Talking Movies [HulkaMAYnia]: The Death of the Incredible Hulk

Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?

Released: 18 February 1990
Director: Bill Bixby
New World International
Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Elizabeth Gracen, Andreas Katsulas, and Philip Sterling

The Plot:
Desperate to rid himself of his destructive alter-ego, the Hulk (Ferrigno), Doctor David Banner (Bixby) poses as a janitor to gain access to a research facility he believes may be the key to finding a cure. However, when the kindly scientists assisting him are kidnapped, he must join forces with an unlikely ally and once again rely on his monstrous persona to rescue them.  

The Background:
The brainchild of Marvel Comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby after learning of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength, the Hulk initially struggled to find an audience with Marvel readers but shot to fame thanks to his popular television show, The Incredible Hulk (1977 to 1982). The show ran for eighty episodes and firmly established the Green Goliath in the cultural consciousness thanks to coining the unforgettable “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” line and standout performances by star Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, who would forever be associated with the character. About six years after the series finale, the first of three made-for-television movies was produced; apparently intended as a backdoor pilot for Thor (Eric Kramer), The Incredible Hulk Returns (Corea, 1988) was successful enough to warrant a follow-up that was also hoped to be a pilot for a potential Daredevil spin-off. The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (Bixby, 1989) was met with mixed reviews, but a third film followed regardless; initially believed to have featured the debut of Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk, The Death of the Incredible Hulk ultimately spelt the end for the long-running series following Bixby’s untimely death and plans for a fourth film that would’ve merged Banner’s intelligence with the Hulk’s strength were shelved.

The Review:
Growing up as a kid in the nineties, it was kind of tough for comic book fans such as myself; DC Comics characters received the most representation in live-action media at the time, so we mostly had to console ourselves with the awesome Marvel cartoons that aired during this period. If we wanted to see live-action interpretations of Marvel’s colourful heroes, we had no choice but to turn to the made-for-television efforts of the seventies and eighties but, honestly, I remember being awestruck seeing the likes of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Steve Rogers/Captain America, and the Incredible Hulk brought to life in live action. Expectations were much lower then, and I was just a naïve youth who had no idea that these characters would come to dominate cinema screens so successfully; plus, The Incredible Hulk wasn’t airing on any channel I could watch at the time, so having access to these TV movies was seen as blessing. I say all this to provide a little historical context for the nostalgia I feel towards Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno’s efforts on The Incredible Hulk; while I actually have come to find many of the episodes I have watched to be quite laborious, I have a great appreciation for the TV movies giving me the briefest glimpse of the potential these characters had in live-action.

Banner finds himself with a surrogate family who enthusiastically try to help rid him of his curse.

The movie opens to find Banner now posing as “David Bellamy” and disguising his genius behind the persona of a well-meaning, but a mentally-challenged, janitor in order to secretly access to Doctor Ronald Pratt’s (Sterling) research on human healing. This masquerade allows Banner to win the hearts and sympathies of his co-workers, the security guards, and Dr. Pratt, who all see him as a harmless, if forgetful and easily confused, middle-aged man. Interestingly, Banner maintains this masquerade outside of work, and this, as much as the pocketful of cash, makes him an easy target for a group of street punks. Naturally, this triggers a transformation into the Hulk, which only accelerates his search for a cure; it turns out that Banner has been watching the routines of the guards, meaning he’s able to trick them with a tape recorder into thinking he’s left for the night, and has access to Dr. Pratt’s lab thanks to knowing his keycode. Luckily for Banner, the facility doesn’t have any security cameras, so he’s free to work throughout the night using Dr. Pratt’s resources, making corrections to his formulas in the hopes of finally discovering a cure to his monstrous affliction. Banner’s alterations to Dr. Pratt’s formulas do not go unnoticed, however; he’s stumped to find his notes changed for the better and incredulous when his wife, Amy (Barbara Tarbuck) suggests that his invisible partner is a ghost. Determined to find out who has been able to slip past the facility’s “high security”, Dr. Pratt hides out in his lab late one night and is shocked to find David is his mysterious helper; however, he’s even more shocked when David reveals his true identity, and is eager to hear about Banner’s research and what’s driven him to such desperate measures. Sympathetic to Banner’s plight, and believing that he can cure him while also potentially benefiting others by studying the Hulk’s incredible healing abilities, Dr. Pratt convinces Banner to work with him and, over the course of a heart-warming montage, Banner is taken in by the Pratt’s and becomes something of a surrogate son to them. After so many years alone and on the run, Banner is clearly grateful to have friends around him for the first time in forever; he forms a fast friendship with Dr. Pratt and Amy, who welcome him into their home and work with him to construct a machine capable of containing the Hulk and turning his strength against him. Dr. Pratt is infuriated when his superiors threaten to shut his experiments down unless he turns his research towards military applications, and they’re thus given one chance to rid Banner of the Hulk forever, and Banner is fully accepting that the procedure could cost him his life.

Jasmine, mistress of disguise, faces stern reprisals when she fails to steal Dr. Pratt’s research.

Unfortunately, Dr. Pratt’s Gamma research attracts the attention of Kasha (Katsulas),a powerful underworld figurehead who wishes to obtain the doctor’s secrets and sell them to the highest bidder. To fulfil this objective, he blackmails Eastern European spy Jasmine (Gracen) into taking on the assignment; having “served” Kasha since she was fourteen, Jasmine believes that she has completed her duty to her employers, who seem to be a kind of vaguely defined religious organisation. Somewhat akin to Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow, Jasmine is a much-accomplished spy whose favoured tactic is to adopt a series of disguises and false identities to get close to her targets, usually luring them in with her sexuality, and take information from under the noses. Although she has no wish to further serve Kasha, she is easily overpowered by his sadistic henchman, Zed (Joh Novak), and compelled to obey when Kasha reveals that their sect’s mysterious new leader, Ashenko, threatens the life of Jasmine’s beloved sister, Bella (Anna Katarina). Jasmine throws on her best wig and fake accent to seduce one of the facility’s security guards and take his fingerprints, then disappears amidst the crowd with a simple costume change in order to pose as Betty (Chilton Crane), another of the lab’s security guards. Unfortunately for Banner, Jasmine chooses to carry out her mission at the exact moment that he’s strapped in to Dr. Pratt’s machinery, forcing Dr. Pratt to shut down the experiment and costing Banner his last, best chance at a cure. Naturally, this causes Banner to Hulk-out and his monstrous alter ego to be blamed for the resulting destruction and Dr. Pratt’s injury, despite the fact that he carried the comatose scientist to safety, and Jasmine is reprimanded for having failed in securing the data Ashenko required.

Banner and Jasmine’s romance is cut short when he’s compelled to save his loved ones.

Amy is as devastated by Dr. Pratt’s condition, which sees him lost to the slumber of a deep coma, as she is concerned for Banner’s safety; she covers for him when federal agents finger him as one of three terrorist infiltrators (with Jasmine and the Hulk being the other two) and creates a distraction so he can slip away. However, with Dr. Pratt incapacitated, Jasmine’s only lead is also Banner, which leads to him being pursued by Kasha’s minions; having seen her efforts to try and pull Dr. Pratt to safety in the lab, and unable to simply allow Kasha’s men to kill her in cold blood, Banner lashes out when she’s ordered to be killed and she’s left both distraught and shocked when her friend and minder, Pauley (Mina E. Mina), tells her with his dying breath that Ashenko is Bella and has taken control of their cause. Banner aids Jasmine after she she’s injured by a gunshot; despite her horror at Banner’s affliction, Jasmine helps Banner to get to Dr. Pratt in gratitude for his assistance and, thanks to his knowledge of Dr. Pratt’s work and life, Banner’s able to help wake him from his coma with an emotional plea. After Banner Hulks-out and Jasmine sees the tortured horror of the Green Goliath, the two enter into an unexpected romance in her secluded cabin; both are being hunted, both have spent years alone and being used or forced into being a weapon, and both are eager to escape from the world. However, their hopes of starting a new life together are dashed when Jasmine’s past comes back to haunt her; Bella has Dr. Pratt and Amy apprehended in the hopes of discovering his formula, and Banner is compelled to intervene, a decision that not only causes great dismay to Jasmine, who simply wants them to run away together and be free, but also ultimately spells the end of Banner’s long nightmare.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s a bit of a shame that The Death of the Incredible Hulk is lumbered with this uninterested spy-story subplot; maybe if Jasmine had been the Black Widow, that might have made it a bit more compelling (and also would have tied into the TV movies guest starring other Marvel heroes), but Jasmine’s not an especially interesting character and it’s difficult to really care to much about the cause she once served. The mid-movie reveal that Bella is the mastermind behind this malicious organisation doesn’t really carry too much weight for me as Banner was constantly running afoul of the criminal underworld and they took many different names and forms. It also doesn’t help that Bella, despite her steely demeanour and cold-hearted vindictiveness, isn’t as charismatic as Kasha or alluring as Zed, so she doesn’t make for a very interesting villain since all we really know about her is that she wants Dr. Pratt’s formula and will do anything to get it, including ordering her sister’s death.

The Hulk remains a highlight, and performs a number of heroic feats despite his reputation.

As ever, it’s the Hulk himself who proves to be the main highlight of the film for me; Lou Ferrigno absolutely dominates the screen with his stature, physicality, and animal fury and there’s some fun scenes of him tossing around street punks, crashing through walls, bending steel, and holding back two diggers to help sell the Hulk’s rage and strength. More than ever, the Hulk is treated as a devastating affliction that Banner is desperate to be rid of; obviously, by this point, Banner has lived with the Hulk or many years, and been on the run so long and lost so much that he’s literally at the end of his tether and just wants to be rid of the beast. In recounting his arrogance and impatience to harness humanity’s capacity for superhuman strength, Banner muses that the Hulk is a mutation, something inhuman, and perhaps a missing link in mankind’s evolutionary process, which firmly paints the beast as a disease that could one day cause serious harm to others. Thanks to Dr. Pratt’s experimentations, Banner is able to see the Hulk for the very first time and is utterly horrified by the beast’s rage and monstrous appearance, and yet there is still the capacity for good within the Green Goliath; not only is the creature generally depicted as either reacting ins elf-defence or coming to the aid of others (such as Jasmine), but it’s superhuman ability to heal wounds potentially spells a medical breakthrough for Dr. Pratt’s research. Indeed, both Banner and Dr. Pratt are not just in awe but almost terrified at the Hulk’s healing ability, which has left Banner without a physical scar but also haunted by his uncontrollable alter ego, which is functionally immortal. Banner theorises that catastrophic damage to the creature could kill it, but he’s more focused on ridding himself of the beast so that he can be fully human again, which leads to a series of tests being conducting by the two scientists to better understand the nature of the Hulk. Thanks to Dr. Pratt’s resources, the beast is effectively caged behind an energy field, and the movie goes a little further than its predecessors in examining the complex relationship between Banner and the Hulk since he sees it as a threat to others that has stolen his life, Dr. Pratt sees it as a once in a lifetime chance to potentially cure all diseases, and Amy believes that the creature is more human than either of them will admit.

Ultimately, the fall is too devastating for even the Hulk and Banner finally finds his freedom.

At first glance, it seems as though the movie’s title is referring to the fact that Banner will finally be rid of his monstrous alter ego, however it quickly becomes apparent that Dr. Pratt’s research is yet another dead end for the ill-fated Banner thanks to the machinations of Kasha and Bella. When Dr. Pratt and Amy are kidnapped, Banner’s last chance to escape the world with his newfound love is dashed as he cannot simply walk away from his surrogate family, and Jasmine begrudgingly leads him to an airfield, where Bella uses every means at her disposal to try and forcibly extract the information she requires from Dr. Pratt. Although Jasmine is unable to reach her sister, who has fully bought in to the brainwashing of her righteous cause, the two lead the Feds to the airfield, providing them with the backup and firepower they need to stave off Bella’s men; in the fracas, Bella guns down Kasha, the Pratts are rescued, but Bella and Zedd manage to escape in a small aircraft. The horror of seeing the two trying to run down jasmine is enough to trigger one last Hulk-out in Banner, who sprints across the landing strip and confronts the two aboard the plane. Naturally, Bella tries to fire on the Hulk but succeeds only in destroying the craft in mid-air, causing the Hulk to dramatically and tragically plummet to the cold concrete below. Having suffered a catastrophic fall, the Hulk is barely clinging to life and even his incredibly healing powers aren’t enough to save Banner this time; as Dr. Pratt and Amy look on, heartbroken, Jasmine begs Banner to stay with her and he bids her an emotional farewell, seemingly grateful to finally be free of his nightmare in death. Sadly, as poignant as this moment is, it is somewhat undermined by the ridiculousness of the Hulk’s plummet; filmed in slow motion and accompanied by a melancholy song, it’s hard not to focus on Ferrigno’s eye-popping face expressions. Thankfully, Banner’s final words (“Jasmine…I am free…”) and Joe Harnell’’s “Lonely Man” theme kick in just in time to allow Banner’s death to have the required emotional impact (there’s a definite sense of relief that he’s finally found the freedom he’s long searched for), but I can’t help but feel a slower, more tragic rendition of “The Lonely Man” would have been soundtrack enough for the character’s unexpected swansong.

The Summary:
Well, this was a sadly anticlimactic, disappointing, and forgettable end for the Jade Giant. It’s a shame that so many compromise shave to be made to appreciate The Death of the Incredible Hulk; obviously, there was no budget or the technological ability to have the Green Goliath go out in a blaze of glory like we’d see in the comics, making for an inconspicuous death that’s really selling the Hulk short. Long-term fans of the TV show, however, or those with little knowledge of the character outside of the show, would potentially have more to gain from this final outing. The story being told is decent enough; Banner has clearly reached a point that’s beyond desperation where he’s willing to accept the freedom offered by death if it means being rid of his curse. The exploration into the Banner/Hulk dynamic was interesting, and one not really explored in the same way in the previous two films, but isn’t capitalised on as well as it could have been. I think I would have preferred to see a less literal death and maybe more of an understanding between the two where Banner accepted that the Hulk was part of him and thereby, maybe, overcame his rage and hinted towards a merger of the two characters. Instead, that’s kind of swept aside in favour of reinforcing what we already know about the Hulk; he’s once again a rage-filled monster who’s ruined Banner’s life but it’s pretty clear that he just wants to be left alone, only lashes out at those who seek to harm him (or were harming Banner), and goes out of his way to protect others. Ultimately, the Hulk chooses to pursue those who’ve hurt his friends and loved ones and it costs him his life, but I think it might’ve been equally interesting if the Hulk had sacrificed himself to allow Banner to survive the fall, thereby proving Amy’s theory that he’s more human than anyone would care to admit. Sadly, we never got to see Bixby reprise his iconic role or to see the surely bat-shit crazy way that the producers would have undone this ending, which remains a relatively tragic finale for the character that really belongs in a far better movie.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever seen The Death of the Incredible Hulk? What did you think to the relationship between Banner and the Pratts? Were you hoping to see Banner finally cured of his affliction? Did you enjoy the spy subplot and what did you think to Jasmine? Did you believe her romance with Banner? What was your reaction when the Hulk plummeted to his death? What’s your favourite Hulk story, character, or piece of media? How are you celebrating the Hulk’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on the Hulk, feel free to leave them below after signing up or drop a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 [SPOILERS!]

Talking Movies

Released: 5 May 2023
Director: James Gunn
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $250 million
Stars: Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper/Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Zoe Saldaña, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, and Will Poulter

The Plot:
Still reeling from the death of Gamora (Saldaña) and the subsequent return of a past version of her, the Guardians of the Galaxy are attacked by superpowered bounty hunter Adam Warlock (Poulter). With Rocket (Cooper/Gunn) critically injured, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Pratt) leads the Guardians in discovering their friend’s horrifying origins, which brings them into direct conflict with the deranged High Evolutionary (Iwuji).

The Background:
Although they’re one of Marvel’s more obscure properties and have undergone numerous changes over the years, the Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be a massive financial success when they made their live-action debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014). To capitalise on this, and to promote the team as being as integral to the MCU as the Avengers, the cast and crew returned for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (ibid, 2017), which proved to be an even bigger financial success than the first film despite being met with mixed reviews. Despite having had plans for a trilogy right from the start, director James Gunn seemed to flip-flop on whether he’d return for a third movie; however, after completing a script and entering pre-production, his involvement was placed in serious jeopardy when he was fired after a series of offensive tweets made the headlines. Gunn publicly apologised for the tweets and fans and cast members rushed to his defense, and he was eventually brought back to helm the project later that year. However, much had changed in those few months; stars Dave Bautista and Zoe Saldaña expressed a desire to retire from their roles and Gunn was later named as the creative force behind a reboot of the rival DC Comics cinematic universe, not to mention Gunn’s displeasure at Gamora’s unexpected death in Avengers: Infinity War (Russo and Russo, 2018). Still, he worked around these issues and was even allowed to film a short, holiday-themed passion project surrounding these characters and craft an emotional finale for the franchise. While visual effects naturally played a large part in the third film, Gunn also strived to include more practical effects to bring the surreal locations and creatures to life; though he was largely kept in the dark about the character until shooting began, Will Poulter was cast as Adam Warlock to kick-start further explorations of the character in later MCU films, while Chukwudi Iwuji was cast as the High Evolutionary, beating out fellow cosmic villain Annihulus to create the MCU’s cruelest villain to date. As of this writing, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has made nearly $344 million at the box office and been met with positive reviews; critics lauded the film as the best MCU movie in recent memory for its emotional and visually imaginative presentation, though it was also criticised for its depiction of animal cruelty and for its surprisingly brutal tone.

The Review [SPOILERS!]:
As much as I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy (and I really did; it’s surprising how well it works as this bizarre, sci-fi/action romp, especially as it introduces a whole team of characters and explores a side of the MCU that’s so divorced from some of its more grounded action), it took me a few views to appreciate Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I was expecting bigger and better, only to find it was a more character-driven film that explored the dysfunctional family dynamic of the titular team; once I realised this, subsequent viewings allowed me to appreciate it more, especially the growth of the complex love/hate relationship between Gamora and her semi-psychotic, cyborg sister, Nebula (Gillan). Fate saw the Guardians of the Galaxy play a pivotal role in Avengers: Infinity War, one that actually ended up dooming half the life in all the universe for five years or so, but Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2018) ended with the suggestion that the team would find new life searching the galaxy for a time-displaced Gamora alongside Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth). Unfortunately, this “Asgardians of the Galaxy” team didn’t really come to pass beyond a brief inclusion in Thor: Love & Thunder (Waititi, 2022); I do feel like there’s a bigger story to tell there with those characters, however, and hope that we get some kind of animated short or interlude that explored the adventures they got up to between films. Instead, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 picks up not long after the end of their Christmas special; the team operates out of Knowhere, the severed head of a Celestial that houses an entire community under their protection, and they’re still trying to wrap their heads around the fact that the Gamora they knew is dead, yet another version of her is still out there in the galaxy. This is particularly difficult for Quill, who has turned to alcohol and depression not just because he’s lost the love of his life, but because of a deep-rooted feeling of abandonment and pain as everyone he’s ever known and cared about has died. His surrogate family, the Guardians of the Galaxy, are on hand to care for him and support him, but they’re individually too maladjusted to properly communicate their feelings too him.

When Rocket’s life is endangered, Quill and the others embark on a quest that sees Quill confronting his fears.

Drax the Destroyer (Bautista) is far too literally a thick-headed, living tree Groot (Diesel) is far too simplistic, and abrasive Rocket much too aggressive. Nebula, however, offers a surprising amount of support, caring for him in a way we’ve never seen before since she’s now come to regard the Guardians as her family and truly cares about them, even if her traumatic past makes it difficult for her to express emotions beyond violence. Quill takes some solace in his empathetic half-sister Mantis (Pom Klementieff), but her naïve optimism and observation that Quill has family waiting for him on Earth also do little to ease his pain. Luckily for Quill, the team is attacked by Adam Warlock, the child-like superhuman champion of the golden-skinned Sovereign; I say “luckily” as this brings the team together to fend off Warlock’s attack and defend Knowhere, a task they struggle to accomplish given his power, resulting in Rocket being critically injured. Faced with the stark reality that his self-professed best friend may die, an enraged Quill refuses to accept this and resolves to seek out Orgocorp, a highly advanced scientific research centre, in order to deactivate the kill switch attached to Rocket’s heart and keeping them from helping him. This sees them crossing paths with Gamora since Nebula arranges for Gamora and her Ravager allies to help the team infiltrate Orgocorp. This again forces Quill to be faced with the harsh truth that this Gamora isn’t the one he knew and loved; even Drax points out that she’s “dead to them” since this Gamora never hooked up with the team and has none of the memories or attachments to them. While this is a pretty simple prospect, even for the otherwise simple-minded Star-Lord, the film spends a lot of time reinforcing that he and the others don’t really understand what’s going on with Gamora; often, they talk about how she “doesn’t remember” them and Quill futilely tries to jog memories that just aren’t there and takes every opportunity to tell anyone within earshot about their complicated history, needlessly hammering home that this isn’t the same Gamora from the previous Guardians films. I understand it in a way; a big part of the film is Quill having to come to terms with death and loss, but it starts to get a little grating when he constantly harps on about it to everyone in earshot. This Gamora is much more cold-hearted and harsh compared to her counterpart; she has more in common with how Nebula used to be and there’s an interesting reframing of their narrative here as Nebula states that Gamora was “always like this” and Gamora is shown to have this dark, violent side to her that casts as more of an anti-hero. She begrudgingly helps the Guardians at Orgocorp but despairs of their ineptitude, constant bickering, and Quill’s insistence that he knows anything about her. She softens towards them over the course of the film after seeing how hard they fight to help Rocket and protect others, but nevertheless remains her own distinct character, separate from them, and it’s a testament to the film that it doesn’t just repeat the same will they/won’t they character between her and Quill from the first film.

Though aggravated by her teammates, Nebula and the Guardians strive to help even their misguided enemies.

As for the rest of the team, Drax is mostly relegated to being the comic relief and mindless muscle of the group; his stoic demeanour allows him to process Gamora’s loss in a more productive way than Quill, but it’s clear that he misses her in his own way, too. He continues to have an attachment to Mantis and the film does explore how, despite her objections to the contrary, she uses her empathic abilities to manipulate him in ways that he’s not aware of. For example, she defends Drax’s infantile nature to Nebula, who lashes out at both of them for their incompetence, and he seems genuinely upset to learn that Mantis thinks he’s stupid (even though she loves him regardless) so she simply has him forget hearing that. despite Nebula’s anger at the two for endangering the group on countless occasions, Mantis and Drax prove their quality in the final act of the film where Mantis is able to tame the ravenous Abilisks and Drax is able to calm and communicate to the children held in the High Evolutionary’s ship since he not only unexpectedly speaks their language but also is a natural father. This theme of underestimating those around you is a prominent one in the film; even Kraglin (Sean Gunn) embodies this since he continues to struggle with mastering Yondu Udonta’s (Michael Rooker) arrow and proves invaluable in aiding the rescue effort at the end of the film, but it’s most prominently seen in Adam Warlock’s character arc. Having been born prematurely, Warlock is little more than a child in a man’s body; he’s been created as a perfect being, a living weapon to enact the will of his mother, the Sovereign High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). While my knowledge of Warlock is somewhat limited, I was surprised to see him characterised as a childlike fool, but he undergoes a surprising journey in the film; he feels regret after incinerating space creature Blurp’s owner after a misunderstanding and adopts the cute little critter, then briefly abandons his crusade against the Guardians in an unsuccessful attempt to save his mother when the High Evolutionary callously obliterates her along with his “Counter-Earth”, and becomes an unexpected ally of the team by the film’s conclusion since his former enemies make efforts to save his life rather than leaving him to perish.

For his callous and cruel animal experiments, the High Evolutionary is easily the MCU’s most detestable villain.

For me, the High Evolutionary ends up being easily the most reprehensible villain in all of the MCU so far. While he still doesn’t get a huge amount of screen time or backstory and the exact nature of his gravity-based powers is a little vague, this is a villain who has absolutely no redeeming qualities; we’re given no reason to sympathise with him or to understand his perception of the galaxy, and this is perfectly acceptable given his heinous actions! The High Evolutionary is a maniacal despot obsessed with “perfection”; he sees the flaws in life and God’s plan and uses his superior intellect and scientific acumen to step in to correct these flaws. His ultimate goal isn’t conquest or destruction, it’s to create the “perfect” society, which has led to him being regarded as a God by many of his creations, like the Sovereign. However, while the Sovereign are basically the embodiment of beauty and perfection, the High Evolutionary is never satisfied and the majority of his experiments are geared towards creating anthropomorphic beings and semi-cybernetic monstrosities! These live out normal lives on an exact replica of Earth, yet while he was able to suppress their natural animalistic urges and craft a society that’s a mirror of ours, he wasn’t able to create a utopia, so he habitually exterminates his creations like a child bored of a toy. While this ritualistic genocide and the High Evolutionary’s unstable, erratic God complex are bad enough, what makes him so irredeemable and reprehensible compared to other MCU villains are his callous experiments on animals. Animal cruelty is at the forefront of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 as Rocket, near death, experiences a series of flashbacks to his time as one of High Evolutionary’s test subjects. A strangely curious raccoon, he was subjected to horrific procedures that grafted mechanical parts to his body and increased his intelligence and awareness, all under the pretence that he and his fellow prototype anthropomorphs would have a place in the “new world”. However, when Rocket’s intelligence exceeded the High Evolutionary’s for a split second, the madman ordered Rocket dissected and the execution of his friends, leading to the terrified and heartbroken creature to enact a daring escape that left him traumatised and the High Evolutionary gruesomely disfigured.

The Nitty-Gritty [SPOILERS!]:
Like the last two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, music plays an important role in this film, both diegetically and non- diegetically; Quill is almost irrationally protective of the Zune gifted to him by his father-figure, Yondu, which Rocket borrows without asking to find solace in the songs contained within it. Almost all of the film’s action and fight scenes are accompanied by music tracks, as is James Gunn’s signature at the point, but they weren’t as memorable for me and seemed to be a little more random rather than sticking to one era or genre of music. However, the film is very much a culmination of the character arcs began in the first one; there’s always been a question hanging over Quill about why he never returned to Earth when he clearly has the means to do so, and it’s always come down to fear disguised as lust for adventure in space. Earth is where his mother died and he has no desire to return there, especially as his memory of that day is skewed to paint his grandfather, Jason (Gregg Henry), as having pushed him away, when the reality was they were all grieving their loss. Drax, whose life was upended when his family was killed, quickly found a new purpose with his surrogate family and struggles with the idea that the team parts ways by the finale, only to rediscover his true calling not as a destroyer, but a father. Even Mantis unexpectedly decides to forge her own path after years of just doing what she’s told, Nebula grows from this unyielding, murderous assassin into a caring (if blunt) matriarch whose priorities now extend to all of Knowhere, and the film’s events eventually lead Quill to realise that this Gamora is forging her own path with the Ravagers.

The film explores Rocket’s tragic and horrific backstory in gruesome detail.

However, while Rocket spends most of this film at death’s door on an operating table, this is Rocket’s film through and through. The team is united in going to any lengths, even infiltrating the notoriously heavily guarded headquarters of Orgocorp, challenging the might of the immensely powerful High Evolutionary, and killing anyone who gets in their way, to help their friend even if it costs them their own lives. We’re treated to some incredibly emotional flashbacks that show Rocket’s time as a simple test subject, one of many of the High Evolutionary’s efforts to increase the intelligence of animals and anthropomorphise them into the “perfect” society. Rocket shares his cage with three other sentiment animals, each one horrifically mutilated by cybernetic enhancements: otter Lylla (Linda Cardellini), who Rocket becomes particularly attached to, simple minded walrus Teefs (Asim Chaudhry), and hyperactive rabbit Floor (Mikaela Hoover). Despite their gruesome appearances and the traumatic experiments they’ve been subjected to, the four are generally in good spirits; they genuinely believe that the High Evolutionary is improving them and that they’ll have a place in his new world, and Rocket impresses of them all with his unprecedented ingenuity and aptitude for mechanics that allows the High Evolutionary to perfect his technology. In their dank, cramped cage, the four dream of having a home under the sky, of flying away together and being free, and it’s absolutely devastating when the High Evolutionary violently chastises Rocket for having the gall to outthink him…even though his goal is for his creations to have independent thoughts! Insulted and enraged, he cruelly rejects Rocket and his friends and orders them to be killed, forcing Rocket to affect a daring escape using a cobbled-together key card. Sadly, the High Evolutionary anticipated this and personally shoots Lylla in cold blood right before Rocket’s eyes, driving him into an animalistic rage that leaves the High Evolutionary’s face gruesomely mangled, his friends dead in the chaos, and Rocket a deeply traumatised and embittered abomination of science. It really is an abolsutely harrowing backstory, one that was hinted at in the first film but really paints the High Evolutionary as a despicable villain, an egotistical hypocrite who simply toys with animals for his own sense of gratification and it’s extremely satisfying to see the Guardians come together to beat the piss out of him in the finale.

The Guardians unite with allies old and new to put an end to the High Evolutionary’s heinous experiments.

Indeed, there are some stunning cosmic scenes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3; some really fun practical and special effects help to bring an even more bizarre flavour to the MCU (though I did feel like the scene at Orgocorp dragged on a bit too long), especially when they visit Counter-Earth and encounter all these weird anthropomorphic creatures. At first, I thought that safeguarding this world against the High Evolutionary’s reprisals would be the focus of the finale and the driving force behind galvanising the team but, no…the High Evolutionary just destroys the planet on a whim, murdered its countless misshapen inhabitants, and prepares to populate a new world with his latest creations. However, despite having rejected Rocket in the past, he’s come to see that Rocket is the only one of his creations that showed true, independent ingenuity rather than following pre-programmed patterns, so he becomes obsessed with reacquiring the specimen, to the point where even his loyal followers turn against him and he’s forced to kill them without a second thought to get what he wants. To counter the High Evolutionary’s cybernetic army and immense ship, the Guardians call in Kraglin to bring Knowhere to them for a massive final showdown, once that sees all of the Guardians lay waste to an entire corridor of the High Evolutionary’s soldiers before attacking the main man himself. As mentioned, it was deeply satisfying to see him take a beating and be left for dead, literally unmasked and a quivering, deposed wreck on the floor, though it did somewhat diminish his threat since he was previously seen as nigh-untouchable. With the High Evolutionary’s ship going down in flames, Rocket begs his friends to help save not just the children but the innocent animals held captive in his cages, a campaign that appears to leave Quill dead in the frozen vacuum of space! Luckily for him, Warlock comes to his aid, but I feel this should’ve happened before Quill’s body froze solid and was disturbingly bloated as he’s clearly dead or would be left severely injured from exposure. Instead, he survives…in fact, everyone does, which I was really surprised by; there’s a moment where it seems like Nebula might die piloting the High Evolutionary’s ship, Drax is almost killed in the Orgocorp battle, Groot is left a severed head by Warlock, and obviously Rocket’s life hangs in the balance throughout the entire film but, surprisingly, they all survive by the film’s end. However, they’re not left unchanged; Quill finally returns to Earth, Drax and Nebula pledge themselves to safeguarding Knowhere, Mantis goes off on a journey of self-discovery, and Rocket, Groot, Kraglin, Warlock, and one of the children they rescue form a new Guardians of the Galaxy team after bidding a heartfelt farewell to each other to bring their story to a definitive (if open-ended) close.

The Summary [SPOILERS!]:
There was definitely a sense of foreboding heading into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3; knowing that many of the actors and even the director were openly stating that they were done with the MCU and seeing the way the trailers were purposely produced to suggest that one of more of the titular characters would meet their end in the film, I was extremely taken aback to find that they all survived to the end, and were better for it after their adventures together. As disturbing as it is to endure the horrendous treatment Rocket and his fellow animals suffer at the hands of the High Evolutionary, it gave the film an emotional weight that’s often missing from MCU movies and really presented the High Evolutionary as an absolutely despicable person with no redeeming qualities. He was a maniacal character, obsessed with perfection but ruled by a cruel, vindictive childishness that saw him callously disregard everything, even his own creations, if they don’t immediately meet his expectations. This was a fantastic counter for the dysfunctional Guardians to throw themselves up against and unite to oppose; they’re all flawed, both collectively and individually, but still strive to do the right thing and protect people, even their enemies or horrifying abominations of science and torture. As is always the case with these films, the core conceit revolved around the family dynamic of the team; they’re really struggling with the whole Gamora situation and willingly risk their lives to help Rocket, who’s tragic backstory perfectly juxtaposes with the present-day action. While I would’ve liked to see a bit more involvement from Adam warlock beyond yelling and being a strange, overpowered man-child, it’s clear that he’s being setup for bigger things going forward and I think there’s a definite sense that we’ll see these characters again in some way, shape, or form later down the line. Phase Four of the MCU was a little hit and miss but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a terrific return to form; funny, action-paced, and filled with emotion that’ll have even the most soulless detractor teary-eyed, this was a fantastic swansong for the team and tied up their stories in a very fulfilling and moving way.  

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3? Were you surprised that it included the debut of the MCU’s first f-bomb? What did you think to Adam Warlock’s portrayal, and would you have liked to see more of him? Did you enjoy the focus on Rocket’s backstory and were you moved by his traumatic origins? Were you surprised that the team made it out alive? What did you think to the new depiction of Gamora? Where do you see the team going from here? I’d love to know your opinion on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, so go ahead and leave your thoughts below or on my social media, and be sure to check out my other Guardians of the Galaxy content.

Talking Movies [Turtle Tuesday]: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

The first issue of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) was published in May of 1984. Since then, the TMNT have gone on to achieve worldwide mainstream success thanks not only to their original comics run but also a number of influential cartoons, videogames, and wave-upon-wave of action figures. This year, I’m emphasising third entries and time travel shenanigans in the popular franchise every Tuesday in May!

Talking Movies

Released: 19 March 1993
Director: Stuart Gillard
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Budget: $21 million
Stars: Brian Tochi/Mark Caso, Corey Feldman/Jim Raposa, Tim Kelleher/Matt Hill, Robbie Rist/David Fraser, Vivian Wu, Sab Shimono, Stuart Wilson, Paige Turco, and Elias Koteas

The Plot:
When reporter April O’Neil (Turco) purchases an ancient Japanese sceptre that allows those simultaneously holding it in different centuries to switch places in time, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles travel to feudal Japan to rescue her from the clutches of the villainous Lord Norinaga (Shimono), teaming up with rebel leader Misu (Wu) and, in the process, opposing Norinaga’s oppressive campaign against her people.

The Background:
As I’ve detailed previously, the TMNT were originally created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird to be a violent pastiche of comic book troupes before being catapulted to mainstream success by the unbelievably popular 1987 cartoon. It was probably inevitable that this would lead to a live-action feature film, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Barron, 1990) proved to be both a technically impressive financial success and a cult favourite. Although Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (Pressman, 1991) received comparatively mixed reviews, it still did well at the box office and I, for one, regard it as an under-rated entry in the franchise. The TMNT’s brand remained popular and successful, however, but there were a number of noticeable changes made for the third live-action film; first of all, Jim Henson’s studio was no longer involved in the production, and the animatronics created by All Effects Company were far less impressive. Secondly, their most iconic enemy, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, was entirely absent due to a slight case of death; and, finally, the film featured a time travel plot that took the narrative out of the sewers and often has it erroneously referred to as Turtles in Time. Although some of the original cast members returned after skipping the second film, and despite debuting at number one at the U.S. box office, TMNT III’s $54.4 million worldwide gross made it the least successful of the films so far, and the film was universally panned. Thanks to its dumbed down plot and characterisations, nonsensical narrative, and childish humour, TMNT III is widely regarded as one of the lowest points in the franchise; plans for a fourth film were scrapped and it would be nearly ten years before the TMNT made it back to cinema screens.

The Review:
Rather than opening up on the streets of New York City, a location more than prominent to the TMNT and the previous films, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III begins in 1603 Japan and finds Prince Kenshin (Henry Hayashi) being captured by samurai warriors as Mitsu watches on helplessly. We’re then reintroduced to the TMNT, still in their awesome abandoned subway lair, not through a fun or gritty action scene but, instead, through a musical montage that has the four show off their dance moves alongside their ninja skills. Sadly, this is one of the few times that the TMNT will actually use their weapons in the film, and an early warning sign that the film is going to be focused much more on slapstick buffoonery than its predecessors. Things haven’t changed too much for the TMNT since the last film; they’re still pushed to hone their ninja skills by their master and father figure, Splinter (James Murray), still obsessed with pizza, and Raphael (Kelleher/Hill) is still the gruff hot-head of the group who’s constantly frustrated that all of their efforts to keep people safe go unrecognised by the general public since they’re forced to hide underground. Because of this tantrum, he storms off in a huff and misses the gift that their ace reporter human friend April O’Neil shows off to them: an ancient Japanese sceptre she bought from a flea market.

The TMNT travel to feudal Japan to rescue April and end up winning over a group of rebels.

Back in the past, Kenshin, the son of powerful warlord Lord Norinaga, also stumbles upon the same sceptre alongside a scroll depicting the TMNT (or “kappa”, as he calls them) and reads aloud the inscription on the sceptre. This activates the sceptre in the present time and causes April and Kenshin to switch places (and, inexplicably, clothing thanks to the sceptre’s magic); since Donatello (Feldman/Raposa) “does machines”, he’s somehow able to use his computer to study the sceptre and work out that it operates by switching individuals of equal mass and weight in time. Oh, and there’s also an arbitrary time limit on how long the TMNT have to rescue April, meaning they only have sixty hours to complete the mission before the space/time continuum goes “out of sync”. Swapping places with four of Lord Norinaga’s Honour Guard, the TMNT find themselves garbed in ceremonial armour and in the middle of a raid upon a nearby village and, in the confusion, Michelangelo (Rist/Fraser) is captured by Mitsu and her fledgling rebellion. Luckily, he and the others soon earn the respect and admiration of the rebels after they save the life of young Yoshi (Travis A. Moon), one of the few things that Leonardo (Tochi/Caso) gets to do beyond showcasing his bizarre lack of brainpower. This, as much as the purity of the unpolluted landscape, brings Raphael a serenity he never knew existed; he also forms a bond with Yoshi, surprising himself by imparting advice about the boy’s temper and desire to fight rather than have fun and enjoy his childhood. While Donatello and Leonardo are determined to construct a replica sceptre to return them home, Mikey and Raph are actually tempted to remain in the past, where they’re accepted and revered.

While Lord Norinaga uses the old ways and Walker opts for artillery, neither are intimidating villains.

There’s no question that Lord Norinaga is a poor substitute for the far more intimidating Shredder; I think one of the most undeniable failings of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is that it lacks a strong, iconic villain like the Shredder for the TMNT to go up against. A proud man who believes in maintaining his position and family name through power, Lord Norinaga is a power-hungry warlord shamed by his son’s rebellious ways and with a staunch belief in the might of his army. Lord Norinaga is aided by Walker (Wilson), an unscrupulous English trader who gleefully supplies him with gunpowder and other armaments and resources for his war. Walker scoffs at the Japanese clan’s ancient superstitions and their out-dated ways and is more of a futurist, believing in the unrivalled power of guns and artillery rather than ancient relics and fantasies. Surrounded by a gaggle of underappreciated buffoons, Walker is nevertheless intrigued by April’s spontaneous arrival in feudal Japan and goes to great lengths to track down the missing sceptre, including sacking a nearby village using his superior weapons and manipulating Lord Norinaga into purchasing his cannons and ammunitions in order to fend off the “demons” who now threaten his empire. A sneering, manipulative, and calculating opportunist, Walker delights in the fortune and power recent events bring him but is more of a pantomime villain than a truly intimidating foe; Michelangelo likens him to Clint Eastwood, but he’s more like the late, great Rik Mayall in his appearance and mannerisms.

Despite the bigger cast with new and old faces, most of them really don’t get much to do.

Although she played a prominent supporting role in the previous two films as an audience surrogate and a valued ally to the TMNT, April gets quite a bit more screen time in this third entry; when transported to the past, she’s branded a witch by Lord Norinaga and locked in a dungeon and the TMNT’s entire motivation this time around is going back in time to rescue her. Although April spends much of the film either locked in a cell or in need of rescue, April proves herself to be rather feisty and capable; she tries to play upon the superstitions of her captors to in an attempt to intimidate them and frequently hurls abuse their way. Since the TMNT need to swap places with those from the past, Michelangelo brings in their old ally, Casey Jones (Koteas), to watch over Splinter, their lair, and the time-displaced Japanese warriors. Sadly, this means that there really isn’t anything substantial for Casey to do in the film except babysit and be used for questionable comic relief, but Koteas does play a dual role in the film as April finds herself locked up alongside Whit after he unsuccessfully tried to lead a mutiny against Walker. The film is also populated by a number of new characters; Kenshin is the rebellious son of the warmongering Lord Norinaga, who openly opposes his father’s dreams of conquest and is anxious to get back to the past and reunite with Mistu. Though the headstrong leader of a vastly outnumbered rebellion, Mitsu also ends up becoming little more than a damsel in distress when Whit betrays them and takes her, and the real sceptre, to Lord Norinaga in a misguided attempt to broker a deal with Walker.

The Nitty-Gritty:
On the surface, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III tries to coast off of the success and reputation of its predecessors and the mammoth franchise as a whole; it recreates the subway set from the second film, returns many of the same voice actors from the last two movies, and even reuses the soundtrack from the first film, none of which really help to improve its presentation. While the first movie was (and, in my opinion, still is) the perfect blend between the violent source material and the more family-friendly cartoon series, the second leaned a bit more into humour and cartoony shenanigans; however, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III takes all of these latter elements and brings them right to the forefront. No longer are the TMNT shrouded by the darkness of night (which really doesn’t help hide how inferior their suits are) and they’ve been distilled down to the most basic of characterisations. Even Leonardo, typically the level-headed and intelligent leader of the group, is portrayed as a complete idiot here, and the focus of their dialogue is now firmly on cringey pop culture references, catchphrases, and idiotic statements that will probably make little kids laugh but will leave older viewers rolling their eyes. It is, essentially, a live-action cartoon and, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it is a noticeable downgrade considering the first movie was also a live-action cartoon but it didn’t treat its audience like they were juvenile idiots or pander to the lowest common denominator. Here, all nuance is completely cast aside; the TMNT are generally too busy making fools of themselves and messing about, so when heartfelt moments like Raph’s bond with Yoshi do occur they fall flat because of all the tomfoolery that proceeds them.

The suits are bad, the dialogue corny, and the film’s lumbered with an out of place time travel gimmick.

It’s undeniable that the TMNT suits, while still impressive practical and animatronic effects, have taken a noticeable downgrade. The actors seem to be able to move more freely in these suits, to be fair, but they look far less believable and much more like plastic, rubbery outfits than in the last two films. The heads are easily the worst aspect; the eyes are far less expressive, the mouths don’t sync up as well, and everything just feels much more cheap and low quality. By far the worst offender, though, his Splinter; not only does the wise old rat sensei look far worse than his previous incarnations, but he’s rarely ever shown in full body in a clear attempt by the filmmakers to hide his limitations and mostly just peeps out through window frames or sits in his chair. The action sequences are equally underwhelming this time around; while the TMNT are far more spritely in this film, and fights are filmed in full daylight, the TMNT continue to use their weapons either defensively or for comedic effect and everything seems far more choreographed and dumbed down, which is a shame considering how many more armed opponents the TMNT have to contend with in this jaunt. Additionally, the film is lumbered with an inexplicable time travel plot that really doesn’t seem to gel all that well with the atmosphere of the previous films; obviously, the TMNT have endured similar fantastical plots in the cartoons and comics but, for me, the natural next step is either interdimensional travel or facing an otherworldly, sci-fi threat like Krang and Dimension-X. Clearly, the decision to set the film in feudal Japan was a budgetary one, and that’s a shame as there was no way that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III could hope to out-do the mutated opponents the TMNT faced in the last film when they’re stuck in the 17th century for the majority of the runtime.

Ultimately the TMNT are victorious and opt to return home for another cringey dance number.

With time fast running out, the TMNT have no choice but to join forces with the rebels in an all-out assault on Castle Norinaga in order to rescue Mitsu and reclaim the sceptre. This leads to them discovering that Lord Norinaga’s ancestor was previously defeated by four legendary kappa, and the odd insinuation that they’re somehow descended from these mythological creatures. It also involves a number of fight scenes pitting the TMNT and Mitsu against Lord Norinaga’s guards, and the rebels against his forces, though any kind of tension or danger is largely mitigated by an overuse of comical sound effects and embarrassing one-liners. Leo finally gets something significant to do, however, when he gets into an intense sword fight with Lord Norinaga that sees the warlord trapped in a giant bell after being bested. All the fighting bizarrely stops when Walker and his men hold everyone at gunpoint, such is the fear of his weapons, but he flees in terror after Leo ducks into his shell to avoid being killed by his cannon. Although Walker distracts them by throwing the sceptre at them to cover his escape, Whit ultimately finishes him off by blasting him with a flaming projectile and sending Walker plunging to his poorly-realised demise in the sea below.  Afterwards, the TMNT briefly debate whether they should return to the present; while Donnie is eager to return home and Leo considers staying, Mikey and Raph are strongly tempted to stay since Raph feels appreciated there and Mikey has, apparently, fallen for Mitsu. Ultimately, after a brief fake-out, all four return home, with April, and the status quo is restored, with Kenshin and Mistu being reunited and the TMNT enjoying one last embarrassing dance number to bring this mess to an end.

The Summary:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was one of the first movies I remember seeing at the cinema; like almost everyone back then, I was a big TMNT fan and excited to see them on the big screen, but I honestly don’t remember what I thought to it back in the day and barely even remember going to see it. In the years since, I’ve rarely returned to the film since there are far better TMNT options out there, so it seems redundant to waste my time watching one of the more inferior productions. It doesn’t help that everyone and their mother has talked at length about how bad this film is compared to its predecessors, which really doesn’t make me excited to drop the disc in when I could just watch the first, and infinitely superior, movie instead. I guess there’s enough here for little kids to find some enjoyment; it’s very cartoony and full of one-liners and slapstick and daft fight scenes, but it’s just depressing to see how the property got some dumbed down so quickly. The whole production looks and feels so much cheaper, from the suits to the voice acting and the plot, and I’ll always find it odd how the comics and animated stories were able to do a better job appealing to their core demographic than a big-budget live-action production. Even die-hard TMNT fans will struggle with this one, and it’s best left to gather dust on the shelf.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III? How do you think the film holds up against the other TMNT films? Which of the TMNT is your favourite and why? What did you think to the time travel plot and the increased emphasis on comedic slapstick? Would you like to see another live-action TMNT film using modern technology to create more practical versions of the TMNT? How are you celebrating the TMNT’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on the TMNT, leave a comment down below.

Screen Time [HulkaMAYnia]: She-Hulk: Attorney at Law

Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?

Air Date: 17 August 2022 to 12 October 2022
Network: Disney+
Stars: Tatiana Maslany, Todd Phelps, Jameela Jamil, Josh Segarra, Ginger Gonzaga, Tim Roth, and Mark Ruffalo

The Background:
Following the incredible success of the Incredible Hulk television show, Marvel had Stan Lee create a female counterpart to the Green Goliath to beat Incredible Hulk producer Kenneth Johnson to the punch. A powerful feminist icon for Marvel who has been a member of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, She-Hulk shared the spotlight with her cousin in the Incredible Hulk cartoon from the nineties and very nearly got her own live-action movie back then, too; Brigitte Nielsen was even cast to bring the character to life at the time. Decades later, Marvel Studios announced that She-Hulk would be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with a nine-episode series streaming exclusively on Disney+, with Kat Coiro placed as the guiding hand behind the series and Tatiana Maslany cast in the dual role. She-Hulk’s visual effects were the work of multiple effects studios and initially caused some premature backlash, and the show promised not only to feature Mark Ruffalo as Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk in a mentor role but also the long-awaited return of Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/The Abomination. After being delayed due to COVID-19, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law released to largely positive reviews; critics praised the performances and interpersonal slant towards a legal drama, and the comedic aspects were particularly lauded. Others, however, were not so impressed; some criticised the pacing, the CGI effects were a massive point of contention, and the show was slandered by online trolls throughout its run. Regardless, She-Hulk was also praised as an empowering series for female viewers that tackled the subject toxic masculinity and was highly regarded if only for returning a beloved, seemingly forgotten MCU character to the franchise. Finally, unlike other Disney+ MCU shows, Kevin Feige stated that She-Hulk had the potential to not only gain additional seasons but to also cross over into the MCU’s big-budget feature films.

The Plot:
After a car crash sees her blood contaminated with the Gamma-irradiated blood of her cousin, Bruce Banner, lawyer Jennifer Walters (Maslany) finds herself able to transform into a superpowered hulk. As she tries to adapt to her new situation, she tackles a series of unique superhero court cases and finds herself targeted by a slanderous online smear campaign.

The Review:
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law begins in medias res; Jen is already capable of becoming She-Hulk, her best friend and paralegal Nikki Ramos (Gonzaga) is aware of her abilities, and she immediately showcases her additional ability to address the audience to catch us up with her origin story. Jen was on a road trip with Bruce and the two of them were involved in a car crash caused by the sudden appearance of a Sakaaran spacecraft. While rescuing Bruce from the wreckage, some of his blood drips into her wound, instantly transforming her into a savage hulk in the first of many call-backs to the pilot episode of The Incredible Hulk. Disoriented and dishevelled, she’s unquestionably supported and fixed up by a gaggle of helpful women at a bar but is triggered by a group of pushy guys before being tackled by the Hulk and brought to his secluded island laboratory for testing and training. Jen is distraught at the idea of being handicapped by such a life-destroying condition and immediately annoyed and critical of the Hulk’s attempts to mentor her; this ends up going both ways, however, as the Hulk’s lifelong syllabus on controlling his rage is rendered mute by Jen’s natural ability to retain her personality and intelligence in her Hulk form since she’s so used to managing her emotions, both in public and at work, to avoid lashing out at every creep or being branded as inferior because of her gender, which allows her to willingly transform at will because, essentially, she’s always angry.

Jen’s transformation into a Hulk causes some major changes to her personal and professional life.

This presents the unique dichotomy of She-Hulk; while the Hulk strived for years to master his abilities and to reconcile his two warring halves, Jen immediately has full control of not only her strength but also her transformations; though she’s physically smaller and less savage than the Hulk, she showcases all of his abilities with the added benefit of greater physical control. However, despite the Hulk’s best efforts, Jen has no desire to abandon her life and her career to be a superhero; after a brawl, he reluctantly agrees to let her live her own life, but things quickly become complicated for the superpowered lawyer when, during a session in court, she’s forced to reveal her dual identity in front of the world when “superpowered influencer” Mary Macpherran/Titania (Jamil) literally crashes in and threatens lives. It takes Jen some time to embrace her superhero identity; she regularly distances herself from the She-Hulk name and constantly downplays the appeal and benefits of being a superhero, and her condition comes to negatively affect her when she’s fired and unable to find work at a conventional law firm. Holden Holliway (Steve Coulter) throws her a lifeline by offering her the chance to join a superhero law division at Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway (GLK&H); though initially annoyed that she’s been hired to represent clients as She-Hulk and as more of a publicity stunt than for her legal skills, she’s won over by her new office and just being back at work. Unfortunately for Jen, her troubles only escalate; the press constantly hound her, reporting rumours as facts and often belittling her because of her gender, and she’s even forced to set aside her personal bias in order to represent Emil Blonsky/The Abomination (Roth) at his parole hearing. This all comes to a head when Titania releases a rage of beauty products using the She-Hulk name and sues her for misuse of the copyright, which ties into a central theme of the series, which revolves around Jen learning to embrace both sides of her personality, the meek and somewhat awkward Jen and the sexually confident and alluring She-Hulk; throughout the show, she takes great strides in reconciling both in the court room by embracing her moniker and even later donning a form-fitting superhero outfit to directly assist others.

Jen’s struggles at romance are compounded by an online group that targets and slanders She-Hulk.

This character growth is full of little stumbles, however. Not only is she faced with an overbearing family who clearly care for her but can’t help but interfere and put her down, her love life is a bit of a shambles. Even after she reluctantly changes her online dating profile to a She-Hulk one, Jen is forced to endure a series of disastrous dates with self-obsessed, disrespectful, and down-right creepy men who either disregard her entirely or care only about comparing her to her more famous cousin, such as the uncomfortably obsessed Todd Phelps (Jon Bass), who later forms an entire online movement, Intelligencia, designed to hate on She-Hulk. Because of this, and Jen’s low self-esteem and desire for attention, it doesn’t take much for Arthur (Michel Curiel) to make an impression; he seems genuinely interested in her and actually engages her in conversation, however he has no interest in Jen and thus isn’t interested in pursuing a serious relationship with her. While attending the wedding of her high school friend, Lulu (Patti Harrison), Jen is surprised to make a connection with the charming Josh Miller (Trevor Salter), especially as she’s forced to stay in her human form so as not to steal Lulu’s spotlight. Josh appears to be the opposite of Arthur; he’s only interested in Jen and never really asks about She-Hulk and they actually take the time to date rather than jumping into bed right away. Unfortunately, after they do sleep together, he ghosts her, driving her to distraction; while she finds a measure of closure and self-respect thanks to some unlikely advice from Blonsky and the gaggle of misfit, rehabilitated supervillains at his retreat, she’s driven into an uncontrollable fury when Josh leaks her personal information, including photos and videos of her, to Intelligencia, resulting in her briefly losing the support of the public and being imprisoned.

Of all the guest stars to feature, Daredevil undeniably steals the show with his long-awaited return.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news for Jen in the romance department. While he initially rubs her the wrong way by proving to be a competent lawyer, blind, flirtatiously charming Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) proves to be a suitable confidante and partner after not only encouraging Jen to help others with her powers when the law fails them but also being unmasked as the superpowered vigilante Daredevil. Together, they’re able to rescue a mutual acquaintance, eccentric superhero fashion guru Luke Jacobson (Griffin Matthews), from wannabe superhero-turned-supervillain Eugene Patilio/Leap-Frog (Brandon Stanley) and, in the process, She-Hulk learns a little bit about what it means to be a superhero. The chemistry between them boils over following their fight and the series ends with the suggestion that they’re going to be a regular thing going forward since he joins her and her family for a meal. Although he steals the show in every scene, Daredevil isn’t the only guest star to feature in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law; Wong (Benedict Wong) shows up a few times, first to help with Blonsky’s appeal and then to ask for She-Hulk’s aid in barring disgraced sorcerer Donny Blaze (Rhys Coiro) from threatening the fabric of reality with his reckless magic. Similarly, the Hulk also plays an important role in the first episode; initially appearing as Bruce Banner thanks to a convenient inhibitor, he assumes his “Smart Hulk” form and puts Jen’s abilities to the test. He’s frustrated by her not taking his lessons seriously and tries to emphasise the burden and responsibility of being a Hulk, but ultimately trusts her to live her life her own way and disappears into space for his own side story, one that we’re not privy to but see the results of in the finale when he returns from Sakarr with his son, Skaar (Wil Deusner). We even get a couple of celebrity cameos as David Otunga and rapper Megan Thee Stallion feature in the series but the show’s breakout original character is clearly the brazen Madisynn King (Patty Guggenheim), a career party animal who makes a shady deal with a demonic goat and ends up forming an unlikely bond with Wong over their shared love of television.

While spending a lot of time in court, She-Hulk also explores her duality and self-esteem.

At its core, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is a superhero comedy with a fair amount of courtroom drama serving as the focal point or backdrop of each episode. Whether it’s Jen trying to find a job in her field, Nikki and their co-workers Augustus “Pug” Pugliese (Segarra) and Mallory Book (Renée Elise Goldsberry) working cases involving shapeshifting elves or immortal cuckolds, rogue sorcerers or bumbling heroes, superhero law is naturally a large focus of the show. Conjecture, hearsay, trademarks, and faulty manufacturing are all elements that need to be addressed in a court of law, just like in normal life, but the superhero slant definitely makes these aspects more entertaining to watch. She-Hulk is often representing or even defending individuals who have wronged her in the past; she puts her neck on the line to vouch for the rehabilitated Blonsky, is called to speak to misogynistic Dennis Bukowski’s (Drew Matthews) stupidity, and is even forced to parade her former dates in order to prove that she identifies as She-Hulk. That’s not to say that the show is without any action scenes; Jen may prefer to use her legal skills more than her fists to resolve conflicts but she gets into a number of scraps throughout the show, often for comedic effect. Her first fight with Titania, for example, is over in a single punch and Jen forgets herself for a moment when she’s jumped by Wrecking Crew – Dirk Garthwaite/The Wrecker (Nick Gomez), Eliot Franklin/Thunderball (Justin Eaton), Henry Camp/Bulldozer (Tennison Barry), and Brian Calusky/Piledriver (Kyle Murillo) – when they try to steal her blood using Asgardian-powered construction tools, before easily dispatching them as She-Hulk. She-Hulk is specifically recruited by Wong to fend off the goblin demons Donny unwittingly summons, and she throws down with Titania again at Lulu’s wedding, much to the delight of the guests, but she chooses to leave the violence to Daredevil when confronting Leap-Frog and instead offers him legal counsel. Indeed, She-Hulk largely subverts a lot of the usual expectations when it comes to action sequences; she openly criticises Daredevil’s reliance on stealth and denies him another fight in a hallway and even finds herself really opening up to Blonsky and the oddball guests at his retreat since they can relate to her identity crisis.

Jen’s so annoyed at the derivative nature of her narrative that she forces the show to change tack for the finale.

She-Hulk’s true enemy here isn’t the monstrous Abomination, who’s now repentant and committed to offering emotional support and spiritual guidance, or even Titania, who’s strength makes her almost as formidable a foe as her spiteful nature. Instead, She-Hulk’s greatest foe throughout the series is toxic masculinity. We get our first taste of this moments into the first episode when Dennis undermines Jen’s abilities and suggests he’s a more capable lawyer than her; he continues to talk down to her even when addressing She-Hulk and, later, refuses to have her or Mallory represent him as he’d rather have a man. A shallow, arrogant little man, he refers to women as “hot chick” and “it” but it’s this delusional nature which ends up winning him the case against catfisher Runa (Peg O’Keef). Although a small-time annoyance, Dennis is just one example of the persecution Jen faces, both as herself and as She-Hulk; when the Wrecking Crew confront her, they accuse her of flaunting herself when she’s simply living her life and the press are constantly using derogatory terms to label her. Very few males treat her as an equal or with the respect she deserves, allowing the likes of Pug, Murdock, and even Blonsky to stand out as they actually engage with her and don’t condescend her or try to undermine her intelligence and abilities. Male chauvinism isn’t limited to just She-Hulk either; Craig Hollis/Mr. Immortal (David Pasquesi) lands himself in hot water after abandoning his many marriages by faking his death, leading to him not only earning Mallory and Nikki’s ire but also being forced to agree to a fair settlement tailored for each of his slighted partners. No male is more troublesome to She-Hulk’s stature than Todd, however; using the online alias “HulkKing”, Todd forms Intelligencia specifically to slander her and create a following of likeminded assholes to steal a sample of her blood so they can take the power they feel she doesn’t deserve. Still, luckily for Todd and his vile followers, Jen herself takes issue with the redundant nature of their plot and literally demands that the show try something a little more original, tailoring the ending into something a little less derivative and seeing that the HulkKing and his cohorts are exposed for the toxic, petty-minded jerks they are.

The Summary:  
There’s a real nasty environment that’s brewed online in the last few years where any product that even dares to try something new or feature a strong female lead, or include any kind of diversity, is immediately labelled as “woke”. Personally, I have no idea what this is supposed to mean and find it extremely degrading as it’s just some catch-all term mindless, anonymous idiots use to slander anything they don’t like. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law deals very heavily in this topic; although she largely ignores her online haters (primarily because she knows they wouldn’t dare say anything to her face), Jen is constantly besmirched and belittled both subtly and explicitly throughout the show. It’s small wonder, then, that she goes on a rampage, one eerily reminiscent of Carrie (De Palma, 1976), when Intelligencia publicly slut shame her at an award ceremony. This ceremony is perhaps the best example of the struggles Jen faces in her career; multiple women are named Female Lawyer of the Year and they’re paraded on stage like it’s a Miss Universe pageant, and Jen even foreshadows this when she quite rightly rants to her cousin about how difficult it is for a women to succeed as she’s slandered the moment she shows any weakness.

She-Hulk’s CGI is admittedly dodgy but other characters fare much better in this regard.

But I know what you want to hear me really talk about: the special effects. First of all, the Hulk looks fantastic; his CGI model is on point, which is to be expected as they pretty much perfected the look in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), but still surprising for a television show, especially as a Hulk-centric show seems to me to be one of the more costly MCU projects. Similarly, the Abomination looks really good; I’m really digging his more comic-accurate redesign and even enjoyed seeing him as this rational pacifist rather than some mindless monster, though I will admit that his face was a little off and his transformation was a little too “clean”. She-Hulk suffers from this a bit as well; she simply grows larger or smaller, her custom-made clothes expanding to accommodate her, so we’re largely beyond the days of dramatic transformation sequences for these characters. As for She-Hulk…she mostly looks perfectly fine, but it does vary wildly. Given that she’s not as monstrous as the Hulk, I do wonder if it might’ve been better to use her on-set stand-ins, Maliah Arrayah and Devon Lewis, to actually portray the character and enhance her with CGI, imposing Maslany’s face onto the larger doubles as a modern take on the 1970’s show (something the show does actually do when it lovingly recreates The Incredible Hulk’s iconic opening sequence). I think the things that bother me the most is her hair, which looks like a bad wig most of the time, and her eyes and face, which are a little lifeless and blank at times. It definitely works but it does stick out quite a bit and I can see why people would be distracted by it; low lighting definitely aids the presentation, but I admire how often Jen is seen in broad daylight as She-Hulk. Thankfully, Daredevil is here to again make up for some of these effects; now garbed in a yellow and red number, this is a fantastic return to form for the character, who seems much more jovial and far less bleak than in his Netflix show, allowing him to kick ass and be intimidating but also be a fun and attractive prospect for Jen. Hell, I even enjoyed the Leap-Frog suit and the inclusion of small-time, ridiculous villains like William Taurens/Man-Bull (Nathan Hurd), Alejandro Montoya/El Águila (Joseph Castillo-Midyett), Saracen (Terrence Clowe), and Alexander Gentry/Porcupine (Jordan Aaron Ford). I always enjoy it when live-action adaptations turn to the more obscure and ludicrous characters, and they really worked in the context of this show and played a surprisingly poignant part in shaping Jen’s acceptance of herself and her duality.

She-Hulk’s ability to break the fourth wall results in a unique metatextual humour.

Of course, one major aspect that separates She-Hulk from most comic book characters is her ability to break the fourth wall, which is present right from the start and, while characters occasionally react to this, it’s mostly just played for laughs and ignored. Jen habitually addresses the camera, generally asking us not to judge her, addressing the abundance of cameos throughout the show, and questioning the plot at certain points. This metatextual approach extends to the title sequence, which changes a number of times to reflect what’s happening (such as Jen being out of work, Titania’s lawsuit, and Jen being barred from transforming into She-Hulk). The aforementioned recreation of the 1970’s intro was my favourite instance of this but all this metatextual commentary comes to a head in the finale; after being forced to wear an inhibitor after her rampage, Jen is at her lowest point when Todd transforms into a Hulk-like creature and even Titania and the Hulk show up at the last minute in a chaotic attempt to have all her separate storylines converge. She’s so unsatisfied with the conclusion that she literally escapes to the Marvel Studios: Assembled (Baruh, 2021) documentary to confront She-Hulk’s staff, who are amusingly non-plussed at a fictional character gate-crashing their meeting and direct her to “Kevin”, who turns out not to be MCU executive producer Kevin Feige but an artificial intelligence which makes all of the decisions about the MCU. Somewhat reminiscent of the divisive finale to The Matrix Reloaded (Wachowskis, 2003), Knowledge Enhanced Visual Interconnectivity Nexus/K.E.V.I.N. (Brian T. Delaney) continues the metatextual narrative by asking that she transform back into Jen as she’s “very expensive” and the visual effects team has “moved on to another project” and explaining that it uses advanced algorithms to create “near perfect” products, the quality of which is left up to the internet. Using her legal skills, Jen’s able to argue for more originality in her show, criticising Todd’s plot and the entire finale and demanding that she get the ending she deserves rather than what’s expected. She then goes on to address many of the issues people have with the MCU and even asks about the X-Men before being denied such a boon in the future and left to enjoy her happy ending.

A fun show with some great humour, action, and an empowering message that nicely expands the MCU.

I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy She-Hulk: Attorney at Law as much as I did; like a lot of people, I was mainly watching it to witness the glorious official integration of Daredevil into the MCU but the whole show was really good from start to finish. At nine episodes, it’s longer than usual for a Marvel Disney+ show and there’s an argument that a couple of the episodes could’ve been trimmed down or had their plot points combined into other episodes, but I have no complaints about the length or the content. It was a great introduction to this fresh new Hulk character, one who’s fully capable of defending herself and having a successful career and yet as conflicted and full of doubts as anyone else. Jen’s ability to break the fourth wall helps her to stand out even more and enabled the show to have a fun, carefree vibe while still holding up a mirror to the online trolls and toxic masculinity that is so prevalent in this day and age. While they were only minor roles, I also enjoyed Jen’s supporting cast; her doting, if annoying, family, Nikki’s endless enthusiasm, and Pug’s awkwardness at being forced to integrate with Intelligencia all made for some compelling and entertaining side characters. The courtroom drama was also very enjoyable; I liked seeing She-Hulk coming up with legal loopholes, even if it meant embarrassing herself, to win cases and I’d like to see the second season spend a little more time in the courtroom with some of Marvel’s more colourful and obscure characters. Alterations to the Abomination and the continuation of the Hulk’s mini arc also landed well with me; it was great to see Blonsky back, and cast in a sympathetic light and elevated into something more than just a brutish solider/supervillain and I was left really intrigued to see what’s next for the Hulk family. Yes, She-Hulk’s special effects can be wonky but I fully expect to see this addressed in another season; they work and can be impressive but you will have to get over it to fully enjoy the show. Also, if you’re one of these “woke” crusaders it’s probably better you watch something else as She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is very much geared towards sending a positive message about rising above hate and valuing people based on their ability and merits rather than belittling them because a small-minded minority think of themselves as somehow “superior”.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think about She-Hulk: Attorney at Law? Did the CGI used to bring She-Hulk to life put you off? What did you think to her ability to break the fourth wall? Were you a fan of the legal drama and comedy aspects? What did you think to the Abomination’s character growth and the reintroduction of Daredevil? Did you enjoy the attack on toxic masculinity or was it too “woke” for you? Where would you like to see the character go in the future and are there any She-Hulk storylines or characters you’d like to see included in future seasons? Whatever you think about the show, or She-Hulk in general, leave a comment below or on my social media and be sure to check out my other Hulk content!

Talking Movies: The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Talking Movies

Released: 22 June 2001
Director: Rob Cohen
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $38 million
Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Rick Yune, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, and Matt Schulze

The Plot:
Dominic Toretto (Diesel) enjoys the adrenaline of street car racing and his fans treat him like a rock star. After a blazing encounter with the ruthless Johnny Tran (Yune), Dom decides to take racing newcomer Brian (Paul Walker) under his wing, unaware that Brian is an undercover cop who’s investigating both Dom and Tran’s involvement in money laundering and hijacking.

The Background:
It’s easy to forget nowadays that the outrageously bombastic Fast & Furious franchise (Various, 2001 to present) originally started out as a grounded thriller revolving round street racing and knock-off DVD recorders, but the film’s origins can actually be traced back to a Vibe magazine article about street racing titled “Racer X” and more than a few influences from the similarly-themed Point Break (Bigelow, 1991). After coming to an agreement with Roger Corman, who released a film of the same title back in 1954, the producers initially reached out to rapper Marshall Mathers III/Eminem and Timothy Olyphant for the lead roles before settling on rising musclebound star Vin Diesel (who later became a driving force behind the franchise) and the late Paul Walker. Director Rob Cohen was adamant about including the right cars to reflect the no-holds-barred nature of the street racing scene; the sheer amount of vehicular muscle involved for the film’s notable “Race Wars” scene attracted over 1500 import car owners and enthusiasts to San Bernardino International Airport, where the scene was shot. Bringing in nearly $210 million at the box office, The Fast and the Furious was a massive hit, a success it emulated when it became the second-highest single-day DVD release of all time. Critics were somewhat divided, however; while some lauded it as a mindless, high-octane action picture and praised Diesel’s performance, others criticised it as unexciting and idiotic, Still, The Fast and the Furious kicked off one of the most successful film franchises of the modern era; by going bigger and more brazen with each entry, transitioning into a heist series and even incorporating bombastic, almost sci-fi logic, the franchise has become almost unexpectedly popular despite criticisms regarding its later over-the-top nature.

The Review:
If I’m being brutally honest, the Fast and the Furious franchise has never really been of much interest to me; I’m a big fan of Vin Diesel, especially his under-rated science-fiction efforts, despite his obvious limitations as an actor and bizarre off-camera antics, but cars and car racing just aren’t really my thing. The closest I come to enjoying anything about cars is watching old episodes of Top Gear (1977 to 2001; 2002 to 2012, specifically), though I was more interested in the hilarious shenanigans of its presenters than the cars themselves, and even the twist that this first film is more of an action/thriller as opposed to the more over-the-top nature of its sequels can’t really outweigh the fact that I’m just not all that thrilled by car-based action. For me, the franchise has always had its appeal in its outrageous action and stunts, the macho bravado on display, and for playing around with the genre in fun ways, such as inserting jump cuts to pedals being pressed and gears being changed instead of punches and kicks like in traditional action and fight scenes. Yet, I have had an on again/off again relationship with the franchise, mainly because two of my close friends are big fans, and I’ve had some enjoyment from it, but it’s always interesting coming back to this first, far more grounded entry after seeing how bonkers it became over time. For example, rather than opening in the sweltering heat of Brazil or a dramatic, high-speed escape from a prison van, The Fast and the Furious opens in the sweltering heat of downtown Los Angeles and with the dramatic, high-speed heist of a truck carrying a cargo full of electronics (televisions, DVD players, and the like). We don’t actually see the faces of any of the drivers involved in this heist, which creates an air of mystery surrounding the crime that is central to the main plot of the movie; Dom and his crew are extremely proficient high-speed drivers, after all, so they’re natural suspects for these types of unusual, road-based crimes.

Fresh-faced wannabe racer Brian ruffles a few feathers amidst Dom’s crew of street racers.

Next, we’re introduced to Brian Spilner and given a taste of the film’s depiction of racing; basically, this involves a lot of shaky camera work, cutting to the actors inside their souped-up vehicles, and inserts of them changing gears and stamping on pedals while the cars race along, drift, and careen past gorgeous scenery. Although clearly skilled behind the wheel, Brian is frustrated at his inability to get up to top speed on the track, something he’ll need to improve at if he hopes to stand a chance in the city’s illegal drag races. To blow off steam, Brian heads to Toretto’s, a family-run diner where he regularly visits to order the same tuna sandwich from gorgeous proprietor Mia Toretto (Brewster). Although Brian is clearly flirting with Mia, who makes no bones about sugar-coating how mundane her job is but has little time for bullshit in her life, he’s oddly fascinated by her grim, musclebound brother. However, Brian’s constant presence at the diner and obvious fawning over Mia raises the ire of one of Dom’s crew, the abrasive Vince (Schulze), who clearly has a thing for Mia himself; unimpressed by Brian’s “faggot” attitude, Vince starts a brawl in the street and it’s up to Dom to separate the two. While Dom is embarrassed by his friend’s actions, he also takes an instant dislike to Brian; he not only orders him to stay away but his clout as a famed racer almost costs him his job at the Racer’s Edge garage, which supplies fuel, add-ons, and the famed Nitrous Oxide Systems (NOS) that can give even the slowest car an almost supernatural boost of speed at the twist of a valve. Luckily for Brian, the owner, Harry (Vyto Ruginis), plays peacemaker, though he advises Brian that he needs to work on his driving technique rather than pump his car full of NOS. However, Brian feels he needs the boost if he’s ever going to have a chance at competing in the night-time races and impressing the likes of Dom; though he sticks out against the other racers primarily for his fresh-faced good looks and lack of an entourage, he manages to ruffle a few feathers by inserting himself into the race by putting up his modified 1995 Mitsubishi Eclipse as collateral.

Street legend Dom is the patriarch of his crew but is up to more than just racing for cash and pride.

Dom’s reputation as an expert racer proceeds him; everyone at the races knows him, women drool over him, and men both respect and envy him. Dom’s such a prominent face at the events that he’s able to set the rules of engagement, the buy-in price, and the rewards for the participants; while Brian has to psyche himself up for a race and packs his car full of NOS to try and compete, Dom is cool as a cucumber and unnervingly confident, carefully unleashing his supply of NOS at just the right time to out-race his opponents. Victorious, Dom immediately shoots down Brian’s happiness at almost pipping him to the post; Dom offers a scathing criticism of Brian’s driving, his overreliance on NOS, and his arrogance to assume that he would’ve won had his car not failed him, delivering easily one of my favourite lines of the film (and the franchise) when he bluntly tells him that “almost” isn’t good enough in a street race. Luckily for Brian, Dom’s notoriety extends to the cops; when he’s spotted on the streets, Dom is forced to accept Brian’s offer of a ride to escape to safety, which is enough to get him in Dom’s good graces and invited into his social circle. Having served two years hard time in the past for almost beating a man to death, Dom has no desire to return to prison, but the Corona-loving brute can’t deny himself the thrill of street racing; banned from ever having the chance to race legitimately, the only true freedom Dom has left comes from the inescapable exhilaration of a quarter-mile drag race. Dom’s story about his troubled youth exposes layers to him that surprise even Brian; portrayed as a tough, methodical force with an unbridled rage seething beneath his muscles, it’s surprising to find a vulnerability to Dom, who’s been forced to set aside whatever dreams he might’ve had and become this paternal, inspirational figure who, as Mia describes, pulls people towards him “like gravity” through his sheer charisma. Of course, it turns out that Dom’s garage and diner are just the front for his real operation; to fund his racing projects, he and his crew have been pulling off death-defying heists and selling knock-off electronics on the side, an operation that is causing truckers across the city to start arming themselves for protection and has attracted more police attention than his nightly drag races.

While Dom’s crew is fiercely loyal, Brian’s presence irks Vince, who has his own sights set on Mia.

Dom’s crew is comprised of hyperactive statistician Jesse (Chad Lindberg), glorified lookout Leon (Johnny Strong), the aforementioned Vince, and Dom’s main squeeze, the only one tough enough to match him on the road and in the bed who doesn’t have a dick, Letty Ortiz (Rodriguez). Jesse acts as the team’s primary mechanic and is generally there to spout off the specifics of different cars (probably to keep Vin Diesel from having to remember any complicated lines), but this is instrumental in convincing Dom to allow Brian to race since the car he wagers is an attractive prospect and also in relaying Brian’s “history” to Dom through a quick internet search that is vital to Brian infiltrating the crew. Letty is clearly enamoured by Dom and in awe of both his physical presence and his driving skills, but their relationship is a little more complex than you might think; Dom appears almost dismissive of her in their first interaction, but eventually intervenes in the fight between Vince and Brian when she and Mia yell at him long enough, yet he acts quite sheepish when Letty later warns off the “skanks” sidling up to him. While Dom’s frustration with his crew at running to the hills also extends to Letty, but she endures his ire and curries favour with him by offering her body as stress relief. While Vince is pissed to find Brian invited into their social circle, Dom vouches for Brian since he was the only one to step up when the cops came calling. Although Brian infiltrates the crew and finds himself “owned” by Dom since he owes him a ten-second car, he continues to butt heads with Vince, especially after Dom publicly humiliates the tattooed Neanderthal; he gives Brian evils at Dom’s sumptuous barbecue and throws a tantrum when Mia drops her rule about dating Dom’s friends to go out with Brian. Thus, Vince is naturally aggrieved when he finds Brian snooping around a garage and immediately pegs him as a cop, a situation that Brian is barely able to talk himself out of, but Vince is left with his life literally in Brian’s hands after he’s shot during a later heist.

Brian’s true nature as an undercover cop changes his interactions and enrages Dom.

Things look bad for Brian after he’s apprehended by the cops, but rather than being taken to prison, he’s taken to a cushty safe house and asked for an update by Sergeant Tanner (Ted Levine) and given a grilling by agent Bilkins (Thom Barry) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for losing his Mitsubishi. Yes, it turns out that Brian Spilner is actually Brian O’Conner, a Los Angeles cop who’s been sent undercover to find out who’s behind the recent spate of hijackings, which have reached around $6 million worth of goods. Promised a promotion to detective for his efforts, Brian is faced with a ticking clock as the truckers are close to taking matters into their own hands but is confident that following Dom is the best way to figuring out whether he or someone else is the culprit. This reveal fundamentally alters the entire perception of Brian; previously quite aloof and a bit of a naïve goofball, he’s actually quite the snarky and intelligent cop. His longing to be part of Dom’s crew is reframed as the most efficient means of finding a lead, and his affection and interactions with his team, Mia especially, appear to simply be part of the job. Mia is intrigued by Brian; she’s surprised that he frequents the diner so much when their tuna is so famously bad and is aggravated by Vince’s dislike for the handsome goof yet is also clearly quietly impressed when he puts it all on the line to take part in the races in an effort to earn the respect of the other drivers. While she acts coy around him, Mia is clearly into Brian, and while Dom warns Brian not to break Mia’s heart, he doesn’t oppose their relationship; she’s genuinely happy to be put first for a change, and even showcases her own driving skills before ultimately ending up in bed with him. Mia is understandably hurt and angered when Brian is forced to reveal his true nature to her when Dom, Letty, and Vince head out on another heist, but begrudgingly agrees to lead him to them in order to protect her friends and family from being shot by armed truckers and hounded by every cop in the city.

Although Tran is clearly positioned as the bad guy, it’s Dom’s crew who are the true culprits.

After escaping from the cops when their drag race is interrupted, Dom and Brian accidentally drift into the territory of a rival racing gang led by Johnny Tran and his cousin, Lance Nguyen (Reggie Lee). Packing heat and favouring motorcycles, Tran’s gang has a tumultuous agreement with Dom to stay out of each other’s way and he delights in intimidating Dom by opening fire on Brian’s car and blowing it up. This first meeting is just a teaser for their upcoming showdown in the Race Wars, a massive drag race event for big money and fast cars that’s due to take place out in the desert, but the issues between Tran and Dom are as personal as they are professional since they fell out over a shady business deal and Dom getting a little too frisky with Tran’s sister. While investigating one of Tran’s garages, Brian watches as Tran and Lance sadistically torture Ted Gassner (Beau Holden) to get their engines for the Race Wars but is stunned when it turns out that Tran’s gang weren’t behind the hijackings. Indeed, when it’s confirmed that Dom and his crew are actually the culprits, these shady racers who we’ve been following and grown attached to throughout the film could actually be said to be the true villains of the piece. However, the term “anti-hero” is probably far more appropriate as they’re not out to maliciously hurt or kill anyone, and even the reprehensible Vince earns himself some sympathy when he’s shot by a trigger-happy trucker during what is meant to be the team’s last heist. Morality is further blurred when Tran, incensed by the bust at his house and the disrespect he feels has been thrown his way, publicly accuses Dom of being the one who called the cops on him; when he easily outraces Jesse at the Race Wars, Tran’s anger overflows when the heartbroken mechanic flees rather than part with his father’s MK3 Volkswagen Jetta and the two gangs get into a brief scuffle. Tran’s retribution is malicious and brutal; he and Lance ride past the Toretto home and viciously gun Jesse down, forcing Dom to face his fears and chase after them in his father’s Dodge Charger.

The Nitty-Gritty:
While themes of family eventually became so synonymous with the Fast and Furious franchise that it’s something of a running gag these days, it’s a reasonably subtle theme here; Dom’s crew is like his family and he acts as their undisputed patriarch, protecting, advising, and even scolding them when necessary. He issues orders with a gravelly tone and his word is the law since he’s the biggest and the best of them all; it’s very much a hybrid of a traditional, catholic Italian family unit and almost a mob situation as they look to him for guidance and direction and must follow his lead whether they agree with it or not. Of course, family is more explicitly represented in Dom’s protective relationship with his little sister, Mia; while showing off the pimped out 1970 Dodge Charger R/T he built with his father, Dom tell Brian how his father crashed and burned to death before his eyes, showcasing a vulnerability from the obvious trauma of this incident, which left him openly afraid to drive the Dodge Charger and driven into a mindless rage to punish the man responsible. Trust and loyalty are very important to Dom and key elements of the film; this, of course, makes things extremely difficult when it’s revealed that Brian is an undercover cop, something Vince takes great pleasure in learning since he had his suspicions about Brian from the start. However, while he realises that he’s jeopardised his relationships with Dom and Mia by deceiving them, Brian becomes so attached to the two that he’s forced to re-evaluate his position and set aside his orders to help Dom chase down Tran and Lance in the finale. One thing I do love about The Fast and the Furious is how utterly 2001 it is; this is reflected not just in the nausea-inducing shaky cam and perpetually sweaty, outrageously attractive cast and their loose-fitting clothes, but also the heavy rap-centric soundtrack (including one of my favourites, “Rollin’ (Urban Assault Vehicle” by Limp Bizkit). This hip-hop influence is reflected in the portrayal of many of the supporting characters, with rapper Ja Rule featuring in a small cameo, and in the thumping beats of the score; The Fast and the Furious even had the best of both worlds by releasing a second, more nu-metal-themed soundtrack that’s much more my jam.

Car racing is more of a spectacle than a selling point, with the races being mostly low-key thrills.

The opening heist gives a taste of how versatile and proficient the drivers are; not only is Dom’s team capable of driving at high speeds in the dead of night in modified cars, but they’re also packing large grappling hooks to anchor and rappel themselves to other vehicles, and wield both regular and tranquilizer guns. Their skills at driving are so sharp that they’re able to outrace most regular cars and Letty slips between and under trucks when bombing along at breakneck speeds. In The Fast and the Furious, the city’s nightly street races are a commonplace annoyance for regular citizens; Leon monitors a police scanner, and the drivers immediately disperse when they’ve been discovered, adding an element of danger to the proceedings that makes things all the more thrilling. And yes, the film’s racing is very thrilling; the first drag race pits Dom against Brian, Edwin (Ja Rule), and Danny (R.J. de Vera) and sees their exhausts literally spitting fire (thanks to an atrocious CGI sequence where their engines explode like rockets!) as they barrel through the city streets on a makeshift track. Though it’s often painfully obvious that the actors aren’t actually blasting along at nearly two hundred miles per hour and it’s pretty hilarious when Brian engages his NOS and enters warp speed, there’s an exciting sense of speed here and things only get more intense as Harry’s warnings come to pass and Brian’s car literally breaks apart from the extreme speeds. Interestingly, actual car racing is more of a side plot than a selling point of the film; much of the middle portion revolves around Brian working with Dom’s crew to get his ride ready for the Race Wars event and the mystery of who’s behind the hijackings. Considering how much it’s built up throughout the film, you’d expect that the Race Wars would be the climactic finale but it’s actually little more than a means to escalate the tensions between Dom and Tran; Brian and Dom don’t even race in the event, instead it’s just Jesse stupidly ignoring Brian’s warnings and being outclassed by Tran’s coveted Honda S2000. This leaves the team one man short for their last heist, which sees Vince clinging to and hanging from a truck as the others desperately race around trying to help him, leading to Brian dramatically jumping to the truck from a speeding car and being forced to call in emergency medical aid for the wounded Vince, thus exposing himself to Dom and the others.

Cars and sex go hand in hand here, with sparks flying between Brain and both Torettos!

The Fast and the Furious is openly, unapologetically, and explicitly car porn. If you like your cars, then this is the film for you and the movie goes to great lengths to introduce and showcase them as being as important as any of its characters. Indeed, the cars are extensions of the characters, representing their ego, bravado, masculinity, and reputation on the streets; when you hear these cars coming and see them come bombing along, you’re supposed to look up in awe and be impressed, and nowhere is this more explicit that at the drag races, where drivers stand proudly by their cars, engines exposed, and boast about their tunings and refinements. It’s a very sexual and sordid presentation; semi-naked woman and well-cut men accompany these vehicles, and the camera lingers on both with a perverse fascination; they are both to be lusted after and coveted, and this is reflected in Brian’s admiration for certain cars and desperate need to have a car powerful and capable enough to impress in the races. This, by extension, would not only raise his stock amongst the thugs, lowlifes, and braggarts who take part in the races, but also earn him Dom’s respect and Mia’s eye; in this regard, the races are not only metaphorical dick-measuring contests, a way to prove how macho and capable each racer is, but also an almost ritualistic form of courting since it’s not enough to simply “stand by your car” and look cool. Indeed, sex and cars go hand-in-hand in The Fast and the Furious; a racer’s attractiveness is explicitly related to the type of car they drive and their skill behind the wheel; this is most obviously expressed when Edwin is promised sex with his sumptuous babe (Tammy Monica Gegamian) and is denied this (and a proposed threesome) when he loses the race. It’s also seen in Dom’s relationship with Letty, which is based as much on her ability to hang with her male counterparts as it is their intense sexual chemistry, and in the way Brian desperately longs for Dom’s approval and respect. There’s an undeniable homoerotic nature to their relationship; Brian gazes at Dom with a mixture of awe, admiration, and shyness and is desperate to show that he has what it takes to hang with him and his crew. Sure, it’s all part of his cover and part of his assignment to infiltrate Dom’s inner circle (not a euphemism…), but he develops a real kinship and sense of respect for the hulking racer that directly informs his more rebellious actions in the film’s final act.

A mission of revenge unites Dom and Brian, before Brian lets his target go free out of respect…and love…

Despite spending the entire film preparing for the Race Wars, Dom and his team never get the chance to race against anyone at the event, much less Tran and his lackeys. Instead, Jesse has a short and unsuccessful fun in the desert and ends up going into hiding rather than give up his father’s car. This leaves Dom a man down for his last heist, which sees an armed trucker open fire on him, totalling his car, Letty sent careening into the desert, Vince left severely wounded, and Brian’s cover completely blown. Although clearly seething at this revelation, Dom is forced to focus on keeping Vince alive and stable but gets into it with Brian when he goes to his house to confront him thinking that he’s going to go off half-cocked. However, after sending Letty and Leon to safety, Dom’s plan is to grab a gun and fire up his father’s Dodge Charger so he can find Jesse before Tran can get to him, but things get very heated between the two former friends before a desperate Jesse arrives begging for Dom’s protection and is gunned down by Tran and Lance. In that moment, Brian chooses to pursue the two rather than bring Dom in and he races after them through the hilly streets of suburban Los Angeles. Enraged by Jesse’s death, Dom joins the pursuit and sends Lance tumbling down a hillside while Brian manages to anti-climatically shoot and kill Tran; with the score settled, Brian immediately leaps back into his car and pursues Dom when he makes his big getaway. Dom challenges Brian to follow him in a quarter-mile drag race across a railroad line and, realising that Toretto would truly rather die than go to jail, Brian has no choice but to accept; thanks to his NOS, Brian’s able to keep up with the Dodge Charger and avoid being smashed by the train, but a spot of engine trouble and the sudden appearance of a truck see Dom taking what is clearly a life-ending barrel roll across the road. Of course, Dom survives with only minor injuries, but his beloved car is wrecked; with sirens closing in on them, Brian takes one last, lingering look at the man he’s come to admire so much and decides to hand over the keys to his car, thereby gifting Dom the ten-second car he owes him and allowing Dom to evade capture and head out to Mexico to start his life anew.

The Summary:
As I said up top, I’ve never really been a massive fan of the Fast and Furious franchise or car-based action films; hell, I’m not even really a big fan of Point Break, which kind of bored me by about hallway through. Injecting cars and high-octane races into the Point Break formula definitely makes it more appealing, though, and I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed The Fast and the Furious. It’s not a film I watch very often, even amongst the others in the franchise, but there’s something comforting about revisiting this simpler time in the series where character moments, low, far more personal stakes, and thrilling bursts of nonsense car action were the order of the day before physics-defying, superhuman feats. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the mindless nonsense of this action/car/spy mash-up franchise, but the first film hits a little different; maybe it’s the 2001 trappings such as the fashion and music, maybe it’s how young and slim (though still buff) Vin Diesel looks, and maybe it’s just that there’s a gritty tension to The Fast and the Furious that’s missing from later films. There’s a constant sense that everything could just explode at any moment; scenes between characters are charged with sexual and emotional tension that often results in heated exchanges and fist fights, the streets are depicted as a dangerous place to be because of gangs, shootings, illegal drag races, and armed truckers, but the real meat of the piece is the allure of Brian’s dual nature. Once it’s revealed that he’s a cop, the complexion of the movie and his interactions change and it’s interesting seeing his layers be revealed in this way, almost as much as realising there’s more to Dom than just being a rough, gruff brute. There’s definitely a sense of danger to everything, from the races to Brain’s investigation as the context provided is of a violent life and violent people, meaning characters can get hurt, shot, or even killed at a moment’s notice rather than just shrugging everything off. While some of the effects haven’t held up too well and I would’ve liked to see a bit more racing, especially at the Race Wars, there’s a surprising amount to like here; it’s sexy and sweaty when it needs to be, bursting with content for car aficionados, and a decent enough action/thriller to throw on with a few beers Corona and a pizza barbecue when you have some friends over.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of The Fast and the Furious? How do you think it compares to later entries in the franchise? Do you prefer this more grounded, gritty approach or do you prefer the more outrageous, bombastic nature of the sequels? What did you think to the relationship between Brian and Dom? Did you enjoy the street races on show here and were you also disappointed by the Race Wars? Which of Dom’s crew is your favourite and what did you think to the rivalry between him and Tran? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and tell me your favourite Fast and Furious movie on my social media.

Back Issues: Guardians of the Galaxy (2008) #1-3

Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning – Artist: Paul Pelletier

Story Title: “Somebody’s Got To Do It”
Published: 14 May 2008 (cover-dated July 2008)

Story Title: “Legacy”
Published: 18 June 2008 (cover-dated August 2008)

Story Title: “Beyond Belief”
Published: 10 July 2008 (cover-dated September 2008)

The Background:
Today, Marvel Comics’ Guardians of the Galaxy are well-known as a group of reprobates-turned-heroes thanks to their inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), however I think it’s fair to say that the team (and the concept) was relatively obscure compared to other Marvel heavy-hitters like the Avengers and Peter Parker/Spider-Man before the release of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014). As I have already explored, the cosmic team was initially very different when they debuted in the pages of Marvel Super Heroes! #18 (Drake, et al, 1969) and, despite strong sales of the team’s debut issue, the Guardians of the Galaxy remained dormant for about five years and also underwent many alterations as they graduated to their own self-titled series. Between 2006 and 2007, Marvel Comics published a cosmic crossover series titled Annihilation (Giffen, et al), a sprawling storyline in which Annihilus spread destruction throughout the galaxy with his “Annihilation Wave”, an event heralded for proving such epics could occur without Marvel’s flagship characters at the helm. From August 2007 and June 2008, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning spearheaded a follow-up miniseries, Annihilation: Conquest, out of which was formed a new line-up of Guardians that served as direct inspiration for the MCU’s movies and subsequent multimedia iterations of the team.

The Review:
In place of the usual text boxes, the story is intercut with log debriefings from the Guardians as they reflect on their mission, and therefore jumps about between a few different time periods, which makes a step-by-step recap a little difficult so, instead, I’ll try and go mostly in chronological order. Two weeks ago, Star-Lord, Phyla-Vell/Quasar, and the last surviving member of the Nova Corps, Richard Rider/Nova, were discussing the power vacuum in the galaxy after back-to-back destructive conflicts with Annihilus and the Phalanx. Both battles caught them completely off-guard so, rather than establish a peacekeeping force like the Nova Corps, Star-Lord suggests assembling an “ass-kicking force” that can pre-emptively tackle threats before they can escalate. The first person Star-Lord recruits is Rocket Raccoon, primarily for his “military smarts” and also because he’s “the best tactical mind [he] ever met”. Although Star-Lord tries to grease the wheels by tanking Rocket up with alcohol, he didn’t need to do this, or pile on the compliments; recognising the guilt Star-Lord carries after unwittingly causing the Phalanx’s invasion, Rocket agrees to help but only if Peter quits giving himself a hard time over it, especially as they won the day in the end. Quasar then paid a visit to the grieving Drax the Destroyer whose daughter, Heather Douglas/Moondragon, perished in a previous battle against Ultron. Filled with regret over never having a “regular” relationship with her and having lost his purpose now that he has slain Thanos, Drax considers himself a liability to others because of his thirst for death, but Quasar offers him purpose and direction as part of Star-Lord’s team. Nova then went to recruit Gamora, who was incensed at the suggestion, and that Nova never tried to get her into bed following their victory over the Phalanx. However, despite her stubbornness, Gamora is won over not just by the prospect of a booty call with Rider but also by his compelling argument that she’s tired of being an emotionless killer and desires something more out of life. Together, the group turn to Adam Warlock/Him for further support; troubled by the recent incursions, which have weakened space and time so badly that fissures into extradimensional universes are threatening to spill God knows what into the galaxy and tear it apart, Warlock agrees to join them in order to ensure the stability and continuation of life across our universe.

The fledgling Guardians come together to defend the galaxy from interdimensional incursions.

The fledgling Guardians soon came into a violent conflict with the Universal Church of Truth, a group of zealots who, in an alternate timeline, worshiped Warlock like a God. There were some teething problems throughout this battle; Star-Lord struggled to pull these volatile egos together, leading to Warlock, Gamora, and Drax heading to the control deck to tackle the root of the problem. The Church’s templeship is powered by “faith”, specifically faith in life (which Warlock notes is ironic as the Church’s plan will destroy life rather than grant it) and, once they realise their sacred ship is in danger, the Church’s founders, the Crusaders, promptly teleport away, leaving their devout followers behind, much to the disgust of Warlock, Gamora, and Drax. By the time the others reach the control deck, their options are limited as the templeship is already breaching a fissure; to make matters worse, a gigantic, disgusting eldritch abomination comes through the breach. However, Quasar and the others are able to hold it back to buy Rocket time to destroy the control deck with a grenade; the remaining energy is absorbed by Warlock and Quasar and the threat is summarily ended. They promptly teleport victorious (though Rocket claims the bulk of the victory for himself) to Knowhere, an interdimensional crossroads on the outer edge of time-space that allows them to rapidly transport anywhere using their “passport” bracelets and which happens to be housed inside the severed head of a Celestial! Knowhere is maintained by a group of strange alien lifeforms and overseen by Cosmo the Spacedog, a telekinetic Russian-born hound who has a rivalry with Rocket, acts as their chief of security, and has been busy getting Knowhere up and running for their services. Knowhere is also home to a thriving alien society, including a marketplace and economic system, and to the steadily growing sapling that was once Groot and Brandt/Mantis, an empath who has the unenviable job of maintaining the psychological well-being of the team and facilitating their disparate personalities. However, her precognitive abilities also alert her to an impending betrayal from within, though she’s unable to inform them of this as it could threaten the delicate balance of the timeline. No sooner are the Guardians back at Knowhere that Warlock detects another fissure on the ice asteroid of 5G Hydronis, a place where time and space are being torn apart and where, upon melting away some of the ice, the Guardians are stunned to find the Avengers Mansion contained within!

As the team struggles against the Cardinals, the time-displaced Vance fights off a mysterious attacker.

Before they can properly process the implications of this, they’re attacked by more Lovecraftian beasts, this time giant, slobbering worms that burst up from the ice and ensnare them. Luckily, Major Vance Astro/Major Victory of the original Guardians of the Galaxy happened to be frozen on the planetoid and briefly helps the struggling team before promptly collapsing in a fit of confusion and exhaustion. Star-Lord and Rocket hold off the creatures to cover Drax and Gamora as they tend to Vance, then the group promptly teleports out of there as Warlock and Quasar destroy the asteroid and its monstrous inhabitants. Star-Lord sees providence in Vance’s appearance, especially the symbolism of the shield he carries and the importance both it and Captain Steve Rogers/Captain America had on the legacy of the Avengers. Still encased in his protective suit and apparently dislodged from the time stream, Vance suffers from crippling amnesia and can only remember some vague importance about being at exactly this time period. Mantis tends to Vance to try and acclimatise him to the time period and help him recover his lost memories; though Rocket, inspired by Vance’s story, is more concerned with pestering the team into adopting the Guardians of the Galaxy name. After picking up another fissure, the team head to a seemingly abandoned Dyson Sphere – a literal sun encased within an artificial shell – where they are attacked by Raker and his knightly Cardinals. Sent by the Matriarch of the Church to seek retribution and garbed in gleaming golden armour, the Cardinals are powered by the prayers of their faithful, proving a formidable threat since they are capable of doing anything as long as they believe it, including conjuring weapons and shields of golden energy. Offended by Warlock’s magic and with no time for the team’s heathenistic explanations, the Cardinals make short work of the group simply by believing they have the means to overpower them, meaning they not only break Star-Lord’s hand but also run the mighty Adam Warlock through with a sword. As the Guardians struggle against the self-righteous Cardinals, Vance is suddenly attacked by the time-displaced Stakar of the House of Ogord/Starhawk, who takes even Mantis off-guard thanks to being completely invisible to her mental powers. Starhawk attacks the confused Vance with very familiar claw-like appendages and their battle rages through Knowhere, destroying six of their teleportation batteries, before he teleports out without a single word and leaving the perplexed Vance to incur the wrath of Cosmo for all the damage he caused in the fight.

Gamora’s selfless actions galvanise the team, but the threat of betrayal hangs in the air…

Having accomplished their mission, the Cardinals return to their homeworld; however, many are also dissolved when the Dyson Sphere’s population rises against them; reduced to a corrosive bio-mass after their genetic experiments opened a fissure in their very DNA, the inhabitants have become a tortured, grotesque hive mind. Already beyond salvation, absorbing the Cardinals only accelerates their instability and threatens to open a more destructive fissure. As Gamora tends to Star-Lord’s wounds, he shares with the group his plan to lift the shield that protects the surface from the sun’s rays, a strategy that will fry the entire Dyson Sphere and its out of control inhabitants in one swift move. The idea works and the bio-mass is summarily set ablaze, but Peter’s plan to teleport to safety is scuppered thanks to the damage caused by Vance and Starhawk. With the protective dome fading quickly, Drax and Star-Lord both volunteer to restore it; unfortunately, Quasar’s power is taxed to the limited just trying to keep them safe, so Gamora opts to handle it herself. Thanks to her healing factor, and the limited protection offered by Quasar, Gamora is able to reach the controls and restore the dome and, though she survives the ordeal, she’s left chargrilled and mutilated by the heat of the supernova. Still, her teammates are impressed by her bravery and her actions galvanise the team yet, despite their victory, Warlock remains disturbed not just by the fact that He was unable to save that advanced civilisation but also by the motives behind the Universal Church of Truth’s attack. An epilogue reveals that the Matriarch sent Raker to engage the Guardians not to “purify” them for their interference in their plans, but to verify that Warlock is actually the real deal as it’s revealed she has His protective cocoon resting in her palace, indicating the presence of an imposter.

The Summary:
The story’s action is peppered with log entries from the individual Guardians that offers insight into their character and commentary on their actions; Star-Lord is cautiously optimistic about his new team despite their inelegant solutions to problems, Quasar had her doubts that the mismatched team of egos could pull it together despite Star-Lord’s determination, Rocket expressed regret at being talked into joining such an outfit and venturing into the dangerous depths of space, Warlock has His doubts but recognises the value of the Guardians given the short lifespan of the cosmos, and Drax bluntly refuses to elaborate on his many experiences with death. Gamora is easily the most vocal about her scepticism; almost every line she has questions their purpose and direction, to the point where even Drax, who was equally sceptical about his value to such a group, calls her out on her lack of team spirit when she boasts of her healing factor to the less-fortunate Quasar. This makes her selfless act to endure the searing heat of the sun’s flames all the more impressive and goes to great lengths to earn her the respect and admiration from her teammates. One of the things I loved about the MCU interpretation of the Guardians of the Galaxy is their dysfunctional dynamic; they banter with and aggravate each other, to the point where they generally spend more time arguing than co-operating, which lends to their charm. Those aspects are alive and well here; in the heat of battle, the team are more focused on coming up with a name for themselves than fending off their enemies; Warlock, who’s had some experience in leading teams, is the first one to point this out and even Star-Lord, for all his enthusiasm, begins to question his decisions when their distractions send him hurtling out of a window.

The banter snark, and dysfunctional family dynamic are all appealing elements to this team.

There’s some concern, mostly from Gamora, regarding Warlock’s nature; His talk of altering the timeline and general demeanour have Gamora questioning how much He’s changed since she last saw Him. It’s clear that Warlock has changed recently and knows far more than what He’s letting on to His teammates; His philosophy seems to be to simply tackle an issue before it can escalate and explain the why of the matter later since it’s inconsequential against the need for action. As much as I love Dave Bautista’s portrayal of Drax as this loveable meathead, this version of Drax is far more coherent and sensible, though he is a bit of a blunt instrument; he’s aggravated by Warlock’s complex explanations, Quasar’s constant questions, and sees little point in cooking when they have perfectly good bars at Knowhere. While the others are intrigued by the puzzle of Vance Astro, Drax couldn’t care less about the former Avenger, not least because fighting alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes directly led to his daughter’s death. Indeed, as much as the Destroyer would rather just get to the point (and the fighting), Drax is just as apt to make quips about Warlock’s out of date hairstyle as Rocket, resulting in a more well-rounded character than his MCU counterpart, for sure, but one far less entertaining, in my opinion. Rocket’s characterisation should be pretty familiar with fans of the MCU, however; he’s a trigger-happy, snarky little rodent who cares for Groot and begrudgingly follows Star-Lord’s lead presumably because he has nothing better to do. Star-Lord may lack the multiple pop culture references of his MCU counterpart but much of his character is familiar as well; this is actually a very different version of the character to how he was first introduced, where he was a little more bland and less prone to self-deprecation and quipping. Here, he’s desperately trying to atone for his actions in unleashing the Phalanx and is determined to make this team work, despite how inelegant their approach is. Though unsettled by the symmetry of Vance’s appearance to Captain America’s own dethawing years ago, Peter is excited at the idea of the group rallying around the iconography of the shield, though he remains completely unaware of a possible traitor in their midst since Mantis refuses to divulge this information just yet.

These new Guardians impress thanks to some fun dialogue, visually exciting action, and lingering mysteries.

It’s nice to read something a little more modern from Marvel Comics; there’s something to be said for the simplicity of older tales, which are generally far less complex in their narratives and easier to digest in a single readthrough, but the dialogue and, especially, the art are far more appealing in modern tales, at least to me. While they share a colour scheme in their vaguely-matching uniforms, the Guardians are all very distinct personalities and characters despite their similarities: for example, Star-Lord and Rocket have no powers, relying on their helmet, weapons, and gadgets to win the day but are clearly unique since one is a talking raccoon! Gamora and Drax are also somewhat similar, being battle-hungry killers looking for a greater purpose, but Gamora has her healing factor, cynicism, and promiscuousness and Drax carries his guilt and an almost self-destructive thirst for combat. Quasar and Warlock also have some similarities in that they’re both, essentially, cosmic wizards but Quasar’s powers are limited in a way Warlock’s aren’t; Warlock is also seen as the expert in the time/space fissures and clearly the heavy-hitter of the group, yet He’s still vulnerable and requires the aid of His teammates to combat these threats. I liked the appearance of Vance Astro, too, as a link to the original Guardians of the Galaxy and a mystery for the team to solve over subsequent issues; Knowhere also functions as a very visually interesting and fun homebase for the team, not least because of Cosmo and it being the head of a Celestial, and the story arc was brimming with personality and mystery. The Universal Church of Truth are very intriguing villains; essentially a gaggle of cosmic zealots who wield incredible power simply through faith, they betray their own cause through their destructive ways and have spread death and discord rather than life and hope. The Cardinals, especially, prove a fearsome threat; there’s a suggestion that they could’ve easily killed the Guardians were it not for the bio-mass suddenly attacking them and the nature of their mission, which again adds to the appeal of the team: they’re already flawed and volatile personalities but they’re not infallible and even the almighty Adam Warlock can be killed, which makes them very relatable as a dysfunctional family that’s more human that their appearances may suggest. All in all, I really enjoyed this three-issue arc for the fledgling Guardians of the Galaxy and would absolutely want to read more from this run based on the strength of these issues alone and how impactful this period was to their live-action interpretation.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to this new incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy? Which member of the team was your favourite? What did you think to Universal Church of Truth and the threat posed by the Cardinals? Did you enjoy the banter and team dynamic between the group? What did you think to the mystery surrounding Vance Astro’s appearance? Which version of the team is your favourite and why? Are you a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics and, if so, did you like the MCU’s interpretations of the characters and concepts? Be sure to share your thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy in the comments below and on my social media, and check out my other Guardians of the Galaxy-related content on the site.

Game Corner [Turtle Tuesday]: TMNT: Turtles in Time (Xbox Series X)

The first issue of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) was published in May of 1984. Since then, the TMNT have gone on to achieve worldwide mainstream success thanks not only to their original comics run but also a number of influential cartoons, videogames, and wave-upon-wave of action figures. This year, I’m emphasising third entries and time travel shenanigans in the popular franchise every Tuesday in May!


Released: 30 August 2022
Originally Released: March 1991 (Arcade) / 24 July 1992 (SNES)
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Arcade, GameCube, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S

The Background:
Back in the late-eighties and early-nineties, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles for us Brits) took the lives of children everywhere by storm. Before Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (1993 to 1996) and Pokémon (1997 to present) dominated playgrounds, Christmases, and birthdays alike, kids were transfixed by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 to 1996) animated series. A toned down version of the original, far darker Mirage Comics publications, the “Heroes in a Half-Shell” were so popular that they spawned not just a series of live-action movies (of varying quality), but also additional comic book spin-offs, a beloved line of action figures, and a whole host of videogames. It was Konami’s efforts with the original TMNT arcade game that laid the foundation for some of the franchise’s most influential gaming ventures and the developers sought to expand upon those efforts with this equally beloved sequel. Bigger, better, and longer than its predecessor, much of Turtles in Time’s impact can be attributed to the surprisingly faithful home console port that wowed SNES gamers back in the day, and the game was so memorable that it received an unfairly lambasted 2.5D remake in 2009. Though ports of Turtles in Time have been sporadically available, its remake was de-listed from digital stores for the better part of eleven years, meaning Turtles in Time was (ironically) lost to time until it was included in this Cowabunga Collection for modern consoles alongside a host of other games and quality of life features. As both the arcade and SNES versions are included in this collection, and the differences between the two don’t really warrant two separate reviews, I’ll be including both versions in this review.

The Plot:
The Turtles leap into action when Krang steals the Statue of Liberty, only to be sent hurtling through time courtesy of a time warp activated by their archnemesis, Oroku Saki/The Shredder, forcing them to fight Shredder’s army in both the past and the future in order to get home.

Like its predecessor, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time is a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up that supports up to four players; supposedly, two-player arcade cabinets were released and the arcade version never made it over to Japan, but this version of the game allows both on- and offline co-operative play, though the SNES version of the game is limited to two player simultaneous co-op. As ever, players can select from one of the four Ninja Turtles who all control exactly the same but play slightly differently depending on the reach of their weapons (putting Raphael at a disadvantage). Gameplay is limited to two primary buttons, with X allowing you to attack and string together basic combos and B letting you jump; you can press X in mid-air for a flying attack and press X and B together to perform a power attack that doesn’t seem to drain your health meter. Once again, you have no dash options or dashing attack, but you can now slam and hurl enemies about by hitting X when up close to them and you can pull off a “back attack” to fend off enemies attacking from behind.

Despite a dip in graphics, the SNES version holds up surprisingly well to its arcade counterpart.

Turtles in Time is much bigger and longer than the last game, sporting nine levels to play through, each of which being far livelier and with more opportunities to interact with the environment. You can hit traffic cones, hydrants, explosive barrels, and boxes of fireworks to take out enemies but, even better, onscreen hazards like wrecking balls can also damage enemies. Hazards like these are far more plentiful this time around, including loose floorboards, mines, and electrical bolts from turrets and Krang’s massive exosuit so it pays to keep your wits about you and not just charge blindly ahead. Gameplay is mixed up a bit with two levels dedicated to fast-paced, autoscrolling action, first on a hoverboard in Sewer Surfin’ and then on a floating disk in Neon Night Riders; your combat options remain the same here, but some enemies are a little harder to hit as they’re floating above you and you’ll need quick reflexes to dodge hazards like the spiked gates and mines. The SNES version offers not only an additional score bonus for these stages but even includes an extra level, complete with a traditional elevator gauntlet.

Graphics and Sound:
Visually, the game is very similar to its predecessor; I’m pretty sure the sprites are all exactly the same, bar maybe a few additional animations and enemy variants, but they’re just as colourful and full of life as before. Every character pops against the background, has some limited idle animation, and the likes of Splinter and April O’Neil (depending on which version you’re playing) will appear to hurry you along if you dawdle. Voice clips are used to great effect, especially in the arcade release, with the Turtles shrieking, “My toes! My noes!” when hurt by spikes and ending every stage with a triumphant cry of “Cowabunga!” alongside a victory animation. Voice samples are far sparser and more dulled in the SNES version, naturally, which relies more on subtitles and its own sound effects, but both games still perfectly capture the quirky and slapstick nature of the cartoon. The SNES version also presents a different version of the Neon Night Riders stage, with the action taking place from behind the characters and the stage tweaked to make use of the console’s “Mode 7” features.

The game is noticeably bigger than before, with the SNES version even boasting new features.

Environments are far more varied this time around; thanks to the time travel plot, the TMNT don’t just fight through the streets and sewers of New York City but are also transported back to a prehistoric jungle (complete with shimmering heat effects from the lava and a cave full of falling stalactites), a pirate ship full of loose planks, a speeding train in the Old West, and the neon streets of the far-flung future! Levels are noticeably longer and with more enemies, with no visible slowdown, though the SNES version is automatically slower since you can’t activate a “Turbo Mode” to speed things up. The SNES version of the game does add a whole new Technodrome level, however, and swaps some bosses around, even replacing one entirely with one of my favourite villains from the series. Both versions of the game use big, colourful art to tell their story, with the SNES version offering different endings depending on the difficulty setting you played on. Finally, while the SNES version features some popping tunes and a decent rendition of the TMNT theme song, the arcade version impresses with its funky, adrenaline-pumping soundtrack and even boasts a rendition of “Pizza Power” for its introduction sequence.

Enemies and Bosses:
As is tradition for a TMNT videogame, you’ll primarily be fighting your way through hordes of robotic Foot Soldiers; these come in all different colours and variants, from the regular, easily dispatched purple ones to weapon-wielding goons garbed in red, silver, or yellow. These guys will toss shuriken at you, stab at you with spears and swords, toss giant bombs, or swing axes; they also come flying in on dinosaurs, charge at you on fire-breathing Velociraptors, and pilot flying machines. Robots also return as notable enemies, with one wildly swinging its boxing gloves at you, though you’ll only encounter Mousers in the SNES version of the game. There are some new enemies in Turtles in Time, too, including the Xenomorph-like Pizza Monsters and the Rock Soldiers, who charge at you and wield high-powered weapons of their own.

Bosses are more visually varied, especially in the SNES version.

Also, as is to be expected, some of the TMNT’s most recognisable foes return to dog you as end of level bosses. The first you’ll encounter is Baxter Stockman, now mutated into his human fly form; Baxter hovers overhead firing at you with a machine gun, only to switch to sending out plasma fists after you’ve damaged him enough. At the end of Alleycat Blues, you’ll battle Metalhead, who attacks from a distance with his extendable arms and legs and flies at you courtesy of a rocket-powered kick, though he has a tendency to stop and gloat and leave himself open to a counterattack. Sewer Surfin’ doesn’t feature a boss in the arcade version, instead forcing you to fend of a swarm of Pizza Monsters, but you’ll take on the Rat King in the SNES version, which is much more interesting and exciting as he’s in his little hovercraft and fires missiles and mines at you. Similarly, you face the underwhelming Cement Man in the arcade version of the Prehistoric Turtlesaurus level, with the mud-like goon sliming about the place and trapping you in mud, but the SNES version replaces him with Slash! This deranged doppelgänger is far more formidable, slashing at you with his jagged blade and spinning about the place as a whirling shell of bladed fury, making him a far worthier adversary.

Boss battles feature different phases and more formidable attack patterns this time.

After battling across the deck of a pirate ship, you’ll face both Tokka and Rahzar; while they simple charge, swipe, and hop about in the arcade version, they’re much more formidable in the SNES version, where they appear in the new Technodrome stage and sport flame and freezing breath and act as sub-bosses. In the SNES version of the pirate ship level, Bepop and Rocksteady take Tokka and Rahzar’s place; garbed in theme-appropriate attire, they attack you with a whip and sword, respectively. The hulking Leatherhead awaits at the end of the train stage, scurrying about the place, lashing at you with his tail, and tossing daggers your way, while you’ll go one-on-one with Krang while racing through the futuristic streets of 2020 A.D. Krang’s a lot less of a threat compared to the last game, dashing at you with a kick, smacking you with a clap attack, and firing missiles from his chest, but he resurfaces in the Technodrome stage. Now flying a UFO, he drops Mousers into the arena and teleports about to avoid your attacks, but the SNES version also adds a bubble-like projectile to his arsenal and has him more erratically which, in conjunction with his height, can make him a difficult target.

The Shredder is far more persistent and dangerous in the SNES version of the game.

Naturally, you’ll also do battle with the TMNT’s mortal enemy, the Shredder. However, in the SNES version of the game, you actually battle him twice and the final battle is noticeably different in both versions. The first time you face him is at the end of the new Technodrome level, where he hops behind the controls of some unseen giant mech and blasts at you with bullets while swiping with a retractable claw arm in perhaps one of the game’s most memorable boss battles. To defeat the Shredder, you need to avoid his targeting reticule and hurl Foot Soldiers at him in a fun bit of innovation, though this can be tricky to do due to poor visibility and the sheer number of enemies and projectiles. The Shredder awaits in the final stage of the game, too, where the Statue of Liberty looms in the background; in the arcade version, he attacks with his sword and martial arts skills while also sending out plasma hands similar to Baxter and once again sporting an instant death regression blast that turns you back into a regular turtle. In the SNES version, Shredder immediately transforms into his far more formidable Super Shredder form; protected by a flaming aura, Super Shredder sends fireballs flying your way, shoots flames along the ground, and fires bolts into the air while dashing about the screen at breakneck speed.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unfortunately, for all the additions Turtles in Time sports, power-ups are not one of them. You can still replenish your health with the odd pizza box but the only other power-up available to pick up is a bomb pizza item that sends you into a frenzy for a few seconds.

Additional Features:
As is to be expected, the arcade release is limited in its options; you can play with up to four other players both on- and offline and try to out-do your last high score, but there’s not much else on offer beyond playing through this awesome game as a different character. The SNES version might have taken a graphical hit but actually boasts a few interesting additional features: you can go head-to-head against a friend in versus mode, take on three courses in a time trial mode, pick from three difficulty settings (with different continues and endings assigned to each), set your maximum number of lives, and enjoy the benefits of a sound test. You can also pick between two colour schemes, “Comic” and “Animation”, which gives the TMNT new colour palettes, which is a nice touch. Naturally, the Cowabunga Collection adds a number slew of extra features to the list, however; first, you’ll gain a 70G Achievement for finishing each game, you can use the Left Bumper to rewind, and use the Right Bumper to access save states and display options. The arcade version can be further enhanced with a level select, God Mode (which makes you invincible and allows one-hit kills on most enemies and bosses), the removal of the penalty bombs that kill you if you linger about, and the ability to activate the far harder “Nightmare Mode” and speed things up with Turbo Mode. The SNES version isn’t lacking in similar options, boasting a level select and additional lives, while also providing every boss with a helpful life meter. Even better, you’ll still get your Achievements even with these enhancements activated and you can again peruse a strategy guide, switch between the American and Japanese versions (with minimal differences that I could see), view the game’s box art and manuals, and even choose to simply watch the game play itself.

The Summary:
There’s a reason Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time is remembered so fondly; it really was the quintessential TMNT videogame at the time, taking everything that was so good about the original arcade release and expanding on it with larger, more varied stages and far more interesting boss battles. While the gameplay remains very much the same and there’s a distinct and disappointing lack of power-ups, the game is much more enjoyable than its predecessor, offering more enemies and more visually interesting environments to battle through. The SNES release, while noticeably lacking in visual and audio quality, is a surprisingly faithful recreation of its arcade counterpart; sporting some nifty additional features and new levels and bosses, it’s easy to see why it was a must-have game for the system back in the day. The Cowabunga Collection only adds to the appeal of both games, offering numerous quality of life options to make gameplay a breeze and preserving these two classic arcade beat-‘em-ups for a whole new generation. There may be better beat-‘em-up titles out there, with more gameplay variety, more power-ups, and more options available, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles videogames didn’t get much better than Turtles in Time when it was released and it’s a joy to see it more readily available so others can experience the fast-paced, action-packed pick-up-and-play thrill of these simplistic brawlers.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you ever play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time out in the wild? How do you think it compares to other TMNT videogames and similar arcade fighters? Did you own the SNES version? If so, what did you think to the new levels and bosses and were you impressed with the conversion from the arcade original? Which of the characters was your go-to and which of the game’s bosses was your favourite? What did you think to the additional features added to the Cowabunga Collection? Which of the four Turtles is your favourite (and why is it Raphael?) Whatever your thoughts, I’d love to hear your memories of Turtles in Time down in the comments or on my social media!

Back Issues [HulkaMAYnia]: The Savage She-Hulk #1

Since his explosive debut in May 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?

Story Title: “The She-Hulk Lives”
Published: 13 November 1979 (cover-dated February 1980)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: John Buscema and Chic Stone

The Background:
The Incredible Hulk (and his human alter ego, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner), was another creation of Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Inspired by a story of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength to rescue her trapped child, as well as classic movie monsters Frankenstein’s Monster and Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Lee and Kirby’s allegory to the foils of war initially debuted as a stone-grey figure who emerged at the onset of night. Although The Incredible Hulk was cancelled only a year and a half in, the character returned to a position of prominence thanks to subsequent expansions of his lore and character and the popularity of the Incredible Hulk television show. The eighty episode series not only established the Green Goliath as a mainstream icon but also directly led to the creation of his female counterpart; fearing that Incredible Hulk producer Kenneth Johnson would create a female spin-off as he had with The Bionic Woman (1976 to 1978), Marvel had Lee dream up a She-Hulk first so that they would own the rights, and the character would be the last one Lee created for Marvel until the early nineties. Written as the alter ego of Banner’s cousin, Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk was intentionally cast as a lawyer to promote equality and her original self-titled run lasted 1982, after which she made guest appearances, joined the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, and became known for both breaking the fourth wall and being a strong feminist icon for Marvel. Although a live-action film never came to pass in the early nineties, She-Hulk shared the spotlight with her cousin in the Incredible Hulk cartoon from the mid-nineties and made her live-action debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the tail-end of 2022.

The Review:
Our story begins with a dialogue box amusingly lamp shading Stan Lee’s tendency to get Banner’s first name wrong and finding the fugitive arriving in Los Angeles, California. After being on the run, hounded by the police and the military, ever since his first transformation into the Hulk, Banner has finally reached his limit and is in need of help, so he seeks out his kid cousin, Jennifer Walters, for some solace. I’m not entirely sure where his long-time friend, confidante, and on-and-off sidekick Rick Jones is or if the comics have ever mentioned Jennifer prior to this, but apparently they were extremely close as children, almost like brother and sister. Jennifer works as a successful criminal lawyer and affectionately refers to Banner as “Doc”, but also has absolutely no knowledge of his dual identity so you know what that means! Over the course of six panels and one page, Banner recounts the specifics of his origin and his curse to transform into a rampaging, near-mindless beast whenever angry or panicked thanks to a massive dose of Gamma radiation, and, despite her shock at this knowledge, Jennifer immediately insists that he come back to her home so that she can shelter and help him. Although he’s reluctant because of the inherent danger, she waves his concerns off since her profession means she’s used to living with danger; for example, she’s currently defending a low-level hoodlum named Monkton who’s been accused of murdering mobster Nick Trask’s bodyguard, which she believes is a frame-up.

Banner’s forced to give Jennifer a blood transfusion, transforming her into the Savage She-Hulk!

While she’s confident of her ability and safety, Banner isn’t so sure, and his concerns immediately turn out to be correct as Trask’s hitmen follow them back to her house and put a bullet in her back. Banner’s able to keep calm long enough to fend the gunmen off with a simple garden house and they hit the road to avoid attracting any unwanted attention, leaving Banner to struggle with his rising emotions and to find some way of helping the injured Jennifer. With no time to wait for an ambulance, he carries her over to (and breaks into) a convenient nearby doctor’s surgery and does the only thing he can think of: a blood transfusion with his blood (which, also conveniently, is the exact same as Jennifer’s) which stabilises her long enough for him to call for an ambulance and the police. For some reason, the cops immediately peg Banner as a suspect, especially when he doesn’t have an identification or credit cards, and the stress finally reaches boiling point, causing him to Hulk-out and escape custody (though we only get the briefest glimpse of the Hulk). The next day, Banner is relieved to learn from the local tabloid that Jennifer is doing well and reluctantly makes plans to leave town to avoid his true identity being discovered. However, while recovering in the hospital, Jennifer feels a strange tingling sensation throughout her body but this, and her concerns over Banner’s welfare, are quickly set aside when Trask’s hitmen come in posing as doctors and looking to finish the job they started. As they pin her down and attempt to chloroform her, Jennifer suddenly undergoes her own startling transformation, tossing her attackers aside and looming over them as a huge, muscular, savage green-skinned beauty they dub “She-Hulk”.

She-Hulk’s abilities are more than enough to force a confession and empower her to right wrongs.

Unlike her brutish cousin, Jennifer retains her intelligence and personality when transformed, but the surge of power afforded to her (especially after feeling so helpless mere moments before), causes her to lash out and revel in her newfound abilities. She easily tosses a hospital bed at one of her would-be murderers (probably killing him…) and chases down the others, ripping open elevator doors and hauling the elevator cart up when they try to escape! Though terrified by their pursuer, the hitmen are able to elude her, and she inspires only further fear in the hospital staff and orderlies due to her savage appearance and ceaseless pursuit of her targets. “Throbbing with power” and revelling in her superhuman strength, She-Hulk’s rational mind is somewhat clouded by her absolute rage and, as they try to race away in their car, she easily cripples their vehicle with a well-timed throw of a nearby road sign. She then manhandles one of them until he confesses that Trask hired them to kill her and admitting that it was Trask himself who killed Monkton. This is apparently enough for the nearby cops to arrest the gunmen, and they ultimately let She-Hulk go since “there’s no law against green skin” (and, apparently, destruction of city property, causing an affray, grievous bodily harm, and harassment are all hunky-dory). As She-Hulk flees, her anger fades alongside her incredible strength with it. She successfully makes it back to her hospital room without being seen, returning to her normal, human state just in time, and consoles herself with the knowledge that her newfound monstrous alter ego will be able to handle any threat that comes her way in the future.

The Summary: 
I was expecting a little more from “The She-Hulk Lives”, if I’m being honest. Her bombastic debut issue really could’ve done with being a double-length feature so we would could learn a little bit more about Jennifer and Banner’s past and relationship beyond a couple of panels, and the story almost reads like it could’ve been condensed down a little and been included as a back-up feature in the regular Hulk book. Thankfully, the artwork, writing, and dialogue are much better than what we normally saw in the sixties; unlike many female characters, Jennifer isn’t written as some air-headed bimbo and is actually a pretty capable woman in her own right. She clearly went to law school, or a similar educational institute, and is successful enough to have her own office and to be working on a big case. She’s also incredibly compassionate and loyal to her cousin; she doesn’t judge him for his affliction and offers to help him without hesitation, viewing him as a brother and sure that the two of them can work something out. Finally, she’s pretty self-confident; although he’s usually overly paranoid, Banner immediately recognises that her case against Trask is considerably dangerous but she’s so sure of herself that she doesn’t even consider there being any reprisals against her. Naturally, this ends up biting her in the ass and she nearly dies from a gunshot wound and this (and her subsequent spell in hospital) is the only time Jennifer is portrayed as being weak and in need of help from others.

Although I’d to see more of Jennifer and Banner/Hulk, She-Hulk made a decent impression.

Banner is so panicked at the thought of losing her that he gives her his blood without thinking and, for all his science-smarts, without even considering the effect his Gamma-irradiated blood might have on her. Due to the risk of being exposed and causing unnecessary destruction, he doesn’t even check in on her afterwards and quietly leaves the story without us even properly seeing the Hulk, which is actually to allow the She-Hulk to take centre stage. It’s not explored in this story but it can be assumed that the transfusion was far less potent than Banner’s own Gamma exposure, accounting for She-Hulk’s retained personality and intelligence and less impressive strength, but she’s still a force to be reckoned with in her green state and overcome with anger due to her previous helplessness and the evil of Trask’s men (and, it can be inferred, all such men who seek to undermine and hurt women). I do feel, though, that the story might’ve benefitted from a confrontation between She-Hulk and the Hulk; maybe she could’ve battled him to a standstill and helped calm him down through their shared condition and showing him some compassion. I have no doubt that this probably did happen in a subsequent issue or encounter between the two, but it does mean that She-Hulk’s debut falls a little flat even compared to her cousin’s first appearance since she only exerts herself against a few regular hoodlums. While this opens itself up into a feminist reading about a woman exerting power and dominance over an oppressive patriarchy, I feel that’s more inferred than explicitly showcased in her debut issue and wouldn’t come to the forefront until she was a bit more established.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

How did you find She-Hulk’s debut story? Did you read it when it was first published and, if so, did She-Hulk leave much of an impression on you or were you expecting something more? What did you think to the concept of a female Hulk and the idea that she is far more stable when transformed? Would you have liked to see her throw down with the Hulk here or were you happy with her rallying against common mobsters? What is your favourite She-Hulk story or moment and how are you celebrating the Hulk’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on She-Hulk, go ahead and share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check out my other Hulk content!

Game Corner [X-Men Day]: X-Men: The Official Game (Xbox 360)

To commemorate, the culmination of their long-running and successful X-Men movies, 20th Century Fox declared May 13th as “X-Men Day”, a day to celebrate all things Mutant and X-Men and celebrate Marvel’s iconic collection of superpowered beings who fight to protect a world that hates and fears them.

Released: 16 May 2006
Developer: Z-Axis
Also Available For: Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox

The Background:
Ever since Stan Lee and long-time collaborator Jack Kirby created the X-Men in 1963, Mutants have featured prominently in Marvel Comics and grew to greater mainstream prominence thanks to the influential animated series from the nineties, the success of which led to 20th Century Fox purchasing the film rights and producing a successful long-running live-action franchise. The X-Men have also have a storied history in pixels and polygons; the Mutant team first came to life on the Nintendo Entertainment System in what was essentially a vertical shooter, but the characters arguably saw the most success in their numerous arcade ventures and team-based brawlers. To coincide with the release of X-Men: The Last Stand (Ratner, 2006), publisher Activision was tasked with creating a tie-in videogame to be released across all available platforms and bridge the gap between X2: X-Men 2 (Singer, 2003) and the third entry. However, just as X-Men: The Last Stand was critically panned, X-Men: The Official Game failed to impress with its poor enemy A.I., repetitive gameplay, and for being little more than a shameless cash-in.

The Plot:
Still reeling from the death of Doctor Jean Grey, Logan/Wolverine, Bobby Drake/Iceman, and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler find themselves coming into conflict with the radical terrorist group known as Hydra, who have been constructing gigantic, Mutant-hunting Sentinels, and are forced to confront (and team up with) some of their worst enemies to stop the program before it can be fully completed.

X-Men: The Official Game is a third-person action game with three distinct gameplay styles split across its three playable characters, Wolverine, Iceman, and Nightcrawler, who embark on an adventure that takes place soon after the events of X-Men 2 and fills the gap between that film and X-Men: The Last Stand to explain why Nightcrawler is missing from the team in the third movie. While the levels in X-Men: The Official Game are pretty linear, the developers furnished players with a helpful mini map which indicates friendly non-playable characters (NPCs), enemies, and points you in the direction of your next objective/s. There are a few branching paths you can sometimes take, either by smashing through walls and windows as Wolverine or teleporting to higher areas as Nightcrawler, but these generally just lead to a collectible and it is actually pretty easy to get turned around as everything looks very similar. Although each character has a distinct way of playing, there are some similarities between all three: both Wolverine and Nightcrawler can jump with A and dish out attacks and combos with X and Y, Nightcrawler and Iceman can both target foes with the Left Trigger, and all three will automatically heal from minor wounds (though Wolverine and Nightcrawler and able to dramatically speed this up by holding the Left Bumper or pressing the Right Bumper, respectively, whenever it’s safe to do so, though any movement at all will cancel out this healing boost).

Slice through enemies as Wolverine, teleport about as Nightcrawler, and slide around as Iceman.

Wolverine’s gameplay is very much that of a hack-and-slash brawler; however, fans of genre-defining titles like the God of War series (Various, 2005 to present) will be left disappointed as Wolverine is quite a clunky and limited character thanks to the presentation and camera angles offered by this game. With a tap of LB, Wolverine can sheath and unsheathe his claws (which is more of an Easter Egg than anything), which he can use to slash at the multitude of minions who come charging at him in any given level. Using combinations of X, Y, and B (which pushes enemies away), Wolverine can string together some basic combos; he can also block incoming attacks by holding the Left or Right Trigger (and you can flick the analogue stick while blocking to pull off an awkward dodge roll to try and get away from sticky situations), and successfully landing attacks will build up his “Fury Meter” which, when full, powers up your attacks and healing for a short time with a press of the Right Bumper. Nightcrawler has similar capabilities in combat, but his levels are much more focused on platforming with his signature teleport and a bit of semi-stealth. Nightcrawler can also string together punches and kicks for combos, but you’re best served using his relocation attack; pressing B sees him automatically teleport behind the nearest enemy to pummel them with X or smash them with Y, which is great for taking out groups of enemies quickly. RT allows Nightcrawler to teleport to a variety of surfaces, from pipes to bridges and walkways, and is great for quickly traversing areas and getting to consoles or control panels which need rewiring with X. Of the three, Iceman is the most unique as he’s constantly moving forwards on an ice slide and his levels play much more like chasers or dogfight simulators. Holding A lets Iceman boost ahead, while RT brakes and RB allows him to flip around quickly to retarget enemies. X unleashes an ice beam, which is great for freezing up pipes or putting out fires, while B tosses out his Hailstorm attack and Y puts up a temporary frost shield. You’ll need to constantly tap LT and B when faced with multiple targets, but Iceman’s levels are much more geared towards preventing catastrophes or reaching a goal and are often accompanied by an anxiety-inducing time limit.

Whether you’re fighting a gauntlet, repairing consoles, or facing a time limit, things get very tedious.

The game’s story mode is laid out in a linear mission-based structure; at various points, the narrative branches off to follow each of the three characters and, prior to starting a mission, you can pick from three difficulty settings: “Novice”, “Hero”, and “Superhero”. These will dictate how tough the enemies are, with enemies on “Superhero” able to whittle your health to nothing in just a few hits or under sustained gunfire, but there are perks to completing the mission on higher difficulties as you earn more “Mutation Evolutions” on these settings. These power-up each character’s stats, raising such attributes as their overall health, the damage their attacks deal, and their health and energy recovery, and the only way you’ll only be able to max out your abilities is by beating every mission on “Superhero” mode. This, however, is easier said than done; the game is very stingy with its checkpoints, meaning that failure to complete some of the game’s more monotonous tasks requires you to start the mission over right from the beginning. Following glorified training missions for each character, you’ll be thrust into the game’s story mode and, very quickly, will see everything X-Men: The Official Game has to offer. Wolverine will pretty much always be tasked with clearing away all enemies, with wave upon wave teleporting in or rushing in through doors, though he sometimes has to dodge hazards such as flaming vents and cages or destroy something in order to progress. Nightcrawler almost always has to teleport about the claustrophobic environments, activating panels or rewiring stuff, and occasionally luring exploding probes to power nodes or Sentinels to open doors. Iceman is either racing towards something or fending off attacks, often against a time limit; this means you’ll be dousing fires and cooling down nuclear reactors with your ice beam or chasing down an enemy or towards a goal before time runs out. Occasionally, another X-Men appears to help out; Ororo Munroe/Storm accompanies Wolverine and Nightcrawler you can have her instantly kill all enemies with her lightning by pressing in the left stick, while Nightcrawler also has to deactivate shields so that Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus can destroy some power generators, but Iceman has no such help when desperately trying to stop Giant Sentinels from marching on the downed X-Jet. Sometimes Iceman will have to slide through “nav points” (essentially glorified rings) and avoid laser hazards and mines, sometimes Wolverine’s locked in a room and forced to fight a gauntlet of enemies, and sometimes Nightcrawler has to destroy glowing crystals to keep enemies from spawning, but it’s all very repetitive and your objectives tend to be to do something once and then repeat it three or four times until the mission abruptly ends.

Graphics and Sound:  
In all honesty, X-Men: The Official Game doesn’t look all that bad; the in-game graphics are pretty decent, with stylistic versions of the film characters well represented for the most part, though the range of animation offered by the three is somewhat lacklustre. Of them all, Nightcrawler looks the best; I love his little coat and how he spins around on poles with a flourish and sometimes gallops on all fours, and it’s a stark contrast to Iceman, who is either relatively static due to his gameplay or ragdolling all over the place when knocked from his slide. Wolverine looks good, but his gameplay is tedious and clunky and severely hampered by the lack of a lunge attack, though he does gain some extra animation frames when in Fury Mode or trying to pounce on larger enemies. The game’s music is pretty decent; it’s mostly all ripped from X-Men: The Last Stand, and many of the film’s cast return to voice their respective characters. In fact, the vocal work may be one of the best things about this game; it’s great hearing Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart not only reprise their roles but do it without the lifelessness and boredom that so often accompanies videogame tie-ins.

While the game’s later locations become more visually interesting, the cutscenes are a cheap let down.

Sadly, the same praise can’t be levelled at the game’s environments and cutscenes. Cutscenes are accomplished using a motion comic aesthetic not unlike those employed at various points in games by NetherRealm Studios; these painted pictures have a very limited range of movement, no lip synching, and the cutscenes come off as cheap and rushed and quite unsightly as a result. The in-game environments are okay, but disappointingly bland; the whole game makes a clear effort to evoke the grey, grounded, semi-sci-fi aesthetic of Singer’s films but there’s generally not really much to see since areas are so linear and empty. You’ll get to fight on the Statue of Liberty in a call-back to the first film and revisit the surprisingly unflooded Alkali Lake facility from the second film and the Weapon X laboratory, all of which are very well realised interpretations of the film locations but are so grey and drab that even cheeky references to Wade W. Wilson/Deadpool can’t save them. Thankfully, once the game gets away from recreating areas from X-Men 2, locations become a bit more visually interesting; the Sentinel factory is great, with a massive Sentinel head looming in the background, as are the colourful levels that take Wolverine to an elaborate Japanese palace and garden grounds, but the game really shines once you get into the Master Mold’s control centre, a gigantic airship full of electrified wires and ominous dread that evokes the Borg Cube. Iceman’s chase through the streets of Hong Kong is similarly a visual spectacle thanks to the neon signs, bridges, and skyscrapers, all of which helps to really elevate the game’s presentation after the first few drab missions and despite the tedious gameplay.

Enemies and Bosses:
With such varied and colourful characters as the X-Men and the Brotherhood to work with, it’s no surprise that the developers chose to mainly have you wade through an endless supply of generic and boring Hydra thugs. These guys come packing machine guns, electrified axes and lances, and claws and can mostly be taken out with some quick combos but some will block your attacks. For Wolverine, things get a little more interesting as he gets to battle the Hydra “Wind Unit” (who are basically ninjas with two katana), while Iceman is often blasting at smaller Sentinels or fire dragons conjured by John Allerdyce/Pyro. Nightcrawler will also have to deal with Sentinels but he can only take them out by teleporting to them and luring explosive drones to them before the robots can blast him off with a shockwave. Later, Nightcrawler is placed in a nightmarish illusion by Jason Stryker and forced to battle off teleporting demonic entities, and you’ll also encounter Hydra goons packing bazookas and heavy cannons in some levels. For the most part, the enemy AI is pretty dumb; they’ll easily lose track of you and won’t think to go around certain obstacles, but in wider, more open areas they can be incredibly annoying and persistent, catching you in a crossfire or swarming around you to deplete your health in seconds while you desperately try to escape to safety.

No matter who Wolverine faces, the same hit-and-run tactics will always serve you well.

Each character also has to deal with a number of bosses, with some fought multiple times in different forms. During Wolverine’s first training mission, you’ll battle against Victor Creed/Sabretooth to learn the basics of combat; Sabretooth makes a return as the final boss of the game, too, where he’s fought within the decaying remains of the Master Mold facility and significantly more powerful even against your upgraded stats. Sabretooth charges at you with a shoulder barge, can hit slow but powerful combos, grabs and lunges at you, and even has his own Fury Mode that speeds him up and makes him more aggressive. Still, the best thing to do is to avoid his attacks, hit a quick combo, and then stay out of his reach to build up your Fury Meter before unleashing it (avoiding pressing Y as this lunge isn’t effective against him) to whittle down his health bar. Halfway through the fight, Sabretooth flees to a lower level, where debris is a concern for both you and him, and you’ll also have to worry about his health slowly replenishing if you take too long, but he’s not especially difficult to put down. Yuriko Oyama/Lady Deathstrike makes a return in this game and you’ll battle her a couple of times, too; the first time you fight her, it’s within the eye of a hurricane and you have to be careful of being blasted about by the winds while also pushing her into the hazard, and the second time is within a Japanese temple and forces you to fend off waves of enemies between rounds. Still, Lady Deathstrike may be faster and nimbler than Sabretooth, but the same hit-and-run tactics work well against her and it’s much easier to get her trapped in a corner and just go at her full pelt until she goes down. Wolverine’s toughest foe is easily the Silver Samurai; this hulking armoured bastard can teleport about, has great reach with his broadsword, doesn’t get stunned by your attacks, and can send out both energy blades and electrified shockwaves and forces you to fight his minions between bouts. Once again, simply run or dodge about to avoid the brunt of his attacks and build up your Fury Meter and then just tank him as he’s a bit of a damage sponge and can easily cut you down with just a few swipes of his sword.

Nightcrawler and Iceman generally have to fulfill other objectives while fighting their bosses.

Nightcrawler only gets one boss to fight against, but it’s one of the more frustrating ones in the game; while on the rainswept Brooklyn Bridge, he and Storm must fend off clones of James Madrox/Multiple Man while teleporting about the place and defusing his many bombs against a time limit. Afterwards, Nightcrawler has to battle him alone and more directly; the “prime” Multiple Man will occasionally set an explosive charge and, if enough of them go off, the bridge will be destroyed and you’ll lose the mission but try and disarm them and you’ll be beaten to death in seconds by his ceaseless doubles. Your best bet is to stay on the move, dashing to safety and healing when you can, and hoping that he doesn’t set any of these charges (or quickly interrupt him before he can). The hardest thing about this battle, though, is actually dealing damage to Multiple Man; he seems either impervious to your attacks or only hurt after you take out his clones, which can be hard to do as they swarm around you, making for a boss battle more about luck than anything. Iceman primarily battles against Pyro; first, Pyro tries to burn down and destroy a fission plant, then he tries to overload a nuclear reactor, and then he conjures  a gigantic fire serpent to target the toxic waste canisters. If enough of these are destroyed, the mission ends so make sure you’re rapidly switching target locks and throwing out your Hailstorms to take out the fire dragons. The serpent itself is also quite a damage sponge, and can set you ablaze if you get too close, but if you power-up Iceman’s Hailstorm attack that makes things a lot easier. Definitely his hardest challenge is stopping a seemingly endless army of Giant Sentinels from destroying the X-Jet in Hong Kong; these huge armoured hulks can only be destroyed by targeting six yellow power nodes, but the ones on the front are super hard to hit not just because of aiming difficulties but also because of their high-powered lasers. Destroy one, and another drops soon after, and another, and this was the first mission where I actively had to drop the difficulty down to “Novice” to get past it and even then it was a pain in the ass!

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unfortunately, there are no collectible power-us available here. Wolverine and Nightcrawler can built meters (either by landing attacks or waiting for it to charge, respectively) to speed up their healing but the closest Iceman gets is destroying Sentinels to gain extra time until fifteen are taken out. As mentioned, Storm and Colossus will accompany you for some missions; Storm can unleash her lightning, but you’ll need to wait for her meter to fill up too, and you’ll also need to get back to help Colossus fend off the Hydra goons before they deal too much damage to him.

Additional Features:
There are sixteen Achievements up for grabs here, with three insulting 0G Achievements awarded after clearing each character’s training mission, three more being rewarded for completing the story mode’s three vaguely defined acts, and three more earned after fully upgrading each characters Mutations. You’ll no doubt notice a few collectibles in each level of the game; every mission hides five Sentinel Tech files and one Weapon X file, and collecting all of these for each character will award another three Achievements and also unlock a bonus costume for each character and a “Danger Room Challenge” for each. Unfortunately, while these collectibles aren’t too difficult to find even without a guide, the rewards you get are pretty pathetic; the costumes are little more than street clothes variants and just having one each is more than a disappointment, it’s a travesty. The Danger Room Challenges amount to timed obstacle courses and challenges used to test your character’s gameplay and abilities, but you earn nothing for completing them so there’s no point in them even being there. Aside from all that, your only other option is to try and beat every mission on “Superhero” to fully upgrade every character, something you won’t really be motivated to do since the gameplay is so uninspiring that even the promise of cutting down goons dressed in Wolverine’s signature wife-beater won’t be incentive enough to ever play this game again.

The Summary:
I tend to go into movie tie-in videogames with pretty low expectations; while I’ve played a fair amount that are pretty good, there’s no denying that they’re generally very rushed, lacking in content, and don’t have a lot going for them. On the plus side, they can sometimes be quite cheap and have some easy-to-snag Achievements, and that’s basically what you’re getting here with X-Men: The Official Game. There’s some decent stuff on offer here; Nightcrawler, especially, is pretty fun to play as and I enjoyed teleporting about the place and pummelling enemies with his attacks, and even Iceman was quite fun in the few missions where you weren’t forced to battle against an arbitrary time limit. Sadly, and most confusingly, it’s Wolverine’s gameplay that really drags this one down; he’s very restricted in his offense and the lack of checkpoints really makes getting through some missions, but especially his tedious gauntlets, a frustrating chore. Awful cutscenes aside, the presentation is pretty good; the game makes a decent attempt at recreating iconic locations from the first two films while infusing a more comic book aesthetic and storyline into the movie timeline, but locations are far too bland and repetitive to really be all that interesting, even in the latter parts of the game. Bosses battles are equally uninspiring; thanks to Wolverine getting the bulk of them, they’re hardly a selling point of the game’s few strengths and, overall, there are far better superhero and action videogames out there for you to put your time into. A serious lack of options, unlockables, and replayability hamper this title; while it’s not too difficult to blast through it in about four to six hours, it’s unlikely you’ll be motivated to try and get everything you miss the first time around and, despite a few entertaining aspects, it remains a cheap cash grab designed solely to leech off the popularity of Fox’s X-Men films rather than actually trying to be an entertaining videogame experience in and of itself.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy X-Men: The Official Game? Which of the three characters was your favourite? Did you enjoy the game’s effort to bridge the gap between X-Men 2 and X-Men: The Last Stand? Which of the game’s missions and bosses was your favourite and do you feel like Sentinels are a little overdone in Marvel games? Did you ever fully upgrade the characters and find all the collectibles? Were you disappointed by the lack of options and unlockable extras? What’s the worst (or best) videogame tie-in you’ve ever played? Which X-Men videogame is your favourite and how are you celebrating X-Men Day today? Whatever you think about X-Men: The Official Game, and X-Men in general, feel free to share your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.

Back Issues: Marvel Premiere Featuring the Power of… Warlock #1

Story Title: “And Men Shall Call Him… Warlock!”
April 1972
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gil Kane

The Background:
It’s generally accepted that Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman tasked then-editor Stan Lee with creating a superhero team in response to DC Comics’ Justice League of America. Lee used this opportunity to create stories and characters that appealed to him and drafted a synopsis of the dysfunctional Fantastic Four for the legendary Jack Kirby to work on, creating the “Marvel Method” of writer/artist collaboration in the process. Although Kirby disputed this story, the duo are credited as co-creators of Marvel’s First Family, whose comic books went on to introduce characters and concepts that would become integral to Marvel Comics. One such character was the mysterious cosmic entity initially known only as “Him”; also created by Lee and Kirby, He first appeared in Fantastic Four #66 and 67 as an artificial being created by a malevolent group known as the Enclave, who were bent on world domination. After rebelling against his creators and being rechristening “Adam Warlock” by Herbert Wyndham/The High Evolutionary, an arrogant supervillain scientist known for creating bizarre animal/human hybrids, Warlock was imbued with the power of the Soul Gem and headed out into the universe to find his true self. Though a relatively unknown Marvel creation, Adam Warlock was at the forefront of one of the publisher’s biggest stories, The Infinity Gauntlet (Starlin, et al, 1991), fought against his own dark half given physical form, and was often positioned as an allegorical Messiah against the backdrop of cosmic discord. Adam Warlock has featured in minor roles outside of the comics, appearing as a supporting character in Marvel videogames and cartoons, and was name-dropped at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn, 2017) as a future threat for the titular Guardians before making his live-action debut in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Gunn, 2023), portrayed by Will Poulter.

The Review:
Since Marvel Premiere #1, in true Marvel fashion, features a lengthy recap of Adam Warlock’s origin, I didn’t think it was necessary to do an in-depth review of His first true appearance in Marvel Comics but, for those who are curious, He came about after Ben Grimm/The Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters, was abducted by the Enclave and taken to their unreasonably complicated, beehive-like lair. There, she learned that the Enclave’s highly advanced scientists desired to create a perfect race of human beings, with “Him” being the first; however, He proved so unstable and powerful that they were forced to contain Him and unable to look upon Him due to his blinding light. They wanted Alicia to sculpt a likeness of Him and she braved His destructive power to reach and appeal to Him, completely unaware that the Enclave wished to use His power to conquer the Earth. Initially encased within a rock-like cocoon, He burst free and enacted a brutal revenge upon his creators, sparing Alicia but exhibiting a cold disinterest in the destruction of the beehive laboratory that birthed Him as He fled to the stars until the world was ready for His power.

Prior to creating his own world, the High Evolutionary finds and forms a bond with Him out in space.

“And Men Shall Call Him… Warlock!” opens in the vastness of space to find the High Evolutionary’s massive asteroid space station drifting through our galaxy; aboard, the High Evolutionary himself muses on the long and difficult journey he has taken in the quest to produce his half-human, half-animal “New-Men”. His highly advanced technology saw him transform an ordinary wolf into a man-sized beast that was savage enough to battle Thor Odinson in combat; the failure of this project exposed the High Evolutionary to the threat his creations pose to his former homeworld, so he transported the Man-Beast and a contingent of “evil” New-Men to a faraway world, where they only further regressed, forcing him to turn to Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk to quell their aggression. In the fracas, the High Evolutionary was mortally wounded, forcing him to abandon his armour and subject himself to an experimental process that saw him ascend to the pinnacle of human evolution. Immortal and God-like, he merged with the greater cosmos but was driven to the brink of madness from isolation, thus returning to his armour to fulfil some mysterious purpose. His ruminations are interrupted by Sir Raam, the most loyal of his Knights of Wundagore, who alerts him of His mysterious cocoon floating in space; curious, the High Evolutionary has it brought onboard his planetoid so he can investigate further. Unfettered by His visage, the High Evolutionary is instead captivated by His unblemished perfection and urges the divine man to share his story. After fleeing Earth, He also came into conflict with Thor before retreating to the stars to await the day when He could exist in a universe free from hatred and oppression. Impressed, the High Evolutionary agrees to expediate His journey through the stars but He is intrigued by the immortal’s “Project Alpha”, an ambitious plan to create a mirror version of Earth whose evolution he can directly influence.

With his world tainted, the High Evolutionary reluctantly agrees to send Him to tack down the Man-Beast.

The two agree that humanity is too volatile and too quick to descend into misery and bloodshed, so the High Evolutionary creates a Counter-Earth as a haven for his own creations. Although the process places an intense strain on the High Evolutionary, he pushes through his discomfort to bombard a rock sample with “rays” and accelerate the formation of this new world, one safely hidden from ours by being placed on the opposite side of the Sun and, within the space of a few panels, has created a prehistoric world whose development he’s able to speed up beyond the limits of creation, evolution, and even the divine. This Counter-Earth is thus ripe for the coming of the High Evolutionary’s superior race of men, one purged of their killer instinct, but the effort of creating it is so intense that it causes the High Evolutionary to pass out from exhaustion. This is the moment that the Man-Beast and his followers, who had been observing their creator, choose to strike, gunning down Sir Raam and perverting this new world, introducing violence and aggression and causing the Counter-Earth to descend into generations of war at the simple twist of a dial. The High Evolutionary recovers and surprises the Man-Beast with his newfound superior physical strength; however, a ”bestial mind-blast” and the sheer numbers and savagery of his rebellious creations threaten to overwhelm the would-be deity and, seeing this, He decides to break free from his cocoon to intervene. Emerging garbed in a “resplendent […] armour and ornaments” created by his cocoon, He causes the beasts to flee in terror to the Counter-Earth. Dismayed by the Man-Beast’s actions, the High Evolutionary sees no other choice but to destroy his new world but He beseeches him to spare the world. Retracting his condemnation of humanity and wishing to nurture their better nature, He requests to be sent to the Counter-Earth to track down the Man-Beast. Touched by His words, the High Evolutionary reluctantly agrees; he gifts Him with a mysterious jewel to protect Him from the Man-Beast’s snares and transports Him to the surface of the fledgling world with a heavy heart and bestowing upon Him that which He has never had: a name, “Warlock”.

The Summary:
Previously, I only really knew Adam Warlock from The Infinity Gauntlet; I’ve literally never read another story with Him in in all my years of reading comics, so He’s always been a very elusive and mysterious figure for me. It’s actually refreshing that He’s not been wheeled out every time there’s a big cosmic event as it makes Him more alluring and significant, at least to me, so I was intrigued to see some of His background in this story. There was clearly a conscious effort to build a sense of mystery and divine beauty to this character, who is touted over and over as the pinnacle of human scientific acumen and seen as the next step in our evolution, a golden creation so astounding that to look upon Him is to suffer greatly. Yet, He is a deeply sensitive man-god; capable of sensing the intentions of men and fully capable of judging them accordingly, He has no interest in mindless combat and wishes only to isolate Himself until the time is right for Him to walk amongst men. Despite having battled the likes of Thor, He hasn’t ever encountered anyone worthy of his presence until He’s discovered by the High Evolutionary, a mind with whom He can relate to so strongly that He openly shares His assessment of our tumultuous species and His chaotic origins.

Him and the High Evolutionary share many of the same views about our volatile society.

I’m equally unfamiliar with the High Evolutionary, a highly advanced individual who I’ve always seen as a combination of Doctor Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom and Dr. Moreau from H. G. Wells’ titular 1896 science-fiction story. The parallels are pretty explicit, given both characters like to create monstrous human/animal hybrids but the High Evolutionary isn’t just some sadistic mad scientist. Disillusioned with humanity and our warring wars, he seeks to “improve” upon our aggressive nature and faults not by destroying humankind but by creating his own world and actively directing the course of the counter-humanity’s evolution. However, comic books generally cast anyone who seeks to create life through scientific or magical means, effectively defying the natural order, as a villainous character and, to be sure, the High Evolutionary’s methods are highly questionable, yet he expresses genuine regret over the savagery of the Man-Beast. His plot isn’t to create a race of superpowered or animalistic abominations to dominate the world, or to wage war against the Earth from his asteroid laboratory; he simply wishes to create a utopia on the other side of the Sun to manipulate humanity to be the very best of themselves. In Him, the High Evolutionary sees his dreams take physical form; just seeing His visage is enough to captivate the High Evolutionary, who refers to Him as the son he never had on more than once occasion.

Having championed humanity’s potential for good, He gains a name and a purpose for the first time.

The two share a unique bond, agreeing that humankind is far too quick to resort to warfare than strive towards peace and prosperity, and both are impressed by each other’s abilities. However, He recognises humanity’s inherent potential for “goodness” and, thanks to his divine nature, is perhaps the only one capable of staying the High Evolutionary’s hand when he prepares to destroy the Counter-Earth he created with such ease. The High Evolutionary expresses regret in His decision to be a champion on Counter-Earth but respects Him enough to allow Him the chance to try; he doesn’t rate His chances for success but prepares Him as best as he is able, even bestowing Him with His first true name. Thus, the stage is set for the newly-christened Warlock to be not a destroyer or an impassive observer but an active participant in the formation of this Counter-Earth’s development. Those who read comics looking for some cosmic action and to see what Warlock is truly capable of may be left disappointed; as is often the case, much of the story is taken up with recaps of each character’s backgrounds but, at its core, it’s a rumination on the nature of humanity and the conflict these powerful, God-like beings feel in regards to our volatile ways. Warlock and the High Evolutionary share some engaging and introspective exchanges, there’s an interesting dialogue on offer here concerning their morally grey and ambiguous natures, and I think the story does a decent job of leaving you wanting to know where Warlock’s story goes from here on out and how he goes from desiring to inspire Counter-Earth’s residents to almost literally playing cosmic chess with Marvel’s greatest heroes and characters in The Infinity Gauntlet.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to the return and naming on the God-like “Him”? Were you intrigued by Adam Warlock’s presence and eager to know more about Him or did you find Him a rather bland character? What do you think to the High Evolutionary, his opinions on humanity, and his plan to create his own Earth? Did you read Adam Warlock’s subsequent stories and, if so, what are some of your favourite moments of His? What did you think to this MCU debut? Whatever you think about Adam Warlock and Marvel’s cosmic shenanigans, please share your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media.