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The original Guardians of the Galaxy fought for freedom in the 31st century

Before Star-Lord, Gamora, and Rocket Racoon, Marvel unleashed these 31st century freedom fighters.
Gene Colan

Before Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket there was Vance Astro, Charline-27, Martinex and Yondu. Unlike the ragtag band of outlaws that have won the box-office wars in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the original team of Guardians were the last of their kind. They gathered together in desperation, to save their own lives hoping that together they can rise up against the Badoon, an alien race of world conquerors.

In the pages of “Marvel Super-Heroes!” #18 (cover date January 1969) writer Arnold Drake and artist Gene Colan introduced the Guardians of the Galaxy, four freedom fighters trying to free the people of Earth in the year 3007. The story titled “Earth Shall Overcome” introduces the heroes of different backgrounds. Charlie-27 is the last of Jupiter’s militia, Martinex is the last survivor of Pluto, Yondu is the last of his tribe on Centauri IV, and Vance Astro is the 1,000 year-old man who left Earth in 1988 to be the first Earthman to reach another star.

In classic, sci-fi, short story manner the book jumps right into the action as Charlie-27 arrives back on Jupiter to find his world overrun with the reptilian Badoon. He manages to escape to Pluto where he finds the same situation. Each escape only leads to further torment as everywhere he looks he finds the last survivor of their kind. Hope is lost for the people of Earth and its galactic colonies. They have been enslaved, tortured, or killed. But there is new hope in the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Other than a few dates here and there that do not work in our reality, ie: Earth’s Moon-Colony established prior to 1988, the story holds up well despite its 45 plus year vintage. Drake’s Guardians are men of action in fantastic sci-fi settings. Through the story you learn the details of Charlie-27 and Vance Astro as they are the primary focal points as their adventures lead them to their partners. Each one of the heroes has a reason to get involved and fight to restore freedom to Earth and it comes across on the pages.

Colan at this point in his career was producing some of his best artwork. His dark and moody style that had been wowing fans in the pages of “Iron Man,” and “Sub Mariner” and soon to be “Tomb of Dracula” fit right into this future. The artist used an array of different page layouts with the comic panels cut up into various polygons that stray from a traditional panel grid. This angled style of the pages lent themselves to the frenetic pace of the story.

Each of the four original Guardians had a unique look that conveyed the genetic manipulation they endured to survive in their various home atmospheres. It was a great sense of design on Colan’s part to show the man from Jupiter as a stout round man who had to be so to live in the harsh gravity of Jupiter or Martinex whose crystal-like body was meant to survive the cold of Pluto. Vance Astro’s special space-suit seals his skin away from the air to protect him from aging a thousand years in a second.

It is Yondu however that made the transition to appear in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. But where he was “simple” native of Centauri IV in “Marvel Super-Heroes!” #18, in the movie he is a ruthless bounty hunter with strong ties to Star-Lord. But his whistle-powered Yaka arrow was present at the beginning along with the red fin that was shortened for the movie but still a part of the character.

“Marvel Super-Heroes!” #18 was the only appearance of the Guardians for five years. The next time they showed up they became allies with a time travelling Captain America and the Fantastic Four’s Thing. It speaks to the power of the original story that was able to introduce the heroes and put them on the path that they slowly would seep into other stories seeding the gold-mine that would take a concept filled with C-list characters to box-office dominance.

Recently, the highest graded copy of “Marvel Super-Heroes!” #18 sold for $19,000 at auction. But don’t worry if you want to read this story you don’t need to fork over a mint. You can read this story for only $1.99 through comiXology.com. If you want to see more of the original team “Marvel Super-Heroes!” #18 was collected with most of the Guardians’ first appearances in “Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers” Volume 1.