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Why the Guardians feel more inspired by Abnett and Lanning than ever in James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

While the entire Guardians saga has been heavily influenced by the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy comics, this newest movie feels like it's pulling more inspiration than ever

Compiled image with comic book Guardians on the left and movie Guardians on the right
Image credit: Marvel

The 2008 run of Guardians of the Galaxy - written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning with Paul Pelletier on pencils, Rick Magyar inking, Nathan Fairbaird as colorist, and Joe Caramagna as letterer - is one of my favorite superhero team comics. The book is funny, it’s dense, and it really handles interpersonal relationships in the cosmic world in a way most cosmic stories can’t manage in the Marvel U. But really, what it's got is character-- in spades.

It's been no secret that the James Gunn Guardians of the Galaxy have been heavily influenced by this 2008 run of Guardians. It draws its cast of characters (though most of them changed quite a bit) as well as some of its setting and a lot of its devil-may-care tone directly from the comics.

But it wasn't really until this third movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 that I really started to feel like the onscreen Guardians were beginning to look (and act) like the Guardians in the comics. So let's take a look at why Guardians Vol 3 felt more inspired by the 2008 Guardians comics than ever before.

There are spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 below. So stop reading if you havent seen the movie yet.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 still
Image credit: Marvel Studios

A home base in Knowhere

Now Knowhere has made an appearance in Guardians movies before (as well as Thor: The Dark World), but this is the first time we really get to see the Guaridans hanging out in Knowhere and taking part in the world that's built its head in the skull of a dead Celestial. At the beginning of Vol. 3, we see the Guardians living in Knowhere, as a real home base, with regular haunts and their own living quarters, as opposed to being regularly housed on their ship. Somehow, having an established base makes them feel more settled, like a real team.

The matching costumes

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 still
Image credit: Marvel Studios

Yes, I really liked the look of the 2014 Guardians outfits. They made sense for where the characters were at the time too obviously (who wears matching outfits right after they meet?). But now that the team is more official, having matching outfits makes sense. And having the classic looking outfits? That’s -chef’s kiss- Now the costumes aren’t exactly the same as those that appeared in the Guardians comic; there are no brightly colored gloves, for one, but those would look pretty hokey on live action screen anyway—right? (Looking at you, Peacemaker!)

Real name drops

After movie after movie of Rocket telling people that he "isn't a raccoon," we finally hear the words cross his very own lips when, at the end of the movie, he calls himself "Rocket Raccoon," the name the we know him by in Marvel Comics. In the same way, in a humorous and less serious scene, we get another name drop. This time with Drax, who tells a guard (who has been mind controlled to be in love with him) that his name is "Drax the Destroyer." Now this may seem a little further into Easter Egg territory, as these are both single moments, but for those who are familiar with these characters by these names, it is (like the matching outfits) pretty cool.

Gamora is mean

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 still
Image credit: Marvel Studios

Yes, Gamora is mean and green-- and, on the surface level, generally dismissive of the team (which I love for her, personally). Of course, this isn't the same Gamora as we've seen in the previous movies, as that Gamora died in Avengers Infinity War. This Gamora is the one brought back in Endgame, the one who had never met the Guardians at all. She is much closer in personality to the Gamora of the comics in the way that she isn't 100% on board with being on a team or these people she's hanging out with, and I love her.

The team fights together

Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Image credit: Marvel Studios

Coming out of the movie, one of the aspects I heard the audience most excited about was the big cool fight scene. And it makes sense! Though just a tad overlong (in my humble opinion), this beautifully choreographed fight scene really shows the tema fighting as a team, as opposed to as individuals towards a common goal. You can tell how long they've known each other and worked together at this point, just by how they fight, and it adds a tinge of regret to the fact that this is the this version of the team's end.

Cosmo the talking (and telepathic) space dog!

Image credit: Marvel Studios

Cosmo the space dog! Yes, Cosmo may not have been a main character during Abnett and Lanning’s run on Guardians, but he (and now she) just adds so much character to the weirdness that we want from the cosmic. Cosmo is not named as head of security at Knowhere in the movie, but she is clearly an important member of the group, and it's exciting to see her officially join the Guardians at the end of the movie. (Fun fact: in the comics, Rocket Raccoon hated Cosmo, once remarking "Talking pets give me the willies.")

Adam Warlock joins the team

Adam Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Image credit: Marvel Studios

Adam Warlock was one of the original Guardians on the 2008 team. Notably, the comics Warlock is quite different from the movie's, but, like in the movie, he was also recently born-- well, reborn... well, taken out of a coccoon at least. Though Adam is very different in this new incarnation, his name has a long legacy in comics and is tied to some of Marvel's biggest storylines, some of which have notably already taken place in the MCU. But still, Adam Warlock has an interesting power set and will add a bit more of the cosmic into the mix.

The introduction of Phyla

Phyla screencap from GOTG 3 trailer
Image credit: Marvel Studios

It isn’t just Cosmo and Adam Warlock joining the team, but Phyla has made a (young) appearance as well. Though we only get the name drop in the mid credits scene, we do see Phyla officially join the Guardians. In Abnett and Lanning's Guardian's run, Phyla-Vell is a full adult with Quantum bands and a whole host of other powers (as the child of Mar-Vell), but still, a superpowered character named Phyla in the Guardians? That's definitely something.

Still, at the end of the day, what makes this movie feel like the comic can't be found on any list of little details (though the details are really fun, to be honest) scattered throughout the movie. It's the tone of the story and the focus on the characters.

Though there are no direct plot crossovers - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is not a direct adaptation of the 2008 run (you can see all of the comics creators behind the comics that the movie draws from in our Ending Explained article) - it does feel more gritty, more heroic, and more Marvel cosmic than a lot of the other Guardians movies. Now, I think a good part of that comes from the fact that we have a very different (trained) audience in 2023 than we had in 2014. We expect (and want) the more wacky. Group outfits no longer seem silly. We've proven that we can handle a talking raccoon with a gun, and can now obviously handle a talking dog with telepathic powers.

We're finally leaning into the fun parts of comics, in a way that I think other comic book movies think they are but aren't really. The wackiness of the Guardians isn't there just to showcase the genre's ability to be wacky. It's used to flesh out and build out these characters and their stories and their worlds.

And in this way, Guardians vol. 3 might feel more like the best kind of Marvel comic than maybe any other MCU movie. Not only because it lacks the MCU sheen (and replaces it with Gunn’s style) but also because the characters feel lived in and flawed and real. The characters don't all need to be the smartest, best, fastest, loyalest (and usually quite sterile) heroes; they're flawed, broken, and healed people (and other species) who find themselves a safe harbor with a team, a family.

I read an insightful article on Polygon the other day about how the Guardians is saying goodbye to MCU that doesn’t exist anymore. I agree in a way, but I’d take that statement a step further and say that Guardians is saying goodbye to an MCU that never really existed.

While I love some of the MCU movies, in hindsight, it has become clear that the best work, like the Guardians, may have succeeded despite the MCU way, instead of because of it. More than a decade in, I think it's safe to say that the MCU still hasn't quite captured the best aspect of Marvel Comics: What you can do with characters when you get to play with them for a while. Now whether the MCU project has simply failed to do that or if that gap will pave the way for future stories, only time will tell.

As for the Guardians, this conclusion, stands as a lovely exception to the MCU rule, and as an example that, when adapting comics, sometimes you should just go for the vibes and heart first, and reach for the plots and easter eggs later. We may appreciate them all the more for having to wait three movies to get there.

The final installment in James Gunn’s trilogy (well, trilogy-and-a-bit, with the addition of the Holiday Special on Disney+), Vol. 3 promises to bring the long-running story of the team to a satisfying end after nine years, as well as opening up space just a little bit wider for future Marvel stories to explore. It's a film that Popverse's own Tiffany Babb enjoyed a lot, calling it "the best superhero movie of the past six years" - which is high praise indeed.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens in most theaters May 5, 2023. Buy tickets on Fandango or Atom Tickets.

Get ready for the new film with our comprehensive Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 guide.

Tiffany Babb

Tiffany Babb: Tiffany Babb is a professional lurker (aka critic) who once served as Popverse’s deputy editor and resident Sondheim enthusiast.


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