As he did when prepping for Zero Dark Thirty, Chris Pratt posted some tantilizing selfies online that got us all excited a year ago. Pratt, best known as the pudgy Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, has been getting so much attention for getting in shape to play Peter Quill in the summer blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, (just check out his Men's Fitness cover spread, and you realize he's nearly unrecognizable) that we wanted to remember what this geekfest got its genesis.
While Pratt's abs are certainly lovely and definitely helped raise "gay awareness" of the movie, Guardians of the Galaxy deserves a gay head-to-toe not for Pratt's musculature, but because the original team — the one introduced in 1969, not the one Pratt's heading on the big screen — was one of the most gay-coded comic books ever.
At its inception, the team was just four dudes cruising around the 30th century. There was Charlie-27, a muscle daddy who enjoyed "emasculating" tanks while wearing leather chest straps. Another member, Martinex, was made of the finest, hardest crystal in the universe.
And there was also Yondu, the last of a primitive space tribe who was constantly waxing poetic about the beauties of nature and his sensitive spirit. It was later revealed he would only have sex with a woman for procreation, not enjoyment. (He's the only original member who will appear in the movie; he'll will be played by Michael Rooker, Merle from The Walking Dead.)
Starhawk and Vance Astro was also an original member, but his gay subtext is so thick that we'll put him off for a moment. First, a few more homo-centric details from the first Guardians team's adventures. For example, Astro and Yondu met when Yondu was alone in the desert, participating in a male rite of passage. Also, though it wasn't spelled out at the time, it was clear that villain Batwing was into other men: he cried and cried when teammate Rhodney died and suggested he and fellow baddie Blaster cross their beams.
Meanwhile, late-addition female Guardian Nikki, a proudly butch Mercurian, was once brought to a state of ecstasy by a covey of space nuns. And the Guardians's first foes, the alien conquerers The Badoon, were a queer race indeed: the men and women detested one another and lived apart, making no secret of their disinterest in the opposite sex. This is all very well and gay, yes, but nothing compares to the relationship between Astro and another Guardian, the celestially transgender Starhawk.
Second, being 1,000 years old, Astro has to wear a special, condom-like containment suit that makes him look like a giant blue — and, later, black — penis, thus enhancing the aforementioned ejaculative imagery.
Third, since that suit, a closet of sorts, keeps him from touching other people, most of Astro's stories were about how he couldn't get laid.
At one point sexually frustrated Astro visits a San Francisco titty bar and leaves more pent up than when he arrived. Another issue finds him remembering a visit to the notoriously carnal 80s-era Times Square, an experience he found both "appalling" and "fascinating."
But Astro's nebulous sexuality becomes most complicated when examined in relation to Starhawk.
Closeted from the get-go, the male-seeming Starhawk joined the team early on, even before lesbianic Nikki, but kept a lid on his past, saying mysterious things like "I have been many men's sons" or calling himself "the one who knows." Only he knew his secret: Starhawk was both male and female, a composite being made when a man named Stakar and his adoptive sister/lover, Aleta, were fused together by an angry cosmic hawk god. You know, as happens when you disturb a cosmic hawk god.
Starhawk/Stakar, ashamed of the woman inside, hoped to hide this from his teammates, but it was eventually revealed when Aleta took control of their shared body in 1976.
Astro fell for her right away:
Then Stakar returned:
Yet even when Starhawk was a man, he and Astro had a particularly intimate relationship. Note that Starhawk is talking about fulfilling Astro's fantasies:
This sexual confusion continued into the 1990s, when, after another internal struggle with Stakar, Aleta came out again, blonder and bustier than ever.
Luckily, Astro also had a brief period of freedom from his body condom, so writers could be properly straightify their lead hero: he and Aleta promptly had sex and got engaged.
But happiness rarely lasts for long in comic books and Stakar, physically separate from Aleta, soon returned to reabsorb her. The woman, he says, was the source of his strength.
But when Starhawk physically became male once again, he and the woman inside him remained interested in Astro, a development that, you guessed it, had the dramatic Astro grappling with his own sexual turmoil. And, yes, there were lots of tantrums and internal monologues.
One of Astro's private debates:
And another, being listened to by Stakar/Aleta, who are having their own internal struggle. "I'm still the same woman he loves, regardless of my physical form," Aleta cries, as many MTF transgender people have probably said themselves.
Thus, Astro and Aleta lived happily ever after. Well, as happily as a couple dealing with the dramas of a symbiotic containment suit in which Astro once again found himself. The story's meta-closet remained the same.
In the end, though, time was rewritten (which happens a lot in comic books), Aleta and Stakar and Astro were never an item and all of that gender-bending drama was swept aside so that Pratt's Peter Quill and his gang could take the Guardians franchise.
Sadly, there's no gay drama on the new team, which on the big screen will include Pratt's Peter, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, and Lee Pace as Ronan, but at the very least we'll have Michael Rooker as Yondu, so maybe we'll see a bit of his ambiguity in 3D?
(UPDATE: A reader informs me that the current Guardians narrative, the one in the current monthly, not the movie or the 90s-era series, includes two lesbians, Moondragon and Phyla. Just so you know...)