Thee Comic Column #96: Guarding the Galaxy

Starlord TradeAssurance: There are NO SPOILERS contained in this article. This is not a review of the film so much as a treatise on what it means to comics.

I usually shy away from discussing the big comic book movies here because although comic book movies are definitely within the scope of the column, everybody on the internet reviews this stuff. I try to make my column more about discussing comics critically, while of course attempting to turn people on to some of the great stuff out there – old and new – that could easily become lost in the exponentially expanding industry. However, two nights ago I saw Guardians of the Galaxy – a movie that upon announcement two years or so ago precipitated a very literal head scratching moment and then quickly grew into the most eagerly anticipated Marvel movie to date for me. And for a lot of other folks as well. To finally see it on the big screen was to have all my expectations answered directly and to witness the next MASSIVE step in the evolution of the Marvel Movie Universe. And yet, I’m not going to say anything more about the movie directly; it stands on its own two legs and doesn’t need me to tell you why it’s great or important. What I do want to talk about is the fact that the film ties directly back into comics as a medium, and it does so in a way that gave me some excellent perspective, not just into comic-inspired films, but the evolution of story itself and how time and technology play such an important part in that maturation of Story in this day and age.

Guardians of the Galaxy first debuted in the late 1960’s as a completely different team of heroes. This was an age when Sci Fi was defined by shows like Star Trek, pulps and authors such as Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison and Arthur C. Clarke. There was most assuredly Science Fiction in comics at the time but it was not quite as organized as it would become in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, when the genre received perhaps its greatest cultural boost ever with the success of George Lucas’Star Wars. It was in the wake of this that Marvel not only began publishing its Star Wars licensed comics, but also brought back Guardians of the Galaxy, taking their Universe into an even more decidedly Jack Kirby-inspired direction again.

star frontiers 1The late 70’s/early 80’s is the era of my early youth, and admittedly while I loved Star Wars as a kid (I was born in 1976, the year before the original film opened) and science fiction was definitely an interest in my burgeoning imagination, as I grew up Sci Fi became remanded to the peripheral of my interests and, at some point much later in life, even became something that I was increasingly suspicious of – largely a result of working as an inventory supervisor at a big box book store and seeing how the literary aspect of the genre seemed to perpetuate about half a dozen themes over and over again. This was short-sighted I would learn, but that’s a discussion for another day and a different column. Suffice it to say Sci Fi became something I turned my nose up at. And yet, in my head there always remained this residue; a splotch of the tone of old Sci Fi comics, ads within the comics and even a mostly unidentifiable flotsam/jetsam of images; debris cast adrift in some of the most vestigial areas of my memory that have informed my understanding of what Sci Fi was in the time of my youth, even if I wasn’t a direct connoisseur of it. As residues go it was a pleasant one, and one I realized later I had been searching for a crystallization of for some time. I found some of that in novels a friend recommended to me later in life, some of it in stalking the back issue bins of The Comic Bug, and then…

Guardians.

The beauty of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen? It channels the tone of all that long-ago Sci Fi pulp and turns it from still, printed images into big budget, real as life Cinema.

It is, in a word, alchemy.

Now, about the role time and technology have had sci fion us and how we consume Story and just what the hell that has to do with my borderline nostalgic twaddle. Think about this: thirty years ago artists were sketching out ideas on what the future would be like – often in fantastically drastic terms to better the story – doing things they knew could never be done in the movies as they knew them. I mean, we could all dream, but as far as the technology went after Mr. Lucas’ innovations there were just some things that either couldn’t be done visually or that no one signing a multi-million dollar financing check thought would fly with audiences. We who hovered over the artwork of John Harris, Jack Kirby or any of the countless artists who contributed to paperback covers at that time and have their names obscured in the wake of history were going to be decidedly out of luck if we thought we were ever going to get to see some of that stuff realized perfectly onto a big screen. And yet, here we are.

What happened?

Well, of course the industry of comics has grown with those of us born in the 70s, and our tastes have bledROM13 over into the mainstream just as comics have. And a lot of our fellow comics readers from that bygone era have grown up and earned the keys to the golden kingdom, cutting their teeth in Hollywood for years. James Gunn, an admitted Marvel Comics fan from back in the day, certainly earned his key. His films Slither and Super showed he had the chops to do the more street-level stuff, and when given the opportunity he turned back to those star-crossed nights of his youth (born 1970 he is definitely one of us from that era) and made a movie that, as he says in interviews post-GoG release, “made him feel like the movies of his youth made him feel (interview here). And the tech is here to do that, to bring all of this to life in a way it hadn’t been before. We know that Science Fiction, at its heart is an extrapolation of science; a projection based on technology and school of thought NOW that might conceivably become the reality of the future. And we know that when that transmutation does indeed occur it does so very subtly. The various prophecies of science fiction, so large at their onset, veer closer with the passage of time, the continued growth of technology and the onset of familiarity, until they sneak into our lives almost invisibly. Look at the iPhone for ROM’s sake. I’m reminded of the idea that a lot of the mobile technology today was designed by people who loved the original Star Trek as children. But in the case of the tone of this Bronze age Sci Fi, we’ve now reached the point where people can take those ideas and, what was before remanded to pen and paper because the technology did not exist – was possibly unthinkable even – to bring it to the big screen. And now it does. And so James Gunn takes those comics, ads, role playing games, etc. and literally turns them into moving picture. That’s what Guardians of the Galaxy plays like: for every kid that stared at a TSR ad in a Starlord comic in 1981 and thought, how awesome would that alien/spaceship/space station/alien planet be realized in a movie, well, it’s thirty odd years later and Mr. Gunn has done it.

And that, my friends, if just awesome.

……………………..

Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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