It’s no secret, like a large portion of the world, I immediately fell in love with the Guardians of the Galaxy when I met them in James Gunn’s masterpiece. I’d never seen Peter Quill, Rocket Raccoon, or Groot before and only knew Gamora, Drax, and Nebula from their Infinity-related exploits of the 1990’s. This team was like nothing I’d ever seen and everything I always wanted! It’s also not a secret, loving the films as I do, I’ve sought comics with the same feeling. But no matter what I read it wasn’t enough like Gunn’s vision. This is a major (first world) problem because I want more Guardians in my life! Well, for my birthday this summer Mom and Dad got me the collections of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s 2008-2010 run with Guardians Of The Galaxy, the comics that inspired Gunn’s film! And I finally met the Guardians before they were movie stars…
What first struck me – and maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised by this – is how very different this team was from the team I met in the movie theatre during the summer of 2014. Sure, Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot were there. But they weren’t the goofball band of lovable losers I saw in the film. While they were all misfits and outcasts, quirky oddballs who forged an unconventional team, they were still cut from a far more traditional superhero cloth than their celluloid counterparts. In the comics, the Kree were invaded by the Phalanx (in the Annihilation: Conquest storyline of 2007-08) and in the aftermath of the war Peter Quill decided the galaxy needed a proactive team of protectors.
As opposed to being surprised and reactionary, Star Lord wanted to be ready to go out and find the threats, facing and fixing them before another conflict like the Phalanx and their Annihilation Wave could rain more destruction on the galaxy. The team was far larger than what we got in James Gunn’s first film too! Here we see Peter Quill (Star Lord), Mantis, Rocket, Groot, Phyla-Vell (first as Quasar and then Martyr the Avatar of Death), Drax, Gamora, Cosmo, and Adam Warlock. As the story progresses they add Vance Astro (Major Victory), Bug, Jack Flagg, and Moondragon. They are very superhero-y. They discuss their mission and mandate. They talk about team names. They even have matching uniforms!
Honestly one of the cutest things in this run is their matching uniforms :). I don’t know why I’m surprised. The Fantastic Four – Marvel’s first family – have matching costumes. The X-Men have had similar outfits. There was a period in the ‘90s where the Avengers all had matching leather bomber jackets. So team unity through the costume is not without precedent. But I wasn’t ready for it here, although I enjoyed it. Sure, they all suit up in their “Ravager garb” at the end of Guardians Of The Galaxy to fight Ronan the Accuser but matching outfits isn’t something I can see Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Copper, and Vin Disel discussing aboard the Milano.
But again, Abnett and Lanning’s Guardians are far more traditional superheroes! Everything about Peter Quill – his costume, the way he speaks, how he carries himself, his desire to lead the team – is classic superhero team leader. He’s even called Star Lord more than he’s ever called Peter in the comics. He’s frustrated by what happened with the Phalanx and he’s damn sure not about to let it happen again. It’s not just Quill who’s more superheroish either. Rocket is far more interested in the idea of the team, making it work, and being a Guardian than he ever appears to be in the film. He even steps up to lead a version of the team when Quill’s initial deception (having Mantis brainwash everyone to make them more eager to join) comes to light and causes everyone to break up! He does so willingly and with a real sense of duty too.
Of the characters, Rocket is the biggest surprise of this run for me. It doesn’t blow my mind that Peter’s more superhero-y. I get it. He’s the leader. He’s the foundation. He’s their Cap or Cyclops. Even if they’re all in space, as team leader, he’s got to be a superhero. But to see how noble and committed to the cause Rocket is blew my mind. He’s as much a superhero as Captain America too! While all the sass is there (and I love his love/hate relationship with Cosmo) the reluctant hero we see in the films isn’t really here. Like the uniforms, I enjoyed this surprise too.
Second to Rocket, as far as character surprises go, would be Mantis. In Abnett and Lanning’s comics she has a wider power-range than she does in the films. She’s an empath, telepath, and also a telekinetic as well as an expert in several space forms of martial arts. She’s a founding member of the team too. Perhaps what’s most interesting though is she’s obviously Peter’s second-in-command here (alongside Rocket). She’s the one he talks all his decisions out with and there seems to be some subtle romantic tension between them as well. We’re not talking slow-dancing-to-Sam-Cooke type of romance but, if he’s got romantic tension with anyone, it’s Mantis. She’s essentially playing a lot of the roles Gamora had in the film. Or rather, perhaps it’s better to say in the film Gamora embodies the roles played by several female characters in the comics.
Phyla-Vell is also central in the leadership of the team. I would have loved to see her in the films! The idea of her Quantum Bands on screen…just imagining what they’d look like is exciting! They would add a pretty badass power level to the Guardians and they’d be so captivating, visually. It’s interesting to compare the gender divide in the comics with the film. In the very first issue of the run, the Guardians feature three women (Mantis, Phyla-Vell, and Gamora) to six men (Star Lord, Rocket, Groot, Drax, Cosmo, and Adam Warlock). So there are two male characters for every one female character. In James Gunn’s first film we have one woman (Gamora) to four men (Peter, Drax, Rocket, Groot). Yes, Mantis shows up and Nebula (sort of) joins the team in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, but it would’ve been great to see more of these female cosmic heavy-hitters on screen.
Also, with Phyla-Vell and Moondragon we’d’ve had the simultaneous portrayal of two strong female characters (their power levels are among the highest of the comic incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy) who, if they stayed true to their comic origins, are also a loving couple. So we’d have some LGBTQ representation too! Which, now that I typed that line…I wonder if that’s why Marvel didn’t do it? I hope not. But we’ll can’t really know, can we? If it was the case, I’d be sad. I don’t know – hopefully I’m just being cynical. We’ve seen hints of Cosmo in the first two films and one of the post-credit scenes from Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 shows us James Gunn planned to have Adam Warlock in Vol. 3. Did he also plan for Phyla-Vell and Moondragon to show up? Given that Moondragon is Drax’s daughter and he talks about her a lot, it’s possible.
Anyway, I digress. The comics are incredible! The characters! The adventure! AND they featured the most interesting, exciting, and engaging Thanos story I’ve ever read (although I think that should be the tale for another post). We see Groot starting the series, in the wake of the battle with the Phalanx, as the li’l tree in the cup :). We feel the rich history of Gamora’s character in everything about how she’s presented here – her mood, her movements, her actions. And as far as Russian, telepathic doggos go, Cosmo’s great too. I can see why these comics captured James Gunn’s imagination and why he believed these characters would take the world by storm when he brought them into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even though Gunn took great creative leaps to turn Abnett and Lanning’s Guardians into what we see in the films, I still loved what I read in these comics. It’s all just so much fun.
It took me a long time to get to a point where I could sincerely enjoy the Guardians Of The Galaxy comics. As I said above, I struggled because I couldn’t find ones that felt just the way the films did. Last year for Christmas I got the trades of Gerry Duggan’s run thus far and I really enjoyed them. They felt a lot like the movie (clearly an intentional move because Marvel – for better or worse – is trying to synchronize much of their comics with their films) while still having the weight of their comic adventures with them. Now I’ve finally read the Abnett and Lanning run that started it all. And I loved them too. It was fascinating to read the stories that laid the foundation James Gunn built his Guardians of the Galaxy from. And I found I enjoyed the differences as much as the similarities.
Then it hit me, something I’d forgotten somewhere along the line. Or, rather, something I’d forgotten in regard to the Guardians of the Galaxy. The comics and the movies are different. And they’re supposed to be different too. Sure, the films are inspired by the comics but the MCU does its own thing. And the comic creators should be free to do their own thing too. I don’t want movies that are just a live action reproduction of comics I’ve already read. And I don’t want comics exactly mirror what I see in the films. I think both mediums suffer when this happens. Sure, the foundational tenants of the characters should remain truthful across the mediums – I don’t want a film where Steve Rogers is a selfish tool who enjoys casual sex with his adoring fans nor one where Tony Stark is the paragon of moral virtue for the world. That’s not authentic. But I want the films and the comics to retain their own feel in their own universes! If they were just carbon copies why would I waste time experiencing both? I’ve never cared that Tony Stark creates Ultron in the MCU while Hank Pym makes him in the comics. Why would I? Both stories work and are organic in their own continuities. Spider-Man has his spider-sense in the comics, not in the movies. So what? Different creative choices by different creators. He’s still Spidey! For some reason I was aware of this, even celebrating it, with everything else the MCU’s doing, but I forgot it when I went backwards from the movies to read the Guardians comic books.
I spent years looking for the perfect Guardians of the Galaxy comic only to realize I already had those characters in that exact way in Guardians Of The Galaxy and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. No comic can capture the same feeling – it’s a different medium with different creative forces telling the story. I was chasing something that doesn’t exist. Now, with Gerry Duggan’s work and the seminal Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning run under my belt, I’ve come to meet the Guardians as they are in their comics. As I’ve fallen in love with these Guardians of the Galaxy too I’ve come to remember this is how it was supposed to be all along.
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning wrote Guardians Of The Galaxy from July 2008 to November 2010. If you’d like to read more about their comic history, here are their other eras!