Friday, July 3, 2015

X-men Supreme Issue 124: Dark Legacy Part 4 is LIVE!


Today is a solemn yet defining moment for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. The Dark Legacy arc is about to end. The death and destruction unleashed by Sinister and his Legacy Virus will be complete. The world the X-men fight to protect will never be the same. There will be losses. Charles Xavier will have some difficult and solemn decisions to make. Some will be deeply scarred in profound ways. In every case, the X-men and the world as a whole will have to pick up the pieces. The question remains what kind of world will emerge in X-men Supreme in wake of so much destruction?

The aftermath of a catastrophe can often be every bit as impactful as the catastrophe itself. After a major natural disaster or a national tragedy, the bonds and identity of a society are often tested. We find out just how unified and strong they are. We also find out who is in a position to exploit the situation. X-men Supreme established a fragile yet functional peace between human and mutant factions. The situation after the events of the Cambrian Explosion made both sides feel vulnerable. Magneto came dangerously close to exploiting it again, but he also gave the X-men and General Grimshaw the foundation they needed to craft this peace.

Now after the death and destruction caused by Sinister’s Legacy Virus, what will this mean for General Grimshaw’s Mutant Security Agency? What will this mean for President Kelly’s often tenuous policy on mutants? And what will this mean for the Scarlet Witch and the rest of Genosha? There are a lot of potential conflicts to consider, but there’s one important detail that may unite them. The Legacy Virus affected them all equally. Like real diseases, it doesn’t care who is a minority and who is in power. Every side of the conflict will be weakened, including the X-men. It’s the extent of the losses that will establish the new status quo for this fanfiction series.

Beyond the global and geopolitical implications, there are also some personal impacts. The extent of all those impacts will be revealed in the final issue of this game-changing arc. Few will feel that impact more than Charles Xavier. In X-men Supreme, I’ve given him some very human flaws. Being the world’s most powerful telepath isn’t his greatest challenge. It’s his health. It nearly killed him before, requiring alien intervention from the Shi’ar to survive. Now it’s about to be pushed in ways that will have a profound impact on the function of the X-men moving forward.

There are so many impacts and so many emotions to reveal. In terms of the big picture, the Dark Legacy arc will cause some of the greatest upheavals the X-men Supreme fanfiction series has endured to date. Nobody will escape its effects. Charles Xavier, General Grimshaw, President Kelly, Wanda Maximoff, and everyone in between will be struck. And as I said before, there will be losses and those losses will hit the X-men hard. The scope and scale of Sinister’s madness will finally be revealed in this issue and the world of X-men Supreme will never be the same.

X-men Supreme Issue 124: Dark Legacy Part 4

I can’t overstate how monumental this arc is for the larger context of this fanfiction series. There are personal implications for characters like Wolverine and Charles Xavier. There are pragmatic implications with how the X-men function in this new world. These are all stories I still want to explore, but the lack of response I’ve gotten from readers has made it difficult to put sufficient energy into that exploration.

There are still those who continue to support this fanfiction series and for those people, I thank you. I’d love to hear from more people. I put a lot of time and energy into this fanfiction series and I want to make it as awesome as possible. I can’t do that without feedback. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issue. Either way is fine. Next week, I’ll make an announcement on the future of this series. But the decision I make is still subject to change, depending on feedback. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Excelsior!

Jack

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Scanned Thoughts: Years of Future Past #2


Hope for the future is the one of the few things that keeps us from whipping out a can of lighter fluid and torching everything around us to the sound of Taylor Swift’s latest single. Some people have more hope than others. A teenager in downtown Detroit is going to have a very different outlook compared to a teenager in South Beach, Miami. A teenager who grew up in a fucking internment camp surrounded by killer robots is going to have even less hope, although not much less than the kid in Detroit. At least internment camps don’t have to deal with shitty music and shittier cars.

The setup for Years of Future Past was always pretty bleak, but it somehow found a way to be full of hope when it established itself in Battleworld. While it may pain fans of Starlord/Kitty Pryde to see her, Colossus, and their daughter, Christy, carry on hope in this bleak setting, it’s hard not to smile at their spirit. They don’t just have hope going for them. They’ve got an actual plan to give a massive middle finger to President Kelly and his Nazi-friendly policies towards mutants. Maybe in a world where Dr. Doom wasn’t a god, I might be more optimistic. But that’s not what they’re dealing with in Years of Future Past #2. They can piss off President Kelly and all his racist buddies all they want. They’re still in a world where Dr. Doom is a god and that’s going to severely limit hope in any capacity.

It’s still a world worth exploring and what makes it more compelling is that most of the exploration is done through the eyes of a couple of teenagers who grew up in this shit. The first issue went to great lengths establishing Christina Pryde, the daughter of Kitty Pryde and Piotr Rasputin. She did more than enough to make herself the lovable rebel who seeks freedom. She’s basically a much more kid-friendly version of Mad Max. Then there’s Cameron, Wolverine’s son. And no, he doesn’t drown this one.

Cameron and Christy are in the same boat here. They both grew up in this shitty future and at the very beginning, we get a few nice flashbacks and inner monologues that show the differences in their experiences. Essentially, it shows Kitty and Colossus were more nurturing parents than Wolverine, but a kid raised by Wolverine is still a kid you want on your side during a bar fight. Yet despite growing up in such a shitty future where people are dumb enough to elect a racist, mutant-bashing bigot in Robert Kelly, there’s still plenty of heart in both characters. They feel genuine and human, not the kind of jaded emo goth types who listen to Linken Park songs all day. And in addition, these flashbacks help establish that these two have met and their hormones have noticed. Even the threat of killer robots can’t stop teenage hormones.


That’s not to say that the story becomes an apocalyptic version of the Breakfast Club. These flashbacks don’t go on any longer than they need to. They just establish the dramatic context for Christy and Cameron. Then they go straight to dealing with the killer Doom-style Sentinels that just attacked them. It’s actually a much smoother transition than it sounds and it still offers some solid action.

But the action doesn’t last and for good reason. Christy, Cameron, and the rest of the X-men decide that this isn’t a battle they can win. A killer robot made by the government? Sure, they’ll fight that. A robot made by Dr. Doom? Fuck no. They’re hopeful, but not that hopeful. So they slip into the sewers to escape while the Doom Sentinel fights other mutants who have way more hope than they should.

This leads to a tense conversation with Cameron. During the battle in the previous issue, he showed off his mutant power and used it to kill Blob. Now to be fair, Blob was in a murderous rampage. However, that excuse only goes so far when he’s part of a species that’s going extinct. Even the people who spit on animal rights activists understand that. Christy is among those who isn’t too thrilled. Mystique is among those who want to rip his balls off. But Christy does act as a peacemaker of sorts, reminding them that bitching and moaning is an easy way to attract more Sentinels. It shows that she has charisma on top of being adorable. She’s like the anti-Honey Boo Boo.


While the others navigate the sewers, the battle on the surface is still unfolding. Rachel Grey remains in the center of the shit storm. She’s also not dumb enough to think she can take down a Sentinel molded after Doom. I think her mother probably told her outright that death is something that’s worth avoiding. They can’t give the Hank McCoys of the world more excuses to fuck with the timeline.

So she does something that most people don’t do in battles involving killer robots. She tries to find the power source for these Sentinels and pull the plug. It seems much easier than putting a target on her ass and waving it out in the open. It might be sexier, but it isn’t smart. Rachel eventually finds the power source, albeit in a way that’s not very well detailed. That doesn’t end up mattering though because that power source happens to be Storm. Yes, someone in President Kelly’s inner circle thought it was a good idea to use her as a battery and piss her off in the process. I hope whatever genius came up with that idea got turned into target practice for the Secret Service.

Rachel makes sure Storm has a chance to give the finger to President Kelly’s energy policies. She and Rachel team up in a beautifully destructive attack on his forces. It’s a beautiful moment, albeit one that ends a bit too quickly. But it effectively brings Storm into the mix so it’s definitely worth it. I can already feel President Kelly’s asshole clenching.


Back in the sewers, we get more dramatic moments between Cameron and Christy. They settle down and talk about this fucked up situation in ways that’s way too mature for a couple of teenagers. There’s still some uneasiness over Cameron’s attitudes towards killing. But given the body count his father has racked up, nobody has a right to give him that much shit. That uneasiness eventually fades because the main point of the argument is that they’re among a dying race. And they’re lucky enough to be in the generation that’s expected to do something about this shit storm. They sort of have to hold themselves to a higher standard. Just ask the children of hippies how important those standards are. It is a meaningful conversation, but it does fall a bit flat. I’d still rather watch Storm and Rachel blow up more Sentinels.


They eventually arrive at their destination, which is called Centrum. It’s basically an underground kingdom that looks like a level from Skyrim. It’s not quite like the Morlocks in that there’s less piss puddles on the floor. It actually looks quite pleasant, like it could be some sort of theme hotel in New Zealand. It even has a familiar face in Angel, which is a nice touch. In terms of places to lay low, this is a pretty sweet deal. It beats the hell out of a shitty motel with no hot water and semen-stained bed sheets.

There’s still some cause for concern, namely from the head of a deactivated Sentinel. But Angel assures them that they’ve made sure it can’t call for backup. They just use it to feed data to Rachel and others on the surface. So there’s no possible way this can’t come back to bite them in the ass, right? Like New Coke or Vietnam, it can only make things better, right? It’s probably a good idea to keep a clean pair of shorts handy.


There are some more nice personal moments between Christy and Cameron. They have a chat, do some shopping, and talk about things that don’t involve killer robots. It’s a nice moment where they just get to be teenagers. At first, it’s a solid change of pace from running from killer robots, maintaining an element of humanity that’s so important to a Days of Future Past world. Then it starts to drag.

At some point, Colossus steps in and gives this long, drawn out speech that sort of details the mindset that got mutants into this shitty future. He basically talks about how people just had these crazy ideas that started off as jokes, like preventing parents who had mutant genes from breeding. Then some crazy asshole came along and took it seriously. It’s basically a long rant against jokes to justify every act of excessive political correctness ever. It boils down to don’t even make a joke. Some asshole might try it.

Now Colossus may come off as sincere and he does have a point to make, but it’s so drawn out that it might as well be a lecture by Ben Stein. It also sends a pretty shitty message. Jokes can create apocalyptic futures. I’m pretty sure the world didn’t go to shit because Greg Giraldo, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor told too many dick jokes.


After this long-winded speech, they finally get back to more relevant topics. Namely, that battle that unfolded in the first issue, which President Kelly orchestrated, had the exact desired effect. He was able to catch parts of the battle on camera, namely the part where one mutant killed another, and crafted it into a piece of anti-mutant propaganda that would make the North Korean government proud. So basically, the shit they all gave Cameron for killing Blob was justified because it just gave President Kelly what they wanted. And that, my friends, is how hope in an apocalyptic future becomes even more fleeting.


Knowing they can’t expect the general public to reject bullshit propaganda from their government, they formulate a different course of action. They begin studying the Sentinel head they captured and used as a centerpiece for their cozy little domain. Remember that thing? How it couldn’t possibly bite them in the ass? Still keeping those clean shorts handy.

Well at first, it looks like it might do the opposite. They hack into the AI for the Sentinel and try to figure out something they can use to bite President Kelly back for his bullshit. Mystique reveals that these new Sentinels were part of a plan formulated by Doom to see if making Sentinels feel pain made them better soldiers. Again, how can that possibly go wrong? I guess Doom isn’t a Terminator fan. But beyond the shitty logic behind this program, they find codes that indicate the whole attack was staged in ways that would make conspiracy theories jizz themselves. It might actually give them something with which to counter President Kelly’s bullshit.


Then, in the least surprising twist since Larry King’s last divorce, the new Sentinels find them. I guess tinkering with another Sentinel head wasn’t such a good idea after all. Who the fuck could’ve predicted this except everyone with half a brain? Predictability aside, it’s still a nice action-packed moment after a lot of wordy dialog. This battle didn’t end with Rachel freeing Storm and it’s not going to end just because the X-men find out that the government might like to fuck with people. If things were that easy, every president since Millard Filmore would’ve been impeached.


Another battle breaks out. Like previous battles, it’s a bit rushed, but for good reason this time. While Magneto, Wolverine, Colossus, and the others battle the Doom Sentinels, Kitty takes Cameron and Christy to a very special place in Centrum. No, it’s not Wolverine’s porno stash. It’s something that might actually help them stand a chance against these Sentinels. It’s a big fucking dragon, namely Lockheed. Apparently, Kitty Pryde has been feeding him very well. He’s now big enough to be a boss fight in an old NES game. A battle between a giant dragon and Doom Sentinels? All I can say is hell the fuck yes.


As hopelessly dystopian as the Days of Future Past world might be, this comic still finds a way to fill it with hope. Hell, it’s got more hope going for it than the last Tyler Perry movies. There’s a plan, an agenda, and a struggle unfolding. And by whatever magic keeps Emma Frost’s tits in her top, it works. What makes it personal is how it unfolds from the perspective of Cameron and Christy. They’re the catalyst that makes this story feel meaningful. Without them, it might as well be a flashback from a Terminator movie. Plus, the effect of teenage hormones does add a little extra drama and that’s fitting enough. Even an apocalypse can’t stop teenagers from wanting to bone.

There’s a lot to love about Years of Future Past #2. It details a personal struggle that has heart. At times, however, that struggle is muted by bloated dialog. It’s not that there was a lot more talking and a lot less kicking ass. I understand that not every issue can contain a Lord of the Rings style battle sequence. It just felt like there was too much talking without much being said. The President can say an awful lot in a State of the Union speech, but Samuel L. Jackson can still say more just by saying the word “motherfucker” in the right tone. It still offered plenty of intriguing moments and the prospect of a giant dragon battling killer robots just gives me so many wonderful feelings in my pants. I give Years of Future Past #2 an 8 out of 10. There will always be stories about apocalyptic futures. There will always be stories about struggles for survival. But those stories don’t have to suck and this series is proving that Chris Claremont got it right. Nuff said!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Scanned Thoughts: Secret Wars #4


There comes a point in every crisis where you realized just how fucked you are. Every misstep, every bad decision, and every extra shot of tequila converge in a singular reminder that makes even the biggest fuck-up step back and marvel at just how badly they screwed themselves. It can be a surreal moment of clarity. Like waking up in a Mexican prison with some heavily tattooed tweaker snorting crank off your ass, it gives a fucked up sense of perspective. But no matter how many strange bruises you have or strange phone numbers you find tattooed onto your ass, nothing can be as sobering as finding out that all these collective fuck-ups led to Dr. Doom becoming a god.

This is Reed Richards' worst nightmare that doesn't involve his daughter marrying Wolverine. He was part of the secret team that uncovered the conversion. Despite being the Marvel Universe's premier genius without a drinking problem, he couldn't figure out a way to stop it. Now he and a few surviving members of the 616 universe are waking up in Battleworld, learning just how badly they fucked up. It's got to be the worst day Reed Richards has ever had since the day Fox announced the sequel for the first Fantastic Four movie.

As bad as this day is for him, it also helps bridge the connections between the final incursion at the beginning of Secret Wars and the makeup of Battleworld that has been unfolding ever since. These connections have helped make Secret Wars feel like a cosmic hangover for Reed Richards, but a kick-ass event for the rest of us. Secret Wars #4 threatens to add a few more shots of tequila for Reed Richards. While I feel bad for his liver, I've got plenty of shot glasses prepared.

That's not to say Doom won't need his share of hard liquor to get through this. He may be a god, but even gods need to get drunk after shitty days. And part of that shitty day is already unfolding with the other cosmic ship that Ultimate Reed launched. And his surviving cast included such walking hangovers like Thanos, Loki, and Lady Death. Even with an army of Thors enforcing his will, Dr. Doom has to be more than a little annoyed. These are characters who love to tear the universe a new asshole whenever they get an opportunity. An army of Thors just ain't gonna cut it. That's what makes it feel like a fair fight. It doesn't seem possible in a world where Dr. Doom is god, but these guys don't mind a little blasphemy. The Pope might not approve, but it's the first real obstacle that manifests for Doom.


The other obstacle is still unfolding with Dr. Strange giving the other surviving 616/Ultimate crew a brief overview of just how fucked they are. They're all noticeably disturbed at the mere idea of being in a world where Doom is god. Dr. Strange talks about it like its a Simpsons rerun. There's some great narration and plenty of rich details from Strange in that he firmly establishes Doom's grip on this world. Even though the previous three issues did a damn good job of showing it, Dr. Strange offers a nice, concise Wikipedia entry of the world they live in.

It's still a world with details that would make Reed Richards shit himself. He probably needs even more clean underwear after Dr. Strange tells him how Battleworld got created in the first place. In doing so, he also reveals that compared to Dr. Doom, his scrotum might as well be on the nano scale. He reveals that the incursions were a product of the Beyonders, aka the assholes responsible for the last Secret Wars. So to save their world, they did the most logical thing they could do, at least by Hannibal Lecter's logic. They killed the Beyonders.

This is where Dr. Doom's balls deserve to be encrusted in diamonds here because it turns out by killing the Beyonders, they had a chance to take their power. Dr. Strange's balls just did not measure up. Dr. Doom's balls were more than sufficient. So like a porn audition, he got cast on the spot and now he has the endowment to fuck over everything. It's still a disturbing story for Reed Richards, right up there with Sue admitting she had a one-night stand with Mole Man. But that's what gives it such a great impact.


It's not all Reed Richards busting Dr. Strange's balls though. The other surviving heroes get a chance to voice their disapproval at the idea of living in a world with Doom as a god. And yet Dr. Strange has the balls to claim that there's enough of their world left to still live comfortable. That's like Al Sharpton telling a bunch of grade schoolers that a crack house doesn't have to be all bad. If he were a real estate agent, he couldn't sell a parking lot to a drunk Homer Simpson.

Cyclops, who is still packing Phoenix level mojo, nicely sums up just how full of shit Dr. Strange is. He tells them how a world that's this fucked can't be a world they're content with. If they have the power to unfuck it, then they have a responsibility to loosen their pants, grab some lube, and get up in that shit. He uses more age-appropriate language, but he gets his point across. It's a good thing Dr. Strange doesn't have a chance to argue because arguing with a guy packing the Phoenix Force is like accepting Rob Gronkowski's challenge to an arm wrestling match. It's not going to end well.


In a world where Dr. Doom is god, debates over how fucked this world is tend to have a time limit. Dr. Doom has the kind of power that the NSA jerks off to at night. And with a loyal army of Thors that won't get distracted by prostitutes like some government agencies, he quickly finds out that there's something amiss in this world that he's worked so hard to screw over. One of the Thors who probably just got the business end of Thanos' boot reports to Dr. Doom that something done gone horribly wrong in his heavenly domain. And unlike every ruler in Game of Thrones, he confronts the problem head on and keeps his damn clothes on.


With help from Sue and Valeria, he gets a quick vision of the shit stains that dare to taint his world. First, he sees his Thors taking on the crew of Ultimate Reed's ship. Even though these are the kinds of guys that Doom know can fuck up anyone's day, he's not overly concerned about them. He looks at them the same way professional athletes look at unpaid child support. It's something that might be annoying, but it can be brushed off at least for now.

But then Valeria updates some of those visions. Like a competent Fantasy Football player, she tries to assess how some heroes could spread these shit stains to other parts of Battleworld. That's when he sees Reed Richards. And just like that, all that godly power just isn't enough. Like the Koch brothers getting a letter from the IRS, it's a powerful moment where Doom finally sees something he can't just brush off like any self-respecting god would. And rather than explain it to Sue and Valeria, he finally decides to get involved. That alone makes him more proactive than any God since Zeus, minus the paternity suites.


Doom transports himself right into the middle of the battle between the 616/Ultimate survivors and the Thor Corps. An army of demigods just ain't gonna cut it now that Reed Richards is involved. Dr. Doom has to be there to rub his god-powered dick in the faces of everyone who opposes him. Admit it, you'd probably do the same thing.

It leads to a confrontation that couldn't have come fast enough. It doesn't end up being the most detailed confrontation, but all the right feelings are conveyed. Nobody is at all surprised that Dr. Doom used the power of the Beyonders to make himself a god. Hell, they would've been more surprised if he used that power to turn Castle Doom into a Playboy Mansion. As always, he's there to prove his superiority and for once, he actually has the credentials to back that shit up. He's not entirely wrong in that he did save the world from complete annihilation. Maybe he didn't have to make himself a god in the process, but if he had the chance then why the fuck not? Even Thanos doesn't disagree, but he questions just how divine Doom's authority is.


It's a debate that could've taken on so many philosophical and personal undertones. But seriously, where's the fun in that? This is supposed to be a fucking war. This isn't an episode of the West Wing. It's a fucking Rambo movie and Cyclops makes sure it stays that way when he decides to turn the debate into a fight. And since he's packing cosmic power, he's the only one that stands a chance at actually annoying Dr. Doom.

And damn it, he succeeds. For the first time, someone fights Dr. Doom and they manage to wound his horribly disfigured ass. Redheaded and blonde telepaths may need to change their panties after this because Cyclops puts the Phoenix Force to good use in wounding Doom. He even has the audacity to do it with a little swagger. The problem is, even cosmic power can only make someone's dick seem so large.


As powerful as the Phoenix Force might be, it's a power that came from a world that's long dead. Dr. Doom is still the god of this domain. That means he has the home field advantage and as the ball boys who work at Gillette Stadium understand, that goes a long ways. Dr. Doom is able to gain the upper hand on Cyclops and in a moment that's sure to make everyone's assholes clench just a little, he snaps Cyclops' neck and effectively stops his cosmic shit storm.

Now don't start flooding message boards and Twitter feeds with nerd rage. Remember, he's packing the fucking Phoenix Force. When has that thing ever stayed dead? Plus, Cyclops does show up in other tie-in comics so step down from the cliff and enjoy the moment for what it is. Cyclops dared to challenge Dr. Doom and he manged to really hurt him. That's the first time in this conflict that Dr. Doom's god-like power has been undermined. And it couldn't have happened in a more appropriate way.

And it isn't all for nothing either. While Dr. Doom is dealing with Cyclops, Dr. Strange finally discovers that he has a nutsack after all. And with the aid of a little magic he's been holding back, he helps the remaining survivors of 616 and Ultimate escape. It's not the same as giving them the location of the Ultimate Nullifier, but it gives them a fighting chance. His balls can only expand so much.


This leads to another powerful moment where Dr. Doom shows that he's still the same asshole he was before he became a god. When Dr. Strange dared to question whether a world where Doom was god was the best possible world, Dr. Doom responded the same way he would've responded to anyone who claimed Reed Richards could kick his ass. He fucking murders Dr. Strange. Yep. He's that kind of god. It's not entirely shocking, but it sends just the right message. Dr. Doom is a god, but he's still one petty motherfucker who can't handle a world that he can't dominate. And now that Cyclops has proven that his ass can be hurt, the battle lines are drawn and the situation doesn't seem quite as fucked.


Going back to my earlier rant about perspective, this issue did something important in terms of that perspective. It revealed that even with god-like power, Dr. Doom is still in a never-ending dick-measuring contest with Reed Richards. And when faced with concerns about the dimensions of his dick, he'll revert to old habits. He doesn't have to and he definitely has the power to try a different, more refined approach. But where's the fun in that? The message is clear and more satisfying than a blowjob and a cold beer. Dr. Doom is fallible.

Reed Richards and the surviving crew of 616 and Ultimate can say something that Richard Dawkins only wishes he could say. They confronted a deranged god, spit in his face, and survived. Sure, it cost Dr. Strange his life, but it's the first meaningful thing he's done in Secret Wars that didn't involve polishing Doom's ass. What he does escalates the war in that now Dr. Doom has to deal with a true insurrection in the patchwork clusterfuck that is Battleworld. Even a god can get annoyed with that shit. Add on top of that the heated personal drama and this issue kicks all the right asses in all the right ways. I give Secret Wars #4 a 9 out of 10. So now we can question Doom. We can have a reformation. So long as we avoid inquisitions and suicide bombers, I think there's hope for these anti-Doom heretics. Let's just hope there's no Rick Santorums or Mike Huckabees in Battleworld. Nuff said!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Trolling the Man of Steel: Superman #41

The following is my review of Superman #41, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In the movie "Coming To America," Eddie Murphy plays a disillusioned prince in Akeem Joffer who kept a pretty big huge secret from the woman he loved. Granted, being the prince of a rich African nation is not the kind of secret that would upset most women, especially in the post-Jerry Springer era. However, Akeem kept this secret from his love for all the right reasons. He wanted her to fall in love with him for who he was and not just because he was a prince. As such, Superman maintained a secret identity in Clark Kent for a similar reason. He couldn't be the Superman he wanted to be without an anchor to the people he wanted to protect. So what happens when he loses that anchor and a good chunk of the ship it was attached to?

That's the premise of whole "Truth" arc that starts to unfold in Superman #41. It's an arc that has already unfolded on other books, such as Action Comics, Batman/Superman, and Superman/Wonder Woman. These books establish that Superman's identity has been revealed to the public, Lois Lane is primarily responsible for doing so, and he's lost a sizable portion of his powers. Even by Superman standards, this is the ultimate trifecta of a bad day. Even a collective attack by Darkseid, Brainiac, and Lex Luthor couldn't challenge him like this. Unlike his enemies, Superman can't punch this problem into submission or inspire it do good. He has to deal with it and he must do so in a weakened state.

It continues DC's ongoing theme of stripping Superman down to his core values, removing the powers that make him almost god-like and putting him in situation where bench pressing a small planet won't do him any good. Time and again, these situations offer compelling reminders that Superman is not just defined by his powers. He's defined by doing the right thing, even when he has the power to do otherwise. The narrative here is very different. It's not just about doing the right thing anymore. For once, Superman will have to pay a price for doing what he does. What does that do to him as a character? The answers in Superman #41 are incomplete, but it does lay the foundation for this dramatic upheaval in Superman's life.

The main conflict is fairly basic, but nicely refined in that it builds on a story that was established in previous issues. Somebody is selling some very powerful, very illegal weapons that even Ted Nugant wouldn't want to own. It's up to Superman and Jimmy Olsen to stop them and uncover the truth about where these weapons are coming from. It has many of the same themes as a typical Nicholas Cage movie, but there's one major complication that prevents this from being just another Tuesday for Superman.

There's this unknown mystery figure who happens to have footage of Clark Kent turning into Superman. We don't get a clue who he, she, it, or they might be. There's no ominous, Morpheus-like voice. There's no CSI style shadowy figure. There's just a series of text messages that attempt to blackmail Superman. It might as well be an overly ambitious internet troll. This just isn't the kind of troll that can be blocked or muted.

It feels kind of cheap on some levels, having somebody use text messages to blackmail Superman of all people. At the same time, there's something oddly fitting about it. In some respects, it's the state of the modern world catching up with Superman. This isn't the era of phone booths and goofy disguises anymore. This is an era where lives can be ruined with a single tweet. Just ask Anthony "Carlos Danger" Wiener. Superman has always been able to navigate the times and keep functioning as he has since the days of FDR. This time, even he's not powerful enough to overcome the power of internet trolls.

This isn't immediately clear to him from the beginning. Superman doesn't really take this threat very seriously at first. This is one of the biggest weaknesses of the story. The tone is almost casual in how Superman deals with this threat to his identity. He gives the impression that he can deal with it, but the very first page, which briefly flash-forwards to the future, reveals that he fails. It's somewhat of a disconnect in the path to this final outcome is unclear.

The helps feed the second major weakness of Superman #41, which is that it feels incomplete. The end result is already spoiled, both on the first page and in other associated Superman comics. In fact, this issue is way behind the curve in terms of tone and theme. It's like watching Terminator 3 before watching the first two movies. It only sets up for Superman's identity to be revealed and not in a satisfying way either. We know it's coming, but it just ends too abruptly.

It's disappointing in terms of what is promised by the reveal on the first page. There's no dramatic moment where Lois Lane gasps or Twitter explodes with the revelation that Clark Kent is Superman. This may still happen in the next issue. But at this point in Superman's narrative, it just limits the kind of dramatic impact. It obscures the perspective and undermines the substance of the story.

Without that first page reveal, there's less to obscure. But on its own merits, Superman #41 feels like only three-fourths an episode of the Wire. It has the right pieces in place. The characterization of Superman, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen is spot on. Superman knows his identity is in danger of exposure, but that doesn't stop him from doing the right thing. And the plot surrounding these mysterious weapons is one that has merit as well. It just fails to connect these pieces in a way that feels like a polished product.

Future issues may help fill in the gaps and make those connections. But on its own, Superman #41 feels less like a blockbuster movie and more like a teaser trailer. And in this age of cat videos and internet celebrities, that's simply no longer sufficient.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Monday, June 29, 2015

Strangers In Paradise Chapter 15: Heart Shaped Box is LIVE!


There comes a point in every relationship where just leaving the toilet seat down isn’t enough. Despite what every love song since 1955 might claim, it takes more than just love for a relationship to succeed. Most stories about relationships center around the will they/won’t they dynamic that Friends exploited to no end. Others revolve around love triangles or hook-ups that make every romantic comedy more predictable than GIECO commercial. With Superman and Wonder Woman, there seems to be a concerted effort to not stick to every formula that Disney has ever tried.

Getting together was the easy part for these two in the comics. In “Strangers In Paradise,” I made them work for it a little more. They had to fight just to have a chance to get together, but I never intended that to be the full story. To really make this relationship stronger, I set out to challenge them in a major way. But I didn’t want that challenge to come from another love interest. The last thing Superman/Wonder Woman needs is a fucking love triangle. Unless it’s in a porn parody of Man of Steel, it just has no appeal. For this story, the challenge goes beyond their relationship, but it’s not something they could’ve avoided.

Right now, “Strangers In Paradise” is entering a very volatile conflict. While Superman and Wonder Woman have been working on establishing their relationship and sharing their lives, their enemies have been plotting. The gods of Olympus are causing trouble again. Lex Luthor is causing trouble too, as only he can. Even the Amazons are getting in on the act. What makes this conflict so difficult is that Superman and Wonder Woman made all the right decisions for all the right reasons. Wonder Woman was right to leave her home when she did. Superman was right in not fighting the Amazons all those years ago. But despite their efforts to do the right thing, their enemies are still trying to tear them apart.

Now, as this conflict finally finds them, their relationship will face its biggest challenge to date. It’s not enough to just get through this together. They have to be stronger as individuals as well. That’s what makes a relationship solid, the ability to make each other stronger. Superman and Wonder Woman could probably fight this battle without being romantically entangled, but they would never be able to fight it with the kind of strength they give each other as lovers. The struggle is going to escalate and so are the emotions. It’s bound to get volatile, but in all the right ways.


This story has been an interesting exercise in exploring a relationship between two iconic characters. It’s been challenging, but insightful. I believe we’re entering an era where people just aren’t satisfied with the same formula for love stories. We’ve seen enough crap with the Ross and Rachels of the world. Let’s try something different and that’s exactly what I think the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship offers. And I hope to capture it in the pages of “Strangers In Paradise.”

Since it’s still my first ever Superman/Wonder Woman story, please take the time to submit feedback. I appreciate any reviews anyone can offer, constructive or otherwise. It’s the only way people like me will be able to tell stories that are more interesting than a Hugh Grant movie. Nuff said!