When you think of heroes, what image comes to mind? A square jaw? Chiseled physique? Rugged good looks?
The hero we’re going to focus on this week, as part of our ongoing look into the characters who make up the cast of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" film, has none of these features in common with the traditional hero. In fact, his features have more in common with what we Earthers would classify as flora rather than any sort of fauna, heroic or not. And yet he’s proven himself to be a hero nonetheless. Groot, a walking, talking alien tree entity has served with distinction alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy since their inception. But what are his roots, so to speak? Let’s dig in and find out.
Although the Marvel Age of Comics officially began when the Fantastic Four first blasted into space in 1961, the company that would become Marvel had been publishing comics since 1939. By the 1950s, that company, then known as Atlas, had turned to publishing primarily science fiction comics, as superheroes had fallen out of popularity. It was at the tail end of this era, in November 1960, that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the same team that would go on to create the Fantastic Four, crafted a tale of an alien invader named Groot for issue #13 of the anthology book Tales to Astonish.
Groot was the monarch of Planet X, declaring himself “overlord of all timber in the galaxy.” With the power to command trees into an ambulatory army, as well as to absorb wood and grow to gigantic proportions, few would argue with his claim. He had come to Earth to seize a village for transport back to his home planet, for purposes of study and experimentation, but the residents of the village took issue with this plan, and a brave biologist by the name of Leslie Evans soon found the means to defeat Groot — termites.
Groot seemingly perished under the assault of the termites; as with most stories of that era, his tale was a one-shot, with its characters never intended to be seen again. But in 2005’s Monsters On The Prowl, Groot was revealed to have survived, and was subsequently recruited into a team of monsters under the control of the spy agency S.H.I.E.L. D., as told in Keith Giffen’s Howling Commandos series.
Although his role in that team would be short-lived, Giffen brought Groot in for 2007’s Annihilation Conquest event, where he was recruited by Star-Lord to help in the struggle against the technological invaders known as the Phalanx, an enemy that Groot’s technology-independent abilities would prove effective against. This new incarnation of Groot was more limited in vocabulary, being particularly fond of the phrase “I am Groot!” But those around him quickly learned the gist of what he was trying to communicate in any given situation. Groot ultimately sacrificed himself to bring down the Phalanx, but gave his close friend Rocket Raccoon a small piece of himself which could be used in time to regrow his body and restore him to full life.
After the defeat of the Phalanx, Star-Lord saw the need for a permanent team to safeguard the galaxy, and recruited Groot (who, at that point, had not regrown beyond the potted plant stage) and Rocket into the newly-formed Guardians of the Galaxy. But when several of the team’s core members were thought killed in conflict with the death-worshipping Thanos and the forces of the malignant Cancerverse, Groot and the surviving Guardians were left to mourn their fallen comrades.
However, the Guardians have now made their triumphant return (under as-yet unexplained circumstances) in the pages of Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Avengers Assemble, and Groot, now back at potted plant size, is accompanying them on their adventures. The concept art for the "Guardians" film portrays Groot at even larger than human size however, making it a safe bet that his role in the film will be more than just household shrubbery.
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