Thanks to a smash hit movie trailer, a strong showing at the recently concluded New York Toy Fair and, well, Rocket Raccoon, Marvel Comics' Guardians of the Galaxy are enjoying a newfound -- and long overdue -- notoriety. And with the film landing in theaters on August 1, curious comic book readers and Marvel Cinematic Universe fans alike might want to cram as much of the source material into their noggins.
But the GotG are a group with a number of fairly distinct eras spanning over 45 years of comics. As such, this intergalactic tour needs a guide. With that in mind, CBR has mapped out four very different, yet equally rewarding gateways to the Guardians of the Galaxy!
"Guardians of the Galaxy" (2008) #1-25
Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by Paul Pelletier, Brad Walker, Wed Craig, et al.
As much as any of today's comic book movies stem from a definitive source material, this series from 2008 serves as the loose rulebook for "Guardians of the Galaxy." In it, Star-Lord's cobbled-together team of previously disparate cosmic misfits launch the Guardians brand into the modern era -- even though they're actually taking the name from a classic comic book set in the far-flung future.
Pros: If you want a crash course in Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, then this series is your best bet. Not only do those five characters stand front and center in this run, they appear with the personalities most likely found in the upcoming film. And as much as the movie owes its humor to writer/director James Gunn, it also owes it to Abnett and Lanning's original comic book scripts, which are all packed with whip smart banter and self-deprecating heroics.
Cons: Remember that whole bit about this version of the team being the first in continuity to use the name, but the second in reality to use the name? Yeah, a few stories in this series dive deep into the Guardians' future/past, which might still be hard to follow even though the creative team try their hardest to make it all accessible. The series also stars a ton of characters who aren't in the film, meaning you'll run the risk of getting attached to Adam Warlock, Phyla-Vell, Mantis, Bug and Moondragon without the payoff of seeing them on the big screen.
"Annihilation: Conquest -- Star-Lord" (2007) #1-4
Written by Keith Giffen
Art by Timothy Green II
If you want a little bit of an appetizer before enjoying the 2008 series as a main course, then this miniseries will serve you well. Set during the sprawling "Annihilation: Conquest" event, this relatively self-contained story follows Peter Quill as he reclaims his Star-Lord title and joins up with the crew that will go on to become the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Pros: Giffen's script is as zinger-filled and emotional as Abnett and Lanning's, and Green really turns in some gorgeously offbeat artwork. And as this marks the first time that future Guardians Star-Lord, Groot, Rocket, Bug and Mantis all work together, it works as a great prequel to the 2008 series.
Cons: Since it has a different writer, a few inconsistencies between this mini and the 2008 "Guardians" ongoing pop up in places; for example, Groot speaks in complete sentences and not solely in his signature "I am Groot" speak. The series also takes place in the midst of a big event, and while it can be enjoyed on its own, that might be a turn-off to readers wishing for a pure "Guardians" experience.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" (2013) #0.1 -- Present
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Steve McNiven, Sara Pichelli, et al.
Launched last year in anticipation of the team's big screen debut, the current "Guardians" series -- which releases its 12th issue this week -- stars mainly the movie lineup as they fight their way across the galaxy, fending off Badoon invasions and Peter Quill's buzz kill dad along the way.
Pros: Bendis' trademark rapid fire dialogue feels right at home with this gang of bickering heroes. His stories so far have been heavy on action, so those curious to see how a raccoon and tree make with the violence will have their questions answered. The book also has top-notch art from two of the industries best artists in Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli.
Cons: Like any comic book, the most recent "Guardians" series finds itself a bit distracted by continuity. Peter Quill's sudden and mysterious resurrection (he was dead prior to this series launching) looms over his every move, and the story focuses at times on characters that won't appear in the movie. In the case of Iron Man, this may be welcome to those familiar with Marvel's current poster boy. In the case of Angela, this might be distracting. If you're not already familiar with the story, you may actually want to skip looking up why Angela is in the series, because her path to the Marvel Universe is simultaneously a thoroughly engrossing and immensely confusing tale.
"Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow's Avengers" (2013) Volumes 1-2
Written by Arnold Drake, Steve Gerber, Jim Shooter, Roger Stern, et al.
Art by Gene Colan, Sal Buscema, George Perez, et al.
Starting with "Marvel Super-Heroes" #18 in 1969, the original Guardians of the Galaxy popped up in supporting roles in pretty much every Marvel anthology series published in the '70s. These two trades cover their appearances all the way up to 1980, guest-starring the Avengers and other Marvel heroes along the way.
Pros: To truly get the full Guardians experience, starting with their metaphorical "season one," you have to start here. If you're a fan of space opera or classic comic book storytelling, you'll enjoy reading these cosmic adventures from some of the medium's biggest creators.
Cons: Because of the 2008 reboot, this iteration of the team has been pretty much erased from the comic book consciousness. So far, only one character from this stretch of issues looks to make and appearance in the film, and really, Michael Rooker's Yondu Udonta seems to bear little resemblance to the version which appears in these issues. While these are classic comic tales, ones that would shed a little light on the goings-on of the 2008 reboot series, these trades bear pretty much no resemblance to the upcoming film. In short: There's no talking raccoon and no talking tree.
With all that in mind, the 2008 series is the best place for a Guardians newcomer to start. It has the characters you'll need to know in a setting you'll end up recognizing, all told in a tone similar to the trailer. And should the continuity complexity of the later arcs of that run start weighing you down, feel free to jump ahead to the more straightforward, action-oriented 2013 series.