The upcoming Guardians Of the Galaxy movie will feature a motley crew of adventurers taking on a galactic tyrant. But it won’t be the same motley crew or the same tyrant that was used when the Guardians first appeared as a Marvel comic.
The Guardians were introduced in 1969, in a story written by Arnold Drake, with art by Gene Colan. Drake is probably best known for his work for DC Comics—he created Deadman and the Doom Patrol—but he also did some work for Marvel, as well as writing one of the first graphic novels, It Rhymes With Lust.
Originally, GotG combined space adventure with super hero action. In the early 31st century, humanity is fighting for control of the solar system against an invading reptilian race called the Badoon. The Guardians become the core of the resistance dedicated to defeating the Badoon. Yeah, I know—that actually makes them the Guardians of the Solar System, but Guardians of the Galaxy has a better ring to it, doesn’t it?
The original team had four members, all male. Charlie-27 and Martinex were born on Jupiter and Pluto respectively, but they were descendents of humans genetically engineered to survive on those worlds. (Acknowledging they weren’t native to those planets seemed like a sophisticated touch at the time.) Charlie-27 had super strength , while Martinex could generate bursts of extreme heat or cold in his crystalline body. The team is led by an Earthling, the nicely-conceived but unfortunately-named Major Vance Astro.
Not only is Astro from Earth, he’s from the 20th century. He goes into space in 1988, on a one-man expedition to the Alpha Centauri star system (You all remember that mission, right?). The journey, at well below the speed of light, is expected to take 1000 years, so the major dons a protective suit and placed in suspended animation.
Astro makes it to Alpha Centauri in one piece; the big shock comes when he lands. He’s greeted by humans. While he was taking his extended nap, humanity discovered a faster-than-light propulsion system and expanded into space without him. To add insult to injury, now he can’t take off his protective suit. Before he can decide his next move, he’s captured by the Badoon, along with a native Centaurian named Yondu, who becomes the fourth member of the team.
As it turns out, the Badoon were actually introduced before the Guardians. In Silver Surfer #2, the Surfer defeats a Badoon incursion on Earth in 20th century. In classic super-villain fashion, the alien leader proclaims “Still, eternity is endless and we can afford to wait. Sooner or later, we shall return!”
In classic Marvel fashion, writer Stan Lee adds the following footnote: “And return they do…in a spectacular new series which Mighty Marvel will launch in the months to come! Just thought you’d like to know!”
The Badoon still have a role in the Guardians comic, but it looks like they’re going to primarily be the storm troopers for Thanos, the major villain. (That’s Thanos at the end of the Avengers movie, BTW.)
The Guardians don’t get their own comic until quite a bit later, but the war against Badoon continues in other Marvel titles, with Steve Gerber, the creator of Howard the Duck, as the writer. Gerber makes some astute changes to the series, adding a woman to the team (the last survivor of the Mercurian population) and establishing that Vance’s last name was originally Astrovik.
Even after the Badoon are defeated, the Guardians continue to have adventures, starring in their own comic for roughly 60 issues. In 2008, Marvel launched a new team, set in the present, with some of the characters that will appear in the movie. Primarily they’ve been appearing in various limited series, but an ongoing Guardians Of the Galaxy just started again. Marvel is trying hard to attract new readers to the book (and the forthcoming movie). Iron Man will be working with the team for a while, and it was recently announced that the new Guardians will be receiving a visit from Neil Gaiman’s Angela.
If you’re interested in seeing more of the original line-up, check out the two volumes of reprints, Guardians Of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers.