Long before the Guardians of the Galaxy were cinematic heroes, Groot was a slightly different creature. In the MCU, he may be cute and beloved, but on his introduction, he was primed to be one of the best Marvel villains.
Groot dates back to 1960, for Tales to Astonish issue 13, by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Dick Ayers, Stan Goldberg, and Ray Holloway. Marvel wasn’t quite Marvel at this point, still holding onto the Atlas Comics brand and putting out lots of different anthology books rather than committing to superheroes.
Tales to Astonish delivered pulpy sci-fi; quick stories often featuring aliens or futuristic worlds. The former was where Groot came in, as an invader from Planet X to take over Earth. That doesn’t sound like one of the best MCU characters, from the best science fiction movies in the franchise, does it?
In the short story, Groot plans to make Earth part of a space zoo for the people on his homeworld. Weaponing our trees and forestry, those who survive will be rounded up to live in glass cages on Planet X, gawked at by other Groot-like monstrosities. The horror!
You can see the link between Groot and ecology even then, although with how it all goes, I’m not sure there was any kind of profound message intended. Groot does a lot of damage and scares plenty of civilians, but a plucky stand against him, using termites to save the Earth once more.
A classic, The War of the Worlds-style twist ending that relies on a combination of alien stupidity and our glorious eco-system protecting us. The tale only lasts seven pages, as was the purview during this era, and even reading it now you don’t sense Groot was ever meant to be much more than just another one-off.
But come 2006, he became part of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos, and the rest is history. Groot would join the Guardians of the Galaxy cast, and become a pop culture icon to rival the biggest in Marvel’s roster.
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