Friday, April 21, 2017

Digital Dynamics With Analog Antics: Ms. Marvel #17

The following is my review of Ms. Marvel #17, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


A young hero trying to protect their identity is one of the oldest, most endearing narratives in superhero comics. From a literary standpoint, it's the equivalent of rescuing a princess from a dragon. Young heroes, especially, endure this narrative more than most. Typically, they have a lot more to lose and a lot more to manage. Fighting a dragon is hard enough. Fighting it with the knowledge that there's a history exam the next morning makes it even harder.

While Peter Parker has been the poster child for protecting a secret identity for nearly half-a-century, Kamala Khan is very much the new gold standard for young heroes with a lot to lose. Like Peter Parker before her, she struggles to manage being a superhero with being an ordinary teenager, who also happens to be a minority in a society that isn't that supportive of minorities. These struggles embody the heart and spirit of a young hero trying to juggle having a real life and a superhero life. Kamala, being a minority, has to juggle more than most.

Since Kamala's superhero life as Ms. Marvel began, G. Willow Wilson has gone out of her way to make her story feel relevant and modern. Ms. Marvel isn't the kind of hero who still takes Polaroid pictures or uses a phone booth to change into her costume. She's a teenager who knows how to use a smartphone, is active on social media, and plays online video games. That means the narrative surrounding a young hero protecting their identity needs an update too and that's exactly what Ms. Marvel #17 brings to the table.

Kamala's life as a superhero is on the line. A digital enemy named Doc.X is threatening to expose her double life to her friends, family, and everyone with an internet connection. In many respects, that's far more dangerous than J. Jonah Jameson publishing photos of Spider-Man without his mask. At least with a newspaper, there's less chance of a compromising photo becoming an internet meme.

The danger Kamala faces has been escalating for several issues now and Ms. Marvel #17 acts as a last ditch effort, of sorts. Since Doc.X isn't a killer robot she can punch, she has to get creative. In this case, being an overly-idealistic teenager who spends a lot of her free time playing video games actually works in her favor. Those looking for Captain America to punch a Nazi or Iron Man to blow something up may be disappointed, but those looking for something different will find it here.


Wilson continues the tradition of creating non-traditional threats for Ms. Marvel. These threats aren't always just criminals looking to swipe a wad of bills from an open cash register. They're a different kind of threat that younger generations understand more than those whose primary fear was being mugged in a dark alley. A threat like Doc.X is even scarier than that for most millennials because it threatens both their digital life and their real life. Insurance can cover a stolen car. It can't cover the cost of exposing someone's darkest secrets.

Ms. Marvel knows this because Doc.X already exposed the secrets of one of her friends, Zoey. It's not a trivial secret either. Zoey was a closeted lesbian until Doc.X comes along. Wilson shows just how devastating this kind of exposure can be. It acts as a dire warning of sorts to Kamala because if that's what it can do to someone just trying to hide their schoolyard crushes, then there's no telling what it can do for a superhero trying to maintain a closet identity.

The stakes are very personal. Some of Kamala's friends are already suffering because of it. The emotional undertones are there for Ms. Marvel. When it comes to actually fighting Doc.X though, the story does somewhat falter. That's not to say it falls flat, but it doesn't exactly hit with the same epic overtones that comes with fighting the Red Skull and an army of Nazi Hulks.

It helps that Ms. Marvel adapts her tactics, enlisting the help of fellow gamers and flipping the script on Doc.X. However, the way those tactics play out is lacking in substance and requires that a lot of other things happen off-panel. Some of those off-panel happenings are actually more intriguing than anything Ms. Marvel does, but it's never shown how that actually plays out. It's only shown that it works just enough to get Doc.X out in the open.

Eventually, there is a final boss battle of sorts. Kamala does get a chance to actually punch Doc.X. However, it's a battle that is over way too quickly and never gets a chance to generate much excitement. For a story that sets up such high emotional stakes, which is the cornerstone of Ms. Marvel's appeal, it makes for a rushed and unsatisfying conclusion. Beyond the emotional backdrops, Ms. Marvel #17 doesn't just deliver the kind of impact that gives the overall story a sense of weight.


There are still some wholly relevant themes, both for the traditional superhero narrative and a younger generation whose concerns are more likely to emphasize WiFi speeds over petty crime. Ms. Marvel still has that appeal. G. Willow Wilson makes Ms. Marvel a uniquely appealing hero by blending these narratives. For this particular story involving Doc.X, the blend just isn't there.

Ms. Marvel is still a character that plays into the sensibilities of the millenial crowd, much more so than traditional heroes like Spider-Man and Captain America. It does make her distinct. It makes her stories distinct as well. For those who just want to see the Hulk smash things, those stories aren't going to carry the same weight. They will, however, offer something different.

That's the most Ms. Marvel #17 accomplishes. It's different. It's relevant. It's a story with problems that can't be solved with punching, smashing, or one of Tony Stark's fancy gizmos. Even if that's all it accomplishes, it still ensures that Ms. Marvel will resonate with a new generation that fears more than just killer robots.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

X-men Supreme Issue 150: Walking A Fine Line PREVIEW!


The next era of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series is off to a rough, but productive start. Charles Xavier’s dream has evolved. He’s now working with the likes of President Kelly and General Grimshaw to expand the role of the X-men. It’s no longer enough to simply dream for peace. The X-men must now work as active collaborators with the authorities. That gives them access to a host of new resources, but not without a price.

Throughout the history of the X-men, both in the comics and the movies, Charles Xavier has been reluctant to team up with the authorities. Between government programs like Weapon X and the Sentinel programs, he and the X-men have been reluctant to work with them and understandably so. Xavier always valued keeping his X-men independent and free of influence. It allowed mutants to show just how much they could contribute to mankind.

That all changed in X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation with the rise of the Mutant Liberation Front. When faced with a daunting new enemy that specialized in destabilizing governments, the X-men struggled to manage. It even led to the destruction of the Xavier Institute in X-men Supreme Issue 147: Vengeful Anarchy. That loss, coupled with the harsh lessons the X-men learned in battling the Mutant Liberation front, prompted Charles Xavier to change his tactics. The result is the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

In X-men Supreme Volume 149: Law Abiding Bind, I offered insight into how this new initiative works. By most accounts, it has been productive. The X-men have worked with the likes of General Grimshaw and President Kelly to do everything from confronting wanted mutants to conducting humanitarian efforts. It has gone a long way towards re-establishing some semblance of peace, which has been quite rare in this fanfiction series. However, that peace came at a price and not all have been willing to pay it.

At the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation, Xavier’s fateful choice led to a bitter division with some of his most valued X-men. Cyclops and Wolverine, two people who have a history of butting heads, ended up leaving the X-men. For once, they share the same concerns. They believe that Charles Xavier’s decision to compromise his dream will come back to bite them all. They’re not willing to let that happen. That’s why they’ve formed a new team that will operate outside the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. They call it X-Force.

What is X-Force though? This is not the same X-Force that we’ve seen in the X-men comics. Expect X-Force to operate quite differently in this fanfiction series. Expect a very different mission and very different team dynamics, which is to be expected with any team that has Cyclops and Wolverine in it. How this team operates and how they’ll function in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided will be a pivotal part of the story. The next issue will explore those operations and the implications for the future. As always, I’ve prepared an extended preview of X-men Supreme's first glimpse into the world of X-Force.

“Refresh my memory, Professor Xavier. I distinctly remember telling you to keep tabs on your former team, didn’t I?” said General Grimshaw firmly.

“You forget that I trained them, General. One of the first lessons I taught was how to strengthen their minds to resist psychic intrusion,” said Xavier, trying to restrain his discontent.

“Now why the hell would you teach them something like that?”

“Because I respected their privacy,” he said in a stronger tone, “It wouldn’t be fair if I always had the option of accessing their minds.”

“Fairness is the new F-word when dealing with matters such as this,” said the General with a scold, “We can’t have a pack of super-powered thugs defying our initiative like this!”

“Hey! Those thugs happen to be our friends,” said Jean, shooting up from her seat and staring down the irate officer.

“They also didn’t hurt nobody,” Remy pointed out, “Aside from messin’ up a perfectly good van and given three MSA hommes a good nap, it ain’t like they terrorizing folks.”

“It doesn’t matter if nobody was hurt. This incident sent a clear message. They don’t like the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. They’re openly opposing it. Now I’m all for debating the issues, but in a civilized society we can’t allow citizens to thumb their nose at the law.”

“Is this really as bad as you’re making it out to be, General?” asked Colossus, “I thought in America there was tolerance for those with opposing views.”

“This isn’t a simple disagreement. These friends of yours are obstructing vital government operations. If they want to protest, that’s one thing. If they want to debate, that’s something else. But when they start working against us, they’ve left the bounds of law and order that make society work. Now I understand that the Mutant Monitoring Initiative has its flaws. However, we cannot tolerate this kind of public opposition.”

The General was putting the X-men in an awkward position. He was saying that their friends were criminals. Even if they supported this initiative, they didn’t support fighting those who didn’t agree with them. General Grimshaw was clearly upset. He had always been strict when it came to upholding the law. To him, X-Force’s behavior was an act of open rebellion.

“What do you propose we do, General?” asked Hank with the same restraint as Xavier, “If you’re expecting us to fight our friends, then I think you’re expecting a bit much.”

“I’m not telling you to hunt them down. Not yet anyways,” said the General in a calmer tone.

“Sounds like you’re considering it,” quipped Rogue dryly.

“That depends on how far X-Force takes this protest of theirs. I may seem like a grumpy old man in a uniform, but I’m not senile. I know some of you have been in contact with your old friends. I know some of you may even be sleeping with them, which may be why Miss Braddock and Miss Munroe aren’t here.”

“I hope you’re not implying that we’re keeping secrets, General,” said Professor Xavier.

“That’s just it, Charles. I don’t think you are. I just think you’ve been willing to look the other way. That way when men like me confront you, you don’t have to bullshit me.”

The Professor and the rest of the team to shifted uncomfortably. General Grimshaw wasn’t psychic, but he could sense when someone was keeping the full story from him.

While some like Cyclops and Wolverine avoided talking to the X-men, others weren’t so secretive. It was well-known that Ororo had grown close to James Proudstar, who was obviously involved in X-Force. The situation was similar with Warren and Betsy. Rogue also kept in touch with Domino and Kurt. It was a little hard to ignore that they had been involved with something lately. Now they were making it a public spectacle.

“There are some serious ramifications here,” the General went on, “The report I got this morning from Captain Freeman painted a distressing picture. Those four mutants X-Force confronted have slipped under the radar. Even Cerebrum can’t track them. They’re four more in a growing list of mutants who seem to be avoiding detection. I suspect X-Force has their hand in many of them. There may be others involved as well. So I’m leaving it up to you X-men to figure this out. I’m giving you a chance with the understanding that if you don’t do something, then I will.”

“Does that mean you’re going to treat our friends like terrorists?” said Jean angrily.

“Because if you’re expending us to draw battle lines amongst those close to us, that is a fight we cannot support,” said Colossus, making his anger apparent as well.

“I won’t get into specifics. But if you’re this upset, then you have a chance to do something about it. Do yourself and your friends a favor by not wasting it.”

General Grimshaw hid no subtext in his tone. He made it clear to the X-men that he expected them to resolve this. He walked out of the conference room with an unspoken encouragement, as if to make clear that he preferred the X-men resolve this because they were not going to like how he would handle it.

Once the General was gone, the X-men turned their attention back towards Professor Xavier. He looked beleaguered in the dilemma he faced. This wasn’t the Brotherhood or the Mutant Liberation Front opposing them. These were his own students.

“Ah don’t care if the law says we’re on the same side. Ah still feel the urge to punch Grimshaw for dumping this on us,” said Rogue, finally letting her frustration out.

“A punch wouldn’t be enough, Rogue,” said Hank, who shared her sentiment, “What worries me even more is his concerns are completely legitimate.”

“Don’t tell me you agree with him. The man just asked us to attack our friends!” said an outraged Jean Grey.

“Since Scott and Logan are not hear to calm you down, I may have to restrain you, Jean,” said Colossus, who got up to coax the angry redhead back into her seat.

“You’re welcome to try,” muttered Jean under her breath.

“Please, my X-men…let’s not make this harder than it already is,” said Professor Xavier, standing up from his seat to address his team, “I know you all despise the notion. I do as well. But Hank is correct. General Grimshaw has legitimate concerns about X-Force.”

“That don’t mean we gotta agree with him,” argued Remy, “We be hearing the stories from Stormy and Betsy. We all knew they’re up to something. They just ain’t given it a name until now.”

“Except now our former compatriots are no longer content doing their work in the shadows,” said Hank, “In the months since Cerebrum came back online, we’ve discovered a growing list of undocumented mutants. This list grew as Cyclops, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler became increasingly secretive about their activities.”

“I also suspect that Warren may be providing them with resources,” added Professor Xavier, “His father has been calling me lately. He says his son has been negating his duties at Worthington Industries.”

“I cannot imagine that is going over well with Betsy,” said Colossus.

“Well she did skip this meeting to go see him so I guess we’ll get an update soon enough,” said Jean.

“Same with Stormy,” said Remy, “Guess this means we’ll be gettin’ hailstorms that go along with her mood.”

“The effect on relationships is a secondary concern. X-Force may undermine the Mutant Monitoring Initiative before it has a chance to succeed,” said Xavier as he started pacing, “Cyclops made his opposition clear. He believes we’re making a mistake and he’s willing to prove his point in a very public manner.”

“So what do we do? We’re not going to actually fight them, are we?” asked Rogue anxiously.

“I want to avoid that at all cost, Rogue,” said Xavier strongly, “However, we must be prepared to oppose them as ardently as they oppose us, even if we must do so with a heavy heart.”

The notion of attacking their friends did not sit well. Professor Xavier could sense that some were fighting the urge to yell at him. The schism within the team was a high price to pay for this initiative. They had made so much progress. There were still plenty of issues that needed to be resolved, but they wouldn’t have a chance if X-Force undermined their efforts. So as much as it pained him, Professor Charles Xavier was prepared to respond to X-Force’s incursion.

“The General expects us to act and so does the public,” Xavier went on, “This conflict against X-Force is best waged in the court of public opinion. Right now, X-Force is attacking the weaknesses of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. The incident in Oakland demonstrated that some mutants don’t care for our current methods.”

“We have a one-size-fits-all policy that involves funneling mutants into the Academy of Tomorrow. We can’t expect everybody to be too excited about such prospects,” said Hank.

“That’s why Emma Frost was quite upset with me when I got her school involved with this initiative. It is entirely likely that she is the unidentified psychic assisting X-Force,” said Xavier, looking back up at the muted TV that was still broadcasting the incident.

“So my boyfriend and his ex are on a team that’s highlighting a problem we’re all painfully aware of,” Jean summarized, feeling increasingly anxious, “Is there anything we can do that will ensure I get more than two hours of sleep tonight?”

“I’ll start working with the MSA to institute reforms. It will take time. But until we have something to announce, we’re going to scrutinize future operations. If one comes along where X-Force might be involved, we must be there. We must show the public that we’re committed to making this work. In the process, I hope our friends are as intent on avoiding conflict with us as we are with them.”


I know the timing of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is a little unfortunate. The X-men comics have spent the last decade or so with a divided X-men. They’re just starting to come together again as a united team with the ongoing ResurrXion relaunch. What does it say about my timing when I have the X-men become so divided in this fanfiction series

Well, timing or not, there is a larger story at work here. I want to tell that story and I want it to be as awesome as possible. To do that, I need feedback. I need to know that I’m handling this sensitive period in X-men Supreme correctly. I know how many X-men fans were jaded by the X-men’s many schisms. I want to hear from those fans as they endure their own schism here in X-men Supreme. Either contact me directly or post comments directly in the issue. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Original Cast With Renewed Energy: X-men Blue #1

The following is my review of X-men Blue #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Some concepts work well in any era, no matter the context. Those concepts are few and far between, but their universal appeal is what helps make them iconic. When it comes to the original five X-men, as created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby over 50 years ago, they check all the right boxes with respect to those concepts.

They're young, idealistic, vulnerable, determined, anxious, eager, and even a little arrogant at times. They believe in following a dream. They also haven't experienced the harshest realities of the real world, which tend to crush dreams like Juggernaut in a china shop. Since arriving in a future where they find out their future selves are dead, disfigured, or had lost their minds, they fight desperately to cling to those dreams. Despite the knowledge that those dreams shattered under the weight of cosmic forces, psychic manipulation, and evil clones, they still fight for that dream. It says a lot about both their youthful spirit, as well as their youthful arrogance.

They may not need that arrogance quite as much these days. After the events of Inhumans vs. X-men, the dream the original five X-men fight for isn't quite as shattered as before. Mutants are no longer being gassed to death by a giant green cloud and the Scarlet Witch hasn't had a mental breakdown lately. That means mutants have a future again and, despite being the product of an out-of-control time travel plot, they seek to forge part of that future in X-men Blue.

Cullen Bunn and Jorge Molina bring the original five X-men back together in X-men Blue #1, attempting to capture as much of those classic concepts as possible while fitting them into a new status quo. That includes everything from teenagers complaining about random things and fighting the Juggernaut. By all those lofty standards of the Kirby/Lee tradition, it still checks the right boxes boxes.


From the outset, the story is fairly basic. The Original Five X-men go up against an old enemy in Black Tom, but from their time-displaced perspective, he's a fresh face with a sinister mustache. There's not much to Black Tom's plot. He's just holding a lot of rich people hostage, twirling his sinister mustache, and generally doing all the things Lex Luthor used to do before he got into politics.

There may not be much complexity to that plot at first, but it still leads to some entertaining theatrics that allow the time-displaced X-men to stop lamenting about their future selves and just be heroes. Given that they're still teenagers, there is some lamenting, but Bunn makes sure it's doesn't devolve into the kind of teen angst that often plagued the characters after Secret Wars. That makes the effect of X-men Blue #1 all the more profound because it shifts the tone back to a sense of youthful idealism. After surviving a poison gas cloud, it's a shift that needed to happen.

As the story unfolds, new complexities emerge. The narrative doesn't just rely on a group of teenage mutants flying in and saving the day. The battle also illustrates some new dynamics within the team. Most notably, Jean Grey is now the leader. It may not be akin to making Doop the leader, but the change is notable in the way the X-men conduct themselves.

It's different in that Cyclops doesn't go barking out orders while everyone else jokes about how uptight he is. Jean Grey's style of leadership is different in that she'll spearhead the charge, but trusts her teammates to handle themselves, even against someone like Juggernaut. This style isn't without its faults though. They quickly get overwhelmed and end up having to wing it in order to save the day, so much that they end up having to cheat with magic.

This is where X-men Blue #1 ties itself into the larger narrative that has been unfolding with the time-displaced X-men since they arrived in the future back in All-New X-men. Bunn doesn't ignore the nuances have emerged with certain characters. In this case, Beast's newfound appreciation of magic proves pivotal, both in terms of resolving a conflict and establishing new levels of tension. It makes for different tactics, but it also leads to arguments and uncertainties about how the team operates. In a team made up of entirely of teenagers, that's always fertile ground for conflict.


It also establishes that while X-men Blue is relying on more traditional X-men dynamics, the team is still very much a work-in-progress. Jean Grey is still learning how to lead. Beast is still learning how to manage his new mystical abilities. All the while, Cyclops has to resist the urge to start barking out orders again. As a team, they're not a finished product. They're still rookies who have the potential to be all stars, but are a long way from that level.

That sense of growth is one of the greatest strengths in X-men Blue #1. Even though it uses a team line-up that was introduced during the Kennedy Administration, it still comes off as novel. It's very much a product of an evolving narrative, one that has taken many twists and come dangerously close to being derailed. Magic and tactics aside, Bunn seems to have the original five X-men back on track and Molina's artwork makes them look good while they do it.

That track even has some interesting turns towards the end. While the story starts off as fairly basic, it gains greater intrigue towards the end. There are hints and teases about the Original Five X-men's larger goals and how they intend to go about it. Coming on the heels of a classic clash that brings new energy to a team that underwent so much upheaval, X-men Blue #1 creates a new foundation for an old cast of characters. For characters are teenagers, time-displaced, and dabbling in magic, that's quite an accomplishment.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Red Queen Chronicles: The Spy Part 2 is LIVE!


I'm not sure how many people still care at this point. I'm just going to assume that some do because they enjoy a little extra sex appeal every now and then. I've got another update for one of my sexy side-projects. This one is still part of my "Red Queen Chronicles" series. It's the second and final part of the a story involving Black Widow. Your welcome Scarlett Johanssen fans. Enjoy!


In case you somehow still care, I intend to do another entry of this series. It might be the last one. I don't know. It depends on what kind of response I get. Until then, the sex appeal of Black Widow should tide everyone over. Nuff said!

Friday, April 7, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 149: Law Abiding Bind is LIVE!


The wait is over. The next stage in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series has officially arrived. The X-men are divided. Professor Charles Xavier’s dream is evolving. X-Force has emerged from that evolution. Cyclops and Wolverine have left the X-men. The remaining X-men have placed their trust in the likes of General Nathan Grimshaw, Captain Jack Freeman, and President Kelly. Who among them holds the key to the future of this fanfiction series?

That’s what X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is going to answer. Charles Xavier has decided to take the X-men in a new direction and for good reason. The events of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation convinced him that the X-men just weren’t equipped to handle emerging threats. The Mutant Liberation Front, first under Toad and then under Stryfe, kept finding ways to frustrate and undermine the X-men. Those efforts culminated in the apparent death of Polaris in the Natural Disorder arc and the destruction of the Xavier Institute in X-men Supreme Issue 147: Vengeful Anarchy. That means that, once again, the X-men must rebuild.

It’s not the first time the X-men have had to rebuild after a major upheaval. From Magneto’s ascension on Genosha in Overlord to the election of Robert Kelly in X-men Supreme Issue 71: Election Day, Charles Xavier and his team adapted and adjusted many times before, but not like this. It’s no longer enough for them to just be heroes. It’s no longer enough for them to simply protect innocent mutants from a world that hates and fears them. Now, they must work with the likes of President Kelly and General Grimshaw, who have not always trusted them in the past.

This doesn’t just put them in an awkward position. It puts them in a very vulnerable position, but it’s a chance Xavier is willing to take. He genuinely believes that by working with the authorities, the X-men can prove that peace and understanding is possible. Coordination and cooperation is possible. However, that still assumes that the X-men can trust President Kelly and General Grimshaw. It also assumes that their agenda is the same. This is where X-Force comes in.

In this new world, it isn’t just the X-men who have a vision. Cyclops and Wolverine have created their own dream, one they feel can fight for the values that Charles Xavier has abandoned. X-Force doesn’t stand as an enemy to the X-men, but they are definitely not on the same page. Their vision conflicts with that of the X-men and Charles Xavier. What will this do to former teammates, lovers, and friends? What will this do for mutants and a world still recovering from the attacks of the Mutant Liberation Front?

That’s the situation that the X-men and X-Force find themselves in. That’s the world that X-men Supreme has become. It’s a very different conflict with a very different set of challenges. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided will push the X-men, X-Force, and everyone in between into a new host of challenges. At a time when the X-men comics are relaunching, the X-men Supreme fanfiction series boldly enters a new era and it starts today.

X-men Supreme Issue 149: Law Abiding Bind

There’s a lot going on in the world of X-men right now. In both the X-men comics and X-men Supreme, there are a lot of changes and upheavals at work. For the X-men comics, things aren’t quite as dire anymore. Nobody has been sterilized and the mutant race isn’t going extinct. X-men Supreme isn’t a bit more dire, but there haven’t been any time travelers yet so it hasn’t gotten quite that bad. That’s still subject to change.

As always, I strongly encourage everyone to take the time to provide feedback to X-men Supreme, both in this issue and in past issues. This is a major shift for this fanfiction series, bringing X-Force into the picture and changing the way the X-men operate. These come on the heels of yet more upheavals in the X-men comics so I know X-men fans are quite beleaguered right now. I want X-men Supreme to appeal to every X-men fans during times like this so any feedback you can offer is greatly appreciated. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issue. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A (Badly Needed) Golden Touch: X-men Gold #1

The following is my review of X-men Gold #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Every era of X-men is defined by an eclectic mix of situational quirks, new uniforms, and re-shuffled lineups. Sometimes the Xavier Mansion, or whatever base of operations the X-men happen to be operating out of at the time, blows up along the way. In any case, these eras usually have definitive traits that set them apart. More than any other franchise, the X-men find unique ways to make certain eras distinct.

The '70s had the All-New, All-Different lineup with fresh faces, new threats, and Chris Claremont's knack for creating over-powered, reality-warping threats. The '80s had X-Factor and Uncanny X-men, the original five X-men and an emerging generation of X-men that would one day make Hugh Jackman a super star. The '90s had the Jim Lee-inspired costumes, two main X-men teams, and an uncanny tendency to make any and all issues in the Marvel universe a mutant issue by default.

These generations stand out in their own unique way, some more than others thanks to iconic art, iconic stories, or whatever non-so-iconic gimmicks slipped through the cracks. By these standards, it's hard to assess the current generation of X-men comics because a great many of those not-so-iconic gimmicks came to define the series. From sterilization plots to a glut of time travelers, it's hard to define this era as all that iconic.

This is why X-men Gold #1 is so vital to current and future generations of X-men. Marc Guggenheim and Adrian Syaf have a golden opportunity, if that's not too loaded a word, to redefine the X-men for a new era, hopefully one that relies less on sterilization, time travelers, and clones. That opportunity never feels wasted as the story that unfolds forges multiple paths into a new era.

The X-men enter this era with a more tarnished reputation than usual. It's not enough that they're mutants, a loaded word that generates the kind of reaction usually reserved for internet trolls and spam email. They're mutants who recently went to war with the Inhumans and didn't exactly conduct themselves in a respectable manner.


They can blame Cyclops, Emma Frost, and fake news all they want. It doesn't change the fact that the X-men come into X-men Gold #1 as those mutants who have gone to war with two separate superhero teams already and didn't exactly come out looking like polished adamantium. That's not a good foundation for peace and understanding. At this point, the public is more inclined to give Victor Von Doom a chance than the X-men.

Kitty Pryde, the X-men's new leader and arbiter of this new era, goes out of her way to acknowledge this in the X-men's battle against Terrax. She rightly points out that if another superhero team had fought this battle, they would be getting smiles, cheers, and positive hashtags. Unfortunately, they're mutants. They're still associated with starting wars, screwing with timelines, and one too many clones. In a city that already deals with Spider-Man's clones, the public is right to be someone muted.

It's the most important feature to the story in X-men Gold #1, as well as the overall theme of the X-men comics moving forward. For years now, they've given the public way too many reasons not to trust them the same way they do other superhero teams. Beyond warring with other superhero teams, mutants are a constant source of chaotic. Regardless of whether or not they put on costumes and try to be superheroes, their powers and their conflicts are like the weather. Sometimes it can be a simple gust of wind. Sometimes it can be a full-blown hurricane.

It's one of those understated, but inescapable aspects about the X-men that sets them apart from other superhero teams. No matter how much good they try to do, the X-men are still mutants and mutants are a chaotic force of nature. People fear that chaos for the same reason that they fear hurricanes.

Guggenheim doesn't hide from this distinction that keeps the X-men from being adored like the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, or whatever other superhero team doesn't have its movie rights tied up by another studio. By acknowledging it, the new host of challenges the X-men face feel genuine.

X-men Gold #1 throws multiple challenges at the X-men from the get-go. Some are of the personal kind. Some are of the kind that require Kitty Pryde to phase a collapsing building through another. The mix of personal issues and public spectacles is very much the gold standard, so to speak, of what gives the X-men their appeal. After so much of their stories have been mired by extinction and sterilization plots, it's a welcome reprieve.


While the themes are refreshing for any jaded X-men fan, the structure of the story is somewhat choppy. The narrative jumps around from moment to moment, rushing through various scenes without taking the time to tie them together in a cohesive way. This makes the story feel rushed. There are many moments, especially the personal moments for Kitty Pryde, that don't get as much depth as they need. It makes X-men Gold #1 feel like one of those comics that needs to be at least 10 pages longer to really work.

Despite the inconsistencies in the story's progression, it's still a satisfying story that offers overdue promise to cast of characters that badly needs it. There's no more fending off extinction, avoiding poison gas clouds, or getting mixed up with one too many cosmic forces. This is just the X-men fighting for peace and understanding in a world that has plenty of legitimate reasons not to give them another chance.

It's the same fight that Charles Xavier led the X-men into back in the days before civil rights was more than just a hashtag. Kitty Pryde and her revamped, revitalized team of X-men, one of which is her ex-boyfriend, carry on that fight in X-men Gold #1 after one too many interludes. It gives hope that the X-men are back to doing what they do best, provided nobody gets sterilized again.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, March 31, 2017

X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided Announcement and PREVIEW!


It’s almost here. A new era of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series is about to begin. The end of X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide effectively split the X-men into two teams. The events of X-men Supreme Issue 6.1: Beyond Top Secret helped solidify those teams. Now, it’s time for both teams to enter a world that is still fragile and wary after the assault by the Mutant Liberation Front.

This won’t just be a matter of moving onto new enemies, confronting new threats, or forging new allegiances. The X-men must completely change how they’ll operate moving forward. Some of that is out of necessity. The Xavier Institute was destroyed, as it often tends to be in the X-men comics, during the events of X-men Supreme Issue 147: Vengeful Anarchy. The loss of their home, in many ways, triggered the initiative that Professor Charles Xavier crafted with General Grimshaw and President Kelly. He calls it the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It will, for the most part, be the guiding force for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series moving forward.

Since X-men Supreme began, the X-men have had a tense and fragile relationship with the authorities. Going all the way back to X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution, there have been times when the authorities have been adversaries. That relationship has been in flux ever since, but it gained a new dimension with the arrival of General Grimshaw in X-men Supreme Issue 75: Renegade. His emergence as President Kelly’s most trusted associate in mutant matters ensured that closer ties between the X-men and the government were inevitable. With events like Natural Disorder and The Cambrian Explosion, these ties only became more complex.

In the end, the Mutant Liberation Front in X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation pushed both sides over the edge. Charles Xavier could no longer cling to full breadth of his dream. President Kelly and General Grimshaw could no longer tolerate the X-men’s method of doing things. Something had to change. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative is the catalyst for that change, but not everybody is on board with it.

In the final moments of X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide, some of Charles Xavier’s most loyal X-men decided to cut ties. This included Cyclops and Wolverine, two X-men who rarely see eye-to-eye on anything. However, they agreed that their mentor had lost sight of his dream. They’ve now taken it upon themselves to fight for what’s left of it by forming X-Force, a new team that will operate outside the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

What does this mean for the X-men moving forward? What does this mean for the future of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series? There’s a lot of drama, upheaval, and struggle ahead. That’s why I’m proud to officially announce the beginning of the next stage of this fanfiction series. I call it X-men Supreme Volume 7: Divided and United. The first issue, like previous volumes of X-men Supreme before it, will jump ahead somewhat in time. It will also set the stage for a new set of conflicts in X-men Supreme. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of this new era of X-men Supreme.

“State your business and show your identification. You have five seconds to comply,” said one of the MSA operatives from behind the gate.

“The paint isn’t even dry on this place and you’re already treating it like George Washington’s tomb. Gotta love this city,” commented Melita as she showed her ID.

“You must be the new press hound from the White House,” said the operative, “Tell me, how did you get roped into this job again? You make a pass at your boss or something?”

“Believe it or not, I didn’t have to sleep with anybody to get this job. Doing PR for the Pentagon just wasn’t exciting anymore. I’m ready for something bigger and that something is waiting for me inside. Now if you don’t mind, can you let me through? I’ve got a deadline.”

Melita spoke with a toughness not often heard from media personnel. The MSA operative stood mildly impressed. He turned towards the MPs and nodded, who opened the gate. The young woman then walked in confidently with poise, adjusting her sunglasses as she walked up the winding trail that led to the Xavier Institute.

Along the way she passed more MPs and a few maintenance workers. Even though this facility looked like a private mansion, it had the feel of a government facility. Something about that seemed a little off, but that was why Melita was here.

She followed the trail up to the front door of the institute. Upon arriving, she saw that Charles Xavier was already standing there waiting for her. He wasn’t dressed like a politician or a military man. Instead he wore dark pants, a dress shirt, and a blazer. He still looked like a Professor, which was reassuring in the sea of controversy that surrounded this facility.

“You must be Melita Garner. The Mutant Monitoring Initiatives newest PR consultant,” greeted Professor Xavier.

“Just Melita is fine. Let’s avoid unnecessary breaths and go straight to being on a first-name basis,” replied Melita as she shook his hand, “We’ll have to be if we’re going to make this work.”

“Indeed,” Xavier agreed, “I hope you’ll bear with me because I’m not quite sure what this entails.”

“You and everyone else at the Press Corp,” she said, “This is General Grimshaw’s idea so take it up with him if you want. He thinks that after the Mutant Monitoring Initiative was approved, it still requires a significant image boost. You and the X-men have been running around making all this noise, but not everyone is able to listen. My job is to sift through that noise and deliver the right message to the public.”

“By right, you mean...”

“I’d rather not get into semantics. For now, assume that John and Jane Q. Public are standing right in front of you. They want a full assessment of how the Mutant Monitoring Initiative has unfolded over the past seven months. They also want to know where it’s going moving forward.”

“Sounds like perfectly reasonable concerns,” said Xavier, “I’m more than happy to discuss them at length. Care to walk and talk at the same time?”

“Taking notes on the move is a requirement for everyone in PR. I’ll be recording this for the record so in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll ask you to be concise,” said Melita, “It also wouldn’t hurt to be mindful of what you’re saying.”

“I’m the world’s most powerful psychic. Paranoia is somewhat redundant,” he quipped in good humor, “Besides, I’ve nothing to hide, nor do I care to during this critical transition.”

“So try anyways. In this town, saying too much can get you into a world of trouble.”

It sounded like a warning. Melita clearly took her job seriously. He also sensed in her a touch of cynicism. She assumed every shortcoming was severe and did not shy away from harsh truth. It was little wonder why General Grimshaw selected her for this. So while maintaining his calm demeanor, Professor Xavier started walking while Melita turned on her recorder.

“Let’s start with the basics,” she began, now holding the recorder up near the Professor, “Your team consists of seven X-men. Phoenix, Beast, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, Colossus, and Psylocke. You have two reserve X-men with Shadowcat and Iceman, who are currently attending school at the Academy of Tomorrow. Between each of them, you have a fairly limited number of mutants to head up such a bold operation.”

“I’ve always been a strong believer in quality over quantity,” replied Xavier, “These gifted individuals have more than just mutant abilities and the training to use it. They have my trust.”

“That trust must go a long way. Before the ink dried on the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, you and the X-men hit the ground running.”

“We had little choice in the matter. The world was vulnerable. The Mutant Liberation Front may have been thwarted, but the Genosha exodus changed the stakes. Every nation on the planet was clamoring for some sense of clarity. They wanted to know where all these mutants were, what they were up to, and what happened to the valuable technology they took with them when they disappeared.”

“And have your X-men obtained any answers?”

“We’ve surmised part of the answer,” said Xavier, choosing his words carefully, “Before this new institute was complete, I worked with General Grimshaw to get a new version of Cerebrum up and running.”

“Cerebrum…you mean that mutant-tracking computer that many find so mysterious?”

“There’s nothing mysterious about it. The way it works is well-understood by those familiar with the biology and physiology of the X-gene.”

“All of which could probably fit into a greyhound bus,” Melita quipped.

“Even fewer understand quantum mechanics, but that doesn’t prevent people from enjoying its fruits. Namely computers, cell phones, and even the recording device you’re using this very moment.”

There was a certain wryness to his tone. Melita tried to blitz him with finer details, but he didn’t skip a beat. It left her mildly impressed. He still had much to prove though.

“Regardless of how it works, we were able to get a new Cerebrum up and running within a month. Thankfully, I had many of the files from my previous institute backed up in a secure location. So we were able to get to work. Thanks to the addition of the MSA’s resources, we were able to get a firm grasp of mutant activity.”

“How much of that activity was from former Genoshans?” asked Melita.

“Not nearly as much as we hoped,” Xavier conceded, “But we were able to confirm some of our early suspicions. The society that was created on Genosha is still active, even if it’s now fragmented. Just as before, they guard their thoughts and capabilities very well. So much so that Cerebrum cannot hone in on all of them at this time.”

“I assume there are exceptions,” she stated.

“There often are. We discovered early on that some of Genosha’s citizen’s are not quite on board with their leadership’s current agenda.”


As I’ve said before, this will be a very different battle for the X-men. This fanfiction series is undergoing some of its greatest upheavals to date. Characters will be shaken. Relationships will be strained. Revelations will further test the bonds between the X-men. As I’ve done since I began this fanfiction series, I intend to make it as awesome as I possibly can. To do that, I still need feedback from all the passionate X-men fans I know are out there. Given the ambitious nature of X-men Supreme Volume 7: Divided and United, that feedback is more vital than ever. So please take the time to post your comments. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issue. Either way is fine. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Priming A New Future: X-men Prime #1

The following is my review of X-men Prime #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Victory in every conflict comes at a price, but sometimes the price is secondary to the situation. For the X-men, the situation tends to be convoluted in detail, but simple in substance. Either they achieve victory or they go extinct. There's very little gray area in between. Those are the stakes that play out in Inhumans vs. X-men. Those are the stakes that drive the X-men's overall narrative as a series.

Now, with the conclusion of Inhumans vs. X-men, the situation is ready to evolve. The X-men once again have a chance to do more than just fight for their right to exist, which has been at the heart of nearly every major conflict since House of M. It's a chance they can't afford to squander. Stories involving sterilization and extinction are rapidly losing their ability to generate dramatic weight. More than any other ongoing series, the X-men need a new conflict with new stakes.

That's exactly what X-men Prime #1 sets out to do. Under the pen of Marc Guggenheim, Greg Pak, and Cullen Bunn, and a couple other top-tier artists, the X-men's story finally moves forward from yet another extinction/sterilization plot. It is, effectively, a bridge from one era to another. It helps settle the dust of one conflict while preparing the X-men for another.

The conflict itself is still secondary compared to the situation. Compared to the X-men's situation after Secret Wars, it doesn't take much to improve their predicament. In essence, this is one situation where over-achievement is necessary to elicit the necessary impact. It's a challenge and not just because impacting the X-men usually requires killer robots. He is tasked with essentially molding a new situation for the X-men to navigate. What he ends up crafting is as polished as it is compelling.

There are no killer robots. There are no poison gas clouds, time-traveling assassins, or clone army. X-men Prime #1 isn't structured for those kinds of fireworks. It's very much an epilogue and a prelude for the X-men as a whole. It unfolds primarily through the eyes of Kitty Pryde, who was lucky enough to have avoided the whole sterilization/poison gas cloud/war with the Inhumans. In many respects, that makes her uniquely qualified to take in this new status quo.


Kitty, having spent much of her time guarding the galaxy with her ex-fiance and a talking raccoon, returns to the world of X-men that wants to change. From Storm to the time-displaced X-men, Guggenheim, Pak, and Bunn create this prevailing sentiment that the way they're doing things has to change. Their current way put them at war with the Inhumans and forced them to live in a demon-infested realm. With or without mutant powers, any system that puts anyone into close proximity with demons is definitely a system in need of revision.

This makes for some very personal moments between Kitty Pryde and several characters who have been deeply affected by recent events, some of which don't even involve demons. Most of those moments involve Storm, who presents herself as a relic of the old system, in a sense.

She accepts responsibility for the decisions that led to the X-men's war with the Inhumans. She makes clear and gives some fairly understandable reasons why she doesn't feel inclined to lead anymore. Again, the X-men ended up living in a demon-infested realm under her leadership. She realizes on some levels that there's room for improvement.

Not every moment is as personal, though. Kitty does get a chance to meet up with Colossus, which is understandably awkward, but promptly avoided. She also gets a chance to meet up with the time-displaced X-men, albeit indirectly. These moments aren't quite as dramatic, but they do serve a purpose in that they show how portions of the X-men are going in different directions. Kitty can only do so much to influence them, but she's in a position to do more for the X-men than most. At this point, any direction that doesn't involve close proximity to demons counts as an upgrade.

X-men Prime #1 doesn't just succeed in using these personal moments with Kitty to move the X-men forward. It succeeds in making it feel dramatic and sincere. Being able to do this without killer robots or sterilization plots counts as an accomplishment these days. Through Kitty Pryde, he's able to convey a sense of hope and determination, two of the most important elements in any era of X-men.


As good as these moments are, there are a few that don't feel quite as dramatic. Kitty's interaction with Colossus is relatively minor and doesn't get too personal. A side-plot involving Lady Deathstrike and Weapon X feels disconnected and unnecessary to the overall story. While the moment with the time-displaced X-men offers a nice twist, it doesn't have many specifics. Some elements are left a bit vague, but it never feels too convoluted. In a series with clones and time-displaced characters, that still counts for something.

In terms of setting the stage for a new era of X-men, X-men Prime #1 checks nearly every box. Guggenheim, Pak, and Bunn establish a direction for the team. He takes the X-men out of the demon-infested and into a more promising situation. Considering how grim and dire the X-men's condition has been since the conclusion of Secret Wars, it's downright refreshing.

Sure, there are bound to be more attacks by killer robots. Sure, it's very likely that more clones and time travelers will enter the mix and frustrate the X-men. Like Wolverine and beer, certain elements are inescapably linked. The challenge is making the narrative behind these links compelling. In that sense, X-men Prime #1 rises to the challenge. For now, there's hope for the world of the X-men and, provided nobody ends up sterilized, that hope holds a great deal of promise and potential.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Von Doom — Unofficial Dr. Doom Fan Film

Let's not lie to ourselves. Nearly every Fantastic Four movie, the Incredibles notwithstanding, has sucked donkey balls. Fox has failed so miserably that if it were a teenage girl, she would be full-on goth by now. So what does it say about Fox when a cheap fan-film about Dr. Doom is better than three big-budget Hollywood movies? I don't know, but this shit is pretty damn awesome. Nuff said!



Friday, March 24, 2017

The Red Queen Chronicles: The Spy Chapter 1 is LIVE!




I hope everybody is rested, excited, and maybe even a little horny because it’s time for another one of my sexy side-projects. With winter coming to an end, spring starting to settle in, and people needing to wear less clothing, I feel the time is just right. I know every time of year is improved with a little added sex appeal. This time of year is just a bit more appropriate than most.

I’ve already teased the topic of my next sexy side-project. I’ve given plenty of attention to Mary Jane Watson in my recent projects. In my defense, that attention is totally warranted. She’s Mary Jane Watson for crying out loud. Whether she’s Spider-Man’s wife or a high-end prostitute, she’s got the kind of sex appeal that everyone can appreciate it.


Through my “Red Queen Chronicles” series, I’ve given Mary Jane plenty of opportunities to be sexy and she has taken full advantage of them. For this latest project, I’m going to give another sexy redhead an opportunity. In this case, it’s Natasha “Black Widow” Romanov. She has helped make Scarlett Johannson the highest paid actress in Hollywood. I think she’s earned a role in a sexy side-project.

This particular entry will have two parts. Both will explore a different side of Black Widow. I’m not saying this side will be perfectly in line with the canon of the comics or the movie. It’s not supposed to be. It’s just supposed to be a sexy story to enjoy as we count down the days until the beaches open for the summer.

This story marks the first time I’ve incorporated the Avengers side of things into my “Red Queen Chronicles” series. Depending on how well this goes, I’ll certainly contemplate more down the line. For now, it’s Black Widow’s turn to enter the world of the “Red Queen Chronicles.” Enjoy!


As always, I encourage everyone to take the time to review this story. Tell me what you think by posting your comments here or on the adult fanfiction website. If there’s another character you think should pay a visit to the world of Mary Jane Watson, the Red Queen, please let me know. I’m always open to new and sexy ideas. Nuff said!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Capping Off A (Somewhat) Extraordinary Journey: Extraordinary X-men #20

The following is my review of Extraordinary X-men #20, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


For certain eras, there are characters who become symbolic of the conflicts. Sometimes they are the catalyst for the conflict. Sometimes they are the reaction to it. In either case, these characters embody a certain mentality and perspective of a period in time. When the history is written about the post-Secret Wars, pre-Inhumans vs. X-men era of the X-men comics, no one character will be singled out as the sole symbol of the conflict. However, Storm and the time-displaced Jean Grey are likely  in the top five.

When Extraordinary X-men began under Jeff Lemire, Storm went out of her way to identify Jean Grey as the heart of the X-men. That alone says a lot about the state of the X-men, singling out a time-displaced version of a character that has been dead for over a decade. Oddly enough, it's entirely warranted. Jean Grey is very much an embodiment of the X-men's highest ideals, if only because time travel allows her to skip the many eras of setbacks, retcons, and evil clones.

When the story of Extraordinary X-men begins, both Storm and Jean Grey are reluctant, if not downright hostile, to the idea that they're now the greatest hope for the X-men. Jean is a time-displaced teenager. She has enough on her plate as it stands and not just because of acne. Storm is a reluctant leader who ended up in her role because the world believed, thanks to Emma Frost, that Cyclops is the worst thing to happen to the world since poor wi-fi.

Then, as Extraordinary X-men progresses, they both settle into their roles. They confront the challenges that come with being an inspiration for every generation of X-men. Now, in wake of Inhumans vs. X-men, Storm, Jean Grey, and the rest of their teammates faces a whole new challenge and a whole new era for the X-men as a whole.


Extraordinary X-men #20 acts as a bridge between these eras. The Inhumans/X-men war is over. The entire mutant race doesn't need to hide in a demon-infested realm anymore. Naturally, most in X-Haven are eager to leave for a home where killer robots are more likely than demon attacks. For Storm, however, there's a lingering sense of uncertainty that bothers her. Having lived in a demon realm, being bothered by anything is quite an accomplishment.

It's through Storm's point of view that the uncertainty unfolds. It's through a time-displaced Jean Grey that the X-men confront it. In many ways, it's fitting that that these two characters are the ones tasked with tying up the loose ends of Extraordinary X-men. They are still the main catalyst for the story. They bore most of the burdens throughout the series. Lemire acknowledges the extent of those burdens. However, the story itself doesn't do much to give them greater weight.

The primary plot in Extraordinary X-men #20 actually deals with some unresolved aftermath from Inhumans vs. X-men. In a sense, Lemire addresses a practical issues regarding Emma Frost's hidden agenda, which most of the X-men only recently uncovered. In world where magic and time travel are often used to cover plot holes, this is somewhat refreshing.

It also makes use of some lingering side-plots that have fallen to the wayside in Extraordinary X-men, namely those involving Cerebra and No Girl. Again, these are usually the kinds of side-plots that are first to get overlooked. Lemire's efforts to address them give the story an attention to detail that the X-men comics have lacked, due largely to the constant doom and gloom caused by other characters whose movie rights aren't owned by a rival studio.

Between Jean's efforts and Storm's inner musings, the story in Extraordinary X-men #20 helps make this transition from one era of X-men comics to another feel personal. It tries to do more than just shove the X-men into the next extinction-level plot. It tries to step back and take in the situation. In some respects, they don't step back far enough because they end up fighting killer robots. However, compared to demons, Inhumans, and sterilization, it still counts as an improvement of sorts.

It still makes for a very simple, very basic kind of story. The X-men fighting a host of killer robots, be they Sentinels or discarded Sentinel prototypes, is as classic a plot as any extinction story. This one isn't all that memorable or epic, nor does it try to be. However, it's not the kind of battle that is there just to give the X-men something to blow up. There is a purpose do it. It's a minor purpose, but a purpose none-the-less.

The battle in Extraordinary X-men #20 may be somewhat forgettable, but it doesn't change the underlying situation facing the X-men. They don't have to hide in a demon realm anymore. They're not facing imminent extinction anymore. Given how rare these moments are for the X-men these days, it's an important situation to take in. Storm offers the perspective. Jean Grey offers the catalyst. In the grand scheme of things, it uses all the right ingredients, even if there's not enough of them to make a cake.


What makes the outcome of Extraordinary X-men #20 most satisfying is that, while it does attempt to tie up loose ends, it tries to give the series closure without dropping one too many ominous hints about the next extinction plot the X-men will face. Lemire makes a genuine effort to end the series on an upbeat note. For a series that began with off-panel deaths, sterilization, mutant-hunting death squads, that's quite an undertaking.

Taken as a whole, the end of Extraordinary X-men #20 doesn't give the sense of a complete, satisfying journey. Given the exceedingly bleak circumstances of its beginning, it's hard to go from one extreme to another. To go from the brink of extinction to a friendly baseball game is a journey that requires a lot more than 20 issues and a crossover event. Even if details are lacking, the primary spirit of the X-men narrative is still there. The fact that a series like Extraordinary X-men can end in a friendly baseball game is a testament to the strength of that spirit.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Red Queen Chronicles: The Spy ANNOUNCEMENT!


I have an announcement to make and it involves another sexy side-project. I know I’ve been doing a lot of those lately and for good reason. I’ve found a winning formula. I’ve found something that resonates with a certain set of fans with an appreciation for sexier stories. Who knew stories about an overtly sexual Mary Jane Watson, Emma Frost, and the Hellfire Club could have such great appeal?

I know. That seems so goddamn obvious now. These are two of the sexiest female characters in comics. They look damn good in thongs and they aren’t afraid to wear them. I just needed to find a way to build an awesome story around that, one that provides ample opportunities for sexy situations with a variety of characters. Well, I’ve been building that story since “The New Red Queen.” Thanks to that story, and the great response I got, I’ve created a world where Mary Jane isn’t the only one who gets to maximize her sexiness.

I’ve already begun to expand that world with the “The Red Queen Chronicles: The Weapon.” That was a fairly basic expansion. This is a world with an overtly sexy redheaded woman taking center stage. It was only a matter of time before Wolverine came into the picture. Plus, with the recent release of the Logan movie, what better way to commemorate the occasion than by having him bang a sexy redhead? I think Wolverine fans everywhere can appreciate that sentiment.

Well, I’m ready to continue expanding the world of “The Red Queen Chronicles.” This time, I want to do more than just a basic one-shot where Mary Jane uses her cleavage to get something done. Granted, there will always be a place for that kind of story, but I want to take this next entry in a different direction. Specifically, I want to explore both the present and the past of the world I’ve created. To do that, I’ll need to enlist the help of another sexy redhead. In a world where there are so many, who could possibly add to the ample sex appeal of this series?

Enter the Black Widow. She’s an Avenger, an agent of SHIELD, a master spy, and a star role for Scarlett Johanssen. On top of that, she looks damn good in skin-tight outfits. While she’s never been as overtly sexual as Emma Frost or Mary Jane Watson, I intend to give her a unique opportunity here. It’s also a unique opportunity for me as well because Black Widow is one of those characters I’ve always wanted to work with, but just never found the right story. Well, that story has arrived. That’s why I’m proud to announce “The Red Queen Chronicles: The Spy.”

Do you want to see Natasha Romanov exercise her sexy side? Do you want to see how she has influenced the events of this series? Well, you’ll get your chance soon enough. Unlike the last story, this one will have two parts. That’ll give me more time to explore Black Widow as both a character and an exceedingly sexy redhead. Trust me. I want to make use of that time. By this time next week, you’ll see why it’s worth the wait. Nuff said!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Enemy Within (And Beyond): All-New Wolverine #18

The following is my review of All-New Wolverine #18, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


There are some stories that just can't be remade in a convincing, compelling fashion. The producers of the now-infamous Ghostbusters remake found this out the hard way. However, it is possible to retell a story in a way that doesn't feel like a new layer of paint on an old car that shouldn't be on the road anymore. Those stories are rare and even then, a retelling of those stories involves a lot of moving parts that need to work together without collapsing into a chaotic mess

The classic Wolverine story, Enemy of the State, may not be nearly as iconic as Ghostbusters, but it captures so much of what makes Wolverine a great character. It effectively jams rusty nails into Wolverine's deepest scars, let's them fester, and builds a story around it. It's a key conflict for Wolverine that gives him much of his depth. He struggles with being a man and a former meat puppet of Weapon X. It's a powerful struggle that his daughter and inheritor of his title, Laura Kinney, has inherited.

As X-23, Laura knows just as much about being a tormented meat puppet as Logan. On top of that, she deals with this on top of being a teenage girl. This makes her uniquely qualified to handle the narrative surrounding Enemy of the State II. Tom Taylor gives her that chance, putting her in a situation where Laura has to confront the meat puppet within her that once made her a living weapon.

He sets high stakes. After apparently killing nearly three dozen innocent people, she finds herself at the top of SHIELD's most wanted list, right up there with cloned Spider-Man villains. She also has to confront old enemies like Kimura, who are intent on reminding her that she's a failed science experiment and not a person. In her mind, she's several layers below a trained pitbull.

These are the moving parts that forge the narrative for Enemy of the State II and All-New Wolverine #18 caps off that narrative with a potent mix of drama, action, plot twists, and exploding bean cans. It's every bit as entertaining as it sounds. Beyond the entertainment value, though, Taylor goes out of his way to capture the most important element of Enemy of the State, which is heart. Those who've seen the Logan movie and wiped away their tears will appreciate what Taylor accomplishes here.


To get to this point, X-23 must overcome some personal demons that have plagued her since her early origin stories in X-23: Innocence Lost. This is perfectly appropriate for the context and grand scheme of the story. Overcoming personal demons for Wolverine is right up there with drinking beer, stabbing Sabretooth, and chasing married women. For X-23, a teenage girl who isn't old enough to drink, it's a much higher priority and one that ensures All-New Wolverine #18 hits with just the right amount of drama.

The biggest demon for X-23 has both a face and a potent weapon. Kimura is to her what Sabretooth is to Logan. She embodies the anchor that keeps her tied to her bloody past. She represents the pain, burdens, and rage that fills her with such dread and anger. Fighting her means much more than just fighting a run-of-the-mill Sentinel. Taylor has this fight involve more than just stabbing though.

The stakes of the battle are already high because Kimura is armed with the trigger scent, the weapon that turns X-23 into the heartless killer who murdered her own mother. It is a burden and a fear that has plagued X-23 since her earliest days in the X-men comics. It's a big part of what drives the narrative throughout Enemy of the State II, having X-23 go on the run and do everything she can to avoid becoming what Kimura wants her to be. This convergence of past fears and present conflicts helps craft a perfectly balanced, deeply satisfying conclusion.

It's also a conclusion that requires X-23 to do things Logan wasn't very good at. He may have been the best at what he did, but coordinating with others was never one of those things and not just because of his propensity to flirt with married women. X-23 shows a greater willingness to work with others, let them in, and share her burdens. It gives a supporting cast like Gabby, Jean Grey, Gambit, Angel, and Tyger Tiger a chance to shine. She's still not the greatest teammate, but compared to Logan, she's a pro.

X-23's supporting cast gives her the resources she needs to overcome the trigger scent and attack Kimura. However, she's still the one who delivers the final blow. Like her predecessor, she makes it very personal and very brutal. Unlike previous battles, though, Kimura can't use the trigger scent as her trump card. She has to face X-23 head on. They have to fight as equals. It makes for a battle that feels organic, brutal, and dramatic.


The added drama also helps ensure the plot twist that emerge in the final conclusion work. As a result, it doesn't feel forced. It doesn't feel like a cop-out. It feels like a genuine, realistic recourse for the narrative. For a story that involves so much running around, stabbing, and snarling, that's a critical ingredient that separates decent stories from savory deserts.

The original Enemy of the State may not be as iconic as other major Wolverine stories like Old Man Logan, if only because it hasn't been the basis for a major movie yet. However, it is an important story that embodies what it means to be Wolverine. All-New X-men #18 and Enemy of the State II embodies that same spirit.

X-23 even goes out of her way to make that clear. She loudly proclaims that she's not just a weapon. She's Laura Kinny. She has a mother, a father, and the title. She is, by every meaningful criteria, Wolverine. Taylor does everything necessary to make this abundantly clear. If anyone has any doubts at this point that Laura is worthy of that title, then they're just being petty.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Friday, March 10, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 6.1: Beyond Top Secret is LIVE!


By now, I hope everyone has had the time to see the latest Wolverine movie. I imagine X-men fans are still recovering from the many emotional moments that movie contained. It truly was the end of an era for the X-men, at least in the world of movies. In some sense, the timing is just right because the X-men Supreme fanfiction series just capped off a major era as well. Now, much like the latest Wolverine movie, the stage is set for a new and uncertain era to begin.

While the world of the last Wolverine movie was dark and desolate, the coming era of X-men Supreme is mired with different complications. This isn’t a case of mutants going extinct or humans hunting them with killer robots. These days, that seems like a strange concept for the X-men, but that’s exactly why I’m choosing this direction for this fanfiction series. It’s not enough for the X-men to fight for survival or what’s left of their future. At some point, they must start building the future that Charles Xavier dreams of building.

That process took a huge turn at conclusion of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. Two major foundations of human/mutant relations, namely the mutant nation of Genosha and the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters, now lay in ruin. The fragile balance that had been evolving since X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution has been completely disrupted. X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide saw a fundamental change in the way the X-men operate and the way Charles Xavier pursues his dream.

This change caused massive upheavals in the team, especially from the likes of Cyclops and Wolverine. Now, the X-men won’t just operate under the guidelines of Xavier’s dream. They’ll be working hand-in-hand with the likes of President Robert Kelly, General Nathan Grimshaw, and Captain Jack Freeman. The X-men are now a wing of the Mutant Security Agency that was established back in X-men Supreme Volume 4: Politics of Fear. While they have powerful new allies, the implications of that allegiance have many worried.

This left Cyclops and Wolverine to leave the X-men, much to the sorrow of Charles Xavier and the heartbreak of Jean Grey. Now, as Xavier seeks to build on this new foundation, Cyclops and Wolverine prepare to pursue a different vision with a new team, one they’ve dubbed X-Force. X-men Supreme Volume 7 will bring about some major clashes and greater divisions. Friends will become enemies. Teammates will become threats. It will strain the X-men in ways they’ve never endured before.

Before either team can confront these challenges, they must first tie up loose ends and gather supplies. For Charles Xavier and General Grimshaw, that means establishing some element of trust moving forward. For Cyclops, having left the team he dedicated his life to serving, it means reconciling some issues so they don’t hold him back. Having just left his team and his girlfriend, Jean Grey, he’s in a vulnerable place. On top of it all, he just recently learned during the Outer Limits arc that his father, Christopher Summers, is still alive.

There’s a lot for both sides to deal with. There’s a bumpy road ahead for both teams. Charles Xavier and Cyclops have many new challenges to face. However, before they can start on that road, they must first make sure the path behind them is clear. That’s exactly what I hope to accomplish with this giant-sized special. Just as I did with X-men Supreme Issue 5.1: Deception Revelation, I hope to set the tone for the stories to come.

Giant Sized X-men Supreme Issue 6.1: Beyond Top Secret

Like the X-men comics, I hope this giant-sized issue will help get readers caught up and excited for X-men Supreme Volume 7. The next era of this fanfiction series is already in the works and poised to begin in the coming weeks. I hope to make a few announcements down the line. In the meantime, I’m eager to get feedback on this and any other issue of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series.

I understand that emotions are still raw after the latest Wolverine movie. I also understand I left quite a few anxious readers at the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. Make no mistake. I do have a larger plan in the works. I intend for that plan to pay off in the long run. In order to make sure that plan is accomplishing what I want it to, it’s critical that I get feedback. Please take the time to leave a comment on this giant-sized issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A (Not So) Bittersweet End: Inhumans vs. X-men #6

The following is my review of Inhumans vs. X-men #6, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Most epic battles are epic because of the skirmishes that led up to it. Ideally, the tension grows and the stakes rise to set up a final showdown wherein both sides think they're Mario and neither side believes they're Bowser. This is what makes battles like Batman vs. Joker, Superman vs. Doomsday, and Deadpool vs. Short-Sighted Fox Producers so meaningful. It's also why the final showdown in Inhumans vs. X-men has everything working against it.

In the case of this latest clash between two superhero teams, the skirmishes are forgettable and the stakes as unbalanced as fight between Juggernaut and a sick puppy. From the events leading up to it, to the tie-in issues that try to add badly-needed depth, Inhumans vs. X-men fights an uphill battle that may as well be upside down. It tries to be epic. It tries to be balanced. It just doesn't have the style, substance, or setup to make it work. To be epic, at this point, would require Onslaught-level power and/or a deal with Mephisto.

Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire may not be willing to call Mephisto, but they still try to make the most of what they've got to work with, which isn't much. Through five issues, the tension is there. The drama is there. There's a genuine effort to mold the conflict into something that feels balanced on both sides.

With Inhumans vs. X-men #6, the proverbial shot clock is running out. The drama, tension, and every other concept that's lacking has to pay off. However, that payoff never arrives in full. It's not a total bust, but it doesn't feel like a worth-while investment either. It's an investment that the Tony Starks and Warren Buffetts of the world would never make in the first place, but it's not one of those investments that bankrupts either side.

The most that can be said about Inhumans vs. X-men #6 is that it ends the conflict. It ends in a way that doesn't make either side looks good. In fact, both sides come off as woefully inept. There are any number of opportunities to avoid or mitigate the conflict. These opportunities are either ignored, glossed over, or fumbled with comic ineptitude. It's an inherent flaw that has plagued the X-men/Inhuman conflict since before the event started and the final showdown that unfolds in this issue does little to resolve that.


That's not to say the conflict is completely without drama. Lemire and Soule do make a concerted effort to make Inhumans vs. X-men #6 feel personal for the characters. This is most apparent with Emma Frost and Medusa. These two characters are, arguably, the primary driving force of the conflict. What they do and the decisions they make help give the struggle the depth it needs to feel like more than just another superhero clash. At a time when superheroes are more likely to fight each other than aliens, killer robots, or Thanos, that's very important.

Medusa vs. Emma Frost doesn't have the same epic undertones elicited by Batman vs. Superman, Captain America vs. Iron Man, or even Wolverine vs. anybody who steals his beer. However, it still feels very personal. Emma Frost makes it personal. She blames the entire Inhuman race for killing Cyclops. She takes it upon herself to exact the kind of vengeance usually reserved for Wolverine. There's no doubting her dedication. At the same time, however, there's no denying the inherent flaw this creates.

In the end, it's also Emma Frost who makes the conflict feel so forced. The main driving force of the Inhuman/mutant clash is supposed to be the Terrigen Mists, which is poisoning mutants all over the world. That issue gets resolved with a level of ease that feels downright inane and not just because Moon Girl succeeds where Beast, Forge, and every genius mind in New Attilan fail. It ends up feeling like a secondary concern, a formality has to happen before Emma Frost can fight Medusa.

By making the Terrigen Mists so trivial, it underscores everything motivating the X-men in this conflict. On top of that, they don't even get to make the decision that eliminates the threat of the mists once and for all. The Inhumans are the ones that do that. As soon as Medusa finds out that the mists will make the world uninhabitable to mutants, she doesn't even hesitate. She jumps at the chance to remove the mists from the atmosphere.

There's no argument with Storm. There's no fight with Emma Frost. Old Man Logan doesn't even need to insult her. She just learns something that the X-men could've easily told her in a simple text message and does the right thing. It makes the entire Inhuman/mutant conflict seem hallow. The fact that all anyone had to do was tell Medusa that the mists were about to exterminate an entire species makes every struggle in Inhumans vs. X-men #6, personal or otherwise, seem unnecessary.


In the grand scheme of things, neither the Inhumans nor the X-men come off as winners in Inhumans vs. X-men. They don't come off as losers either. The X-men do achieve their goal. The Terrigen Mists are gone. Mutants no longer have to worry about being gassed to death. They don't even need the Scarlet Witch to lose her mind again or cast some fancy spell to make it happen. That means they don't have to live in demon realms anymore for their own safety.

The Inhumans don't come off as losers either. Thanks to Medusa's hard choices, they come off as heroic and understanding. They make a sacrifice to prevent genocide. It does come at a cost, but New Attilan is still intact. No Inhumans died or suffered horribly. There's nothing stopping them from thriving again, albeit under different circumstances. Compared to being gassed to death, those circumstances aren't too bad. In that sense, it's still abundantly clear which side has its movie rights owned by Disney and which side does not.

With respect to creating a meaningful superhero clash, Lemire and Soule just don't have the ingredients to make Inhumans vs. X-men as epic as others before it. The circumstances, drama, and character motivations just aren't there. They are still able to make the most of it. Some of the flaws are inescapable. Others are just ignored. In the end, the resolution just can't be as epic as it needs to be. No amount of psychic manipulation from Emma Frost can change that.

Final Score: 5 out of 10