Long before they were box office gold set to a classic pop-rock soundtrack, the Guardians of the Galaxy were a different crew of space traveling misfits. In January 2019, the original lineup of that late Silver Age superhero team celebrates their 50th anniversary.
The concept for the Marvel team was conceived by Roy Thomas, initially as super-guerrillas who were protecting the U.S. from foreign threats. After Stan Lee reviewed the concept, Thomas gave the idea to Arnold Drake and they decided to change the team’s situation to an interplanetary one.
The Guardians of the Galaxy debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (January 1969), written by Drake and penciled by Gene Colan. The Guardians were set in the 31st century in an alternate timeline of the Marvel Universe.
Original members included Major Vance Astro (an astronaut from Earth), Martinex T’Naga (a crystalline being from Pluto), Captain Charlie-27 (a soldier from Jupiter), and Yondu Udonta (a hunter from Centauri IV) – each of whom is the last of their kind. They team up against the Badoon, an alien race that attempts to conquer Earth. During the war, they gain three more members: Starhawk and Aleta (a husband and wife team) and Nikki (a genetically engineered girl from Mercury).
After defeating the Badoon, they team up with Thor to face off against Korvac. They followed Korvac back to the 20th century and were joined by the Avengers on the final fight. The team reappeared years later and were joined by others like the Inhuman Talon, the second Yellowjacket, Simon Williams, and the Skrull Replica.
Though the issue had solid sales, the team didn’t appear again for over five years in Marvel Two-In-One #4-5 (July-September 1974). Steve Gerber brought the team in for Giant Size Defenders #5 and Defenders #26-29 in 1975. In those stories, characters like Captain America and the Thing would help the team on their missions.
The Guardians received their own series in Marvel Presents, starting with issue 3 (February 1976). Gerber was writing the title and wanted to utilize superhero themes but with some different space/science fiction elements. Dave Cockrum redesigned the costumes, they created a new ship for the team, and sent them out to space. The series only ran for a few issues before cancellation, then the team appeared in The Avengers and Marvel Two-in-One, among other titles through the late 1970s.
Marvel editor in chief Tom DeFalco greenlit Jim Valentino’s idea for their first self-titled comic, which began in June 1990 and ran for 62 issues. Valentino initially wrote and illustrated the title, giving it a more fun tone than the typical moody comics of the ’90s. Michael Gallagher took over writing at #29 and continued through the title’s run.
A second volume began in May 2008, written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. It was set in a different timeline with a new team, though the original team made guest appearances. Another ongoing title with the original Guardians ran in 2014.
Outside of comics, they appeared as playable characters in the DLC pack for Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2, called Classic Guardians of the Galaxy. Several members of the original team appeared in the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie, including Yondu (who was in the first movie too), Sylvester Stallone as Starhawk, Michelle Yeoh as Aleta, Michael Rosenbaum as Martinex, and Ving Rhames as Charlie-27.
At present there hasn’t been any announcements regarding an appearance by the original Guardians during their 50th anniversary year. Perhaps they are just waiting somewhere out in space.