Who are the Guardians Of The Galaxy?

Feature James Hunt 3 Jul 2012 - 06:49

Already confirmed as Marvel’s big 2014 movie, Guardians Of The Galaxy is a less widely known superhero property. Here’s James to provide a bit of background information...

Warning: there's a spoiler for the end of The Avengers later in this article, if you haven't seen the film yet.

Although we don't expect to see any solid confirmation until the San Diego Comic-Con in a few days' time, it's widely believed that the Marvel film filling the announced-but-vacant 2014 slot will not be Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish's Ant-Man as many people hoped and expected. Instead, we appear to be getting one based on the relatively unknown superhero team, the Guardians Of The Galaxy.

This, it's fair to say, is a surprise. Marvel has done big business selling films based on characters who are already in the public consciousness, whether through comics and cartoons or lunchboxes and t-shirts - but Guardians Of The Galaxy is something different. Indeed, even the most hardcore comic fans would struggle to name the current team members. The public, by comparison, would be going in cold.

So who are the Guardians of the Galaxy?

Assuming that any film will base itself on the 'modern' Guardians rather than the team's original incarnation (which had limited popularity in the 70s but not much beyond) there are a few things worth knowing in order to understand them.

Formed in the aftermath of the Annihilation: Conquest storyline, which saw various space-faring heroes unite to defeat an alien threat before it reached the Earth, the Guardians are arguably the Avengers of space. Brought together by Star-Lord, a space-faring human with a super-suit and "element gun", it's fair to say that the team members aren't the easiest to reduce to a single line pitch. Although the roster isn't particularly static, notable characters affiliated with the Guardians include:

Adam Warlock, a genetically engineered artificial human with super-powers. Drax the Destroyer, a human spirit inhabiting an artificial alien body created to hunt and kill Thanos. Gamora, a super-strong alien and the adopted daughter of Thanos. Phyla-Vell (aka Quasar), the daughter of Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel. Rocket Raccoon, an intelligent anthropomorphic alien raccoon who captains his own starship. Groot, an extra-terrestrial plant-man. Moondragon, a telepathic/telekinetic human raised by Thanos' father, Mentor who is the daughter of Drax's human incarnation. And finally, Bug, an insectoid superhero from the microverse.

As you can see, it's a bit of a motley bunch. There's not a huge amount to link the Guardians thematically speaking, nor are there any killer high-concept characters along the lines of Spider-Man, Iron Man and Thor. That's because the Guardians were cobbled together from the the remains of Marvel's "cosmic" line which was popular in the 70s but never really made it beyond that.

The appeal of Marvel's cosmic books, which followed in the wake of Lee and Kirby's golden period, wasn't ever really down to the characters. They mostly have generic super-powers and uninventive, inward-looking origins built on Marvel's internal mythology. These weren't the flawed heroes of the Lee/Kirby era, but super-powered adventurers whose creation capitalised on the popularity of sci-fi. When comics got grim and gritty in the 80s, flying around space and fighting aliens ceased to sell, and they've languished since, often for long periods.

There is one name that pops up a lot in conjunction with these characters, though, and that's Thanos. The big purple guy with a wrinkly chin. If I remind you that I'm talking about the figure from the end-credits teaser of Avengers, then suddenly, a Guardians film begins to make some sense.

After all, one of the things that made Avengers great was Loki. As much as it was about the team assembling, it was also about pitting them against a villain who was as enjoyable to watch as any of the heroes. The on-screen appearance of Thanos may have excited the comics fans who recognised him, but using him in Avengers 2 without prior introduction could leave audiences nonplussed. Making him the villain of a Guardians film first might just give him the cachet he needs to justify a fight with Marvel's top heroes.

Similarly, we can't help thinking back to the Infinity Gauntlet, which appeared briefly in the Asgardian Armory in Thor. Traditionally deployed for cosmic storylines, the Infinity Gauntlet has motivated more interstellar skirmishes in the Marvel universe than almost any other artifact, most often between warring factions led by Adam Warlock and Thanos. Oh look, it's those names again.

And that's to say nothing of some of Marvel's other cosmic heroes. Marvel's space-faring teenager, Nova, has been getting some considerable page and screen time recently (in Avengers Vs X-Men and the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon). Maybe the company is setting him up for inclusion in the film? And how are those Fantastic Four rights looking? The Silver Surfer and Galactus would be natural accompaniments to any film set in Marvel's cosmic world.

Admittedly, it's rather too early to start any concrete speculation on what the content of the film might be. For all we know, it might turn out to be an all-CGI children's film following the wacky antics of Rocket Raccoon. But if it did involve the Guardians fighting Thanos over the Infinity Gauntlet, we wouldn't be at all surprised, and if it led into Avengers 2, even less so.

Funnily, if anything's going to throw a spanner into the works, it's another comic universe entirely. Only last year, a similar superheroes-in-space concept bombed at the box office. You all remember Green Lantern? If anyone can turn public disinterest around, it's Marvel Studios, but serving up a set of similarly bonkers characters and a plot that starts wacky and gets wackier isn't what you'd call a traditional winning formula.

There's no reason it shouldn't work, of course. It doesn't matter that the Guardians characters are neither well-known nor easily recognised – does the high concept work? Introduced properly, it could. Superheroes in space is a classic formula with a lot of success behind it, and the Guardians characters are no worse than any other. Find the right angle (i.e. 180 degrees away from Green Lantern) and there's no reason you couldn't get a good film out of the idea.

Whether they actually will, however, is another matter. After Avengers, we're willing to believe Marvel Studios can do anything, but if you had to put money on any film failing to find its audience, this would be it. We'll be watching future developments with substantial interest.

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