The Marvel Unlimited app is a gigantic, messy cache of awesome and terrible old comic books: a library of 13,000 or so back issues of Marvel titles, available on demand for subscribers with tablets or mobile phones. Like any good back-room longbox, it’s disorganized and riddled with gaps, but it’s also full of forgotten and overlooked jewels, as well as a few stone classics. In Marvel Unlimited Edition, Eisner-winning critic Douglas Wolk dives into the Unlimited archive to find its best, oddest and most intriguing comics.

Two spin-offs of Guardians of the Galaxy launch in recent weeks: The Legendary Star-Lord and the already-surprise-hit Rocket Raccoon. Marvel Unlimited's got a fairly thorough, if not quite complete, selection of most of the Guardians' previous appearances, especially the ones in the Annihilation/Annihilation: Conquest/Annihilators sequence. But their prehistory is worth digging into, too, and there's some choice proto-Guardians material in the archive.

  • Tales to Astonish #13 (1960)


    Tales To Astonish Groot Kirby Ayers Lieber


    The first Guardian to appear was Groot, one of the monsters-of-the-month in the earliest incarnation of Tales to Astonish. (He was cover-featured there a month after Gorgilla, the Monster of Midnight Mountain, and a month before the oversized ant Krang the Unbelievable.) In this initial story, drawn by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers and apparently written by Larry Lieber, Groot -- or whichever member of his species shares his name -- is rather more articulate than his Guardians equivalent; he also ends up being defeated by termites. Really. Look, they had seven pages to wrap up the story.

  • Star-Lord: The Hollow Crown #1 (2013)


    Star-Lord Claremont Byrne


    This one-shot from last year is actually a reprint of the first couple of Star-Lord stories, both originally published in 1976: the potboiler-ish, astrology-inspired Marvel Preview #4, by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan, and the much stronger Marvel Preview #11, an extended salute to Robert A. Heinlein. The latter was the first collaboration between Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin, who would become the creative team on the golden era of Uncanny X-Men a year later, and you can see their chemistry fall into place almost instantly. The story is reprinted in the original black and white here, along with the brief prologue and epilogue that Claremont and Michael Golden created for a color reprint in 1982.

  • Rocket Raccoon #1-4 (1985)


    Rocket Raccoon Mantlo Mignola


    Rocket's first appearance, in Marvel Preview #7, isn't available on Marvel Unlimited; his second, in The Incredible Hulk #271, is one of the app's bizarre "phantom" comics -- it appears to be there, but can't actually be loaded. The ridiculous 1985 Rocket Raccoon miniseries by Rocket's co-creator Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola, on the other hand, appears twice -- both in this original form and as a one-shot, Rocket Raccoon: Tales from Half-World, published last year. Very densely written, it starts out as a sort of hyper-violent pastiche of Walt Kelly's Pogo, and rapidly flies off in several dozen directions at once. Mantlo seems to have treated the project as an opportunity to attempt the sort of free-form satire Steve Gerber had pulled off with Howard the Duck; it's also fascinating to see Mignola getting to draw some really weird things years before Hellboy began.

More From ComicsAlliance