The Great Guardians Retrospective Pt. 2
Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning propel the Guardians of the Galaxy into history!
In the first installment of The Great Guardians Retrospective, we talked with editor Bill Rosemann about how he hand-picked the wild cast of characters seen in ANNHILATION CONQUEST: STAR-LORD and then handed over the reins for an ongoing GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series to NOVA writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.
Now, it’s time to hear from the writers themselves as they reminisce on everything from first getting word of the book itself to working on this motley crew of characters to condensing Groot’s dialog to those now-famous three words.
Marvel.com: When you started ANNIHILATION: CONQUEST, was the plan to launch a new Guardians of the Galaxy series out of that?
Andy Lanning: Not at the outset, though I believe our editor, Bill Rosemann, was harboring plans to launch another monthly title as we did with NOVA out of the original ANNIHILATION series. It was around the midpoint of the series that Bill confirmed Marvel were looking to add another monthly cosmic title.
Dan Abnett: Yes, we had the solo cosmic book, NOVA, already running, and a team book looked like a good idea. It seemed obvious to launch it organically out of ANNIHILATION: CONQUEST.
Marvel.com: As you mentioned, you’d been involved with the cosmic books with NOVA; was it a natural progression to expand that to the Guardians?
Dan Abnett: I think what NOVA and the previous Annihilation event had done was to explore and “map” the Marvel Cosmic Universe, and readers seemed to be loving that, so a team book in that setting was very desirable.
Andy Lanning: Absolutely, once Bill announced we were lined up to produce another monthly title, Dan and I jumped at the chance and, working with Bill, we decided to make it a team book to compliment the fact that NOVA was a single hero title.
Marvel.com: What made the original Guardians the right springboard for this new team?
Andy Lanning: That was Bill’s idea. While we were developing the concept of a new cosmic team book he called one day to say how’d we fancy the idea of calling the team the Guardians of the Galaxy? We jumped at the chance; both Dan and I were big fans of the original team right back to the origin story by Gene Colan and Arnold Drake and the opportunity to tie our team to the rich continuity of the original team was something we could [not] pass on.
Dan Abnett: It was more a case of theft. We had a team line up—the characters we ideally wanted to use—and when it came to naming them, it seemed in their rag-tag, thrown-together spirit to borrow the name form the original team. I made naming the new team—and the theft of the original name—a running gag.
Marvel.com: Where did your original Guardians line-up come from?
Dan Abnett: Between us, we’d already made a shortlist of “great but forgotten” cosmic characters who could be used in these books. Editor Bill Rosemann had dug into the archives, and I certainly had my own favorites, like Gamora, Drax, and Star-Lord. Though not major Marvel heroes, I’d always loved them. A rough cut of the team appeared first in Keith Giffen’s STAR-LORD [limited series], like a Dirty Dozen, and that became the basis for the new team, though I was channeling in other likely candidates organically from the story itself. They were real misfits. The point, at the start, was that they shouldn’t gel.
Andy Lanning: The credit for this has to go to Keith Giffen and Bill: Keith wrote a fantastic STAR-LORD series as part of the Conquest event which introduced the nascent team including Rocket and Groot as well as Mantis. Bill suggested building the team title around that nucleus and we added Drax, Gamora, and Adam Warlock to the roster; building out from the characters that had been highlighted during Annihilation and Conquest and setting the book on-board Knowhere which we had introduced in the NOVA series.
Marvel.com: Was it always the intent to take that team and connect it with the Guardians of the Galaxy?
Andy Lanning: Absolutely! Once we decided to call the book Guardians of the Galaxy, we knew we wanted to connect it to the previous incarnation’s continuity as it gave us a rich narrative world and cast of characters we could play with. At that point we were happy to be allowed to play with any of the cosmic characters, let alone classic versions of characters we grew up reading and loving. We reasoned that the original series was actually set in the 31st century, so who was to say that there was never another team by the same name? It could even be that the future version named themselves after the exploits of our team!
Dan Abnett: I wanted to draw in connections with the original team—again, old favorites of mine—and also to use key characters like Vance Astro and Starhawk, so using the name made the conceptual connection.
Marvel.com: What made Peter Quill, Star-Lord, the right character to anchor this team?
Dan Abnett: Well, it was either going to be him or Nova, and Nova had his own book. Adam Warlock sees himself as the leader at first, but it’s Star-Lord’s grit, and his urgency to find some redemption for himself—to be a hero again—that makes him perfect. They’re all rogues and renegades, and he epitomizes that. They know they’re underpowered and don’t stand a cat’s chance of saving anything, let alone the universe. But they’ll try anyway.
Andy Lanning: During his Annihilation run, Keith had done a great job reinventing Peter into a battle hardened and weary cosmic veteran with a very dry and sardonic sense of humor. His experience, cynicism, and reluctance to take on the role of team leader made him a really interesting character to develop. In the aftermath of the events in Annihilation and then Conquest he was carrying a lot of guilt as Ultron’s invasion happened on his watch and he was determined not to let something like that happen again. In the absence of the Nova Corps he established a new team to prevent such cosmic scale events before they can happen.
Marvel.com: You really developed Rocket into a fun character. How much of that was pulling from existing stories and how much did you create?
Dan Abnett: Rocket has always been a great character. I think the trick was to take him seriously—despite the fact he was a wisecracking, talking animal—and make his role important. The other trick—which just happened—was to pair him with Groot as a double act. Two characters that had previously been interesting as solo figures became really interesting as a double-act, as a partnership. As friends.
Andy Lanning: It was a mixture of the two: when you take over writing an established character, even one who hadn’t been that fleshed out like Rocket, you always try to build on the previous versions. Again, we were picking up the baton from Keith who established a tone with Rocket that made him more of a [MacGyver], tactical genius with a snarky sense of humor versus the previous incarnation of him in the Mike Mignola, Bill Mantlo [limited series] from the [80s]. We took that foundation and ran with it; fleshing out and developing the notion of his relationship with Groot as well as his ability with weapons: we reasoned he would be very dexterous as raccoons are incredibly nimble with their fingers. We also took his snarkiness to new levels because there’s something incredibly amusing and charming about a tiny cute furry creature with a potty mouth and a bad attitude!
Marvel.com: Bug was there in the STAR-LORD series, but didn’t make the immediate jump over to the GUARDIANS book. Why was that?
Dan Abnett: As I said, we had lots of characters we wanted to use, but we didn’t want to make the team too big and cumbersome. The idea was that the membership would be rotating, calling reserves when they needed back-up or had suffered losses. The whole team was expendable and vulnerable because they were so out-classed when it came to big cosmic menaces. Bug—a great character—was a perfect reservist and that became a running joke too.
Andy Lanning: I hate insects, especially [six-foot-tall insects]! Actually, we wanted to keep the team focused on the core group we had as we had stories planned around them, like Adam Warlock and Major Victory, and Bug just didn’t make the initial cut but we always knew we had him on the reserve list and planned to call him up at some point, which we did when the time was right and had huge fun writing him as he was another firm favorite from comics we read growing up.
Marvel.com: Were there any challenges mixing so many unusual characters with their own, deep histories?
Dan Abnett: Of course, but to me, the fun of the team was that it was swarming with clashing characters with vivid personalities, who all carried their own baggage. That’s what made them so compelling.
Andy Lanning: No actually, the complete opposite: we were such huge fans of all the previous cosmic continuity that it was an absolute pleasure to play with these legendary characters and their long histories. We were constantly surprised by what we were able to do and the characters we were able to use. We would tentatively ask if we could perhaps use characters, like the Kree, and Bill would come back to us and say, “Yup,” and a whole new vein of potential stories would open up. We were so fortunate to get to add to the continuity of characters and series we loved and respected: Adam Warlock, the Inhumans, the Shi’Ar, the Kree, Blastaar, the Phalanx, Ultron, and ultimately, Thanos.
Marvel.com: Groot speaks somewhat normally for a while. Where did the now iconic “I am Groot” idea come from?
Andy Lanning: I am asked this a lot and can’t for the life of me remember! I know that when we wrote him in CONQUEST he was speaking in sentences but referring to himself as “I am Groot.” At the end of that series he had sacrificed himself and was being grown by Rocket as a sprout. It wasn’t until issue #7 of the new Guardians title that he was fully grown and from that point on all he said was “I am Groot.” That’s all I got!
Dan Abnett: That was my choice, actually. In the past, he’d been that “one-line” monster, and then we’d tried having him talk. I decided it would be fun and interesting to go back to the same one liner for everything, but to make that mean different things if you were “keyed into” his language. It was a gimmick, but it made him very appealing and friendly, and it certainly stuck.
Marvel.com: How does it feel knowing you created this group that continues to not only appeal to so many, but also work so well in just about every medium?
Dan Abnett: It’s extraordinary. I had no idea this ramshackle “team” would have any life beyond the fun and games we were having in the comic. I’m delighted that, together, they have found the A-list status that had eluded them for so long.
Andy Lanning: Bloody brilliant! I mean if you told someone five years ago that Rocket Raccoon and Groot would be as popular as Spider-Man and [Captain America], you’d have been laughed out of the joint! Now they are part of the public conscious which is testament to what [director] James [Gunn] did with the movie but it’s nice to know that I played a part in the whole thing!
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