Decoding the DnA of Guardians of the Galaxy (Part 4)

Mitch Nissen Mitch Nissen
Expert Contributor
September 11th, 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 Guardians of the Galaxy (Part 4)
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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. Their work is a love letter to Marvel cosmic. Join us for this final installment as we attempt to decode the DnA of the Guardians of Marvel cosmic.

The writing duo of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning began working with Marvel’s cosmic characters in 2006 on the event mini series Annihilation: Nova. Their work with the cosmic characters continued in the 2007 volume of Nova, Annihilation: Conquest, the 2008 volume of Guardians of the Galaxy, the sprawling epic War of Kings, and wrapped everything up in 2010 event The Thanos Imperative.

The Thanos Imperative not only supplied a grand finale for Marvel’s cosmic resurgence that took off with Annihilation five years earlier, but it also acted as a bookend for Marvel’s greater cosmic saga, taking the story full circle from where writer/artist Jim Starlin had started in 1973.

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If you haven’t read through the previous articles in the series click the links below:

Decoding the DnA of Guardians of the Galaxy Part 1

Decoding the DnA of Guardians of the Galaxy Part 2

Decoding the DnA of Guardians of the Galaxy Part 3

Even though The Thanos Imperative was over, Dan and Andy weren’t quite done with Marvel’s cosmic realm. There was one more concept Abnett and Lanning wanted to explore before saying goodbye.

Which super heroes were actually capable of guarding the galaxy?

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The Guardians of the Galaxy, consisting of Star-Lord, Rocket, Phyla-Vell, Bug, and the rest, were an unlikely ragtag team of heroes. Part of the fun and appeal of the book was watching this grossly outmatched group of people find a way to accomplish the impossible and actually save the universe. But what would a team of heroes who could actually protect the universe look like? Who are Marvel’s actual Guardians of the Galaxy?

Enter the Annihilators: Quasar, Silver Surfer, Ronan the Accuser, Gladiator, Beta Ray Bill, and Ikon. DnA laid the groundwork for this team in the pages of the Thanos Imperative but the concept was rooted once again in the writings of Mark Gruenwald. The final chapter of Gruenwald’s Quasar saga ran through the pages of a mini series titled the Star Masters. In many ways Abnett and Lanning’s own writing tenure on the cosmic books mirrors Gruenwald's tenure on Quasar.

Gruenwald assembled a team of heroes powerful enough to save the universe with every adventure. The concept was sound and the book had a great team of creators behind it. The book was released as the comic book market began crashing in the mid-nineties. Sadly Star Masters lasted the span of one story arc.

The initial story arc of the Annihilators touched on a section of Marvel’s cosmic history that, save for a small number of characters in Annihilation: Conquest, had gone unreferenced: Rom, Spaceknight. One of Marvel’s most underappreciated cosmic books, Rom: Spaceknight, ran from late 1979 through 1985 and was nearly entirely written and penciled by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema. A sequel series titled Spaceknights was released in 2000, written by none other than Jim Starlin.

DnA revisited Rom’s homeworld of Galador, Rom’s nemesis the Dire Wraiths, and Rom’s wife and then ruler of Galador: Brandy Clark. The character of Ikon, fellow spaceknight and member of the Annihilators, is reminiscent of Rom himself in color and design and is in many ways Rom’s spiritual successor. She was the closest DnA came to actually having Rom on the Annihilators. Another powerful enemy from Rom’s original book, Doctor Dredd, is referenced as well.

Accompanying every issue of Annihilators was a backup tale featuring Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Abnett and Lanning took a turn at writing the Keystone Quadrant and Halfworld, the home of Rocket Raccoon. In that story DnA touched on many locations and characters not seen since 1985 in the original Rocket Raccoon mini-series.

Annihilators ran for two mini-series comprising 8 total issues, narrowly surpassing the Star Masters page count. And at the very end of 2011 Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s joint tenure writing Marvel’s cosmic cast came to an end. Sadly the Annihilators has so much more potential and DnA could’ve written some truly epic stories had they been allowed to continue.

Unanswered Questions and What Could've Been

When stories come to an end there are always plot threads left dangling, whether minute or massive. Had DnA’s run continued many of these would’ve no doubt been addressed. As fans of this run we can’t help but wonder what Abnett and Lanning had in store for the future.

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The Super Nova

One such plot thread left hanging is that of Garthan Saal. From the very moment Richard Rider becomes the repository for the entire Nova Force the memory of Garthan Saal enters Richard’s mind. Saal was the only other character to house the entire Nova Force within himself and it turned him into one of the universe’s greatest threats. Not becoming like Garthan Saal was one of Richard’s driving motivations and greatest fears at the onset of DnA’s Nova.

In the closing pages of Nova volume 4 issue #25 we see the actual return of Garthan Saal. That moment at the end of issue #25 was a huge reveal for long time Nova fans and portended a grave threat on the horizon, not just to Nova but potentially the galaxy. Sadly Abnett and Lanning would not have the time to explore this thread at all. The issue was released in 2009 and as of yet no writer at Marvel has attempted to continue this possibly epic storyline.

What If’s…

DnA brought together many characters that had never met before. It’s reasonable to say that the duo would’ve continued this trend had they been able. One fun moment for long time fans would’ve been seeing Richard Rider officially meet Major Victory of the 31st century Guardians of the Galaxy. One of Richard’s closest friends and former New Warrior teammate is Vance Astrovik a.k.a. Justice. Major Victory and Justice are the same person from separate timelines. The opportunity for Nova to meet an alternate version of his friend was there and could’ve made for a fun encounter.

Similarly an encounter between Phyla-Vell and Lord Mar-Vell of the Cancerverse would’ve made for an interesting sequence. Phyla coming face to face with a corrupt evil version of her father could’ve been a defining moment for the character. It could’ve been the impetus for her to leave behind the Martyr identity and return to a more heroic role. But DnA had other plans for Phyla.

Continuing with Phyla-Vell “what if’s,” after Annihilation: Conquest plans were originally in place to give Phyla her own ongoing series as Quasar. The unexpected popularity of Star-Lord’s group led to a different choice for a resulting ongoing series and the rest is history. Phyla was arguably one of the strongest written characters to come from Annihilation: Conquest and would’ve made for a diverse and exciting Marvel book.

Then there’s Jack Flag’s destiny to reshape the universe. Starhawk’s prophecy from Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 #18 of Jack Flag’s cosmic importance is likely just Abnett and Lanning having fun. But it could’ve also been a wild and crazy story on the horizon.

And in another of the many nods to the fans, the real website The Nova Prime Page (an absolutely wonderful website), makes a cameo appearance in Nova vol. 4 #23.

Cancerverse Rising

In 2005 a six issue mini-series titled Stormbreaker: The Saga of Beta Ray Bill was released. This series is the starting point for Beta Ray Bill’s cosmic involvement for the era and the springboard from which we readers eventually intercepted him in The Thanos Imperative. In Stormbreaker we see Galactus after his battle with Thanos in the 2003 volume of Thanos. The Herald of Galactus, Stardust, is also introduced here and he is next seen in the pages of Annihilation: Silver Surfer.

In many respects Stormbreaker should be included as a part of the overall cosmic saga from this era. It should be included in the Road to Annihilation collections at least. The artwork for this series was done by the duo of Andrea DiVito and Laura Villari, the same duo responsible for the artwork in the core Annihilation book and many issues of DnA’s Nova.

But there is another aspect of this story that is particularly intriguing and begs a curious question. Beta Ray Bill and Stardust’s epic battle results in a rip in the fabric of reality. From this parallel reality a tiny piece of an even greater evil entity seeps through into our reality. This piece forms into an immensely powerful being calling itself Asteroth. Beta Ray Bill and Stardust must join forces to defeat this new enemy.

The idea of Asteroth and the parallel reality filled with one gigantic evil being is strikingly similar to the Cancerverse in The Thanos Imperative. One could theorize with nearly airtight plausibility that Asteroth and this parallel reality are in fact the same entity and parallel reality as the Cancerverse. If so, then this mini-series is an essential piece of the puzzle as it may be the very first appearance of the Cancerverse.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Vs The Guardians of the Galaxy

And so it is that we come to the final section of this truncated annotation. Before we end this series of articles we’ll leave on one last observation.

In the aftermath of Annihilation Conquest the heroes came together to form a new team, Star-Lord, Adam Warlock, Phyla-Vell, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot as the core seven. At first glance this patchwork team of heroes appears fairly random. But there may actually be more thought and design to this ensemble than one might think. The core seven characters of this new team are quite analogous to the core seven characters of the original Guardians of the Galaxy from the 31st century.

The leaders of both teams, Star-Lord and Vance Astro, are displaced Earth men from the 20th century with genetic anomalies. Star-Lord is half human and half Spartax while Vance is a mutant.

Adam Warlock and Starhawk represent the most powerful characters on their respective teams, wielding powerful cosmic energies. Warlock and Starhawk are strong enough to rival such cosmic threats as Thanos and Michael Korvac. Each has a mysterious presence surrounding them, speaking cryptically with generally enigmatic personas. Both answer to higher powers too, Starhawk to the Hawk God and Warlock to Eternity.

The next most powerful characters on the teams are Phyla-Vell and Aleta Ogord. Both women wield yellow energies, Phyla uses Quantum energy while Aleta manipulates light. Each character has a haunted past dealing with family and both characters story arcs lead them to dark places, Phyla's transformation into Martyr and Aleta donning the Starhawk mantle.

Gamora and Yondu are masters of physical combat, utilizing primitive weaponry, a bow and arrow for Yondu and a sword for Gamora. Both had or believed to have had their entire races wiped out by the Badoon. And both are generally quiet, stoic characters.

Drax and Charlie 27 are both physical characters, imposing in physique and attitude. Both had their entire families slaughtered, initially taking up the fight for revenge on the Badoon and Thanos. Both also possess an affinity for various weapons as well.

Rocket and Nikki are the last or only ones of their kind in all the universe. Both are hotheads and smart mouthed. Both characters display proficient use with side arms and guns. Each also has exceptional natural agility. Both Nikki and Rocket are capable pilots too.

Groot and Martinex are the final two of the core members of the teams. Sadly the parallels between these two are slim to none. Martinex is the science officer of the 31st century Guardians and the brains of the team. During War of Kings a side of Groot was revealed that could imply that he is also the smartest member of his team. Groot and Maximus of the Inhumans together built a sophisticated weapon to use against the Shi'Ar. Any further parallels between Groot and Martinex have yet to be revealed.

One could dismiss these similarities between the teams as pure coincidence, superficial, or merely generic team personality archetypes. But given the attention to detail that DnA have already demonstrated, the care with which they had assembled the various narratives, and the immense respect shown toward the characters and creators that came before them all on display, a coincidence seems unlikely.

It is precisely Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s care and attention to detail that makes us continually go back to reread their work. And it is in no small part one of the many reason why their work on Marvel’s cosmic universe has become so revered.

Hopefully when you go back to read or reread DnA’s cosmic Marvel saga you’ll see it through new eyes. I know I missed a ton of content and references and maybe we’ll do a deeper dive in the future if there is interest.

If there is anything essential I missed please leave it in the comments below.

And as always tell us what you think!

Until next time, make mine Marvel cosmic!

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

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