What’s the Punishment for Puns?

It’s well-known that L. Frank Baum was a notorious punster, and some of the authors who continued the Oz series were even worse in that respect. Puns are delivered in several different ways in the books, some being delivered intentionally the characters and others coming across as more or less built in. When Dorothy first meets the Scarecrow, he’s said to speak with a husky voice. Since the pun is delivered by the narrator, the characters apparently aren’t aware of it, but it still affects something. Later on, the Wizard of Oz gives the Scarecrow brains made of bran and pins and needles, the former of which made them “bran-new brains” and the latter made him sharp.

These appear to be intentional puns on the Wizard’s part, but the Scarecrow doesn’t get them and takes them at face value. An even more prominent intentional punster is the Wogglebug in The Marvelous Land of Oz, who makes puns so bad that Jack Pumpkinhead hides his permanent smile and the Tin Woodman essentially threatens him with his axe.

Several of the episodes in Emerald City contain constant floods of puns, the visit to Utensia being my personal favorite.

Neither the utensils nor Dorothy acknowledge their exchange as containing puns; she just thinks they use “dreadful language” and “must have had very little proper training.” Basically, they’re for the readers rather than the characters. As such, it appears that punning is more or less part of the way Oz works. Just as the Scarecrow couldn’t see until he had painted eyes, his voice pretty much had to relate to a pun of which no one in-universe was aware. A girl made from a crazy quilt was likely to be crazy, even if Ojo hadn’t badly mixed her brains.

The Woozy is honest and trustworthy because he’s square. Jo Files’ books have to be red in color in order to be properly read. Panta Loon gets a high opinion of himself when he’s over-inflated.

I mentioned in an earlier article how much magic in the series is pun-based, especially in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s books. Some of them were probably intentionally made that way, but I also think wordplay is a somewhat integral part of how things work in Oz and its surrounding nations. So maybe the Wogglebug is actually on to something.

Other occasions where puns and other wordplay frequently come up are in the names of characters and places. Among others, there’s a serving maid named Jellia Jamb, a king named Evoldo who does evil, a Princess Langwidere with a languid air, living baked goods with names like Pop Over and Johnny Cake, a cook named Tom Atto, Queen Ann Soforth of Oogaboo, and so on. The only case I can think of where a name is specified to actually be a joke is with Notta Bit More in Thompson’s Cowardly Lion, and he’s not a fairyland native. Most of the time no one really comments on them, even though plenty of characters also make puns on purpose. I guess it’s possible that the names are intentional, but not necessarily intentionally FUNNY. They’re just thematically appropriate, and theme naming is apparently quite typical in Oz. Some of these jokey or eerily canny names might also be nicknames, as for instance we know Tommy Kwikstep is. Not that that’s really a pun, but it means he did receive that name because he stepped quickly, and not because of any prediction on his parents’ part.

I was thinking not too long ago about nominative determinism, and maybe that really works in Oz. Can you imagine what would have happened if Tom Atto HADN’T gone into a line of work involving food?

Actually, maybe that’s the case with Mops, the Scarecrow’s cook in Royal Book. There’s no joke to his name as far as I can tell, but it sounds like his parents would have preferred if he’d gone into custodial work.

Posted in Characters, Humor, L. Frank Baum, Language, Magic, Magic Items, Names, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

When Humor and Anti-Humor Collide

I found this post by Amy to be interesting, as I think we have similar senses of humor in many respects, and I’m somewhat fascinated by the concept of anti-humor. I’ve never come across the “No soap, radio!” joke in the wild, but it’s apparently well-known enough to be referenced on The Simpsons.

I have to say I’m also not so keen on the practical joke aspect, probably at least partially because I’m much more likely to be the butt of such jokes than someone on the inside. I won’t say pranks are never funny, but there can be something disturbing about them. It’s like an inside joke, but one where a whole lot of people are on the inside. Speaking of which, I occasionally come across people who make inside jokes purposely to exclude people, which seems unnecessary to me. That said, sometimes you can explain every detail of an inside joke and someone on the outside still won’t get it, because it’s really not the joke that’s funny but rather something associated with the memory. Still, there’s a difference between “you won’t get this” and “I won’t LET you get this.” On the other hand, I kind of like the idea of a joke that just makes no sense. I tend to like absurd humor, but I’ve never really been able to define what makes it work. Anyone can throw a bunch of miscellaneous words or concepts together, and they aren’t always going to be funny.

Sometimes a word just sounds funny, and it’s not entirely clear why. I watched the film The Aristocrats a few years ago, and that’s kind of a more adult version of the “no soap, radio” thing, more vulgar and less nonsensical, but still with the punchline that that doesn’t live up to the buildup. In the movie, a few people mentioned that the joke really isn’t funny with a different punchline (or at least a similar one; it’s apparently sometimes “Debonairs” or “Sophisticates”), however. So word choice is vital even when there’s no actual sense to the joke.

Looking at the Wikipedia page on anti-humor, it strikes me that several quite different things can qualify, and none of them are really the opposite of humor. One of the first jokes just about everyone learns is technically an anti-joke, the one about why the chicken crossed the road. The whole point is that you’re expecting something silly, and instead you get a straightforward answer. Of course, the joke is so familiar that it seems like people forget that. I’ve occasionally seen the setup used for a more traditionally jokey punchline, so what would that qualify as? Anti-anti-humor?

Also qualifying as anti-humor is the shaggy dog story, although even that has variations. There can be no punchline whatsoever, a nonsensical punchline, or a punchline that technically makes sense but doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the story. The story itself can be purposely boring, or it can be amusing enough on its own that you don’t really care that there’s no real point. I just learned that a ridiculous story that ends with a one-line pun is called a feghoot, after a literary creation of science fiction author Reginald Bretnor.

Anti-humor could also be something that’s funny because it’s not funny, or making a joke out of someone bungling a joke. One thing that comes to mind here is the running gag in Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad where Granny Weatherwax tries to tell the “alligator sandwich, and make it snappy” joke only to constantly get the wording wrong and not understand why no one finds it funny. Similarly, one of the recurring characteristics of Porkypine in Walt Kelly’s Pogo is that he’s unable to tell a joke. I’ve heard that you can’t really dissect humor, but many of these categories are based exactly on that, on taking a joke apart and seeing how it works, then putting it back together in an unusual way.

One thing I’ve noticed about how my sense of humor differs from that of many people is that I love puns, and it seems to be the norm to hate them, or at best write them off as only for kids. Maybe it’s partially because people who make puns (and I don’t exclude myself here) often give the sense that they’re really clever for having come up with them. I’ve always liked the Wogglebug‘s defense of the pun in The Marvelous Land of Oz: “[O]ur language contains many words having a double meaning; and that to pronounce a joke that allows both meanings of a certain word, proves the joker a person of culture and refinement, who has, moreover, a thorough command of the language.” Tip replies with, “I don’t believe that…anybody can make a pun,” and later remarks, “People with more or less education discovered those puns centuries ago.” L. Frank Baum used a lot of puns himself, and appears to have been well aware of the general reaction to them. I don’t think you have to be particularly smart to make a pun, but your mind does have to work in a certain way, and you need at least a fairly large vocabulary to make puns that haven’t been made numerous times in the past. I’m particularly fond of jokes based on absurdly literal interpretations of figurative speech, which my wife, for one, hates. I blame Lewis Carroll for this. Mari Ness’s review of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was identifiable as far as the wordplay in it being utterly hilarious to me, but just obnoxious to just about everyone else. Mind you, the book had better delivery than I did when I retold the jokes. I’ve heard that my hyper-literalism is common to people on the autistic spectrum, so maybe that’s why I was so taken by the Alice books in the first place. It’s hard to say. Even when I’m not trying to be funny, I tend to become fascinated with certain words in a way not everyone understands. I think it’s part of seeing the world from the outside, so to speak.

Posted in Authors, Cartoons, Characters, Comics, Discworld, Humor, L. Frank Baum, Language, Lewis Carroll, Oz, Oz Authors, Television, Terry Pratchett, The Simpsons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Crones and Clones

It’s been a while since I’ve written a book review post (well, not counting my look back on The Patchwork Girl of Oz, which I’d read a long time ago), and I have to say that I just haven’t been finishing books as quickly as usual as of late. I did complete a few fairly recently, though, so here are some thoughts:

Aunt Maria, by Diana Wynne Jones – When looking at a list of titles that Jones wrote, I sometimes forget which ones I’ve already read until I see plot descriptions. This is one I hadn’t read until a few months ago, and it’s apparently called Black Maria in other countries. It’s about a divorced mother and her children who go to stay with her helpless-seeming aunt-in-law, who turns out to actually be a witch who has a reign of terror over the small seaside community where she lives. There’s a fairly convoluted conspiracy that I had some trouble following, where the men and women are purposely kept separate through magic, and it’s difficult for the protagonists to tell who’s on the right side. It’s well-written and includes both transformations and time travel, as well as some likeable heroes (even the mom eventually plays a major role after she gets over her initial impressions of Aunt Maria), but it just didn’t appeal to me as much as many of Jones’s other books.

The Big Sheep, by Robert Kroese – Perhaps best described as a post-apocalyptic science fiction detective story, it takes place in a future Los Angeles where the police have decided to totally ignore one section of the city, where the crime lords have full sway. Detective Erasmus Keane and his assistant Blake Fowler, who narrates the story, are hired by a genetics lab to find a genetically engineered sheep that had been stolen. Soon after, they’re also approached by a television actress who fears somewhat is out to kill her. Keane and Fowler end up uncovering a plan by a media company to use genetic modification and cloning to create perfect celebrities, with some more sinister goals as well. It’s a well-plotted mystery, where certain minor things that the detectives learn about turn out to be important later on, yet the end solutions are so bizarre that it takes someone like Keane to put it all together.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe, by Ryan North and Erica HendersonI’ve been very entertained with what’s been done with this character as of late, and this graphic novel is no exception. If you’re wondering why Squirrel Girl would want to beat up the Marvel Universe, I’ll say that the plot involves an extremist clone.

I understand the title is also a play on a Punisher story, although I haven’t read that one. The story contains a lot of humorous references to other things Marvel, some of which I got and some I didn’t. I particularly thought it was clever how the Squirrel Girl duplicate took out practically every superhero and supervillain in the world through what could be described as the Mega Man method, using the weapons and abilities she took from defeated ones to conquer others in a constant progression.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill – This 2017 Newbery Award winner concerns a town that leaves out a baby every year as a sacrifice to a witch. It turns out that the local witch is actually a friendly sort who finds homes for the cast-out children, but the town elders prefer to rule by fear. The witch ends up adopting one of the children, raising her with the assistance of a poetry-obsessed swamp monster and a tiny dragon. Meanwhile, a young man named Altain who is training to be an elder even though his true love is carpentry gets it into his head to kill the witch. It’s a little slow-moving in the middle, switching back and forth a lot between characters, but is ultimately an entertaining tale of coming of age with some more serious political themes and quite a bit of whimsy.

Posted in Authors, Book Reviews, Comics, Diana Wynne Jones, Humor, Magic, Monsters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Real Food

I recently received a comment on my post on the Roman goddess Anna Perenna asking whether I knew of any connection between her and the Hindu Annapurna. I have to say I don’t know of any, but the names are suspiciously similar. Annapurna is an aspect of Parvati who is particularly associated with food. In Sanskrit, anna means “food,” and purna means completeness. There’s a myth associated with Annapurna, which in the longer form I’ve found begins with Shiva and Parvati playing a game of dice.

Parvati wins Shiva’s trident, but when they play again, Shiva wins. His wife accuses him of cheating, but Vishnu shows up and informs them both that the whole game is an illusion under his control. Shiva expands this into the concept that all material things were illusory, which Parvati countered by disappearing from the world and taking all the food with her. This resulted in all nature suffering, and Shiva ended up appearing before her with his begging bowl and apologizing.

His conclusion was that food is necessary to sustain the body that houses the soul, and hence is necessary to achieve enlightenment. So does this mean the Hindu concept holds that gods have physical forms that require sustenance? It reminds me of how some of the same people who argue that the world is so beautiful and well-organized that there must have been a creator also insist their time there is only a brief experience in their eternal lives and look forward to its being destroyed eventually. Granted, these people tend to be Christians, not Hindus, but the question of whether the physical is actually real comes up in pretty much all belief systems. The compromise often seems to be that, even if the physical is only temporary, you should still do your best to sustain it and life a good life. Annapurna is generally depicted holding a vessel of porridge and a jeweled golden ladle.

Prayers are offered to her when cooking and consuming food. She is also the patron deity of Varanasi, formerly known as Kashi. I don’t know of any connection between this place and the Eastern European grain dish kasha, but Annapurna IS associated with grain, so who knows? As for the Roman goddess, she was connected to plenty and bounty, so maybe there’s something to the similar names. How much association did the Romans have with India back in Ovid’s time?

Posted in Dice, Etymology, Food, Games, Hinduism, Mythology, Names, Philosophy, Religion, Roman | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lode Runner, Lode Runner, Going Faster Miles an Hour

In this post, I intend to address some connections between video games, many of which I haven’t actually played. I do remember playing Lode Runner on the Apple II in my elementary school days, though. You run around mazes and collect gold, all the time avoiding guards.

You can’t jump, but you can use ladders and bars to get around, and dig holes in the ground. If the guards fall into the holes, you can run over top of their heads, which always amused me. The ground will later return, and the trapped guards will respawn elsewhere. Many releases of the game included a way to make your own levels, a pretty novel idea at the time.

Dude must be pretty bad-ass if he can just casually talk about this while on the run.
So why does our protagonist have to collect all this gold? Well, according to at least some versions of the manual, the evil Bungeling Empire imposed excessive taxes on fast food, and I guess you’re pulling a Robin Hood on them. Fast food taxes probably do predominantly impact the poor, after all.

I’m not sure why the Empire decided to store their tax money in brick rooms full of ladders.

The game was originally published by Broderbund in 1983, and they’d go on to use the Bungelings as villains in later games. The helicopter rescue game Choplifter has the player saving hostages held by the Empire.

And Raid on Bungeling Bay also involves fighting the Bungeling Empire in a helicopter, only this time you’re bombing their munitions factories.

This was the first game developed by Will Wright, who went on to make SimCity and The Sims, the latter a game on which I’ve spent a lot of time.

The factories in Raid develop new technology over time, and this sense of development would later factor heavily into Wright’s simulation games. In the Super NES version of SimCity, the advisor Dr. Wright is named after Will, although he doesn’t look much like him.

When I saw this character mentioned in Nintendo Power, I assumed it was supposed to be Dr. Light from the Mega Man series, who is called Dr. Wright in the manual for the first game. He’s Dr. Light in the second, but then Dr. Right (no W) in the third. Dr. Wily’s name is also sometimes spelled “Wiley,” and bizarrely “Willy.” Anyway, I’m apparently not the only one who was confused, as it’s a plot point in Captain SNES.

Dr. Wright (the SimCity guy) was referenced in later games. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening has a Mr. Write who looks like him, and it even plays the SimCity music in his house.

And in Oracle of Seasons and The Minish Cap, there’s a scientist named Dr. Left who also looks the same.

Getting back to Lode Runner for a minute, it was ported to the Nintendo Famicom in Japan in 1984, and to the NES in North America in 1987. The company that did the port was Hudson Soft, who around the same time came out with a game called Bomberman. I haven’t played any Bomberman games, but there are apparently over one hundred of them, many of these Japan-only. The original mechanic was fairly simple, involving running around a maze and using bombs to blow up enemies and obstacles. Early versions of the game on home computers in Japan and Europe made the character a pretty generic guy in a hat.

The European name for the game was actually Eric and the Floaters, supposedly after the balloon-like enemies, but maybe also to promote the rock band the programmers were in on the side.

Anyway, for the NES port, Bomberman was redesigned as a cute little robot, a design Hudson had used before for their version of the imperial agents in Lode Runner.

The story for the NES version of Bomberman is that your character is a robot making bombs for the Bungeling Empire, who hears a rumor that he can become human if he reaches the surface of the planet. When you beat the game, it’s revealed that he’s the same as the Lode Runner hero, making the one game a prequel to the other.

I’ll bet the Runner wished he still had his bomb-making abilities during his gold-stealing adventure. This back story isn’t really used in any other Bomberman games, and the character apparently remains a robot. But then, remember that Captain N episode where Mega Man became human, then it was never mentioned again? Speaking of Mega Man, don’t confuse Bomberman with Bomb Man, even though they’re both robots who can produce bombs out of thin air.

Picture by Kyle
Bomberman ’94 establishes that the character’s homeworld is the planet Bomber in the Bomber Nebula, which makes me think the designers didn’t bother researching what a nebula actually is.

This game is also the first one that lets Bomberman ride on kangaroos, which is pretty cool.

You know who else rode on kangaroos? Wonder Woman.

And also Link.

There’s a game where Bomberman crosses over with Wario, who intends to plunder the planet Bomber for treasure.

And the character makes appearances in a few Club Nintendo comics, including one where he claims to be from Vienna.

And in their version of A Christmas Carol, Bomberman works in Wario’s bomb shop.

Posted in Animals, Captain N: The Game Master, Cartoons, Comics, Mario, Mega Man, Sims, Television, Video Games, Zelda | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frustration Quest

Yesterday was L. Frank Baum’s birthday, so I figured I should write something Oz-related, but I’ve probably covered just about every possible topic when it comes to Baum’s creation. I was thinking recently, however, about how I usually say The Patchwork Girl of Oz is my favorite book, even though I find the ending kind of disappointing.

I’m going to spoil it and probably a few other Oz books as well, so maybe don’t read ahead unless you’re already familiar with them, but that’s up to you. I have to say I’ve generally never been that bothered by spoilers, I guess because the journey is more important than the destination, or something like that. I have a bad habit of reading out of order, although I do it less often now than in my younger days. Then again, it really depends on how central the spoilers are to the story. But anyway, the plot of Patchwork Girl gets underway when Dr. Pipt brings the titular character to life with a magic powder, and she accidentally knocks the Liquid of Petrifaction onto Ojo‘s Unc Nunkie and Pipt’s wife Margolotte, turning them to marble. In order to save them, Ojo sets out with the Patchwork Girl and the Glass Cat to find the five items the doctor needs to make the antidote: a six-leafed clover, the left wing of a yellow butterfly, a gill of water from a dark well, three hairs from the tip of a Woozy‘s tail, and a drop of oil from a live man’s body. With help, they obtain all the items except for the butterfly’s wing, as yellow butterflies are under the protection of the Tin Woodman, who would never let anyone harm one.

Fans have thought of possible ways this could have been solved, one of my favorites being making a butterfly out of butter, which should work in a place like Oz. But no, instead the Wizard of Oz restores the two marble people with a magic pass and word he learned from Glinda. Ozma says, “Had Ojo told me that one of the things he sought was the wing of a yellow butterfly I would have informed him, before I started out, that he could never secure it. Then you would have been saved the troubles and annoyances of your long journey.” Dorothy, who had accompanied Ojo on the second leg of his quest, replies with, “I didn’t mind the journey at all…it was fun.” Yeah, Dorothy, because you weren’t around for the part with the man-eating plants. As far as I can recall, Ojo doesn’t tell Dorothy and the Scarecrow about what he needs until the last minute, although he DOES tell the Shaggy Man who should also know Nick’s thoughts on the matter. So there was definitely some poor planning on multiple characters’ parts, but I have to say that finding four out of five ingredients and being stymied at the fifth is about the most frustrating way for such a quest to turn out. I suppose you could say that Ojo’s failure is due to his own self-defeating attitude, as he could have avoided trouble by just asking Ozma about both the butterfly wing AND the clover. On the other hand, he’s inexperienced and intimidated, so can we really blame him? The Wizard did appear about halfway through the book, but he was a minor character this time, so why should he be the one to wrap things up?

Baum was certainly no stranger to endings of this sort, where the main objective is almost completed but not quite, and someone other than the protagonists ends up saving the day. You could probably even count The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, since the Wizard turns out not to have any magic powers after all. Still, Dorothy’s companions get the symbols they want, and the Winkies get a better ruler. The ending is sort of out of nowhere in that Glinda tells Dorothy how the Silver Shoes work, but she has to get to Glinda first. In Land, the Scarecrow doesn’t get his throne back, but he and his companions are happy with the restoration of Ozma. Queen Zixi of Ix has Bud, Fluff, and Zixi recovering almost all the pieces of the wishing cloak that the queen had thrown away, but not quite. This results in their solving the problem in their own way with less powerful magic, however. I’ve seen Tin Woodman criticized for its ending, but I can’t say it bothers me. Nick no longer actually wants to marry Nimmie Amee, and there’s no reason for her to remain faithful to a man who disappeared years earlier. At least they both get closure (as does Captain Fyter), even if it’s somewhat unsettling closure. Dorothy and the Wizard has its characters almost reach the surface on their own, but not quite, then Dorothy remembers she can call on Ozma to transport them out with the Magic Belt.

The comic adaptation by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young improves this somewhat by having Dorothy mention Ozma’s watch over her earlier on; they just have to stay alive and relatively safe until the proper time. I wonder if this cop-out of sorts is part of why the next book, Road, has the Shaggy Man figure out a way to get to Oz without Ozma’s help (although it was her magic that got the adventurers to the surrounding lands to begin with). Johnny Dooit is pretty much literally a deus ex machina, but his appearance still seems a bit more satisfying than just falling back on the Belt again. Perhaps the closest to Patchwork Girl in this respect is Rinkitink, when Dorothy and the Wizard strong-arm the Nome King into giving up his prisoners instead of letting Prince Inga complete his own quest. The difference is that this wasn’t the original ending for the story (we don’t know how Baum ended it at first, although I understand there are some suggestions in the next issue of Oziana), while such wasn’t the case with Patchwork Girl.

So why do I say this book is my favorite despite the disappointing ending? I think a lot of it is just the sheer inventiveness, and the mix of old and new characters. This was Baum’s return to Oz after trying to end the series, and it seems that he pulled out all the stops. I think it’s actually the longest of Baum’s Oz books, and this is after removing a chapter. Not that longer is always better, but there’s a lot of creativity in the characters and settings encountered, as well as some quieter moments of the characters interacting. We get some historical background, with some brief mentions of Ojo and Unc Nunkie being Munchkin royalty, and the crooked magician who invented the Powder of Life becoming an actual character. Not surprisingly, there are some contradictions there, but it still shows Baum fleshing out his fairyland. Even a character from The Magical Monarch of Mo makes an appearance. Ojo himself, a sheltered and insecure boy, has some identifiable traits.

The fun-loving Scraps, vain Bungle, and amiable Woozy are nice additions to the series as well.

There’s a lot of humor, including Scraps’s nonsense verses, the corny puns on Mr. Yoop’s cage, and the Horners‘ jokes that are so bad they almost lead to war.

But this is also the book that gives us plants that try to suck the life out of the characters, and the rather unsettling incident with the disembodied voice. It also gives us the Tottenhots, based on some unfortunate racial stereotypes of the day, but even a generally progressive author like Baum was the product of his time. That’s also why the Horners have radium-lined houses and the characters complain about ragtime music.

So anyway, even if I’m not entirely happy with the ending, I very much appreciate the journey.

Posted in Book Reviews, Characters, Eric Shanower, Humor, L. Frank Baum, Magic, Magic Items, Music, Oz, Oz Authors, Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Planet and Son Reunion

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 – I loved the first movie, and I was definitely looking forward to this one, expecting humor, space travel, music from the seventies and eighties, and family dynamics among the team. And yes, it delivered. The main question remaining at the end of the first one was who Peter Quill’s father was. In the comics, it’s J’son, the humanoid and rather cruel king of the planet Spartax. The screenwriter made it clear that they were going with a different dad in the Cinematic Universe, however. It turns out to be Ego the Living Planet, who’s not only a fully conscious planet but is also capable of changing its landscape and devouring other beings.

The film does question how a planet can impregnate a human woman, and the answer is that Ego is able to manifest his consciousness in the form of Kurt Russell.

Apparently Ego in the comics is capable of creating humanoid extensions of himself, so there’s precedent for that. I believe I have read at least one comic story in which Ego made an appearance, but I didn’t get much of a sense of who he was. The Guardians encounter Ego after killing a monster that’s trying to devour some super-powerful batteries belonging to a species of arrogant gold-skinned humanoids known as the Sovereign, only to have Rocket Raccoon steal the batteries himself.

Star-Lord is initially excited to meet his father and learn of the powers he’s inherited, but later learns Ego’s plan to turn the entire universe into himself. As is typical of superhero movies, the plan doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. Ego’s whole thing is that he’s lonely because he’s the only one of his kind, so his solution is to destroy all living things that aren’t him? But then, nobody said Ego, despite his powerful brain, was totally rational. And I’m sure we’ve all learned by now that few things are much dangerous than a bored immortal. He calls himself a Celestial, which he’s actually not in the comics, but the classification of god-level entities in the Marvel Universe is so complicated that I think the filmmakers can be forgiven for taking liberties with it. The last straw for Peter is when he finds out Ego killed his mother because he thought she was distracting him from his grand plan. Meanwhile, Peter’s surrogate father figure Yondu Udonta is charged by the Sovereign with hunting down the Guardians. When he corners Rocket and Groot, his crew thinks he’s gone soft and mutinies, with a guy named Taserface becoming their new leader.

The name comes from an alien character whose race developed a civilization around creations of Tony Stark’s, but none of that is mentioned in the movie.

Instead, the recurring gag with him is characters (mostly Rocket) laughing at his name. Yondu, his first mate Kraglin, Rocket, and Groot escape and help Peter and the other Guardians destroy Ego.

The film has family as a major theme, and purports that sometimes the family you make is more important than blood relatives. Peter learns that Yondu, for all his criminal activity and tough-guy posturing, was much more of a father to him than Ego ever was. Gamora also reunites with her sister Nebula, and they manage to bond over the trauma from being raised by a self-proclaimed death god.

Peter continues to have a thing for Gamora, but she doesn’t seem interested. While I don’t blame him for being attracted to her, I think the family theme makes it clear she sees him as more of a brother. I suppose Peter’s romance with Kitty Pryde won’t be in any future films as Fox owns the movie rights to her. Groot, who is still growing after the events of the last movie, is a baby throughout except in a mid-credits scene.

I’ve heard there were articles criticizing Baby Groot, but I didn’t really think he was featured enough to get annoying. Besides, the scene where he kept bringing the wrong items to Rocket and Yondu was funny. We’re also introduced to Mantis, a naive insect-like empath whom Ego is keeping like a pet.

Although Mantis in the film is fully alien instead of a human who was given power by aliens, there’s a nod to the comic version being German and Vietnamese in that the actress cast in the role, Pom Klementieff, is French, Russian, and Korean. Yeah, not exactly the same, but still of European and Asian descent. Her performance reminded me of Bjork, or maybe more of other people’s impressions of Bjork. I hadn’t realized Sylvester Stallone was going to be in the movie, nor did I know upon seeing him that his character was the same as Starhawk, one of the original Guardians of the Galaxy.

Well, they were original in terms of when they were introduced, not in the fictional chronology, as they actually operated in the thirty-first century. Several other members of this team appear as well. Howard the Duck makes another cameo, and Stan Lee is seen talking to some seemingly indifferent Watchers. I believe Adam Warlock was a popular guess for Star-Lord’s father before this movie came out, and while he wasn’t, he will apparently play a role in later films.

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