My Favorite Things with Michael May

They might not be raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but that doesn’t mean that we love them any less. Welcome to the new and improved version of My Favorite Things, the weekly column where we grab someone in speculative circles to gab about the greatest in geek. This week, we sit down with comic author and podcaster Michael May, whose hardcover ombibus for Kill All Monsters! with artist Jason Copland was just released to comic book stores on July 19th and will be available everywhere on August 1st. What does he love when he’s not toiling away on his latest comic or podcast? Spoiler alert: barbarians (betcha can’t guess which one!), apes, aliens, beautiful space opera, and pirates. Read on for more!


By the time you’re reading this, I’ll have seen War for the Planet of the Apes, but as I’m writing, I couldn’t be more excited or impatient. I’ve been a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes movies (and the live-action TV show) since I was a kid. Talking animals are always awesome, and those ape masks were amazing. And every iteration of the concept went unexpected places that kept me engaged and wanting more.

Well, almost every iteration. I’m not crazy about the Saturday morning cartoon or the Tim Burton movie.

My biggest issue with Burton’s film is why the recent PotA movies by directors Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves shouldn’t have worked. The ‘70s apes don’t look much like real apes, but I cut the designs a lot of slack, because they just look so cool. And their closeness to human shape and posture makes them that much more disturbing. It drives home in a subtle way that the apes have replaced us. They’ve become us, and in many ways, they’ve become better than us. I don’t get that feeling looking at Burton’s apes. They still look like real apes, but worse than that, they act like real apes. There’s a thin surface of civilization over them, but in times of stress, they revert. The subliminal message then is that humanity deserves to retake the planet from these creatures. And that takes away an important layer of the story.

Cut to 2011 and we’re getting an origin story. Another one, actually, because Conquest of the Planet of the Apes already told this tale in 1972. Of course I was interested in seeing it, but redoing it with CG primates was a risky proposition. However good the effects were, the very fact that they would look and behave like real apes meant that there was a hurdle to my rooting for them against the humans. But Wyatt, writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, and actor Andy Serkis created a beautifully complicated and “human” character in Caesar. The filmmakers layered on additional characters, human and ape, to give the movie still more complexity, so that in addition to the exciting visuals there was plenty to think about. A worthy heir to the best of the PotA movies. Then they did it again with the sequel. And by all accounts, they’re doing it again with War.

Another movie I’m looking forward to — though perhaps with more nervous anticipation than fiery passion — is Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Actually, I’ll have just seen that, too, by the time you read this. Hopefully I’m basking in the afterglow. Let’s talk about it in the comments!

I haven’t read the comics it’s based on, but I’m a complete and total sucker for huge space opera fantasy. Unfortunately, the last film of this kind was Jupiter Ascending, which wasn’t as bad as its reputation, but also not as cool or coherent as I wanted it to be. And that gives me pause, because my feelings about Luc Besson’s work are very similar to my feelings about the Wachowskis. I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of it very much, but some of it I’ve really disliked.

But Valerian looks great. The trailers present a rich, gorgeous world that I can’t imagine ever getting tired of looking at. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are both super-charismatic leads, and there appears to be a great mixture of action and humor to the whole affair. In spite of my nervousness that Valerian might not live up to my hopes for it, those hopes are still extremely strong. And like Jupiter Ascending, before I’ve even seen it I want about ten sequels. Actually, I still want Jupiter Ascending sequels even after seeing that movie. It’s not irredeemable, and I’m hungry for a new, visually stunning universe to explore. I’m thrilled at the possibility that Valerian will give it to me.

Moving to something older that I’ve been revisiting with pleasure, Alien: Covenant gave me a reason to finally share the Alien movies with my 15-year-old son. He’s known about them since like second or third grade, because a friend of his was all about Aliens and Predators, so he and David would play AvP during recess. Eventually — I don’t remember how many years later — I decided that David could handle the PG-13 movie from 2004 and he liked it quite a bit. But it only took about 10 minutes of AvP: Requiem to figure out that I was pushing him too fast. I mean, really no one should be made to watch Requiem, but it was especially inappropriate for whatever age David was at the time. We let the series sit for a few years.

The main thing that was concerning to David was the face-huggers. He can handle gore, but he has a real phobia about anything that attaches to or burrows into your body. Covenant’s release got him interested in seeing Prometheus, though, so we watched that and he handled it well. Even the part where a snake-like creatures crawls down a dude’s throat. He hasn’t seen Covenant yet, but we decided to go back and watch Alien and Aliens first. Which I think is best, because part of what’s cool about those movies is knowing nothing about what these creatures are or where they come from. Covenant is answering questions that no one really needs to know the answers to, and it would only be a distraction to have that information going into Alien and Aliens. In fact, the more movies we get in this series, the more I circle around those first two and want to forget the others exist.

Another older thing that I’ve been enjoying again is the Saturday morning cartoon, Thundarr the Barbarian. When I think about Saturday cartoons that I enjoyed as a kid, a lot of them run together into one, big, sweet mass of nostalgia, but Thundarr stands out as something special. It’s not that it was a completely original concept: it’s basically a combination of Conan and Star Wars. Thundarr carries a laser sword and rides around with a gusty princess and an ill-tempered, but loyal, furry creature who only speaks in barks and roars. They travel around a post-apocalyptic Earth, battling sorcerers and freeing slaves.

But within that construct, Thundarr was wildly imaginative. It was produced by Ruby-Spears, who weren’t exactly a hallmark of quality animation, but they hired some legendary comics creators to make the show. Alex Toth designed the main characters while Jack Kirby himself built out most of the world and the villains that oppressed it. Writer Steve Gerber (Man-Thing and Howard the Duck) was basically the showrunner, writing many of the scripts and recommending most of the comics talent that worked on the series. The result was a great world that’s still fun to visit and immerse myself in.

And speaking of fun adventures in imaginative worlds, the last thing I’ll mention is a book that I’m still reading. A friend of mine on Goodreads turned me onto Hope and Red, the first volume in Jon Skovron’s Empire of Storms series. Skovron is primarily known as a YA fantasy author, but with Hope and Red he breaks free from the restrictions of YA. That means that there’s sex and cursing, but unlike some other authors who’ve made the same transition, the adult elements in Hope and Red never feel gratuitous. The sex is hot, but emotionally real. And the language is the natural result of the story being set in a seaside slum with its own particular slang. (I always get nervous when fantasy books include a glossary, because it’s always annoying to me to stop reading and go look up a word just to understand dialogue. But Skovron’s glossary is there for flavor, not homework. The slang in his world is largely based on ours and even when it’s unfamiliar, I’m still able to figure out meaning from context).

What Skovron absolutely brings over from YA is fast-paced adventure and compelling characters with strong, emotional cores. Hope and Red are the names of the leads and even though they don’t meet until deep into the book, their individual stories are equally fascinating. I never found myself wishing that Skovron would wrap one part up and move on to the other. By the time they met, I knew them both well and was eager to see how they would affect each other’s’ lives.

What makes the whole thing especially palatable for me is that it’s set in a fantasy world of oceans and islands. I’m a big fan of pirates and ocean adventure. Hope begins her life living in a remote island village, but when something horrible happens to the rest of the community, she’s rescued and sent to live first with an even more remote group of warrior monks and then aboard a merchant ship. For his part, Red grows up in the aforementioned slums and spends some time as a pirate. You might expect them to meet from Red’s group attacking Hope’s, but Skovron has something else in mind. Which describes my whole experience with the novel so far. Skovron consistently twists and swerves around expectations and I’m completely invested in knowing what’s going to happen next.


Michael May is the writer and co-creator (with artist Jason Copland) of Kill All Monsters, a graphic novel featuring giant robots fighting giant monsters in a post-apocalyptic world. He’s also a prolific podcaster about movies and other pop culture with a current slate of eight different monthly shows. You can find links to all of them — and to his writing — at http://www.michaelmay.online/. Or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/michaelmaycomix. Michael lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with his wife Diane, his teenaged son (and frequent podcast co-host) David, and a big yellow dog named Luke Skywalker.

6 Comments

  • sharonpatry July 24, 2017 at 7:32 am

    Haven’t read any Skovron. I’ll have to put that on my list!

    Reply
  • Lane Robins July 24, 2017 at 7:59 am

    Hope and red sound really fun! I’ll have to check them out.

    Reply
  • Shara White July 24, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    So I have to ask: since writing this, have you gotten to see War for the Planet of the Apes or Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets yet, and if so, how’d they measure up against the gloriousness of the trailers and your expectations?

    Reply
  • Nicole Taft July 24, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    Oh yeah. I love me some Aliens. But man, give me a xenomorph any day of the week over a facehugger. HATE those things. Bleh.

    Reply
  • dmichaelmay July 24, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    War of PotA very much measured up. I liked it slightly less than the other two, but that’s a huge bar to clear and it’s a worthy finish to the trilogy: in themes and plot and character arcs. It’s my favorite science fiction trilogy of all time now.

    I haven’t seen Valerian yet, sadly, but I’m gonna work on that this week. Unfortunately, it’s sounding like it has more in common with Jupiter Ascending than I want it to.

    Reply
    • Shara White July 24, 2017 at 11:09 pm

      The husband and I may have to catch War of PotA in theaters then! Valerian‘s Sound Off! is live tomorrow afternoon, so you should swing back and check out the various reactions! 🙂

      Reply

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