Monday, November 29, 2010

Uncanny X-Force #2 - Apocalyptic Awesome

Every so often Marvel likes to throw out a fresh batch of #1 titles the same way crack dealers lace their product with sugar to give it an extra kick. That and #1's tend to boost sales better than free blow jobs with every purchase over five bucks. Uncanny X-Force was one of those #1 titles and it managed to be the best selling comic book in the month of October. Granted, that's not saying much. Comic sales have been slipping faster than 13-year-old's boner when he sees his first fetish porn video. Yet a comic doesn't become a top seller without having a sufficient level of awesome and Uncanny X-Force definitely had that.

This title has to follow in the large footsteps of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, who put X-Force at ground zero of an explosion of awesome. The style of that X-Force was set up a certain way. The more proactive squad was run by Cyclops and was supposed to be a way to take out (or kill if you want to be technical about it) threats before they manifested. They weren't exactly successful. One of the first threats that arose was Bastion and that sure as hell manifested in a way that can only be classified with multiple clusterfucks.

So even though word got out about X-Force and what Cyclops was doing, the secret squad was continued under Wolverine. This time Cyclops has no idea. He and the rest of the X-men are in the dark. Only Wolverine, Psylocke, Angel, Deadpool, and Fantomex know. Uncanny X-Force is their fight against threats that require getting a shit ton of blood stains out of their uniforms. The first issue set up how this team was going to be structured and it also set up who their first major threat was. They didn't start off light to say the least. The guy they have to warm up against is none other than Apocalypse. That's like being an expansion team in football and having to face Peyton Manning while he's hopped up on steroids and meth.

Uncanny X-Force #2 starts off with little exposition. Already X-Force is fighting their way to Apocalypse, having to wade through bones and monsters in the process. Now if you're worried that you missed something, don't reach for the LSD. This isn't what you think it is or if you're brain is sufficiently wired to recognize the setup, it's exactly what you think it is.

The one narrating this little trip through the anus of Hell is Betsy. She's the one who is most new to the world of X-Force. Even though she's a sexy killer ninja chick composing no less than 70 percent of all comic book based masterbation, she's still adjusting to this new type of X-men. She's the only one who pauses for a moment to take in the horrors Apocalypse is capable of inflicting. He's got cages of humans with accommodations that make Auschwitz look like the Four Seasons.

Since Wolverine sees this sort of thing every night in his nightmares, he's unfazed and urges her along. They confront the big bad Apocalypse and attack head on in the way you expect comic book heroes to attack. Except unlike heroes, Apocalypse takes them out the same way Homer Simpson takes out donuts. Along the way, he uses his influence to turn Angel into his Arcangel persona. That turns lovable Warren Worthington III into an evil douche who needs a good stabbing. To her dismay, Psylocke has to deliver that stabbing. Even though killing a boyfriend turned evil is something that's in every issue of Cosmo, she laments how difficult it is which makes Psylocke as human as she is sexy.

It's at this point we find out that this whole attack was part of a simulation. If anyone for a moment thought it was the real deal, they need to drop this comic immediately and run head first into a wall of adamantium. This training had purpose though. Wolverine wanted to make sure that should Angel lose control that Psylocke would be able to take him out. It's not a pleasant thing to rehearse, your girlfriend practicing how to kill you. It's like practicing how you're going to castrate yourself for your woman while she hangs you. It makes for awkward pillow talk.

While X-Force is practicing killing one another, the child Apocalypse (still the most disturbing incarnation of the bastard to date) is learning more pragmatic skills. In the Akkaba stronghold, Apocalypse's handlers are teaching him to be Apocalypse again. He's basically learning why he's the first mutant and he should be the guy who destroys humanity the same way we all learned our ABCs in Kindergarten. Special emphasis is given to the X-men. He's also taught that they're like the evil monsters that hide in his closet at night and the only way to get rid of them is to horribly maim them. It's a twisted kind of parenting, but it's no worse than what the average student gets at a typical Catholic school with ruler-wielding nuns.

So the kid Apocalypse is gaining knowledge while X-Force is trying to gain a footing on this new team of theirs. Since they don't have the support of Cyclops or the X-men, they rely primarily on Angel's deep pockets. That's not necessarily a downgrade because Angel is rich enough to buy the equivalent of a bat cave for this team. It's got montages of old teams as well as all the equipment they would ever need to find out who needs killing. It proves once again that any problem can be sufficiently resolved by knowing someone who is filthy fucking rich.

Like Batman, X-Force does their share of detective work. They use Fantomex's artificial blood and some old samples from Cable to track the Celestials technology that Apocalypse loves to use. They find out that Apocalypse is kept very well-hidden and by well-hidden I mean he's on the fucking moon. Because if you're going to be a top tier super-villain, you've gotta have some kind of space base. If you don't the other villains would probably call you gay.

Before they leave though, Betsy and Warren share a brief moment. Like the first issue, there is a brief reminder here that these two are still romantically involved. They do have a history and that history has only been given perspective with the beginning of this series. It's been a long time coming, but it's very worth it. Betsy reminds her rich boy toy that she loves him and wants to celebrate that love by killing Apocalypse and doing it over his corpse. Well she didn't say that last part, but it was sort of implied.

So X-Force suits up and blasts off for space. As they approach the dark side of the moon that Pink Floyd never sang about, they have an Apollo 13 style disaster. Apocalypse and his cronies were ready for them and deployed his horsemen. These aren't familiar mind-controlled characters either. These are big time World of Warcraft style horsemen that attack X-Force as if doing so will automatically level them up while simultaneously blowing them. Keep in mind all this is happening in space so it gets even messier than usual.

More horsemen follow and they're a bit more subtle. Death looks like a Civil War era drummer who got caught up in a zombie parade while Pestilence looks like one of those creepy Asian women with the white makeup and the faces that give every child under the age of three nightmares. It's a rather unusual manifestation of Apocalypse's minions, but they're novel and they work. Throw Deadpool's often offbeat sense of humor in addition to a few references to old war songs from the sixties (with Deadpool, I can't make that shit up) and it acts as an extra level of awesome to a literally stellar fight scene.

As bizarre as these creatures are, X-Force is equipped to handle them because unlike the regular X-men this team isn't afraid to kick a little extra ass. It also helps that this battle is on the freakin' moon. So the usual laws of physics that make a battle awesome on Earth are stretched a little. Wolverine and Fantomex take advantage of that in handling War's World of Warcraft style avatar. It's the first move that X-Force aren't going to be completely schooled by Apocalypse's forces. They will put up a fight and look damn awesome doing it.

This brief moment of triumph doesn't last though. The rest of Apocalypse's horsemen show up to remind them they're not the ones with the advantage. Famine arrives to join up with War, Pestilence, and Death. Even though he looks like a fucked up version of the genie in Aladdin, he downs X-Force with surprising ease. As he does this, kid Apocalypse is watching on looking only half as creepy as he did before. But he's still given the chance that every kid dreams of at some point in his life. He's given the opportunity to decide how his enemies will be killed. For any kid that's been bullied or is just a douche-bag, it's a dangerous fantasy come true.

A lot happens in this comic. The book is of average length, but it actually feels longer than it really is. The book has the same feel as a Giant Sized X-men or an X-men Annual without having to pay the extra dollar and having to wait every year or decade for it to come out. Every page has something to offer. Every moment has a greater purpose. You really can't ask much more of a book. Uncanny X-Force has only had two issues yet in those two issues Rick Remender has managed to do more than most writers do in a dozen. It covers moments of drama, action, and exposition that all tie nicely together in a clear coherent way. If other X-men writers are to look at a template for how to make X-men comics awesome, this is it!

That's not to say there are some shortcomings, but they are exceedingly short. The art style of Uncanny X-Force is unique, but in this issue the style was a lot darker. At times it felt there was some unnecessary shadowing that didn't contrast well with the scenes. I know the first X-Force had the same style, but that was offset by Mike Choi's added brilliance. This book doesn't have that luxury so it's not as visually appealing as other X-books.

Aside from the aesthetics, there really isn't much wrong with this title. It's an awesome read from front to back, minus the shitty ads for Fruit Loops and winter movies. I can think of few titles as deserving of a 5 out of 5 than this book. Uncanny X-Force #2 may still be riding the wave of it being a new series and all, but unlike others it isn't a gimmick. This title is as awesome as it's numbering deserves and is officially making a play for being the best X-book on the racks right now. Nuff said!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Uncanny X-men #530 - Transitions of Awesome (Or Lack Thereof)

Well Thanksgiving is over and that means two things. First, Jenny Craig is going to get a sudden burst of new members. Second, people drag their new fat asses back to work. For all the turkey and what not I ate, my new oversized poop dispenser is officially on my chair's shit list. They're in Israeli/Palestinian style negotiations and one of them is probably planning a suicide attack. So before all out holy war breaks out, I managed to catch up with a few comics this week. It was a big week in terms of big name X-titles. One of the titles that came out is Uncanny X-men, a book that has been as wildly inconsistent as baseball pitcher with Parkinsons.

Uncanny X-men #530 marks the beginning of a new arc and usually that's something to be stoked about. This time it's something that as confounding as a quantum physics lecture in Swahili. The last four issues have covered the Five Lights. The stories have followed Hope Summers as she gathers the new mutants signatures from around the world. While this is going on, some drama is unfolding on Utopia with Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde. Despite her promise back during the Utopia arc, Emma is keeping secrets again. She was supposed to kill Sebastian Shaw for Namor years ago. She lied and she's basically been keeping Shaw prisoner, not telling Namor (the guy who wants to bone her) and Cyclops (the guy who is boning her). This wouldn't qualify as a noble lie either. This is her basically being a deceptive bitch.

Now compared to her recent portrayal since Matt Fraction took over, that's somewhat of an upgrade. Emma Frost to this point has basically just been a trashier Jean Grey, always looking pretty for the artists and standing by Cyclops's side to make him look awesome. She's basically become nothing more than Cyclops's girlfriend, the very thing that writers always criticized Jean Grey for and at least she had a more likable personality going for her. Seeing as how that was the complete antithesis of the relationship that Grant Morrison set up and Joss Whedon developed, both men have probably taken Fraction off their Christmas list by now. However, the last arc has at least attempted to show Emma Frost being more Emma-like. The results have been hit-or-miss. The last issue was a great improvement. This issue tries to keep that momentum while throwing some curve balls that Babe Ruth himself couldn't hit.

First off, the arc begins by completely throwing out the Five Lights story. Basically, it was ended abruptly in the last issue and continued in Generation Hope. So if you didn't read that, you're fucked. To make things even more perplexing, this issue seems to pick up shortly after the end of the last issue. But the last issue still had the events of the Five Lights going on. So was it completely resolved when Emma took off with Shaw? I don't know. I'm not sure even Uatu the Watcher knows. Even he would get a migraine from this shit. The only thing that helps soften the blow is a nice inner monologue that describes Emma's musings on this messed up situation she finds herself in. It's a nice moment, but it doesn't tell the reader anything they don't already know if they read the intro.

She ponders this while Kitty Pryde and Fantomex stand by her, who are supposedly helping her take care of this. I use the word helping loosely because it's really not clear what the hell they're doing and their reasons for doing so aren't exactly clear. What's even less clear is how Emma explained her ability to keep Cyclops in the dark. Now this is important because keep in mind it was no more than two years ago that these two agreed that keeping secrets was a bad thing. It led to the horrendously stupid and unnecessary "X-men: The Confession" one-shot which did precisely dick for this relationship. The only thing they agreed on was that secrets were tearing them apart and they ended the issue with a big smooch.

Fast forward to this issue. That lesson was forgotten faster than a lesson in evolution with the Texas School Board. Emma essentially starts lying again, explaining to Cyclops (in a flashback mode no less) that she was taking Kitty and Fantomex shopping. I shit you not. That's her excuse. That's the best she can come up with. I know Emma is only referred to as a bimbo jokingly because of her history of badassery, but this time it's no laughing matter. Even though the scene takes place after she and Cyclops have finished swapping body fluids, he sounds about as convinced as Glenn Beck at a rally for the communist party. Yet somehow (and it's not even shown on panel) he believes her. This guy who is such a brilliant tactician doesn't call bullshit on his girlfriend even after they agreed that lies and secrets were not very romantic. I know Matt Fraction has a Cyclops/Emma fetish, but this plunges head first into bullshit territory. The only thing that redeems it is a nice visual depiction by Greg Land.

The book is already steaming with bullshit so while your nose is busy hating your guts, a new plot starts unfolding on Utopia. A strange outbreak of the flu has come out of nowhere and infected a few mutants. One of them is Anole, who looks about as healthy as a hung over cancer patient who just got dosed with six rounds of chemo. This started as only a brief scene in the last issue. It's not breaking any new ground with this. The big issue here is that Cyclops decides to quarantine the island as a precaution to prevent further transmission. It's the first major move he's done with this issue, yet it's hard to believe a man this competent could be so fucking stupid when Emma used shopping as an excuse.

Now not every mutant is on the island when this order is given. Some are in the city of San Francisco enjoying the assorted pot dispensaries, gay nightclubs, and hippies. Among them are Jean-Paul and Dazzler, who in previous issues took up some vigilante work for kicks. Now they're officially the city's X-men, gay Canadian and a former disco era pop star. In essence, the city is fucked more than a German whore on customer appreciation day if Apocalypse decides to attack.

The city doesn't grant the X-men any sick days either. There is still plenty of mutant related bullshit going on. One such incident involves the Collective Man, who does an old school shakedown in Chinatown to weasel protection money from a shop owner. It's a shakedown that would make Tony Soprano jizz in his pants because it throws mutant power into the mix. So with the X-men MIA, the city is essentially children's underwear convention with an army of pedophiles storming the gates.

This doesn't go unnoticed. A mutant related pandemic is the kind of story that would give Glenn Beck and Fox News ten foot boners. This is where that new PR move that began a few issues ago kicks in. Warren and his presumably overpaid associates address the media. Cyclops watches it the same way I watch Hugh Grant movies, rubbing my head and praying a meteor strikes me dead. He relays the information to Emma, who contacts him via psychic call. It's still nothing short of infuriating that he can't call Emma out on her bullshit when she's clearly bathing in it. Even when Cyclops was with Jean Grey, he didn't shy away from this sort of thing (until Morrison neutered him). It's one of those triple facepalm moments that makes you wonder whether or not Marvel is even trying anymore to make this relationship interesting.

So the X-men are crippled and quarantined, Cyclops is so fucked up he can't even tell when his big-boobed girlfriend is bullshitting him, and the only mutants in the city to hold down the fort will only intimidate those with a competent fashion sense. Someone crazy just has to take advantage of this. That someone is John Sublime, another Grant Morrison creation who takes villainy and being a douche-bag to the major leagues.

His solution to taking advantage of the X-men's current state? Well he doesn't go the route Bastion went. Why destroy them when he can simply upstage them? Isn't that infinitely more humiliating? He shows he's already equipped, recruiting volunteers to a new test for the Sublime corporations latest advance that would cause most mal-practice lawyers to strip naked and jump into the nearest snake orgy. He takes five bold young participants who appear to have a reckless disregard for their own well-being and applies his product that looks like an asthma inhaler. The X-men! Ordinary people now have powers and can be heroes as well (provided Sublime gets his ego sufficiently stroked). If Bastion were still alive, he would probably start licking the dirt off his boots.

All the while, the flu on Utopia is getting worse. It's discovered this isn't a run-of-the-mill flu that just makes people wish they were dead for three days (like that's a surprise). This little superbug also has the added symptom of suppressing mutant powers. That includes powers of those who can usually heal from being shot at with an artillery cannon. So even Wolverine is showing symptoms and if Wolverine is under the weather, than it's a pretty clear indication that shit just got serious.

While the X-men get sicker, the criminal underworld gets stronger. Collective Man decides that beating up an old man wasn't enough. He has to go to the other Asian crime families in the area and unite them (translation: he's taking over so he can be the top dog). It's an unusual touch for this book because it's too down to Earth, a crime family coming together, for someone like Matt Fraction who can't resist throwing green monsters into every panel. However, it works and helps balance out what could have been a bland retelling of the old mutant plague bit that was done to death in the late 90s.

A new crime syndicate emerging is probably way more than Northstar and Dazzler are equipped to handle (unless dressing in ridiculous outfits is their weakness). So Angel decides to make another move for his new PR push. He assembles what few healthy X-men he can to join Northstar and Dazzler. Pixie is one of them because Matt Fraction's pink hair fetish is almost as big as his Cyclops/Emma fetish. He also brings Storm into the mix, rounding out a limited yet somewhat manageable team to keep the peace until the quarantine is lifted.

They won't be the only ones on the streets though. Just as Storm is arriving to whip the team into fighting shape, Sublime deploys his new X-men into the city. A California style bank robbery is in progress and as is the case with all comic books, the police or horribly ill-equipped to handle it. So Sublime has his new team confront it, sporting uniforms that should prompt Charles Xavier to sue his ass for copyright infringement. This is how he enters the public eye. This is how he's preparing to upstage the X-men and in many respects, he's doing a damn fine job.

Now as a whole, this issue is a conundrum. It begins after abruptly ending the previous arc. The transition between was about as smooth as the Himalayas and the premise is about as bland as six-week old vanilla ice cream. A mutant plague has been done before and done much better I might add. A new flu infecting the X-men and crippling them isn't going to blow anybody's mind. However, the whole crime syndicate aspect along with Sublime's new X-men add some elements of novelty that make this book worth reading. It's not very organized. Most people will probably have to read it two or three times just to prevent brain matter from leaking out of their ears. But once it sinks in, it's somewhat respectable.

There is still a lot more to criticize than to praise. I know I keep citing Matt Fraction's Cyclops/Emma bias, but it really is a big deal. This guy is making me hate this relationship with the fire of fifty thousand supernovas. His take on their characters make me pine for Joss Whedon to return. At least he offered them some balance. Fraction loves to talk about the progression of their relationship, but they're basically making the same mistakes they made during Utopia. They're keeping secrets, Emma is playing bimbo girlfriend, and all Cyclops is doing is letting it slide. It's infuriating to anyone who is a Cyclops fan, an Emma Frost fan, a romance fan, or even a fucking ceiling fan. Add to this the whole bland plague idea and this isn't the kind of issue that would earn a bronze metal at the comic book special olympics.

Now I can't give this book too low a score because it does offer plenty of motivation to the next issue. This won't make you drop Uncanny and start sending handwritten letters to Joss Whedon to return, but it will make you roll your eyes more than your eye sockets may want to manage. So with that in mind I give Uncanny X-men #530 a 2 out of 5. Matt Fraction's recent work is still slipping and if this keeps up his title will be usurped by X-men Legacy, Generation Hope, and the myriad of other X-titles that offer far more compelling stories. I want to give Fraction more rope, but if he ends up hanging us all with it than X-fans should stock up on aspirin. Nuff said!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Supreme Reflections: Magneto Preview

I know I usually update on Fridays. For this week I'll have to make an exception. The X-men Supreme fanfiction series remains a large part of my life, but there are other parts that demand my attention. As many of you probably know, the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. As such I'll be MIA. I won't be able to focus much on fanfiction. Turkey, football, and family will dominate my life for the next few days. I'll still find some time to work on this fanfiction series when I get a chance, but I won't be able to do nearly as much as I usually can.

But fear not! I promised that Supreme Reflections will still update on a biweekly schedule. The last entry of this edition will be one to remember! The X-men's arch nemesis, Magneto, will get the focus. He's been the center and bane of the X-men's struggle and his reflection will help add some perspective in wake of the events of Volume 1: Mutant Revolution. His musings will offer a nice spring board into Volume 2, which is already in the works! I've already prepared a preview for Magneto that I hope will make the wait easier. You can find it below and I hope it is a fitting way to close out the first volume of Supreme Reflections.

I was born into the darkest corners of humanity’s savage nature. My family was Jewish and by whatever cruel manifestation of misfortune, I grew up in central Europe during one of the worst periods in anti-Semitism. This was a time when the Nazi party was on the rise and Jews were being blamed for everything bad that was happening in the world. If there was an economic crises, a natural disaster, or an epidemic the cause was always the same. It was because of the Jews.

Because of this savage bigotry, the only place my family could live in any semblance of peace was a decaying Ghetto in Poland. At the time most of the Jews felt the only means of dealing with this growing tide of hatred was to flee. Every day it seemed someone would disappear for America or some other far-away locale. There was pressure on my father to do the same because he actually saved money and procured wealth through years of dedicated labor.

But running wasn’t in his repertoire. My father was a fighter. He fought in World War I and was dishonorably discharged for fighting more than just the enemy. He was not one to stand idly by while others tried to take from him that which was rightfully his. He taught me and my older sister to be the same. He believed in tough love, teaching us to fight back when we were denied what was rightfully ours. I always fought hardest and he singled me out as being especially strong. He was stern with one hand and loving with another, teaching me lessons in strength and dignity. All the while he never let anyone hold him back. He stood his ground and fought back, even when an entire army came to confront him.

Eventually, he had to face such an army…the Nazi army no less. I was so young, but I’ll never forget the day the troops reached our ghetto. The sheer savagery of these men can never be understated. It was like they were exterminators and we were the rats. They treated men, women, and children with the same care they would a fly. I saw them butcher, rape, and torture. I saw them rip the unborn babies from the wombs of pregnant women and with a smile no less. Everyone in my family was petrified, but not my father. Even in face of such horrors, he grit his teeth and fought back. He didn’t have a gun because nobody let Jews own guns back then. So he used a knife and a wooden stick to kill three heavily armed Nazi soldiers. He would have killed plenty more had they not gotten in a lucky shot that mortally wounded him.

I can still see the look on my father’s face when he entered his final moments. A Nazi soldier callously slit his throat while gutting him with a bayoneted rifle. It was a horrible way to die, but my father’s look of defiance never waned. He even managed to spit blood in their face with his final breath. For every boy unfortunate enough to see their father die, this was the way you want to see him go…fighting till the bitter end. I did not shed tears. I tried to fight back myself, but being so young and weak those sick Nazis just hit me over the head with the butt of their guns. I wasn’t worth killing for them…not yet.

Before they got to punishing me, they thought it would be fitting if they had their way with the rest of my family. They made me watch in my woozy state as they raped my mother and my older sister. They were slow and methodical, making sure to torture them horribly before they finally ended their lives. I could remember every gruesome detail, but it would be useless to dwell on because even through these horrors I did not falter. My father raised me to be stronger than that. I only lowered my head in sorrow when the horrors had ended. My family was dead and there was nothing I could do about it.

They could have killed me for good measure, but they didn’t. They felt I hadn’t suffered enough so they sent me away to a concentration camp. I’m sure if those soldiers were alive today, they would regret not killing me. They thought sending a boy to grow up in a concentration camp would break me. They thought it would crush my spirits and reduce me to a meek, worthless Jew. They were dead wrong.

While I may have a long list of tasks to complete, I still encourage everyone to contact me with their questions or comments. I'm always open to ideas that make X-men Supreme more awesome! Excelsior!


Monday, November 22, 2010

X-men #5 - Sucking Out The Awesome

I admit I've flip-flopped on the new X-men series more times than Rudolph Juliani's record on abortion. It started out underwhelming. Being overly harsh due to the high standards of calling a book X-men #1 I thumbed my nose at it the same way George W. Bush thumbs his nose at the UN. I ended up recanting some of that thumbing and I purposely deformed my own nose because subsequent issues of the new X-men series improved. The whole Mutants vs. Vampires story was not complex literary masterpiece with all sorts of deeper social implications, but it was entertaining and bloody. The setup was great. The arcs in this series were set up as mini-events with spin-offs that proved every bit as enjoyable as the series. Now that the first arc is almost over, it's possible to make a clearer judgment on the whole concept of this series. With only a few issues left, the Curse of the Mutants has to wrap up the lingering plots. Unlike comics such as Brightest Day though, there are only so many plots that need to be resolved.

The last issue was pretty basic. Xarus, the son of Dracula and leader of the vampires, asked Cyclops and the mutants to join him in overthrowing humans. Cyclops, in so many words, told him to suck it and not in a way vampires appreciate (minus the Twilight crowd). Xarus tried to throw more shit on the pile by showing a new vampire Wolverine, who was enjoying his recent transformation all too well. He loved the drinking, the women, and the bloodlust. Essentially, he wasn't that different than he was before except as a vampire he's more of a douche. And since Cyclops was so blunt in his rejection of Xarus's proposal, Xarus ordered an all out vampire attack on Utopia and Wolverine was to lead the charge.

This issue picks up with the vampires closing in and the X-men preparing for battle. Cyclops has a pretty basic strategy. On the front lines are the mutants who have tough skin or can easily resist being bitten. That means Colossus, Rockslide, and Emma in her diamond form are going to do much of the fighting. Xarus is throwing everything he can at Utopia. Cypher relays 600 air units and 150 hovercraft with 40 troops each, which adds up to 600 vampires. Now why did I make that quick calculation when math is the last thing anyone gives a shit about in comics? Well there's a reason for that and it's important information to remember later on. So for once, not coming to math class drunk should pay off.

It seems like an Alamo-style stand. Cyclops isn't showing a whole lot of strategy here. He's just placing the mutants on the island in a front line and trying to hold it. He's got the Atlanteans covering underwater and only Arcangel covering the sky. They even resort to more extreme (and slightly ridiculous) tactics like having a priest bless Iceman so that his ice is frozen holy water. It seems like a desperate bid and one that has him horribly outmatched. Keep in mind these vampires are not normal fleshy humans who go down with a quick optic blast. These are creatures of the night. Even with Blade helping them out, they're on a fucking island for crying out loud. From a reader's perspective, Cyclops is being a pretty lousy tactician and for him that's just not in character. That's like James Bond not being able to get laid at the Playboy Mansion.

The fight is still pretty fucking epic though. When the vampires arrive, the clash is like a Michael Bay movie in that it inundates the senses with flashy action. For a comic like this, it works. This comic was never billed as being something much deeper so if someone complains about it in that sense, they're either not paying attention to the advertising or they're just being assholes. I say this because I don't want readers to think any criticism I have stems from this. I go into this comic with certain expectations the same way I go into a Jackass movie and expect to be disgusted.

There are few surprises at first even if the battle depictions are pretty damn awesome. The battle doesn't last for too many pages. Xarus's forces have a lot of numbers on their side so they are able to overwhelm the X-men, at least initially. Cyclops orders the mutants to fall back. For a moment they're cornered. Then instead of landing the killing blow, the vampires stop. It's like only getting halfway through a line of cocaine and leaving the other half to be potentially snorted up by someone else. It isn't through sheer incompetence though. Xarus stops for a reason. It isn't enough for him to just win this battle. He wants to shoot for style points so he deploys Wolverine to the scene to finish the X-men off.

Now this certainly shouldn't qualify Xarus as a master tactician, but like all evil baddies he has to strut his stuff before he delivers the killing blow. For a while it looks like it may work for once. Wolverine makes quick work of the other X-men including Armor, Colossus, and Husk. As he's doing this, he's taunting Cyclops about him leading mutants to oblivion. He calls Cyclops a tyrant who just plays with mutants like they're pieces of a chess board and he gets off on it the same way he gets off tit-fucking Emma Frost. Now Victor Gischler may have been reading message boards when he wrote this because a lot of message boards have echoed this sentiment. Cyclops is seen as the dictator for all mutant kind. Never mind the fact that he doesn't force people to join him, he doesn't publicly execute people, he doesn't rule through fear, he thinks before he acts (which 99 percent of politicians fail to do), and he doesn't ask for tribute or even taxes. When was the last time a tyrant didn't tax the hell out of his people? It's entirely debatable (although fucking retarded) as to Cyclops's role on Utopia, but for people who just don't like Cyclops they should find plenty to masterbate to with this scene.

It's all for nothing though. Wolverine's rant might as well have been a lecture on atomic physics because it ends up doing nothing. The reason is because Cyclops apparently did have a plan here. Getting Xarus pissed enough to throw Wolverine at him was part of it. There had been clues dropped before, but now they've been confirmed. Cyclops prepared for Wolverine being turned into a vampire. So he had Dr. Nemesis inject Wolverine with nanobots to suppress his healing factor so that he could become one. Then thanks to a remote control, he turned that healing factor back on so that now he becomes the same Wolverine again. He's still a ruthless, mean, bloodlusting beast, but he has a heart now and one that Edward Cullen would swoon over. So now Wolverine is back on their side again and Xarus ends up looking like a total fucking idiot. It does nothing to make that huge fucking army of his disappear. All it does is get Wolverine back from the vampires. Again, I point this out because it's important to remember, almost as much as not mixing paint thinner with vodka for an extra kick.

So now Wolverine is fighting for the X-men again. He shows some annoyance for Cyclops, but his memory must suck because he pretty much forgets it on the next page and turns on the vampires. He doesn't change the fact that they're still obscenely out-numbered or the fact that vampires don't go down as easily as humans. He's just one more body to throw at the invading force. Why do I bring this up? Because what happens next pushes a fine line towards storytelling and bullshit.

Cyclops declares that this is where they turn the tide (ignoring the whole being outnumbered by vampires detail) and by whatever random, off-panel magical force it happens. Suddenly, those hundreds of vampires start falling like flies. Iceman uses his blessed ice form to essentially go nuclear on the vampires. Somehow Arcangel is able to destroy those hundreds of aircraft coming towards them. I know Arcangel is pretty badass, but he's not a whole fucking air force! Once more, they don't even show him blowing any shit up! He's just flying around as if somehow that's enough to make vampires cower in fear and dive into the nearest tub of holy water. All the while Xarus is shitting himself.

It is by far the most poorly thought out, contrived way to move a story forward. Even for a book that's labeled as a flashy, style-over-substance series this is pushing it. Even Michael Bay would say it lacks depth. Wolverine is a badass mutant killing machine, but even that's not enough to just flat out turn the tide on a whole vampire army. If that was Cyclops's only strategy it was a bad one. He could have had something else waiting in the wings. Maybe Dr. Nemesis had some sort of cure for the disease that turned Jubilee into a vampire that would have turned the tide. Maybe they had a superweapon they needed to deploy with all the vampires in one area. That didn't happen. Just tricking Wolverine back into the fight and curing his vampirism is somehow all it takes. Even Forest Gump would be smart enough to say "That there don't seem right. Now where's my box of chocolates?"

In just a few panels the X-men stand triumphant over the massive vampire army that I detailed earlier. There are no major details or intricacies to the triumph. The readers just have to assume it all went the X-men's way on faith. It's a little like the Heaven's Gate cult except instead of mass suicide, this story just tries to kill you with underwhelming lameness.

So now Xarus has been emasculated or defanged as it were for vampires. He's been humiliated by Cyclops and demands a second wave, but he rushed into battle so quickly that there is no second wave. Apparently, his vampire army wasn't nearly as vast as was implied. And somehow it was so shitty that only a few dozen mutants could take it out. At this point anyone with a quarter of a brain should figure out they're a shitty leader and need to hang it up. But Xarus is too big a douche-bag to do that. He wants everything to go his way and he wants it to happen now. He's like Kanye West mixed with David Lee Roth, so full of himself he doesn't understand when he's being an asshole.

Then as he's yelling at all his vampire buddies, he gets a special visitor. Remember how a few issues ago the X-men went to all the trouble to bring back Dracula and how that was completely forgotten? Well it seems Gischler's memory is a little better than a retarded chihuahua because he finally enters the fold again. He storms in to essentially give his son some much needed discipline. It's not clear if this is going to spell doom for the mutants or just deliver the finishing blow to Xarus's ego, but it ends the comic with some need for another issue. After how contrived this book was, you may be best waiting for the spoilers because at this point adding any meaning to this story would be like using crazy glue to rebuild a crashed airplane.

This series in it's first arc has gone back and forth in terms of quality like an obsessive compulsive germophobe waiting in a pacing ward. Yet despite this random mix of awesome and shit, this series always had the potential to be something special. An issue like this, however, takes that potential and shits on it like an elephant suffering from explosive diarrhea. It's all flash and no heart. And even the flash is nothing too spectacular. These fight scenes won't wow anybody. They're certainly no battle scene in Lord of the Rings or a fight between Rocky and Victor Drago. Everything seems to happen off-panel and Gischler seems to dumb down the strategy of both sides to the point where they're...well, dumb.

That's not to say this book doesn't have any redeeming value. Some of the fight scenes are pretty awesome. The Wolverine rant about Cyclops was pretty cool if you don't like Cyclops. Also, Dracula was not completely forgotten and he finally gets to make his presence felt. There's nothing here that would make a reader want to throw away the other issues and use them as lining for a bird cage. Dracula's appearance at the end even offers some reasons to see the last issue. But after the way the mutants vs vampires battle unfolded, the ship has pretty much sailed for this arc. That same ship hit an ice burg, caught fire, and blew up. There's really not much else that can be done with it.

Even with only one issue left, I find it hard to really recommend this comic. That's why I give X-men #5 a 2.5 out of 5. It's not Ultimate style terrible, but compared to the potential it carried it's a huge downgrade. Victor Gischler is better than this and unless he lines the last issue with C4, this first arc of this new series will end with a fizzle and not a bang. Nuff said.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brightest Day #14 - Teasing Awesome

Whenever I get a new issue of Brightest Day, it's rarely a disappointment. Some books you just expect excellence in the same way you expect douche-bags to attend a Kanye West concert. For the past few months, Brightest Day has been doing for DC what Madonna did for bat-shit religious sects like the Karbala. It took a tried and trued product of awesome and made it even better and even a little sexier (most men would still nail Madonna even if they won't admit it). The last few issues have been inching the overall story closer to a ball-busting, brain splattering conclusion. Boston Brand is getting closer in his search for the guardian to the White Lantern. The Hawks are battling it out on Hawkworld. J'onn J'ozz is trying to resist being pussy whiped by the other last Green martian. Firestorm has to contain his Black Lantern counterpart from setting off another big bang. And somewhere along the way, Aquaman is coming between Black Manta and his illegitimate son.

That's a lot of shit to deal with in one series, even if it is biweekly. For the most part, Geoff Johns has managed it with the same mastery that Donald Trump masters shitty hair styles. So when the last issue ended with a hint that Batman would be showing up, he upped the ante to levels that would make even Trump's over-sized balls shrivel. Each issue is getting more focused, giving screen time to only one or two sub-plots. This come at the unfortunate price of leaving other plots dangling worse than Hugh Hefner's scrotum. However, Geoff Johns has made it a price worth paying. The last issue focused on the Hawks and only spent a few pages setting up the story for Boston Brand, which picks up in Brightest Day #14. Just like the last issue, it remains pretty focused and the promise of Batman showing up should cause a certain level of tingling in the brain, heart, and lower extremities of DC fanboys (if that tingling turns to burning, please consult a doctor immediately).

The issue starts of literally right after the last panel of the last issue. Boston Brand sees the bat signal and that proverbial light bulb flashes over his head. Like bat shit creation scientists, he assumes on the spot that this is the guy who will act as guardian to the White Lantern. It's not a bad choice. Anyone who has been following the Batman comics lately knows that he's been feeding worms for a while, but he eventually got bored and kicked the grim reaper in the balls. Now he's alive again and back to making criminals shit themselves again. That's all the convincing Boston needs to re-take his Deadman form (which may come as a surprise to some people because he hasn't really demonstrated he could still do that) and seeks him out.

He leaps through the city like an acrobat on crystal meth, Along the way he comes across a crime involving guys in snow gear without any snow. This is another somewhat random occurrence you don't usually see in a Geoff Johns comic. Seriously, he just happens to pass by these guys? One could argue that the ring is guiding him, but that isn't made clear. It's the most random Johns has been this entire series. It may not be jarring to those used to reading half-rate stories written by underpaid writers who can't come up with witty dialogue unless their blood alcohol is no lower than .04, but given this is a Geoff Johns comic it does come as a shock to the system.

It does help that the fight is nicely done even if it is on a small scale. This is the first time Boston has ever got to kick ass in his new non-corpse body. It's the strongest he's been to this point. For so much of this series he's just been pissing and moaning about how it sucks to be running errands for the White Lantern. This makes him slightly less sissy and it's always fun to see poorly dress criminals get their asses kicked.

Dead or alive, even Boston should have been able to figure out who was behind this half-hearted crime. Yet he still managed to allow Mr. Freeze to sneak up on him. While he may not be a sissy for being a decent hero again, he still qualifies as a dumb-ass for not using more than two neurons to work out some strategy. It does play to his advantage though because when Batman does show up, he takes down Mr. Freeze with no fewer than two moves. It shows just how far ahead of Boston that Batman is in the kicking-ass-after-being-dead department.

This ends the fight against Mr. Freeze. He basically takes a nap for the rest of the issue while Boston confronts Batman. Dove shows up as well, having just missed the fight and essentially playing the role of the obligatory hot chick that's supposed to accompany guys like Boston on their journey. All card carrying members of the National Organization for Women should direct their outrage to DC and not me. I'm just the messenger here. There's no elaborate setup here with the ring. Boston basically just tells basically that he's the ultimate champion for this ring and he wants to get this shit off his back. It's about as poetic as it sounds.

Batman questions his assumption as he's prone to thinking rationally, something very few people in comics or in real life tend to do. But Boston won't hear it. He uses the old flattery approach, basically saying that Batman is the most awesome human being in DC comics and is the only one worthy of this power. By comparison, he's like a Miss California trying to give a lecture on the big bang theory to Stephen Hawkings. He can't get the ring off his finger fast enough. He's like Larry King at a divorce hearing. And as soon as the ring reaches Batman, he becomes a White Lantern and looks 128372948292 times more badass.

Now this is what's been building for several issues now. Batman becoming a White Latern is more juicy than Jenna Jameson's pussy at a Chip'n Dales. Finally, the White Lantern has a guardian! Finally, the other plots surrounding Brightest Day can start coming together! And the ongoing stories involving Batman's return (which recently concluded) are given a novel twist. It's such an awesome premise. At would be.

I'm sorry to report that this euphoria lasts about as long as Charlie Sheen's patience with a call-girl. While in his White Lantern getup, Batman basically becomes a mouth-piece for the white ring. What he says is very un-Batmanlike. He calls Boston out, telling him that he was chosen to guide the White Ring because when he was dead he had some backbone. He doesn't have it anymore it seems. He saw his task as a chore and when he chose Batman, he chose poorly. So that means Batman isn't the proper guardian, thereby aborting all those potential stories before they were born. The crazy pro-life crowd would be making pipe bombs if they read this. If that weren't enough, one of Mr. Freeze's goons rubs salt in the wound by coming back to life and shooting Boston. So it's basically a giant-sized screw-up.

So Boston goes down and as expected, his life flashes before his eyes...again. Remember, he did die at one point so he's walked this road before. There's a nice little shot of his childhood. An old memory of his teen years that showed how he started to become a bit of a douche-bag by essentially worrying more about a cheeseburger than a pretty girl sitting next to him. Unless that's the best damn cheeseburger on the planet, that's just mean. He then flashes forward to his full-fledged douche-bag persona in his adult years. This is when he was working in the circus as his old Deadman persona. He's not ordering burgers this time, but he's essentially the Kanye West of circus acts. All the while Boston's spirit has to watch this and ponder how he was so much nicer when he was dead. That's got to fuck with him.

Given this level of douche-baggery, it isn't completely disappointing to relieve the moment when he got shot (the first time that is). And in front of a live crowd no less. By whatever spiritual awakening happens here, Boston has a change of heart. Somehow seeing himself get killed (again) reminded him that being an asshole in life isn't a good thing. Since he's learning slower than Paris Hilton in a calculus class, he begs for a second chance. It's a little melodramatic and predictable, but it gets the point across.

Boston gets his second chance. He wakes back up in the alley with Batman. The White Ring heals the gunshot wound and knocks the shooter out for good measure. Now you know you've got a long way to go when a ring kicks more ass than you do. It also leaves Batman, showing that he's not the one Boston was looking for. The ring goes right back to him and gives him a few life lessons in the process. None are all that provocative, but the part about there being more to life than a good cheeseburger really speaks to the soul.

Not much else happens. Batman leaves. There's no hint or mention of the other plots with the Hawks, Aquaman, or Firestorm going on (never mind the fact he's got the resurrected Black Lanterns on his ass). The title of the next issue does mention the Martian Manhunter, but there's no solid transition or scene to speak of. Boston just throws in a nice kiss with Dove, which feels about as meaningful as a kiss between Courtney Love and Pamela Anderson (minus the porno and herpes context). It's a random way to end an issue for a series that has prided itself on not being so random. Even if Dove is very doable, she's not doable enough to justify such a bland gesture. It doesn't strike at the heart or the balls for anyone with an appreciation for comic book romance. To say they're no Clark and Lois would be an understatement so vast it could be used as a new euphemism for anal sex.

Brightest Day #14 is quite an anomaly. It's the first issue of the Brightest Day series to truly disappoint. It's probably the weakest feeling I've had reading this series so far. My mind isn't blown and my heart rate is still steady. It's like taking a bong hit only to realize you're smoking your mothers flowers instead of pot. The whole tease about Batman being the guardian that Boston was seeking had so much potential. In a ways I can see what Geoff Johns was trying to do here. He set up the expectations so that even the characters in the book felt they had found what they were looking for when in reality they hadn't completed their journey yet. It's very existential and it's not the way most comic writers would do a scene like this. They would go the easy way and try to use Batman more. Johns doesn't usually like to take the easy way, but this is one case where the easy way is more awesome.

The best way I could sum up my issue with this plot is that it was subtle for the sake of being subtle. It moved things forward by not moving them at all. That's not to say there wasn't anything good in this book. There was plenty. Batman showing up definitely adds to Brightest Day's repertoire of awesome.The easy flow from the previous issue from this issue worked very nicely as well. It was also nice to see how Boston Brand went through so many transitions from life to death to life again. The White Lantern also showed some personality here, strange as that may seem. It's trying to guide Boston, but it isn't always listening. It seems to have a mind of it's own and it's definitely got some character. If it had big tits it would already have it's own fan club. However, this is not enough to make up for the shortcomings in this story.

It pains me to say this, but Brightest Day #14 is a disappointment. The past 14 issues (including issue 0 for those of you who lost count already), this series has been masterfully crafted. Geoff Johns always delivered quality stories because he was a surgeon in his craft. He took care of the big things and the little things. In this he did take care of the big things in that he moved the story with the White Lantern forward. However, for once he negated the little things. He did not add in the details to make it work. The overall product is bland. It's not bland in the sense that Ben Stein's voice is bland or that juice you let sit next to a radiator for six weeks is bland (and potentially life-threatening). It's just bland.

In scoring this book I can't give it too low a score because it isn't terrible. It doesn't destroy the overall Brightest Day series. It certainly doesn't make me want to pick up the next issue any less, but it does end a streak of mind-blowing, heart bursting, scrotum swelling awesome. So for a final score, I give Brightest Day #14 a 3 out of 5. It's respectable, but for a Brightest Day comic it can do so much better. Geoff Johns is more than deserving of a mulligan here. If he blows me away with the next issue again, all will be forgiven. Nuff said!

Friday, November 19, 2010

X-men Supreme Update - Supreme Reflections: Kitty Pryde

Well I've done it! I managed to update within a week this time. It wasn't easy, but the X-men Supreme fanfiction series is worth it to me. I hope it's worth it to all those who enjoy reading it. The lucky X-man to get the spotlight this time is another X-woman, Kitty Pryde. She hasn't been around the X-men for very long in the context of X-men Supreme, but she's already proven herself in many ways. This latest entry into Supreme Reflections should offer more insight into who Kitty Pryde is and what makes her tick.

Supreme Reflections - Kitty Pryde

Supreme Reflections has been a great insight into some of the characters I introduced in Volume 1: Mutant Revolution. This fanfiction series has allowed me to explore these characters in many ways. I would like to explore more, but I want to get to Volume 2 soon. For that reason, there will only be one more entry into Supreme Reflections. This one will be for Magneto. Now I wish I could do a weekly update for him, but because of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday that won't be possible. The wait will have to be two weeks again. For this, I am sorry. If you have any questions or concerns on this or other issues related to X-men Supreme, please feel free to contact me. I plan on having a preview ready by next week. So stay tuned! The X-men Supreme fanfiction series has plenty to offer. Excelsior!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

X-men Supreme Update - New Panel Art

Don't panic over this update! I'm not delaying X-men Supreme again. The next entry for this fanfiction series is still on track and on schedule as promised. But I simply cannot wait until then to post this update. I know I updated the pics section recently with new images of the X-women. Now I have another update for the panels section and that's always a big deal for this series. Once again, artist Brian Brinlee has contributed to the X-men Supreme fanfiction series in a big way. This time he has provided a very graphic piece straight from the pages of Issue 7: Mother Knows Best, which features a scene involving Rogue, Mystique, and Wolverine.

X-men Supreme Pics - Panels

As always, I'm deeply honored for someone like Mr. Brinlee to contribute to X-men Supreme. This moment was a big moment in that it sealed Rogue's decision to become a member of the X-men. It also began a long string of drama between her and Mystique, some of which will play out in Volume 2. I'm still hard at work on making this follow-up even more awesome than Volume 1: Mutant Revolution. Stay tuned for more updates and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or feedback. Also, if you would like to join Brian in contributing to X-men Supreme I would definitely welcome that as well!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

X-POSITION: Kieron Gillen - My Questions Asked Again

I'll try to make this a quick update so I can get back to putting the finishing touches on Supreme Reflections. There was another X-POSITION this week at Comic Book Resources. This time Kieron Gillen was the star of the show. Since I follow Generation Hope and Uncanny X-men closely I was compelled to ask a few questions and they got asked!

CBR X-POSITION: Kieron Gillen

1) In Hope's diary of the first issue, she mentioned that others told her about the Phoenix Force. Did anyone mention Jean Grey? It's been well-established that Hope has red hair and green eyes. Has anyone brought up that she bears an uncanny resemblance to her?

I want to write a gag along the lines of "Hope looks nothing like Jean! Hope's not at all moldy" – but I'm not sure I'll get away with it.

The splendid essay at the back of the issue – the work of Mike O'Sullivan from Jeph York's premise – is basically an entertaining way of presenting Hope's story so far. As such, it's going to have to be a little bit more explicit about stuff which Hope may or may not be as sure on, so anyone new to the book knows that the cosmic-firebird imagery has a disturbing precedent. I wouldn't take it as 100% literal canon in its flourishes, except the part about peanut butter.

(That's hyper-ur-canon. Hope loves Peanut butter. You will believe the Mutant Messiah can make a tasty sandwich).

So it should be taken as Hope's aware that something is up and people aren't really telling her about it yet. If we're going to have someone sit down and tell hope about the Phoenix and Jean Grey, that'll happen on panel and will be important. 

People are being sensitive about it for the understandable reason that it's a lot to drop on someone. They're watching, trying to support her, and seeing if it is actually a real thing or something else. To stress the point: Hope has lost her father a couple of weeks – at most – ago. No one wants to drop a "Oh, some of us are worried you may be a planet-killing cosmic force" on her. Especially since, in her emotional state, it could – hypothetically – be the sort of thing that could precipitate a real disaster.

On the other hand, Hope's a smart girl. If no one tells her – given enough time – she's going to find it out for herself.

That's a long and rambling answer when I could have just said, "No.", they haven't mentioned she looks like Jean.

2) Back during "Messiah CompleX," Cyclops gave baby Hope a locket that contained a picture of him and Jean. Does Hope still have that locket? Is that issue ever going to be revisited?

This time I will do a short answer: wait and see.

That's better, yeah? A proper Marvel-writer-esque tease. I'm a pro, me.

3) I'm a little bit confused on Laurie's powers. Could you please explain what she does, or is that something that cannot be revealed just yet?

She can fly, basically.

Man, that's underwhelming. But yes, she can fly. There was a vague original-five symbolism underlying our thinking – which isn't exactly one-for-one – and in power-set terms, she's the team's Angel. A physically enhanced flyer with a form that's adapted for that purpose. It's the latter part of that concept where she separates herself from general flyers – how her form adapts to allow extreme flight and maneuverability.

I've said before, but she's one of the purer characters on the team: a bookish, emotionally anal girl in chains to her own self-demands has to learn how to fly. She's very much superpower as metaphor for character's emotional struggle.

She's proving one of my favorite to write. She's very much the team's "Captain Sensible" character, stepping in and doing the "Wait, we're going to do what?" when the more foolhardy and headstrong people are thinking they're immortal.

So I got things cleared up with Laurie, which should help in my next review. I also got yet another Jean/Hope tease. This has been something that's been dominating the X-books for over a year now. I still have a hard time telling Jean and Hope apart. Hope looks like Jean, dresses like Jean, and wields a certain fiery bird like Jean. If somehow she doesn't have a connection with Jean, that would be a huge plot hole. But it seems Marvel is playing this really close to the chest. In the dairy part of Generation Hope #1 it was revealed that the X-men told Hope about the Phoenix Force, but Gillen here implied that they did not go into detail about Jean Grey. That is somewhat forgivable since Hope is in such a conflicted state at the moment. Dumping another revelation on her may be a bit much and when she's packing Phoenix heat, that's not a good thing. However, Marvel is still milking this mystery to a point where it's getting OLD. If by the end of 2011 this isn't at least partially cleared up, they'll have screwed the pooch. I hope there are some people smarter than that in the Marvel offices. It may not be Gillen. Only time will tell.

Monday, November 15, 2010

X-men: To Serve and Protect #1 - The Basics of Awesome

It goes without saying that Marvel Comics needs to keep readers interested and like any good business, they'll bend over backwards and suck any number of dicks to keep delivering a product that we fans gladly fork our hard earned money over to follow this unfolding saga of awesome. The X-books are their own world. It's like the Wal Mart of Marvel's character arsenal because it has so many different characters, plots, and stories to choose from. At the same time it's a daunting task trying to keep that interest going. In a ways it's like porn. Once you jerk off to pretty much everything the internet and illegal imports from South Asia, it's a lot harder to get your rock off.

The X-books have decades of continuity, the equivalent of several internets worth of porn to work with. Usually their way to keep the gravy train pouring gravy is to throw big events into the mix. Fans need to be wowed because their standards are so high and their capacity for bitching is so strong that unless everything comes straight from brain stem of Hemmingway himself it gets demonized. To their credit Marvel tries it's best to keep one-upping themselves. The X-books have had an embarrassment of riches lately with House of M, the Messiah Trilogy, and most recently a string of #1s featuring the likes of Wolverine, X-23, Generation Hope, and Uncanny X-Force. It's all been big, flashy shit that can't always be that deep or have too much substance. That may make people actually think.

However, there is room for the negated little things. They're so easy to negate and can keep a good story from becoming awesome. Great writers and greater ideas take care of the little things. Series like Blackest Night, Superman Origins, and Civil War did a great job of covering every detail. During events in the X-books like Utopia and Mutants vs. Vampires there were some off-shoots to those stories that acted like these little filler stories. They weren't bit or flashy. They simply told smaller stories about the more personal aspects of the X-world. It's not the kind of thing that will make a fanboy's heart explode and their dick go crashing through the roof. That's a tragedy too because these smaller stories compliment the larger ones and when nobody appreciates them, Marvel has to go back to blowing shit up and that runs the risk of collateral damage.

Following in the footsteps of Nation X, the X-books began a new mini that emerges from the shadows of Second Coming. It's called X-men" To Serve and Protect. This is a series that essentially gets back to basics. For the past few years the X-men haven't been all that heroic. House of M set them up for a one-night stand with extinction and so much of their struggles were directed away from heroics and all towards survival. Well that's different now. Second Coming made it so mutants could stand up extinction. Now they have to learn to be heroes again. The story after Mutants vs. Vampires promises to be the next big tale that sends them down that road, but before they get to it X-men: To Serve and Protect sets the stage. It takes a handful of characters and tells short little stories about them doing the little things. It isn't epic, but it is a vital part to the ongoing awesomeness of the X-books and should not be discounted.

The first issue has a total of four stories, each told by a different writer. The first story involves Rockslide and Anole, two of the younger mutants who still live in a world of dreams that haven't yet been shattered by the adult world. Rockslide wakes Anole up and suddenly remembers why he joined the X-men in the first place. He wants to make a difference. So out of nowhere and most likely after watching The Dark Knight on Blu Ray for the fifteenth time, he says they should go out and fight crime. It seems random, but someone had to remember the original purpose of the X-men at one point. It might as well be Rockslide, who isn't known for his impulse control.

Anole goes along with it, but there's a problem. As with all impulses, what sounds good on paper (or what sounds good while you're wasted on tequila) doesn't always pan out when put into practice. To fight crime for some reason they feel like they have to put on masks. Given how they look, that would be like Kanye West trying to prove he's not a douche-bag by buying sunglasses laced with silver instead of gold. Anole puts on a cloak and a fake mustache. Rockslide puts on a hockey mask. They look more like serial killers than crime fighters, but that doesn't stop them from finding a crime and making a scene.

In the end they do stop the crime and save a woman who was about to be assaulted, but when she sees them she runs away like a creationist from the natural history museum. Rockslide is encouraged. Anole seems about as convinced as Michael Moore in a debate with Sean Hannity. It's easy to forget they're still teenagers. They've yet to process fully the meaning of a young woman's scream or the consequences of their actions. At least for them this doesn't involve a botched house party or a beer run. They do some heroics and for that they should be commended.

The next story is a bit more mature. It involves Emma Frost, a character who has suffered horrible characterization under the pen of Matt Fraction. She's either an outright bitch or she's submissive arm candy. If anyone is in need of a story that just shows someone being themselves, it's Emma Frost. This story is that story. Emma's doing what most would expect her to do. She's getting a massage at a fancy spa that's probably more exclusive than Steve Jobs's personal phone number. She's also naked so that alone makes the whole comic worth buying. Most male readers would be content to see a whole plot of her just getting a massage. But Marvel has to be coy here and tell a story. This time it involves a psychic attack that for whatever reason has every overprivlidged rich girl walking like drones at a GOP rally. Emma, having been inconvenienced, takes it upon herself to fix the problem so she could get back to her massage.

The asshole behind this little attack is a butt ugly man/ape named Mandrill. With his pheromone powers, he's controlling all these rich beautiful woman to look at him like he's Brad Pitt and George Clooney all rolled into one sweet man-package. Most male readers would admit, they would do the same thing if they had those powers as well.

However, it doesn't work on Emma Frost. This is a woman who went toe-to-toe with the Phoenix and made her living manipulating men as a stripper. To manipulate her would be like getting Satan to kiss your shoes while dressing up in a school girls costume to dance to your entire Ipod playlist. Mandril isn't amused and tries to attack Emma with the girls. Somehow a bunch of overprivileged rich women against someone like Emma Frost hardly seems like a fair fight.

Needless to say, Emma barely breaks a sweat fighting off the attack. Being beautiful, tough, and thoroughly pissed off for having her massage interrupted she makes quick work of them. Then to punish Mandril, she messes with his mind in a way that all men would consider to be a fate worse than death. Originally, he busted into this spa to get a bunch of beautiful woman a man as ugly as him could never get under his control. Emma turned that around on him, twisting his mind so that whenever he sees a beautiful woman he'll just see his own butt ugly face. That means he'll never be able to look a woman in the eye without being repulsed, thus making even a simple task like masterbating to internet porn next to impossible.

It's the kind of cruel yet fitting lesson that makes Emma Frost so lovable. She does it with a cool attitude that hasn't been seen since the Joss Whedon days and for this, Emma fans of all stripes should finally have reason to celebrate. For she is still the most awesome bitch with a heart of gold in Marvel Comics.

The next story isn't quite as sexy. This one involves Doug Ramsey, aka Cypher. He's a computer geek and overall braniac who has to rely on old fashioned fighting skills to be a hero. In that sense he's like Batman if he was an awkward and sometimes annoying teenager. He hasn't had too many chances to be heroic since Second Coming.

This little story changes that. On a sunny day in San Francisco he picks up a disturbance (which in San Francisco could mean any number of crazy things) and looks into it. He discovers the source to be your typical hissy fit from Hydra. Some douche-bag thought it would be a good idea to stage a suicide attack in a city near where the entire mutant population lives. This doesn't even qualify as a it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time moment. It's more of a what-the-fuck-were-they-on-and-where-can-I-get-some moment.

Cypher stops one attack, getting some unpleasant attention from the police in the process. They look to question him as if he was OJ Simpson. Then without the help of a white Bronco, he runs off to find another Hydra suicide bomber that his senses are picking up on. Now I'm not sure if this is some broader statement about how the police can be assholes, but there seems to be little reason why they treat Cypher as a suspect after he's stopped a suicide bomber. In this day and age that would get you a personal blow job from Sean Hannity. He probably would have Cypher on speed dial because he succeeds again in taking down the bomber.

It doesn't become quite the subliminal advertisement for the GOP because the cop does end up being a somewhat nicer guy. Instead of questioning him the second time, he figures out that Cypher isn't the enemy and the guys with bombs to their chests are. Somehow that shouldn't have taken more then one suicide bomber to figure out, but at least he came around. Cypher gets to be a hero and he doesn't get arrested. In comics where cops almost never show up and aren't always shown in the best of light, this is probably the most balanced story in the X-books that they've had in years.

The final story involves our old friend Fantomex. He's a bit of a douche, but at least he has manners. His story starts off with him showing his douche side by breaking into a museum and stealing a large gem. Only he didn't steal it himself. He actually stole it from another thief who stole it beforehand. I know that sounds confusing, but it's actually pretty easy to follow. Fantomex doesn't like some other French guy stealing his thunder so he decides to fuck with him.

Not one to take this sort of shit lightly, the thief goes after Fantomex and the two fight it out for the diamond. It's a pretty well-developed scene. It's not heavy on the inner monologues like Cypher's story was. It's just pure hand-to-fist ass-kicking and in a book that has smaller stories at it's core, this actually fits quite nicely. It's a little cartoony at times. You could probably put Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in this story and rate it TV-14 and it would still work.

Eventually, Fantomex does get the upper hand. He fights off the thief and grabs the diamond while crashing into a window. He takes a moment to proclaim his greatness and how he has a super valuable gem that he can use to get money for expensive French wine and very liberal French women who actually shave their arm pits. Then comes a slight twist. Remember, this story is centered around the X-men being heroes again. Stealing a gem isn't very heroic even if it's stolen from another thief. For Fantomex, he has to put off all that bling he would have bought because that window he crashed through was actually a police station. So instead of risking a PR nightmare for the X-men or becoming an even greater douche, he gives the diamond back over to the authorities. He probably doesn't like it, but it beats the hell out of prison rape.

That final story caps off the end of the issue. It's a fitting and more humorous story to end on, bringing together an all around entertaining and insightful collection of tales that show the X-men in less epic parts of their lives. They aren't fighting off aliens or killer robots from the future. They're just living their lives and doing some cool shit along the way.

It's a great premise to a series and one that really follows the same mold of Nation X. These are simple stories that get in a bit deeper to the characters. However, some of the stories didn't dig deep enough. They just showed the characters doing heroic shit. In Nation X there was more emphasis on character development. That's not really apparent here. In some arcs like the Cypher and Emma Frost arc, there was some decent development. But in the others it was limited. Just having characters do something isn't enough. A little depth goes a long way because fans can't dive head first into a series if the pool is too shallow. Plus, the humans skull can only take so much punishment.

But these criticisms are minor. I still have no problem saying this series was awesome and a worthy addition to the X-books. For that I give X-men: To Serve and Protect #1 a 5 out of 5. A series like this is vital to keep these characters grounded. With all the other crazy shit Marvel probably has brewing, a series like this is a great way to keep everything in perspective even in a fantasy world. And for once, no hallucinogens are needed! Nuff said.