Marvel Super-Heroes #18, Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel Super-Heroes #18, January 1969

It’s the year 3007. Charlie-27 is returning home to Jupiter after a six-month tour of duty in space. As a fifth-generation migrant, he has the stocky build required to withstand conditions on the giant planet. When he lands, he’s disturbed to find no welcome party: the planet seems deserted. As he wanders the space port he is attacked by lizard-like soldiers, which he quickly identifies as Badoon. He overcomes them easily and finds his way to his home. There, he sees his family taken away by the Badoon to a labor camp. Following in a stolen car, he is spotted and ambushed by more soldiers. He flees into a nearby teleport depot and transmits himself—but with no time to set a destination, he just has to hope for the best!

Almost instantaneously he appears on Pluto, only to find it similarly infested with Badoon. He meets up with a crystalline native of the planet, Martinex, who has been left behind following an emergency evacuation. His mission is to destroy some industrial complexes to hamper Badoon progress. He initiates his plan, and then he and Charlie-27 hop into a teleporter and head for Earth, hoping that the mother-planet will as yet be free of the alien invaders.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Charlie-27

Meanwhile—and no great surprise really—on Earth two men stand captured and humiliated before the Supreme Commander of the Eastern Sector of the Badoon Empire. These are Major Vance Astro, an astronaut launched in suspended animation on a deep space mission in 1988, only to discover upon his arrival at the nearest star that during his journey faster than light travel had been discovered and colonists had long since beaten him to his destination, and Yondu, blue-hued native of Astro’s planet. Astro feigns an attempt to kill Yondu with the latter’s own bow and arrow weapon, and turns this into a successful escape. Outside, the pair bump into the arriving Charlie-27 and Martinex. After the standard Marvel misunderstanding and fisticuffs, the four realise they’re on the same side and turn on their Badoon pursuers.

Defeating the soldiers, and standing defiant against a burning city backdrop, the four—led by Astro—burst into an old Earth ditty suitably paraphrased for the occasion: “Earth shall overcome!”

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Of course, DC had had a team of super-heroes fighting evil in the 30th century—the Legion of Super-Heroes—for some time.  When long-time DC writer Arnold Drake made the break and began freelancing for Marvel, he instantly took up scripting the adventures of  the X-Men, a group not too dissimilar to his old Doom Patrol feature. Though he never wrote the Legion as far as I recall, he nonetheless brought this somewhat similar idea to his new employers. Created by Drake and drawn by Gene Colan, the Guardians of the Galaxy lacked the instant appeal and longevity of DC’s future teens and they made just this single appearance in Marvel’s Showcase-like Marvel Super-Heroes book before being consigned to the scrapheap of history for several years.

This origin tale s a good read, but feels like something of a dead-end concept-wise. The Badoon had previously appeared in a Silver Surfer story, but are pretty one-dimensional baddies, and having super-heroes battle a single villain never works well over the long-term. Once the Guardians finally re-appeared in Marvel Two-in-One #4-5, and Defenders (Giant-Size #5 and #26-29 of the regular series) the scope was opened up a bit by allowing them to team up with familiar heroes, and fight other threats.

Drake isn’t able to do a lot with characterization in just 22-pages of story, but he sketches in the foursome’s pasts with aplomb. The backstory of Vance Astro is particularly successful—and based on a great SF premise—and this would provide later writers with a huge degree of opportunity to play with big ideas such as predestination and temporal paradoxes.The notion of him being unable to take off his suit lest he crumble to dust, however, is one of the dafter ideas comics sometimes foist upon us. Vance Astro, the Scorpion and the Human Bomb would have some stirring tales to tell at a dinner party, I’m sure—but no one would want to sit next to them!!

Colan seems to be having fun, with inventive layouts and dynamic action sequences. It does look like the art was done in something of a rush as backgrounds are often sparse, but the quartet themselves are quite well-designed. Astro’s suit is a rather non-descript purple affair (it got a flashier redesign later), but Charlie-27, Martinex and especially Yondu all look great. His pencils here are inked by Mickey Demeo (the pseudonym of Mike Esposito), who does well enough, but is perhaps not the best match for Colan: Tom Palmer, or Bill Everett, would have made the whole thing sing just that bit sweeter.

Astonishing Tales #29 (April 1975) features a reprint of this story, albeit with 4 pages cut out. This was to jog memories and reintroduce the team prior to their big multi-issue crossover with the Defenders. Soon after, they finally got their own series in Marvel Presents #3-12, but would have to wait until the 1990s for their big break.

Images ©2012 Marvel Characters, Inc