As a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the alien Groot has died many ways. He’s been blown up a couple of times and even set on fire. Each time this happens the mighty being from the Planet X has found a way back to sentient life. As amazing as his reincarnations become, no comeback has ever been as spectacular as his very first one.
A long time ago, before Groot became a good tree and a valued member of a prestigious interplanetary patrol team, he was a scientist. An evil scientist, one sent to Earth with an agenda.
That’s hard to come back from.
Right before Marvel found the key to the universe with the Silver Age debut of the Fantastic Four in 1961, the company was publishing stories based in romance, westerns, horror, science-fiction and tales of knights.
Even with that variety many fans look to this period as “The Marvel Age of Monsters.”
And the monsters were extraordinary! They had names like Goo-Gam, Gorgolila, Kraa, Gargantus, Brutto, and of course Fin Fang Foom. These alliterative abominations came from space, the laboratories of crazed scientists and from underground where they had been sleeping peacefully until an atomic bomb awakened them from their hibernation.
Groot was once one of them: A monster, an alien, and an evil scientist to boot!
The story of how and why he came to earth dates back to his often forgotten first appearance in the opening story in Tales to Astonish #13 (November 1960), “I Challenged… Groot! The Monster from Planet X!”
This giant tree of a man named Groot has come to Earth to capture a sampling of its inhabitants and take them back home to Planet X. He plans to place humans in a zoo as well as experiment on them.
The story is so tight, so succinct and perfect that could have easily been made into a film. Written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber with art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers, it hits every classic note found in many of the low budget sci-fi movies of the day.
It has absolutely everything. The milquetoast scientist, the nagging spouse, the invader who can’t be stopped by the guns, fire or weapons, the scientist finding a wildly original way to stop the menace, and the alien dying at the end.
The story may seem familiar, but there is something indefinably special about what the creators did. There is a strange heart inside the tale. When Groot lies dead at the end, you feel sadness in the same way that you feel for King Kong when he is lying on the pavement in Manhattan.
Groot is a perfect example of one of the best things to come out of the early Silver Age, and perhaps the same is true in this era: the idea that a creator can come in and give new life to even the most obscure character while staying true to their origins.
With Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy due to hit theaters August 1, 2014, it may prove interesting to watch the price of this first appearance issue.