By now, you might have heard about the interview Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn did with The Movie Crypt where he goes into detail about characters that he wanted to use in the film but couldn’t. In case you haven’t, here’s the gist of the comments:
There’s characters that I’ve been interested in that I’m not allowed to use but I won’t go so far as to say I definitely would have had them. There was a really good chance Bug was going to show up in the first movie but we do not own him… but, anyway, that was going to happen, perhaps. Listen, I really love Rom: Spaceknight, as everyone at Marvel knows because they’ve given me Rom stuff… but we don’t own Rom. I would love for Rom: Spaceknight to show up because I love his story, I love the way he looks, I love everything about him…
There are other characters, but basically, some characters we can work around and we can use. Listen, I wanted to use the Badoon, but the Badoon we don’t own… they’re really interesting. They would be like the cannon fodder guys who were like the Sakaaran in my movie… I wrote them as Badoon but I just did a search-replace-Sakaaran when I found out we didn’t have Badoon. It was strangely late in the process when I found that out. They were designed as Badoon.
While Gunn stated that he could use those characters because Marvel didn’t own him, this will cause a number of comic book fans to scratch their head.
Rom would be the only one fans would not have a question with. Rom was a space knight who traveled the universe to track down a vile alien race called the Dire Wraiths. Rom did star in a Marvel Comic book from 1979 to 1986, but Marvel only licensed the character from Parker Brothers, who came out with a Rom the Spaceknight doll, seen to the right. While the toy flopped and the comic book was a hit, Marvel was unable to hold on to the license after the comic book’s run. Rom eventually returned back to Parker Brothers, and the character has never appeared (other than in legally dodging ways) in a Marvel Comic book. This is the reason why the series has never, and likely will never be, reprinted and the character’s crossover appearances in other books face the same fate.
Bug’s ownership is more in doubt. He, like Rom, first appeared in a comic book licensed from a toy company that debuted in 1979. The Micronauts were based on a toy line manufactured by Takara Co. Ltd and was published by Marvel from 1979 to 1984, with a second series, Micronauts: The New Voyages, published from 1984 to 1986. Bug appeared in the first three issues of the original series under the name of Galactic Warrior, which was the name for one of the toys in the line, before being renamed Bug for the remainder of the concept’s time at Marvel.
The character has made a number of appearances after Marvel lost the Micronauts license, including his own one-issue series in 1997 and time as a member of the comic book version of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Brian Cronin over at Comic Should Be Good theorizes that Marvel was still able to use the character because the comic book design was different from the Galactic Warrior toy, so the name change made the character a unique Marvel creation (one of a number in the series, by the way). But perhaps present day Disney lawyers didn’t want to risk having to defend the “name-change-as-form-ownership” in a court of law, and forced Gunn to err on the side of caution.
The Badoon being on the non-use list was puzzling. The scaly alien race existence as a Marvel creation was not in doubt. They didn’t first appear in a toy tie-in, but in an issue of a comic book Marvel own the complete and utter rights to.
However, that comic book was Silver Surfer, Vol. 1, #2. Since the aliens appeared in a comic starring Silver Surfer, and Silver Surfer first appeared in the Fantastic Four comic book, the Badoon’s film rights are apparently owned by 20th Century Fox, who holds the Fantastic Four rights. Yes, even though the aliens have appeared in just about evey comic book and are vital to the creation of the Guardians of the Galaxy (they conquered the Earth and were the enemy the original incarnation of GotG were formed to fight), because they first appeared in a spin-off of the Fantastic Four, Marvel cannot use them. Odds are that Fox won’t use them either.