By Alex Zalben

Are you ready to go cosmic with writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Steve McNiven? The superstar team will be reaching for the stars, headlining the brand new Marvel NOW! series GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

Spinning out of AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, the Guardians roster consists of Star-Lord, Groot, Rocket Raccoon, Drax, Gamora, and Iron Man.

Wait, Iron Man?

Yup, Tony Stark will be joining the team to fight alien evil and maybe start some out of this world romance. Just in time for 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie, hop on board, because it’s going to be a wild ride.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 cover by Steve McNiven Brian, Steve, you guys have been working on GUARDIANS for a really long time. When did it first start, and how did it come about?

Brian Michael Bendis: I work with the Marvel Creative Committee on the movies, and this is one of the projects that we’ve been helping out with since the beginning. So, in the context of that, I was doing a lot of re-reading and research, and research of course means reading a lot of comics! I’d read all the [Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning] stuff, and I’d read a bunch of the older stuff. Just as a fan, just as reading, not as a writer thinking about the characters much or anything.

We were talking about the characters, what they want and their reliability. I dug up some of their origin stories, particularly Peter Quill’s origin story, which as I tweeted recently I had come across, and decided that it was, for my money, as good as Superman or Spider-man’s origin—it was just no one knew it! It was literally a two-page story in MARVEL PREMIERE about 34 years ago, and I just really really liked it. As the movie was getting closer, and more drafts were coming in, they called me and said “Listen, you were so excited during the Guardians movie calls, we need to get this book back in the public eye. We really want to make it more a part of the Marvel Universe.”

Sometimes the cosmic books are in their own little corner—and sometimes that’s charming, but it’s a lot of the reason that they don’t have a bigger audience. I had voiced how cool it would be, and how easy it would be, to guide them closer to the center of the Marvel universe, to be almost part of the Avengers franchise instead of off on their own. I was talking about it as a fan, more just like what I’d like to see, and then they called and said that they really want to do this book, how about you and someone like Steve McNiven? Steve and I worked together years ago on NEW AVENGERS, and I was just waiting patiently for my turn to work with him again. And I said, “I’ll tell you what, if you get Steve McNiven, I’ll do it.” And they did.

Steve McNiven: I was talking to the folks at Marvel about my next project and they were very excited about having me do GUARDIANS. When I heard the pitch and that Brian was writing it I was sold!

Brian Michael Bendis: If we’re bringing back GUARDIANS and Marvel really puts their best foot forward and lets us go crazy with it, it could really be something special and something surprising. And now that people know that there’s a movie coming, I think people are going to be interested in seeing what the deal is with these characters. They hadn’t read them before, they’ve only seen them here and there, but now we’re going to be able to dig in and really show you what’s special about them, specifically before people see the movie, and that’s kind of cool. So what is cool about them? Steve, I’m curious to hear your perspective…

Steve McNiven: Well for me it’s the chance to do some space stuff, something I haven’t gotten the chance to do yet. It’s a part of the Marvel Universe that is very attractive to me as I’m an avid science fiction reader. Everyone should go out and pick up one of Alastair Reynolds novels right now! Brian, back to you. The two-page Peter Quill story that you were talking about, is that something you’re going to be revisiting and expanding for MARVEL NOW! POINT ONE?

Brian Michael Bendis: That’s exactly what the Point One issue is. Much like I took the 15-page AMAZING FANTASY #15 Spider-Man origin and I expanded it cinematically or just more dramatically into the first few issues of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, it’s a double-sized Point One issue that is the origin of Peter Quill. It’s that two pages blown up to over 30 pages. I was literally writing it for myself; I wasn’t even sure what it was for, other than to express to myself how much I care about this character. And then I handed it in to Marvel. It was weird because no one had asked me to write it, and yet I just wrote it up and handed it to everyone and I said, I think we should do this.

We’re not starting the Guardians over from scratch, but this origin story says everything you’d ever need to know about why you would care about Peter—and nobody knows this story! I told this story on the Marvel retreat, his origin story, and even Dan Slott didn’t know it, that’s how esoteric it is! So I wrote it almost like a spec script, just trying it out and trying to get a feel for the character, and it ended up being the first issue that McNiven and I are doing.

Iron Man I re-read AVENGERS ASSEMBLE just before chatting with you guys, and knowing what I know now, it almost functions as a back door pilot for a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series. There are a lot of teases going on there…

Brian Michael Bendis: By the time I was writing that, I knew I was writing the GUARDIANS series. Remember that episode of “Welcome Back Kotter” when it was all about Horshack’s family? It was kind of one of those kind of deals. So I got to tease, and I got to set up, and I got to re-establish their relationship with Marvel in general. Some of these characters know each other; they’ve known each other for a long time. But they just don’t see each other a lot. In the most conniving way, when you see that Thor and Iron Man like the Guardians, some of the audience goes, okay, I guess it’s cool to like the Guardians. But they do, so it’s not like you’re pulling it out of thin air or anything. This is jumping ahead a little bit, but the biggest shock is probably finding Iron Man on the team, yet getting back to AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, you have him pretty much straight out saying what’s going to happen. I’m paraphrasing, but there’s a bit in issue #7, I think, where he’s in space, and says, “Man I really like space, I wish I could live in space!”

Brian Michael Bendis: It’s more about that he’s a futurist, and he’s an explorer, and he’s a scientist, and an adventurer. You could certainty see Tony getting to a place in his mind where number one, he needs a vacation more than anyone on the planet. But number two, more like a working vacation, and thinking, you know what, I kind of hit a ceiling with my technology. I want to go out and explore some new stuff and see things from a new perspective, and really look at the Earth from a new perspective, and come back and see if that doesn’t help him break past whatever ceiling he’s hit with his work.

And plus, we’re going to have some fun with Tony trying to live out his William Shatner/Captain Kirk space-girl fantasies. So Tony will come out here to be part of the Guardians, to explore the ideas that the Guardians had put in his head during AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, that the Earth is a very important part of the cosmic civilization for the next generation. So Tony literally needs to go out and look at it from their point of view to see what he can do to help. And so he gets to have space adventures, he gets to live the William Shatner/Captain Kirk, he gets to explore, he gets to invent, and Tony gets to see the world from a different perspective.

When Tony’s with the Avengers, he’s always top dog, alpha male, he’s always kind of in charge. Here, he’s going to be a fish way out of water. Even though he’s been to outer space a few times, this is living in outer space, which is a completely different thing. And basically living on a pirate ship!

Star-Lord Let’s take a step back and talk about what the basic idea of the series is. How does GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY start out? And what makes this iteration different from the previous series?

Brian Michael Bendis: I’m hoping it’s an amalgamation of all of the best versions of the series. GUARDIANS wasn’t on any level broken at all, it was an excellent idea and an excellent team dynamic, and [Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning] should be very proud of what they accomplished in that area. But what I’m going to try to add to it is to give them a very pointed agenda about what they’re going to do, and it’s very Earth-based this time, which brings them closer to the center of the Marvel Universe. It has them interacting with people from the Marvel Universe more, and has them acting as, for lack of a better word, the cosmic Avengers, and that’s pretty exciting for us.

Also, the difference between how I’m going to be handling it, and how it’s been handled previously is that it’s been a very plot and premise driven book whereas though there will be a lot of crazy space plot and premises going on in the book, I tend to gravitate toward the characters. Their interactions, how they deal with each other, how they enjoy each other, the tensions, the [romance]. All of that is going to take a front seat and you’re going to get to know the characters a lot better as they interact with each other.

As far as what the premise of the book is, we hinted at it a little bit in AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, that it’s very clear to the cosmic civilizations of the Marvel universe—which is the Kree, the Skrulls, the Badoon, and the Chitauri—they all are looking at Earth. Earth seems to be a very important element; it’s literally the center of the universe. Here we have this one-of-a-kind amalgam of super heroes and Guardians and alien technologies and mutants, and it’s just this smorgasbord of powers and choices.

Look at it from a distance, say from the Kree’s point of view. Earth is very scary because it’s got all these things and it almost looks like a cauldron of craziness. It’s only one generation away from being able to join the cosmic civilization. From this point, it looks like they’re either going to be this warring tribe of barbarians with laser guns, or they’re going to be able to join us.

Marvel NOW! teaser by Joe Quesada

And it becomes clear to the leaders of the other civilizations that Earth isn’t being left alone to develop itself. Every five minutes, there’s some kind of alien interaction on Earth that is damaging to Earth’s development. Like the Skrull attack, the Kree experiments on us—there [are] all these things going around and Earth isn’t being allowed to be just Earth. If this continues, if people keep poking at it or attacking it, when Earth is able to join the cosmic civilizations, they’re going to come at us as a war tribe.

We have two choices: We can either blow the Earth up and put ourselves at war with Asgard; or we can make a new rule, and the new rule is that no one is allowed to touch Earth. You’re not allowed to touch it. You’re not allowed anywhere near it, and if you do, you’re breaking the number one cosmic law.

Peter’s father, who is the King of Spartax, asks Peter to lead the Spartax army to guard Earth, because Peter is half-Earthling. Peter doesn’t trust his father, and he’s right not to trust his father, so instead he takes the Guardians and makes them in charge of protecting Earth without him touching it. Tony is going to be involved in a very large terrorist attack on Earth that happens in the very first issue, and from that will decide to join the Guardians in this endeavor. This might over-complicate things based on that you have already have a lot of balls in the air, but are we going to see S.W.O.R.D. playing into this?

Brian Michael Bendis: Yes! First issue. Okay, let’s talk about the characters a little bit more. You touched on Tony and you talked about Star-Lord a bit, but we also have Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot. What’s your take on them? What are we going to see them doing?

Brian Michael Bendis: I quite like Gamora. She’s one of the most dangerous people in the universe, a master of all weaponry. She’s the adopted daughter of Thanos, so she’s got a lot to live up to or live down from. Both her and Peter are going to be bonding over the fact that both of their fathers suck, and that they were born into something that they are trying to better than. And I think that that’s the most heroic thing a person can do. You were born into something, doesn’t mean that you need to become that thing, you can try to rise above it, and their attempt to rise above it makes them very special. It’s a very unique bond between the two of them.


And then Drax has a very complicated back-story. But going forward, we’re going to be dealing with Drax, who also has a ferocious connection to Thanos. He has ferocious passions about what is right and what is wrong, and I kind of like to say that he’s got the power of the Hulk with the mindset of Captain America, and that makes him very special going forward.

As far as Rocket Raccoon and Groot, they are the R2-D2 and C3-P0 of the Marvel Universe, and we’ll be continuing along those lines, adding hopefully some grand humor and ferociousness to Rocket Raccoon. I know that for people that don’t know who the Guardians are, Rocket Raccoon is like this thing that people go “Is that, like, a real thing?” My wife saw the promo images and she goes, what is that, is that a raccoon? Rocket Raccoon, for those who don’t know, is not an Earth Raccoon. He’s just an alien that happens to look just like a raccoon. And I was dealing with those issues. But he’s quite the warrior and quite the pirate, and we’ll be enjoying him a great deal. He and Peter have a nice back and forth as well.

They really are a group of misfits, they’re a group of pirates; their agenda to do right by each other and do right by the universe is what holds them together. It really is the best kind of book for people who like “Firefly” or “Buckaroo Banazi.” This is the kind of sci-fi that I like and we’ll be applying it directly to the Guardians. Steve, what about the look for the team. Other than two people being green, the team has always been eclectic; was there any thought of giving them a unifying look?

Steve McNiven: We are trying to give each of them an individual look that reflects their character, which is a real challenge; definitely moving away from the WW1 outfit look. They will have an emblem on their costumes that ties into the story but it will be on different locations on their gear. They will also have a variety of outfits, from more casual ship wear to deep space battle suits. Brian, hearing you talk about Rocket Raccoon reminds me of you talking about Squirrel Girl, and when you added her to NEW AVENGERS, almost taking someone that could be a joke character and treating them semi-seriously. Is there any connection there at all?

Rocket Raccoon

Brian Michael Bendis: Absolutely! This is what I say, people that like what we did with Squirrel Girl in the end, particularly that issue that Mike Deodato drew that focused on her solely, we’re certainly going to build to that with Rocket. He’s a funnier character than Squirrel Girl, just in general. We have a lot of love for him and we’ll be dealing with him front and center. And also, I got to write the Guardians of the Galaxy episode of the “Ultimate Spider-Man” cartoon that’s coming out next year, so you’ll be seeing a little bit of that there too. Now, I know you mentioned Thanos a couple of times, and I realize you are dealing with him in AVENGERS ASSEMBLE right now, but I have to imagine that he’s going to play into the series in some way?

Brian Michael Bendis: He will, because he’s a character that ties them together as back-story. But he’s not the big villain going forward. We’ll be introducing some new villains, and we’ll also be having some Earth-bound Marvel heroes that are going to make some cosmic plays as well. So there’s a lot going on.

The other aspect of the book that I’ll be dealing with is that there are a lot of things that happen on Earth, a lot of messing with the space-time continuum, a lot of time jumping going on, and though there doesn’t seem to be a lot of ramifications once those stories are over in those stories, there is a ramification somewhere else in the galaxy, and we’ll be dealing with that.

Let’s say that there’s a story where the five original X-Men come here to the present. That is an abuse of the space-time continuum, and though there’s no genuine effect going on in [ALL-NEW X-MEN], it doesn’t mean it’s not happening in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. So to pick up on your subtle hints, are we going to see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY tying into ALL-NEW X-MEN?

Brian Michael Bendis: We’re going to see them bouncing around. I’m going to say yes to that answer. We’re going to see unique team-ups, and unique interactions between the Guardians and other members of the Marvel universe.

Drax This is more of a general question, but I’m curious: what’s your take on space in this book? There’s so many different ways of approaching it where you can kind of say that planets are kind of next door to each other, versus it’s actually just a lot of, well, space.

Steve McNiven: It all depends on the story and what type of mood we need. There are plenty of great places to go to, from massive black holes to colorful nebulas, to asteroid belts, ancient moons and the cold dark empty spaces between the galaxies. A bit of a change from skyscrapers, taxis and malls.

Brian Michael Bendis: My thought as a writer is that space in between planets is where the good stuff happens; this is where they have time to interact with each other. Think about Star Wars; the best scene in Star Wars is when they’re going from one planet to the other and Obi Wan is trying to teach Luke about the Force. And the Wookie is playing chess with the robots. That’s the good stuff, that’s where you get to know everybody. That’s what space means to me.

Also, sometimes in a book that has space travel in it or you’re visiting other planets, the planets all seem to have one type of person on them, but as well all know living on Earth where there’s so many different types of people and different types of civilizations, just because the Guardians visit one point of a planet, doesn’t mean that’s what the whole planet is like. So we’ll hopefully be taking the stories down a little more and letting their investigations and their involvements as they journey and discover things they haven’t seen before. It’ll be much more intimate and less conceptual. There’s also the matter of drawing vast alien civilizations and species. When you’re tackling something like that where do you go as an artist? You don’t necessarily have visual reference, so what do you draw on?

Steve McNiven: Really, it’s so much easier for me  to draw something that no one has seen before. So as long as you stick to some plan of how they move, act,  and be consistent with it, then it’s just having fun with the crazy ideas that pop into your head. I love to design stuff! Has there been one aspect in particular that’s been the most challenging?


Steve McNiven: I would say it’s the redesign of the characters that has been the most challenging to me, but also a great deal of fun. With Brian you also have to bring your A game when it comes to acting the characters as he is so good at those character moments that make a story memorable. Like in the Avengers movie, it’s the small character moments that, when well performed, give them weight and momentum. I work hard on getting that stuff right. Still, did you ever think you’d end up on a book with a talking raccoon teaming up with a talking tree in space?

Steve McNiven: [Laughs] You never know what’s around the bend! As with all things, it’s all about challenges. You need to push yourself into uncomfortable areas to learn things. Some of the art, whether music or painting or whatnot, that I’ve come across that I’ve initially did not like turned out to be the things I absolutely love now. Same goes for the tree and the raccoon. Starting to wrap up here, any word for fans may be reticent about a space based book?

Brian Michael Bendis: I totally get that, and I’ve looked at it as a fan of books like this who wishes there were other elements to it. And that’s kind of what I’m bringing to the book hopefully, taking all the stuff that is appealing about a cosmic book and bringing it into the Marvel Universe proper, and making it about the characters. For people who liked my work on Avengers, this to me is an Avengers book. It is the cosmic Avengers, for lack of a better term. And I’m kind of applying my Avengers philosophies to the Guardians, and hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy great characters that maybe people haven’t seen before and have just heard about. The good news is, is that you can jump on this book, and for a year, you can tell people, “oh I’ve been reading GUARDIANS before the movie came out, I know who the Guardians are. “ And any final thoughts, or things we haven’t touched on?

Steve McNiven: I can’t wait for them to read the first issue as Brian really outdid himself with it!

Brian Michael Bendis: Steve McNiven is one the greatest comic book artists in the world, so to have a talent of his caliber on this book is such a phenomenal thing, it really is. The book is so beautiful, and it’s so easy to write such large landscapes when you know they’re going to be illustrated so beautifully, so bare minimum, you’ll just have one of the best looking books on the stands.

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