The Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s outlaws-with-hearts-of-gold, are more popular than ever, starring in three popular silver screen films and scores of compelling novels and comics. One of those cosmic tales is the sprawling, multi-comic epic Annihlation: Conquest, starring many of the heroes featured in the Marvel Studios films long before director James Gunn’s first Guardians installment hit theaters. The story centers on conflicts between civilizations, the realities of war (even in a science fiction universe), all with the Guardians caught in the middle.
Today, Titan Books released Guardians of the Galaxy – Annihilation: Conquest by Brendan Deneen, taking the sprawling epic found in the comics and distilling it to its core, as well as adding a new origin story of how the team came together. Mr. Deneen is no stranger to the Guardians’ world, having written four bestselling picture books featuring Baby Groot and Rocket (seriously, they’re adorable—check them out). Having built an impressive bibliography in novels—graphic and otherwise—he shows that the Guardians are in great hands.
Mr. Deneen spoke with me recently about the idea of Guardians of the Galaxy – Annihilation: Conquest, his personal history with the Guardians, what the characters mean to him, and how a pitch for a baby Dr. Doom book led to his book working with the space-faring heroes.
FreakSugar: Before we get into the book itself, what is your personal history with the Guardians of the Galaxy, either as a fan or a creator?
Brendan Deneen: I grew up reading comics in the late 70s and the entire 80s. And when I saw “reading comics,” I mean READING COMICS. When I graduated from high school in 1990, I had 15,000 comics in my closet (which seems slightly insane in retrospect). I read pretty much every single Marvel and DC title during that time, and my earliest (or at least most visceral) memory of the Guardians was the Korvac Saga in The Avengers. The team was (obviously) very different back then!
I wasn’t really reading a ton of comics in 2007-2008, when Annihilation: Conquest ran as a Marvel event, so I was only vaguely aware of it. Like everyone else, I saw the GOTG movie and was blown away by it — it was funny, exciting, and it felt like watching a comic book in movie form.
FS: How did you come to be involved writing this book?
BD: Years ago, I randomly pitched Marvel/Disney a picture book called Good Night Doom (featuring a baby Dr. Doom). After multiple calls/meetings, we ended up changing it to Night Night, Groot, which came out a month before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The book was such a monster hit that I ended up writing three sequels, all of which sold incredibly well.
In an unrelated situation, years later, Steve Saffel, an editor at Titan Books, read my second adult novel (the horror book The Chrysalis) and asked me if I would be interested in writing an original Morbius novel, with an eye towards it coming out shortly before the Jared Leto movie. I’ve always loved Morbius as a character, so I jumped at the chance.
After that book came out, another editor at Titan, Fenton Coulthurst, reached out, asking if I would be interested in writing a Guardians of the Galaxy novel in time for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Since I had written a Morbius novel for Titan and had written four Rocket and Groot picture books, he thought I was the perfect person for the job. I was, of course, VERY interested.
He then informed me that the book would be based on Annihilation: Conquest. I told Fenton that I wasn’t really interested in writing a straight novelization of that (or anything, to be honest) — but if I could make the story my own, while staying true to the general plot and characters, I would do it. He/they agreed, and we were off!
FS: What can you tell us about the conceit of Guardians of the Galaxy – Annihilation: Conquest?
BD: That’s a great question, because the comic book series/event was a sequel to Annihilation (another massive Marvel event), and took place over multiple series, with TONS of characters. I had to distill all of that down to a streamlined, three-act story with fewer characters, and write a book that didn’t feel like a sequel. It was important that anyone (a hardcore comic book fan like me OR a casual fan of the movies) could pick up the book and completely understand what was happening. In the novel, a cybernetic race called the Phalanx start taking over planets, with an eye towards total galactic domination. They are being led by an entity whose identity is not immediately known. The Kree Empire, who is decimated by this attack, puts together a ragtag group of heroes (or anti-heroes), who don’t rely on advanced technology to get the job done, and therefore will be able to take on the technologically superior Phalanx, and their mysterious and incredibly powerful leader.
FS: What was the process like adapting the story to prose form?
BD: I had so little time to write this novel—two months—that I only read a synopsis of the entire comic book series/event. I also dipped into the comic books a bit, but I was strapped for time AND I didn’t want to be too heavily influenced by the original event. Like I said, it was important to me to stay true to the essence of what made the original work, but also write my own version. I went back and forth with Titan and Marvel on my synopsis, until we were all satisfied with this new version, and then I got to work — and fast!
FS: The Guardians have really come into their own in the last 10 years or so, but of course their comic tales stretch decades. Why do you think readers have such love for these characters?
BD: Old school comic fans like me have always loved these characters, but they have never been hugely popular like the Avengers or even the Fantastic Four. The first GOTG movie was a total surprise — it’s a real testament to the original Annihilation: Conquest event, that screenplay, those performers, and James Gunn’s direction.
By the time you finished the first movie, you felt like you were a part of that dysfunctional family. And I do think that the creation of Baby Groot was a stroke of genius. After Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 came out, Baby Groot was EVERYWHERE (including in my four picture books!). And honestly, all of those characters were just so great, so well-drawn, and so relatable for different reasons.
What’s great about the GOTG in the comics is that the roster is constantly changing, like the Avengers. You never know who’s going to be in the next version of the team — and that’s half the fun.
FS: Is there a character that surprised you or you grew more affection for as you wrote the book?
BD: I absolutely LOVED writing the core Guardians — and there were four other characters that I was able to use that were a blast to write: Nova (Richard Rider), Moondragon, Quasar (Phyla-Vell), and Adam Warlock. But as much fun as all of those characters were, the one that was most surprising to me was Wraith. This was a character that I had never even heard of until I started doing research for this novel. I drew from the original Wraith series (which is great) but was also able to change and expand his character/story to a certain extent, and gave him a very different ending in the novel. He’s a fantastic character. I honestly hope that I get to write a Wraith comic book series for Marvel someday!
FS: Following up on that, what has been the most rewarding part of working on the book?
BD: After writing four bestselling Rocket and Groot picture books and now a GOTG novel, the most rewarding part of this entire thing has been how associated with these characters I have become. I’m no James Gunn or Chris Pratt, but I feel so honored to have written FIVE books starring these characters. As mentioned above, I grew up reading TONS of comic books, so this has all been an absolute dream come true.
FS: Is there anything else you’re working on at the moment that you’d like to discuss?
BD: I have a Mad Max-esque sci-fi/romance novel titled Tracer coming out in 2026 from Blackstone Publishing. I’m also writing an original novel set in the universe of one of my all-time favorite sci-fi film franchises — but I’m not allowed to announce it yet, which is killing me! That one will be coming out in 2025. There’s also a chance I’ll be writing a Flash Gordon middle grade novel with none other than Sam J. Jones (who played Flash in the 1980 film) — but that’s a deal that’s still in the works. We shall see!
FS: Are there other Guardians or other heroes you’d like to tackle again in novel form?
BD: There are a ton of other characters that I’d love to tackle — either in novel form or in a monthly title. I really enjoy writing sci-fi and horror, and I love obscure characters, so it might be fun to try something like Deathlok (Marvel) or The Night Force (DC). But honestly, what I want more than anything is to try my hand at a monthly book from Marvel or DC. I’ve written books for both companies now, but it’s my dream to write a “floppy” comic series for either or both companies.
FS: If you had one last pitch for potential readers, what would it be?
BD: This is a book that shows the Guardians of the Galaxy coming together in a brand-new way. It’s different than the comics, and it’s different than the movies. This is MY version of how they become a team, even though it is obviously inspired by the comic event series. But if you’re a fan of the comics or the movies, and you’d like a new way in to this incredibly fun group, I think this is worth a read. We are Groot, after all!
Guardians of the Galaxy – Annihilation: Conquest is on sale now from Titan Books.
From the official novel description:
Fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy, those interested in Marvel’s cosmic heroes and villains, and readers of space opera.
The Kree Empire is knocked back on its heels when the Phalanx, a cybernetic race that converts hosts using a techno-organic virus, seizes control of Hala, the Kree homeworld. The person who accidentally brought the Phalanx right to the heart of the Kree Empire? Peter Quill, otherwise known as Star-Lord.
The remnants of the Kree are in utter disarray, their massive technologically advanced fleets totally susceptible to Phalanx control. Eager to make up for his genuine mistake (and without much choice), Star-Lord and a rag-tag team (Rocket, Groot, Gamora, Drax, and Mantis) are drafted into service to help turn the tide. Can a small group of poorly equipped mercenaries and misfits defeat the Phalanx before they consume the known universe?
Outgunned and outmatched, the Guardians of the Galaxy race to find anything or anyone who could hold the secret to stopping the Phalanx, a quest that will take them to the fringes of intergalactic civilization, and a shocking foe at the heart of the threat.