With the success of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films, the old question once again arises. Where does someone who likes the movies start with the comics?
Surprisingly, when it comes to Guardians of the Galaxy comics, the reading path is relatively streamlined…to a point (things get scattershot once Marvel realizes Quill and company are a money factory). There’s a real starting point and you honestly don’t have to go back to the characters’ original issues. Rocket Raccoon’s early adventures are entirely different from how we know him today, Groot didn’t become a loveable scamp until the mid-00s, and the whole starting point of the Guardians as we know them was when Drax got a bit of a reboot.
If you’re new to comics or don’t know too much about Marvel, remember that there are two different kinds of Guardians of the Galaxy. The originals were heroes from the future (Stallone’s crew at the end of the sequel is loosely based on them), but you don’t really need to read those. The link between them and the current Guardians is mentioned here and there, but they’re not worth studying up on. For the Guardians you know and love from the movie, you really don’t have to go that far back. How convenient is that?
Enjoy this road map to what you need to read to get into Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m trying really hard not to get into spoiler territory, but sometimes that can’t be helped. For instance, one of the books is called The Thanos Imperative. That very title is a spoiler.
Here we go…
DRAX THE DESTROYER (2005-2006)
This miniseries is widely considered the moment when Marvel decided to really push the cosmic corner of their universe, which previously had mostly been fodder for stories about how much Jim Starlin loves Thanos. Fittingly, this is a new beginning and it starts with a character that really needed a new coat of paint.
For years, Drax the Destroyer was considered nothing more than “Space Hulk” because, honestly, that’s all they gave us. There was an interesting backstory buried in there, but at the end of the day, he was a big, green, angry, dumb, super-strong guy dressed in purple. He was basically the Hulk with a hate-on for Thanos.
This four-issue miniseries works on literally rebuilding the character. Drax is on a prison transport that crashes onto Earth. There, he forms a bond with an antisocial girl named Cammi (think Mandy from Grim Adventures) while fighting off some of the fellow space prisoners. Stuff happens and Drax ends up reborn in a less bulky body and is more about taking people out with his cunning and killing skills than, “DRAX SMASH!”
Basically, he wasn’t the Hulk anymore. He became much more like Riddick. Like, he is so blatantly Vin Diesel, which makes it funny how they did a Guardians movie with Vin Diesel playing a completely different role while casting “poor man’s Vin Diesel” as Drax.
This series is luckily collected in the same books as…
You might as well just save yourself some time by getting the collected editions for this, since it has everything you need to read as well as the Drax the Destroyer miniseries before it. Otherwise, here’s how it works. They did a one-shot called Annihilation: Prologue. In this comic, we get to see a bunch of our players and the initial look at our threat, the Annihilation Wave. Who’s behind it, I won’t spoil in case you don’t know. What I will spoil is that by the end of the first issue, it looks like everyone is screwed.
From there, we get four four-issue miniseries that take place concurrently against the same threat: Silver Surfer, Nova, Super-Skrull, and Ronan. Yes, Ronan the Accuser, crazy movie villain, is a protagonist. His miniseries introduces Gamora to the Marvel cosmic resurgence while Drax and Cammi show up in Nova’s book.
Thanos is also a pretty big deal in all of this, even if he isn’t the main villain. We still don’t have the Guardians of the Galaxy yet, but we’re getting many of the core characters. Peter Quill has a supporting role that I totally forgot about, but that’s because he’s a lot different from how we know him these days. Plus the Nova series is the first of many footprints that Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning will leave when it comes to cosmic Marvel.
Once those four minis end, we get Annihilation proper. There, it’s a big team-up between all the remaining heroes from the different stories. It’s really awesome and you’d be a fool to skip it. Afterwards, there’s a two-issue epilogue called Annihilation: Heralds, which ties up a loose end in the story. It’s a decent read, albeit not essential.
ANNIHILATION CONQUEST (2007-2008)
Annihilation did well enough to get itself a follow-up and we’re led one step closer to Guardians of the Galaxy being a thing. Conquest is essentially the Guardians of the Galaxy origin story. It’s told in the same way as Annihilation, more or less. The prologue shows a new threat completely unrelated to what we got in Annihilation, but on the same level. It’s something that will spread across the universe and destroy all life if not stopped…if it can be stopped. At the center of this is Peter Quill, who blames himself for what’s happening.
Again, we’re given four stories that run concurrently, then funnel into Annihilation: Conquest. The difference here is that at this point, Nova already has his own ongoing series, so the Conquest stuff takes place from Nova #4 to Nova #7. Otherwise, we also get miniseries for Starlord (no hyphen back in 2007), Quasar, and…ugh…Wraith.
Listen, if you are getting these via the single issues and not the trades, it’s totally okay to just pretend Wraith never happened. Marvel’s been doing a good job with it.
As you can guess, the Starlord miniseries is a pretty big deal. Not only does it put Peter Quill in a leadership role, but it also reintroduces both Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Groot has the same speaking gimmick we know and love (or you hate because you hate fun), but is a bit of a jerk here. Rocket, on the other hand, is a bit more upbeat than what we’re used to. Still, the beloved Rocket/Groot bromance begins here.
Oh, and Mantis is there too. She’s kind of a big deal now.
Once Annihilation: Conquest hits its first real issue, we find out who’s really behind the threat. Again, I won’t spoil who it is, but it is someone who is a bit well known to Marvel movie fans, so if you can read it surprised, you should be delighted.
No, it’s not Thanos.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2008-2010)
Rather than do Annihilation 3: Die Darkman Die, Abnett and Lanning go directly to a Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing. The five members from the initial movie are all here as well as a handful of other characters. Some we’ll surely see in the future Marvel movies like Adam Warlock and others who we probably won’t like Bug. Bug’s awesome and all, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for him in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Guardians of the Galaxy itself isn’t an event, which means that you’ll have to prepare yourself for a handful of tie-ins to actual events. Stuff like Secret Invasion and War of Kings. Despite being another space-related event, War of Kings is something you don’t really have to worry about on its own. Just stick with this comic’s 25 issues without any real distractions. It’s the most straightforward run you’ll get on this whole list, so take it in.
Despite the distractions of event story tie-ins and time travel, Guardians of the Galaxy still gets to tell its main story, which is set up from day one when Mantis tells the reader that there’s a traitor in the midst, but she won’t tell the team because she’s annoying like that. Regardless, it’s a great run and it’s what inspired the idea of giving the team a movie in the first place.
Plus, there’s even a quick Star-Lord vs. Ronan fight tossed in there before anyone knew that would be such a big deal!
THANOS IMPERATIVE (2010)
Around this time, Marvel had a habit of stealth canceling comics by having them lead into a miniseries and then walking away once it’s done. That’s what Thanos Imperative is to both Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova. The story is what should be the epic finale of the Abnett/Lanning cosmic run at Marvel, but not quite. I’ll get to that in a second.
The story has to do with an alternate universe called the Cancerverse. See, many years ago, Marvel killed off a superhero named Captain Mar-Vell and gave him a really sweet, touching death told in its own comic back when stuff like that didn’t happen so often. In this alternate dimension, Mar-Vell’s counterpart rules because Death has been taken out of the picture. Nobody dies. Life itself is a cancer and it threatens everything. It’s such a big threat that Thanos is on the same side as the heroes.
This one doesn’t have the same reading list gimmick as Annihilation and its sequel. Just read Thanos Imperative: Ignition and then the six-issue miniseries. There’s an epilogue issue called Thanos Imperative: Devastation, but don’t worry about it. That’s a launching point for The Annihilators, another attempt at creating a cosmic superhero team (featuring guys like Silver Surfer, Ronan, and Beta-Ray Bill), but that concept never really takes off.
Consider Annihilators extra credit, if only for the Rocket Raccoon backup stories.
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)
By the time we get Avengers Assemble, the whole Guardians of the Galaxy concept has been practically dead and buried. In fact, there are some major happenings in Thanos Imperative that completely affect the Guardians roster. Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t care about such things. He has a tendency to introduce characters in his stories written very differently from where he found them. Guys like the Hood, Luke Cage, the Sentry, and so on. He’ll make them well-known, but on his terms.
His Avengers Assemble run starts out as just an Avengers story, but soon stretches into something more cosmic, giving us the first meeting between the Avengers and the Guardians. Some huge plot points from Thanos Imperative are completely ignored, which rightfully annoyed fans. Bendis would finally get to explaining things about two years later, presumably because he got annoyed at readers bugging him about it. Or maybe he just didn’t want it distracting from the initial relaunch for new readers.
This is a real turning point due to how Marvel was getting into full movie hype mode. Not only is this series meant to piggyback onto the success of the Avengers movie, but it’s meant to reintroduce the Guardians of the Galaxy so that readers will be a bit more interested in their eventual film.
It also springboards into the next phase…
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2013-2015)
While I’ve harped on Bendis for his, “yeah, whatever, we’re doing this now,” storytelling, he’s still really good and there’s a reason why he was pretty much Marvel’s top writer for 15 years. His version of Rocket does get a bit angry and catchphrasey, but I’m not sure if that’s Bendis’ call or mandated to make him more in line with the then-eventual Bradley Cooper version.
While the roster changes a little bit, it has a rather interesting approach. You have the five movie characters and the others are attempts to get more eyes on the franchise. For example, early on, Iron Man joins the team. It’s great just for the small-fish-in-a-big-pond take on him where he’s no longer the smoothest, smartest man in the room and it humbles the hell out of him. Other members of the team include the current Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers, the one getting her own movie), Venom, and Angela.
If you don’t know who Angela is, don’t worry about it. She’s honestly more interesting due to the behind-the-scenes reasons for her being in this comic, but that would take too long to explain. Just enjoy her fun BFF relationship with Gamora.
Of course, it would be wasteful just to have one comic for these guys…
ROCKET RACCOON (2014-2015)
Being the big breakout star of the movie, Rocket naturally got his own solo series out of the deal. While the other members of the team cameo, the book ultimately has little to do with the Guardians outside of Groot. Instead, it focuses on the wacky space adventures of Rocket as he becomes raveled in a series of stories that are linked to his secret origins. It stands as its own thing and doesn’t tie into the big picture, but if you’re a fan of the character, it’s worth checking out.
If anything, at least read the fifth issue. It’s a self-contained story with a hilarious gimmick.
LEGENDARY STAR-LORD (2014-2015)
Also capitalizing on the movie’s success was a solo series about the team’s charismatic leader. While not as cartoony, it had the same goofball adventuring feeling as Rocket’s book. Peter wrestles with a lot of problems, such as feelings of vengeance, his own greed, a bounty on his head, and most challenging of all, maintaining a long-distance relationship. It also introduces the revelation that Peter has a half-sister out there in the universe, only she had the misfortune of being raised by their father.
Legendary Star-Lord is very light on the Guardians, but it does build towards the next big entry on the list.
THE BLACK VORTEX (2015)
Black Vortex is a mini-event crossover between the X-Men and the cosmic corner of Marvel. As a follow-up to the Marvel event Infinity, Thane (son of Thanos) teams up with Star-Lord’s Earth-hating father J’son. Together, they amp themselves up with the Black Vortex, a special mirror that gives people crazy cosmic powers. Though with great power comes great conflict.
The X-Men, the Guardians, and Nova team up together to put a stop to this and even power themselves up. Then Ronan the Accuser gets involved because, what the hell, might as well have him clash with the Guardians since that’s what the movie-going public knows.
Regardless, the adventure ends with the reveal of a union between the two superhero teams that will mean much for the Guardians for…well, about a year and a half, I guess.
In terms of Guardians of the Galaxy and Legendary Star-Lord, it takes place right before the end and only has an epilogue before those books come to a close. On the flipside, it comes towards the beginning of Guardians Team-Up.
GUARDIANS TEAM-UP (2015)
The title sums it up. The Guardians team up with different Marvel heroes in each issue as told by a different creative team. The first arc has them work alongside the Avengers in the comic book introduction of the movie-style incarnation of Nebula. After that, it’s the Black Vortex tie-in issue.
Once that’s settled, we get a bunch of done-in-ones. Gamora fights alongside She-Hulk. Rocket works with the Pet Avengers. Gamora swashbuckles with Nightcrawler. Drax tries to heist with Ant-Man. Silver Surfer and Groot do mopey space stuff. Star-Lord joins forces with Spider-Man. Then to finish it off, Deadpool and Rocket team up to face their mutual enemy Macho Gomez.
Nothing pressing in there, but at least we get to see a panel of Drax wearing Zubaz and a fanny pack.
As a follow-up to Rocket’s series ending, Groot gets his own adventure. Groot insists on visiting Earth and it doesn’t take long in their trip for Rocket to get captured. From there, it becomes a rescue mission where Groot teams up with three incompetent Skrulls, a robot programmed to pump gas, and obscure Marvel character Numinus. Plus the Silver Surfer shows up again.
Not only is this comic hilarious, but it also has a ton of heart, especially when we discover why Groot wants to see Earth so much. The book features a new origin for Groot and even retcons how he and Rocket met. Sadly, Annihilation: Conquest is swept under the rug.
I absolutely recommend reading this.
WHAT IF? INFINITY: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Marvel released a batch of comics relating to Infinity in one way or another. They gave us some great moments, like Norman Osborn wielding the Infinity Gauntlet and Black Bolt merging his power with Dazzler’s to annihilate Thanos. But the most enjoyable one centered around the Guardians.
By the end of Infinity, Thanos was imprisoned in amber and the Illuminati secretly held them captive. This story shows the Guardians becoming aware of this, leading to a full-on Guardians vs. Illuminati battle. Not only is it lifted by Rocket’s humorous narration (the panel where he imagines his own cartoon series is killer), but the ending is both badass and a nice middle finger to Earth’s heroes.
See, once Secret Wars is over, Marvel goes full-on crazy with Guardians stuff. Not only do they get another ongoing and a high-concept spinoff, but all the heroes from the first movie get their own comics. While I’ll get to the rest in a bit, Star-Lord is the one that feels rather important. It’s a follow-up to Humphries’ previous run, but essentially tells two stories. The latter is about expanding on the background of a major development in the main Guardians of the Galaxy book.
The other is a new look at Star-Lord’s origin. Namely, it introduces Yondu into the fold. Yondu’s always been an odd duck with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since he’s loosely based on the archer from the original, futuristic version of Guardians. Now we get to see a movie-friendly take on him that exists in the present. Apparently, he’s the ancestor of the classic hero.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2015-2017)
Bendis finishes off his run on the characters and starts off with an interesting roster. Not only is Quill no longer the leader, but for a comic property that gradually fits into the public perception, it now has three team members who we most certainly won’t be seeing as Guardians on the silver screen any time soon. This includes a brand new Star-Lord and, of course, the ever-loving Thing, who needs something to do now that Fantastic Four no longer has its own comic.
The series goes strong, but unfortunately the latter half centers around the garbage fire event known as Civil War II. Luckily, this is one of those things where you can read the tie-in story and not have to worry about reading the event story itself. If anything, it’s worth powering through just for the explosive finale.
ROCKET RACCOON AND GROOT (2016)
Skottie Young’s wacky space adventures with Rocket and Groot continue, though they never quite reach the heights of the first Rocket series, nor that Groot comic by Jeff Loveness. The first few issues deals with a story where due to some time-and-space weirdness, Rocket and Groot are presumed dead while Rocket is an amnesiac space dictator and Groot has carved messages into his bark like the guy from Memento.
Once that’s done with, we get a bunch of one-shots until Nick Kocher takes over. From there, it again ties into Civil War II, but it’s not bad at all, since Rocket and Groot get to team up with Gwenpool. Gwenpool is good.
If you’re a wrestling fan, the existence of the Drax book is rather fascinating. After CM Punk left WWE because stars like Batista could just waltz in and take the high-profile spots from mainstays like Punk, Punk’s star power lands him the ability to write a comic about Batista’s cinematic alter-ego. Regardless, his collaboration with Cullen Bunn has plenty of energy and even leads to the wonderful image of Fin Fang Foom dressed as a farmer.
Feeling like an outcast among his superhero team, Drax decides to go off and kill Thanos. That doesn’t happen due to his ship being a piece of crap and he instead gets roped into an adventure that includes space dragons, a redemptive Terrax, gladiator fights, and the return of his old sidekick Cammi.
If anything, read it for Hepburn’s art style. It’s fantastic.
GUARDIANS OF INFINITY (2015-2016)
As we’ve already established, there are two versions of the Guardians of the Galaxy. You have the distant future guys who had comics back in the 60s and the more modern day space team who this list is based on. BUT…what if there was another team? Let’s say a thousand years ago? Guardians of Infinity is a big eight-issue team-up between all three iterations of the Guardians of the Galaxy. All written by Dan Abnett, one of the fathers of Guardians being such a big deal to begin with.
Not only that, but each issue has a backup story by a different creative team. One of which is co-written by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels. Sure, why not.
Fittingly, this series is written by Nicole Perlman, the co-writer of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. This story takes place in the past, showing how Gamora went from Thanos’ puppet daughter to a more heroic warrior. Naturally, that means Nebula gets to have a presence as the comic tries its hardest to fit in with the film’s continuity.
Gamora annihilates the Badoon horde responsible for her people’s genocide, only to discover that there’s a princess hidden away. Gamora seeks her out, partially out of revenge, partially to complete her mission, and partly out of relief of having something to live for.
ROCKET RACCOON (2017)
As a follow-up to the whole Civil War II nonsense, the Guardians are temporarily grounded. In fact, Grounded‘s the label they use for this and the next entry on the list. That means we get five issues of Rocket grumbling at how much Earth is the worst planet. Well, “Earth sucks,” is the thing he says at least twice an issue.
It’s your average fish-out-of-water story, only with a space raccoon who weirds out every single Earthling he comes across. Check it out as he tries to find a way off Earth while complaining about how lame Earth guns are and trying to evade Kraven the Hunter.
Man, Rocket vs. Kraven. How did it take us that long to get to that pairing?
Remember that whole fish-out-of-water thing I mentioned? At least Rocket has the excuse of being an alien. Peter Quill was born here. It’s just…spending a lot of years in space will change your perceptions about home, I suppose.
Now nothing more than a random dude on Earth (with a laser gun and cool facemask), Quill becomes aimless and lonely. The only people he can confide in are Old Man Logan (due to sympathizing with his plight) and an old man he’s forced to hang out with as community service. Hanging out with Logan leads to barfights and those aren’t smiled upon by the law. Ironically, he starts paying off the fine by becoming a bartender at a supervillain bar.
ALL-NEW GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2017)
By this point, Marvel has completely gone headfirst into the movie versions of the team. Not only is it the main five, but Groot is now stuck in his baby form for reasons. Merchandisable reasons. Back in space, the team is full of mysteries. There’s the aforementioned Groot situation, Gamora is more intense than ever, and Drax the Destroyer has become a full-on pacifist with no desire to kill another living being.
Gerry Duggan is the writer here and it’s the first step in his big, upcoming cosmic event Infinity Wars. Also, another superhero joins the team late in the series and it’s another attempt to capitalize on the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Duggan run continues into a story arc called Infinity Quest. Groot’s transformation, Gamora’s secret, and the recent heists are linked and building towards something massive. Something is up with the Elders of the Universe and it’s imperative that the Guardians get their hands on the Infinity Stones. While the Guardians join the Nova Corps as part of a new mission, various players get involved to help set up Infinity Countdown, which leads to Infinity Wars.
Due to the whole Marvel Legacy gimmick, the run is renumbered at #146 because supposedly that’s what it would be if Guardians of the Galaxy comics never restarted from #1.
I AM GROOT (2017)
In this five-issue miniseries, Baby Groot accidentally gets separated from his buddies and falls into a portal. On a new planet, he’s stuck in a glitchy reality best compared to the Bermuda Triangle. It’s there that he goes on a Wizard of Oz type of adventure where he’s joined by a farmer, a talking dog, and a three-headed woman where each head is a different age.
This one’s just plain weird. Cute, but weird.
Al Ewing and Adam Gorham team up to give us an at times noirish take on Rocket Raccoon as he gets drunk over a recent misadventure. Tying into his original comic adventures of yesteryear, Rocket gets hired by and then betrayed by his old flame Otta Spice. Opposed by a group of bounty hunters called the Technet, Rocket gets some unexpected help from Deadpool, who helps inspire him to set things right and make the guilty parties pay.
It’s a little out there, but good fun.
Okay, so that was a lot of words. Here’s the short version of the reading guide.
Origin of the Guardians: Drax the Destroyer, Annihilation, Annihilation: Conquest
Initial Run: Guardians of the Galaxy (2008), Thanos Imperative
First Movie Era: Avengers Assemble, Guardians of the Galaxy (2013), Black Vortex
Optional: Rocket Raccoon, Legendary Star-Lord, Guardians Team-Up, Groot
Post-Secret Wars: Guardians of the Galaxy (2015)
Optional: Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, Drax, Gamora, Guardians of Infinity
Grounded/Optional: Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon
Second Movie Era: All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy (2017)
Optional: Rocket, I am Groot
Everything goes over Gavin Jasper’s head, but you should still follow him on Twitter anyway.