Friday, April 20, 2018

Truth, Justice, and Unprecedented Achievements: Action Comics #1000

The following is my review of Action Comics #1000, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In June 1938, the first issue of Action Comics came out, introducing the hero by which so many future heroes are still measured. Toady, it's impossible to assess the state of modern superheroes without appreciating the impact of Superman. From the early days of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to the modern era Geoff Johns and Dan Jurgens, the position Superman holds in the pantheon of the superhero genre is without parallel. He is very much the ideal in terms of just how great a hero can be.

It's hard to imagine how Siegel and Shuster expected their creation to evolve over the years. It's hard to imagine their reaction to the knowledge that this series that began in the latter part of the Great Depression would go on for another 1,000 issues that span eight decades, two reboots, a rebirth, multiple movie franchises, a slew of cartoons, and a never-ending supply of merchandise. Action Comics isn't just special to the brand of DC Comics. It's very much an institution, one in which the milestones carry even more weight.

That's why Action Comics #1000 is a truly momentous achievement for both Superman and the superhero era that he helped to start. It's one of those rare comics for which there is no template to draw from. No other series can offer insight into how such a milestone comic should be handled. That doesn't stopped DC Comics from assembling an all-star team of writers to pack plenty of content into a single comic with a $7.99 price tag.

With so much talent and so many reasons to celebrate, the expectations for Action Comics #1000 are almost too big to contemplate. Then again, much of Superman's entire appeal is his ability to defy the impossible, do what's right, and do it for the right reasons. He already embodies the ideal for multiple generations of superheroes. It's only fitting that he set the bar for such a milestone issue, if only to make things a little less daunting for Detective Comics and Amazing Spider-Man.

Action Comics #1000 doesn't try to reinvent Superman, push him to new extremes, or make him more up-to-date with modern audiences. More than anything else, it's a celebration of who Superman is and everything he represents. It's not just that he can fight off a fleet of alien invaders and make it back to his family in time for dinner. It's not just that he can outwit Lex Luthor, save an innocent woman being held at gun point in the blink of an eye, and even beat an army of alternate versions of himself.

These are all feats of strength and that's par for the course with Superman. There are plenty of superheroes in superhero comics, fiction, and mythology of all kinds with obscene strength. What sets Superman apart isn't in how he uses it. It's in how he inspires others with it. That's what sets Superman apart and makes him the kind of icon who can transcend decades, generations, and trends of all kinds. From upbeat and hopeful to grim and gritty, Superman finds a way to inspire. Of all the impossible things he does on a day-to-day basis, that's the most meaningful.

Celebrating that core ideal of Superman's character is difficult to do with just one story. Action Comics #1000 doesn't bother trying. Instead, it tells a series of short, concise stories that embody the best of who Superman is and why he's such an inspiration. Each story varies in terms of theme and challenge, but the message is the same. Superman doesn't just overcome the impossible. He raises the bar for everyone.

He can even do this without having to throw a single punch. In one story by Dan Jurgans, he attends a special celebration that Metropolis is holding to honor Superman. He's there as Clark Kent, but constantly worrying about other threats. Then, when he finally decides to don his iconic cape and red underwear, he finds out that he doesn't always have to be the one to right these wrongs. The people he inspires, from the heaviest hitters in the Justice League to the ordinary people on the streets, can do the right thing too when the opportunity arises.

In another story by Geoff Johns, Superman confronts the man who he hung from a telephone pole in the first issue of Action Comics in a fitting extension of that historic first issue. Whereas most other heroes are content to either let the man wallow in his humiliating defeat or just throw him in the nearest jail cell, as though that somehow is enough to make someone change their ways. Superman dares to go the extra mile

He talks to the man, but he doesn't talk down to him. Superman tries to relate to him, showing the kind of empathy and understanding that resonates with him. The fact that he can do this while being an alien from another world helps show the strength of Superman's humanity, despite the fact that he's not human. If he, an alien can embody that level of compression, then what's everyone else's excuse?

Through each story, there are insights into Superman's legacy and how he went about crafting it. They cover current and past era, referencing different timelines and iconic moments. Action Comics #1000 doesn't try to tie them all together through some elaborate sub-plot. While that renders the stories disconnected, they still convey the right message with respect to who Superman is and why his legacy matters.

Like the man himself, these insights are crafted to reflect an ideal. They show just how good a hero can be. They demonstrate that just being exceedingly powerful, able to stop a speeding train or break chains of Kryptonite, is not enough. The real power that makes Superman great is in how he uses it, doing the right thing and never hesitating to do so.

A being of his power can do so many other things, right and wrong. He's even tempted at times, both by circumstance and by men like Lex Luthor. No matter the situation or the challenge, Superman will still do what's right and he won't compromise that. He won't make excuses, either. That may make his decisions predictable, but the way he goes about making them only reinforces why he's an icon who has endured for so long.

The fact that Action Comics makes it to 1,000 issues, despite changing trends in culture and the superhero genre as a whole, is a remarkable accomplishment. Action Comics #1000 does plenty to celebrate the past and chart Superman's course for the future. There's still only so much a single issue can do to encapsulate over 80 years of heroics, even with extra content and a higher price tag. Since the stories are so short and focused, it's difficult to show the breadth of Superman's story through the ages.

For a hero like Superman, though, even a 1,000 page comic isn't be enough to tell every aspect of his story or why he's the most iconic hero of all time. It doesn't have to, though. Like the Man of Steel himself, Action Comics #1000 does plenty to raise the bar and bring hope to generations past and present. What started Siegel and Shuster nearly a century ago is still going strong today. It still seems impossible that any character could endear for so long, but that's exactly what makes him Superman.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

X-men Supreme Issue 167: Uncivil Disobedience is LIVE!


When the X-men are divided, their enemies are emboldened. Over 50 years of X-men comics have proven that time and again. The same factors apply to the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. The divide between the X-men and X-Force that began in X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide put Professor Charles Xavier’s dream in state of grave uncertainty. The X-men have dealt with aliens, cosmic forces, and mutant terrorist groups. They’ve never dealt with a division like this.

Since the beginning of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, Charles Xavier and Cyclops have been at an untenable impasse. When Xavier chose to join forces with President Kelly in General Grimshaw under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, the former leader of the X-men saw that as crossing a line that cannot be uncrossed. That fateful decision sent this fanfiction series down a tenuous path, one that has done more than just divided the X-men. Hearts have been broken, relationships have been shattered, and the trust that Charles Xavier once had with his X-men is now uncertain.

In light of so much uncertainty, especially after the destruction wrought in the Crimes Against Inhumanity arc, it was only a matter of time before someone came along to exploit the division. In the history of this fanfiction series and the X-men comics, few are better at exploiting such misfortune than Magneto. Events like Uprising, Overlord, and the Cambrian Explosion are all examples of Magneto demonstrating just how dangerous he can be when the X-men are vulnerable. Given the wounded state of both the X-men and X-Force, the timing couldn’t be better for him to strike.

He already made his presence known in X-men Supreme Issue 166: Trial By Fire. Even though Magneto has been largely absent since the Time Bomb arc, he’s been staying busy. I knew from the conclusion of X-men Supreme Volume 4: Politics of Fear that Magneto was going to show up again. It was just a matter of finding the right moment in this fanfiction series for him to maximize his impact. Well, that moment is almost upon us.

Magneto’s return coincides with a lot of lingering issues between the X-men and X-Force. Both Cyclops and Charles Xavier are feeling a lot of doubt after the events of Crimes Against Inhumanity. Nobody is certain of how right or wrong they are anymore. Throw in a chaotic world with devious opportunists like Black Tom Cassidy and it’s a perfect catalyst for conflict. That conflict is about to erupt in a big way and it may tear the X-men apart even more.

The stage is almost set for the culmination of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. The division between the X-men and X-Force has made it possible. The course of events from Crimes Against Inhumanity and going all the way back to the Cambrian Explosion have been leading up to this event. It involves a few familiar threats, as well as a few names from X-men lore that have yet to show up in this fanfiction series. It promises to push Charles Xavier, Cyclops, and everyone else in the X-men to the brink and beyond. The true cost of the division between X-men and X-Force will start to become clear in this issue.

X-men Supreme Issue 167: Uncivil Disobedience

I know it’s always a risk to build a story around X-men fighting X-men. There have been plenty of stories like that in recent years within the X-men comics. Throughout the course of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, I’ve worked hard to differentiate the divisions in the comics from those in this fanfiction series. My goal has always been to make the division between Charles Xavier and Cyclops feel dramatic and meaningful.

To know that I’ve been pursuing that goal, I need to keep getting feedback from the passionate X-men fans who have helped make this fanfiction series what it is. I work long and hard to maximize the quality of X-men Supreme with each issue. I can only do that if I keep getting reviews and comments that let me know I’m doing something right. Once again, I ask that those passionate X-men fan provide me with feedback. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issue. Either is fine and I’m always happy to hear from readers. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Luck Be A Lady (and Then Some): Domino #1

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


Some heroes get all sorts of lucky breaks while others make their own luck in the crowded superhero market. As such, Neena "Domino" Thurman is unique in that she's able to do a little of both and not just because it's part of her mutant powers. Her superhuman lucky streak is on a bigger roll than usual. Between her upcoming role in Deadpool 2, the prospect of future roles in an X-Force movie, and a major presence in the X-men comics, these are good times for Domino.

That makes the idea of her getting a solo series, written by one of comics' most respected female writers in Gail Simone, all the more appropriate. Domino isn't just a colorful character with edge, grit, and attitude. She's the kind of character that requires a challenging story. She's not some hapless heroine whose only development comes through tragedy or loss. Her superhuman luck literally doesn't allow it. To make her mark, Domino's story requires a kind of nuance that Simone is in a unique position to pursue.

Like Red Sonja, another battle-hardened female character that Simone has written, Domino is fiercely independent. Since luck is always on her side, she's willing to take chances, be reckless, and explore uncharted territory. While that helps her survive the various rigors and frustrations that inherently come with the superhero genre, it rarely gives her time to pursue her own story. Domino #1 gives her the opportunity to really push the full extent of her luck. With Simone writing and David Baldeon providing art, she has even more going for her than usual.

Even with those advantages, Domino's story is a difficult one to tell. How does anyone go about making it interesting when luck is on her side in the most literal sense possible? Unlike the infamous Parker luck that plagues Spider-Man, Domino can usually count on the best case scenario. That means the particulars of a narrative have to be stronger than usual. Unlike Domino herself, Simone and Bladeon can't just throw this character into a series of action scenes and expect to get lucky.

That's exactly what makes the approach to Domino #1 so engaging because it doesn't rely on any one element of Neena Thurman's persona. She gets a chance to shoot things, as only she can. She gets a chance to self-reflect on who she is and where she's come from. She even gets a chance to show her softer side, but not in a way that feels forced or melodramatic. The plot doesn't rely on any one thing to flesh out Domino, but they all find a way to contribute. The fact a cute dog is somehow worked into the mix is just a nice bonus.

There specifics of the plot are somewhat chaotic. It starts with a cute dog, but builds itself primarily around some of Domino's most familiar traits. She's not a self-proclaimed superhero who sticks up for the little guy and hangs around adorable dogs. She's a mercenary who often works with other mercenaries to do gigs, make money, and shoot people who deserve shooting. It's not overly heroic, but it's hardly villainous either. It's not unreasonable to say that from a purely economic perspective, Domino maximized the value of her skills and powers more than any other Marvel character.

The business side of the story, though, is only a small part of a much larger narrative. She takes part in a gig that involves shooting people and teaming up with an old friend, Outlaw. There are guns, monsters, and even a fastball special. It's messy and violent, but not overly brutal. There's no Wolverine ripping out peoples' guts or Deadpool making R-rated jokes. For someone as inherently fortunate as Domino, those sorts of tactics aren't necessary.

To prove that she can still carry her own series without such tactics, though, Domino needs to show her more personal side. As a character who often finds herself in a supporting role to those with teams or movie franchises, she rarely gets an opportunity to reveal her thoughts, feelings, and insecurities. Outlaw ends up putting her in the best possible position when she drags to a surprise birthday party that ends up revealing more about Neena Thurman than any mercenary gig.

It doesn't end up being the craziest party that the X-men or a superhero team have thrown, but it plays out in a way that shows that Domino is capable of contributing more than quality marksmanship to a story. The surprise party doesn't just reveal that Domino is not that fond of celebrating her birthday or getting too close to anyone. It also reveals some of her insecurities, some of which are less obvious than others.

It helps give Domino #1 the kind of moment that demonstrates there is something to this character that's worth exploring. Domino may carry herself as a happy-go-lucky mutant mercenary who doesn't mind teaming up with the Deadpools of the world, but there are parts of her life and her personality that reflect deep scars. Simone doesn't probe too deeply, but does show the effects as Domino interacts with familiar X-men characters. Even when she encounters a cute dog, these insecurities show themselves.

It's a bit too subtle at times, but lays the foundation for more development. It also throws in a few larger conflicts that don't involve mercenary work or tolerating Deadpool's sense of humor. Those conflicts aren't as fleshed out as other elements of the story, so much so that the end is somewhat confusing, even if it is pretty jarring. Even so, Simone still leaves herself with plenty to work with in developing Domino's character.

Overall, Domino #1 offers a fairly diverse story that provides both basics and advanced refinements to a character on the rise. There's action, violence, and gunshots, as is often the case in any story involving Domino. There are also personal insights and unresolved issues that finally get to be part of a larger story for this character. She may not be Wonder Woman, Red Sonja, or Princess Leia, but Domino still finds a way to hold her own and she doesn't need to rely solely on luck.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, April 13, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 167: Uncivil Disobedience PREVIEW!


It seems that every time a superhero team undergoes a major schism or divide in the comics, there comes a point where both sides eventually clash with one another. The X-men Supreme fanfiction series is similar in many respects. As soon as I set up the division between Charles Xavier and Cyclops back in X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide, I essentially set the stage for their respective teams to clash at some point. Well, as X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided nears its culmination, that clash is almost here.

The division between Charles Xavier and Cyclops is not born out of outrage or hatred. It’s nothing like the schism we saw in the X-men comics with Cyclops and Wolverine. Their divide centers on the vision for what the X-men should be and how they should go about helping mutants in a world that hates and fears them. It’s one of the most fundamental components of the X-men’s story, going all the way back to the days of Uncanny X-men with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I’ve always tried to make that the focal point of X-men Supreme, going all the way back to X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution.

Even with that most basic guiding tenant for the X-men, there are many complications. Everything leading up to the events of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided was a confluence of complications. From Magneto’s destructive actions during events like Overlord and the Cambrian Explosion to mutant uprisings in District X and terror attacks by the Mutant Liberation front, the X-men dealt with a lot of tough battles. Eventually, those in positions of power, like President Kelly and General Grimshaw, had enough. The X-men had to change their approach or someone else would change it for them.

It led Charles Xavier to make a hard choice to form the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, which required the X-men to work with the government and operate under government scrutiny. Xavier believed that he could make that arrangement work. Cyclops felt otherwise, believing that there would be an unseen cost that neither Xavier nor the rest of the X-men could foresee. That cost played out in a major way in the Crimes Against Inhumanity arc. It left deep scars on both teams and the future of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative is in question.

In such a tense environment with so much uncertainty, it’s only a matter of time before someone tries to take advantage of the X-men’s vulnerability. In X-men Supreme Issue 166: Trial By Fire, Magneto reared his head again and the prospects of another attack has everyone on edge. Xavier’s X-men and Cyclops’ team, X-Force, have to make a move. This time, however, they won’t be able to avoid one another. The collision course I set up in X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide is about to happen.

This isn’t just going to be a pivotal moment for X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. This is going to be a defining moment for Charles Xavier, Cyclops, and the dream they both proport to fight for. Hearts will be strained. Scars will be left. It’s not entirely certain whether the X-men will ever be truly whole again, but there’s no avoiding it. The X-men and X-Force are about to finally clash. As always, I’ve prepared a preview that should help set the stage for that clash. Enjoy!

Black Tom Cassidy made a name for himself by taking huge risks. Dealing heavy arms was a hazardous trade to begin with. It forced aspiring businessmen to travel to exotic locales that no sane person would dare travel while dealing with people that no sane person would dare consort with. Black Tom considered himself plenty sane. He was just more ambitious than his competition. When confronted with an opportunity to take it, he never hesitated to take it. This was one that may be his biggest yet.

“This is as close as we can get,” said the anxious captain of his yacht, “These waters are choppy and I don’t think our signal jammers will maintain our cover much longer.”

“Quit acting like you’re about to have a stroke. They’ll hold up. They better after what I paid for them,” said Black Tom, maintaining a calm demeanor, “We’re safer than you think. The naval blockade around this island is gone. Nearly every ship that was stationed here has been redeployed.”

“Then why are we dropping anchor at one of the most hazardous parts of the coast?” asked the captain.

“Are your ears not working? I said nearly every ship,” said Black Tom, rolling his eyes, “There are still a few UN boats patrolling the waters. They tend not to come to these choppy parts of the coast. They don’t get paid enough to take those kinds of risks.”

“I hope it’s more than you paid me for this.”

“I promise you’ll be very nicely compensated for your efforts. Your entire crew will once I’ve secured the merchandise.”

“By you don’t you mean me?” said Frenzy, who was standing right next to Black Tom.

“I like to think our efforts will complement one another,” said Black Tom, “They’ll have to if we’re to secure our reward.”

Black Tom shot the captain of the yacht a stern glare, ensuring that he wouldn’t defy orders. The captain nervously nodded and issued the command to drop the anchor. They were close to the coast and the waters were pretty rough due to large reefs in the area. The weather did little to put him or his crew at ease. Around an island like Genosha, the danger was always magnified.

Black Tom continued to ignore that danger as he led Frenzy out from the main deck and towards the starboard side of the vessel. The crew was already hard at work securing the ship, keeping an eye out for any disturbances. After the incident in Istanbul, everyone was on high alert.

It wasn’t lost on Black Tom either. He was still fuming about his daughter being left behind. Since they had to maintain radio silence during the five-day trip to Genosha, he couldn’t check in with her. He remained confident that she found a way to deal with the situation. If she managed to get into any trouble, he should be able to buy their way out of it once this deal was complete.

“Explain to me again what this merchandise actually is, Mr. Cassidy,” said Frenzy as she followed closely.

“Please, Frenzy…call me Black Tom. For what you’ve agreed to, we can afford to be a bit less formal,” he said in a friendly tone.

“Whatever I call you, I think I have a right to know what we’re stealing,” she said, maintaining a tough tone, “I’m assuming it’s rare and dangerous. It has to be if it can only be found on a wasteland like Genosha.”

“You’re right on every account…except the last one,” said Black Tom, “Genosha may have been abandoned, but it is hardly a wasteland. While it was still occupied, I did a lot of business smuggling Genosha technology from their ports. It was by far my most profitable venture. As such, I made a few friends on the island. They had some interesting stories about the kind of tools that Magneto developed, some of which weren’t for sale.”

“Sounds fancy,” commented Frenzy, “How do you know they’re still there?”

“Because unlike the governments of this world, I haven’t been that eager to forget about Genosha,” he replied, “Recently a few well-paid associates detected some new activity on the island. Based on past intelligence, I think I know the source. Magneto may have lost his mind, but he was competent enough to hide his secrets. That’s where your strength and durability comes in. Hardware like this is difficult to handle, but with the right strategy it will fetch a handsome profit.”

“How much of that profit can I expect to end up in my pockets?”

“More than the Frost sisters would have ever paid you. That, I’m sure of.”

Frenzy scoffed to herself. It wasn’t like the Frost sisters were going to pay her much to begin with. For all she knew, they were going to screw her over from the beginning. They were just too greedy. Black Tom wasn’t much of an improvement, but he had gone through a lot of trouble to enlist her services. For the kind of money he was offering, it was just too great an opportunity to pass up.

“Take comfort in the knowledge that I need you more than you need me,” added Black Tom as they reached the starboard side of the ship, “To locate this merchandise, we must traverse this radiation-soaked island and venture into the capital city. The source of the activity is within Magneto’s citadel, which we can assume will still have plenty of hazards.”

“Sounds like fun,” said Frenzy, rolling her eyes, “How long will it take us to get there? You’re not going to make me carry you, are you?”

“Oh come now, Frenzy. A man of my means prefers a more efficient means of travel,” said Black Tom wryly.

As they looked out towards the rugged coast, Black Tom signaled some nearby crewmen. They moved with urgency and retrieved two large metal cases from the stern area. Several men had to work together in order to move two refrigerator-sized containers. Once they were in place, they proceeded to open them. They revealed advanced jet-packs. They looked like something that could only be found on the black market.

“Jet packs,” said Frenzy with a grin, “I’m starting to like your style, Black Tom.”

“The black market is a beautiful thing, my dear,” said Black Tom with a confident grin, “Where logistics fail, ambition succeeds!”


Throughout the history of this fanfiction series, I’ve played the long game, setting up big moment and steadily building towards them. Whether it’s with a major arc or a particular moment within a particular issue, I make it a point to maximize the drama and impact of that moment. I knew that the X-men and X-Force were going to clash at some point in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. I had this moment in the story mapped out in my head before I wrote the first issue. Now, it’s finally happening and I want it to strike all the right chords with X-men fans.

In my effort to make these kinds of moments the most rewarding parts of X-men Supreme, it’s important that I continue to get comments and feedback. These are tense, volatile times for this fanfiction series. It’s going to get even more tense as the series nears another climactic clash. I need to know that I’m utilizing that tension in all the right ways. That’s where readers and commenters come in. Please, if you can, take the time to leave a review or provide feedback. Either contact me directly or post your comments in each issue. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Friday, April 6, 2018

Sexy Side-Project Announcement: The Red Queen Chronicles Face Doom!


When it comes to comic book characters with sex appeal, Victor Von Doom probably doesn't crack the top 10. That's not to say he completely lacks sex appeal. The man is the king of his own country, an undeniable genius, and owns his own castle, for crying out loud. If you don't think at some women wouldn't find that attractive, then you probably didn't see enough Disney movies as a kid. My point is that Dr. Doom, despite being the ultimate villain of the Marvel universe, can be sexy in his own unique way. That's exactly what I intend to channel with my next sexy side-project.

The world of "The Red Queen Chronicles" is set to continue. I've come to love this sexy new world with all these sexy possibilities that I've created. I've crafted and explored all sorts of seamy narratives. Some, like "The Promise" were sweet and romantic. Others, like "The Leader" were more playful. The story I have planned this time is going to be quite different. For a character like Dr. Doom, it has to be different.

Among the various comments I've gotten since I started "The Red Queen Chronicles," one of the most frequent suggestions I've received has to do with getting more villains involved. That's a major challenge, especially if I want to preserve the sexy spirit of this series. However, after getting this idea for Dr. Doom, I think I have a story that will strike a fitting balance.

Like my last couple of stories, it will be a one-shot story that features a different side of Dr. Doom, but one very much in line with his fondness for getting what he wants. It'll also add a new dimension to Mary Jane Watson's influence in this world and on Spider-Man's life. As the Red Queen, she has already exacted plenty of influence. Expect this story to expand on that influence, complete with Mary Jane's sex appeal.

I don't want to spoil too much since the story is not yet finished. At the moment, it is on track for release in three weeks. For now, though, I just want to announce that this story is coming and Doom is set to leave his mark on the world of "The Red Queen Chronicles." If you think you can handle his kind of sex appeal, then stay tuned. For those who have continued to support this series with comments and feedback, I sincerely thank you and hope this story adds to the ever-evolving sex appeal of the Red Queen.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Poison and Perils Within Symbiotic Plots: Venomized #1

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



Alien life has an uncanny ability to fascinate because it is, by definition, alien. Humans have amazing imaginations, but no matter how creative or elaborate it gets, it's still limited by the amount of gray matter within the human brain. Alien creatures like the symbiotes, whose function is both radically different and somewhat disturbing in the context of the non-comic book world, push those perceptions even further.

As a character, Venom checks all the right boxes for a menacing creature operating with an alien mindset. It's not just some monstrous glob with a biological imperative to hate Spider-Man. A part of that hatred comes directly from its alien persona. It's part of a race whose survival depends on more than just finding a host. It must also improve that host, something that puts it far beyond any tapeworm or tick.

Venom, and symbiotes in general, take on the best and worst of a host, turning the volume on their most defining traits up to the max and beyond. For someone like Eddie Brock, it takes almost any story to extremes. Whether it's trying to kill Spider-Man or a cosmic journey with time-displaced X-men, every element takes on an a more intense context. Whereas hating Spider-Man is a fairly common narrative that has played out any number of ways since the Reagan Administration, Cullen Bunn crafts a different story with Venom in Venomized.

Spinning right out of the events of X-men Blue, another series Bunn writes, Venomized builds directly on top of those events that brought Venom into conflict with the Poisons. That story establishes that, like all forms of life, there's competition for resources, as well as diseases. For symbiotes, Poisons are both. Bunn establishes that these creatures are to symbiotes what mosquitoes and malaria are to humans.

In Venomized #1, the Poisons grow even bolder. Whereas Poison X in X-men Blue focused primarily on the time-displaced X-men, this story expands that conflict to the wider Marvel universe. The X-men, the Avengers, SHIELD, Spider-Man, and even the villains who fight them get involved. The symbiotes don't discriminate. When it comes to hosts, they're more egalitarian than most humans can hope to be.

Much of the story revolves around corrupted symbiotes attacking and infecting other heroes. It makes for plenty of colorful sequences involving major characters like Thor, Hercules, Storm, and Iron Heart getting infected. It's not the kind of epic struggle that often plays out with Spider-Man every time he encounters a symbiote, nor does it try to be. Turning heroes into hosts is just part of a larger agenda that unfolds quickly and chaotically.

It's an agenda that's more ambitious than anything Venom has attempted before. With and without a host, be it Peter Parker or Eddie Brock, Venom is a highly individualistic character. Sometimes it's downright greedy, which is part of what leads it to clashing with Spider-Man so often. It makes for an unusual dichotomy, having that sense of individualism while still needing a host to survive. That's part of what gives Venom his character. It's also part of how it influences its hosts.

By contrast, the Poisons work to subvert the individualism in symbiotes like Venom. They're not content with simply improving a host, which is as far as any symbiote will go. They'll completely consume it and use the body of that host to empower a larger collective. It's like communism mixed with parasitism mixed with cannibalism. Even by symbiote standards, it's pretty gruesome.

The elements of a larger symbiote war are in place. However, Venom and the time-displaced X-men are behind the curve for most of the story in Venomized #1. They don't arrive on the scene until after the Poisons have landed and started attacking the heroes. Even when they do arrive, they aren't able to do much to slow the Poisons down. Their already several steps ahead of them. While this does add more urgency to the story, it also hinders it in some ways.

Things don't just happen quickly. There's a lot that apparently happens off-panel. Even if the agenda of the Poisons is fairly clear, the details are somewhat lost in the spectacle. That's to be expected, to some extent, for a story that covers so much ground with so many characters. However, those lack of details creates the impression that there's so much more going on behind the scenes and too little of it unfolds in the actual narrative.

While this helps create many symbiote-fueled battles throughout Venomized #1, there isn't much in terms of drama. Compared to the Poisons X arc that played out in X-men Blue, there aren't a whole lot of emotions to explore beyond Thor and Hercules drunkenly stumbling out of a bar. Even when Spider-Man gets involved, a character whose history with symbiotes is full of drama, the drama falls fairly flat.

The potential for drama is still there and hints of it even emerge towards the end once Carnage enters the picture. It's still somewhat limited in terms of impact. The story has plenty of structure to build around, going back to the Edge of the Venomverse. It's only lacking the dramatic weight that gives greater purpose to all the symbiote-fueled fighting.

Even without that weight though, Venomized #1 still has plenty to offer. It's very much in keeping with the spirit of symbiotes and extremes. It puts heroes and villains alike in a position where they have to take part in a war that spans the both the multiverse and Venom's own personal ego. In terms of scope, it's hard to get more extreme than that.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Mightily Morphing Ambitions and Events: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #25

The following is my review of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #25, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


A great crossover story is only as good as the quality of the tools and the depth of the lore. Great creators from Stan Lee to J. R. R. Tolkien are able to create all those materials from scratch. Not everyone has that level of greatness, nor do they need it in order to make the kind of crossover story that feels both epic and satisfying. With over 25 years of lore and a medium far more flexible than a half-hour TV show on a kids network, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers has everything it needs to create such a crossover event.

Kyle Higgins and Boom Studios have a golden opportunity to create the kind of Power Rangers crossover that no TV show, big budget movie, or triple-A video game can hope to create. As a comic series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers can explore uncharted territory of the Power Rangers mythos, seeking and refining new levels of depth that appeal to older and newer fans alike. Higgins does plenty to explore through the first two dozen issues of the series, going so far as to explore alternate universes and dystopian futures. No comic series is complete without those, after all.

While such efforts have been compelling in their own right, there's never a sense that a major crossover event needs to happen in order to maximize the potential of the series. Instead, Higgins gradually sets up the pieces, establishing smaller conflicts within larger conflicts that play out over the course of multiple issues. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #24 finally sets the stage for that big crossover event to occur. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #25 is poised to fire the first shot and it need not come from a monster or a giant robot.

That first shot lands and hit hits harder than an army of giant monsters. In one issue, the crossover event deemed Shattered Grid takes some of the key elements that Higgins has been developing over the first two dozen issues of the series and raises to stakes to levels that no children's TV show would ever dare. Shattered Grid isn't just built around a dangerous threat or Rita Repulsa's headache-inducing screeches.

The monster, in this case, is more menacing than anything the Power Rangers have ever faced before. It involves Drakkon, an evil version of Tommy Oliver that Higgins crafted from events inspired directly from the Rangers' most iconic moments. This version of Tommy isn't just some generic evil twin. His persona is born from a fateful choice he made at the end of the story that first introduced the Green Ranger. Most kids growing up in the 1990s know how that story ends, but what makes Drakkon so menacing is how his choice subverts that story.

In his world, Drakkon never chooses to join the Power Rangers. He remains loyal to Rita. He doesn't run from the corruption. He runs towards it. That doesn't just make him an enemy of the Power Rangers. It makes him an affront to their core values. Rangers aren't supposed to use their powers for personal gain. Drakkon's entire agenda is built around personal gain. His previous defeat at the hands of his alternate self only makes him more ambitious.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #25 puts Drakkon in a position to do more than regain what he lost. He crosses paths with other familiar figures from Power Rangers lore, learning more about that lore in the process and uncovering new ways to further his ambitions. In some respects, Drakkon establishes that he's even bolder than Rita. He doesn't just want to take over the world and destroy the Power Rangers. He wants to attack the very foundation of the Rangers' power.

As Drakkon's ambitions unfolds, Higgins still manages to further the story for the rest of the Rangers. That story is directly linked to how Drakkon escapes and other ongoing tensions that have nothing to do with giant monsters. There's an underlying sentiment within the team that the Power Rangers aren't doing enough to fight back against Rita. However, their efforts to improve their effectiveness through ways other than stronger zords aren't producing results.

That tension, along with the drama it evokes, provides an important context to the overall narrative of Shattered Grid. Lord Drakkon embodies the ultimate extreme of utilizing his powers for personal gain. He shows just how dangerous it can get when a Ranger becomes corrupt. Threats like Rita, Goldar, Lord Zedd, or the Machine Empire are basic in their sinister pursuits. They aren't necessarily corrupt. Their nature is evil, by default.

Lord Drakkon's nature is the product of a choice, one that he doubles down on at every chance he gets. He's so far gone that there are no heart-felt pleas from Kimberly or impassioned speeches from Zordon that can save him. Given the way Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #25 ends, Higgins leaves no room for doubt as to just how corrupt Drakkon has become.

It makes for a powerful, provocative start to an event that promises to impact over two decades worth of Power Rangers mythos. It embodies the kind of ambition that Lord Drakkon himself would respect. It takes everything Higgins and Boom Studios has been developing with this series and runs with it. At the rate its going, no army of monsters or zords can hope to keep up.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, March 30, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 166: Trial By Fire is LIVE!


When writing the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, or anything else for that matter, I have small, but critical rule about major character moments. The most defining moments may happen in big events, but the most meaningful moments happen in the aftermath. That’s why I often emphasize the aftermath of big events like Uprising, Overlord, the Phoenix Saga, and Dark Legacy. It’s in these moments where some of the most meaningful moments happen.

X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided was built on such aftermath, to some extent. Pretty much the entire narrative of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation was built around a series of defining moments between the X-men and the Mutant Liberation Front. There were some pretty defining moments with Polaris, Charles Xavier, and the Scarlet Witch. It’s from those moments, though, that the Mutant Monitoring Initiative emerged. It wasn’t just a reaction. It was a huge shift for the character development in this fanfiction series.

It's for that same reason that the aftermath of the recently-concluded Crimes Against Inhumanity arc will include some incredibly meaningful moments, some of which will lead directly into the final culmination of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. After what happened with Romulus, everyone is vulnerable. Charles Xavier’s X-men are reeling after a breakdown in the relationship between President Kelly and General Grimshaw. Cyclops’ X-Force are still healing, physically and mentally, from their ordeal. It’s a dangerous situation that some are already looking to exploit.

Beyond the danger, though, the overall spirits of both the X-men and X-Force are deeply damaged. There have been more than a few low points throughout X-men Supreme, from Dark Legacy to the Cambrian Explosion. Few are as personal as this. The whole divide that began in X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide is fueled by the fundamental division between Charles Xavier and Cyclops. That divide is about to take their characters and their teams into uncharted territory.

That’s why the aftermath of Crimes Against Inhumanity is more critical than most. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided has shaken up, shattered, and strained the X-men in ways that even the biggest schisms in the comics never attempted. This isn’t just a disagreement in philosophy. Charles Xavier and Cyclops are actively battling against one another. Now, in their wounded state, they’re both at an impasse. What sort of decisions will they make in response?

Since Crimes Against Inhumanity, it’s too early for any of those decisions at the moment. However, the aftermath to this event is going to be more jarring than the others that came before it. If you’ve been following those moments for the past several volumes of this fanfiction series, you’ll see what I mean in this latest issue. The world of the X-men and X-Force is on the brink and the aftermath of Crimes Against Inhumanity is about to give it a violent nudge.

X-men Supreme Issue 166: Trial By Fire

There’s still plenty of upheavals to come in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. The biggest moments are yet to come. This fanfiction series is about to take a bold leap, using some familiar names that X-men fans and general Marvel fans should recognize. Like every other volume of this fanfiction series, I intend to build towards a truly epic conclusion and the road to that conclusion starts now.

To ensure that climax is as epic as it deserves to be, I still need feedback. X-men Supreme still has room to grow. There are still plenty of opportunities for awesome moments that X-men fans of all kinds can appreciate. That’s why I urge everyone to take the time to leave reviews and post feedback. Either post it directly into the issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Friday, March 23, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 166: Trial By Fire PREVIEW!


Whenever a major, Earth-shaking event unfolds in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, I take supreme satisfaction, if that’s not too fitting a word, in how it reshapes the narrative. When I started this fanfiction series, I didn’t just want every issue to involve the X-men fighting Sentinels, Magneto, Mr. Sinister, and men like Robert Kelly. I wanted the story to have a sense of direction. I wanted to do the same world-building that has helped make the X-men comics what they are. Part of that process involves building a story around the aftermath of a major event, which can be satisfying in its own right.

The Crimes Against Inhumanity arc was a huge game changer for X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. This arc was the culmination of numerous tensions that had been building since X-men Supreme Issue 149: Law Abiding Bind demonstrated the strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. On paper, Charles Xavier’s intent was good. He wanted the X-men to work alongside President Kelly and General Grimshaw to improve the standing of mutants while also gaining valuable allies. It came with risks, but after the damage the Mutant Liberation Front did in X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation, it was a risk he had to take.

It may have paid off at first in arcs like Drug War and Unholy Man, but Romulus effectively changed the cost structure of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. In many respects, Crimes Against Inhumanity was a worst-case scenario for both Charles Xavier and X-Force. It was one of those conflicts where everything that could’ve been used against the X-men was thrown at them. The divisions the Mutant Monitoring Initiative had created finally caught up to them. The X-men weren’t in a position to do their job. X-Force didn’t have the resources or manpower to end the conflict sooner. As a result, Romulus did untold damage.

That damage goes beyond the X-men and X-Force, though. Unlike Magneto, he didn’t just target mutants with his ultimate plan. He literally attacked the entire world, striking every major defense system he could. From big national armies to local police forces, he used the legacy of Weapon X to wage a war to end all wars. The fact he came so close to succeeding has left everyone, human and mutant alike, in a state of uncertainty and fear.

The aftermath of every major event usually brings added upheavals. It’s one thing to stop the damage. It’s quite another to adapt to the world that emerges. Charles Xavier must now confront a world where the Mutant Monitoring Initiative was exposed and his X-men were unable to do the job. Cyclops and X-Force have to confront the harsh truths that Romulus exposed in his effort to end all war. In both cases, the X-men Supreme fanfiction series faces a new host of challenges and it’s not going to take long for someone to exploit their vulnerabilities.

That’s exactly what the next couple of issues deal with. Many major events in X-men Supreme, going back to Uprising and Overlord, create a situation in which someone exploits the aftermath. The impact of Crimes Against Inhumanity will be no different and the names of those who do the exploiting should be very familiar. Some are fairly new. Others have done plenty of damage to the X-men in the past. In any case, the aftermath will set the stage for the next major conflict. As always, I’ve prepared a preview on the foundation of that conflict.

“Mr. President, please! We still have much to discuss and time remains a factor,” urged a desperate Charles Xavier as he tried to catch up with President Kelly.

“I’m a busy man, Charles. We’ve got a global security crisis on our hands and you can’t expect me to make meeting with you my top priority,” said President Kelly, who was going over CIA reports.

“And you can’t expect me to formulate a long list of necessary reforms within an hour,” retorted Xavier.

“Why not? I thought you were the most powerful mind in the world,” said the President dryly.

“The power of my mind has nothing to do with such unreasonable logistics. You make it sound as though fixing what led to this global security crisis doesn’t matter.”

President Kelly stopped walking, allowing his frustration to surface. He was already late for a conference with several important ambassadors from the Middle East and Asia. Charles Xavier wasn’t making his job easier by pestering him. In fact, he hadn’t stopped pestering him since the dust settled from the White Cell attack.

Professor Xavier tried to ignore the burning frustration that the President was projecting with his mind. He managed to catch up with him, but that was difficult due to the thick packets of paper he was carrying. He only touched on a fraction of what he hoped to address during their meeting. With many lingering issues, he was intent on confronting the damage done to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

“I’m don’t mean to annoy you, Mr. President,” said Xavier as he caught his breath, “I’m just asking for some added consideration.”

“When you put it like that, it sounds an awful lot like annoyance,” retorted President Kelly.

“I apologize if that’s how it comes across, but I think we’ll make both our lives easier if we take care of this now,” he said as he sifted through some of the thick packets, “We can both agree that our inaction played a significant role in allowing White Cell’s attack.”

“Only to a point, Professor,” the President replied with folded arms, “Our inaction was only one of many contributing factors.”

“But it’s a factor we’re capable of correcting,” Xavier noted, “I’ve put together a number of reforms to prevent this from happening again. There is plenty of disagreement over the language, but the general theme is the same. The X-men must be able to work more independently. This way they can address threats like White Cell without going through so many layers of bureaucracy.”

“If that’s the general theme, it isn’t very original. Do you have any idea how many other agencies make that same request? You don’t think the Department of Energy would love being able to craft their own energy policies without federal approval?”

“I’m sure every agency would enjoy being a power unto themselves, but they weren’t directly involved in this crisis.”

“I’m sure they made that same argument after the oils shocks in the late 70s or the BP spill in the Gulf. Like everyone else, they had to adapt.”

“Did they? Or did the people involved just stop trying?” questioned Xavier.

“I can’t speak for them, but I can speak for the office that you decided to partner with,” said the President apprehensively, “There will be reform. There’s always reform after a mess like this.”

“I understand that, Mr. President. But I’m concerned it won’t be enough to stop the next crisis.”

“You’re getting ahead of yourself Xavier…and greedy for that matter,” said the President more forcefully, “There’s a lot riding on our shoulders and to be honest, I’m not comfortable trusting you to handle it. Unfortunately, neither of us has a choice.”

“Choice isn’t the issue here. It’s about making sure no one hinders the other from doing the right thing.” said the Professor, maintaining an urgent tone.

“We’re not in the business of doing the right thing, Xavier. We’re in the businesses of managing the impossible so normal folk don’t have to. If you can convince every legislative body and federal judge to go along with all these reforms, go right ahead. I’ll be happy to implement them at that point. If not, take some time to understand that the reasons for these procedures. Remember, you’re the one who signed up for this so I expect you to honor those procedures. Understood?”

Professor Xavier had much more he wanted to say, but the President of the United States made his position clear. He was not in a position to make major changes to the initiative at the moment. His primary concerns were security. He even projected some hostile thoughts to further dissuade Xavier from making further arguments. They were enough to silence any psychic from probing further.

Having made his point, President Kelly adjusted his suit and calmed down. He then turned to his Secret Service agents, who were prepared to escort him to his next meeting. They even shot Xavier a stern glance, warning him not to run after them.

“I’ll assume you heard my thoughts and we’re back on the same page,” said the President, “Whatever reforms you have, send them through the proper channels. In the meantime, I have a lot of anxious world leaders to reassure.”

“Can I also assume they’ll be as understanding if these reforms are passed too late to make a difference?” questioned Xavier.

“They have a myriad of other concerns at the moment. This may be hard to believe for a mind like yours, but there are other conflicts aside those involving mutants.”

President Kelly rushed into the VIP elevator. He left Xavier behind holding his thick stack of papers, still clearly frustrated by having his concerns tossed aside. The President of the United States didn’t have the luxury of focusing on reform. The current state of the world demanded action and for once the X-men were not a priority.

‘You’re putting us in grave danger, Mr. President. Yet somehow you make me feel selfish for trying to fix what is clearly broken. What am I supposed to tell my X-men? If they have to keep breaking the law to do their job, then I fear for more than just their well-being.’


This fanfiction series is entering uncharted territory, as it so often does after a major event. Certain characters are going to undergo major changes. I know X-men fans are somewhat sensitive to change, especially given how the X-men comics have handled them poorly in the past. I hope to avoid those mistakes with this fanfiction series, but the aftermath of an event like Crimes Against Inhumanity will bring more than a few big moments.

That’s why it’s so critical that I continue getting feedback for this and the rest of this fanfiction series. Please, in the interest of making X-men Supreme as awesome as it can be, take the time to review. Either contact me directly or send post your comments directly in the issue. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Mixing, Mashing, and Monsters: Weapon H #1

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



In an era of reboots, remakes, and re-castings, the bar for what constitutes overdone or overused seems to rise every year. Taking a chance and trying something new is just too risky and expensive. It's safer and easier to go with an established trend, even if it means leeching off its popularity to a point where it's so intentional that no one bothers joking about it. While it may frustrate those hoping for something new, it's hard to argue the power of the market. As long as it sells, it doesn't matter how uncreative it seems.

On paper, Weapon H sounds like a concept that is 95 percent gimmick and only 5 percent story. It combines Wolverine and the Hulk. The results are exactly what they sound like. In the pages of Weapon X, it emerges as a daunting threat from people who still aren't convinced that any effort to create a living weapon in the Marvel universe is anything other than an elaborate death wish. The idea that anything anything good could come from combining Wolverine and the Hulk sounds like the kind of thinking that requires repeated head trauma from Juggernaut.

Even if the concept seems basic and shallow, it somehow finds a way to be compelling. Greg Pak, who created Weapon H in the pages of Weapon X, uses the full range of his X-men and Hulk pedigrees to create a character who deserves to be more than just a gimmick. Weapon H is one of those characters that anyone who believes that Wolverine and the Hulk are too exposed can find an excuse to discount.

However, Pak finds a way to set Weapon H up for a compelling story that starts to unfold in Weapon H #1. It's story that has to take chances by being based on such a simple premise, combining Wolverine and the Hulk into a single character. It faces more obstacles than most in its effort to be compelling. Combined with the art of Cory Smith, it has more going for it than the concept may suggest.

In one issue, it establishes a narrative and a character that never feels too much like the Hulk or too much like Wolverine. Pak goes out of his way to put Weapon H on his own path. It's not entirely unique in that there are some elements that Hulk and Wolverine fans alike will recognize, but the story never feels too familiar or predictable beyond the messy monster battles. That's one element that can never be overdone.

Fighting monsters, however, is a very small part of the story in Weapon H #1. It may be too small to some extent, but necessary in order to establish who Weapon H and his alter ego, Clay, is in this story. He's not the smart, yet meek man with anger management issues like Bruce Banner. He's not a hard-drinking, womanizing brute like Wolverine either. He's a trained soldier who made the mistake of thinking a living weapons program wouldn't screw him over and leave him with lasting scars.

However foolish that assumption might seem to anyone who knows anything about the history of living weapons in the Marvel universe, Clay still carries himself like an honorable man and a dutiful soldier. These same traits are what helped him survive the events in Weapons of Mutant Destruction that play out in Weapon X and Totally Awesome Hulk. They're also what motivates his actions in this new phase of his story.

Clay is hardened at this point. He knows he's a target and not just because living weapons tend to draw out the worst kinds of people for the worst reasons. He also knows there are plenty of things that need smashing and stabbing. He doesn't put on a cape or a goofy costume and go out looking for it. He understands it's bound to come to him, which is why he tries to keep a low profile. He works odd jobs, pretending he doesn't speak English or Spanish. He avoids populated areas or established trails. He basically does what Bruce Banner does, but without as much whining.

That, in and of itself, makes Clay and Weapon H more appealing. His situation is bad, but he doesn't spend half his story lamenting or complaining about it. He's a trained soldier. He grits his teeth and toughs it out, fighting whatever problems come his way, including the non-monster variety. At a time when many soldiers aren't given the Captain America treatment, Clay's story feels more real, even when he eventually has to fight a monster.

To some extent, that kind of realism undercuts the monster-fighting spectacle of the story. A good chunk of that story is dedicated to telling the story Clay's family, who think he's dead. This is where the overall flow of the narrative loses some momentum. There's an effort to establish drama among Clay's wife and kids, but it comes off as flat. Their moments take away valuable time from what could otherwise be utilized for fighting monsters.

Along with Clay's family, there's another sub-plot involving Roxxon, one of the few organizations in the Marvel universe that are bold or foolish enough to get involved in living weapons. While there's a legitimate reasons within the context of the story as to why they would be interested in a claw-wielding Hulk, it only comes off as some generic evil plot from a James Bond villain. If nothing else, Roxxon gives Weapon H something other than monsters to smash.

There's certainly plenty of potential for smashing in Weapon H, as a whole. Clay's story is just beginning. Both Pak and Smith lay a solid foundation for a character who could easily be overlooked as just another rip-off/mash-up. However, Weapon H never attempts to replace the Hulk, Wolverine, or any other character. He doesn't even attempt to subvert their stories in pursuit of his own. He tries to chart his own path within the Marvel universe. That shouldn't be such a novel concept, but it's frustratingly rare in the current era of superhero saturation.

There's enough appeal with Clay and Weapon H to make the story in Weapon H #1 feel compelling. While there are plenty of familiar elements derived from established characters, Pak succeeds in making the story feel unique and personal. It just doesn't have enough spectacle or monsters to feel exciting or nuanced. That can certainly change, but he's going to have to fight more monsters if he wants to catch up to Wolverine and the Hulk.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, March 16, 2018

Sexy Side-Project Announcement: The Red Queen Chronicles: The Leader is LIVE!


There are certain characters who just inherently attract respect, ridicule, admiration, disdain, and sexy women all at once. These are remarkable characters in their own right. They're also great characters for my sexy side-projects. That's exactly why I'm so excited about this latest project, which gives Cyclops a chance to channel his attraction in the sexy world of "The Red Queen Chronicles."

With so many sexy female characters in this series like Mary Jane Watson, Jean Grey, and Emma Frost, it's easy to forget that men can have sex appeal too. Granted, they don't always look as good in a thong, but their sex appeal is still plenty deserving of respect. There's a reason why the X-men comics often have Cyclops attract so many beautiful women. Sure, he can be a boy scout, but he can also be one of those guys who just drives the ladies wild.

It's not just the fact that he's tall, fit, and handsome. It also has nothing to do with how awesome he looks in shades. Cyclops is, at his core, a leader and a fighter. He won't just stand at the front lines of a conflict. He'll make others want to stand by his side, even as killer robots bear down on him. No man has that kind of leadership skill without attracting a few beautiful women.

Jean Grey may be the love of his life, but the fact that Cyclops has been involved in more than one love triangle throughout his history says a lot about his sex appeal. The comics are often subtle with that appeal, even when Emma Frost is involved. However, this sexy side-project will not be that subtle, among other things.

Since joining the Hellfire Club in "The Red Queen Chronicles: The Phoenix," Cyclops has had his share of sexy action. While Spider-Man and the rest of the sexy supporting cast have had more, he has yet to utilize the new opportunities before him. That's exactly what he'll do here and more than one woman will benefit from that effort. If you're a Cyclops fan and just love seeing him be awesome, then this is the story for you.


I hope you enjoy it. As always, I strongly encourage everyone to take the time to post feedback. I do have other side-projects planned. I'll announce them in due time. For now, I hope this will build on the sexy foundation I've created.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Heart, Soul, and Zombies: New Mutants Dead Souls #1

The following is my review of New Mutants Dead Souls #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.



From a purely pragmatic standpoint, teenagers are uniquely qualified to take on paranormal threats. Most adults, be they ordinary people or iconic superheroes, have a certain level of life experience to forge what they see as a sense of normal. It's part of the basic maturation process. As kids grow into adults, they refine their perspectives into what they consider rational, balanced, and proper.

That may serve them well in function within an ordinary, civilized society. As soon as demons and paranormal monsters enter the picture, those mature people are more likely to buckle under the pressure. Teenagers can be irrational and melodramatic, but by lacking a secure grasp on the real world, they're actually more capable when it comes to facing paranormal threats. This plays out in many memorable ways throughout Chris Claremont's initial in New Mutants. Matthew Rosenberg now attempts to do the same with New Mutants Dead Souls.

In terms of timing, the market is ripe for teen mutants fighting paranormal threats. Rosenberg is coming off a successful stint with Phoenix Resurrection and with the cancellation of Christina Strain's Generation X series, there is an opening for stories centered around teenage mutants taking on the kinds of threats that would overwhelm functioning adults. If those threats involve paranormal creatures that require the leadership of Magik, a teenage girl with a colorful history that involves demons, then the potential entertainment value is beyond dispute.

X-men comics are well-known for providing unique opportunities for young mutants to establish themselves. In a world still populated by time travelers and refugees from dystopian futures, those opportunities are important. New Mutants Dead Souls #1 establishes a new team with familiar faces to take on the kind of threats that often pass under the radar for most X-men. That doesn't imply that paranormal threats are less important. It just acknowledges that mutants are more likely to get attacked by killer robots than demons.

The makeup of the team also acknowledges that some X-men that attract paranormal threats more than others. The fact the team is led by Magik proves that Rosenberg understands what makes the New Mutants unique. Any team of mutants can come together and fight giant robots. It takes a special team with a demon-loving teenage girl as leader to come together and fight paranormal threats. New Mutants Dead Souls #1 doesn't attempt to complicate the concept or overlook the appeal. Anyone just looking to see mutants fighting monsters will get what they want.

Magik's team, which consists of Rictor, Boom-Boom, Strong Guy, and Wolfsbane, is full of familiar names for New Mutants. They're young, immature, and don't hesitate to fight back when someone throws an empty bottle at them. When the threats are paranormal and there's more room for recklessness, that's both expected and refreshing. In the case of New Mutants Dead Souls #1 the threat involves zombies and when it comes to the undead, reckless is most prudent approach, even though it tends to get messy.

The specifics of the threat start off basic. There's a small town in Alabama that sustained heavy casualties due to a hurricane. Some of those casualties died, but didn't stay dead. It's a localized issue that isn't quite on the level of requiring the Avengers to assemble in full force, but it warrants enough concern to send a team of team of teenage mutants right into the heart of the conflict. It's simple enough to challenge the New Mutants while also maximizing their youthful recklessness.

It's not too simple in terms of story, though. This zombie attack doesn't just happen because those corpses all made deals with Mephisto. There's a reason why the dead are rising and that's what the New Mutants have to figure out, but not before battling a horde of zombies that allows Adam Gorham's art to maximize the paranormal ambience. It has the feel of both a horror story and a superhero story, which proves to be a potent combination in terms of raw entertainment value.

There's plenty of setup and tense exchanges, but there's plenty of memorable action-packed moments that are every bit as satisfying as the best moments on The Walking Dead. There's Magik cutting zombies up with her sword, Boom-Boom blowing them up with cherry bombs, and Strong Guy ripping them apart. It's visceral and brutal, but what makes it uniquely satisfying is how it gets resolved.

It's not one of those conflicts that only ends when the last zombie gets its head blown off. There are other forces at work driving the attack and those forces aren't as obvious as someone having worked for the Umbrella Corporation. It's a mystery, but not one that requires much sleuthing. When one of the members on that team spends much of her spare time with demons, the traditional sleuthing process is both tedious and unnecessary.

While the final resolution does come off as a bit rushed, as do other parts of the story, New Mutants Dead Souls #1 is one of those stories that doesn't try too hard to set up future conflicts or over-emphasize the first. It still takes some time to do a little world-building, establishing some infrastructure with the team. They have a base of operations. They have a larger mission and that mission is something even a team of teenage mutants can get behind.

It makes for a story that feels complete and dense. A lot happens quickly. Even when it's a bit too quick in some areas, it still comes together in a concise, coherent manner. It's less an origin story and more a reminder, one that belabors how Chris Claremont's idea of having teenage mutants take on paranormal threats can be fun and entertaining. Rosenberg and Gorham take that idea and run with it, establishing a unique appeal with a colorful cast of characters that is sure to attract more than just zombies. Teenage mutants or not, that appeals to every age group on some levels.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, March 9, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 165: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 4 is LIVE!


This is it. Time has run out. The world is no longer on the brink. It’s at the brink. The world of X-men Supreme is poised for another major turning point. These are kinds of moments that have helped shape and define this fanfiction series. Arcs like Overlord, the Phoenix Saga, Natural Disorder, Dark Legacy, and the Cambrian Explosion have contained such moments, which carry ripples into the future of this fanfiction series. The conclusion of the Crimes Against Inhumanity arc will have more than a few ripples.

The secrets of White Cell are exposed. Romulus, the founder of White Cell and the father of Wolverine, is on a mission to end all conflict by controlling the most powerful fighting force in the world. The X-men, X-Force, and every other defense force on the planet armed with anything more than a baseball bat is a target. This isn’t about winning a war for Romulus. It goes beyond any conflict the X-men have ever faced, as well as anything Charles Xavier ever envisioned. It either has to end here, but not without a price. In the world of X-men Supreme, every resolution has a price.

There have been times when that price has been painfully high. The events of the Cambrian Explosion cost Magneto his sanity. The events of Natural Disorder cost Polaris her life. For the X-men, it has always been a matter of coming together and fighting to ensure that price isn’t too high. In X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, they weren’t able to come together. In fact, the events of the Drug War arc ensured that the X-men would not be able to rally together like they have in previous conflicts. That means the price they’re about to pay with Crimes Against Inhumanity will run much deeper.

The tension is already there. Charles Xavier, President Kelly, and General Grimshaw came together after the events of X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide with the sincere hope that the Mutant Monitoring Initiative would vastly improve relations between humans and mutants. The events of X-men Supreme Issue 149: Law Abiding Bind even explored some of those improvements. In the short-term, Xavier’s efforts bore fruit. Even before he could expand those efforts, though, Romulus was poised to take advantage of it.

He’s had centuries to plan. He’s been operating behind the scenes since White Cell was introduced way back in X-men Supreme Volume 2: War Powers. His hopes, his vision, and his personal war to end war is finally set to culminate. The X-men, X-Force, and even unexpected allies in Fantomex and Deadpool are all that’s left. The stakes aren’t just high. They’re personal. This is Wolverine’s father, X-23’s grandfather, and Mystique’s mysterious mentor. When all is said and done, there will be scars. There will be upheavals. The course of this fanfiction series will be on a very different path.

X-men Supreme Issue 165: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 4

This arc is one of those arcs that I hope helps define the X-men Supreme fanfiction series for all the right reasons. It took a long time to build towards. I got the idea way back when I was writing X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. I spent a lot of time and energy guiding the story to this point, setting everything up for a big payoff. I try to make every issue of this fanfiction series awesome, but I try to make arcs like this feel extra meaningful.

The conclusion of Crimes Against Inhumanity will have all sorts of ramifications. Some of those ramifications will set the stage for the home stretch of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. There is, indeed, another conflict brewing and it’s one that I’ve also been building towards. However, I cannot get to that payoff without making every issue in between count. That’s why it’s critical to get feedback for every issue, especially the conclusions of major arcs like this. I implore you, the reader, more than usual to take the time to review this issue and all others. I can’t know whether or not these issues are sufficiently awesome without feedback. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issue. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Gloriously Destructive Deconstruction: Batman: White Knight #6

The following is my review of Batman: White Knight #6, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


There comes a point in a long-standing conflict where the mental and physical strain that keeps it going becomes too much to bear. It usually occurs beyond the point where either side has a chance to claim victory. At this stage, the only goal is survival, although that doesn't always entail surviving intact. Given how long Batman and the Joker have been clashing with one another, spanning deaths, resurrections, and retcons, it's surprising they haven't reached this stage sooner.

To some extent, Batman avoids this stage with all his villains. A big part of his efforts to protect Gotham and stop criminals like the Joker involves stopping them before they reach the point where justice becomes a moot point. The Joker just makes that harder than most because he goes out of his way to push Batman and everything he stands for to the absolute limit. For decades, Batman exercises superhuman discipline in avoiding the Joker's traps. That discipline finally falters in Batman: White Knight and the consequences have been both revealing and compelling.

Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth take Batman into uncharted territory, using a sane Joker to deconstruct the very principles that make Batman who he is. As a homicidal clown, Batman is able to fight the Joker's challenges directly with his long list of skills and gadgets. As Jack Napier, though, even those resources aren't enough. Since regaining his sanity in Batman: White Knight #1, Napier keeps hitting Batman in ways that no exploding whoopee cushion can ever match.

The GCPD turns against him. The public turns against him. Even his own family turns on him with Nightwing and Batgirl leaving him to join Napier's new initiative. It's not just a deconstruction of Batman's principles. It's utterly destroys all the systems and support structures that once allowed him to function. Now, Batman is no longer the savior of Gotham. He's part of the problem and Napier presents himself as the solution. In Batman: White Knight #6, they enter more uncharted territory.

Part of that story is a culmination of the process that begins in Batman: White Knight #1 with Jack Napier setting out to destroy Batman and everything he stands for. Having convinced everyone he's right and Batman is wrong, Napier leads an effort to arrest him. That effort includes some of Batman's greatest defenders, including Jim Gordon. They go along with Napier's plan, but they make clear that they hate every minute of it.

That's an important component of the unique narrative presented in Batman: White Knight. This isn't about Batman's friends and allies being brainwashed, either by the Mad Hatter or some elaborate media conspiracy. They watch what Jack Napier does and listen to what he says. He doesn't force them to agree with him. He doesn't poison them with laughing gas when they disagree either. He just puts them in a situation where they cannot escape the truth.

Characters like Jim Gordon, Nightwing, and Batgirl hate every second of it. They fight it every step of the way, but they cannot get around the implications of Napier's agenda. He gives them too many reasons to go along with him and Batman keeps giving them too few. The consequences of losing that support play out in a way that feels tragic, but predictable in Batman: White Knight #6.

For once, Batman's incredible skill, strength, and endurance aren't enough. It's one thing to escape one of the Joker's elaborate death traps. It's quite another to stand against those he considers his closest allies when they're not brainwashed. Batman does not at all come off as Batman. He comes off as someone who just can't be the same hero without all the support systems that allow him to operate. It shows that Batman is only as capable as the allies around him.

He almost comes off as inept in how he falls into Napier's trap, which feels pretty out of character for Batman. Even with the loss of some of his closest allies, he doesn't show the same mental toughness as someone who can battle Ra's Al Ghul, Killer Croc, and Poison Ivy in the same day and still keep his sanity. Some of that feels like a direct effect of Napier turning the world against him. Some of it just comes off as Batman faltering when he doesn't falter.

This part of the narrative, with Napier finally subduing Batman alongside the GCPD, contains some of the most dramatic moments of the story to date. The other part of the narrative, which involves Napier responding to a threat from the less sane, more obsessive Harley Quinn that has been running around since he regained his sanity. It's a threat that has been unfolding behind the scenes of previous issues, but unfolds just as Batman succumbs to Napier's agenda.

While this moves the story forward, it somewhat detracts from the drama surrounding Batman finally losing to the Joker. As soon as Batman goes down, he seems to lose his relevance in Napier's ongoing story, which now faces a different kind of challenge. In a sense, turning people against Batman and bringing him in is the easy part. Now, Napier has to actually demonstrate that he's right, Batman was wrong, and he can deliver where Batman failed.

It's the final step in the total deconstruction of Batman. Napier knows on some levels that even if he succeeds in taking Batman down, he'll only end up vindicating Batman if Gotham cannot handle threats that involve villains in clown makeup and giant freeze rays without him. In fact, he may end up empowering Batman even more if he shows he cannot deliver. It's a stressful situation for someone whose sanity is always in question. His ability to handle that situation remains uncertain, even with his sanity intact.

In a sense, Batman: White Knight #6 encompasses two distinct stories. One is the culmination of Batman's world collapsing around him and the other is a setup for Napier's ultimate test. One is heavy on drama, but the other somewhat distracts from that drama. It still makes for a powerful, compelling narrative that undercuts Batman's core identity. Some of that narrative, however, gets undercut by Napier's own evolving conflicts.

The ending still provides compelling insights that hint at the growing instability of Jack Napier's efforts. He's succeeding in his efforts to ultimately defeat Batman, but it's not without complications and for once, those complications don't involve a shortage of clown makeup or exploding cupcakes. Whether or not Jack Napier can succeed where Batman fails will prove whether such deconstruction is ultimately good for Gotham or just another bad joke.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, March 2, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 165: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 4 PREVIEW!


Throughout the history of Marvel Comics and the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, there have been incidents where it’s painfully clear that nothing can ever be the same again. It’s one thing to just stop Dr. Doom from taking over the world, prevent the Brotherhood of Mutants from crashing a Dazzler concert, or thwart one of Mr. Sinister’s experiments. Winning those battles doesn’t involve much aftermath. The world basically continues as it is.

Then, there are events like Secret Wars, House of M, Overlord, and the election of President Robert Kelly in which there’s no undoing the upheaval. Things are going to change in a major way. There’s no way around it. There have been many such moments in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, the events of X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide being the most recent. That moment, which set the stage for X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, split the X-men into two teams, one led by Charles Xavier and one led by Cyclops. That division has left the world vulnerable.

It was only a matter of time before someone attacked that vulnerability. Sebastian Shaw tried and failed during the events of the Drug War arc, but that conflict only set the stage for a much bigger battle with Romulus, the father of Wolverine and the leader of White Cell. As a villain, he has a somewhat shaky history in the X-men comics. In this fanfiction series, however, his efforts and his vision promise to shake the X-men, X-Force, and everything in between to their core.

The Crimes Against Inhumanity arc will likely be another one of those critical turning points for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. It’s one of those moments where nothing can be the same again. There’s no going back. There’s no undoing the damage that Romulus did. Going all the way back to X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths, I’ve been setting up Romulus’ plan. He’s been silently working behind the scenes, manipulating the Wolverine, Weapon X, the X-men, and the governments of the world to carry out his vision. That vision is dangerously close to being realized.

It has already claimed casualties, as we saw in the Unholy Man arc. It promises to claim many more as Romulus’ armies of Weapon X drones roam the world, destroying every major defense system more advanced that a spear. He’s not just trying to win the conflict with humans, mutants, and the X-men. He’s trying to end all conflict, but on his terms. It’s the vision of a dangerous man who has shown a willingness to torment his own children to see it through. The clock is ticking and the final showdown for that vision is set to unfold.

Make no mistake. The world of X-men Supreme will never be the same after this. Characters like Mystique, Wolverine, X-23, Cyclops, Charles Xavier, and so many more will face some hard challenges and harder questions in this final battle. What happens to them and what happens to Romulus will shape the course of this fanfiction series for a long time to come. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of just how big this final battle will be.

“These men…are too…strong,” grunted Colossus, who was locked in a grapple with one of the warriors.

“They’re fast too,” groaned Psylocke as she missed one of the warriors with her psionic blades and got a heavy dose of telekinesis in the process.

“I get it, guys. You don’t need to keep reminding everyone!” said Captain Freeman while narrowly avoiding a claw slash.

“Argh! Well…I think…it bears…repeating, comrade,” said Colossus as he took an optic blast to the head, “What we are doing is clearly not working,”

“Even I need time to adapt!” grunted the Green Beret, “Any luck on your end, Xavier?”

“Not the kind I would prefer, Captain,” said Professor Xavier, who was concentrating while a couple of MSA agents defended him, “These men have telepathic abilities. They’re blocking me out and trying to attack with probes of their own. I can barely keep my own shields up.”

“Well, we better find another way soon!” said Psylocke as she narrowly avoided an optic blast, “Once these blokes run out of equipment to destroy, they’ll only have us left to target.”

Professor Xavier felt a thick sweat form over his head. His psychic attacks yielded no results. The minds of these warriors were built like Wolverine’s, except they had their own telepathy with which to fight back. They were like computers carrying out a program and with the destruction in the Pentagon, they were definitely succeeding.

Colossus, Psylocke, and Captain Freeman continued incurring injuries. Captain Freeman had adapted his body to become more durable. One of the warriors fought back by rapidly teleporting around him and striking him with head blows. Two more did the same with Colossus, utilizing more optic blasts to wear him down.

They even seemed to use his metal form as a means of destruction, blowing him back against any piece of heavy equipment that wasn’t easily destroyed. The warrior taking on Psylocke didn’t try to match her agility. While she attacked with her psionic blades, the warrior simply used telekinesis to keep her off her feet and slam her against nearby walls.

“Hnn…is it too late to swap powers, Colossus?” groaned Psylocke, now with a dislocated shoulder.

“I don’t think metal skin would fare much better,” grunted Colossus, falling to his needs after taking an optic blast to the head.

“We’ll have to fall back,” said Captain Freeman, “We can’t save this area, but the least we can do is-UNGH!”

The Green Beret was cut off when one of the warriors struck his legs with a wave of telekinesis, tripping him so that he fell flat on his face. The warrior made sure he stayed down by driving his claws into his upper shoulder, wounding the mutant soldier in a way that was difficult to adapt from.

With Captain Freeman and Psylocke injured, the mysterious warriors turned their attention towards Professor Xavier. He was still guarded by a couple of MSA agents who anxiously fired back with their weapons. None of their shots landed. The warriors didn’t even notice when they incurred a wound. With perfect coordination, they used their telekinesis to disarm the agents. This left both them and Xavier vulnerable.

“My rifle!” shouted one of the agents.

“Whoa! Looks like you’re on your own here, Xavier. This was not part of our training,” said the other.

“I need more time,” said the Professor intently, “Too much time to make sense of it all!”

The two warriors used their telekinesis again to shove the two MSA agents out of the way. Their eyes glowed red as they prepared to attack the Professor with an optic blast. Xavier was forced to stop his psychic probe. His only option at this point was to run, but he was unlikely to get far.

‘No…it can’t end like this. Is this going to be the legacy of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative? Failing to stop an attack that crippled the world?’

The warriors were about to attack. Then in an unexpected turn, their eyes stopped glowing and they froze where they stood. For a moment, they looked like computers processing a new set of commands.

“Emergency Protocol Omega initiated. Returning to core for Defense Strategy X,” they said in perfect unison.

Then as suddenly as they appeared, the four masked warriors teleported away. They left behind a decimated MSA control hub and many unanswered questions. Colossus, Psylocke, and Captain Freeman emerged injured and confused. General Grimshaw and several officers rose up, taking in the damage that they had just incurred.

“Talk to me, Xavier. What just happened?” asked General Grimshaw.

“I’m…not entirely sure, General,” said Xavier as he did a quick psychic scan, “I detected a brief psionic signal. It seemed to come from all directions. I disappeared too quickly before I could make sense of it.”

“I sensed it too, Professor…in addition to my shoulder popping back in place,” groaned Psylocke, who was helped up by Colossus.

“You’ll have to make sense of it later,” grunted Captain Freeman with blood dripping from his mouth, “We’ve got a hell of a mess on our hands.”

“Something tells me, it is much worse than we expect,” said Colossus.

It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. No one dared contest it as they struggled to process what just happened. Everyone was just beginning to catch their breath. Then General Grimshaw’s cell phone went off.

“I presume that’s the president,” said Professor Xavier.

“You really are the world’s greatest psychic, Xavier,” said Grimshaw as he recognized the number, “If he’s able to call, then something must have changed on his end as well. He’s going to want answers. For all our sake, someone better figure them out.”


It's moments like this with X-men Supreme that I find uniquely satisfying. There have been only a handful of big battles like this where I take my time to set up a huge, game-changing battle like this. It’s not something I want to force or rush. It’s one of those things that deserves time, energy, and just the right kind of emotional payoff. That’s what I believe will make this fanfiction series as awesome as it deserves to be.

I intend to make an extra effort to ensure the conclusion of the Crimes Against Inhumanity arc matches or exceeds the other moments I’ve crafted within this fanfiction series to date. I want this moment to enrich X-men Supreme to new levels. To do that, I need plenty of feedback. I know there has been another surge in spam lately. I am doing what I can to temper that, but I will still sift through as much of it as I can to find that feedback. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issues. Either way is fine and I appreciate any support you can offer. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack