'Guardians' 2 returns old favorites -- and creates new ones

By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

The proudly quirky Guardians of the Galaxy return for Vol. 2 May 5, doing what they do best: Taking second-tier Marvel Comics characters and making them awesome.

Yes, Star-Lord and the rest will also save the galaxy, resurrect ‘80s tunes and share a lot of awkward moments. But there’s no shortage of new second bananas appearing in this movie, all vying for a Cosmic Makeover:

Film Frame ©Marvel Studios 2017

Kurt Russell will somehow portray Ego the Living Planet – and Star-Lord’s dad – in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

EGO THE LIVING PLANET

Thor first met Ego in the “Black Galaxy” in 1966, in the company of the Rigellian Recorder, an android who, uh, records things. I can’t describe Ego any better than The Recorder did in Thor #133:

“My sensitizers detect the presence of – Ego! Classification: Multiple virus living matter! Size: Planetary range! Location: Existing not in physical space, but in fluid bio-verse! Conclusion: The planet on which we stand is not a receptacle upon which life dwells – it is truly life itself!”

What does that even mean? You’d have to ask Stan Lee, who wrote the dialogue, or Jack Kirby, who plotted the story and drew Ego as a big, purple, swirly-tentacled planet with a continent-size Moses face. I think, though, we should probably not think too hard about that “multiple virus” part.

As to why he’s called Ego, he introduced himself to the Thunder God thusly: “I am Ego, the largest, most powerful intelligence in all of infinity! You are like dust unto my feet!” Given that Ego doesn’t even have feet, you can see why his parents didn’t name him Bashful.

Kurt Russell plays Ego in the movie, who will be the father of Peter “Star-Lord” Quill. (In the comics, Quill’s father is named J’Son, the king of planet Spartax.) And since Russell is of fairly normal proportions, you might wonder how he will embody a celestial body. Chances are director James Gunn will take advantage of an ability Ego has shown in the comics to manifest a simulacrum of a human being using his own bio-mass, in order to interact with beings too puny to generate their own gravity (like us).

Of course, that doesn’t explain how Ego managed to interact sufficiently with Meredith Quill to spawn Star-Lord, but I’m not going to speculate on that in a family publication.

Film Frame ©Marvel Studios 2017

Mantis (Pom Klementieff, foreground) is one of the minor Marvel Comics characters getting a makeover in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Also pictured (from left): Yondu (Michael Rooker), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper).

MANTIS

Quick quiz: Which is true of the character called Mantis in Marvel Comics? A. She was once a prostitute in Vietnam. B. She is the prophesied “Celestial Madonna.” C. She married an alien tree.

Answer? All of the above. Yeah, she’s pretty complicated.

Mantis was introduced in Avengers in 1973, a super-villain’s daughter who somehow knew Black Widow-level martial arts, had empathic abilities and worked as a barmaid in Saigon. In the course of that job she hooked up with The Swordsman, a former bad guy turned Avenger turned bad guy again. This was the beginning of writer Steve Englehart’s “Celestial Madonna Saga,” which ran for two years before culminating in a double wedding.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back in Saigon, Mantis, who continually (and inexplicably) referred to herself as “this one,” managed to (deep breath) rehabilitate the drunken Swordsman, who became an Avenger again, only to get killed by the time-traveling Kang the Conqueror, who was in search of something called “The Celestial Madonna,” whom future history described as the mother of the most important person in the universe. (Whew!)

Only history was a little fuzzy on exactly who the Madonna would be. So Kang captured the three likeliest candidates – Mantis, Scarlet Witch and another short-run Avenger, a bald telepath named Moondragon (who is the daughter of Drax the Destroyer, which is not important here).

I told you it was complicated. And it just gets weirder.

It turned out, you see, that Mantis really was the Celestial Madonna, who was destined to mate with one of the Cotati, an alien plant race that is highly telepathic but entirely immobile, as they are trees. Fearing that someone like Kang might come along, the alien Kree raised her in secret on Earth among a group of pacifist monks named the Priests of Pama. Then, in order for her to gain the wisdom of being poor and wretched, erased her memory and sent her out to walk the streets of Saigon.

Because nothing says “Celestial Madonna” like “Looking for a date, mister?” Man, aliens are weird.

Anyway, Spoiler: The Avengers won, and Kang was defeated. And true to her destiny, Mantis married a Cotati which had been raised from a twig by those far-sighted Priests of Pama. But with a twist! The spirit of Swordsman was raised to inhabit the Cotati, so Mantis got a two-fer! Meanwhile, The Vision and Scarlet Witch took the opportunity to tie the knot as well, since they already had a minister and everything.

Mantis returned a few times – growing antennae in the process – but really, after you marry a ghost inside a shrub in a double ceremony with an android and a mutant, anything else is pretty anti-climactic.

Mantis, complete with antennae, will be played by Pom Klementieff in the new “Guardians” movie. But as a literal tree-hugger, she’d better keep her hands off Groot – he’s still a minor in this movie.

Film Frame ©Marvel Studios 2017

Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) is a minor character in comics, but the leader of the Sovereign in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

AYESHA

This character is actually known primarily as Kismet in the comics, but has had a bunch of other names, including Paragon (as a male), Her, J’Ridia Starduster, and, yes, Ayesha.

That’s not a good sign. Multiple names, storylines and even genders means that nobody knew what to do with this character. And that is the defining trait of this golden-skinned, cosmic-powered spin-off of a male character who was far more interesting.

That character was first named “Him,” and was created on Earth in 1960s Fantastic Four comics by a bunch of scientists attempting to create a god-like man to help them conquer the world. They essentially succeeded, not realizing that somebody of that stature wouldn’t give a flip about a bunch of creeps like them. He – or rather, “Him” – headed out to space where after a bunch of adventures transformed into a character called Adam Warlock.

Warlock is interesting for a whole lot of reasons, none of which are important here. What is important are two things: One, Ayesha has the same origin, and Two, Warlock possessed the Soul Gem, which happens to be the only Infinity Stone still unaccounted for in the Marvel movies, the things that Thanos will be using in “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Coincidence … or something more?

Anyway, none of Ayesha’s history seems applicable in Guardians, where she appears to be the leader of a race of golden-skinned people called the Sovereign. As usual, this will be an improvement.

A CAST OF THOUSANDS

Those are the main B-listers getting an upgrade in Guardians 2, but there are many more that are just names in the credits so far:

* Brahl, Kraglin, Taserface, Tullk: These were all short-lived – and pretty stupid – aliens in various Marvel Comics. They’re Ravagers in the movie, which if nothing else is probably the first long-term employment they’ve ever had.

* Charlie-27, Krugarr, Starhawk: In the comics, the original group of Guardians were set in the 31st century of a parallel Earth, “Earth-691,” and here are three of them. Charlie (Ving Rhames) was genetically modified to withstand the gravity of Jupiter. Krugarr is the 22nd century successor to Dr. Strange as the Sorcerer Supreme. And Starhawk is a super-being who is the combination of two ordinary people, Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) and Aleta Ogord (Michelle Yeoh). The credits don’t say, but it’s likely Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor on Smallville) will play Starhawk, who can manifest as either male or female.

* Mainframe: In the comics, Mainframe is The Vision in the 31st century of Earth-691, evolved into a planet-wide computer. In the movie, he – or she or it or they – will be voiced by Miley Cyrus.

And, yes, that’s an improvement.

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I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 over the holiday. Some thoughts:

  • Rollicking good fun. This is why Marvel movies have it all over DC movies: the humor and the drama are so well intwined as to be inseparable. The other half is leery about the violence, but the comedy made it go down easier -- and this makes Wonder Woman an easier sell.
  • As before, I'm not deep into Guardians of the Galaxy as a comic, so I could watch the movie with almost utter disinterest in how it squared, or doesn't, with the comics as I remember them.
  • With one exception: Mantis. Her I remember from early '70s issues of The Avengers. But there she's a human woman from Vietnam; here, she's an alien with bug eyes and actual antennae, not hairs that stick up above her forehead. It took a bit of getting used to.
  • Speaking of the drama -- lots of characters here with daddy issues! Star-lord, Gamora, her sister, even Rocket in a way.
  • Young Kurt Russell! Wow! Those de-aging special effects are something, huh?
  • I had to question -- if Peter grew up idolizing David Hasselhoff, why didn't they get him to play the dad? -- but I got my wish, and it was just enough.
  • I like how the movie embraces its silliness. Like when Rocket and Yondu are trapped in the cell and they keep sending Baby Groot for the McGuffin that will get them out ... and he keeps bringing the wrong thing. 
  • ... and after they get out, Yondu's magic arrow takes out the whole crew.
  • The interest/flirtation/attaction/ between Drax and Mantis was ... interesting, although his usual obliviousness came off as a bit cruel. But then, her obliviousness seemed to match.
  • And all the pieces fell in place for Yondu's great sacrifice, carefully planting the spacesuits, the fact Rocket had only one, the dire need to get away from the exploding planet -- well done.

This was by far the coolest scene of all to me. I just saw it again yesterday while on vaycay in Fort Lauderdale (it was a rainy day, so no beach...). I did love how Groot got his revenge on the guy who humiliated him, and how Rocket got his shot in as well, but I loved how Yondu just confidently took everyone out.

ClarkKent_DC said:

  • ... and after they get out, Yondu's magic arrow takes out the whole crew.

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