Friday, November 17, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 160: Unholy Man Part 2 PREVIEW


Desperate times call for desperate measures, but sometimes those measures can be foolish, extreme, and downright cruel. The X-men have found themselves in many situations like that over the course of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. From cosmic battles against the Phoenix Force to the global crisis with the Cambrian, the X-men are no strangers to desperation. They’ve often found a way to beat the odds against the likes of Magneto, Sinister, and the Mutant Liberation Front without resorting to extremes or cruelty. Reverend William Stryker does not share that kind of reservation.

The ongoing Unholy Man arc has put Reverend Stryker in a dangerous, albeit tragic position. He has been a major source of conflict for the X-men ever since his arrival in the District X arc back in X-men Supreme Volume 3: Ashes of Hope. He embodies the worst kind of religious zealotry, painting his bigotry and hatred of mutants as some sort of holy crusade. That kind of religious extremism has all sorts of painful parallels in the real world. Those are the kinds of parallels that help X-men resonate, as a story. Like real life, unfortunately, that zealotry has led to serious atrocities.
For reasons not yet clear, Reverend Stryker attacked and seriously wounded Father Ryan Hansen.

Like Stryker, Father Hansen is a man of great faith and one of the few original characters in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, alongside the likes of Captain Freeman and General Grimshaw. However, he stands in stark contrast to Reverend Stryker. Since his arrival in X-men Supreme Issue 111: Divine Intervention, he has become a close ally of the X-men. Instead of hatred and bigotry, his faith inspires hope and love between humans and mutants. While it has resonated with some mutants, including X-men like Rogue, it has only provoked men like Reverend Stryker.

His attack on Father Hansen hasn’t just hit the X-men on a personal, spiritual level. It has also revealed another looming crisis in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. It’s one that I’ve actually been building towards since the events of X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. The events of Unholy Man simply represent the first shot, of sorts. In the attack that decimated Reverend Stryker’s Purifier army, this unnamed threat has made its presence known to this fanfiction series. The identity and goal of that threat is one that should inspire a mix of reactions among X-men fans. It’s also going to test the X-men, right down to their souls.

Since the beginning of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, I’ve charted a course for the X-men and their rivals in X-Force. The ongoing dissention surrounding the Mutant Monitoring Initiative remains unresolved and promises to get more heated. Charles Xavier still believes he is doing the right thing. Cyclops and Wolverine still believe they’re doing the right thing as well with X-Force. They’re about to encounter a threat that will test their beliefs and the conclusion of the Unholy Man arc is just the beginning. As always, I’ve prepared an extended preview of the unholy action that awaits.

“My god…” gasped Professor Charles Xavier as he pieced together the gruesome details from Reverend Stryker’s thoughts.

“No, Charles Xavier…this wasn’t your god,” said Stryker coldly, “Only evil could produce such carnage. Only evil tainted by your kind’s cursed blood.”

It had been a long time since Xavier had been in the middle of such a bloodied battlefield. During his travels as a young adult, he had seen many horrific scenes. Even those paled in comparison to what he saw before him. If Stryker’s twisted thoughts were accurate, then the source of such carnage utilized some ominously familiar methods.

For Phoenix, Storm, and Captain Freeman it left them feeling sick. As they followed Professor Xavier to the central area, they passed by rows upon rows of bodies. On each body, they could make out the distinct claw marks that were so familiar to them. It raised many disturbing questions that were sure to have equally disturbing answers.

“There’s no way Wolverine or X-Force did this. They couldn’t!” said Storm as she looked over the bodies.

“Maybe they wouldn’t, but I can see Weapon X doing this sort of thing every other week,” said Phoenix angrily.

“I agree. This kind of brutality is practically their business card,” said Captain Freeman as he investigated some of the bodies.

“But I thought Weapon X was finished after the death of John Wraith,” said Storm.

“It wouldn’t be the first time Weapon X defied its own demise,” said Professor Xavier as he remained focus on Reverend Stryker, “This wasn’t just a slaughter. It was a statement. Someone wanted to demonstrate their lethal capabilities.”

“And they did,” said Reverend Stryker, now standing shirtless before a pile of dead bodies, “They slaughtered my flock. To ensure their evil spreads, they spared the women and children. Their traumatized stories will fill all those who receive God’s truth with terror. It is a direct affront to God. As such, I cannot allow it to stand!”

“If you think that’s an excuse for shooting Father Hansen, then you’re worshipping the wrong God, reverend,” said Captain Freeman as he caught up with Professor Xavier.

“Don’t you dare claim to know God better than I do! I’ve endured the scars of sin. I’ve dedicated my life to repenting…not just for myself, but for all humanity. Father Hansen was just one of many false prophets that you X-men have allowed to propagate. He will burn, as well the rest of your corrupt brethren.”

“Enough with the preaching. We get it. You hate mutants,” said Phoenix, “What is shooting an innocent man and luring us here supposed to accomplish anyways?”

“I don’t think you understand what took place here,” said Storm, “There’s no need to make this tragedy any worse.”

“Shut up! I understand perfectly,” said Reverend Stryker sternly, “God tested Job with many hardships on his path to salvation. I’m nowhere near as holy as Job, but if God sees fit to test me then I shall pass with flying colors…even if it requires sacrifice!”

This man was both distraught and determined, almost to the point of madness. There was no making sense of what happened to his Purifiers. Reverend Stryker had drawn his own conclusion.

He wasn’t going to accept any aid from the X-men. It didn’t matter if attack was carried out by Weapon X or Satan himself. He was prepared to retaliate. As the emboldened holy man stood before the X-men, he took out a small device from his pocket and held it up.

“Ah hell, is that what I think it is?” groaned Phoenix.

“He’s rigged this place to blow!” exclaimed Captain Freeman, “Hurry up and…”

“Too late, X-men,” seethed Reverend Stryker, “May god have mercy on our souls!”

With this holy proclamation, Reverend Stryker pressed one of two large buttons on the device. A deafening explosion followed, shaking the mega church to its core. In an instant, chaos turned to darkness as the roof of the building came crashing down.


There are plenty of upheavals to come in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Expect plenty of action, drama, and strain. Hearts will be broken and mended. Spirits will be crushed and strengthened. The X-men are at their best when they face overwhelming odds and dramatic conflicts that test more than their strength. I intend to embody that struggle in this fanfiction series and make it as awesome as possible.

As such, it’s critical that I continue to get feedback. When I planned out X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, I did so knowing that I would be taking this fanfiction series in a controversial direction and at a time when the X-men comics are going in the opposite direction. I also did so believing that this direction would have a huge payoff at the end, one I intend to make awesome for every X-men fan. To reach that goal, I still need feedback. Either contact me directly or post comments directly in the issue. Either is fine and I’m happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Life, Living Weapons, and (Unlearned) Lessons: Weapon X #11

The following is my review of Weapon X #11, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


There are certain narratives that can only offer so much novelty and shock value. Audiences can only see Captain America punch the Red Skull so many times before it loses its underlying impact. There's nothing inherently wrong with these stories. They can still be uniquely satisfying in their own sort of way. However, there comes a point where the novelty is so absent that the concept lacks any sense of tension.

When it comes to the Marvel Universe, there aren't many rules, written or otherwise, that don't get bent or broken at some point. The dead come back to life with almost as much regularity as Spider-Man's immature wisecracks. Villains become heroes and villains become heroes with the ease of changing car insurance providers. The malleability of Marvel, and comics as a whole, is part of what makes it so entertaining in the first place.

However, there are still a few rules carved into adamantium that rarely get broken. One such rule involves living weapons. It may as well be as ironclad as Deadpool's immaturity. Anyone who creates a living weapon will be unable to control it. It's as inevitable as the Hulk's mood swings. That still doesn't stop the forces Weapon H, the latest attempt to subvert the living weapons rule within the pages of the Weapon X comic.

In a sense, this attempt is the most ambitious effort to date to make a story about living weapons seem novel. It involves both the Hulk and Wolverine, two characters that Greg Pak has extensive experience writing. It plays to his strengths and the over-the-top destruction plays into Marc Borstel's strengths as an artist. Weapon X #11, which marks the conclusion of the Weapon H arc, has every necessary tool to succeed. The results are somewhat generic, but the conclusion is still satisfying.

Weapon H has an uphill battle from the beginning, but does plenty to set himself apart, even if he is a simple mix of Wolverine and Hulk type brutality. Like nearly every living weapon ever created in an X-men comic, Weapon H has a wannabe puppet-master in Dr. Alba. Having already gotten assistance from the likes of William Stryker, Dr. Alba establishes herself as the kind of callous, corrupt manipulator who is crazy enough to think she can buck the trend of living weapons turning violently on their creators. To her credit, though, she manages to accomplish more than most.

Her hold on Weapon H comes off as more complex than simple brainwashing, at first. For much of the Weapon H arc, as a whole, Dr. Alba proved herself to be more thorough than the typical Hydra spy or used car salesman. She places herself at the center of Weapon H's world, making it seem as though she's less a puppet-master and more a friend. Throughout the story, she presents herself as the only friend Weapon H has left whereas William Stryker sees him as just another blunt instrument to satisfy his thirst for mutant blood.

It's cunning and it helps create a solid backstory around Weapon H, whose identity remains somewhat guarded. However, he is shown to have a civilian life. Like the Hulk and Wolverine, there is a man behind the monster. While that man makes his share of questionable decisions, especially being a special ops soldier who gets involved with a living weapons program, he does make clear that he values his humanity. He shows that he's not quite as eager to throw that away, which is something Logan can't always claim.


However, whatever complexity the man behind Weapon H may have, much of that gets undercut when Dr. Alba resorts to using the kind of outdated control methods that failed miserably with Wolverine and everyone like him since the late 70s. Not surprisingly, she still can't make anyone who values their humanity to willingly become a living weapon. She ends up resorting to hypnotic suggestions and a mind control serum. That may occasionally work in a bad CIA movie, but against the Hulk, that's akin to giving Deadpool unlimited amounts of tacos and napalm.

It still makes for some brutal, Hulk-level action that Borstel's art brings to life nicely. However, it never gets too brutal, primarily because Old Man Logan and his Weapon X crew don't let that happen. To some extent, that does limit the impact of the action. There's never a sense that the brutality has some sort of price beyond property damage. Unless insurance premiums are sentient, nobody suffers beyond the utter terror that comes with seeing a monster that blends the Hulk and Wolverine.

Even if the action is generic, the way the conflict gets resolved still feels satisfying and carries with it a fair amount of drama. While the method by which Weapon H regains control of his faculties are somewhat predictable, the way he deals with his situation is probably the healthiest way any living weapon can cope. He doesn't suffer the kind of violent, blood-rage breakdown that Wolverine seems to endure every other week. What he does is actually consistent with that of a soldier who understands what that role entails.

This is what gives Weapon X #11 more staying power, beyond simply resolving the Weapon H arc and bringing yet another living weapon into the Marvel universe. It creates a character in Weapon H, or Hulkverine as he's also called, who has something to offer that goes beyond the standard narratives that Wolverine and the Hulk have been telling since the Cater Administration.

Weapon H may be the latest in a long line of failed living weapons, but he establishes his own unique character and story. He's not like Wolverine and Sabretooth in that he's not a mutant. He's not like Bruce Banner either in that he's not a scientist with anger management problems. He's a soldier, but the complexity Pak establishes in previous issues help set him apart.

In doing so, the way in which Weapon H ends the conflict has a sense of dramatic weight. It also lays a foundation for more stories involving this character. Even if he is a basic blend of Hulk and Wolverine, that blend is still pretty potent. Like putting a fresh coat of paint over a new car, there's still plenty of appeal with Weapon H.

That, in essence, is Weapon X #11's greatest accomplishment. It doesn't just give Old Man Logan and his team of Weapon X outcasts another victory in the never-ending war against people who still think living weapons are a good idea. It creates a character in Weapon H that is worth rooting for and caring about. Even in a world where there are multiple Hulks and multiple Wolverines, it makes clear that there's still a place for someone like Weapon H. In the same way a world can never have too much chocolate or free donuts, it can never have too many compelling Hulk/Wolverine characters.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Empires, Ambitions, and Atrocities: Star Wars #38

The following is my review of Star Wars #38, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


When it comes to evil empires, Star Wars sets the bar high and the scope even higher. It's one thing to subjugate a kingdom, continent, or planet. It's quite another to conquer an entire galaxy. Even someone as bad as King Joffrey from Game of Thrones can only inflict so much evil. It says a lot about Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and the Empire, as a whole, when that evil is so far-reaching that blowing up a planet is no more ambitious than Joffrey cutting out someone's tongue.

At times, however, the evil of the Empire becomes an afterthought in order to focus on the story surrounding Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. While the original trilogy and the much-maligned prequels do plenty to explore the cruel nature of the Empire, few outside the ruins of Alderan can appreciate how bad it can get for those living under its thumb. It's important for the overall Star Wars mythos to belabor why the Empire is evil in the first place. That makes seeing the Death Star blow up all the more satisfying.

This is where Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca come in. Having made various contributions to Marvel's line of Star Wars comics, they enter a mythos far, far away that is rarely short of drama, dread, and droids. At times, the narrative lacks direction, but Gillen and Larroca have already made numerous contributions through Darth Vader and Dr. Aphra. Star Wars #38 offers them a chance to contribute to the bigger picture and leave a more indelible mark on the galaxy. Having to do that without the aid of another Death Star is always a challenge.

The Force is on Gillen's side, though, because the Empire's atrocities don't stop at just blowing up planets. Like many other evil empires, it also goes out of its way to plunder the places they've destroyed. While there are many real-world parallels of evil empires that plunder, going back to the days of the pyramids, not even the most blood-thirsty ruler could do so on the scale of the Empire.

That's what brings Luke, Han, Chewy, and Princess Leia to Jedha, a planet that the Empire partially destroyed, but not out of mercy. The planet happens to be a rich source of kyber crystals, a mineral that the Empire values. That means they can only partially destroy it, but that still means blowing a huge chunk of the planet away. For the Empire, that's the most mercy it'll ever show. This says a lot about how they operate and why blowing up multiple incarnations of the Death Star is so cathartic.

There's nothing that big for the Rebels to destroy in Star Wars #38, but there's still a chance to frustrate the Empire. That's an opportunity that Luke and his friends rarely pass up. That also involves teaming up with the residents of Jedha, which include someone named Chulco Gi, a name that sounds custom-made for the world of Star Wars. His story and the way it ties into that of the Rebels further expands on the evil of the Empire because that can never be too belabored.


It isn't enough that the Empire partially destroyed Jedha, just to get its resources. It also isn't enough that it displaced a huge chunk of its population and did so with the kind of overkill that's akin to swatting a fly with a bazooka. The people of Jedha have their own culture, customs, and religion. Gi is a pious adherent of that religion. However, the Empire just blows that up like they do everything else that gets in their way. Whether it's a planet, a people, or a culture, they deal with it by destroying it. When they have weapons that blow up planets, it's just easier than diplomacy.

This sort of callous approach leaves plenty of scars, even on Gi. He, like Luke to some extent, believes that all the suffering and loss has a greater destiny in mind. So much of the Star Wars mythos is built around fulfilling or fighting destiny. The atrocities of the Empire just raise the stakes even more, which helps give greater weight to the struggle in Star Wars #38.

That struggle has more moving parts than simply sending Storm Troopers and Imperial Droids to shoot things. Gillen also takes some time to explore the logistics of plundering a planet with the Empire. It doesn't just involve shooting giant lasers or Darth Vader force choking subordinates. Gillen actually taps some characters from the pages of the Darth Vader comic, namely Shu-Torun. While the Empire makes few allies that aren't easy to blow up, they tend to be pragmatic when it comes to allegiances. That shows that the Empire isn't just evil. It's competent, which only makes it scarier.

That added fear factor helps make Star Wars #38 feel like part of a larger picture, one that is actually impacted by events in other Star Wars comics. That's something many of the Star Wars comics have been missing since the Vader Down event, which Gillen also helped right. The fact that a story with those connections unfolds without creating a new Death Star makes the story that much more impressive.

It's still a story that only gets so much time to develop. Star Wars #38 does plenty to establish that the situation on Jedha is dire and its people are suffering. It also establishes the personal stakes for characters like Gi, who have more reason than most to fight the Empire. What isn't clear, at least from the outset, is the larger plan the Rebels have. When there's no Death Star to blow up or plans to steal, their tactics tend to be more subtle. They also tend to be vague, which makes it hard to evoke the same drama that comes with watching Luke hit a thermal exhaust port only two meters wide with nothing but the Force.

There are a number of blanks that need to be filled. Star Wars #38 creates a story that feels part of a larger narrative, but that story isn't quite as concise in terms of purpose and intent. It still marks an overdue improvement, of sorts, with Marvel's Star Wars comics. It's not just trying to fill the sizable gaps between iconic movies. It's trying to build bigger worlds in a story where worlds regularly get blown up. It's still a challenge, as is often the case with Evil Empires, but the payoff is worth its weight in destroyed Death Stars.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Monday, November 6, 2017

Wars of Hearts, Minds, and Psychics: Jean Grey #8

The following is my review of Jean Grey #8, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In a perfect world, a friendly rivalry brings out the best and worst of two characters. Since no world is perfect, especially one that has Loki and shape-shifting aliens in it, that kind of friendliness is next to impossible. In the Marvel universe, rivalries between heroes and villains are widespread, common, and a vital part of its mythos. There isn't too much complexity in the sense that the dynamics are fairly clear-cut. The two characters are on opposing sides. They hate each other and want their side to triumph. Anyone who watches professional wrestling can understand that.

It's only when two heroes develop a rivalry that the narrative gains a layer of dynamics that can't be fleshed out by seeing Captain America fight the Red Skull for the billionth time. These rivalries often pit two characters who are on the same side against each other, sometime to the point where they undermine their own heroic efforts. For Jean Grey and Emma Frost, that point is far behind them and they've long since entered uncharted territory of bitterness.

These aren't just two characters who occasionally disagree with how to conduct themselves as superheroes. These are two characters who have actually hurt each other, physically and emotionally, on multiple levels. Going back to the early days of the Phoenix Saga during Chris Claremont's run on Uncanny X-men to Grant Morrison's run on New X-men, these two have a long and varied list of reasons to hate each other.

Even though Jean Grey ends up dead, there's a sense that these two are destined to clash again. With Jean Grey #8, the beginning of the Psych War arc, the wait is finally over. Dennis Hopeless pits a teenage, time-displaced Jean Grey against Emma Frost at a time when she shows little hesitation in sparking wars between the X-men and Inhumans. It may not involve the same dramatic elements that Morrison or Claremont utilized, but the stakes feel every bit as high.

From the beginning, Jean Grey #8 follows similar themes that Hopeless has established in previous issues. The time-displaced Jean Grey, in her effort to prepare for the Phoenix Force, finds herself in a situation she's completely unprepared to handle. Her being a teenager gives her a pass to some extent, but that only goes so far when the stakes are cosmic and the egos involved include Emma Frost. There's really no amount of preparation that can prepare anyone for that kind of struggle, regardless of how much time travel is involved.

In a sense, Jean is in a unique position to offer commentary on the events that led to her most recent death. Her venture into the mind of Emma Frost, her future rival, sends her on an abridged journey through those moments, eventually culminating in a direct encounter with the former White Queen during a lurid, yet familiar situation. It's the context of that encounter, though, that establishes the stakes and the drama for the Psyche War arc.

It's a rare, but increasingly common theme throughout her solo series. The time-displaced Jean ventures into a world that's destined to kill her, but with a different set of perceptions, compared to her older self. While being an immature teenager does plenty to skew anyone's perceptions, it still has the advantage of lacking the baggage of the older Jean Grey that perished. That's an important factor for the Morrison-era X-men because that same baggage played a significant role in causing her death.

Hopeless doesn't ignore those factors as the time-displaced Jean traverses Emma's mind and the memorable moments from the world of New X-men. In a sense, that baggage takes form and substance with the ghost of the older Jean Grey. The previous issue establishes her presence with the teenage Jean and not in a very friendly way either. The two Jean Greys from two different eras are constantly at odds, arguing and yelling at one another in various moments that would strain anyone's mental health.

That constant clash, which becomes a lot more heated as they fight through Emma Frost's mind, establishes an important distinction for Psyche War and for Jean Grey's ongoing story, as a whole. The Jean Grey of the past is still very much at odds with the Jean Grey of the future and not just because she ends up dead. Even though both Jean Greys share the same goal in avoiding the fate of the Phoenix Force, they're not on the same page in terms of methods. If anything, they trip over one another in their conflicting efforts.


It raises the stakes in the ongoing struggle while also revealing how ill-prepared Jean Grey is for the challenge before her. It gives the impression that she has never had a true grasp of the Phoenix, despite her being its most iconic host, going back to the Claremont era. It also makes the role Emma Frost plays feel more personal, especially as it sets the stage for a more heated battle that won't just involve psychic attacks.

The situation, context, and tensions are all there for Jean Grey and Emma Frost. The journey to their clash never gets derailed or subverted. However, even with so many critical ingredients, the lack of heated drama leaves the overall story in Jean Grey #8 feeling muted. While it doesn't try to fight the entire battle between these intensely passionate characters all at once, it stops short of probing the open wounds between them.

They never berate each other over past failures. There's no heated exchange on how Emma affected Jean's marriage to Cyclops. There are all sorts of emotional sub-plots that didn't find their way into the conflict. While the door is left open for these sub-plots, the story still lacks the connecting emotions that give all its potent ingredients the necessary impact.

Psych War still has plenty of potential to make this latest clash between Jean Grey and Emma Frost as dramatic as it deserves to be. Jean Grey #8 is just the first step in that effort. These are two of the most powerful psychics in the Marvel universe and they just happen to have a long list of reasons to resent each other. Anything less than an omega-level clash just won't cut it.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, November 3, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 159: Unholy Man Part 1 is LIVE!


Things in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series are getting more and more complicated lately. Ever since the events of X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide, the stakes have changed. It’s not enough for the X-men to just be heroes anymore. They can’t just thwart the likes of Magneto, Sinister, and the Mutant Liberation Front and hope that it inspires peace. In a controversial move, Charles Xavier dared to upend his dream to team up with the likes of President Kelly and General Grimshaw in a partnership that he calls the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. That effort has taken this fanfiction series in a very different direction. Compared to previous eras, X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided may very well be the most dramatic to date.

It’s not just because Xavier’s divisions divided the team, driving Cyclops and Wolverine to quit the X-men and form X-Force. He’s taking a huge risk in hopes of putting the X-men in a better position. Throughout this fanfiction series, Xavier has made his share of mistakes. Some of them nearly cost him his life, so much so that he had to leave the X-men briefly during X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. It’s understandable that he would want to make up for those mistakes and do better by his X-men. However, even the best of intentions can have unexpected consequences.

Some of those consequences have already bitten the X-men in major ways. By sparing Magneto in the events of Uprising, they only set the stage for his return in the Overlord arc. By pushing his psychic powers beyond their limit in the Dark Legacy arc to cure the Legacy Virus, Charles Xavier developed a debilitating addiction to pain pills that nearly cost him and his X-men their lives in the events of X-men Supreme Issue 127: Terror Sell. These difficult moments all act as reminders that even dreamers like Charles Xavier are still human and the X-men are still vulnerable.

That vulnerability is about to manifest in a very different way. It involves an ally who is unique to the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, namely that of Father Hansen. Like General Grimshaw or Captain Freeman, I’ve been careful to make every original character in X-men Supreme an important contributor. I realize that X-men fans read this fanfiction series for X-men, not unknown characters who have never appeared in the X-men comics.

However, I wanted Father Hansen to play a different role for the X-men. Since his introduction in X-men Supreme Issue 111: Divine Intervention, I’ve treated him as the antithesis of the zealous Reverend William Stryker. While Stryker uses his religion to justify his hatred of mutants, Father Hansen uses that same religion to celebrate them. It’s reflective of real life in that people use their faith to justify opposing sides of an issue. That opposition can cause major conflicts and that’s exactly what is set to play out in the latest arc of X-men Supreme. It’s a culmination of a conflict between two men of faith, as well as choices that Charles Xavier and his X-men have made thus far. It’s sure to test the faith of everyone involved.

X-men Supreme Issue 159: Unholy Man Part 1

Between the events going on in the X-men comics and the events in X-men Supreme, the themes and circumstances couldn’t be different and not just because I’ve yet to resort to time travel in my fanfiction series. I started X-men Supreme in hopes of creating an alternate outlet for X-men fans. Part of that effort involves taking characters in new directions and creating a few new characters entirely. There’s a lot that goes into making this fanfiction series awesome and I want every issue to contribute to that effort.

That’s why I always urge everyone to take the time to post feedback. X-men Supreme is an ever-evolving saga. I try to treat it with the same care as I would if Marvel gave me control over a real X-men comic. I need to know I’m handling them correctly because I’m an X-men fan too. As such, I want to hear from other X-men fans as well. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issue. I’m making progress against the spammers, but I still prefer contacting me directly for now. Thanks to all those who have supported this fanfiction series from the beginning. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Friday, October 27, 2017

Evil Wonders: Wonder Woman #33

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


No matter how dysfunctional a family is, there's usually some kind of sentiment binding it together. That sentiment isn't always healthy. Many sitcoms, good and bad alike, are built on that kind of dysfunction. Add gods, demigods, and superheroes to the mix and that dysfunction takes on a level that even the trashiest prime-time sitcom can't match. Wonder Woman's family may not have that kind of dysfunction, but whenever gods and demigods enter the mix, it usually means she'll eventually start punching something.

Wonder Woman's family already has its share of complications, thanks largely to an origins story that is still muddled between clay figurines and Zeus not being able to keep it in his pants again. The events of Darkseid Wars adds another complication in the form of Grail, who is basically the anti-Wonder Woman. As the daughter of Darkseid and a self-professed daddy's girl, she exists to spit on everything Wonder Woman stands for while looking more menacing than any illegitimate offspring that Zeus could ever sire.

Grail is one of those characters who has the potential to be a true nemesis to Wonder Woman. Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman has the Joker. Wonder Woman really doesn't have anyone on that level who isn't a renegade god or demigod. Grail, after taking down the entire Justice League in Darkseid Wars, can challenge Wonder Woman on every conceivable level. Wonder Woman #33 finally puts Grail in that position and James Robinson makes the most of it.

Darkseid War introduced Grail, but offers little insight into who she is and what motivates her. She never comes off as an overly complex character. There's no effort to craft some elaborate story about how she ends up on the path of evil. Her father is Darkseid. Evil is literally in her blood and she doesn't even try to avoid that. She embraces it. Like Lex Luthor and the Joker, she is not in conflict with who she is. She's evil and she's fine with that. That kind of self-awareness may be basic, but it's oddly refreshing in an era where too many villains try to come off as tragic figures.

That simple, streamlined persona helps move the story along. Wonder Woman #33 isn't just about establishing Grail as someone who can battle Wonder Woman without relying entirely on played out themes from Greco-Roman mythology. It's about tying her story into Wonder Woman's world, specifically the ongoing conflict with her long lost brother. Again, Wonder Woman's divine brands of family dysfunction are complicated, but that makes Grail's simplicity all the more appropriate.

Like Wonder Woman, much of Grail's story revolves around her family. She isn't just driven by her dark heritage. She actively works to protect and preserve it. The recent events surrounding Dark Knights: Metal puts Darkseid in a strange, but vulnerable position. After his defeat, he reverts to the form of an infant and it's up to Grail to play the role of mother to her father. It sounds weird, but when Greco-Roman traditions involve multiple instances of incest, infidelity, and unholy unions, it barely raises an eyebrow.


Grail still embraces this role. She never shows any hesitation or reservations about helping Darkseid return to form. She's just like him, wanting nothing more than to spread death and destruction to everything she touches. Even when aiding her father means murdering various demigods, mostly the many illegitimate children of Zeus, she does so without a second thought. She never sees it as evil or inconvenient, for that matter. She's just an evil daughter helping her evil father.

This makes for plenty of brief, but brutal moments that reinforce the extent of Grail's persona. She is evil to the core and that doesn't bother her in the slightest. While this goes a long way towards establishing her as a menacing villain for Wonder Woman, it doesn't make for too compelling a plot. Wonder Woman #33 offers a great many insights into Grail, at least with respect to her role in the ongoing story surrounding Wonder Woman's brother. Beyond that, though, there aren't many complexities or revelations.

The simplicity of Grail's character may help move the story along, but it offers little else, in terms of intrigue. She has a problem, namely her father's nascent state. She has to solve that problem by killing the many demigods that Zeus sired when he kept thinking with the wrong head. She goes about solving that problem with the kind of gratuitous violence that would make any evil father proud. There's not much more to the story beyond that.

There are some characters whose evil nature needs to be belabored every now and then. Grail established during Darkseid Wars that she is not one of them. Anyone who has Darkseid for a father doesn't need that kind of effort. While giving her a defined role in Wonder Woman's ongoing narrative is important, Grail doesn't get much depth beyond that. For her to truly become the Lex Luthor or Joker for Wonder Woman, she needs more than just a desire to help her father.

Wonder Woman #33 still succeeds in exploring Grail, demonstrating just how menacing a threat she can be to anyone she faces, demigod or not. Robinson skillfully guides her into a collision course with Wonder Woman while the artwork of Emanuela Lupacchino provides the necessary brutal imagery to that journey. More than anything else, that journey ensures that any pending clash between Grail and Wonder Woman will carry a lot of dramatic weight.

The family dynamics for both Wonder Woman and Grail, as dysfunctional and divine they may be, create a unique appeal that feels right at home in the bizzare, yet lecherous world of Greco-Roman mythology. Wonder Woman still embodies the higher values that mythos, but Grail is set to embody the worse. The fact she can do all of this without being the bitter offspring of Zeus makes that feat all the more remarkable.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

X-men Supreme Issue 159: Unholy Man Part 1 PREVIEW!


In ever medium of X-men, the team deals with a wide variety of enemies, some more eccentric than others. Those enemies include other mutants like Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants, humans like Reverend William Stryker, mad scientists like Sinister, killer robots like the Sentinels, and even uniquely deranged figures like Mojo. I’ve tried to incorporate as many as I can throughout X-men Supreme. I like to think this fanfiction series has done plenty to accommodate those iconic villains, even the weird ones like Mojo.

However, certain villains bring more drama to the X-men mythos than others and I want to crank up that drama in X-men Supreme. While some of the X-men’s villains leave their mark by being powerful and imposing, others present a different challenge. It’s one thing to take on Magneto and Juggernaut. It’s quite another to fight an enemy that hits the X-men with ideas that directly oppose Charles Xavier’s dream. More often than not, those threats come from humans and not other mutants.

Going all the way back to events in X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution, the X-men have faced anti-mutant sentiment from men like Robert Kelly. While his attitudes towards mutants became more tempered after being elected President of the United States in X-men Supreme Issue 71: Election Day, others are incapable of that kind of reform. When pushed to extremes, they’ll cross lines that even men like Magneto won’t attempt.

That’s where Reverend William Stryker comes in. Beyond being a recurring villain in the X-men movies, he’s established himself as the leading voice in anti-mutant zealotry in X-men Supreme. Beginning in X-men Supreme Issue 51: Stirring Outrage, Reverend Stryker has gone to great lengths to try and spark anti-mutant hostilities. He often does it under the guise of religion, not unlike real extremists. However, his resources and his willingness to use them are what makes him such a dangerous enemy to the X-men.

For a time, the danger posed by Reverend Stryker seemed to be a low priority. Between the Mutant Liberation Front and the Mutant Monitoring Initiative that followed, his efforts have been overshadowed in recent times. That’s about to change in a major way that will shake the X-men to their core. Stryker already found himself falling out of favor, thanks to the rising influence of General Grimshaw. However, desperation and frustration will make dangerous men do horrible things.

That’s why his return is going to present a great deal of trouble for the X-men. What he does and why he does it will act as a catalyst for the next major conflict in this fanfiction series. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, has been steadily escalating the tensions. It’s not just between the X-men and X-Force either. Charles Xavier’s dream is about to take on a very profound complication and Reverend William Stryker is going to be the catalyst. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of the unholy conflict that's about to unfold.

“Can we go yet?” said an impatient Laurie.

“Hey, show some respect,” said Jubilee with a scold, “This is important to Idie. Therefore, it’s important to us.”

Laurie shifted uncomfortably. She had never been much of a church-goer. She never intended to start even after her mutant powers completely unhinged her life. As part of her new life with Jubilee in District X, she was doing plenty of uncomfortable activities she never thought she would do.

That involved joining the others in a visit to the Church of Humanity for a full mass. After sitting through the procession, they stayed after to meet with Father Hansen privately. They had plenty to talk about and even though Laurie had been reluctant, she gave it a chance.

In wake of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, the Church of Humanity became more active than ever. Some of it was positive. Father Hansen saw his audiences grow over the past few months. New mutants facing hardships under this initiative needed guidance and comfort. Even regular people were joining his congregation, sometimes out of curiosity and sometimes out of spite.

There were plenty of instances where some voiced concerns about the direction humans and mutants were heading. Some were a lot more vocal than others. It never changed Father Hansen’s message that God had a plan for mutants and humans alike.

For Idie, Teon, Kenji, Gabriel, Laurie, and Jubilee, it was hard to grasp that plan. After recovering from Shaw’s influence, they started new lives in District X. Jubilee was their leader of sorts. She called them the Lights of District X because they were tasked with inspiring mutants that were doubtful of their future. Having overcome the worst of Shaw’s influence, they were in a position to inspire others.

“Peace,” said Teon as he mimicked Idie’s gestures.

“Very good, Teon. I’m surprised you didn’t try to eat all the wafers,” said Kenji.

“Guess you’re extra training with him has paid off, Idie,” said Jubilee.

“Even a basic mind can appreciate the tenants of faith,” said Father Hansen as he blessed Teon with a casual gesture.

“That or he knows we’re getting donuts for lunch,” said Gabriel with a smirk, “That’s how my parents kept me going to church every Sunday since I was five.”

“Does that not defeat the purpose?” questioned Kenji.

“It worked, didn’t it?” shrugged Gabriel, “Sorry if that sounds underhanded, Father.”

“It’s quite alright. God is not opposed to incentives,” said the priest in good humor.

“Then I’ll try to provide more so we’ll come regularly,” said Jubilee, “Bishop was right. We need something like this after the whole Shaw fiasco. I would argue that mutants everywhere need it. I noticed the pews were more crowded today.”

“That’s probably because too many mutants placed their faith in Shaw,” said Laurie, “Guess that makes him a false prophet or something.”

“From what you’ve told me, I would say that’s an accurate description,” said Father Hansen, “That’s a common problem for those who place too much faith in a fallible man. In this case, that man was carrying a lot of sin. That’s why I believe the tragedy you experienced can become a blessing if you’re willing to have faith. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding man and God. Blessed beings like yourselves are the true lights of God’s children. Don’t ever forget that.”

Jubilee and the rest of the lights smiled at the priest’s encouragement. For all the scars left by Sebastian Shaw, it helped to have some inspiration to go by. District X and many mutants like them were still recovering from Shaw’s downfall. They needed to be inspirational as well if they were to move forward.

“We won’t, Father. You can count on that,” said Idie strongly.

“And if anyone needs convincing that Sebastian Shaw wasn’t worthy of faith, I can just show them my face,” said Kenji, who was wearing a hooded coat.

“I think you’ll do much more by convincing other mutants that there is a better path. You’re already on your way. I encourage you to stay true to it,” said Father Hansen, “Now go in peace. And send my regards to Isaac when you see him.”

“Sure thing!” said Jubilee as she let the Lights out of the church, “Thanks again for putting in some extra time for us. I hope God pays overtime.”

Father Hansen laughed as he waved goodbye to the six young mutants. He took great pride in helping mutants at a time like this. The controversy surrounding the Mutant Monitoring Initiative tested the faith of many. He didn’t take sides on the issue. He had his private views, but he left the rest in the hands of the Lord.

His church now empty, Father Hansen had some research to catch up on. As he turned back towards the front pews, he noticed a figure kneeling before the front altar that wasn’t there previously. It was an elder man in a black coat and he appeared to be praying.

“Excuse me, but my sermon is over,” he told the man.

“Forgive me, oh Holy Spirit. Cleans me of my sin,” said the man in a desperate tone.

With growing concern, Father Hansen walked up to the man. He appeared troubled in a profound way.

“Sir, are you alright? Is there something I can help you with?” asked Father Hansen.

“Indeed there is, Father,” said the man in a deep tone, “You can repent.”

The man then shot up and turned around. As he did he revealed a loaded Glock pistol. Before Father Hansen could react, he fired a single shot. The powerful echo reverberated throughout the church. Father Henson’s expression was frozen as he clutched his chest over where the bullet had struck. He then fell to the floor at the feet of the mysterious man. As he bled profusely, the man revealed himself as Reverend, William Stryker.

“You made a deal with evil, Father Hansen. You of all people should know the devil will collect his dues,” said Stryker coldly as he stood over Father Hansen’s body, “May God have mercy on your soul. Take comfort in the knowledge that you shall aid me in redeeming mine.”


After the Volatility Sensibility and Drug War arc, X-men Supreme is poised to step up the pace of the action. This fanfiction series is set to enter dangerous new territory that will challenge the X-men like never before while also introducing some familiar threats to X-men fans. At a time when the X-men comics are revisiting old threats as well, I think the timing couldn’t be better.

I still want X-men Supreme to be as awesome as it can possibly be. I’ve been working on this fanfiction series for over seven years now and I still think it has room to improve. I can’t do that without feedback from the wonderful people who take the time to read this fanfiction series. Please continue to do so by contacting me directly or posting comments in each chapter. Either way is fine and I do take feedback very seriously. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Friday, October 20, 2017

Sexy Side-Project "The Red Queen Chronicles: The Divine" is LIVE!


If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started writing sexy side-projects, it’s that fans want their favorite characters to hook up with all sorts of characters. It doesn’t matter that it’s ridiculously non-canon. It doesn’t matter that it would never happen in the books either. Fans just love seeing certain characters get sexier than they’re allowed to be.

Since I started my “New Red Queen” series, I’ve gotten all sorts of suggestions for sexy hook-ups. Given that Mary Jane Watson, with all her amazing sex appeal, is at the center of the story, I expected to get plenty lurid requests for her. However, I didn’t expect to get so many for another fiery redhead, namely Jean Grey.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised, given all the uncut scenes I’ve done with her in my X-men Supreme series. After the events of “The Red Queen Chronicles: The Phoenix,” though, I’ve opened the proverbial floodgates. I’ve effectively unshackled Jean Grey-Summers from the traditional confines that has kept her fully clothed for too damn long. Apparently, there are a lot of Jean Grey fans who have been waiting for this sort of thing. Surprised or not, I’m going to run with it.

That’s why I’m proud to announce another sexy side-project of the most uncanny kind. It involves Jean Grey hooking up with someone she rarely encounters in the comics and being unapologetically sexy about it. She married Cyclops and flirted with Wolverine, but now that she’s the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, she’s going to set her sights higher. By that, I mean she’s looking for some truly divine sexiness from someone who just happens to have a big movie coming out.

Yes, I’m referring to the God of Thunder himself, Thor. He and Jean Grey have rarely shared a scene together in the comics, but that doesn’t matter in the world of the Red Queen Chronicles. Through this ambitious, but straightforward one-shot, these two characters you didn’t know you wanted to see hook up are going to get frisky. If this doesn’t get you excited for both the “Thor: Ragnarok” movie or “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” I don’t know what will.


As always, I encourage everyone to provide feedback and leave comments. I can’t promise I’ll pursue every sexy suggestion, whether it involves Jean Grey, Mary Jane Watson, or Squirrel Girl. I’m always open to new ideas, though, especially the sexy kind.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Most Worthy Milestone: The Mighty Thor #700

The following is my review of The Mighty Thor #700, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Whenever a comic reaches a major milestone, it seems obligated to do something big, flashy, and groundbreaking. More often than not, that can be more obstacle than opportunity. Obligation or not, these kinds of upheavals in a story cannot and should not be forced. That doesn't stop some from trying, but that also ensures the results will be mixed. That's exactly what makes The Mighty Thor #700 one of the most intriguing milestone issues of the past decade.

There's no need to force anything here. Jason Aaron has all the necessary pieces in place. What began several years ago in the final issue of Original Sin is set to culminate in The Mighty Thor #700. The concept of worthiness is now far beyond tired arguments of whether the Hulk, Superman, or Squirrel Girl can lift Mjolnir. It isn't just some mystical McGuffin meant to frustrate Thor, Odin, and all of Asgard, although it can come off as such.

Aaron often walks a fine line with Thor, one side being controversy and the other being contrivances. Jane Foster being Thor and wielding Mjolnir blurs that line to an extent that still bothers a certain segment of fans. However, even those fans can't deny the dramatic overtones that The Mighty Thor has conjured since Original Sin. It isn't just about a god struggling with unworthiness. It's about a dying mortal woman wielding the power of a god, knowing she's got little time left.

That time is exceedingly limited and The Mighty Thor #700 adds even more urgency for Jane Foster to make every swing of Mjolnir count. She's not the only one either. For a 50-page milestone issue, Aaron goes for broke by getting every corner of Thor's world involved and does so with an all-star cast of artists that includes the likes of Russell Dauterman, Walter Simonson, Oliver Copiel, and many more. That includes the past, present, and potential future of Asgard, Midgard, and everything in between. It's ambitious, but a worthy ambition befitting of any magic hammer.

There's a glut of material that touches on nearly every major player in Thor's world, from another major clash with Malekith to destructive fight with She-Hulk to a brief interlude with Frog Thor. All cards, including a few that haven't been played in a while, are on the table. They're all part of the same gamble to link every part of Thor's world into a singular conflict. That gamble doesn't necessarily hit the jackpot, but it does pay out in a lot of ways.

Despite all the many elements that find their way into The Mighty Thor #700, there are a few major connections to tie them together, some more so than others. Aaron digs deeper into the mythological foundations of Norse Mythology, literally to some extent, by setting the stage in Nornkeep. It gets even more literal as actual threads of fate start weaving various Thor-centered stories across the realms and across time.

These broad, diverse stories give a chance for every artist employed in this milestone issue to maximize their talent. Some utilize different themes, touching on the future of Thor and what lays in store for all those whose lives revolve around magic hammers. Others unfold in the present, which build on threads from previous issues leading up to The Mighty Thor #700. Some are colorful asides that don't add much to the overall plot, but belabor all things Thor in a way that feels necessary in an oversized issue.


This is where some of the ambition ends up overplaying the plot. Even though the connection of each plot has ties to the events in Nornkeep, those connections aren't always clear or concise. Some are so loose that it's hard to make sense of the role they play in the larger narrative. In addition, the scale of that narrative covers so many times, places, and hammer-centered battles that some end up feeling rushed. Even Jane Foster's battle against She-Hulk doesn't get the kind of elaborate smashing that most battles involving Hulk and Thor require.

Even with connections that are weak and rushed, at times, the direction of the story never gets derailed. Even after Frog Thor provides a little comic relief, the destination of each plot becomes clear. The conflict that begins in Nornkeep is set to spread through every realm, involving the likes of Maliketh, Loki, War Thor, and any number of divine forces that have been hit by Mjolnir one time too many. In that sense, the ambition serves to make The Mighty Thor #700 feel as epic as it needs to.

The worth of any milestone issue is measured in its ability to encompass the past, present, and future of a story. Given the size and scope of the story Aaron tells, The Mighty Thor #700 checks all the necessary boxes. There's a general sense, as well as a major teaser at one point, that the future of Thor is poised for upheaval. Jane Foster's battle with Hulks, gods, monsters, and cancer is about to culminate. Odinson is about to confront his agonizing unworthiness. Frog Thor is going to wade through some puddles. Everyone in Thor's world is poised to have their moment.

Ultimately, that's the most important aspect of any milestone issue. It should act like a catalyst and not an endpoint. It doesn't have to be a full-blown movie trailer, complete with heavy voice-overs and messy editing. It just has to make the journey thus far feel meaningful while making the journey ahead that much more appealing.

It may not have the loud explosions, coupled with heavy metal music, but The Mighty Thor #700 is plenty appealing in all the right ways. Worthiness may still be a hopelessly esoteric concept that fans will be arguing over on message boards for another 700 issues, but this one proves its worth, as only a Thor comic can.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, October 13, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 158: Power Brokers is LIVE!


These are exciting times for the X-men, both in the pages of Marvel Comics and within the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. I just returned from the New York Comic Con and, needless to say, I saw a lot of amazing things there. I even sat in on an X-men panel and got a glimpse of what the comics have in store. Between the return of Wolverine, the resurrection of Jean Grey, and the return of Charles Xavier, there’s a lot to get excited about. I hope to mirror that excitement in X-men Supreme.

That’s going to be difficult since I’ve resisted the urge to kill off so many iconic characters. It has happened, at times, such as in the Natural Disorder arc and at the end of Overlord. In my experience, there are more opportunities to explore great characters when they’re alive. I like to think I’ve done plenty of that in this fanfiction series, especially since X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided has put so many major characters in such difficult positions.

The X-men, still led by Charles Xavier, are trying to make their new partnership with President Kelly and General Grimshaw work. The results have been mixed thus far. The events of Volatility Sensibility cast doubt on the X-men’s ability to handle dangerous mutants alongside the government. The results in the Drug War arc proved more promising, so much so Charles Xavier could claim victory over Sebastian Shaw, a long-time enemy of the X-men who had been tormenting his team since the Phoenix Saga.

Over with X-Force, being led by Cyclops after he left the team, the situation is a lot more tenuous. They were failed where Xavier and his X-men succeeded in taking down Sebastian Shaw in the Drug War arc. Lacking both the resources and government support of the X-men, Cyclops and his team face a much tougher challenge. However, they remain convinced that Charles Xavier made a mistake by pursuing the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. In Cyclops’ mind, it’s only a matter of time before it comes back to haunt them all. As X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided unfolds, he’ll find out just how right or wrong he is.

While X-Force is recovering from their less-than-stellar performance in the Drug War arc, there’s another conflict that has been brewing since the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. While X-Force is operating out of Nova Roma, they’re also helping a displaced Scarlet Witch, who had been separated from the rest of the Brotherhood of Mutants after the events of the Proactive Regression arc. Her presence with X-Force has not gone unnoticed, especially by Nightcrawler. Both he and the Scarlet Witch have been developing an unusual bond since their encounter. Now, a new complication is about to enter the picture.

The conflict between the X-men and X-Force is going to be the primary catalyst for the story that unfolds in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. What happens with the Scarlet Witch, what happens with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, and what happens with X-Force is all connected. There’s a big upheaval brewing in this fanfiction series, one that will become more and more apparent as the next few issues unfold. There are forces, agendas, and characters who have yet to debut in X-men Supreme that will change the course of this fanfiction series. This latest issue is just a step in that process.

X-men Supreme Issue 158: Power Brokers

These are exciting times for X-men fans, both for this fanfiction series and the X-men comics. So many iconic characters are returning. There are incredible stories unfolding in both the comics and in X-men Supreme. In the past, I’ve written this fanfictions as a reprieve, of sorts, for X-men fans who feel disillusioned by the events of the X-men comics. Well, now the situation in the comics is improving. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not as committed to making X-men Supreme as awesome as it can be. Now, I want this fanfiction series to complement the X-men comics as much as possible.

In order to maximize X-men Supreme and the impact of this fanfiction series, I still need feedback from readers. I’ve made some progress in limiting the spam, but I can still receive emails and I can still sift through comments. So please, if you can, take the time to review this fanfiction series. Either post your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and every bit of feedback helps. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shaping A Sibling Rivalry: All-New Wolverine #25

The following is my review of All-New Wolverine #25, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In many superhero comics, sibling rivalries are right up there with love triangles in terms of shallow plots that bring out the worst in certain characters. It's one thing for families to bicker. That's the premise of almost every sitcom, Simpsons rip-off, and Fantastic Four comic. Rivalries, however, often act like open scars that never truly scab over. They come to define certain characters, so much so that it that it undermines their ability to evolve on their own.

X-23 and Daken have a major advantage, in some respects, because much of their development occurs independently of one another. The story of Laura Kinney and Daken Akihiro unfolds in vastly different circumstances and go in very different directions. Whereas Laura eventually ascends to take on her father's mantel, Daken falls to the wayside for a while. Even after the Death of Wolverine, his story essentially stagnates while Laura's accelerates.

That's what makes the premise behind All-New Wolverine #25 so risky, yet so intriguing. Tom Taylor is taking a chance on tying Daken's story with Laura's once more. While they had clashed in the past during Marjorie Liu's run on X-23, these two characters don't ever establish a functional relationship. They don't forge a bitter rivalry either, but the tension is there. It has the potential to either expose their worst traits or forge new ones. The difference between the two is as thin as a simple swipe of the claws.


Taylor puts both characters on a collision course, of sorts, and it's one that doesn't just involve more slashing and stabbing. It builds on the events of the previous arc, which first see Laura and Daken reunite under dire, yet amicable circumstances. They never get a chance to catch up, fight each other, or address any of the past instances where they try to kill each other. A lot is left up in the air, but All-New Wolverine #25 offers new opportunities for Laura and Daken to connect. Doing it in a series that also includes a pet wolverine named Jonathan is just a nice bonus.

Taylor keeps the continuity of the series tight, having the events in this issue play off those of previous issues. Recent events don't play too big a part in the chaos that unfolds, though. After those connections are made, the fighting begins and it's not a fair fight, even for Daken. While he's a long way from deserving the same sympathy as Laura, the battle he faces sets a specific tone, one that feels unique to Wolverine's overly burdened offspring.

Part of being tied to Wolverine in any capacity involves attracting the kinds of enemies that require more than an adamantium claw to the face. His violent, illustrious life is full of super-powered samurai, killer robots, undead ninjas, and married women he can't stop attracting. With the exception of married women, Laura and Daken attract those same dangers. However, the specifics of that danger are only teased in All-New Wolverine #25, but not in the same overtly ominous ways that just promise more stabbing.

This is where the Orphans of X come in, which is both the title of the arc and the name of the danger. They establish early on that they know how to hurt both Daken and Laura. Daken is somewhat easy to hurt, given his crass attitude and utter apathy for regular heroics. It's Laura who requires a more elaborate approach. Having recently fought Brood armies and spent time in the stomach of Fing Fang Foom, her threshold for pain is much higher.

They still find a way to test it by taking Laura back to her roots. That means returning to the pages of X-23: Innocence Lost, the tragic origins that have come to define Laura since her arrival to the X-men comics. Despite all her abilities, including those that allow her to survive the stomach of Fing Fang Foom without permanent physiological scarring, the details of her tortured origins still haunt her.

More than any other threat she faces throughout her relatively brief history, it's one of the few things that really hurt her. The fact that the Orphans of X use that against her shows that they've done their homework on her. The use of a few flashbacks, which evoke just the right impact thanks to Juann Cabal's art, help belabor just how much these memories hurt Laura. They're so troubling that she risks upsetting both Gabby and her pet wolverine by striking out on her own. Given Gabby's capacity for frustrating Laura and looking adorable while doing it, that's a not a trivial risk.

It's not initially clear how much that risk pays off because, even though Laura's recourse is directly tied to what happens with Daken, the narrative stalls somewhat once it ventures into that the bloodier parts of her past. While belaboring a painful past is an important ingredient in any Wolverine story, it can be overdone. Instead of learning why the Orphans of X think it's wise to torment two characters with a history of poor anger management, much of the story unfolds as a mystery with too few clues to follow.

There's still plenty of melodrama, which is true to the spirit that Taylor has established with All-New Wolverine. There's never a sense that either Laura or Daken are just angry, vengeful brutes who are just eager to stab something. All-New Wolverine #25 establishes deep, personal stakes. However, it doesn't do much to establish who is making such risky bets against them.

The ending sets the stage for a lot more melodrama and heartache. The connections that will eventually require Laura and Daken to team up again are there. Given the high standards that Taylor has set with All-New Wolverine, though, the impact of the conflict isn't felt yet. Too much of it relies on old scars that Laura has been carrying with her since her days as an extra in the X-men Evolution cartoon. While those scars are sure to deepen, the Orphans of X will need to hit much harder to leave a lasting impact on Laura and Daken.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Joke's On Batman: Batman White Knight #1

The following is my review of Batman White Knight #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Between Marvel and DC Comics, there's a significant glut of alternate universes, alternate versions, and blatant rip-offs of various characters. When a character becomes as successful and iconic as Batman, it's somewhat unavoidable. For every iconic hero, there are a hundred more that are as much an afterthought as a typical storm trooper on Star Wars. For that same hero, there are plenty of other versions that attempt to milk the success of that icon to the utmost and beyond.

Batman is no stranger to derivations and alterations. Some, such as Terry McGuinness from Batman Beyond, find a way to be successful. Others turn into gimmicks, at best. However, none can every claim to have tried something as bold as Sean Murphy tries in Batman: White Knight #1. This story doesn't just tweak the winning formula that has made Batman so successful over the past 70 years. It turns it on its head, inside out, and everything in between.

Murphy dares to invert one of the most fundamental conflicts in the Batman mythos, namely that between him and the Joker. This struggle, which dates back to the earliest days of Batman, is the conflict that most defines him. His pursuit of justice is an unstoppable force, but the Joker's maniacal chaos is an immovable object. For decades, neither one of them seems able to subvert the other. Murphy decides to take that conflict a step further, so much so that changes the rules of the conflict entirely.

It's a concept that can either break new ground or collapse on itself. Batman: White Knight #1 walks a fine line with that concept, attempting to flesh it out without the aid of time paradoxes, lazarus pits, or meddling by Dr. Manhattan. When dealing with someone as deranged as the Joker, that counts as an accomplishment. However, by the end of the issue, it's not the Joker that seems deranged. It's Batman and that counts as an even greater accomplishment.

Murphy doesn't necessarily deconstruct Batman. He isn't driven crazy, broken spiritually, or manipulated with some elaborate mind game. Instead, the Joker simply puts himself in a position to point out the glaring flaws in how Batman conducts himself. It goes beyond any arguments around justice, chaos, or the comedic value of clowns. He dares to stand up to Batman and tell him, flat out, that he's the crazy one. He's the one who does far more damage to Gotham than any maniacal clown ever could.

It's a strange, but compelling argument. On paper, it doesn't check every box, but it's hard to overlook the signs. Batman is, as the Joker puts it, a catalyst for the crime and injustice that he claims to fight against. He doesn't see his efforts to fight criminals as an effort to improve Gotham. He sees it as some selfish ploy by Batman to fix a soul that was broken before the Joker ever introduced anyone to exploding pies. While he doesn't put too much substance behind the argument, it does highlight some glaring issues with Batman that even his most ardent defenders can't deny.


That argument makes the narrative of Batman: White Knight #1 engaging and nuanced. It comes off as a necessary and overdue criticism, of sorts, for Batman's methods and the extent to which the Gotham Police tolerate it. Beyond that argument, though, the particulars are somewhat underdeveloped. There are more than a couple contrivances that get squeezed into the story to make it work, primarily the method Batman uses to render the Joker sane enough to make these arguments in the first place. It's not the same as another chemical bath or a trick by Mr. Mxyzptlk, but it's not far off.

The ease with which the Joker tempts Batman and the apparent lack of effort Batman puts into resisting that temptation comes off as shallow. The complexities of Batman that are almost always on full display seem muted. While there is some context to Batman's shortsightedness, it relies too much on making excuses for his attitude rather than actually countering the Joker's arguments. The fact it's an excuse ripped from the Batman and Robin movie doesn't help either.

In addition, Batman: White Knight #1 doesn't attempt to flesh out the mystery surrounding the Joker's backstory, which has been a key element to his character since the days of Alan Moore. It essentially removes the mystery, giving the Joker a name, a method, and an identity behind the clown makeup. There's no shocking revelation or cosmic insight from the Mobius Chair. It's presented as something that could easily be gleaned from a quick Wikipedia search.

In some respects, though, removing the Joker's mystery is necessary for the story. It's the only way for him to really counter Batman on a personal and philosophical level. Once the clown makeup comes off, he somehow becomes more daunting because he no longer has insanity holding him back. Instead, he becomes a man who exposes the lies, jokes, and frauds without laughing at them. Take away that twisted sense of humor and it's not clear whether he's a villain or a hero at this point.

That's the greatest appeal of Batman: White Knight #1. It presents Batman with an existential crisis that doesn't involve deadly novelty gags, crippling close friends, or corrupting innocent souls. It calls into question the methods and justifications he puts into being Batman, as well as the price that others pay for his actions. In a sense, nobody has ever been either crazy or sane enough to attack Batman on this level. It's only fitting that the one person capable of that feat is the Joker.


Final Score: 7 out of 10

X-men Supreme Issue 158: Power Brokers PREVIEW!


The end of every major arc in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series tends to set the stage for the next one. The same thing occurs in the X-men comics. In the same way events like House of M set up the Messiah Trilogy, events like Uprising set up Overlord. I try to go into every arc with the intent of expanding and enhancing X-men Supreme, both in terms of the bigger picture and in terms of the characters involved.

The recent Drug War arc involved a potent mix of major conflicts and critical character moments. It wasn’t just about Sebastian Shaw attempting to build his influence and take advantage of the recent failures of Charles Xavier’s Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It was also about the X-men’s ongoing struggles to carry out Xavier’s dream when they’re so divided, having been split between Xavier’s new vision with the initiative and Cyclops’ opposition with X-Force. Both sides endured plenty of personal struggles, some more than others.

However, the biggest development in the Drug War arc came in the form of a character I’ve been planning to debut in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series at some point in Daken. I’ve actually been looking for an opportunity to bring Daken into the picture as far bac as X-men Supreme Volume 4: Politics of Fear. Given the news of his upcoming return to the X-men comics, I feel the time is right for him to make his presence felt in this fanfiction series. He certainly got off to a promising start by betraying Sebastian Shaw.

Being the son of Wolverine is bound to come with a little baggage. In the X-men comics, it has gotten him into some pretty messy situations. It even got him killed for a while, which is somewhat typical of most X-men characters. Expect similar baggage in X-men Supreme, but also expect a slightly different origins. Like Sage, Thunderbird, and Bishop, there are some considerable differences between the versions in the X-men comics and those in this fanfiction series. Even with those differences, though, expect Daken to retain most of his quirks. Those who read X-men comics know what I’m talking about.

Beyond Daken’s debut, the Drug War arc brought a mixed bag of confrontations and progressions for X-men Supreme. While Sebastian Shaw was defeated and mutant growth hormone production was ceased, certain parts of that conflict remain unresolved. Charles Xavier and his X-men have regained some favor with President Kelly and General Grimshaw. X-Force is reeling, but not devastated by their recent setbacks. The situation is still tense and ripe for exploitation. With Daken in the picture, expect that to escalate very soon.

There are plenty of conflicts still brewing for the X-men and X-Force alike. A few have been escalating since the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. Both Charles Xavier and Cyclops have major challenges ahead of them, some more immediate than others. One of those more immediate challenges is about to attack them in the most literal sense of the word. After the battle against Shaw, the timing couldn’t be worse. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of just how challenging things will be for X-Force and the X-men.

‘I need to pull it together. And for once, I can’t rely on Jean’s support to help me. I never knew how much I depended on her until now. I can’t lead X-Force and be an emotional wreck. No matter how much I love her, this is bigger than either of us. Someone has to make a stand no matter how heart-wrenching it may be.’

Scott leaned against the window in a daze, trying hard not to think about all the ways Jean would make things better if she were with him. He could almost see her reflection in the window. It was too much for his heart to take. He had to shut it out. Like it or not, he had to do this without her.

‘One setback shouldn’t be this big a deal. X-Force is wounded, but still intact. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative was bound to make some progress. X-Force needs to make more. There’s a hidden subtext here that someone is missing. I keep looking for it, but I can’t find anything. The others are depending on me. With or without Jean Grey, I need to be better.’

The X-Force leader continued contemplating the many challenges he had before him. He clearly wasn’t going to find any answers in his current state of mind. He needed to rest or do something to clear his head. Regaining strength was the most important step in recovering from a defeat.

Letting out a tired yawn, Scott prepared turn in early for some much-needed shut-eye. Then as he made his way across the room, he heard some strange noises in the floors below him. They sounded like gunshots mixed with yelling. In his anxious state, Scott was in no mood for horseplay.

“Domino, you better not be doing that target practice drill with James again,” he shouted, “Warren’s pockets are deep, but even he gets tired of paying the repair bills.”

More noise followed. It quickly escalated as if the gunshots were on the move. Scott listened more intently as the commotion ascended the stairs. The X-Force leader instinctively retrieved his visor from a nearby table. Something about this didn’t sound like a training exercise gone wrong.

“So much for catching up on sleep tonight,” he groaned.

Scott prepared for the worst as he carefully approached the door. Before he was even halfway there, it burst open as a result of James Proudstar being thrown in like a rag doll. Scott immediately stepped back and aimed his visor at the door.

“Hnn…so how’s your night going, Scott?” groaned James.

“About as well as yours, it seems. What’s going on? Has our base been compromised?” asked the X-Force leader.

“Depends on your definition, big brother,” came a familiar voice.

Scott watched as a figure emerged through the now gaping hole in the wall where the door used to be. His eyes widened behind his visor as he watched his brother, Alex Summers, approach him. Behind him was Blob, who was clearly the one who threw James with such ease.

“Alex…how the hell did you find this base!” exclaimed Scott.

“You act as though there’s much to find,” laughed Blob, “No offence, but this is a hell of a downgrade compared to the mansion.”

“Cut him some slack, Freddy…as hard as that may be,” quipped Alex, “These aren’t the X-men. Let’s not treat them as such.”

Scott remained apprehensive as Alex approached. He didn’t come in with his usual aggressive demeanor. He casually stepped over James’s semi-conscious body and addressed his older brother.

“Spare me the outrage, Scott. I didn’t come here to fight for once,” said Alex.

“I’ll believe that when Blob here goes on a diet,” scoffed Scott.

“Wow, you have some crazy standards,” laughed Blob, “I told Alex this was a waste of time, but does anyone listen to the guy who considers a turkey a light snack?”

“It’s true, Scott. I don’t have the luxury of attacking you, even though you keep giving me plenty of reasons,” said Alex.

“If you’re going to say something that isn’t a snide remark, say it now! Otherwise, I’ll start taking my many frustrations out on you!” barked Scott.

“Boy, these X-Force guys are moody,” commented Blob, “At least they’re easy to toss around or I would be bored already.”

Blob cracked his knuckles to further dissuade Scott from further outbursts. He was prepared to hold the former X-leader down if necessary. He had to scrap those preparations when he heard gunshots coupled with the sting of bullets hitting him from behind.

“We’re not as easy as we look…or dress for that matter,” grinned Domino, who looked somewhat tattered but was still poised to attack.

“You?! Didn’t I throw you out a window?” groaned Blob as he turned around.

“I’ve been thrown out of worse,” she quipped, “Now what do you say, big boy? Care to see if your luck is as big as your waistline?”

She fired a shot that hit him right around his neck. It didn’t do much physical damage, but it still hurt. Now flushed with renewed anger, Blob prepared to attack Domino.

“Have fun with your brother, Summers! I’m going after the crazy bitch in the black spandex!” roared Blob.

“As if we don’t hear that enough from Pietro,” said Alex as he rolled his eyes.

Blob stormed out of the room through the hole he made with James. Domino led him out of the living room and back towards the staircase, leaving Scott to confront his brother one-on-one.

Over the commotion of more gunshots, Scott and Alex stared each other down. Scott was tempted to lash out at his wayward brother. He had breached X-Force’s base. He could compromise their whole operation. Yet that didn’t seem to be his intent. So with his hand still on his visor, Scott probed for answers.

“Okay Alex, you have my attention. I’m still inclined to shoot you, but that depends on what it is you have to say,” said Scott.

“I promise it’s worth hearing,” said Alex strongly, “It involves your recent trip to Mexico and how it went horribly wrong for some…and horribly right for others.”

“I already know that. Tell me something I can’t get from CNN!” he said.

“Okay, how about this…we discovered something about MGH that even Shaw wasn’t aware of. It’s something so big that you’ll quit being a dick and listen. This runs a lot deeper than the fight between humans and mutants.”


These are tense and divided times for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. At a time when the X-men comics are going in a different direction, even bringing back a few familiar faces from the dead, I’m determined to show that X-men Supreme can still deliver. These divisions have a purpose and that purpose will become clearer as this fanfiction series unfolds. As X-men fans follow the events in the comics, I hope X-men Supreme can continue to supplement the awesome.

To maintain the strength of that awesome, I need feedback from every kind of X-men fan. Even if you hated the last arc and the last several arcs before it, I want to hear from you. Any bit of feedback helps in my effort to make the X-men Supreme fanfiction series as awesome as it deserves to be. Either send it to me directly via the contact page or post comments in the issues, ignoring the spammers if you can. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelscior!

Jack