Friday, June 16, 2017

The Red Queen Chronicles: Phoenix Part 3 is LIVE!


It's the beginning of summer. It's hotter than Emma Frost's panties as a diamond exchange. It's the time of sun, beaches, and bikinis. In other words, it's the perfect time of year for my sexy side-projects.

Since the unexpected success I got with "Spider-Man and the Prostitute," I've had plenty of projects to keep me busy. I've since expanded that world with "The New Red Queen" and the various spin-offs I've done from that. With someone as sexy as Mary Jane Watson running the show at the Hellfire Club, of all places, the potential for sexiness is virtually unlimited. There are so many sexy ideas to explore and I'm about to cap off another.


In the latest round of the Red Queen Chronicles, I've had Mary Jane and Emma Frost recruit Cyclops and Jean Grey to their ranks. So far, the process has been a bit messy, but sexy as hell for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who read the first two chapters. The final chapter should help cap things off in the most fitting, sexy way possible. Whether you're a Cyclops/Jean fan or just fans of sexy stuff like this, you'll find plenty to enjoy.


Again, I appreciate the strong response I've gotten with this and all my recent Red Queen stories. The more support I get, the more motivation I have to keep this sexy series going. I will announce right now that I do have another spin-off in the works. After that, though, nothing is set in stone. It depends on the response I get to this story and the next one. If there's still sufficient demand, I'll keep at it. Like I said, the potential for sexiness when it comes to Mary Jane Watson is unlimited. Nuff said!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

United, Divided, and Spited: Secret Empire United #1

The following is my review of Secret Empire United #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Every tyrannical regime in history usually learns the hard way that governing people is hard. People are erratic, petty, melodramatic, greedy, and every other quality associated with Lex Luthor. United them under a common state, guiding them down what tyrannical leaders think is in their best interests, tends to morph into a prolonged test of unending frustration. In a world populated by mutants, Inhumans, and teenagers that build suits of armor from trash cans, even Captain America is prone to such frustration.

Secret Empire pulls back the proverbial curtain, revealing a conspiracy wrapped in an agenda sparked by a retcon. The biggest secret not related to Tony Stark's biological parents comes out. Captain America has been a secret Hydra agent the whole time and puts himself in a position to take over. He does so with an efficiency that would give hippies and tobacco lobbyists alike nightmares. Short of a grassy knoll, it has everything conspiracy theory enthusiasts could ever want.

However, taking over the world is actually the easy part. The fact it takes Hydra so long and requires a Cosmic Cube says a lot about their efficiency as an organization. It also doesn't bode well for their ability to actually manage what they conquer. The pages of Secret Empire are already setting the stage for a clash to overthrow Hydra's new favorite patriot. Secret Empire United #1 opens a new front in that battle, one that's sure to complicate Hydra's efforts.

Jim Zub and Ario Anindito go out of their way to create some real-world parallels, giving the new Hydra-dominated nation a bitter border dispute. Given the sheer breadth of Hydra's power and influence, there aren't many nations that could actually threaten it. However, a nation full of mutants run by both X-men and their former enemies definitely would give any nation pause, Hydra or otherwise.

New Tian is presented as Hydra's solution for managing a sizable population of super-powered mutants. It's a small, semi-sovereign state where mutants and mutants live in limited harmony. It's actually very limited because the catalyst for the story is basically a script in racially bias police, albeit the opposite of what mutants are used to. It's both fitting and relevant. It highlights issues that are plucked right from the news and hashtag movements. While it's sure to spark divisive political debates, complete with outrage on both sides, it establishes and important dynamic for the issue.


Given how fascist states usually deal with minorities, it's surprisingly pragmatic. The Hydra-affiliated Steve Rogers understands that going to war with mutants rarely works out for anyone. It often ends with heroes fighting heroes and at some point, cosmic forces get involved and Tony Stark will try to shoot it with an oversized gun. That's not good for the stability of any nation, fascist or otherwise.

It's not a perfect solution, but it creates the perfect setup for a story that effectively doubles down on the conspiracy dynamics that guide the narrative in Secret Empire. It's a gamble, but it pays off in a big, satisfying way in terms of actual substance. It's a story that involves secrets, real-world issues, a prison break, and a fight that includes Deadpool. By the ever-changing standards of Marvel, it checks more boxes than most.

At the heart of that story are secrets and agendas. Captain America wants his Hydra-led empire to succeed and he prefers to do it without going to war with mutants. Mutants also want to improve their lot in the world. They've lived most of their non-Hydra lives in constant fear of Sentinel attacks, racial bigotry, and living weapons programs. Under Hydra, they have a chance to live in a state where they're the majority and they get preferential treatment by the cops. Even if it means living in a world dominated by Hydra, it still counts as an upgrade to them.

However, they're still a minority that shares a border with a Hydra-run nation. If the history of the real and fictional world has shown anybody anything, it's that minorities and fascist regimes don't get along. It creates bitter disputes, fosters even greater racism, and even sparks full-blown world wars. As everyone learned in Avengers vs. X-men, a war with mutants has no real winners in the long run.

That backdrop in Secret Empire United #1 helps make the events that play out feel real and dramatic. It's not just that there are parallels to draw between the story and the news that plays out every day on social media. It's easier to relate to the high emotions involve. Seeing characters like Sunfire decry a fascist state or listening to Hydra's leadership rail on strengthening the border carries more dramatic weight.


There are so many other cases of one group of super-powered people whining about another. In fact, that makes up the vast majority of Marvel's major conflicts. Secret Empire United #1 stands out by providing a real, relevant context to the situation. While it may inspire more political whining on social media, it makes for a much more compelling story and in an era where almost anything can spark political whining, that's a fair price to pay.

A story that fosters that kind of dramatic weight is strong enough on concept alone. However, Zub and Anindito really overachieve by crafting a concise, action-packed narrative, complete with a satisfying twist at the end. It's not the kind of twist that involves Cosmic Cubes or deals with Mephisto either. It's just a resolution that feels so perfectly appropriate, given the context of the situation and the over-arching themes of Secret Empire.

By nearly every measure, Secret Empire United #1 exceeds the expectations usually associated with tie-in issues. It's not simply a shameless plug for a larger story that creates one too many holes. It tells the kind of story that offers just the right kind of impact for a specific kind of story. It's essentially a targeted narrative, one that hits its mark in all the right ways. That, in the grand scheme of things, is still worth inspiring more angry political rants.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Friday, June 9, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 152: Volatility Sensibility Part 2 is LIVE!


There’s a difference between the right decision and the prudent decision. That’s something the X-men deal with all the time in the comics, movies, and cartoons. The X-men Supreme fanfiction series is no different. Whether they’re caught in the middle of a war with the Shi’ar or trying to save the lost city of Nova Roma, the X-men have had to made more than a few hard decisions. In every occasion, their guiding principles came from Charles Xavier’s dream of peace and understanding. Now, in the evolving conflicts of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, those principles have become obscured.

It’s a critical and tenuous moment for this fanfiction series. The X-men are divided, but the world still needs them to make these hard decisions. Charles Xavier is trying to pursue a different dream with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. Cyclops and X-Force are trying to preserve what remains of Xavier’s old dream. They cannot and will not compromise their principles. Now, in the events of Volatility Sensibility, they won’t have a choice.

X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is in the midst of its first arc. It’s also the first major conflict since the X-men split in the events of X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide. A young mutant named Nitro find himself at ground zero of a potentially explosive situation, both literally and figuratively. A combination of bad luck and poor decisions on his part have made him a target of both the Mutant Monitoring Initiative and a group of petty criminals to which he is indebted. It’s up to the X-men and X-Force to try and resolve this situation before it literally blows up in their face.

In previous volumes of X-men Supreme, the decision would be relatively easy. Helping distressed mutants is what the X-men do. Whether it’s someone struggling with their powers, like Rogue did when hers first manifested, or helping a mutant like Gambit, who found himself in a tricky situation back home, the X-men make it a point to protect mutants. Under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, complete with the constant scrutiny of President Kelly and General Grimshaw, it’s not so easy anymore. Helping Nitro might also mean turning him over to the government or sending him to prison. That puts the X-men in a tough position while giving X-Force an opportunity to intervene.

Who is right and who is wrong in this instance? Will Xavier’s new methods win out? Will Cyclops and X-Force prove him wrong? It’s the first major test for the X-men and X-Force in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, but it will certainly not be the last. It is, however, as explosive as it gets. Whether they want to save Nitro or the innocent people he may hurt with his powers, they’ll have to make those hard decisions soon. What they do and don’t do will set the tone for the future of this fanfiction series. Make no mistake. Volatility Sensibility will have significant implications and it starts with this issue.

X-men Supreme Issue 152: Volatility Sensibility Part 2

There’s plenty more to come with X-men Supreme. This first arc of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is meant to set the tone for the kind of conflict you’ll see between the X-men and X-Force. Now, I’ve followed the X-men comics as closely as most other X-men fans and I know that divided X-men has become somewhat taboo in recent years. I hope to go at it from a different perspective here in X-men Supreme.

As such, it’s very important that I continue to get feedback from readers on this fanfiction series. I especially want to hear from those fans who were as disappointed as I was with how the whole schism issue was handled with the X-men comics. I want to handle it better here in X-men Supreme and I need feedback to ensure I’m succeeding. Either post your comment directly in the issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat X-men. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A Real (And Relevant) Coolness: Iceman #1

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


No character ever becomes iconic without doing something to set themselves apart. For years, going all the way back to the Lee/Kirby era of Uncanny X-men, Iceman never gets that chance. Despite being a member of the iconic Original Five X-men, he never gets his own Phoenix Saga. He never undergoes a transformation like Angel or Beast. He never even goes through the twisted melodrama of marrying a clone or have a time-displaced child. In a sense, Iceman is like a capable backup quarterback on a team of pro bowl players. He can hold his own. He just never gets a chance to show his skill.

That all changed after the events of All-New X-men #40. In what is, without a doubt, the biggest upheaval in Iceman's 50-plus year history, Jean reveals that he's gay. Now, there's a lot that can be said about how his outing was handled. Jean's somewhat callous approach to the situation, as well as the circumstances in which it occurred, are somewhat troubling. There's also the issue of Iceman's past entanglements with women. Some of them even count as serious. One of them, namely Mystique, almost got him killed.

However, that only makes the reveal more powerful because it reflects the real-life conflicts that many homosexuals deal with. Sometimes, they spend decades of their lives pretending to be something their not. Adding this on top of the underlying themes of the X-men, which is somewhat analogous to LGBT issues, it puts Iceman's story in a whole new context. It does more than set him apart from the rest of the Original Five X-men, who've already done plenty to distinguish themselves. It puts Iceman in a position to forge a unique path, one that few characters of his status have ever attempted.

Iceman #1 isn't entirely structured around Bobby Drake's homosexuality or how he deals with it. It's not built around him just going on solo adventures either. He's not Wolverine, Iron Man, or even Squirrel Girl. His path has the potential to be both unique and revealing. Sina Grace doesn't try to fit Bobby into another Phoenix Saga, a Dark Angel Saga, or any kind of saga. More than anything else, Grace tries to focus on Bobby's very human struggles while still giving him a chance to be Iceman.


In setting up the story, Grace establishes a distinct difference between Iceman and his time-displaced counterpart. Whether due to recklessness or immaturity, the teenage Iceman does a much better job of accepting his sexuality. He even has a male love interest that he's been exploring in other X-men comics. Ironically, the older, adult Iceman is behind the curve of his teenage self. He's admitted that he's gay, but he hasn't done anything with it yet. He's still more focused on being Iceman rather than Bobby Drake.

Iceman #1 puts him in a position where he has to be both. He doesn't face a cosmic entity or a killer robot. Instead, he faces a very real, very relevant issue with his parents. Unlike the rest of the X-men, they don't know that he's gay. His mother even asks about whether or not he has any girlfriends. It establishes that while Iceman may be out as a gay character, he's not quite out with the world at large.

It's the kind of situation that real homosexuals with real families deal with, not knowing how to talk to their parents about their sexuality. Bobby's parents make it even harder because they're not necessarily proud of his mutant status either. They give the impression that they'd much rather see him holding down a steady job as a garbage man rather than regularly saving the planet from Apocalypse. It's not so much that they have unreasonable standards as much as it is they want a "normal" son.

It's a concept that resonates with both mutants and the LGBT community, the idea of being so not normal that it undermines friends, family, and everything in between. In Bobby's case, he's got a double dose of non-normalcy. He's a minority within a minority, a homosexual man and a mutant. That means he can expect double the hate from every racist bigot, of which there are plenty in both the real world and the Marvel universe.

Fittingly enough, the main conflict in Iceman #1 isn't a killer robot or invading aliens. It's a wannabe Purifier, who are basically Marvel's that anti-mutant version of the KKK. While they don't make their position on homosexuality known, it's hard to imagine that would make them any less hostile to someone like Bobby.

It gives Bobby a chance to be a hero and, strangely enough, that's the most normal thing he does. When he's fighting a rogue Purfier, he's the same Iceman that people have known and loved since the Kennedy Administration. It's only when he has to be Bobby Drake that he faces an insurmountable conflict, of sorts. His parents don't accept him. The world, as a whole, doesn't accept him. Even other mutants seem more "normal" by comparison.


It's a powerful message that makes for a story that feels real and relevant. That's the greatest strength of Iceman #1. Grace tells a story that real people can relate to and Alessandro Vitti's artwork makes it visually appealing. Anyone who is LGBT, an outcast, or just not "normal" in a classic sort of way will find something to appreciate.

While the story may feel real, it also lacks the kind of dramatic impact or emotional upheaval that so many other major X-men characters have enjoyed in their 50-year plus history. That may be too much to hope for in one issue of a solo series for a character who hasn't had one before, but while the plot feels real and relevant, the substance is somewhat lacking. It's a competent, cohesive story that delivers a powerful message. It just doesn't go much further than that.

What gives this series promise, though, is the way Grace and Vitti frame Bobby's story at this point in his history. He's a minority within a minority, still trying to be a hero while trying to find his place. Being a hero is the easy part for him. Trying to find his place is a far greater challenge, one that he's very uncertain about. It's easy to be certain when there are killer robots to smash and evil mutant racists to fight. It's much harder to live a distinctly non-normal life that still feels normal. For mutants and LGBT individuals alike, it's an important story to tell.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, June 2, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 152: Volatility Sensibility Part 2 PREVIEW!

Image result for Charles Xavier

In the world of X-men Supreme, it doesn’t take much to turn a difficult situation into a crisis. It happened with Impossible. It happened with Prison Break. It happened with Proactive Regression. These situations weren’t like Overlord or the Phoenix Saga, two events that started off as crises from the beginning. They started small and devolved quickly, eventually becoming pivotal turning points for this fanfiction series. In their current divided state, the X-men are vulnerable to a crisis in any situation.

The events that culminated at the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation are still reverberating for many. Charles Xavier is still working tirelessly to make the Mutant Monitoring Initiative work. He has the strong, yet tepid support of General Grimshaw and President Kelly. He’s even managed to forge some significant progress, as shown in X-men Supreme Issue 149: Law Abiding Bind. This new form of X-men has done plenty of good, but they’ve done that good without having to deal with a difficult situation. That all changed in the first issue of Volatility Sensibility.

The X-men Supreme fanfiction series is about to give Charles Xavier and his new brand X-men a familiar challenge with a different set of complications. Dealing with a mutant who’s struggling with volatile powers is nothing new. The X-men have handled situations like this on my occasions, going back to Rogue’s initial recruitment in X-men Supreme Issue 6: Rogue Recruit and Jean Grey’s encounter with the Phoenix Force in the Phoenix Saga. In each case, the X-men were able to deal overcome the challenge. Now, they have to do so under the intense scrutiny of General Grimshaw and Captain Freeman.

The X-men have always prided themselves on being heroes, working within the system and sometimes outside it when necessary. Part of Xavier’s dream was to show that mutants could work together to help each other and mankind. More importantly, they could do this without a government sanctioning or supporting them. Now, they don’t have the option of working outside a system. They have to play by whatever rules that General Grimshaw and President Kelly prescribe. Can those rules work? Can they save lives when they can’t be the heroes they’ve always been?

Charles Xavier is willing to take that chance. Cyclops and his renegade brand of X-men, which he calls X-Force, is not. Whoever ends up being vindicated will likely shape the course for mutants moving forward in this fanfiction series. At the center of it all is a young mutant with a bad streak of luck named Nitro. He not only finds himself being born with mutant powers that literally make him a walking time bomb. He’s also a target of some very bad people that he managed to piss off, even before he found out he was a mutant.

Nitro’s fate is very much the fate of the X-men and X-Force. His fate will act as a major catalyst for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series moving forward. However it plays out, there will be consequences. There will be challenges. There’s more than Charles Xavier’s dream on the line now. It’s a volatile time for the X-men at every level and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of the next issue of Volatility Sensibility and all the chaos that's just starting to unfold.

“Will you quit driving like a pussy and step on it already?” shouted one of Boss’s body guards, “That light show behind us is getting too flashy for my tastes.”

“I’m going as fast as I can,” replied the driver, “This van wasn’t built for shitty back roads.”

“Forget about damaging the rims. Just gun it already!”

“Both of you, pipe down!” said Boss firmly, “Bickering will not make us go any faster.”

The two body guards and the driver fell silent, fearing Boss’s wrath almost as much as the explosion. He earned his title by taking big chances. Having a walking bomb on their side would have been a potent weapon and a lucrative resource. It was too bad Nitro had to be so stubborn with them. However, Boss was not deterred.

The mood inside the van remained tense as they neared the front gates of the mine. The light behind them continued growing, but from the looks of it they were going to outrun it. As the van picked up speed, Boss was already contemplating ways to make this work for them.

“This was risky venture for all of us. It turned out to be riskier than expected, but the potential is still there,” mused Boss, “We missed out today. Our friend, Nitro, is clearly going through some growing pains.”

“Those pains may turn our boys back there to bird chow,” commented his body guard.

“Well it’s their own fault for not being efficient enough. They should have handled Nitro more carefully. They don’t understand that he’s an immature child. Like any immature child, he’ll grow out of it. Then we’ll be able to make another offer.”

“You think he’ll change his mind?” asked his second body guard.

“I doubt it, but I’m sure we’ll find a way to convince him,” said Boss wryly, “He’s a mutant and mutants are the future, my friends. It’s an untapped market that’s ripe for the picking. I plan on getting in at the ground floor. Once the dust settles from this incident, we’ll be ready to…”

Suddenly, the van was brought to a screeching halt. Boss was thrown from his seat in mid-sentence and so were his body guards. It was like they just ran into steel column.

“Ungh! What the hell just happened?” barked one of the body guards, now rubbing his head.

“Uh…we just hit something, Boss,” said the driver in a daze.

“Then drive over it already!”

“That’s…going to be a problem,” he replied, his voice filled with dread.

From the front seat, the driver was staring at an obstacle that was not going to let him through. That obstacle was Warpath. Just as the van was about to reach the main entrance, the Native American mutant jumped out in front of them and dug his feet into the ground.

The van had no chance when it hit him. Now he had his hands firmly dug into the hood. If that show of strength wasn’t intimidating enough, the anger in his eyes only added to the driver’s fear.

“Your boys just shot my girlfriend. So I’m taking my anger out on you!” barked Warpath as he rocked the van with his strength.

“Ahhhhhh! What the hell are you talking about?” the driver exclaimed.

“I think he means to say we’re making our escape on foot!” said the Boss from the back.

Despite the shaking, Boss only had minor injuries and was able to open the side door. One of his body guards had a concussion and was in no condition to follow. Since the glowing light in the distance was getting worse, he was in no condition to aid him. So as soon as Boss was out of the van, he prepared to run.

“We’re really going to try and outrun this thing?” exclaimed the other body guard that wasn’t concussed.

“Unless you want to take that chance, you’re welcome to keep up!” said Boss.

With his eyes set on the main entrance, Boss took his first step. It ended up being his last because another obstacle literally fell from the sky in the form of large metal shards. They struck within mere inches of his feet. They were sharp as well, cutting his oversized trench coat in the process. It was enough to make him fall back towards the van.

“Oh no you don’t, Don Corleone! You’re going to stick around for the show and the after party,” said the menacing voice of Angel from above.

“By after party, he means your arrest or the cleanup of what’s left of you.” said Warpath, still gripping the van.

“More mutants…figures,” groaned Boss, “Surely ,we can be reasonable about this?”

“Save your reasons. Unless I need to remind you that these wings aren’t made of feathers,” said Angel.

The winged mutant flexed his techno-organic wings, forming dozens of sharp tips and arching them so that they were pointed right at Boss. He got the message and slowly inched back towards his van. His body guards stayed put, not testing Angel’s patience. Angel made sure they didn’t try and take the cowards way out. He kept his wings pointed at them, ensuring they would be here to face the consequences of what they instigated.

With each thug secure, Warpath smashed through the front of the van to take out the engine. It further stifled their escape while giving him a means to vent his anger. Moments ago, Emma Frost gave them a telepathic update on what was happening with Nitro. It wasn’t pretty. He was poised to explode again thanks to Boss’s thugs. The X-men showed up as well and Storm had been shot. It left him with plenty of reasons to be enraged in addition to facing another massive explosion.

“I’ll let Cyclops know we’ve secured our wannbe Godfathers,” said Angel.

“Any idea if he plans on preventing this mine from becoming a crater?” asked Warpth.

“He’ll figure something out. He always does,” assured Angel.

“If by chance he doesn’t, at least let me break some bones with these guys,” said the Native American, cracking his knuckles as he stared down Boss, “They deserve a little discomfort just for what they did to Storm. Never mind the whole putting an entire town at risk.”

“I can appreciate your feelings for assholes like this, but we’re not here to break bones. We have a mission and it hasn’t blown up in our faces yet.”

“But it’s about to,” quipped Warpath, “Mission or no mission, somebody back there better do something. This kid blowing up is gonna suck for both X-Force and the X-men!”


I still find it somewhat ironic how things in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series are so divided while the X-men comics are going in the opposite direction. At the moment, the X-men comics are returning to a more familiar state. Divisions, rivalries, and schisms are ending. The X-men, as fans have known them, are taking shape once more. Meanwhile, the X-men Supreme fanfiction series is throwing all sorts of divisions and complications into the mix. It’s a tough situation, one that I didn’t plan, but am trying to flesh out none-the-less.

I get that a lot of X-men fans are tired of the divisions, extinctions, and time travel plots. Granted, this fanfiction series has yet to use time travel or alternate universes to further a plot and I don’t plan to. I’m still plenty determined to make sure that X-men Supreme is as awesome as it can possibly be. That’s why it’s so important that people continue to provide feedback. Either post your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat X-men. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Timely Traditions: Cable #1

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


When it comes to time travel, there aren't many superheroes these days that can do it without making fans roll their eyes. As a concept, time travel is overdone, burned out, and utterly devoid of shock value. The days of "Back To The Future" and the lovable eccentricities of Doc Brown are long gone. Stories that involve time travel are about as inane as a stories that involve Superman telling kids to eat their vegetables.

However, there is still one character who can build their story around time travel and make it work. It's not Doc Brown either. It's Cable. He's part Terminator, part Marty McFly, and part Rocky Balboa. He's also friends with Deadpool and willingly works with him on a regular basis. That alone is a testament to his grit and determination.

With a major role in the next Deadpool movie, as well as the star power of Josh Brolin, the time traveling mutant has a lot going for him. With Cable #1, another title in Marvel's ongoing RessurXion effort, James Robinson and Carlos Pacheco try to put Cable on the same wave that Deadpool rode to a wave of popularity. He may never inspire as many Funko figures or cos-play costumes, but he still has so many factors going for him.

The story in Cable #1 takes the core of his character and runs with it. There's no elaborate exposition. There's no major build-up to the plot. It just puts Cable in the middle of a time travel plot and lets him do his thing. Anyone who knows anything about Cable won't be too surprised. They won't be disappointed either. There's time travel, there's big guns, and there's large-scale violence both on and off-panel. By every measure, this is a typical Tuesday for Cable.


In terms of getting back to the core of a particular character, Cable #1 checks the necessary boxes. It doesn't check every box, but it checks the ones that are most important to the core of Cable's character. Robinson doesn't try to reinvent Cable or twist his story in some elaborate way. He sticks to the basics of time travel and big guns, which are the meat and potatoes of every great Cable story.

In terms of the contents of that story, it itself doesn't try to be too iconic. It has Cable doing some time-hopping to find someone who has been sharing futuristic weapons with people and time periods that haven't even mastered indoor plumbing. Anyone who deals with Marvel's twisted timeline is right to be concerned about that sort of thing. Given the absence of the Fantastic Four and the ineptitude of those such as Hank McCoy, Cable is the only one qualified to handle this issue. The substance is there. It's only the portion size that's lacking.

The core concept is there in Cable #1. There's someone screwing with the timeline by giving high-tech guns and swords to cowboys and samurai. That makes for plenty of gun-fights and gratuitous violence, as only Cable can inspire, but there's little context to the story. There's no real clue as to who Cable is after. The only detail revealed is that they think giving people who still see bathing as a luxury is a good idea. Beyond that, there's little else to go on.

That doesn't make Cable's battles any less entertaining. Compared to the plots of a typical Terminator movie, Cable #1 is refreshingly straightforward. There's just too little drama and too little setup to intrigue those who aren't already fans of Cable's time-hopping narratives. Robinson doesn't try to push the envelope and that's understandable. At a time when many other X-men characters are returning to their roots in wake of Inhumans vs. X-men, his efforts in Cable #1 fit the larger narrative. It just doesn't try to push it any further.

For those who don't know much about Cable or his convoluted backstory, complete with clones and techno-organic viruses, they won't see anything too overwhelming. They won't see anything too shocking either. They'll just see a character that specializes in traveling through time, shooting big guns, and getting into big fights. That alone has plenty of entertainment value. However, in a world that still has Deadpool and multiple Wolverine knock-offs, that only goes so far.

There aren't many details of the story in Cable #1 that are clear from the beginning or even the end, for that matter. That's not to say the story is messy or convoluted, though. It is the beginning of a larger story. The ending teases a much larger conflict at hand, one that will require more time travel and more big guns.

That has plenty of appeal to long-time Cable fans, but new readers won't find anything that they can't find in other comics that deal with big guns and gratuitous violence. Given the number of characters that rely on big guns and gratuitous violence, Cable #1 doesn't do much to set itself apart. However, there is still something to be said about a story that can involve cowboys and samurais in the same story.


In the end, the greatest success of Cable #1 is how sticks to the basics and doesn't complicate the narrative. In any story that involves time travel, that in and of itself is an accomplishment. Robinson maintains the core of Cable's character and Pacheco's art ensures that it's visually appealing. The story has the necessary foundation on which to build upon Cable's story. There's nothing in that story that precludes a narrative that becomes an iconic moment in his history. It's a long way towards achieving that level of quality, but it's on the right path.

With a promising future in Deadpool 2, courtesy of Josh Brolin, Cable is one of those characters whose profile is on the rise. Cable #1 puts him at the front of the batting order and shows off the potential of what he can bring to the table. With big guns, a bad attitude, and a blatant disregard for time paradoxes, he has all the tools he needs to be a major player for the X-men. At a time when Hugh Jackman has retired and Deadpool is the new adamantium standard, the timing couldn't be better.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sexy Side-Project: The Red Queen Chronicles Part 2 is LIVE!


There's a lot going on in the world of X-men Supreme. There's also a lot going on in my pants. Yes, that means another update to an ongoing sexy side-project. We're at the very beginning of summer. The beaches are open. It's hotter out. Beautiful women are wearing bikinis. It's the perfect time of year for some extra sexy side-projects. The Red Queen Chronicles is no exception.

I've already told the story about how Mary Jane Watson went from a high-end prostitute to the Red Queen of the Hellfire Club. I've even told the story about how she's been exercising that power with associates like Wolverine and Black Widow. Now, I'm telling the story of how she and Emma Frost convince Cyclops and Jean Grey to join in the fun. The first part got them in the spirit. The next part will get them in on the action.

If you've been anxious to see Cyclops and Jean Grey, the X-men's oldest power couple, exercise their naughty side, then this is the story for you. Expect to see these two explore some of the pent-up desires that the Marvel editorial staff would never allow. If this doesn't make your summer hotter and sexier, then nothing will.


Hope this sets a fun, sexy tone for the rest of the summer. I intend to do one more chapter of this story before moving onto the next. As always, I encourage everyone to post their comments and provide feedback. But if you're expecting me to apologize for all the awkward boners and wet panties, you'll be disappointed. Nuff said!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Clawing For Relevancy: X-men Blue #4

The following is my review of X-men Blue #4, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for certain comic book characters to be too awesome. It's rarely the fault of the characters themselves. The problem is that when one writer finds a winning formula, a hundred others work tirelessly to recreate it, which leads to some predictably spectacular failures. With all due respect to characters like Hyperion and Sentry, the sheer volume of characters that try to match Superman's winning formula proves that even great success can breed greater problems.

When it comes to the X-men, Wolverine is the spitting, swearing poster boy of this issue. In terms of the overall X-men mythos, he is the standard by which all others are measured. He's an amazing character with a convoluted, but compelling past. He has personality, charisma, and mass appeal that's easy to stick on a T-shirt or lunch box. Few characters can hope to match that standard. Some characters, such as X-23, come surprisingly close. Others, however, fail miserably and become afterthoughts at best.

Up until Secret Wars, Jimmy Hudson was a case study in such failure. In the now-defunct Ultimate Marvel, he attempts to replace Wolverine and falls woefully short at every turn. He does nothing to distinguish himself. He brings nothing new or compelling to the story. He's basically just a teenage Wolverine, minus the skills, the mysterious past, the personality, and the overall appeal. At a time when there are so many other characters, such as X-23 and Old Man Logan, who do a much better job following that formula, Jimmy Hudson enters X-men Blue with some significant headwinds.

In some respects, he's entering a favorable situation. Like him, the original five X-men are exiled from their own timeline. They're also teenagers with lofty legacies to live up to. However, the baggage of being a failed replacement character from a failed series is not easy to escape. Cullen Bunn and Julian Lopez try to make the case in X-men Blue #4 that Jimmy can overcome that baggage. The verdict, however, is incomplete. The jury is still out, but the evidence is not on Jimmy's side.


The structure of the story, itself, as concise and well-crafted. The original five X-men respond to news of a distressed mutant. That's what the X-men of all generations do, time displaced or otherwise. Bunn establishes in the first three issues that this is the core mission of the team. It's simple, familiar, and functional. It works in the sense that it brings out the best in the original five X-men. It continues to work in X-men Blue #4. However, when Jimmy Hudson enters the picture, this core mission clashes with his heaviest baggage.

If Jimmy didn't have claws, wasn't related to Logan, and hadn't been part of a defunct world that stopped being relevant years ago, then his appearance would have some intrigue. Instead, he enters the world of X-men Blue in a way that's so familiar, so predictable, and so devoid of drama that it's hard to get excited about his arrival. Nothing he does sets him apart as a new and intriguing character. If anything, everything he does will just make Wolverine fans miss Logan.

It's one of Jimmy Hudson's biggest problems, both as a character and as plot for X-men Blue #4. It's a problem that has lingered since his first appearance in Ultimate X. The fact that Jimmy Hudson is Logan's son isn't the issue. The problem is he does nothing to really set himself apart.

In every comic since his first appearance, he doesn't carry himself as Jimmy. He carries himself as teenage Logan. It would be far more intriguing if someone had just cast a magic spell and reverted Logan back to a teenager. Given the abundance of overpowered sorcerers and time machines in the Marvel universe, that really isn't much of a stretch.

That all-too familiar tradition continues in X-men Blue #4. All the familiar Logan tropes are there. Jimmy is alone in a hostile wilderness, stuck in a blood rage, and can't remember where he came from. These are all core themes of at least a dozen other Wolverine stories since 1975. There's nothing distinct or memorable here. Jimmy once again conducts himself as a teenage Logan and nothing more. Unlike the original five X-men, though, he can't use time displacement as an excuse.

It might be understandable for Jimmy to struggle to escape his Logan's shadow in the sense that he sets the bar pretty high. Wolverine is one of the most popular comic book characters of all time. He's the one who helped make Hugh Jackman famous. Expecting Jimmy to even come close to that bar seems unreasonable. However, that excuse fails too because there is a precedent, which further undermines Jimmy's case.

Other characters inspired or derived from Wolverine have succeeded. Both X-23 and Daken have established themselves as solid, compelling characters who can hold their own without being too similar to Logan. X-23 does such a good job of this that she went onto become one of the best parts of the last Wolverine movie. Jimmy Hudson, though, gives no impression that he deserves a role next to Hugh Jackman.


Unlike Daken and X-23, Jimmy does nothing to stand out whether he's in a fight or standing on a street corner. His only distinguishing feature is his blond hair. If Molina were to use the wrong color, then few would be able to discern Jimmy from an overly youthful Logan. Given all the other distinguishing traits of Daken and X-23, which include tattoos and different claw configurations, Jimmy feels less like a derivation and more of a rip-off.

At the very least, his presence doesn't derail the story in X-men Blue #4. Bunn never makes him the primary focal point and that keeps the narrative on-track and consistent with the themes of the series. Jimmy's presence even manages to incur a distinct twist to the story that couldn't be done with X-23 or Daken. He acts primarily as a catalyst for the original five X-men's next challenge. He succeeds in this, but fails be distinct or compelling at any point in the process.

He's still that character who failed miserably to fill the void left by Logan's death in Ultimate Marvel. Now, he's in a world where two other characters can claim some measure of success, one of which made Dafne Keen famous. Jimmy is a long way from that kind of success. That baggage is still as heavy as ever. He's still that character few mourned when Ultimate perished at the end of Secret Wars. Escaping that baggage isn't easy and with X-men Blue #4, he's off to a poor start.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, May 19, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 151: Volatility Sensibility Part 1 is LIVE!


Every volume of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series creates a unique set of challenges for the X-men, their allies, and everyone in between. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is no different. Charles Xavier’s dream has evolved into something very different from what we saw in X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution. The challenges the X-men faced in conflicts like Revenge of Weapon X and Uprising are very different from what they faced in later conflicts, such as Natural Disorder and Dark Legacy. In every case, Xavier has had to adapt his dream.

At this point in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, it’s arguable whether Charles Xavier’s dream even exists anymore. The dream the X-men fought for in arcs like Uprising and Overlord is not the same dream they’re fighting for now. At first, the threats were fairly simple. Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants had a clear agenda. They were criminals and didn’t hide from that label. Then, as this fanfiction series unfolded, more complex threats like Sinister and the Mutant Liberation Front emerged. In X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, the line between enemy and allies is frustratingly blurred.

The first two issues helped establish the current state of the X-men, X-Force, and Charles Xavier’s dream. That state is fragile for everyone. The X-men have found a way to function under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative with General Grimshaw and President Kelly. X-Force has found a way to function outside the X-men and the law. They’ve been able to do this without a threat like the Brotherhood of Mutants or the Mutant Liberation Front causing trouble. That advantage, however, is about to change.

The first major arc of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is set to raise the stakes. It’ll mark the first time the X-men and X-Force will be at odds, but it will by no means be the last. The threats they face don’t have a clear face like Magneto or Sinister. Their faces are those of scared, anxious mutants who don’t know where they fit into this new world. Charles Xavier believes he can forge a better world with the aid of General Grimshaw and President Kelly. X-Force believes that Xavier can’t possibly control the kind of world that will emerge. Who is right and what are the consequences of being wrong?

Those are difficult questions to answer, but those questions will be the driving force for this fanfiction series moving forward. This first arc, Volatility Sensibility, will get the ball rolling. It’ll put Charles Xavier’s X-men and Cyclops’ X-Force on a collision course from which there is no escape. There’s no avoiding it. Someone will be vindicated. Someone will be proven wrong. These are volatile times for X-men Supreme and it’s only going to get more volatile from here on out, in some cases literally.

X-men Supreme Issue 151: Volatility Sensibility Part 1

As the X-men Supreme fanfiction series continues to evolve, the story and the characters are going to take a number of turns along the way. I know this may cause some anxiety among fans of certain characters. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years reading X-men comics, it’s that X-men fans are very sensitive about how their favorite characters are portrayed. I want to make sure that every character in X-men Supreme is portrayed in the fairest, most balanced way possible. Given the current divisions in this fanfiction series, it’s bound to be a challenge.

That’s why it’s so important that I continue to get reviews and feedback from readers. I know X-men fans are a passionate bunch. I know because I’m one of them. That’s why I want to make sure that every character and every story is as awesome as it can possibly be. So please take the time to provide feedback on this and every other issue. Either post your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly. I’m always happy to chat and I’m always willing to listen. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Familiar Youth Revival: Generation X #1

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


Adolescence, in some respects, is a fitting metaphor for mutation. Bodies change, mentality changes, and strange new abilities develop that are downright scary for those experiencing them, as well as those around them. Anyone who goes to high school or spends any significant amount of time around teenagers understands this. In that respect, the themes in X-men are both relevant and personal for many. Some call it puberty. Some call it an omega-level hormone surge.

This also makes the stories about the younger, less experienced generation of mutants more salient to the themes of the X-men comics as a whole. These aren't characters who have received extensive Danger Room training. These aren't characters who have they proven themselves by surviving no less than a fifty Sentinel attacks either. They're still teenagers trying to find their place in the world while going through a traumatic change in their bodies and minds. It's hard enough just making it through high school. Adding real superpowers to the mix is like giving the Hulk a migraine.

Given the recent trends in extinction plots and mass sterilization, there haven't been many opportunities to explore the youthful side of the X-men. That finally changes with Generation X, a series where mutant teenagers can just be mutant teenagers without having to worry about poison clouds or the Scarlet Witch's mental health. Christina Strain and Amilcar Pinna bring the X-men's young guns back into the mix with a fresh foundation devoid of sterilization or extinction.

In Generation X #1, that foundation emerges through the perspective of familiar and not-so-familiar faces. The Xavier Institute is open once more. It's back to using its old title, no longer acting as a testament to Wolverine's creepy obsession with Jean Grey. It's not just a school anymore either. The Xavier Institute's mission is bolder and broader. After facing issues like cosmic forces, toxic gas clouds, and time travelers, it sort of has to be.

Teenagers have a hard enough time with school and hormones, but Generation X dares to add even higher stakes. The world after Inhumans vs. X-men is still taking shape in the sense that both teams are still finding their place in a new status quo. That's where Jubilee's familiar perspective helps give context. Beyond being a character closely associated with the classic 90s series, she brings her own story into the narrative.

It's a story that fell to the wayside during the conflict with the Inhumans. She's still a mutant vampire. She still has an adopted son named Shogo. She's still trying to navigate a world where her mentor, Logan, is dead. Her taking on a leadership role for a team of young, inexperienced mutants almost seems like overkill. However, Strain and Pinna make it easy to root for her. True to the spirit of the classic X-men cartoon from the 90s, she carries herself with an infectious spirit that sets the mood for the story and her supporting cast.


By contrast, a less familiar perspective offers more traditional adolescent angst. Nathanial Cavier, also known as Hindsight, is the other character that Strain and Pinna utilize to set the tone for Generation X. His is one that anyone who felt anxious on their first day of high school can relate to. He spends most of the story just in his surroundings, coming across the rest of the cast and learning about their quirks. It's like orientation with destructive mutant powers and nosy telepaths. From a teenage perspective, it's like boot camp and brain surgery all rolled into one.

Having both a familiar and unfamiliar character lead the narrative helps create a balanced perspective as the cast takes shape. While the main cast for the series includes Jubilee, Bling, Kid Omega, Nature Girl, Morph, Hindsight, and Eye-Boy, there are other major X-men characters that help tie Generation X into the larger narrative of the X-men comics. Kitty Pryde, being the new headmaster and leader, is the most notable. She's also the one who gives Jubilee her blessing to lead a new generation of students who are still learning how to fight Sentinels.

In terms of bringing the main cast together, Generation X #1 succeeds in that it navigates the X-men's unofficial bureaucracy. They don't get distinct uniforms or anything, but Strain and Pinna craft a narrative that establishes a new team with Jubilee acting as the catalyst. Beyond that success, though, the story doesn't check quite as many boxes.


Even as the team takes shape, the diverse and quirky class of young mutants don't get a chance to do much. While a new host of challenges and conflicts are set up towards the end, there's not really a major clash that helps bring the team together. In fact, the greatest source of action in the story involves Kid Omega throwing a temper tantrum over losing an expensive pair of shoes.

Granted, Kid Omega has thrown tantrums over far less and with far greater destructive power, but it doesn't exactly harden the cast of Generation X against other prospective threats. At the very least, though, it sets the tone for the kind of volatile dynamics they'll be dealing with. Being a team of superpowered teenagers, that should be the first and most important lesson of any mutant team.

Beyond Kid Omega's tantrum, only a handful of other characters get a chance to interact or participate. Other than Jubilee, Hindsight, and Kid Omega, the rest of the cast just puts themselves in a position to participate in Generation X. In that sense, Generation X #1 works as a successful orientation for an incoming freshman class. Between new and familiar faces, as well as the inherent volatility that comes with adolescence, Strain and Pinna set the stage for a new generation of X-men. Whether they survive the experience, or even wish they did, remains to be seen.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, May 12, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 151: Volatility Sensibility Part 1 PREVIEW!


Throughout the history of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, the X-men have never been far from a new conflict or a new enemy. First, there was the Brotherhood of Mutants, who established themselves as major threats in the Uprising arc. Then, there was Mr. Sinister, who established himself as a threat in the Sinister Intent arc. More recently, the Mutant Liberation Front’s activities in X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation presented one of the most daunting challenges the X-men have faced to date. It was so daunting that Charles Xavier ended up compromising his dream to forge a fragile peace.

That peace still came at a cost. The first two issues of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided established the scope of that cost. The X-men are divided now. On one side, Charles Xavier is working with President Kelly and General Grimshaw to maintain the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, a new policy for policing mutants. On the other, there’s X-Force. Under Cyclops and Wolverine’s leadership, they’re trying to preserve the essence of Xavier’s dream, even if it makes them fugitives. After the events of X-men Supreme Issue 150: Walking A Fine Line, the line is clear. Everyone in X-Force is a fugitive.

This is dangerous and uncharted territory for this fanfiction series. While the X-men comics have done more than their share of stories about divided X-men, X-men Supreme has never put these characters in a situation like this. It’s entirely new to them and it’s utterly gut-wrenching. It cost Charles Xavier his most trusted student. It may have irreparably damaged the romance between Cyclops and Jean Grey. Both sides have already lost plenty, but both still have plenty to lose and X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided will provide plenty of challenges.

The first two issues were largely an insight into how X-men and X-Force operate in this new world. Both sides have their share of benefits and drawbacks. Both are dealing with their share of personal issues and team drama as well. It’s a tense situation, but it’s still functional. That’s easy when there isn’t a major threat putting pressure on both. With the Mutant Liberation Front in prison and the Brotherhood of Mutants dissolved, there hasn’t been a real threat for Charles Xavier or Cyclops to consider. That changes with the next arc, which happens to be the first of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided.

For the first time within this tenuous situation between X-men and X-Force, a new threat emerges. It’s a very unstable threat in that it isn’t some organized team. This isn’t Magneto rallying other mutants to his cause or Sinister unleashing some new mutant monstrosity. This is just one particularly unlucky mutant being caught up in a dangerous situation. The challenge is how do the X-men and X-Force handle the situation? Is it even possible, given all the tension and uncertainty? What kind of price will they pay for their division?

It’s the first, but definitely not the last challenge that the X-men and X-Force will face. This fanfiction series is going to hit both teams with plenty of new threats, some of which have been brewing for quite some time. For now, though, the most immediate threat will come in this first arc of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, which I’ve dubbed Volatility Sensibility. As always, I’ve provided a preview that should give a sense of just how volatile things are about to get.

‘Insides burning. Feels like I just drank a shot of acid. It’s gonna happen again! Can’t let it! Gotta get away before…’

Robert Hunter’s thoughts broke down as another round of agony consumed him. His whole body ached. He had been running since the previous night. Since that first explosion at the old fire house, his only focus was getting as far away as possible. His problems with his loan shark were light years from his mind. Something was happening to him and as he clawed his way up a rocky hill, it happened again.

“No! Not again! I can’t…AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

His body erupted in another burst of bright bluish energy. It started from his eyes and quickly consumed him from head to toe. When it got to be too much, the energy was released in a powerful explosion. It wasn’t as powerful as the blast that destroyed the fire house, but it was still powerful enough to leave a circle of scorched earth around him.

Robert’s ears kept ringing as he lay helpless on the rugged terrain. Somehow he made it all the way to the old coal mines where his father used to work. It seemed like the only place left for him. Looking back towards the city, he saw no way for him to return. He was so tired and weak, yet he was still dangerous to be around.

“What am I going to do?” groaned Robert as he stared at the cloudy sky above him, “I’m not just a freak. I’m a walking time bomb! It’s official. There’s no possible way for my life to get any worse!”

The dazed young man closed his eyes and groaned. His world had been falling apart before this happened. Now it was beyond repair. He was lost and no one was coming to help him. Perhaps that was for the better. At this rate, he would only hurt them too.

As Robert lamented at his horrendous luck, he heard a noise in the distance. It came from the main entrance to the coal mine where heavy construction vehicles used to enter. He rose up and saw three trucks driving alongside a large van. The terrain around this mine was pretty rugged so it was rare for anybody to come this way. At first he was hopeful. Maybe someone saw the explosion he caused and was here to help. Then he recognized a figure in the back of a truck and his hopes were quickly dashed.

“Hey Nitro!” yelled the voice of his loan shark, “We’ve got unfinished business.”

“Looks like I spoke too soon,” groaned Robby.

The weakened young man stumbled to his feet. He tried running deeper into the minds, making his way towards what was left of an elevator shaft. He didn’t make it very far. Within minutes, the three trucks surrounded him and the van behind them pulled up. There was nowhere for him to escape. Robert froze where he stood, watching as over a dozen intimidating men armed with baseball bats and guns stood over him.

“You guys are making a big mistake!” he warned them, “You saw what I did back at the firehouse. Do you really want to be around when it happens again?”

“I sure as hell don’t. Hell, I was hoping you saved us the trouble and blew your ass up,” scoffed the loan shark, “But this isn’t about what I want. It’s what the boss wants.”

The loan shark signaled the van to pull in closer. It stopped about ten feet from where Robert was standing. He stepped back slightly, only to be shoved forward by one of the lone shark’s over-sized friends. He tried not to tremble as a neatly dressed Latino man stepped out of the van. He had short hair, dark sunglasses, and fancy-looking jewelry. Robert Hunter had been involved with criminals long enough to know that this man was powerful and dangerous.

“So this is the man I drove all the way from New York to meet,” said the man, “He’s not nearly as imposing as I thought.”

“You’re in good company, boss. Mr. Hunter is what you may call a lazy criminal,” said the loan shark, “He wants the money and the comfort, but he lacks the balls and the heart to go through with it.”

“Typical,” the boss scoffed, “You lazy kids, not looking both ways before you cross the fucking street. I’m not a cruel man, but guys like you deserve far worse than a bullet in the head.”

“Please,” said Robert, his tone weakening under the man’s gaze, “I really don’t know who you are or why you’re here. If you know my story, then you know I’m already screwed!”

“You don’t need to know my name, Mr. Hunter. Just call me, Boss,” grinned the imposing man, “As for your story, I would say you’re anything but screwed. In fact, you may be the luckiest punk this side of the Mississippi.”

“I just started blowing up randomly in a way I can’t control! How the hell is that lucky?”

The Boss and his associates started laughing. Robert grew increasingly anxious. That sick feeling in the pit of his stomach was starting to build again. It meant this bad situation was about to get worse in so many ways.

“Wow...you really are as stupid as you look!” said the loan shark.

“Cut the man some slack. He’s clearly had a rough couple of days,” said Boss as he patted Robert on the back, “Allow me to spell it out for you. This power that’s got you whining like a little girl has a lot of otential. You just need a little imagination.”

“I’d rather not imagine. I’d rather it just stop!” cried Robert.

“Why would you want to stop something so useful? The way I see it, you’re a walking bomb that no sane person would suspect. In my line of work, that kind of surprise goes a long way. For instance, there’s this nasty waste of flesh in Philadelphia that ran a few of my businesses out of town. I know where he lives. I know where he hangs out. Imagine if someone like you drops by, an unarmed weakling who he won’t suspect of anything. Then before he knows how fucked he is, what’s left of him is feeding the birds.”


I understand that many X-men fans are still burned out on stories about divided X-men and various schism. I completely understand that sentiment. I didn’t plan for X-men Supreme to coincide with a reunification and reconfiguration of the X-men comics. It just sort of worked out that way. Even for those X-men fans who are tired of a divided team, I want to make sure that this fanfiction series still appeals to them. That’s why it’s still vital that I continue to get feedback. Please take the time to post your comments in the comments section of each issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to talk X-men. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Before The Ashes: Jean Grey #1

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


When she's not dying, coming back from the dead, or being on the wrong end of a love triangle, Jean Grey is one of those characters whose story often gets defined by others. This is understandable because in many respects, she's the heart and soul of the X-men. She embodies the hope, drive, and passion that guides them. She makes such strong connections to those around her, be they teammates or rivals, that it's hard for her to exist in isolation. From the famous Phoenix Saga to her most recent death in Planet X, she serves as an emotional catalyst for the X-men as a whole.

While this benefits the X-men, it also means she rarely gets a chance to grow on her own. Her story is often too tied to those of her teammates that she just can't forge her own path. Even after she and the original five X-men come to the future in All-New X-men, she continues to follow the path of her team.

It almost seems like a gross oversight that Jean Grey has never gotten her own solo series. Other characters such as Doop, Pixie, and even her arch-rival Emma Frost got a solo series at one point. Overdue or not, Dennis Hopeless and Victor Ibanez use Jean Grey #1 to finally give her a chance to tell her own story.

It's a story that emerges out of unfamiliar circumstances for Jean. She isn't just a teammate and guiding force anymore. She's the leader of a team that's taking guidance from Magneto, of all people. By X-men standards, these circumstances couldn't be more unfamiliar without the influence of the Cosmic Cube.

Even so, Jean's personal agenda is the same as it was in the early issues of All-New X-men. She seeks to avoid a future where she ends up dead, resurrected, dead again, and a topic of awkward conversation between Wolverine and Cyclops. Hopeless makes the story personal by exploring Jean's mentality and personal sentiments. There have been plenty of scenes with Jean lamenting, fighting, and complaining about her situation. The idea of her just taking a moment to process feels both novel and overdue.


That's not to say she's able to process everything. She's still a time-displaced teenage girl who learns that she dies multiple times, may or may not have destroyed a planet, and has at least one evil clone. Not even the mental fortitude of Reed Richards can process something like that, but that helps mold the overall tone of the story. Jean Grey, despite all her overwhelming burdens, is all too human when it comes to matters of life, death, rebirth, and evil clones.

From the beginning, Jean Grey #1 emphasizes Jean's humanity. Those not familiar with her humanity or the many obstacles, cosmic and non-cosmic alike, that strain it get a few major highlights of her story. The ones that stick out most for Jean, as a character, are those surrounding her multiple deaths and various resurrections. This is where Hopeless establishes a critical theme for her and the series, as a whole.

Jean Grey doesn't just want to avoid becoming the woman who ends up dying multiple times and inspiring multiple retcons. She actively hates that person. She doesn't see her future self as someone she aspires to be. She sees her as a painful reminder, one that actually gives her nightmares. Granted, it is a bit melodramatic in that it overlooks a lot of the good her future self did, but she's a brooding teenager so it's perfectly appropriate.

On top of these musings and dreads, Jean gets a chance to be a typical hero. Whether by coincidence or cosmic karma, she's having lunch in Kyoto, Japan just as the Wrecking Crew is doing a heist. It's admittedly contrived. Even those involved admit that. It also gives Jean a chance to show just how powerful she has become. It emphasizes that, despite how much she hates her future self, she's still a hero at heart.

The perspective and style in Jean Grey #1 feels very personal. Even if the action is predictable, Ibanez's art makes it flashy. It also sets the stage for the over-arching narrative that puts Jean on a collision course with the Phoenix Force. Given the status of the Phoenix Saga as one of the greatest X-men stories ever told, it raises both the stakes and the risks.

It's an unfortunate byproduct of such a dramatic and iconic story. Any effort to expand or explore that story tends to undermine, complicate, or convolute it to some degree. Sometimes it's for the better, as Chris Claremont proved with Inferno. Sometimes, it just comes off feeling too forced, as proven in Avengers vs. X-men. However, in the case of Jean Grey, it's a story that cannot and should not be avoided.


The foundation is already in place. The events of The Trial of Jean Grey proved that what the Phoenix did and what it can potentially do is still relevant. Jean, despite her best efforts, cannot avoid this part of her past and future. During the battle with the Wrecking Crew, she gets a harsh, but overdue reminder that her story and that of the Phoenix Force is inextricably linked.

While some details of the narrative in Jean Grey #1 are still contrived, the underlying themes and overall tones remain strong. They carry the necessary dramatic weight that is so critical to any story involving Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force. Hopeless crafts a story that makes it easy to sympathize with Jean. He makes it easy to root for her. For a character who is often the victim of so many dramatic tragedies and insipid love triangles, it's a welcome and overdue change.

The series still has a lot to prove. The prospect of more complications with the Phoenix Force and even more teenage melodrama ensures Jean Grey has many opportunities to falter. Whether or not Hopeless and Ibanez can avoid that cosmic trap remains to be seen, but they still succeed in reminding everyone why Jean Grey is the heart of the X-men.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, May 5, 2017

No More Secrets With Much Greater Intrigue: Secret Empire #1

The following is my review of Secret Empire #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


There's a lot that can be said about Marvel's various crossover events, retcons, and relaunches over the past decade. It's now trendy for fans to roll their collective eyes at yet another major event that promises to shake the foundations of the Marvel universe, as if that doesn't happen every other week. To some extent, Marvel does rely heavily, if not excessively, on crossover events, either to raise the profile of certain characters or establish a new status quo. The success of these efforts vary wildly, from the blockbuster success of the original Civil War to endlessly forgettable Clone Saga.

Within this environment of cynicism and aversion to crossover events, Nick Spencer and Steve McNiven's Secret Empire is up against unreasonably unfair odds. It's a story that has been building for a while, having begun after the events of Avengers: Standoff. However, it's a story that Captain America fans, and Marvel fans in general, are already prepared to despise.

That predetermined sentiment has some basis in the growing aversion to crossover events, but that hate got a gamma-powered boost with the shocking reveal/retcon that Captain America is a secret Hydra agent. That revelation is on par with Thanos revealing he's Tony Stark's biological father. It's both shocking and infuriating with some eagerly awaiting answers while others complain that their childhood is ruined.

In both cases, Spencer and McNiven have an uphill battle with Secret Empire. They can't do anything about those who are already determined to hate anything that doesn't involve Nazi punching, but they can still make the most of Secret Empire's potential and the potential is there. Secret Empire #1 finally unleashes the full extent of Hydra's subversion efforts. While it's sure to trigger those who Hulk out at the idea of Captain America being a secret Hydra agent, there is a wealth of content and substance.

Those who can look past the lack of Nazi punching will uncover a world that offers much more than the stand heroes versus fascist narrative. Spencer dares to add a bit more balance to the conflict and when one side of that equation are regularly equated with Nazis, that's both bold and risky. It's also necessary within the context of Secret Empire. It's not enough to just have Hydra raise their flag over the White House, declare themselves rulers of the world, and spend every other moment twirling their collective mustaches in triumph. It's necessary to explore the kind of world they now rule and why some buy into it.


Spencer doesn't water it down either. The new world revealed in Secret Empire is a fascist, authoritarian world where children are taught the glory of Hydra and government-sponsored bullies arrest people for daring to scoff at such glory. The first part of the story doesn't even involve any heroes. It just shows how a few school-age children live their lives in a world now dominated by Hydra. Those lives, as well as the order they now regularly hail, provide an important context that gives greater weight to the conflict.

Hydra may be fascist and anything fascist tends to elicit Hulk-like outrage by most, but the order they offer is tempting to some extent. Throughout Secret Empire #1, Spencer shows some of the benefits of that order. There's a strong, well-equipped army armed with ridiculous Hydra weapons to enforce the peace. There's a robust, orderly economy that is rich in jobs and opportunity. Those who buy into it gain a level of security and certainty that doesn't require mind control to appreciate.

That's an important component of the narrative because it adds a certain level of complexity to the conflict. It's not just a matter of underdog heroes taking on the big Hydra bullies who spend their days bathing in the tears of sick orphans. Secret Empire #1 dares to offer two sides of that conflict. Usually, when one of those sides is an outright fascist, there isn't much to debate that doesn't involve lung-bursting outrage. By ignoring that unavoidable outrage, Spencer and McNiven set up a uniquely daunting challenge for those who oppose Hydra's new world order.

The circumstances are pretty dire, as they tend to be for those on the other side of a fascist conflict. Those who play by the rules in a fascist state don't lose their freedom, their lives, or even their internet connection. For those resisting this style of patriotic tyranny, it's a test of will and resolve. Unlike previous conflicts, there's no rousing speech by Captain America to inspire the heroes. For once, the rousing speeches are working against them.

Cap being on the fascist side of the conflict in Secret Empire completely flips the script. This time, the iconic leader and pillar of virtue is working for Hydra. His style is not like that of the Red Skull or Baron Zemo. He still carries himself as a patriot, seeking to preserve the values he believes are right. It doesn't just add yet another daunting element for the Avengers or any other hero seeking to oppose Hydra. It gives the overall conflict a dramatic impact that can only happen through Captain America.


In the same way that generations of Captain America fans who played with toy shields as kids refuse to believe his betrayal, the heroes now fighting Hydra share in that disbelief. They look for any possible excuse, clinging to the belief that the Captain America they know and love is still there. Spencer makes it clear, though, that there's no mind control, evil clone, or Skrull agent at work here. The Captain America now leading the "Hail Hydra!" cheers is the same Captain America they've always known. It's gut-wrenching on a level that no amount of Nazi punching can alleviate.

The fact that the context and structure of Secret Empire is so dramatically gut-wrenching is what gives the story such strength. The details and organization of that story are somewhat loose in certain areas, but the impact is still there. Those still determined to hate Secret Empire and everything that set it up will probably not change their opinion. Anyone who still despises the idea of Captain America being a fascist will still be sick their stomach seeing him salute Hydra's flag.

Spencer and McNiven take a huge risk in Secret Empire #1, daring to make a conflict that involves fascists feel balanced. While that balance is still somewhat fragile, it still works. It still creates a story that feels compelling and dramatic. It won't make anyone pro-fascist, but it will offer plenty of intrigue.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

New Sexy Side-Project! The Red Queen Chronicles: The Phoenix


Summer is almost here! That means beaches, bikinis, and beautiful women wearing bikinis is right around the corner. For those of us who need few excuses to wear less clothing, it's a beautiful time. But no matter what time of the year it is, it's always a good time for one of my sexy side-projects.

Yes, I'm still doing this. And yes, I'm still exploring the world I've created with Spider-Man, a former prostitute version of Mary Jane Watson, and the concept of her being the Red Queen. I've had a lot of fun expanding this world. It started out as a simple Spider-Man story that gave me ample opportunities to maximize Mary Jane's sex appeal. I've since expanded it to get her involved with Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club, as well as characters like Wolverine and Black Widow. The results have been even sexier than I expected.

Now, I'm ready to turn the sex appeal up to cosmic proportions. Yes, that means Jean Grey is entering the picture again. If you've been following my blog or my work in any capacity, you have no right to be surprised. Seriously, did you think I was going to build a world with this much sex appeal and exclude Jean Grey? I don't know what you're on, but you're taking way too much of it.

That's why, with an announcement I hope shocks zero people, I'm proud to announce the next sexy side project in the world of "The Red Queen Chronicles." This one will occur right after the previous entry with Black Widow. It involves Mary Jane, Emma Frost, and even Spider-Man working together to "recruit" Cyclops and Jean Grey to their ranks. How will they do that? How will they work around a few cosmic obstacles? Well, you'll just have to wait and see. I promise it's even sexier than you think.


Like my last story, this one will have multiple parts. I don't know how many it'll have just yet, but it won't be more than a few. I know I've done sexy stories with Cyclops and Jean Grey before, but believe me when I say I've never pushed it this far. You'll see what I mean very soon. Nuff said!