'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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Saw Guardians 2 in a double feature with Guardians 1 Thursday, and I gotta say I loved it. G2 was just like G1, only more of it. Plus a great deal of character work, which G1 didn't do.

I had at tinge of sympathy for Kurt Russell having to deliver all that exposition, but it was necessary and handled as well as can be expected.

Gamora and Nebula: Check off the box next to "Bechdel Test," and amazingly, I actually felt sorry for Nebula.

Sorry to see Gamora engage in "pelvic sorcery" at the end -- it takes a little off her badassery (and when and where did she learn to couples dance?). But I guess the romance has to progress.

The five credits scenes:

  1. The Kraglin bit was funny, but it might also mean a new Yondu for G3.
  2. The Ravagers scene showed us a bunch of Guardians from other incarnations, including Stallone's Stakar Ogord (half of Starhawk), Aleta Ogord (the other half), Martinex (seen earlier as well), Charlie-27 and, supposedly, Mainframe (the future Vision, which I missed). I the red serpent guy is Krugarr, the future Sorcerer Supreme. There were probably more, but that's all I caught.
  3. Oh, look, Adam Warlock for G3. Yowza!
  4. Evidently, we are in for sullen, angsty Teen Groot in G3. I had to laugh at all the branches and detritus in his room. I assume he's going through pollination ...
  5. Stan Lee and the Watchers was funny, and implies that the Stan Lee cameos were the same guy in disguise. Don't care if it's true or not. But I bet that scene was absolutely baffling to anyone who doesn't read Marvel Comics. Hey, maybe a Watcher will show up in Avengers 3 to witness the battle against Thanos!

The only thing I wanted more of and didn't get was Cosmo, the telepathic Russian canine-o-naut!

I saw it Friday, and liked it a lot.  "I am Mary Poppins!"

Yeah, there was a lot of stuff in there that was basically for us old-school comics nerds.

Kurt Russell sure has changed a bit since I first saw him on Gilligan's Island, so many years ago...

"Kurt Russell sure has changed a bit since I first saw him on Gilligan's Island, so many years ago..."

I first saw him on Lost in Space.

Or when I saw him in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes!

Weird that they took three characters (Drax, Mantis and Warlock) who were born (or created) on Earth and made them aliens.

Also, sorry, while I liked the character and her interactions with Drax, that was NOT Mantis!

And Ego, though described as a Celestial, sounded more like an Elder.

Ayesha (of the Sovereign) was not only born on Earth, she was originally male!

I loved this movie. I thought Yondu was the stand-out by a long shot. I loved the scene where he, Rocket, and Groot break out of the Ravagers' ship. And at the end, the second Cat Stevens' "Father and Son" started playing, I just went ahead and committed to being in tears.

In that Avengers story from 1974, issues 129 and Giant-Size Avengers #2, Kang captured Mantis, Scarlet Witch and ...Agatha Harkness, the witch introduced in Fantastic Four #94 and hired to be Franklin B. Richards' nanny.  Harkness just happened to be in Avengers Mansion, teaching witchcraft to Wanda, when Kang showed up looking for the Celestial Madonna and since he didn't know which woman it was he captured all three, although I presume he wouldn't have been too happy if it turned to be ancient and looked it Agatha. Moondragon didn't turn up in the Avengers until a few issues later, in Avengers #135 and although not an official member remained a regular in the series until issue #151.  

Englehart's run on the Avengers was the first in any Marvel title in which two super-powered women appeared regularly as active participants in the action for extended periods covering several story lines, in contrast to the runs by Lee & Thomas in which Wanda and the Wasp regularly traded places or over in the FF wherein first Sue & Crystal switched out and then Sue and Medusa switched out, in all cases with only relatively brief overlaps.  From the point that Mantis hooked up with the Avengers in issue #114 in 1973 (acknowledging that she never became a member but might as well have been considered one), at least two super-powered women appeared in the Avengers fairly regularly for the remainder of the decade.

Oh, and loved the 2nd installment of the Guardians of the Galaxy as well.  Not quite as good as the first one, but that would have been difficult to top.  Goofed by not staying for the end credits' scenes -- the friends I went to see it with didn't want to hang around for them. And, yeah, the cinematic version of Mantis isn't at all like the one created by Steve Englehart 44 years ago.  Still curious to see how they'll finally handle a grand battle directly against Thanos.  And if Warlock is brought in, will we be seeing a cinematic version of Pip the Troll as well?  I wouldn't expect anyone would even attempt to do a cinematic version of Starlin's classic, original Warlock vs. Magus storyline or do it well if they did try, but it might be fun to see.

I'd like to see the Elf with a Gun at some point in one of the movies. Heck, they squeezed in Howard the Duck (done right).

We finally saw it tonight and it was terrific. Haven't had a chance to explain the Watchers and Adam Warlock to my wife yet. I didn't realize I was looking at Charlie-27 et al until it was pointed out here.

Kurt Russell did a bang up job and had a lot of screen time. Just before he said it I knew he caused Peter's mother's death.

I liked this version of Mantis and am glad she will stick around.

I also liked Yondu and wish he hadn't bought it. Oh well. 

My wife and I saw it this past weekend - we both enjoyed it as much the first film. Since I have never read any Guardians comics I have no personal investment in any of these characters which helps me to enjoy what the movie presents. Adam Warlock will be another matter -  Starlin's Warlock saga from the Seventies is one of my all time favorites so I will be more critical of how the character is portrayed.

It was good to see all of the artist and writer credits. It went by before I could check all the names but I did see Gene Colan and Steve Englehart named for their contributions.

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