By now, you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t at least heard about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The trailer for Avengers: Endgame dropped last Friday morning, and racked up 289 million views within the first 24 hours. The previous record was held by Avengers: Infinity War, which got 230 million views. The superheroes— and supervillains— of Marvel Comics have always been a staple of pop culture, but thanks to the popularity of the MCU, their profiles have skyrocketed even further. Even lesser-known characters are getting their chances to shine in the mainstream spotlight.
The butt-kicking, self-serving assassin Nebula is one of them. Played by Doctor Who icon Karen Gillan, Nebula’s fame (or rather, infamy) has increased steadily thanks to her appearances in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies in addition to Avengers: Infinity War.
Nebula’s done some extraordinary feats with her cybernetic body, recovering from seemingly fatal injuries in just a few moments and fighting off her enemies with ease and dexterity. Her bright blue skin catches the eye whenever she’s on the screen, but Thanos' least-favorite daughter's secrets are more than skin-deep. With Avengers: Endgame set to be released in April 2019, it’s time to dig deeper into the details of Nebula’s anatomy. The list below contains spoilers for the movies in the MCU as well as some of Nebula’s comic book appearances.
If you need a quick primer before she returns to movie theaters for Avengers: Endgame, here are 20 Wild Details About Nebula’s Anatomy.
With Thanos out of commission in the comics, Nebula takes control of Sanctuary II and claims to be the granddaughter of the Mad Titan. She wreaks havoc as a space pirate, spreading chaos across the galaxy. That is, until Thanos returns to get his ship back.
Thanos doesn’t believe that Nebula is his granddaughter, and essentially burns her alive. She turns into a creepy zombie-like being, not quite alive yet not quite deceased either. Her body is pretty much decstroyed, and her mind is also torn to shreds. In fact, Thanos goes on to reveal that he regards Nebula as his greatest creation, as she’s stuck in a limbo between life and the great.
As it turns out, Thanos probably should’ve ended Nebula’s life when he had the chance. Cunning as she is, Nebula eventually gets her hands on the Infinity Gauntlet and heals her damaged body. Thanos basically astral projects, sending his mind into the universe to take the place of Eternity after defeating him. This leaves his body defenseless, and Nebula takes the opportunity to steal the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos’ prone body and rejuvenate herself.
The MCU does make several changes to the character’s story, but since we know for a fact that Nebula will be in Avengers: Endgame, maybe they’ll incorporate elements of this story arc. Obviously Gillan isn’t allowed to reveal much, but she did hint at a confrontation between Nebula and Thanos.
Nowadays, when folks think of Nebula, a bald blue alien comes to mind, made of flesh and cybernetic implants. However, when she made her first appearance in The Avengers over 30 years ago, she actually rocked a whole different aesthetic. Nebula had a fully organic body without have any apparent injuries. Plus, she sported a full head of luscious long dark hair. The metal components that she’s now known for come later.
In the Silver Surfer comics, she’s freed from a prison with some serious injuries. Nebula’s right-hand man, Geatar, contacts Doctor Mandibus, an alien surgeon with a creepy skull-like face. Not much is known about Mandibus, but he gives Nebula cybernetic enhancements to help her survive.
According to the All-New Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Luphom— the homeworld of the Luphomoids— is destroyed by Galactus, and very few survivors are left of that alien race. Nebula is one of these survivors, alongside Kraa, Xira, and Zorr. Since there are only four of them left (that we know of), there’s really not much known about the Luphomoids other than their general appearance and their superhuman powers.
In addition to claiming to be the granddaughter of Thanos, Nebula has also claimed to be the daughter of Zorr. If Nebula’s telling the truth, then that also means Kraa is her uncle and Xira is her aunt. They would be quite a formidable family if they ever learn to get along.
The Infinity Gauntlet isn’t the only powerful trinket that Nebula gets her hands on. In The Avengers comics, Nebula takes control of the Infinity Union, a combination of three cosmic devices that allow her to control all kinds of ambient energy. She could change her size, teleport, and protect herself from physical harm.
Nebula and Gunthar eventually figure out the frequency that the Infinity Union uses to transfer energy, and give Nebula a brain implant to direct the energy straight to her. She then becomes so powerful that she forced the universe in and out of existence several times. The Avengers struggle to fight her until Sersi removes Nebula’s brain implant, thus significantly weaking the Luphomoid.
As we mentioned earlier, not much is known about Luphomoids as a species. For all intents and purposes, they pretty much seem like extra powerful, extra fast, extra resilient humanoids with bright blue skin.
That being said, there is official confirmation of just how powerful Nebula is in particular. The Nova Corps has classified her as a “Universal” threat level, according to Annihilation: The Nova Corps Files. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe places her at a 4 for strength on the Power Grid, meaning she can lift from 800 lbs to 25 tons. Sure, her speed isn’t particularly spectacular, but she’s rated 6 for energy projection, which means she can discharge multiple forms of energy.
Gal Godot is perhaps best known for playing the titular character in Wonder Woman, the DC hit that went on to break records left and right. She’s also going to reprise the role in the much anticipated sequel Wonder Woman 1984 set for June 2020. However, Godot might’ve missed out on the Amazonian warrior had she auditioned for the role of Nebula.
In an interview back in 2013, Godot reveals that she was considering a job for which she’d have to shave her head and get covered in blue paint. Does that ring any bells? Director James Gunn has clarified that she was never offered the role and that he doesn’t remember if she auditioned at all, but given the timing of Gillan’s casting announcement, it certainly seems plausible that Godot was in the running.
As a behemoth in the entertainment industry, Marvel has released a ton of tie-in materials for the MCU, including a comic book prelude to Guardians of the Galaxy. The comics delve even deeper, showing how vicious the rivalry between Gamora and Nebula really is. In fact, Gamora is the reason why Nebula gets her cybernetic enhancements in the first place.
During a training session on Dervani, Nebula and Gamora compete with each other to get their hands on a data ingot for Ronan. Gamora narrowly avoids falling down a cliff, holding onto some vines for dear life. She tricks Nebula into helping her, asking to team up. However, when Nebula offers her hand, Gamora tosses Nebula down the cliff instead, shattering her body in the process.
Nebula’s most notable cybernetic replacements are the visible plates on the left side of her body, including her entirely mechanical left arm. They go even further than that, as Nebula reveals in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It turns out that Thanos has even ripped out her brain from her skull. You can even see the less apparent augmentations in Avengers: Infinity War when she’s held captive by Thanos.
Based on Nebula’s phrasing, it seems like Thanos has entirely replaced her organic brain. Plus, he does have access to her memory files in Infinity War. Considering the technological advancements in the MCU, it wouldn’t be surprising if Thanos had found a way to literally pull Nebula’s whole brain out and replaced it with a cybernetic cerebrum.
Nebula goes through extensive cybernetic modifications to help her heal from some serious injuries, but Thanos isn’t content with simply fixing her bones. As he says in the prelude comics, “flesh is weak” and as a result, Nebula’s got a whole host of gadgets up her sleeve.
Among the myriad enhancements is her tempersteel claws, which have been built into not only her metal left arm, but also her right hand. Thanks to these claws, she’s able to climb up the exterior of the Cloud Tombs of Praxius without handholds of any kind as she pursues the Orb. Despite the gruelling process of getting mechanical parts, Nebula does admit that she’s grateful for her cybernetic joints.
In all her appearances in the MCU, Gillan’s been pretty much unrecognizable underneath all the intricate makeup, costumes, and special effects. Gillan goes through some drastic physical changes to transform from beloved Doctor Who character Amy Pond to the ruthless alien assassin Nebula. Training and shaving off her iconic red locks were only the tip of the iceberg.
In order to achieve the full effect, Gillan had to sit in makeup for five hours for the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. That being said, practise makes perfect, and the team was able to cut the prep time by 50% for the sequel, shaving it down to “just” two and a half hours, much to Gillan’s relief.
In a confrontation with Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Nebula lists a bunch of “upgrades” that Thanos pushed on her, saying that he pulled her arm from her body. The prelude comics, however, reveal that he kind of forced her to do it herself.
Nebula was eager to prove herself against Gamora, and charged into one of the Cloud Tombs of Praxius without a fully-formed plan. She wound up getting trapped in a Laser Thorn Energy Net. Gamora came to her rescue, but only partially. Thanos ordered her to leave Nebula behind to test her strength. Gamora handed her a metal knife but it won’t cut the net, so Nebula severs her own arm to escape.
Since all of her cybernetic upgrade procedures are done by others, it can seem like Nebula’s just a passive recipient of the technology. She quickly shows that she’s more than capable of doing her own repairs, too.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, she and Ronan are summoned to the Sanctuary by the Other on Thanos’ orders. The Other and Ronan argue back and forth about Gamora’s betrayal and the loss of the Orb while Thanos sits on his throne. Meanwhile, Nebula’s chilling on the side and fixing her left arm with a laser beam, staying out of the quarrel until Ronan decides to snap the Other’s neck after he yells at him for being loud and disrespectful one time too many.
By now, plenty of actors have undergone extensive training to keep up with the physical demands of their super-powered roles. Gillan is no exception, especially since Nebula is a highly-trained warrior with a wealth of practical experience under her belt.
Just as Gamora is always a step ahead of Nebula, Zoe Saldana also had the upper hand over Gillan for the fight scenes. Gillan says that it would take her a lot of effort to be able to rehearse fight sequences with Saldana. A fight scene would take Saldana two rehearsals to master, whereas Gillan needed around a full month.
The discrepancy is understandable, since as Gillan points out, Saldana is a trained ballerina with a plethora of action films under her belt. While Gillan laments that she’s not as physically fit as her co-star, she adds that she had fun whenever they worked together.
Nebula’s probably best known from her appearances in the MCU. After all, nowadays, whenever someone utters the words “Marvel Comics," the MCU comes to mind for the average consumer. She also up in the cartoon series Marvel Super Hero Squad, with a full head of hair like her original comic design. This time though, she’s Thanos’ sister, taunting the Mad Titan and ridiculing him with anecdotes from their shared childhood.
The height difference is also much smaller in the cartoon version. In the MCU, Thanos is over 8 feet tall while Nebula is around 6 feet, so she wouldn’t even reach his shoulder. In the cartoon she’s goes up to Thanos’ chin. She’s voiced by Jane Lynch, giving her a much different vibe than Gillan’s portrayal.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, Nebula confronts Gamora, hurling insults at her adoptive sister until she’s cut short by Drax shooting her and sending her flying. It’s quite a funny moment that pokes fun at the long tradition of villains speechifying on and on before they start any attacks. However, it’s followed with a cringe-inducing scene with Nebula recovering from the blast.
Nebula should be incapacitated, but her cybernetic implants reset her joints, pushing her jaw back so that it seems like nothing ever happened. In fact, Nebula is still able to fight Gamora right after sustaining the injuries. On top of that, she doesn’t seem to have any external wounds either despite the fiery explosion.
With her many cybernetic enhancements, it can seem as though Nebula were invincible and immune to pain. She literally puts herself back together within moments of being blasted by Drax, and doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit affected by the blow. That said, she does feel pain, as is shown aboard the Sanctuary II in Avengers: Infinity War.
Thanos holds Nebula in captivity after having caught her during her attempt to end his life. In order to force Gamora to reveal the whereabouts of the Soul Stone, Thanos puts Nebula in agony by ripping her cybernetic parts from her organic body. Thankfully, she quickly recovers and escapes when one of Thanos’ underlings reassembles her.
Nebula might not be one of the most central characters in the giant cast of the MCU, but she still plays an undeniably pivotal role. After her cinematic debut in Guardians of the Galaxy, she was brought back for the sequel and Avengers: Infinity War, and will even be returning for Avengers: Endgame.
However, Nebula wasn’t actually supposed to make it through the first movie at all. Gillan revealed that Nebula perished in the original script. Thankfully, the final version of the film has her survive, and she’s given an expanded arc that allows Gillan to explore more of her backstory. Plus, she gets more scenes with Gamora as well, making the most of Gillan and Saldana’s chemistry.
Apart from giving Nebula enhanced physiology, the cybernetics in her body are also capable of receiving direct messages. In an epic action sequence in Guardians of the Galaxy, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot fight their way out of Kyln, the prison run by the Nova Corps. After the reluctant team escapes with the Orb aboard the Milano, Ronan and Nebula arrive on the scene and interrogate the surviving guards for info on Gamora.
Nebula then receives news directly on her cybernetic implants that the Nova Corps had sent a fleet to reclaim the prison. It’s certainly a convenient way to relay messages, but getting bombarded with notifications straight into your mind must get pretty annoying.
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