Review: Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers

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Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 6/50
Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers Volume 1
ISBN: 978-0785166870

It’s been quite a while since my last graphic novel review. Partly this is because I tore through a bunch of new Valiant graphic novels (reviews to come later), but it was also because I’ve been reading this dense collection of the original Guardian of the Galaxy comics. Well, I’m finally done, so here’s my thoughts on it.

I was first introduced to the Guardians of the Galaxy in 1990 with Jim Valentino’s version of the comic. I bought three copies of issue #1 and I got them signed, thus assuring my financial future! But much like this version of the Guardians, the future in which I got rich from collecting comics was only a possible future. Alas, it was not meant to be. But I digress. After collecting the Valentino run for a while, I worked on collecting earlier appearances of the Guardians, but never got them all. That’s where this handy volume comes in. The 18 issues it compiles bring the Guardians from guest star status alongside the Thing and the Defenders, to their own run in Marvel Presents.

 

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So who are these original Guardians, in case you’re only familiar with the new team? They start off with Major Vance Astro, an Earth native sent on a 1000-year voyage in stasis. The only problem is that hyperdrive is developed while he’s on his voyage, so humans from Earth have already populated the galaxy when he arrives at his destination. Plus, he is somehow damaged by the stasis and has to be encased in a full body suit lest he disintegrate. But his eyes and mouth can be uncovered. And he has psychic powers. And he’s kind of a whiny teenager in a grown-up’s body, and … what was he going to do at the end of his 1000 year voyage if people hadn’t developed hyperdrive while he was asleep, anyway? It’s best not too think too deeply about him.  He’s old, he’s pissed, and he’s kind of an ass. ‘Nuff said.

Charlie-27 is the last survivor of the genetically-modified humans who lived on Jupiter. Same with Martinex, except he’s the last survivor of Pluto. Charlie-27 is big and strong, and Martinex can create and manipulate fire and ice, because Pluto. The last member of the team is Yondu, a version of which became Michael Rooker’s character in the recent movie.

Later on, the team grows to include Starhawk, a character who is “One Who Knows,” which means he gets to move the plot along and act mysterious. He also turns into a woman sometimes, which gets explained toward the end of this volume. Nikki, the last Mercurian, also joins the team. Her power is… she’s got spunk? In an essay in the back of this volume, Stever Gerber says “she was our token female and our token Mercurian.” Way to kill two birds with one stone.

Okay, so that’s who the Guardians are, but what do they do? Well, they don’t get to guarding the galaxy for a while. The first half of this volume involves them kicking the alien Badoon off of Earth, where they have turned the remaining human population into slaves. The Badoon, a race of lizard-like humanoids, are also the reason why so many of the team are the last of their kind. To get rid of these vile creatures requires help from the past in the form of Captain America, the Thing, Doctor Strange, and the Hulk, to name a few guest stars.

The second half of the volume takes the Guardians off Earth and out into the galaxy. There’s some inventive ideas in here, a lot of silly ones, and more than a few batshit crazy ones, like a giant (we’re talking light-years-long) humanoid being whose existence is anti-life itself.

I mentioned before that there’s an essay in the back from Steve Gerber. There’s also one by Roger Stern. Reading them puts a new light on some of the strangeness in the preceding comics, as it makes clear how much of the comic was a seat-of-the-pants affair. Here’s Roger Stern on taking over from Steve Gerber:

[It] was basically my first title for Marvel. I picked it up under circumstances that have since become a trademark for Marvel–it was already late, and not only that, but my first issue was to be the conclusion of a two-part tale about the origin of Starhawk. When Steve brought in the pages of the preceding issue, I said, ‘Gee, this is really bizarre, Steve! How does it end?’ And Steve revealed that he hadn’t really figured that out yet. I was thunderstruck.”

Given that sort of planning, it’s no surprise that these stories meander a bit, but there’s some fun and powerful stuff in there along with the filler. Especially toward the end of this volume, there are stories that pack more of an emotional wallop than I expected from the stories that came before. The emotional impact of the scene below is lessened somewhat when you read what Roger Stern has to say about it, but it still comes as a surprise in terms of the comic.

ggwompwompAnd when super-strong lunkhead Charlie-27 ends up crying, you know the Guardians have grown up some.

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Or maybe they haven’t. I’ll have to wait until I get Volume 2 through an interlibrary loan to find out.

 

Manga & Graphic Novel Challenge

Mother Gamer Writer

The fine folks at Mother/Gamer/Writer have been hosting a Manga/Graphic Novel/Video Game Novel Challenge for a few years now, and I’m going to join in this year.

I’m going to shoot for the stars and enter at Level 5 (read a total of 45-55 books). The actual reading should be easy. I tear through manga and graphic novels on a regular basis (and I’m skipping the video game novel portion of the challenge). But keeping up with reviewing each book? That will be a challenge. Let’s see if I can keep up or I fall flat on my face, shall we?

I better get myself to the library and get some manga and graphic novels checked out, because if there’s one thing I can’t do, it’s afford to buy all of the books I am going to read! If you’re of a mind to help me in that department, maybe you’d consider buying one of my books or stories? (What, you thought I’d miss a chance for a shameless plug?)

Fiction Friday: 6/1/12

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Fiction Friday is here again, and here is what I have been up to, fiction-wise. (Note: I’m still reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312. It’s somewhat slow-going for me at the moment.)

Aurum (short story)

In “Aurum,” by Genevieve Valentine, steampunk and fantasy mix in a world of airships and dragons. In the world of this story, dragons and humans co-exist in a truce of sorts, with dragons lending out money from their hoards if they feel like it, but rarely adventuring out into the greater world. Brandon, a human and the architect of a new type of airship, needs to borrow some hoard money to complete his project, but is surprised when Regia, the dragon who lends it, also demands passage on the ship as part of her terms. Like other short stories I have read and enjoyed lately (Ken Liu’s Nebula Award-winning “The Paper Menagerie,” and Brent Knowles’ “Stone Eater,” for instance), it is the emotional content of this story that most intrigued me. What I thought would be an adventure tale turns out to be more of a story about internal motivations, and this ended up being a much more powerful basis for the story. Give “Aurum” a read in Issue 42 of Abyss & Apex.

Very Near Mint (graphic novel)

Very Near Mint, by Justin Peterson, is a comic book about two guys running a comic book store, which I discovered through the Kickstarter for its second volume. In Volume One, Colin and Sam, proprietors of The Splash Page, have to deal with their shipment of new comics being destroyed in a car crash, teaching a new employee the ropes of running a comic book store, and the return of Colin’s ex-girlfriend, Mackenzie. Worse than all that, though, is the opening of a mega-store across the street from The Splash Page. The aptly-named Across the Street Comics promises to put Colin and Sam out of business. The comedy and drama continue to unfold in Volume Two, as the identity of Colin and Sam’s nemesis is revealed.

There is a lot of humor in here, especially if you are a comic-book fan who can laugh at yourself, because Very Near Mint pokes endless fun of that world (the fans, the stores, the Cons, and the comics themselves). The comic convention in Volume Two especially had me nodding my head at how right-on the depiction is, even down to the smell of a Con. I definitely recommend these volumes if you’re a comic-book fan or know someone who is. They are available in manga-sized softcovers and in digital form at the Very Near Mint Store.

Delilah Dirk and the Seeds of Good Fortune (comic book)

Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Seeds of Good Fortune is the comic book sequel to the webcomic Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. Let me stop here and say if you have not read The Turkish Lieutenant, get thee hence. It marries amazing artwork, lush, beautiful scenery, fantastic characters, and a rollicking good story, and I can’t wait until there is an English-language graphic novel version available.

Unlike the full-color Turkish Lieutenant, Seeds of Good Fortune is in black-and-white and is only available as a physical comic book. Given the chance to read more Delilah Dirk adventures, however, I will pretty much go wherever Tony leads me. Plus this way I got a sketch and personalized dedication, which is nice. In Seeds, both world-traveler Delilah and former lieutenant Selim are back, although Selim is present only on either end of the main story (the part he plays is integral, though). You see, Selim sends Delilah off on her adventure with some fresh-picked apples. Thoughtful, but it turns out they don’t taste all that great. Selim’s simple kindness ends up playing a pivotal role in Delilah’s ensuing (mis)adventures. ddapple2
The art is, as expected, superb, from facial expressions to action sequences to the architecture and scenery, to the Family Circus-esque two-page spread in the middle of the book. The characters and story are likewise great, especially the scenes between Delilah and the rope merchant. (I think it’s fair to say this story hinges on apples and rope. How often do you get to say that?) Unless you catch Tony at a convention, the only way to pick up a copy of Seeds is through his online store. With shipping it is a bit pricey for a 32-page comic, but as an investment in convincing Tony to produce more tales Delilah and Selim? Priceless.

The Case of the Misplaced Hero (serial)

Since I started writing my own serial adventure not that long ago, I have been on the lookout for other serials to read, and one I am enjoying right now is Camille LaGuire’s The Case of the Misplaced Hero. It is the story of Alex, whose mysterious and wealthy parents died when he was young, leaving him in the care of his eccentric great-aunt Flavia. Now Alex is in college, a perpetual student who fails classes in order to stay in school.

The story doesn’t take long in hinting that Alex will end up on an adventure in an alternate reality. Heck, it’s hinted at in the first episode and alluded to in the title of the series, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by mentioning it. I am a big fan of alternate reality stories, whether it is in TV shows like Fringe, comic books like Excalibur, or books such as Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series, so Misplaced Hero seemed like a natural fit for me. Given its premise, I admit that the first few episodes had me a little concerned about how long into the story it would be before Alex stops messing around in college and got to adventuring in the world next door. Luckily, by Episode 5, the story takes a turn for the speculative once again, and at two episodes a week, it wasn’t all that long to get there after all.  The story is still in its early days, so now is a good time to get on board and follow Alex through the looking glass.

Up Next

Sunday: Part 16 of The Only City Left, my own SF/F serial action-adventure story. In Part 16, Allin’s flashback to the time of his parents’ death continues.

Webcomics Wednesday: Each Wednesday I review some of the wonderful long-form webcomics that are out there. Not familiar with webcomics? Think comic books by passionate independent creators, released for free on the web. Have a look at my Links page for a list of the ones I am currently reading.

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Photo Credits: Header photo of books (cropped), courtesy of Stewart on Flickr.

Webcomics Wednesday: Birth of Venus

Welcome to a special edition of Webcomics Wednesday. Today, I only have one webcomic to talk about instead of my usual two. In exchange for the second review, I have an interview with the creators to share with you. If this more in-depth approach to my reviews is to your liking, please let me know and I’ll work on lining up more interviews for future posts.

I’ll start off with what my initial take on the comic was, and then get right into the interview.

Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus is a full-color webcomic by Andrew “MAK” Makishima (Story/Script/Lettering), Matthew “JLD” Rice (Story/Illustrations/Colors) and Rory Walsh (Colors on issues 1 and 2). So far there have been two issues and a 12-page prequel story, and the third issue has begun online. There will be nine issues total.

The story starts with a costumed super-heroine falling to the street from the skyscrapers above. She ends up broken and bloody and we are left to wonder: Did her powers fail her? Was she defeated and cast down to earth by a super-villain? The answer is that the story is not that simple, of course. The story takes place in Vanguard City, which is a sort of sci-fi Metropolis, replete with super-powered bad guys and a lone super-hero, Guardian.

Madison Mercury is a blond-haired, dedicated reporter who believes that the city is overlooking the threat posed by a suspected terrorist group known as the Rebirth. When her twin sister Mara comes to town, she is caught up in events that prove Madison is right. Meanwhile, Guardian seems strangely reactive to threats rather than proactive. Is he kind of a doofy superhero or is there a more sinister reason he is always late to the party?

Some humans were harmed in the making of this scene.It should be noted that this is a pretty violent webcomic. At a guess, I would say the creators are fans of classic Paul Verhoeven movies like RoboCop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers, where the violence is a bit over the top and there is much dark humor. It is also reminiscent of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, both in art style and in the gritty approach to a world full of superheroes.

After catching up with the Birth of Venus archives, I felt compelled to talk to the creators about their webcomic, and they were kind enough to answer a series of e-mailed interview questions.

Creator Interview

What’s the elevator pitch for Birth of Venus?

Andrew “MAK” Makishima:  Birth of Venus is about a young woman named Mara Mercer who becomes the victim of rape at the hands of a super villain.  The trauma leaves her scarred…and pregnant.  But this is no ordinary pregnancy and Mara soon discovers that she has been imbued with amazing powers by the child growing inside of her.  She faces the dilemma of wanting to use these powers to get revenge on her attacker but also trying to live with the fact that she has this child growing inside of her now and whether she can ever love it.  Its a dark subject matter but ultimately I see it as a story of this woman finding strength she never knew she had and rebuilding herself into a new identity.

You had issues 1 and 2 of Birth of Venus for sale at Wondercon. Which comes first, the physical comic book or the webcomic, or are they concurrent?

MAK: The webcomic comes out first.  We’ve been printing the comics out after the issue wraps up online and have just started bringing those to conventions and comic shops.  We’ve only printed a very limited run of the comic books due to cost.  If we see a demand for it, we’ll print more and probably offer them for purchase on the website as well.

Matthew “JLD” Rice: We both grew up reading traditional printed comics and intended “Birth of Venus” to be done that way. (We actually did our first printing of the first issue as a pitch device… which was an expensive lesson. Ouch!) After re-evaluating our game-plan, we realized that we could release BoV one page at a time as a weekly web-comic but still stick to the traditional comic book format for printing purposes. The story has been tailored to work for BOTH purposes, having each page pack as much punch as possible and stand somewhat on its own while delivering the proper page-turn reveals needed to serve a printed book.

What is your expected timeline for completing all nine issues?

JLD: Whoo-boy! That’s a tough question and it really all depends on how this thing takes off. If we don’t hit any brick walls along the way, I hope that we can keep doing our weekly page-a-week frequency until we’re done… We should be done with Issue #3 by the end of the year and get about an issue and a half in the can each year after that…

What are your plans, if any, for a graphic novel for Birth of Venus?

JLD: We have the story broken into 3 distinct arcs, (or Trimesters if you will) and the plan is to finish the third issue and figure out a way to get some collected editions printed either by an interested publisher or possibly through a Kickstarter campaign. Each Trimester of BoV is meant to work strongly on their own while functioning as three major acts of a larger story.

MAK:  So that’s potentially 3 graphic novels of roughly 90-100 pages.  An omnibus of the whole series would be cool but at the rate we’re going, that’s a ways off from now.

What are your backgrounds, in education and work, that brought you to the point of making Birth of Venus?

A page of JLD's artwork for Helen KillerJLD: Graphic storytelling has been in my blood since I made my first comic book in 4th grade and I’ve been honing my craft ever since, now as a freelance illustrator and storyboard artist. After my first published comic work on “Helen Killer“, I knew that a follow-up would have to be something that I was passionate about. (These things eat up a good chunk of your life!) From the impetus of BoV we both knew that we really had something quite unique.

MAK: Echoing Matt, I grew up reading and collecting comics and wanted to be a comic artist/writer.  In high school, my interests drifted towards animation and filmmaking and I ended up getting a film degree at Cal State Long Beach.  I still loved comics though and wanted to write something in that format.

How do you know each other?

JLD: We first crossed paths at the introductory video production course at OCC Community College. After each completing our first solo projects we both saw the potential in one another’s work and we’ve been close friends ever since and creative partners as often as possible.

MAK:  I’ve known Matt for over 10 years now and he’s one of my best friends.  Once he finished his run on Helen Killer, I pitched him the idea for BOV and luckily he was game for it.

Is this your first project together?

MAK:  This is our first comic book collaboration.  Prior to that we made student films together.

JLD: And hopefully we’ll get around to putting all of them up on YouTube soon.

I guessed at some of your influences (see above) . Am I on the right track? What other films/comics/books/artists/authors influence your work?

JLD: The Verhoeven nod is quite apt, yet unintentional. We are both fans of his films as they tend to intermingle thought-provoking concepts, engaging characters and a good dose of ultra-violence! Good call! “Invincible” is a HUGE influence, as is “Savage Dragon”, “Powers” and even “Ultra” by the Luna Brothers. My art-style has also been greatly influenced by Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley’s “Invincible” work, as well as the energy and organic line of Paul Pope’s ink-brush techniques. I am also a huge fan of Frank Cho, Walt Simonson, Will Eisner and Mike Mignola so I’d like to think that those influences might show up in my work from time to time… if I’m lucky!

Birth of Venus revolves around the results of a brutal assault and rape; was this difficult to write? Did you have any concerns that someone who picks up this book might stop reading at that point?

MAK:  It was difficult because there is a very different tone evoked when that is introduced into the story.  It has, and still is the most concerning thing for me that the subject matter be treated responsibly and in a non-gratuitous way.  It is dark so there is a certain level of discomfort that is unavoidable I’m afraid.  All I can say is that I hope by the end of the story, if people stick around they will feel that this was earned and necessary to the story we set out to tell.

I enjoyed the Mercury and Clay prequel story about McCoy and Madge’s first date. Are there more prequels planned for between later issues?

JLD: I would definitely love to do some more Clay McCoy short stories! What pulpy fun!

MAK: Hey, if you want to add more drawing duties to your plate, I can write some more!  The prequel comic was actually something we created to pitch the comic with initially so we had it in the can ready to go when issue #2 ended and Matt needed the buffer for issue #3.  There are some ideas for other prequel stories but nothing for sure yet.

What webcomics do you enjoy reading?

JLD: Probably my favorite long-form web-comic stories that are currently running are “The Meek” by Der-shing Helmer, “Sin Titulo” by Cameron Stewart, “Bearmageddon” by Ethan Nicolle and “Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether” by Greg Rucka & Rick Burchett. “PVP“, “Battlepug“, “Hark! A Vagrant“, “Hunter Black” and “Escape From Planet Nowhere” are also good, fun reads.

MAK: Don’t forget Ratfist!

What does success look like for you with Birth of Venus? I.e., you can quit your day jobs, this leads to more projects, etc?

JLD: If Venus can find a steady foothold out there with a growing fan-base to support it, then I would love to keep one foot permanently in that world while toggling between other projects. There is much fodder for potential sequel ideas to BoV.

MAK:  I would love to see BOV completed and out in the world for people to enjoy.  After that, more comic work would be great.  I don’t know exactly what it looks like but creating a sustainable model for creating content, whether it’s online or in print would be a dream come true.

Where can interested fans pick up copies of Birth of Venus? Stores? Conventions?

JLD: We just exhibited for the first time at Wonder Con in Anaheim and we plan to possibly get a table at APE in October and the Long Beach Con in November. We’re keeping things pretty local for the time being. We also currently have copies of the first two issues for sale at Meltdown Comics and Golden Apple in Hollywood, The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, Comics Unlimited in Westminster and Nuclear Comics in Laguna Niguel. We’re also planning on selling printed copies through the BoV website soon.

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Well, there you have it, my first big interview here at Lithicbee and I hope you enjoyed it. I would like to thank MAK and JLD for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly and for pointing me to some more cool webcomics, to boot. I wish them the best of success with Birth of Venus.

If you haven’t checked out Birth of Venus yet, please do so and tell them you heard about it from Lithicbee.

Next Up on Lithicbee

Friday: The third installment in my series on SF/F/H Webzines, for readers looking for stories and writers looking for markets.

Sunday: Part 11 of The Only City Left. This is the continuing story of Allin Arcady, a young man who is lost amidst the ruins of a planet-sized city called Earth. Think Trantor meets Cube meets Mad Max meets monster movies, and you have some idea of the setting. I am having fun writing and sharing this story and would love for you to give Part One a chance and let me know what you think, if you haven’t already.