Friday, September 15, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 157: Drug War Part 3 PREVIEW!


It’s one thing for the X-men to battle a cunning enemy like Sebastian Shaw when they’re at full strength. It’s quite another when they have to fight that battle when divided. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided began by establishing the extent of that division. This fanfiction series took a fateful turn in X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide. The team that had been united against the likes of Sinister, Magneto, and the entire Shi’ar Empire is fractured. Charles Xavier’s bold, but controversial efforts with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative triggered it. Now, both the X-men and X-Force are feeling the full impact.

The struggles in Volatility Sensibility were just a precursor. Sebastian Shaw, who has done plenty to leave his mark on this fanfiction series going back to the Phoenix Saga, is taking full advantage in the divisions of the X-men and the reservations many still have with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. One mutant, Beak, already fell victim to his influence in X-men Supreme Issue 153: Revolting Youth. Now, Jubilee and the Five Lights, characters that some X-men fans remember well, take it a step further.

The Drug War arc is the first real instance where Charles Xavier and his X-men deal with one of their major enemies exploiting the situation created by the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It was only a matter of time. Bold actions always triggers bolder reactions. The X-men experienced that after the election of President Kelly and the arrival of General Grimshaw. However, they’ve never encountered a battle like this. What happens may very well determine the fate of the initiative, the X-men, and mutants, as a whole.

There have already been plenty of complications, some of which will have a major influence on future events within this fanfiction series. If you read the end of X-men Supreme Issue 156: Drug War Part 2, you already know what and who I’m talking about. It has already disrupted Sebastian Shaw’s plans. It’s about to disrupt much more than that. Jubilee and the Five Lights are still under his influence. Chimera still has X-Force pinned down. There’s still the issue of Mutant Growth Hormone. Like dangerous drugs in the real world, it’s a problem that can’t be uncreated.

There’s only one issue left in the Drug War arc. It’s the biggest arc in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided to date. It’ll also mark the first turning point in the struggle between the X-men and X-Force. If you want to know where this fanfiction series is heading, this is an issue you don’t want to miss. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of this defining battle that will shape the course of X-men Supreme.

“So c-c-cold. Even for a R-R-Russian,” grunted Colossus as he tried to divert Idie’s ice blast.

“Go, Teon! Break him!” urged Idie.

“FIGHT!” roared Teon as he moved in and attacked with a punishing right cross.

Colossus went up to block the attack. This time when Teon struck his arm, he felt a distinct snap. Even through his metal skin, the bones and flesh beneath broke in a way that put him in a world of pain.

“ARRRRGGGHHHHH!” exclaimed the Russian.

“My heavens…she made his metal skin brittle,” gasped Beast, who was trying to escape Kenji’s tentacles, “Hang on, my friend! I will assist you!”

“You’ll watch him suffer and hate every moment of it,” seethed Kenji.

Beast had been using his agility to avoid being completely smothered like Rogue and Storm. Upon seeing Colossus’s injury, he attempted to leap out of his swarm of tentacle appendages completely. That ended up being a poor decision.

Before he was even a few feet off the ground, Kenji’s tentacles slithered around his feet and pulled him back. Beast ended up falling flat on his face, allowing Kenji to completely encase him. Beast could only watch as Colossus writhed under Teon and Idie’s menacing presence. He was then pulled up into the air so that he was suspended next to Rogue and Storm.

“Welcome to the club, Beast. Uncomfortable yet?” said Rogue dryly with only her face showing through the tentacles.

“It’s not the most awkward position I’ve been in, but it’s close,” grunted Beast as more of Kenji’s tentacles wrapped around him.

“Any chance you could lend a hand to myself or Colossus, Storm?” asked Beast, “I know you’re in a tight spot, but we could use some help from Mother Nature.”

“I’m…trying,” grunted Storm, who was very short of breath, “This boy…not letting me concentrate. Can’t-mmf!”

Storm was silenced by one of Kenji’s tentacles shoving itself right into her mouth. It rendered her even less inclined to summon any help from the weather. It was Kenji’s way of proving that he was in control.

“My collection is growing,” seethed Kenji from within his oversized humanoid form, “Once I have your friends, I shall make your deaths my greatest masterpiece!”

“Hnn…if this is your brand of art, you’re even sicker than you look,” grunted Rogue.

“Belittling our adversaries is only making it worse, Rogue,” said Beast as he felt the tentacles around him tighten.

“Errr! Got a better idea?” said Rogue, getting short of breath as well, “Where in the heck is Captain Freeman? Ah thought he-mmf!”

Rogue was silenced just as Storm had been. Kenji forced one of his tentacles into her mouth to shut her up, leaving her at his mercy.

“No ideas will save you now,” scoffed Kenji, “We are the Lights of the Inner Circle! We are linked by a power you cannot possibly understand! You can never hope to…”

“KENJI LOOK OUT!”

The Japanese mutant was cut off by an unexpected cry from above. Kenji was so focused on keeping Beast, Rogue, and Storm restrained that he didn’t notice an ominous shadow passing over him. When he looked up, he saw the large figure of Laurie spiraling out of control.

On her back was Captain Freeman, who was using the dragonfly-like wings she formed to direct her chaotic descent. He directed her right into the chest of the oversized creature Kenji had created. That was also the area where Kenji himself resided. From within this hulking monstrosity, his eyes widened as Laurie crashed into him head on.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” they both yelled out.

The impact that followed caused much of Kenji’s large form to scatter like wet mud. The humanoid figure he form dissolved as his amorphous form mixed with Laurie’s. As they tumbled roughly to the ground, the many tentacles Kenji formed dissolved. That freed Rogue, Storm, and Beast from their confines. As they fell to the ground, Captain Freeman was there to meet up with them. Having leapt off Laurie’s back before she and Kenji collided, he rushed to their aid.

“Sorry I’m late guys. That crazy fish girl was a fighter,” said Captain Freeman as he and Beast helped Storm stay upright.

“No worries, Captain. Your timing was impeccable,” said Beast.

“I would have preferred it to be a few moments earlier,” said Storm, still coughing up pieces of dissolved tentacle.

“I’ll work on that for future missions,” assured the Green Beret, “But first, I plan on ending this mission on a high note!”

The mutant soldier earned some much-needed credibility with this latest stunt. Storm and Beast were more inclined to believe him. However, these six mutants weren’t going to make it easy for him.

“The only thing you’ll end is your life!” seethed Jubilee,  now flying towards them at high speeds, “I’ll make you wish Kenji had crushed you!”

In her blind rage, Jubilee formed another glowing ball of energy in her hands. Without taking careful aim, she unleashed it right towards them. Captain Freeman prepared to shield Storm and Beast with his adaptive form. This time, though, he didn’t have to.

Rogue came rushing in from the side and stepped in front of the incoming blast. But instead of just absorbing it, she punched it with her enhanced strength. That caused the ball of energy to fly right back towards Jubilee. Since she was going so fast, she couldn’t avoid it. When it struck, it sent her flying in the other direction.

“What the-UNGH!” she exclaimed.

“Sorry Ah had to do that Jubes, but that pal of yours left a nasty taste in mah mouth. Ah had to take it out on someone,” said Rogue as she rubbed her fist.

“Thanks, Rogue. It’s good to know you’re still pissed off enough to fight,” said Captain Freeman with a grin.

“Ah don’t care if it is Jubilee and a bunch of kids. They’re playmates with Shaw. Someone’s gotta give them a timeout,” she said strongly.

Now more emboldened they turned their attention to Gabriel, Idie, and Teon. The sudden shift in the battle hadn’t gone unnoticed, either. The X-men weren’t as disorganized or inept as they expected. They continued undermining the Inner Circle. This could not stand. Their king and queen wouldn’t allow it.


There’s a lot I want to accomplish with the Drug War arc. The big reveal at the end of X-men Supreme Issue 156: Drug War Part 2 has already set the stage for the next major upheaval in this fanfiction series. Given the events and twists of the recent X-men comics, I think the timing is perfect. Some of that wasn’t planned, on my part, but I have tweaked some of those plans accordingly for reasons I hope will become obvious.

X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is the most ambitious entry of this fanfiction series to date. I knew before I wrote the first issue that I was going to be upsetting some X-men fans with my decisions. I’ve heard some of those concerns in the feedback that I’ve gotten. To those readers, I urge you to trust my vision. There is a payoff and it will come. Even before that point, though, I need plenty of feedback to ensure that payoff is as awesome as it can possibly be. Either contact me directly with your comments or ignore the spam and post your comments directly in the issue. Either way is fine, but contacting me will probably be more efficient for now. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Titles, Legacies, and Basics: Generations: Captain Marvel & Captain Mar-Vell #1

The following is my review of Generations: Captain Marvel and Captain Mar-Vell #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


The story of one hero taking on the mantle of another is one of the most controversial stories that can be told, albeit for all the wrong reasons. No matter how great or terrible that story actually is, there will always be a certain contingent of fans who are ardent traditionalist. To them, Batman must always be Bruce Wayne. Steve Rogers must always be Captain America. Peter Parker must always be Spider-Man, preferably a version not foolish enough to make deals with Mephisto.

There's nothing anyone can do to placate those fans, short of ending the story permanently and letting them fume in their own little world of utopian nostalgia. Since that's not a very interesting story, Marvel Generations is doing the next best thing by adding depth and connections between the heroes of the past and the heroes of the present. The titles may be the same, but the characters, context, and narrative are very different. The only thing that doesn't change is the incessant whining by the ardent traditionalists still arguing why Gwen Stacy should come back.

Regardless of how ardent certain fans may be, most tend to agree that certain characters can benefit from that added depth more than others. At the moment, few characters are need of that depth more than Carol Danvers. Through the masterful efforts of writers like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Carol ascends to a level of prominence that makes her the closest thing Marvel has to Wonder Woman. The fact she takes the title of Captain Marvel in the process is almost secondary. Then, Civil War II happens and suddenly, she's the most controversial non-clone character in all of Marvel.

That makes the stakes in Generations: Captain Marvel and Captain Mar-Vell #1 that much higher. Margaret Stohl already has a daunting task as the writer of Mighty Captain Marvel, which attempts to rebuild Carol's status as Marvel's premier female hero after Civil War II. The events of Secret Empire and Marvel Legacy put her in a position to recapture some of those elements that make Captain Marvel a title that anyone of any gender would be proud to have.


Part of that effort involves taking Captain Marvel back to basics, none of which involve superhero politics, visions of the future, or arguments about how long Carol's hair should be. Instead, Carol finds herself in the middle of an war in the Negative Zone that involves an unfamiliar race of aliens, a familiar threat in Annihilus, and her old mentor, the original Captain Mar-Vell. It has all the ingredients to bring out the best in Carol Danvers. It won't settle debates her hair, but even Captain Marvel's power can only go so far.

That power is enough for her and Mar-Vell to carry out the feats for anyone wielding that title. As with previous issues of Marvel Generations, there's not a whole lot of context surrounding the Vanishing Point. There really doesn't have to be. Generations: Captain Marvel and Captain Mar-Vell #1 is a bit more concise in that it establishes a clear connection between the events in this story and those of Secret Empire #10. That approach allows Carol to hit the ground running within a chaotic, sci-fi heavy alien war that maximizes Brent Schoonover's colorful art style. Compared to the bleak circumstances of Secret Empire, it's pretty refreshing.

The same can be said about Carol's interactions with Mar-Vell. Much of it is built around over-the-top sci-fi action, but that's fairly in line with their history. Whatever their titles, both characters define themselves by their alien connections. It's a big part of how the connection they forge. The events of Generations: Captain Marvel and Captain Mar-Vell #1 occur before that connection really blossoms, but it establishes that these two characters share more than a title.

In between battles against aliens and arguing with a race that isn't used to these kinds of battles, there's a fair amount of drama between the two characters. They both have different styles. Carol is more hot-headed and impulsive. Mar-Vell is more cunning and diplomatic. There are times Carol's approach proves effective. There are times when Mar-Vell's approach works as well. It creates tensions, but it's the productive kind of tension. That may seem shocking in an era where tensions between superheroes serve as the basis for every other major event at Marvel, but Stohl shows how it can work.

Carol Danvers and Mar-Vell wield the same title, but are effective at honoring that title in their own unique way. They both say they work alone, but it's only when they use those ways together that they prove most effective. It comes off as a lesson that both characters need to learn. In Carol's case, it's a lesson that's worth re-learning, given her recent missteps among her fellow superheroes. It gives the impression that Generations: Captain Marvel and Captain Mar-Vell #1 leaves Carol in a better place, as a character.

In that sense, the overall story has both the basics and a sense of purpose. It feels complete in the sense that it has a relevant impact on both Carol Danvers and Mar-Vell. There are some shortcomings, in terms of details. The story does drag, somewhat, in a few areas. Even with sci-fi settings and a major threat like Annihilus, it never feels as epic as other memorable space battles. Some of that may be due to the restrictions of the Vanishing Point. Like other issues of Marvel Generations, it can only do so much before the timeline snaps back into position.

Whatever limitations there are on the premise of Generations: Captain Marvel and Captain Mar-Vell #1, Stohl and Schoonover get the most out of it for the characters involved. By getting back to basics for anyone bearing the title of Captain Marvel, it demonstrates that there is a legacy to that title and one that's worth upholding. Whether or not Carol uses that legacy to improve her standing within the Marvel pantheon remains to be seen, but between gaining a better perspective and taking her frustrations out on Annihilus, she's in a much better place now.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Red Queen Chronicles: The Prodigy Part 1 is LIVE!


Summer is over, but I'm not done heating panties or triggering awkward boners in public places. That's right. I have another sexy side-project and even if you've put your bikini away, this should still make you feel hot all over for all the right reasons. You're welcome.

Once again, I've been amazed with the feedback I've gotten for my "Red Queen" series. It's hard to believe that this all started with just some twisted little story I did about Mary Jane being a prostitute in an AU that involved no deals with Mephisto. I never intended to expand that story as much as I have, but between the feedback I've gotten and all the new ideas it has inspired, I just keep building on it.

I like to think I've set a sexy foundation on which many sexy stories can be told. I've already told quite a few, some more elaborate than others. I've tried, for the most part, to give them some semblance of plot. I understand that's not the primary reason people read these sexy side-projects, but I think a little plot goes a long way towards adding to the sex appeal. This latest project is no exception.

With it, I'll actually be exploring some other aspects to this sexy AU I've created. Specifically, it digs a little deeper into Mary Jane's history as a prostitute. That history will lead her to meet up with a character whose prostitution history is actually canon in Laura "X-23" Kinney. She's always been a favorite of mine. As soon as I began expanding this series, I knew I would get to her sooner or later. It turned out to be sooner.

This story will be a two-part story. It'll explore the past and expand on the present in ways I hope will moisten panties and stain boxers. The first one is officially up. Given how quickly X-23's star has risen in recent years, I think the time is right for her to gain a little sex appeal.


As always, I strongly encourage everyone to provide feedback for this story. I've already gotten far more than I ever expected with this series. The more I get, the more incentive I have to keep growing this series. I hope this one continues that sexy tradition. Mary Jane may not need more sex appeal at this point, but a little more could never hurt. Nuff said!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Building (and Tinkering with) a Legacy: Generations: Iron Man and Ironheart #1

The following is my review of Generations: Iron Man and Ironheart #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


When a new character takes on the legacy of an older one, the greatest challenge is making that transition seem fitting and meaningful. It helps when the older character has a sizable network of friends, family, and side-kicks in the wings, ready to carry on that legacy in a way that feels like a true extension of the story. This is how Batman's legacy can continue whenever Bruce Wayne is MIA, whether it's through Dick Grayson, Terry McGuinness, or the occasional robot.

Unfortunately for the legacy of Iron Man, Tony Stark isn't as keen on side-kicks and family. Throughout his history, he tends to monopolize all things Iron Man. At times, he gives the impression that he only tolerates War Machine because he doesn't use a title or color scheme that undermines his brand. He's akin to a musician who doesn't mind people doing goofy parodies of his music. That may be an effective way to control a legacy, but it does create issues once Tony is unavailable. With no Robin or even a Bucky Barnes waiting in the wings, Iron Man's legacy is especially vulnerable.

That makes the task Brian Michael Bendis undertook in creating Riri Williams all the more daunting. He doesn't have the time or capacity to create the kind of built-in legacy that Batman has. He has to put Riri in this role of filling in for Tony Stark with next to no build-up or dramatic underpinnings. Riri just happens to be in the right place at the right time when Tony Stark goes down in Civil War II. It's the kind of happenstance that can only come at Marvel where Cosmic Cubes, deals with Mephisto, and the Scarlet Witch going crazy constantly skew the odds.

With Generations: Iron Man and Ironheart #1, Bendis has a chance to forge a greater personal connection between Tony Stark and Riri Williams. In a sense, that sort of connection is overdue because even in his AI form, Tony acts more as a guide than a mentor to Riri. The lack of any deeper undertones still creates the impression that Riri's role is forced and contrived. Creating a more personal connection can help mitigate that impression.

Bendis makes that effort and even tries a different approach, compared to previous iterations of Marvel Generations. Whereas the other stories have taken characters to the past, he takes Riri to the future. That's somewhat more practical, given the inherent themes of futurism in Iron Man. However, pragmatics only go so far. When it comes to actual substance, the story falters and only ends up highlighting the reasons certain fans complain about Riri in the first place.

By taking the story to the future instead of the past, she ends up in a very different world, compared to the one she comes from. This is inherently an issue for her character because so much of her story is tied to her situation in the present. Her family, being from Chicago, and stumbling through the growing pains of being a hero are part of what makes Riri's story compelling. None of that is present in Generations: Iron Man and Ironheart #1. That leaves Riri isolated and only highlights some of her less flattering traits.

From the moment she arrives in the future, Riri basically acts as her own narrator. It tries to come off as cute and awkward, as is often the nature of teenagers, but it just comes off as annoying and self-centered. She doesn't say or ponder anything that isn't depicted by Marco Rudy's skilled art. When she encounters familiar-looking heroes from the future, including a next-generation Avengers team and a 126-year-old Tony Stark, who also happens to be the Sorcerer Supreme, the moment falls flat. For overly-emotional teenagers, that just goes against the laws of physics.

That's not to say Riri is cold in the story. She does make it a point to hug Tony when she gets the chance. However, that's pretty much the extent of the connection they forge. It's also the extent of the drama in the story. There's no epic battle. There's no shared struggle. One is teased, but goes absolutely nowhere. There's no point where Riri really works with Tony, thereby gaining a better understanding of what it means to be Ironheart. She basically just sits back, watches, and gets a crash course in how great the future is.

While that sort of techno-utopian ideology is a key component to Iron Man, Generations: Iron Man and Ironheart #1 doesn't present it in a very compelling way. It's mostly done through Tony Stark talking, Riri Williams reacting, and everyone else just shrugging their shoulders. It's as compelling as it sounds. There aren't any moments of real struggle with Riri. She's basically just a guest passing through and not much else. Her passing out when she first arrives is the most she does to move the story forward.

That's not to say there's no overall impact for Riri. Seeing the future and all the beauty that Rudy's art can depict leaves an important impression. It shows that the future she, Tony, and all things Iron Man are trying to build is worth building. That's a meaningful impression, but one that doesn't need to be belabored in an Iron Man comic, which is built on the very premise that a better future can be built. Riri's story already involves plenty of future-building so the impression comes off as redundant.

Bendis has many opportunities to craft a more meaningful connection between Riri and Tony in Generations: Iron Man and Ironheart #1. Few, if any, of those opportunities pan out. Riri still comes off as an annoying teenager who basically stumbles to success at every turn as Ironheart and Tony comes off as overly coy with his ego. The story succeeds at capturing the futurism themes inherent of most Iron Man stories, but that's all it succeeds with. For someone as capable as Riri Williams and Tony Stark, that's just too low a bar.


Final Score: 4 out of 10

Friday, September 1, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 156: Drug War Part 2 is LIVE!


When it comes to humans and mutants, there are few ways to make some things easier and infinite ways to make everything harder. The X-men seem to learn this every week in the comics. They learn those lessons just as often in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Magneto has certainly made the X-men’s efforts difficult in arcs like Uprising and Overlord, creating plenty of fear and hatred to undermine the peace and understanding that Charles Xavier is trying to promote. At least Magneto has a dream of his own. Some of the X-men’s foes are far more selfish and far more devious.

That describes Sebastian Shaw to the letter. He’s already made quite a mark in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. When he wasn’t busy corrupting the Phoenix Force in the Phoenix Saga, his son was laying the groundwork for programs like Weapon Plus. Despite being severely wounded by Wolverine, he managed to make a comeback in the Dark Legacy arc. Now, he’s ready to exploit the divisions in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. Being a ruthless businessman, he’s found his opportunity in Mutant Growth Hormone.

What X-Factor discovered in X-men Supreme Issue 153: Revolting Youth was just the tip of the iceberg. This potent drug, which has its roots in the X-men comics, has the potential to create more complications than even Magneto could’ve inspired. This doesn’t just augment mutant powers. It can take ordinary mutants like Beak, who have no interest in taking a side with Magneto or Charles Xavier, and turn them into monsters. In terms of making things harder for the X-men at a time when they’re so divided, Shaw’s timing and cunning couldn’t be worse.

He’s already exploiting the X-men’s divisions. The Drug War arc has established that, like the X-men comics, Sebastian Shaw has a great many resources and manpower at his disposal in this fanfiction series. He’s poised produce vast quantities of MGH. How this serves his agenda has yet to be revealed, but the X-men and X-Force can’t afford to find that out the hard way. They need to stop him. Unfortunately, the circumstances in X-men Supreme are not in their favor.

Being divided and desperate, the X-men took a bold chance and sent Jubilee to infiltrate Sebastian Shaw’s operation. Along the way, she met a young group of mutants that X-men fans should recognize from Generation Hope. In the comics, they were the Five Lights. In the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, they are just five mutants who seek better opportunities than the ones laid out to them by the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. Their desperation is Sebastian Shaw’s gain.

Both the X-men and X-Force are now on the front lines, but after the events of Volatility Sensibility, the margin for error is painfully small. Both teams have already struggled to operate on their own and have shown no ability to set aside their differences, even in the face of a threat like Sebastian Shaw. Failure at this point will make for some dire consequences for the future of X-men Supreme. That future is already bleak as the battle in Drug War is set to escalate.

X-men Supreme Issue 156: Drug War Part 2

This is going to be a messy battle for the X-men and X-Force, alike. These are messy times for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, as a whole. I know that’s very different from what’s going on in the X-men comics right now. Believe me, I didn’t plan it that way when I laid out the story for X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. I get that many X-men fans are tired of schisms and civil wars. However, I still want to make this fanfiction series feel relevant, even as events in the X-men comics change.

As always, that means your feedback and comments are critical. Please, if you can, take the time to review this issue and any others that you’ve been following. Every bit of feedback helps and every bit of criticism helps ensure that X-men Supreme is as awesome as it deserves to be. Either post your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly. Please don’t mind the spam in the comments section. It may just be easier to contact me for now. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Rising, Falling, and Rebuilding: Secret Empire #10

The following is my review of Secret Empire #10, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


The dramatic rise and spectacular fall of an empire is one of those rare narratives that can be just as dramatic in real life as it is in fiction. From the Ancient Rome to Star Wars, the story behind an empire has an undeniable impact on the human psyche, as well as the annuls of history. Every empire is unique in how it rises, grows, prospers, and falls. Sometimes it plays out over the course of centuries. Sometimes it happens over the course of a few decades. Marvel, with its ever-changing landscape, tries to squeeze that story into ten comic books.

Given the scope of empires, as a concept, that's pretty daunting for anyone not equipped with Reed Richards' mind or Tony Stark's gadgets. Nick Spencer and Steve McNieven may not have such resources, but they've made every moment count in Secret Empire. It's a story that taps into real world fears about powerful individuals seizing power and imposing tyranny under the guise of order. It evokes all sorts of passions, reservations, and arguments on message boards. That alone is a testament to the scope and scale that empires carry, as a story.

Secret Empire is not just about Hydra taking over the world. It's not just about Captain America betraying the Avengers either, although that is the emotional gut punch that makes it so controversial. These elements feed into that larger narrative of an empire coming to power, taking advantage of a vulnerable moment in time and trying to shape the course of history. The ascension of Hydra and Captain America into this position is established. Now, the downfall is underway.

For nine issues, the story sets up various plot-lines that lead to numerous skirmishes. It's not an exhibition game anymore. Both sides are carrying themselves like a couple prize fighters entering the last round. They each bear the scars of all the blows they've taken. They make clear that there will be no judges decision. One of them is going to get knocked out. It's just a matter of who can land the finishing blow. In Secret Empire #10, that blow finally lands with an impact that has both huge reverberations and major implications.

The rise of Hydra and the Hydra-affiliated Steve Rogers centers around reality-warping power capable of making good into evil, right into wrong, and making Deadpool less annoying. Any story that builds itself around that kind of power risks going too far and needing more reality-warping power to fix. It goes beyond resorting to another Deus Ex Machina, especially when that same device is used to set everything up in the first place.

Spencer sets up from the beginning of Secret Empire that a certain amount of warping will be necessary to resolve the story. There's just no way an empire as large as Hydra's can rise, fall, and leave a meaningful impact within ten issues of a series. The biggest risk any story takes in attempting to tell a story within these constraints is rendering reality a messy ball of mud that gets molded and remolded on a whim.

For the most part, the story strikes an appropriate balance between confronting the reality-warping forces behind the story and using them to defeat Hydra. Those involved in delivering that final blow even throw in some Loki-level cunning. It isn't just a matter of all the heroes gathering in one place and collectively beating up an over-powered villain. The Hydra-affiliated Steve Rogers is not Onslaught, Thanos, or some cosmic space god. He's someone with which every hero in the Marvel universe has an emotional connection.

It's that connection that makes the very concept of Steve Rogers becoming a fascist feel so untenable to begin with. That's like making Frank Castle the Kingin or Emma Frost a nun. It's so utterly antithetical to the core of the character that it just feels wrong for everyone involved. In a sense, both the characters in the story and those who know Captain America as the ultimate enemy of fascism are on the same page, in terms of emotional overtones. Nobody reading or participating in the story can accept a reality where Steve Rogers is, and always has been, a fascist.

By the end of Secret Empire #10, that untenable feeling is still there, to some extent. While the story does end up having to warp and re-warp reality to some extent, it stops short of completely undoing everything the Cosmic Cube changed. Certain characters stay dead. Certain places remain destroyed. Steve Rogers isn't the ultimate fascist anymore. A good chunk of the story, along with the best aspects of McNieven's art, is spent giving Rogers a chance to literally attack the fascist monster that Hydra created. While it's as satisfying as it often is when a fascist gets defeated, some of those feelings still linger.

Even though Secret Empire #10 crafts as concise a conclusion it can, given the cosmic forces involved, it still carries a distressing sentiment that may plague Captain America fans the same way the Clone Saga plagues Spider-Man fans. Regardless of the details, it's impossible to get around that Steve Rogers became a fascist. It doesn't matter that cosmic forces were involved. The very concept that such a story is even possible and a character must move forward with that kind of burden just evokes too many conflicting feelings.

The overall structure of the story still works with respect to showing the rise and fall of Hydra's empire. Secret Empire #10 even helps streamline some of the confusing, disjointed elements that are scattered throughout the previous nine issues. However, the manner in which it ends, the feelings surrounding it, and the prospect of moving forward from such a reality-shattering event are still mixed. It doesn't help that too much is narrated and too little is said in the end. It also doesn't help that some of the side-plots in the story don't connect as strongly to others and don't add to the overall impact.

These details, however, don't take too much away from the bigger picture surrounding Secret Empire. Spencer still succeeds at striking the necessary balance that's so hard to achieve when crafting a story that requires a complete deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction of the space-time continuum. That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment.

That accomplishment, however, will be forever lost in the stigma that Secret Empire will inevitably carry. While it might not be on the same level as the original Clone Saga, it will still be the story in which Marvel makes Captain America a fascist. It doesn't matter if someone makes a deal with Mephisto to ensure everyone in the Marvel universe forgets about it entirely. The fact it's still a story that got told in the first place, striking all the wrong emotional chords in the process, will plague it for the foreseeable future. If every fallen empire seeks to leave its mark, then Hydra definitely leaves theirs, albeit not for the reasons they probably intended.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, August 25, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 156: Drug War Part 2 PREVIEW!


Just how bad can things get for the X-men before it gets to be too much? That’s a trick question, by the way, and one I’ve tried to answer on multiple occasions throughout the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. I’ve put the X-men in many overwhelming situations, from clashes with cosmic forces to battles against Magneto to tolerating Deadpool. My point is it takes a lot to overwhelm the X-men. Say what you will about Charles Xavier and his methods, but he’s very good at preparing his team for the worst.

That’s what makes the current conflict in the Drug War arc so exciting. Xavier has prepared his X-men for a lot of conflicts, but he’s never had to deal with a team that’s divided, under-confident, and frustrated. Cyclops and Wolverine, once his most ardent champions, have left the X-men to form X-Force. That leaves the X-men in the weakest condition, from a team standpoint, that they’ve ever been in this fanfiction series. Their struggles were painfully apparent in the Volatility Sensibility arc. Now, the stakes are much higher in Drug War.

That’s because Sebastian Shaw knows how to exploit an opportunity. He did it before in the Phoenix Saga and in Dark Legacy. He’s certainly capable of doing it again, especially when there’s a profit to be made. His latest venture involves a volatile substance called Mutant Growth Hormone, also known as Kick. X-men fans who follow the comics remember how dangerous this stuff was when it first showed up. It’s going to be even more dangerous here in X-men Supreme. X-Factor already got a taste in X-men Supreme Issue 153: Revolting Youth. Now, both the X-men and X-Force are about to see just how bad it can get.

It may very well be the situation that finally overwhelms the X-men. It’s one thing to take on the Phoenix Force or Mr. Sinister. At least in those conflicts, the team was united. The X-men could rely on each other and make each other stronger. They don’t have that now. That’s one of the underlying themes of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. We’ve seen so many instances where the X-men’s strength as a team carries them through a conflict. What happens when they don’t have that strength? How do they overcome a situation when they’re divided, overwhelmed, and lacking the team cohesion that makes them so strong?

They’re about to learn the hard way just how important that team cohesion is. At the moment, Captain Freeman is the leader of the X-men, but he’s made clear already that he’s not Cyclops. When I first brought him into the X-men Supreme fanfiction series back in X-men Supreme Issue 75: Renegade, I made it clear that he’s not much for teamwork. Now, under the orders of General Grimshaw, he’s tasked with carrying the X-men through this clash with Sebastian Shaw. Given his less-than-perfect history with the X-men, expect plenty of chaos. It could be the kind of situation that finally breaks the X-men. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of what may very well be what breaks the X-men.

Tessa could already hear Bishop and Multiple yelling at her from District X. They had both been against sending Jubilee to spy on Shaw. They were concerned about her ability to handle herself in a tight situation and potentially undermining the deal they had going with Shaw. It looked like both their fears had been realized. She worked feverishly to reestablish a link with the transmitter. All she could get in return were error messages.

“If you need me to push the panic button, I can do it in a heartbeat,” said Captain Freeman, “The General has the President of Mexico linked up in a conference call. MSA forces are prepared to surround the compound and strike!”

“Knowing Shaw, he’s probably prepared for that,” commented Colossus.

“We need to hold off a bit longer. If Jubilee is in trouble, then this just became a rescue mission,” said Phoenix.

“Is there any chance you can trace the location of the signal before it cut out?” asked Storm.

“I’ve been trying. Something keeps blocking me out,” said Tessa, her frustration building rapidly, “I designed this transmitter myself. It has no fewer than three fail-safes!”

“Keep trying, my dear,” said Beast as he ignited the afterburner, “We’ll be right on top of Shaw’s location in less than three minutes. If you want an explanation, you’ll have to forcibly extract it.”

It seemed to be the only option at this point. As eager as she was to beat the answers out of her former boss, Tessa had reservations. Shaw knew her as well as she knew him. He was capable of hurting her in so many ways. She tried turning those feelings off as she had tried turning off so many others. She kept working while the rest of the X-men prepared to attack. Then to her surprise, her transmitter became active again.

“Wait…I think I have something,” she said as she worked to unscramble the signal.

“Please tell me it’s Jubilee saying she ate a spoiled burrito,” said Psylocke.

The signal came in clear, so much so that it triggered a loud screech that forced Beast to level off the jet for a moment. Before Tessa could decipher anything, the signal turned into a message. From her laptop, a familiar voice rang out.

“I hope this is on because I have an important message to deliver.”

“That’s him! That’s Shaw!” exclaimed Phoenix.

“My signal? How is he…” began Tessa.

“We’ll figure that out later. Hank, level the jet! We need to hear this!” Professor Xavier urged.

The X-men, Tessa, and Captain Freeman fell silent as they listened in on this transmission. Beast kept the jet level. Below, Shaw’s villa was in sight so he likely knew they were close.

“First off, don’t fret for Miss Lee. She’s fine. So are the five strapping young mutants that accompanied her. I assume you think you’re saving them. Although, I must say I’m disappointed. I expect more cunning, especially from former associates.”

“Former associates?” questioned Gambit as he looked towards Tessa suspiciously, “What the hell is he talking about?”

“Now is not the time, Gambit. There are more pressing matters that need addressing,” said Beast, ensuring Tessa didn’t have to answer.

Tessa swallowed her anguish at Shaw’s words. It sounded as though her secrets would be laid out for everyone to see. There was no hiding her past any longer.

“I wish I had time to explain the true extent of what I’m doing. I know you’ve witnessed the power of Mutant Growth Hormone. I’m sure you and plenty others think it’s dangerous. Yet it is just a stepping stone. A means to an end. Unlike my previous deals, this has a much grander vision. One that will render the X-men, the MSA, and the Mutant Monitoring Initiative obsolete. I could spend hours explaining to you the true essence of MGH. Instead, I’ll show you. If by chance you’ll survive, then you’ll understand why this is necessary…and why it cannot be stopped!”

With this ominous warning, the signal returned to static. A cold silence fell over the X-jet. The cold voice of Sebastian Shaw sounded as mad as ever and he rarely failed to back up that madness in kind.

“Ah’m probably gonna regret saying this, but what do you think he means by that?” asked Rogue.

Before the team could even contemplate such horrors, the X-jet was rocked by a new wave of turbulence. It wasn’t the engines or the afterburners. Something had actually struck the X-jet from the outside and struck it hard.

“WHOA!” exclaimed Colossus, “Better start regretting, Rogue.”

“What the hell was that?” said Captain Freeman as he looked out the window.

“Not what…who,” Professor Xavier dreaded.

“I sense it too, Professor,” said Phoenix as she clutched the sides of her head, “I think Shaw just made his point.”

All eyes now turned towards the windows where the shadow of a large figure just passed over them. The source of the shadow was revealed as it flew around over the side of the jet. It appeared to be a young girl with a very unusual complexion even for a mutant.

Outside the X-jet, Laurie was thoroughly enjoying her new powers. No longer pale and feeble her skin had completely shifted to a blue, scaly complexion that was complemented by her long flowing pinkish hair. In addition to her skin tone, her whole body became more malleable. She was now shaped like a large sail with talons for feet and a fin-like tail that she had used to strike the X-jet earlier. Before she could only fly. Now she was new breed mutant.

“Are you seeing this, my king? Are you seeing how my new powers strike fear into the hearts of our enemies?” exclaimed Laurie.

“I don’t think they’re afraid yet. But they will be soon!” came another voice.

A sparkling fireball-like figure flew past Laurie as she soared over the X-jet. The figure flew around towards the front of the jet, which was still lumbering forward at an unstable speed. Her body was surrounded by blinding sparks of light, almost as if her entire body had been replaced.

As she flew through the sky, her hands pulsed with balls of energy. Her eyes pulsed as well, dominating a face consumed with focused anger. As soon as she flew in front of the cockpit of the X-jet, Professor Xavier and the others gasped.

“Is that…” began the Professor.

“Jubilee!” exclaimed Tessa.

“Hey guys? Remember me?” Jubilee shouted, “No? Why don’t I remind you!”

The pulsing light on her hands intensified. From it, she formed a much larger ball of energy. Then with a casual gesture, she unleashed it at the X-jet. It struck the windows of the cockpit, shattering the reinforced glass. It sent a rush of cold wind through the aircraft, forcing Hank and Professor Xavier to duck in order to avoid the deadly sheer.

“We’ve lost pressure! I’ll try and activate the autopilot!” shouted Beast over the howling winds.

“I guess say this confirms the link between Shaw and MGH!” said Captain Freeman as he and the rest of the X-men held on in their seats.

“You think?!” scolded Rogue.

While the X-jet started to tumble through the air, Jubilee flew around towards one of the sides where Laurie was still hovering. Not content to just make the X-men uncomfortable, they prepared to deliver another attack.

“I think we’ve officially surprised them,” said Laurie.

“Let’s surprise them more for the glory of our king and queens,” said Jubilee, “Idie, come in and join the fun!”

From behind, a bluish red fireball shot past them at high speeds. It went right for the rear engines of the X-jet and was poised to bring them down.

“Don’t call me that anymore!” shouted Idie, “I don’t want to be that weak, scared little girl anymore. I’m Oya! Spirit of the elements! The Inner Circle is my lord now!”


These are, indeed, dark times for the X-men within this fanfiction series. It’s going to flesh out some of the less-than-heroic qualities of certain characters. I have gotten some feedback from fans who are concerned about those characters. I understand those concerns. I share them. That’s why I want to assure all the X-men fans out there that I am still committed to making every character in X-men Supreme as awesome as they can be. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided will help contribute to that effort in the end. It may not seem like that now, but that is my intent and my goal.

I understand there will still be concerns. To those loyal X-men fans, I ask for patience and a little faith. I’ve been developing this fanfiction series over the course of seven years. I want to it go get more awesome with each issue. That’s why feedback and support is still vital. Even if you’re concerned or upset, I want to hear from you. Either contact me directly or post comments in the comments section. Just ignore the spam. I’m always happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hammering Hard With Worthy Themes: Generations Unworthy Thor & The Mighty Thor #1

The following is my review of Generations: Unworthy Thor and The Mighty Thor #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


The concept of who is truly worthy is Marvel's ultimate philosophical McGuffin. It's one of those ideas that can be endlessly debated, argued, twisted, and misconstrued in any number of ways. It's also a major driving force for Thor in nearly every era. From Walter Simonson to Jason Aaron, his struggle to be worthy, stay worthy, and understand what makes him worthy is part of what makes Thor's story compelling.

In terms of major turning points in that story, few are as pivotal as the events that played out in Original Sin. In that story, Thor becomes unworthy with just three words whispered by Nick Fury. It doesn't just upend Thor's idea of worthiness and the story around it. It opens the door for a new Thor with a new understanding of what it means to be worthy.

This is where Jane Foster's story enters the picture and that story is built on a very different foundation. She is not a god, a demigod, or anyone who would ever be mistaken as one. She is a moral woman who also happens to be suffering from one of the most debilitating diseases any mortal can endure. Her ascension to the title of Thor is one of the most significant shifts in Thor's story in decades. There are times when it breathes new life into the world of Thor. There are other times when it triggers incessant whining about identity politics. The fact that Jason Aaron manages to balance that narrative in any capacity is nothing short of astounding.

Now, through Generations: Unworthy Thor and The Mighty Thor #1, Aaron has a chance to build bridges between that vast philosophical gulf between one era of worthiness and another. It may not end the constant whining about female heroes taking on the mantle of male heroes, but it does flesh out the core elements of the Thor mythos that are as relevant today as they are in the ancient times before angry arguments on internet message boards.

Unlike some of the previous narratives in Marvel Generations, there are clearer connections between the events in Generations: Unworthy Thor and The Mighty Thor #1 and the conclusion of Secret Empire. Those connections are few and somewhat vague, but their presence helps create an important context between the past and present. Jane Foster isn't so much the catalyst as she is the unexpected guest, who helps bring clarity to the hopelessly unclear concept of worthiness.

While her role in the story cannot change the path of Odinson, it can provide guidance. Granted, it's a guidance he will undermine with his arrogance on many occasions in the future, but it still offers clarity to the narrative while giving Odinson fewer excuses. In a sense, what happens in the story gives the impression that he was destined to lose Mjolnir at some point, even without any devious whispers of Nick Fury. It's just an inevitable consequence of the arrogance that comes with being Thor and with being a god, in general.

The substance of that story isn't very novel in that it builds on a story that has been explored before in the pages of Uncanny Avengers. Once again, the son of Odin clashes with Apocalypse in an era before the Avengers can assemble and before the X-men can astonish. It's basic and crude, but it provides the necessary setting for the arrogant young Asgardian to learn a lesson or two about divinity and mortality.

The fact he learns it from a mortal woman wielding the hammer he craves provides both personality and entertainment value. It'll also provide more fodder for internet debates, but that doesn't derail the main thrust of the story. It's the setting that's vital here in that it takes place in a time before Odinson first lifted Mjolnir or taken the title of Thor. In this time, he's still the divine equivalent of a teenager who hasn't gotten his driver's license yet, but still wants to take his father's car out for a joyride.

While it annoys Odin to no end, it puts the future Thor in a position to ditch some boring formal gathering of gods to pick a fight on Midgard between Vikings and Apocalypse's Clan Akkaba. Given that formal gathering prohibits mead and mostly involves Odin bellowing orders, it's hard to blame a juvenile Odinson for ditching it.

It's only when he meets a time-displaced Jane Foster that his casual deviance becomes an important learning experience for both of them. The fact that experience also involves an elaborate, violent, lightning-filled battle against Apocalypse that brings out the best in Mahmud Asrar's art is a nice bonus. It just isn't a very memorable experience for any generation of Thor if there isn't some epic battle to fight.


That fight, as entertaining as it is, remains secondary for the most part. The primary struggle still revolves around Odinson's desire to be worthy and Jane Foster's lingering uncertainty about her future. It's a struggle that both characters have a stake in, but one that has limited influence on both characters. While Generations: Unworthy Thor and The Mighty Thor #1 makes the necessary effort to explore those classic themes of worthiness that is so critical to Thor's mythos, the extent to which it impacts the characters involved is somewhat minor.

This is an issue that shows up in previous issues of Marvel Generations, but a limited impact doesn't mean there can't be heavy drama. The potential for that drama is there in Generations: Unworthy Thor and The Mighty Thor #1, but not much of it is realized. Jane Foster and the future Thor do get a moment to interact outside of a major battle, but little comes of it. Both still gain critical insight, though. Both are in a better position to make decisions about the course of their immortal and mortal lives alike. It's not dramatic, but it does make the overall story feel complete.

That story even includes a few bonus parts that make Generations: Unworthy Thor and The Mighty Thor #1 a prelude to other critical events in the past and future. It offers intrigue beyond the basic lessons in worthiness, which is something that previous issues of Marvel Generations has not done. It adds value to a story that can only offer so much before it undermines the hopelessly convoluted, ever-evolving timeline that is the Marvel universe. That value may not make anyone inherently worthy of lifting Mjolnir, but it will put them on the right track.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, August 18, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Friday, August 11, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

X-men Supreme Issue 155: Drug War Part 1

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

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

Jack

Thursday, August 10, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Friday, August 4, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fight?” was all Teon said in response.

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

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

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

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

“Friend?” said Teon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It seems…excessive,” said Idie.

“House?” said Teon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds a little egotistical,” commented Jubilee.

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

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

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

“Mate?” said Teon.

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

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

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


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

Jack