Decoding The DNA Of The Guardians Of The Galaxy (Part 1)

Mitch Nissen Mitch Nissen
June 13th, 2017

Grew up reading comic books in the 90's. Marvel fan at heart. Hulk, the Midnight Sons, and Marvel's cosmic universe are my favorites.

Decoding The DNA Of The Guardians Of The Galaxy (Part 1)

From 2008 to 2011 writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning told the tale of the Guardians. But it was more than merely a story about Star-Lord and his team. DnA (Dan and Andy) piloted the last great era for Marvel's cosmic realms, taking characters created across forty years, picking up long dormant plot threads, and bringing their stories full circle. It's a love letter to Marvel cosmic. Come with us as we attempt to decode the DnA code of the Guardians of Marvel cosmic.

Decoding the DnA of the Guardians of the Galaxy

It's no secret that without the 2008 volume of Guardians of the Galaxy, Star-Lord, Rocket, Groot and the rest wouldn't be what they are today. But the 2008 Guardians book was only one part of a larger cosmic tapestry being woven. While this book saw the Guardians of the Galaxy, as we know them today, coming together for the first time it was also the final chapter in a saga stretching far back in the annals of Marvel history.

Working within such expansive and long enduring universes as Marvel Comics or DC, comic book writers can approach the subject matter in a number of ways. Some writers choose to build upon the works which had come previously, picking up the characters and plot threads where the previous creative teams left them. Some writers choose to disregard everything to have come before, opting for something completely different that stands by itself. Depending on one's point of view there are positives and negatives to both approaches.

By 2008 readers were already in the middle of a new renaissance for Marvel's cosmic characters. This new era for Marvel's outer space heroes and villains can be traced back to the 2003 book Thanos volume 1 by writer/artist Jim Starlin. Jim Starlin is one of the most influential creators for Marvel's cosmic realm having created such characters as Thanos, Drax, Gamora, and others. Starlin is also responsible for writing and drawing the defining story arcs for Captain Mar-Vell and Adam Warlock. Suffice it to say that the works of Jim Starlin are essential to Marvel's cosmic universe.

2003 Thanos volume 1

Credit: Marvel Comics

The 2003 volume of Thanos was the third part of a trilogy beginning with the mini series Thanos: Infinity Abyss. The end of the second story in the trilogy, Marvel: The End, left Thanos' character at a crossroads. The Mad Titan started down a road of redemption which lasted twelve issues, the latter six issues by writer Keith Giffen. After Thanos, Giffen continued with a Drax mini series, Drax's first ever solo series which rolled directly into the Marvel event Annhilation. And it was within Annihilation that the Marvel cosmos found their DnA.

Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning didn't begin their tenure in the cosmic universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy however, but rather with a character just as important if not more so: Nova (Richard Rider). Abnett and Lanning wrote four issues of Nova tying in to the main event of Annihilation. In the aftermath Nova received an ongoing monthly series written by DnA which built to a number of events inlcuding Annihilation Conquest, War of Kings, and The Thanos Imperative. Without the success of the Nova monthly series and Annihilation Conquest the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy may not have come into being.

Abnett and Lanning completely embraced what Keith Giffen had written and ran with it. It goes without saying that to fully experience the story of the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy one needs to read the events and stories building up to it as well as the surrounding stories such as Nova and War of Kings. DnA not only forged a new saga with these characters but immersed themselves in Marvel's cosmic continuity. The writers were so deeply entrenched in Marvel's rich cosmic history that the story The Thanos Imperative, the culmination of Abnett and Lanning's work on Nova and the Guardians, also acts as a grand finale to Marvel's entire cosmic saga spanning the decades.

The writing duo crafted a story that keeps giving. The more you read and research Marvel's cosmic characters the more DnA's saga gives you. The various chromosomes embedded in DnA's saga are aplenty, running deep and far. For the remainder of the article we're going to attempt to unravel some of these DnA strands.

Ode to Mark Gruenwald

One of the major influences on Abnett and Lanning's cosmic saga is the work of writer Mark Gruenwald. Gruenwald's work at Marvel Comics is vast and prolific, having contributed greatly to Captain America's saga and others. Another character Mark Gruenwald developed and wrote extensively was none other than Wendell Vaughn a.k.a. Quasar. Gruenwald wrote 59 of the 60 issues of Quasar Volume 1 and, like DnA, immersed himself deeply in Marvel's cosmic continuity. Before that volume Mark Gruenwald also wrote Quasar's adventures in the pages of Marvel Two-In-One and the Avengers where Quasar's ultimate nemesis, Maelstrom, was created as well as the character Garthan Saal. Project PEGASUS, a facility based in New York state dedicated to the research of extra-dimensional and extraterrestrial objects, was also a creation of Gruenwald's.

Quasar by Mark Gruenwald

Credit: Marvel Comics

When Abnett and Lanning began writing Nova, Richard Rider had just received the full power of the Nova Force. Only one character before Richard had ever possessed the full power of the Nova Force and that character was Garthan Saal. The Nova Force was never meant to housed in a single person, resulting in Garthan Saal being driven insane. After the Annihilation Wave destroyed Xandar and the entire Nova Corps, the Nova Force had no other choice but to house itself within the last surviving Nova Centurian, Richard Rider. At the beginning Richard is petrified with fear that he too will be driven insane like Saal was. His motivation at first is to do everything possible not to end up like Saal.

Then Nova encounters Wendell Vaughn. Quasar helps Nova come to grips with the great burden thrust upon him. Quasar sets the example for Richard that an Earth man can carry the weight of the universe on his shoulders. Quasar dies in the events leading up to Annihilation, his powerful Quantum Bands being taken by Annihilus. In the final moments of Annihilation, the Quantum Bands leave the villain, with Phyla-Vell becoming the new Quasar.

After Annihilation, during the Nova ongoing series, Nova returns to Earth where he discovers his brother, Robbie, working at Project PEGASUS. There we meet a number of characters from Marvel continuity and a new character named Dr. Gruenwald (named and designed after Mark Gruenwald). Wendell Vaughn returns too, made of pure quantum energy, and becomes a recurring character in the series. Wendell's story crosses over into the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy series. Phyla and Drax descend into the realm of Oblivion in an attempt to rescue Moondragon. There they encounter Wendell Vaughn in his quantum form as well as Wendell's old enemy, Maelstrom.

Perhaps Gruenwald's greatest Quasar story is an arc titled Cosmos In Collision where Wendell faces off against Maelstrom. During that story arc Maelstrom cut off both of Wendell's hands in an attempt to take the Quantum Bands for himself. At the time Maelstrom was acting as the avatar of the cosmic abstract, Oblivion, and became an even greater threat to the universe than even Thanos.

Quasar - Cosmos In Collision

Credit: Marvel Comics

Going back to DnA's Guardians, when Phyla, Drax, and Wendell are in the realm of Oblivion the quantum bands mysteriously fall off Phyla's wrists only to be picked up once again by Maelstrom. In a moment of cosmic irony, Maelstrom's hands are chopped off by Drax and the Quantum Bands return to Wendell.

Wendell, now Quasar once more, continues playing a part in DnA's cosmic saga. As the story draws closer and closer to The Thanos Imperative Quasar's role is expanded. By the end of The Thanos Imperative and then into both Annihilators mini series Quasar becomes to the new lead character. The team of the Annihilators is spiritually reminiscent of Gruenwald's short lived cosmic team book, The Star-Masters. Both the Star Masters and the Annihilators consisted of the members Quasar, Beta Ray Bill, and the Silver Surfer. The Annihilators also had Gladiator of the Shi'Ar as a member and the Star Masters had Gladiator's cousin, Xenith, as a member. Xenith, also created by Mark Gruenwald, would return for the first time since her days in the Star Masters during DnA's massive event, War of Kings.

War of Kings pit the Kree Empire, led by the Inhumans, against the Shi'Ar Empire. It isn't often that the Kree and the Shi'Ar meet. Prior to War of Kings the Kree and the Shi'Ar met in an epic event titled Operation: Galactic Storm. Again Gruenwald was one of the central architects of Operation Galactic Storm. As one might expect, Quasar played a central role in the story along with the Starjammers, Ronan the Accuser, Lilandra, Deathbird, Gladiator and the Imperial Guard. All these characters and more would play significant roles in War of Kings as well. Operation Galactic Storm saw the destruction of the Kree Empire and afterwards occupation by the Shi'Ar. In War of Kings DnA give the Kree their long awaited retribution as the Shi'Ar finally experience defeat.

And that's only the start of our brief and annotated Guardians of the Galaxy. Join us next month for Part 2.

Mitch Nissen is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @NinjaMitche


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