Author Archives: Paul O'Connor
It’s not all comic books here at Longbox Graveyard (and it’s maybe not even comics any more — I did just kill the blog). My recent movie to Canada — sans family — has left me with idle hours in the evening, and my new job ensures that come dark I’m creatively drained, too. What’s a poor Moleman to do?
Watch a lot of movies, of course. Here’s a list of the films screened at Longbox Graveyard Secret HQ this past month.
(Note that despite the image below, this post is pretty much bereft of comic book content — go here for that)
Spider-Man: Homecoming: Perfectly reliable, mid-tier Marvel entertainment. The Captain America PSAs were a scream. I did coincidentally catch the Doctor Octopus train fight from Spider-Man 2 on cable the other day, though, and Spidey 2 blows Homecoming out of the water in pretty much every way.
Baby Driver: Caught it alone in a Vancouver movie theater, killing time until the Canada Day fireworks started. Walked out of the theater brilliantly focused, alert to every sound and color, like I’d emerged from the most effective meditation session of my life. I guess you could say the movie captured my attention. Favorite picture of the summer.
War For The Planet Of The Apes: Yeah, sure, OF COURSE we are living in an era where talking monkey movies are legitimately in the discussion for the best film trilogy of all time. Watching the scenery in this movie, all I could think was … this has got to be British Columbia. Yep, it was. Journeyed out to the Othello Tunnels the next day to experience one of the locations. Caesar Is Home.
Dunkirk: Doesn’t fully live up to the rapturous reviews — and I say this as a WW2 buff and a Christopher Nolan fan — but I did enjoy this human-scaled epic. It was chilling to see bodies bombed on a beautiful beach, and ships sink on a clear and untroubled ocean. That’s probably just how it felt, the juxtaposition of life and death. Thinking back on it, though, I’m inclined to agree the movie is “at heart a high-stakes drama about proper queue etiquette.”
Cabaret (1972): One of those genre classics I’d managed not to see in my half-century of being a film fan. Despite my love of the Silver Surfer, I’m not mad for musicals, but I enjoyed the melodrama. Never really got Liza Minelli, either, but I can see how this picture helped make her an EGOT superstar.
Hell or High Water (2016): Held up on re-watch, originally saw this in the gloriously shitty little La Paloma theater in Encinitas last year. Grim, gritty, and pulls off the trick of getting you to root for some pretty awful heroes. Didn’t realize until today that this film shares a screenwriter with Sicario, another recent favorite, and now I’m anxious to see that selfsame screenwriter’s directorial turn in Wind River. Chris Pine was also pretty good here …
Star Trek Beyond (2016): … but Chris Pine is only so-so here. Same with poor Idris Elba and everyone else who wasn’t Sofia Boutella. Second or third time I’ve seen this movie and I still don’t know what the hell is going on. I’ve been a supporter of the JJVerse in general, but each picture is proving worse than the one before.
John Wick (2014): Worst-Russian-Accents-Ever. I fell asleep.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951): … the original still packs some punch. Not so much for the “Earthman, get off my lawn” bit so much as for how it made me long for a prosaic time where White Men In Uniforms might be trusted to pay attention when confronted with unimpeachable evidence of Impending Doom.
Force Majeure (2014): Can’t stop thinking about this one. Fate confronts a couple with an ugly truth, and then their lives unravel, one thread at a time. Unsparing and uncomfortable — reminded me a bit of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster in that regard. Director Ruben Östlund is one to watch and now I’m eager to view his Palme d’Or-winning The Square.
Shock Corridor (1963): Working hard to develop an appreciation for Sam Fuller. I admire that he tried to elevate his material with political and racial commentary … but pulp is pulp.
Genocide (1968): Deeply strange Japanese picture where a hot-but-insane American temptress escapes a Nazi death camp to join the East Bloc to create a strain of insects that can destroy the world. Ripped from today’s headlines! Would have had the bleakest ending of any movie I saw this month if not for …
Shoot First, Die Later (1974): Come for the crazy car chases, stay for the fashions, casual violence, cat murder, sexism, and the frozen-faced beauty of a leading man who looks like he walked off the set of Team America World Police. And that ending! Oy.
Rules of the Game (1939): The outrages that shocked French society upon this film’s release have largely faded with time, but what remains is a masterfully constructed comedy of manners. Sweeps you up as only a classic old movie can do.
8 1/2 (1963): Fellini clearly has problems with women, but at least he puts them all in full view. No one shot a dream sequence better. In a crazy sum-of-the-parts way, this movie does depict the experience of being a director (at least to the degree that I’ve come to understand it directing video games). I love the part where Mastroianni’s knees give out while his producer hauls him toward his ridiculous, overbuilt spaceship set.
L’Atalante (1934): A dreamy, aimless cruise down the canals of France. Remarkable for its slice-of-life filmmaking — like a time machine, really. Plus, it has lots of cats.
Persona (1966): Overall I think Bergman’s reputation for being challenging, dour, and remote is overstated — I find his movies insightful and full of life. But Persona is … challenging, dour, and remote. And brilliant! This is what you get when Bergman decides he’s not concerned for the commercial success of a film (a masterpiece).
Plus Some TV
Enterprise, season one, which I like despite myself; Batman Brave And The Bold (which is the best Batman); and the Black Mirror Christmas Special, which is the most messed-up goddamn thing ever broadcast.
More next month, maybe.
Welcome to the latest (and last!) installment of Super-Blog Team-Up, where I and a dozen other intrepid comics bloggers all take on the same subject. This time, we are looking at death, both for pop culture characters and for the Super-Blog Team-Up itself, which meets its demise with this installment!
I’ve selected the Death of Captain Marvel for my topic — Jim Starlin’s 1982 send-off to the throw-away character he had made relevant a decade before. This was a sixty-six page stand-alone volume, the first in a series of original graphic novels published by Marvel, and while this is a talky and sentimental book (just this side of maudlin), it is still a good read, and particularly meaningful to me, Captain Marvel fan that I was.
No one got Captain Marvel’s life better than Jim Starlin, and I can’t imagine anyone doing better with his death. Starlin is all-in, here, kicking things off with a Captain-Marvel-as-Pietà beneath a title that leaves no doubt how this story will end up.
But how do you build tension in a tale where the outcome is known from the start? By setting out the emotional stakes, of course. Just as in any other superhero book, where we know the good guy will triumph over the big bad (but don’t know if they will get the date with their best girl), here we know that Marvel will die, but we don’t know how it will happen. Most importantly, we can’t anticipate how the Captain will face his own death, though we might have guessed.
It turns out that Captain Marvel died as he lived — with grace and uncommon understanding.
First, though, we go back to the beginning, as Starlin opens with a cogent summary of Captain Marvel’s career, framed as a recording Marv himself is making for posterity. It’s sad to realize that many readers might have been coming to Captain Marvel for the first time here, expressly to witness his death, but I guess that’s what you get when bumping off a low-sales C-lister. Even for fans of the character, though, Starlin’s summary is strong reading, nicely condensing the character’s origin and hitting the high points in his unique career — telling how Captain Marvel turned against his Kree overlords and went native on Earth; how he received Cosmic Awareness and became earth’s protector, and how Marvel and company triumphed over Thanos in final battle (for the time, at least).
Ol’ Marv sure had his share of colorful foes!
Then there’s a bit of action — because this is a comic book, after all, and Starlin always made sure even the most cosmic threats could be undone by a punch in the mouth. This time it is cultists worshipping Thanos’ turned-to-stone body. Marv makes short work of them, and even this action sequence crams in talking in this very talky book … in this case Marvel’s thoughts as he battles, nicely illuminating what makes him different, that he uses his cosmic powers to anticipate his enemies and to defeat them with a minimum of violence, and certainly no loss of life. It is Captain Marvel at the height of his powers, and his most self-aware.
It is also his final fight in this earthly realm.
It is in the aftermath of that battle that death begins to claim Captain Marvel. You know how it is in old movies — that no one has a cold, unless it signals the onset of a fatal disease?
And a page later, the fatal diagnosis.
A bit more backstory reveals Marvel was inflicted with his disease from exposure to Compound-13 while battling the villain Nitro, in a tale that marked the end of Jim Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel, and in which Starlin left the Captain for dead. Well, it only took a decade, but Starlin got his way!
With his death all but certain, Marvel goes on his farewell tour, breaking the news to his lover, Elysius, and then to his old partner, Rick Jones, who does not take the news well.
Those characters do join in the attempt to devise a cure, but the medical race-against-time is a subplot doomed to fail, and not just because Starlin gave away the conclusion of this tale with the title. In short order it is discovered that Captain Marvel’s photonic Nega-Bands are all that is keeping him from dying on the spot, but that those same bands inhibit any treatment the heroes might devise. The clock is ticking down with no real hope of a cure.
The Captain’s final hours are spent receiving visitors, and here is where the book really starts to tug on your heartstrings. There’s good characterization here, such as when The Thing fills the leaden air with old war stories, while Spidey can’t stay in the room …
… but more than any individual interaction, I loved this part of the book because it let Starlin fit Captain Marvel into context, to show how he was a special and important force in the lives of everyone in the Marvel Universe. He drove home the emotional void that Marvel would leave in his passing, and made that so much more important than all the goofy super villain fights and team-ups that comprised the Captain’s career.
Seemingly every hero in the Marvel Universe made the pilgrimage to bid the Captain goodbye.
One-by-one, the heroes parade by Marvel’s bed — even a Skull general, who gives Marv a Medal of Valor for being such a great adversary! — but in the end, despite Rick Jones’ continual railing against unkind fate, only one outcome awaits …
And with Captain Marvel on death’s door, it is inevitable who would visit him last!
In the theater of his mind, Thanks restores Marvel to health, and sets up one last battle.
The fight only runs a page or two — and it’s no time-mind synch-warp — but it does let Marvel go out on his feet, battling back against Thanos and his phantoms, and allows Marvel to accept that he is finite, and that even the best of the good fights must one day come to an end.
With that, he is gone, putting a bookend on what I’ve previously argued is an accidental masterpiece, a superheroic career with a genuine beginning, middle, and end. Marvel’s death was touching, and it elevated everything that came before. May he remain dead! With other characters carrying on his trademark-sensitive name, there’s every reason to believe the Captain can remain at his well-earned rest.
Plus, this Kree Captain Marvel doesn’t have to be alive to remain a fictional force in our lives. His life (and death!) live on through stories that are made more poignant by his eventual demise.
Re-reading these stories, in particular, has been an illuminating experience for me. A prime mission of Longbox Graveyard has been for me to revisit the pleasures of my youth, to try to fit everything into some kind of nostalgic higher purpose. Captain Marvel’s stories haven’t always fared well on re-examination, but the point, really, isn’t to determine if something was good or bad, or worthwhile to have read and obsessed over.
Re-reading these old tales is its own reward. Not because (as I once read somewhere) the stories have changed any since we read them last, but because we readers have changed. The twenty-year-old me who first read this tale in 1982 is a distant shadow to the fifty-five-year-old-me typing these worlds, but I can remember feeling sorrow for the Captain’s death, as well as an insider kind of cool for being an original fan of the character, who didn’t need a summary of his adventures.
And I can well remember thinking that death was a far-off thing that I would somehow, impossibly, never have to face, just like the good Captain himself.
At this time in my life, death is real. The best friend of my youth that I read these stories with was claimed by cancer just a couple years ago. I am (I think) in good health, with many years yet to live, but as a male in his fifties still working full-time to support his family I am well aware that I walk in “sniper alley,” with heart attacks and strokes and yes cancer too watching me through the crosshairs. I take comfort in knowing I’ve lived a good life and my passing would be mourned by many (maybe not including Spider-Man, but you can’t have everything).
Still I value my life more now than I did in my twenties, and would more greatly regret giving it up, not being able to see what became of my sons, or what children and art they might bring into this world. A fatal bolt from out of the blue would free me from the agony of U.S. politics, and Kim Jon-un’s sparkly new ICBM, and also relieve me of the duty of figuring how to bring Longbox Graveyard to a close … but aside from that, I’m not seeing a lot of upside.
So I wish myself long life, and long life to all my Longbox Graveyard readers, and when our end comes, may we greet it with the spirit of Captain Marvel, the peaceful Kree man of war.
And that end is here in truth for Super-Blog Team-Up, which announces its death with this entry. Please drop around the many other fine blogs in this project to pay your respects:
- Comic Reviews by Walt : Death Of The Mutanimals
- Between The Pages: I Have Been And Always Shall Be Your Friend
- Chris On infinite Earths: Death Of Supergirl
- Crapbox Son Of Chthulu: Death Of My Love For Marvel Comics
- Comics and Coffee: Superman: The Man Who Murdered The World
- Superhero Satellite: Death of a Collectors Passion — A redemption story
- Retroist: These Pirates Of The Caribbean Models Are To Die For!
- In My Not So Humble Opinion: The Death Of Galactus
As for whether this marks the end of Longbox Graveyard … well, you have to admit, it is the perfect opportunity, isn’t it? Maybe I’ll be back next month.
Or maybe not.
Regardless, thank you for reading, and for your many thoughtful comments through the years. Be well!
NEXT MONTH … maybe there ISN’T a next month!
Artist, friend-of-the-Longbox, and all-around good guy Scott Modrzynski tipped me to this project several months ago. I thought it sounded madly ambitious then, and now that it’s done …
Seriously, just go take a look.
It really is All of the X-Men.
But it is so much more than that.
All of the X-Men, yes … but also every other damn character that appeared in Uncanny Volume 1.
You want the Abercrombie Orphanage Kids from Uncanny #25? They’re here. Geraldo Rivera from #99? Yep. How about Chris Claremont’s cameo from #105? Here. And of course, no X-Men collection would be truly complete without the Beach Goer from Uncanny #222, so you don’t have to ask — present and accounted for.
For all that is holy, just go and look at this thing.
Scott provided some insight on his tortured soul:
“There were some times this project made me so delirious that I’d see the X-shape of the characters as I closed my eyes, which has only ever happened to me after a long day of staring at waves on the beach.
“I almost quit entirely when I got to #190, because I loathed the thought of recreating the regular cast, Avengers and New Mutants as barbarians. At the time, I think it was the most characters I had to make in a single issue.
“That total was surpassed in #370 when I created a big chunk of Skrulls posing as Marvel heroes and villains – yes, I included every Skrull impostor that ever appears in the book, ditto for Mystique’s shape shifts – and once again in #514, during a crossover with Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers. In the latter two cases, I hit 30 unique characters/costumes in a single issue. So tedious …
“But for my own sick piece of mind, this was worth the long journey down memory lane. I love these characters, and a good number of their stories.”
We believe you, Scott. We. Believe. YOU.
I was one among a record crowd that turned out for the Wonder Woman movie last weekend, and I had a fine day at the movies. (You should go). And like a lot of people, I suppose, I walked out of the theater wanting to know more about Wonder Woman. She’s a character that’s been around longer than most of us have been alive, but she was never at the top of my reading stack. It’s a pleasant thing to have new things to explore when you’ve been reading comics since the 1970s!
What better way to begin a Wonder Woman deep dive than to go all the way back to her first appearance? That’s right, I’m talking about … issue #8 of All-Star?
Yep, All-Star. This December, 1941 issue was fronted by a Justice Society story where Starman and Doc Midnight did some damn thing or another. It was probably great! But the reason we remember this book is because of the back-up story … Introducing Wonder Woman!
Now, to be honest, many Golden Age comics can be a tough read. Art can be primitive, the stories can be all over the place, and a modern fan looking for familiar versions of their heroes may come away thoroughly perplexed. Over the years, I’ve come to make peace with Golden Age stories. I previously wrote that Silver Age books feel like musicals to me. Well, Golden Age stories feel more like dreams, where details swim around and odd images stick in your mind. Treating Golden Age books like lucid dreams has opened me up to a whole new world of comics.
And this first appearance of Wonder Woman is no exception. There is a dream-like quality to the story and art. But unlike a lot of books from this era, the story isn’t lacking for storytelling or craftsmanship. Wonder Woman hits the ground running, pretty much fully-formed from the get-go. And small … uh … wonder! Wonder Woman was more than a comic — it was a blueprint for a Utopian society.
Wonder Woman’s origin story hits the tropes you might expect. The “gimmick” here is role reversal, with a woman hero taking care of the men in repudiation of the “damsel in distress” roles served by women in comics (now as then, sadly). No sooner has intrepid airman Steve Trevor crashed on hidden Paradise Island than Princess Diana — the future Wonder Woman — is effortlessly carrying him to safety, while the other inhabitants of that mystical land gather around and shout MAN! MAN!
(more or less)
But this isn’t just to drive home the fact that Paradise Island is home to an all-female society. As creator William Moulton Marston would later say, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.” Marston wasn’t writing a one-off adventure story, intended to quickly thrill and then just as quickly be forgotten. Marston was using a comic book to write for the ages.
Marston had a vision of a world rules by strong, benevolent women. He’d worked out the details and backstory of how this society came about, and we wanted us to know the details:
don’t see many text info-dumps in current comics — used sparingly, I kinda like it
Marston was a fascinating character — an academic, a writer, and a bit of a crackpot who might reasonably be said to have invented a lie detector (insert your own Lasso of Truth insights here). Years after creating Wonder Woman, it would be learned that Marston was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife and a former student (herself a niece of birth control activist Margaret Sanger), and Marston had children by both of them. All of which is between Marston and his partners, of course, but when juxtaposed against the social mores of the 1940s, and the ethos evinced in these early Wonder Woman stories about the benevolent superiority of powerful women, then, well … Marston was talking the talk and walking the walk (or at least in close proximity to women who were).
All of which lends a little more punch to a tale that sees the Queen of Paradise Island heed the advice of her gods to send one of her number into the wide world to “fight for liberty and freedom for all womankind!”
I blew up that panel of Queen Hippolyta, above, because it is, frankly, beautiful. Marston’s uncredited co-creator in these early Wonder Woman tales was Harry G. Peter, who brought a lifetime of illustrating experience to this work. Unlike many Golden Age artists — who often seemed to be teens or very young men learning how to draw as they went along — Peter was an accomplished artist. In his sixties when he did this work, Peter brought an austere, Art Deco quality to the book. To use a banal term, Peter’s world of Wonder Woman is pretty, something that couldn’t be said about the contemporary comic adventures of Superman, Batman, or Captain America (though Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner might be in the conversation).
Wonder Woman’s origin is told in two parts. In All-Star, we see Princess Diana rescue Steve Trevor, learn the story of Paradise Island, and watch Diana enter a contest to choose an emissary to take Trevor back to the United States. Sporting one of those disguises that only fools characters in Golden Age comics, Diana runs the table in a series of skill and strength contests, and takes the laurels in a bullets-and-bracelets showdown.
The story continues in Sensation Comics #1, where Wonder Woman rated the cover, repurposing her original splash page appearance, with a couple bullets bouncing offer her bracelets to make it clear that, hey, there’s some action here, and not just a call for equality and enlightenment in a world ruined by men who wish only to possess and destroy.
Wonder Woman transports the still-recuperating Steve Trevor back to the world in her nifty “transparent plane” …
… and with Steve dropped off at the hospital, Diana does what any tourist would do in an American big city — she checks out the latest fashions. I love how she’s utterly indifferent to society’s scorn and catcalls.
Of course, this being a comic book, it’s only a matter of moments before Diana happens on a bank robbery, which our hero foils with casual aplomb.
Leaving the scene of her heroics, Wonder Woman is clocked running at 80 MPH (in heels!) by a theatrical agent interested in a quick buck.
Wonder Woman is a sensation (ahem), playing to packed houses with her bullets-and-bracelets routine, and I guess she’s good enough with that trick to ensure ricochets don’t deflect into the crowd!
There are some shenanigans with profits, but Diana makes certain she gets her share.
But why does Diana need money, anyway? It isn’t to buy those clothes she was admiring. No, Diana uses the cash to buy an identity — as unique a civilian origin as I believe I’ve ever encountered in comics.
With her cover story in place, Wonder Woman has the full Superhero Starter Pack — a name, a costume, a secret identity, a love interest infatuated with her hero identity while she’s standing right next to him in her secret identity, and a barn with an invisible airplane. Not bad for the new Amazon princess in town.
After Steve gets out of the hospital, there’s finally a bit of action wrapping up the business of aerial saboteurs that led to Trevor blundering onto Paradise Island in the first place. My antenna went up when the story mentioned the bad guys were brewing a deadly kind of gas that would corrode right through a gas mask — a plot point wrapped into the new Wonder Woman film, seven decades later. And my antenna went right again down when, a couple pages later, the gas is set off and our heroes are saved by their gas masks (Golden Age stories are like a dream, remember?).
Along the way, true to form, Diana needs to save impetuous Steve Trevor. Again!
The story ends with our heroes surviving the explosion of the illicit gas warehouse — and another one of those elegant, beautiful panels by Peter, with enough motion even Jack Kirby might take notice.
And with that, the legend is born, replete with the promise to to best “the world’s most villainous men at their own game!”
And so Wonder Woman is launched, with pure intentions, and pure results, in a beautifully-crafted two-part story that entertains and enchants with its dream-like simplicity. It’s a purity that would take a beating in years to come. Wonder Woman herself would become iconic, but her book would see ups and downs, with as many reboots and retcons as any superhero out there — her book moved from the contemporary era to World War 2; her powers stripped away so she could become some kind of Mod avenger; and several times starting over fresh as DC wiped their continuity (and don’t even get me started about Wonder Girl).
Through it all, Wonder Woman’s popularity has endured. I guess she really was built to last, and if we haven’t yet attained the female-dominated Utopia her creator envisioned … well, the new century is still young! Here’s hoping we survive to the end of it, with Wonder Woman there to guide us.
- Title: Wonder Woman
- Published By: DC Comics
- All-Star #8 (December 1941) and Sensation Comics #1 (Janurary 1942)
- LBG Letter Grade For This Run: A
NEXT MONTH: #169 The Death of Captain Marvel
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy return to theaters this week. I’m already a fan of the first movie, and of the comics — both old and slightly less so — so it didn’t take a lot of convincing to part with five bucks American to download the first chapter of Telltale Games’ Guardians of the Galaxy on my iPad.
I’d noodled around a bit with Telltale’s Walking Dead Game, and admired the conversational interface and the emotional stakes of that game, but I wasn’t especially eager to dwell in that dour world, and the game never grabbed me.
Guardians, though … Guardians is something different.
This game is frankly irresistible. You’re on the spot right from the opening screen, with ELO’s “Livin’ Thing” pouring from your speakers over an image of the Guardians punching each others’ lights out. It’s just a main menu, but it’s buoyant, happy, and demands your affection, like a puppy that’s jumped in your lap. And the game that follows is every bit as engaging, masterfully capturing the spirit and tone of the film, whisking us away on an adventure that promises a battle with Thanos, but is really more about the relationships at the heart of the not-so-dysfunctional family that is the Guardians.
The set-up could come straight from the comics — the Nova Corps calls in the Guardians to help run down Thanos, and after squeezing the Corps for future favors (or not, as you wish), we are off on an interstellar treasure hunt. There’s an alien enigma, and the Kree show up, and of course Thanos is there to chew the scenery. The game also takes a couple unexpected swerves that I won’t spoil, save to note they are completely in character and reinforce the story’s core theme of families and what makes them tick.
The interface is simple and easy to use — at least on touch screens. Back in the day we would have called this a point-and-click game. Now it’s about swiping and touching, but really, these kinds of controls haven’t changed all that much since Dragon’s Lair. Most action scenes are navigated with “Quick Time” events. Shooting and punching baddies is accomplished by tapping targets on the screen before they disappear. You dodge danger by swiping the screen when prompted. It’s pretty hard to fail, though I still managed it a time or two.
Sometimes you tap or swipe the screen to move things around. Sometimes you walk around and explore places. Star Lord flies around a bit, which was cool. There was a walking mechanic that required incessant screen-swiping that I could have done without, but for the most part, the game’s interaction economy is spot-on: not so much that you can’t appreciate the story, but not so little that you can afford to take your eyes away from the screen.
Even more engaging than the action scenes were the conversations, which don’t seem to find their way to different destinations so much as they unfold with differing tones — you can be thoughtful as Star Lord, or a dick (or both!), it is up to you. Sometimes the best response is to just let the timer run out and say nothing at all. I appreciated how the game let me do things my own way, even while guard-railing my characters — at one point, Gamora said that she’d never heard me talk this way before, causing me to reflect that, yeah, Peter is more self-centered than I was making him out to be. Gamora had rightly detected that it was me who was chatting her up, and not Star Lord! Cool.
And it is Star Lord that you control in this game. Aside from throwing a punch or two on behalf of other characters during the Thanos fight, it is Star Lord’s thoughts and actions that you will steer through each scene. Star Lord’s voice performance is probably the poorest turned in by the sound-alike voice cast, but that’s mostly down to Chris Pratt’s unique range — he really is a master at sliding between sweet and smarmy. The supporting voices are pretty strong, with Rocket being especially on-point. I would love to see succeeding chapters put other members of the Guardians in the driver’s seat, if only to see how Telltale handles a conversation tree when all I can say is, “I am Groot!”
The game’s technical performance left a bit to be desired. I played on my iPad Pro, and the textures still swam around on me from time to time, and a few of the load times had me tapping my toe. Prompts didn’t always respond to my first tap, despite hitting a static green bullseye dead-on. Based on this performance, I’d hesitate to recommend this game for lower-end mobile devices. I would expect console versions to run crisply, but fumbling for buttons on a controller doesn’t sound like a lot of fun compared to tapping screen prompts.
The art gets the job done. The ships and space scenes are tight, and the environments are adequate. The character models have kind of a second-tier CG animated series look to them, but they work — Telltale’s animators do a fine job of wringing sometimes subtle emotion from them. Body animation is about what you’d expect, though I found Star Lord’s walk cycle a little stiff (and he walks a lot in this game). Lip synching is (usually) convincing. Scenes are well-lit, somehow giving us clearly-visible characters even inside the murkiest spaceport dive bar.
But this isn’t really a game that’s going to win you over with screenshots. The heart of the game is … well … its heart. There’s plenty of derring-do in abandoned fortresses and Kree battlecruisers, and the game does deliver with a Guardians vs. Thanos beat-down that works in an Intergalactic Wrestling Federation sort of way, but the real action in this game comes through the conversations and the relationships between the characters. In this, the game reaches back to the core of comics storytelling. After all, in the long run, there’s little doubt our heroes will defeat the big bad … but will Gamora be able to deal with her daddy issues? That’s harder to predict, and its a unique pleasure to play to find out. Yep, it’s all about the feelz, and I welcome it. I already have plenty of games where you solve everything by shooting at it.
I also enjoyed the little touches and side-gags. Rocket and Drax both got off some zingers that were entirely in character. Helping Groot ride out a hangover was appropriately gross (and all I did was listen to it). I loved that a random piece of email from the Universal Church of Truth was helpfully flagged as spam.
The chapter was just long enough for me. I didn’t clock it, but it felt like it took a bit less than ninety minutes to play the whole thing. Content felt equivalent to about three issues of a comic series. The ending came at the right time and didn’t leave me hanging so much as feeling intrigued. Some of the asides clearly set up later chapters — like Gamora’s communication with her sister, Nebula — and I think I saw Moondragon in the bar, but for the most part the chapter can stand on its own, and in this it does a better job than your average, decompressed modern comics issue.
One area where this game was more setup than payoff was in development of emotional relationships. By the end of my play-through, I’d pissed off Rocket, softened-up Gamora, forged a strong bond with Drax, and sealed an alliance with the Nova Corps, but none of that mattered in a major way in this chapter. Given that this game is scheduled to run five chapters, I can’t blame Telltale for deploying their chess pieces for later, and if I wasn’t allergic to pre-orders, I might have opened my wallet for the season pass upsell that followed the closing credits.
Once I’ve cooled off a bit I might even go back and replay the game, to see what happens if I zig instead of zag, and I can see where a player might dive deep into this thing to ferret out the different permutations of every scene. The closing score screens provide a roadmap for where I took the story, compared to the community at large, hinting at the different outcomes.
But I don’t much care about multiple outcomes — for me, I was just glad to while away a rainy afternoon with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and feel a part of their family and their troubles. Emotional reactions of any stripe are difficult to elicit with games, so hats off to Telltale for not only accomplishing this rare feat, but also making it the center of their game. If I come back for the second chapter, it won’t be to learn more about the MacGuffin that permits Peter to speak with ghosts — it will be to see if I can continue to win Gamora’s trust, and to learn if Rocket really means it when he keeps acting like I’m driving him out of the group. The game-making side of my brain tells me the actual number of outcomes isn’t that large, but my illusion of control is such that it is easy to believe my decisions created a unique outcome.
I am happy to suspend my disbelief to ride along with the team. I wasn’t much interested in investing this kind of time and emotion in Telltale’s Walking Dead or Batman games, but this Guardians of the Galaxy game really was delightful. As an experience, it was a bit more than a comic, and a bit less than a movie, but thoroughly unique and enjoyable. I hope I walk out of the theater after seeing Guardians 2 feeling half so positive! Recommended.
NEXT MONTH: #168 Wonder Woman: All All-Star Sensation