Last week, I covered Rocket Raccoon in this space. Rocket, despite the fact he’s an incredibly familiar character these days thanks to the MCU, started off as a more cute sort of character compared to the more misanthropic character he is these days.
Rocket’s partner Groot actually did the opposite: he was originally a villain.
Back in the early 60s, before Marvel first published the Fantastic Four, the company’s work was mostly devoted to Westerns, the Archie-like adventures of Patsy Walker, and monster comics. That’s why many of the early Marvel superheroes appeared in books with titles like Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish. These books often featured weird monsters, many who were probably only intended for a single appearance, who would show up, terrorize humanity, and then be defeated by some generic white guy.
It was always a generic white guy.
Anyway, Groot first appeared in Tales to Astonish #13 from November of 1960. The story was produced by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Larry Lieber (Stan’s kid brother), and while these days he is mostly known for what sounds like an incredibly limited vocabulary, he was actually rather talkative seeing as how he was an alien invader.
This Groot is an alien from Planet X from the branch worlds of the Flora colossi. These were tree-like aliens that had a lot of wood-based abilities, and even something like functional immortality. But the original Groot came to Earth to conquer humanity until a generic white guy showed up with the Marvel equivalent of a board with a nail in it, namely termites.
Yes, Groot was defeated by termites. He even appeared to be dead.
Groot wasn’t, obviously or this would be a very short column. He reappeared, sort of, as a light construct when original Hulk Xemnu created a bunch of recreations of old Marvel monsters to fight the Hulk everyone knows.
Yeah, I probably should cover Xemnu one of these days.
The real Groot reappeared when he was actually locked in the Collector’s zoo. Said zoo was apparently in Canada. Yeah, I would have thought another planet, but it was Canada. Anyway, the exhibits did escape, rampaging through New York City until they were rounded up and shot into the Negative Zone. Groot would later be recruited by SHIELD’s paranormal group and put onto a variation of the Howling Commandos.
Eventually, Groot, still a guy with a big vocabulary, got into space and met his longtime friend and partner Rocket (as far as many people know) in the Annhilation Conquest crossover story where Peter Quill needed to put together a squad of random allies to fight the Phalanx after those aliens had conquered the Kree.
Groot there was something of a surly grump who thought he was above all that, but he and Rocket must have bonded because when that Groot appeared to have been destroyed, Rocket saved a cutting that eventually grew into a new Groot. Oh, and that was the point when Groot’s famous catch-phrase started.
That Groot eventually grew up to be the more recognizable character he is today, a somewhat comic relief character who (most of the time) is only capable of saying what sounds like one thing but is actually his species’s entire language. Yeah, there have been comics where he has, for one reason or another, been given a more expansive vocabulary, but he’s basically known for saying “I am Groot” in various ways.
Also, while James Gunn made it clear that his Groot died in the first movie and the subsequent Groot was the original’s son, the comic version is always the same Groot, hence the functional immortality. Versions of Groot have been blown to bits and regenerated at various rates of speed. One of my personal favorites came from the most recent Secret Wars. The Beyonders had managed to destroy the entire multiverse save what Dr. Doom, having inherited their vast power, had saved in one hodgepodge world called Battleworld, a planet crawling with alternate versions of all kinds of Marvel characters. Reed Richards had managed to build a lifeboat with a handful of heroes onboard, including Star-Lord who spent the entire story chewing on a toothpick. That was until he was getting his head handed to him in Doom’s throne room and tossed the toothpick into the throne, built as it was out of the Asgardian Worldtree Yggrassil. Apparently, the toothpick had been Groot the entire time, and planting him that way produced one giant Groot, one big enough to stand up to Galactus outside the castle.
Regardless, the gentle giant with a heart of gold eventually migrated over from the movies when a Groot solo series revealed that the original Groot was actually a secret nice guy going through the motions to avoid problems at home.
But in the meantime, there’s been the MCU’s Groot, and between Groot and the Iron Giant, I think it’s safe to say Vin Diesel’s best acting has always been his voiceover work.
I seem to be on a roll right now, and I think it’s safe to say James Gunn took the most liberties with the characters he took the MCU. I should probably cover a few more of them.