Thursday, February 20, 2014

The *UPDATED* Nerduary Guardians of the Galaxy Primer

Last year, I published a primer for those wanting to read up on the adventures of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. Just over a year ago, people's interests were peaked at the latest Marvel movie announcement as unlike, say Iron Man or Captain America, The Guardians weren't a household name.

Fast forward to two days ago. Did you see that trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy? Of course you did. Everyone saw it. It was everywhere and with good reason. It looks frakking awesome. It was just... you know what? I'm going to watch it again real quick. I'll be right back...

Man, that looks amazing.

Anywho, when word first dropped that this movie was being made, people asked me about these characters specifically. Now that everyone has seen the trailer, I'm getting questions about Marvel's cosmic stuff in general. Turns out the primer I created just over a year ago is a perfect guide to both GotG and Marvel's benchmark cosmic stuff. 

That's why I'm republishing that post with slight modifications (a lot can change in a year). Keep in mind that not only is this a long post, but it's also a reading guide. While I do go into a few plot details, this was created to direct folks who want to read these adventures for themselves to specific runs and story arcs. So if you're looking for a meticulous, Wiki-style entry, you may want to stop reading now. But, if you've always wanted to dip a toe into the cosmic corners of the Marvel Universe (and trust me, you absolutely do), then this post is exactly what you need.

Now what say we get started...


Like most starting points when it comes to serialized fiction, the origins of the modern incarnation of The Guardians of the Galaxy are a bit murky. Sure, the new team made their formal debut feeding out of 2007’s Annihilation: Conquest and you can start with Guardians of the Galaxy issue 1 and be fine. The problem there is a lot of the plots hinge on things that didn’t just happen a couple years before, but in some cases several decades before. Make no mistake, you won’t be lost if you’re not up on all the lore, but you will be missing references to some rich backstory.


First things first, I’m going to anger some true believers here and say that it’s not essential that you read up on the adventures of the original team first established in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Yes, that team does come into play with the modern team, but really, all you have to know is that in the 31st Century of an alternate universe, there’s also a team called The Guardians of the Galaxy. Kind of like DC’s Legion of Superheroes. If you want to track these old appearances down, then by all means, have at it. They’re not terrible, but I will say they’re an acquired taste. They were just sort of a Marvel rip-off of an established DC property. I think a quick run-down of the book and a basic familiarity with characters like Vance Astro, Starhawk (I promise the “One who knows” routine will drive you mad) and Charlie-27 will suit most just fine. So hit Wikipedia and you’re all set there.


Start with the 1970's Captain Marvel. More specifically, start with Jim Starlin’s run with issue 26. Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel not only builds on and vastly expands the cosmic foundation created by Kirby and Lee, but it brings the titular hero into direct conflict with Thanos. Thanos, as we all know, even if you don’t read comics, was the surprise baddie at the end of The Avengers and by some accounts will at least feature somewhere in Guardians of the Galaxy and Marvel Films Phase 3. He’s also a constant source of problems (and sometimes solutions) for almost all cosmic stories to follow, including The Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Plus, Starlin’s Captain Marvel run is trippy as hell. So there’s that
.

From there, you’ll want go directly into Starlin’s Warlock run. Starlin turned Adam Warlock from the overbearingly heavy handed Christ figure of Roy Thomas' run into a cosmic paranoid schizophrenic destined to become a galactic tyrant. Most of the run is spent with Warlock being antagonized by The Magus (his evil future self) and The Magus’ Universal Church of Truth. Thanos also features heavily into this story, and its in this run that we see the character as not just a genocidal space tyrant, but a guy who spins wheel within wheels in his planning. Here, he’s more manipulating ally than direct adversary for most of the run. This story and its resolution will come into direct play in Guardians of the Galaxy three and a half decades later.

And, like Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel, this run is trippy as hell as well. So there’s that.


Next, do yourself a favor and read the seminal The Death of Captain Marvel. Not only is it notable as being the story of an extraordinary hero dying in a depressingly ordinary fashion, but the event played out within its pages will echo almost two decades later for the modern Guardians of the Galaxy.


Now you can actually jump ahead a few years and pick up the trades for Silver Surfer: The Rebirth of Thanos and The Infinity Gauntlet. You really can't fully fathom the depths of Thanos and his impact on the universe without reading these stories. This was such a milestone in not only Marvel's cosmic characters, but it pretty much set the bar for all cosmic stories to come. This saga is the one by which all other cosmic tales are measured.

If you want, you can read Infinity War and Infinity Crusade as The Magus comes back, but I’m not going to file them under required reader. Same with books like Warlock and The Infinity Watch, Marvel Universe: The End or Infinity Abyss. Suffice it to say that we start to see a Thanos that is beginning to experiment with being an actual force for good rather than just doing good when it supports an evil scheme.


The Thanos 12 issue series, however, is more essential, especially the latter half of the series. It’s here where writer Keith Giffen starts to lay the groundwork for Annihilation and where key players from the Guardians of the Galaxy relaunch will start making appearances.


While this is going down, writer Keith Giffen quietly launched a series called Drax the Destroyer, giving the titular character a makeover. Drax was created by a cosmic being with the express purpose of hunting and killing Thanos. For years, Drax was kind of like the Hulk in space. Giffen recast him more as a space faring sociopath with a singular mission. Drax will not only go one to become a founding member of the modern Guardians of the Galaxy, but that singular mission of hunting and killing Thanos will play importantly in Annihilation. Speaking of Annihilation


This is the book overseen by Keith Giffen that gets the modern era of Marvel cosmic going. This is also where Peter “Starlord” Quill starts to become a player in the Marvel Universe for the first time in ages (hell, maybe ever). But like old school Guardians of the Galaxy, tracking down his initial appearances and series isn't all that required. You get what you need to know about him in a few panels, and it’s not like he made a giant splash the first time around. Annihilation, for it's part, was a sweeping space opera that reads like Band of Brothers in space. There were multiple miniseries’ featuring Silver Surfer, Ronan the Accuser and even Super Skrull leading up to to Annihilation proper, all of which are worth tracking down. It's big and it actually makes dramatic changes to Marvel cosmic space landscape in big ways ways unseen since Starlin’s 70’s stuff. Good stuff here.


Annihilation is immediately followed by Annihilation: Conquest, by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanny. Another major cosmic war, only this time Starlord is kind of, sort of responsible for it. Conquest is where we see The Guardians of the Galaxy as we know them today turn up. Rocket Raccoon reemerges in the Marvel Universe and we see a proto-Guardians form up, though they won’t operate under that name until after Annihilation: Conquest is over.



But once Annihilation: Conquest ends, we finally get the Abnett and Lanning Guardians of the Galaxy relaunch, with Starlord putting together a team dedicated to preventing massive cosmic wars. While the series is running, there are a couple of micro events that happen alongside it. War of Kings and Realm of Kings both tie into Guardians of the Galaxy, and both were surprisingly good. So take the time to track those down as well. 

Now remember all those old stories from the 70's I told you about? Well, it's a good thing you read them because The Guardians of the Galaxy  have to deal with some of that. The Universal Church of Truth is back, as is the threat of The Magus. Captain Marvel's death back in the 80's is going to come back into play as well as a few other plot points. But you won’t have a problem as you’ve already read all that. Which is good, because that means you’ll be uber prepared for The Thanos Imperative.



Guardians of the Galaxy runs for 25 issues, then feeds directly into The Thanos Imperative, once again by Abnett and Lanning. This event also has roots that go back a long way. Not only are we going all the way back to Starlin’s run on not only Warlock, but Captain Marvel as well. Big things happen here, things that feel like they've been decades in the making. By the time this series concludes, you’re left with the feeling that a chapter going back almost 40 years is coming to an end as well.


But this is comics. If you think any story ends, you clearly haven't been around that long. With the announcement that a Guardians of the Galaxy movie was being released, based on the modern team no less, Marvel obviously had to bring the team back. No small feat, considering the end of The Thanos Imperative. Avengers Assemble issues 1 through 6 written by writer Brian Michael Bendis and penciled by Mark Bagley, saw a team-up of the modern Guardians with The Avengers (a line-up that mirrors the movie’s line-up perfectly) to take on Thanos once again. As excited as GotG fans were initially, the series was... well it was disappointing is what it was. Bendis decided to write Thanos as something of a one note, mustache twirling villain rather than the complicated, multifaceted character he'd been evolving into for decades and the Guardians themselves didn't really act to terribly much like the characters everyone remembers from just a year before. 



After that, Marvel launched a new Guardians of the Galaxy series, with Bendis still at the helm. Full disclosure; I didn't like it. I gave it a couple of story arcs, but then bailed. Bendis' interpretation of the characters, for me, just failed to ring true, personalities were changed and his plots just didn't have the same sense of fun mixed with urgency that the previous series captured. Which is sad considering it was that previous series' interpretation that landed the characters their very own film. Plus, he spends way too much time trying to make the character Angela a thing (Angela being a scantily clad angel that originally appeared in early 90s Spawn comics). Oh, well. What're ya gonna do, right?

Whew. That’s a lot of reading. And keep in mind, most of this stuff if seminal, so even if you're not looking to be an expert going into the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, you'll be reading some legendary stories. Starlin’s run on both Captain Marvel and Warlock is referenced to this day as groundbreaking, while stories like The Infinity Gauntlet are still informing Marvel events and style to this day. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is in you're in for one hell of a treat


Bibliography


Captain Marvel Saga
Captain Marvel, Vol. 1 25-34

Collected in:
Essential Captain Marvel, Vol. 2
Marvel Masterworks: Captain Marvel, Vol 4

Warlock Saga
Strange Tales 178-181
Warlock 9-15
Marvel Team-Up 55
Avengers Annual 7
Marvel Two-in-One Annual 2

Collected in:
Warlock by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection (does not include Marvel Team-Up 55)

The Death of Captain Marvel
Collected in:
The Death of Captain Marvel

Infinity Gauntlet Saga
Silver Surfer 34-38
Thanos Quest 1-2
The Infinity Gauntlet 1-6

Collected in:
Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos
The Infinity Gauntlet

Thanos Series
Thanos 1-12

Collected in:
Thanos: Redemption

The Annihilation Saga
Drax: The Destroyer 1-4
Annihilation Prologue
Annihilation: Silver Surfer 1-4
Annihilation: Nova 1-4
Annihilation: Ronan 1-4
Annihilation: Super Skrull 1-4
Annihilation 1-6

Collected in:
Annihilation Omnibus

Annihilation Conquest Saga
Annihilation Conquest: Wraith 1-4
Annihilation Conquest: Quasar 1-4
Annihilation Conquest: Star Lord 1-4
Annihilation Conquest: 1-6

Collected in:
Annihilation Conquest, Book 1 (currently out of print)
Annihilation Conquest, Book 2 (currently out of print)

Guardians of the Galaxy Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning Revival
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 1-25

Collected in:
Guardians of the Galaxy by Abnett and Lanning: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 (collects issues 1-12. Vol. 2 TBA)

War of Kings
War of Kings 1-6
War of Kings: Who Will Rule?

Collected in:
War of Kings

Realm of Kings
Realm of Kings 1 (one shot)
Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard 1-5
Realm of Kings: Inhumans 1-5
Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk 1-4
Nova: 32-35

Collected in:
Realm of Kings (reprint does not include Nova issues)

The Thanos Imperative
The Thanos Imperative 1-6
The Thanos Imperative: Ignition
The Thanos Imperative: Devastation

Collected in:
The Thanos Imperative

The Guardians of the Galaxy by Brian Michael Bendis
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 Currently ongoing

Collected in:

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Cosmic Avengers (issues 0.1, 1-3, plus Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers 1)
Guardians of the Galaxy: Angela (issues 4-10)

                                                                                                                                

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