With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 rapidly approaching I figured it was high time to write another reading guide, this time focused on the cosmic misfits. Then as I remembered that I’ve read almost everything they’ve been in, I decided that I’d write a complete guide. This is the first in a series of Guardians related SYWTR; each covering a different era of the space-faring super-team.
After writer/artist Jim Starlin left Marvel, their space comics (referred to as “cosmic” comics by fans) kind of sputtered out. In the fall of 2005, Marvel relaunched the “universal” part of the Marvel universe with several miniseries under the banner Annihilation. Writers Dan Abnet and Andy Lanning (known collectively as DnA), along with Keith Giffen, were the core architects of the series. The storyline was massively successful and led to a sequel. The sequel, in turn, led to the formation of the modern day Guardians of the Galaxy. This is the era that most directly influenced the movie, and if you don’t feel like reading everything, there’s several good jumping on points. This article provides a reading order for their series. It might seem a bit daunting, what with the amount of series involved, but that’s what this whole thing is here for.
Annihilus, the warlord king of the alternate dimension, the Negative Zone launches an attack into the positive matter universe. His forces destroy the galactic peacekeepers, the Nova Corps, save for human member Richard Rider. The Annihilation Wave ravages the galaxy, conquering all for Annhilus. The only hope is a ragtag resistance group including Rider, Ronan the Accuser, Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, and the former Heralds of the world-devouring Galactus, who is enslaved as the Wave’s power source. But first, they have to survive long enough to meet each other.
The story takes place in several miniseries arranging the players and is resolved in the main series, but the three paperback collections now available collect them in chronological order, as well as the preceding Drax the Destroyer miniseries. Annihilation is a really great story with massive scope, great character work, and sets up the new cosmic order. It has most of the characters you’d expect from a pre-Guardians series. You really only need background on who the Silver Surfer is, otherwise completely accessible.
(Also of note Thanos issues 7-12, are not part of Annihilation or included in the collection, but introduces Star-Lord to the Marvel Universe proper. Not necessary reading.)
Available in three paperbacks or a hardcover omnibus (out of print).
Also available as three volumes digitally and on Marvel Unlimited.
The sequel to Annihilation, the galaxy is recovering from the Annihilation Wave, but after Quill and Ronan broker a peace treaty, the technological race, the Phalanx attack and start assimilating the Kree empire and then the Galaxy. Bending beings to their will, the Galaxy’s heroes have to free the universe from being mindless drones and drive back the Phalanx’s leader-Ultron.
This series introduces a proto-Guardians team in Star-Lord’s suicide squad. Assigned a regiment as part of the Kree Military resistance, the team consists of Quill, Mantis, Captain Universe, Deathbird, Rocket Raccoon, King Groot of Planet X. All of the members except two will join the Guardians during their ongoing series.
Conquest reads pretty well without having read the prior series. You will miss some character stuff, but the core story works well if you just want to jump on here and see the beginning of the Guardians.
Available as two (out of print) paperbacks and an omnibus that might still be in print.
Also available as two digital volumes and on Marvel Unlimited.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2008-2010):
Abnett and Lanning, now without Giffen, take the name of super-hero team that readers had long since forgotten and created something new with it. Star-Lord. Rocket. Groot. Drax. Gamora. Phyla-Vell. Adam Warlock. Aided by telepathic Cosmo the Russian space dog, they close dimensional rifts in the universe, heretical space religions, as well as any other threats to existence itself. After saving future hero Vance Astro from one of the rifts, they take the name of his team, The Guardians of the Galaxy. They’re caught in between a shifting future timeline, a War of Kings and the eternal battle between the concepts life and death. It’s great stuff that’s really accessible to new readers despite the sci-fi rigamarole and makes great use of Marvel history without being impenetrable. Also worth noting is that several parts of the series take place during the War of Kings crossover. You don’t need to read it, context clues will guide you through, but it will provide background. Also, it’s pretty good.
Available in two paperbacks and an omnibus.
Also available as four digital volumes and on Marvel Unlimited.
The Thanos Imperative:
In the final issues of Guardians of the Galaxy, Adam Magus, a corrupted Guardian attempts to defeat Death itself. Death has other plans and after its avatar, Phyla-Vell dies, it resurrects Thanos as its new avatar. Thanos defeats the Magus, but events in War of Kings and Nova open a breach to the Cancerverse. There, Life had won and the was no more Death. For anything. A nightmarish realm full of corrupted Avengers, The Guardians, Nova, and Thanos enter the undying universe to destroy it before it spreads to ours.
This marks the end of the Abnett/Lanning Guardians run as well as their run on Nova. It’s a fantastic climax to the characters’ stories (at least by the authors). Characters from these books would continue on in Annihilators, a series about the cosmic protectorate filling the void left by the disbanded Guardians.
Available in paperback as well as digitally and on Marvel Unlimited.
Further Suggested Reading:
Although technically never a member of the Guardians, Nova is their closest ally during this era and a personal friend to Quill, as well as lover to Gamora. It was the flagship book of the Abnett/Lanning era and has some of their best cosmic stories. Well worth the read if you’re starting from Annihilation or Conquest. If not, you can skip it, but you’d be missing out.
War of Kings:
The Inhumans are now the rulers of the Kree Empire and they’re attacked by Vulcan, mad emperor of the Shiar Empire. A galactic war breaks out as the Starjammers, led by Vulcan’s brother Havoc (of the X-Men), attempt to reinstate Lillandra as the head of the empire. The Guardians show up briefly, but their part is mostly covered in their own series. It’s solid space politics and I do so love my space politics. Highly recommended if it’s your thing or you’re confused by the Guardians tie-in.
I have not actually read this, except for the Rocket and Groot backups, but essentially it’s a team of cosmic heavy hitters formed to take down powerful cosmic threats. Ronan, Silver Surfer, Beta Ray Bill, Gladiator. I keep meaning to read it, but every time I do, I just reread Thanos Imperative.
I’m really hoping that sometime in between Guardians 2 and Avengers 4 Marvel will rerelease all of this stuff in affordable paperbacks. Next time is the just concluded Brian Michael Bendis era, and boy, is there a lot of it.