There’s no denying the popularity of Marvel Studios’ burgeoning Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise. Fans and critics alike lauded its slick visual effects, dynamic cast and sense of humor. The soundtrack kind of rocked, too. The film grossed hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide and injected the phrase “I am Groot” into the popular lexicon. But as much as we love Star-Lord’s ragtag band of grifters and assassins, the GotG we fell in love with on film bears little resemblance to the freedom fighters who debuted almost a half century ago in 1969’s Marvel Super-Heroes #18.
Boasting a deceptively powerful and eclectic roster of selfless heroes, the original Guardians were created by legendary artist Gene Colan and writer Arnold Drake, who was also responsible for the creation of Deadman and the Doom Patrol for DC Comics. The classic team fought tooth and nail to rid the galaxy of the oppressive Badoon, who had ravaged Earth and numerous other planets and rival empires. In recent years, the original team has been relegated to the sidelines of the Marvel Universe, as the company justifiably focuses on promoting its new media darlings. With that in mind, we thought we’d remind you why the classic Guardians of the Galaxy are superior to the MCU team.
SPOILER ALERT! Spoilers ahead for numerous stories published by Marvel Comics
15. THE FUTURE OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE
The adventures of the original Guardians of the Galaxy are set in the far future of the Marvel Universe, roughly 1000 years after current continuity. Part of what makes the classic line-up so intriguing is how the MU evolved in the centuries since teams like the Avengers and the X-Men fought their last battles. In the popular ‘90s ongoing series, Jim Valentino and his collaborators explored the 31st century with wild abandon, creating a galaxy populated by heroes and villains that were both new and familiar.
Here, Wolverine’s descendent ruled over a world of mutant outcasts, while Doctor Doom commandeered his vacant adamantium skeleton. The legacy of the Marvel Universe was seen to be alive and well, with new incarnations of Ghost Rider and Phoenix fighting alongside age-old heroes like Wonder Man, the Vision and Firelord, who survived into the 31st century, after a thousand years of fighting the good fight.
14. SPACE (AND TIME!)
While the MCU Guardians have so far been limited to the present day, the original team’s adventures took in all of time and space. In the classic Avengers storyline, “The Korvac Saga,” the Guardians found themselves embroiled in a fight to the death versus the cosmic menace known as Michael Korvac, travelling back in time to help Earth’s Mightiest Heroes end his threat to the universe.
In 2016’s Guardians 3000 by Dan Abnett and Carlos Sandoval, the Guardians’ discovered they were time anomalies, fighting a never-ending war versus the Badoon that had its roots in the past. Once again they battled the misguided Korvac, who was attempting to recreate the multiverse free from the errors of his first attempt. Past and present would once again collide in the follow-up series Guardians of Infinity, which revealed the existence of an earlier team of Guardians who lived during the 11th century.
13. NASTIER VILLAINS
Okay, let’s be honest. Ronan the Accuser was a pretty lame villain. Even empowered by one of the Infinity Stones he was defeated relatively easily by Star-Lord’s band of misfits, whose true adversaries seemed to be themselves. Sure, the team pulled it together by the end of the movie but just how threatening was the despotic rogue Kree? He was essentially beaten by a dancing fop and his back-up band. The menaces faced by the original Guardians were much more fearsome by comparison.
Take the Badoon, for example. More than just another religious fanatic with delusions of grandeur, the Brotherhood of the Badoon actually enslaved the entire galaxy, including Earth. They ravaged whole civilizations without opposition, crippling once proud empires such as the Kree and Shi’ar, and almost wiped out the Skrulls completely. It took the combined might of the Guardians and the time-travelling Defenders to finally send those damn, dirty Badoon packing.
12. THEY SHOOK DOWN THE WATCHER
In another instance of time travel, the original Guardians (or a team resembling them in virtually every way) ended up in Marvel’s Earth 9997, the setting of Jim Kreuger and Alex Ross’ ongoing Earth X saga. In the pages of Paradise X, Vance Astro and company encounter a blind Uatu the Watcher and X-51, aka Machine Man, as they witness the destruction and rebirth of their universe.
Believing this to be the main 616 Universe, Vance Astro and company take down the immensely powerful Watcher and subdue X-51, forcing the sentient robot to recount the history of this aberrant alternate universe. Ultimately, the Guardians would return to their own time with a greater understanding of their place in the multiverse and thanks to Arno Stark, found a way to empower their contemporaries with the X-Gene, giving them the means to finally defeat the Badoon.
11. A MORE POWERFUL ROSTER
While the MCU Guardians’ main superpower seems to be laying down gut-busting punchlines, the original team is composed of heroes who possess real power. Starhawk is a composite being whose connection to the universe is mystical in origin. He can sense disruptions of a cosmic nature and bend reality to his whim in localized areas. His onetime mate Aleta is able to create solid-light constructs similar to Quasar or Green Lantern.
The crystalline Martinex generates both extreme cold and heat, combining the powers of Iceman and the Human Torch, while Charlie-27 is immensely strong and durable, his massive physique modified to withstand the intense pressures of Jovian gravity. Their leader Vance Astro is also a peerless fighter and tactician, using psionics to telekinetically enhance his strength, speed and agility. The MCU version of the team? Well, they have a lot of guns and knives; their most powerful member being a monosyllabic sapling.
10. MORE ENGAGING STORYLINES
To be fair, we’ve only seen one adventure of the MCU Guardians, but let’s be clear: they have huge shoes to fill, considering how many cool storylines the original GOTG crew has been involved in over the years. We’ve already mentioned “The Korvac Saga” a couple of times but there have been several other epic tales Vance Astro and his compatriots have starred in.
One of our favorites has to be the “Quest for the Shield” arc, which opened the team’s first ongoing series in 1990. Shortly after helping the Avengers defeat Korvac, the Guardians returned to their own timeline and dedicated themselves to finding Captain America’s lost shield. Their success in retrieving the iconic symbol of freedom marked a turning point for the team, precipitating the separation of Starhawk into two beings, Vance Astro’s wielding the shield as Major Victory and Martinex creating the splinter group the Galactic Guardians.
9. HIGHER STAKES
One of the hallmarks of the original Guardians of the Galaxy’s adventures is that the stakes were consistently high. There was also very little room for cynicism. Whether they were battling cosmic menaces such as Korvac or fighting to free the galaxy from Badoon oppression, we always felt the end was near. From their very inception, Vance Astro, Charlie-27, Starhawk and Martinex found their backs against the proverbial wall, with nothing less than the fate of the entire universe hanging in the balance.
In contrast, Ronan the Accuser taking out the Nova Corps and threatening the planet Xandar just doesn’t hold a candle to the kind of all-or-nothing battles the classic team fought on a monthly basis. More than that, there was little doubt as to where the team stood in a given conflict. Not so their MCU counterparts, who had to be convinced and cajoled into saving Xandar by the well-meaning yet naïve Star-Lord.
8. TIES THAT BIND
Bonded by their seemingly interminable war against the Badoon, the original Guardians of the Galaxy always felt as much like a family as they did a fighting unit. Sure, there is an obvious command structure, but the team never let hierarchy take precedence over doing right by one another. Take the above scene for instance. The opening sequence of Guardians 3000 introduces us to a team of Guardians under siege by a horde of Stark-enhanced Badoon that soon overwhelms the team.
As Yondu (yup, he was on OG Guardian first) lay dying in Astro’s arms, we’re reminded by the Major’s tears that the fierce Alpha Centaurian was the first Guardian the time-displaced Earthman met after waking in the 31st century. Now contrast the pathos of that scene with the self-centered entitlement and conflicting personal agendas infecting virtually every member of the MCU Guardians, who needed Groot’s sacrifice to finally realize that they were far stronger together than apart. Go on, we’ll wait…
7. FREEDOM FIGHTERS (NOT CROOKS)
Self-centered, self-entitled and just plain selfish, it’s hard to consider the MCU Guardians true heroes. Even after defeating Ronan the Accuser, Star-Lord’s band of miscreants refused to consider themselves heroes. In fact, their claim to the name Guardians of the Galaxy feels suspect, considering the only thing they really care about guarding is their own “assets.”
The MCU version of the team is more concerned with the next big score, somehow retaining the respect of the authorities in the Nova Corps, despite their rampant criminal activities. On the flip side, the original Guardians have always been and will always be true heroes, freedom fighters willing to sacrifice their lives at the drop of a hat to save their team and their galaxy. Guys like Rocket and Star-Lord? Well, they’re more concerned with whose dropping a dime on them.
6. THE USS CAPTAIN AMERICA
As cool as Star-Lord’s Ravager ship, The Milano, is, it can’t compare to the USS Captain America II, the original Guardians’ current mode of transportation. After the destruction of their previous starship during their first encounter with the Stark, the Guardians took possession of their attackers’ vessel and christened it the Captain America II. Equipped with numerous offensive and defensive capabilities, the starship provides the team with a mobile base-of-operations that also felt like home and boasts a shuttle named the Avenger.
The second space-faring vessel of its name, the original Captain America was one of the ships created by Magneto to ferry the mutant race to their new home on the planet Haven. No matter what version of the ship we’re talking about, it’s safe to assume the Captain America was whole lot faster, more powerful and spacious than Peter Quill’s cramped flying man-cave.
5. STAR-CROSSED ROMANCE
Every space opera worth its salt needs a good romance. This is one of the main criticisms we have with the depiction of the so-called romance between Gamora and Peter Quill in the movie. The relationship between the gorgeous assassin and the lovable rogue felt contrived and somewhat formulaic. Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt certainly make a cute couple but their relationship arc was somewhat typical of any number of action-comedy flicks, regardless of genre.
The classic Guardians team embraced romance as part of its core values, with the most notable relationship existing between Aleta and Stakar Ogord, the couple who eventually became the composite being Starhawk. Aleta eventually divorced Stakar and later married Vance Astro. Becoming increasingly unstable, Stakar reabsorbed Aleta against her will, adding yet another layer of complexity to an already complicated love triangle. And we bet you thought the Leia-Luke-Han thing was awkward!
4. HOLLYWOOD & MAINFRAME: BROTHERS-IN-ARMS?
In original Marvel 616 continuity, the Vision was created using Simon Williams’ unique brain patterns. Himself an immensely powerful hero called Wonder Man, Williams was one of the few heroes who survived into the 31st century, after he was forced to abandon his compatriots during the 21st century’s Martian invasion of Earth. Teleported away from the final battle by his “brother” the Vision, Simon never forgave his fellow Avenger for saving him from what was almost certain death.
In the 31st century, Williams becomes Hollywood, the Man of Wonder, while the Vision evolved into the planet-wide operating system known as Mainframe. Their relationship remained strained despite serving on the Galactic Guardians together but added an intriguing and complicated connection to the mainstream Marvel Universe (and the Avengers) that is so far sorely lacking in the MCU version of GOTG.
3. VANCE ASTRO TRUMPS STAR-LORD
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. There’s really no way that Star-Lord even remotely approaches Vance Astro’s capabilities as leader of the Guardians. Impetuous, immature and self-interested, Star-Lord is still growing into the responsibility of leading his team and still lacks the integrity of a Vance Astro. Let’s not forget, Astro is a trained astronaut who served in the military. He was born to lead.
A brilliant tactician and confident leader, he puts the needs of his team and their mission ahead of himself —a trait Star-Lord admittedly possess but still applies inconsistently. Not just anybody can carry Captain America’s shield. It may not have Thor-style enchantment preventing those who are unworthy from lifting it but that’s only because most people know better than to try in the first place. Unless your name is Vance Astro. In that case, you know you’re worthy to carry on Captain America’s legacy. And you do it… with aplomb.
2. THIS TEAM IS NO JOKE
No matter how much it purported to be a loving tribute to film franchises like Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 was really an action-comedy dressed up as a space opera. At times, the constant attempts at humor, while mostly successful, came close to parody. This concern becomes particularly valid in light of the film’s sequel, which according to the numerous teasers and trailers, seems intent on packing in more of the same.
Star-Lord’s infamous dance-off with Ronan may have made for some funny memes but won’t likely stand the test of time, in terms of great cinematic showdowns. After all, going viral doesn’t necessarily a good movie make. The classic Guardians may not have been played for laughs but there were fun moments in the comics, balanced by high-octane action and adventure. In the good ol’ days, story was rarely sacrificed for an easy punchline.
1. TOMORROW’S AVENGERS TODAY
Okay, so we’ll give credit where credit is due. The MCU Guardians try mighty hard to be heroes but they still aren’t nearly mighty enough to stand with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The original Guardians have been considered honorary Avengers for decades now, not only serving alongside their heroic predecessors in the present but carrying on their legacy far into the future.
The GOTG is a superhero team with a proud, rich history; one that includes former Avengers like Wonder Man and the Vision. Their mandate encompasses “the entire freakin’ galaxy” to quote no less an authority than Vance Astro. As such, their reach arguably surpasses their predecessors in the Avengers and most certainly exceeds that of Star-Lord’s 21st century band of outlaws. When the chips are down, who would you want saving the universe? A bunch of gun-toting comedians or true heroes willing to do whatever it takes to save the day? We’d go with the latter.
Which Guardians team do you think is better? Let us know in the Comments!