Marvel’s Original Guardians of the Galaxy — A Comic Book History — Part One

Marvel’s Original Guardians of the Galaxy — A Comic Book History — Part One

Vance Astro? Charlie-27? Starhawk? Martinex? Who Are These Guys?

Image for postCover Detail, Marvel Super-Heroes Issue #18 ? Pencils by Gene Colan, Inks by Mike Esposito, and Colors by Stan Goldberg. Credit: Marvel Comics.

Author?s Note: These articles on the comic book history of Marvel?s Guardians of the Galaxy are excerpted from Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy: An Unofficial Comic Book History (Glow-in-the-Dark Radio Books, 2018), an in-depth look at the team?s career in the comics, based on original research and interviews with creators Chris Claremont, Steve Englehart, Dan Abnett, Tim Zahn and more. You can jump over to the beginning of the story of Star-Lord here.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are pretty well-known ? now. Maybe even as famous as some of the other formerly more ?established? super heroes from Marvel Comics. Marvel?s colorful, wise-cracking, outer-space traveling team of ne?er do wells has brightened our movie screens in their two films and Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. But have you ever wondered where in Marvel Comics history they come from? Did you know their comic book history goes back to the 1960’s? With an entirely different cast of characters?

The modern line-up of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the comic books, as in the movies, is (sort-of) led by Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, and has featured Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Drax the Destroyer, among others. This team came together a little over ten years ago in the comic books. But the Guardians? history in the comics is far lengthier and more complex than their movie history.

Prior to these more recent comic book tales with this team came many years of great Marvel cosmic stories, from creators like the late great writer Steve Gerber, and artist and writer Jim Starlin, creator of Thanos. In fact, there?s a rich cosmic comic book history Marvel Studios can mine for ideas for many years of movies to come, should they so desire.

The Guardians of the Galaxy date back to 1968 with an original team quite different from the current line-up, made up of characters most recent fans might not recognize ? although one of the original team?s line-up, Yondu, did appear in both of the Guardians movies.

Yondu is a very different character in the films, despite having the same name, similar weapon and comparable look to the character appearing in the comic books. And Yondu?s old Ravager teammates who reject him in the second Guardians movie also share names with the original team members in the comics, although, like Yondu, while keeping the names and some appearances, the characters are vastly different.

Image for postCover, Marvel Super-Heroes Issue #18 ? Pencils by Gene Colan, Inks by Mike Esposito, and Colors by Stan Goldberg. Credit: Marvel Comics.

The team originally appeared in a one and done story by writer Arnold Drake and the great artist Gene Colan in MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #18 in late 1968. The team didn?t catch on immediately, at least not with the general comic-book reading public. The one-shot came and went with little fanfare. The original Guardians of the Galaxy line-up including Charlie-27, Yondu, Vance Astro, Martinex and, later, Starhawk, only truly endeared themselves to readers when they appeared a few years later in the pages of The Defenders.

Their first story, in MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #18 is a pretty straightforward, introductory look at the team as it comes together, a bit heavy on exposition with references to interesting backstories, hints of tales to come. In ?Earth Shall Overcome?? we meet the densely built Jovian Charlie-27 first, as he comes home after a long solo mission and discovers the Badoon have invaded and taken over.

The Badoon are a somewhat reptilian race first introduced about a year earlier in Silver Surfer #2. One interesting note: the Badoon have been foils for the Guardians since their very first issue, and writer and director James Gunn planned to use them in the first movie. But since the Badoon originally appeared in Silver Surfer, the cinematic rights to the character belong to Fox along with The Fantastic Four. Maybe we?ll see the Badoon in the future, now that Fox and Disney are one.

Gunn told The Movie Crypt podcast: ?I wanted to use the Badoon, but the Badoon we don?t own? they?re really interesting. They would be like the cannon fodder guys who were like the Sakaaran in my movie? I wrote them as Badoon but I just did a search-replace-Sakaaran when I found out we didn?t have Badoon. It was strangely late in the process when I found that out. They were designed as Badoon.?

The Badoon would later develop a complex backstory in The Defenders, but in early titles they were kind of generic, evil, green alien invaders. When he tries to save his father, they chase Charlie-27 ? ?the last free Jovian? ? away from his home. Charlie-27 teleports to Pluto to escape and meets up with a crystal man, a Pluvian ? Martinex. After a brief introduction, and with the Badoon on their heels, the two men teleport back to Mother Earth.

Meanwhile, on Earth, we?re introduced to a ?thousand-year-old man? clad head to toe in a purple environment suit ? Major Vance Astro, ?first Earthman to the stars? ? currently in the clutches of ?The Great Drang ? Supreme Commander of the Eastern Sector of the Badoon Empire.?

Astro is forced by the Badoon to re-live his story ? we find out he blasted off from Earth for the stars in 1988 in suspended animation on a thousand year voyage. As they search his memories, we also discover he can?t allow his environment suit to be breached ? ?This copper foil wrapping ? I?ve got to wear it forever! One puncture ? and I?d age 1,000 years in a second!?

In his recollections, Astro becomes embittered upon discovering humankind actually beat him out to the stars by 800 or so years. They?d been waiting for him. ?It was all for nothing! My home ? my girl ? my friends? ?all thrown away for NOTHING!? Although hailed as a hero, Astro is crushed by the knowledge.

Now, he wants to know why the Badoon have brought him and his companion back to Earth. They reveal that they haven?t enslaved him with their ?Psyke-Disk? because they want him to voluntarily work for them.

Astro pretends to go along with the Badoon, even downplaying his connection to his friend Yondu, a Centaurian. But when the Badoon tell Astro to kill Yondu, Astro instead turns the tables on his captors.

Asking for Yondu?s bow and ?Yaka Arrow?, Astro fires it ? apparently ? at Yondu. But Yondu whistles, and the arrow follows his commands, changing course to attack the Badoon. Astro and Yondu escape and head for the tele-port? where Charlie-27 and Martinex are just arriving!

At first, Astro and Yondu attack Charlie-27 and Martinex, thinking they?re Badoon guards. Astro reveals he has ?learned to harness psychic-energy? and hits them with his mind. But they quickly figure out that they?re on the same side. Once the confusion clears, the four work together and escape, singing ?Earth Shall Overcome? Someday!?

Though the team didn?t quite catch on with the public at first, Marvel writer Steve Gerber was an early fan, and primarily responsible for rescuing them from their potential single-issue obscurity. He brought them back nearly seven years after their initial appearance when Captain America and The Thing were flung into the Guardians? future and helped the Guardians battle the Badoon in 1974?s Marvel Two-In-One #4 & #5.

Image for postCover, Marvel Two-In-One Issue #5. Art by John BuscemaI and Mike Esposito. Credit: Marvel Comics.

After an incident in Central Park, Cap and The Thing head to the Baxter Building, where Reed Richards has been working on Dr. Doom?s Time Machine. The Thing accidentally switches it on and a woman is brought back from 3014 telling a horrible tale of the Badoon and their invasion seven years ago in her past, in 3007.

She mentions the Guardians and how they have a starship named after Captain America. Cap, SHIELD agent Sharon Carter and The Thing decide to use the time machine to go back to the future with the woman, Tarin, to see if they can find the Guardians and help in the fight. They?re soon captured by the Badoon. Tarin, however, is left behind and goes for help.

As they are questioned by Drang and his guards, Cap, Sharon and The Thing attempt to engineer an escape. Tarin, meanwhile, convinces the Resistance to call in the Guardians of the Galaxy to help rescue the heroes. We (again) meet the four Guardians, each with an updated look, nicely drawn by Sal Buscema, inked by Mike Esposito & colored by Petra Goldberg.

Vance Astro in particular has been updated from all-purple to a sharp looking blue-and-white suit that would become his usual appearance. As the character explains, ?I am a prisoner of the copper foil suit that sustains my life. One puncture, any exposure of my skin to fresh air? and I crumble into dust. Martinex, our group?s scientist, designed this additional outer shell I wear to prevent just that.?

Gerber also provides concise background blurbs & power descriptions of the characters to fill in the reader as we meet them again: Major Vance Astro ? Master of Psychokinesis, Charlie-27 ? Superhuman Strength, Yondu ? Master of Weaponry, and Martinex ? Converts Light Waves into Bursts of Extreme Heat and Cold.

Cap, Sharon and The Thing have been held in check by the Badoon, unable to escape, until the Guardians finally arrive to help. And there?s much punching. The Guardians get to show off their combat skills alongside the heroes from our time, and the Badoon on site are slowly vanquished. Then come the introductions.

Astro is a bit of a gushing Cap fanboy, and enjoys telling the three from the past that he?s their contemporary, ?born July third, 1962.? He then gets to explain who he is and where he comes from.

The Guardians and the heroes from our time then decide to take the fight back to the Badoon, even if they are outnumbered. As the Guardians, Cap, The Thing and Sharon Carter begin planning the battle, the surviving humans of New York seek them out and declare themselves an army, ready to take back their city with the help of the super heroes ? the appearance of Cap and the others has inspired them!

The battle takes hours, but the good guys win ? and Tarin delivers Drang to them at battle?s end. Cap schools Drang ? they may have only won a city, but the victory will give humanity the inspiration it needs to drive the Badoon from the planet and from the Solar System, and to ultimately defeat of the Brotherhood of the Badoon!

Cap, Sharon and The Thing then head back to our time, leaving the Guardians and the humans of New York to carry on the war against the invaders.

Gerber was also writing The Defenders at the time, and after the Marvel Two-In-One story he brought the Guardians over to The Defenders for what became a classic guest run. After first appearing in Giant-Size Defenders #5, the team is featured prominently in the regular run of Defenders, issues #26?29.

Here Gerber established the future, alternate timeline of the Guardians and created the colorful Starhawk. This is some great, inventive writing by Gerber, with a classic Defenders line-up: Doctor Strange, The Hulk, Nighthawk and Valkyrie. The art by Don Heck and Sal Buscema and various inkers and colorists serves the story well.

Quick bit of background: The Defenders in those days were a sort of non-team, pulled together by Dr. Strange, who?d gather them to face high-level threats. The line-up originally included The Hulk, Namor, the Submariner, and early on the Silver Surfer. For those curious, the Netflix version of the team doesn?t share much with its comic book counterpart, aside from the name.

Giant-Size Defenders #5 opens with Dr. Strange, The Hulk, and Valkyrie searching out ?Temporal Displacement Vibrations? ? and a surprise appearance by the apparent cause of that displacement, the Guardian?s Charlie-27 who has come back to our time! Later, Nighthawk is soaring and soul-searching in upstate New York and spots the Guardian?s ship Captain America crashing. He seeks it out. Martinex, Vance Astro and Yondu get out of the ship as Nighthawk looks on, amazed.

Circumstances ? and fighting the villain Eelar ? draw the two groups together, though Martinex stays on board the ship and meets a young explorer who sought out the crash site. The Guardians came back through time to find a Badoon relic from the first time the Badoon attempted to invade Earth ? when the Silver Surfer stopped them. That same relic turns out to have created the villain Eelar. Eelar is stopped and turned back into a simple electric eel, but the Guardians don?t find out anything from the Badoon recorder, as it?s now blank.

As Giant-Size Defenders #5 wraps up, Dr. Strange commits to sending the Guardians back to their time. But the boy on board their ship then reveals his name to Martinex ? he?s a young Vance Astro! The issue ends with this time paradox waiting to happen, setting up the Guardian?s guest run in the regular series.

The cover of Defenders #26 proclaims ?Guest Starring ? The Guardians of the Galaxy!? The issue is mostly devoted to bringing us up to date on the Guardians. Gerber throws a lot of background material at us. We?re informed the Guardians crashed on Earth in our era in Giant Sized Defenders #5, just a few hours ago. We?re reintroduced to ?Charlie-27, last survivor of Earth?s Jupiter Colony?? ?Major Vance Astro, 1,000 year-old survivor of our own century? and ?Yondu, last of the native race of Centauri-IV, Earth?s only INTERSTELLER (sic) colony? ? ?Together, they comprise three-fourths of the Guardians of the Galaxy, freedom fighters from the alien occupied Earth of 3015 AD.?

Image for postCover, The Defenders Issue #26. Art by John Buscema and Mike Esposito. Credit: Marvel Comics.

Dr. Strange believes their temporal displacement is causing a rash of bizarre weather. The fact Vance Astro is actually also alive in our time as a young child means he?s occupying ?TWO spatial points at the same moment in eternity,? Dr. Strange says, causing the trouble ? ?Earth is grinding to a halt on its axis!?

Also causing trouble is the crashed ship of the Guardians. When Martinex (identified as the ?last survivor of Earth?s colony-to-be on Pluto?) tries to leave the downed ship with the young Vance Astro of our time and comes under the guns of the army investigating the crash, Strange uses an enchantment to transport them and the ship to a safe location.

While Martinex repairs the ship, Astro meets his younger self and tells him about his home ?planet? in veiled terms, as he tries not to give away that he?s actually from Earth and has come back from the 31st century. Gerber uses the opportunity to weave a cautionary tale about the coming ozone depletion and skin cancer epidemics in the future (predicted for the early 1980s) as well as filling us in on Astro?s future.

He chronicles the development of bionics and the ?bionic wars? of the 1990s, the last space mission that sent a man (Astro, though he doesn?t identify himself) on a thousand year journey in 1988, and a War of the Worlds style Martian invasion in 2001. Astro says the invaders abandoned Earth around 2075. The next five hundred years were dominated by cruel ?techno-barons?. Their reign ended in 2525 and mankind?s World Federation reached for the stars once again.

Our future history lesson continues as Astro tells his younger self about mankind?s development of subspecies adapted to the different worlds of the solar system, such as Martinex?s silicon men of Pluto and Charlie-27?s dense mass men of Jupiter. He informs him of mankind?s first starships, and how by 2960 they?d reached Centauri and met Yondu?s race. By the year 3000, the colonies came together as a peaceful federation.

The older Astro refers to himself in the third person as he tells his younger self how the man launched in 1988 landed in on Centauri in 3006 only to find mankind had already gotten there ahead of him, making his mission and life ?a farce.? We again get a sense of the futility Astro feels as he talks about having to stay in his containment suit, and how ?he was given a hero?s WELCOME ?but somehow he just couldn?t make himself care.?

Then he tells of the Badoon invasion of 3007 wrecking civilization, enslaving and then eliminating most of humanity. Charlie-27, Yondu and Martinex are each the last surviving member of their race. He relates how they?ve come together and vowed to take back their world. Astro even mentions the arrival out of the past of Captain America and The Thing to help them ? reminding the reader of the events in Gerber?s Marvel Two-in-One #5.

Smart kid that he is, young Vance cries as he realizes ?All that stuff? it could happen HERE too ? ? couldn?t it?? Old Vance tells him it?s only one possible destiny, and Dr. Strange reassures the boy as well, before sending him home via a magic spell ? a spell, Strange tells Astro afterwards, that will also make the boy forget everything Astro just told him, to safeguard the time stream.

Valkyrie shows up, the Guardian?s ship is repaired, and the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Defenders get on board. Dr. Strange uses his magic to propel the ship back into space ? and forward into the 31st century! Strange declares that the Defenders will help the Guardians drive the Badoon off of Earth! Next issue we?re promised ?the might of the Defenders, turned against the savage empire of the Badoon ? ? but not before you meet the mysterious being known only as ? ? The STARHAWK!?

The Badoon are shocked as the Guardian?s ship appears in Earth orbit in the 31st century as issue 27 opens. They deflect transport beams as team members try to beam down to Earth. Vance Astro and Valkyrie are immediately attacked by Badoon-like creatures as they end up on a marshy world of blood red swamps. Astro saves them both with his telekinesis. They are then called by a glowing figure who turns out to be Starhawk! Starhawk heals the gravely injured Valkyrie, and then tells the two they owe him big time, now.

Image for postInterior Page Detail, The Defenders Issue #27. Script by Steve Gerber, Pencils by Sal Buscema (layouts) and Vince Colletta (finished art), Inks by Vince Colletta, Colors by Al Wenzel and Letters by Joe Rosen. Credit: Marvel Comics.

The Hulk and Yondu (christened ?Flag-Head? by the Hulk) have also been diverted ? to a world where a planet-wide party is going on! But there?s an air of death about the place. They save a woman cornered by thugs. She returns their rescue with violence! They?re also attacked by robots ? which Hulk smashes, naturally. But a bigger robot appears and hits the two with a beam that enslaves them. The robot brings them back to her human masters, who believe the two are gifts from their allies ? the Badoon!

Back on the Guardian?s vessel, Dr. Strange merges his magic with the ship?s sensors to try to locate their misplaced friends. The sheer volume of power created fries the nearby Badoon?s systems and leads them to target this new ?power source?. The issue closes as Charlie-27, Martinex and Nighthawk discover the Badoon elite guard have teleported onto their ship!

Image for postCover, The Defenders Issue #28. Art by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia. Credit: Marvel Comics.

The cover to Defenders #28 screams ?ENTER: STARHAWK? (the image of Starhawk from the cover of this issue now graces the collection Earth Shall Overcome which reprints these early appearances of the Guardians). Gerber opens the issue with Charlie-27, Martinex and Nighthawk battling the Badoon elite guard ? which includes lobotomized humans trained to kill other humans. The good guys lose this round, but the Badoon want the ship and the ?power source? intact so their lives are spared.

Dr. Strange and the ship?s computer, the combined ?power source?, finally locate Astro and Valkyrie and their new ?friend? Starhawk. Starhawk tells the other two that the creatures which attacked them are Badoon females, and the Queen of the Badoon Sisterhood grants them an audience.

Back on the Guardians? ship, the male Badoon are disappointed when they find a ?dead? man in a chair is the power source they were tracking. Dr. Strange has decelerated his body?s metabolism; he?s not dead. He watches in astral form as the Badoon beam Charlie-27, Nighthawk and Martinex down to Earth. Meanwhile, the Hulk and Yondu are forced into gladiatorial games against killer robots while under the hypnotic thrall of the party planet?s rulers.

The Queen of the Badoon Sisterhood explains the history of the Badoon to a confused Vance Astro, Valkyrie and Starhawk. The Badoon evolved on the world they?re on in the Capella system. They?re older than the Kree and the Skrulls, but did not develop technology until relatively recently because of a defect in their race that makes the males and the females of the species hate each other!

The Queen explains that mating was only accomplished by force ? when the mating urge strikes once (!) in a Badoon?s life, both the male and female Badoon are reduced to animals. The male dominated the female, leaving the females the home planet as they went off into space. They now send ships back once a year full of the animalized males that need to mate and regain their senses.

Males leave with the resulting eggs, later returning the unwanted young females to the homeworld. The females enjoy the peace of their homeworld unaware of the male Badoon?s imperialism ? until Astro and Valkyrie inform the Queen that the male Badoon have made the females targets through their reckless, conquering ways. The Queen asks Starhawk ? as ?One Who Knows? ? if this is true. He confirms it, but then departs as he hears the call of the STARWINDS, declaring that ?the seed of Earth?s SALVATION has been planted, my mission fulfilled.?

Dr. Strange?s astral form watches Starhawk go, and then magically transports Valkyrie and Astro to Earth ? where Charlie-27, Martinex and Nighthawk are about to be executed as the issue closes. Gerber has set the stage for issue #29, the fourth and final chapter of this cosmic saga, ?Let My Planet Go!?

Valkyrie and Astro free the other three, but reveal that they don?t know how they got there ? maybe Dr. Strange? Nighthawk says that?s impossible, and breaks the ?news? to Valkyrie that Dr. Strange is ?dead?. But Strange is very much alive, his astral form on the way to rescue The Hulk and Yondu.

Starhawk heads to his home, a simple cabin under a dome, home to his three children, a horse, and Aleta. Starhawk and Aleta share a mental rapport, and though he wants to stay home, after he consults Aleta he knows he must leave again? for Earth.

Back on Earth, Charlie-27, Martinex, Astro, Valkyrie and Nighthawk attack the headquarters of the Badoon High Command in order to use their communications network to contact the underground. Dr. Strange transports The Hulk and Yondu into the midst of the battle, and then returns to his physical body on board the Guardians? starship. Astro and Nighthawk fight their way into the communications center and Astro calls the underground as Dr. Strange reappears ? alive!

Dr. Strange sets off to free the human captives from Badoon prison camps across the planet and ?a BLOODBATH ensues as they run wild against their former masters!? Dr. Strange explains that he couldn?t just wipe out the Badoon by magic, and Starhawk, reappearing, confirms that ?Freedom must be earned.? Starhawk then tells Dr. Strange that he and his Defenders must now return to their own time.

Image for postInterior Page Detail, The Defenders Issue #29. Script by Steve Gerber, Pencils by Sal Buscema (breakdowns) and Vince Colletta (finished art), Inks by Vince Colletta, Colors by Glynis Wein, and Letters by John Costanza. Credit: Marvel Comics.

Disappointed to see them go, the Guardians realize Dr. Strange referred to the ?five? of them. They ask Starhawk if that means he?s joining them ? and what he intends for the Guardians and for Earth ? then we are told, ?But that is a story for another time!?

The Defenders think Dr. Strange crazy for pulling them back from the future with the mission half done, but Dr. Strange tells them this is how it must be, inferring that it has something to do with Starhawk, and leaving it at that as the issue and the story finishes.

The Guardians settled into a run in their own title in 1976 and ?77 ? Marvel Presents Guardians of the Galaxy #3?12, written at first by Steve Gerber with Al Milgrom on art .

Image for postCover, Marvel Presents: Guardians of the Galaxy Issue #3. Art by Al Milgrom and John Romita. Credit: Marvel Comics.

The run is notable for introducing a new Guardian, and for filling in the backstory of Starhawk. Plus, Earth and the Guardians finally defeat the Badoon ? in the first issue! In Marvel Presents #3 ? the first issue featuring the Guardians ? after the Brotherhood of the Badoon are defeated on Earth, the Sisterhood of the Badoon show up to take their male counterparts away, in a deal brokered by Starhawk. This does free up the storyline some, opens up more possibilities. But it?s almost sad to see the Badoon go!

The mysterious Starhawk doesn?t offer any real explanation for his actions, nor will he answer to anyone else on the team. But, after a few months, it?s Starhawk who beams the rest of the Guardians back on board the Captain America ? when the team members experience post-war boredom on Earth. The issue ends with Starhawk leading the team on a new mission, supposedly to the center of the galaxy.

We get Starhawk?s origin story and meet the Reavers of Arcturus ? Starhawk?s former people ? and the Guardians get a new female member, as their run in Marvel Presents rolls on. We?ll catch up with those threads of the story when this look at the Guardians of the Galaxy?s comic book history continues. Or get the whole story now, in Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy: An Unofficial Comic Book History (Glow-in-the-Dark Radio Books, 2018), an in-depth look at the team?s career in the comics.


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