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The Guardians of the Galaxy debuted in Marvel Superheroes #18 (Jan. 1969). Inspired by The Dirty Dozen, they were created by Stan Lee, Arnold Drake, and Gene Colon. Three last-of-their-race aliens team up with a human space-explorer who had been in suspended animation for a thousand years to foment a rebellion in the 31st Century against the Brotherhood of the Badoon, who had conquered the galaxy. Originally, they consisted of Major Vance Astro, Jupiter Soldier Charlie-27, Martinex of Pluto, and Yondu from Beta Centauri IV. In 1976, in Marvel Presents #3, they starred in their own series by Steve Gerber and Al Milgrom, and in 1990 they got their own title with Guardians of the Galaxy #1. The 2014 movie was directed by James Gunn.

In 1988 on the planet Earth, young Peter Quill, whose mother has just died, is abducted by a band of alien Ravagers led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). Twenty-six years later, Quill (Chris Pratt), as “Legendary Outlaw Starlord” steals a mysterious orb from ancient ruins but is attacked by Korath (Djimon Hounsou) who works for the fanatical Kree leader Ronan (Lee Pace).

Quill attempts to sell the orb on Xandar. Green-skinned beauty Gamora (Zoe Saldana) steals it from him. In the ensuing fight, Rocket Raccoon (Voice of Bradley Cooper) and sentient tree Groot (Voice of Vin Diesel), who are bounty-hunters after Quill, become involved. The Nova Corps arrest them all and send them to Kyln Prison. Inmate Drax (Dave Bautista) attempts to kill Gamora because of her relationship to Thanos and his henchman Ronan, who killed his family, but Quill convinces him that he can use her to get to Ronan because she has turned against him. The five of them manage a chaotic escape from Prison.

They flee to Knowhere, a frontier outpost in the severed head of an ancient Galactic god. A drunken Drax summons Ronan while the others are meeting with the Collector Taneleer Tivan (Benicio Del Toro) to sell him the orb, so it will not fall into the hands of Ronan. Tivan opens the orb to revel in the power of the infinity stone within, but one of Tivan’s slaves grabs the stone, triggering an enormous explosion. Ronan arrives and defeats Drax, as the others flee in a ship, pursued by Ronan’s followers, including Gamora’s insanely jealous sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Nebula destroys Gamora’s ship, abandoning her in space, and Ronan seizes the orb.

Quill contacts Yondu for help in rescuing Gamora. Yondu arrives and saves them. Rocket, Drax and Groot threaten Yondu’s ship, but Quill prevents the battle and promises the orb to Yondu for his help in stealing it from Ronan. On Ronan’s ship, the Dark Aster, Ronan declines to pass the orb on to his master Thanos (Gamora’s adoptive father) and embeds it in his Warhammer instead, giving himself great powers. Nebula allies with him because of her hatred of Thanos.

The Ravagers and Quill’s crew confront the Dark Aster at Xandar. capital of the Nova Empire, Ronan uses his power to destroy the Nova fleet, Drax kills Ronan’s lieutenant Korath (Djimon Hounsou), and Gamora defeats Nebula. Rocket crashes a ship into the Dark Aster, which crash-lands on Xandar, Groot sacrificing himself to save his friends. Ronan’s Warhammer is destroyed and, using the stone, Quill vaporizes Ronan. Quill tricks Yondu and gives the stone to the Nova Corps Police for safe keeping. The Guardians of the Galaxy, as they are now called, have their criminal records expunged. A piece of Groot is planted in a pot to re-grow.

Movies have taught me to be less of a prig. The first person to tell me that Star Wars featured two robots as comic relief was greeted by a look of disgust. “No, no,” he said. “They’re great.” If I had not learned to trust Marvel Studios by the time I learned that two of the main characters in Guardians of the Galaxy were a truculent, trash-talking raccoon and a sentient tree, that the leader would flit about the galaxy listening to a mix-tape of Seventies Earth-music, and that the rest of the team were a green alien woman assassin and a big, tattooed, musclebound idiot, my eyebrows would have shot up like Spock’s at an orgy. But these characters are probably the most charming and loveable in the MCU, and the movie itself is a grand galactic feast for the eyes and ears; If you look closely at Joe’s Corner, you will find a singing and dancing Baby Groot, right next to the single-malt scotch. However, I draw the line at Howard the Duck.

Yes, Rocket Raccoon was inspired by the Beatles’ Rocky Raccoon. He first appeared in Marvel Preview #7 (1976) and in Incredible Hulk #271, in a story entitled, “Now somewhere in the black holes of Sirius Major there lived a young boy name of Rocket Raccoon.” The great Icon of his home world was called Gideon’s Bible. Groot first appeared in Tales to Astonish #13. Groot is the Dutch word for large. He also appeared in the Incredible Hulk, Sensational Spiderman, and Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos. He is a Flora Colossus from Planet X of the Branch Worlds, ruled over by the Arbor Masters. Everything he says sounds to the untutored ear like “I am Groot,” but those familiar with him can understand the subtle differences. Thor understands him because Flora Colossi is an elective in Asgardian schools.

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