Nebula: How the Guardian of the Galaxy Went from Comics Villain to MCU Hero

One of the most pivotal characters in last year’s Avengers: Endgame is Nebula, the daughter of Thanos. Portrayed by Karen Gillan, the character made her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy before resurfacing in its 2017 sequel and 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. While the former villain would find her own personal redemption and join the cosmic superhero team, playing a huge role in saving the entire MCU in Endgame, her original comic book counterpart is far different, becoming the surprise main antagonist of the Marvel Comics crossover event The Infinity Gauntlet before finding her own turn as a spacefaring antihero.

Created by Roger Stern and John Buscema in 1985’s The Avengers #257, Nebula was introduced as a space pirate and mercenary that had commandeered the enormous space cruiser Sanctuary II following the apparent death of Thanos with her own band of cutthroat figures from around the cosmos. Claiming to Thanos’ granddaughter, Nebula targeted the Skrull Empire for conquest after previously laying waste to the Xandarians. The Avengers, led by Monica Rambeau’s Captain Marvel, teamed up with the Skrulls to repel Nebula’s attack, with the pirate swearing revenge. Seizing a device from a scientist on Earth, Nebula absorbed the vast powers of the Infinity Union and threatened the fabric of reality itself before the Eternal Sersei was able to separate her from the device, negating Nebula’s new powers and leading to her defeat once more.

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Upon his resurrection, Thanos seized control of Sanctuary II once more and used his newfound power to turn her into a seemingly mindless shell of herself, burned beyond recognition. After Thanos used the fully powered Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out half of all sentient life in the universe and defeated the surviving superheroes that attempted to seize the gauntlet from him, Thanos gained cosmic omnipotence and began to expand his consciousness while his physical form lay comatose. Nebula took this opportunity to claim the Infinity Gauntlet for herself, restoring her physical appearance and capabilities while plotting to increase her ambitions of conquest on a universal scale. Fortunately, Nebula was less adept wielding the gauntlet than Thanos and was defeated by the revived heroes resulting in her and Thanos’ actions being undone while she was taken to Titan to stand trial.

During her imprisonment, Nebula was transformed into a cyborg by Doctor Mandibus, fitted with extensive cybernetic implants and artificial limbs that augmented her already lethal abilities. Nebula would cross paths with cosmic superheroes in an antagonistic capacity in the years to follow, facing defeat at the hands of Starfox, Silver Surfer, Adam Warlock, and more. By the start of the cosmic comic book crossover event Annihilation, Nebula had fallen under Gamora’s service, battling against Ronan the Accuser only to be gravely wounded during the event. Following Thanos’ death during Infinity Wars, Nebula joined Starfox as part of his Dark Guardians before leaving to pursue her own agenda after leaving the team.

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The cinematic Nebula was established from the outset as Thanos’ daughter, constantly living in the shadow of her adopted sister Gamora. Every time Gamora bested her in a duel, Thanos forcibly had Nebula fitted with a new cybernetic part to improve her. The years of resentment reached a breaking point when Nebula decided to join forces with Ronan to use the Infinity Stone of Power for themselves in open defiance to Thanos. Though Ronan was defeated, Nebula fled before being tracked down by the Sovereign months later and remanded to the Guardians’ custody. United against a common threat in Ego, the Living Planet, the two sisters made peace leading to Nebula assisting the Guardians and Avengers in Infinity War and Endgame.

Whether a self-serving mercenary plotting for galactic conquest or a cosmic antihero searching for her quantum of redemption among the heroes of the Marvel Universe, Nebula is one of the more nuanced characters in both the comic books and MCU. And while the comic book incarnation has not quite eluded her antagonistic background, the MCU incarnation is guaranteed to thrill audiences once more in the eventual third Guardians of the Galaxy film, with Gillan reprising her fan-favorite role.

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Nebula began as a committed comic book villain. Here's how the the Marvel Cinematic Universe transformed her into a superhero.

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