Friday, October 20, 2017

Sexy Side-Project "The Red Queen Chronicles: The Divine" is LIVE!


If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started writing sexy side-projects, it’s that fans want their favorite characters to hook up with all sorts of characters. It doesn’t matter that it’s ridiculously non-canon. It doesn’t matter that it would never happen in the books either. Fans just love seeing certain characters get sexier than they’re allowed to be.

Since I started my “New Red Queen” series, I’ve gotten all sorts of suggestions for sexy hook-ups. Given that Mary Jane Watson, with all her amazing sex appeal, is at the center of the story, I expected to get plenty lurid requests for her. However, I didn’t expect to get so many for another fiery redhead, namely Jean Grey.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised, given all the uncut scenes I’ve done with her in my X-men Supreme series. After the events of “The Red Queen Chronicles: The Phoenix,” though, I’ve opened the proverbial floodgates. I’ve effectively unshackled Jean Grey-Summers from the traditional confines that has kept her fully clothed for too damn long. Apparently, there are a lot of Jean Grey fans who have been waiting for this sort of thing. Surprised or not, I’m going to run with it.

That’s why I’m proud to announce another sexy side-project of the most uncanny kind. It involves Jean Grey hooking up with someone she rarely encounters in the comics and being unapologetically sexy about it. She married Cyclops and flirted with Wolverine, but now that she’s the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, she’s going to set her sights higher. By that, I mean she’s looking for some truly divine sexiness from someone who just happens to have a big movie coming out.

Yes, I’m referring to the God of Thunder himself, Thor. He and Jean Grey have rarely shared a scene together in the comics, but that doesn’t matter in the world of the Red Queen Chronicles. Through this ambitious, but straightforward one-shot, these two characters you didn’t know you wanted to see hook up are going to get frisky. If this doesn’t get you excited for both the “Thor: Ragnarok” movie or “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” I don’t know what will.


As always, I encourage everyone to provide feedback and leave comments. I can’t promise I’ll pursue every sexy suggestion, whether it involves Jean Grey, Mary Jane Watson, or Squirrel Girl. I’m always open to new ideas, though, especially the sexy kind.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Most Worthy Milestone: The Mighty Thor #700

The following is my review of The Mighty Thor #700, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Whenever a comic reaches a major milestone, it seems obligated to do something big, flashy, and groundbreaking. More often than not, that can be more obstacle than opportunity. Obligation or not, these kinds of upheavals in a story cannot and should not be forced. That doesn't stop some from trying, but that also ensures the results will be mixed. That's exactly what makes The Mighty Thor #700 one of the most intriguing milestone issues of the past decade.

There's no need to force anything here. Jason Aaron has all the necessary pieces in place. What began several years ago in the final issue of Original Sin is set to culminate in The Mighty Thor #700. The concept of worthiness is now far beyond tired arguments of whether the Hulk, Superman, or Squirrel Girl can lift Mjolnir. It isn't just some mystical McGuffin meant to frustrate Thor, Odin, and all of Asgard, although it can come off as such.

Aaron often walks a fine line with Thor, one side being controversy and the other being contrivances. Jane Foster being Thor and wielding Mjolnir blurs that line to an extent that still bothers a certain segment of fans. However, even those fans can't deny the dramatic overtones that The Mighty Thor has conjured since Original Sin. It isn't just about a god struggling with unworthiness. It's about a dying mortal woman wielding the power of a god, knowing she's got little time left.

That time is exceedingly limited and The Mighty Thor #700 adds even more urgency for Jane Foster to make every swing of Mjolnir count. She's not the only one either. For a 50-page milestone issue, Aaron goes for broke by getting every corner of Thor's world involved and does so with an all-star cast of artists that includes the likes of Russell Dauterman, Walter Simonson, Oliver Copiel, and many more. That includes the past, present, and potential future of Asgard, Midgard, and everything in between. It's ambitious, but a worthy ambition befitting of any magic hammer.

There's a glut of material that touches on nearly every major player in Thor's world, from another major clash with Malekith to destructive fight with She-Hulk to a brief interlude with Frog Thor. All cards, including a few that haven't been played in a while, are on the table. They're all part of the same gamble to link every part of Thor's world into a singular conflict. That gamble doesn't necessarily hit the jackpot, but it does pay out in a lot of ways.

Despite all the many elements that find their way into The Mighty Thor #700, there are a few major connections to tie them together, some more so than others. Aaron digs deeper into the mythological foundations of Norse Mythology, literally to some extent, by setting the stage in Nornkeep. It gets even more literal as actual threads of fate start weaving various Thor-centered stories across the realms and across time.

These broad, diverse stories give a chance for every artist employed in this milestone issue to maximize their talent. Some utilize different themes, touching on the future of Thor and what lays in store for all those whose lives revolve around magic hammers. Others unfold in the present, which build on threads from previous issues leading up to The Mighty Thor #700. Some are colorful asides that don't add much to the overall plot, but belabor all things Thor in a way that feels necessary in an oversized issue.


This is where some of the ambition ends up overplaying the plot. Even though the connection of each plot has ties to the events in Nornkeep, those connections aren't always clear or concise. Some are so loose that it's hard to make sense of the role they play in the larger narrative. In addition, the scale of that narrative covers so many times, places, and hammer-centered battles that some end up feeling rushed. Even Jane Foster's battle against She-Hulk doesn't get the kind of elaborate smashing that most battles involving Hulk and Thor require.

Even with connections that are weak and rushed, at times, the direction of the story never gets derailed. Even after Frog Thor provides a little comic relief, the destination of each plot becomes clear. The conflict that begins in Nornkeep is set to spread through every realm, involving the likes of Maliketh, Loki, War Thor, and any number of divine forces that have been hit by Mjolnir one time too many. In that sense, the ambition serves to make The Mighty Thor #700 feel as epic as it needs to.

The worth of any milestone issue is measured in its ability to encompass the past, present, and future of a story. Given the size and scope of the story Aaron tells, The Mighty Thor #700 checks all the necessary boxes. There's a general sense, as well as a major teaser at one point, that the future of Thor is poised for upheaval. Jane Foster's battle with Hulks, gods, monsters, and cancer is about to culminate. Odinson is about to confront his agonizing unworthiness. Frog Thor is going to wade through some puddles. Everyone in Thor's world is poised to have their moment.

Ultimately, that's the most important aspect of any milestone issue. It should act like a catalyst and not an endpoint. It doesn't have to be a full-blown movie trailer, complete with heavy voice-overs and messy editing. It just has to make the journey thus far feel meaningful while making the journey ahead that much more appealing.

It may not have the loud explosions, coupled with heavy metal music, but The Mighty Thor #700 is plenty appealing in all the right ways. Worthiness may still be a hopelessly esoteric concept that fans will be arguing over on message boards for another 700 issues, but this one proves its worth, as only a Thor comic can.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, October 13, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 158: Power Brokers is LIVE!


These are exciting times for the X-men, both in the pages of Marvel Comics and within the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. I just returned from the New York Comic Con and, needless to say, I saw a lot of amazing things there. I even sat in on an X-men panel and got a glimpse of what the comics have in store. Between the return of Wolverine, the resurrection of Jean Grey, and the return of Charles Xavier, there’s a lot to get excited about. I hope to mirror that excitement in X-men Supreme.

That’s going to be difficult since I’ve resisted the urge to kill off so many iconic characters. It has happened, at times, such as in the Natural Disorder arc and at the end of Overlord. In my experience, there are more opportunities to explore great characters when they’re alive. I like to think I’ve done plenty of that in this fanfiction series, especially since X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided has put so many major characters in such difficult positions.

The X-men, still led by Charles Xavier, are trying to make their new partnership with President Kelly and General Grimshaw work. The results have been mixed thus far. The events of Volatility Sensibility cast doubt on the X-men’s ability to handle dangerous mutants alongside the government. The results in the Drug War arc proved more promising, so much so Charles Xavier could claim victory over Sebastian Shaw, a long-time enemy of the X-men who had been tormenting his team since the Phoenix Saga.

Over with X-Force, being led by Cyclops after he left the team, the situation is a lot more tenuous. They were failed where Xavier and his X-men succeeded in taking down Sebastian Shaw in the Drug War arc. Lacking both the resources and government support of the X-men, Cyclops and his team face a much tougher challenge. However, they remain convinced that Charles Xavier made a mistake by pursuing the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. In Cyclops’ mind, it’s only a matter of time before it comes back to haunt them all. As X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided unfolds, he’ll find out just how right or wrong he is.

While X-Force is recovering from their less-than-stellar performance in the Drug War arc, there’s another conflict that has been brewing since the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. While X-Force is operating out of Nova Roma, they’re also helping a displaced Scarlet Witch, who had been separated from the rest of the Brotherhood of Mutants after the events of the Proactive Regression arc. Her presence with X-Force has not gone unnoticed, especially by Nightcrawler. Both he and the Scarlet Witch have been developing an unusual bond since their encounter. Now, a new complication is about to enter the picture.

The conflict between the X-men and X-Force is going to be the primary catalyst for the story that unfolds in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. What happens with the Scarlet Witch, what happens with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, and what happens with X-Force is all connected. There’s a big upheaval brewing in this fanfiction series, one that will become more and more apparent as the next few issues unfold. There are forces, agendas, and characters who have yet to debut in X-men Supreme that will change the course of this fanfiction series. This latest issue is just a step in that process.

X-men Supreme Issue 158: Power Brokers

These are exciting times for X-men fans, both for this fanfiction series and the X-men comics. So many iconic characters are returning. There are incredible stories unfolding in both the comics and in X-men Supreme. In the past, I’ve written this fanfictions as a reprieve, of sorts, for X-men fans who feel disillusioned by the events of the X-men comics. Well, now the situation in the comics is improving. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not as committed to making X-men Supreme as awesome as it can be. Now, I want this fanfiction series to complement the X-men comics as much as possible.

In order to maximize X-men Supreme and the impact of this fanfiction series, I still need feedback from readers. I’ve made some progress in limiting the spam, but I can still receive emails and I can still sift through comments. So please, if you can, take the time to review this fanfiction series. Either post your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and every bit of feedback helps. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shaping A Sibling Rivalry: All-New Wolverine #25

The following is my review of All-New Wolverine #25, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In many superhero comics, sibling rivalries are right up there with love triangles in terms of shallow plots that bring out the worst in certain characters. It's one thing for families to bicker. That's the premise of almost every sitcom, Simpsons rip-off, and Fantastic Four comic. Rivalries, however, often act like open scars that never truly scab over. They come to define certain characters, so much so that it that it undermines their ability to evolve on their own.

X-23 and Daken have a major advantage, in some respects, because much of their development occurs independently of one another. The story of Laura Kinney and Daken Akihiro unfolds in vastly different circumstances and go in very different directions. Whereas Laura eventually ascends to take on her father's mantel, Daken falls to the wayside for a while. Even after the Death of Wolverine, his story essentially stagnates while Laura's accelerates.

That's what makes the premise behind All-New Wolverine #25 so risky, yet so intriguing. Tom Taylor is taking a chance on tying Daken's story with Laura's once more. While they had clashed in the past during Marjorie Liu's run on X-23, these two characters don't ever establish a functional relationship. They don't forge a bitter rivalry either, but the tension is there. It has the potential to either expose their worst traits or forge new ones. The difference between the two is as thin as a simple swipe of the claws.


Taylor puts both characters on a collision course, of sorts, and it's one that doesn't just involve more slashing and stabbing. It builds on the events of the previous arc, which first see Laura and Daken reunite under dire, yet amicable circumstances. They never get a chance to catch up, fight each other, or address any of the past instances where they try to kill each other. A lot is left up in the air, but All-New Wolverine #25 offers new opportunities for Laura and Daken to connect. Doing it in a series that also includes a pet wolverine named Jonathan is just a nice bonus.

Taylor keeps the continuity of the series tight, having the events in this issue play off those of previous issues. Recent events don't play too big a part in the chaos that unfolds, though. After those connections are made, the fighting begins and it's not a fair fight, even for Daken. While he's a long way from deserving the same sympathy as Laura, the battle he faces sets a specific tone, one that feels unique to Wolverine's overly burdened offspring.

Part of being tied to Wolverine in any capacity involves attracting the kinds of enemies that require more than an adamantium claw to the face. His violent, illustrious life is full of super-powered samurai, killer robots, undead ninjas, and married women he can't stop attracting. With the exception of married women, Laura and Daken attract those same dangers. However, the specifics of that danger are only teased in All-New Wolverine #25, but not in the same overtly ominous ways that just promise more stabbing.

This is where the Orphans of X come in, which is both the title of the arc and the name of the danger. They establish early on that they know how to hurt both Daken and Laura. Daken is somewhat easy to hurt, given his crass attitude and utter apathy for regular heroics. It's Laura who requires a more elaborate approach. Having recently fought Brood armies and spent time in the stomach of Fing Fang Foom, her threshold for pain is much higher.

They still find a way to test it by taking Laura back to her roots. That means returning to the pages of X-23: Innocence Lost, the tragic origins that have come to define Laura since her arrival to the X-men comics. Despite all her abilities, including those that allow her to survive the stomach of Fing Fang Foom without permanent physiological scarring, the details of her tortured origins still haunt her.

More than any other threat she faces throughout her relatively brief history, it's one of the few things that really hurt her. The fact that the Orphans of X use that against her shows that they've done their homework on her. The use of a few flashbacks, which evoke just the right impact thanks to Juann Cabal's art, help belabor just how much these memories hurt Laura. They're so troubling that she risks upsetting both Gabby and her pet wolverine by striking out on her own. Given Gabby's capacity for frustrating Laura and looking adorable while doing it, that's a not a trivial risk.

It's not initially clear how much that risk pays off because, even though Laura's recourse is directly tied to what happens with Daken, the narrative stalls somewhat once it ventures into that the bloodier parts of her past. While belaboring a painful past is an important ingredient in any Wolverine story, it can be overdone. Instead of learning why the Orphans of X think it's wise to torment two characters with a history of poor anger management, much of the story unfolds as a mystery with too few clues to follow.

There's still plenty of melodrama, which is true to the spirit that Taylor has established with All-New Wolverine. There's never a sense that either Laura or Daken are just angry, vengeful brutes who are just eager to stab something. All-New Wolverine #25 establishes deep, personal stakes. However, it doesn't do much to establish who is making such risky bets against them.

The ending sets the stage for a lot more melodrama and heartache. The connections that will eventually require Laura and Daken to team up again are there. Given the high standards that Taylor has set with All-New Wolverine, though, the impact of the conflict isn't felt yet. Too much of it relies on old scars that Laura has been carrying with her since her days as an extra in the X-men Evolution cartoon. While those scars are sure to deepen, the Orphans of X will need to hit much harder to leave a lasting impact on Laura and Daken.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Joke's On Batman: Batman White Knight #1

The following is my review of Batman White Knight #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Between Marvel and DC Comics, there's a significant glut of alternate universes, alternate versions, and blatant rip-offs of various characters. When a character becomes as successful and iconic as Batman, it's somewhat unavoidable. For every iconic hero, there are a hundred more that are as much an afterthought as a typical storm trooper on Star Wars. For that same hero, there are plenty of other versions that attempt to milk the success of that icon to the utmost and beyond.

Batman is no stranger to derivations and alterations. Some, such as Terry McGuinness from Batman Beyond, find a way to be successful. Others turn into gimmicks, at best. However, none can every claim to have tried something as bold as Sean Murphy tries in Batman: White Knight #1. This story doesn't just tweak the winning formula that has made Batman so successful over the past 70 years. It turns it on its head, inside out, and everything in between.

Murphy dares to invert one of the most fundamental conflicts in the Batman mythos, namely that between him and the Joker. This struggle, which dates back to the earliest days of Batman, is the conflict that most defines him. His pursuit of justice is an unstoppable force, but the Joker's maniacal chaos is an immovable object. For decades, neither one of them seems able to subvert the other. Murphy decides to take that conflict a step further, so much so that changes the rules of the conflict entirely.

It's a concept that can either break new ground or collapse on itself. Batman: White Knight #1 walks a fine line with that concept, attempting to flesh it out without the aid of time paradoxes, lazarus pits, or meddling by Dr. Manhattan. When dealing with someone as deranged as the Joker, that counts as an accomplishment. However, by the end of the issue, it's not the Joker that seems deranged. It's Batman and that counts as an even greater accomplishment.

Murphy doesn't necessarily deconstruct Batman. He isn't driven crazy, broken spiritually, or manipulated with some elaborate mind game. Instead, the Joker simply puts himself in a position to point out the glaring flaws in how Batman conducts himself. It goes beyond any arguments around justice, chaos, or the comedic value of clowns. He dares to stand up to Batman and tell him, flat out, that he's the crazy one. He's the one who does far more damage to Gotham than any maniacal clown ever could.

It's a strange, but compelling argument. On paper, it doesn't check every box, but it's hard to overlook the signs. Batman is, as the Joker puts it, a catalyst for the crime and injustice that he claims to fight against. He doesn't see his efforts to fight criminals as an effort to improve Gotham. He sees it as some selfish ploy by Batman to fix a soul that was broken before the Joker ever introduced anyone to exploding pies. While he doesn't put too much substance behind the argument, it does highlight some glaring issues with Batman that even his most ardent defenders can't deny.


That argument makes the narrative of Batman: White Knight #1 engaging and nuanced. It comes off as a necessary and overdue criticism, of sorts, for Batman's methods and the extent to which the Gotham Police tolerate it. Beyond that argument, though, the particulars are somewhat underdeveloped. There are more than a couple contrivances that get squeezed into the story to make it work, primarily the method Batman uses to render the Joker sane enough to make these arguments in the first place. It's not the same as another chemical bath or a trick by Mr. Mxyzptlk, but it's not far off.

The ease with which the Joker tempts Batman and the apparent lack of effort Batman puts into resisting that temptation comes off as shallow. The complexities of Batman that are almost always on full display seem muted. While there is some context to Batman's shortsightedness, it relies too much on making excuses for his attitude rather than actually countering the Joker's arguments. The fact it's an excuse ripped from the Batman and Robin movie doesn't help either.

In addition, Batman: White Knight #1 doesn't attempt to flesh out the mystery surrounding the Joker's backstory, which has been a key element to his character since the days of Alan Moore. It essentially removes the mystery, giving the Joker a name, a method, and an identity behind the clown makeup. There's no shocking revelation or cosmic insight from the Mobius Chair. It's presented as something that could easily be gleaned from a quick Wikipedia search.

In some respects, though, removing the Joker's mystery is necessary for the story. It's the only way for him to really counter Batman on a personal and philosophical level. Once the clown makeup comes off, he somehow becomes more daunting because he no longer has insanity holding him back. Instead, he becomes a man who exposes the lies, jokes, and frauds without laughing at them. Take away that twisted sense of humor and it's not clear whether he's a villain or a hero at this point.

That's the greatest appeal of Batman: White Knight #1. It presents Batman with an existential crisis that doesn't involve deadly novelty gags, crippling close friends, or corrupting innocent souls. It calls into question the methods and justifications he puts into being Batman, as well as the price that others pay for his actions. In a sense, nobody has ever been either crazy or sane enough to attack Batman on this level. It's only fitting that the one person capable of that feat is the Joker.


Final Score: 7 out of 10