Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Incomplete Moments With Shallow Revelations: Death of X #4

The following is my review of Death of X #4, which was posted on PopMatters.com.

If a fight is rigged and rigged well, then it's usually hard to tell which side has the advantage. Those fights can be quite entertaining, as the success of WWE wrestling routinely demonstrates.  When the rigging is too obvious though, the entertainment value suffers. It's just not very fun or interesting when it's easy to tell who is getting an extra shot of Hulk blood on the side.

This is the biggest flaw in the Death of X narrative. It isn't a passionate disagreement between Iron Man and Captain America over methods for administering justice. It's a cage match between one side that has the unconditional backing of Disney's lawyers and another that remains under the boot of a rival company. The X-men and the Inhumans are not on a level playing field and haven't been since Marvel Studios began churning out billion-dollar blockbusters on a regular basis.

This means there's little to no suspense in the outcome of Death of X #4. It's a foregone conclusion that the X-men will lose, the Inhumans will come out on top, and the lawyers negotiating movie rights will keep getting billed by the hour. It gives Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire a poor foundation to build on, but it's a foundation that can still fill in some unresolved issues. They just have to build carefully because they don't want to give the X-men more reasons to resort to clones and time travel.

There's a genuine effort to extract every ounce of drama from this final issue, but there's not much worth extracting here. There's a distinct absence of detail and polish to the overall story. It does not complete the narrative that began in the first issue, nor does it fill in the blanks left by the various X-men titles that spun out of Secret Wars. There is some intrigue. There are some heated, passionate moments. It doesn't fall flat, but it does feel distinctly incomplete.

If there is a defining moment in Death of X #4, it manifests during the confrontation between Cyclops and the Inhumans royal family. This moment feels very much like a trailer of sorts, complete with ominous warnings and angry pleas. The trailer may lack the star power of Hugh Jackman or Sir Patrick Stewart, but it effectively ensures that there will be a war between the Inhumans and the X-men. It's not just inevitable at this point. It's overdue.

While this moment is vital in giving Death of X #4 the necessary impact, it's pretty much the only moment that's memorable or impactful in any way. Every other moment throughout the narrative is either lacking in substance or devoid of style. There's little else in terms of drama. None of that drama feels like an emotional gut punch either. For a comic where a major character dies, that's pretty telling.

It's also the most frustrating aspect about Death of X #4 and the X-men comics as a whole since Secret Wars. The lack of drama and the lack of details ensures this story adds little context to the overall narrative surrounding the X-men. Much of that narrative is crafted around this idea that Cyclops did something so horrific and so despicable that it would make James Marsden violently ill if someone said it out loud. That idea, however, becomes exceedingly complicated here.

It's not just because Soule and Lemire try to throw in a twist at the end that effectively ensures that Cyclops can die with some credibility intact. It's also because the sequence of events that unfold throughout Death of X do little to warrant such an idea. There's no overt atrocity here. Cyclops doesn't suddenly become Thanos, Victor Von Doom, or whoever canceled the last X-men cartoon. He does what he and the X-men always do and tries to protect innocent mutants.

Now this does draw the ire of the Inhuman royal family for reasons that are understandable, albeit petty. However, it's worth emphasizing here that what Cyclops does, be it overt or indirect, can't qualify as an atrocity. He doesn't kill anyone. He doesn't destroy anything. He doesn't even make a joke about Medusa's hair. There really is nothing here that warrants the hatred and disdain that is so prominent in the current X-men comics.

If there are any unforeseen consequences to Cyclops' actions, they aren't revealed. They aren't even hinted at. What Cyclops does simply prevents a cloud of Terrigen Mist from descending upon a populated area and killing every innocent mutant in its path. No human or Inhuman dies as a result. In fact, only one other person dies and that person dies willingly in a heroic sacrifice that the Inhuman royal family tried to prevent.

In terms of a balanced, albeit rigged, conflict, the entertainment value really suffers here. Death of X does little to create even the illusion of balance between mutants and Inhumans. If anything, it only shows that the Inhuman royal family is disturbingly comfortable letting an entire minority suffer horribly so their race can propagate. While Cyclops did make clear to them that he was just as comfortable letting the Inhumans stagnate, there's little effort to have a passionate, balanced discussion.

In terms of the bigger picture surrounding the X-men/Inhuman conflict, Death of X #4 has too many blanks to fill and not nearly enough ink to make a concerted effort. It does what it can, but not much else. There is a sense of rhythm and flow to the narrative. It never becomes too chaotic and it avoids completely denigrating certain characters, although there will likely be a certain segment of fans that will passionately disagree on message boards. There is a sense that this story is part of a much larger narrative that has yet to unfold.

Death of X #4 doesn't read like the end of an event so it's not going to check every box before the final page. While it manages to be coherent and revealing in some respects, it still comes off as woefully incomplete. If it were a school project, it couldn't be adequately graded because it doesn't present a finished product. This may be okay for a movie trailer, but for a complete story that kills off one of the most iconic X-men in history, it's not even close to being enough.

Final Score: 4 out of 10

Friday, November 25, 2016

The New Red Queen Chapter 4: Jackpots and Dreams is LIVE!

There was once a time when I really rooted for Peter Parker. That has always been part of his appeal. He was crafted as one of those guys you just want to see succeed. He’s always an underdog, getting screwed over at every turn, but still finding a way to fight through. I certainly embraced that appeal. I certainly rooted for him for many years in the comics, cartoons, and movies.

In many respects, this helped make his relationship with Mary Jane Watson so meaningful. After all his struggles and shitty luck, he manages to fall in love with a sexy, charismatic supermodel. It isn’t just that he deserves her. He fucking earned this woman’s love and she fights tooth and nail to cherish it. That’s what made their relationship so strong and endearing. That’s why it ranked as one of my favorite comic book romances for many years.

Sadly, we all know how this iconic relationship ended. We also know how Spider-Man’s story played out after. I could spend a dozen or so blog posts ranting about all the reasons why Peter Parker is total fucking asshat now, but I’ll save that for another time. The point is that it’s just too damn hard to root for Peter Parker. The man now just feels like a glorified man-child who screws himself over so the universe doesn’t have to. That’s not someone you root for. That’s someone you pity.

I still haven’t forgotten about that version of Peter Parker that I so eagerly rooted for. With the recent release of Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, I’ve gotten a powerful reminder of just how lovable someone like Peter can be. As such, I’m doing my best to capture that lovability in The New Red Queen, all while making Mary Jane Watson sexy as hell. Then again, it’s not like you need to try too hard to make Mary Jane that sexy.

This story continues to exceed my expectation in terms of feedback. I’m still amazed at just how many people enjoy reading about an overtly sexy Mary Jane, but then again maybe I shouldn’t. The past few chapters have given Mary Jane some opportunities to flaunt her sex appeal, as only she can. The final chapters will give Peter Parker a chance to participate. Also, expect Emma Frost to contribute as well. That’s a lot of sex appeal in one story, but there can never be too much in a story with Mary Jane Watson. This next chapter should make that abundantly clear.

This latest sexy side-project of mine is almost complete. Again, I’m really amazed and honored that it’s gotten such a great response. I really do appreciate it. I’m certainly open to crafting another spin-off, but I want to first make sure that this story ends in as awesome and sexy a way possible. As always, please take the time to write me or comment. I’m certainly happy to chat, especially about the sexiness of Mary Jane Watson and Emma Frost. Nuff said!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Death of X #4: Nuff Said!

Well, it's here. The (unofficial) final review of nuff said. I've been looking at it the same way a cow looks at an oncoming train. I know it's coming. I know it's close. I'm just too bloated with hormones, illegal chemicals, and fatty foods to give enough shits. I want to say it's fitting that a series called Death of X is the final review for nuff said. However, with a title like Death of X, it's only fitting in the same way that a colonoscopy is a fitting way to end taco eating contest.

This is it. This is where we find out what the fuck Cyclops did that made him more hated than Chuck Austin, Brett Ratner, and the assholes that canceled Wolverine and the X-men after just one season. We know he's trying to stop the big green fart cloud that the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners refuse to do jack shit about. We know he's trying to save his species from extinction and sterilization yet again after having already gone through that shit before. At this point, who can blame him for losing his fucking mind and going evil?

It's still a big fucking blank to fill into just one issue. Death of X #4 has a fuckton of questions to answer if the events of Extraordinary X-men, Uncanny X-men, and All-New X-men are to make half a piece of dog shit worth of sense. I'm skeptical that it can do this in a way that won't piss off X-men fans, Cyclops fans, and fans of anything that actually makes sense. This being my last review for nuff said, I'll either have to be extra drunk or extra sober to get through it.

I get the feeling that Storm could use a few shots of bourbon on her end because she now has to contend with a determined and pissed off Magneto. She, and everyone else in the entire fucking Marvel universe, should know by now that he's not a fan of genocide by toxic gas. That shit is kind of a sensitive issue for him. Even those on the alt-right wouldn't push his buttons when there's a big green mutant-killing cloud on the loose.

He effectively ends the little spat between the X-men and the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners in Madrid. He doesn't kill or maim anyone, which for Magneto requires a level of self-restraint that would allow a guy like me to walk through a whiskey distillery and come out sober. Crystal and her genocide-enabling people better fucking count their blessings. The fact they have intact assholes in this situation should make them want to go out and buy an extra lotto ticket.

With Crystal's crew of Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners neutralized, Cyclops and his team go to work stopping the big green cloud of death that's going to maim countless innocent mutants. Yet somehow, he's going to become the monster? No, it still doesn't make sense and spoiler alert, it's not going to no matter how much weed you smoke. If you have some though, fill your bong because you're going to need it.

Cyclops' plan doesn't involve genocide, bloodshed, or anything that may make Wolverine horny. It involves using Alchemy, the nerdy D-list mutant he recruited in the last issue, to turn the big green fart cloud into something that won't horribly maim innocent mutants. For some reason, the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners don't like the idea of their big green fart cloud NOT killing innocent mutants so they shoot him right out of the sky before he can read the cloud. Yes, a team of super-powered racist, xenophobic, slave-owners is pro-genocide and Marvel wants to give them a fucking TV show. Even the most bigoted neo-Nazi skin-head would be paralyzed by the WTF on display here.

However, an attack by a group of racist, xenophobic slave-owners who are okay with the idea of gassing an entire minority to death has never stopped the X-men before. Cyclops manages to find Alchemy, who now has a broken arm and no whiskey to dull the pain. He then gives him the kind of pep talk that would make high school football coaches envious, which helps Alchemy's balls grow ten times bigger so he can get another shot at giving a big middle finger to the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners. If I were a woman, I'd have jumped Alchemy's bone on the spot.

The Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners are decidedly less horny. They somehow think in their racist, xenophobic, slave-owning minds that they've won. They've saved their big green fart cloud of mutant-killing death. They're fucking wrong. With Sunfire's help, Alchemy gets another shot. I assume he gave them all the finger somewhere along the way.

With help from Magik and the Stepford Cuckoos, the royal family of Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners remains distracted. They can't take Alchemy down this time. Instead, he makes it into the big green fart cloud and uses his powers to turn it into a big red fart cloud, but it's a cloud that doesn't kill or maim anyone. To the rest of the non-racist, xenophobic, slave-owning population of the planet, that's a good thing. To the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners, it may as well be one big kick in the dick. Now I'd definitely jump Alchemy's bone, even if I'm not a woman.

Unfortunately, Alchemy isn't very bonable after this stunt. After turning the big green fart cloud into a harmless red fart cloud, he returns just in time to find out he's now dying of M-pox. That means he sacrificed himself to stop a big cloud of mutant-killing death. That's objectively awesome on every level. Again, this a D-list X-men character who hasn't been relevant since the Regan administration and he just gave the finger to the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners.

This issue is to Alchemy what the Dark Phoenix Saga is to Jean Grey. He sacrifices himself to save countless innocents. Alchemy, you are a true hero. May the next life be filled with endless pools of whiskey and endless hordes of naked Emma Frost clones. You've earned it.

It's a true hero's end for Alchemy. For Cyclops, however, it's not so noble, but it's every bit as heroic. He calls out the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners and the royal family responds. They're still shocked and appalled that someone would stop their big green fart cloud from maiming innocent mutants. I guess genocide and the suffering of minorities is important to the culture of the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners. Even the most ardent Bernie Sanders supporter would call bullshit on this and so does Cyclops.

The Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners do and say nothing to justify their bullshit. They still act all appalled and offended that someone would dare to stop their big green fart cloud from killing innocent mutants. Cyclops boldly confronts them, flexes his nuts, presumably makes the red-headed Medusa extremely horny, and tells the royal family to fuck off. He makes clear that he's going to keep fighting these big green fart clouds of mutant-killing mayhem and if they don't like it, then they and their shitty movie rights can just go fuck themselves.

Naturally, the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners' first instinct is to just kill him. Yes, that's how Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners solve problems. They kill those who want to stop an ongoing genocide. Hell, even racist skin-heads have the decency to just beat the shit out of minorities and say shitty things on message boards. For the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners, they don't even try to see things from Cyclops' side. They just let Black Bolt kill Cyclops so their big green fart clouds can continue maiming mutants.

Cyclops doesn't do anything to fight back. He just lets it happen. He doesn't really need to do anything. He claims that he's not just a leader now. He's an idea. He's an idea that inspires mutants and makes beautiful telepathic women horny. That idea can't die, no matter how much Black Bolt whines about it. It's one last epic middle finger that should make all the telpepaths, blondes, and redheads both proud and horny. It may be a somewhat inglorious way for Cyclops to die, but he dies giving the finger to Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners. That means he dies with a hell of a boner.

A week later, the shit storm is settled. The big green mutant-killing fart clouds are still out there and the X-men bury their leader. There's a small ceremony on Muir Island. They even have the decency to give Cyclops a gravestone. Nobody spits on that gravestone though. Nobody shows any of the vehement Cyclops hatred we've seen in the post-Secret Wars X-men comics. It's almost like Cyclops didn't do anything that shitty. He just tried to destroy a mutant-killing gas cloud. So how the fuck is he now the most hated mutant that didn't appear in the Wolverine Origins movie?

That's not just a drunken remark. That's an honest fucking question and it's a question that doesn't get answered. That's a big fucking deal too because that means all this Cyclops-hatred that fueled so many shit storms still makes no fucking sense. It also means that everybody just agreed to let the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners keep their mutant-killing gas cloud. They're all suddenly okay with mutant genocide and yet Cyclops is the asshole? Seriously, what the everloving fuck?

Still confused? Well sit back and tuck your nuts in people because it's about to get even more fucked up. Remember all the nut-flexing and bravado that Cyclops had been demonstrating for the past few issues? Well, it turns out that Cyclops isn't the one doing the flexing. In fact, he was never even in a position to. Instead, that shit was all an illusion. I'm not talking about a David Blain/David Copperfield type of illusion that makes people pay several hundred bucks for a glorified stage show. I'm talking about a real actual mass delusion the likes of which would give British tabloids multiple orgasms.

Emma Frost, right after Cyclops' funeral no less, meets up with Havok, who was apparently too busy to participate in stopping mutant genocide. She reveals that Cyclops did pretty much none of the shit that has transpired in this series. He actually died in the first issue the second he entered Muir Island. There was no epic sacrifice. There was no final message from Jean Grey. He just took a whiff of the big Inhuman fart cloud and died. That's it. It's as inglorious and unfitting as it sounds.

Naturally, Emma Frost had a big fucking problem with this. She let this man see her naked without paying, damn it. He deserves better than that. So with the help of the Stepford Cuckoos, she projected a psychic image of Cyclops and that image is the one that did all the crazy shit that everyone in the world hates him for, even though there's no fucking reason given for that hatred. Even if there was, it still wouldn't be warranted because Cyclops still didn't do anything. He just went to Muir Island looking to help mutants and died, all because the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners didn't know their big fucking fart cloud maimed innocent mutants.

It's a big fucking blow to Emma Frost. Even though they broke up, she still makes clear that she cares about Cyclops more than she does most men who see her naked. The idea that an ex-lover of her's dies and it has nothing to do with her being pissed off and vindictive really fucks with her. She knows better than most that Cyclops is the only X-man with the balls to lead mutants against pro-genocide racist xenophobic slave-owners. Hell, she's probably licked them so she knows their power. Now, he's dead and she has to have the biggest balls in the X-men from now on. I guess she accepts that challenge.

It still makes for an unsatisfying, callous end for Cyclops. He doesn't die fighting to save his people. He dies because of some big green fart cloud. It's the kind of end that seriously fucks with Emma Frost's head because now she's intent on carrying on this idea she's created. She makes clear that without Cyclops, someone needs to have the balls to take on the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners and their big green fart cloud. It might as well be her. She knows how to bust balls. Now, she gets to flex them. In that sense, the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners are truly fucked in the long run. It's one thing to kill Cyclops and protect mutant-killing fart clouds. It's quite another to piss off Emma Frost.

So...is it awesome?

Short answer? Not really. Shorter answer. Not fucking close. Is it terrible? Well, that actually requires a longer answer because I can't just spit out my whiskey and say fuck yes. Even at my most drunk, that wouldn't recognize the full context of the story here. I can't say Death of X #4 is fucking awful because it isn't. It doesn't horribly butcher Cyclops' character like it promised. Hell, it makes him a victim of shitty luck, which is kind of appropriate for the guy who was lucky enough to see Emma Frost and Jean Grey naked in his lifetime.

Even if Cyclops doesn't go down in history as the worst thing to happen to the X-men since Chuck Austin and Brett Ratner, Death of X #4 is still an incomplete issue at best. It does set the stage for a future clash between the X-men and the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners. It even raises the personal stakes of that clash. It just doesn't fill in enough blanks in a satisfying way. Like a porn star using a dildo that's too small and doesn't vibrate, it just doesn't get the job done.

It doesn't shit all over the job and light it on fire either. These days, that's the best the X-men can hope for. Death of X #4's biggest shortcoming is that it doesn't give a damn good reason for why Cyclops is so hated. He didn't kill anybody. He did cause panic, but he didn't kill anyone. Hell, he wasn't even in a position to kill anyone. None of his fellow X-men came out and spit on his grave. Nobody was so disgusted by what he did that they wanted to vomit violently into the nearest trash can. All he did was turn a big green fart cloud into this creepy red mist. The worst he did was make it too easy to film a shitty horror movie.

Death of X #4 isn't going to traumatize X-men fans, but it's not going to get anyone's heart racing like the death of Jean Grey, the death of Charles Xavier, or the realization that X3 is officially retconned now. It is going to confuse the fuck out of many of them. It's also going to annoy the fuck out of Emma Frost fans and make the Cyclops-hating shit show that emerged after Secret Wars all the more confusing. Then again, if that's the worst that X-men fans have to endure these days, then that in and of itself is a win.

Final Score: 4 out of 10

PS: I really wish I could make my last profanity-laced, drunken rant of a review more uplifting. At the very least, it's not overly depressing, but I still feel like this is a good way to cap this off. I've enjoyed writing these reviews and I hope you've all enjoyed reading them, hopefully while both drunk and sober. Thanks again to everybody who supported my drunken ramblings. From the bottom of my failing heart, I thank you. Nuff said!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Challenging Complexities Within Pure, Unambiguous Evil: Now Thanos #1

The following is my review of Now Thanos #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.

In the days of Saturday morning cartoons full of superheroes who tell kids to eat their vegetables, it wasn't necessary for villains to be that complex. Kids don't need character complexities on the level of Joss Whedon movie. They just need to know who the heroes get to beat up and which toys they need to beg their parents to buy for them.

Flash forward to an era in which Lex Luthor can join the Justice League and Dr. Doom can become the new Iron Man. The general trend in villains is to move away from the unapologetic, mustache-twirling evil that that leaves no room for complexity. It's no longer enough to just establish that a character is evil and needs to be punched by Captain America. That character needs depth and purpose to give context to their evil. It can make for a richer narrative, but it can also make for daunting challenges.

So if Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom can gain greater depth as characters, why not Thanos? Well, that's a loaded question because in terms of pure, unfettered evil, Thanos is the gold standard of the Marvel Universe. His history and backstory leaves very little room for depth. He bad to the bone and then some. He seeks to spread death and destruction for reasons that leave little room for complexity. There's a good reason why he's called "The Mad Titan." He's mad to a point where the traditional rules of logic and character development just don't apply.

Despite this challenge, Jeff Lemire attempts to add some complexity to Thanos' narrative in Now Thanos #1. He shows that while the challenge is not insurmountable, it does make for limited results. There is some intrigue here, albeit the kind that takes a while to develop. Those familiar with Thanos' mad, merciless history aren't going to be too surprised by the events of this issue. He shows up, he fights, he murders, and he does it the kind of cruelty that even Dr. Doom would find callous. While this is perfectly in character for Thanos, it leaves little room for complexity.

For the most part, Lemire tries to keep things fairly simple. This story doesn't try too hard to tie into the events of Civil War II, Infinity, or any other previous or ongoing event. Instead, it tries to carve a whole new narrative that takes Thanos down both familiar and unfamiliar paths. Some of those paths promise more cruel and callous murder sprees, which is basically just another typical Tuesday for Thanos. Others offer something a bit more novel.

Both those paths are structured around the return of the Black Order and Thane, Thanos' son. These are elements of Thanos' narrative that got pushed to the wayside. In some respects, that's an accomplishment. Most of the elements surrounding Thanos are either dying or already dead. It's just one of the many challenges in crafting a story around Thanos, but it's a challenge that adds substance to the story.

That story doesn't offer much in terms of complexity. Thanos returns to the Black Order, eager to murder a former associate named Corvus Glaive, who dares to lead others with more fairness and less cruelty. Thanos just can't have that. He deals with Corvus the same way he deals with Drax the Destroyer, the Avengers, or anyone else who has the audacity to continue living in his presence. Once again, his callous cruelty is on full display here. Anyone hoping to see anything less from Thanos will be disappointed, but hardly surprised.

It may not be a very compelling story in terms of depth, but it does set up an important reveal at the end that promises to shake up Thanos' callous, cruel, death-loving narrative. That reveal comes a little too late to make the earlier events more interesting, but it does create a new potential for Thanos that hasn't been present in his story for quite some time.

This also creates opportunities for characters like Thane and Starfox to be more than just another couple of characters that Thanos desperately wants to kill. While they don't contribute much in terms of stopping Thanos' latest murder spree, they do help set up some new conflicts. They're both somewhat undeveloped in terms of their role in this series, but their history with Thanos ensures they give some much-needed weight to the story.

That history is pretty much the only thing Thane and Starfox have going for them in the context of this story. They carry themselves with the same charisma as Corvus, which is to say they're somewhat forgettable. They don't say anything too memorable. They don't do anything that's too defining. Their only role is to reveal something important about Thanos. That may be an important component to the story, but only to the extent that they're glorified messengers.

While Now Thanos #1 succeeds in creating renewed intrigue around Thanos, it's still an intrigue that takes a while to develop. Other than Thanos himself, there aren't many other well-developed characters that add the complexity that Thanos' narrative needs. More than anything else, Jeff Lemire follows the formula for a Thanos story. It's full of death, destruction, and murder. Those elements are to Thanos what Captain America's shield is to Steve Rogers. They help define Thanos on a fundamental level.

Lemire gets all the fundamentals right in Now Thanos #1. He also succeeds in creating novelty and nuance, but only to the extent that he sets it up. There's not much else to give Thanos or his supporting cast the added complexity that his narrative sorely lacks. Thanos is still a long, long way from being on the same level as Victor Von Doom, Lex Luthor, or even Walter White. At the very least, this is a good first step and even for a mad titan, that's the most important step he can take.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

X-men Supreme Issue #144: Proactive Regression Part 2 is LIVE!

There’s plenty to hate and fear in the real world right now. I understand that. With the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, I try to maintain some level of perspective. The main appeal of the X-men as a concept is their ongoing struggle to live and prosper alongside humans. They stand on the front lines of this struggle. Sometimes that struggle is on the brink of becoming a full-blown war. It’s come way too close at times throughout X-men Supreme, especially during ordeals like the Overlord arc and the more recent Natural Disorder arc. The X-men always have a challenge before them, but their greatest strength is rising to that challenge.

X-men Supreme is nearing the end of another volume. Usually when I do that, I make sure this fanfiction series undergoes a significant change or upheaval. Sometimes that change is positive. We saw X-men Volume 3: Ashes of Hope end with the election of Robert Kelly, who managed to temper his anti-mutant stance. Sometimes that change is much less uplifting. The end of X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths saw the devastation wrought by the Legacy Virus, which included the death of the X-men’s fellow member, Thunderbird. With the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation, I will usher in another upheaval. I can’t say whether it will be dire or uplifting, but it will shake the foundations of this fanfiction series.

The beginnings of those rumblings are already underway in the Proactive Regression arc. This arc brings the Mutant Liberation Front back into the struggle. They suffered a devastating loss after the Natural Disorder arc when the X-men defeated Toad. Stryfe, who has been pursuing his own agenda since the Inauguration Day arc, intends to succeed where he failed. He’s already assembled what’s left of the team. He even made some powerful allies with White Cell, the mysterious organization that Thunderbird once worked for. Together, they’re preparing to strike at a time when the world is on the brink once more.

The X-men are once again on the front lines. They inadvertently set this chaos into motion when they left the planet for six weeks during the Outer Limits arc. That left a lot of anger, confusion, and destruction in their wake. It may have been inadvertent, but it has led the likes of Havok, the Scarlet Witch, General Grimshaw, and President Kelly to prepare for the worst. Everybody is on edge. Everybody is preparing for war. Stryfe and the Mutant Liberation Front are prepared to deliver just that.

As the Proactive Regression arc heats up, the seeds for the next upheaval will be planted. The X-men saved the universe from D’ken. Charles Xavier regained his health and his ability to walk. Even former members like Angel are getting involved again. However, this new strength is about to be tested in a major way. The challenge before them will affect the X-men in a profound way. It’ll also affect allies like General Grimshaw, the Scarlet Witch, and many others. What will this mean for the future of X-men Supreme? The impact will start taking shape with this issue.

X-men Supreme Issue 144: Proactive Regression Part 2

There are many big changes brewing for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Some of these changes may worry, upset, or divide some readers. I understand that. I also understand that the recent X-men comics have done that to a much greater degree. I don’t intend to make X-men Supreme quite that divisive, but I do intend to get people talking with the conclusion of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. Even if you are upset or angered by the events that come, I still want to hear from you. I still want to get as much feedback as possible from X-men fans of all types. So please take the time to send your comments to me directly by contacting me or post your feedback directly in the issue. Either way is fine. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!


Monday, November 14, 2016

The Wonder of What Wonder Woman Embodies: Wonder Woman #10

The following is my review of Wonder Woman #10, which was posted on PopMatters.com.

There are some origin stories that don't need to be retold again. The story of how Bruce Wayne lost his parents or how Clark Kent lost his home planet are so overplayed that there's really not much new to add to the narrative. We, the audience, get the message. We know why Bruce Wayne is Batman. We know why Clark Kent is Superman.

With Wonder Woman, however, the situation is different. Despite being the third pillar of DC's mighty trinity, her origin story is one of the few that DC Comics doesn't overly belabor. The setup is already established. Wonder Woman's basic history of growing up on an island of immortal women and rubbing elbows with Greek gods is easy to grasp. Anyone with access to Wikipedia can glean those details.

What Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott are doing with Wonder Woman in DC Rebirth takes it a step further. Conflicts in the present are used to explore elements of Wonder Woman's past. One issue covers the past. One covers the present. It sounds disorganized on paper, but in the grand scheme of things, it fits together into a fairly cohesive narrative.

It's not a re-imagining. It's not a reboot or a retcon either. In many respects, it's an overdue dose of depth. Despite 75 years of history, the Wonder Woman mythos is sufficiently vague to permit a certain level of refinement. Wonder Woman #10 takes advantage of that opportunity and adds a level of refinement that brings out the best in Wonder Woman.

There are no vindictive gods, shape-shifting monsters, or invading aliens in this narrative. In fact, Wonder Woman does surprisingly little fighting in this issue, but given how she seems to fight a new god, alien, or monster every other day, it's a refreshing and overdue change of pace. Instead, the story gives us a glimpse into Wonder Woman's past, focusing on her early exploration of man's world in its simplest form, namely by taking a trip to a local strip mall.

Granted, this a strip mall in America is hardly the most comprehensive insight into man's world, but it's fitting in that it doesn't make a terrible impression. Sure, there's excessive noise, rampant consumerism, and gaudy advertising displays, but there's nothing so horrifying that it would inspire an island of warrior women to purge the world of testosterone. Steve Trevor and Eta Candy even introduce her to margaritas. That's as good an impression man's world could make without something deep fried and dipped in chocolate.

This helps create a uniquely balanced tone for Wonder Woman #10. Rucka doesn't attempt to make Wonder Woman's impression of man's world too extreme. There's no emphasis on violence, rampant gender inequalities, and oppressive patriarchy. The world in which Wonder Woman explores never comes off as a beer commercial or a bad sitcom from the late 1950s. It actually makes the case that man's world is worth exploring and protecting.

It fits nicely with the overall tone of DC Rebirth in that the narrative isn't overly focused on dark and dire themes. There's still room for hope, understanding, and justice. Those are all among the highest qualities that Wonder Woman embodies. She's not just this tough warrior woman in a tiara who fights aliens and renegade gods alongside Superman and Batman. She stands for her own set of values, embodies them to the utmost, and looks great while doing it.

She eagerly interacts with total strangers, embracing them regardless of their age, gender, or ethnicity. She's not at all put off by the sight of men interacting with women, children making unfiltered comments about her attire, or the woefully impractical shoes that some women wear. Wonder Woman has any number of opportunities to be offended or appalled, but doing so would require her to be overly petty.

Such pettiness is the antithesis of what Wonder Woman values. She loves and embraces everybody. She's willing to give others a chance and she's not going to be politically correct about it. These are all powerful values that Wonder Woman has always embodied to some degree, but there have been too few stories that explore how she shaped these values upon coming to man's world. It's still a story not nearly as familiar as Kryton exploding, but it's a story worth exploring.

Wonder Woman is less a warrior and more an ambassador in this issue, but that's not to say the hard-nosed warrior in her is completely muted in Wonder Woman #10. She does get a chance to fight. She does get a chance to protect the innocent. Granted, it's not against rampaging titan or an agent of Darkseid, but she still gets to be the wonderful hero she is at heart. It's not exactly an epic battle in which the outcome is in question. This is Wonder Woman fighting in a crowded strip mall after drinking a margarita. It can only be so epic in that context.

Despite the limited scale of the fighting, there's still some meaning and depth to the conflict. This isn't just some random attack meant to fill Wonder Woman's hard-nose warrior quota. It's an attack that has ties, albeit vaguely, to the events taking place in the present. In terms of tying Wonder Woman #10 into the larger narrative that has been unfolding since the DC Rebirth relaunch, this issue does succeed, albeit barely.

The ties to a larger narrative may be limited, but Wonder Woman #10 still succeeds in its most important task. It highlights a period in Wonder Woman's story that is poorly developed and in need of greater depth. This issue gives us that without belaboring the parts we already know.

Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott are crafting a large, ambitious story that jumps around multiple time periods, puts a modern spin on a classic superhero mythos, and highlights the core values of an iconic character. It still feels like something that's too convoluted on paper, but they somehow find a way to make it work. That is a wonder, in and of itself.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, November 11, 2016

X-men Supreme Issue 144: Proactive Regression Part 2 PREVIEW!

The X-men are often at their best when the situation is the absolute worst. They’ve had plenty of those situations throughout the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. They’ve had to confront Magneto when he’s prepared to bring about the literal end of the world. They’ve had to confront the Shi’ar emperor D’ken when he’s prepared to warp the minds of an entire universe. They’ve had to confront Sinister when he’s unleashed a world-ending plague like the Legacy Virus. So just how bad is the situation going to get this time?

Well, the X-men have a lot of factors working against them. I began X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation by setting up the Mutant Liberation Front. In the history of the X-men comics, they’ve presented a unique challenge for humans and mutants. In X-men Supreme, I made it a point to give them my own unique spin on things. These are not the same liberators we’ve seen in X-men comics. They have a different vision for fighting the X-men and the human race.

Toad’s approach was unique when he was leading the Mutant Liberation Front. He didn’t seek to end the world like Magneto in Overlord or purge it like Sinister tried to do in Dark Legacy. His fight was more strategic. He demonstrated this in X-men Supreme Issue 127: Terror Sell when his Mutant Liberation Front didn’t just defeat the X-men. They delivered a crippling blow to humanity’s infrastructure. It wasn’t just meant to inspire terror. Toad made it a point to minimize human casualties. He believed that when the natural order was allowed to manifest, mutants would naturally dominate.

He never got a chance to fully test his theory. His Mutant Liberation Front was defeated at the conclusion of the Natural Disorder arc. Both the X-men and their allies, such as Captain Freeman and General Grimshaw, were able to subdue them and send most of them to prison. However, not everyone in the Mutant Liberation Front was captured. Some escaped.

Now, X-men Supreme is about to get a round against the Mutant Liberation Front. This time, it isn’t Toad leading the charge. It’s Stryfe, who proved himself far less strategic in his approach during the Inauguration Day arc. He and his remaining teammates already have their backs against the wall. They’re wanted fugitives and the X-men are already helping President Kelly hunt them down. So how are they going to finish what Toad couldn’t? Well, that’s exactly what the Proactive Regression arc is going to show.

Make no mistake. Desperation breeds a special kind of ruthlessness, especially among characters like Sryfe. The X-men Supreme fanfiction series doesn’t just put the X-men in difficult situations. Even their enemies end up in those situations. President Kelly and General Grimshaw don’t want to avoid more terror attacks. Havok, the Scarlet Witch, and the rest of Genosha don’t want it either. So how are the X-men going to stop Stryfe before it’s too late? Well, it may already be too late, as you’ll see in the coming issues. As always, I’ve prepared a preview that should hint at just how dire the situation will be for the X-men.

The tension was escalating. Piotr had to hold his girlfriend back while Wanda had to stop Pietro from overreacting. This was a critical moment for both sides. They couldn’t let it devolve into a fist fight. Not yet anyways.

“We let them blockade us because that’s what we planned,” said Alex, “Contrary to what you may believe, we do think ahead. That’s why I’ve had Quentin place psychic blocks on our minds. You don’t have our trust so we’re not giving you any leverage.”

“Will you at least give us a chance to earn back your trust?” asked Xavier, “That’s why we’re here. We want to give you the explanation you seek. We also want to work out a better solution to this issue. I believe your current plan isn’t taking a few key factors into account.”

“Are you talking about those assholes from the Mutant Liberation Front?” scoffed Blob.

“Believe me, we’re ready to deal with them as well,” said Wanda strongly, “Now that Lance is with them, we have all the more reason to take them down!”

“Don’t presume you know everything,” warned Xavier, “There may be other forces involved that you don’t understand. As we speak, the rest of my X-men are looking into this.”

“And we’ll deal with them as well,” said Alex, “All while sending a message to every human on this planet.”

“You’re taking a big risk just to send a message,” said Scott, “Is that really your only goal?”

“Our goals aren’t much different from yours,” retorted Wanda, “We want what’s best for our people. We’ve tried to be a peaceful nation of mutants, but we’re still constantly victimized. The only way we can secure our future is by making a major change.”

“Then let us help you make that change while avoiding a potential catastrophe,” said Xavier, maintaining a reasonable tone, “You’re making a lot of enemies with your actions. You’ll still need allies to succeed in the utmost.”

Alex studied Xavier’s calm demeanor, ignoring Scott’s harsh gazes in the process. He didn’t allow the X-men here just to clash with them. They were going to get involved at some point. It might as well be under their terms. Suspicions aside, Charles Xavier was a reasonable man. He still had credibility outside Genosha. He might need that for what they had planned.

“You know, I’m actually glad you’re back in action, Professor Xavier. You’re a lot easier to work with than irate family members,” said Alex.

“I’m standing right here, Alex. You do know that, don’t you?” said Scott in an annoyed tone.

“If you’re going to keep being a dick, I’m going to keep ignoring you, Scott,” said Alex, not even looking in his brother’s direction.

Scott was tempted to lash out. He held himself back. Alex was really pushing him. Jean moved closer to keep him calm. Even with her presence, there was only so much of Alex’s arrogance that he could take.

“So you’ll give us a chance?” asked the Professor, ignoring Scott’s simmering demeanor.

“Yes, but with a few major conditions,” said Alex.

“How major?” questioned Jean.

Alex turned to Pyro, who was holding a black bag. With an ominous grin, he reached inside and pulled out a collection of black collar-like devices. Professor Xavier and the X-men quickly recognized them. They were the power-inhibiting collars that had been used by Weapon X. How the Brotherhood got their hands on them was a mystery they didn’t begin to contemplate. Before anyone could ask questions, Alex hit them with a new surprise.

“Put these on,” said Alex, “They’re exactly what you think they are.”

“Wait! You want us to willingly de-power ourselves while we’re on you’re home turf?” exclaimed Bobby.

“You must think we’re fools,” said Piotr sternly.

“We know you’re not fools. We also know you’re not trustworthy. I have the bruise on my head to prove it,” said Wanda.

“The way I see it, we need a little extra leverage,” said Pietro wryly, “The last time you showed up, we got screwed over big time. In order to protect ourselves and ensure you won’t do it again, you need to play by our rules.”

“Even if those rules are unfair?” questioned Jean.

“Especially if they’re unfair,” said Alex, “You’ll just have to trust us as we once trusted you.”

The Brotherhood was playing a dangerous game. They were daring the X-men to make themselves vulnerable. Any hope of making these negotiations meaningful hinged on their willingness to trust one another. Professor Xavier sensed utter revulsion from his X-men. They were against this on every level. Someone was going to have to make the difficult decision. It might as well be him.

“Give me the collars,” said Professor Xavier.

“What?!” exclaimed Kitty, “This better be part of some ingenious plan, Professor!”

“The plan hasn’t changed,” he said as he took the collars from Pyro, “Alex is right. We must make a gesture of good faith.”

“But sir…” began Scott.

“This is not up for debate, X-men. We’re on Genosha. We’ll abide by their rules.”

To show he was serious, Professor Xavier put his collar on first. The moment he snapped it into place, a red light on the front came on to indicate that it was active. The move somewhat surprised the Brotherhood, but the X-men were more shocked. The Professor was really serious about this.

“This is a mistake,” said Jean.

“If Logan were here, he would be so outraged he would swim back to Westchester if he had to,” added Bobby.

“If that’s what you want, we ain’t stopping you,” laughed Blob, “But you heard your boss. Put ‘em on!”

“Otherwise, I’ll hex you back to your institute and I promise it’ll be much worse than swimming,” added Wanda.

Scott, Jean, Bobby, Kitty, and Piotr were still hesitant. They kept scolding Alex, Wanda, and the rest of the Brotherhood. The air grew tense. The moment was ripe for a major fight. Xavier kept urging them with an authoritative glare. As much as they hated the idea, they followed their mentor’s orders.

One-by-one, the X-men put the collars on. As soon as they were active, they could feel their powers subside. The ice shell surrounding Bobby quickly faded and Piotr’s metal skin reverted to regular flesh, leaving them vulnerable. Kitty and Jean did it quickly before they could have second thoughts. Scott was the last. He just held the collar for a moment, staring at Alex and then back at the Professor.

“This is a mistake,” he told his mentor.

“If so, then it is mine to make,” said the Professor, “We can’t turn back now, Scott. We need to make this work.”

This is the part of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation where the stage is set for a big upheaval. Whenever I end a volume of X-men Supreme, I try to lay the foundation for a new phase in this fanfiction series, one I hope will make for a good jumping on point. This fanfiction series has grown so much since it began in 2010. I want it to keep growing and I want it to keep getting more awesome. To do that, I need help from the wonderful readers who help make X-men Supreme possible. As always, I urge anyone and everyone to provide feedback on my work, be it positive or negative. So please take the time to contact me with your feedback or post your comments directly in the issue. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!


Monday, November 7, 2016

Worth Within Unworthiness: The Unworthy Thor #1

The following is my review of The Unworthy Thor #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.

Discussions over who is worthy and what constitutes worthiness in the first place is one of those topics that has consumed generations of Avengers fans. Go to any Avengers message board or comic book convention and chances are, there will be some people arguing what it means to be worthy, why Hulk can't lift Thor's hammer, and how someone could get around this rule.

This discussion even found its way into Avengers: Age of Ultron in a very tongue-in-cheek sort of way. It's clear that even Joss Whedon gets caught up in these discussions. He just has the resources and financial backing to turn it into a billion-dollar cinematic spectacle. Jason Aaron doesn't have those kinds of resources, but he did add a twist to the discussion when he made Thor Odinson unworthy to wield Mjolnir after the events of Original Sin.

That twist led to Jane Foster taking up the mantle of Thor. Her story is still one that is evolving in a way that continues the discussion over worthiness down a new path. However, Thor Odinson remains on a very different path and that's the path that The Unworthy Thor #1 explores. It has the feel of a story that's been brewing behind the scenes, but is only now ready to be served. It still feels late, overdue, and a little frustrating.

Despite this, it never feels stale. At a time when Jane Foster is flexing her worthiness like Namor at a beach, that's a remarkable accomplishment. Since becoming unworthy in Original Sin, Odinson carries himself less like a champion of Asgard and more like a whiny teenager who had his cell phone taken away. Aaron makes it a point to abandon that sentiment early, giving us an Odinson that is much more motivated and much less mopey.

The Unworthy Thor #1 puts Odinson right in the middle of brutal battle against the kinds of monsters he used to tear through on a boring Sunday afternoon. It doesn't just hit the ground running in terms of action, giving Oliver Copiel ample opportunity to create appropriately brutal visuals. It establishes that this former God of Thunder is learning the hard way what it means to be unworthy. He can't rely on his hammer or any enchanted weapon to carry him through a battle. He has to take a gut punches and blows to the jaw before he can think about the celebratory mead.

It's not just that he's unworthy of wielding Mjolnir. He's a weaker, more jaded Odinson who doesn't have the same power or ability he once did. He's already lost one of his arms. This means he has to fight that much harder to avoid losing more limbs. It helps bring out a different side of his character, one devoid of the nobility, poise, and bravado that once defined him. He actually resorts to biting his enemies now. That's as unworthy as it gets in battle.

Odinson definitely wields more drive and ambition. He's still not the same Thor that Chris Hemsworth did so much to bring to life in the movies, but we do see traces of that proud warrior throughout the narrative. That narrative isn't just restricted to brutal fighting with occasional biting either. Jason Aaron shifts the sequence of events around to add further context and this context actually goes a long way towards giving weight to the brutality.

Since Jane Foster picked up Mjolnir, the events of Original Sin and Secret Wars have been afterthoughts at best. There's just too much of an imperative to show why Jane Foster is so worthy of wielding the title of Thor. That's entirely understandable. It still leaves Odinson with little to work with.

By revisiting the site where he became unworthy, Aaron sets up an appropriate reunion between him and the new Watcher, who calls himself the Unseen. We still know him as Nick Fury, namely the one David Hasselhoff failed to turn into a viable movie franchise, but that only makes this connection all the more fitting. By having him be the one that gives Odinson a chance at being worthy again, it feels like an overdue continuation of the aftermath of Original Sin. Again, it's a story that feels late and overdue, but it never comes off as stale.

This sentiment helps make The Unworthy Thor #1 feel relevant in that it gives Odinson some badly-needed development that he hasn't gotten since he lost his hammer. It also makes this narrative feel somewhat disconnected and not just because Jane Foster is literally stealing his thunder. It feels like this story took too long to set up. Events like Original Sin and Secret Wars have been over for a while now. Reconnecting with those events at this point feel outdated.

Even if the timing is off, the narrative is still compelling. Jason Aaron still gives us a side of Odinson that is genuine and sincere. This is a character who lost a lot more than his favorite weapon. He lost a title and an identity. Now, he finally has the motivation and opportunity to follow a new path. This path doesn't require those same discussions of worthiness that make for such great fodder in the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie. It's uncharted territory for Odinson, but he's forging ahead and it's hard not to root for him.

Overall, The Unworthy Thor #1 creates a narrative that has the right impact. It gives us a former God of Thunder who has to fight harder and cope with being weaker than he's ever been before. It brings out some of his less noble traits, but he still carries himself like a warrior. He gets a chance to become more worthy and he jumps at that chance, if only to ensure he doesn't have to bite his enemies anymore.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Red Queen Chapter 3: Perks and Proclivities is LIVE!

Whenever I write one of my sexy side-projects, I do so knowing it’s only going to appeal to a certain segment of my audience. I’ve been on the internet long enough to know that no matter how much it advances, there will be an inclination for some to seek out the sexier material it harbors in such great quantities. My sexy side-projects are just tiny contributions that I don’t expect to have much impact. That makes the response to The New Red Queen all the more remarkable.

I said it during the last update. It’s worth saying again. I’ve been downright shocked at the positive response I’ve gotten from this series. I know I shouldn’t be on some levels. Mary Jane Watson is one of those characters who has a special kind of sex appeal. How can she not? She looks like this, remember?

Yes, I know most people know what she looks like. I know the internet has any number of pictures that have her showing off the glorious assets that generations of Spider-Man writers have given her. I just can’t pass up an excuse to post sexy pictures of her. I will not apologize for that.

I also won’t apologize for making this latest entry of The New Red Queen extra sexy. I’ve found that within the unexpected feedback I’ve gotten, there’s a strong demand for Mary Jane Watson to channel her inherent sexy talents. Again, I shouldn’t be surprised by this in the slightest. Even so, it gives me all the more incentive to make this story as awesome as it deserves to be. This next chapter should satisfy some very particular demands that some readers have requested. When you read it, you’ll know who you are. Enjoy!

I don’t know if the response I’ve gotten with this story will continue. I hope it’s still as positive as it has been thus far. I mean it when I say I didn’t expect such a great response. As a result, I am already considering additional expansions of this series, which would put Mary Jane Watson in even more sexy situations. If that’s what people want, who am I to deny them? If there’s something you want to see, let me know! I’m always open for more inspiration, especially the sexy kind.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Death of X #3: Nuff Said!

I'm of the firm belief that anyone is capable of becoming a total asshole. I don't care if you're a pacifist nun who nurses sick animals back to health. Get stuck in traffic for three hours, get overcharged by your cable company, or get the wrong order from Starbucks and your inner asshole is going to emerge. You may not be the kind of asshole that takes a baseball bat to a window, but you'll still show you have it in you.

Cyclops has been an asshole at many stages of his life. Nobody is really shocked by that shit anymore. They haven't been since he got shit for marrying a clone. However, the key to being a true asshole is to take it out on those who don't deserve your assholery. In that sense, it's debatable how much of an asshole Cyclops is in Death of X because he's taking it out on the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners. These are a team of unapologetic assholes who never did shit for anyone until it became too much of an inconvenience, but thanks to movie rights bullshit, they're treated as though their shit doesn't stink.

I say all of this because Marvel is making a concerted effort to turn Cyclops into the ultimate asshole. That shouldn't be too hard because he's been an asshole before, but against the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners, Marvel is really pissing into the wind. They start going for broke in Death of X #3 and let's just say I'm not standing downwind of them in anticipation.

Just as in the last two issues, you can really tell which group has their movie rights with Marvel and which has their rights held hostage by a bunch of crack-addicted Fox lawyers. The Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners decided it's too damn inconvenient to just go to Madrid, work with the X-men in containing the riots that Cyclops helped trigger, and do actual hero work. Instead, they used the powers of their newest recruits to knock every single mutant and human out cold in Madrid. On top of that, they did it with a goddamn smile as though they just brought a sick puppy back to life.

Crystal and her team of fellow Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners stand over a messy, decimated city full of unconscious people and smiles. She and her buddies just shrug this shit off, thinking they just succeeded because they didn't have to unnecessarily inconvenience themselves. This is what passes as heroic for these guys. Never mind that they knocked all these people out without asking and didn't even warn the X-men, who were actually trying to get their hands dirty in saving lives. You know, like actual heroes.

I guess that concept is retarded Latin for them. Instead of actually getting their asses in gear, looking to mitigate the damage they caused by knocking everyone unconscious, they focus more on giving their new recruit a fucking code-name. Seriously, that's a higher priority for the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners in this situation. Even so, we're still supposed to think these asshats are the heroes. I don't think there's enough whiskey or weed to make sense of that.

If nothing else, it continues the same theme that Death of X #1 established. It's basically an unspoken rule that the shit of Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners doesn't stink. In fact, they don't even fart. They cough breath mints and spit imported vodka. Nothing they do is bad, but nothing they do is all that heroic either. Never-the-less, the X-men are supposed to work with them to fix this problem. I may be a drunk, but even I know when some relationships are just doomed to fail.

Storm and her team of X-men can keep trusting that a team of Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners will go out of their way to help a vulnerable minority. Hell, she can trust that Lindsey Lohan won't fail another drug test. That still does mutants a disservice. Emma Frost understands this. That's why she's trying a different approach. That approach probably doesn't require her to be damn sexy every step of the way, but that's never stopped her before.

She and Cyclops are already hatching a plan and she's even recruiting Magneto to help them. It's not a complicated plan. It just involves Magneto keeping the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners in Madrid so they can do what they need to do. Given Magneto's history with other groups that have a legacy of racism, xenophobia, and genocide, it's safe to say he'll be plenty motivated. Emma doesn't even need to flash him her tits.

Another part of this elaborate plan involves the Stepford Cuckoos recruiting the services of another mutant. This takes them to England, home of Dr. Who, James Bond, and countless James Bond rip-offs. There, they meet up with Thomas Jones, also known as Alchemy. He's a mutant. He's not the kind of mutant who jumps at the chance to wear skin-tight spandex uniforms, but he's in a position to help. He also doesn't need to have to be knocked out or psychically manipulated to help a situation. That alone makes him more likable than every Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners not named Kamala Khan.

As this plan goes into motion, the rest of the X-men in Madrid wake up and realize that there may be some risks to working with Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners who don't like being inconvenienced. Considering they got knocked out in a city that's supposed to be ground zero for a big green mutant-killing fart cloud, that's bound to make some of them anxious. Storm certainly understands that. Having been the one to reach out to the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners, I imagine she's a little pissed, especially when Iceman points out that everybody got knocked out except Crystal and her Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owner buddies.

If we didn't already know how badly this shit would play out for the X-men and the entire mutant race, this scene might have had more impact. Sadly, we do know how it plays out. We do know that the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners come out of this smelling like Jennifer Lawrence's panties while the X-men come out smelling like Johnny Depp's last three movies. It does at least sew the seeds of doubt in the heads of the X-men that maybe the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners aren't going to do shit to help them when their species is going extinct. They may not know this now, but it does set them up to learn the hard way down the line.

After wasting plenty of time fawning over the code name of their newest recruit, Crystal and her fellow Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners finally feel inclined to get their asses in gear and help out all the people they knocked out without permission. Storm and her team of X-men decide to confront them first, if only to point out that what they did was an omega level dick move.

Crystal acts as though it's not a big deal. They knock out a bunch of innocent people and accomplished heroes without permission. She treats it like she just overcharged them for a burrito at Taco Bell. Apparently, Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners don't understand that knocking out innocent people is a bad thing. Does it really take a lecture from Captain America to teach these assholes what constitutes a dick move?

Naturally, things get more tense than one of Tom Cruise's divorce settlements. The Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners, still averse to being inconvenienced in any way, decide the best way to deal with the X-men is to knock them out again. If anyone still has any sympathy for the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners, then I can't help you and neither can my weed dealer. Just stick to watching reruns of Duck Dynasty.

This time, however, the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners don't get to do things the easy way. This comes courtesy of Magik, who drops by and snatches up the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owner who knocked everybody out. This confuses both sides, but at least it makes things more balanced. The Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners probably aren't used to that shit so that's fitting. It says a lot about them that a demon-loving teenage girl is more likable than they are. She makes this conflict feel balanced for once, which can't sit well with the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners. It's the first time where they can't carry themselves like their shit doesn't stink.

The situation gets unbalanced again, but this time in the X-men's favor. Seeing as how they got knocked out against their will when they went out of their way to work with the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners, I'd say this makes them even. However, this imbalance comes courtesy of Magneto so we have to grade this situation on a curve.

He comes packing plenty of Magneto-level heat. He also brings backup like Colossus, Wolfsbane, Rockslide, and Warpath. These are X-men who can do way more than just inconvenience the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners. He makes clear that they're not going to do shit at this point. They just proved that they like to solve problems by knocking people out and treating it as though they just cured a sick baby. He even keeps Storm's team from interfering because they already lost their credibility by thinking they could trust the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners. It's often hard to take Magneto's side when he's got a rage boner, but in this case, I don't even need to be high to sympathize with him.

With the rest of the X-men and the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners restrained, Cyclops and his people put their plan into motion. They arrive outside of Madrid, staring down a massive green fart cloud that's on its way to maim innocent mutants while strengthening Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners. It's the kind of sight that would make a lawyer at Disney squee with joy, but for mutants, it's the kind of pants-shitting terror that hasn't been seen since Brett Ratner.

Before it hits, Cyclops has a word with Alchemy. In doing so, he actually sounds like the Cyclops we know and love from the past several years. He doesn't come off as someone whose about to commit the worst atrocity since Joel Shumacher. He comes off as someone who just wants to save his people. He doesn't even force Alchemy to help them. That alone makes him much more credible than the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners, who jump at the chance to knock innocent people out cold when the situation becomes too hard.

It still feels hallow though. We know how this is going to end. We know Cyclops is still going to become the most hated person in Marvel comics who isn't a secret Hydra agent. At the very least, we're getting one last glimpse into who Cyclops is. He's not out to commit atrocities. He's out to save his people. If that's going to make him a monster, then so be it. He'll still be more likable than any Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owner not named Kamala Khan.

So...is it awesome?

The story is coherent. Things move forward, tensions rise, and nobody is more an asshole than they need to be. Given that the bar is so damn low with the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners, that's probably the best we can hope for these days. At the very least, the rest of the X-men start to recognize that the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners can be assholes who will only ever do what is least inconvenient to them, even if it means knocking people out against their will.

If Death of X #3 accomplishes anything, it lays the foundation for future conflicts, namely Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners vs. X-men. It also provides a greater hint for what sort of horrifically evil shit Cyclops will end up doing that makes him so hated. It's still overly vague, but at the very lease, his motivations are the same as they've always been. He wants to save the mutant race from yet another extinction. After the last one killed Charles Xavier, his reputation, and his relationship with Emma Frost, I'm pretty sure he's extremely motivated to avoid another shit storm like that.

There are still a lot of problems with the setup, characterization, and context of this story. We know how it ends. We know mutants get an omega-level screw job thanks to Cyclops. Death of X has a chance to provide context to it all. For now, all it's doing is showing that the Racist Xenophobic Slave-Owners can be assholes and nobody gives a shit. That, more than anything, sums up the current state of the X-men.

It's like watching a football game where you know the Patriots are cheating, but nobody does shit about it. Even Roger Goodell would see the issues with this setup and you wouldn't have to bribe him. This makes for a hallow story, but at least Death of X #3 tries to be more coherent and balanced than previous issues. It still fails, but it doesn't fail miserably and that's as close to a win as the X-men can get these days.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

Heritage, Identity, and Idols: Ms. Marvel #12

The following is my review of Ms. Marvel #12, which was posted on PopMatters.com.

What happens when our idols fail us? That's a question we have to answer more and more these days when all it takes is an embarrassing tweet to undermine a reputation. Our idols may elevate themselves to levels most ordinary people can only dream of, but at the end of the day, they're still human. Sometimes, that humanity can make reality feel like a gut punch from the Hulk.

Over the course of Civil War II, Kamala Khan endured multiple gut punches from multiple proverbial Hulks. Her best friends push her away. Her idol, not to mention the inspiration for her life as a hero, betrays her ideals. On top of all this, she's still a Muslim-American teenage girl in Jersey City, dealing with all the messy complications that entails. Most teenagers have to make up excuses to be miserable and angsty. Kamala Khan needs none.

While the conflict in Civil War II is still unresolved, Ms. Marvel #12 skips a few steps to deal with the impact this conflict had on Kamala. It's an impact that affects every aspect of her life, from her role as a superhero to her role as a teenage girl trying to live her life in a world where Hulks die and famous Avengers are Hydra agents. There are all sorts of dynamics in play for this narrative, but it comes back to a central theme that further highlights all the things that make Kamala Khan so lovable.

That theme is true whether someone is Pakistani, American, Wakandan, Bolivan, Swiss, Russian, or Chinese. As teenagers, the biggest challenge after surviving high school and puberty is finding a place in the world where they fit in. Not fitting in is to a teenager what an arc reactor is to an Iron Man suit. It's a key component that powers someone's identity. Throughout Ms. Marvel #12, it's clear that Kamala's identity is in a state of uncertainty.

It's not enough for Kamala to just sulk in her room, as many teenagers are prone to do after a few very bad days. This isn't just failing a test, being dumped by a boyfriend, or getting on Maria Hill's bad side. This involves ditching the Avengers, watching her best friend abandon, and losing her faith in her idol. For this reason, she decides to get away. She decides to visit her family in Pakistan, if only to get away from SHIELD Helicarriers and Iron Man sightings.

It makes for some strong personal moments that explore Kamala's Pakistani heritage. For much of Ms. Marvel's brief history, a big part of her struggles involve being a Pakistani-American girl in Jersey City. The Pakistani part of that heritage easily gets lost when that struggle ties in with Avengers, Jersey City traffic, and American high schools. Ms. Marvel #12 goes out of its way to highlight the importance of this heritage to Kamala Khan's identity.

Her family, her culture, and her home country all contribute to giving Kamala Khan a break from secret identities, proactive justice, and superhero civil wars. Kamala literally has everything she needs to clear her head. She has her family's love, the hospitality of her home country, and no Hellicarriers in sight. She should be as relaxed as Captain America at a 4th of July parade.

Unfortunately, it's not enough. All this love, support, and hospitality is still not enough to make Kamala feel less broken. It's somewhat fitting in that it's symbolic of how many teenagers struggle. They can have all the right support from their home, their family, and their culture, but they'll still find a way to feel miserable and broken. In terms of the things that make being a teenager so terrible, it exceeds acne and standardized tests.

Much of Ms. Marvel #12 is spent establishing Kamala's life and heritage in Pakistan, but in the end she still goes back to being Ms. Marvel. She still sees injustice in the world and feels inclined to become a hero. It's a testament to the kind of character Kamala Khan is at heart. She can be broken, upset, and lost as any angst-ridden teenager in any part of the world. She'll still feel inclined to be a hero when a hero is needed.

Her heroics, in this case, are fairly basic. She gets to fight a kind of injustice that isn't typical in the streets of Jersey City. In the process, she meets another Pakistani hero named The Red Dagger who has the luxury of not being so torn. His presence lowers the stakes somewhat in that it lessens the need for Ms. Marvel's heroics. She still helps, but there's never a sense that her contributions are needed.

As such, there isn't much depth to this fight or any of the action in Ms. Marvel #12. G. Willow Wilson doesn't attempt to make it more epic than it needs to be. This issue is about Kamala Khan more than it is about Ms. Marvel. It succeeds in developing other, unexplored aspects of Kamala's character. It doesn't succeed quite as much in developing Ms. Marvel as a hero in the post-Civil War II world. However, developing both may be asking a bit too much of a teenage character.

The primary theme of the issue still works. The underlying message is both clear and relevant. Kamala Khan is in a state of transition. Like many struggling teenagers who don't understand or even want to understand the complexities of the real world, she struggles to find her place in it. She's still torn and conflicted, but Ms. Marvel #12 establishes that she's still a hero. More than anything else, she'll still strive to be a hero. With her idol having failed her, she's going to be that hero on her terms and it's hard not to cheer her on.

Final Score: 7 out of 10