Thursday, July 30, 2015

WAKING

Seventy-six woke to a world of red and black. A world of cold and fear and pulsing darkness. And for the first time ever, he woke alone.

He sprang from his crystal pillar. All down the resting chamber the eyes throbbed red. Red as blood. Red as pain and anger. Red. Everything else was dark. The pillar lights, the walkways, the overheads. That could only mean one thing:

A call for help, and no one to answer.

Fallen Guardian.

"KIT!" he shouted. At last light. It leaped from the floor encasing him in armor and weapons of glass and energy. Information glyphs winked in patters in his helmet's faceplate as he ran for the Gate room. A call for help had come through containing all the proper key phrases in the proper order. But it had come through almost twenty-five years ago.

"That can't be right." He checked again. Twenty-five years. Someone had delayed delivery of the call somehow. "Why...?" His feet suddenly stopped, noticing something strange before his mind did. The Girl. Her pillar was empty. For a moment he stared in uncomprehending stillness. She shouldn't be out. She couldn't be out, not if he was... A brief instant of warm hope flashed through him.

A wave of icy panic scoured it from his chest.

The other pillars. They were empty too. Seventy-five--Xian or seventy-four--Amon. The Girl. Seventy-two.

Forcing his feet to move, he staggered down to the tunnel. Seventy-one. Seventy. They were all empty! He ran. His feet pounded the stones. His heart fluttered wildly, a desperate bird trying to escape the cage of his chest. He skidded to a halt. No. Not all the pillars were empty. After fifty-two--Kona--the guardians were present. He did a quick count. Twenty-four of the others--the Girl included--they were gone, gone, gone.

This is wrong. This is all wrong!

He ran on. The control stones in the walls finally re-lit. Then the whole of the Citadel blazed to life.
 
His head spun. His helmet stubbornly told him to go to the Gate. To answer the call. It was his sacred duty. He blinked the messages away searching through the glyphs and codes. There! Another call! And another. Forty message in less than ten years, then the time delay gap.

The glyphs went red in his vision. Another message, freshly delivered, this one only twenty-four years old. Then another. Another. Another. They stacked up before his eyes. Always the same. Always proper. Always from the past, unanswered for years.

"They kept calling. Long after the Guardians quit answering," Seventy-six muttered. "Why?"

Only two answers: A great danger. Or a trap.

He made his way quickly thought the passages, down, down to the very lowest sections of the citadel where the weight of the great structure could almost be felt, pressing down, with smothering presence. Here all the tubes and tunnels and lights led, feeding into the slick black slab of the Gate. The glyphs in his faceplate turned green at last--content that he was finally in the right place.

He paused before the smooth stone and stood for a long time, uncertain. None of the others had returned. It seemed unlikely he would. Fear rose up dark, and sticky cold within him.

"I don't want to die."

The Girl's face came suddenly into his mind. Years ago she had stood there before the gate, perhaps struggling with the same fears. Knowing that beyond the Gate death, after so many long centuries might await. And she had stepped through. She had been brave, dutiful. A true guardian.

"I will strive to be like her," he whispered. Then straightening, he ordered the Gate with all the command he could muster, "OPEN."

The slick black surface of the stone warmed to radiant white, filling the chamber, the air, his vision and mind with burning brightness. And in the space of a breath was beyond the Citadel.

Seventy-six stood on a vast and shattered red plane. The altar stone was cracked and blackened, the pillars toppled. Craters some big enough to swallow Seventy-six several times over, peppered the red ground. Their edges had softened with years of wind a rain but the clouded glass glittered in pools and shards in and around them, the evidence of heat great enough to melt the sand. Tumbled stones and splintered pillars jutted from the ground like the bones of dead things.

No trees. No grass. No life.

"What happened?"

The wind hissed through the sand, mocking him.

In the distance something flashed with solar brilliance. He sprang into the air and an instant later alighted upon the horizon beside a row of tall posts fashioned like spears from gray metal. Atop each faintly glowing with the remnants of reawakened power were...

He counted quickly. Twenty-two shimmering helmets. Guardian's helmets. Fury reconfigured his armor to Assault Mode.

"If she is alive, I will find her. And if she is dead..." He spun, seeking an opponent, a target, but there were none within view. He brandished his fists and weapons deployed from his armor, ready to strike. "There shall be a reckoning! Hear me! There shall be a reckoning time itself shall never forget!"

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~SJA

Monday, July 27, 2015

War of Kings - Comic Review


From the publisher: In an effort to punish the Skrulls for their attempted Invasion, the Inhumans chase down a Skrull vessel, only to accidentally destroy a Shi'Ar ship instead, enraging the Shi'Ar emperor, the powerful mutant Vulcan. The Inhumans find themselves allied with the Kree against a Vulcan-led Shi'Ar incursion.

In recent years, largely due to my really cool Marvel Unlimited subscription I've really come to love comics, not only for their great art but also for their phenomenal story telling.  Recently, while reading some of my favorites I came across War of Kings. A  comic book crossover story line with almost forty tie-ins to Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, Darkhawk and The X-Men, War of Kings is a huge story that puts not only the universe in danger but also the fabric of space and time itself. It sounds like a problem worthy of the Doctor's skills but without a T.A.R.D.I.S. in sight, Marvel's space-born heroes must make due on their own. Published by Marvel Comics, the story ran from November 2008 through August 2009 and was written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and published by Marvel Comics.

With a universe as big as Marvel's and a story this large I thought I'd be lost in all the nuances, jumping into a new story line connected to so many others. Some of the characters I'd never heard of before. Vulcan, Darkhawk, Gladiator, Crystal and a number of other characters were all new to me, but the story was concise enough and the characters compelling enough to pull me through the initial confusion and suck me into the story.  

And War of Kings is a spectacular story. It explores the ideas of what makes a good ruler, of the morality of war, first strikes, over-whelming force. But it's not preachy. It's not even biased. Some times the bad guys are  better leaders than the heroes. Some times the good guys' actions cause outcomes worse than what the villains had planned. There are twists and turns, that keep the pages turning, gripping action, character deaths and the beginning of new story lines. Basically, there is a lot packed into these issues. A lot worth reading.

Three of the five factions of the War of Kings stumble into a battle.

The thing that continually impresses me with comics is their ability to use only dialogue and imagery to tell a story. The way they use exposition in the dialogue can often be clunky (i.e. "My mutant powers allow me to control the very elements!") but other times it's brilliantly done. I can actually excuse the clunky parts because they're necessary for readers like myself who have not been following every story line and character for the past twenty-five years.

What to know: I like Marvel's space heroes because they tend to be a little more family friendly. Still there are a few things parents and young readers should know about them. There is a hefty amount of violence, some blood and swearing, though it's mostly redacted (i.e. %&$^$#!). Female characters are often in skintight costumes that leave little to the imagination, though I'm please that they're getting better. Some of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova Corps are actually dressed in costumes I'd let my daughter wear. There are several implied sexual relationships (nothing is ever shown beyond kissing) both hetero and gay.

Over all, War of Kings is an impressive bit of story telling. The art is staggeringly intricate and beautiful at times. Personally, I thought it well worth the read. The end especially is pretty fantastic. You can find issues on Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, Comixology and of course Marvel Unlimited.

Liked this? Writers live and die on word of mouth so please share or follow or join my mailing list. See the top right of this page.
 
~SJA

Images courtesy of Marvel.com