On August 1st, the next stage in Marvel’s movie machine will premiere, and I thought it might be a good idea to talk a little bit about the Guardians of the Galaxy here and run you through some of the graphic novels out there. Some tie directly into the movie while others are more about nostalgia and the history of the group.

Guardians of the Galaxy by Jim Valentino Volume 1

This was my first exposure to the group. Originally published in the early ’90s, Guardians of the Galaxy followed a team of aliens, heroes and genetically altered beings from the 31st Century on a quest to find the long-lost shield of Captain America. The Team consisted of Nikki, altered to live on the planet Mercury; Charlie-27 from Jupiter; Martinex from Pluto (back when it was still considered a planet); Yondu, an actual alien from Centauri IV; and Starhawk, who had a sort of “groundhog day” existence, constantly reliving his life over and over and using that knowledge to modify the future. He also shared a body with Aleta and they would take turns manifesting. Lastly, there was Vance Astro, an astronaut who, through suspended animation and a special suit intended to prevent him from aging, made it all the way to Centauri IV only to find humans already there. This book compiles issues 1-7 of the regular comic, Annual 1 and some material from the Fantastic Four Annual due to crossover. While not technically necessary to read or know in order to enjoy the new film, I’d still recommend it for the historical value and the fact that it was originally published during the heyday of the ’90s comics boom.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Beginnings

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To get to know the current incarnation of the team—Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Drax the Destroyer, Gamora and Star-Lord—I suggest you start with Beginnings. This one-shot tells the story of how they came together as a team. It’s short and sweet, but is a great jumping-off point.

Annihilation Omnibus Annihilation - Galaxy

This one has a hefty price tag—I won’t lie. But it collects the entire Annihilation massive crossover event in one book, which makes it, at least on the surface, easier. Marvel has a lot of space-faring characters, and this was their moment to shine. Star-Lord, Drax, Nova, Silver Surfer, Quasar, Cammi, Thanos, Galactus, Firelord, Stardust, Ronan the Accuser, Gamora—the list goes on and on. Annihilus, a Big-Bad from way back (Fantastic Four Annual #6, 1968), invades the Universe from The Negative Zone. He brings with him a massive armada called The Annihilation Wave and starts taking star systems and destroying any resistance. Richard Rider, the last remaining member of the Nova Corps, becomes Nova Prime and gathers an army to stop The Annihilation Wave and return order to the Universe.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1: Legacy

Following the evens in Annihilation: Conquest, the Guardians of the Galaxy form up to protect the galaxy from all dangers and threats. The loss of the Nova Corps has left a power vacuum and Star-Lord steps up, forms a crew and goes out to keep the Big-Bads in check. This version of the team includes Rocket Raccoon, Gamora, Quasar, Drax the Destroyer and Adam Warlock. In the vein of a true space opera, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning bring a lot of action, humor and drama to the Guardians. Paul Pelletier’s art is epic and gorgeous. It’s well worth your time.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1: Cosmic Avengers (Marvel Now)

I’ve got a theory that this book will have a lot to do with the upcoming movie. Marvel Now strips away all the history and gives people a place to start with the comics (or that’s the theory) by starting them over (Cosmic Avengerssort of). In this book, your core modern team of Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Drax, Groot, Gamora and Iron Man (?!) form up to defend the Earth. You get a sort-of origin story along with a lot of humor and action. The inclusion of Iron Man is what makes me think this will be an inspiration for the movie so they can tie Phase II together with the already established cinematic universe. If you’ve seen Thor: The Dark World, you’ve already seen, via the end credits, one tie to Guardians. I expect there to be many, many more—and this book could give a lot of clues as to what those ties will be.

The Guardians of the Galaxy have been part of the Marvel Universe for over 40 years. They have a rich and diverse history and it’s exciting for me to see how the movie(s) will incorporate and build on that history. But until the movie comes out on August 1st, there are plenty of comics out there for us to enjoy.

Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Nominee for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.