Thursday, August 30, 2018

Evolving Revolutions in a Devolving World: Scarlet #1

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



Rebellion is one of those unavoidable pitfalls of an imperfect world. Wherever there's injustice, fictional or otherwise, there will be popular uprisings. It's the inspiration for half the music produced in the late 1960s. It's also a rite of passage for any teenager who had to endure an early curfew. By definition, it's deviant because it opposes the status quo. At the same time, it has an uncanny allure because it dares to pursue something better.

Scarlet Rue personifies rebellion in a rawest sense. When Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev introduced her in Scarlet back in 2010, they went out of their way to craft a character who embodies the fighting spirit for those wronged by corrupt authority figures. She's not a superhero. She's not some incorruptible demigod who just shows and decides to do the right thing for the sake of children and puppies. Scarlet is very much a victim of an unjust society that takes corruption to its grittiest extreme.

What she lacks in superpowers, though, she makes up for in endearing grit. She doesn't wear a mask or run around in skin-tight uniforms, either. Most of her attire can probably be found on clearance at a department store and that's important because many of the people she inspires aren't the kind who can afford fancy clothes. They're like her, living in a world where they constantly deal with the misfortune of not being related to a senator, a CEO, or a billionaire. Being able to relate to Scarlet makes her easy to follow and that's what makes Scarlet #1 work.

Her rebellion does not stop at petitions, protests, or spreading witty internet memes. Scarlet Rue throws herself into the heart of a struggle, upsetting the fragile order that relies heavily on people like her just not having the energy or spirit to fight back. The story in Scarlet #1 picks up at a point where the fighting has escalated beyond any protest or riot. Scarlet Rue is now the face of a full-blown revolution and the people rallying fighting alongside her are at their breaking point.

The extent of that revolution is not for those with something to lose. Maleev flexes his unique artistic style by presenting rich, detailed cityscapes that reveal the scars that Scarlet's revolution has left on Portland. Bridges are destroyed, the streets are in ruin, and buildings crumble under the bombardment of constant drone strikes. It's a war-ravaged world, but one in which Scarlet's message gains greater significance every step of the way.

For much of the story, she walks this war-ravaged world, talking to people and giving them a sense of perspective. She makes herself vulnerable by being so bold, but she kind of has to at this point in her revolution. The powers that be aren't ignoring her. As such, they're making it increasingly difficult to operate. There's no electricity, internet access, or infrastructure to work with. All Scarlet has are the streets and the people brave enough to walk them. She manages makes the most of it, though.

As she and her fellow revolutionaries walk the streets, she talks to them about how bad things have gotten. However, she never talks down to them. She doesn't come off as one of those revolutionaries who seeks to overthrow one tyranny just to impose another. She's not some wide-eyed idealist, either. She keeps her message real and concise. She also never elevates herself above that message. At times, she even shows a reluctance to be the face of a revolution. She doesn't avoid her part in it, either.

That's critical for the merits of her struggle because it keeps her from getting the blame for all the damage her revolution has brought. Scarlet acknowledges, at one point, that she is responsible for the destruction her activities have wrought. At the same time, though, she also points out that she isn't the one who blew up the bridges or cut the power. It's those opposing her movement who did that. They just happen to have access to military-grade hardware and are willing to use it to preserve the status quo.

The ramifications of these choices, both for Scarlet and the authorities, take shape towards the end when another building is destroyed by a drone. If the intent is to put pressure on Scarlet and foster resentment among her supporters, then it clearly backfires. The people who survive the attack don't blame her for bringing about so much hardship. They blame the government that sends those drones. They're at a point where nobody trusts anyone in established institutions. Every time they try to dissuade the revolution, they end up giving Scarlet more supporters.

It's a dangerous state of affairs, but one that's more relevant today that it was in 2010. Through Scarlet, Bendis depicts a revolution that has progressed to a point where there's no containing it. Scarlet #1 demonstrates that the government has done as much as they can without resorting to nuclear weapons, but it still doesn't work. Scarlet Rue's movement just keeps getting stronger and people keep rallying to her cause.

It's a uniquely real take on rebellions within a corrupt world, one that relies less on photogenic superheroes and more on people willing to confront the truth. Certain aspects of the story are fairly dense. While Scarlet #1 is friendly to new readers who haven't been following the series, it goes somewhat overboard with the exposition to provide context and setting. It gets a bit wordy at times and that's not just because of Scarlet's personality. It takes a while for a real turning point to occur, but when it does, there's plenty of intrigue.

There are many salient messages within Scarlet #1 that go beyond furthering the personal journey of Scarlet Rue. She's not some loud-mouthed protester who doesn't understand the the complexities of the world around her. Her revolution comes from actual crimes in which she was an actual victim. There's not much complexity beyond that. She's someone who's easy to root for and easier to worry about, given what she's up against. She's also a character who reflects the kind of revolutionary spirit that is all substance and little style. That kind of personality is rare in comics, but even rarer in the real world.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, August 24, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 173: High Evolution Part 5 is LIVE!


It’s here. The final battle between the X-men and Magneto has arrived. What began in the first few issues of X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution is set to end in a battle that will leave no corner of this fanfiction series untouched. Since their first encounter in X-men Supreme issue 3: Competition, Magneto has been fighting for a vision that has put him at odds with the X-men at every turn. Whereas Charles Xavier seeks peace and understating, Magneto seeks domination and subjugation. As he said in the X-men First Class movie, peace was never an option. He has that same mindset in X-men Supreme and it has led them to this final battle in High Evolution.

I say it’s the final battle for reasons that I hope will make sense soon enough. Since the beginning of the High Evolution arc, I’ve made clear that Asteroid M is Magneto’s ultimate failsafe plan. Going all the way back to his initial plan for mutant domination in the Uprising arc, he always intended it to be a last resort. He and the High Evolutionary have been working behind the scenes, making every effort to ensure that such extremes weren’t necessary. Thanks to the efforts of Charles Xavier and his X-men, though, all those previous efforts failed. Magneto has no intention of letting this one slip by.

There will be no surrender. There will be no compromise. When all is said and done, Magneto’s story in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series will be complete. His journey, which I’ve been crafting from influences of every X-men medium, has been built on a mix of tragedy, treachery, and drive. The friendship and rivalry between him and Charles Xavier embodies the very soul of the X-men. Everything that makes the X-men heroes stems from this conflict. In the comics and movies, it has created a brutal cycle of triumph, pain, and loss. In the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, there will be no such cycle. That story will have an end.

In my opinion, it has to end in order for the journey of Charles Xavier and his X-men to move forward. It also has to end in order to resolve the ongoing schism between Xavier and Cyclops. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided has been a testament to just how much the X-men struggle when they aren’t a coherent team. The X-men comics explored this too, but X-men Supreme made it more personal. X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide broke a lot of hearts as Cyclops quit the X-men to forge X-Force, believing that Xavier had lost his way in forging an alliance with General Grimshaw and President Kelly. The price of that schism has been rising ever since.

From Drug War to Crimes Against Inhumanity, the weaknesses of the X-men and X-Force reveal themselves at every turn. Neither Charles Xavier nor Cyclops can definitively say they were right at this point. Both have been vindicated in some areas and proven wrong in others. As a result, both teams found themselves in a position of weakness when Magneto struck. Now, with the High Evolutionary revealing his own tricks as well, they find themselves and the entire human race on the brink. The end is upon them. If Magneto triumphs, humanity is no more. This is truly it for the X-men and for Magneto. If you only read one issue of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series all year, make it this one. Trust me when I say the end will leave the X-men, mutants, and the entire human race forever changed.

X-men Supreme Issue 173: High Evolution Part 5

It’s amazing to think that the X-men Supreme fanfiction series has come so far. I knew when I began in X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution that I wanted Magneto’s story to have a definitive endpoint. I also wanted Charles Xavier and the rest of his X-men to undergo definitive changes as well. The X-men comics tend to go in cycles. I wanted this fanfiction series to evolve. I think the High Evolution arc represents the biggest evolution to date for X-men Supreme. Whether you’ve been following X-men comics for years or have just watched the movies, I wanted X-men Supreme to appeal to you. I sincerely hope that this issue and all the events that led to it are as satisfying as I hope.

I can confirm, at this point, that there will be one more issue of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. I can’t necessarily confirm whether it will be the final issue of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, as a whole. I certainly have ideas for more X-men Supreme stories and I understand that some plots have not yet been resolved. However, the lack of feedback with this series has made it difficult to justify all the time and effort I have put into it. Depending on what kind of response I get for this and the next issue, I may just end it. Until then, though, I urge everyone to take the time to send me your feedback on this and the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Either post your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and I’m happy to chat X-men. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Old, Gruff, and Gritty: Old Man Logan #46

The following is my review of Old Man Logan #46, which was posted on PopMatters.com.



It's never easy watching a beloved friend or family member succumb to the ravages of age. It's an inescapable fact of life, but if there's anyone who has a chance to escape, it's Wolverine. He's not supposed to age, decline, or lose his sex appeal. This is a man who survived having the adamantium ripped from his bones by Magneto, endured multiple battles with Apocalypse, and kept his dignity after the Punisher ran him over with a steamroller. However, it's because he's not supposed to get old that Old Man Logan has such unique appeal.

He's a version of Wolverine who is losing his battle against the ravages of time. He can still heal, but he can't be the same hero he's always been. Moreover, he can never be that hero again. His body and his spirit just won't allow it. That version of Wolverine is buried in the past. This version is looking less and less capable with each passing day.

Since taking over the series, Ed Brisson has been guiding Old Man Logan into the proverbial twilight of his story and there's a growing sense that the end is near for him. He can't heal like he used to. He can't fight with the same ferocity that once made him so dangerous. He's an old man and there's only so much he can heal from. On top of that, the adamantium in his bones is poisoning him so his clock is ticking faster than most.

It's a rare and difficult story to tell, an iconic hero getting older and less capable. Old Man Logan tells that story well and with Old Man Logan #46, Brisson takes him one step closer to the inevitable, but not before putting him in position to be the best there is at what he does. That also includes him teaming up with old allies, such as Alpha Flight. It's one of Wolverine's oldest affiliations that doesn't involve clones or other living weapons. It's somewhat fitting because Alpha Flight prepared him for the X-men. Now, they're helping him prepare for his final days.

The tone of the story is not as somber as it could've been. Old Man Logan is not necessarily broken up about his declining health. He's not dreading the dwindling time he has left or that the mainline version of Wolverine is coming back to take his space. Brisson presents Old Man Logan as a man resigned to his fate, but not in a way that feels grim. He's still Wolverine. He'll still throw himself into the middle of a battle and stab things, as only he can.


It does, however, create a unique backdrop for the part of the story that requires fighting and claws. It's a fairly generic situation by Alpha Flight standards. There's a small town in Canada that has been overrun by some purple alien plant monster. Not much is known or revealed about it, but it gives Old Man Logan and Alpha Flight a reason to team up. It has the common themes of an old school monster movie, complete with mysterious origins for the monster and brutal deaths for innocent townspeople.

By Wolverine standards, it's basically a typical Tuesday. However, a good chunk of the story is dedicated to reinforcing just how little time Old Man Logan has left. There's even one revealing scene between him and Puck where he reveals something that few versions of Wolverine would ever admit without the influence of powerful psychics.

It's not just that he can't heal and the adamantium in his body is killing him. He's tired. His exact words are, "I'm just so tired." He knows he's not the man he used to be. He also knows that if he keeps fighting like a young man version of Logan, people are going to get hurt, namely those cares about. He's at a point in his illustrious, brutal life where he's just ready to go. It's one of those things people expect old men to say, but not Logan.

Puck and the rest of Alpha Flight don't have a chance to respond, which is understandable when they're fighting an alien plant monster. Damian Couceiro manages to include some solemn reactions through a dark, but appropriate art style. There's a clear sense that Alpha Flight isn't just brushing Old Man Logan's dire condition off. They just don't get an opportunity to confront him about it and Old Man Logan makes clear that he doesn't want to talk about it.


This does have a meaningful impact on the battle against the alien plant monster. If a younger, less tired version of Wolverine were involved, then the drama just isn't there. Old Man Logan #46 isn't just Wolverine fighting another space monster with his fellow Canadian heroes. Brisson creates a predicament where every growl, slash, and grunt is pushing Old Man Logan closer to the brink. He can't win they day by just going into a berserker rage and stabbing everything with a feral grin on his face. He has to fight knowing that he's not going to heal from the wounds he incurs like he used to.

That makes Old Man Logan #46 and every subsequent issue more dramatic beyond the alien plant monsters. This isn't just another tease about a major hero dying and setting up a subsequent resurrection story. This is a character who is ready to die and doesn't want to come back. He wants to fight whatever battles he can before walking off into the light to rejoin his family. It's sad on some levels, but refreshingly real in a way that is atypical of superhero comics, especially those involving Wolverine.

There are many times in Logan's vast, convoluted history where his healing factor has been damaged and his ability to survive any battle is in question. However, Old Man Logan sets himself apart by conceding to his vulnerabilities to some extent. There's no certainty that he'll heal from his condition because it has less to do with his powers and more to do with juts being an old man. It's solemn, but it's not tragic in the sense that Old Man Logan is ready to die. He's just not done stabbing things yet.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, August 17, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 173: High Evolution Part 5 PREVIEW!


The final showdown of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is upon us. Magneto’s ultimate endgame is here. Professor Charles Xavier, General Grimshaw, President Kelly, Captain Freeman, Cyclops, the Scarlet Witch, the X-men, and X-Force have been on a collision course. The High Evolution arc has just accelerated everything. They’re all past the point of no return. There’s no turning back. Magneto and the High Evolutionary are set to make their boldest move to date. When all is said and done, the X-men Supreme fanfiction series will never be the same.

I’ve tried to make major volume of X-men Supreme end with a bang in the best possible way. X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Evolution had Uprising. X-men Supreme Volume 3: Ashes of Hope had the Phoenix Saga. Each final arc signaled a major upheaval coupled with a major transition for this fanfiction series. Sometimes, it ended on a high note, setting the stage for a new set of challenges. Other times, the end was solemn and bittersweet. For both X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths and X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation, the endgames were pretty bleak. I don’t deny that.

For a while now, Professor Xavier and his X-men have had more setbacks than victories. You could argue the same has been happening in the X-men comics for years. However, I haven’t taken this fanfiction series down these darker paths to create a sense of futility. I knew before I finished X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths how I wanted things to play out. I had the ending for X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided in mind when ended things with Dark Legacy. The culmination of that plan is about to play out in High Evolution.

That’s not to say that the ending will be a perfect victory for the X-men and all that is good. Every triumph, even from the X-men’s best moments in this fanfiction series, have come at a price. It’s just a matter of extent. Throughout X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, there have been many events that have kept the X-men divided. The schism between Charles Xavier and Cyclops kept them from working together during the Drug War and Crimes Against Inhumanity arc. As a result, both teams struggled and suffered losses. On top of that, their inability to be the X-men they’ve always been left the world vulnerable to Magneto and the High Evolutionary.

It has made for a long, turbulent journey for the X-men. Charles Xavier has seen his dream falter, evolve, and almost disintegrate before his very eyes on multiple occasions. Once again, he and Magneto are in a bitter struggle for the future of mutants and humans alike. Once again, Magneto is poised to exterminate the human race for the sake of mutants. He and the High Evolutionary have left nothing to chance. This is the ultimate endgame for them. There’s no backup plan. There’s no fail-safe. Either they succeed or everyone perishes. That’s all there is to it. The stakes literally couldn’t be higher. As always, I’ve prepared an extended preview of just how this final battle will culminate for the X-men.

“NO! THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING! THIS WORLD OF MINE! ALL THIS HARD WORK!” exclaimed the High Evolutionary.

“Has officially gone to shit,” grinned Mystique.

That harsh truth stung. Shortly after the revelation that Mystique had been posing as Cyclops, the High Evolutionary used his monitor to check on the transverse electromagnetic modulation thrusters. He tuned in just in time to see that Cyclops, Angel, and Illyana had subdued the Brotherhood and made some adjustments to his device. Using Illyana’s portal, they brought in some Warlock technology of their own. With it, they attached what looked like beacons to the flickering core that had been retrieved from Genosha. Once it was in place, the chaos truly took hold.

Warnings blared. Sirens went off. A mysterious blast shot up from the surface of the Earth. It was like a massive lightning bolt, arcing its way through the depths of space. It arced towards Asteroid M where it connected with the transverse electromagnetic modulation thrusters. From that connection, the core from Genosha shorted out. It also sent a deep tremor that rocked the entire asteroid. Such chaos left the High Evolutionary enraged to the point of madness.

Phoenix, still surrounded by cosmic flames, rushed to Mystique and Dark Beast. They were both wounded so she instinctively made sure they were protected. As the images of Cyclops leading the attack against the Brotherhood played out over the High Evolutionary’s monitor, Phoenix felt a surge of emotions.

“Scott Summers, you brilliant and frustrating man,” she mused as she hovered over Mystique and Dark Beast, “How can I be so pissed yet so hot for you at the same time?”

“He told me to tell you that he would explain everything when this is over,” said Mystique, “I would tell you to go easy on him, but given how he’s been acting lately…well, let’s just say he needs to be humbled.”

“We both do,” she said distantly while smiling at the monitor.

“In the meantime, we need to make sure your friend here doesn’t wake up cranky.”

Phoenix agreed and used her telepathy to keep Dark Beast unconscious. It was a welcome sight for Nightcrawler, Wanda, Captain Freeman, and Professor Xavier even though they were still trapped in Magneto’s metal confines. There were a lot of questions to be answered, but for once things were going their way.

“You knew about this, didn’t you?” said Professor Xavier.

“To a large extent, yes,” said Wanda, focused on her still unconscious father.

“It vasn’t just X-Force, Professor,” said Nightcrawler, “Ve received help from everybody ve could reach. Zhat included District X, X-Factor, Jubilee’s Lights, and our friends on Muir Island.”

“And all in utter secrecy,” said Xavier, sounding both impressed and somewhat disturbed, “How did you put it all together like this?”

“Not forgetting that some of us have a huge problem with you going behind our backs,” said Captain Freeman with a cold.

“Ve had to because you couldn’t, Professor,” said Nightcrawler, “Ve didn’t need soldiers or authorities for a threat like zhis. Ve needed heroes.”

The relief Xavier felt was now coupled with a sense of sorrow. It resonated in a way that was even more powerful than the outrage that the High Evolutionary was experiencing. He knew from the beginning that Mutant Monitoring Initiative was a risk. He worked so hard to make it succeed. Now he had proof that those efforts weren’t enough. On top of that, he lost sight of what his X-men stood for and it nearly cost him dearly.

While Xavier processed that painful realization, Captain Freeman set aside his emotions and re-focused on the mission. The sudden turning of the tide meant they might be able to salvage some objectives.

While everyone was still reeling from the shock, he adapted his body more fervently. He adjusted his bones and limbs so that they were more malleable. He also changed the bulk of his arms so that he had greater strength. Meanwhile, the High Evolutionary scrambled to salvage any sense of control.

“I can still rebuild!” he said frantically, “You think disabling it will prevent me from destroying your world? You’re wrong! I’ve plenty of other options at my disposal!”

“And I have just as many options to dispose of you!” grunted the Green Beret.

In another startling loss of control for the High Evolutionary, Captain Freeman broke out from his metal confines. Once free, he went right for the High Evolutionary. The imposing figure turned around just in time to receive a devastating punch to the head.

“Augh!” he groaned as he keeled over his console.

“Consider yourself lucky,” said Captain Freeman, “Beating you to a pulp was only a secondary mission objective.”

“You couldn’t have done that a little sooner?” groaned Wanda, who was still stuck.

“Blame your old man! He kept doing too many metal tricks for me to adapt,” said Captain Freeman, “That’s why my primary mission objective is more important.”

“What do you mean by primary objective?” asked Professor Xavier suspiciously.

“I know you’re na├»ve, Xavier. But you can’t be that deluded,” said the Green Beret, “X-Force isn’t the only one who can play the deception game. Sometimes we need to lie to both our allies and our enemies.”

Leaving the High Evolutionary hunched over his computer array, Captain Freeman turned his attention towards Magneto. He was groaning lightly, hinting that he wasn’t completely knocked out and could still be a threat.

Ignoring every other detail for the mission, he walked up to Magneto’s unmoving form and pulled out a small handgun he had stashed in his uniform. It didn’t look like an ordinary handgun either. It was gray with a plastic texture. With little, hesitation, he pointed the gun right at Magneto’s head.

“What the hell are you doing?” exclaimed Wanda.

“It’s exactly what it looks like,” said Captain Freeman as he cocked the gun, “The High Evolutionary was the brains of this operation. Now I’m taking out the muscle.”

“Put the gun down, Captain! This wasn’t part of the mission!” yelled Professor Xavier.

“Wrong again, Xavier. This was always part of the mission,” said Captain Freeman stoically, “Don’t hate me for it. I’m just following orders.”


I’m very excited to see the High Evolution arc conclude, along with the many stories that have led to this moment. I’ve been writing X-men Supreme for over eight years now and every arc seems more ambitious than the last. This one is, by far, the biggest one I’ve written since the Phoenix Saga. There have been so many twists and turns leading up to it. I hope the end result is as rewarding to read as it was to write
.
At this point, after writing X-men Supreme for so long, I’ve had a chance to really develop and refine this fanfiction series. I write every issue with the intention of making it better than the last one. I feel as though I’ve come a long way since it began back in 2010. This world and these characters I love have evolved so much and they’ve helped remind me why I love X-men so much. The feedback I’ve gotten in that time has been incredible and I hope I get plenty more as I prepare to conclude this incredible arc. Please, if you can, take the time to send me feedback. Either contact me directly or post your comments in each issue. Either way is fine and I always appreciate constructive comments. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Tenuous Temporal Deconstruction: Extermination #1

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



There comes a point in every time travel story where the damage to the timeline become untenable. Sometimes, it takes too long to get to that point and when functional time machines are involved, that's saying something. It's debatable whether the original five X-men that, as ripped from the earliest issues of Uncanny X-men, have gotten to that point, but the circumstances surrounding Extermination #1 make a pretty convincing case that their time has come.

The details are unavoidable. The reasons why the time-displaced X-men came to the future and stayed there are obsolete. Cyclops never causes a mutant genocide. Jean Grey doesn't stay dead. Angel doesn't permanently lose his mind. Iceman doesn't stay in the closet. Everything that once horrified them about the future no longer applies. It makes their continued presence both superfluous and confusing. Ed Brisson and Pepe Larraz promise to resolve that with Extermination.

That necessarily requires more time travel and all the timeline-twisting machinations that come with it. As Back to the Future so eloquently demonstrates in 1985, the source of the temporal disruption must also be the solution to some extent. The events of Extermination #1 just add more urgency, as well as a new threat that promises to step up the time tables, literally and figuratively.


The nature of that threat is vague, but it involves familiar names. Things happen fast and suddenly. Big messy battles unfold, giving Larraz plenty of chances to create stunning visuals. There are also multiple casualties, each of which have weighty implications. However, since casualties in a time travel story are often tenuous at best, the drama is limited. Despite this temporal barrier, Brisson and Larraz find plenty of ways to inject it into the plot.

The stakes go beyond the integrity of the timeline. They get personal very quickly and hit the time-displaced X-men right in the proverbial heart. Some get hit harder than others and the emotions from characters like Cyclops and Jean Grey are palpable. For a time travel story, which often relies heavily on sub-plots laden with sci-fi technobabble, this kind of heartfelt anguish is refreshing. It makes Extermination #1 feel like something other than a time travel story, of which the X-men have many.

However, some of that melodrama comes off as forced. In between the destructive battles, the personal dimensions of the conflict emerge from outstanding side-plots that have been unfolding among the time-displaced X-men in recent years. The overall structure of Extermination #1 doesn't rely too heavily on it, but it doesn't complement it, either. There are even moments that don't entirely mesh with recent developments in the books that precede it.


The moments between Teen Cyclops and Bloodstorm don't really match with what has been going on with them in X-men Blue. There's an implied connection between them, but one that comes off as contrived for the sake of increasing the impact. The moments between Teen Jean, Rachel, and Cable also assume a lot about the relationship they have. While past issues of All-New X-men and X-men Gold establish that they are aware of one another, there's little indication that they've fleshed it out to any meaningful extent.

This doesn't make the events in Extermination #1 less coherent, but for anyone who has been following the journey of the time-displaced X-men, it feels disconnected from their over-arching story. To some extent, this keeps the story from getting bogged down by continuity. At the same time, it also overlooks the larger implications of the original five X-men's presence in the future. 

That's not a requirement to making the plot work, though. The time-displaced X-men don't need to have a deep, well-developed relationship with every character involved. Just knowing who Rachel and Cable are is enough to understand why the events that unfold are a big deal, both for original five X-men and the integrity timeline. It effectively shoves the cold, hard truth in their face in a way they can no longer ignore. Their presence in the future cannot continue. This is the end of the line for them and there's no scenario in which they can stay without incurring greater losses.

That's the underlying message of the story and Brisson effectively belabors that. Some characters, namely Teen Cyclops, openly acknowledge that they have to go back to their own time at some point. They even understand that has to happen soon, but there are a lot of factors keeping them in the future, including the unpleasant fact that one of their future selves is still dead. Like any approaching time paradox, though, they don't get much say in the matter.

When the past, present, and future finally catches up to the time-displaced X-men, it feels abrupt, yet necessary. There's a sense that there has to be consequences to them being in the future for as long as they have. Some characters suffer more than others and it weighs heavily on the time-displaced X-men. It also sets the stage for a much bigger, much more personal confrontation with two familiar characters who have a tendency to show up in dystopian futures.

Even with all these personal and temporal connections, there isn't a sense that what happens in Extermination #1 is a culmination of everything the time-displaced X-men have done. There's no critical mistake that puts them past the point of no return. Forces they neither control nor know about simply catch up to them and make them pay for daring to have personal attachments in the future. It's a common consequence of time travelers, but one that has just enough depth to work.

Extermination #1 certainly succeeds in firing the first shots in the conflict that will ultimately send the original five X-men back to the past. There's little mystery as to who is behind it. Brisson doesn't drag anything out and still leaves room for plenty of intrigue. The situation is dire, but it isn't hopeless and since the X-men are always one misstep away from creating another dystopian future, that counts for a lot.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Red Queen Chronicles: The Lost Son Chapter 4 is LIVE!


There are some characters whose sexiness is overtly powerful. Nobody questions the sex appeal of characters like Mary Jane Watson, Emma Frost, or Daken. They're all pretty open when it comes to showing off their sexy side. It's part of their persona and their allure. It's a big reason why I've had so much fun writing my "Red Queen" series.

Then, there are characters whose sex appeal is understated, but overwhelming. They don't carry themselves as overly sexual. They may even come off as reserved or even most of the time. However, when you dig just a little deeper into their personality, you find that they have an immense capacity for sexiness. Most of the time, it goes unrealized. It usually takes a mix of incentives and a nudge, here and there, to help them embrace it.

That's exactly what I've done with Jean Grey in the world of the "Red Queen." When she first arrived on the scene in "The Red Queen Chronicles: The Phoenix," she was tense and conflicted. Thanks to some "coaxing" from Mary Jane and Emma Frost, she opened up in more ways than one, including the sexy ways. She and Cyclops have since expanded their relationship and their sexuality, embracing new opportunities and new lovers.

She has had to tap into that sexual potential even more throughout "The Red Queen Chronicles: The Lost Son." It has even put her into conflict with Daken, Logan's long lost son who is a bit more direct with his sexual proclivities. It led to a clash that left things a bit unfinished between them, to say the least. Now, with the final chapter of this latest sexy side-project, she and Daken will have a chance to tie up loose ends and in the sexiest way possible.


I hope you've enjoyed this colorful story of devious plots and villainous decadence. I had a lot of fun writing it and to those who sent me so much kind feedback, I sincerely thank you. A few very kind reviewers even helped me flesh out ideas for this story. You know who you are and I can't thank you enough. This story actually got more support than I expected. Apparently, stories about Jean Grey's hidden sexy side have a lot of appeal. Who knew? That's good to know and hopefully, it'll inspire other sexy stories. Nuff said!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Unforgettably Unforgotten: Fantastic Four #1

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


What is the Marvel universe without the Fantastic Four? That's a difficult question that many fans have had to answer since the conclusion of Secret Wars in 2015. Since then, Marvel's First Family has been absent, scattered, or a solemn combination of both. The reasons for their limited status are many and prone to speculation, ranging from bitter disputes over movie rights to simply not having a place in Marvel's ever-evolving landscape. Whatever the reason, there's one inescapable truth. The Marvel universe just isn't whole without the Fantastic Four.

Their absence is a glaring flaw in a world that was built on a foundation that Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben helped forge during the golden age of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby partnership. While many other Marvel heroes have seen their star rise, the Fantastic Four only ever seem to decline. Regardless of which hot new superhero emerges or who gets an overdue overhaul, it's never a matter of whether the First Family will ascend once more. It's just a matter of time, opportunity, and vision.

With Fantastic Four #1, that moment is here. Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli are poised to reaffirm the Fantastic Four's importance to the Marvel universe. Overall, they succeed in almost every meaningful way. The most important thing they do is demonstrate how much the Richards family is still missed. It's not just Ben and Johnny who miss them, either. Many of their close associates, including Medusa, Crystal, and Luke Cage, all get a chance to say how they feel about a world without the Fantastic Four. They don't need Reed's vast vocabulary to make clear how much that world is lacking.


That sentiment starts as simple longing on Ben and Johnny's part. There's this underlying sense of solemn, but uplifting kind nostalgia. They both handle it very differently, though. Throughout the story, Ben is more resigned to the idea that Reed, Sue, and their kids are gone for good. It still hurts, but he's trying to move forward with his life. He even has a chance to make an important life decision with Alicia. From Ben's perspective, the best way to deal with the lost of his old family is to build a new one.

That's not Johnny's approach, though. In fact, he's downright offended by Ben's methods. Johnny, being the literal and figurative hot-head of the bunch, isn't inclined to move forward. He resists any inclination to just accept that the Fantastic Four are gone for good. He clings to the idea that Reed and Sue will find a way, as they often do. Considering that these two can outwit Galactus, navigate the negative zone, and resist Namor's efforts to undermine their marriage, his faith in them is not entirely misguided.

That doesn't make it any less frustrating for him, though. To some extent, Johnny's anger towards anyone who accepts that Reed, Sue, and their kids are never coming back reflects that of every other Marvel fan who misses them. It goes beyond the comics themselves. The marginalization of the Fantastic Four is hard to miss, even for those who don't follow news about mismanaged movie rights. Given their importance to the history of Marvel and the way the landscape of Marvel has unfolded without them, a little frustration is more than warranted.

It culminates in a powerful moment where Slott captures that feeling perfectly through Johnny. Rather than celebrate the progress Ben makes in his personal life, he lashes out at the stars where he and the First Family got their powers. He says what so many others have thought, felt, and articulated in fan mail. Reed Richards is one of the smartest beings in the Marvel universe. No secret war, incursion, or Disney lawyer can keep him and the Fantastic Four apart. He shouldn't need a reminder, but Johnny gives him one anyways.

He does it in a way that almost makes you want to shout with him. This isn't just another superhero team that can form, dissolve, and join a super-powered civil war within the same week. The Fantastic Four are a family. No matter how many planet eaters there are, family finds one another. That's something that no Avenger, X-men, or Champion can match. In the end, both Johnny and those who share his frustration get a welcome and overdue answer. It's both a sign and a gesture of reassurance. The Richards family is coming home. The Fantastic Four will be whole once more.

That sentiment, built around the affirmation that the First Family is coming together again, is Slott and Pichelli's most important achievement with Fantastic Four #1. This isn't just a team reforming after a dramatic schism. This is a family finding itself after being torn apart by forces that literally ripped apart the multiverse. Regardless of how much or how little you missed the Fantastic Four during their prolonged absence, it's easy to appreciate that longing these characters feel to be whole once more.

Slott and Pichelli evoke the right emotions throughout Fantastic Four #1, but the story isn't without shortcomings. As a whole, it comes off as more of a prelude rather than the first issue of a larger story. Even though Reed and Sue make an appearance, there are times when the story feels more like a movie trailer than the start of a new chapter for the First Family. The inclusion of a flashback sequence didn't seem to contribute much to the plot, either.

That doesn't make the emotional weight of Fantastic Four #1 any less impactful. It still sends the message that Fantastic Four fans have been waiting to hear for years. The First Family of the Marvel universe is coming back and they've been sorely missed. While they probably won't solve every lingering problem with superhero civil wars and pushes for diversity, they'll still be together. For any family, that's the most important part of any challenge.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, August 3, 2018

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


In every battle that the X-men have won or lost, there is a defining moment that determined the outcome of the battle. There have been plenty of those moments throughout the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. In Uprising, it was the Scarlet Witch’s fateful decision to save Quicksilver that set the stage forMagneto’s defeat. In the Phoenix Saga, it was Cyclops’ death that turned Jean Grey against the Phoenix Force, allowing her to wrestle back control. Against the Mutant Liberation Front, it was Charles Xavier’s fateful decision to push himself that led to the defeat that forced him to step away from the X-men.

The High Evolution arc has already had plenty of moments for the X-men, X-Force, and every being on the planet, human and mutant alike. Magneto’s return has literally hit every corner of a world that Romulus rendered painfully vulnerable after the events of Crimes Against Inhumanity. The division between Cyclops and Professor Xavier began to crack. Even General Grimshaw and President Kelly showed their frustration, making clear that they cannot afford another defeat.

Since Magneto’s return, X-men Supreme has been racing towards another dramatic turning point that will further define this fanfiction series. There have only been a handful of those points to date, despite X-men Supreme spanning over 170 issues over an eight-year span. From Jean Grey embracing the power of the Phoenix Force to Sinister unleashing the Legacy Virus on the whole world, these are the moments that require the most time, energy, and awesome. The final showdown in High Evolution promises to deliver just such a moment.

Make no mistake. There will be losses. There will be casualties. Prices will be paid, hearts will be broken, and spirits will be crushed. Magneto and the High Evolutionary have made that unavoidable at this point. The lingering division between Charles Xavier and Cyclops made it distressingly easy, as well. It’s going to get bad, but at the same time, these are also the kinds of moments that bring out the best in the X-men. The comics, cartoons, and movies demonstrate that all the time. I hope to do the same here with this fanfiction series.

I’m excited and eager to see this moment unfold in X-men Supreme. It’s something I’ve been waiting to get to since Magneto’s departure after the Time Bomb arc. I’d always planned on bringing him back into the fold. I knew that when the time came, his actions would take the X-men, their allies, and their enemies to a defining point that will send shockwaves throughout this fanfiction series. The time for teasing is over. The moment that will subsequently define X-men Supreme’s past, present, and future has finally arrived.

X-men Supreme Issue 172: High Evolution Part 4

Having worked so hard to set up the events in this issue, I’m eager to hear the reactions. I have a feeling this issue will shock some, but not others who are familiar with the X-men’s resolve. They’ve been battling Magneto for over 50 years in comics, cartoons, movies, and assorted media. They always find a way to endure, even when they suffer terrible losses. It’s part of what makes them the iconic heroes they are. More than anything else, I want High Evolution to help define the breadth of that resolve.

I sincerely hope it’s as satisfying to read as it was for me to write. I worked long and hard to guide this fanfiction series to the moments that unfold in this issue. I hope it’s the kind of moment that X-men fans of all kinds can appreciate. I had a lot of fun writing it, but it matters just as much that those reading it enjoyed it as well. Please, if you can, take the time to review this and any other issue of X-men Supreme. Either post your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly with your feedback. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to hear from fellow X-men fans. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Summer Camp Snoozer: X-men Gold Annual #2

The following is my review of X-men Gold Annual #2, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Every great character goes through phases that don't put them in a very positive light. Some even become downright infamous, marking a dark period in their overall arc. In certain cases, those moments are best left forgotten in the same tradition as the original Clone Saga, Wolverine's relationship with Squirrel Girl, and that time time Juggernaut hooked up with She-Hulk.

Unfortunately, the recent events surrounding Kitty Pryde cannot be easily brushed aside. The events surrounding her wedding to Colossus in X-men Gold #30 are just too heavy to overlook. To say that she comes out of that ordeal looking less than heroic is like saying Mole Man needs a shower. She does herself a huge disservice, being the one to propose to Colossus and the one to break it off. In terms of superhero credibility, Kitty is near the bottom with Magneto.

That's not to say her character is beyond repair. X-men Gold #30 certainly adds complications, but not to the point of irreparable harm on the level of Hank Pym beating his wife. Kitty Pryde still stands out as once of those characters who undergoes the most growth over the course of her time with the X-men. She joins the team as a scared, uncertain teenager who just got thrust into this world of mutants, killer robots, and living weapons. X-men Gold Annual #2 takes a step back form her current melodrama and explores this critical side of Kitty Pryde, recounting less heartbreaking parts of her journey.

Seanan McGuire and Marco Failla don't try to reinvent Kitty Pryde. They simply attempt to reinforce the kind of person she already is and they don't even rely on killer robots to achieve this. Instead, X-men Gold Annual #2 recounts a younger Kitty Pryde taking a break from the Xavier Institute to go to summer camp. It's not exactly a journey through the Savage Land, but it's fitting in that it allows Kitty to feel normal for a while.

That ends up being a pretty significant theme, the act of being normal when unavoidable circumstances say otherwise. Kitty Pryde knows and acknowledges that she isn't normal. She can pretend to be normal and for a good chunk of the story, that's what she does. For the most part, it makes her happy. It gives her a chance to reconnect with old friends, enjoy traditional summer activities, and not worry about Magneto attacking every other week. For a young Kitty Pryde who has yet to get trapped in a giant space bullet, this should be cathartic.


That's not how things play out, though. Kitty learns fairly quickly that there's no use being normal. She's just not the same person she was before she found out she was a mutant. It shows in subtle ways at first. Her friends can't keep up with her anymore, she feels more restless at night, and she's a bit more willing to break the rules, which feels kind of like Wolverine's influence on her. It makes for powerful moments of self-awareness that put Kitty ahead of the curve for most teenagers. However, when mutant issues enter the picture, both the personal insight and the overall story start to falter.

Things devolve quickly for Kitty once she decides to stop being normal and exercise her inner X-men. She finds out that these friends who she gets along so well with for half the story actually harbor anti-mutant sentiments. It further shatters the notion that she can just be normal for a while. Her reaction is somewhat predictable. Her sentiments aren't much different from most expect of a teenager girl who just learns a hard lesson about the real world. She doesn't come off as Kitty Pryde, a future leader of the X-men with a thing for guys named Peter. She's just another upset teenager.

That's understandable, given her age in this story. It still hinders the overall drama. There's an effort to build more by having her cross paths with another young mutant who has to overhear the anti-mutant diatribes. It makes for a few nice moments, including Kitty's first kiss, but there's nothing iconic about it. There's no Spider-Man kissing Mary Jane on top of the Empire State Building. It's just two people who bear the brunt end of mutant hatred and help each other.

It's sweet, but contrived way to salvage Kitty's summer. Not much comes from it, though. There's some basic bullying on the part of their fellow campers. There's no nuance or depth to it. At times, it comes off as being copied from any teen drama movie made after 1987. Kitty doesn't even do anything to confront it. She doesn't change hearts or minds. She doesn't do anything to change anyone else's notion of normal. Granted, she's still young and inexperienced at this point, but the lack of ambition she shows seems out of character for an aspiring X-men.

As a result, there's no real resolution in X-men Gold Annual #2. Kitty meets up with her friends and they just apologize to her for how they reacted. It happens randomly and without any real incentive. They feel bad about how they acted and that's it. There's no greater story behind it and that limits the overall impact. Kitty doesn't even get an opportunity to be heroic or show them the error of their ways. It just happens and everyone shrugs it off. That's as interesting as it gets in the end.

That's not to say X-men Gold Annual #2 doesn't have merit. It's still a refreshing reprieve for Kitty Pryde, exploring another part of her past at a time when her present is such a mess. It even has a relevant message about being normal in a world that isn't always kind to the abnormal. Kitty tries to just fit in and ignore the things that make her weird. That's something plenty of teenagers and adults can relate to. There's a story there, but it's incomplete and downright bland at times.

Kitty Pryde still has a lot of room to grow. She's one of those characters whose journey reflects the struggles of the X-men and mutants, as a whole. It's part of what makes her endearing and likable. X-men Gold Annual #2 does nothing to undercut that, but it does little to enhance it. In the past, she's still a young woman who's destined to become a member of the X-men. In the present, she's still the one who leaves Colossus at the altar. For her, growth isn't just inevitable. It's necessary.

Final Score: 4 out of 10