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