While it seemed preposterous even five years ago, the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has elevated the popularity of the Guardians of the Galaxy to household-name status. Against all odds, the likes of Star-Lord, Gamora and Groot are somewhere slightly behind The Avengers and the X-Men. At this point, a majority of Americans can probably name more members of the Guardians than heads of state.
Despite all this, the Guardians of the Galaxy have a relatively unexplored and often forgotten comic book history. There’s actually plenty of reason why most comic book readers had heard of this bonkers hodge-podge of self-proscribed galactic protectors. In fact, if you asked Guardians fans whether a Guardians of the Galaxy movie would be a success in 2013, they’d likely have pointed to their copies of Jim Valentino’s 1990’s run or the more recent Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning masterpiece from 2008 and identified exactly why Guardians was destined for greatness.
Fans new to the Guardians of the Galaxy comics have a substantial legacy to explore, with loads of hidden gems sprinkled throughout unlikely stories resting in obscurity. Here are the weirdest, wildest, and greatest moments from Guardians of the Galaxy comics that have been lost to history or that nobody talks about anymore.
15. GHOST RIDER: GUARDIAN OF THE GALAXY
You know Ghost Rider? The flaming-skull biker who showed up in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. this season and who was Nicholas Cage played in two comic book movies? (You can pretend they didn’t happen, but we’ll never truly forget.) Guess what? Totally a Guardian of the Galaxy! It’s a true story, although it’s not until after the year 3000 A.D. that the spirit of vengeance joins up with the space-faring Guardians. Sure, he first goes to battle with the Guardians on his wooly-mammoth tusked space-bike, but that’s how all good partnerships begin in comics.
You can see Ghost Rider’s quest to end The Universal Church of Truth (pulled straight from Jim Starlin’s 1970’s meta commentary on organized religion!) in the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series that ran from 1990 to 1994.
14. BISON & GORILLA-MAN, MASTERS OF COMEDY
You might recognize Gorilla-Man (human head, gorilla body) and Bison (Bison… everything) as two great choices for any “most ridiculous Marvel villain” Twitter thread. If you don’t, fear not, the duo hasn’t exactly set the comics world alight with transformational story.
Nonetheless, Bison and Gorilla-Man may have set the stage for every “Who?” joke in Guardians lore. The first Guardians trailer effectively ran on the gag that nobody has heard of either Star-Lord or the Guardians of the Galaxy. Co-writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning field-tested that level of self-aware obscurity in their 2008 to 2010 run on Guardians of the Galaxy, with Gorilla-Man and Bison dumping on Star-Lord like they hadn’t even read Marvel Preview #4 (aka Star-Lord’s first appearance in the 1970’s). When Bison is mocking you for obscurity, that’s a low blow.
13. ALL-AMERICAN DOOM
The first story arc of Jim Valentino’s 1990 relaunch of Guardians of the Galaxy (3000 A.D. era) centers around the search for Captain America’s shield. Keep in mind that the narrative also sets up a pretty overwhelmingly terrible future for the planet, in which Earth’s Mightiest Heroes fell to the combined might of the alien Badoon. Much like their 1968 origins in Marvel Super-Heroes #18, the Guardians of the Galaxy band together as a militaristic resistance to the fall of Earth as a universal superpower.
The explanation given for the continued accessibility of Captain America’s weapon of choice is that Doctor Doom launched Captain America’s shield into space because he was “such a worthy foe.” Various writers have played with the nobility of Doctor Doom for years, and while it may seem laughable that the European villain who literally scarred his arch-nemesis with hellfire would express severe sentimentality over an American icon, it’s an entertaining symbolic gesture.
12. MAGNETO WAS RIGHT
As it turns out, Magneto was right. In the Guardians 3000 A.D. era it is revealed that Earth’s mutant population was forced to colonize the space ways before the Badoon even showed up to lay waste to Earth. In Marvel Comics, Magneto had predicted humanity wouldn’t be able to coexist peacefully with “homo superior,” and in this timeline he was absolutely proven correct. Mutants were so reviled by a world that feared and hated them that the entire class of powered beings was cast off into space.
Once in space, the mutants are attacked by… well, another mutant named Apocalypse. Long story short: after Magneto’s sacrificial defense of the mutants from Apocalypse (keep in mind this is before Age of Apocalypse was published!), Wolverine conquered the mutant colonies in space and basically became a mean tyrannical overlord. The fact that Marvel has never produced a “Wolverine 3000 A.D.” miniseries may be the greatest missed opportunity in Guardians lore.
11. ALL-AMERICAN GUARDIAN
The Guardians of the Galaxy have a long history of respecting the American ideal, even though the team is comprised of members from Pluto, Jupiter, and beyond. Likely, the majority of the American infatuation stems from Vance Astro, (a.k.a. Major Victory)’s worship of, and respect for, Captain America. Heck, the Guardian’s first ship is even called the “Captain America.” It’s not subtle. Not one bit.
Nonetheless, the most American thing to ever happen to the Guardians was bringing Jack Flag into their ranks. That’s right, Jack Flag – complete with red, white and blue hair – rode around in a wheelchair in the negative zone and then joined the Guardians during the Abnett and Lanning run. If there’s any hero more American than one whose origins begin in a duo called “Stars and Stripes” and worked for Captain America’s hotline (you know, where you could report crimes for Captain America to investigate), I sure haven’t heard of him.
10. THE TRULY ANCIENT ONE
Jim Valentino’s ’90s Guardians of the Galaxy walks a fine line between connecting the Guardians to the modern Marvel Universe and over-extended cameos. If you have too few connections to Marvel heroes whom readers remember, then the series may lose its audience. Conversely, too many appearances of bewilderingly still-living familiar faces would have had Valentino’s work falling into pandering to fan-service.
One of the most gloriously effective and unexpected cameos came while the Guardians faced down the dread Dormammu. While readers were expecting a new Sorcerer Supreme to show up to battle the dark lord of the dread dimension, instead we actually saw Dr. Strange himself, now having inherited the role of Ancient One! This leads to a nearly unbeatable exchange between the longtime archenemies:
Dr. Strange: “You can call me the Ancient One!”
Dormammu: “I call you coward!”
9. GALACTUS HAS A MAN CAVE
In the 2014 Guardians 3000 eight-issue series written by Dan Abnett, it’s revealed that a powerful cult called “The Old Hunger” revolves around (who else) old man Galactus. More surprising, it’s revealed that Galactus has taken up chilling in a black hole, literally waiting for the end of the Universe so he can pass through another big bang like he did when the Marvel Universe began. It’s one of the more unexpected 2015 Secret Wars tie-ins, as the ramifications of The Beyonders and the collapse of the Marvel Multiverse reached even into the year 3000 A.D.
8. THERE’S BEEN A TEAM EVERY 1,000 YEARS
Following Guardians 3000, Abnett went on to write another eight-issue series called Guardians of Infinity. The series brought together the Guardians 3000 with the modern team lineup of Drax, Rocket and Groot (a.k.a. the Guardians 2000). The surprise of this series comes when the Guardians 1000 show up and declare that they were the universe’s first Guardians of the Galaxy.
While this is certainly a cool concept and leads to some fun characters, it also means that three different groups of heroes, separated by thousands of years, independently came to the conclusion that Guardians of the Galaxy was the best name for a team. Now, I enjoy the name and alliteration has never failed a comic book yet, but what are the odds of that happening?
7. DOCTOR DOOM CONTROLLED WOLVERINE’S ADAMANTIUM SKELETON
Marvel Comics kicked off a universe in the 1990s called Marvel 2099 that took a look at the world of Marvel over 100 years in the future. As a result, Doom 2099 gets most of the future-Doom accolades, and I won’t pretend I wouldn’t propose marriage to that electric blue costume of his if the opportunity arose. Nonetheless, the Doctor Doom of the classic Guardian’s year 3000 is wildly underrated.
Exhibit A: During a fight with Wolverine’s ferocious, villainous daughter, Rancor, it is revealed that Doctor Doom transplanted his consciousness into Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton. One of the absolute greatest things about Doctor Doom is his never-ending quest for absolute power and godhood, so it only makes sense that he’d find a way to graft his consciousness onto the most durable skeleton in Marvel Comics.
6. GROOT MIGHT BE A PUERTO RICAN SPIRIT
Sure, we’ve covered “8 Reasons We Love Groot (and 7 Reasons We Fear Him),” but one of the most surprising recent Groot revelations comes in a Guardians of Infinity backup. The short story by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and Darryl McDaniels reveals that Groot resembles a Puerto Rican legend (the Ceiba Tree) that states the spirits of our ancestors rest inside a giant tree. Think Yggdrasil of Asgardian lore, but with significantly better mofongo.
At the end of the day, this myth isn’t likely to usurp Groot’s standing as an actual extraterrestrial from the Planet X (not to mention, ex-convict from the planet of Groots!), but it’s an interesting look at how Groot might fit more frequently into modern mythology. Despite the recent clarity around Groot’s standing on his own planet, we don’t necessarily have a sense of how long invaders from Planet X have been visiting earth. Might Groot-like creatures form the basis of other myths in the Marvel Universe?
5. THE THING & GROOT TEAMED UP WITH RUN-D.M.C.
1: Groot & Ben Grimm beat up some PLANTS
2: No sucka MC villain should take that CHANCE
1: Guardians of the Galaxy like to DANCE
Both: AND DARRYL MAC GOT TO COMIC BOOK FREELANCE
In Guardians of Infinity, writing duo Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and Darryl McDaniels (aka DMC) deliver a story about Groot and Ben Grimm crash-landing on Earth and taking on the laughable Plant Man on the streets of New York.
In addition to one of the more unlikely and joyous team-ups in All-New Guardians comics, we also get to enjoy The Thing straight wearing the classic Run-D.M.C. all-black leisure suit and fedora combo (presumably with Adidas). It’s one of the more fun hip-hop Easter Eggs in Marvel, and a great look for both fans of the Guardians and the Fantastic Four.
4. TONY STARK CREATED THE GREATEST A.I. THREAT TO GALACTIC LIFE
During Jim Valentino’s work on Guardians of the Galaxy, we learn that prior to 3000 A.D. Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) launched all of his armor into space to keep his own inventions out of the hands of the Badoon. While the intentions seem characteristically noble, the outcome is horrific, with the Iron Man armor cache crashing on an alien planet and unintentionally creating The Stark, a villainous AI construct that would go on to terrorize the Guardians of the future.
On one hand, you can understand Iron Man resenting the idea of a hostile alien war force taking control of his suits of mass destruction, but maybe start to aim those launches into space, Tony. We have a feeling the Incredible Hulk might share a similar sentiment on that front after “Planet Hulk” as well.
3. THE GUARDIANS 3000 SURVIVED THE BEYONDER!
If your team had faced down the Beyonder and survived to talk about it, then you know you really have something special going on. This is exactly what happens in Guardians of the Galaxy #38.
This might seem like a joke, but the Beyonder essentially shows up to reveal that he’s captured some of the Guardians 3000’s most fearsome villains, and to gave Vance Astro an Underarmor prototype. No really, the Beyonder gives the once and future Major Victory long black sleeves under his costume and basically tells him “This will all make sense some day, little man.”
2. STAR-LORD’S AN UNETHICAL MONSTER
While most MCU fans today know Peter Quill for his improbable ascendance from Parks and Recreations’ lovable Andy Dwyer into Guardians’ shredded Star-Lord, Quill is far more of a war-weary veteran in Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s glorious 2008 Guardians reboot. Quill spouts some seriously dangerous “The end justifies the means” philosophy before collaborating with Mantis to manipulate the minds of Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, Phyla-Vell and Adam Warlock into joining his all-new Guardians.
That’s some real Nick Fury or Maxwell Lord ethical line-smearing, and although the team eventually forgives Quill, he employs the exact same sort of mind-wiping that gets heroes in trouble in DC’s Identity Crisis or Marvel’s Secret War. To Quill’s credit, the ends here include saving the galaxy on multiple occasions, but he definitely tampered with the free will of his companions.
1. GROOT ORIGINALLY SPOKE IN EPIC FULL SENTENCES
If there’s one thing we all know about Groot, it’s that he’s a heckuva dancer. And if there’s a second thing we all know about Groot, it’s that his vocabulary rarely (meaning, basically never) extends beyond the three words “I Am Groot.” You can imagine the appropriate level of dismay for a comics reader to go back to the Keith Giffen written Star-Lord: Annihilation Conquest only to find Groot speaking like Doctor Doom!
Groot declaring “This will be a glorious death” is a far cry from “I am Groot” and strangely diminishes this earlier version of the character. While there are potential advantages to actually understanding Groot’s thoughts, and Amy Adams in Arrival would definitely advocate for perhaps some communication, Groot’s identity is so locked into tri-pronged speech patterns that taking it away is disturbing!
Are there any other Guardians of the Galaxy factoids you think our readers should know about? Don’t be shy: let us know what in the comments!