A Talking Tree? A Butt-Kicking Raccoon? Who's Who in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Offical Poster for Guardians of the Galaxy
Offical Poster for Guardians of the Galaxy
Credit: Marvel Studios

You may have heard thing or two about Guardians of the Galaxy lately. But how much do you really know about them? 

With a hit comic book series on shelves for about a year now from writer writer Brian Michael Bendis (All-New X-Men, Avengers) and a-list artists, and a Marvel Studios live-action film out on August 1, 2014, it's clear the Marvel sees the Guardians as a very big deal, and based on their track record, much of the population may likely think so as well very soon.

In fact, the general population erupted at the first trailer - 48 hours saw over 7.5 million views of the video that premiered on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and introduced the cast of misfits to the world.

The title Guardians of the Galaxy originated at Marvel back in 1969, referring to a team of 31st century superheroes including Major Victory, an alternate version of Vance Astrovik. It came to the contemporary Marvel Universe in 2008 with Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's Guardians of the Galaxy, an outgrowth of their successful cosmic stories like Annihilation.

That version of the team returned to comics last year in Avengers Assemble courtesy of Bendis and artist Mark Bagley, and also serves as the inspiration for the 2014 movie. In fact, much of the main characters are consistent throughout each incarnation — Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and Groot — though the new comic book series featured the addition of Iron Man, who won't, by every indication, be in the film, and now has Angela, with new members Captain Marvel and Venom joining the squad in the coming months.

In case you're not up on your space-faring Marvel lore, here's a look at each one of the characters, their history, and their powers — plus the role they'll likely be playing in the Guardians of the Galaxy film.

Star-Lord

Credit: Marvel Comics

In early press for the new Guardians of the Galaxy series, Bendis made his affection for Peter Quill/Star-Lord obvious.

"He’s Captain Kirk, he’s Nathan Fillion on Firefly," Bendis said to Newsarama. "There’s always a guy that sits at the front of the ship."

That stands true for the film version, as well. He cracks wise, has an Indiana Jones vibe, and is somehow introduced both first and last in the trailer.

Star-Lord debuted in 1976's Marvel Preview #4 by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan, with a very unique origin story.

"Peter Quill, Star-Lord, is half-human and half-alien, and his father is the King of Spartax," Bendis said. "His father is just about as big of an a**hole as Thanos is, and he doesn’t really trust him. Peter takes the gig to guard Earth, but he’s doing it with his team in his own way, because he thinks he’s also guarding it from his father."

Like many of the main Guardians of the Galaxy characters, Star-Lord was mostly in limbo before being used heavily by co-writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning during their Annihilation events. He went on to become a main character of their 2008 Guardians relaunch, where he was leader of the team, a position he remains in for the new series. His powers come from his suit, which allows him to travel in space along with the added bonus of super-strength.

In the film, played by Chris Pratt, his connection to space via an alien father might be touched upon, but won't likely be central to the story. In the movie, we do see him introduced as "Peter Jason Quill" - that middle name? It's based off J-Son of Spartax. His ties to space are obvious - he lives in the far reaches of the galaxy, and flies a spaceship called the Milano. He's an adventurer, but he clearly misses his home of Earth, holding onto a walkman which, yes, plays that classic track by Blue Swede, "Hooked on a Feeling" in the trailer (and, according to James Gunn, in the movie as well).

Ultimately, if you want to explain Peter Quill to your non-comic-reading friends, he's more of a smartass than Tony Stark, more reckless an adventurer than Indiana Jones, more cocky than Captain Mal Reynolds, and more determined to save the day than pretty much all the Avengers combined. He's a man with something to prove to everyone, most of all himself and his "team."

Drax

Drax was co-created by Mike Friedrich and Jim Starlin in 1973, first appearing in Iron Man #55 before showing up in cosmic books like Captain Marvel and Warlock.

Originally known by the very un-cosmic name "Arthur Douglas," Drax was a human whose family was killed by Thanos, which led to him getting an entirely new purpose in life (and body, plus super-strength and psychic powers) via the entity known as Kronos: Becoming "Drax the Destroyer," his reason to be was killing Thanos.

Though that's ultimately a pretty noble goal, Drax went back and forth from being a hero and a villain for a while, and eventually died. He was resurrected by Kronos (that guy always seems to have his back), though for a while with the side effect a Savage Hulk-esque intellect (read: dumb).

After another presumed death, a considerably-less-dumb Drax played an important role in Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's cosmic stories, and joined Star-Lord's Guardians of the Galaxy — which led to yet another presumed death, albeit one he's clearly recovered from.

In the film, played by Dave Bautista, Drax will likely be very streamlined. From the footage out so far, we know he will be directly called Drax the Destroyer and that his family was killed. As Ronan (more on him later) is the central focus villain of the film, it's quite possible he'll be the source of that family's death. Don't look for multiple resurrections either - he'll probably just be an alien.

Gamora

Like Drax, Gamora is green, and was created by Jim Starlin (her in 1975). Like Drax, Gamora was essentially engineered to be a living weapon against one particular enemy. Also like Drax, Gamora has a direct connection to Thanos — though hers is even more personal.

When Gamora's entire race was wiped out, she was found by Thanos, who decided to raise her as his own to be a weapon against Adam Magus. She has your basic "scrapper" set of powers, Super strength, agility, and healing, and having trained since an early age, an incredible hand-to-hand fighter who usually uses a sword. She's since been described quite simply as "The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe."

Gamora has connections to pretty much every cosmic character in the Marvel Universe. From trying to murder/protect Adam Magus/Warlock, to almost being murdered by – then teaming up with – Drax, if you're a cosmic character at Marvel, you've either teamed-up with, nearly been killed by, or nearly killed her.

Gamora actually worked with some of those heroes, including Nova, during the first Annihilation event, which led to her joining the Guardians after they came together during the second major galactic struggle.

In the film, played by Zoe Saldana, she is likely to have the direct connection to Thanos as his adopted daughter - in fact, we saw her pitted directly against another "descendant" of Thanos, Nebula (more on her later), in her featurette. The dynamic between the two of them should be fun, with a deadly "sibling rivalry" style to it.

Rocket Raccoon

Rocket dates back to 1976, where he debuted in Marvel Preview #7, courtesy of creators Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen.

Rocket Raccoon's self-awarely silly name and basic concept — gun-toting raccoon from the planet Halfworld — is exactly what's made him popular over the years, but don't think he's only around simply for comic relief. He's always been shown as a highly competent soldier, and starred in his own 1985 miniseries by Mantlo and a pre-Hellboy Mike Mignola.

"There’s a lot of backstory with Drax and Rocket particularly that will add levels of pathos to them," Bendis said when taking over their comic book stories.

After years in relative obscurity, Rocket was brought back to the forefront by DnA during Annihilation: Conquest, and later joined the Guardians of the Galaxy team, where he remains. And in 2014, Rocket Raccoon will beat the likes of Wonder Woman and The Flash to the big screen with the Guardians of the Galaxy live-action film.

In the film, Rocket is described by Director James Gunn as "the heart of the film." He has been seen with his signature big guns in the brief clips, and is voiced by Bradley Cooper, an actor known for both his humor and dramatic work. Rocket's bond with Groot is primal, and as the "heart" of the team, he's likely to be the driving force for their formation, if not for their main mission.

Groot

I AM GROOT! I am Groot. I. AM. GROOOOOT! I am Groot. I AM… GROOT. I am Groot.*

*Translation:

Groot is the king of a dead race. Easily described to pop culture fans as a butt-kicking version of the Ents from Lord of the Rings, Groot is a giant anthropomorphized tree who started his career in the Marvel Universe as a villainous alien bent on human capture and study. During Annihilation: Conquest, Groot joined with the other fledgling Guardians to take down the techno-organic menace known as the Phalanx.

Groot, who pre-dates the Fantastic Four and was created in 1960 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers, formed a bond early on in the team's travels with Rocket Raccoon, the other more off-the-wall member of the team, as well as one time member Mantis (more on her below). He has been shown to be able to regrow his entire body from a single twig, and can build his mass from nearby wood. A genius level intellect is often hampered by the fact that when he speaks, most beings in the universe merely here him utter the same phrase, "I AM GROOT!" over and over. While he didn't have any early connections to the other Guardians, Groot is definitely an integral part of the team today.

In the film, voiced by Vin Diesel who rumors say essentially stole the role by saying he had meetings about it before he ever did, Groot will say his signature line - repeatedly. He's major muscle on the team, for certain, alongside Drax and Gamora, but he is also a hyper-intelligent and another heart for them to rally behind. he and Rocket are inseperable, so pity any villain who tries to tear them apart.

The Villains!

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nebula

Nebula was created by Roger Stern and John Buscema in Avengers #257, one of the "youngest" characters to come to screen, having only been created in July 1985. In the comics, she claimed she was the granddaughter of Thanos, and used her claim to lead her own band of interstellar mercenaries.

Like Gamora, Nebula is a deadly assassin with connections to most of the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe. When Thanos returned from the dead and found out about her false claim to his throne, he turned her into a half-dead slave. Nebula went so far as to steal the Infinity Gauntlet from her "grandfather" to restore her health, leading Thanos to team up with heroes like Doctor Strange, the Hulk, Thor, and even Drax the Destroyer to stop her. In more recent stories, she's been shown as an ally of Gamora, and an enemy of Ronan the Accuser, two of the film's stars.

Nebula screenshot in Guardians of the Galaxy
Nebula screenshot in Guardians of the Galaxy
Credit: Marvel Studios

In the film, played by Karen Gillan, Nebula is one of the main villains, and clearly being setup as a rival of Gamora. Her exact role, and her connection to Ronan and Thanos, is unknown right now, but more should be revealed between now and the film's release.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Ronan the Accuser

Ronan is a Kree Accuser - think of them as military, judges, juries, and often executioners, all rolled into one. The Kree are an ancient militaristic race, often at war with the Skrulls. Ronan's origins go back to Fantastic Four #65 in 1967, where he was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Always a complicated character, it's never quite clear as to whose side Ronan is on until he's bashing someone upside the head with his Accuser long-staffed hammer. His superhuman strength, speed, and reflexes are further enhanced by his armor (an easy concept for movie-going Iron Man fans - he's kind of like if Captain America was also wearing an Iron Man suit), and his weapon can be used for blunt force or fire blasts. He has been a villain of The Fantastic Four, Captain Marvel, and Silver Surfer, but has also, at times, been an ally of - yup, Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, Nova, and even the Guardians of the Galaxy. He even served on the team that "took over" for the Guardians for a time, a group of heavy hitters called The Annihilators.

In the film, played by Lee Pace, Ronan is a primary antagonist and... that's about all we know about him so far. He appears in approximately one frame of the initial trailer, with Gunn promising he'll be heavily featured in future trailers, perhaps as soon as "a couple months" from now. Assuming Thanos is being mostly saved for a future Avengers movie, it's quite possible Ronan is directly in league with him here.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thanos

You saw his grin, and his chin, in the credits sequence to The Avengers, and while we doubt he'll be a central villain in Guardians of the Galaxy, his presence will no doubt be felt, thanks to the quest for the Infinity Stones.

In the comics, Thanos first appeared as a creation by Jim Starlin in 1973's Iron Man #55, the same issue that introduced Drax. Born on the moon Titan, Thanos is a mad man and an interstallar warlord. Influenced by visions of a mysterious woman at a young age, he is driven to kill, and eventually pledges his life to the woman - the living embodiment of Death itself. Thanos's ultimate goal is nothing less than the extermination of all life in the universe, as a tribute to his beloved Death. That's why he smiled when the Chitauri general told him that going against Earth was "to court Death" in that credits scene.

Thanos's efforts to conquer and/or destroy the universe have literally pitted him against every major superhero out there, from the Avengers to Spider-Man, from members of the X-Men to Iron Man, and most definitely against cosmic heros like Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy. He's usually pictured wielding or trying to gain the Infinity Gems, items of power that actually embody and channel all that they represent, be it reality, power, mind, soul, or otherwise.

Thanos from Marvel's The Avengers
Thanos from Marvel's The Avengers
Credit: Marvel Studios

In the film, we have no idea if Thanos will make a brief cameo, have a speaking role, or step in to smack down the Guardians himself, as his possible role is being kept completely under wraps. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has now identified the Cosmic Cube and the Ether from Thor The Dark World as two of "the Infinity Stones." That identification was made by The Collector, a character who will also appear in Guardians. One thing is for certain: if the Infinity Stones, Gems, or whatever you want to call them are involved, so will be Thanos. We're guessing the Orb Star-Lord is seen stealing in the beginning of the trailer will be one of those Stones, as well, further cementing our belief that Thanos will show up in some form here.

Albert Ching contributed to an earlier version of this article.

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