Megafranchise megabad Thanos got his official introduction in Guardians of the Galaxy , two years after his quickie appearance in The Avengers . As played…
Credit: Marvel

The superhero movies released by Marvel Studios tend to downplay the more outré elements of their source material. Even the Thor films have mostly held back on the elaborate space-god architecture of the comic book’s mythology, defaulting to a few familiar fantasy-genre elements (evil elves, shining cities, magic-as-plot-shortcut). Not so with Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie which dives deep into a few different deep-space cultures. Perhaps fearful of scaring people off, the movie’s first act drops a lot of exposition grenades about the key points of Galaxy‘s Galaxy. Even if you can’t tell the Kree from the Xandarians, it’s made very clear who’s the bad guy (an unrecognizable Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser) and who the good guys are (the Nova Corps, aka Space-SHIELD.)

Still, the movie throws a few bits of ambient cosmic-Marvel lore in your face, not all of it immediately explicable. So let’s take a look at some of the big questions from the movie. First, and most obviously: that post-credits scene? SPOILERS, natch.

Who was that duck wearing clothes sipping a green drink in the wreckage of the Collector’s museum?

As rumored, Guardians of the Galaxy introduces Howard the Duck to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most people probably remember Howard from the Howard the Duck movie, which is unfortunate, since the Howard the Duck movie is a travesty. The character always deserved better. Created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik, Howard headlined one of the great ’70s comic book runs. Gerber and artist Gene Colan took the duck in several unusual directions, crafting stories that blended satire and counter-culture cartoonishness. The Howard the Duck book had a significant cult following, which makes it a bummer that it’s a bit hard to find nowadays. (Marvel published an “Essential” Howard compendium over a decade ago, which you can buy used on Amazon for a decent chunk of cash.)

In the end-credits scene, it’s clearly established that Howard was a captive member of the Collector’s menagerie. In the comics, Howard didn’t necessarily interact much with the cosmic characters, but his origins were extraterrestrial, and his adventures took him to some surreal places. What makes Howard’s appearance all the more fascinating is that the character has long been embroiled in legal disputes: Disney threatened to sue Marvel due to the character’s resemblance to Donald Duck, back in the halcyon days before Disney owned Marvel/everything, and Gerber himself sued Marvel after being forcefully expelled from writing the book. Gerber did return to the character for a 2002 miniseries Howard the Duck revival–which, among other things, featured Howard the Duck having a conversation about copyright law with God in Hell. (Not joking!) Gerber passed away in 2008; if you’re interested in learning more about the (endlessly fascinating) Howard saga, I’d recommend checking out my former EW colleague Sean Howe’s book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

So does this mean there will be a Howard the Duck movie?

Probably not anytime soon, although the mere fact that Howard the Duck had a showcase moment in a major feature film strongly implies that Marvel has plans for the character somewhere in their 10-year plan. Marvel Studios isn’t commenting on the character’s appearance–they won’t even say who voiced the duck–but it’s wholly possible that he could pop up in the Guardians sequel, or in the background of the Dr. Strange movie (which is set in a dimension-hopping milieu that isn’t too far removed from Guardians‘ cosmic arena.)

Let’s back up for a second. What was the magical purple thing that everyone wanted to get their hands on?

Guardians of the Galaxy features a scene where Benicio Del Toro handily maps out the story of the Infinity Stones, six magical cosmic rocks that are basically formed out of the energy that existed before existence. We’ve actually seen two of these Infinity Stones before. Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers focused on the Tesseract, the blue-tinted all-powerful Thing that grants its owner godlike abilities. Thor: The Dark World introduced the Aether, a red-tinted all-powerful Thing that grants its owner godlike abilities. The orb in Guardians contains a third Infinity Stone, a purple-tinted all-powerful etc., etc., etc. Guardians gilds the Infinity Stone stuff with a little bit more information–it’s vaguely implied that mere mortals can’t hold a stone without imploding, which retroactively explains why the Red Skull went kablooey in Cap but doesn’t really help us understand why the Aether “infected” Natalie Portman in Thor: The Dark World.

Why should I care about the Infinity Stones?

Because, in all probability, they are going to be the Macguffin that ultimately connects all of Marvel’s far-flung franchises together. The comic-book analogue to the Stones were the Infinity Gems, which granted their wearers very specific abilities. (The Time Gem = control of time. The Space Gem = control of space. The Soul Gem = the power of “heart” in Captain Planet.) When the gems were brought together, they formed the Infinity Gauntlet, granting the wearer the ability to do, well, everything. And the person most often associated with the Infinity Gauntlet is none other than Thanos, who first appeared in the post-credits scene of The Avengers and who gets his first real showcase in Guardians of the Galaxy.

So but what, exactly, is Thanos doing in Guardians of the Galaxy?

Reply hazy; ask later. When Ronan the Accuser visits Thanos, it’s clear that he’s been operating as an agent for the Big Purple Guy, retrieving the Infinity Stone for Thanos. This basically makes Ronan the Guardians‘ version of Loki in the Avengers: recall that Loki was working for Thanos, and had basically been promised ownership of Earth. At this point, though, Thanos’ precise purpose is as abstract as his spaced-out throne room. If he just wants to get ahold of the Infinity Stones, why does he keep sending traitorous lackeys to pick them up for him?

It seems likely that 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy sequel will feature Thanos in some capacity; at the end of the movie, both Drax and Gamora still have some kind of score to settle with him. Although most reports claim that the character won’t appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there’s a popular theory that he’ll be the Big Bad in Avengers: Tokyo Drift or whatever the superteam threequel will be called. Of course, it’s also entirely possible that Marvel is planning a standalone crossover movie that will unite all of their heroes in a battle against the Mad Titan. (Coming 2020: Marvel’s Infinity.) The point is: Purple Josh Brolin sure was cool, right?

Who is Peter Quill’s father?

One of the more non sequitur subplots of Guardians focuses on the background of lead character Star-Lord. His dying mother tells him that his father was an angel; we later learn that his father was some kind of extraterrestrial, who sent Yondu and the Ravagers to deliver Peter to him. Actually, his father isn’t just some kind of extraterrestrial: According to the medical readings of Nova Corps, Quill appears to be the son of some kind of very ancient, very powerful being, which is why he was able to survive holding the Purple Infinity Stone before his teammates also helped him survive by using the power of friendship or whatever.

So who’s the daddy? In the comics, Quill was an alien-human half-breed, but his father wasn’t a particularly remarkable alien. Could the big-screen Guardians retcon Peter’s origins with a new, more powerful father figure? If so, there are several tantalizing options from the Marvel Comics cosmic arena. The idea of a cosmic being who comes down to Earth and then disappears sounds a little bit like the Beyonder, the uber-powerful being who made every Marvel character fight in Secret Wars before basically undergoing his own version of Stranger in a Strange Land with Secret Wars II. The mind also runs to The Stranger, a mysterious demi-god whose origins are somehow more ambiguous than the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s possible that Marvel could be setting up Peter as the scion to one of the Elders of the Universe, although that seems too heady for such a fun-times franchise. Personally, I’d love it if Quill is related to Adam Warlock, one of the greatest and weirdest characters in comic book history, but throwing Adam Warlock into Guardians of the Galaxy 2 feels a bit like suddenly cutting a few scenes from Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life into a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

It’d be more interesting if Peter is somehow related to a previously introduced character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like, there’s no way he’s Thanos’ son, right? No woman would ever refer to an eight-foot-tall purple monster as “an angel,” right?

So what will happen in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel?

James Gunn provided some little hints in an interview with Film Divider, saying that he wanted to do more with Yondu and Nebula (hooray for blue people!) and also that he already has the story of Peter Quill’s father mapped out. The film itself offers a few tantalizing possibilities. The most tantalizing: The brief appearance by the Celestials, an all-powerful and horrifically opaque race of megabeings who travel the universe passing judgment on entire civilizations. The Collector references the Celestials briefly, complete with a brief look at a being that resembles the classic giant-robot look from the comic books. (If Guardians whet your appetite for space-opera cosmic craziness, I recommend checking out the short Thor story arc “Alone Against the Celestials.”)

There’s an outside possibility that Guardians 2 could cross over more directly with Marvel’s other series. Thor: The Dark World sent Asgardians to visit the Collector; Guardians 2 could return the favor. (Possibly adding fuel to this theory: The fact that Marvel seems to be in zero hurry to crank out a Thor 3.) And Peter doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to get back to Earth, but he might wind up in our solar system. In the comic books, Thanos hailed from Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

Got more spoiler-y questions about Guardians of the Galaxy? Ask in the comments below, and let’s see if we can answer them!

Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Movie
  • 122 minutes