How GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Went From Comic Obscurity to an A-List Marvel Team

The Guardians of the Galaxy are now world-famous outer space superheroes, known across the globe as one of Marvel’s biggest brand names. But it was a long and slow climb to iconic status for this particular cosmic team of misfit heroes. In fact, it took them nearly 50 years. This is how Guardians of the Galaxy went from an obscure Marvel property into a mainstay of both the comic book and live-action Marvel universes.

The Original Guardians, Heroes of the Future

Marvel Super-Heroes #18, first appearance of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Marvel Comics

Created by legendary editor Roy Thomas, Doom Patrol co-creator Arnold Drake, and Daredevil artist Gene Colan, the Guardians of the Galaxy first appeared in early 1969, in the 18th issue of Marvel Super-Heroes. Their first adventure took place in the 31st century, where an astronaut from the 20th century, Major Vance Astro, traveled a thousand years into the future. There, he teamed up with the sole survivor of the planet Jupiter, a hulking soldier named Charlie-27. They were joined by the crystalline Martinex from Pluto, and Yondu Udonta from Centauri-IV. Together, they attempted to save Earth’s solar system from the alien Badoon empire.

The last panel of the first Guardians of the Galaxy comic, after which the team vanisherd for five years.
Marvel Comics

This one-off special issue introduction to the team might have been the beginning and the end for them, as they did not appear again in a Marvel comic for another five years. Then, in 1974, writer Steve Gerber decided that time-traveling Guardians should journey to the past, where they could meet up with contemporary Marvel heroes. In that story, they teamed up with the Thing, the Defenders, and Captain America. Gerber also added new members like Starhawk, and later Nikki from Mercury, to the roster. Readers seemed to like them, and it was decided by Marvel editorial to give them their own comic series. During this time, it was revealed that their future was an alternate reality, Earth-691.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: Honorary Avengers

From Marvel Two-in-One to Marvel Premiere to Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy were promient in the 1970s.
Marvel Comics

Starting in 1975’s Marvel Premiere #3, the Guardians took over the title. They were now a spacefaring team of adventurers, and artist Dave Cockrum, who that very year designed the second generation X-Men, gave them new looks. Unlike the X-Men however, this alone wasn’t enough to make Guardians of the Galaxy a hit title. After just ten issues, their run was canceled. However, they made an extended appearance in Avengers for a year in 1978, where they were honorary members of the team. After that, the Guardians essentially vanished for the next decade until a popular show about the Final Frontier inspired Marvel to revive them.

Star Trek: TNG Saves the Guardians from Obscurity

Jim Valentino's '90s iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Marvel Comics

In 1989, with Star Trek: The Next Generation becoming very popular on TV, Marvel decided to start a “spacefaring group in the future” book of their own. They dusted off the ‘70s team a third time, and hired writer/artist Jim Valentino to start a new Guardians ongoing title. The first issue came out in 1990. This time, the title was more well-received by fans, and lasted 62 issues until 1995. However, Valentino left a couple of years in to form Image Comics with other ex-Marvel creators. Once again, the Guardians were put on the shelf with few appearances. They seemed otherwise forgotten until 2008, when the team as we know them today began. But before we get to the modern version, we once again have got to go back to the 1970s Marvel bullpen.

Modern Guardians: the Children of ’70s Cosmic Marvel

Thanos, Adam Warlock, Gamora, and Drax, characters developed by Jim Starlin in the 1970s.
Marvel Comics

Back in the early ‘70s, writer/artist Jim Starlin started to really flesh out the cosmic side of Marvel. First, he introduced characters like Thanos and Drax the Destroyer in Iron Man. Later, he redefined Adam Warlock, and created Gamora. At around the same time, writer Steve Englehart created Mantis in the pages of Avengers. Star-Lord was introduced for a brief run in Marvel Preview in 1976, more or less disappearing from comic book store shelves for over two decades. But these cosmic characters from the Disco era would form the foundation of a new Guardians team in the 2000s.

The new Guardians of the Galaxy, as they appeared in Annihilation: Conquest.
Marvel Comics

In the early 2000s, a new version of Star-Lord appeared in 2004’s Thanos series. Writer Keith Giffen, famous for DC’s Justice League International among many others, revamped him for the modern era. During this time, Giffen gave Drax a makeover into something that is far more recognizable to MCU fans today. Although that series ran fairly briefly, it resulted in renewed interest in Marvel’s cosmic line of heroes. This ultimately led to the event series Annihilation, which proved to be extremely popular. So popular in fact, it got a sequel, Annihilation: Conquest. Out of that event, writing partners Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning decided to introduce a new group of freedom fighters fighting off against a cosmic version of Ultron.

Guardians 2008: The Blueprint for the MCU Team

Abnett and Lanning decided to bring these ragtag space adventurers together into a new team. And to give this new team a designation? Well…there was a perfectly good name for a cosmic team just lying around: the Guardians of the Galaxy. Instead of operating in the future, they patrolled the spaceways in the present time, and in the 616 universe.  Among them were Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Mantis, and two other long-forgotten Marvel characters: Groot and Rocket Raccoon. Also on the initial team were Adam Warlock, Phylla-Vell (Quasar), and Cosmo the space dog. They worked out of Knowhere, the decapitated head of a long-dead celestial. All of these elements, Minus Adam Warlock and Quasar, of course, would form the backbone of the first Guardians movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy's 2008 iteration, the blueprint for the MCU.
Marvel Comics

The Guardians title by Abnett and Lanning ended after 25 issues and two years total. However, it was very critically well received. It inspired screenwriter Nicole Perlman to take a crack at the property in a script for Marvel Studios, which then only had two Iron Man movies to their name. Eventually, that script made it to James Gunn, and the rest is history. From that very first Guardians comic back in 1969, only Yondu made it into that first film. But without it, we wouldn’t have the intergalactic a-holes we all love so much today. Because of the mega success of the films, Marvel has had a Guardians of the Galaxy comic running ever since. It took some time, but Guardians eventually became an A-list Marvel team like the Avengers and the X-Men. Sometimes, the fourth time’s the charm.

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