Spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 follow; if you don’t want to know what happens at the end of the movie, you really don’t want to read any further. Don’t blame us if you find out something you don’t want to.
It’s the end of the road for the Guardians of the Galaxy, with the third movie in the MCU series also being the final appearance of the team that fans have come to love across the past decade — but, as glimpsed during the mid-credits sequence in the movie, the end of the Guardians is merely just a sign for the next generation of Guardians to step up.
The New Guard(ians)
By the time the final credits roll on the movie, there’s a new team of Guardians to protect outer space, led by two familiar faces: Rocket and Groot, the only two characters to step between incarnations of the team. (Technically, Kraglin could say the same, but I’m unsure if anyone could properly claim that he was a full member of the team before now.) Filled with newcomers introduced in Vol. 3, the new line-up of the Guardians is:
- Adam Warlock
Longterm comic fans might recognize the core of this team — with the exception of Kraglin, who’s been a mainstay of the movie series since the first installment, and has most definitely earned his place on the team, even if his comic book incarnation is far less high-profile — as the remnants of the DNA-era of the Guardians.
When the team was revived by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning in 2008 (Dan aNd Andy; DNA, get it?), the group was made up of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Root, Rocket, Adam Warlock, and Phyla-Vell, with Mantis and Cosmo as support staff; it’s likely no coincidence that, as writer/director James Gunn steps away from the team, he sets up a version of the team that is at once new and entirely in keeping with the group’s roots.
Tellingly, Abnett, Lanning, and artist Paul Pelletier, who drew the initial issues of the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series, are all thanked in the credits of the new movie.
The three newest additions to the MCU version of the team have unusual histories with the comic book Guardians: despite being part of the core line-up of the team at the launch of the 2008 series, Adam Warlock quickly broke away from the team relatively early, becoming involved with the Universal Church of Truth and becoming his evil alternate self, the Magus, in the process — the Magus thing is, really, a whole thing that you can learn about right here — although he’d return as part of the impressively short-lived Guardians team in the 2020 relaunch of the series. (And when I say “impressively short-lived,” they don’t even make it out of the first issue in one piece. “Spoilers,” I guess.)
This doesn’t mean that Adam isn’t a team player. In the 1990s, he was the titular anchor of the Warlock and the Infinity Watch series, with a loose-knit group of proto-Guardians of the Galaxy; that series lasted 42 issues.
Phyla — AKA Phyla-Vell in comic book canon — has an even more complicated backstory with the Guardians: she was part of the 2008 line-up that introduced Star-Lord, Rocket, Gamora et al to the team, but she was killed by Thanos relatively early in the team’s existence… only to return to the team some years later, albeit as a version of herself from an alternate reality. That Phyla-Vell is still around, although she’s no longer part of the Guardians team, judging by their current comic book series.
And as for Cosmo... the telepathic Russian test-pilot was introduced outside of the Guardians series (he debuted in Nova #4, which predated the Guardians launch by a handful of months), but his role as protector of Knowhere meant that he soon became a mainstay of the team in multiple subsequent incarnations. After all, who could resist the lure of a spacedog with a heart of gold and the power set that could easily fit into the X-Men?
(In comic book lore, Cosmo received his powers via exposure to cosmic rays on his test flight into space; in MCU terms, not only is Cosmo's gender swapped, but her origin may be as well, given that she apparently didn't have powers prior to her appearance in the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, despite two earlier cameo appearances...)
The biggest question about the new Guardians team might not be who they are, but where they’ll show up next. After all, surely they weren’t introduced with no plans to appear ever again… but with no Guardians Vol. 4 announced, it’s an open question where — or even if — we’ll see the team again anytime soon. Surely Adam Warlock is meant for bigger things!