On the surface, Groot seems simple enough. He’s a sentient talking tree with a heart of gold, or for “Lord of the Rings” fans, basically an Ent with better footwork and a significantly more limited vocabulary. When you start diving into Groot’s comic book appearances, and his Marvel Cinematic Universe history, it turns out there’s a lot more to everyone’s favorite dancing shrub. In fact, while it may not surprise you that we found ample reason to love Groot, many modern comics readers might not know just how many good reasons there are to fear Groot!
Although many Marvel Comics fans met Groot during Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Guardians of the Galaxy relaunch in 2008, or later in the James Gunn directed Guardians of the Galaxy film, Groot’s actual first comics appearance dates all the way back to before Fantastic Four #1 was released in 1962. Since then, the one-time Marvel monster floated between various monster comics before finally finding a home with the Guardians. This atypical legacy provides ample opportunity to love and fear Groot, and below you’ll find some of the best Groot moments, along with some of the strangest and scariest.
15. LOVED: THE HITCHHIKER’S GROOT TO THE GALAXY
There’s a playfulness to modern day Groot that makes him one of the single most endearing characters in the Marvel Universe. Sure, back in “Annihilation Conquest” Groot was acting like he’d seen Braveheart one too many times and saying things like “This will be a glorious death” to no one in particular. Following the 2014 star turn on the silver screen, the likes of Skottie Young and Jeff Loveness focused on putting Groot’s giant oaken heart on display, to extremely charming effect.
Groot’s inherent cute factor is rarely more apparent than during 2015’s “Groot” #1, as Groot eagerly hitchhikes his way across the Galaxy (much to Douglas Adam’s credit and to Rocket Raccoon’s incredulity). If seeing a smiling Groot excitedly extend his hitchhiker’s thumb doesn’t bring a big dumb smile to your face, we raise you one more detail. In order to continue their ride-less journey across the cosmos, Groot and Rocket steal a custom rocket meant for an alien child seeking to escape a doomed planet for Earth. Sound familiar? Nah, we didn’t think so either.
14. FEARED: GROOT’S MONSTROUS ORIGIN
Before Jack Kirby and Stan Lee launched the Marvel Universe as we know it today with Fantastic Four #1, Marvel as a publisher was frequently focused on monster comics. For this reason, Tales to Astonish #13 features the first appearance of Groot as an extraterrestrial giant menace to the entire planet. The issue is written by Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother) with interior art by Don Heck and a glorious cover by the one and only Jack “King” Kirby.
Groot introduces himself to the terrified populace as the “Monarch of Planet X” and makes it known that he intends to kidnap and experiment on an entire human village. At this stage in his creation, Groot also reveals the ability to talk to plant-life, using the trees to carry away the frightened village and quell their attempts at resistance. Despite his apparent invincibility, the town’s populace comes up with the only possible way to stop their nightmarish would-be abductor: Termites!
13. LOVED: EVERY TIME HE DANCES
You can certainly argue that Guardians of the Galaxy had already won hearts and minds by the time the end credits began to roll in 2014, but if not, baby Groot’s adorable dancing sealed the deal. Groot’s joyously wiggly reaction to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” – performed like a true victory lap by director James Gunn – ensured the Guardians least verbose member a legacy in Marvel Cinematic Universe lore, not to mention the most all ages friendly toy line in the entire filmography.
Just in case you had to rush to the bathroom (or run outside screaming praises) at the end of Guardians vol. 1, Groot’s moves were back and then some in Guardians Vol. 2, this time to Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr. Blue Sky. There wasn’t any doubt, but nobody can bust a root like Groot, and we love the little sapling for it. Just whatever happens, nobody tell Drax the Destroyer.
12. FEARED: VENOM GROOT
During the Brian Michael Bendis run on Guardians of the Galaxy (from 2013 to 2017), Flash Thompson, aka Agent Venom, joins the Guardians as an emissary of Earth. Eventually, this leads to Flash and the team exploring the true origins of the symbiote suit, and its planet of origin. Before we get to that point, though, the symbiote breaks free aboard the Guardian’s ship and transforms the lovable Groot into a terrifying villain, shouting, “I am Venom!”
Valerio Schiti’s design of Venom Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy #21 adds a level of ferocity and intimidation that’s been missing from the character, as a possessed Groot lays waste to the Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s easy to forget just how powerful Groot is when he’s following commands from Rocket Raccoon and Star-Lord, but freed from his teammates, Groot takes on the entire team. It’s only thanks to Rocket’s ingenious MacGyvering that Groot is freed from the symbiote and returned to his more heroic nature.
11. LOVED: WHEN HE WON THE SECRET WARS (2015)
We love Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s 2015 “Secret Wars” event like no other, but amidst the explosive conclusion, it’s easy to overlook just how pivotal a role Groot played in stopping Emperor God Doom.
In Secret Wars, Peter Quill is one of the few Marvel characters who manages to survive from the final incursion through to Doctor Doom’s construction of Battleworld. It appears that all the Guardians of the Galaxy except Quill are killed during this final incursion, but in Secret Wars #8 it’s revealed that Quill managed to save a sliver of Groot from final destruction. During the climactic final battle to overthrow Doom, Quill uses this sliver of Groot to combine with the World Tree at the center of Castle Doom to hastily revive Groot to full giant-sized strength.
Groot erupts at the center of Castle Doom, bringing the walls down around him with a thunderous “I AM GROOT!” Esad Ribic’s art throughout Secret Wars transforms the event into Marvel’s best of the decade, and the splash page of Groot’s ascendance is no exception. If all that wasn’t reason enough to love the potential of Groot, after bringing Castle Doom down around his feet, Groot turns to slug it out with the Franklin Richards controlled Galactus, and even Richards is frightened.
10. FEARED: WHEN HE THREATENED TO MURDER A GUY
So much has happened in the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy that it’s easy to forget, but one of the first images we see of Groot is him twisting fingerling tendrils through the nostrils of a fellow prisoner. It’s a brutal intimidation tactic, and is sure to have sent some movie-going children home with nightmares of trees come alive and poking their brains. This early view into Groot is far from the Michael Jackson loving dance star we’d come to know, and is approximately 300 times scarier.
The strange truth of the largely heroic Guardians of the Galaxy is they are absolutely no strangers to violent incapacitation or straight up murder. Drax, Rocket, and Gamora are perhaps best known for killing. Star-Lord and Groot are frequently seen as the two less murderous members of the squad, but this early scene in Guardians Vol. 1 highlights that Groot is more than capable of taking a life. There’s a cold dark reality to Groot that without the Guardians to guide him he simply may not share the same morality and values that we typically associate with our heroes.
9. LOVED: WHEN HE LIBERATED A SKRULL REFUGEE CAMP
During the renumbered second wave of the Bendis run on Guardians of the Galaxy, the Guardians find themselves pairing off in order to stop a Badoon plot involving a variety of prison planets. Groot teams up with Agent Venom, and upon landing, the teammates find themselves surrounded by a variety of Skrulls looking like they’re straight from the pages of Secret Invasion. Venom – who had recently been tortured and interrogated by an extremist Skrull faction – is instantly ready to wage war and take out as many of the Skrulls as he can.
Fortunately, calmer Groots prevail. Groot proves to be the more perceptive of the duo, identifying that in actuality these Skrulls are refugees and victims of the Badoon. As Marvel comics fans have seen in abundance, a Venom bloodlust is no small thing to quell, but Groot finds a way, using his empathetic presence and soft-spoken leadership on the team to convince Venom to help the Skrulls. It’s a small-scale tale of the Good Samaritan as presented through the eyes of Groot, and just another reason we love him.
8. FEARED: WHEN THE HOWLING COMMANDOS HUNTED HIM DOWN
One of the better kept secrets in Marvel Comics history is the fact that Nick Fury once composed a unit of Howling Commandos made up of Marvel Universe monsters in order to deal with supernatural threats. Even stranger is the detail that Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos #2 opens with a hunt to capture Groot from the woods of Canada. It took Warwolf, Gorilla Man, Sasquatch, and Abominable Snowman (no really, that was a team) to bring Groot down before ultimately imprisoning him (seemingly just because he was generally scary). Sasquatch explains that although Groot was hiding among the forest, the resident of Planet X smells nothing like an actual tree, which raises the question why nobody on the Guardians has pranked Groot with hidden Christmas pine scents hanging from his branches.
Writer Keith Giffen would expand on Groot from his appearance here in the Star-Lord: Annihilation Conquest miniseries. At this point in Groot’s history, though, he’s seen as a monstrous menace that must be brought to justice at all costs. In fact, Groot strikes such fear in the heart of Nick Fury, that he brings both his Howling Commandos and fully armed S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carriers to ensure success.
7. LOVED: HIS CHILDREN’S STORY
Don’t worry, no we’re not talking about comics in general. In “Grounded,” one of Brian Michael Bendis’s final arcs on Guardians of the Galaxy, Bendis takes the time to deliver a solo story about Groot’s time on Earth, and does so in the format of a children’s story. An earnest attempt at a true all-ages Dr. Seuss imitation could fall flat for much of the Marvel Universe, but Groot’s inherent affability and modern heart of gold work wonderfully.
The issue also highlights another reason we love Groot: his limited dialogue forces creative teams to experiment with comic book craft and storytelling. Whereas a writer like Bendis is well-known for David Mamet style ping-pong dialogue and pages of framed talking heads, that approach becomes tortuously boring with Groot. The decision here by artist Valerio Schiti to allow a childlike innocence to shine through for the Guardians most lovable warrior is perfect.
6. FEARED: SPIDER-MAN’S NIGHTMARES
Peter Parker has more than enough to worry about, and if you’ve read enough Spider-Man comics, you know his nightmares are often full of Venom, Carnage, Sinister Six, and occasionally a shouting J. Jonah Jameson (is there any other kind?). Only the most die-hard Spidey fans know that for one strange and unexpected issue, Spider-Man’s nightmares included the one and only Groot. In 1997’s Sensational Spider-Man #-1 (and readers complain about zero issues nowadays!), we see Peter Parker fearfully worry about a wide variety of monsters come to get him in his dreams. This includes, of course, a pre-Guardians of the Galaxy Groot.
I’d have to think this is the last time Spider-Man broke into a cold sweat with dreams of Groot. Certainly since the Guardians have become more established in the modern Marvel superhero community, Spidey must know he has nothing to fear from Groot (well, at least assuming that’s the last we’ve seen of Venom Groot!). Nonetheless, for one issue, it is a deep-cut reminder of Groot’s horrifying monster past.
5. LOVED: WHEN HE ORDERED THE WORLD’S LARGEST LONG ISLAND ICE TEA
For all intents and purposes, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s time writing Guardians of the Galaxy and “Thanos Imperative” establishes the tri-worded Groot we know and love today. Groot is Rocket’s best pal, only Rocket can understand his speech (although having a telepathic Russian pup and Mantis on board also offer communication opportunities), and yes, after a hard day’s work Groot orders a drink so big we think Rocket Raccoon could bathe in it.
In Guardians of the Galaxy #20, the weary Guardians continue to fight the tears in space, with Groot extending branched limbs deep into the breach in order to secure a successful mission. After the team returns to Starlin’s bar to unwind, we get a glimpse of everyone’s order of choice, including Groot’s tiny umbrella infused mega Long Island Iced Tea! Sure, there’s nothing explicitly in the text that declares this a Long Island Iced Tea, and Starlins surely serves all manner of alien liquid, but we love Groot all the more for his drinking prowess.
4. FEARED: ATTACKING NEW YORK
One of the clearest examples of Groot’s earlier scary monster days comes from the one-shot “Marvel Monsters: Monsters on the Prowl,” part of a short-lived Marvel Monsters comics line. Groot and a bunch of fellow “monsters” escape a Canadian facility run by The Collector (speaking of monsters) and subsequently organize a march to terrify New York City. You’re not really a monster to be reckoned with until you’ve scared pedestrians in New York, so this is where Groot truly earns his “stuff of nightmares” bonafides.
The attempt to categorize Groot alongside the Collector’s monster reject squad is also a good reminder just how far the character has come, and how effectively the likes of Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning have rehabilitated Groot’s image. It seems almost impossible to imagine Groot marching on New York during a Marvel event like “Monsters Unleashed,” unless it was with the Guardians of the Galaxy aiming to save the day, or he had been brainwashed by a villain.
3. LOVED: HIS GREAT CAMPFIRE STORIES
In Skottie Young and Jake Parker’s Rocket Raccoon #5, Rocket gets tired of telling campfire stories to the world’s cutest alien boyscouts and passes the mic to Groot. The ensuing story tests the mileage of Groot’s catchphrase, as every piece of dialogue in his story is merely Groot’s own voice saying “I Am Groot.” This might seem like a funny half-baked concept that would get scrapped on the cutting room floor, but Rocket Raccoon #5 is an honest to goodness entire campfire story told in Groot’s own wonderfully consistent dialogue. Even the building signs and cab cars in Groot’s telling just say “I Am Groot!”
The approach could have become very stale, very fast, but because of Groot’s charm telling the story, and Skottie Young and Jake Parker’s mastery of all things Rocket and Groot, Groot’s campfire saga simply becomes another reason to love the Guardian. Marvel has experimented with silent issues before, perhaps most notably in the early 2000’s “‘Nuff Said” event, although I’d be willing to bet this is the first Marvel comic to simply repeat the same three words for 75% of the books text. It’s an instant classic, and proof that Groot is a character worthy of his own series despite the apparent limitations.
2. FEARED: DISCOVERING HE’S ACTUALLY AN EXILED PRISONER
Groot’s comic book continuity, and associations as a Marvel monster from Tales to Astonish is muddled by the fact that Groot has been telling people he’s the Monarch of Planet X throughout history. There’s the origin in Tales to Astonish, but there’s also Groot speaking full sentences as royalty in “Star-Lord: Annihilation Conquest,” as well as Abnett and Lanning utilizing Groot as a royal emissary to gain the “Guardians of the Galaxy” leverage during “War of Kings.” In many ways, Groot’s title of Monarch simply transitioned from a place of menacing power to curious piece of laughable trivia.
Except it’s since been revealed that Groot was lying about being the sole Monarch of Planet X the whole time! In reality, Rocket Raccoon discovers in “Annihilators #1” that Groot was exiled from Planet X, and when Rocket finds him back on the planet, good old king Groot is being held prisoner by the true leaders of the planet.
The Guardians are of course no stranger to welcoming prisoners, murderers and thieves to the squad (in fact, it’s kind of their thing in the modern iteration), but Groot’s status as exiled prisoner may be more than even they bargained for.
1. LOVED: “WE ARE GROOT”
The best reason to love Groot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is his heroic sacrifice to give up his body (and seemingly life) to protect his team so they can stop Ronan the Accuser from running mad with power. Yes, Groot can reform if a single splinter of his form is recovered, but if your heart doesn’t swell at Groot’s willingness to give himself up for the cause, then we say your father was an oak, and your mother was an elm!
Honestly, even though Groot’s back and introducing the eternal majesty of Electric Light Orchestra to movie-goers everywhere, his sacrifice is one of the most notable in the MCU to date. Just think, without Groot’s heart of gold, we wouldn’t have ever made it to Peter Quill’s dance off or Drax asking John C. Reilly’s Nova how their justice system looked upon murder. In the end, it’s a heartwarming moment, yet another reason to celebrate the eternal truth: We are Groot!
Let us know what you love (or fear) most about Groot in the comments!