'Guardians of the Galaxy' for Dummies: Comic book origins of Marvel's strangest superheroes

The cast of Guardians of the Galaxy.

The cast of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Jason Hughes, TheWrap.com

, Last Updated: 2:05 AM ET

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is the most untested and most uncertain property yet to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Perhaps that’s why the studio has been blasting a veritable onslaught of promotional material in anticipation of the film’s Aug. 1 theatrical release.

With all of those trailers, teasers, promotional images and behind-the-scenes videos, most everyone is probably aware of the movie, but do they really know anything about it? A talking raccoon and a tree that only says, “I am Groot.” It’s pretty weird stuff, but it’s developed a huge following in the comics community.

What many fans may not know, though, is that most of the characters in the film have been around for decades in the pages of Marvel Comics, even though they didn’t come together as the “Guardians of the Galaxy” until 2008. Prior to that “GotG” was the name of a group of crimefighters in the 31st Century of an alternate Marvel Universe.

This version is way more fun.

Following is a quick primer for new and old fans alike, giving some background on the various characters that make up the larger Marvel Universe as shown in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” film. While there are no intended spoilers for the film, there are plenty of spoilers for comic book storylines. Proceed with caution.

1. Star-Lord aka Peter Quill

First appearance: Marvel Preview #4 (1976)

Portrayed by: Chris Pratt

Peter Quill is the product of a human-alien liaison, growing up on Earth. The only relic he has of his alien father is his gun. After his mother is killed by an alien race, the Badoon, Peter was on his own. He takes on the Herald of the world-eater Galactus and winds up in an intergalactic prison. He is freed by Nova and takes part in a war against the evil villain Annihilus. He decides to form a new version of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” to take a pro-active stance against emerging galactic threats.

2. Gamora

First appearance: Strange Tales #180 (1975)

Portrayed by: Zoe Saldana

The last of her people, Gamora’s entire species was exterminated by the Badoon. The intergalactic being Thanos found her and raised her to be a weapon. She became proficient in martial arts, but was unable to stop a vicious attack by a group of teenage thugs on an alien planet. After this sexual assault, Thanos cybernetically enhanced her. She eventually turned on Thanos, helping Drax the Destroyer and others in stopping his attempts to destroy all life in the universe. She joined in the Annihilation War, falling into a relationship with Nova, who later saves her from a Phalanx assimilation (think “Star Trek’s“ Borg). Afterward, she joined up with the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” still suffering from Phalanx hive-mind withdrawals.

3. Drax the Destroyer aka Arthur Sampson Douglas

First appearance: Iron Man #55 (1973)

Portrayed by: Dave Bautista

Originally human, Arthur’s family was attacked and killed by Thanos, or so he thought. His daughter survived and became the telepathic sometimes-villain Moondragon. An alien being named Kronos took Arthur’s spirit and placed it into a more powerful new body, and thus Drax the Destroyer was created. He has super-strength and resilience, and his sole purpose is to kill Thanos. Drax trained the last surviving member of the Nova Corps during the Annihilation War. He was later recruited by Star-Lord to join the new “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

4. Rocket Raccoon

First appearance: Marvel Preview #7 (1976)

Portrayed by: Bradley Cooper (voice)

Rocket’s homeworld is Halfworld, an abandoned colony for the mentally ill. There, animal companions were genetically enhanced to become caretakers for the inmates. He was Halfworld’s chief ranger, protecting the entire colony. After he and his friends cured the inhabitants of their insanity, he and the other caretakers set off on adventure. He was chosen to fight alongside Star-Lord against the Phalanx because of his tactical prowess. Shortly thereafter, he agreed to join Star-Lord’s new “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

5. Groot

First appearance: Tales to Astonish #13 (1960)

Portrayed by: Vin Diesel (Voice)

“I am Groot.” The only words this alien tree-like creature ever speaks, and yet Rocket Raccoon understands him perfectly. Originally created as a monster seeking to capture humans for experimentation, Groot was re-imagined as a more heroic figure. Also, he is actually speaking a full language; it only sounds like the same phrase repeating. On a planet of tree-like beings, Groot was ostracized for caring about mammals. Found arrested by the Kree alien race for mysterious reasons, Groot was freed and joined Star-Lord in the battle against Annihilus. It was there that he began his deep friendship with Rocket. He nearly died, but survived as a sapling which had to be nurtured to maturity in a pot. During this time he joined the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” alongside Rocket.

6. Ronan the Accuser

First appearance: Fantastic Four #65 (1967)

Portrayed by: Lee Pace

Appointed “Supreme Accuser of the Kree Empire,” Ronan was the first of his race to venture to Earth. After defeat at the hands of the Fantastic Four, the Kree became constant thorns in the side of the Earth-based superhero population. He defended the Kree Empire during the Annihilation War, and wound up as its ruler.

7. Nebula

First appearance: Avengers #257 (1985)

Portrayed by: Karen Gillan

A space pirate and mercenary who seized control of Thanos’ ship, claiming that he was her grandfather. Insulted by her claims, Thanos nearly killed her, regaining control of her ship and leaving her a burned and disfigured undead figure. She was able to recover her life, but was later converted into a cyborg. In the Annihilation War, she battled as one of Gamora’s followers, taking on Ronan the Accuser.

8. Korath the Pursuer

First appearance: Quasar #32 (1992)

Portrayed by: Djimon Hounsou

An agent of the Kree Empire, Korath is a cyber-geneticist. He gained superhuman powers using cyber-genetic technology he designed. He has attacked the Avengers and faced off against Captain America individually. He became assimilated into the Phalanx shortly after reuniting with Ronan the Accuser.


Courtesy of Marvel Comics

9. Yondu

First appearance: Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (1969)

Portrayed by: Michael Rooker

A founding member of the original future-based “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which was created to battle the Badoon, Yondu was a primitive being on the first planet colonized by humans with inherent empathic powers. He has a special bow that shoots sound-sensitive arrows that can change direction in response to certain whistles.

10. The Collector aka Taneleer Tivan

First appearance: Avengers #28 (1966)

Portrayed by: Benicio del Toro

One of the Elders of the Universe, the Collector is billions of years old. He has spent countless years maintaining his hobby, collecting interesting artifacts and life forms from around the universe. Using the power of prophecy, he was able to foresee the threat that Thanos would be for the Elders. He has had several run-ins with other Marvel heroes, as he once sought to collect the Avengers.

11. The Nova Corps

First appearance: Fantastic Four #204 (1979)

Portrayed by: Glenn Close (Nova Prime Irani Rael), John C. Reilly (Rhomann Dey), Peter Serafinowicz (Denarian Saal), others

A space militia from the planet Xandar, Nova Corps is powered by the Nova Force generated by a living computer, the Worldmind. They are defenders of Xandar primarily, but they often aid in other galactic wars and battles, serving as a peacekeeping force. The Nova Corps has been destroyed multiple times, but always manages to recover and return.

12. Thanos

First appearance: Iron Man #55 (1973)

Portrayed by: Josh Brolin (performance capture, voice)

Born on Saturn’s moon Titan, Thanos grew up a pacifist. By adolescence, though, he’d become drawn to darker things, eventually falling in love with the physical embodiment of death. To impress her, he killed millions of his own race. Seeking always more power, Thanos made his way to Earth, where he inadvertently aided in the creation of Drax the Destroyer. Throughout the years he has battled against and alongside the heroes of Earth and the Marvel Universe, becoming one of its most prominent characters. He aligned with Annihilus during the Annihilation War out of which sprung the “Guardians of the Galaxy.”


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