Across nine Marvel Studios superhero films we’ve only ended up with two female superheroes -- superspy Black Widow and Asgardian warrior Sif. In the comics that serve as the inspiration for these films, women are much better represented, and that’s part of the reason so many fans -- male and female -- feel frustrated that Marvel Studios seems reluctant to add more women to its roster. These heroes are shoulder to shoulder with the men in the Marvel books, so why isn’t that reflected on the big screen?
Maybe that’s why I get so excited seeing Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy, in promotional images for the upcoming film. The other reason is because of her legacy as a cosmic Marvel character, ripped from the imagination of comic creator Jim Starlin and made flesh by Marvel Studios. For longtime fans, it’s hard to believe. To the outside world, this is a Marvel “C-lister,” but to readers who’ve followed the long saga of Adam Warlock and Thanos, this is a corner of the Marvel universe that we never imagined would’ve seen the light of day (certainly not in the wake of executive decisions like making Galactus a giant space cloud in Fantastic Four instead of a giant humanoid alien).
“The Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy” was introduced in 1975 (Strange Tales #180) as an ethical assassin with a reputation strong enough to send her targets running at first sight. These issues of Strange Tales chronicle Adam Warlock, a man constructed to be a second Messiah by the Thor villain the High Evolutionary, in pursuit of the literal personification of his darker traits, a purple-skinned mirror version of himself called the Magus. I know that sounds complicated, but the comics are a blast, predating Star Wars’ swashbuckling in space and adding just a dash of counterculture psychedelia to the mix.
Gamora is on a mission to dispatch the Magus, and if she can’t accomplish that, to take out Warlock since the Magus only exists because of him. We learn in short order that she’s doing this for Thanos (the despot floating on an asteroid at the end of the Avengers film, for those reading along with just the movies as their guide), who sees the Magus as a threat to his superiority. Thanos raised Gamora as a daughter after rescuing her as the last of her race at the hands of conquering aliens and has trained her to be his own personal weapon. In truth, Gamora almost always finds herself at odds with her adopted father, siding with good when push comes to shove.
For nearly 40 years, she’s been an expected presence whenever Thanos or Adam Warlock show up in comics. Before Guardians of the Galaxy, she was a trusted member of Warlock’s Infinity Watch, a hand-picked team entrusted to keep the Infinity Gems away from those who would abuse their power (Warlock and the Infinity Watch started in 1992 and ran for 42 issues). Before that, she was costarring in one of Marvel’s biggest event comics of all time, the classic Infinity Gauntlet miniseries, which pitted Thanos against all of the major faces in the Marvel universe. This is a character who, despite her lack of a presence in Marvel’s licensed merchandise (destined to change this summer), has been around for a good long while in several major storylines.
I have to admit that there’s a part of me that’s also tickled at the idea of Adam Warlock in a movie (the cocoon which gives him birth appears in the postcredits stinger of Thor: The Dark World), now that we have Thanos and Gamora on the table. We’re so far removed from just 10 years ago, when studio execs would wring sweaty hands over whether or not people would buy big fantasy in their superhero flicks. We will. We bought it in the comics that drew us to superheroes in the first place; we’ve been waiting for the movies to catch up. Guardians of the Galaxy gets people excited because it signifies those days are over.
Guardians of the Galaxy gives Gamora a visual upgrade from the comics, trading her fishnet stocking unitard of the '70s for something more leathery and functional on film. “She’s relentless, she’s lethal, she’s rough,” says Zoe Saldana on Gamora. “She can kill you, but she has a heart of gold and I like that about her.” That’s the character in a nutshell, and it’ll give Saldana a chance to steal the show if the talking tree and gun-toting raccoon aren’t careful.
Guardians of the Galaxy, a James Gunn film starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista opens August 1, 2014. There are 109 days till release.
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