While watching the trailer to the new Marvel Comics movie "Guardians of the Galaxy," I was stunned to see a guardian called Groot. I swear he was in a comic book decades ago. Or have I mixed him/it up with another monster? -- Steve Murray, of Fairview Heights
Rest assured your comic scholarship is still tree-mendous. I, too, nearly dropped my tub of buttered popcorn when I watched Groot lumber across the screen with Drax, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and Peter Quill, the leader of this motley quintet that grew out of an earlier team from 1969.
Having not followed comics closely since my high school days, I was astounded that this silly character who hardly deserved a story, much less an entire book, was now starring in a $200 million movie, voiced by Vin Diesel no less. Yet I knew in the dark recesses of one of my Silver-Age comic boxes, I had kept the actual comic you remember.
Sure enough, I quickly pulled out Tales to Astonish No. 13 from November 1960. "I Challenged Groot! -- The Monster from Planet X!" screamed the cover, which, of course, pictured this skyscraper-tall wooden menace promising to lay waste to humanity if it did not obey.
I can't remember how I acquired it. Later in the '60s, I bought Tales to Astonish because it featured Hulk and Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. But this book came out even before Marvel Comics started putting Marvel Comics (or "MC," at least) on its covers in June 1961.
This particular comic was issued by Zenith Publications, but it was no zenith in the career of comic legends Jack Kirby and Dick Ayres. In just seven pages, the duo managed to introduce the most fearsome creature since Godzilla -- and then kill him off in a way that would leave even Homer Simpson saying, "D'oh."
Naturally, "I Challenged Groot" makes it look like the human race is up a tree (so to speak) when this oaken space alien that has pigged out on Miracle-Gro suddenly lands on Earth one night.
"Fool -- none can withstand the mighty Groot!" he boasts when our hero the biologist promises to destroy it before dawn. "You are doomed!"
Groot, of course, has an ingenious plan. He has the power to grow by sucking up all wooden objects -- watch out, Mueller Furniture -- while enabling Earth's own trees to walk. The ultimate goal: wrap a town in their roots and blast it off to Groot's home planet, where Earthlings will serve Groot's clan. (Exactly how we possibly could be of use to a race of giant trees is beyond me.)
I know what you're thinking -- how about a good shot of napalm or two? Sorry, His Horribleness is impervious to fire. Fortunately, though, Groot did not bone up on his entomology before zipping across the universe. So with Page 7 rapidly approaching, Kirby and Ayres came up with a perfectly logical demise: Have the biologist breed millions of termites (in just a few hours) and turn them loose.
"Oh, darling, forgive me!" our hero's doubting girlfriend coos as fellow townsfolk prepare to chop up the now-dead Groot for kindling. "I've been such a fool! I'll never complain about you again! Never!"
In my mind, that should have been the end of this sorry tale, which was followed in the same book by the equally forgettable "I Found the Abominable Snowman!," "My Friend Is Not Quite Human!," and "I Found the Hidden World!" (all those exclamation points for just 10 cents.)
But characters never die in the comics universe if they might be good for a few more sales -- and so it was with Groot. After the story was reprinted in 1970, Groot was resurrected in 1976 when he joined five other TTA golden oldies in the fifth Incredible Hulk annual.
Thirty years later he, pardon the pun, branched out into a Nick Fury series and now continues his rejuvenation as a noble, heroic creature in "Guardians." I'm now "Grooting" for the movie to be a big success because I see that my comic has become a "hot, rare" item on the Internet with prices in the $500-$3,500 range.
Or is money still the Groot of all evil?
Why are stations showing so many Christmas movies this month? -- F.R., of Dupo
I'm sure you've seen stores run Christmas in July sales, haven't you? I suppose they figure the thought of snow and carols will take your mind off the summer heat and put you in the mood to buy. (Of course now that many businesses start putting up holiday decorations in August, there's less need for them.)
Well, TV channels -- Hallmark, for one -- think it's a pretty cute idea, too. So, since you can never see "Miracle on 34th Street" or "A Christmas Story" too many times, they're giving you another chance midway through the year.
Who was Marvel Comics' first superhero-type character?
Answer to Wednesday's trivia: If the word "pineapple" brings thoughts of the surf and warm breezes of Hawaii, you'd better expand your horizons. Pineapples are thought to have originated in an area between southern Brazil and Paraguay before being spread elsewhere.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-239-2465.