Revisiting Jim Valentino’s Original GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Credit: Marvel Comics

If you want to know the origins of the Guardians of the Galaxy team – be it the movie or comic – you don’t need to look to the past, but to the future. Although the current team bearing that name, and about to star in next year's MCU film operate in modern times, when they first appeared in comics they hailed from the 31st century – a team of refugees from an Earth ransacked and pillaged by aliens. In 1990, Shadowhawk creator Jim Valentino launched the team’s first series, showing the team’s adventures with the Marvel Universe in the 31st century – with new heroes, old names, and some strange, twisted versions of the Marvel Age 1000 years after their origin. And this January, Marvel will collect the first arc of Valentino’s long out-of-print series in a volume aptly called Guardians of the Galaxy by Jim Valentino, Vol. 1.

Credit: Marvel Comics

“In 1990, Jim Valentino took a hidden corner of the Marvel Universe that really hadn’t been played with in a while and exploded them into the regular Marvel Universe,” says David Gabriel, Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Publishing. “His Guardians of the Galaxy series kept readers coming back each month to see what ties to current Marvel continuity would crop up, and to see what he was doing with all those unknown cosmic heroes. We wanted to reprint these a few years ago, but held off for the right time. Seems we made a good choice!”

Back in 1969, Arnold Drake and Gene Colan first created the Guardians of the Galaxy in an issue of the anthology Marvel Super-Heroes #18. A super-hero team from the future not unlike DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes, the membership of the team was far different than DC’s Legion – or the current Guardians team for that matter. A Buck Rogers-esque transplant from the 20th Century, Vance Astro led a team of aliens like the crystalline Plutonian Martinex, the Mercurian Nikki, the Jovian Charlie-27, the alien archer Yondu, and the mesmerizing and mysterious husband-and-wife team of Starhawk and Aleta as they try to rebuild human civilization and fight back against conquering alien races. Hailing from the 31st Century, these heroes are in effect the interstellar version of the Avengers for their time, but instead of being Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, they’re the whole universe’s. Although origining 1000 years in our future, the team traveled to the present day on several occasions in titles like Thor, The Avengers, and the anthology series Marvel Presents. But they never got their own spotlight until 20 years later in 1990’s Guardians of the Galaxy series.

Written and drawn by future Image Comics’ co-founder Jim Valentino, 1990’s Guardians of the Galaxy series took the ideas of Drake and Colan and compounded it with his own love for sci-fi and Marvel lore. Andy Lanning, who created the modern Guardians team that is seen in Brian Bendis’ current series and in next year’s movie, makes no qualms about how big an influence Valentino’s work was – even achieving heights his run couldn’t.

“I was a big fan of Jim’s run and have fond memories of it as, and this may come as no surprise, I’m a huge fan of cosmic stories and of the Guardians in particular,” Lanning tells Newsarama. “Seeing what Jim did with the team and how he added to the Marvel Universe of the 31st century was great. If I remember rightly this was the first time the Guardians had their own ongoing title, which was a pretty big deal and the book ran for something like 5 years- more than Dan Abnett and I managed!”

Credit: Marvel Comics

The idea for reviving the Guardians team all started when then Editor-In-Chief Tom Defalco noticed a group of Marvel staffers talking fervently every Monday about the then-new TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

“I decided to put together a proposal for a new Guardians of the Galaxy series that involved a large organization called the Guardians and focuses on a specific team,” DeFalco revealed. “As I was finishing my proposal, Jim Valentino finished his version. I read Jim’s ideas that laid out a basic bible for the series and showed how the series could work as a limited series, 12 issue maxi-series or an unlimited series. I compared Jim’s proposal to mine and decided that I liked his better and the rest is history.”

Valentino’s idea was to take the original team from the 1970s and instead of bringing them to the past, to follow them in their times – our future, the 31st century to be exact. Much in the same way Marvel’s 2099 line showed how the current Marvel age’s heroes would influence their future, Valentino’s Guardians of the Galaxy did the same, with legacy heroes like Ghost Rider popping up as well as surprises such as an alien race who base their civilization on the technology of Tony Stark but to villainous ends. This alien race was aptly known as the Stark.

“My concept for Guardians of the Galaxy was an exploration of the Marvel Universe 1000 years in the future. To that end, I didn't want to just have immortals or descendants or legacy characters. I also wanted to do some different things,” Valentino tells Newsarama. “So, I had a street gang that patterned themselves after Frank Castle based on Vance's documentary of 20th Century super-people. And, it seemed a good idea to me to have a race of people who got ahold of tech they didn't understand and considered its inventor their god. Iron Man's armor just lent itself to that story.”

Credit: Marvel Comics

The origin of the Stark came from Valentino, who revealed that after the Earth was invaded by Martians, Tony Stark sent his armor into space to avoid it being seized by the enemy. But instead of landing in a dead pocket in the universe, it landed on a planet inhabited by primitive life forms that took to Iron Man’s technology with great speed. This hereto-unnamed race named itself and its planet Stark after their unknowing benefactor, even going so far as to worshiping him as a god. The Stark grew on to become thriving conquerors of other worlds.

“My all-time favorite thing about Jim’s run was the creation of the Stark,” Lanning explains. “They are one of those awesome concepts you get to develop when playing with the ‘what if?’ future possibilities of superheroes. It’s one regret I have from our run that Dan and I didn’t get to revisit them in our series, I’d have loved that.”

Although the Stark was matriarchal culture led by a ruler called the High Sister, it’s most famous representative for comics fan was the earliest villain in Valentino’s run: Taserface. Back in 2008, Newsarama Site Editor Lucas Siegel went so far as to dub the memorably named character one of the “best-named” villains in comics [Newsarama Note: Seriously, TASERFACE! YES!], With a name like Taserface you’d expect a taser attached to his face somehow, but instead it was a beam of energy. The villain’s name was so memorable that the Guardians of the Galaxy movie director James Gunn even name-dropped him in a Facebook post. Although Gunn dismissed the idea of the character appearing in the movie, it is interesting that it jumped out enough for Gunn to take notice – thanks in no small part to the name. How did the name come about, you say? Valentino says it was his son’s idea.

Credit: Marvel Comics

“Actually my son, Aaron, who was five at the time, came up with the name. He kept talking about this character, Taserface, all the time,” reveals the writer/artist. “I thought the name was kind of lame, so I changed it for his second appearance, but it was no worse than Pruneface, Clayface, Two-Face or any other character with the word face as part of their name...and Aaron was my boy, so, you know, I just had to do it for him.”

Years before he would make his mark with Image Comics and Shadowhawk, Guardians of the Galaxy was a high-point for Valentino – his first major series for the Big Two, and in addition to that, he was writing and drawing; a rarity in monthly comics. But after proviing himself on a string of well-received What If? Comics as well as fill-in issues for other titles, then Editor-In-Chief Defalco believed in him.

“Putting out a monthly comic book is an incredible mental and physical strain for both the writer and the artist—and that only multiplies if you’re a writer/artist,” explains Defalco. “However, I was familiar with Jim’s other work as a writer/artist and believed he could easily handle the deadlines. I assumed he’d act like a professional—always an easy assumption when you’re dealing with a true pro like Jim--and ask for help if he needed it.”

For Valentino’s part, he dismisses the unique-ness of him writing and drawing a book on his own, pointing to earlier examples such as Jim Starlin at Marvel in the 1970s and Will Eisner back as far back in the 1940s. Valentino, whose background was in independent comics with his debut in the back pages of Cerebus, tells Newsarama that writing and drawing were “inseparable” for him.

“I'm a story teller first and foremost,” stresses the Image co-founder. “It wasn't a matter of doing both to get the book published. There was no other way for me to do it. “

Credit: Marvel Comics

Valentino’s run on Guardians of the Galaxy ended in 1992 as he left to focus on the launching of Shadowhawk and Image Comics, but the series continued on for three more years before ending in 1995 with issue #62. After over a decade of disuse, Marvel tasked veteran cosmic-oriented comics writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning to relaunch the team in a new series following Annihilation – albeit with a different line-up.

“Dan and my version took the team introduced by Keith Giffen in Annihilation: Conquest as the core and added Vance Astro, Quasar and Adam Warlock to the mix to create a new entity calling itself Guardians of the Galaxy,” Lanning explains. “We wanted to use a roster of unused or forgotten cosmic characters to create a present day team. Because we were using such a rag-tag group there was a real sense that anything could happen with the characters because none of them were appearing anywhere else in the Marvel Universe. Much as we were both big fans of the original series, this re-imagining of the team gave us a lot more creative freedom to play with and we even got to guest star the originals in an issue or two along the way.”

Lanning stressed that despite the drastically different membership, he and Abnett wanted an anchor to the original team and used Vance Astro to do that.

“[Using Vance Astro] gave us links to both current Marvel; continuity: as he’s also Justice, as well as a connection to the future incarnation,” says the writer. “This opened up more story possibilities and the opportunity to feature the original cast too.”

Indeed, the original iteration of the team made a major appearance in Lanning and Abnett’s Guardians of the Galaxy series, firming up the connection and showing the link between the original 31st century team and their 21st century counterparts.

Credit: Marvel

This second volume of Guardians of the Galaxy ended in 2010, but the concept was noticed by Marvel’s movie division and fast-tracked for its own live-action film – which in turned revived the team’s comic book series. Although the movie and the new comic series depict the second iteration of the team’s line-up, the impending movie did bring about this long-overdue collection of Valentino’s run – something Marvel executive David Gabriel says was important.

“From the beginning when we knew there was going to be a Guardians of the Galaxy film, we wanted to make sure we got the classic Guardians of the Galaxy material into print, much of it had never been printed before,” Gabriel says. “We started from the original run from the late 60’s and moved forward in time! Most of us of a certain age have a wonderful fondness for the Valentino run and this of course is now the perfect time to get those into print! It’s a different era of course, and a different team, but there are some classic Marvel moments in these stories that at the time, before internet spoilers really kept readers coming back month after month.”

Although the movie director was dismissive of Taserface appearing in the film, fans have already seen set photos of The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker playing Yondu. When asked if this might somehow lead to the original team making a return in 2014, Gabriel was non-committal but didn’t shut the door completely.

“While I can’t give anything away,” Gabriel explains, "there might be a few surprises coming up within the pages of Marvel comics that will be adding all sorts of new twists and different characters from within and without the Guardians of the Galaxy universe, so keep reading!"

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