Gamora: Guardians of the Galaxy #1

Guardians of the Galaxy is easily one of my top five favorite Marvel comics right now. (Thinking quickly, I’ll fill the other spots with Captain America, Incredible Hercules, X-Men: First Class, and Wolverine: First Class.) There’s a lot to like about Guardians: the steampunk design of the team leader’s costume, the talking raccoon, the grumpy little treeman, the ferocious battles, the witty banter, and oh yes, the cute alien precog in the Hawaiian skirt.

One of my favorite things about it though is Gamora, a former assassin.

I’ve seen Gamora a few times during my years reading Marvel books. She usually showed up around Adam Warlock though, and since I never liked him much, I’d dismissed her too by association. My problem with Adam Warlock – and the rest of Marvel’s pre-Annihilation cosmic stuff, frankly – is the focus on the mystical. I mean, Marvel’s never referred to Adam Warlock, Silver Surfer, Thanos, and all those guys’ stories as “scifi” or even “outer space adventure.” It’s “cosmic,” with the implication being that these are huge, grand sagas meant to explore metaphysical questions about the universe and humanity’s role in it. Yawn.

With Annihilation, all that has finally changed and we’re getting some great space opera with some really cool characters I’ve only marginally been aware of until now. Adam Warlock is one of them, and though he’s still this spiritual kind of character, there’s far less focus on his mysticism than there is on his shooting laser blasts out of his hands. And that’s all for the better, says I.

Gamora used to date (or whatever the outer space kids are calling it these days) Adam Warlock. She’s not anymore though, even though both of them are now Guardians. That’s cool too, because the few times I’d seen her before, her role as assassin was far subsurvient to her role as “Adam’s girlfriend.” Now she gets to just be herself and I love what I see.

I don’t know for sure, but I get the feeling that past writers haven’t really been sure what to do with Gamora. Maybe they were torn between those two roles I just mentioned. Whatever the case though, in Guardians of the Galaxy #1, writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning introduce Gamora as a character who’s lost her way.

It’s a cool way to reboot her. I don’t have to know the ins and outs of her history because she’s starting fresh. But knowing that she’s confused and conflicted right now makes me want to know how she got to that point, so I’m immediately connected and interested in her. Drax too, to a lesser extent, but he’s got a lot less personality than Gamora. Witness, for example, Gamora’s reaction when Nova approaches her about joining Starlord’s new team.

Abnett and Lanning are great writers (I’ve been a fan of theirs since discovering them on Legion Lost), so it’s no surprise that they inject some humor into Gamora.

And…

There’s plenty of fighting and shooting and sword-slinging in the first issue, but it all involves the entire group and Gamora doesn’t get the spotlight much. It’s her sense of humor and screwed up way of seeing things that makes me like her so much. I’m very curious to read her early adventures and see how much of Abnett and Lanning’s take is based on previous stuff and how much is them fixing her.

I’ll be writing more later about the next issues of Guardians. They’re up to I think #4 and Gamora does get the opportunity to show how tough she really is. So stay tuned.

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She Creature (2001)

I had really low expectations for She Creature when it was on Sci Fi not too long ago. The name’s totally cheesy for one thing and, well, it was the Sci Fi Channel. But it had Rufus Sewell and Carla Gugino in it, so how bad could it be? Both of them can act, and if nothing else, Sewell would be impossibly cool while Gugino would be incredibly hot. Kinda like a McDLT.

And they do both do a great job in She Creature and, surprisingly, so does everyone else. Especially Aubrey Morris as a retired sea captain who introduces Sewell and Gugino to his captured mermaid.

The story starts off awesome. Sewell and Gugino play a couple named Angus and Lily who run a carnival in Ireland. Lily’s act is to dress up like a mermaid and that brings in the old sea captain who thinks that maybe they’ve captured the real thing. If they have, he wants to warn them about what they’ve got, but he realizes that they don’t. He’s a little eccentric and rambling, so thinking he’s not entirely capable of getting himself home, Angus and Lily drive him back in their carriage (it’s set early in the 20th century) to his totally awesome seaside mansion that looks like it came right out of a Scooby Doo episode.

The captain feeds them dinner and tells them all about mermaids and how dangerous they really are. When Lily – mostly to be nice – says that she believes him, the old man shows them a tank in which he’s chained a real mermaid. Angus offers to buy it, but the captain refuses, so Angus comes back later that night with some men to steal it.

They put it on a ship set for America where Angus hopes to join the Ringling Bros. circus. The rest of the action takes place on the boat and it’s mostly great stuff. The mermaid starts to get into Lily’s head and people start disappearing on the boat. It’s mysterious and thrilling and you don’t even mind much that the mermaid’s tail is obviously made out of rubber. The rest of her is as beautiful and creepy as a mermaid should be.

Unfortunately, the third act becomes a completely different movie. The mystery and slow-burning horror disappears to be replaced by a crappy monster flick with the mermaid “running” around the ship killing everyone Alien-style. Up until that point, I was ready to give the movie four out of five whatevers, but the end absolutely destroys all the good that had come before. I loved the first two thirds too much to hate the entire movie, but I still can only give it…

Two out of three seaside mansions.

Michael Phelps: Sub-Mariner or Aquaman?

Last week I linked to a post Caleb wrote about the popularity of Aquaman and Namor. Of course, the context of that post had to do with Michael Phelps and which underwater superhero people most easily connected him with.

I haven’t said a whole lot about Phelps and I probably should have. Caleb’s got some great links about how Phelps is actually a mutant perfectly designed for underwater speed. The only thing Phelps is missing is webbed fingers and flippers.

Here’s one more link for the pile though: John Kovalic’s Dork Tower on the subject.

(Okay, two more links for the pile, though this one’s not Phelps related. Jon Hex has a great overview of the careers of both Aquaman and Namor. He proclaims Namor the better underwater character and I would’ve agreed with him before I read the post, but now I think that in all DC’s not knowing what to do with Aquaman, they’ve actually made him the more versatile and interesting character. That’s a rookie’s perspective though. I haven’t dug into the actual adventures of either yet.)

Where’s Atlantis?

Talking about Atlantis in 20,000 Leagues yesterday got me thinking about the Lost Continent again. I’ve always been interested in the legends, but not enough to really do any research about it. Without making a scholarly endeavor out of it, I thought it might be good to start collecting some of the various theories about the place, just to round out my knowledge. I found three right away.

I should say before I get into this that I take the same approach to Atlantis legends that I do stories about UFOs and other supernatural phenomena. It’s the Fox Mulder approach: “I want to believe.” I’m a skeptic, but not a judgmental one. I think it’s possible for all sorts of things to exist in the world that are unexplained by current science. I just haven’t yet seen any evidence for them myself.

The Atlantis legend of course has its origins in Plato. One day I’ll take the plunge and read Plato’s descriptions for myself, but for now, the Unexplained Mysteries blog’s summary will have to do. There’s nothing much there that I haven’t heard before, but if you’re unfamiliar with Plato’s account, that’ll get catch you up to where I’m at anyway. Later, when I’m feeling motivated, I’ll dig into the original text and report back.

I watched an episode of Mystery Hunters last night that explored a theory that Atlantis might have existed in what’s now Santorini, Greece. It’s a kids’ show and never gets too deep into its subject matter, but I’ve enjoyed other episodes I’ve seen. There’s usually some information I’ve never heard before – like the Santorini theory about Atlantis – so it’s a nice starting point for some light, easily digested research.

What’s attractive about Santorini as a possible location for Atlantis is that it was the site of a massive volcanic eruption that did indeed send a large chunk of it to the bottom of the Mediterranean. You can see the volcano in the middle of the lagoon formed by Santorini on the right and the smaller island of Therasia on the left.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of archaeological evidence that the society living on Santorini at the time of the eruption was Minoan, not Atlantean (whatever that might look like).

Luminary Mind believes that Atlantis has become the Canary Islands and Madeira, just northwest of Morocco. In that theory, Atlantis was connected to Morocco by a series of land bridges that were either destroyed in the same volcanic eruption that took Atlantis or were wiped out later in the Great Flood. It’s kind of a cool theory, but there’s no evidence for it other than the author’s claiming that it happened that way.

And unfortunately, the author claims a lot of special, insightful knowledge about Atlantis’ culture and technology. It’s all very New Age. I’d forgotten the huge connection between Atlantis and New Age philosophy. It makes the pursuit of knowledge about Atlantis less attractive. I’m all for the technologically advanced, lost civilization. I even like the idea of aliens building the pyramids; that’s just cool. Magic crystals and enlightened dolphins don’t do a thing for me though.

Still, Atlantis in the Canary Islands: not bad. I’m not discounting that one until I learn more about it.

Even cooler though is the idea that the continent of Atlantis is what we now call South America. Jim Allen believes that the continent of Atlantis and the island city of Atlantis were two different places, and that it was only the island city that sank into the sea. What’s more, the island city didn’t sink into the Atlantic ocean, but into the inland Lake Poopo in modern day Bolivia.

He has tons of geographic, anthropological, linguistic, and even historical evidence to back him up. He also offers a reasonable explanation for the Atlantean metal orichulcum. What he doesn’t have is archaeological evidence, but he points to other sites of submerged cities in South America suggesting that there might be something there that just hasn’t been found yet.

It’s pretty compelling, fascinating stuff and I really like it except for one reason. It doesn’t leave open the possibility of an undersea kingdom populated by giant seahorse-riding merfolk. Still, in the search for historic Atlantis (if such a place ever existed), I like Allen’s the best.

(He also includes a translation of the entire Atlantis passage from Plato as well as links to other Atlantis sites. It’s your Atlantis one-stop shop and I’ll be exploring it a lot more.)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997: the Crenna version)

There were two TV versions of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea made in 1997. One starred Michael Caine as Nemo, Patrick Dempsey (Can’t Buy Me Love, Grey’s Anatomy) as Professor Aronnax, Bryan Brown (FX, Cocktail) as Ned Land, and Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as someone who wasn’t in Jules Verne’s novel. I’m going to have to track that one down, because it’s easily the more interestingly cast of the two.

The one I saw stars Richard Crenna (the Rambo movies) as Prof. Aronnax and no one else I’ve ever heard of. That’s not to say that it’s a bad movie though. It’s certainly got its problems, but I was never bored, which is already a vast improvement over the novel.

Jules Verne’s book isn’t so much a story as it is a collection of short episodes about life on the Nautilus. It’s loosely tied together by events surrounding Nemo’s capture of Professor Aronnax, his servant/assistant Conseil, and a whaler named Ned Land, but the book leaves that mostly as a subplot and concentrates instead on describing the undersea wonders that Nemo shows Aronnax on their tour around the world. It’s more travelogue than novel and it pretty much sucks.

MOVIE SPOILERS BELOW

The Richard Crenna movie corrects that fault by turning Conseil into Aronnax’s daughter Sophie. (I wonder if they didn’t do something similar with Mia Sara in the Michael Caine version.) She’s still his assistant, but she adds an element of tension missing from the book by giving Nemo and Ned something else to fight over other than Ned’s whining about his freedom.

Sophie is convincingly torn in her affections for the two men. Ned is manly and charming, but he’s also a rogue and Sophie’s not sure she can trust him with her heart. She doesn’t really like Nemo, but he’s refined, wealthy, her dad likes him, and there’s a tragic aspect about him that seems to intrigue her.

The romantic triangle carries us through the story, so that scenes of Atlantis, a sea monster, and a shark attack while diving are all background to the drama. That’s exactly opposite of the novel’s approach and I liked it a lot.

I wish that the acting had been more exciting though. Ned’s the coolest character on the Nautilus and he spends most of the movie locked away so that he can’t get to Sophie.

Sophie’s a pretty generic heroine. I couldn’t figure out what everyone saw in her except that she’s pretty and they’re all sailors without a lot of women around. Nemo has some women on his crew, but he explains that they’re followers; not equals. So Sophie seems to win Nemo and Ned over by being the only available woman on ship. Not exactly the stuff of great love stories.

Nemo’s dull as a brick too. Ben Cross plays him really low key. He has moments of passion, but for the most part he’s so measured and careful that he’s charmless. Nemo ought to be cool. He ought to be romantic and dangerous. I didn’t hate Cross’ performance, but it makes me sad to think about what it could have been.

Crenna does okay, but with the focus on Nemo, Sophie, and Ned, Aronnax sort of gets left behind. He’s much more important in the novel where he has more power over Conseil and Ned, but in this version his role has mostly to do with his approval or disapproval of Sophie’s love life. And Sophie is such a strong, independent woman that her father’s opinion doesn’t really matter to her anyway.

A couple of other things that need to be mentioned in any review of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: the design of the Nautilus and the giant squid fight.

Like the plot, the Nautilus in this version doesn’t suck, but it could’ve been a whole lot better. It’s pretty much an oval with a ramming horn on the front and propellers on the back. It’s not ugly, but it’s not cool either. The Nautilus ought to look cool. But then, Cross’ Nemo isn’t the kind of guy to build a cool submarine. He’s way too reserved. (On the other hand, he did build laser guns for his crew to fight sharks with, so he’s got a cool side buried under all that stuffiness somewhere.)

The giant squid fight, disappointingly, doesn’t exist in this version. It’s replaced by a giant eel, which could have been cool if the CGI had been better. Still, getting away from it involves Ned going inside it’s mouth with dynamite strapped to a harpoon, so it’s still pretty awesome. It just would’ve been more awesome if there had also been tentacles.

Three out of five shark-killing laser guns.