Friday, July 27, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 172: High Evolution Part 4 PREVIEW!


The first shots of Magneto’s last stand in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided have been fired. The X-men, X-Force, and a very vulnerable world after the events of Crimes Against Inhumanity braced themselves for this moment. They all knew Magneto was capable of destruction on a global scale. Even after the events of Overlord and The Cambrian Explosion, he found way to step up that scale by bringing a new world in Asteroid M to the mix. Now, that world is about to take this fanfiction series into one of this most climactic moments.

It’s a moment that has been building since the final moments of Time Bomb. I’d always intended to bring Magneto back into the mix. He has been a guiding force in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series since its earliest days. Just like the X-men comics, he has a knack for bringing out the best and worst in Charles Xavier and his X-men. Without a doubt, they need their absolute best on all levels.

The division between Charles Xavier and Cyclops has put the whole vision of the X-men into question. It started as a simple disagreement on how to move forward after the devastation in X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. Xavier believed that the X-men had to work with General Grimshaw and President Kelly. Cyclops believed that was a mistake that would come back to haunt them in a major way. This clash has unfolded in many ways. The Drug War arc hinted that Xavier’s approach may have merit, but the events of Crimes Against Inhumanity somewhat vindicated Cyclops’ concerns.

It’s still not clear which side is right, but Cyclops and Charles Xavier agree on one thing. Nobody can afford to be wrong when Magneto is involved. His return has forced the X-men and X-Force to unite, albeit under some very tenuous circumstances. On top of that, they have to rely on the cooperation of the Scarlet Witch, someone the X-men have clashed with before during her time with the Brotherhood of Mutants.

While she has been an ally in the past as the ruler of Genosha, the Scarlet Witch has shown many times that her loyalty and love for her father shows few limits. However, the growing relationship she has been developing with Nightcrawler since X-men Supreme Issue 158: Power Brokers has added a new complication. The presence of the High Evolutionary has added another. Magneto doesn’t just have overwhelming power and a vision for his kind to drive him. He has an entire world in Asteroid M.

I’ve said before that this is Magneto's last-ditch effort. This is his Hail Mary play to win the day for the entire mutant race. He’s left nothing to chance. He and the High Evolutionary have exerted immense control over Asteroid M and the inhabitants that were promised paradise. The X-men, X-Force, and the Scarlet Witch are in his domain. Any chance at stopping him is slim at best and he hasn’t even shown the full extent of his power. This may very well be the darkest hour in the history of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, but it may help set the stage for its finest as well. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of this omega-level showdown.

“YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!” yelled the woman.

“Ack! I’m pretty sure you don’t belong in my lungs either,” coughed Psylocke.

Psylocke was quickly rendered immobile. Five other former humans tried to go for Storm, forcing Domino, Colossus, and Warpath to pick up the slack. Domino saved herself the bullets by jumping up and using the butt of her gun to strike two of the former humans that had a plant-like appearance. The other three included a father and his two young children, each of which had malleable ink-like skin. Warpath tried to get in their way, but he was reluctant to strike the young family.

“This ain’t good parenting, pal. Leave your kids out of this!” urged Warpath.

“WE ALL STAND FOR OUR WORLD! MAN AND CHILD ALIKE!” yelled the man.

Warpath tried to shove the trio aside. That proved messy because the two children shifted their ink-like form to become more vicious, allowing them to smother the Native American mutant.

“Ugh! Tastes…like mud,” choked Warpath.

“THIS WILL TASTE WORSE!” yelled the man.

Despite his children still covering Warpath, the man shifted his arm to form a club-like weapon. With it he slammed the Native American mutant across the face. It hit with such force that even his durable form couldn’t withstand it. He fell back, tumbling onto his hands and knees while the two children continued slithering around him in their ink form.

“James!” Storm cried out.

“He’s survived worse, Storm. Try and stay focused here!” urged Domino as she fought off an aerial attack from a few flying mutants, “It looks like they’re preparing for something and we need to be out of its way.”

As Storm looked out over the hordes of former humans, she saw what Domino meant. This coordinated attack didn’t attempt to overrun them with sheer numbers. Whoever was guiding the people wanted to keep everything focused and organized.

By now the former humans and animals were pulling back. That allowed the hundreds of other mutants to form an inescapable semi-circle around the X-men. Around that circle every mutant with firepower of some kind stood in the front, preparing to fire a simultaneous blast. Above them any mutant with flight powers along with various animals hovered above, ensuring they had nowhere to run.

“DESTROY THE SOURGE! PURGE OUR WORLD! DESTROY THE SCOURGE! PURGE OUR WORLD!” they all chanted in perfect unison.

“Storm, we’re out of time!” yelled Colossus, who was shoved back by a couple of sisters with gravity manipulation powers.

“I know. I’m…trying,” grunted Storm, her eyes flickering in a white hue, “These winds…are too…stubborn!”

The air around her grew hot and stale. With every ounce of strength, she tried to connect with these artificial forces of nature. They resisted her as if someone was actively pushing her back.

“Hnn…I know you’ll do it, Storm,” said Warpath, still choking on the ink-like mud that had covered his upper body, “If you can reach someone…as stubborn as me…you can make these winds your own.”

Storm’s gaze drifted towards Warpath. As she watched him fight off the inky sludge that consumed him, a new rush of determination surged through her. Asteroid M was so artificial and controlled. Trying to control it herself was a losing battle. Her only hope was to try a different approach.

‘Nature can never be controlled. It can only be harnessed. I may not be able to wrestle control away from you, Magneto. But I can still introduce a little chaos to the winds. Let’s see how your world handles true nature!’

No longer attempting to control the winds, Storm redirected her efforts. In an ominous display, her eyes erupted in a burst of white light. That did not dissuade the army of former humans unleashed their blast.

In an effort to thwart her response before it began, they unleashed their powerful attack. It included forces such as energy blasts, laser blasts, electrical shocks, fireballs, ice shards, telekinesis, and sonic waves. Psylocke, Warpath, Colossus, and Domino braced themselves for the impact. But it never came.

Before the blast struck, a powerful gust of wind swirled around Storm. From that gust, a dark cloud formed that overtook the X-men. In the process, it blew off the ghost-like woman from Psylocke and the ink-like sludge on Warpath. Once inside this cloud, the X-men were literally throw up into the wind just in time to avoid the onslaught.

“WHOA!” they all yelled out.

“It’s happening!” proclaimed Storm, her eyes still glowing.

As the X-men went flying across the lake, the winds continued to swirl. As the energy from so many different blasts converged on the cloud, it triggered a white-hot burst and unleashed an air blast that momentarily engulfed the whole lake in a blinding light.

It was quickly accompanied by a blast so powerful that it kicked up water from the lake and cause any winged being within a half-mile radius to falter. The force on the ground was even more intense, knocking waves of former mutants back and disrupting their once perfectly coordinated attack.

“DESTROY…SCOUGE…PURGE OUR…WORLD!” they all stammered as they tried to reorganize.

The cloud continued to grow, following completely random patterns that further disrupted the once peaceful lake. The swirling clouds continued to carry Storm, Colossus, Warpath, Psylocke, and Domino. It was not the smooth ride they were used to with Storm’s powers. Within moments they found themselves falling towards the lake where a group of hungry alligator-like creatures was waiting for them.

“Bloody hell…those things look hungry,” said Psylocke as she saw the creatures.

“Pull us up already, Storm! Some of us didn’t pack our swim suits!” yelled Domino.

“It’s not entirely up to me this time,” she replied.

The alligator creatures were already on the surface preparing to take a bite out of them. Then another sharp gust of wind blew in and pushed them further up into the sky. It was another disorienting blow to their senses, but it took them out of the line of fire. Some mutants from below still tried firing at them, but due to their lack of coordination they missed. They did not handle the chaos well. It was as if chaos itself was the X-men’s best weapon.

As Storm ascended with Psylocke, Domino, Colossus, and Warpath their path stabilized. They noticed the starry mosaic that made up the sky became wavy and disoriented. The once awe-inspiring sight was exposed as a fa├žade. As it faltered, Storm gained greater control of the winds.

“Ugh! Now I know how a bug in a washing machine feels,” groaned Psylocke.

“You did it, Storm!” exclaimed Warpath, “You got control of the-whoa shit!”

The X-men felt more gusts blow around them. While they were moving forward, it was by no means a smooth ride. They were not the same winds they were used to on Earth.

“It would seem that control is a work-in-progress,” said Colossus, fighting off dizziness and nausea.

“I can only manage partial control,” said Storm as her eyes kept flashing, “I’m not actually guiding these winds. It’s only when the winds are guided by chaos that I can exert power over them.”

“So you basically have to screw it up and then put it back together?” said Domino, “Sounds tricky.”

“You have no idea,” groaned Storm.

“But it’s working,” said Warpath as he shook off his daze, “I think we’re onto something here. Throw a little dirt onto this bullshit paradise and we have the advantage.”

“You think the others know that?” asked Colossus.

“We’ll share it with them when we meet up,” said Storm as she focused harder, “Get ready for a bumpy ride because I’m taking us to City X. We need to pull the plug on Magneto’s new world. We need to show him he’s vulnerable.”

“In more ways than you think,” said Domino with a smirk.


Getting X-men Supreme to this point has been a long, tedious journey. I’ve seen Magneto go on a similar journey in the X-men comics. He’s someone who often walks the line between a hero and a villain, but he’s at his best when he taps into his villainous instincts to the utmost. It has made for some of the most powerful moments in the history of X-men. I hope to set up just such a moment in this fanfiction series, one that will complete the journey Magneto began back in X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution.

I want that culmination to be the biggest and best payoff it can possibly be. That’s why feedback and reviews at this point are more critical than ever. Regardless of whether you’re a Magneto fan, there’s no denying his influence on the X-men and the iconic moments he has helped forge. I want to create such a moment in this fanfiction series and I need to know I’m doing that right. Please, if you can, take the time to provide me your feedback and your comments. Either contact me directly or post them in previous issues. Either way is fine and I’d love to hear from you. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Righting the Romance and Loving the Love: Mr. and Mrs. X #1

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


These are difficult times in the history of superhero romance and for a history that includes marrying clones, spousal abuse, and deals with Mephisto, that's saying something. The summer of 2018 will go down as the summer of failed weddings. Marvel spent months hyping up the marriage of Kitty Pryde and Colossus in X-men Gold #30. DC also got into the spirit by promising to finally tie the knot with Batman and Catwoman in Batman #50. In both cases, though, the ceremonies don't go as planned and not because Magneto or the Joker crashed the party.

There is, however, one sliver of hope. Through the broken hearts and wasted wedding cake, one notable romance did manage to make their relationship official, tax benefits and all. Rogue and Gambit, a love story that will never be mistaken for a classic fairy tale, is now among the few superhero romances to make through the wedding.

Their journey to this point is somewhat sudden in how quickly it unfolded. Rogue and Gambit's romantic history is full of drama, complete with moments where they part ways, hook up with others, and generally avoid each other. Then, comics writer Kelly Thompson gets them back on track with Rogue and Gambit. Almost overnight, in the context of comic book time, their relationship is serious and now it's venturing into territory that few outside Reed and Sue Richards have ever gone.


As the one who brought them together, it's fitting that Thompson is the one to continue the story of Rogue and Gambit's unique love story in Mr. and Mrs. X #1. Having come so far so fast, it's easy to forget how much emotional baggage these two still have. Thompson doesn't avoid that baggage. If anything, she confronts it head-on before the happy couple get to the sexier parts of married life. By doing so, it doesn't just make the wedding seem like some reckless impulse on which every Las Vegas wedding chapel is built upon. It feels like a genuine evolution of a convoluted, but genuine romance.

The most important thing Mr. and Mrs. X #1 does is expand on disappointing outcome of X-men Gold #30. This ends up being critical because without that added context, Rogue and Gambit's wedding comes off as something they just do on a whim and don't really think about. While good impulse control have never been a defining trait for Rogue or Gambit, a little extra effort goes a long way towards giving weight to their wedding.

The fact that Thompson dedicates so much of the story to setting up the ceremony that already plays out in another issue shows that this marriage is serious. This isn't something that's going to get undone or overridden by time travelers or Mephisto, at least not yet. The fruits of that effort show in some of the sincere moments that Rogue has with Magik and Mystique, who makes a surprise appearance and doesn't attempt to shoot or seduce anyone for a change. It provides further proof that the Marvel universe is willing to give this marriage a chance.

Rogue and Gambit's is allowed to happen without something blowing up. They're also allowed to go on their honeymoon without someone getting abducted. They're even allowed to get frisky in bed, making for some sexy scenes that give Oscar Bazaldua a chance to craft some R-rated content. There's nothing subtle about it, but it never gets too crude either. It makes for a solid balance of sincerity and sex appeal, a rare combination in any comic book romance that doesn't involve Catwoman.

The majority of Mr. and Mrs. X #1 is lacking in typical X-men conflict. From the beginning, Thompson and Bazaldua make clear that the purpose of the issue is to establish how serious the Rogue/Gambit marriage is. This isn't a gimmick. It's the next step for these two characters and the quirky romance that they've had since the mid-1990s. Eventually, a more standard X-men style conflict does enter the picture, but by that point, the romance is already easy to root for.

The particulars of the conflict that interrupts the honeymoon, though, are somewhat generic. It involves the Shi'ar and requires that Rogue and Gambit squeeze a space battle in between their romantic sexy time. It's understandable that they're reluctant, but their willingness to accept the mission reveals something else that's important for any robust superhero marriage. Even after the wedding, they're still committed to being superheroes.

That is probably the most important take-away from Mr. and Mrs. X #1. The heroism doesn't have to end once a couple ties the knot. Their status among heroes isn't diminished. The potential for new and intriguing conflicts isn't undercut, either. Contrary to many bad sitcoms, marriage doesn't have to be an endpoint. It can just as easily be a catalyst for something new.

Mr. and Mrs. X #1 only offers a hint about what that something can be. With so much of the content dedicated to solidifying Rogue and Gambit's status as married superheroes, there's not much room for them forward in this issue. That's not a flaw, though. That's just a byproduct of insufficient ink and not enough pages. Even though the conflict with the Shi'ar isn't fleshed out, it does plenty to build intrigue for the rest of the series. The arrival of another unexpected, but relevant character in Rogue's life at the end only adds to it.

Mr. and Mrs. X #1 isn't just a comic about Rogue and Gambit getting married. There is a ceremony and it's plenty romantic, but that's only a small part of a much larger story that has been unfolding under Thompson since her Rogue and Gambit series. She dares to take a long-running romance that has never quite attained the iconic status of a Superman/Lois Lane and makes it more than just a colorful a sub-plot.

The idea of putting a romance at the forefront of a plot is not new. Doing it in a way that doesn't feel like a gimmick or forced melodrama is something that superhero comics, and even superhero movies to some extent, have been struggling with for years. Mr. and Mrs. X #1 may not start a trend, but it definitively proves that it can be done and the results can be both romantic and sexy.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Red Queen Chronicles: The Lost Son Part 3 is LIVE!


Whenever I plan one of my sexy side-projects, I'm never quite sure whether it'll generate the kind of reaction I hope for. Most of the time, I'm just grateful that it generates any reaction at all. I've done projects that I thought were sexy as hell, but didn't get a single comment. Thankfully, "The Red Queen Chronicles" hasn't been one of them and the response to "The Red Queen Chronicles: The Lost Son," has done plenty to exceed my expectations.

The previous chapter, especially, garnered a lot of positive comments. Who knew that a scenario involving Daken and Jean getting extra rough with each other would be received so well? I know that sounds obvious in hindsight, but I was genuinely astonished by how much people responded to that scene. It gives me high hopes for some of the other sexy moments I have planned in this story.

It's not over. There's still plenty of action left, sexy and otherwise. Jean may have "subdued" Daken, but there's still the matter of Romulus and a pheromone-controlled Wolverine to deal with. It's going to get rough, messy, and sexy before all is said and done. I only hope the events in this latest chapter are just as satisfying to those who enjoyed the last one. Also, to those who left such wonderful comments, I sincerely thank you.


I can confirm that there will be one more chapter in this story. I can also confirm that this chapter will involve Daken so rest assured, I'm not done utilizing his sex appeal. For reasons that are now painfully obvious, his unique sex appeal has really resonated and I hope to make the most of it in this story. Nuff said!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Conflicts, Musings, and Marvelous Insights: The Life of Captain Marvel #1

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


No character becomes iconic without going through a process. Sometimes, it happens unexpectedly. It's hard to imagine that Stan Lee knew Spider-Man's when he first introduced him in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15. Most heroes only gain that status through a combination of luck, appeal, and growth. In the case of Carol Danvers, these factors aren't always present. In fact, throughout her history, she makes due with limited opportunities. In a world that contains the likes of Spider-Man, Captain America, and Wolverine, that's understandable.

Then, Kelly Sue DeConnick comes along and takes Carol Danvers to new heights with her run on Captain Marvel in 2012. After years as a supporting character stuck in niche roles, Carol finally establishes herself as someone worthy of being in the upper levels of Marvel's pantheon of icons. By shedding her former title and embracing that of Captain Marvel, she becomes someone who can hold her own in landscape crowded with notable names. That ascension isn't always smooth and even stalls somewhat due to the events of Civil War II, but it brings out the complexities of a character that finally has a chance to realize her full potential.

With an elevated role and an upcoming movie starting Brie Larson on the way, there's a greater sense of urgency for Marvel to maximize the appeal of Captain Marvel. Margaret Stohl, who has been doing most of the heavy lifting on Carol's story after DeConnick's departure, has an opportunity to add new layers to Captain Marvel's ongoing growth through The Life of Captain Marvel #1. It's not so much a re-telling of Carol's origins as it is an expansion.

It's a new bridge between the present and the past of a character whose story isn't as well-known as the Peter Parkers and Steve Rogers of the world. That gives Stohl an opportunity to build on the non-alien portion of Carol's story and she really runs with it. There aren't any epic space battles, Hydra agents, or Hulk-like monsters. Most of the story takes place in Harpswell, Maine. It's not the Kree home world, but just being there ends up hitting Carol harder than a fleet of Kree warships.

She doesn't go there for the sake of nostalgia, though. What prompts this homecoming is actually something more personal. It has nothing to do with a high school bully or a childhood crush. It has everything to do with it being Father's Day, which makes Carol relieve some very unpleasant memories. However, these are not the kinds of daddy issues that make for one too many John Hughes movies. It serves as the basis for one of the biggest upheavals in Carol Danvers' life and it doesn't even involve aliens.

It's a stark contrast to the standard narrative surrounding Carol since she took the mantle of Captain Marvel. Part of embracing that title means flying higher and looking forward, something Carol rarely hesitates to do when there are aliens and Hydra soldiers to punch. She's a tough, driven woman who just happens to have the kind of power and grit to go farther than most people imagine. The idea of her still being anchored by unresolved issues in the past seems antithetical to the arc she's been on for the past several years. However, that's exactly what her character needs.

That's not just because she has a movie coming out in March 2019. Carol eagerness to lead the charge into a fight makes her one of Marvel's most prominent superheroes, as well as an inspiration and a leader. It also rarely puts her in a position to confront old scars, of which she has a few. For years, the most notable issue she deals with was alcoholism. Stohl doesn't try to revisit that. Instead, she establishes a new issue that links the past and the present.

That past is largely driven by her father and his not-so-heroic temper. The present deals in the consequences he left in his wake, the most painful of which is felt by Carol's brother, Joe Junior. What happens to him as he reconnects with Carol puts her in a situation where she can't just fight her way out it like Captain Marvel. She can't just fly away, either. She has to stick around in this place that brings up so many unpleasant memories. For someone who works with the likes of Tony Stark, Hulk, and skilled sorcerers, that's saying something.

As a result, Stohl provides some overdue, but welcome insight into Carol Danvers. Her experiences with her family and her reaction to the tragedies that unfold do more to humanize her. It's not just that she interacts with her family and espouses her love of donuts. She willingly opens old wounds and reveals that, for all her power and bravado, she still struggles to cope. It provides a new context for who she is as a person rather than an accomplished superhero. The fact she is so annoyed by Harpswell using her history there to promote tourism reveals that there's a disconnect between Carol Danvers and Captain Marvel.

It's a struggle that affects Peter Parker every other day as Spider-Man. It's also a struggle that Kamala Khan, Carol's biggest fan, is just starting to learn as Ms. Marvel. Carol may give the impression that she's beyond those issues of less experienced heroes, but The Life of Captain Marvel #1 shows that's not the case. It also hints that there are other complications she doesn't know about that may deepen those wounds. There's even a hint that aliens are involved, which is in keeping with Carol's tendency to attract other worldly trouble.

It also provides another potential link between the present and the past. It even promises to expand on the issues with her father, which is critical if he's going to be more than just a generic abuser with the depth of a Hydra foot soldier. The potential for major revelations, as well as space battles mixed with personal upheaval, is certainly there. The details are somewhat vague, almost to an excessive degree. However, it does more than enough to set up a more nuanced battle for Carol that can't be blown up or attributed to alcoholism.

There are some narratives that work in any time or place in a character's development. Sometimes, though, having it unfold at a certain time within a certain context makes it even more effective. The Life of Captain Marvel #1 gets the timing, the context, and everything in between just right for Carol Danvers. It feels like one of those defining stories that needs to be told before a character can be elevated to the same level of a Captain America or Iron Man. Carol is already ascending and with Brie Larson set to bring her to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's safe to say she's almost there.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mixed Matrimonial Machinations: Batman #50

The following is my review of Batman #50, which was posted on PopMatters.com.



Superheroes are like young 80s rock stars at the height of their fame in that it's hard to imagine them settling down. Their lives are so chaotic, hectic, and prone to death/resurrection that just having an opportunity to get married is an achievement few get. Even for those who make it that far, there are a great many forces working against superhero couples. Some are there before they even get to the honeymoon. Others pay a high price for even trying. Just ask Peter Parker.

If there's one superhero who is capable of beating those odds, though, it's Batman. He has no powers, a long list of personal issues, and a colorful history with multiple women. At the same time, though, doing the impossible without the aid of Kryptonian biology is one of his most defining traits. It doesn't matter if marriage is too challenging for superheroes. He's Batman.

That's not to say the challenges he faces aren't daunting. Batman is no Wolverine, but he's no Superman either. Batman is one of those characters who does plenty to attract women, but just as much to push them away. It's part of his mystique as the Dark Knight and most women can't handle that. Catwoman, however, is not most women. In the same way he's in a unique position to defy the traditions of superhero matrimony, Catwoman is uniquely equipped to both handle those rigors and thrive.

Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle may not share the same star-crossed love story that Superman and Lois Lane enjoy, but that only makes the prospect of their wedding in Batman #50 more meaningful. After the heartbreak in another recent wedding event in X-me Gold #30, a successful culmination feels necessary, if only to avoid starting a less-than-romantic trend in superhero weddings.

In many respects, Batman and Catwoman have much more going for them than Colossus and Kitty Pryde. These characters have a history that spans decades. At times, they go their separate ways, which helps them develop as individuals. Now, after all the excuses and complications, they have an opportunity to come together in a way that both solidifies their relationship and grant them generous tax benefits.

Once again, however, the promise of a heartfelt, tearful wedding full of joyous catharsis does not occur. Despite Batman being up for that challenge, finally taking that step into uncharted territories that so many superheroes and rock stars avoid, the wedding doesn't go through. However, it's not Batman who calls it off. Catwoman is the one who ends it.

Like Kitty Pryde in X-men Gold #30, she waited until the last possible second. Unlike Kitty Pryde, though, the story surrounding it doesn't feel as forced or heartbreaking. It even dares to leave a sliver of hope that there are other forces at work besides someone just changing their mind. What X-men Gold #30 failed to deliver, Batman #50 manages to salvage to some extent. It still comes off as a dramatic letdown, but Tom King puts some substance behind it.

The bulk of the story doesn't focus on the ceremony itself or the less-than-memorable way it plays out. Instead, King sets the stage by exploring the long road Batman and Catwoman take to get to this moment, utilizing imagery from multiple eras of Batman from a cast of artists that includes Neal Adams, Greg Capullo, Rafael Albuquerque, and many others. Within these memorable moments are insights that put Batman's feelings for Catwoman into a context that gives a unique weight to ultimate outcome of the wedding.

Batman is the world's greatest detective and incredibly skilled at reading people, specifically criminals. Catwoman is a criminal by most measures, but when he reads her, he doesn't see the same traits he sees in the likes of the Penguin, the Joker, or the Riddler. The same goes for Catwoman in that when she sees him, she doesn't react the same way most criminals do. She's someone Batman can't use his detective skills to define and he's someone who transforms the pain of childhood trauma into acts of heroism that put put him on the tip tier of the Justice League.

These insights establish how these two feel about each other. Nothing is assumed or overlooked. As a result, Catwoman's decision to leave Batman at the altar doesn't feel forced. It never comes off as melodrama for the sake of melodrama. She gives a reason rather than an excuse, one that builds directly on the events of her clash with the Joker in Batman #49.

To some extent, Catwoman makes a valid point for keeping Batman single. Granted, it's a point the Joker practically shoves in her face beforehand, but it fits with how she feels about him and how she sees him. To her, a happily married Batman means he doesn't have that same pain that he can channel into being the Dark Knight. Marrying him means denying Gotham the hero it needs to survive.

It still comes off as callous because she waits until they're in their wedding attire to make her decision, but added context of her and Batman's reflections helps keep the narrative from collapsing completely. It doesn't give the impression that all the build-up that begins with Batman's proposal in Batman #24 is now completely meaningless. That story is still intact, but the way things play out in Batman #50 really complicate things.

There are details within those complications, though, that leave the door open for some happiness, at least to the extent that's possible with Batman. There's a potential for greater drama, but there's just as much potential for tragedy. Even though tragedy is one of Batman's defining traits, it can also be redundant. Rather than culminate the story of Batman and Catwoman's romance, Batman #50 promises to drag it out even more. For two characters whose love affair spans eight decades, that comes off as pretty bland.

Even with the outcome, though, the fact that Batman and Catwoman make it this far feels like an accomplishment. Batman #50 is presented as a triumph that was decades in the making, but ends up being a prelude to even more strife. It offers powerful revelations for two iconic characters and reaffirms why they keep finding each other.

It doesn't undercut or subvert the merit of superhero marriage, but it certainly reveals how difficult it is. Colossus and Kitty Pryde find that out in the hardest, most shallow way possible in X-men Gold #30. Batman and Catwoman find that out in a way that's still part of a larger story in Batman #50. In that sense, there may still be hope for superhero weddings.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, July 13, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 171: High Evolution Part 3 is LIVE!


The X-men have a long list of iconic and memorable villains. I’ve utilized plenty in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, including the lesser known ones like Mojo and Bastion. I even created one of my own in The Cambrian Explosion. However, for as long as the X-men are relevant, Magneto will always be the most compelling villain. He’s been a driving force of X-men Supreme since the earliest days of this fanfiction series. From their first encounter in X-men Supreme Issue 3: Competition to Magneto’s disappearance after the Time Bomb arc, his actions have guided the path of this fanfiction series.

That path is almost at its end. The High Evolution mark is set to be the kind of showdown that will determine whether the future of the X-men and the mutant race belongs to Magneto or Charles Xavier. I know that seems to happen with Magneto and the X-men every other week in the X-men comics. Believe me, I’m as aware of that as any X-men fan. That’s why I mean it when I say that this arc is an endgame of sorts for Magneto. What happens here will be definitive, more so than anything you’ll get in an X-men comic.

It’s the culmination of a story that has been folding since I began X-men Supreme back in 2010. From the moment Magneto founded the Brotherhood of Mutants, he has had a plan and a vision in mind. Like Charles Xavier, he sees the future of humans and mutants as a collision course, of sorts. There’s no avoiding it. There’s no getting around it. At some point, someone has to confront it. He knows what Xavier and the X-men want. He doesn’t believe that’s sufficient. That’s why he has teamed up with the High Evolutionary. Already, they’re putting themselves in a position to change the course of humans, mutants, and all life on Earth.

Together, he and the High Evolutionary have already done plenty to disrupt the current situation. They re-emerged at a time when the X-men are locked in a bitter divide between Charles Xavier and Cyclops. They’re also hitting at a time when nobody feels safe. Romulus decimated the world’s defenses in the Crimes Against Inhumanity arc. Neither President Kelly nor General Grimshaw feel like they have the answers anymore. They’re all reeling and Magneto is offering a way out.

However, as is often the case with Magneto, things are never as they seem. His vision almost always comes at a price, one much higher than anything Charles Xavier and his X-men are willing to pay. The nature of that price isn’t yet clear. So far, Magneto and the High Evolutionary have delivered on their promises, welcoming the entire mutant race and one million lucky humans into a new world they carved out of Asteroid M. From this world, they hope to start anew with a new race of mutants and mutated humans.

The only ones who is completely unconvinced of Magneto’s efforts are Charles Xavier and the Scarlet Witch. Knowing the stakes couldn’t be higher, the X-men and X-Force have put aside their differences and come together for this fateful mission. Given the extent of the divide and the mistakes they’ve made throughout X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, they couldn’t be more vulnerable. Now, as the full extent of Magneto’s vision emerges, they’ll have to make some difficult decisions that will come at a price. The extent of that price will become very clear in this issue.

X-men Supreme Issue 171: High Evolution Part 3

This is the point in the High Evolution arc where the conflict erupts and the stage is set for the final confrontation. It’s the X-men versus Magneto, Charles Xavier against his old friend. It’s a classic clash, one that has come to define the X-men over the years. I hope to capture that spirit in this fateful story within X-men Supreme. However, expect a few twists and turns along the way. The outcome is probably not one anyone is expecting, aside from those who have come to know this fanfiction series well.

I’m making the extra effort to ensure that the High Evolution arc is the biggest high point to date in X-men Supreme. It’s by far one of the most ambitious stories I’ve told in this fanfiction series to date. That’s why it’s more critical that I get extra feedback here. This issue is the start of a much bigger clash that’s set to conclude very soon. I need to know that I’m doing it right so please take the time to post comments in 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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Back To Brutal Basics: X-23 #1

The following is my review of X-23 #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.



On paper, the arc of a superhero is supposed to move forward with progress and growth occurring along the way. In practice, however, there are a lot of setbacks, regression, and pitfalls, but not all of them involve dying and coming back to life every once in a while. Certain characters have an iconic status built on decades of evolution, eventually settling into a particular status quo that best reflects who they are and the breadth of their appeal. To that extent, Laura "X-23" Kinney is still evolving.

Her story can't be considered new anymore, having played a part in a major X-men movie and held down multiple solo runs from the likes of Marjorie Liu and Tom Taylor. She also can't be classified as old, either. Her growth has been rapid since her debut in the X-men: Evolution cartoon, but her story tends to undergo more shifts than most.

There are times when Laura seeks to avoid the violent conditioning she endured under her creators, seeking to build a normal life, to the extent that anyone related to Wolverine can have one. She also goes through periods where she attempts to channel those violent skills for heroic purposes, just like Wolverine has. After taking the mantle of Wolverine for a time under Tom Taylor, Laura is at a point where she no longer hides from her bloody past or her violent skills. However, she still has some growing to do and not just because she has a little sister and a pet wolverine.

This is the situation that Mariko Tamaki and Juan Cabal inherit in X-23 #1. Laura's past is still chasing her and her future is still in flux. She has more to lose now than she did before with Gabby in her life. Even though she's still a teenager, she can't afford to be as irresponsible as most teenagers, as the Peter Parkers and Kamala Khans of the world can attest. Between having the baggage of Logan's legacy and dealing with an overly-energetic sister with a pet wolverine, Laura has her work cut out for her.

Tamaki and Cabal still have her pushing forward. The stakes are pretty standard for any clone/daughter of Wolverine. There are still people in the Marvel universe who think it's a good idea to clone Logan and make living weapons. How anyone can still believe that will lead to anything other than a brutal death is laughable, if not absurd at this point. Nobody even tries to make excuses. They're just willing fodder for Laura's continued evolution.


While the setup is basic, involving a generic threat with ties to Alchemax, Tamaki doesn't focus too much on the slashing and stabbing that's standard for any X-23 series. Those moments are there. There's even a hulking lizard man thrown into the mix, which helps mix things up from the standard hired goons that Laura is known for decimating. However, the real meat of the story is in Laura's personal journey.

As she's navigating the standard Wolverine-styled action sequences with Gabby, she reflects on her upcoming birthday. Being a clone, that brings complications that have little to do with cake frosting. Laura starts out with mixed, but ambivalent feelings on the matter. She initially gives the impression that it's not a big deal. Gabby, as she's been doing since she showed up in All-New Wolverine, gets her to reconsider and is lovably adorable every step of the way.

It also helps that Laura and Gabby aren't the only clones dealing with identity issues and birthday drama. After meeting up with Beast at the Xavier Institute, they cross paths with the Stepford Cuckoos. As it just so happens, they're celebrating their birthday. That helps make birthdays, in general, a bigger issue and one that acts as a catalyst for the story, albeit indirectly.

As is often the case with plots involving clones and living weapons, there's a larger agenda unfolding behind the scenes, even before the stabbing starts. It involves Alchemax, but it also involves the Stepford Cuckoos as well. Tamaki even digs a bit into the Cuckoos' history, some of which hasn't been referenced since the latter end of Grant Morrison's run on New X-men. It helps raise the stakes and complicates Laura's new mission. Unlike lizard men throwing trucks, this isn't an issue she can resolve with her claws.

While the connection between Laura's mission and the Cuckoos is established, things don't get violent that quickly. Things even diverge somewhat as Laura debates the merits of birthdays while the Cuckoos reveal some affiliations that would probably not sit well with any former living weapon. There's a distinct sense of inevitability that emerges once the agenda of the Cuckoos emerge. Even though part of it still involves celebrating a birthday, it seems unavoidable that they're going to clash with Laura and Gabby.

That conflict doesn't manifest initially and that's not necessarily a bad thing. X-23 #1 spends more time exploring how Laura sees herself as she continues to navigate a world where she's technically an escaped lab experiment. Her reservations about making a big deal about her birthday reveal that she still struggles with an identity crisis on some levels. She keeps trying to forge her own path, but can't escape the fact that she's a clone. The Stepford Cuckoos are in the same boat, although their efforts don't come off nearly as healthy.

It's a struggle that has been plaguing Laura since her creation, but the fact that she's at a point where she's uncertain about the merits of birthdays still counts as progress on some levels. While the details surrounding the plot are still fairly standard, X-23 #1 still succeeds in sending the message that Laura is still evolving and she's even making progress. Having a quirky little sister with a pet wolverine actually helps more than it complicates things.

Some of that progress still comes off as only partial, though. While X-23 #1 does plenty to create new conflicts, it leaves a lot of unanswered questions. There's no explanation as to why Laura is going by X-23 instead of Wolverine. There's also little in terms of connections to the larger X-men continuity. Even though Laura and Gabby are current members of X-men Red, this affiliation has no real impact.

The story still succeeds enough in terms of putting Laura on a new path, one that will likely affect how she approaches future birthdays. Her growth, as a character, is beyond dispute at this point. She is every bit as entrenched in the X-men comics as Logan, Deadpool, and Doop. She still has plenty of room to grow and if she can just start seeing the world the same way Gabby sees snack food, then she'll be just fine.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, July 6, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 171: High Evolution Part 3 PREVIEW!


These are desperate times for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Magneto is back with the mysterious High Evolutionary at his side. After disappearing at the conclusion of X-men Supreme Volume 4: Politics of Fear, he’s returned with both his sanity and his willingness to end the human/mutant conflict once and for all. Whether it’s in the X-men comics or a fanfiction series, this is and always has been Magneto’s ultimate endgame. He doesn’t just seek to confront the issue. He seeks to win it for all of mutant kind.

That has dire implications for Professor Xavier and his X-men. They’ve already had a taste of those implications through clashes in Uprising, Overlord, Kings and Tyrants, and the Cambrian Explosion. At every turn, Magneto has shown a willingness to take bold chances and sacrifice innocent lives. His drive to solidify mutants as the dominant species on the planet is without parallel. Since X-men Supreme began, this is what I’ve built around Magneto’s character.

From the earliest days of X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution, I’ve had an endgame in mind for Magneto. It has changed and evolved over the years as this fanfiction series has developed. I knew that at some point, Magneto would have a chance to either achieve his ultimate goal or suffer complete defeat. The plans he hatched from Uprising to the Cambrian Explosion were stages, of sorts. To him, they were supposed to make the process of mutant ascension easier. Charles Xavier and his X-men made sure they weren’t.

The plan he has in mind for High Evolution is on a very different level. It is, and always has been, his ultimate backup plan. This is Magneto’s final recourse if the rest of his plans didn’t pan out or didn’t achieve what he wanted. That means he has left nothing to chance. He’s done everything within his considerable power to prevent Xavier and his X-men from thwarting him. Don’t expect him to make mistakes this time.

If that weren’t bad enough, Magneto is striking at a time when the X-men are at their weakest. Since the beginning of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, there has been a schism between Charles Xavier and Cyclops. While Xavier still leads the X-men under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative alongside General Grimshaw and President Kelly, Cyclops has formed his own team in X-Force. Their disagreement over the future of mutants have led to great upheavals, culminating in the recent attacks by Romulus in Crimes Against Inhumanity.

Those upheavals left the X-men and X-Force weakened. They also gave Magneto the perfect opportunity to send his message to an anxious, vulnerable world. Despite his past efforts to destroy the human race, many have heeded his calls. Many have jumped at the chance to join his ultimate plan to create a new world for mutants. One million lucky souls even managed to board transports that took them to this world, which he calls Asteroid M. The only price was that they had to become mutants.

However, Charles Xavier and his X-men know Magneto’s history better than anyone. They know that there’s always a higher price behind the promise. That price, combined with the unknowns surrounding the High Evolution, have created a situation that will push the X-men to their limits and beyond at the worst possible time. With the next issue, that time is just about to run out. As always, I’ve prepared a preview that should hint at just how bad it's going to get for the X-men.

“So where are you blokes from?” asked Psylocke to several new mutants as they lounged near the lake.

“Seoul, South Korea,” answered one with bluish-gray skin.

“Rome, Italy,” said a woman with glowing eyes.

“Johannesburg, South Africa,” said a young man no older than 13.

“New Jersey. If you don’t know the country, then how the fuck did you make it here?” said a stocky, middle-aged man wearing sunglasses.

Psylocke rolled her eyes. While many had undergone dramatic changes, some still hadn’t evolved out of their personality.

“And what made you want to come here?” she asked them.

“Life back home wasn’t getting any better,” said the South Korean solemnly, “I never fit in with my family or friends. I was always an outcast.”

“Same here. Plus, I had a criminal record that I could not escape,” said the Italian woman.

“I probably would have had one if I had stayed. That’s why my mother jumped at the first opportunity to get me here,” said the South African boy.

“So where’s your mom now? She get powers that make her invisible or something?” asked the guy from New Jersey.

“Actually…yes,” said the boy with a humored grin.

In a brief flash that caused the man to drop his beer, the boy’s mother appeared in front of him. She had been testing her new powers and returned to her son just in time to startle the immature man. It earned a round of laughs from the others. Even Psylocke found herself laughing.

They all had reasons for leaving Earth. Most of these reasons were perfectly valid. It seemed worth the price of becoming a mutant. So far, there had been no ill-effects of such a choice. That still didn’t mean it wasn’t a possibility and that’s what led Psylocke to probe deeper.

While Psylocke continued interacting with random people, the rest of the group surveyed the lake from afar. They saw few signs of distress. Everyone seemed perfectly happy with their new lives so far. If there was a threat, it wasn’t obvious just yet.

“How much longer is Psylocke going to keep mingling?” asked Domino, “Is this just her way of filling the void while her boyfriend is stuck on injured reserve?”

“You’re compassion for your fellow teammates is impeccable, Domino,” said Warpath dryly.

“It wasn’t an insult. I don’t get what she hopes to gain here. I’m starting to think we’re wasting our time.”

“It’s never a waste to make connections,” said Colossus.

“Sounds like a motto from the Russian mob,” quipped Domino.

“It is,” said the Russian, “These people did not conspire with Magneto from the beginning. They heard his call and they followed it. That makes them potential allies.”

“And enemies,” noted Warpath.

“That is true, but that only makes our efforts more important,” said Colossus, “If Kitty was here, she would point out that by making these people mutants, Magneto has effectively created a million-mutant army for himself.”

“And she would probably tell that right to everyone’s faces as well so maybe it’s a good thing she’s not here,” said Domino, which earned him a look from Colossus.

The team chemistry was still a work-in-progress. Joining X-Force with the X-men so abruptly made for a difficult transition. There was still tension between the two teams. It remained unspoken for the most part as they tried to stay focused on the mission. That was easier for some more than others.

“You’ve been pretty quiet, Storm. What’s your take? Are we wasting our time here or what?” asked Warpath.

“I wish I could offer some input, but I’ve been a bit distracted here,” said Storm, who kept shifting uncomfortably as she looked around.

“Is that because Warpath works up a sweat when he’s paranoid?” joked Domino, earning her yet another harsh scold.

“It’s because this artificial environment feels so…mechanical,” she said.

“Mechanical?” questioned Warpath.

“I wish Beast were here to offer a nine-syllable word to describe it. That’s all I can come up with because that’s how it feels to me,” she said as she gazed out over the lake, “My powers are closely connected to the forces of nature. However, there’s nothing natural about these forces. This lake, the sky, the air, the winds…they’re all so artificial.”

“How is it any different than the Danger Room?” asked Colossus.

“The Danger Room as a certain intricacy to it,” Storm went on, “That’s why it never bothers me. But everything here on Asteroid M feels like it’s guided. Every light breeze feels as though something or someone was placing it there.”

“Magneto always struck me as a control freak,” commented Warpath.

“Not like this,” she said, her voice sounding more distressed, “Magneto is the master of magnetism. Not the master of nature. I just don’t like how this feels. It’s like at any given moment, everything within this Asteroid could turn on us.”

Storm hugged her shoulders as more light breezes swept across the lake. Every other mutant seemed to enjoy it while it sent a shiver up the African woman’s spine. Warpath offered a comforting gesture, which tempted Domino to make another comment. A stern look from Colossus helped restrain her. If what Storm sensed was real, then it may offer some telling clues.

While they mused over Storm’s insights, Psylocke returned from her conversations with these new mutants. She looked just as unnerved as Storm. Apparently making connections hadn’t set her mind at ease.

“What’s wrong, Psylocke? Are the locals busting your chops that much?” asked Domino.

“Not really,” said Psylocke as she looked back at the five individuals she had just met, “In fact, everybody has been very polite. Even the ones who hated mutants before seem to have done an about face.”

“So then why do you look like they just threatened to drown you in this lake?” asked Warpath suspiciously.

“It’s their minds,” said Psylocke strongly, “They all sound like they’re completely in control of their faculties. However, I can’t pick up on any stray thoughts.”

“Could their minds be shielded?” asked Colossus.

“If they were, then I would have sensed it the moment we arrived,” Betsy reasoned, “They may have just gained amazing new powers, but they’re still ordinary blokes. There’s no way that every one of them could effectively guard their thoughts like this.”

“I take this means we may be dealing with a powerful psychic,” said Warpath.

“That’s where it gets even trickier,” she said cryptically, “Their minds may function normally, but the nuts and bolts don’t feel normal. If anything, they feel…”

“Artificial?” offered Storm.

Psylocke looked at Storm with a raised eyebrow. It sounded like she wasn’t the only one sensing this. It added to the mystery as well as the potential for danger.

“Since English is not my first language to begin with, I will assume that this is cause for concern,” said Colossus.

“It may run deeper than that, luv,” said Psylocke, “This whole world has the making of an elaborate circus act. Everything looks like a natural ecosystem. It may even function like one. But there’s definitely some other force at work here.”

“Then I suppose the important questions for us are how is it being controlled and who is doing the controlling?” said Storm.

“Why do we even need to ask who?” questioned Domino, “This is Magneto’s ploy last I checked.”

“That’s one assumption we probably shouldn’t make right now,” said Psylocke, “We know the kind of damage Magneto can is capable of. It’s the High Evolutionary that has me really worried.”


The High Evolution arc is a culmination of a great many stories I’ve been developing over the course of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. The X-men comics make numerous attempts at stories on that scale. Some never come to pass. Others have made for some of the greatest moments in the history of X-men. I want X-men Supreme to capture the spirit of the latter. That’s what I hope to do with this finals showdown between the X-men and Magneto.

The past, present, and future of this fanfiction series is about to change in a major way. Those changes are always risky in the X-men comics. The same holds true for X-men Supreme. As such, it’s more important than ever that I continue to get feedback. Please take the time to send me your reviews in whatever form you can. Either post them directly in the issue or contact me. Either way is fine as long as you review. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack