Unless you live under a rock (and maybe you do), you’ve probably heard the big news from Marvel Studios at SDCC this past weekend. Actually, it’s a lot of news, so maybe you’ve missed some bits. Let me sum up: we have titles for two new movies – Thor 2: The Dark World and Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. No surprise on the Cap movie…Winter Soldier is the name for Bucky Barnes, last seen falling from a train in the Alps in Captain America 1, and most comic fans were expecting the second film to bring him in. Also, Ant-Man is on, directed by Edgar Wright, and looks amazing. Iron Man 3 is going to be awesome with Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin. But the big news, the most awesome of all news was confirmation that there is a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and it’s got a release date: August 1, 2014.
The movie will have the above characters (from left to right): Drax the Destroyer, Groot, Star Lord, Rocket Raccoon, and Gamora.
So who are these people and why should you care?
Basically, the Guardians of the Galaxy are the Avengers of space. We don’t know how the movie version will come together, so let’s talk about how the comics team formed. Basically two times in a row heavy hitters threatened the entire galaxy. First was Annihilus, an insect/humanoid from the Negative Zone (another dimension) who broke through to reality and, along with his massive army and Galactus-powered weapon known as the Annihilation Wave (the dude put Galactus…yes, THAT Galactus…into his machine as a battery!) almost wiped out all life. He was stopped by a collection of “cosmic heroes”, while the folks on Earth were blissfully unaware.
The second threat hit just a few months later, a techno-organic race known as the Phalanx who cut off a huge portion of space from the rest of the galaxy and started turning folks into the Borg (well, basically…Marvel and Star Trek don’t have a partnership anymore). These machines beings were actually being led by the old Avenger’s villain, Ultron, who was ultimately stopped by…well, see above, cosmic heroes. Mostly the same ones.
In the aftermath, the heroes looked at each other and said, “you know what? Maybe we need to have a group on stand by in case stuff like this happens again.” And thus the Guardians of the Galaxy were born. Their mission was to prevent big catastrophes like the Annihilation War and the Conquest War (the names for the two previous near-galaxy destroying wars) from happening. In the comics, they were based in the severed head of a Celestial on the edge of the universe. Those who know comics might have just re-read that twice…yes, I said severed head of a Celestial. No, they had no idea what could do that or how, but the head was quite functional as a space base, in a crazy Babylon 5/DS9 sort of way (they weren’t the only folks on the head). Their mission control was a telepathic Russian dog named Cosmo. Just…don’t ask.
Anyway, the Guardians mostly spent their time sealing up holes in reality that came about due to all the bad stuff that happened in the wars. Nasty things came through the holes, and the Guardians stopped them and sealed up the holes to try to prevent space from unraveling. In the end, they failed, and the third war, the War of Kings between the leader of the Inhumans, Black Bolt and the Emperor of the Shi’ar, Vulcan (aka Gabriel Summers, the third Summers brother, brother of Cyclops and Havok of the X-Men) ripped a huge hole in space time. In fact, it opened a hole directly to the Cancerverse, a horrible universe where “life won”, and everything is consumed by undying Lovecraftian monsters. It’s seriously a Lovecraft universe, including things like “the Lens of Leng”…pretty awesome if you ask me.
Anyway, so the Guardians ultimately failed, but the point is that they were, for a while, a pretty good defense against the evil stuff leaking through the cracks in the universe.
“But wait,” you say, “weren’t the Guardians of the Galaxy some group from the future who wore horrible outfits?” Yes, there originally was a group call the Guardians of the Galaxy that were from the future. The whole comic was set in the 31st century and the group were basically space Avengers then. Some folks get all nostalgic for this group, but honestly, they were mostly a Marvel rip off of Justice League and…well, folks, they weren’t all that awesome. They didn’t have a talking Raccoon with big guns.
Speaking of Rocket, let’s talk about the cast. I’ll limit myself to the movie cast here, which I admit leaves out several very interesting characters (including the space lesbians…no, I’m not kidding).
Let’s begin with the leader of the Guardians, Star Lord. Star Lord has a pretty complicated back story, but basically you can sum it up as this: he’s the human. He’s pretty much just a normal guy in the middle of all of this. Now, that’s not to say he’s a guy from Earth. He’s not. He’s more Han Solo than Joe Blow from down the street. But he’s still just a regular guy, no power, nothing super special about him. But he is a very good leader, and he’s just generally a good guy who will get things done, no matter the cost to him or his team. Star Lord will no doubt be the guy you’re meant to identify with, the lens through which we see these cosmic heroes.
Next up is my favorite, Rocket Raccoon. Rocket is exactly that, a raccoon. He was “evolved” to gain human level intelligence and the ability to stand up and use his paws more like hands to help tend to mentally ill patients on the world he comes from (Halfworld). He, of course, had other ideas and ran off to be a space pirate. Rocket is the heart of the team in many ways. He’s the comedic support, but he’s also usually the common sense of the team. He’s the one who will point out that splitting up is what they always do in the movies and will get you killed. And he does know movies…he has a collectors edition of Beaches he ordered from eBay. He knows Earth culture and will often make pop culture references. Other than his snappy banter, Rocket does have some abilities. He’s a raccoon, with the keen senses of that animal. He’s also a tactical genius: he can very quickly assess a situation and give very effective advice to Star Lord on what to do. He also is able to wield Improbably Big Guns easily, and prefers heavy weapons and explosives. He and Groot make a pretty badass team.
Speaking of our pal, Groot, let’s talk about him. Groot is a sentient, mobile tree. He’s actually the monarch of Planet X, exiled from his people. All Groot ever says is, “I AM GROOT!”, though it’s been implied that he’s actually saying other things, if you understand his language (much like Chewbacca just seems to roar, but Han can understand him). Groot seems to understand everyone else just fine. Groot is big, strong and tough, and often acts as transport for Rocket and his huge machine guns. Groot is made of wood, however, so he’s actually quite flammable. This has been a point in several comics, and more than once, Groot has “sacrificed” himself for the team, setting himself on fire to take down a bad guy in a spectacular way. The thing is, Groot is a plant…he can regrow himself from a small shoot. SPOILER ALERT: Two years out, here’s my spoiler – the GotG movie will end with Groot being on fire and taking out the bad guy and will be all sad…until the very end where we see a tiny Groot growing from a shoot of his original body.
Next is Gamora. I’m not sure how the movie will handle this, but Gamora is the daughter of Thanos, the big purple guy from the end of the Avengers. She’s pretty much a badass assassin, trained from birth to be her father’s ultimate weapon. Until, of course, she broke free of him and went off to do what she wanted to do instead. She’d kill her dad, but that’s what he wants (he’s in love with the incarnation of Death), so she just basically goes off and does what she wants. She was designed to be the ultimate assassin – her speed, strength and endurance are superhuman, she’s a master of pretty much all known martial arts, expert in most weapons, even her looks were engineered to help her carry out her missions. She’s also effectively ageless and has a healing factor (not as good as Wolverine, but she survived immolation from a stellar storm and was able to regrow her skin in a matter of weeks). She favors melee weapons, especially her sword, mostly because it’s more fun for her to kill that way. Oh, and she can survive in space without special gear, at least for a while – that may be important in the movie.
Finally we have Drax the Destroyer. Drax has had several incarnation, with this one being based mostly on Vin Diesel’s portrayal of Riddick from Pitch Black. Drax was actually a human from Earth, attacked by Thanos along with his wife and daughter (who goes on to be one of the space lesbians…) and eventually turned into a rage fueled green killing machine. Sound like the Hulk? He is, in some respects. He’s about as strong as the Hulk, though without the potential to continue to get stronger when he gets angrier. He’s also a deadly hand to hand combatant, nearly as good as Gamora (and he’d argue better), and he has a similar resistance to physical injury and healing factor. Not surprising since they were both granted their superhuman abilities by Thanos. Drax has a serious grudge against Thanos and sometimes doesn’t listen to orders if they get in the way of trying to kill Big Purple. Like Gamora, he can also survive in space without gear. He favors knives and close range combat, but honestly he’ll use anything he can get to get the job done. Think of him as “Space Wolverine” and you’ve got a good idea of what he’s like.
Missing from the movie line-up are Adam Warlock, who would take a whole article to explain, Phylla-Vel…who is even harder to explain, Cosmo the space dog (maybe he’ll be in the movie…Cosmo is more mission control than front line), Jack Flagg, Mantis (I don’t even want to try to explain her), and Vince Astro from the original Guardians…he’s got Captain America’s shield (from an alternate timeline). All of these characters are, when you look, a hell of a lot harder to explain. Human, talking raccoon, tree man, sexy space assassin and space Wolverine are pretty simple to get behind. Some of these other folks could have textbooks filled with their history and still not make much sense (Mantis sort of spans both Marvel and DC universes…).
Basically you have heroes who are not super powerful up against a galaxy full of bad guys who want to wipe out every living being. And they do it all with the folks on Earth none the wiser.
I hope you enjoyed this little primer. We’ll see in two years how well what I wrote matches up.