Flying Through a Mirror, Cracked: Adi Shankar’s The Guardians of Justice

A long time ago, I read a story by Grant Morrison in his Lovely Biscuits collection called “I am a Policeman.” The short fiction is prose reading like some postmodern, or hypertext writing where everything is referential and fragmentary, but it’s something of a kaleidoscope as well: a fast-paced merry-go-round in an intensely voyeuristic-participant culture. 

In a lot of ways Morrison’s story, despite being the mess that it is, anticipated the creation of the Internet and memetic culture. It’s this cracked rotating lens that reminds me of the relentless piece that is Adi Shankar’s Netflix series The Guardians of Justice

I will be honest with you: I’d heard about the project coming in passing, though like a few others I felt inundated with many of the superhero revisionist, and reconstructionist, series that have been released these past two years. I mean, between The Boys, Invincible, and Peacemaker alone following, in turns, the realistic and humorous – almost ludicrous – reinventions of caped and otherwise crusaders can get quickly exhausting. And I will also admit that when I watched the first episode of The Guardians, I wasn’t impressed.

It’s true. I love the premise. The Superman analogue in Shankar’s insanely patched together post-WWIII world made after the destruction of a cybernetically reanimated Adolf Hitler – one Marvelous Man – grows tired and depressed in preventing our species’ slide towards self-annihilation, and decides he can’t take it anymore: ending his life. It then becomes the task of the Batman analogue, Knight Hawk, to discover if his public death is really a suicide, or the result of someone else’s convoluted plan to destabilize the world Marvelous Man watched over for forty long years. 

The idea of this other alternate 1980s of heroes and villains, gods, and monsters,  is great on paper, but if you go by the first episode alone, the characters come out flat. They are barely disguised analogues to DC’s Justice League, and the narrative sequences jump all over the place. There are some great parts as well. Some of the characters act over-the-top, especially Knight Hawk with his best gruff, and gravelly Batman voice impression, and President Nukem, as played by Christopher Judge, is amusing as all get out, and I’ve missed him since StarGate. Even so, I just didn’t know where it could go after the first episode, and I was leery of committing to six more episodes. 

Yet I also needed something to get my mind into that place where I could stop being both over-focused on my other writing tasks, and loosen it up again to undertake more creative possibilities. It also helped that many other people were genuinely enjoying the series, and I decided to give it another shot.

So without going into spoilers, let me tell you what The Guardians of Justice is like. Imagine Adi Shankar’s Bootleg Universe, of which this is a part: where he takes concepts and he both makes fun of them, but also sometimes realistically depicts them, and handles them with care. The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, Venom: Truth in Journalism, Power/Rangers, and Castlevania all come to mind, right?

Now imagine the ethos in those creations, the equivalent of creating your own heroic action figures by soldering them together with a magnifying glass and glue-gun under the sun in the daylight that your parents force you to play in after school back in the Eighties and Nineties, and add some Ralph Bakshi rotoscoping segments, some Edgar Wright and Capcom 16-bit battle animation scenes right out of the video game that should be made from this complete with life bars and Mortal Kombat “Finish Thems!,” some Super Sentai Power Rangers and Turbo Kid moments, some 1990s Claymation segues that might as well be American Saturday “After these Messages, We’ll be Right back” cartoons, and sensibilities interjected into DC and Marvel hero and villain analogues and interactions that you can now find in any Steven Kostanski, and Troma film, and what you get is something that could be The Guardians of Justice

It’s kind of inspiring to see how incredibly mixed media this seven episode series is, and there are just so many references, and events going on at once of which it is incredibly easy to lose track. Seriously, watching these episodes are like being in the playground in the Eighties and Nineties, an informative period in many Millennial lives – a generation of which Adi Shankar is definitely a part – except while he definitely has characters that glorify war, homophobia, the war against drugs, and American machismo, their stereotypical depictions also serve to critique these aspects through the utilization of diversity: many people of colour, different nationalities, languages, and LGBTQ+ characters and relationships. 

The mixed media is that cracked kaleidoscope I mentioned earlier, but it just keeps moving around as it makes fun of itself, and yet sometimes stops for moments of painful clarity. This approach to different facets of storytelling or expression a Unified Field Theory barely held together by model glue does skip past many sequences, and it is so easy to get lost, and many tropes do unfold they way you would think. 

I’ve followed Adi Shankar over the years, and his Bootleg Universe. And I have read and listened to some of his interviews, even at one point asking him a question and interacting with him for a time, about his creative and personal struggles. Growing up in the 1980s as an Indian immigrant turned American citizen, and having a unique mind and a host of mental health challenges already gives you a unique perspective on the popular culture and franchises of that time that have been making their renaissance during the aughts and onward, such as they are. It’s like watching all of Adi Shankar’s stories from that time, informed by his production and creative work, and growing up unfolding all at once. And there is something incredibly eerie about the series, of which he’s worked on and off on, coming out during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and America’s own struggles with its identity internally, and on the world stage … and the rest of the chaos on Earth right now.

I feel like there are so many people, scholars and critics alike that could do more justice to The Guardians, so to speak, than I can. I just keep thinking about what it is like: and I imagine, again, something akin to an irreverent Watchmen, maybe even a Pat Mills’ Marshal Law reality on drugs, along with some Kostanski Man-Borg that is a spectacle entertaining to the discerning nerd and geek from those times, and everyone else informed by them. It is definitely not like the contemporary other superhero series I mentioned earlier: two of them live-action versions of comics or heroes, and one of them an animated adaptation. These are a series of mediums Frankensteined together, and I feel … The best way for me to phrase this is that just as one person both wins, and loses, at the end of this series, we as the viewers do the same. Perhaps with more re-watching on our part, and more reflection on this particular character’s, we might glean more over what we missed. And honestly? After that genuinely gut-wrenching twist and ending, I really want to see if there is going to be another season, and where this glorious nostalgic gestalt media chaos goes from there.

I feel like everything I’ve read, and watched – from the superhero genre to even the weird and horror genre – and played has prepared me for this, and it is a natural product of a global culture where all of these tropes and memes have been brought together. Perhaps, as Logan Lockwood – the Lex Luthor analogue as portrayed by Adi Shankar himself – puts it, it is all the result of branding and ideology. Maybe it is a mess for its own sake, and it is supposed to be just more ironic interpretations of the same. Yet like Grant Morrison’s “I am a Policeman” and other writing akin to it, I deeply respect it for the experiment in storytelling that it is. Also, I was entertained, and I feel like if my childhood self had the knowledge that I do now and the Internet and media access that exists in this day, I might have made something like this too, and it definitely bears mentions mentioning in this Mythic Bios: because the creation of The Guardians of Justice, and the love behind it, is utterly inspiring. 

The Horror Doctor

So I actually did it.

I wanted to put a few more things on my Blog before linking it here, but I finally made The Horror Doctor.

I find when you make a Blog, a lot of it is about creating content, but it’s also about organizing and curating it: to make it accessible, or at the very least to know what kind of theme you are going for. In my case, I just had a lot of thoughts about horror and weird stories, and some of these just didn’t completely fit on Mythic Bios.

Or maybe that’s not entirely accurate. You see, I’ve written a lot on Mythic Bios. And I mean … a lot. So much so, that I feel like for something like the Horror Doctor, I needed something more streamlined, more specific, with which to deal with that particular content. It’s not a replacement for this Blog by any means, and it’s not meant to be.

What is interesting is that in creating The Horror Doctor, I’ve gotten to apply a few things I’ve learned over the years writing for Sequart, GeekPr0n, and this Blog. At the moment, The Horror Doctor feels like something between a review and fanzine, but it also inherits a lot from what I’ve attempted to do on Mythic Bios: in showing my creativity and analytics in process. Whereas Mythic Bios has sometimes showed my “behind the scenes” or “backstage” elements of my story writing, I kind of drifted away from it over time.

The Horror Doctor kind of reminds me of my first days making Mythic Bios into an online Blog, where I was just inspired and driven to write an article on here almost every day. It changed, of course, over time given that you need to pace yourself, and not overwork your brain to death. Even now, I’m slowly down a bit, but I have a few thoughts that I can still write down.

But I guess The Horror Doctor was a long time in the making. Essentially, it’s me writing reviews and creative homages to films and other horror and weird properties that I’ve watched for the first time, or had thoughts about in recent times. I’ve said it a million times already, but it’s like being Victor Frankenstein — with hopefully minus the deadbeat creator aspect — in that I am pretending to be a mad scientist without an MD (or a PhD for that matter) dissecting and reassembling different subject matter under my constantly growing auspices.

Why I made it, well … watching Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In on Shudder helped, but in a way it’s the end result of spiritual inspiration from Kaarina Wilson. I’ve wrote about her a lot. I don’t know if or when I will stop writing about her, to be honest. We were originally going to make a collaborative blog together on Blogger called twosides. In the end, she wrote more in there than I did. But after she passed away, I realized I was still logged onto there as a co-creator. I read all the stuff she made, which wasn’t much, and I remembered that she wanted us to work together on something. I also recalled how much she believed that I could write about horror: to the point of encouraging me to talk to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival about writing for them.

Neither of these things happened. Originally, I was going to write in our old Blogger account and create The Horror Doctor there. In retrospect, there are probably more than a few subconscious reasons I chose that Blog name, but the fact is Blogger was just too basic — too old — to do anything with.

Of course, WordPress has changed over time as well. I know it’s not the same as I when I started back in 2012, but it is still kept up and updated, and I know how to use it on a basic level. I decided to start fresh, to make my own domain for both my Blogs, and a place for all of my things. So even though I feel like when I watch some horror classics or obscurities for the first time, I am watching it for both myself and Kaarina, the creation is all me: this is what I have been primarily doing with my time during this Pandemic.

I don’t know what else to add. I think The Horror Doctor is a good place to practice my writing ethic. I have already taken to curating but also rewriting and editing works there, taking my time, and considering what I want to do. It’s another step towards … something.

I will be reblogging some of my horror content from this Blog onto The Horror Doctor into both my “Dissections and Speculatives” and “Strains and Mutations” Categories (reviews and fanfiction), so there will be some interlap. In the meantime, I hope that everyone is holding up well. Take care all.

There are a few of you that have followed me for a long time here, some of you who still remain, or just discovered me. If you are into horror and weird stories, graphic  explicit, and twisted things, and you like how my brain works in general — and you like all of these things — please come and read my work at The Horror Doctor. Hopefully, if you are not educated by someone still learning the genre, you will at least be entertained.

This is Halloween

This will be the first of two posts that you will see today.

I spent a lot of weeks before and during Halloween differently. When I was a child I would be inundated with television specials, movies, school events, and trick-or-treating. As an adolescent, I spent some time with my group of friends. In my early adulthood I spent a lot of it by myself trying to remember how happy I used to be and imagining all the other people who were having fun that I did not. I spent the rest of my young adulthood, alternatively, with friends and sometimes on my own.

I almost went to a Halloween party last year but I didn’t. I was too depressed and I did what I often do in that state: sleep and work.

This past while I’ve been doing something different for Halloween. Instead of wandering around outside at night in the dark aimlessly, or watching television, or hanging out with friends and lovers I have been busy.

I have been busy.

Last week or so, I covered six films in the 2014 Toronto After Dark for GEEKPR0N. I even covered an extra day, a Wednesday, so I could watch one film that was recommended to me. Those of you that read this Blog or my work at GEEKPR0N already know about this. I wrote reviews on The Drownsman, Wolves, Late Phases, Wyrmwood, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, and Why Horror?

And it was difficult. There were many times I thought I could just watch the films, then go straight home, and write something out that night. But even though I got wiped out, it was totally worth it. The irony is that once, long ago, I was told that I should write reviews for movies — or movies like these — and I didn’t think I was qualified to do so. It’s only in relatively recent times that I’ve realized that the only way to be qualified to do anything is to make yourself so, and start to believe it.

I got some other things published in honour of Halloween as well. Not only did I write a nice short article on the end of Kris Straub’s Broodhollow Book Two, but I got to examine and see just how a creepypasta created by Eric Heisserer the subreddit no/sleep truly lures readers into fear and trepidation. If you have read my articles on creepypastas, you know something of what you might be in for when you read this particular piece of mine.

But I think there is one achievement in particular that I can really be proud of mentioning. Do you recall, that week or so ago before I went off the Mythic Bios grid again, that I was doing another interview: this one live and in-person? Well, with the help and guidance of GEEKPR0N and Toronto After Dark organization … the following actually occurred.

David Hayter Fav and Retweet

Not only did David Hayter, the screen writer of the first two X-Men films and Watchmen as well as the voice of Solid Snake favourite and retweet my review of his movie Wolves I also got to interview him before Werewolf Night at the Toronto After Dark.

You can find my interview with David Hayter right here.

So that has been my time leading up to Halloween so far. The rest of what I intend to do, however, is as follows. Later this evening I am going to the Silver Snail Halloween Party: the same one I didn’t end up attending last year. I don’t have a costume idea as of yet and I’m having some difficulty finding make-up after my last misadventure but I’m going and to anyone living in Toronto or nearby, I hope that you will join me. It’s organized by GEEKPR0N, in part, and it makes some pretty awesome parties and I don’t intend to miss this one this time around.

The next day I’m going to the Comic Book Lounge and Gallery to pay a visit to Drawing For Deb: In Support of Epilepsy Toronto. There will be signings and a 12-Hour Comics Marathon: Special Edition there to raise money to combat epilepsy which claimed the life of Debra Jane Shelly: a well-known friend of the comics community and someone that I only began to know when I first started coming to the Lounge. She was an awesome person and there will be some good people there. I’ve realized long ago that I am just not an artist with pictures, so I will be attending to pay my respects and I may not be there the entire day.

And then the next day I will be going to Horror-Rama: an all-horror convention where I want to explore and particularly meet Jovanka Vuckovic: the brilliant upcoming director of the Jacqueline Ess film adaptation.

Then somewhere, somehow I will catch up with my Doctor Who recaps and next week get back to my fiction writing and probably sleep for a few centuries as I am bloody exhausted.

So this is both what I have been doing, and what I am going to do. It’s funny. When I was reviewing Why Horror? I started thinking about just how it is effective. When I was a child I read many abridged versions of horror stories, listened to and read written down folktales and urban myths. And I would spend time in the now-defunct Hollywood Movies store reading the backs of horror film VHS tapes. I would attempt to avoid watching them, scared of being caught in the web of their details and becoming committed, but so very fascinated with what I might find.

Not much has changed. I think the reason that horror is so fascinating is the fact that when you look at all the gore, the grisliness, and the uncanny you see what you are not and you also get to see a bit of what you are. You are ultimately safe and in sensible surroundings, or so you think, and it gives you a rush of life — of vitality — in the autumn.

That’s why some people have sex after watching horror. That’s why some people have an urge to create stories and study mythologies after watching horror. That’s why people gather around their friends and celebrate their grisly façades: the orange light in the darkness. That’s ultimately why I’m rambling right now.

I’ve spent my life fascinated by, and avoiding life. But it lures you in. It is the ultimate horror but it is also a spectacle, and best experienced in good company. I hope that, today in sharing all of this with you, that I got to be the latter.

Happy Halloween, my friends.