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Groot's Entire Backstory Explained

Groot, Guardians the Galaxy's laconic tree creature, is an unlikely success story, even within the MCU. The arboreal Avenger says the same three words every time he saunters, shuffles, or dances onto the movie screen — and the public goes wild for it. When it's voiced by Vin Diesel and animated by Marvel, "I am Groot" is all audiences need to fall in love. 

But behind that quick catchphrase and Baby Groot's adorable design lies a rich backstory. Only the most diehard of comics fans might know it, but it's true: Groot's roots run deep. You might know him as a tall, wooden testament to the power of CGI, Rocket Raccoon's quiet counterpart, or the character that made you remember how much you love ELO, but before he assumed those mantles, he'd already experienced a long and complex career in comics. This is the story of Groot, from sapling to maturity.

A monstrous origin

He might be a hero in the minds of millions, but Groot began as an outright villain. He made his debut in 1960's Tales to Astonish #13 as a member of a race of unfathomably large tree people. His size and strength are used to portray him as a horrific beast, a Flora colossi from Planet X. He reappears occasionally across the decades as either an easy villain or a sideshow horror. He even shows up in a 1997 issue of The Sensational Spider-Man as the subject of Peter Parker's nightmares.

Groot's unusual name comes from the unique vocalizations that characterize Flora colossus. Their stiff vocal cords make everything they say sound like "I am Groot" to untrained, English-speaking ears. This explanation, however, came long after Groot's introduction. Initially, Groot is much more talkative — especially when it comes to his ideas about his own superiority. The original, 1960 Groot comes to Earth with a mission typical of oversized monsters of the Silver Age: He looks down on humanity and hopes to capture them for study.

Taken down by termites

Groot's original incarnation meets a darkly comical end. The tree tyrant is taken down by a miscalculation of some of Earth's most destructive critters: termites. In Tales To Astonish #13, Groot is confronted by a biologist named Leslie Evans. This mild-mannered scientist might seem outclassed by the monster from Planet X, but Evans is a biologist who focuses on wood-eating bugs. In a race against time — Groot is planning on trapping a human city in timber and lifting it into space — Evans works up a batch of super termites and unleashes them upon Groot before he can put his dastardly plan in motion. Groot is felled, and the townspeople rejoice.

This isn't the only defeat suffered by the original Groot, however. 1976's The Incredible Hulk Annual #5 sees the wooden monster pitted against the Hulk, alongside five other Marvel monsters. Unsurprisingly, the Hulk bests them all. Here, Groot is defeated when the Hulk smashes him between two rocks — effective, but significantly less clever than termites.

An all-new Groot

Obviously, Groot did not remain a monster who stomps across the Earth, looking for specimens and promising to "doom all who dare to oppose Groot." It's a little difficult to imagine that guy on grade-schoolers' backpacks, after all. No, Groot changed — but it came long before 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy.

Groot's story was retconned when he was exhumed from the dustbin of Marvel's history, beginning with his part in 2007's Annihilation: Conquest. No longer a dispassionate monster eager to poke and prod humans for the sake of alien science, Groot became an empathetic royal from a planet of stately trees.

According to the 2013 Guardians of the Galaxy comic, Groot comes from an "ennobled sap-line" destined for great power and position. However, he is not a match for the culture of Planet X, ruled by the "Arbor Masters" who imbue all Flora colossi with their accumulated knowledge. They hold no qualms with kidnapping and experimentation, but Groot disagrees. Ultimately, Groot is exiled when he defends one of the "maintenance mammals" looked down upon by his brethren and their masters. Thus begins his journey throughout space, and ultimately, to the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Venomized Groot

Groot has had a few diversions on his journey from monstrous antagonist to MCU hero. As you might expect from such a gnarled and knotty backstory, Marvel has made time to explore some what-ifs with the lovable tree. Perhaps the strangest one has to do with Venom. That's right — Spider-Man's symbiotic villain from beyond the stars. But really, does there exist a Marvel character who hasn't been overtaken by Venom at some point?

We can't blame Marvel, really. It makes for some great art and a fun thought exercise to glom Venom onto a whole host of characters. Since death comes for no one in comics, Venom must come for everyone — and Groot is no exception. 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy #21 sees Groot taken over by the symbiote. Though Drax tears the pair apart and the Guardians carry on with their adventures, it's a terrifying moment — and, weirdly enough, makes for an adorable toy.

Early wanderings

Groot's compassion is his downfall. Enraged by the cruelty of his fellow Flora colossi against the raccoon-like creatures that care for them, he kills a fellow member of his race who intentionally harmed one of the defenseless creatures. Comics often end up applying multiple origin stories to a single character, however. Enter 2016's Rocket Raccoon & Groot #6, which portrays Groot as rescuing a human who had been taken to Planet X for experimentation. In both of these versions, Groot is exiled from Planet X.

Groot spends many years in the cosmic wilderness. His story varies from title to title, but it's clear that the Guardians were not Groot's first team. In fact, the stoic tree was once a member of S.H.I.E.L.D., as captured in 2006's Nick Fury's Howling Commandos #2. In this story, the Howling Commandos are a group of villains conscripted by Fury to fight their fellow forces of evil. Fury uses his recruitment pitch on a still-evil Groot and convinces him to join his elite team of cryptids, myths, and monsters. His compatriots include Bigfoot, Frankenstein, a vampire, a werewolf, and a man trapped in a Gorilla's body, among others. Together, they halt an attack on Earth by Merlin. Now that's a story we'd like to see make its way to the MCU.

Captured by Kree

Groot's travels have taken him far across the Marvel universe. He's worked with Nick Fury, been subject to the machinations of the alien "Arbor Masters," been bffs with a foul-mouthed raccoon, and terrorized the Earth. It was really only a matter of time before he had a run-in with the Kree, one of Marvel's most prominent alien empires. They're powerful, militaristic, and don't tend to take things lightly — naturally, our favorite wooden misfit clashes with their worldview.

2007's Annihilation: Conquest storyline finds the Kree in the midst of yet another universe-spanning war, this time against a robotic hivemind called the Phalanx. When the time comes for the Kree to recruit a shaggy space pirate and give him a team of also-rans to stop a galactic apocalypse, they pull Groot off the bench and throw him into battle. Groot, who was under arrest and sitting in a Kree jail, sees a way to earn his freedom. He joins the now familiar lineup of Peter Quill, Drax, Rocket Racoon, and Gamora. Thus, the story of the Guardians begins.

Intergalactic BFFs

Groot becomes fast friends with Rocket Raccoon, a creature who reminds him of the maintenance mammals from his home planet. While Rocket isn't a member of that servant caste, his backstory and Groot's share certain tragic similarities. Though it's only alluded to in the movies, Rocket is the result of a bleak program of animal experimentation. Groot, whose heart has always been moved by the plights of the powerless — when he isn't hell-bent on conquering humanity, that is — takes a shine to Rocket immediately. It helps that Rocket, unlike most sentient creatures, can understand his speech.

Rocket Raccoon takes his role as Groot's best friend seriously. More than once, he's rescued Groot after the tree creature was killed. Since Groot can be regrown from small slivers, Rocket will often collect a small shard of his fallen friend and replant him, caring for him until he's grown. In this sense, the furry friend is a little like Planet X's "Arbor Masters." But unlike them, he loves Groot for who he is, and considers his compassion an asset instead of a liability.

Death and rebirth

If Groot didn't live in a world defined by ludicrous comic book logic, he'd be long dead. The very first mission that the Guardians of the Galaxy take on in 2007's Annihilation: Conquest is a success, but their win against the forces of the Phalanx comes at great personal cost. Groot sacrifices himself to burn down a critical target, growing to massive size within a structure called the Babel Tower and then allowing himself to burst into flames. As a high-born Flora colossi, Groot sees honor in giving himself to the cause, body and soul.

He burns down the building and uses his last ounce of energy to catch his desperately fleeing friends in a bough. After they jump off the roof of the burning structure, Groot grows one final branch to save their lives. In a twist that's familiar to movie-watching fans, Rocket Raccoon manages to snag a Groot clipping and uses the twig to regrow his friend.Thank goodness he's not picky about potting soil.

Groot: The Movie?

While no Groot standalone movie has been announced, there have been whispers of a solo outing for everyone's favorite forest friend. The promise of an origin story (with potentially the simplest script in Marvel history) has floated around since 2017. Groot voice actor Vin Diesel told USA Today that he thinks a movie following Rocket and Groot would be a massive success.

"James Gunn has always wanted a Rocket and Groot movie," Diesel said. "And I know that Disney is very much into being successful. And the most successful poster in Disney's future is the poster that has 'Groot vs. Hulk.' ... (The world) cannot wait to see it."

Gunn further revealed how connected he felt to the characters in an interview with Deadline

"Rocket is me, he really is, even if that sounds narcissistic. Groot is like my dog. I love Groot in a completely different way," he said. "I relate to Rocket and I feel compassion for Rocket, but I also feel like his story has not been completed."