Gonzo for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,’ too?

  • Rocket, left (Voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Voiced by Vin Diesel), from “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.” Marvel Studios

  • Promotional poster for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" Marvel Studios—Marvel Studios

For the Bulletin
Thursday, May 04, 2017

With “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” officially opening in theaters today, Amherst comics pro L.A. Williams and Marvel alum Andrew Lis got together to chat about the spacegoing B-Team of the superhero circuit — and why we love them.

L.A.Williams: “Really??”

Yes, Marvel Studios had had a string of hits with their various Avenger-related flicks, but I thought they were pushing their luck releasing 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. I knew the oft-cancelled comic. Most people had never heard of the team.

And Marvel’s “luck push” gave them that year’s highest grossing film.

So the new question is, “When ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ opens on May 5, will they hit the jackpot again?”

Created in 1969, the Guardians have undergone varied mythos and line-ups. In the current comics and upcoming film sequel, the team’s core is Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a walking, lovable tree with a... limited vocabulary (though better than most trees); Drax (played by Dave Bautista) — think intelligent warrior version of the Incredible Hulk; Gamora (Zoe Saldana), “The deadliest woman in the galaxy;” Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), the team leader; and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper). They each first appeared in comics in 1960, 1973, 1975, 1976, and 1976, respectively.

Andrew Lis: My first exposure to what would become the Guardians of the Galaxy was in the 1980s, with the “Rocket Raccoon” mini-series written by Bill Mantlo, with art by Mike Mignola & Al Gordon. This wasn’t a straight Guardians series nor even a traditional Marvel comic. Based on a Beatles song, Rocket Raccoon was about an anthropomorphic raccoon with a walrus sidekick doing battle using rocket roller skates and laser guns in a corner of the universe. But comics fans in the know would buy anything with Mignola’s name on it. From “Rocket Raccoon” to his work on Doctor Strange to his work on Hellboy, Mignola had a taste for the interesting and offbeat, and his art was unmistakable. After those four issues, Rocket rarely popped up for years. But there is something compelling about the concept of a cybernetic raccoon with a bad temper and OCD.

This obscure origin speaks volumes about Guardians of the Galaxy. The characters that drive this now billion-dollar franchise were all cast-offs, background color for the more interesting, bigger-named characters of the Marvel Universe. Drax was a minor annoyance for the Avengers. Gamora was usually seen hanging out with other brightly colored, minimally-clothed heroes and villains. Star-Lord was created, abandoned, briefly resurrected by X-Men scribe Chris Claremont, only to be abandoned again when Claremont’s tale seemed to borrow too much from a Robert Heinlein story, which nearly got Marvel sued. And Groot was a 1950s-style tree monster! Take these humble origins, add in 70s-80s music, and get what many are saying is the “best Marvel movie” with its sequel the “most anticipated Marvel film, ever.” Incredible!

LAW: The Avengers are primarily comprised of highly accomplished, respected, “A-list” heroes. Guardians writers could've portrayed their team that way too, but wisely admitted what we all knew: they were no one's first choice… for anything! But since we have all experienced the feeling of being overlooked for something we felt right for (a job, a crush, etc.), the Guardians’ underdog status made them relatable.

Lis: Despite the scale of the film, which bounces from planet to planet and features huge explosions and incredible special effects, the best part of Guardians Vol. 1 was the characters. Rocket’s temperament. Drax’s literal interpretation of metaphoric sayings. Star-Lord’s obsession with the old-school mix tape from his mom. Gamora’s unpredictable presence. The deep bond between Groot and Rocket. They’re accessible and funny. Guardians Vol. 1 did an amazing job moving the plot forward using its cast of cast-offs. With no real hierarchy of popularity, director James Gunn was able to spotlight their personalities with an obvious attention to character first. It reminded me of what I love about well-written comics: every issue may be someone’s first, so a good story must be well-crafted, engaging and character driven, so even if you don’t know everything going on, you appreciate and buy into who’s driving the action. That’s what sells backpacks and comic books: caring about the heroes. Even if they’re “second rate” compared to the Avengers, the story made me care, made me laugh, and made me want to come back for Volume 2! Plus, Groot! Who doesn’t love Groot?

LAW: Think of the Avengers as an assembly of your high school yearbook’s superlatives (Smartest, Most Athletic, Fastest, Most Likely to Succeed) and Guardians of the Galaxy as the unpopular kids who rescue you anyway.

Andrew Lis was in editorial at Marvel Comics before becoming a professional environmentalist.

L.A. Williams is an Amherst Regional High and UMass Amherst alumnus and former comic book editor who runs AquaBabyBooks.com online comic bookstore.