Marvel's best Guardians of the Galaxy stories

best Guardians of the Galaxy stories
best Guardians of the Galaxy stories (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Guardians of the Galaxy are returning to movie theaters this summer for Guardians Vol. 3, which has been billed as the final adventure of the original MCU Guardians. 

At the same time, a new Guardians of the Galaxy comic book title is launching with a story titled 'Grootfall' which foretells dark times for the core Guardians - especially Groot, who is seemingly being foreshadowed either to die, or become a villain.

As two major Guardians moments appear on the horizon, now is a perfect time to look back at the best Guardians of the Galaxy stories of all time.

10. War of Kings

War of Kings

War of Kings (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

War of Kings is the kind of space epic that Marvel couldn't have without a full slate of cosmic titles. 

And in 2008-2009, writers Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, C.B. Cebulski, and Chris Yost had the right conditions for a tale that pitted the Shi'Ar, led by Vulcan, the third Summer brother, against the Kree, led by the Inhumans, in a massive space war

This event had appearances by all the major cosmic players of the era including Black Bolt and his royal family of Inhumans, Nova and the Nova Corps, the Starjammers, and Darkhawk., with the Guardians caught in the crosshairs. Splitting into two teams, Rocket's squad joins the fray against all the big cosmic baddies while Star-Lord and his group race through time to enlist the original 31st-century Guardians to help them in their fight. 

Few Guardians of the Galaxy stories get quite as big - or as heroic and all-encompassing - as this.

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9.  Communication Breakdown

Communication Breakdown

Communication Breakdown (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

When writer Gerry Duggan and artist Aaron Kuder took over as the ongoing creative team for the Guardians, relaunching the title as All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, they quickly went about establishing a cosmic tone that drew on the mythology of the Infinity Stones and deeper Marvel cosmology, as opposed to the more political aspects of the publisher's many squabbling space empires.

But they also managed to find a way to shake up the line-up that had solidified in the public eye thanks to the blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy films - Star-Lord, Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Drax - without losing the connections that made them feel more like family than a team.

Instead, their first arc, 'Communication Breakdown,' featured the Guardians exploring their familial dynamic  - with individual relationships evolving while characters underwent personal growth and changes. And change they did - Drax became a pacifist, Groot became a baby to parallel the movie version of the character at the time, and Gamora hid a secret that eventually led her to an attempt to gather the Infinity Stones and take on the legacy of her 'father' Thanos.

As Guardians' stories go, it pushed a lot of envelopes, putting the Guardians on the run as criminals, turning Gamora into a villain who later seemingly killed Peter Quill, and creating rifts in their bonds. But through it all, 'Communication Breakdown' and the stories it led into managed to hold onto the heart - and the thrill - audiences had come to expect from the team

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8. Rocket: The Blue River Score

Rocket: The Blue River Score

Rocket: The Blue River Score (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Rocket Raccoon is more than the irascible mascot and mechanic for the Guardians of the Galaxy. And he's more than a space-bound superhero. He also happened to be a wanted criminal across many of the vast galaxies of the Marvel Universe.

And try as he might, Rocket rarely leaves that life behind completely, even when he's saving the universe alongside the Guardians. Case-in-point, Rocket: The Blue River Score, writer Al Ewing and artist Adam Gorham's story of Rocket being sucked back into a life of crime when he crosses paths with an old flame.

Ewing manages to craft a stylish, witty crime yarn in the tenor of a Guy Ritchie movie, filtered through the lens of a love letter to the oddball cosmic stories that grew out of early Marvel UK comics - right down to bringing in TechNet of Captain Britain/Excalibur fame.

Though it's technically all about Rocket, and not the team, the story exemplifies how much the rest of the Guardians don't know what Rocket has going on behind their backs as he fights alongside them.

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7. Annihilation: Conquest

Annihilation: Conquest

Annihilation: Conquest (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The 2006 Annihilation saga did something so ridiculously simple that it was brilliant. Bringing together previous disparate entities like Thanos, Drax the Destroyer, Nova, and Ronan the Accuser, Marvel built a bona fide cosmic universe with a status quo and setting all its own. The follow-up crossover, Annihilation Conquest, mirrored the formula, taking the idea one step further as a way to introduce a new, modern Guardians of the Galaxy team.

Keith Giffen, to whom the Marvel cosmic universe owes a massive debt, crafts a Dirty Dozen-style story in which reluctant Star-Lord Peter Quill brings together incarcerated inmates and rapscallions alike, including Bug, Captain Universe, Deathcry, Mantis, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon to try to find a weakness in the invading Phalanx sphere and destroy it if possible.

Timothy Green's energetic art shows the proto-team at their most weirdly beautiful. While it may not be exactly like the current Guardians we know and adore (Groot carries on entire conversations here!), all the elements are beginning to form: from Quill's laconic humor to a Rocket who transcends his joke-based name via an obsession with large weaponry.

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6. Earth Shall Overcome

Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome

Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In the earliest years after their late '60s introduction, the 31st-century Guardians of the Galaxy (the original comic version of the team) mostly just jumped around various Marvel titles, popping in whenever a writer wanted to use them as guest stars. 

True to form, in this Defenders arc, series writer Steve Gerber had his "non-team" meet the Guardians to aid in their ever-present struggle against the hordes of the Badoon, a fight that would eventually turn the Guardians into a franchise all their own - albeit in a different form.

Collected as Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome, the collection includes the first appearance of the original Guardians along with their first major adventure - and for classic Marvel fans, it doesn't hurt that Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta handle art duties either.

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5. The Final Gauntlet

The Final Gauntlet

The Final Gauntlet (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

When he took over as writer of Guardians of the Galaxy alongside artist Geoff Shaw, Donny Cates capitalized on his burgeoning reputation as an architect of long-simmering, world-shaking stories for 'The Final Gauntlet.'

Focusing on a galaxy-wide search for an inheritor to the role and power of Thanos, 'The Final Gauntlet' ropes in nearly everyone who has ever been a Guardian for a story that also incorporates Hela, Death, numerous cosmic empires, and of course, Thanos himself.

'The Last Gauntlet' draws on threads Cates had previously laid in his Thanos and Cosmic Ghost Rider series - though the fact that the story forms its own epic while also paying off some of those plots and setting up ideas for Cates's later work shows just how effective the writer can be at plotting and planning.

And of course, the story does what many of the best Guardians stories do, and introduces a whole host of new ideas while holding onto a core, unbreakable concept.

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4. Quest for the Shield

Quest for the Shield

Quest for the Shield (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The original Guardians of the Galaxy's first ongoing title starts here, written and drawn by Jim Valentino, who would later leave Marvel during the Image exodus to create Shadowhawk. 

'The Quest for the Shield' recaps the Guardians' previous adventure fighting Korvac alongside the Avengers and sets them on a 31st-century search to find Captain America's shield. 

Guardians member Vance Astro eventually does find the shield, introducing a plot point that would be picked up again by the modern version of the team 25 years later.

This is very much a story in the Mighty Marvel tradition, down to idiosyncratic villains such as Taserface, Force, and Firelord - not exactly the most formidable lineup – but that's part of the tale's charm. 

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3. Rocket Raccoon: A Chasing Tale

Rocket Raccoon: A Chasing Tale

Rocket Raccoon: A Chasing Tale (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Rocket Raccoon and Groot were the breakout stars of 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and Marvel rewarded Rocket with his own solo title, kicking off with the story 'A Chasing Tale.'

Skottie Young's take on the foul-mouthed furball is as fun as the character's ever been - proof that Rocket doesn't need the other Guardians to go on an adventure of his own (although a Guardian or two does show up now and again here).

The first four issues follow Rocket as he tries to figure out why he's suddenly a wanted space rodent while also dodging a posse of angry exes that are out for blood. Not only are Skottie Young's scripts on point, but his art is jam-packed with tons of references and inventive layouts. 

Jake Parker takes over pencils for #5 and #6. Both one-and-dones, the first story is told by Groot while the second puts Rocket on a mission with a misfit mech for Cosmo the Dog. 

All in all, these stories are a really great celebration of the character even when they get into some darker moments.

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2. The Korvac Saga

The Korvac Saga

The Korvac Saga (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The 31st-century Guardians had a host of adventures in their own time, but perhaps their finest hour was chasing the 31st-century supervillain Michael Korvacback in time to the then-current day Marvel Universe - teaming with the Avengers to put a stop to him in the story 'The Korvac Saga.'

First thing Korvac does? Sap some of Galactus' power and inherit the power cosmic. That got the heroes shaking in their boots. Predating even Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet, 'The Korvac Saga' was a time-crossed team-up for the ages - counting one of the first times the Avengers almost lost.

As one of the first major time-spanning cosmic-level stories in the Marvel Universe, 'The Korvac Saga' set the template for the publisher's cosmic sagas and epic events for decades to come.

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1. Legacy


Legacy (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

If you had to pick one essential Guardians of the Galaxy run, this would be it. 

Spinning out of the events of the Annihilation: Conquest, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (collectively known at the time as DnA) and artist Paul Pelletier mixed up a classic team name, an anarchic sense of fun, and a vast Marvel cosmos to make something truly unique and memorable.

The initial story brought in the Conquest event's team of Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Quasar, Adam Warlock, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, and Groot. With cracks forming in the boundaries of the universe, Peter Quill's ragtag team decides to get proactive as the modern Guardians of the Galaxy. 

DnA's run doesn't just crack wise either, it brought genuine pathos to a group that didn't exist in this form only 12 months prior - a team that has since gone on to define the name Guardians of the Galaxy across comics, movies, and even TV in the years since. 

It also had a telepathic Russian space dog named Cosmo. ‘Nuff said.

The total span of DnA's run, crossovers notwithstanding, was a mere 25 issues. Yet this formative arc is essential reading and will be a smooth transition for those familiar with the movie and game counterparts.

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Freelance Writer

Pierce Lydon has been a contributor to Newsarama for over 10 years, writing everything from reviews to deep dive explainers, to interview pieces and best lists. 

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