By Geoff Boucher
Updated February 06, 2013 at 03:45 PM EST
CapeTown: Comics
Credit: Marvel

Even as Marvel Studios turns toward the stars with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the same is true in the pages (and pixels) of Marvel Comics. On Feb. 27, the inaugural issue of Guardians of the Galaxy, the ongoing comic book series, arrives at stores on the Marvel app to draft off the interest in the 2014 film that was announced last summer, just got a star, and represents the most unexpected Marvel adaptation since Lucasfilm’s Howard the Duck in 1986.

For the moviegoing public that recognizes Captain America and Thor but scratches its collective head when the Guardians are mentioned, the series is a entry point into the scruffy charms and deep-space heroics of the team members: Star-Lord, Gamora, Groot, Rocke, Bug, and Iron Man. Wait, Iron Man? Yes, Brian Michael Bendis and artist Steve McNiven (the tandem behind Avengers Assemble) are bringing Tony Stark into the fun, which raises some interesting possibilities for the film doesn’t it?

NEXT: Nova No. 1 cover

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Even if Guardians film doesn’t have Stark, it may have a hero masked in gleaming metal — Nova, the cosmic protector who was first introduced during the Carter administration but is now getting a fresh revision with Nova No. 1, on sale Feb. 20 (on shelves and Marvel app) from Jeph Loeb with art by Ed McGuinness. Loeb, the one-time Heroes executive producer and Smallville writer, took over as Marvel’s head of television in 2010 (giving him some recent animated history with the rocket-speed hero).

EW caught up with both Loeb and Bendis — two key voices in the Marvel inner circle — for the Q&A below and a conversation about the cosmic past and cosmic future that’s written in the stars. We’ve also got exclusive look at the artwork for these additions to the long history of Marvel in deep space.The first few pages (some of which have not reached the coloring stage) show Star-Lord, the leader of the Guardians, in a showdown of words and a crash landing on Earth; below that you’ll find a sampling of Nova’s first issue which shows the juxtaposition of his student life with his widening view of the cosmos and its strange alien sights.

NEXT: Q&A with Brian Michael Bendis and Jeph Loeb

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: For you guys, why these character and why now?

JEPH LOEB: We knew these were characters that Marvel was looking to really beef up. The fact that Nova is on the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series on Disney XD and then the fact that we’re making a Guardians of the Galaxy movie — sorry Brian if that was a spoiler — and these were characters that we always loved. Comics are like movies or television — you pitch to get it. I pitched this story about Sam Alexander and Nova and recapturing that wonder and plugging into what’s been going on in the Marvel Universe. It was not something we really had in our library at the moment. I was talking to our editor-in-chief and he said it really feels like Peter Parker meets Luke Skywalker. And with that and the incredible art by Ed McGuinness, I’m a very happy guy.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

NEXT: Think Peter Parker…in space

Going back to the original series, the first Nova No. 1 hit stands in 1979, so I’m sure the Skywalker family and the Jedi universe was a pulse in the project…

JL: I just remember reading those books and that they were a lot of fun and that he was a new young hero, and as time went by he was really good at what he’d done and become a champion in the universe. This is a chance to get back to ground zero with that story and tell it with a new hero with a new attitude. The comic-book series takes place [chronologically] well before the animated series, but hopefully for people watching the animated series, Nova is someone that folks will have some investment in. In the animated series, Sam has been Nova for a while and he understands his powers and he’s met other superheroes. When we start the comics series, he doesn’t know what a Nova is and watching Sam Alexander get the Nova power is like watching Peter Parker get bitten by the radioactive spider.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

NEXT: Bendis on inheriting old favorites

The classic appeal of Spider-Man, the hero who starts off like the reader… he’s not an alien orphan or billionaire orphan or magical orphan. There’s a lot of history behind these characters, but Nova and the Guardians aren’t as deeply defined. For you that’s an opportunity, though, right?

BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: There’s something special — and Jeph knows this too — when there’s a character that you’re a true fan of and you get a chance to introduce that character to a lot of people and then [watch as] it becomes their favorite character, too. It’s literally second only to creating a new character. It’s happened to me numerous times, like Luke Cage or Spider-Woman, where I’ll take this character that’s not being used or not being used right and put them in a book the way I would want see them as a reader. When that takes off, it’s the best. And with Guardians, that’s a whole pile of characters I think are super, super cool.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

NEXT: Hollywood acorn grows into Groot love

They certainly qualify as unique. As a young Marvel reader I remember them and the Champions and the Defenders as being wonderfully offbeat. I can imagine it’s alluring to bring them front and center and turn a spotlight on them.

BB: They are in a really interesting predicament in the Marvel Universe and unlike anyone else’s situation. It also shines a light on the Marvel Universe from a different angle than anyone else so that’s very, very exciting. And it is satisfying [to reinvigorate] characters you feel a sentimental attachment too, but you can’t force the issue or fabricate that attachment. You have to truly love it and write it in a way that’s different enough to be distinctive but hold on to the things that made you love it as a reader. I have also have the benefit of consulting on a movie since the beginning of its earliest stages when it was this little acorn before it was on its way to become this Groot tree they’re making. So I had a chance to research the characters, commiserate with other members of the committee ,and talk a lot about bringing these characters to life. It was a chance to rev up my interest in this corner of the Marvel Universe.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

So the comics series came later as a separate project? It wasn’t a planned part of the path?

BB: It was separate from there ever being a book to write and when the book became a thing that Marvel wanted to do I was very grateful they asked if I’d be interested because they certainly had heard how passionate I had become about the characters. Nothing bad can come from a process like that. The book is coming together great. Steve McNiven is drawing and he’s one of the great artists at Marvel and, like Nova this is Marvel’s best foot forward as far as quality. And it shows how much they care about the characters.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Jeph, can you talk a bit more about Nova and his place in the cosmic scene? Like Green Lantern at DC this is a human chosen for duty in an interstellar peace-keeping corps that is spread out in space like federal marshals of the Old West. But unlike DC’s Hal Jordan this hero is younger and more wide-eyed…

JL: I love the notion of a kid in a small town going off on an amazing journey. It’s a real small town, too, believe it not, called Carefree, Ariz. I was very aware of the kinds of movies that Steven Spielberg made with E.T. and to a certain extent what J.J. Abrams was capturing in Super 8; that kind of small-town story where something extraordinary happens to you. He’s a kid who believes his whole world is never going to be bigger than his own backyard and through a series of adventures finds out that his backyard is as big as the whole universe.

NEXT: Marvel’s Cosmic 60s and 70s

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

The cosmic adventures introduced in Marvel Comics in the 1960s were often in the stories of the Fantastic Four, Thor, and the Silver Surfer, but as it branched out into the tales of Adam Warlock, the Guardians, and Captain Marvel, it was a remarkable and trippy mosaic. What did those out-there stories mean for you guys?

BB: It was unfettered imagination. It was fitful creators, too, who felt like the comics page was too small for them. I’ve studied this a great deal and guys like Jim Starlin, they were trying things that the newsprint couldn’t even handle. It was bursting with imagination. And for readers if you were comfortable, if you knew what you would get with Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four, here were these other books that were just wild cards. Sometimes they went to far, they were a little crazy and out there and probably too much for a lot of kids to comprehend or get through. But look at all the things that sprung from it that we absolutely love now.

NEXT: Rocky, Rocky, Rocky!

JL: They were in their own magic way mind-bending and they spoke to the times. This was the late 1960s and early 1970s and people were looking for alternative ways to look at their heroes and alternative heroes, for that matter. I wouldn’t stop at what [Nova creator] Marv Wolfman and [Thanos creator] Jim Starlin were doing at the time. For me I was really influenced by the Silver Surfer, one of my favorite books, because it was really old school, because it was Stan Lee and John Buscema, but it had this look and feel that was absolutely fascinating and powerful and the Surfer was the quintessential anti-hero. A guy who did not want to fight and he’s the hero of the book. And that boxes you in, which is what Stan was having so much fun with.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

BB: I loved when things in the 1970s and into the 1980s started moving closer to the center of the Marvel Universe with something like the Infinity Gauntlet, where Starlin crazy-slammed right into the middle of the Marvel Universe, and half the heroes are dead and you’re reading this gorgeous book, with George Perez art, and you’re thinking, ‘What is happening, how can this be — I don’t see the end of this story?’ It was very, very exciting for me as a young reader. That was an inspiration toward what we’re doing with Nova and Guardians: instead of being thrown out there in the ether of the Marvel Universe, we’re heading toward the gooey center. The Guardians are going to be dealing with things that are on Earth, near Earth, and threatening Earth. You take crazy ideas and rub them up against the expectations that readers have and that’s when you maybe get something interesting. And the things that are already exciting or scary in the ether become much more exciting and even scarier when they come to Earth.

NEXT: Write it down: Korvac in Avengers sequel

That’s funny because as you say that, I realize how true that was for me as a young reader. I wouldn’t have identified myself as a “cosmic” fan — I was more of a Spider-Man and Daredevil fan — but if you asked me my favorite cover ever it would be Silver Surfer No. 4 and if you asked me what my favorite Marvel story ever was in that era, I might have to say the Korvac saga, which was cosmic as it gets.

BB: That is exactly how I felt about myself. Where I came from, my crime-comics roots, came from loving Frank Miller’s Daredevil — but if you say what else was there with it? It’s all this stuff, the cosmic stuff, and it seeps into all my work. So I feel exactly what you’re saying, you’re exactly right.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

JL: The impact of the cosmic stuff goes everywhere, too. In the 1960s the Marvel books, especially, were new concepts on top of new concepts on top of new concepts; you were going to new worlds, meeting new characters, finding a new mythology, and it was just amazing. Imagine picking up Journey into Mystery No. 83 and finding Thor and trying to figure out his world as Stan and Jack [Kirby]. It must have been super-cool and it just expanded the possibilities. And that’s one of the things that’s really hitting home for us right now as creators [across Marvel] — these are not the same toys in the same box that we usually play with. Having had the luck to write the Hulk, Spider-Man and the Avengers, that stuff is awesome, but then to go work on characters like this? It’s a different kind of awesome.

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Read more:

Guardians of the Galaxy

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 122 minutes
  • James Gunn