Guardians of the Galaxy was originally launched at Marvel Comics in 1969 as a team of human and alien misfits fighting to save the Earth in an alternate future continuity.
The team the film will focus on is the 2008 iteration that brought together a mix of Marvel's best and lesser-known intergalactic heroes set in present day continuity. These Guardians were created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning in the 'Annihilation: Conquest' event, and went on to become a central feature of the pair's Marvel Cosmic storylines over the following years.
The Guardians of the Galaxy serve as a rapid response task force for the universe, operating out of Knowhere, a space station built inside the decapitated head of a Celestial (read: giant space god) located at the edge of reality called The Rip.
The team is led by Peter Quill - aka Star-Lord. The half-human/half-spartoi hero is something of a gunslinging space-ranger type. Quill is a bit of a joker, but is always ready to throw down and be a hero when the need arises. He is not above manipulating friends and foes alike to get what he wants.
Gamora is known as the 'Deadliest Woman in the Universe', the last suriving member of the Zen-Whoberian race. The physically enhanced assassin was raised as the daughter of sometime Guardians ally/enemy Thanos. Possessed of both a prickly personality and the unspoken ability to sleep with everyone.
Drax the Destroyer was a human man who was rescued from death and resurrected as a green-skinned berserker with one goal: kill Thanos. Portrayed variously as a mindless brute and a canny warrior, Drax is always unpredictable.
Rocket Raccoon is an anthropomorphised mammal and tactical genius with a specialisation in heavy ordnance. The wisecracking raccoon is far more endearing and less annoying than you might predict.
The Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creation Groot actually predates the advent of Marvel Comics. The living tree is the monarch of an alien planet whose vocabulary is limited to the words "I am Groot". May or may not possess a scientific super-intellect.
Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon and Groot have all been confirmed for the film. Other potential stars from the Guardians line-up could include quirky precog Mantis, 'quantum mage' Adam Warlock, psychic Russian cosmonaut dog Cosmo, psychic martial arts master Moondragon or Vance Astro, a mutant from the future who wields the shield of Captain America.
From what has been said by the filmmakers so far, Thanos is almost certainly going to appear in the 2014 movie. The Mad Titan was revealed to be the secret primary antagonist of 2012's Avengers in the film's now obligatory end credits scene.
Thanos is an immortal and vastly powered Eternal from Saturn's moon Titan, whose primary motivation is not power or conquest but his literal love of Death. The personification of mortality in the Marvel Universe does not want to know, no matter how many people her would-be lover kills. Perhaps giant and purple just isn't her type.
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Marvel is not averse to throwing more than one villain into the mix (Avengers focused mainly on Thanos's pawn Loki). There are various other villains that the team and its individual members have faced who could rear their heads in the movie.
Annihilus has faced everyone from the Fantastic Four to the Avengers. The insect-like being from the Negative Zone recently led an Annihilation Wave into our universe that wiped out countless inhabited planets.
The Magus is the evil alter ego of Adam Warlock who consistently returns every time the hero seems to expel him. He has served both as a primary villain and a servant of greater powers in the past.
The Universal Church of Truth is an interplanetary empire that is often linked to the Magus. The organisation harvests the faith energy of its mindless worshippers and would offer great henchmen for the film's main antagonist.
'The Infinity Gauntlet' is one of Marvel's most popular classic storylines, in which Thanos acquires the titular and vastly powerful object - which appeared as an Easter egg in Thor - and (temporarily) wipes out half the life in the universe to impress Death. Expect this to be mentioned regularly, even if this particular tale never emerges in the film.
'Annihilation' and its sequels 'Annihilation: Conquest' and 'War of Kings' offer the easy and powerful option of all-out cosmic war against the Negative Zone, the Phalanx and the Kree/Inhumans/Shi'ar respectively. These would be a great choice to create a spectacle with high stakes and lots of action.
The 'Thanos Imperative' storyline is probably the least likely of the recent cosmic events. Although it centres around the confirmed villain, a straight adaptation would require a more established character in the form of the shades-of-grey antagonist. Marvel may choose to borrow from the memorable villains of the story - a chaotic, alternate-reality 'Cancerverse', where death has been eradicated and its heroes possessed by monstrous Lovecraftian gods.
None of the cast has been announced yet. Rumours surrounding the casting of Peter Quill/Star-Lord have been rife, with actors including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Michael Rosenbaum, Garrett Hedlund, Zachary Levi, James Marsden, Sullivan Stapleton, Lee Pace, Wes Bentley, Chris Lowell and Cam Gigandet rumoured to be under consideration for the role.
Isaiah Mustafa, Brian Patrick Wade and former WWE Superstar Dave Bautista have been connected to the role of Drax, while Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler have also been linked to unspecified roles in the movie.
James Gunn is no stranger to the comics world. He directed the offbeat superhero comedy Super, and although that had a real world-based, Kick-Ass vibe, 2006's horror Slither has shown that he is also capable of facing down weird aliens from beyond. And although he may have upset people with his superhero sex list, it also demonstrated that he knows his Darkhawk from his Nightwing.
Guardians of the Galaxy is scheduled for release on August 1, 2014.