Marvel Comics’ ragtag band of intergalactic heroes, the Guardians of the Galaxy are a fantastically flawed group of friends who routinely embark on comedic capers with a scope as massive as the solar systems they protect. That formula lead to a fan-favorite comic series before translating into success in film, an animated television series, and even a prose novel. Now, the Guardians of the Galaxy launch their own video game series, a new episodic offering from Telltale Games, the first episode of which is available now.
Telltale’s Guardians game is set in its own universe that takes material from both the cinematic and print versions of the Marvel Universe to create something that feels familiar, but is entirely unique. This July, readers will get a chance to explore that universe even further with the launch of Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series, a five issue miniseries from writer Fred Van Lente and artist Salva Espin that serves as a prequel to the video game series. In the series, readers follow the Guardians to some familiar Marvel ports of call as they try to steal from a cult dedicated to the worship of Thanos the Mad Titan.
CBR spoke with Van Lente about his take on the characters, the places they’ll go, the people they’ll run afoul of, and the joy that he got from penning his first Marvel Cosmic story.
CBR: Let’s start off by talking about your title characters — this isn’t exactly the Guardians we’ve seen before, correct?
Fred Van Lente: This comic is based on the Telltale Games video games series; I actually worked for them on the Michonne game that came out last year as part of their The Walking Dead franchise. One of the interesting things that Telltale does is they take pre-existing properties and sort of make them their own.
This version of the Guardians is essentially the same team from the film, but they’re in their own little Telltale Games universe with variations that can’t be found in the movie or comic versions of the Guardians.
Which characters and character dynamics are you especially enjoying writing in this series?
Drax is a lot of fun. I like writing Drax for the same reasons I like writing the Punisher. Both are sort of overly serious. I’m enjoying coming up with new metaphors for him to misunderstand.
Peter Quill is the focal point of the game and this comic, and what I like about what Telltale has done with Quill is that he’s still brash, cocky, and kind of a pain the ass. He’s also has a vulnerable and sensitive side though too. He’s more unsure of himself in a lot of ways. So we’re definitely playing that up.
Can you talk more about what being a prequel to the video game series means for the narrative of the book?
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that in the opening of the first Telltale Games series episode you’re fighting Thanos. There’s a big climactic battle between Thanos and the Guardians, and the Guardians are already established as intergalactic heroes for hire. They take contracts from the Nova Corps, and that sort of thing.
In our series, we pick up with them a bit earlier and show where the conflict with Thanos comes from. That gets paid off later in the game.
I understand your series sends the Guardians to Thanos’ birth world, Titan. What can you tell us about this version of Titan and the mission that brings the Guardians there?
[Laughs] Well, I read a bunch of Jim Starlin comics; Warlock, Captain Marvel, and the like, and I definitely liked how Titan was set up. Jim Starlin basically got to do one Iron Man comic where he introduced Thanos, his brother Eros, his father Mentor, the Blood Brothers, Drax and Titan. He did that all in one 20-, and it might have even been 17 in those days, page comic. He’s definitely someone who took complete advantage of his opportunity.
Basically, Titan is one of Saturn’s moons, and the interior of it is hollow. There’s this amazing Eternal city in there. That was all established in the Captain Marvel run, and what we’re doing here is that worshippers of Thanos have taken over Titan and turned it into this Vatican City of death.
Our comic opens with the Guardians on a botched bounty hunter mission that sort of puts them in the red in Knowhere. They’re in danger of having the Milano seized in order to pay all this money they owe in docking fees and various other fines. So they agree to take on what is essentially a suicide mission; a heist on Titan. They’re going to attempt to steal something from right under the nose of the Mad Titan’s followers.
Will the Thanos cult be comprised mostly of new characters? Or will there be some familiar faces from the comics in their ranks?
I’m definitely going to use the Blood Brothers who, as I mentioned before were introduced by Starlin along with Thanos in the same issue of Iron Man. They’re psychotic, twin, aliens who serve as enforcers for Thanos. I’ll probably make up some new characters, and I may use some of the characters that Jonathan Hickman introduced in Infinity.
The fun aspect is that even though this is Thanos’ home world and these are Thanos worshippers Thanos himself might not know anything about this. This might all be going on without his knowledge. Because, as well all know, he’s obsessed with death. All he cares about is death. He’s not interested in where he was born! That’s where the problem started. [Laughs] So that’s a lot of fun.
We also go to Sakaar. It was cool to see the Thor: Ragnarok trailer because I came up with all the Sakaar stuff before I even knew that was going to be included in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In this version of Sakaar the planet’s economy has collapsed. So it’s run entirely by gambling. That’s why the gladiator pits are so crucial to their economy. So the Guardians have to execute a rescue mission in order to complete their heist. That leads to Drax becoming a prime gladiator opponent with Rocket serving as sort of his trainer/manager. He’s kind of like if Don King and Burgess Meredith merged with a raccoon.
That’s a lot of fun, but the gladiatorial combat is perhaps not what you were expecting. If you’ve seen the cover to Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series #2 by David Nakayama, there’s a little hint there as to what’s going on.
The great thing about Rocket is that he is a schemer, but most of his plans end up being complete disasters. He’s definitely someone who overthinks too much. So he’s very much a fun character to write.
Can you talk about any other familiar Marvel characters or concepts that might be in your story?
The Nova Corps are in the series, and Howard the Duck shows up! I figured since he was in the movie I was allowed to use him here. Cosmo the space dog also shows up, and that’s pretty important. He might even challenge the friendship between Rocket and Groot.
We also bring in some stray Elders of the Universe that Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers introduced in the their Silver Surfer run, which I believe was in the ’80s.
I’ve never really done Marvel Cosmic before. So this is really exciting for me. Everybody has the same basic roles in the game as they had in the movies, but they’re just slightly tweaked.
For the series you’re reuniting with artist Salva Espin, whose frequent experience with Deadpool means he’s great with both comedy and action. What’s it like working with Salva on this project?
A lot of my earliest work at Marvel was with him on books like Wolverine: First Class and The Incredible Hercules, so it’s been a joy to be back with him after like eight or nine years. He’s been super terrific.
Finally, have you had a chance to play the game yet?
Yes, I have. The first episode is a lot of fun. It has the advantage of being familiar in the sense that the characters are all in the same basic roles as they were in the movie, but it’s still surprising if you’ve seen the movies and you’re a fan of the characters because they’re put in them in their own situations.