GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and more

Released by Marvel Studios

By Avril Brown

Am I in love, or simply open to persuasion? ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ delivered everything the previews promised us salivating fans: great one-liners (and entire conversations) delivered by a rag-tag group of misfits turned heroes while lots of shit gets blown up. But did the complete film deliver more than a bevy of just-this-side-of-campy humor and CG special effects? Did it tell a story worth watching?

Honestly, I cannot say for sure. Ever since the first trailer blew up the internet I have been as antsy as a nymphomaniac slapped with a chastity belt. I have been waiting none too patiently for the ‘Guardians’ to get into my pants and take my money, and I want so badly to say the wait was worth sweating in my metal drawers. Thankfully in many ways it was, but I am unsure whether it lived up to all of my expectations.

‘Guardians’ is most certainly a fun, and funny, comic book movie, chock filled with cheeky anti-heroes, more eighties references than you can shake a Walkman at and one hell of a soundtrack. From the very beginning when Star Lord dances his way to his intended booty I was immediately seduced by Chris Pratt’s pelvic sorcery. He’s just so…cool, my geek lust reached a peak. Actually, he makes an ass out of himself more often than not, but the way Peter Quill just picks himself up and keeps on going, no matter how dire the situation, is insanely attractive. He always has a quip ready to fire at his naysayers, and he’s so desperate for recognition he’s almost pathetic. But the Star Lord is a scrappy survivor, and I have always had a soft spot for such a ruffian.

The rest of the team holds their own as well, but one major element lacking is sufficient background to really get the viewer invested in each character. We’re given just enough to get where they’re coming from but not much else to go on. On the one hand, I get it: it’s nigh impossible to give each character their due diligence plus the ‘beat the bad guy’ story arc while providing plenty of action within a two hour-ish screen time. The major advantage ‘Avengers’ had (the standard by which I now hold every comic book movie) was almost every star player came to the table with established histories, and those that didn’t got great introduction scenes. Such is not the case with ‘Guardians.’ The time it took to give each member a chance to explain themselves detracted from time needed to flesh out the central story, and the nemeses. They did a fair job showcasing the heroes, but the villains got shortchanged in a big way. Ronan was somewhat trite and Nebula, the role Whovian Karen Gillan shaved her head for, was just wasted.

Whenever there is a comic book movie with such an excellent premise and tantalizing previews, one cannot help but walk into the theater with high hopes. Without a doubt, ‘Guardians’ is one hell of a circus ride, but it could have been better. Do the one-sided villains and slightly stagnant plot detract from the fun I had from start to the Footloose finish? Absolutely not; in fact, I am chomping at the bit to get back to the theater and experience ‘Guardians’ for a second time, ideally with a smaller crowd so I can hear the entirety of the many jokes woven throughout the film.

So, to answer the question: Am I in love? Well, though ‘Guardians’ is no ‘Avengers,’ I have to say the compilation of a foul-mouthed Ranger Rick, a talking tree who is both sweet and scary, an adrenaline addicted muscled-out maniac, a green assassin and a Star Lord who believes awesome music and fancy moves are the solution to everything, yeah, I have to say I’ve fallen pretty hard. As long as the ‘Guardians’ continue to crack jokes and riff off one another like it’s going out of style, I’ll follow them across the galaxy, and so should anyone looking to have a raucous good time.

And never forget Boromir’s sage advice: “One does not simply leave a Marvel movie before the end of the credits.” You’ll want to stick around for these tidbits, trust me on that.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Directed by Brian Singer

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Pardon me for a moment:

OHMYLORD X-Men Days of Future Past ILOVEYOU Brian Singer you fucking ROCK so many awesome mutants BLINK IS BADASS brilliant so well done great action geek girl squeal QUICKSILVER OWNS IT ‘My mom knew a guy who could do that’ hilarious love it Peter Dinklage! Mach I sentinels time travel Mystique being sneaky bone claws HUGH JACKMAN’S ASS thank you jeebus and EN FREAKING SABAH NUR!!!

Now please allow me to more coherently explain my feelings about ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past.’ To sum up: this is a wonderful X-Men comic book movie. It is fabulously fun, chock filled with mutant action and a joy to experience both for comic and movie fans. As the former, I was thrilled with the nuggets thrown in for those of us who are familiar with the printed version of the Marvel Universe. One of the people who was in my viewing party is X-Men ignorant, and while she confessed to being slightly confused as to how the events of this movie tie into the rest of the franchise, she was also thoroughly entertained.

The future is a bleak and barren hell. Mutant hunting robots called Sentinels have all but eliminated not only the mutant race, but all humans with any hint of the X gene in their DNA. The Sentinels have the ability to adapt to any mutant power, making them all but unbeatable. The only way the few ragtag survivors of the X-Men have been able to stay alive is because of Kitty Pryde, a mutant with the ability to phase through solid objects, and now through time. She has figured out how to phase one person’s consciousness back in time a few days, giving that individual plenty of time to scout out incoming Sentinels and warn the rest of the team to clear out before they arrive. Professor X and Magneto have realized the only way to end this war is to prevent it from ever starting, so utilizing Kitty’s power with the Wolverine’s, the only man with a brain capable of surviving a decades long trip through time, the X-Men set about saving the world.

Wolverine certainly has his work cut out for him back in the seventies. Xavier is an emotionally broken man who has given up not only teaching and leading, but also his impressive mutant ability to read and control minds. Erik Lehnsherr is still an angry, powerful, metal-wielding mutant focused solely on the survival and dominance of the mutant species…only his goals are harder to achieve when locked up in the most secure prison on the planet. Somehow Logan has to get the band back together in time to stop Mystique from murdering Bolivar Trask, the man behind the Sentinel program, and to keep her shape-shifting DNA from being utilized in helping create the invincible Sentinels of the future.

One of the most excellent aspects of catching a comic book movie as soon as it debuts in theaters is you are surrounded by hardcore comic book fans. There were X-Men t-shirts left and right, and I myself was sporting my Mystique bracelet, made from Age of Apocalypse X-Calibre comics. Seats filled up quickly as the hour drew nigh, and you could feel the buzz of excitement as the Twentieth Century Fox logo faded on the big screen, with the X on Fox being the last to go. The film hit the ground running in terms of action with amazing special effects, particularly Blink’s, who has localized teleporting abilities. When Wolverine wakes up back in the past, one of the first things we fans get to see is his glorious backside in all its natural glory. Thank you, jeebus.

Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver received a round of applause from the viewers after his break out scene, which was completely deserved. Those of us in the know were tickled pink when he’s chatting with Magneto and says, “So you can control metal, huh? My mom knew a guy who could do that.” (Not-so-spoiler: Magneto is Quicksilver’s father) There is a deserved expectation of an extra nugget of film after the credits, so there were plenty of groans when those of us (essentially the entire theater) waited until the bitter end and saw nothing…at first. What initially appeared to be a fade to white turned out to be sand. Rolling hills of sand in ancient Egypt with thousands of people chanting ‘En Sabah Nur’ at a cloaked, pale figure standing on high with four mysterious figures on horses in the background. Translation: Apocalypse, the First Mutant, and one of the X-Men’s deadliest foes. I was unabashedly one of those people who punched her fists in the air and yelled, “YES!”

Though admittedly the movie felt a bit slow at times, there is not one moment I would consider expendable. There were plenty of fight scenes and displays of mutant powers, but it is also a slightly complicated plot which needs periodic explanations, particularly since it is essentially one story told in two different time periods with the same/different people. ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ delivered on every conceivable level, and my viewing experience was everything I hoped it would be: huge grin inducing, goosebump raising, pure geeky goodness kind of fun, shared with old friends and new. Thank you Brian Singer, Fox (though I never thought I’d say that) and Marvel, for getting this franchise back on track. To me, my X-Men!

X-MEN: NO MORE HUMANS

X-Men: No More Humans

Written by Mike Carey and Illustrated by Salvador Larroca

Published by Marvel Comics

By Avril Brown

In Marvel Comics first original graphic novel since ‘God Loves, Man Kills,’ veteran X-Men writer Mike Carey tells what should have been a rather intriguing ‘shoe on the other foot’ type of superhero story, but instead delivers an unfortunately crappy collision of new villains and old plots.

no_more_humans_cover_a_p

The mutant world has been in turmoil ever since the game-changing ‘House of M’ story arc back in 2005 where unstable mutant-witch Wanda Maximoff declared ‘No more mutants.’ Only recently have the X-gene carrying club begun to bounce back from that devastation, and the wounds are still raw. Hence the potentially fascinating and layered story idea of all the world’s humans suddenly and inexplicably disappearing without a trace. Alas, the story itself is a jumbled mess that feels lacking almost immediately from the first pages.

The introduction is somewhat jazzy, with a great bit of sneaking around in a secret compound by whom is revealed to be Raze, the child of Wolverine and Mystique from the future, recently introduced in the ‘All New X-Men.’ (When his origin was revealed, Logan uttered, “I’m never having sex again.” One of the best lines of the series) Opinions on his outfit notwithstanding (Mystique’s skull belt AND her white loincloth AND white pants? The ‘80s on crack called, they want their costume back), Raze does have a cool power set, not to mention a huge chip on his shoulder, making him a deadly foe. Decent enough intro, but it goes downhill from here.

The students and teachers at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning are going about their business as usual when a 747 is about to crash into their front lawn. There’s a wee dramatic moment when they find the plane is completely devoid of people, and that moment is only slightly extended when several X-Men gather around Cerebro and discover there’s “no interference” aka no humans left on planet Earth. There’s barely a panel for Iceman to scoff before they’re off to (where else?) New York City, and one glance at Times Square is enough confirmation that every human is gone. Cyclops and his team conveniently show up at this exact spot to declare they’ve been to a dozen cities across the planet and yes, the humans are gone. Naturally Cyclops and Wolverine almost fight, ‘cause that’s their jam, but thankfully Magneto and his kids show up (also at this exact spot) and break it up. They reconvene at the Jean Grey school to have a nice chat. Everyone is handling this very well.

There is not nearly enough climactic build up for such a momentous event, and therefore the whole premise is left feeling like nothing but a vehicle for showcasing a mess of mutants, each with their own goals and attitudes, banding together to solve the mystery of what happened to all the humans and why mutants from parallel Earths are suddenly showing up on the Jean Grey school doorstep. There is plenty of grandstanding, a show down or two, some zombie action (which was pretty dark and twisty; added a bit of flavor) and, of course, fights. Though the mechanics of how Raze Houdinied all of the humans at once are never fully explained, it is a non-issue in the end; the Phoenix Force shows up and fixes everything. Ta-da!

As with the third X-Men movie, the core concept was solid and rife with potential, but the end product was a disappointing patchwork of ideas we have seen before one too many times. The Phoenix Force? Seriously? Give it a rest already, at least for more than a few years. Also, if one more writer has Wolverine and Beast giving Cyclops a hard time, something is going to snap. Yes, Cyclops killed Xavier while he was bonded with the Phoenix Force and is in total denial about it, but Wolverine has a body count that could reach to the moon, and the Beast just plucked the original five X-Men out of their timeline and into his, a move which even the Watcher considered abhorrent.

Artist Salvador Larroca knocked it out of the park, and it is once again tragic that his beautiful renditions of these amazing characters are going to waste on a mediocre story. As played out as the Phoenix is, Larroca did a fantastic job of conveying it in all its fiery glory, and the dead man talking was also creepily portrayed. Also there were some epic fight scenes and two-page panels with heroes and villains posing fiercely across from one another (a classic shot). Here’s hoping Larroca, X-Men’s longest running active artist, will once again be paired with a plot worthy of his pencils.

Mike Carey had an amazing run on ‘X-Men: Legacy’ which had some truly unique and gripping tales for Marvel’s extraordinary mutants to experience, but ‘No More Humans’ fell flat. Fingers crossed Marvel’s next original graphic novel has more originality to match the outstanding artwork.

GIRL COMICS 1

Girl Comics #1
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Vincent S. Moore

Ever since the middle of last year, the purchase of Marvel by Disney has sparked tons of speculation in comics shops across this land. If the bulk of the speculation was similar to what I heard and overheard at Comics Ink, then most of what it boiled down to was this: Disney’s got cooties and they are going to give it to Marvel. So much of this fear of cooties infecting “our” superhero comics comes from Disney’s primary marketing focus, girls, through the various princesses in the animated movies and merchandise. Some, but not all, fanboys of all ages would express fears of toning down the violence or putting out “girly” projects a la Twilight no matter how much I and others tried to say that no one really knew or could speculate safely as to what the new owners would do. If anything, Disney bought Marvel to appeal to the one group that the House of Mouse had lost decades ago: boys. After much dialogue and pontificating, the conversations would shift away to the minutiae of the latest crossover event and other topics of interest.

For a while at least.

Then Marvel announced their plans for 2010 to focus on the Women of Marvel. Which would spark the fears all over again.

Now, I like women that read comics. I also like women that make comics, at least the idea of it. It’s cool to me, as a longtime fanboy, to see women enjoying what I enjoy, namely the medium of comics. So when the Girl Comics anthology was announced as part of Marvel’s plans, I was at least curious to see what developed.

This past Wednesday, the first issue, Girl Comics #1, finally arrived at local comics shops. And I satisfied my curiosity.

I only wish that was all that was satisfied.

I did not expect perfection nor was I completely expecting, given some of the talents listed whose names I had never heard of (I tend to stick more in the mainstream waters of the comics industry), slam-bang superhero fiction of the type of which I am familiar. But I did hope to be entertained and perhaps enlightened.

We shall see.

Let’s start with Amanda Conner’s wonderful cover. I am a huge fan of her work. Her cartoony style brings a dynamics back to superhero art that’s been missing for some. The overall design and storytelling — of an arm wrestling match between Iron Man and She-Hulk — are great. But I have to pull the serious geek card on this one. Unless this situation has changed without anyone making note of it, Iron Man’s armor doesn’t work if the helmet is off. No helmet, no cybernetic control over the suit. No control over the suit, no enhanced strength. No enhanced strength, there is no way Tony Stark in a couple hundred pounds of dead weight is a match for She-Hulk. So, as staged, the match is not a fair contest. Was this simply a mistake neither Ms. Conner nor the editor caught? Or was it a subconscious statement about the premise behind the whole book? That the deck was being stacked in favor of the women to give them an easy victory? I don’t know.

Grade: C

Moving on to Colleen Coover’s opening 2 pager. I found her art as lovely and fun to see as usual. Too bad the preachy message — that of justifying why superheroines are superheroines, as if that is really necessary — ruined it. At this point, I wondered who was this comic for, besides the creators and editors themselves?

Grade: C-

The second story is entitled “Moritat” by G. Willow Wilson and Ming Doyle. At least I hope that was the title. The lettering of the title was a bit difficult to decipher. It dealt with Nightcrawler taking in a bit of evening entertainment in a German speaking club. I liked how Ms. Wilson used the lounge singer’s song to frame the bulk of the story. She also pulled what is now the standard reversal of the knight rescuing the damsel by having the young dancer Nightcrawler dashed in to help save him in the end. Cute, if it were done for a women’s studies class by a freshman. But this feels so incredibly forced and completely ignores Nightcrawler as a character with powers and skills. If he been completely overpowered or defeated, perhaps this twist could have worked. Not likely, but perhaps if executed well. Meanwhile, Mr. Doyle’s art style fits in with current waves of books like Strange Tales and the alternative side of the industry. I’m definitely not a fan of it and it left me disconnected from the story and almost disoriented.

Grade: C-

The third story by Trina Robbins and Stephanie Buscema was a charming piece, in complete contrast to the first two tales. This story shows Venus, the goddess of love, — one time Golden Age Marvel Superheroine — returning to Earth in the modern era. Accepting a bet with Zeus, she attempts to resume her old role in the human world and use her powers of love in the fashion industry once again. This take has shades of The Devil Wear Prada. A very good touch. By the end of the story, love does indeed conquer all, and a very happy ending for the goddess herself leaves open the possibility of telling other stories. Ms. Robbins keeps true both her own long expressed interests in comics –beauty and fashion — and to the nature of the Greek Gods in that Zeus and Ares would cheat to win the bet. Ms. Buscema’s retro cartoony visual approach works with with Robbins’ script. My only problem was there was no title for the story that I could find. And I wished the story was longer because it was a pleasure to read.

Grade: A-

There are also two sections spotlighting women who have worked for Marvel as pioneers. The first features Flo Steinberg, longtime staffer from the heyday of Stan Lee and the birth of the House of Ideas. It was nice to read that she’s still alive and even contributed to this anthology. It is always good to recognize one’s elders while they are still alive to receive the praise.

Grade: A+

The fourth story is “A Brief Rendezvous” by Valerie D’Orazio and Nicki Cook. If I wasn’t completely sure about this anthology up to this point, this tale of The Punisher trapping a cyber predator did little to make me feel good about this book. Even with it in the distance, I don’t know what to make of this story. I know cyber predators are big news these days. I also know protecting all children online and otherwise is terribly important. But putting The Punisher on the case? That’s like using a nuclear weapon to get rid of a mouse. The story’s punchline hit, well, like a girl, and not in a good way. Ms. Cook’s art continues the trend of using alt comix folks in mainstream books. Blah.

Grade: C

Now, the She-Hulk pin-up by Sana Takeda is gorgeous. Until you see the left foot is attached to the right leg and facing the viewer! Where was the editor on this one?!?

Grade: F

The fifth story is “Shop Doc” by Lucy Knisley, features Doc Ock, longtime Spidey foe, out for a grocery run. Yet another alt comix take. It’s a cute two page romp. But merely cute.

Grade: B-

The second spotlight is on the great Marie Severin. Again, another more than worthy lady to mention.

Grade: A+

The sixth story is “Clockwork Nightmare” by Robin Furth and Agnes Garbowska. This one features Franklin and Valeria Richards of the FF in a Hansel & Gretel/Through The Clockwork Tree adventure. It is told mostly in a fairy tale manner, with text mixed with illustrations. A neat little story. Nothing dazzling about either Ms. Furth’s script nor the art by Ms. Garbowska. Just a really nice tale.

Grade: B

The last story is “Head Space” by Devin Grayson and Emma Rios. This one is an X-Men tale playing on the the love triangle between Cyclops, Phoenix, and Wolverine as seen through Scott Summer’s worried mind’s eye and dreamscape. The ambivalent ending, while fitting with the wispy nature of the piece, left me wondering what was the point of the whole thing. Nice to see a new comics story by Ms. Grayson but Ms. Rios’ art is typical of the upcoming generation influenced by manga. In her case, it’s the branch that mixes European and Japanese influences. It’s okay to look at but doesn’t wow me.

Grade: C

For the book as a whole, Girl Comics #1 gets a total grade of C+.

But as my father used to tell me, everybody can appreciate a C student. They are willing to work harder than anyone else. My hope is the remaining issues of the anthology show some improvement. I would actually like than one out of seven stories.

Until next time, Namaste.

 

KICK ASS 4

KICK ASS 4
Written by Mark Millar and Drawn by John Romita Jr.
Published by
Icon/Marvel Comics

Young David Lizewski has continued putting on his costume and playing superhero, despite all the horrific injuries he has sustained. And now he’s reached a point where he has genuinely done some good. But there’s a flip side to doing those goods; David had hoped to inspire others to do positive deeds and make the world a better place. Instead, he has begun to inspire others to become costumed vigilantes. Two of those vigilantes pop up in the middle of his latest case, however, and they are something else entirely; one is a large man whop stays masked and behind the scenes, calling himself “Big Daddy.” The other is a ten-year old girl who packs a pair of swords and is unafraid to bloodily dismember those she feels are evil and need to be removed from living.

I genuinely want to like KICK-ASS better than I do. It isn’t that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the book; Millar’s story and script are actually quite palatable, his work here leaps and bounds above the godawful WAR HEROES. Romita Jr’s art is phenomenal, really- the pages look absolutely brilliant, and he is one of the rare artists who can really make a sword-wielding 10-year old look dangerous and scary. But there’s something about this book that nags at me. And that’s weird, considering it’s technically a fine effort, and the most readable thing I’ve seen out of this writer in ages.

Perhaps it boils down to David as a character. In this issue, he spends a great deal of time on the sidelines, watching what is happening, and even when he tries to pursue something, it doesn’t go anywhere- he’s outclassed by what he’s dealing with. In his personal life, he’s helping his father write a personal ad and faking being gay to get closer to the girl he likes. In short, David doesn’t really come across as a protagonist the way you’d like in order to make him a compelling person to read about. Perhaps the ultimate point of the story is to get him to a point where he truly stands on his own two feet, but reading this singular issue (my first since issue one), that doesn’t appear close in the rearview mirror. And it hampers the book a bit, considering the amount of merit it possesses otherwise.

Marc Mason

KICK ASS 1

KICK ASS 1
Written by Mark Millar and Drawn by John Romita Jr.
Published by
Marvel

In stores Wednesday!

Dave Lizewski is your typical teenage geek. His life revolves around comics, sci-fi, daydreaming, and pining over girls he has no shot with. Living alone with his widowed father, he trudges through his existence with little in the way of excitement or enthusiasm about real life. But one day, a thought comes into his mind that he can’t make go away: why doesn’t anyone ever really put on a costume and go out and do good deeds. After all, he reasons, you don’t need a traumatic family tragedy to motivate you to help people, only a good heart. So Dave hits the gym, buys a costume, and he’s suddenly out on patrol. Unfortunately, his first attempt at stopping some troublemakers goes horribly, awfully wrong.

KICK ASS is the latest release from Marvel’s Icon imprint, where their top talent gets to take their creator-owned work out to play. Millar has placed creator-owned work at places as varied as Avatar and Dark Horse, but as his most well-known works have shipped from Marvel, it was only a matter of time before he’d put a book in this particular playground. Joining him is one of the five greatest comics artists working today, John Romita Jr., and that alone is almost enough to make me recommend this book. JRjr represents consummate professionalism in this industry; great work, strong storytelling, and the ability to always hit his deadlines. If we cloned fifty of him, the world of comic books would be a far better place.

Is KICK ASS any good, though? Yeah- it’s not bad. It isn’t brilliant, mind you, but it intrigues enough to carry you through a nicely dense read- decompression is not a problem here. The opening two pages are absolutely terrific, a gag that you smell coming a mile away, but still get a laugh out of. But then we shift to a “present” Dave, and the writer dives into his black-hearted side. I don’t have a problem with dark humor or material; far from it. But Millar has a tendency to play sadism for shits and giggle, rather than let it serve the story as is. Here, though, the writer wisely stops short of hanging with the horror for too long, showing a nice bit of restraint.

From there, we dive into a lengthy flashback that serves as an “origin” sequence that would have worked a bit better with a little more “show” and a little less “tell.” Still, you can’t help but like Dave for the loveable sap that he is, even if you kind of think he’s so damned dumb in trying to do the superhero thing that he kinda deserves what’s happening to him at the beginning of the book. The other flaw in the flashback structure is that we lack a true timeframe; because Dave’s face has… issues… when we first see him, we don’t know how long he’s been wearing the suit and playing hero. Is he a mature man questioning his choices? Still a stupid young kid? It makes a difference in how you sympathize with his plight.

Already sold to Hollywood, I’d expect strong issue sales, but stronger sales on the trade side. Looks and smells like an evergreen for sure.

Marc Mason