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Guardians of the Galaxy

Longbox Graveyard #93

There’s a brand-spanking new Guardians of the Galaxy comic series shipping from Marvel today …

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

… and there’s a feature film on the way in 2014, set to feature my old pal Star-Lord.

Guardians of the Galaxy

And here is the FULL movie trailer!

You are forgiven for wondering how the heck this is happening. DC Comics still can’t get a Justice League movie on track and Marvel is bringing a B-team to the big screen? Actually, calling them a B-team is giving them all the best of it. The Guardians of the Galaxy are a tertiary property (on their best day), and I really can’t explain how they’ve been fast-tracked for stardom. I’ve enjoyed their recent comics series but this seems a gigantic risk.

But while I can’t explain the inner workings of Hollywood, I can write about something close to home — namely the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves!

No, I don’t mean these guys

The NEW Guardians of the Galaxy

I mean these guys!

Marvel Super-Heroes #18, Gene Colan

These are the original Guardians, circa 1969, as imagined by writer Arnold Drake and artist Gene Colan for the cover of Marvel Super-Heroes #18. From left-to-right we have Major Vance Astro (cryogenically-preserved spaceman of the 1980s), Charlie-27 (Jovian militiaman), Martinex (genetically-engineered inhabitant of Pluto), and the weapons-master Yondu, last survivor of Alpha Centauri IV!

Yes, the Guardians had been kicking around the Marvel Universe for decades before the Guardians of the Galaxy trademark was resurrected for the post-Annihilation series of the same name in 2008. The original Guardians were nomads of the spaceways, perpetual guest-stars and try-out book headliners that took decades to (sort of) break through and earn a book of their own.

They’re just the kind of obscure and loveable losers that I can’t resist here at Longbox Graveyard!

Marvel Super Heroes #18, Gene Colan and Arnold Drake

The team’s fast-paced origin story in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 doesn’t afford a chance to do much more than put names to faces. Earth and her colonies have come beneath the heel of the baleful Badoon, a race of remorseless, reptillian interstellar conquerers, and our four heroes are the last of their kind — genetically-engineered human colonists of the outer planets, indigenous aliens, or star-lost men from the past. When the story is complete, our heroes have come together and pledged to liberate a captive earth …

Marvel Super Heroes #18, Gene Colan and Arnold Drake

… and that might have been the end for this one-and-done science fiction superhero team, had not Tony Isabella and Steve Gerber conspired to resurrect them. A full five years passed before the Guardians next appeared, in Marvel Two-In-One #4 and #5. Written by Steve Gerber, these issues saw Captain America and the Thing transported into the future, where they met the Guardians and helped continue the fight to free the earth from the Badoon.

Marvel Two-In-One #5, Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema

It was an action-packed and frankly bizarre tale (though not bizarre in the usual Steve Gerber way — that would come later). What was most strange was that these Guardians were given a second chance at all. This kind of intellectual property dumpster-diving was more Roy Thomas’ line of work, who delighted in unearthing Golden Age treasures for Silver Age audiences. Interested as he was in socially-relevant superhero stories, it’s hard to understand what Steve Gerber saw in these intergalactic freedom fighters — yet there they were, in all their generic Sal Buscema glory, clobbering bad guys along with Ben Grimm in the pages of his team-up book.

Marvel Two-In-One #5, Sal Buscema and Steve Gerber

I bought that issue of Marvel Two-In-One off the rack in 1974 — I liked it at the time, and it even fared well in my recent re-read of the full run of Two-In-One. I think I responded to “Superheroes In Spaaaaaace!” and there was something cool about discovering these obscure characters. As a tender youth of twelve this was a mind-expanding moment for me, first-hand proof that the “Marvel Universe” consisted not just of Spider-Man swinging around Manhattan, but also a cosmos full of aliens and forgotten freedom fighters, with a future history our heroes may or may not be doomed to live out. I was also taken with the story of Major Vance Astro, who sacrificed his humanity to explore the stars, only to find out he’d been made obsolete before his voyage had scarcely begun.

Marvel Two-In-One #5, Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema

Gerber so liked the team that he used them again in Defenders #26-29, more firmly cementing them into the Marvel Universe, and doing a bit of clean-up work on the Guardians’ origin and backstory. After crashing the Guardians’ time-lost ship on Earth in Giant-Size Defenders #5, Gerber teamed the Guardians with Doctor Strange, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, and the Hulk to mostly put paid to the Badoon occupation of Earth. Along the way, he indulged in some characteristic Steve Gerber weirdness (casting the Hulk in a kill-crazy reality television show!), but he also fleshed out the Guardians mythos by showing us peculiar details of Badoon culture, and constructing an elaborate future history for the series, which included ozone depletion, bionics, world war, and even a Martian invasion (resisted by a guy named Killraven).

Defenders #26, Sal Buscema and Steve Gerber

That Defenders run is also notable for introducing Starhawk, a character I’m still trying to wrap my head around going on four decades later. Starhawk is an enigma, popping up unbidden, referring to himself as “The One Who Knows,” and winging off to his weirdly prosaic little house on the galactic prairie between adventures …

Defenders #29, Steve Gerber & Sal Buscema

… which was all well and good, but the Guardians themselves were still a reasonably unknown quantity at this point, and there seemed plenty of stories to tell about the original cast without introducing a mysterious new character. Starhawk would be even more front-and-center (literally!) in the Guardians solo series that kicked off in Marvel Premiere #3.

Marvel Presents #3

It took seven years, but thanks to Steve Gerber’s efforts, the Guardians of the Galaxy had finally earned a series of their own! But now that the Guardians had the stage to themselves, this pack of perpetual second bananas seemed a little lost. First, there was the distracting presence of the enigmatic Starhawk, who seemed to suck the air out of every scene, gazing into the distance and promising that in time all will be revealed while the rest of the Guardians (and at least one reader) wished he’d just get to the point. Second, Gerber decided that the Guardians’ war against the Badoon had run its course, and wrapped up our heroes’ raison d’etre the the final defeat of the Badoon in the first issue of their solo run. Once again, Starhawk was on hand with moralistic advice about how the defeated Badoon should be treated, courtesy of one of Gerber’s signature typed-text pages.

Marvel Presents #3, Steve Gerber & Al Milgrom

Gerber’s vision was for the Guardians of the Galaxy to start living up to their name, and to guard not just Earth, but the Galaxy, and so our heroes were packed aboard a starship and sent off to confront a mysterious being at the center of space. All well and good, but it wouldn’t be long before the series took a turn for the silly, first when that mysterious being turned out to be a giant space frog …

Marvel Presents #4

… and then when — with all the universe to choose from — Steve Gerber had the Guardians land on an alien asylum planet that just happened to be a weird replica of New York’s Times Square.

Marvel Presents #5, Steve Gerber & Al Milgrom

In this run of Guardians of the Galaxy we found out the hard way that the cosmic wonder of the Marvel Universe matters only so much as it is connected to our mundane lives here on Earth. Galactus can eat all the planets he likes — but it’s just backstory until he confronts the Fantastic Four over the fate our our planet. Thanos can destroy half the universe with a snap of his fingers, but what we really care about is what happened to Mary Jane Watson. In a fictional construct as interconnected as the Marvel Universe, you strike out on your own at your peril, and by putting our men of action on the bridge of a starship and having them fly off on an abstract adventure with one-off characters in places we’d never seen before, Gerber unfortunately delivered stories that provided the worst of all worlds.

Marvel Presents #6, Al Milgrom

If the plotting was a drag, Gerber did wring some personality from our heroes. Yondu got to be a noble savage, and he did tricks with his bow (always the same damn trick, but it was better than nothing). Martinex became more brainy and alien. All of our characters came to feel like outcasts and freaks as the last of their kind. Vance started to behave erratically, living in a shipboard room reconstructed from his memories as a twelve-year-old …

Marvel Presents #4, Steve Gerber & Al Milgrom

Gerber added a female Guardian, too, but the team just never seemed to jell in their own series — absent outsized personalities like Ben Grimm or the Hulk or Doctor Strange to play off of, the Guardians were revealed as a B-team of generic comic heroes without a cause.

The series went into rapid decline as the big energy frog storyline wrapped up. A Silver Surfer reprint was awkwardly shoe-horned into issue #8, and then Steve Gerber would transition off the book in favor of Roger Stern, who finally revealed Starhawk’s origin — a messy mash-up of alien prophecies and a vaguely incestuous body-sharing relationship between step-siblings that somehow involved a giant Hawkman robot.

Marvel Presents #10, Roger Stern & Al Milgrom

It was a mess, and so was the book by this point, so it was a bit of a relief when the series met its inevitable demise after issue #12.

I will admit to being a bit disappointed revisiting the Guardians after all these years. But the improbable tale of the Guardians of the Galaxy was far from over. They would next appear in Thor Annual #6 to kick off of one of the biggest Avengers events of the decade … but that is a tale for another time!

(And for those of you who soldiered to the end of this article looking for relevant information about the new Guardians of the Galaxy, check out this excellent scorecard at Comic Book Resources).

Al Milgrom, Marvel Presents #12

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