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