With a heavily armed talking raccoon and a dance-loving alien tree on the team, the Guardians of the Galaxy are already one of the weirder superhero squads in the Marvel Universe. With origins in Marvel’s cosmic comics from the 1970s, the earliest appearances of most of the individual Guardians occurred in fairly trippy, psychedelic stories. Since the modern Guardians officially came together in the 2008 crossover “Annihilation: Conquest,” even stranger things have happened during their adventures. With headquarters in the head of a dead cosmic entity and a telepathic canine cosmonaut among its members, the strangeness of the Guardians has defined the team for the better part of a decade.
Despite their inherent weirdness, the Guardians of the Galaxy have become unlikely cinematic superstars. Instead of limiting the Guardians’ wider cultural appeal, their eccentricities have taken center stage in blockbuster films like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Now, CBR is taking a look back at some of the weirdest alternate versions of the Guardians of the Galaxy. For this list, we’ll be pulling from alternate realities, cartoons and the history of the main Marvel Universe to find some of the oddest versions of the team and its individual members.
15. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 1602
In 2015, the Marvel crossover “Secret Wars” gave readers a look into some of the publisher’s most famous alternate realities. One of those worlds was Marvel 1602, where Marvel’s heroes emerged an Elizabethan era world created by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert. The Guardians made their debut in this world in the miniseries, 1602 Witch Hunter Angela, by Marguerite Bennett and Stephanie Hans.
In that “Secret Wars” tie-in, the Guardians were a troupe of theater performers called the Gardiner’s Men. Although Groot was replaced by the silent human Goodman Root and Rocket was merely a hyper-intelligent raccoon, the group included recognizable versions of the main Guardians. After they were saved from a group of creatures by the angelic mutant hunter Angela, they helped her fight an Elizabethan version of Venom and spread word of Angela’s exploits after she defeated the Enchantress.
14. ORIGINAL STAR-LORD
Even though Star-Lord was created in 1974’s Marvel Preview #4, by Steve Englehart, Steve Gan and Bob McLeod, he didn’t officially join the Marvel Universe until 2004. Due to various continuity issues, his 1970s adventures across several of Marvel’s black-and-white magazines and anthology titles were retroactively said to have taken place in an alternate reality.
In that world, Peter Quill was orphaned after Arigulan aliens killed his mother. As an adult, he joined NASA and encountered an alien entity, the Master of the Sun, who was recruiting a Star-Lord for an intergalactic police force. Although the Master chose one of Quill’s colleagues, the arrogant Quill took his place and became Star-Lord. After helping his new trainee get over the death of his mother, the Master gave this Star-Lord a sentient space ship before the character fell into obscurity for decades.
13. THOR GROOT
In the “Secret Wars” crossover, Doctor Doom saved parts of the multiverse by combining several of Marvel’s parallel worlds into a concentrated area called Battleworld. As revealed in Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars #2, Doom used a group of alternate reality Thors called the Thor Corps to police this new realm. One of these Thors was a version of the beloved Guardians’ member Groot.
While he didn’t have a starring role and his history wasn’t explored, this Groot Thor was apparently worthy enough to lift Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. In a handful of appearances, this Groot was seen apprehending a murderer and investigating an unrelated murder with some other Thors. Before the multiverse was restored at the end of the crossover, Thor Groot was also part of a Thor squad that tried to keep two universes from interacting in Ultimate End.
12. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2061
In 2014, Marvel launched a series of alternate universe titles that imagined what Marvel’s heroes might look like in 2061, a century after Marvel entered the Silver Age of Comics. In Andy Lanning, Ron Marz and Gustavo Duarte’s 100th Anniversary Special: Guardians of the Galaxy, this future incarnation of the team worked to stop the threat of the world-devouring Silver Galactus.
In the issue, the Guardians were led by Gamora, who had become Star-Lord, and consisted of Drax, Groot, Rocket Raccoon, the space soldier Charlie-27 and the digital consciousness of Iron Man. They fought former Star-Lord Peter Quill, who had become Galactus’ herald Vance Astro. While they were trying to save their base Knowhere, Quill betrayed Galactus and revealed his true identity to his old teammates in the special’s final pages.
11. ROCKET RACCOON AND THE PET AVENGERS
Several of Marvel’s super-pets teamed up to search for the Infinity Gems and formed their own super-group in the 2009 miniseries Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers, by Chris Eliopoulos and Ig Guara. Over the next few years, this alternate reality team starred in a few stories where the Inhumans’ Lockjaw, Falcon’s falcon Red Wing, the X-Men’s dragon Lockheed and Frog Thor took the spotlight.
In their most recent appearance, the Pet Avengers teamed up with Rocket Raccoon in 2015’s Guardians Team-Up #5, by Andy Lanning, Andy Schmidt and Gustavo Duarte. In this light-hearted tale, Rocket and Cosmo the Spacedog saved Earth’s Mightiest Animals from the Pets of Evil Masters. After that, the animal heroes teamed up to fight back the pint-sized peril of Grott the Planet-Slayer before settling in for a few rounds of poker at Rocket’s base, Knowhere.
10. STAR-LORD (KITTY PRYDE)
During Brian Michael Bendis’ runs on All-New X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy, the space-faring Star-Lord and the earthbound X-Man Kitty Pryde began a very long-distance relationship. Despite their differences, this unlikely couple became engaged and joined the Guardians in space. Shortly after this, Quill was chosen to take his father’s place as the leader of the Spartax Empire.
In 2015’s Guardians of the Galaxy #1, by Bendis and Valerio Schiti, Pryde took her fiancée’s identity and his place with the Guardians as the new Star-Lord. While on the team, Pryde and the Guardians battled foes like Yotat the Destroyer and Hala the Accuser. Although Quill was eventually deposed and rejoined the group, the couple had a tense relationship and their engagement dissolved. After the Guardians fell to Earth during the crossover “Civil War II,” Pryde left her space-faring days behind her and rejoined the X-Men as their new leader.
9. ORIGINAL GROOT
Long before Baby Groot charmed his way into the hearts of the general public, the original Groot terrorized the Marvel Universe in 1960. In Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers’ Tales to Astonish #13, the first Groot claimed to be the monarch of Planet X and came to Earth to take a small town back to his homeworld for study and experimentation.
Although the local authorities tried to subdue the talkative tree, bullets and fire had no effect on the “wooden giant.” After commanding the trees of a nearby forest to encase the town, this Groot was ultimately defeated when biologist Leslie Evans used termites to defeat him. This Groot was eventually recovered by the Collector and healed back to health. After a brief stint helping several other creatures in S.H.I.E.L.D’s Howling Commandos fight Merlin, Groot settled on Monster Island with other early Marvel monsters.
8. WHAT IF DRAX DOOMED EARTH?
After years of being relegated to an afterthought, several of Marvel’s cosmic characters were given new life during the 2006 crossover “Annihilation.” In this crossover, Annihilus led a bug monster invasion force from the Negative Zone called the Annihilation Wave. While the Annihilation Wave carved a path of destruction through half of the outer Marvel Universe, Marvel’s space heroes were able to decimate their forces before they reached Earth after Drax freed a kidnapped Galactus.
In 2006’s What If The Annihilation Wave Reached Earth?, that didn’t happen. In David Hine, Mico Suayan and Rafael Kayanan’s tale, Drax was consumed by his bloodlust for Thanos and inadvertently killed Galactus while trying to free him. With Drax and Silver Surfer among the dead, the Annihilation Wave reached Earth in the middle of Civil War. Although Earth’s heroes and the Inhumans successfully turned back the invasion, there were heavy casualties that included Nova, Iron Man and Captain America.
7. GUARDIANS OF THE NOVA CORPS
In another “Secret Wars” tie-in miniseries, The Infinity Gauntlet, the Annihilation Wave also reached Earth. In that alternate reality series by Gerry Duggan and Dustin Weaver, the young Anwen Bakian and her family tried to survive in an utterly destroyed world. After finding one of the Infinity Stones, her mother, a Nova, returned and deputized the rest of the family into the Corps.
After being joined by Thanos, the Bakians decided to use the Infinity Gauntlet to exterminate the Wave. As they began to gather the Stones, the eventually came across Star-Lord, Gamora and Groot, who were all protecting Stones. After Thanos unsurprisingly betrayed the group, the three Guardians all became members of the family’s makeshift Nova Corps. While the Bakian family worked to defeat Thanos, these Nova-powered Guardians apparently gave their lives while fending off the monsters of the Annihilation Wave.
6. SILVER SURFER’S GAMORA AND DRAX
While it wasn’t as successful as Marvel’s other animated ventures, the Silver Surfer starred in Silver Surfer: The Animated Series in 1998. With heavily serialized stories and animation inspired by Jack Kirby’s artwork, this cartoon gave the Surfer and Marvel’s space heroes their first dedicated showcase on television.
During the show’s only season, a few familiar Guardians members appeared in drastically different forms. In the show, Drax was an android who worked with Thanos’ scientist brother Mentor before befriending the Surfer. Gamora was part of a group called the Wanderers, who hunted the Surfer down and put him on trial for the crimes of his master Galactus. The Guardians occasional ally Nebula even appeared as a space pirate who tried to steal the Watchers’ Universal Library. While the show received decent reviews, it was ultimately canceled after 13 episodes.
5. MANTIS MEETS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
The Guardians’ newest cinematic member, Mantis, was originally created in 1973’s Avengers #112 by Steve Englehart, Don Heck and Frank Bolle. With her empathic powers and martial arts skill, she joined the Avengers for a few years during throughout Englehart’s run on the title. After discovering that she was the Celestial Madonna, she left the title to give birth to a cosmic being.
Englehart took Mantis with him when he went to work for DC Comics. In 1977’s Justice League of America #142, by Englehart, Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin, the renamed Willow worked with the League to fight a mechanical being called the Construct for two issues before leaving to give birth again. While Englehart renamed her Lorelai and took her to his creator-owned work in 1983, the official Mantis has continued on in the Marvel Universe as a hero, villain and Guardian of the Galaxy over the years.
4. MARVEL DISK WARS
In 2014, Marvel attempted to localize its characters for the Japanese market with the anime Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers. In that 52 episode series, several of Marvel’s heroes effectively became Pokémon after being trapped in Poké Ball-esque DISKs that could only be opened by kids with a special “biocode.”
Despite the show’s odd set-up, the Guardians played a fairly familiar role. After stealing the super-powerful Kree Mact from Ronan the Accuser, the Guardians fell to Earth, where Rocket Racoon and Groot were detained by S.H.I.E.L.D. After a brief battle with the Avengers, the two teams worked together to defeat Ronan at the urging of series protagonist Akira Akatsuki. Near the end of the series, the Guardians returned to Earth, where they helped Earth’s Mightiest Heroes fight the combined threat of Dormammu and Loki in the show’s climactic battle.
3. 1990s STAR-LORD
By the mid-1990s, Star-Lord hadn’t appeared in a comic book for over a decade. Despite that era’s popular cosmic titles like The Infinity Gauntlet, Peter Quill was nothing but a distant memory. In 1996, Timothy Zahn and Dan Lawlis turned their attention to the original Star-Lord’s successor in the fully-painted miniseries Starlord.
Over three issues, Sinjin Quarrel became Marvel’s second Star-Lord. After being sent to a backwater planet, the young alien telepath found the wreckage of Star-Lord’s Ship, which had been missing for 12 years. After helping the sentient vessel regain its memories and fight the alien kingpin Lawgiver Damyish, he was given Quill’s old helmet and Element Gun and became the new Star-Lord. Since his adventures directly referenced the original Star-Lord, it’s somewhat unclear where Quarrell fits in with the larger Marvel Multiverse.
2. NEWSPAPER ROCKET RACCOON
Since 1977, Spider-Man has starred in the daily newspaper comic strip The Amazing Spider-Man. While strip was originally by Stan Lee and John Romita, it’s been the work of Lee, his brother Larry Lieber, Alex Saviuk and Joe Sinnott since 1997. Since the web-slinging adventures of Spider-Man are limited to just a few exposition-filled panels a day, even the simplest story can take weeks or months to unfold. Despite the limitations of the format, the strip has established its own decades-long continuity with most of Spider-Man’s supporting cast and villains.
Over the past few years, Spider-Man has teamed up with some of Marvel’s other more notable cinematic heroes. From late 2016 through early 2017, Spider-Man fought Ronan the Accuser with an insult-hurling Rocket Raccoon. Although the heroes originally came to blows, they joined together to save Albuquerque, New Mexico from Ronan and a mechanized Kree Sentry.
1. ORIGINAL GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Long before the modern Guardians formed, the original Guardians of the Galaxy protected a future alternate reality. Starting in 1969’s Marvel Super-Heroes #18, by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan, the team worked in the 31st century to save the Solar System from a Badoon invasion. With the help of the time-displaced astronaut Vance Astro, Yondu, Martinex, Charlie-27, and Starhawk were able to defeat the Badoon and the cosmic villain Korvac.
After years of irregular appearances, the Guardians of the Galaxy starred in a successful series from 1990 until 1995. After fading into the background during the formation of the other Guardians, the original team starred in the short-lived series Guardians 3000 in 2014. Almost 50 years after their creation, the original Guardians made their cinematic debut as a group of Ravagers in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, where they appear to have an unseen history in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest on the Guardians of the Galaxy and Marvel Comics. Let us know what your favorite alternate take on the team is in the comments below!