Friday, August 18, 2017

Sexy Side Project: Red Queen Chronicles: The Surprise is LIVE!


If you thought I was done telling sexy stories in my “Red Queen” universe, then I’m NOT sorry to say you’re wrong. Every time I finish a story, it feels like I’ve exhausted the potential. It feels like I’ve extracted enough sexiness from this concept. Then, I remember I’m working with Mary Jane Watson and remember there’s no limit to the sexiness she can bring.

My last story, “The Red Queen Chronicles: The Alien,” was another fun little exercise in exploring Mary Jane’s sexiness. Her sex appeal is so powerful that she could do what Spider-Man could not and that’s subdue Venom. She didn’t need superpowers, science, or some boring shit like that. She just needed raw, unabashed sex appeal. Venom didn’t stand a chance.

Between that and the various other stories I’ve told in the Red Queen universe, I’ve developed quite a few loyal readers. Some come at me with all sorts of suggestions, many of which I couldn’t possible use, but enjoy contemplating. Even with all those ideas, I wasn’t sure whether there was one worth pursuing. Then, I came up with one that I felt I could complete to the high standards that Mary Jane has established.

This one, sadly, will only tap a fraction of Mary Jane’s sexiness. That’s because she won’t be the primary focus of this story. Instead, it’s Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers who will get to flaunt her sex appeal. Her star has been rising fast in recent years. Between a greater role in the comics and an upcoming movie starring Brie Larson, she’s well on her way to becoming Marvel’s alpha female.

So why shouldn’t she get in on the action? That’s exactly what she’s going to do, with help from the Red Queen, of course. She might as well get laid while she can before she becomes too busy. If you’re okay with Mary Jane sharing some sexiness for the time being, I think you’ll appreciate this. Fans and members of the Carol Corp, I hope you enjoy it!


I know I seem to say this every other week, but I’m still not sure whether I’ll keep building on this series. I can’t help it that writing a sexy Mary Jane Watson is so much fun. I still have ideas I’m toying with. Nothing has been finalized yet, but if that chances, expect plenty more sexiness. Nuff said!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Legacy, Family, and Ninjas: Generations: Wolverine & All-New Wolverine #1

The following is my review of Generations: Wolverine and All-New Wolverine #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


The concept of family and legacy tends to get obscure in the Marvel universe. That's to be expected when there are so many clones, time travelers, and shape-shifting aliens running around. On paper, the idea of a child carrying on the legacy of a parent seems like the most logical and appropriate thing in the world. In the pages Marvel comics, however, that's just not enough. There has to be some sort of elaborate, convoluted story behind it that only ends up getting retconned in the end.

While this hinders and dissuades most children from carrying on their parents' legacy, Laura Kinney finds a way navigate these excessive convolutions. She actually manages to don her father's title after his death in Death of Wolverine and, by nearly every measure, she honors that title as well as anyone could expect her to. It doesn't feel forced. It doesn't feel like a gimmick. It actually comes off as a young woman wanting to honor her father.

Batman may have a monopoly of sorts in drawing inspiration from dead parents, but Laura sets herself apart by being her own character long before she put on yellow spandex. She actually spends time learning from Logan and being his daughter so that when the time eventually comes, her acceptance of the role carries the right weight.

With the conclusion of Secret War, Tom Taylor establishes Laura as having graduated from her journey as X-23. Now, she is Wolverine. She proudly wears the uniform and bears the title of her father. She even manages to pick up a little sister and a pet wolverine along the way. How can any father not be proud of that?

With Generations: Wolverine and All-New Wolverine #1, Laura gets a chance to find out just how well she's honoring her father's legacy and from the best possible source. As with previous iterations of Marvel Generations, Laura finds herself dropped right in the middle of a major moment in Logan's history. Also like previous iterations, there's little explanation or context given to that moment. However, there doesn't really have to be. She's suddenly fighting alongside her father against an army of undead ninjas. There's no need for context. She just does her father proud and starts stabbing.

It's a familiar, but still immensely satisfying setup. Wolverine from two different eras come together and fight undead ninjas. Like the Hulk smashing or Deadpool breaking the fourth wall, it's one of those classic Marvel elements that never gets old. Laura's presence, however, adds a new dimension to the mix and this is where Taylor uses the setup of Marvel Generations to do something special for both Wolverines beyond undead ninja stabbing.

The situation already has some dramatic underpinnings in that its ripped right from the pages of Chris Claremont's run on Wolverine. Fittingly enough for Laura, the situation involves family, namely the adopted daughter, Akiko, that he and Mariko took in. As often happens with Wolverine and anyone he's involved with, ninjas attack and he has to rescue her. It's as familiar to him as a bar fight, but Laura's presence adds something unique to it.

The events of that story are already set in that they establish that Logan can be part of a family and fight for it. What Laura does, though, goes beyond simply giving the ninjas another target. She comes into the conflict already knowing how it plays out to some extent. She doesn't just stand by and watch, though. That's not her style. That's certainly not Wolverine's style. When there are ninjas to be stabbed, Wolverine gets to stabbing. No amount of time paradoxes can stop that.

It's in between the stabbing, though, where Generations: Wolverine and All-New Wolverine #1 really expands on the drama. Taylor takes a somewhat different approach compared to other aspects of Marvel Generations in that much of the narrative unfolds from Logan's perspective. It's his thoughts and feelings that guide the story. While he doesn't radically alter the story that Claremont told decades ago, Laura's presence adds a unique dynamic to the mix.

By offering insight into Logan's thoughts and feelings, Taylor reveals a man who has as conflicted understanding of family. While he will go out of his way to save loved ones, he still sees himself as a loner who can't be part of a family. That's somewhat understandable. Being in his family means an exponential increase in the likelihood of ninja attacks. Unlike Akiko, though, Laura can handle it and handle it well. Even Logan acknowledges that early on.

By fighting alongside her, he sees first-hand that it is possible to be part of a family. It is possible to have someone in his life who can handle the occasional ninja attack. Laura doesn't just prove it. She goes out of her way to belabor that point, encouraging Logan to be part of a family. Her just being there does plenty to prove her case. She knows that he goes onto welcome her into his family and guide her into eventually taking on the title of Wolverine.

It sets up for a powerful moment between the two Wolverines. It's a moment heavy on family drama, the kind that is often a precursor to tragedy in Logan's life. However, with Generations: Wolverine and All-New Wolverine #1, that legacy of tragedy is secondary. For once, he and Laura can just appreciate the fact that they're part of a family and that family now has a legacy. It's the kind of moment that really adds a powerful, emotional link between two eras of Wolverine.

That moment is what makes Generations: Wolverine and All-New Wolverine #1 worth its weight in dead undead ninjas. It's a moment that takes time to develop. For much of the story, though, the ninja fighting subverts the drama. It's still wildly entertaining and Ramon Rosanas' art makes it as visually appealing as it needs to be. When the drama finally does come, it has just the right impact. It's brief, but powerful.

More than anything else, Generations: Wolverine and All-New Wolverine #1 establishes that the legacy of Wolverine isn't just measured by mountains of dead ninjas. It's part of a legacy. Logan establishes that legacy. Laura carries it on. Being Wolverine is basically a family affair, albeit with a lot more stabbing and ninja attacks, and it's a family that Wolverine fans of every generation can root for.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Friday, August 11, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 155: Drug War Part 1 is LIVE!


At this point in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, it would be redundant for me to say that a storm is brewing. I think it’s safe to say that the storm has already arrived on the shores of this fanfiction series. The winds are picking up, the skies are getting darker, and it has nothing to do with Storm being in a bad mood. The warnings I established in X-men Supreme Issue 149: Law Abiding Bind are not just warnings anymore. The danger is here and the X-men being divided is not going to help.

In Volatility Sensibility, the first arc of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, we saw how much Charles Xavier and his X-men struggled. Cyclops and Wolverine are no longer with the team. Instead, the X-men had to be led by Captain Jack Freeman, with whom they’ve had a tenuous relationship since his introduction into this fanfiction series back in X-men Supreme Issue 75: Renegade. Unfortunately, he’s the only one that General Grimshaw trusts enough to lead the X-men. He’s a soldier, a Green Beret, and a mutant. However, he’s no X-men and it showed in their inability to deal with Nitro.

Now, with that less-than-successful effort still fresh in their memories, the X-men face a much greater threat. Sebastian Shaw has already done plenty to make his presence felt in this fanfiction series, going all the way back to the Phoenix Saga. Since his return at the end of the Dark Legacy arc, he’s been hard at work plotting his return to prominence. Even after being stabbed by Wolverine, the former Black King’s ambitions are still as big as ever.

The X-men, as well as their rivals in X-Force, already got a taste of what Shaw has been up to since his return. Like any ruthless businessman, he’s looking to exploit the impact that the Mutant Monitoring Initiative has had on the world of X-men Supreme. It doesn’t take the mind of Charles Xavier to see how much danger a man like Shaw can cause. Thanks to the efforts of X-Factor, they now know that he’s the one responsible for the appearance of Mutant Growth Hormone, the powerful drug that can turn ordinary mutants like Beak into major threats.

Shaw already has the aid of the granddaughters of Jason Wynegarde, a man who has also caused the X-men plenty of pain throughout this fanfiction series, in maximizing the impact of Mutant Growth Hormone. Considering how much the X-men struggled with Nitro in Volatility Sensibility, who didn’t even have access to a drug like that, Charles Xavier and his team have plenty to worry about. Their alliance with General Grimshaw and President Kelly is already in a tenuous state. Someone like Shaw could do more than just undermine the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. He could utterly destroy it and so much more.

It’s a storm that promises to do plenty of damage for the X-men, X-Force, and every other mutant in this fanfiction series. I’ve spent the early parts of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided establishing the challenges that Charles Xavier, General Grimshaw, and President Kelly are facing with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. The threat posed by Shaw in this arc will be, by far, their greatest challenge to date. There will be damage, as there often is whenever Shaw is involved. The extent of that damage and whether it can be repaired remains to be seen. That’s why it’s safe to say that this arc, Drug War, will shape the course of this fanfiction series for the rest of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided.

X-men Supreme Issue 155: Drug War Part 1

This second major arc is going to really raise the stakes of X-men Supreme. I know I’ve done plenty of that since this fanfiction series began, but I’ve never done it when the X-men are this divided. X-men fans have seen those kinds of divisions play out in the X-men comics for decades, but they’ve never seen it play out in a fanfiction series like this.

I know a lot of comic book fans, especially X-men fans, are burned out on heroes clashing with heroes. I hope to bring a unique twist to that frustrating trend with X-men Supreme. This latest arc is part of that effort and to ensure it’s as awesome and non-frustrating as possible, I need feedback. I know I say that with every new arc, but it’s more critical now than ever. If I can make X-men Supreme awesome in this current climate of X-men comics, then I know I’ll have achieved something special. Either post your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and I’m happy to chat X-men. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rising Ashes From Two Eras: Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1

The following is my review of Generations: Phoenix and Jean Grey #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


It's usually a sign when a certain character becomes best known for dying, not staying dead, and having large chunks of their history retconned and rewritten. It's rarely a good sign, but a select few can manage more balanced results. Jean Grey functions better than most with that kind of legacy. She dies, comes back to life, dies again, gets cloned, travels through time, and somehow finds a way to deal with a cosmic force. That may very well be another sign, but one that speaks to the strength of her character.

In a sense, Jean Grey is one of those characters who's always torn between two opposing forces. Sometimes it involves her being on the wrong end of a love triangle. Other times, it involves wanting to forge her own path while still confronting the many conflicts in her history. She knows she ends up dead, an icon to some and a walking resurrection joke to others. Since her arrival from the past in All-New X-men, Jean's story seems to fluctuate from one conflicting force to another.

One day, she's trying everything she can to avoid the same obstacles that doomed her adult self. The next, she's determined to face them. Given that she's a teenager and teenagers are known to have erratic methods in dealing with problems, this is understandable. It also makes Jean Grey's story somewhat chaotic. There's not a clear understanding of what she hopes to accomplish, so long as she's stuck in the future with the rest of the time-displaced X-men. Unlike her teammates, though, she can't reach out to her older self for guidance.

Now, thanks to space-time machinations for Marvel Generations, a teenage Jean Grey finally gets the chance to interact with her older self and learn from the icon herself. What plays out in Marvel Generations: Phoenix and Jean Grey #1 is not an illusion. It's not some twisted memory either. This is the real Jean Grey of X-men lore who goes onto devour a star, cheat death, get clones, and inspire any number of fights between Cyclops and Wolverine. It's as big a moment as a teenage girl can ever face outside her prom night.


Cullen Bunn and RB Silva don't just rip a teenage Jean Grey out of the present and stick her into some contrived point in the ever-changing, constantly-reconnected timeline of the X-men. Bunn shows that he's done his homework by putting the young Jean Grey in a specific moment within the original Phoenix Saga between that ran between Uncanny X-men #101 and Uncanny X-men #138. It's the kind of attention to detail that Chris Claremont himself would be proud of.

In a sense, it's the most optimal moment Jean and her older self could've chosen for their respective stories. Within the context of the original Phoenix Saga, it's that brief period where Jean had control over the Phoenix Force. She isn't corrupted, twisted, or devouring entire star systems just to see what it feels like. She's still very human in her perspective, but vulnerable to the corruption that comes with the god-like power of the Phoenix Force.

It's a narrow window for her teenage self to explore, but one that's vital within the context of her own story. It provides a clear and effective link between the conflict unfolding in Jean's solo series and the events unfolding in Marvel Generations. Once again, Jean faces the prospect of dealing with the Phoenix Force again.

She knows as well as anyone who tries to follow convoluted timelines and never-ending death/rebirth plots that it's bound to cause cosmic headaches for everyone. In order to deal with it, she needs to learn about it. She'll find no better source than this particular version of herself at this particular point in her history. Even a cosmic version of Wikipedia can't provide information that comprehensive.

As a result, Marvel Generations: Phoenix and Jean Grey #1 takes on a very personal undertone. Bunn dedicates significant parts of the narrative to exploring the inner conflict within the teenage Jean Grey. She recognizes from the beginning that this is an important opportunity, one that she can't afford to pass up. She needs to learn everything she can about the Phoenix Force. On top of that, she has spoilers to the tragedy that lies just ahead for her adult counterpart.


Despite all the implications this meeting has for both characters, Bunn resists the urge to turn teenage Jean Grey into Marty McFly from Back to the Future in that she doesn't mindlessly mess with the timeline. She actually establishes a personal connection with her older self. She doesn't attempt to deceive her or impede her. She presents herself as a friend and ally. It may seem redundant since they're the same person, but it serves an important purpose.

By becoming an ally, teen Jean gets a chance to learn about her older self outside the tragedy, heartache, and retcons that exist only in the memories of her fellow X-men. She sees that, like her, the older Jean Grey is also struggling to make sense of this cosmic power. However, her older self clearly has a different perspective of that power, which she eagerly demonstrates in ways that maximizes the visual appeal of Silva's art.

It leads to a cosmic clash between the Phoenix and Galactus. It's the kind of clash that's inherently epic on paper, but easy to mess up in a story. Bunn achieves a fitting balance of sorts, giving Jean and her adult counterpart a chance to shine and learn from each other. In doing so, it sets up a unique moment between two characters from different periods in a vast mythos. That moment carries with it a dramatic impact that maximizes the opportunity that Marvel Generations creates.

It's a moment that Marty McFly botched in Back to the Future. For Jean Grey, it's a moment of clarity that takes place at the best possible time. That's not just an outside observation either. The Watcher himself shows up to let her know just how important her decision is in the grand scheme of the never-ending chaos that is the Marvel universe. She has a chance to make the easy decision that will most definitely incur all sorts of complications and consequences. She ends up making a different choice. The fact she makes that choice as a teenager, whose natural inclinations gravitate towards easy solutions bereft of consequence, speaks to the strength of her character.

Marvel Generations: Phoenix and Jean Grey #1 is in a position to literally rewrite the history of one of the X-men's most iconic stories. It's also in a position to add even greater complications to a story that has had more than its share since the 1980s. Bunn doesn't draw the ire of Chris Claremont, nor does he completely nullify the potential of the moment. The Jean Grey from the past and the Jean Grey from the present both get something out of their encounter. It's not the same as a retcon or a time paradox, but it has a genuine impact and that impact feels relevant to both characters.

There's still a sense that teenage Jean didn't do as much as she could've. It could be argued that she didn't do as much as she should've either. However, what she ends up doing is probably the most responsible decision she could've made in that situation. For a teenager constantly looking for ways to avoid the destiny that fate has laid out for her, it speaks volumes to the strength of her character. Even if the circumstances of Marvel Generations are unclear and the overall impact is uncertain, Jean Grey shows why, no matter which era she's in, she's still the heart of the X-men.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Friday, August 4, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 155: Drug War Part 1 PREVIEW!


One of the biggest challenges in writing X-men is finding ways to apply their struggle for peace and understanding to the real world. I imagine it’s a struggle that the writers at Marvel also feel. From Chris Claremont to Joss Whedon, how do you develop the X-men in a way that makes their struggle feel relevant to that of other minorities? It has been a challenge throughout the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. There are times that challenge becomes secondary because the X-men do occasionally deal with cosmic elements like the Phoenix Force or the Shi’ar. There’s just no real-world parallel to the events in an arc like Starcrossed.

While I’ve done more than my share of cosmic arcs in this fanfiction series, going all the way back to X-men Supreme Issue 46: Paradise Mystery and the Phoenix Saga, I still make an effort to build the X-men’s struggle around conflicts that feel real. One of the greatest appeals of the X-men is how their struggles parallel that of real minorities, be it race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. The X-men were created in the early days of the Civil Rights movement. The case could be made that their struggle is more important now than it has ever been.

That struggle has gained a host of new complications since the beginning of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. On one hand, Charles Xavier is being wholly pragmatic about how the X-men further their efforts at peace and understanding. He’s working with the authorities rather than against them, teaming up with President Kelly and General Grimshaw on the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. His intentions are good, as they often are. However, working with the government, especially when the President has a history of opposing the X-men, comes with significant risks.

That, in many respects, is why some of the X-men’s most loyal members, namely Cyclops and Wolverine, chose to break away from their mentor’s plan. They formed X-Force because they felt that peace and understanding can’t be imposed from the top down. It needs to be built from the bottom up. They’ve already shown Professor Xavier and the X-men, who are now led by Captain Freeman, how those efforts can be complicated. The Volatility Sensibility arc had them struggle to deal with a single mutant. What does that mean for them when they face a more daunting enemy?

Well, that enemy has arrived. Sebastian Shaw, who has already made his presence felt in his fanfiction series, is back. The events of Dark Legacy put him in a position to regain what the X-men took from him during the Phoenix Saga. With his son now out of the way and the Inner Circle disbanded, he’s ready to rebuild his power. He’s even enlisted help from familiar names in the Wyngarde sisters, whose ties to Jason Wyngarde can only mean trouble.

X-men Supreme Issue 154: Reaching Out revealed that Shaw is the one behind Kick, the mutant-enhancing drug that has already made its presence felt with X-Factor. However, his agenda is just beginning. Both the X-men and X-Force know better than anyone that Sebastian Shaw is not someone to take lightly. Between his history with the Inner Circle and his connections to Sage and Weapon Plus, he can only bring trouble. He will also bring a daunting, not to mention relevant, challenge to the X-men Supreme fanfiction series in its next major arc, Drug War. As always, I’ve prepared a preview to show the first sparks of that war.

Teon lingered around Jubilee’s feet a bit longer. At one point, he reached for her sunglasses and put them on. At this point, Idie waved him down. He was getting a bit too friendly in her eyes.

“Give them back, Teon,” she said with a light scold.

“Fight?” was all Teon said in response.

“No. Remember what I told you about thou shalt not steal?”

Teon whimpered a bit as if to show remorse. Then he put the sunglasses back on Jubilee’s head before returning to Idie’s side. Jubilee couldn’t help but green even as Idie expressed remorse.

“I apologize for that. He’s…curious at times,” said Idie.

“Don’t worry about it. He’s only slightly more ill-mannered than my ex-boyfriend,” said Jubilee, giving Teon a playful look.

“Friend?” said Teon.

“If those are the kinds of guys you’re into, no wonder he likes you,” said Laurie, rolling her eyes.

Jubilee laughed again. She wished she hadn’t though. She was getting a bit too friendly with these mutants. That was a dangerous position to be in. She put her whole mission in jeopardy.

‘So much for keeping it together. These guys have all had the kind of rotten luck. They think Shaw will give them a better life. I’m here to undermine him because we know he’s behind that MGH crap. It’s not like I can have second thoughts. Tessa had me swallow this special transmission beacon before I left District X. For all I know, it’s beaming my location to the X-men and the MSA. I just hope that when shit starts exploding, these guys aren’t caught in the crossfire.’

Jubilee turned back towards the passing view outside. The desolate countryside finally started showing signs of civilization. They just entered what appeared to be a large plantation of sorts. It was entirely walled off, guarded by what looked like Mexican soldiers.

When the bus approached, the driver who hadn’t said a word to them since they got on signaled something through a radio. The soldiers simply nodded and opened the gates for the bus.

Passing through the gates, it was like entering another universe. Jubilee and the five young mutants found themselves in an opulent villa. The landscaping alone bore the markings of a very rich and powerful man, but it was the mansion itself that had them all in awe.

It stood a good four stories high and looked big enough to be its own neighborhood. It had a large fountain in the front and two smaller fountains on the side. They were part of a large circular driveway, which was manned by armed men who looked nothing like Mexican soldiers. As the bus approached, the true impact of their decision started sinking in.

“Wow…I didn’t know they made houses this big in Mexico!” exclaimed Gabriel.

“I didn’t know they made houses this big period!” said Laurie.

“It seems…excessive,” said Idie.

“House?” said Teon.

“That would be a profound insult to such an architectural marvel,” said Kenji.

While the five mutants admired the structure, Jubilee swallowed a touch of nervousness. If Sebastian Shaw was able to live in a place like this yet still evade people like Tessa and the X-men, then he was more resourceful than they thought. She maintained a confident poise as the bus pulled up to the front door. Once the doors to the bus opened and they made their way out, they were greeted by Shaw’s loyal associate, Warhawk.

“Welcome to the Villa del Fuego,” said Warhawk, “Mr. Shaw welcomes you to his humble facility.”

“I would say there is nothing humble about it,” said Kenji, “The architecture reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright mixed with a late Victorian layout. Very elaborate and very pricy, I imagine.”

“I’d just settle for calling it rich,” chuckled Gabriel.

“Mr. Shaw feels it’s important to present a powerful image,” explained Warhawk, “As beings of powers ourselves, it’s only fitting that we carry ourselves as such.”

“Sounds a little egotistical,” commented Jubilee.

“Hey! We’re guests here,” scolded Laurie, “Don’t make light of his hospitality.”

“Indeed,” said Idie in a daze, “I doubt we’ll ever enjoy it again.”

“I wouldn’t presume too much,” said Warhawk, “Once you see what Mr. Shaw can do for talented mutants like yourself, you’ll have every opportunity to experience the finer pleasures of life.”

“Mate?” said Teon.

“Not sure if that’s his way of voicing his approval, but I think he likes it,” grinned Gabriel.

The five mutants were understandably excited. They were being welcomed into this rich, secure world after having endured such rotten luck in their previous lives. Jubilee certainly couldn’t blame them for being enthusiastic. She struggled to keep up with them as they followed Warhawk to the front doors of the massive facility. Once inside, the real danger of this mission could begin.

“You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the sights later,” said Warhawk as he opened the main doors, “The six of you have arrived at a very exciting time. Mr. Shaw’s efforts to break the chains that bind mutants like yourselves has enjoyed moderate success. Now he plans on taking a much bolder step. With Mr. Shaw’s resources, you’ll become the shining lights of a new generation of mutants!”


The first few issues of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided have been steady in setting up the major conflicts between the X-men and X-Force. With this arc, things will begin escalating quickly. The stakes will rise. Greater threats will emerge. It’s all building towards another major event that will shake this fanfiction series to its core, but in the best possible way. I know Marvel says that about every major event. I want those words to mean something with X-men Supreme. As such, it’s critical that I continue to get feedback so that I can make sure that impact is awesome. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issues. Ignore the spammers. I’m still working on that. It might be best to contact me for now. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Anger Across The Ages: Generations: Banner Hulk & Totally Awesome Hulk #1

The following is my review of Generations: Banner Hulk and Totally Awesome Hulk #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


There are few constants in the ever-evolving, constantly-retconning narrative that is the Marvel universe. Costumes may change. Marriages may be undone by deals with Mephisto. Characters may turn out to be from an alternate universe, a Skrull agent, or evil clones of characters that died years ago. The fact that anyone can accept that kind of convoluted continuity with a straight face is a miracle, in and of itself. That makes the constants that remain all the more important and few are as memorable or iconic as the Hulk's anger.

His enemies may not like it when he's angry, but the Hulk's destructive rage makes for some of the best entertainment that the Marvel universe can offer. That anger, as blinding as it can be sometimes, takes many forms over the course of the Hulk's illustrious life. The rage that begins under Stan Lee's legendary pen is not the same as the one that continues under Greg Pak. That's what makes the concept of mixing the past and present so intriguing. That's the premise behind the Marvel Generations series. That's how the rage of one Hulk meets the rage of another in Generations: Banner Hulk and Totally Awesome Hulk #1.

In terms of context, the differences between Bruce Banner and Amadeus Cho are considerable. While both carry the burden of the Hulk, the weight of that burden is different for both characters. The death of Bruce Banner in Civil War II and the emergence of Amadeus Cho in Totally Awesome Hulk puts both characters on a different path. Pak, with the skilled art of Matteo Buffagni, brings those paths together in a story of shared anger.

The premise of the story is somewhat unclear. The mechanism by which Cho ends up in the past, confronting the Hulk during one of his earliest clashes with General Ross, is not overtly explained. Cho is in the present one moment. Then, he's in the past. That's the extent of the explanation.

That's not to say it's wholly contrived. In a world routinely driven by reality-bending hardware like the Cosmic Cube, the Infinity Gauntlet, and editorial mandates, it's not that much of a stretch that Cho would find himself unexpectedly in the past. That sounds like the sort of thing that happens to anyone who hangs out with Cable too much.

The lack of a premise does little to undermine the gamma-powered action, though. Pak doesn't waste any time giving Hulks from two different eras to start smashing something. He understands that if there are going to be two hulks in a story, then there needs to be twice the smashing. Generations: Banner Hulk and Totally Awesome Hulk #1 does plenty to fill that quota. Buffagni also does plenty to give it the distinct visual elements that make a Hulk story stand out. There are open spaces, raging monsters, and hard-nosed old men trying to solve problems by blowing them up.

In terms of checking the boxes for a classic Hulk story, Generations: Banner Hulk and Totally Awesome Hulk #1 covers most of the basics. However, the boxes it doesn't check are arguably the most important and that represents the most significant flaw in a story that otherwise has ample entertainment value. It's not enough to just have two Hulks smashing things. That's all well and good, but smashing without any greater meaning or drama behind it is just empty smashing. Even with the Hulk, that kind of smashing only goes so far.

 
It's when Cho and Bruce Banner aren't bulky green behemoths where the story really stalls. There's some initial confusion, as is to be expected whenever someone not named Dr. Doom warps time and space. Then, they start interacting, but not much comes of it. They try to avoid General Ross. They attempt to conceal themselves in populated areas. They even talk about their respective struggles to control the Hulk and the rage that drives him.

However, not much really comes from those conversations. Cho and Banner don't tell each other anything that they don't already know about themselves or the Hulk. There's not much dramatic impact in anything they do. Cho barely references the Hulk's future death in Civil War II, nor does he show much emotion when interacting with Banner. Given their history and their various connections throughout the Hulk's mythos, it feels downright muted.

There's still an underlying theme. There's still a sense of connection between Amadeus Cho's version of the Hulk and Bruce Banner's version. Concepts of anger, burdens, and dealing with inner monsters are all there. There's just no melodrama behind it. It may as well be an unnecessary reminder. Anyone who reads a Hulk comic from any era will get that same message, albeit with different varieties of smashing.

There's nothing about the narrative in Generations: Banner Hulk and Totally Awesome Hulk #1 that's out of place in terms of characterization, plot, or style. Both Banner and Cho get a chance to be their own Hulk. Pak, whose Hulk pedigree is beyond dispute, handles both characters as well as he has in previous efforts. Buffagni's artwork helps supplement those efforts. That's what makes the utter lack of impact so glaring and for a character who specializes in smashing, that's saying a lot.

Mixing elements from the past and present creates opportunities to explore classic themes while expanding on the dramatic weight that has built up to such a massive extent over the years. Generations: Banner Hulk and Totally Awesome Hulk #1 feels like one of those opportunities that was only partially realized. It does enough to smash all the right things. It just doesn't add enough merit behind the smashing.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sexy Side-Project Preview: The Red Queen Chronicles: The Surprise


I know this is usually when I announce the release of my new sexy side-project, complete with all the immature innuendo of every high school locker room in the western hemisphere. Make no mistake, I am still hard at work on those sexy side-projects. I have more than one in the works and I've every intention of completing them in as sexy a manner as possible. Sometimes, though, it's hard to pump them out regularly. Perhaps that wasn't a good choice of words, but you get the idea.

As I write this, I do have another sexy side-project in the works. It's yet another spin-off from my Red Queen Chronicles series. I feel as though the response I got from "The Red Queen Chronicles: The Alien," this sexy world is worth expanding and I'll continue to do so. I was hoping to be ready with the next entry today. Unfortunately, time just moves too damn fast.

I will announce, though, the contents of that story. It involves a pairing I feel is extremely underrated in Spider-Man and Carol Danvers. Granted, the love of Spider-Man and Mary Jane will always be iconic, no matter what the Mephistos of the world say, but there's something uniquely appealing about these two. They did have a few dates in the comics, but as far as I can tell, they've never seen each other naked. That's going to change with the Red Queen Chronicles.

That's why I'm proud to announce that the next story in this series will be called "The Red Queen Chronicles: The Surprise." In it, Captain Marvel enjoys a very special birthday celebration that Spider-Man makes even more special in exactly the way you're thinking.

Again, I'd hoped to complete the story by now. However, it ended up being longer than I expected and I was unable to finish it. I also ended up revising parts of it to ensure sufficient sexiness. So for now, the best I can do is this sexy preview.

‘Oh my God! Am I actually horny for Spider-Man? Of all the attractive men I work with – including freakin’ gods, for crying out loud – is Spider-Man the one that gets me wet? Or has it just been too damn long since I’ve been laid?’

She felt another shiver course down her spine, but for a very different reason. That feeling soon found its way to her lower body, triggering an arousal she hadn’t let herself feel in a long time. Captain Marvel would’ve found a way to repress it. However, Captain Marvel was taking a breather. For the rest of the night, Carol Danvers would take over.

“Tell me something, Spider-Man…are there any other reasons Mary Jane is so fond of you?” she asked, now with a hint of seduction in her tone.

“Um…you’ll have to ask her,” said Spider-Man with an awkwardness befitting of his immaturity.

“Actually, I’d rather find out for myself,” she told him. “Everyone else tonight has been letting go, loosening up, and doing something crazy. Maybe it’s time I do the same.”

To prove how serious she was, she scooted in closer and draped her legs over his lap. She also let go of his hand and caress the shrouded outline of his face, feeling through the mask to reach the man inside…a man she now found herself wanting.

‘Fuck it. It’s my birthday. I’m getting some tonight. If Spider-Man’s the one who’s gonna give to me…so be it.’


I know it's not much, but I hope it tides everyone over until the story is complete. While X-men Supreme still has priority, rest assured this story will be complete. When it's ready, I will post it. I hope it's worth the wait. Until then, take care and let this sexy image of Carol Danvers tantalize your dreams in the meantime.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Plots, Premonitions, and Pitfalls for an Empire: Secret Empire #7

The following is my review of Secret Empire #7, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Every evil empire, from Star Wars to all the organizations in a James Bond movie, goes through a cycle of self-destruction. It's part of a tried and true narrative wherein an authoritarian regime tries so hard to secure absolute control that they strain themselves and their resources. It doesn't help that these regimes tend to make a lot of enemies, many of which have little to lose and an abundance of targets. For a Hydra-affiliated Captain America, he's achieved a greater level of success than the Red Skull ever could, but he also made himself a huge target in the process.

Throughout the course of Secret Empire, as well as the events that led up to it, Nick Spencer puts Captain America in a high-risk, high-reward position. He is the unambiguous leader and visionary for Hydra, but he's also the perfect target for his enemies and former friends. His role in Secret Empire is akin to the design flaw in the Death Star. It's not very big and it's surrounded by all sorts of machinery, but the flaw is still there. The Avengers, the X-men, and everyone who doesn't enjoy living under Hydra's boot has a clear target and an easy rallying cry. No matter how powerful an empire is, this kind of vulnerability will create cracks.

With each issue of Secret Empire, Spencer reveals and widens certain cracks. Like the plot that put Captain America at the head of Hydra, the vulnerabilities of Hydra's empire are emerging subtly and steadily. The Avengers understand what they have to do to take Hydra down. Cap understands as well, but also has to contend with growing mistrust and distension among Hydra's ranks. Like any evil empire, unity and organization is a luxury and not a given.

There are all sorts of conflicting plots surrounding Hydra, Captain America, and the Avengers. A few have a foundation going back to the events of Civil War II. Some of those plots are finally starting to converge as the event nears its conclusion. Secret Empire #7 acts as both a turning point and a clear sign that the cracks in Hydra's world are about to turn into gaping wounds. As far as evil empires go, Spencer makes sure that Hydra is right on schedule.


From the very beginning of Secret Empire, and even a little bit before that, Captain America goes out of his way to make sure he's in a position of strength while his former allies are not. He arguably pulls off the greatest tactic in the history of the Marvel universe, dividing every major hero and using all the trust they ever put into Captain America against them. Nobody not armed with the Cosmic Cube, a time machine, or a cozy relationship with Marvel's editorial staff can hope to match that kind of subversion.

At the same time, however, Captain America's elaborate efforts have an unavoidable side-effect that even the Cosmic Cube can't avoid. It both humbles and enrages the heroes he worked so hard to defeat. From Captain Marvel to Black Widow to Squirrel Girl, every hero opposing Hydra's regime is battered and wounded, both physically and mentally. They're all in an impossible situation where they're fighting more than just Hydra. They're fighting someone who exposed their greatest vulnerabilities and exploited their trust.

It is, by every measure, a major low point for all those not on board with Hydra. Spencer uses this dire situation to give certain characters a moment of self-reflection. For many, it's overdue. For some, it's unavoidable. It's this self-reflection that helps make Secret Empire the kind of conflict that feels both epic and personal. It also hits hard in terms of drama, making the grim situation feel that much more intimate.

Of all the characters who feel the gravity of the situation in Secret Empire #7, it's Captain Marvel and Miles Morales who get hit hardest. Arguably, Captain Marvel's solemn admissions of failure and humility are overdue. For a character who has a movie coming out in two years and always seems too ambitious for her own good, it's a powerful moment that feels reflective of how many heroes feel after Hydra's triumph. It may not make it into a movie, but it's the kind of insight that can only be shown when a character is at their lowest.

For Miles Morales, the stakes are a bit more pressing. Since Civil War II, he lives with the burden of being destined to kill Captain America, according to a vision of the future. Granted, that vision occurs before Captain America is exposed as a Hydra agent, but it still haunts him. He and Black Widow have a chance to change how that vision plays out. It culminates in one of the most dramatic, and bloody, moments in Secret Empire to date. Vision or no vision, it's a moment meant to strike an emotional chord and it succeeds, albeit in part.


It's that same moment that also exposes some of the flaws in Secret Empire #7. While it succeeds in tying the events of Secret Empire with the events of Civil War II, the path the narrative follows is uneven and chaotic at times. While it never feels rushed, it does feel messy in the sense that there's so much going on between each moment and it's hard to follow the journey for certain characters. That ensures some of those dramatic moments feel hollow.

It's not that the moment has no impact at all. It just comes off as too easy. Given all the drama the entire Marvel universe endures in avoiding the visions in Civil War II, the choices that characters like Miles make and the impacts of those choices don't strike enough of those emotional chords. It creates connections, but not much else. In the end, it feels more like a teenager who just doesn't want to be told what to do rather than someone making the right decision.

Even with the chaotic plot structure, Secret Empire #7 makes clear that Hydra's hold is weakening. Even Steve Rogers is starting to crack under the pressure. Like so many other evil empires before them, he and Hydra are starting to realize that managing a chaotic world full of angry superheroes who don't enjoy being tricked is not easy. At some point, the chaos overwhelms even the mightiest armies. Hydra may be as powerful as any evil organization, but even they can't micromanage beyond a certain extent.

While certain moments struggle to create an impact, the overall story of Secret Empire remains on track. Like a slow-building firestorm, it's finally getting noticeably hot and the artwork of Leinil Francis Yu ensures it's a spectacle to behold. With only a few issues left, Hydra is facing many headaches and for an army that claims to have so many heads, that's saying something.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, July 21, 2017

Alpha and Omega Mutant Narrative: Astonishing X-men #1

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


Even in a mythos as vast and diverse as the X-men, there's still a place for a definitive A-team of sorts. The makeup and purpose of that team may change over time, but its presence still carries a special impact. Whatever happens to them or whatever path they chart tends to affect the X-men mythos as a whole. Like a major summer blockbuster or the premier of a new Vince Gilligan show, it's an event that sets the bar for others to achieve.

Astonishing X-men has an established history of being that A-team. Under Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, it acts as the gold standard by which all other X-men comics were measured. In other eras, Chris Clarmeont's work on Uncanny X-men or or Scott Lobdell's work on X-men carry the same weight. Creating a series with such an impact is difficult to achieve, but the ingredients are fairly simple. It needs only a cast of top-tier, well-known characters. If they've been played by major actors in an X-men movie or get fans talking about more than who can lift Thor's hammer, they're a candidate.

After the latest round of relaunches that spun out of Marvel's ResurrXion effort, the X-men comics still lack that definitive A-list book. X-men Blue and X-men Gold contain major characters and prominent stories for the greater X-men narrative. However, they still lack a lead blocker of sorts to pave the way for the future of X-men.

Now, Charles Soule and Jim Chung, two of Marvel's most prominent talents, attempt to create that book with Astonishing X-men #1. They have all the ingredients, namely a strong cast full of familiar and prominent faces. They even have major stakes already in play with Marvel Legacy just on the horizon. It's not unreasonable to say that Astonishing X-men is the most critical X-men comic to come along since Secret Wars. The stakes are high and the margin for error is low, but Astonishing X-men #1 really rises to the occasion.


The story hits the ground running like a summer blockbuster movie, complete with a monster attack, random explosions, and snarky remarks from beautiful women. Short of including transforming robots, it's hard to imagine a series beginning with more style. That's not to say it's lacking of substance though. Soule and Chung don't rely too much on spectacle. The structure of the story is built on establishing the stakes and that's where Astonishing X-men #1 shines brightest.

The story doesn't try too hard to build off the events of another book. It does mention some recent events in the X-men comics, but it doesn't try too hard to act as a connecting point. If anything, it avoids the kinds of complicated tie-ins that tend to make some books too confusing. It's presented as a story that anyone can pick up, not be too lost, and be entertained. It's a simple formula, but one that proves potent.

Even those who haven't kept up with X-men comics in recent years won't be too confused. So long as they know that attacks by Shadowking are bad and giant psychic monsters in the middle of London are dangerous, they'll be able to follow the story. So long as they also like fast-paced action, high stakes, and Chung's colorful art, they'll enjoy that story as well.

On the surface, the plot isn't very groundbreaking. Shadowking, a well-known X-men enemy who has been while the mutant race overcame their latest extinction plot, is back in action and attacking psychics. With Charles Xavier dead, he doesn't go for the biggest, most powerful mind first. Instead, he attacks psychics who are isolated and ill-prepared, using them as preseason games, of sorts, to get himself ready for prime time. Then, he gets a little bolder and attacks Psylocke. The spectacle only escalates from there.

It's the kind of plot that can easily fall flat. With Chung's artwork, the visual appeal alone is usually enough to give it value. Soule, however, never lets the story become too devoid of substance. From the first few pages, he uses every opportunity to provide context and depth. He does this primarily through a mystery narrator who provides insight early on, helping to establish the setting and identify the characters involved. The identity of that narrator isn't revealed until the end, but he still serves an important purpose that helps make Astonishing X-men #1 feel like more than just a generic summer blockbuster.

Despite all the action, explosions, and snooty remarks made by Fantomex and Gambit, there's a sense that there's a larger vision for the story and the series. It's not just throwing together all these A-list X-men characters and expecting it to sell itself. That's a tempting trap that many X-men comics have fallen into over the years. Soule makes a clear effort to avoid that by setting up a larger conflict for the characters to take on.

That's not to say those efforts are entirely seamless. There's not a lot of rhyme or reason as to how and why these particular X-men characters are where they are when explosions start going off. There are some small connections between characters here and there. However, the story never tries to overthink certain details. It provides just enough to make the more explosive, action-oriented elements more meaningful than a typical Sentinel attack on a Tuesday afternoon.


Soule and Chung have an rich batch of ingredients to work with in Astonishing X-men #1. They have plenty of chances to overuse one at the cost of the other, but they don't. They still manage to take each element, mold it into a story, and let it cook until it has the look, taste, and feel of an A-list blockbuster. The final result couldn't be more potent without casting Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart.

Even in an age where superhero blockbusters capture a huge chunk of the pop culture market, there's still a place for Astonishing X-men. The story is still unfolding, but if the final page is any indication, there's plenty of potential for astonishment.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

X-men Supreme Issue 154: Reaching Out is LIVE!


Since I began X-men Supreme, I’ve often made an effort to make sure that this fanfiction series stands out in a meaningful way, compared to the ongoing X-men comics. While the X-men were facing yet another extinction plot or another sterilization story, I had them traveling to visit the Shi’ar in the Starcrossed arc. When Jean Grey was dead and the Phoenix Force was just a ploy to get the X-men and Avengers to fight, I was overhauled the concept in the X-men Supreme version of the Phoenix Saga.

Every now and then, however, X-men Supreme lines up with the X-men comics in a peculiar way. When the second Wolverine movie came out a few years ago, it coincided with my Lotus and the Warrior arc during X-men Supreme Volume 4: Politics of Fear. That kind of synergy isn’t always possible. I couldn’t really do anything for the release of X-men Apocalypse or the Logan movie. However, I try to make use of those opportunities when I get a chance.

That leads me to the awkward situation that X-men Supreme faces now, at least compared to the X-men comics. At the moment, this fanfiction series has the X-men working directly with President Kelly and General Grimshaw in an unprecedented partnership between humans and mutants. After the events of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation, Charles Xavier made the difficult decision to overhaul the X-men, as well as his dream, and team up with the government in what he called the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

This decision left the X-men deeply divided. After the decision was made in X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide, Cyclops and Wolverine quit the team and formed X-Force. This division is the primary driving force of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. Conversely, the X-men are in a very different place in the comics. Many of them are currently freedom fighters, of sorts, standing against an oppressive world led by Hydra within the pages of Secret Empire. It’s not just different from what’s going on in this fanfiction series. It’s the complete opposite.

Now, I didn’t plan it this way. I laid out the plot for X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided long before I even knew about Secret Empire. However, things just played out that way. The X-men are working for the government in one series and against it in another. It’s a strange confluence of circumstanced between X-men Supreme and the comics, but it’s one I still want to maximize.

At the moment, the X-men and X-Force are dealing with the aftermath of Volatility Sensibility. They struggled to help a single innocent mutant in Nitro. Now, thanks to the efforts of their friends in X-Factor, they know there’s a larger threat on the horizon from a familiar enemy in Sebastian Shaw. If they struggled with Nitro, what hope do they have against Sebastian Shaw? It’s a tense situation, one that will set the stage for the next major clash. It begins here, but make no mistake. It’s a prelude to a much larger storm.

X-men Supreme Issue 154: Reaching Out

I know not every X-men fan likes what’s going on in the X-men comics right now. One of the reasons I began this fanfiction series was to give something for those dissatisfied fans to enjoy until the storm passes. That makes the current situation somewhat awkward. Some of the dynamics in X-men Supreme might not appeal to certain X-men fans, many of whom were already burned out on schisms and team divisions. I totally understand that. Like the comics, though, there is a larger plan in place. I hope to develop that plan in as awesome a manner as possible. As such, it’s critical that I continue to get feedback, despite spammers making a mess of my comments section. Either post your feedback in the comments section or, better yet, contact me directly. I’m always happy to hear from readers and from X-men fans. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Friday, July 14, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 154: Reaching Out PREVIEW!


I take it everyone has had a chance to exercise their inner Spider-Man fan with the recent release of Spider-Man: Homecoming. I hope you’re now ready to be X-men fans again with the X-men Supreme fan fiction series. Spider-Man can enjoy his time in the limelight. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided will continue and, much like Peter Parker, the X-men can’t expect to catch a break. After the plot revealed in X-men Supreme Issue 153: Revolting Youth, the X-men are in for a much greater challenge.

The breadth of this challenge was hinted at just a few issues ago in the Volatility Sensibility arc. That conflict revealed, among other things, that the X-men and X-Force are still struggling to adapt to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative that Charles Xavier implemented at the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. Beyond just being divided, there were already signs that Xavier and his X-men weren’t on the same page as General Grimshaw and Captain Freeman.

If the X-men and X-Force struggled to stop a single mutant with volatile powers, something the X-men have done with far fewer complications going all the way back to X-men Supreme Issue 6: Rogue Recruit, then they’re in trouble. How are both teams going to function when they face a much bigger threat? In a sense, the X-men have been pretty lucky since the end X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. There’s no Mutant Liberation Front, Magneto, or Sinister to threaten them. The Brotherhood of Mutants is still at large, but they’ve effectively disappeared since the disillusion of Genosha. It made for a rare moment for the X-men, one in which they lacked a clear and direct enemy.

That’s about to change because some of their enemies have been active, albeit in a very secretive manner. One enemy that has remained unseen for quite some time is Sebastian Shaw. After being severely wounded in the events of the Phoenix Saga, he made a clear recovery at the end of the Dark Legacy arc in X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. Given his ties to characters like Sage and organizations like the Inner Circle, it was only a matter of time before he entered the picture again.

Well, given the events so far in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, his timing couldn’t be better. Shaw already showed that he’s been hard at work on a new project, a part of which X-Factor uncovered in X-men Supreme Issue 153: Revolting Youth. Shaw and his cohorts have been working on something modern X-men fans should be quite familiar with in Mutant Growth Hormone, also known as Kick. This potent cocktail of mutant chaos has caused a lot of damage in the X-men comics. Now, it’s about to cause even more in this fanfiction series.

This is a bad time for things to get tougher in the world of X-men Supreme. The divisions between the X-men and X-Force leave both sides vulnerable and Sebastian Shaw knows how to exploit vulnerabilities better than anyone. However, he won’t be doing it alone. There will be other threats to aid him, the kind the X-men have faced before. I would love to tease more, but I’ll leave that to the extended preview.

“My son! Is he…” said the woman breathlessly as she ran alongside Jean.

“He’s fine!” assured Jean, “Can’t believe that son-of-a-bitch would…”

“Jean!” said Shiro, who was still standing on the curb, “Vargas is escaping! I’m going after him!”

“I’ll catch up! Feel free to burn his ass off!”

“Duly noted!” said Shiro as he took off running.

Everything happenedvery quickly. As soon as Jean dropped her telekinetic hold on Vargas, he ran full speed down the opposing street. He shoved through some bewildered civilians in the process, intent on getting away no matter who he put in danger. Shiro ran after him to catch up. He was surprised that a junkie could run so fast. Then again, he might not be an ordinary junkie. Someone who dealt MGH was bound to have a few surprises.

The chase ensued for another four city blocks. The narrow roads around Fenway Park soon gave way to congested avenues near the Massachusetts Turnpike. Since it was the middle of the day, there were a fair amount of people on the sidewalks. Both Vargas and Shiro had to shove them aside. Having already shown a willingness to attack a mother and her child, it was a dangerous situation that needed to be stopped.

“I’ve run in the Boston marathon. You will not escape!” yelled Shiro.

Vargas panted heavily as he heard Shiro catching up. He tried knocking over a few trash cans and pushing over some tables around an outside restaurant to slow him down. It wasn’t enough. Shiro just used his fire powers to burn right through it.

He could literally feel the heat gaining on him. His frail body was failing him. His poor physical condition was catching up to him. He was nearing another busy crosswalk where there was no shortage of people he could throw in front of cars. However, Shiro wouldn’t allow it. He literally dived out and tackled him to the hard pavement.

“Argh!” exclaimed Vargas as he fell flat on his face, losing a tooth in the process.

“That’s enough of that, Mr. Vargas,” said Shiro, now holding him by the legs, “You’ve added reckless endangerment to your list of crimes. Do not add any more.”

Vargas groaned as he struggled within Shiro’s grip. He looked back and saw the Japanese mutant flash a few menacing flames around his head. He could easily burn him until he cooperated. Vargas was in no condition to endure it so he made another desperate move.

“I didn’t want to do this, but once again I’m too weak,” he said shamefully.

With Shiro still holding onto his legs, Vargas reached into the pocket in his sweat-jacket and pulled out a small syringe. It was already filled with a reddish fluid. As soon as Shiro saw it, his eyes widened.

“You’re…a mutant?” exclaimed Shiro.

“I wish,” muttered Vargas.

Closing his eyes, the young man jammed the syringe into his abdomen. Shiro tried to knock it away from him, but it was too late. The drug was in his system. The effect was almost immediate.

His once frail arms bulged with new muscle, indicating a new strength. Vargas seethed as the substance coursed through his system. At the same time, he noticed a fire hydrant to his left. Without hesitation, he slammed his arm right into the side. The metal was quickly warped under the sudden, causing a hole that shot out a high-pressure stream of water that engulfed Shiro and several surrounding civilians.

“Ugh!” grunted Shiro, his flames extinguished by the water.

Being blasted with water caused Shiro to release his grip on Vargas. As soon as he was free, Vargas stumbled back to his feet and ran out into the street. He happened to step right in front of a taxi cab, who promptly slammed on the breaks. Vargas showed his new strength by slamming his fist onto the hood of the car, causing the whole car to shake.

“Holy shit! What’s with your arm?’ the man exclaimed.

“Get out!” he told the driver.

The driver didn’t need to be threatened any further. He quickly stumbled out from the driver’s seat and ran as fast as he could across the street. With his muscles still bulging, Vargas got into the driver’s seat. Before he took off, he slammed his fist into the dashboard to knock out the cab equipment and GPS. He didn’t need anyone tracking him to his next destination.

“I’m coming, my queens. I will atone for this,” Vargas proclaimed.

Shiro was just emerging from the still gushing torrent of water when Vargas drove off. The tires screeched as he drove over a curb and out into the main avenue, causing a couple of minor fender benders in the process. Within seconds he was out of sight and there was no chance of catching him. Now soaked and unable to use his fire powers, Shiro could only watch as Vargas escaped.

The civilians around him swarmed around the accidents and the broken fire hydrant. Nearby police officers turned their attention to the cars in the street that had collided in confusion. It was a lot of damage for one junkie to cause. In Shiro’s mind, this man wasn’t a junkie. He was something much worse.

‘Whoever these mistresses are, they must have quite a hold on him. I wonder if they also gave him that dose of Kick. If he wasn’t a mutant, it should have killed him…unless there’s something else we’re messing.’

It was a frustrating outcome. This might have been their only lead to Sebastian Shaw and whoever else was involved. They had a name now, but if Vargas was as determined as he seemed then he would not be easy to find. They would need another approach and another stroke of luck.

Shiro groaned and bowed his head in frustration, ignoring the commotion around him from civilians and police. He was about to contact Jean Grey and see how she was doing. Then something on the ground caught his eye. While he was holding onto Vargas, some stuff fell out of his pocket. Among them was a fancy-looking business card with a distinct logo on the cover. When he picked it up and read the name on it, his frustration turned to intrigue.

‘Shiro! Are you there? The lady and her baby are safe, although the driver of the car is pissed. What’s happening on your end? Did you catch Vargas?’

Jean Grey’s urgent thoughts echoed loudly in his mind. However, Shiro barely heard them. He was too fixated on the card he not held in his hand.

‘Shiro? Please don’t be hurt or something!’

‘I’m fine Jean,’ he replied through his mind, ‘Vargas got away. He proved more cunning than expected.’

‘Damn it! He was our only lead. There may still be time to track him! I can call the Professor and he can get the MSA to…’

‘That might not be necessary, Jean. Vargas has already provided us with another tantalizing clue.’

‘What do you mean?’

Shiro was silent for a moment. This mystery surrounding MGH kept taking unexpected turns. With each revelation, the threat it posed grew more terrifying.

‘Tell me, Jean…does the name Wynegarde mean anything to you?’


Things are going to get a lot tougher for the X-men before they start improving. The X-men Supreme fanfiction series is in a state of upheaval right now. There are clear divisions, obstacles, and complications. It’s all building towards something, that much I can promise. Like previous volumes of X-men Supreme, I want that payoff to be great. As such, it’s important that I continue to receive feedback from X-men Supreme readers. Whether you’re a fan of the cartoons or comics, I want to hear from you. Either contact me directly or post your comments in the issue. I always try to respond to every email sent my day so please don’t be shy. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Convergence of Character and Chaos: Dr. Aphra #9

The following is my review of Dr. Aphra #9, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Every now and then, a character comes along that fills a need that nobody even knows is there until it's shoved in their face. It's like there are all these blind spots in the world of popular culture and nobody bothers to look until something jumps out and surprises everyone for the best possible reasons. For a mythos like Star Wars, where endless debates rage over whether Han Solo or Greedo shot first, it's hard to imagine there are any blind spots left. Then, Dr. Aphra and her two homicidal droids, Triple-0 and BT, come along and suddenly everyone has a reason to forget about Greedo.

Ever since her debut in Darth Vader #3, Dr. Aphra keeps finding ways to be the most compelling character in Marvel's evolving Star Wars universe. She's part Indiana Jones, part Han Solo, part Lara Croft, and part Catwoman. For such a new character, relative to a mythos that has been around since the disco era, that's an eclectic mixture, to say the least. However, Kieron Gillen finds a way to make Dr. Aphra work brilliantly. She's a character Star Wars didn't know it needed, but it's that much better because of her.

What helps set Dr. Aphra apart from Luke, Han, Leia, and Jar Jar Binks is her ability to play both sides. She's neither on the side of the Empire nor the Rebel Alliance. She's very much on her own side, as seen in arcs like Vader Down and Screaming Citadel. She has no qualms with changing her allegiance on a whim whenever it suits her. She's downright Machiavellian in her tactics, but somehow finds a way to be lovable.

These tactics are on full display within Dr. Aphra #9. While fans of all things noble and true in the galaxy may have a hard time rooting for her, it's hard to deny her ambitious. Dr. Aphra is the personification of Mos Eisley in that she surrounds herself with the worst thieves, thugs, and deviants in the galaxy. Unlike Luke Skywalker, she's exceedingly comfortable in their company. She gives the impression that she prefers it. For her, the scum of the galaxy are preferable to Jedi or Sith, if only because they have deeper pockets.

That's another aspect of her character that sets her apart. Like Han Solo, Dr. Aphra is more concerned with paying off old debts and turning a profit rather than bringing balance to the Force. Unlike Han Solo, though, she's not as inclined to step up and play the hero when the chips are down. If it means losing a payday or a valuable asset, she'll generally brush it off. She'll even screw over anyone who tries to nudge her in a certain direction. More than anything else, Dr. Aphra prefers to serve her own agenda and will employ any number of murder drones and renegade wookies to achieve it.

The agenda in Dr. Aphra #9 isn't that complex, but the setup is pretty elaborate. For the past several issues, she's been trying to make use of an ancient Jedi artifact that dates back to the Old Republic. Beyond satisfying her scientific curiosity as a renegade archeologist, she also understands that all things Jedi have greater value in a galaxy where most were wiped out. She may be a deviant, even by Sith standards, but she understands market forces.

Knowing the Empire is more prone to blow up planets rather than bargain, she invites some of the galaxy's most accomplished thieves and criminals to bid on it. She even turns it into a party of sorts, one in which puts Dr. Aphra's charisma and cunning on full display. She's not some inexperienced farm boy. She's not even some privileged princess. She's very much in a category all her own. In a galaxy full of Death Stars, smugglers, droids, and Lando Calrissians, she finds a way to stand out.

That's not to say Dr. Aphra is that efficient at pursuing her agenda. In fact, a good chunk of her nascent history is full of ambitious plans blowing up in her face, going all the way back to when Darth Vader first enlisted her help. It's one of the reasons she finds herself in so much debt in the first place. She's great at forging these elaborate schemes to acquire resources. She's just not that good at adapting those schemes when something goes horribly wrong, which tends to happen a lot in a galaxy where even Death Stars are prone to blowing up.

In a sense, she's very much the anti-Rey. Nobody can read Dr. Aphra #9 and claim she's a Mary Sue type character. Dr. Aphra is ambitious and skilled, but she doesn't exactly endear herself to everyone around her. It's also painfully obvious by the end that at least part of her plan is doomed to fail again. Unlike Han Solo and Princess Leia, she can't expect to rely on the love of friends and allies to save her.

Dr. Aphra isn't that kind of person. For her, friends and allies are expensive and potentially distracting. Granted, that puts her in many difficult positions, especially when her schemes go awry, but that's what provides so much of the entertainment value in Dr. Aphra #9 and her story as a whole. She is very much a deviant and a renegade, but she's no Jabba the Hut. She's not cruel or vindictive. She's not the kind of person who will Force choke anyone who disagrees with her. However, she is willing to leave dead bodies and broken droids in her wake.

Those who've grown fond of Dr. Aphra since her introduction in Darth Vader #3 will find plenty to enjoy in Dr. Aphra #9. In a sense, Dr. Aphra #9 highlights all of the traits that make her story compelling and her character endearing. Those who haven't been following her exploits since Screaming Citadel may be lost, though. Dr. Aprha's story is difficult to just pick up and follow. There are also times when the flaws in her schemes seem a bit too obvious. Those hoping for a big revelation on par with The Empire Strikes Back will be disappointed. That's not how Dr. Aphra works. It's the little revelations that make her story so engaging.

That doesn't prevent Dr. Aphra's character from being any less endearing. She's still someone that's easy to root for. At the same time, she's also someone that can slip up and not upset too many people. Gillen's development of her character continues to be strong and Andrea Broccardo's art adds visual appeal with that distinct Star Wars style. Dr. Aphra may not care much for the Force since it can't pay her debts, but she doesn't even need it to be a great character. Debts or not, the galaxy is inherently richer because of her presence.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sci-Fi Cast Away: Star Wars #33

The following is my review of Star Wars #33, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In terms of a modern mythos, complete with philosophical, psychological, and cos-playing implications, Star Wars is the standard by which all others are measured. Few other sagas, from Marvel's ever-evolving continuity of reboots and retcons to multiple eras of Star Trek, even come close. It manages to be both incredibly expansive, yet remarkably concise. It's themes, emotions, and drama create a perfect blend that gives it a special place in popular culture.

Given the sheer breadth and scope of Star Wars, it's easy to forget that there are various parts that remain unexplored. Ever since Disney and Marvel began expanding some of those unexplored areas, new elements of that mythos are emerging. Given the iconic status that Star Wars has for generations of fans, it's a careful balancing act. There are only so many ways that Star Wars can be expanded without undermining the larger narrative. Even an iconic mythos cannot withstand the force of too many Jar Jars.

Jason Aaron manages that balancing act better than most, taking full advantage of the gap between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back to flesh out elements of Star Wars that never get a chance on a movie screen. One element that never gets much development is the relationship between Luke and Leia. Even without knowing their secret sibling connection, so much of the drama is centered around Leia's constant clashes with Han. It's easy to forget that her story is closely tied to Luke. Aaron, with the artistic talents of Salvador Larroca, use Star Wars #33 as an opportunity to explore that story.

The setup is simple, if not unremarkable by Star Wars standards. Luke and Leia get stranded on a planet that's mostly water and dotted with a few small islands. The circumstances are fairly generic in that it's not part of some larger story arc. It's just another case of a routine mission going horribly wrong, which seems to happen at least once a week for the Rebellion. There's nothing about it that rattles the continuity of the original trilogy. It's basically the sci-fi equivalent of Cast Away, but with more sea monsters and fewer volley balls.

This bland, but simple setup does serve an important purpose though. It puts Luke and Leia in a position where they have to work together and rely on each other to survive. They know they can survive an onslaught of storm troopers and escaping the Death Star. They've even shown they can survive working with Han Solo for more than two weeks and survive. However, their strength is often defined by their ability to be part of a team. They're rarely in a situation where they can only rely on each other.

It makes for some compelling moments, exploring some of the inner struggles within both characters. It's easy to forget between blowing up the Death Star and falling in love with a smuggler that Luke and Leia are still processing some major upheavals. A part of Luke still sees himself as a farm boy and a part of Leia still sees herself as a princess, complete with all the ceremonial formalities. What stands out in Star Wars #33 is just how uneasy they both feel with their previous roles.

There's a distinct sense that being a farm boy never sat well with Luke. Leia shows a similar sentiment. She reveals that at one point, she ran away to escape some of the formalities that come with being a princess. While this puts her at odds with most traditional Disney princesses, it reveals an important element to both characters.

On some levels, they sense that their situations in life aren't right. They sense that they're meant for something else. Aaron gives the impression that the Force is somehow letting them know that their story is tied with that of Darth Vader and the legacy of Anikan Skywalker. They don't know this, given the story's place in the existing Star Wars timeline. However, they do feel it. If it is a manifestation of the Force, then Yoda himself would be proud.

Beyond the personal exploration, there's also some reflection on recent events, relative to the outcome of A New Hope. Leia is still mourning the destruction of Alderan. The emotions don't get too heavy, though. Leia comes off as more hardened than most princesses. She's no Cinderella, but she's no Elsa either. If she ever broke into song, it wouldn't be very uplifting.

These moments of personal insight and inner character struggles are the highlight of Star Wars #33. While they succeed at providing greater insight into Luke and Leia, as characters, the rest of the narrative falls somewhat flat. Their struggles for survival on the island never create much strain. At most, they only ever seem inconvenienced by their situation. There's never any despair, anguish, or strain. Despite one of them being a princess and the other being a farm boy, their outlook on the situation is remarkably dispassionate.

There are some elements that keep the story from becoming too much like Cast Away. They eventually find out that the planet isn't as desolate as they think. That helps put them in a position to escape and even make a few new allies. However, that story is lacking in terms of detail and insight. It comes off as just a simple, convenient way to get Luke and Leia off the planet before readers can start making incest jokes.

There's nothing about the story in Star Wars #33 that feels out of place, out of character, or inconsistent with the larger mythos. Even if parts of the story lack details, it never comes off as flawed or incomplete. The primary strength of the narrative is the deeper exploration of Luke and Leia, as characters.

When all is said and done, they both come off as more complex characters, which can only give greater weight to the iconic narrative that is Star Wars. While that won't stop some fans from cracking incest jokes about Luke and Leia, Star Wars #33 will give them a greater appreciation for who they are as characters. Anyone hoping for more than that, though, is asking too much of the Force.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Red Queen Chronicles: The Alien is LIVE!


Some concepts have a special, but understated sex appeal. When it comes to characters like Mary Jane Watson, there aren't too many things she can't make sexy. That said, there are certain concepts that are very popular among fans, but somewhat taboo in the comics. You'll see all sorts of fan art and fan fiction about it, but you'll never see it in the comics, at least not to its sexy extreme.

Like it or not, Marvel is owned by Disney and Disney built its billions on creating things that don't horrify and/or titillate anxious parents who don't want their children to know that sexy things exist in this world. They'll never craft the kinds of stories I've told with Mary Jane in my "Red Queen" mini-series.

I understand this. I hope readers understand this as well. That gives me all the more reason to make sure that my "Red Queen Chronicles" stories are as sexy as possible. I like to think I've already accomplished plenty by getting the X-men and Black Widow involved. Now, it's time to get the most obvious and overdue character involved. For Mary Jane Watson, that means getting a sexy visit from Venom.

If you've scoured message boards with loose moderators or browsed any kind of PG-13 fan art, you know as well as I do that Mary Jane Watson and Venom are a popular pairing. There's just something inherently sexy about Mary Jane getting some action from a malleable alien. Given the fanbase surrounding anime porn and sexy redheads, it's as close to a perfect match you'll get without involving Emma Frost's tits.

At some point, my "Red Queen Chronicles" stories were going to get Venom involved. It should've happened sooner, but it's happening now. It's just a simple one-shot, but should maximize the sexy potential of Mary Jane and Venom as only these stories can. Enjoy!


Again, I encourage everyone to take the time to provide reviews of these stories. I've been quite surprised by how well these stories have been received, but maybe I shouldn't be, given the inherent appeal Mary Jane's sexiness tends to attract. I'm not entirely sure of which direction I'll take this series if it continues. I do have some ideas, but whether or not I'll pursue these ideas depends on the feedback I get. If you have other ideas for more sexy stories involving Mary Jane/The Red Queen, please share them. With someone like Mary Jane, there's always potential for greater sexiness.