Are you dying to see the Guardians of the Galaxy movie but don’t want to wait until August 1? Well you don’t have to, as Marvel Studios has teamed with their kissing cousin Marvel Comics for a two-part comics prequel coming out April 2. Tiled Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude, this two-part series focuses on the villainous Nebula and uncovers the bond she has with Thanos, as well as a second story featuring the odd-ball duo of Rocket Raccoon and Groot. And as Marvel paves the way for the Guardians’ movie debut with this comic book series, the House of Ideas called up two creators with a long history with the team for one last hurrah: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.
Abnett and Lanning, referred to by fans as ‘DnA’, revived the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book title in 2008 and created a line-up different from the original 1968 team that earned quite a number of fans. During their two year run, DnA redefined who the Guardians were in the Marvel U and unknowingly seeded the idea for a movie adaptation in the minds of Marvel Studios.
The duo, who recently announced their dissolution, agreed to reunite one last time as a favor to director James Gunn to craft this lead-in to this fall’s movie debut. And now, together with artist Wellinton Alves, they bridge the gap between Guardians of the Galaxy comic books and the film. Newsarama talked with both of the writers, as well as series editor Bill Rosemann who is in charge of Marvel’s comics set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and who was, coincidentally, the editor of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic series during their tenure and first thought up the idea of bring Rocket Raccoon back to comics.
Newsarama: So guys, tell us about the Guardians of the Galaxy Movie Prelude.
Dan Abnett: Both of the Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy prelude comic books spotlight characters from the movie in the run-up to the movie itself.
Issue #2 is a Rocket and Groot adventure, showing the sort of mercenary antics they got up to before joining the team. It’s got action and adventure and it’s a bit of a heist caper too. Issue #1 is pretty much an origin, or at least background, story for Nebula, which reveals details of her upbringing and training. This features Gamora and Thanos, and is packed full of action too. It’s a chance for fans to know a little bit more about Nebula prior to the film’s release.
Andy Lanning: The stories reveal more history and background to the movie versions of these characters based on the very detailed material James put in the script.
Nrama: This isn’t the first time Marvel’s done comics set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but never in space I don’t think. Bill, you’re the editor and overseer on the movie comics -- what initiated the idea to do this particular comic?
Bill Rosemann: Each new Marvel movie inspires the possibility of different Cinematic stories, whether that's an adaptation of a previous film or a lead-in to an upcoming release. The format for these new stories may be standard 20-page stories (both print and digital editions) or even all-new Infinite Comics. In this particular case, knowing that many movie-goers would be unfamiliar with the Guardians and their foes, we knew the time was right to introduce a few of the film's key heroes and villains.
Nrama: Sounds logical enough for me, but what led you to not only greenlighting the comic but tracking down two of its most popular writers to come back for this movie tie-in?
Rosemann: I had the distinct pleasure of editing Dan & Andy’s classic cosmic run. When I returned to Marvel seven years ago and was asked by Joe Quesada to helm the cosmic books, their Annihilation: Nova mini was a personal fave, so I was only happy to continue the fun by launching the monthly Nova series, building the next cosmic event, Annihilation: Conquest, launching the Guardians of the Galaxy series out of that, and then zooming to the next two cosmic events, War of Kings and The Thanos Imperative. So you can imagine how excited I was when I was asked to oversee the Marvel Cinematic projects, which included the upcoming Guardians mini…and then heard that director James Gunn’s #1 choice to write it was Dan & Andy!
Nrama: Dan, Andy, what's it like working on comics set in the Marvel movie continuity, yet being these characters you know so well from comics?
Abnett: Fun, but a little odd. The characters of the Prelude comics had to fit very cleanly to the movie versions so there wasn’t quite the same opportunity for madcap invention, but they were very enjoyable to write nevertheless and I think people will like the end results. Though the movie does an excellent job of realizing these characters, just as the other Marvel movies do, they are nevertheless the movie versions and I had to make sure the tone fitted precisely. Of course I’m used to working within the parameters of any license and find that the creative limits are often very liberating in terms of pushing my invention within that framework.
Lanning: There’s a definite distinction between the Marvel comic universe and the Marvel Cinematic universe. The films have to stand on their own, they have very different agenda and have to tell their own story which has now developed into a very rich continuity based in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What Marvel have done which makes them stand out above their rivals, is use brilliant directors and writers who have a love and respect for the comic book source material. This made telling the tie in stories very easy to do because these characters are not so distant to their comic counterparts as to be unrecognizable, they are more like an alternate version, similar to what the Ultimate Universe did . Also, James’ script is so good, so rich on character and backstory, that we basically ran with what he had.
Nrama: Didn't I read somewhere that James Gunn asked for you and Andy Lanning specifically to come back together to do this? Can you talk about talking with Gunn and how this project came about?
Abnett: James, who was keen for us to write the Cinematic comics, was kind enough to invite us for two set visits during the making of the movie and made it clear that the movie’s key inspiration was our run on the Guardians of the Galaxy comic series. I talked to James at some length about the sort of things he wanted to see and the sort of aspects of the film and its characters that might most usefully be supported with comic stories. James is a really great, compelling, enthusiastic and creative person. Watching him work on set was inspiring, and he was clearly very engaged with the material and determined to do it justice. I enjoyed writing stories with our conversations in mind.
Nrama: Can you talk about those set visits?
Lanning: That was awesome and came about thanks to a random tweet!
I saw a tweet James Gunn posted on a Saturday night showing a picture of him reading an issue of Hawkman in a hotel room with the line ‘look what Hollywood directors get up to on a Saturday night’ or something. So I decided to tweet him back, something cheeky along the lines of ‘shouldn’t you be reading Guardians of the Galaxy?!’
James then direct messaged me that he was in London as they were in preproduction for the Guardians of the Galaxy film. He then proceeded to very generously invite Dan and me down to the set to see what they were up to.
We visited a week or so later and got to the read the script (awesome), and were personally shown around by James (great bloke) and got to see all the preproduction designs (awesome), artwork (awesome) and costumes (awesome) plus some of the sets that were under construction (more awesome). We were also interviewed for some of the DVD extras. James invited us to the set again once filming had started and we got to see the first cut of the trailer (!) and to see Chris Pratt filming a scene inside Star-Lord’s ship as well as meeting the cast: Chris, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista who were all fantastic.
What came across most from everyone; the producers, James and the cast and crew was a genuine respect for the source material which made me very proud of our run on the comic . They all said how much they loved it and how it set the tone for the film they are making and it has come across in the script as well as the great stuff in the trailer that everyone has reacted so positively too.
Nrama: Bill, what about you? You helped shepherd the Guardians back into comics and into the hands of Dan and Andy here; did you yourself have a chance to visit the set of Guardians of the Galaxy movie?
Rosemann: While I would have loved to visit, I was able to live vicariously through Dan and Andy, who sent me an awesome photo of them and James from the set. The entire build up to the film has been surreal. Every time I walk through the Marvel office and see new Guardians merchandise, I can hear my wife in my head saying, "I remember the night you were sitting on the floor, putting sticky notes in your Marvel Handbooks, telling me how you had this crazy idea to bring back somebody called Rocket Raccoon." When the Guardians movie was first announced, many of us assumed it would be the original line-up, so when the first concept art was released and we saw Rocket, Groot, and our ragtag band...well, everything since then--including this new prequel mini--has been a dream come true.
Nrama: Have any of you seen a cut of the full movie, and if so, what can you say about it?
Abnett: I haven’t, and I can’t wait to. As I said, I had the pleasure of two set visits and also got to read the script, which because of non-disclosure I can’t tell you much about. I can say, however, that I truly believe it’s going to be awesome: funny, exciting and visually stunning. The cast is fantastic. I met Chris Pratt (a.k.a. Star-Lord), and Zoe Saldana and Chris Bautista (a.k.a. Gamora and Drax) in full make-up and costume and they were very friendly and rather wonderful. I also got to see them work with James, and it was thrilling to watch an already gripping scene from the script evolving under his direction as he watched how they were playing it, ran with their ad-libs and spontaneously developed elements of the scene according to the nuances of their performances, adding even more tension and humor. James encouraged one particular ad-lib into a full-on joke that got the entire production crew laughing, and which I hope makes it into the final cut. It was absolutely in character and very, very funny.
Nrama: 2014 is a big year for both of you. What do you two have planned next?
Lanning: I’d love to do more Revolutionary War stuff- specifically more stuff set in the Marvel UK corner of the Marvel universe and will be anxiously waiting to hear if sales support us going back to tell some more stories there in the future because we have lots of ideas we’d love to explore.: Death’s Head, Pendragon, Captain Britain…all sorts of things we’d like to do!
I am also writing a Guardians of the Galaxy story that my long time art partner and good buddy, Phil Jimenez, is drawing for the anniversary issue and have some more things in the planning stage that I cannot mention right now.
Abnett: The work I am doing now and in the future won’t be very much different from the things I’ve done before. I’m still writing novels, including Rocket and Groot: Steal the Galaxy prose novel for Marvel, of course. I’m still writing comic strips in the UK for 2000AD and The Megazine and in the U.S. I’m currently writing Battlestar Galactica for Dynamite, Masters of the Universe for DC and I have other, as yet unannounced, projects with Boom!, Dark Horse, DC and Marvel. I’m also writing for the games industry and have contributed to theShadow of Mordor game and Alien: Isolation.