Hanna) used the “suicide squad” team from the “Starlord” series as the main group of heroes in “Annihilation Conquest,” only teaming up with other heroes, like Gamora and Adam Warlock.

Abnett and Lanning decided to take a new approach with Groot, now having him more of a good guy and he also debuted his famous phrase, “I Am Groot.”

At one dramatic moment, Groot decides to sacrifice himself once again, by working with Mantis to set himself on fire to save his friends. “I Am Groot” has been solidified as his catch phrase…

At the end of the series, we see Rocket watering Groot…

This led to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” ongoing series by Abnett and Lanning and artists Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar.

RELATED: James Gunn Talks Flipping The Rocket-Groot Relationship

In that series, the opening few issues, Groot spends his time simply slowly growing in a pot…

Before he finally grows out of the pot and rejoins the Guardians. However, it was not actually until this series was over and Star-Lord was apparently dead that the Rocket Raccoon/Groot team that we’re all used to my now really started up. When the team broke up following Star-Lord’s death, Rocket grew to miss his friends and sought out Groot in a back-up feature by Abnett, Lanning and Timothy Green II in the pages of “Annihilators” (the high-powered super-team that succeeded the Guardians)…

Rocket and Groot had a number of adventures together until Star-Lord turned up alive and the Guardians reformed, with Groot being a member of the new series by Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven and John Dell…

Groot has been a longstanding member of the Guardians of the Galaxy ever since, and with the film version of the team following the path of the comics with Groot slowly growing back to regular size from the sapling state that he was left in at the end of the first film, Marvel will also be featuring a younger version of Groot in their comic books going forward, as the Guardians are set to take on a more familiar to movie audiences lineup very soon.

It’s funny to think that not only did Groot debut before the “Fantastic Four,” but he is going to have his own ongoing series this year and they’re not. That’s quite an achievement!

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