July 31, 2014 at 7:07 AM ET
So you know Captain America and Thor and Spider-Man and all those cool mutants from The X-Men. But just who are these "Guardians of the Galaxy," as in the stars of the new film opening Friday? Some interstellar Avengers spin-off? Rejects from a "Star Wars" sequel? Are they even superheroes?
Marvel Comics is taking a big leap outside of its comfort zone of fan-favorite costumed heroes with this fairly obscure group of oddball anti-heroes. If early buzz and initial reviews are any indication, it's going to pay off. "The Guardians of the Galaxy" promises to be the liveliest, most playful cosmic blast since the first "Star Wars."
You don't need to know the players to enjoy the ride, but all of the maverick characters had a history in Marvel comics before writer Dan Abnett and artist Andy Lanning plucked them from various corners of the Marvel Universe, tossed them together, shook vigorously, and sent them to the far reaches of the galaxy in 2007. Here's a quick introduction to the team.
Peter Quill / Star-Lord, aka the human one (Chris Pratt)
Marvel-ous backstory: Introduced in 1976, the original Star-Lord was a NASA astronaut who was transformed into an intergalactic hero by mysterious forces.
Movie origins: Self-proclaimed galactic outlaw Peter Quill was orphaned young and scooped up into space by intergalactic soldiers of fortune. No surprise he grew up reckless, cocky and mercenary.
He got skills: He's a marksman, a daredevil space jockey, and a con man. And he travels with his own soundtrack of 1970s pop tunes.
Heroic precedent: The charming rogue-for-hire with a souped-up space ship and a soft spot for underdogs is in the Han Solo mold with a dash of Captain Kirk. He does have that thing for green-skinned chicks, after all. Which brings us to…
Gamora, aka the butt-kicking green one (Zoe Saldana)
Marvel-ous backstory: The adopted daughter of Thanos, the most nihilistic of comic book supervillains, Gamora earned the title "Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe" soon after her 1975 debut.
Movie origins: Gamora is out to avenge the annihilation of her race, a quest that pits her against her foster father and just about anyone who stands in her way.
She got skills: Assassin, martial arts master, weapons expert, she's a cosmic ninja.
Heroic precedent: Imagine Black Widow crossed with Lara Croft in a brutal universe that make "Game of Thrones" look like Disneyland.
Drax the Destroyer, aka the big muscular guy (Dave Bautista)
Marvel-ous backstory: Drax was a human transformed into a super-powered entity who flies and fires energy bolts, but in 2006 he was reborn as a strongman and warrior.
Movie origins: This mountain of muscle is on a mission of vengeance against Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who massacred his family. He's got a code of honor, but his anger issues can get the best of him.
He got skills: The dude is strong and determined.
Heroic precedent: The Hulk with a more impressive vocabulary.
Rocket Raccoon, the little furry one with the big guns (voice of Bradley Cooper)
Marvel-ous backstory: Inspired by The Beatles song "Rocky Raccoon," he overcame his jokey roots in the 1970s to become the oddest mercenary to hop a rocket and blast his way through the Marvel Universe.
Movie origins: The result of genetic experiments, this gun-toting, wise-cracking, galaxy-hopping raccoon is an outcast with attitude. You'd be upset too if everyone in the galaxy called you vermin.
He got skills: A technology whiz and tactical genius, he cobbles together weapons from scavenged parts and has a fondness for big guns.
Heroic precedent: A cross between MacGyver and The Punisher… except he's a three-foot high raccoon.
Groot, the walking tree of few words (voice of Vin Diesel)
Marvel-ous backstory: Groot's roots go way back. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the tree-like alien in a 1960 horror story before The Fantastic Four or Spider-Man were even born. It was decades before he was revived as a hero.
Movie origins: He's Rocket Raccoon's best friend and partner, but his history is a mystery.
He got skills: He may not be too bright, but this timber titan is a hardwood powerhouse who walks softly and swings a mighty branch.
Closest pop culture relative: Cousin to the snarky apple trees of "The Wizard of Oz"? Cosmic offspring of the Ents from "Lord of the Rings"? "Swamp Thing" with an oaky finish? There's not a lot of precedent for his family tree.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" opens Friday.