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!

Friday, April 28, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 150: Walking A Fine Line is LIVE!


You’ve seen one perspective in the new era of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. The first issue of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided showed how Charles Xavier’s new vision for the X-men functions. Through the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, he and the X-men are now willing partners with General Grimshaw, President Kelly, and the Mutant Security Agency. We saw in X-men Supreme Issue 149: Law Abiding Bind how this new partnership functions. By most measures, it functions well. However, it’s still only part of a much larger story.

On the other side of that coin is X-Force, the new team that Cyclops and Wolverine formed at the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. It was one of the most dramatic developments to date in this fanfiction series, Cyclops cutting ties with the X-men and Charles Xavier. It cost him his position in the X-men. It cost him his long-standing relationship with Jean Grey. It may very well cost him much more than that, but he believes in what he’s doing and he’s not alone.

On a team that consists of Wolverine, Emma Frost, Warpath, Nightcrawler, and Domino, X-Force now stands in opposition to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. They see Charles Xavier’s decision to compromise his dream as a mistake, one that will come back to haunt the X-men and the entire mutant race down the line. At the moment, there’s no Mutant Liberation Front of Brotherhood of Mutants to test their resolve. The world is still recovering from the Mutant Liberation Front’s attacks. Nobody has the stomach for another conflict on that level, but X-Force believes that conflict is inevitable.

In the X-men comics, it hasn’t been unusual for the team to suffer divisions and schisms. They’ve been a big part of the X-men mythos going all the way back to the Chris Claremont era. Over the course of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, the lineup of the X-men has changed considerably. Some X-men have come and gone. Some, like Nightcrawler and Angel, act primarily as reserve members. However, there has never been a division like this before. The X-men and X-Force stand on opposite ends of a brewing conflict, one that is just starting to emerge.

These early issues of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided will lay the foundation of that conflict. Old friendships will be strained and so will established relationships. The conflict has already torn Cyclops and Jean Grey apart. It also put a damper on the blossoming relationship between Storm and Warpath. What other strain will this cause? There are a lot of major clashes brewing. Some of the threats will be familiar. Some will be entirely new.

The next stage in that conflict is set to begin. It’ll also provide some insight into how X-Force operates in this fanfiction series. Throughout the history of X-men, X-Force has been defined by a willingness to cross lines and operate in the shadows. That same theme will play out here in X-men Supreme, but for a different set of reasons. Those reasons will start to become clearer in this issue.

X-men Supreme Issue 150: Walking A Fine Line

Whether you’re an X-men fan or an X-Force fan, I want both to relate to the struggle in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. I know the timing of this type of story couldn’t be worse. X-men fans, and comic fans in general, are tired of stories that involve heroes fighting heroes. I totally understand that. With X-men Supreme, I hope to set this story apart from those that have played out in the comics. As such, I also want that story to be as awesome as possible.

That’s where X-men fans can assert their influence. Please take the time to send me feedback and leave reviews. Every bit of feedback counts, no matter how it comes in. I do take it seriously. I do listen and respond to it as best I can. That feedback helps me make sure X-men Supreme is as awesome as it deserves to be. So please contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issue. Either is fine. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Role Reversing Recourse: Infamous Iron Man #7

The following is my review of Infamous Iron Man #7, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


When it comes to comic book rivalries, Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom are akin to Coke vs. Pepsi. They are so bitterly opposed to one another that their conflict has shaped the world as we know it. Just as the cola wars shape our economy and the kinds of Super Bowl commercials we see, the war between Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom shapes the foundation of the Marvel universe.

Going all the way back to the of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Reed and Doom embody two extremes. They are both brilliant minds who seek to shape a flawed world in need of guidance. Reed seeks progress through enlightenment, using the power of discovery and knowledge to unite a conflicted world. Doom seeks a more direct approach, using his natural brilliance to impose progress through force. These are not methods that can be resolved through compromise and a friendly chess game.

These two opposing views are what led to many of the iconic clashes between Dr. Doom and Mr. Fantastic. From cosmic powers to soul-stealing demons, these clashes have taken both characters in many different directions. That's why the situation that Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev have created in Infamous Iron Man is so compelling. They essentially flip the script, putting Victor Von Doom on the opposite end of the spectrum. It shows how he goes about doing what Reed does, but without ever admitting he was wrong. For someone like Doom, that's pretty important.

Some aspects of the script are somewhat different. Dr. Doom, even if he is reformed and that's still a big if, isn't going to conduct himself like the thoughtful and studious Reed Richards. He's going to do things his way while ripping off Iron Man along the way. Unlike Reed, he's not above usurping someone else's brand. However different his approach might be, Infamous Iron Man #7 offers insight into the effectiveness of Doom's new Reed-like methods. By and large, the results are pretty impressive.

Dr. Doom playing the role that Tony Stark and Reed Richards once played is still an uncomfortable novelty for some. Those, such as Ben Grimm, SHIELD, and every Marvel superhero who ever existed since the Kennedy Administration, are rightly concerned about Doom's sincerity. There are so many occasions where Doom has revealed a hidden agenda that even Reed Richards couldn't surmise the breadth of his agenda.


For the villains now in Doom's cross-hairs, though, the novelty is far more distressing. These villains, which include the likes of the Hood and the Wrecking Crew, are used to dealing with a specific kind of hero. Namely, they deal with heroes who follow Reed's script, working within a set of parameters and operating by a set of principles that is fairly well-understood. With Dr. Doom, however, there is no more script and even for hardened villains, that's genuinely terrifying.

This is what makes the narrative within Infamous Iron Man #7 so uniquely compelling. It doesn't just involve Dr. Doom fighting villains in his own unique way. It explores the larger impact he's having on the greater Marvel landscape. The past few issues spent a great deal of time touching on the reactions from those are still skeptical of Doom's intentions. With villains like the Hood, there's much less skepticism and a much harsher impact.

Unlike every other hero these villains have faced, they know what Dr. Doom is capable of. They know how skilled he is. He can create world-ending technology on his lunch break and spend the afternoon taking on Mephisto. Unlike the Reed Richards of the world, though, they know he's willing to go much further than any card-carrying Avenger would ever dare. That ends up being Doom's greatest weapon and for a man with a functioning time machine in his closet, that's saying something.

It makes for a pretty lopsided battle when Doom shows up. For once, though, that battle doesn't feel bland or boring. It's very much a spectacle, akin to watching the Hulk in an arm-wrestling contest. Seeing a powerful hero take down an entire contingent of villains is nothing new. Seeing Dr. Doom be that hero is still new for many and the sheer efficiency with which he works sends a powerful message, both to the villains and Doom's former enemies.

Doom does more than just defeat a bunch of villains. He genuinely scares them. For once, they don't stand on a pedestal, laughing manically and twirling their mustache as they insult or mock the hero. They understand that this is not Reed Richards, Spider-Man, or Squirrel Girl they're fighting. This is Victor Von Doom, a man who can do things that make every one of those heroes violently ill. When someone can inspire that level of fear in villains, then that's a clear they've found a new method and it works.


Even the likes of SHIELD and Thing end up acknowledging Doom's efficacy. They're still understandably skeptical. They still debate just how much they should trust Doom's new endeavor as Iron Man. However, they clearly have it easier than the villains for once. They're still genuinely terrified, so much so that one member of the Wrecking Crew turns himself in rather than facing Doom. Even Thing's Aunt Petunia would be impressed by that.

Infamous Iron Man #7 offers a greater insight into a new narrative for Victor Von Doom, one that he handles as masterfully as anyone would expect of someone who regularly frustrated Reed Richards. It also continues the evolving narrative surrounding Doom's evolving relationship with SHIELD, Thing, and other established heroes. Bendis takes the long road, letting those relationships develop slowly and steadily. As effective as Doom is, they're still a long way from giving him his own Helicarrier.

Between the character relationships and the methods Doom utilizes, Infamous Iron Man #7 gives polish to the overall narrative. It also sets up some new challenges that will test Doom's overly-efficient methods, as well as his commitment to being a hero. While stories about heroes becoming villains is nothing new, a character like Victor Von Doom requires a certain level of refinement. For the story unfolding in Infamous Iron Man, Bendis and Maleev continue to deliver. Terrifying hardened villains is just a nice bonus.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, April 21, 2017

Digital Dynamics With Analog Antics: Ms. Marvel #17

The following is my review of Ms. Marvel #17, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


A young hero trying to protect their identity is one of the oldest, most endearing narratives in superhero comics. From a literary standpoint, it's the equivalent of rescuing a princess from a dragon. Young heroes, especially, endure this narrative more than most. Typically, they have a lot more to lose and a lot more to manage. Fighting a dragon is hard enough. Fighting it with the knowledge that there's a history exam the next morning makes it even harder.

While Peter Parker has been the poster child for protecting a secret identity for nearly half-a-century, Kamala Khan is very much the new gold standard for young heroes with a lot to lose. Like Peter Parker before her, she struggles to manage being a superhero with being an ordinary teenager, who also happens to be a minority in a society that isn't that supportive of minorities. These struggles embody the heart and spirit of a young hero trying to juggle having a real life and a superhero life. Kamala, being a minority, has to juggle more than most.

Since Kamala's superhero life as Ms. Marvel began, G. Willow Wilson has gone out of her way to make her story feel relevant and modern. Ms. Marvel isn't the kind of hero who still takes Polaroid pictures or uses a phone booth to change into her costume. She's a teenager who knows how to use a smartphone, is active on social media, and plays online video games. That means the narrative surrounding a young hero protecting their identity needs an update too and that's exactly what Ms. Marvel #17 brings to the table.

Kamala's life as a superhero is on the line. A digital enemy named Doc.X is threatening to expose her double life to her friends, family, and everyone with an internet connection. In many respects, that's far more dangerous than J. Jonah Jameson publishing photos of Spider-Man without his mask. At least with a newspaper, there's less chance of a compromising photo becoming an internet meme.

The danger Kamala faces has been escalating for several issues now and Ms. Marvel #17 acts as a last ditch effort, of sorts. Since Doc.X isn't a killer robot she can punch, she has to get creative. In this case, being an overly-idealistic teenager who spends a lot of her free time playing video games actually works in her favor. Those looking for Captain America to punch a Nazi or Iron Man to blow something up may be disappointed, but those looking for something different will find it here.


Wilson continues the tradition of creating non-traditional threats for Ms. Marvel. These threats aren't always just criminals looking to swipe a wad of bills from an open cash register. They're a different kind of threat that younger generations understand more than those whose primary fear was being mugged in a dark alley. A threat like Doc.X is even scarier than that for most millennials because it threatens both their digital life and their real life. Insurance can cover a stolen car. It can't cover the cost of exposing someone's darkest secrets.

Ms. Marvel knows this because Doc.X already exposed the secrets of one of her friends, Zoey. It's not a trivial secret either. Zoey was a closeted lesbian until Doc.X comes along. Wilson shows just how devastating this kind of exposure can be. It acts as a dire warning of sorts to Kamala because if that's what it can do to someone just trying to hide their schoolyard crushes, then there's no telling what it can do for a superhero trying to maintain a closet identity.

The stakes are very personal. Some of Kamala's friends are already suffering because of it. The emotional undertones are there for Ms. Marvel. When it comes to actually fighting Doc.X though, the story does somewhat falter. That's not to say it falls flat, but it doesn't exactly hit with the same epic overtones that comes with fighting the Red Skull and an army of Nazi Hulks.

It helps that Ms. Marvel adapts her tactics, enlisting the help of fellow gamers and flipping the script on Doc.X. However, the way those tactics play out is lacking in substance and requires that a lot of other things happen off-panel. Some of those off-panel happenings are actually more intriguing than anything Ms. Marvel does, but it's never shown how that actually plays out. It's only shown that it works just enough to get Doc.X out in the open.

Eventually, there is a final boss battle of sorts. Kamala does get a chance to actually punch Doc.X. However, it's a battle that is over way too quickly and never gets a chance to generate much excitement. For a story that sets up such high emotional stakes, which is the cornerstone of Ms. Marvel's appeal, it makes for a rushed and unsatisfying conclusion. Beyond the emotional backdrops, Ms. Marvel #17 doesn't just deliver the kind of impact that gives the overall story a sense of weight.


There are still some wholly relevant themes, both for the traditional superhero narrative and a younger generation whose concerns are more likely to emphasize WiFi speeds over petty crime. Ms. Marvel still has that appeal. G. Willow Wilson makes Ms. Marvel a uniquely appealing hero by blending these narratives. For this particular story involving Doc.X, the blend just isn't there.

Ms. Marvel is still a character that plays into the sensibilities of the millenial crowd, much more so than traditional heroes like Spider-Man and Captain America. It does make her distinct. It makes her stories distinct as well. For those who just want to see the Hulk smash things, those stories aren't going to carry the same weight. They will, however, offer something different.

That's the most Ms. Marvel #17 accomplishes. It's different. It's relevant. It's a story with problems that can't be solved with punching, smashing, or one of Tony Stark's fancy gizmos. Even if that's all it accomplishes, it still ensures that Ms. Marvel will resonate with a new generation that fears more than just killer robots.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

X-men Supreme Issue 150: Walking A Fine Line PREVIEW!


The next era of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series is off to a rough, but productive start. Charles Xavier’s dream has evolved. He’s now working with the likes of President Kelly and General Grimshaw to expand the role of the X-men. It’s no longer enough to simply dream for peace. The X-men must now work as active collaborators with the authorities. That gives them access to a host of new resources, but not without a price.

Throughout the history of the X-men, both in the comics and the movies, Charles Xavier has been reluctant to team up with the authorities. Between government programs like Weapon X and the Sentinel programs, he and the X-men have been reluctant to work with them and understandably so. Xavier always valued keeping his X-men independent and free of influence. It allowed mutants to show just how much they could contribute to mankind.

That all changed in X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation with the rise of the Mutant Liberation Front. When faced with a daunting new enemy that specialized in destabilizing governments, the X-men struggled to manage. It even led to the destruction of the Xavier Institute in X-men Supreme Issue 147: Vengeful Anarchy. That loss, coupled with the harsh lessons the X-men learned in battling the Mutant Liberation front, prompted Charles Xavier to change his tactics. The result is the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

In X-men Supreme Volume 149: Law Abiding Bind, I offered insight into how this new initiative works. By most accounts, it has been productive. The X-men have worked with the likes of General Grimshaw and President Kelly to do everything from confronting wanted mutants to conducting humanitarian efforts. It has gone a long way towards re-establishing some semblance of peace, which has been quite rare in this fanfiction series. However, that peace came at a price and not all have been willing to pay it.

At the end of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation, Xavier’s fateful choice led to a bitter division with some of his most valued X-men. Cyclops and Wolverine, two people who have a history of butting heads, ended up leaving the X-men. For once, they share the same concerns. They believe that Charles Xavier’s decision to compromise his dream will come back to bite them all. They’re not willing to let that happen. That’s why they’ve formed a new team that will operate outside the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. They call it X-Force.

What is X-Force though? This is not the same X-Force that we’ve seen in the X-men comics. Expect X-Force to operate quite differently in this fanfiction series. Expect a very different mission and very different team dynamics, which is to be expected with any team that has Cyclops and Wolverine in it. How this team operates and how they’ll function in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided will be a pivotal part of the story. The next issue will explore those operations and the implications for the future. As always, I’ve prepared an extended preview of X-men Supreme's first glimpse into the world of X-Force.

“Refresh my memory, Professor Xavier. I distinctly remember telling you to keep tabs on your former team, didn’t I?” said General Grimshaw firmly.

“You forget that I trained them, General. One of the first lessons I taught was how to strengthen their minds to resist psychic intrusion,” said Xavier, trying to restrain his discontent.

“Now why the hell would you teach them something like that?”

“Because I respected their privacy,” he said in a stronger tone, “It wouldn’t be fair if I always had the option of accessing their minds.”

“Fairness is the new F-word when dealing with matters such as this,” said the General with a scold, “We can’t have a pack of super-powered thugs defying our initiative like this!”

“Hey! Those thugs happen to be our friends,” said Jean, shooting up from her seat and staring down the irate officer.

“They also didn’t hurt nobody,” Remy pointed out, “Aside from messin’ up a perfectly good van and given three MSA hommes a good nap, it ain’t like they terrorizing folks.”

“It doesn’t matter if nobody was hurt. This incident sent a clear message. They don’t like the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. They’re openly opposing it. Now I’m all for debating the issues, but in a civilized society we can’t allow citizens to thumb their nose at the law.”

“Is this really as bad as you’re making it out to be, General?” asked Colossus, “I thought in America there was tolerance for those with opposing views.”

“This isn’t a simple disagreement. These friends of yours are obstructing vital government operations. If they want to protest, that’s one thing. If they want to debate, that’s something else. But when they start working against us, they’ve left the bounds of law and order that make society work. Now I understand that the Mutant Monitoring Initiative has its flaws. However, we cannot tolerate this kind of public opposition.”

The General was putting the X-men in an awkward position. He was saying that their friends were criminals. Even if they supported this initiative, they didn’t support fighting those who didn’t agree with them. General Grimshaw was clearly upset. He had always been strict when it came to upholding the law. To him, X-Force’s behavior was an act of open rebellion.

“What do you propose we do, General?” asked Hank with the same restraint as Xavier, “If you’re expecting us to fight our friends, then I think you’re expecting a bit much.”

“I’m not telling you to hunt them down. Not yet anyways,” said the General in a calmer tone.

“Sounds like you’re considering it,” quipped Rogue dryly.

“That depends on how far X-Force takes this protest of theirs. I may seem like a grumpy old man in a uniform, but I’m not senile. I know some of you have been in contact with your old friends. I know some of you may even be sleeping with them, which may be why Miss Braddock and Miss Munroe aren’t here.”

“I hope you’re not implying that we’re keeping secrets, General,” said Professor Xavier.

“That’s just it, Charles. I don’t think you are. I just think you’ve been willing to look the other way. That way when men like me confront you, you don’t have to bullshit me.”

The Professor and the rest of the team to shifted uncomfortably. General Grimshaw wasn’t psychic, but he could sense when someone was keeping the full story from him.

While some like Cyclops and Wolverine avoided talking to the X-men, others weren’t so secretive. It was well-known that Ororo had grown close to James Proudstar, who was obviously involved in X-Force. The situation was similar with Warren and Betsy. Rogue also kept in touch with Domino and Kurt. It was a little hard to ignore that they had been involved with something lately. Now they were making it a public spectacle.

“There are some serious ramifications here,” the General went on, “The report I got this morning from Captain Freeman painted a distressing picture. Those four mutants X-Force confronted have slipped under the radar. Even Cerebrum can’t track them. They’re four more in a growing list of mutants who seem to be avoiding detection. I suspect X-Force has their hand in many of them. There may be others involved as well. So I’m leaving it up to you X-men to figure this out. I’m giving you a chance with the understanding that if you don’t do something, then I will.”

“Does that mean you’re going to treat our friends like terrorists?” said Jean angrily.

“Because if you’re expending us to draw battle lines amongst those close to us, that is a fight we cannot support,” said Colossus, making his anger apparent as well.

“I won’t get into specifics. But if you’re this upset, then you have a chance to do something about it. Do yourself and your friends a favor by not wasting it.”

General Grimshaw hid no subtext in his tone. He made it clear to the X-men that he expected them to resolve this. He walked out of the conference room with an unspoken encouragement, as if to make clear that he preferred the X-men resolve this because they were not going to like how he would handle it.

Once the General was gone, the X-men turned their attention back towards Professor Xavier. He looked beleaguered in the dilemma he faced. This wasn’t the Brotherhood or the Mutant Liberation Front opposing them. These were his own students.

“Ah don’t care if the law says we’re on the same side. Ah still feel the urge to punch Grimshaw for dumping this on us,” said Rogue, finally letting her frustration out.

“A punch wouldn’t be enough, Rogue,” said Hank, who shared her sentiment, “What worries me even more is his concerns are completely legitimate.”

“Don’t tell me you agree with him. The man just asked us to attack our friends!” said an outraged Jean Grey.

“Since Scott and Logan are not hear to calm you down, I may have to restrain you, Jean,” said Colossus, who got up to coax the angry redhead back into her seat.

“You’re welcome to try,” muttered Jean under her breath.

“Please, my X-men…let’s not make this harder than it already is,” said Professor Xavier, standing up from his seat to address his team, “I know you all despise the notion. I do as well. But Hank is correct. General Grimshaw has legitimate concerns about X-Force.”

“That don’t mean we gotta agree with him,” argued Remy, “We be hearing the stories from Stormy and Betsy. We all knew they’re up to something. They just ain’t given it a name until now.”

“Except now our former compatriots are no longer content doing their work in the shadows,” said Hank, “In the months since Cerebrum came back online, we’ve discovered a growing list of undocumented mutants. This list grew as Cyclops, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler became increasingly secretive about their activities.”

“I also suspect that Warren may be providing them with resources,” added Professor Xavier, “His father has been calling me lately. He says his son has been negating his duties at Worthington Industries.”

“I cannot imagine that is going over well with Betsy,” said Colossus.

“Well she did skip this meeting to go see him so I guess we’ll get an update soon enough,” said Jean.

“Same with Stormy,” said Remy, “Guess this means we’ll be gettin’ hailstorms that go along with her mood.”

“The effect on relationships is a secondary concern. X-Force may undermine the Mutant Monitoring Initiative before it has a chance to succeed,” said Xavier as he started pacing, “Cyclops made his opposition clear. He believes we’re making a mistake and he’s willing to prove his point in a very public manner.”

“So what do we do? We’re not going to actually fight them, are we?” asked Rogue anxiously.

“I want to avoid that at all cost, Rogue,” said Xavier strongly, “However, we must be prepared to oppose them as ardently as they oppose us, even if we must do so with a heavy heart.”

The notion of attacking their friends did not sit well. Professor Xavier could sense that some were fighting the urge to yell at him. The schism within the team was a high price to pay for this initiative. They had made so much progress. There were still plenty of issues that needed to be resolved, but they wouldn’t have a chance if X-Force undermined their efforts. So as much as it pained him, Professor Charles Xavier was prepared to respond to X-Force’s incursion.

“The General expects us to act and so does the public,” Xavier went on, “This conflict against X-Force is best waged in the court of public opinion. Right now, X-Force is attacking the weaknesses of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. The incident in Oakland demonstrated that some mutants don’t care for our current methods.”

“We have a one-size-fits-all policy that involves funneling mutants into the Academy of Tomorrow. We can’t expect everybody to be too excited about such prospects,” said Hank.

“That’s why Emma Frost was quite upset with me when I got her school involved with this initiative. It is entirely likely that she is the unidentified psychic assisting X-Force,” said Xavier, looking back up at the muted TV that was still broadcasting the incident.

“So my boyfriend and his ex are on a team that’s highlighting a problem we’re all painfully aware of,” Jean summarized, feeling increasingly anxious, “Is there anything we can do that will ensure I get more than two hours of sleep tonight?”

“I’ll start working with the MSA to institute reforms. It will take time. But until we have something to announce, we’re going to scrutinize future operations. If one comes along where X-Force might be involved, we must be there. We must show the public that we’re committed to making this work. In the process, I hope our friends are as intent on avoiding conflict with us as we are with them.”


I know the timing of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is a little unfortunate. The X-men comics have spent the last decade or so with a divided X-men. They’re just starting to come together again as a united team with the ongoing ResurrXion relaunch. What does it say about my timing when I have the X-men become so divided in this fanfiction series

Well, timing or not, there is a larger story at work here. I want to tell that story and I want it to be as awesome as possible. To do that, I need feedback. I need to know that I’m handling this sensitive period in X-men Supreme correctly. I know how many X-men fans were jaded by the X-men’s many schisms. I want to hear from those fans as they endure their own schism here in X-men Supreme. Either contact me directly or post comments directly in the issue. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Sunday, April 16, 2017

An Original Cast With Renewed Energy: X-men Blue #1

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


Some concepts work well in any era, no matter the context. Those concepts are few and far between, but their universal appeal is what helps make them iconic. When it comes to the original five X-men, as created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby over 50 years ago, they check all the right boxes with respect to those concepts.

They're young, idealistic, vulnerable, determined, anxious, eager, and even a little arrogant at times. They believe in following a dream. They also haven't experienced the harshest realities of the real world, which tend to crush dreams like Juggernaut in a china shop. Since arriving in a future where they find out their future selves are dead, disfigured, or had lost their minds, they fight desperately to cling to those dreams. Despite the knowledge that those dreams shattered under the weight of cosmic forces, psychic manipulation, and evil clones, they still fight for that dream. It says a lot about both their youthful spirit, as well as their youthful arrogance.

They may not need that arrogance quite as much these days. After the events of Inhumans vs. X-men, the dream the original five X-men fight for isn't quite as shattered as before. Mutants are no longer being gassed to death by a giant green cloud and the Scarlet Witch hasn't had a mental breakdown lately. That means mutants have a future again and, despite being the product of an out-of-control time travel plot, they seek to forge part of that future in X-men Blue.

Cullen Bunn and Jorge Molina bring the original five X-men back together in X-men Blue #1, attempting to capture as much of those classic concepts as possible while fitting them into a new status quo. That includes everything from teenagers complaining about random things and fighting the Juggernaut. By all those lofty standards of the Kirby/Lee tradition, it still checks the right boxes boxes.


From the outset, the story is fairly basic. The Original Five X-men go up against an old enemy in Black Tom, but from their time-displaced perspective, he's a fresh face with a sinister mustache. There's not much to Black Tom's plot. He's just holding a lot of rich people hostage, twirling his sinister mustache, and generally doing all the things Lex Luthor used to do before he got into politics.

There may not be much complexity to that plot at first, but it still leads to some entertaining theatrics that allow the time-displaced X-men to stop lamenting about their future selves and just be heroes. Given that they're still teenagers, there is some lamenting, but Bunn makes sure it's doesn't devolve into the kind of teen angst that often plagued the characters after Secret Wars. That makes the effect of X-men Blue #1 all the more profound because it shifts the tone back to a sense of youthful idealism. After surviving a poison gas cloud, it's a shift that needed to happen.

As the story unfolds, new complexities emerge. The narrative doesn't just rely on a group of teenage mutants flying in and saving the day. The battle also illustrates some new dynamics within the team. Most notably, Jean Grey is now the leader. It may not be akin to making Doop the leader, but the change is notable in the way the X-men conduct themselves.

It's different in that Cyclops doesn't go barking out orders while everyone else jokes about how uptight he is. Jean Grey's style of leadership is different in that she'll spearhead the charge, but trusts her teammates to handle themselves, even against someone like Juggernaut. This style isn't without its faults though. They quickly get overwhelmed and end up having to wing it in order to save the day, so much that they end up having to cheat with magic.

This is where X-men Blue #1 ties itself into the larger narrative that has been unfolding with the time-displaced X-men since they arrived in the future back in All-New X-men. Bunn doesn't ignore the nuances have emerged with certain characters. In this case, Beast's newfound appreciation of magic proves pivotal, both in terms of resolving a conflict and establishing new levels of tension. It makes for different tactics, but it also leads to arguments and uncertainties about how the team operates. In a team made up of entirely of teenagers, that's always fertile ground for conflict.


It also establishes that while X-men Blue is relying on more traditional X-men dynamics, the team is still very much a work-in-progress. Jean Grey is still learning how to lead. Beast is still learning how to manage his new mystical abilities. All the while, Cyclops has to resist the urge to start barking out orders again. As a team, they're not a finished product. They're still rookies who have the potential to be all stars, but are a long way from that level.

That sense of growth is one of the greatest strengths in X-men Blue #1. Even though it uses a team line-up that was introduced during the Kennedy Administration, it still comes off as novel. It's very much a product of an evolving narrative, one that has taken many twists and come dangerously close to being derailed. Magic and tactics aside, Bunn seems to have the original five X-men back on track and Molina's artwork makes them look good while they do it.

That track even has some interesting turns towards the end. While the story starts off as fairly basic, it gains greater intrigue towards the end. There are hints and teases about the Original Five X-men's larger goals and how they intend to go about it. Coming on the heels of a classic clash that brings new energy to a team that underwent so much upheaval, X-men Blue #1 creates a new foundation for an old cast of characters. For characters are teenagers, time-displaced, and dabbling in magic, that's quite an accomplishment.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Red Queen Chronicles: The Spy Part 2 is LIVE!


I'm not sure how many people still care at this point. I'm just going to assume that some do because they enjoy a little extra sex appeal every now and then. I've got another update for one of my sexy side-projects. This one is still part of my "Red Queen Chronicles" series. It's the second and final part of the a story involving Black Widow. Your welcome Scarlett Johanssen fans. Enjoy!


In case you somehow still care, I intend to do another entry of this series. It might be the last one. I don't know. It depends on what kind of response I get. Until then, the sex appeal of Black Widow should tide everyone over. Nuff said!

Friday, April 7, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 149: Law Abiding Bind is LIVE!


The wait is over. The next stage in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series has officially arrived. The X-men are divided. Professor Charles Xavier’s dream is evolving. X-Force has emerged from that evolution. Cyclops and Wolverine have left the X-men. The remaining X-men have placed their trust in the likes of General Nathan Grimshaw, Captain Jack Freeman, and President Kelly. Who among them holds the key to the future of this fanfiction series?

That’s what X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is going to answer. Charles Xavier has decided to take the X-men in a new direction and for good reason. The events of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation convinced him that the X-men just weren’t equipped to handle emerging threats. The Mutant Liberation Front, first under Toad and then under Stryfe, kept finding ways to frustrate and undermine the X-men. Those efforts culminated in the apparent death of Polaris in the Natural Disorder arc and the destruction of the Xavier Institute in X-men Supreme Issue 147: Vengeful Anarchy. That means that, once again, the X-men must rebuild.

It’s not the first time the X-men have had to rebuild after a major upheaval. From Magneto’s ascension on Genosha in Overlord to the election of Robert Kelly in X-men Supreme Issue 71: Election Day, Charles Xavier and his team adapted and adjusted many times before, but not like this. It’s no longer enough for them to just be heroes. It’s no longer enough for them to simply protect innocent mutants from a world that hates and fears them. Now, they must work with the likes of President Kelly and General Grimshaw, who have not always trusted them in the past.

This doesn’t just put them in an awkward position. It puts them in a very vulnerable position, but it’s a chance Xavier is willing to take. He genuinely believes that by working with the authorities, the X-men can prove that peace and understanding is possible. Coordination and cooperation is possible. However, that still assumes that the X-men can trust President Kelly and General Grimshaw. It also assumes that their agenda is the same. This is where X-Force comes in.

In this new world, it isn’t just the X-men who have a vision. Cyclops and Wolverine have created their own dream, one they feel can fight for the values that Charles Xavier has abandoned. X-Force doesn’t stand as an enemy to the X-men, but they are definitely not on the same page. Their vision conflicts with that of the X-men and Charles Xavier. What will this do to former teammates, lovers, and friends? What will this do for mutants and a world still recovering from the attacks of the Mutant Liberation Front?

That’s the situation that the X-men and X-Force find themselves in. That’s the world that X-men Supreme has become. It’s a very different conflict with a very different set of challenges. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided will push the X-men, X-Force, and everyone in between into a new host of challenges. At a time when the X-men comics are relaunching, the X-men Supreme fanfiction series boldly enters a new era and it starts today.

X-men Supreme Issue 149: Law Abiding Bind

There’s a lot going on in the world of X-men right now. In both the X-men comics and X-men Supreme, there are a lot of changes and upheavals at work. For the X-men comics, things aren’t quite as dire anymore. Nobody has been sterilized and the mutant race isn’t going extinct. X-men Supreme isn’t a bit more dire, but there haven’t been any time travelers yet so it hasn’t gotten quite that bad. That’s still subject to change.

As always, I strongly encourage everyone to take the time to provide feedback to X-men Supreme, both in this issue and in past issues. This is a major shift for this fanfiction series, bringing X-Force into the picture and changing the way the X-men operate. These come on the heels of yet more upheavals in the X-men comics so I know X-men fans are quite beleaguered right now. I want X-men Supreme to appeal to every X-men fans during times like this so any feedback you can offer is greatly appreciated. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issue. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A (Badly Needed) Golden Touch: X-men Gold #1

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


Every era of X-men is defined by an eclectic mix of situational quirks, new uniforms, and re-shuffled lineups. Sometimes the Xavier Mansion, or whatever base of operations the X-men happen to be operating out of at the time, blows up along the way. In any case, these eras usually have definitive traits that set them apart. More than any other franchise, the X-men find unique ways to make certain eras distinct.

The '70s had the All-New, All-Different lineup with fresh faces, new threats, and Chris Claremont's knack for creating over-powered, reality-warping threats. The '80s had X-Factor and Uncanny X-men, the original five X-men and an emerging generation of X-men that would one day make Hugh Jackman a super star. The '90s had the Jim Lee-inspired costumes, two main X-men teams, and an uncanny tendency to make any and all issues in the Marvel universe a mutant issue by default.

These generations stand out in their own unique way, some more than others thanks to iconic art, iconic stories, or whatever non-so-iconic gimmicks slipped through the cracks. By these standards, it's hard to assess the current generation of X-men comics because a great many of those not-so-iconic gimmicks came to define the series. From sterilization plots to a glut of time travelers, it's hard to define this era as all that iconic.

This is why X-men Gold #1 is so vital to current and future generations of X-men. Marc Guggenheim and Adrian Syaf have a golden opportunity, if that's not too loaded a word, to redefine the X-men for a new era, hopefully one that relies less on sterilization, time travelers, and clones. That opportunity never feels wasted as the story that unfolds forges multiple paths into a new era.

The X-men enter this era with a more tarnished reputation than usual. It's not enough that they're mutants, a loaded word that generates the kind of reaction usually reserved for internet trolls and spam email. They're mutants who recently went to war with the Inhumans and didn't exactly conduct themselves in a respectable manner.


They can blame Cyclops, Emma Frost, and fake news all they want. It doesn't change the fact that the X-men come into X-men Gold #1 as those mutants who have gone to war with two separate superhero teams already and didn't exactly come out looking like polished adamantium. That's not a good foundation for peace and understanding. At this point, the public is more inclined to give Victor Von Doom a chance than the X-men.

Kitty Pryde, the X-men's new leader and arbiter of this new era, goes out of her way to acknowledge this in the X-men's battle against Terrax. She rightly points out that if another superhero team had fought this battle, they would be getting smiles, cheers, and positive hashtags. Unfortunately, they're mutants. They're still associated with starting wars, screwing with timelines, and one too many clones. In a city that already deals with Spider-Man's clones, the public is right to be someone muted.

It's the most important feature to the story in X-men Gold #1, as well as the overall theme of the X-men comics moving forward. For years now, they've given the public way too many reasons not to trust them the same way they do other superhero teams. Beyond warring with other superhero teams, mutants are a constant source of chaotic. Regardless of whether or not they put on costumes and try to be superheroes, their powers and their conflicts are like the weather. Sometimes it can be a simple gust of wind. Sometimes it can be a full-blown hurricane.

It's one of those understated, but inescapable aspects about the X-men that sets them apart from other superhero teams. No matter how much good they try to do, the X-men are still mutants and mutants are a chaotic force of nature. People fear that chaos for the same reason that they fear hurricanes.

Guggenheim doesn't hide from this distinction that keeps the X-men from being adored like the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, or whatever other superhero team doesn't have its movie rights tied up by another studio. By acknowledging it, the new host of challenges the X-men face feel genuine.

X-men Gold #1 throws multiple challenges at the X-men from the get-go. Some are of the personal kind. Some are of the kind that require Kitty Pryde to phase a collapsing building through another. The mix of personal issues and public spectacles is very much the gold standard, so to speak, of what gives the X-men their appeal. After so much of their stories have been mired by extinction and sterilization plots, it's a welcome reprieve.


While the themes are refreshing for any jaded X-men fan, the structure of the story is somewhat choppy. The narrative jumps around from moment to moment, rushing through various scenes without taking the time to tie them together in a cohesive way. This makes the story feel rushed. There are many moments, especially the personal moments for Kitty Pryde, that don't get as much depth as they need. It makes X-men Gold #1 feel like one of those comics that needs to be at least 10 pages longer to really work.

Despite the inconsistencies in the story's progression, it's still a satisfying story that offers overdue promise to cast of characters that badly needs it. There's no more fending off extinction, avoiding poison gas clouds, or getting mixed up with one too many cosmic forces. This is just the X-men fighting for peace and understanding in a world that has plenty of legitimate reasons not to give them another chance.

It's the same fight that Charles Xavier led the X-men into back in the days before civil rights was more than just a hashtag. Kitty Pryde and her revamped, revitalized team of X-men, one of which is her ex-boyfriend, carry on that fight in X-men Gold #1 after one too many interludes. It gives hope that the X-men are back to doing what they do best, provided nobody gets sterilized again.

Final Score: 7 out of 10