There’s a long lineage of cosmic visions in Marvel Comics. The Fantastic Four were only a few years old when co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced Galactus, a supra-sentient spacegod who literally kills planets for breakfast. Kirby, in particular, loved exploring the cosmos, and his legacy led bold creators like Jim Starlin and Steve Gerber to map out the outer reaches of the Marvel Universe’s many galaxies.
That cosmic tradition faded from prominence during the grimdark age of superheroes, but never really went away. And in the work of writer-director James Gunn, the Marvel Cosmos has received its most prominent showcase… well, ever. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 remixes some iconic figures from Marvel Comics with Gunn’s own candy-colored space opera vision. And, in what feels like some kind of wild dare, Gunn’s film ends with a whole series of credits-adjacent stingers, all of them potential guideposts for the future of the Guardians series and the whole Marvel universe. Let’s dig in, shall we? (Kabillion Spoilers Ensue.)
Before the Credits: Nebula Unleashed
After playing a secondary antagonist in the first Guardians, Karen Gillen’s Nebula returns in the new film as an uneasy ally to the space adventurers. She ultimately comes to peace with her stepsister Gamora — and sets off on her own mission of heroic vengeance. Nebula departs Vol. 2 on the hunt for Thanos, the monstrous warlord who raised her to be a psychotic assassin. Thanos, as hopefully everyone knows by now, is the primary antagonist of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a pivotal role in next year’s megafranchise-unifying Avengers: Infinity War. That film’s plot will be loosely derived from The Infinity Gauntlet, which prominently features Nebula. We haven’t seen the last of her.
Credits 1: Kraglin the Brave
The first and least narratively essential end-credits sequence finds Yondu lieutenant Kraglin experimenting with his (recently deceased) boss’ whistle weapon.
I bring this scene up because we’re about to dive deep into some deep comic book lore. And it’s important to note that what makes the Guardians movies special is how – unlike some comic book franchises which just throw together a lot of famous stories adding nothing new, like if some goofball made The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman into one single movie for no reason plus also Wonder Woman – Gunn has carved new ground with some characters. Like, this is the whole history of Kraglin in Marvel Comics. (Also worth pointing out: Kraglin is played by Gunn’s brother Sean, who also works overtime as the on-set Rocket stand-in.)
Credits 2: Ravagers of the Galaxy
Sylvester Stallone appears early in Guardians 2 as Stakar, a mysterious and somewhat paternal figure for Yondu. It’s established that Stakar represents some larger force of Ravagers and that Yondu himself is an outcast, having broken the Ravagers’ outlaw moral code by running children back to Ego’s planet.
At the end of Guardians 2, Yondu has rescued his reputation (and the universe, sort of) at the expense of his own life. His old Ravager pals show up. If you’re a typical moviegoer – or even if you’re someone like me, who hasn’t read 30-year-old Guardians of the Galaxy comics in a long time – you experienced this scene in the following way:
WHOA, VING MOTHERF—ING RHAMES!!!!
WHOA, MICHELLE MOTHERF—ING YEOH!!!
…was that speaking machine Miley Cyrus?
In the second post-credits sequence, Stallone’s Stakar assembles his “old team,” expressing some sadness that they only got together because of the death of Yondu. But now, having gotten together, they want to stick together. “Let’s go steal some sh–,” says Stakar.
Ving Motherf—ing Rhames is playing a character named Charlie-27. Michelle Motherf—ing Yeoh is Aleta. The glass-looking dude is named Martinex, played by Michael Rosenbaum. And the machine is called Mainframe, indeed voiced by Miley Cyrus.
Besides Mainframe, all of the characters in this sequence share a common ancestry: They were all members of the Guardians of the Galaxy team in the comic books. In Marvel history, the Guardians have had various permutations – and the Peter Quill-fronted team that provides the film’s main inspiration only debuted in the 2000s. From the ’60s through the ’90s the Guardians were a superteam from Marvel’s far-future. And I would never say they were “boring,” because their adventures involved crazy far-out space adventures and ultimately trended into weird time travel flimflammery. But they were definitely a little more square: Each of them the last member of their race, fighting for good, generally not stealing sh–.
It’s a nifty way to honor the Guardians’ history but also reboot it. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, these characters are old rogues, a crew of Expendables contrasted with fast and furious youngsters like Star-Lord and Gamora. Don’t expect a Ravagers spinoff just yet, but James Gunn told BuzzFeed that Cyrus could factor into the next Guardians film. Presumably, if Miley’s in, Sly’s in.
Credits 3: The Power of… HIM!!!
Throughout Vol. 2, the Guardians are pursued by Ayesha, leader of the golden-skinned species comprising the Sovereign. The Sovereign initially seem like your garden-variety outer-space gene-fascists, focused on the perfection of their bloodline and eerily upset over the robbery of some batteries. By the end of the film, Ayesha’s pursuit of the Guardians has left her fleet decimated. There’s the implication that she’s about to be called to task for this, but she already has another plan. She’s created something new, something that will definitely prove to be the Guardians’ undoing. We see a weird ectoplasmic biomechanical cocoon, and she declares, “I think I will call him Adam.”
The cocoon and the name “Adam” are telltale signs. Inside of that cocoon is a golden man of unbridled power who, in the comics at least, is ultimately known as Adam Warlock.
Adam Warlock’s comic book history is wonderfully confusing. It ties directly into some major comic book events, and it also spirals off into its own weird directions. Initially, the character was known only as “Him,” a weird laboratory creation built by one of the the Fantastic Four’s many mad-scientist nemesis branches. He was created by Lee and Kirby, and could’ve been one of a hundred one-offs they were cranking out in their prime. Then Roy Thomas and Gil Kane launched the character into his own series. Newly named “Adam Warlock,” he became a literal Christ Figure, a new Messiah exploring an extremely ’70s version of Earth.
And then things really got weird. Jim Starlin sent Warlock out into the cosmos and embroiled him in a willfully strange, explicitly philosophical, and all-around freaking incredible ongoing story arc. (If you have 22 dollars, put them here now.) Warlock met Thanos, fought a Church, fought himself. Starlin’s writing is lysergic, his drawing phantasmagorical. There is the constant and explicit possibility that the hero of the story is going crazy, or already there.
So: Adam Warlock is joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How? In the comic books, Warlock was a key figure in the Infinity Gauntlet and the various tie-in stories focusing on the Infinity Gems, renamed Infinity Stones in the movies for no reason. It’s unclear but unlikely that Warlock will appear in Infinity War – there are already so many people in Infinity War, freaking Nebula is in Infinity War – so this seems more likely to pay off in the third Guardians movie. That film is currently undated, but Gunn himself promised on his Facebook page that Vol. 3 will pick up after Infinity War and set the stage for the future of Marvel’s cosmic adventures.
So it seems likely that Adam Warlock will be a villainous figure in Vol. 3. Maybe even the villain? Adam Warlock’s story often intersects with Thanos in the comics. And if Thanos lives on after Infinity War – if he remains a diminished antagonist figure, battling the Guardians or possibly allying with them against some newer evil – it’s likely that Warlock will play a massive role in the third film.
And then he’ll get his own movie in 2025, let’s say. Matt Bomer seems like he’d make a good Adam Warlock, or Trevante Rhodes, or weirdly even Alex Pettyfer would finally make sense in a movie for once. Anyhow, let’s get to the good stuff already!
Credits 4: Teen Groot
Teen Groot! He’s a teenager now!
Credits 5: Who Watches the Watchers?
Stan Lee’s cameo in Guardians vol 2. gets split in two. He first appears earlier in the film during Rocket and Yondu’s merry megajump across the galaxy. Lee’s talking to some big bald guys on a distant space rock. This scene reappears as the final stinger of the movie. Lee specifically mentions his past as a FedEx guy – a reference to his cameo in Captain America: Civil War. Ultimately, the big bald guys walk away, while Lee yells after them, “I’ve got more stories to tell!”
Those big bald guys are Watchers, a race of extraterrestrial beings that Lee co-created with Kirby, in the same story arc that first introduced Galactus. The Watchers represent one of the most cosmic branches of Marvel’s larger universe, a race that is simultaneously remarkably powerful and totally passive. They watch what happens – live! – and are sworn to never take any action. One Watcher in particular, Uatu, is stationed on Earth’s Moon.
RELATED: See All of Stan Lee’s Marvel Cameos
Because Stan Lee has appeared in essentially every Marvel-derived movie for a brief cameo, popular theories have sprouted up that he is actually the same character in every movie – a theory that depends on Lee being some essentially omniscient and immortal character. Fortunately, there are several characters who fit that description, and many people have concluded that Lee is actually a Watcher.
This sequence is an explicit nod in that direction, although you can read this scene as proof that Lee is a Watcher (albeit some kind of renegade) or proof that he definitely isn’t a Watcher (because he isn’t giant and bald and the other Watchers don’t seem to like him very much.) Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige recently endorsed the idea that all of Stan Lee’s cameo characters are the same person, which is either a totally mindblowing concept or just a cute thing to say. Assuming it’s a mind-blowing concept, my own theory is that Lee is actually Korvac. No, no, he’s Eternity! Wait, no, he’s the Beyonder, but like Secret War II Beyonder!