Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

shark4Dear Reader, if it hasn’t become apparent at this point that I’m a fan of sci-fi B-movies, then I apologize for neglecting to reveal such an essential aspect of my personality. Thankfully, there’s a new Kickstarter campaign ready and willing to meet all of my B-movie needs while feeding my religion + intelligence + humor = Happy Sam formula. See my reviews of James Asmus, Jim Festante, and Rem Broo’s The End Times of Bram and Ben as well as Justin Aclin and Nicolas Daniel Selma’s S.H.O.O.T. First for further proof. So, with that frame of reference in mind, I’m very pleased to present Sharkasaurus!

Written by Spencer Estabrooks with art by Tyler Jenkins and based on Estabrooks’s short film of the same name, Sharkasaurus is, in the words of its creators:

…a horror comedy that pits creationists and paleontologists against the prehistoric Sharkasaurus. The story follows a pair of star-crossed lovers; the rebellious emo son of Paleontologist falls for the promiscuous daughter of a widowed creationist. After they accidentally awaken a prehistoric tunneling dino-shark, they must evolve their ideological difference or succumb to the inevitable jaws of Sharkasaurus. Set on the Heavenly Holes creationist themed golf course, the story is full of satire, incredible death scenes and epic one-liners. The characters, although stereotypes, are flawed but cheer-able heroes marching forward towards enlightenment and death.

shark1

First and foremost, the book is  about evolution and promises readers the satisfaction or disgust of watching characters grow and change in the face of death. It’s always in those moments of heightened emotions that we face our true nature, so I’m looking forward to watching the cookie-cutter, trope-laden characters break out of their molds once the Sharkasaurus arrives. Yes, that is a sentence I just wrote.

I must confess I’ve never seen any of Estabrooks’s work, but from the way he describes it there’s plenty to sink your teeth into – so to speak. I am, however, very familiar with artist Tyler Jenkin’s work, namely Peter Panzerfaust, Neverboy, and Snowblind. Jenkins is top notch and the preview art already has me excited for what’s in store.

If you need further convincing, check out the Kickstarter page, and the many rewards available, as well as the official website where you can watch the short film that was a darling of the indie film scene last year.

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It’s the start of a new year, so I thought I’d move forward by going backward. Yeah, I know what I said.

When I get self-reflective, especially about my decision to pursue writing, my mind wanders back to what really solidified my love for writing in the first place. And as much as I purport to be passionate about History and my profession as an Archivist, my passion for writing was a result of being a fan of the sci-fi television program Andromeda.A_77544

For those of you who somehow missed this gem of a show, Andromeda is about the adventures of High Guard Captain Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo), a man displaced in time, as he tries to rebuild the fallen Commonwealth that once united the galaxies. Along for the adventure are the ragtag crew of the junk ship Eureka Maru – Capt. Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder), mechanical genius Seamus Harper (Gordon Michael Woolvett), enigmatic alien Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram), and Magog spiritualist Rev Bem (Brent Stait) – as well as Nietzschean warrior Tyr Anasazi (Keith Hamilton Cobb) and the Andromeda’s sentient android, Rommie (Lexa Doig).

The series was created by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, based on unused material by Gene Roddenberry, and ran from 2000-2005, though admittedly only the first two seasons are consistently good. Might have something to do with Wolfe’s unfortunate departure from the show during the middle of the second season over creative differences with the studio; the bone of contention being Wolfe’s desire to steer away from primarily standalone episodes in favor of long-form storytelling. Why do I know his approach would have been better? Because when Robert Engels was brought in as Wolfe’s replacement, and the episodes became more standalone, it started going downhill fast. Not that there weren’t good episodes during Engels’s run, but the overall quality of the show took a huge dive in the third season primarily where the main characters were concerned. It’s like when Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing at the end of the fourth season and as season five rolled out under new management it was obvious they didn’t understand the characters or how they interacted with each other. The same goes for Andromeda – I’d invested a lot of time in the friendship of Beka Valentine and Seamus Harper only to watch the two characters, who essentially acted like brother and sister, drift further and further apart. Then there was that whole “Hercules in Space” debacle that was the fifth season, but that’s really not worth your time.

HarperOkay, backstory out of the way, it was around Wolfe’s departure and Engels’s arrival that I started mulling around a lot of ideas in my head; ideas that focused on how I imagined the characters interacting and how they’d react to events within the episodes. Again, I kept focusing on Beka and Harper because they had the most history within the timeline of the show and yet it went largely unexplored. So, this being the early days of internet fan forums and interactions, I found one that seemed to have the most activity and started writing what were essentially tags to each episode focusing on Beka and Harper. Entitled “Coda”, though not to be confused with Wolfe’s own “Coda” script posted after the series ended, it was my way of getting ideas out of my head and exploring what I thought was a fairly rich science fiction universe. Eventually, the forum shut down (I still can’t remember the name of it), but a new one sprung up, the still-operating ExIsle. If you dare, I’m pretty sure a few of my stories are still posted and awaiting someone’s critique of pieces written when I was in high school. I cringe at the thought of all those grammatical errors and oddly worded sentences.

The point is, when I started writing these stories another avenue of creativity opened up to me. I’d written poetry before and a couple of pieces where I experimented with prose, but it was just something I dabbled in, not something I took all that seriously. As I continued to post to ExIsle, I began to focus more on the stories I produced and it was through the process of writing fanfiction that I developed the skills I utilize in my writing even now.

The inner perfectionist in me really started to emerge where dialogue is concerned. For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Harper is a hyperactive, fast-talking, socially-inept genius responsible for a lot of exposition and technical jargon. So, naturally, I became attached to the character but it made for a difficult learning curve when it came to writing him. As a fan of the show, I had the benefit of seeing the finished product, the hard work of the show’s writers and the actor bringing the character to life. I felt then that it was only right to try and at least capture Harper’s voice whenever possible. Harper also had a darker past as a slave on Earth that produced a few prejudices and nightmare fuel when dealing with Nietzschean overlords or fearsome Magog, but it was important, at least to me, to keep his sense of humor intact. It was a tension reliever as much as a defense mechanism and it seemed only Beka, Trance, and to some degree, Rev Bem, who could see through him. I think there was also an unspoken challenge in getting Harper’s voice as close to the television show as possible. His voice stood out, which made him both the easiest to differentiate and yet the hardest to pin down. Being on the forum meant I read as much as I wrote and whenever an author managed to capture what made Harper Harper it made the story that much better. In sins-bekaharp-smmy mind, it meant the author figured something out. They listened to the cadence, the rhythm, and the sound of Seamus Harper and managed to channel it into their writing. It’s a skill I continue to hone as I move towards more prose writing, but it’s just as helpful for writing academic papers as it is reviews. Voice is important; it’s distinctive and if you can figure out a character’s voice, then you can figure out your own.

The science fiction environment of Andromeda was a huge factor in the type of fiction I read and tried to write early on. The worlds and people created for the show were fairly simplistic, but also grounded in particular traits that gave me a good baseline: Nietzscheans were genetically minded brutes, Nightsiders were greedy opportunists, Perseids were peaceful scientists, and the Magog were straight up nightmare fuel. Easy enough. Then you factor in the collapse of civilization (on some planets) after the fall of the Commonwealth and the efforts of some, not just Dylan Hunt, to rebuild albeit in less than ideal circumstances. The show definitely covered all of the typical tropes used in every science fiction show at some point, but there’s nothing wrong with tropes so long as you at least try to bring something new to the table. The most fun, however, was creating the technology. I’m not a super-techy person but writing fanfiction for Andromeda let me stretch my imagination to make up tools, vehicles, weapons, and ephemera that could “logically” fit into the universe. The worst, though, was explaining how tech worked, especially the inner workings of the Andromeda herself. Again, it went back to keeping in sync with the show. How did they describe slipstream (their method of faster-than-light travel)? How was Rommie the android separate from the main A.I. of the Andromeda? What the hell was that string of words Harper just put together that sounded vaguely important to keeping everyone alive? I felt it necessary to have a base understanding and maintain some authenticity to the show as a means of laying the foundation for my own creations. I applied the same tactics when I wrote fanfiction about Stargate: Atlantis and Lord of the Rings. But that’s just me. Not everyone feels that way. Besides, when push comes to shove, who’s going to argue about the improbable things in a fictional setting? Oh, wait…

andromeda-1d1Thankfully, I was never on the receiving end of angry diatribes about how true I remained to the world of Andromeda or whether or not I depicted a character poorly. I was lucky at that moment in time because no one was policing me and my creativity and fan forums were mostly civil. Above all, the people on ExIsle were encouraging and supportive. At one point I had two ongoing stories that I wrote while in college and I tended to publish both on the same day to the point where the frequent readers dubbed that day “Sam Update Day.” It was sweet and it came along at a point in my life where I didn’t have a lot of friends so getting that kind of support and encouragement from people who had the same love for the show as I did meant a lot. Having that connection and the ability to critique without attacking meant I could experiment with the stories and not feel like someone was going to immediately dismiss the premise or a new character. I returned that kindness as well; commenting on stories, giving my opinion, but also being encouraging of new writers and new ideas. We were bound by our shared love of Andromeda and that was all of the credibility required. I really wish it was the same now, but I know that’s not entirely true.

So, yeah, that’s pretty much where it started. Every person finds their spark of creativity somewhere, mine just happened to be with wonderfully flawed sci-fi show. I’m certain all of you have one as well!

In honor of this year’s Batman Day, I thought I’d repurpose an article from my NoiseSharkMedia days, which you can read the original version here. Suffice it to say, my opinions on some things have changes, but my love for Batman remains true.

With that mini-intro out of the way, we begin our journey with Batman’s original medium, comic books. Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939 (but let’s be honest, it was mostly Bill Finger) and making his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, Batman is arguably DC Comics most popular character (Batman vs. Superman argument commence!) As such, he has a very long history and a cast of supporting characters that have become as ingrained in pop culture as The Dark Knight himself. And with every new generation of comic book readers, there’s always an attempt to reinvent Batman for the new age despite the fact that there are some things you just can’t change.

It’s said that every comic book writer has a Batman story to tell and with that in mind, let’s take a look at the versatile nature of the Caped Crusader.

 

The Golden Age (1930s-1940s)

 

The Golden Age version of Batman is, at times, radically different from the one we recognize today yet completely similar. Inspired by pulp heroes such as Zorro and Doc Savage, Batman was a powerless hero who donned cape and cowl to scare the ever loving minds out of the criminal element of Gotham City. Without the super-human abilities of his colleague in Metropolis, Batman was shown to be a brilliant mind, Sherlock Holmes being yet another inspiration for the character, with a utility belt of gadgets and a Bat-cave of wonders that allowed him to solve crimes and cruise around Gotham. The pulp influence is especially present in Batman’s attitude towards crime-fighting since he started as a remorseless vigilante whose brand of justice included killing and maiming criminals. Creators since have made various attempts to distinguish the line Batman precariously walks between hero and villain, usually relying on his strict “no killing” policy as his own personal Rubicon. The 30s and 40s, however, were a different time when our heroes had no qualms about letting a guy fall to his death if he didn’t play ball.

Batman’s darker approach to crime-fighting may have had something to do with his even darker origin story, which wasn’t even introduced until Detective Comics #33 wherein we learn of young Bruce Wayne, the victim of a terrible crime as he watches his mother and father gunned down by a petty thief. In comparison to Superman’s story (also technically an orphan), Bruce’s origin is especially brutal, but given the rise of organized crime in the 1930s, making the Waynes victims of such a terrible crime gives us a reason to sympathize and encourage his decision to become Batman. It further articulated the point that not even the rich could escape the reach of criminals. In order to lighten things up a bit and give the kids a character they could vicariously live through and provide Batman with a Watson to his Holmes, Bill Finger created Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Robin, the Boy Wonder, as Batman’s kid sidekick.

 

 

The Silver Age (1950s-1960s)

 

Post World War II was an interesting era that saw the changing dynamics of the household set against the tumultuous political divisions building around the Vietnam War and the burgeoning counter culture movement. This was also the age that gave us the atom bomb, creating a new world of possibilities that were both awe-inspiring and devastatingly horrific. To capitalize on the science-fiction genre, Batman interacted with more aliens and used technology never before seen. This is the age in comics that gave us the more whack-a-doodle storylines, which geeks still have a soft spot for since campiness never really goes away. Sci-fi ultimately proved that even a character like Batman could be adapted to fit the prevailing culture…sort of.

That’s not to say Batman was without his share of controversy at the time. Thanks to that feel-good piece Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham, Batman and Robin were basically called out as homosexuals since they didn’t interact with girls enough for Mr. Wertham’s liking. Like Wonder Woman’s lesbian fetishisms and the schadenfreude caused by violence within comics, Batman and Robin were warping the fragile little minds of the youths. In response, DC Comics introduced Batwoman (Kathy Kane) and Bat-girl (Bette Kane) to counteract the accusations. Later on, Batwoman would go on to become one of the most prominent lesbian characters in comics, so go figure!

 

 

The Bronze Age (1970’s to 1980’s)

 

This is where the eras start to get a little murky, but I’ll stick with it as it kinda helps with the organization. Dennis “Denny” O’Neil did for Batman in the 70s what Frank Miller did for Batman in the late 80s, which is make him relevant and badass. O’Neil especially wanted to put some distance between the comic book character and the campy tv show. He envisioned bringing Batman back to the dark roots that had made him so popular to begin with and he did so along with artist Neal Adams. They sought to make Batman the brooding detective, a man tortured by the death of his parents whose only solace was in dedicating his life to fighting crime so that no one else should suffer the same fate. During his run, O’Neil made the call to give Batman an aversion to guns that’s been a part of Batman’s psyche ever since. O’Neil also returned the Joker to his more primal and psychotic state, making him a less predictable foil and greater challenge for the Dark Knight to combat. If you want more proof of O’Neil’s contributions to the Batman mythos, then look no further than Ra’s al-Ghul and his daughter, Talia, both created by O’Neil with assists from Neal Adams on Ra’s and Bob Brown on Talia. The introductory storyline involves international puzzles, forbidden romance, the Lazarus Pit, and Batman and Ra’s sword fighting in the desert! Of course, O’Neil is also the guy who introduced and subsequently killed Robin II, Jason Todd, so it’s not all rainbows and gumdrops.

Despite attempts to revitalize the character, it wasn’t until Frank Miller’s two groundbreaking works, Batman: Year One (1987) and The Dark Knight Returns (1986), that interest in the character skyrocketed. DKR told the story of an older Bruce Wayne, a man forced into retirement by old age yet drawn back into fighting crime as the moral fabric of Gotham declines further and further. This is where the truly obsessed Batman emerges, a man forever driven by his mission no matter what the cost. In contrast, what’s amazing about Year One is that, though it did redefine the Batman origin story (think Martha Wayne’s pearls), it’s not really as much about Batman as it is about the rise of Jim Gordon. Written in the noir style that Miller loves so much, Year One juxtaposes Batman’s attempt to fight crime and corruption outside the law with Gordon as he tries to make change from the inside by refusing to give in to the rampant corruption infecting the GCPD. But Gordon isn’t without his own foibles as the obsession to change Gotham ultimately leads him down a rocky path that makes him question his own moral compass.

The unfortunate aftermath of Miller’s relationship with comic books and the industry as a whole lead him to create two very cynical and almost hateful depictions of not only Batman, but superheroes in general with The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2002) and All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder (2005). Though All-Star is beautifully drawn by Jim Lee and Scott Williams, that’s about all you can say for the book, except that it originates the very popular line, “I’m the Goddam Batman!”

Then we have Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke (1989). Though the story is ostensibly about Joker’s attempt to drive Jim Gordon insane, the overall narrative is about the fall of decent men. Though it’s Gordon that The Joker torments, his idea that even the most pure of heart and purpose can be corrupted because of “one bad day” equally applies to Batman. The very crime that created Batman could be argued as proof of Joker’s point, which Joker makes reference to at the story’s climax. It’s a fascinating psychological piece as it poses the question, “Is Batman as crazy as his foes?”

 

The Modern Era (1990’s to 2000’s)

 

 

Aren’t labels fun? Anyway, the 90s, though defined by outrageous artwork and a sudden freedom to do whatever the fuck-all you wanted story-wise, saw some notable turns for Batman in the form of Knightfall and The Long Halloween. A brilliant idea that ended on a kind of eh? note, Knightfall (1993) was the book that introduced us to Bane, the South American venom addict who’s most famous for breaking the Bat’s back. With an entire team of writers including Denny O’Neil and Chuck Dixon, Knightfall was as much a character piece for Bruce Wayne as a story asking questions such as, “What makes Batman Batman?” and “Does being Batman mean to be forever alone?” Paralyzed by Bane, Bruce must rebuild his broken body, submitting himself to rigorous physical therapy in order to overcome the psychological damage of being broken and exhausted in his mission as Batman. Whilst recovering, he asks Jean-Paul Valley, a.k.a. Azrael, to take over as Batman, but the overly zealous and increasingly paranoid young man takes his duties to the extreme, tarnishing Batman’s relationship with Gotham and the GCPD. Once recovered through a supernatural deus ex machina, Bruce returns to his duties as Batman and begins to rebuild the relationships sorely neglected by his drive and obsession: his family.

The Long Halloween (1996-97) was written by Jeff Loeb as a follow-up to Miller’s Year One. Utilizing that same noir style, Loeb crafted a thrilling mystery surrounding a villain nicknamed “The Holiday Killer” who, you guessed it, only kills on holidays. The deaths, however, all appear to be specific attacks on the Falcone crime family, with all signs pointing to Bruce Wayne as the killer. The book brilliantly built upon Miller’s foundation, bringing Batman’s rogues gallery in for quick introductions while setting up the fall of Harvey Dent and the rise of Two-Face. The resolution is a disturbing look at the lengths people will go to for what they believe, so it’s no surprise that Christopher Nolan drew heavily from this story when crafting The Dark Knight.

The New Millenia at DC Comics brought about some of the most engaging and somewhat controversial works published prior to the 2011 reboot. One of my all-time favorites was Hush (2003), written by Jeff Loeb with the gorgeous art of Jim Lee. Like all great Batman stories, there’s a mystery to be solved, and this one revolves around Gotham’s latest villain, Hush. The book also explores the themes of family and trust as Bruce willfully reveals his secret identity to Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and comes to terms with the possible return of Jason Todd from the dead. The resolution is brilliant and I dare not spoil it for you. A follow-up that deserves some mention is Under The Hood by Judd Winnick that takes the supposed return of Jason Todd and makes it a reality – because reality got punched in the FACE!!! (For reals, go check out Infinite Crisis) The death of Jason has always been one of Batman’s greatest failures and a huge source of guilt, which Jason exploits through most of the book as he takes revenge upon the Joker for killing him and Batman for not saving him. One could argue that it’s just Jason continuing to be a whiny shit even after his resurrection, but it’s still an interesting concept.

Closing out the pre-52 era is the magnum opus that is the work of Grant Morrison. Starting with the introduction of everybody’s favorite homicidal ten-year-old, Damian Wayne, Morrison embarked on an epic exploration of the Batman mythos culminating in his “death” in Final Crisis (2005-06). A self-proclaimed scholar of myth, legend, and probably made of magic, Morrison took Batman to new levels of ridiculous awesomeness that invited you to journey down the rabbit hole. Whether or not you agree with his treatment of the character, Morrison strongly tied the origins of Bruce Wayne, Gotham, and Batman into a Gordion Knot of mythological and symbolic history. The foundations of Gotham and the foundations of Batman are one and the same, permeating the very buildings that pierce the skyline. Morrison also established through his run on Batman and Robin that Batman and Gotham share yet another connection, that of legacy. Though Gotham is a city that appears to stand alone, it is built upon the legacies of the families who gave birth to her in concept and design. And though we often depict Batman as a solitary hero, he is the progenitor of a powerful legacy of heroes, which results in his desire to “share the wealth” as it were in Batman, Inc.

 

The New 52 – Present

 

Though this was prior to the 2011 “reboot,” when Scott Snyder took over writing duties on the main Batman title post-Morrison, he carried over the concept of Gotham as its own living, breathing entity, a reflective surface prepared to bring out the ugly darkness from within, no matter the hero who calls him or herself a protector of the city. As a lover of comics I recommend that you pick up The Black Mirror as fast as you can. It is, by far, one of the best Batman stories written prior to The Court of Owls storyline. Through the eyes of Dick Grayson as the new Batman in Bruce’s absence, Snyder turned the tables on Gotham’s most reluctantly heroic son, showing Dick that, though he’s always tried to run away from the legacy of his adopted family, his roots are as much a part of the city as Bruce’s. For Dick, Gotham may bring out the worst aspects of the human soul, but that only makes him strive to fight the good fight more.

Carried over, post-reboot, The Court of Owls arc takes Batman and Gotham’s intertwining legacies and turns it into an all out brawl for the soul of the city. Batman once again, Bruce is pushed to his absolute breaking point by the Court of Owls, a secret society ensconced in Gotham society’s upper echelons. Working behind the scenes, the Court manipulates and murders in order to retain power, using the immortal assassins, the Talons, to do their bidding. As he investigates them further, Bruce finds that one of his most trusted companions may be connected to the Court and their deadly machinations. The crux of the story continues to be that of family and legacy. Pulling in the entire Bat Family, Snyder cracks the foundations in order to make them stronger than ever before. Of course, this was before we knew what he and artist Greg Capullo had in store for the Batman and the Bat-Family in Death of the Family, Zero Year, Endgame, and the current arc. The final issue of Court of Owls, however, features a beautiful scene between Bruce and Dick that gives the original dynamic duo a quiet moment of repose and reflection before Gotham inevitably needs them again. As the arc ends, we the readers understand that Snyder is himself a part of a long legacy of Batman creators, molding his own vision of the Dark Knight and the world he inhabits. And if you need a reminder of just how much Batman and Gotham are tied together go read Batman #44 by Snyder, co-writer Brian Azzarello, and artist Jock and prepare to be amazed.

 

 

Sam talks with Aaron Diaz, creator/writer/artist of Dresden Codak. The two talk art, Lord of the Rings, webcomics, and dinosaurs! So a little something for everyone!

aaron-diaz-dinosaur

Dune by Frank Herbert Dune

A gripping tale about political intrigue and religious fervor on a desert planet, though access to dune buggies would have made the book shorter and more interesting. Also cinnamon/spice lets you consolidate power as well as make delicious baked goods.

Spoiler Alert: I’m pretty sure the planet is inhabited by those creatures from the movie Tremors.
I give it 4 out of 5 Dune Buggies

Next week’s review, gone is a girl.

Meet-The-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

Even by comic book standards Guardians of the Galaxy is an obscure property. Not that Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America were household names like Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman, but at least people were somewhat aware of the characters whether through comics, cartoons, or embarrassing early 90s movies. Hulk was probably the most well-known amongst the Avengers and even he suffered through two middling movies. Given the success of The Avengers, Marvel could’ve easily picked any number of heroes to launch within their Phase 2, so why Guardians of the Galaxy? Why take the risk on a group no one, not even some die-hard Marvel readers, was aware of with a cast of characters that included a gun-toting raccoon and a sentient tree with a limited vocabulary? I could give you a long explanation about how Guardians fits into the overall mega-event Marvel’s leading towards with Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet storyline from the comics, but in simplistic terms? They could, so they did.

Okay, yes, there’s more to it than that but from the get-go there’s been an attitude surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy, one of “Yeah, Guardians of the Galaxy. Trust us. We got this.” And as moviegoers, we collectively consented to the idea. Marvel had earned enough goodwill that we believed in their vision. The result is yet another blockbuster to keep Marvel on its unprecedented streak of solidly entertaining superhero movies. No two Marvel movies have been entirely alike save for a through line of tone and world building. Thor took us into the realm of fantasy, Captain America gave us a World War 2 era film as well as an action-packed spy thriller, and The Avengers gave us the ultimate team-up. Guardians, however, is straight sci-fi adventure that expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe across the galaxy. Director James Gunn infuses Guardians with his snarky, rebellious attitude coming out of his experience with indie and Troma films, but also rises to the challenge of delivering his first big budget, special effects laden homage to the sci-fi genre.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-posterPeter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, having spent most of his life in space after being abducted from Earth in 1988, unknowingly stumbles upon a highly valued orb that contains one of the infamous infinity stones. Seeking the orb is Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) who sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of Thanos (Josh Brolin), to retrieve the orb so that Ronan can get revenge on the planet Xandar despite a peace treaty between Xandar, home to the Nova Corps, and Ronan’s people, the Kree. Quill is also pursued by bounty hunters Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) after his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) puts a price on his head for going rogue. When the four end up in prison, they gain another ally in Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who seeks revenge on Ronan for the death of his family. Seeing that they share a common enemy, and a desire to continue living, the five band together to thwart Ronan and save the galaxy.

From the moment the first trailer dropped and the first poster circulated around the internet, the marketing campaign for Guardians was unabashedly cocky in its presentation of a team formed from a rag-tag group of outlaws, assassins, thieves, and thugs. It was a choice reflective not just of James Gunn’s style but also the journey towards heroism made by the team. The Guardians aren’t necessarily brought together through nobility of purpose. They’re outcasts, misfits, and loners. They’ve all suffered loss because of the hand dealt to them by the universe, but in finding each other they have a reason to care about something bigger than themselves. Gunn and his co-writer, Nicole Perlman, manage to get this across via cinematic tribute; starting the film with Star-Lord, alone on a planet, retrieving an artifact a la Raiders of the Lost Ark and progressing the narrative the through a visual spectacle invoking Star Wars until the team is truly formed in a shot straight-up lifted from The Right Stuff. Through it all the movie maintains a lighthearted tone, but isn’t afraid to go for the gut-wrenching darkness needed to delve into the backstories of the main characters. It’s the humor, however, that sustains the movie. That and a soundtrack that acts as a time capsule of 60s and 70s pop music sure to make even the surliest fanboy tap his feet. Hell, I’ve had just about every song stuck in my head for days after seeing the film.Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Rocket-Raccoon

For an ensemble piece like this you couldn’t ask for a better cast. Pratt truly solidifies his status as a leading man, channeling every roguish character imaginable into a ball of charm and overconfidence that would make Han Solo nod in approval. Saldana makes being a deadly assassin look easy; kicking ass and taking names without breaking a sweat, yet still managing to exude some of Gamora’s vulnerability despite the cold exterior. Bautista is surprisingly good as Drax. I don’t know anything about his career as a wrestler, but whatever limited acting skills he has never made it on-screen. Drax’s inability to understand metaphors actually worked to Bautista’s advantage, giving him some of the funnier lines in the film. And though they weren’t present for filming, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel turn in wonderfully nuanced performances as Rocket and Groot respectively. These were the two characters everyone worried about in terms of audience acceptance, but the special effects team knocked it out of the park with the two bounty hunters. They were textured and expressive, making us believe, from the moment we see them, that they belong in this world. Cooper’s Rocket is a damaged soul, the only one of his kind and his rage and sorrow are played straight during several unexpected moments. But he’s right up there going snark for snark with Quill. Rocket easily steals the movie with his one-liners and overall awesomeness. Oddly enough, Diesel delivers as Groot. He only has three words to work with, but Diesel manages to make each reading different, showing that inflection, spacing, and emotion can make three words seem like a paragraph.

Star-LordAs an ensemble, the Guardians are the epitome of a Marvel family. Their clashing personalities work off each other as they fight and bicker over just about everything. Scenes between just the five characters are the strongest in the film. The timing is perfect and Gunn seems to take great delight in throwing the typical clichés in our faces with a well placed one-liner. The main characters are bolstered by a strong supporting cast including Glenn Close, John C. Reilly , Peter Serafinowicz, Djimon Hounsou, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rooker, and cameos from Nathan Fillion, Rob Zombie, Seth Green, and Troma director/producer Lloyd Kaufman. Gunn even includes a nice little role for his brother, Sean Gunn, who was the body actor for Rocket during filming. It’s an amazing cadre of actors assembled and shows the pull Gunn and Marvel has for getting quality talent. Even the smallest roles could potentially lead to bigger things in the future.

So with all the praise I’ve been doling out, there are a few problems that most Marvel movie aficionados will see unfold. For one, Ronan the Accuser’s motivation is about as surface level as any Marvel villain. He wants to destroy Xandar because EVIL! and that’s as far as it really goes for him. His myopic goal ultimately aids the Guardians in stopping him because he does little else to prove himself as a formidable villain other than throw Drax around and yell at Thanos. Maybe if we’d seen him destroy a planet that wasn’t Xandar to show exactly how powerful he’s become with the infinity stone and the failed attempt to stop him by the Guardians. Their failure than motivates them to make sure Xandar doesn’t meet the same fate. Something like that. It doesn’t help that the complex backstories of each character only get brief enough mentionsRonan-the-Accuser-in-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy for the needs of exposition. Quill has the biggest arc of the movie in order to ground the audience, but it means Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot’s stories need to be put on the back burner. To the movie’s credit, though, they give us just enough background to give certain scenes the proper emotional weight. Rocket’s drunken outburst about being a monster feels genuine given what we’ve seen and know about him and Gamora’s anger at Thanos for being turned into an assassin is palpable.

Overall, the movie is well paced but there are times where it feels like scenes were inexplicably cut that were needed to make the transitions within the story smoother. Characters just happen to have vital information or show up at the right time out of plot convenience rather than a more organic flow. Yondu and the Ravagers happen to end up on Knowhere at the same time as things go awry with The Collector and Ronan shows up upon Drax’s drunken request because…reasons? It serves the purpose of making the stakes higher and giving us a kickass chase sequence, but how we arrive from point A to point B is a bit hazy. The fight between Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan) also exemplifies the need for better characterization and editing. The whole sequence feels like it was supposed to be longer – the trailers at least indicated this was so – since Gamora and Nebula’s sibling rivalry drives the savagery of the fight. Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-GamoraUnfortunately the editing makes it much shorter, which could also be the result of underutilizing Nebula as a character. Though she appears badass and definitely carries plenty of attitude, Nebula becomes more of an obstacle for Gamora and their fight lacks the emotional impact it should between the “daughters” of Thanos. Hopefully there’s a director’s cut that will get released because I’d love to see what Gunn’s complete vision was for the movie.

The problems, however, shouldn’t dissuade you from seeing the film. Like I said, they’re typical of Marvel movies, but there’s definitely an opening for further characterization and storytelling now that the team/family has been formed. If anything, Guardians of the Galaxy shows how a team-up movie can be made without the building block process of individual films Marvel has relied upon in the past. Not only does this open up more possibilities for other Marvel movies, but shines a light of hope on certain other comic book team movies coming out in a couple of years.

Until then, go see Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m more than twelve percent certain you’ll enjoy it.

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I friggin’ can’t. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are slowly, but surely, tearing my heart out as I watch a train wreck happen right in front of me. It’s painful and yet I can’t look away. I’ve laughed at a lot of comics (because they were intentionally orsaga_21 unintentionally funny), I’ve gotten angry at comics, but this may be the first time that I’ve been depressed after reading an issue.

But, like I said, I still want more. Apparently I’m a masochist at heart.

Marko and Alana continue their slow slide towards the possible destruction of their family as Alana continues to take the drug Fadeaway while working in the Open Circuit and Marko finds that he may have a slight attraction to Hazel’s dance instructor, Ginny. Elsewhere, the Robot janitor who killed Princess Robot and stole her child makes his way towards a familiar planet and the memory-deficient Prince Robot IV finds out some devastating news.

Short, sweet, and simple right? If only Saga was like that. Sometimes I think the only thing that keeps me reading this arc is the off-chance that Vaughan and Staples will pull a one-eighty on me and completely turn the story around as they seem to do in order to get readers pumped for the next chapter. Unfortunately, this creative team have been brutally honest when it comes to the relationships depicted in their story. As Hazel wisely states, “From the moment it’s formed, a family is almost always under attack.” Of course there’s always a literal and figurative example of anything Hazel says. In the past, Marko and Alana would’ve been the primary example what with their fugitive status and all. Now it’s Prince Robot’s family. His wife’s been killed, his child stolen, and he’s only now recovered his memories after his battle at Heist’s lighthouse…more or less. Even though he’s been one of the primary antagonists for Marko and Alana, we’ve always known his motivations for going after them. Now that he’s been delivered the crushing blow of news, his war has become far more personal.

Marko and AlanaOn a more figurative level, Marko and Alana are facing internal attacks on their relationship that are entirely their own doing. The strain of Alana being at work all the time to support their family and Marko’s lonely house-husband routine have kept the two apart for most of the story; their coping skills aren’t exactly healthy either. This is perfectly illustrated when Marko surprises a still high Alana with candles and sexy times that turn out to be anything but sexy from the reader’s point of view. In fact, the whole scene is heartbreaking. Alana is still tripping after taking drugs to get through the day at work of product placement in lingerie (Vaughan continuing his jibes at media) and Marko is desperately trying to connect with his wife after Ginny shows some interest in him that’s a bit more than complaining about the trials of parenthood. What should be a romantic and/or erotic scene of two people who love each other coming together is juxtaposed by Hazel’s narration regarding how close and yet so far apart two people can be even if they love each other. Vaughan’s words and Staples’ beautiful art tell the same story in very different ways, neither of which make the reader feel good about the scene since we know what circumstances have spawned this “spontaneous” love-making. Though one has to wonder how long Marko was waiting in the shadows all naked-like before Alana entered the bedroom.

Final Thoughts: I would love an entire issue of Klara and Izabel interacting. Those two are definitely Saga’s Odd Couple!