Who the heck are the Guardians of the Galaxy, the stars of Marvel's strangest new movie?

If you've been on the internet over the past few days, you may have noticed that Marvel Studios is moving ahead with their Guardians of the Galaxy feature film. And unless names like "Rocket Raccoon" and "Groot the living tree" ring true to you, there's a strong chance you have absolutely no clue who the Guardians of the Galaxy are.

But don't fret! The Guardians of the Galaxy aren't household names. Even in Marvel Comics continuity, the Guardians have mostly been consigned to the far reaches of the universe, righting wrongs in distant nebulae while Captain America and the Hulk fart around on Earth. Let's take a look at this ragtag gang of pulsar-hopping heroes and what we can expect from their 2014 movie.

First off, it's worth mentioning that there are two distinct incarnations of the Guardians of the Galaxy: the future Guardians (who debuted in 1969) and the modern Guardians (2008). The first team (directly below) hails from the 31st century, where an alien race known as the Badoon has conquered the Solar System. The other squad exists in the 21st century and serves to combat universe-destroying threats (like Thanos, the death-worshipping alien villain who appeared in the last 30 seconds of The Avengers). So which version of the Guardians will appear in the movie?

Who the heck are the Guardians of the Galaxy, the stars of Marvel's strangest new movie?

In an interview last month with Crave Online, Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige explained that filmmakers were looking toward the contemporary Guardians, presumably because A.) they're a wacky, Magnificent Seven-style bunch of aliens; and B.) they don't dress like a regional production of Cats shouldered with a drunk costume designer:

When you tell people, you know what would be really cool? This movie, and there's a raccoon, and there's a tree [...] And they go, "What?" And people like you know what it is, and get excited. And the majority of people go, "Did you say a raccoon and a tree?" "Oh yeah, they're going to steal the whole movie. They're hilarious." "Okay, I'll believe it when I see it." [...] It's more Star-Lord and Drax and Gamora, and less Vance Astro and that team.

Who the heck are the Guardians of the Galaxy, the stars of Marvel's strangest new movie?

The Guardians of the Galaxy have a diverse, amorphous roster, so let's focus on those characters Feige mentioned. First off, we have Rocket Raccoon and Groot. The former is a salty, sentient alien raccoon named after a Beatles song who pals around with the latter, who is a super-strong, hyper-intelligent extraterrestrial tree who can only communicate with a single statement, "I AM GROOT!" (Like the roar of Chewbacca, each utterance of this sentence carries deeply nuanced shades of meaning.)

Who the heck are the Guardians of the Galaxy, the stars of Marvel's strangest new movie?

The other characters — Star-Lord, Drax, and Gamora — round out the team's muscle. Half-alien Earthman Star-Lord (who is masked at the top of this article and unmasked at left) is your archetypical, guns-blazing space hero right out of a pulp novella. The alien Gamora (left) bears the nickname "the most dangerous woman in the universe" and was trained in the art of assassination by Thanos himself before rebelling against him. Drax the Destroyer (the tattooed guy at left) is a human who was murdered by Thanos and whose spirit was placed in the body of an unstoppable alien murder machine hell-bent on killing Thanos. So yes, this team has many a bone to pick with that California Raisin-faced alien dictator.

Who the heck are the Guardians of the Galaxy, the stars of Marvel's strangest new movie?

That above panel recently appeared in Avengers Assemble, a comic miniseries whose events are running parallel to the events of the Marvel movie universe, so it's a pretty probable indicator of who will be featured in the movie. Another character depicted there but unmentioned by Fiege is the insect warrior Bug. Because of the Guardians of the Galaxy's obscurity and sprawling circle of cosmic colleagues, Marvel could recruit a bunch of new Guardians without much complaint. Hell, most comic fans would simply be thrilled to receive a Guardians movie in the first place. Marvel has a rare opportunity here — they've garnered enough goodwill from The Avengers that they can tackle (or completely reinvent) an unknown property unfettered by audience expectations. One character I'm really hoping they squeeze in is Cosmo, a former Soviet canine astronaut who gained powerful psychic abilities in space.

Who the heck are the Guardians of the Galaxy, the stars of Marvel's strangest new movie?

The Guardians also fraternize with many other space-faring do-gooders, like Beta Ray Bill (an alien who carries a Thor-like hammer), Nova (an intergalactic space cop), and Major "Vance Astro" Victory (a time-traveling member of the original Guardians of the Galaxy who bears the long-lost shield of Captain America).

All of these aforementioned characters appeared in "The Thanos Imperative" story arc, which is rumored to provide inspiration for the film. It should be mentioned that "The Thanos Imperative" is an incredibly continuity-heavy storyline — which would be downright Byzantine to depict in two hours — but it does toss most of Marvel's cosmic heavyweights into one slam-bang adventure. Also, it has Rocket Raccoon duking it out with Thanos while piloting a mech. Who wouldn't want to see that?