Officially announced at Comic-Con and teased in the weeks leading up to it, was that Marvel Studios was going to make their cosmic super group, Guardians of the Galaxy, the next big team feature to come to the movie theater. Even though the GOTG was a great space opera comic series written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, anyone who hasn’t been reading comics over the past 5 years will be pretty much clueless as to who this team is . So what is Marvel going to have to do to get the non-comic book reading public to the box office? The answer is nothing short of a complete and total rewrite.
The success that Marvel Studios has had since Iron Man released back in 2008 can be mostly attributed to two things. Not only have they picked tent pole heroes from the Marvel universe that even people who would never pick up a comic book could recognize, but they also pulled them from the Ultimate Marvel imprint that was started back in 2000. Ultimate Marvel was the comic giant’s effort to basically have a “do-over” with all of the Marvel universe by creating new more cohesive origin stories and getting rid of the decades of cumbersome back story and cross-over that have hindered a lot of new readers from getting into Marvel’s line up over the years. This is the major problem with Guardians of the Galaxy, not only are they not recognizable to the general public, they don’t even have the benefit of a simplified Ultimate Marvel background to draw upon, and even though the newest iteration of the group only appeared for the first time in 2008, their origins are every bit as convoluted as any other long running Marvel super group.
Problem 1: The Origin Story
This is sort of the hardest thing to explain about the Guardians of the Galaxy, their origin story has an origin story. Back in 2006 Marvel ran a huge comic event (as Marvel just looooooves to do) that dealt primarily with their cosmic characters called Annihilation. Without going into too much detail, Annihilation was a multi issue cross-over event that dealt with the invasion of the universe by an evil super powerful space bug called Annihilus from the Negative Zone. It was during this massive invasion that Drax (a future Guardian of the Galaxy) kills Thanos which was his whole entire purpose in life, freeing him up do do what ever he wants to do now. So already, we have reached a point where the comic and movie universes don’t gel. If you stayed for the easter egg in the credits of the Avengers then you know that Marvel is trying to set up Thanos as the big bad for the future of the movie series.
After the Annihilation war is over, that’s when the Guardians form right? Nope, it was due to the Annihilation wave weakening the Kree empire that the next massive series event starts, Annihilation: Conquest. Even though it has the word Annihilation in it, A:C had nothing to do with Annihilus but rather another cosmic invasion that popped up right after it. It seems that the future Guardians of the Galaxy team leader, Peter Quill (aka Starlord, the guy with the mask on in the recently released concept art) did such an awesome job fighting the Annihilation Wave that he was tasked with the rebuilding of the Kree empire’s defenses in the war’s aftermath. To bad he was tricked by the techno-organic virus wielding Phalanx (another huge back story involving the X-Men) into letting them invade the Kree homeworld’s defenses and taking over the entire Kree Empire while throwing up a huge impenetrable shield that traps everyone inside of the Kree’s galaxy.
It was during the Annihilation: Conquest storyline that we see all of the Guardians in action for the first time across multiple comics, but still not working together. Starlord has most of the future Guardians with him as a low-tech (so they can’t be detected or infected by the Phalanx) Guerilla strike force behind enemy lines sorta like an Inglorious Basterds in space, while others, like the now free to do as he pleases Drax and cosmic assassin Gamora, are infected by the virus, eventually cured and help cosmic space cop Nova with his end of the crisis, until the deed is done and the Phalanx are defeated.
It is after all of this huge convoluted setup that Starlord decides two giant cosmic events are enough for one lifetime, and decides to form what is now known as the Guardians of the Galaxy. The group was formed with the specific purpose of nipping huge Annihilation level events from happening in the first place. So the GOTG aren’t just some thrown together vigilante group out to fight bad guys, they are a battle hardened group of war weary survivors trying to save the universe. So I have no idea how Marvel Studios plans on shrinking that little nugget of origin story down to something that will fit in a 2 and a half hour movie.
A reasonable question might be, “Why not just pull a story out of the series, surely they’ve done more stuff than all of these Annihilation cross-overs?” Sure, they’ve done more than the Annihilation cross-over. They’ve done the War of Kings cross-over and the Realm of Kings cross-over, right before they ended their series run with the opening of the Thanos Imperative cross-over. The entire continuity of the newest incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy is tied up in huge universe spanning cross-overs. I love the series, I love all of the Marvel cosmic series that Abbnett and Lanning have been involved in, but I have no idea what Marvel was thinking when they thought they could pair this stuff down into a movie.
Problem 2: The Characters
There has been a lot of whining by comic fanboys about the apparent absence of Adam Warlock from the team in the recently released concept art for the movie. To those that have a problem I would just say, what did you expect? Sure, Adam Warlock is a HUGE part of the storyline for the comic but how on Earth are you going to introduce what has basically been a sort of messianic character for the Marvel universe that has been involved in every major development since the Infinity Gauntlet series of the early 90’s? In short, you don’t. Adam Warlock is probably one of the most complex characters in all of the Marvel Universe, if the studios are staying away from him take it as a blessing not a curse. This is probably the same reason Phyla-Vell, Moon Dragon, and Major Victory won’t be in the movie either.
On the other hand, the movie will have its hands full when it comes to Starlord, which is a real shame. You might think Starlord is a pretty grandiose name for a guy that just runs around shooting things with pistols and you’d be right, it is. But the thing that really makes Starlord interesting isn’t the cool guns, wicked face mask, and absurd name; it’s the fact that he used to be a card carrying superhero. Marvel has ignored his actual origin story since his recent comic revival, which is good because it doesn’t make any sense in the natural continuity of the Marvel universe anyway. To put it simply, Peter Quill was picked by an alien entity called The Master Of The Sun (apparently an old man who lives in the sun) to become a super hero protecting the cosmos. He gets a cool suit, he can fly, and he saves lives wizzing around the cosmos in a sentient ship. All goes great until he sacrifices a planet full of people just to capture one crazy bad guy and ends up in jail because of it. It was during Annihilation that Starlord breaks out of prison and proves his worth battling Annihilus. So the current saga of Peter Quill/Starlord is one of an ex-super hero who is trying to atone for his sins and his arrogance, which makes him incredibly interesting but also impossible to to sum up in an ensemble movie.
The other Guardians that appear in the concept art are a bit easier to deal with aside from Drax (who I wouldn’t be surprised if they got Vin Diesel to play) who didn’t like to play with others until he had already killed Thanos. Rocket Raccoon has had many appearances in comics before without really developing a huge back story. Groot is a giant tree who first appeared during A:C and the only confounding thing about him is how he started off speaking in complete sentences and then for some reason when he came to the Guardians of the Galaxy series he was only able to utter the words, “I am Groot” and no one seemed to notice. Gamora is such a marginal character in the universe that she’ll basically be a blank slate for the writers to play with as well.
Problem 3: The Name
As you may or may not have heard by now, this is not the first incarnation of Guardians of the Galaxy. The original group had a comic run in the 90’s and were a far-future version of the Avengers who battled the evil alien menace called the Badoon. When the current version of Guardians was formed, they didn’t even have a name, that was until one of the members of the original/future Guardians was found locked in a block of ice by the modern day group and mentioned his group’s name. Rocket Raccoon who was trying to brainstorm up a name for the new super group latched on to this and decided that they should take it as their own. While writers could easily come up with a million other ways for them to get their name without including that whole side story or including Major Victory as a team member, the main problem is, the name itself doesn’t make any sense.
If you have an empire in the comic books then your empire probably engulfs an entire galaxy. The three major empires in the comic books are the Skrulls, the Kree, and the Shi’ar. In the aftermath of the Annihilation Wave that threatened the entire universe, the Guardians have decided to hop around the cosmos sealing up tears in the fabric of space time and fighting whatever pops out or chooses to exploit these cosmic leaks. The Guardians don’t guard just one galaxy, belong to a singular empire, or even reside in one, their main base is in a space station floating at the edge of the universe. In other words, Guardians of the Universe, makes a lot more sense than Guardians of the Galaxy. In essence, if Marvel is going to make sense of this super group to the masses then they are going to have to not only remake their entire back story, but they are going to have to find a way for the name to make sense as well.
I really enjoy Marvel’s films, but my one major gripe has always been that the films seem a little too weighted down by exposition. With a completely unknown super group like the Guardians, lengthy exposition will be unavoidable. In some ways, turning Guardians of the Galaxy into a movie will be far more challenging than what Marvel did with the Avengers. If you ever treated yourself to the comics, then you know that Abnett and Lanning know how to do large scale, epic space opera, but unfortunately almost all of the stuff that makes the comics so incredibly good will have to be thrown out so as not to loose the audience. Let’s hope they figure out a way around this mess that doesn’t leave us with a 5 hour movie.