Decoding the DnA of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Part 3)

Mitch Nissen Mitch Nissen
July 23rd, 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 3)

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. Come with us as we attempt to decode the DnA of the Guardians of Marvel cosmic.

The Guardians of the Galaxy wouldn't be what they are today had it not been for the 2008 comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. These two skilled writers pay homage to many characters and story arcs throughout their runs on Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the various events and mini series surrounding the two titles.

This reverential tone is carried through DnA's work on their cosmic books from start to finish. And while celebrating Marvel's cosmic past the writing duo also crafted the future. This is the third entry in a series of articles digging deeper into the references and inspirations that resulted in Abnett and Lanning's cosmic saga. These articles are an attempt at a brief annotation of the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy and the surrounding comic books. If you haven't yet read the previous articles click on the links below:

Decoding the DnA of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Part 1)

Decoding the DnA of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Part 2)

The Celestial Harbinger

The character of Moondragon has a long and storied past which has been contributed to by many writers and creators. Created by Jim Starlin, Moondragon's significant story arcs include battling the Mad Titan in the original Thanos epic running through Captain Marvel volume 1. She was a main player in the Celestial Madonna arc in the pages of the Avengers as well. Later Moondragon was possessed by the Dragon of the Moon and subsequently died in Defenders. She attempted to force a courtship with Wendell Vaughn in Quasar before being called to join the Infinity Watch.

Several pieces from Moondragon's past stories return in Abnett and Lanning's cosmic saga. Moondragon's transformation into an actual dragon during the pages of Annihilation Conquest is a reference to her being possessed by the Dragon of the Moon in the Defenders. When Phyla-Vell becomes Quasar, Moondragon is finally able to be in a relationship with a character named Quasar, albeit not Wendell Vaughn.

Author Steve Englehart is the creator of Mantis and the author of the classic Celestial Madonna arc. The Celestial Madonna story arc from the 1970's is referenced multiple times, once when Mantis comes face to face with Kang the Conqueror and again when Moondragon is impregnated. During the Celestial Madonna arc both Mantis and Moondragon are possible candidates to be the Celestial Madonna, the woman destined to give birth the great cosmic savior. Kang was the primary antagonist during the arc and the honor of Celestial Madonna eventually went to Mantis.


Credit: Marvel Comics

During Abnett and Lanning's Guardians when Mantis and the rest of the team encounter Kang, Mantis simply states "Encounters with you, Conqueror, are always far more than simply 'Agreeable.'" A character flaw of Moondragon's has been jealousy of Mantis and anger at being passed up for the role of Celestial Madonna. In issue 22 of Abnett and Lanning's Guardians, Moondragon finds herself the unwilling vessel/mother for a being which could destroy the universe, an inversion of the Celestial Madonna role she coveted in the past.

Starlin's Bar

While Abnett and Lanning draw threads from Gruenwald, Nicieza, and many others, there is one other with whom DnA have drawn great inspiration from while crafting their cosmic saga: Jim Starlin. No creators, save for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, have done more to further Marvel's cosmic realm than Jim Starlin.

From issue one of the 2008 Guardians Abnett and Lanning thrust the reader into a Starlin scenario with the Guardians battling against the Universal Church of Truth. When Jim Starlin took over writing and drawing the character of Adam Warlock in the 1970's, one of the earliest antagonists Starlin set against Warlock was the Universal Church of Truth. When Warlock encounters the Church they are time displaced from some unknown point in the future. Warlock meets the Matriarch of the Church before encountering their god, the Magus. To Warlock's horror he discovers that the Magus is a dark and corrupt version of himself from the future.

At the beginning of DnA's Guardians we are subtly told that the characters have reached the point in the future where Warlock will become the Magus. The Matriarch appears and then a cocoon eerily similar to Adam Warlock's cocoon is shown in the Church's possession. Later on Warlock, for an instant, transforms into the Magus when he's straining his powers to their limits. He finally makes the change to the Magus at the end of War of Kings.

By that time the Guardians team has expanded. At one point Adam Warlock, Gamora, Drax, and Moondragon were all on the team. Those four along with Thanos and a character named Pip the Troll composed the team The Infinity Watch from the 1990's. Jim Starlin again was the primary author of the Infinity Watch, a comic book series born from the events of Starlin's other work, The Infinity Gauntlet. With the exception of Pip the Troll, five of the six members of The Infinity Watch either aid or become full members of the 2008 Guardians team.


Credit: Marvel Comics

Coming to The Thanos Imperative DnA once again draw inspiration from Jim Starlin, going back to Starlin's original foray into Marvel cosmic with his work on the character of Captain Mar-Vell. Starlin's first major story arc working for Marvel Comics came in the pages of Captain Marvel, pitting the Kree hero against the Mad Titan, Thanos. It was Thanos' first story arc and a narrative infinite in scope. Using the Cosmic Cube, Thanos nearly succeeded in bringing death to the entire universe and would've succeeded had it not been for Captain Mar-Vell shattering the Cosmic Cube. Mar-Vell saved existence from oblivion.

Starlin left the Captain Marvel book shortly after but returned to write the character one last time in a graphic novel titled The Death of Captain Marvel. In that story Mar-Vell succumbs to cancer and heroically embraces his fate. Thanos awaits his old enemy at the threshold of Death and helps Mar-Vell make journey to the other side.


Credit: Marvel Comics

In The Thanos Imperative a rip in the universal fabric opens up to an alternate reality parallel to our own. In this alternate reality Mar-Vell also contracts cancer. Instead of dying from it, Mar-Vell slays Death. As a result there is no more Death in that reality and life continued to grow like a cancer. This Cancerverse needs more room to grow and seeks to consume our reality. Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy bargain with a freshly revived Thanos (regenerating in an Adam Warlock like cocoon inside the Universal Church of Truth) to invade the Cancerverse and kill it.

DnA reverse the situation from Starlin's epic in the pages of Captain Marvel. In Starlin's story Thanos and Death were the threat to the universe, Mar-Vell, champion of life, being the only one who could save reality. In The Thanos Imperative it is Mar-Vell and Life who are threatening the universe, Thanos and Death being the only ones who can save reality. Abnett and Lanning not only wrap up the current cosmic saga that began with Thanos volume 1 and Annihilation but also manage to bookend Marvel's cosmic saga which began with Jim Starlin back in 1973 with Mar-Vell vs Thanos.

Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning manage to touch on stories and plot threads reaching back over four decades, while at the same time create new settings such as Knowhere, new characters like Cosmo and the Luminals, and grow and evolve existing characters. The writers bring long standing characters together for the first time in a few instances too. They accomplished all of this while adhering to the continuity laid down by the writers and artists who came before them.

The more one reads Marvel's cosmic backlog the more DnA's cosmic saga gives back to you.

That wraps up this brief, and nowhere near complete, annotation of the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy. Join us next month for the final installment.

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

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