Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lofty Legacies: Superman Futures End #1

The following is my review of Superman: Futures End #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.

In the 1980s, Coca Cola found out the hard way that there's no replacing a classic. Even when a new product is objectively better or completely indistinguishable from its predecessor, people will still favor the classic. It's like a security blanket in that when it's taken away, everybody's first instinct is to whine about it. So it stands to reason that if New Coke caused such a massive public outcry, then a new Superman would be every bit as controversial. And unlike unhealthy sugary soft drinks, this controversy evokes more genuine passions.

DC's Futures End event has already explored a future that's not quite apocalyptic but not quite utopian either. Not all the circumstances of this future are clear. At some point there was a devastating war with Darkseid, but it wasn't devastating to the extent that it turned the entire world into a Blade Runner rip-off. What is clear, however, is that Superman was one of the casualties of this war. Nobody knows what happened to him. He just disappeared like one of those celebrities that joins some shady cult and is never heard from again. Other issues have explored what happened to Superman, but Superman: Futures End #1 deals directly with carrying on his legacy.

And in terms of legacy, Superman is the Peyton Manning of Superheroes and Billy Batson has to play the role of Andrew Luck. Thanks to Lois Lane, the world now knows that the man behind the masked Superman that has been running around in this future isn't the same Superman they once knew. And thanks to the same public that rejected New Coke, they don't see Billy as a suitable replacement. To them, there's no replacing Superman. He's either Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, or he's just a glorified cos-player.

The problem with this inane preference for style over substance is that the world still has a need for Superman's heroics. There are still innocent people to be saved, super-villains to be thwarted, and beautiful brunettes to seduce. And Billy Batson, armed with the power of Shazam, takes it upon himself to carry on that legacy. He has Superman's strength, durability, and physique. He can fly and save children from burning buildings, just as Superman did. He can go toe-to-toe with someone like Ibac and take him out in a way that Superman would gladly approve of. However, that still doesn't feel sufficient and not because of bad marketing either.

It should be overwhelming for anyone attempting to carry on Superman's legacy and not just because of public perceptions. Carrying on any lofty legacy is wrought with pressures that no amount of therapy or life coaching can make easier. But instead of Billy struggling to rise to the challenge before him, he spends more time arguing with Lois Lane. He didn't like that she revealed the truth, even though that's sort of her job and one of her most defining traits as a character. He found it easier to carry on Superman's legacy when the people didn't know why he wore a mask now and just assumed he was emulating Batman.

This alone handicaps his ability to honor that legacy because it's built on deception. And deception isn't really consistent with the whole truth, justice, and the American way values that Superman championed. Lois gives Billy a reason to explain himself, but his explanation is only partially satisfying at best. There's nothing tragic or iconic about it. During the war, Shazam and Black Adam were in a fight to the death. Superman stepped in and saved him. Then he said something about this secret mission and was never heard from again. So at some point after that, Billy decided to take on Superman's mantle. It's only marginally dramatic at best and overly vague at worst.

This is the biggest weakness in Billy Batson's attempt to carry on Superman's legacy. There's not much emotional depth to the moment where he decided to follow in the footsteps of the world's most iconic hero. Superman just saved him in a way he's probably saved everyone in the Justice League at some point. There's no powerful moment where he seeks Superman's blessing or struggles with the idea of trying to carry on such a lofty legacy. It feels like he just changes his costume, puts on a mask, and lets good old fashioned justice do the rest. That might be okay if Superman's legacy was that of a stunt double, but not for someone that's supposed to be a living embodiment of justice.

It also doesn't help that the story about Superman's disappearance remains painfully vague. It remains one of the many unanswered questions about the world of Futures End and answering it here would've definitely given weight to Billy's actions, but by leaving it unanswered it only further limits the impact. It doesn't carry the same emotions as Dick Grayson taking over for Batman. It doesn't even carry the same emotions as Ashton Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men. He's just Shazam in a different costume. If Superman had a lawyer, he would have been sued on the spot.

As weak as Billy's efforts to carry on Superman's legacy might be, there is some substance to the narrative. Lois Lane gives him a chance to really scrutinize his actions. He can keep pretending that he's Superman, but he's still Shazam. And there's something more honest about being the hero he already is rather than trying to be the hero that somebody else was. It's something he comes to realize in the end, but it feels a bit too late to make his efforts as a masked Superman feel meaningful.  

Superman: Futures End #1 had unique set of circumstances. The concept of carrying on Superman's legacy has plenty of potential for drama, but little is realized here. It answers few questions and falls flat in critical areas. However, it does show that Billy Batson is capable of being a mature hero. Regardless of the circumstances, Superman was able to inspire him to be that hero and inspiring others will always be Superman's greatest power.

Final Score: 4 out of 10

Friday, September 26, 2014

Scanned Thoughts: Storm #3

I know I give ex-girlfriends a lot of shit on this blog. To be fair, some do plenty to earn it. But I understand there are some that are actually civil when it comes to breakups. These women might as well be on the endangered species list with the tiger and the spotted owl. That’s what makes them so precious. In terms of ex-girlfriends, having someone like Storm could either be really good or really bad. Most people who get on Storm’s bad side live every waking moment terrified that a lightning bolt will get shoved up their ass at any given moment. But unlike most gods, she’s merciful and understanding. She’s had her share of love interests in the past. She’s done a lot in recent times to make Wolverine her most passionate interest, which is fitting since he’s about to die. But of all the lovers Storm has had, few have been more complicated and confusing as Forge. For a time, they had the kind of chemistry that would’ve made them the tabloid equivalent to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Then they had to become Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. It’s been a long time since they’ve interacted. Hell, Storm has been married and divorced in that period. Now in Storm #3, their paths are set to cross again. I don’t expect Storm to be the kind of vindictive ex-girlfriend who dedicates her every breath to emasculating all men around her. But even if she did, who would I be to question a goddess like her?

By this standard, I would say Beast counts as an infidel because he keeps busting Storm’s balls for some of the exceedingly noble shit she’s been doing lately. First, she dared to help a village that had been under the thumb of a ruthless dictator. Then, she located a bunch of missing teenagers that Callisto had been looking after and decided to leave them in her hands. This all seems too Cyclops-like to Beast so he complains, but as always nothing comes of it. He just reminds her that doing the right thing and being awesome sometimes has consequences and his balls are too fragile to take some of those consequences. But that’s his problem.

Beyond being a douche, he does give her something of substance beyond his constant whining. Someone wants Storm to visit Kenya to oversee the deployment of a new technology that will combat drought. It’s pretty exciting because if it works, it means her homeland would be free of famine and U2 fundraisers forever. Having once been worshipped as a goddess back in Kenya, she has plenty of reasons to go and getting away from Beast’s bitching is definitely top five.

She returns to Kenya, recounting all the ways it’s near and dear to her along the way. Anyone not familiar with her history won’t have to rely entirely on Wikipedia for once, which might be jarring for some readers. She’s then greeted by an elder named Esther Shira, who was among those who worshipped her. It’s not every day someone gets to actually meet the goddess they worshipped without the aid of potent hallucinogens. Usually, that takes the fun out of it, but Storm’s beauty and grace more than makes up for it. Esther provides a kind and welcoming face for Storm and the villagers, who I imagine wouldn’t hesitate to worship her again if she could ensure they never had to listen to another U2 concert again.

At first, it’s shaping up to be a nice, pleasant visit to her homeland. Then Storm meet’s Esther’s son, Noah, who’s kind of an asshole. He’s not an Iceman-caliber asshole, but at least he has an excuse. He’s helping with the new irrigation system, which apparently had its water cut off three years ago because someone didn’t get their bribe or someone just felt like being a dick. Not going to start accusing Iceman or Beast, but I’m not removing them from my list of top suspects. Whatever the reason, it provides a decent context as to why this town wants this new technology to work. It would help them sleep easier at night knowing their likelihood of going hungry isn’t contingent on how much of a dick someone is willing to be.

Then Storm’s trip home gets even less pleasant because Esther reveals who is responsible for providing this technology. It’s not the Gates foundation or Warren Buffet. It’s her old flame, Forge. I’m sure Storm was hoping that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were the ones behind this, but that might have been asking for a bit too much. It makes for an awkward, yet somewhat hollow moment. But it’s a moment that has been a long time in the making.

I say it’s hollow because as awkward as it was, it didn’t really have much of an emotional impact. It was basically, “Oh…my ex is here. Okay then, now I want to kick Beast’s ass.” It undermines the history between these two characters. Granted, that history is somewhat buried and hasn’t really been a factor since the Reagan administration. But for a time, Storm and Forge were a pretty serious relationship. Now their paths finally cross again after she’s been married, a queen, and re-adopted her Mohawk hair style.

It’s not completely random either. Forge actually decided to test this technology in this village because Storm told him about it back when they were together. And he specifically didn’t mention his name when he sent Storm the invitation. I don’t want to say that’s a dick move because he’s trying to feed starving people here. I’ll just say that he’s lucky Storm is so understanding because inviting an ex is usually like inviting a hungry pit bull to bacon factory.

Despite the minimal emotional impact, Forge gets right down to business. He starts demonstrating his technology, which is capable of creating a small storm cloud over a field. It’s basically the kind of shit Storm can do in her sleep. The problem is when he tries to turn it up, he triggers the kind of shit she would conjure if she found Sinister choking a baby kitten. There’s very little balance in between. It’s like my shower, which has only two settings: arctic blast and devil piss. He says it needs calibrating, but the blessings of a goddess certainly couldn’t hurt. Storm tells him that nature is all about balance and by fucking with that balance, he’s going to get way worse than a few lightning bolts up his ass. Most people probably pray for that whenever they need to call tech support for Verizon.

But making this technology work isn’t the only conflict here. Some, namely that prick Noah, aren’t too keen about getting this kind of help, even if it’s from a goddess. I would say that’s a dick move, but he and Forge do make some valid points. With the exception of stoners and S&M enthusiasts, nobody likes having to rely on outsiders to survive. Noah thinks relying on this technology could make them the equivalent of crack heads. Forge makes clear that he intends to let the village control this technology, not some poorly-managed foundation run by rock bands looking for good PR. There’s not a lot of trust and given Forge’s history, that’s not entirely unreasonable. It still feels like a shitty excuse to refuse a way to combat famine. There are many legitimate complaints about not accepting handouts, but even the Koch brothers would agree that preventing famine deserves an exception.

Whatever their reservations, Storm still decides to help. Preventing famine in her home country is kind of important to her. She starts helping Forge out, but this is where she starts recalling all the reasons why trusting her ex-boyfriend might not be the best way to aid her people. She starts reminding him of some of the shit he pulled back in the day and she doesn’t just focus on the nasty stuff that probably made it into Penthouse. It makes for a much more volatile test and volatile by Storm standards means hiding in the basement like doomsday preppers for those of us with less divine standards.

She starts listing more instances where Forge fucked up. He tries to make the same excuses that so many others made, saying he wasn’t in his right state of mind. If that excuse doesn’t work for Cyclops, it sure as hell doesn’t work for Forge. Storm then makes clear that if for any moment she suspects his asshole inclinations factor into this technology of his, she’ll make sure it fails before it can screw over the innocent people it’s supposed to help. And being her ex, he can expect her to be extra careful when judging him. That means Forge better have an adamantium cup protecting his balls.

To his credit, Forge keeps up his end of the bargain. He’s able to calibrate the machine and makes sure it works in a way that won’t punch Mother Nature in the jaw. The problem is that Noah, the second biggest asshole in this series after Beast, isn’t satisfied with that. He wants Forge to make it so they still have the option to fuck with the weather if they’re so inclined. Maybe they think a gentle rain just isn’t enough. Maybe they’ll just get bored one day and decide to unleash a hurricane at some neighboring village that gave them a dirty look. Forge doesn’t like it, but he’s not in a position to oppose him. For Storm, however, Noah can safely assume he’s more fucked than a wounded deer in front of Ted Nugant’s house.

Storm doesn’t wait for anyone to reason with Noah. She lives with Beast and Iceman. She knows when douchebags can’t be reasoned with. So she does what she has to do and destroys the machine before Noah can claim it. This rightly upsets Forge and Esther, but Storm rightly points out that nobody trusts each other enough with this gear. She then lists all the ways it could be horribly misused and after Noah expressed an interest in having that option, she’s perfectly justified in destroying it. The threat of famine sucks, but the threat of fucking up the weather sucks even worse and for way more people. It’s a difficult decision that even gods struggle to make, but it’s one Storm makes and she does it with a grace worthy of a goddess. I know I should be used to that by now in this series. I really should. But like a cold beer on a hot summer day, it never gets old.

Storm leaves Forge to continue working with Noah in hopes they’ll rebuild the machine and the trust they’ll need to run it. It’ll also give Esther plenty of time to punish Noah for being such an asshat. It makes for one last nice moment between Storm and Forge. They don’t go so far as to have any makeup sex, although I’m sure the thought crossed Forge’s mind. Storm isn’t even ready to have the, “Let’s just be friends,” talk either. But she makes clear that she doesn’t hold grudges and she’s willing to give friendship a chance. Whereas most goddesses would smite infidels and laugh while they suffer, Storm is willing to be friends with them. I’m pretty sure that puts her several rungs above every other god ever worshipped, but that really shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point.

Having a good ex-girlfriend is like having an inoperable but benign tumor. It can be horribly uncomfortable and unsightly, but it’s better than the alternative. Now Storm certainly has reasons to be a lousy ex-girlfriend to Forge. Their history has been troubled at times, albeit not to the degree that Tom Cruise’s last marriage, but she’s not one to hold a grudge. For any ex-girlfriend to say that is like hearing a cop say, “Meh, don’t worry about all those unpaid parking tickets.” It’s both liberating for forge and symbolic for Storm. It once again shows that she’s a goddess worthy of worship. She’ll take the moral high ground and look dead sexy doing it.

And like previous issues, she’s willing to go out of her way to take on heroic tasks that don’t involve killer robots. Helping a poor African village create a better irrigation system to avert famine might not be as impressive as hitting a Sentinel with a few dozen bolts of lightning, but it’s every bit as heroic. It’s the kind of shit Bono fights for when he’s not pissing off ITunes users. This issue didn’t hit the same emotional chords as the first two, but it’s still a quality story about Storm being awesome. Storm #3 gets an 8 out of 10. Forge is in an elite club of men, having dated a beautiful woman and not been subject to their bitter wrath. His balls should thank him every day for that because there are too many men in this world, especially those who have never heard of a pre-nup, who can’t say the same. Nuff said!

X-men Supreme Issue #104: School Daze is LIVE!

The X-men Supreme fanfiction series keeps growing with every issue. But every now and then, it grows in a way that opens a whole new avenue for awesome stories. Sometimes it happens when I introduce new characters like Sinister or the Shi’ar. Sometimes it happens when I incorporate classic X-men stories like the Phoenix Saga. I hope this latest growth is just as productive because it creates a new yet familiar dynamic to X-men Supreme that many X-men fans should appreciate.

Over the years, there have been many other teams that have spun out of the X-men. There’s X-Factor, X-Force, Young X-men, and plenty of others. A big part of what makes the X-men so strong as mythos and a brand is the wide variety of teams and characters. Since I began X-men Supreme, I focused primarily on established characters that are trained adults. To be fair, they really have to be trained adults in order to take on the kind of challenges they’ve faced in this fanfiction series. There are some young characters like Iceman and Shadowcat who capture the more youthful spirit of X-men. But to date, this fanfiction series has only followed one team of X-men. That changes today.

That change comes courtesy of Emma Frost. Despite having recently lost two of her daughters in the Prison Break arc, she’s been working on this change for quite some time. A former X-man herself, she’s a teacher and an educator at heart. That’s a big part of her character in the comics and one I seek to capture in X-men Supreme. Now that she’s free of Sebastian Shaw’s influence, she can focus on building something that reflects her passions. This is what leads us to the Academy of Tomorrow, a new institution inspired by the Xavier Institute. But unlike the X-men, the students involved are all young, having not yet found their place in the world as mutants. Now in this issue, the X-men see just what sort of world these young mutants will find for themselves under Emma Frost’s leadership.

X-men Supreme Issue 104: School Daze

With the introduction of the Academy of Tomorrow, the scale and scope of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series gets just a little bit bigger. As it grows, my ability to utilize all the dynamics that go into making X-men awesome will be tested. I have every intention of rising to the occasion. I believe I can keep making X-men Supreme awesome in new ways that appeal to X-men fans of all kinds. But to ensure those skills are up to part, I need plenty of feedback from my readers. I’ve noticed some who have gone through the trouble of going back and leaving generous comments in past issues. These readers are a bit part of what inspires me to keep making X-men Supreme awesome. I hope others follow their example. Please do so by posting your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly. I’m always happy to chat X-men. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Excelsior!


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Scanned Thoughts: Cyclops #5

We’ve all had to rely on assholes to help us every now and then. Sometimes we have to coordinate with a neighbor who steals our paper or an ex-girlfriend who doesn’t return our underwear. But we don’t always have the luxury of avoiding them, especially when clean underwear is at a premium. I imagine that’s a lot more common for a pirate and not just because they have to deal with dirty underwear. They don’t always have the luxury of making a lot of friends. Corsair is lucky in that he was able to make friends with a few kick-ass alien outlaws, one of which happened to be a sexy alien cat lady. But with him and O5 Cyclops stranded on an alien planet, he can no longer take comfort in the knowledge that he has a sexy alien cat-lady to support him. That hasn’t stopped him from being awesome, giving O5 Cyclops the kind of fatherly love that might have made him less an asshole later in life. But now in order to get off this alien planet, they’re going to have to rely on assholes that would prefer to deep fry their entrails and piss on their bones. Cyclops #5 promises to be the part where O5 Cyclops starts putting the advice of his badass pirate father to good use. Unlike most big tests 16-year-old boys have to take, this isn’t one they can cheat or rely on the internet to pass.

Having fixed the tracking beacon in the previous issue, it doesn’t take long for someone to pick up on it. And since O5 Cyclops and Corsair were unlucky enough to get stranded on an alien planet in the first place, it shouldn’t surprise them in the slightest that the first bounty hunter to pick up on it happens to be a real asshole. His name is Travis and he’s basically a cross between a Skrull and Chris Brown. He treats others like shit, especially an alien slave girl named Savva, because he couldn’t call himself a professional asshole if he didn’t. He and a few of his alien buddies are on the prowl for a big payday and another opportunity to be assholes. On an alien planet with a wrecked Baddoon ship, they probably think they just stumbled into a cottage of sick puppies.

They survey the scene that has been O5 Cyclops and Corsair’s home for the past couple of issues. As they do this, O5 Cyclops throws in some of the nice narration that has given this whole series a great voice since it began. He basically explains that his father’s plan for these guys is the kind of plan that Blackbeard himself would’ve loved. He wanted to kill these guys, take their ship, and probably give them the finger at some point along the way. O5 Cyclops, still being the boy scout that hasn’t been corrupted by the Phoenix Force or Emma Frost’s pussy, isn’t okay with that. He opts for a more humane approach and that involves being a bit more cunning.

That means turning the exotic alien animals that they’ve been dining on for the past few days against them. This ensures these ruthless hunters will be nice and pissed. That sounds like a shitty plan on paper, but this is still Cyclops. Even as a teenager, he does know a thing or two about strategy and he learned at an early age that even ruthless bounty hunters make lousy decisions when their pissed. This is exactly why the Hulk should never attempt to buy a used car.

After letting these guys trip over their asses and doing everything possible not to laugh, Corsair ambushes them and traps them in as humane a way a pirate ever could. It’s a satisfying moment because this is a guy whose first inclination is to stab bounty hunters no fewer than 15 times the moment he sees them. I’m guessing that’s just an instinct every wanted pirate develops at some point. Yet his son convinced him that this instinct, like the one that tells drunks they can dance, isn’t the best instinct to follow. It shows that while Corsair has done plenty to influence O5 Cyclops since this series began, O5 Cyclops is influencing him as well. It’s another beautiful example of the father/son dynamic that makes this series more fun than a box of porn and a cooler full of beer.

While Corsair is busy suppressing his pirate instincts, O5 Cyclops launches his part of the attack as well. This involves sneaking past Travis and his buddies while they’re doing some looting and sneaking onto his ship. Unfortunately, that ship is still being guarded by Savva, the girl Travis was treating like shit earlier. It seems like a perfect opportunity for O5 Cyclops to use the same charm that will one day earn him a place in Jean Grey and Emma Frost’s panties. So he attempts to confront her peacefully, trying to be as cute as possible. While this might work on telepaths, it doesn’t work on her. I suppose that’s another skill he’ll have to refine at some point. A good pirate, like a good X-man, must be able to seduce pretty girls into avoiding a fight, even if they’re alien.

Once O5 Cyclops’ charm fails, he puts all those sword-fighting skills his father has been teaching him to good use. It’s a very different kind of fight for O5 Cyclops, who so often relies on his fists or his optic blasts. It would be like Wolverine using a baseball bat instead of his claws or a katana. But it’s still plenty effective and O5 Cyclops looks like a real pirate in the process. It makes me think that this comic should’ve come with a warning saying that any woman who happens to be a telepath, has red hair, or was once a stripper at the Hellfire Club should carry an extra pair of panties. I’m pretty sure they’ll need them after seeing this.

It’s a very well-designed clash, but one O5 Cyclops keeps trying to end. He urges Savva to surrender, but she repeatedly refuses. She says she’ll either kill him or he’ll kill her. O5 Cyclops still has a problem with that so he does the third best thing, after attempting to reason with her and attempting to charm her. He finally uses his optic blasts, but only to open up one of the holding cells on the sip. He then traps her in the most merciful way possible. He couldn’t have been more merciful without offering a back massage, but Savva warns him that the rest of his plan will wind up killing them anyways. It sounds like a really lousy bluff from someone at a poker table, but since she’s a cute alien girl and he’s a teenage boy, he foolishly listens.

Outside the ship, another epic swordfight erupts. This time Corsair gets in on the action, showing that he’s not quite as merciful as his son. He still avoids the burning urge to kill these bounty hunters and spit on their corpses, but that doesn’t keep him from being a little rougher. It’s demonstrates nicely that while Corsair might not be a mutant, he’s still a badass pirate. And this time he was able to beat these bounty hunters without his sexy alien cat girlfriend providing support. That alone should earn him bonus points.

For a moment, it looks like the plan has succeeded. Corsair and O5 Cyclops took out all the bounty hunters without killing them and now they have a ship to get them off this planet. It’s a plan that worked so well that, like the fine print of an Apple user agreement, it can’t possibly pan out. Sadly, this is exactly what happens. Before Corsair can even enjoy his triumph, O5 Cyclops emerges from the ship with Savva as her prisoner. She orders that he surrender and Corsair is understandably pissed.

They spent days stranded on an alien planet learning to swordfight and he couldn’t subdue a cute girl? Any father would be disappointed, but O5 Cyclops hints that he has a plan. So Corsair decides to table the spanking and go along with it. If anyone else other than Cyclops, even a time-displaced version of him, asked him to do something like this, Corsair would have immediately gone back to following his basic pirate instincts. But he knows as well as the X-men that Cyclops has a plan and it usually works, even when the Avengers turn against him.

But why the hell did O5 Cyclops surrender to her anyways? Did she promise to let him touch her boobs or something? That might be acceptable to some, but there’s another explanation that’s a bit less crude. She and Travis are part of this race where they take an oath to not eat until they capture a bounty. It sounds like an extreme form of fasting that would probably make for a good hippie protest, but not a good tactic for a bounty hunter. And since Savva is their slave, she can’t eat either and she would’ve died even if O5 Cyclops let her and the others live. They’re just that dedicated. They’re basically the opposite of congressmen.

While Savva does keep her oath, she also keeps another that she made to O5 Cyclops. That involved letting him and Corsair out of their cells just as they’ve finished gorging like hungry wolf in a bacon factory. Since she’s big on keeping oaths, O5 Cyclops makes sure it works out for all of them. He blasts them with his optic blasts. Corsair throws a few punches. And since they were all probably close to a food coma anyways, it wasn’t a fair fight in the slightest. Yet it still felt satisfying, primarily because cute girls coming to the rescue never gets old.

Later on, all the bounty hunters are in their cells and Corsair now has control of a ship. So their plan worked, albeit indirectly and with a few complications. But now they’re back on track and can continue this father/son road-trip throughout the galaxy. Naturally, O5 Cyclops asks Savva to join them since it looks like tagging along with Travis is like being Chris Brown’s punching bag. But she refuses. Again, she’s big on keeping her oaths. It’s tough for a teenager to understand, but Corsair tells him that everybody finds out at some point how valuable someone’s promise is. Later on in life, it’s right up there with experience in blowjobs in terms of importance.

So anyone who was complaining about there being too many Andy Griffith moments for the past few issues can finally stop their bitching with this one. This issue was no alien fishing trip. It was O5 Cyclops’ first opportunity to be a badass pirate while still retaining his boy scout hero persona. And if this were a final exam, he would’ve passed with flying colors and guys like me would’ve been cheating off him. He and Corsair didn’t just escape the alien planet. He did it without killing anybody and keeping a cute alien girl from being harmed. That’s like hitting for the cycle in the World Series for a teenager. It was Cyclops without the all the dark undertones that have plagued his character for over a decade. It helps remind X-men fans why Cyclops is awesome in the first place. This issue definitely got that message across, continuing with the theme of making O5 Cyclops one of the most lovable characters in Marvel not named Kamala Khan. Cyclops #5 gets a 9 out of 10. So far this series had great father/son moments, solid action, and a few cute alien girls. Anybody who finds a reason to complain about it at this point is just being an asshole. Nuff said!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Scanned Thoughts: Amazing X-men #11

I don’t claim to exercise the best judgment. I don’t advertise this blog as the end-all and be-all of comic book reviews. I understand that my standards for assessing a comic are very different compared to others in that they’re incredibly fucked, a product of drunken rants and stoned musings. But I like to think I still have enough brain cells to accurately judge a situation. The difference between a functioning drunk and one that ends up dead or a prison bitch is the ability to assess a situation. By that standard, I think I can say with a fair degree of objective certainty that the situation in Amazing X-men is neck deep in Shits Creek.

This crossover arc between the X-men and Alpha Flight, which may end up being Wolverine’s last ever mission with them, has been one of those stories where things just keep finding ways to get worse. Not that it’s hard when the Wendigo are involved or anything, but the X-men and Alpha Flight’s collective efforts have been as inept as they’ve been entertaining. That’s why I’m going to try and not take too much pleasure in watching how they continue this ineptitude in Amazing X-men #11. Since this is probably Wolverine’s last ride with Alpha Flight, I’m willing to be a bit more restrained than usual.

Since Wolverine stumbled ass first into this Wendigo crap, the conflict has spread faster than semen stains on a porno set. The only thing keeping it from turning everyone in the world into the kind of mindless beasts that tend to populate Raiders games is that the Wendigo curse is still restricted to Canada. As soon as people are tired of having free health care and cross the border, they turn right back to their human forms. Northstar and Aurora help remind the Avengers of this, who have been patrolling the border in ways Lou Dobbs thinks should be done for Mexico. They keep them from getting too bloody. They need to save that kind of shit for the Red Skull anyhow. They know this isn’t a permanent solution. If Canada becomes just another den for Wendigos, then where else where the world get its star hockey players and cheap pharmaceuticals?

Across the border, the action is a lot less diplomatic. Colossus, Nightcrawler, Sasquatch, and Rachel Grey have been tasked with fighting the Wendigo and guarding the entrance to the Spirit Realm the others used. It’s pretty basic, but what makes it fun is the sharp dialog and strong characterization. It’s not enough to just have these characters beat up monsters. That’s something every superhero does in between meals, romantic sub-plots, and shopping for spandex. Having them carry out this task in a way that feels unique and distinct helps give it that refined polish of awesome. That and it’s nice to see Colossus kicking ass with the X-men again. Sure, they still don’t give him any of the shit they gave Cyclops for his role during Avengers vs. X-men, but I guess that’s just because he was never married to a woman Wolverine wanted to bone.

The entrance to the Spirit Realm is in good hands. That means Rockslide, Firestar, Storm, Snowbird, Iceman, and Guardian have to do theirs. Again, there’s some sharp dialog to keep things fun and interesting. It kind of has to be because their mission has basically been about as exciting as a Mormon frat party. Sure it gives them a chance to catch their breath, but it also gives characters like Rockslide a chance to bitch and moan. I guess there has to be someone like that in every mission and Iceman and Beast have probably worn themselves out after the shit they’ve done lately.

They eventually do reach their destination, which in this case takes them to right to the asshole responsible for spreading the curse of the Wendigo. There’s nothing all that distinct about him. His name is Tanaraq and he looks like a rejected enemy from World of Warcraft. He’s somehow using the power of the Wendigo to overthrow other mythical beasts that might question the size of his mythical dick. It’s all painfully basic, but it does finally offer insight into what triggered this Wendigo-level shit storm.

It’s all dire as hell and has the potential to be a global catastrophe, which happens at least once a week in the Marvel universe anyways. It’s about as novel as it sounds. There is to say there’s not much to add to Snowbird’s detailed yet bland explanation. Tanaraq is enjoying himself way too fucking much beating up mythical beasts in the Spirit Realm. Eventually, he’s going to get bored and do the same to their world. It doesn’t exactly make him an ominous threat. Any character whose primary motivation is to escape boredom isn’t much of a character. It’s just someone in need of Adderall.

That’s not to say Snowbird doesn’t try to throw in something extra. After her thorough dissertation on Tanaraq, they encounter a hoard of dead dog-like creatures called Shilohs. They’re supposed to be the offspring of the beasts, but for some reason they love Iceman. Now in most instances, that might be adorable. Dog lovers will certainly appreciate this, but dog lovers who have followed Iceman’s recent bullshit in Uncanny X-men might already be on the phone with PETA. At the very least, it puts Iceman in an awkward position. And if I can go to bed tonight knowing he’ll be shoveling Shiloh shit, I’ll sleep well.

Knowing the nature of the threat is still only part of the story here. It’s easy to forget that the Wendigo have already done their share of damage and not just to US/Canadian relations. Early in the conflict, Talisman got stabbed when Wolverine turned into a Wendigo. This is especially serious because this is the woman Puck was banging. Since short people in comics rarely get laid, it really is sad. It also adds a nice element of drama to a story that could’ve easily turned into a glorified Elder Scrolls quest. Mixing in some more personal elements might not be as flashy as seeing mythical creatures maim one another, but it gives the story the kind of polish that stoners like me appreciate.

These personal elements aren’t just asides either to pander to the Twilight crowd. There other personal moments involving characters that Puck isn’t boning. Earlier in the arc, Northstar pissed off everybody at the Family Research Council by rescuing a small girl named Amber and remarkably she didn’t become a lesbian on the spot. Now as he’s working with the Avengers and the authorities to care for the civilians, he’s able to reunite the girl with his father. I’m sure that’ll piss off the Family Research Council and every other bullshit organization that uses the word family to mask anti-gay bigotry. So it’s not just another nice moment that adds a personal touch to the story. It pisses off homophobic bigots and that’s always a bonus.

But I’m sure some aren’t going to be moved by these personal moments. They still want to see the X-men beat the shit out of some mystical monsters. Well, there’s still plenty of that and like the situation with the little girl, that eventually catches up with events that took place earlier in the arc. One of those events involved Wolverine being turned into a Wendigo. Nightcrawler was able to teleport him away where he couldn’t hurt anything that wasn’t a small animal or a beer, but Wolverine still managed to track them down. Even as a snarling beast, he can smell their farts from a 100 miles away. It helps raise the stakes a little in their efforts to protect the Spirit Realm because they’re not just fighting Wendigo anymore. They’re fighting a Wendigo that happens to be Wolverine. That’s like fighting Mike Tysons after he’s been turned into a vampire. It’s not a fight that can be won on a technicality.

This makes time a factor for Snowbird’s team in the Spirit Realm. She’s finally able to meet up with Tanaraq, but not much comes of it. They talk and that’s about it. Tanaraq basically plagiarizes all the arguments of a Captain Planet villain. There’s really no effort here to make him a more interesting character. He’s just another mythical asshole who would be right at home in a Lord of the Rings book. And he’s supposed to be the source behind all of this shit. For him to be this bland really takes away from the impact of the conflict. It’s just another asshole waving his mystical powered dick in the faces of everyone. Maybe Adderall isn’t enough for this guy after all.

As boring as Tanaraq is as a character, his dick does carry some level of power. Snowbird already warned the X-men that at some point, the curse would not be limited to the borders of Canada. Sooner or later, Tanaraq would become powerful enough to take a nice steaming shit on that pesky rule. Well without providing many details, he does just that. Remember that nice moment between the little girl reuniting with her father? Well that moment is officially fucked because now the girl’s father and everyone else from across the border turns back into a Wendigo. That officially makes it the second worst export from Canada after Justin Bieber.

It’s not enough to just throw the X-men, Alpha Flight, mystical creatures, and a touching family moment or two and expect the story to be awesome. Sure, that sort of half-assed attempt might make for a few profitable Hangover sequels, but it won’t exactly be awesome. There actually has to be an effort into making it all blend together. In that respect, this issue succeeded for the most part. It moved the story forward. The X-men and Alpha Flight kept battling the Wendigo, getting a nice assist from some of the Avengers in the process. Some of the more mystical elements of the Wendigo were explored. We got half-answers, but half-answers are about as satisfying as half a blowjob so I can’t say it’s a total success. It still counts as progress and it’s definitely more progress than Cleveland Browns fans are used to. Not everything came together. But if this comic were a mixed drink, it would still get the job done at a keg party. Amazing X-men #11 gets a 7 out of 10. I don’t claim to know much about mystical monsters I don’t see when I’m tripping balls on LSD, but this arc has already made it clear that Wendigos are the much less sexier version of werewolves and in this post-Twilight era, that goes a long ways. Nuff said!

Monday, September 22, 2014

War, Peace, and Hope: Wonder Woman: Futures End #1

The following is my review of Wonder Woman: Futures End #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.

The cynical, overly progressive hipsters of the world would have us believe that it doesn't take much to get people to fight in a war. Those who frequent message boards and 4chan certainly give the impression that it doesn't take much to rally an army. One overblown incident or one petty insult could be all it takes to trigger a flame war. So it would follow logically that if it's that easy to start a flame war, then it should be that easy to start a war that involves actual flames. Since message boards and cynics aren't known for their use of logic, it shouldn't be that surprising to anyone that war is a lot more complicated than Call of Duty and Game of Thrones would have us believe.

The most complicated part of any war, despite what the John McCains of the world claim, is that it's really hard to get people to fight one. It takes someone with the charisma of William Wallace, the tactical brilliance of Sun Tzu, and the bravado of Charlie Sheen to inspire a strong army. By that standard, Wonder Woman is the valedictorian of war harbingers because she has all the necessary traits to lead an army, minus the personal problems of Charlie Sheen.

Even though she clearly has the skills, she has rarely used them to instigate a war. She has always been one to fight for peace and look obscenely beautiful while doing it. But in Wonder Woman: Futures End #1, she is thrust into this role in a way that brings out all the qualities that make her someone any army would willingly follow to the gates of Hell. The world described in the various incarnations of Futures End has had many dark corners, but Wonder Woman finds a way to make this future feel a bit less apocalyptic. And at a time when apocalyptic futures are a dime a dozen, it makes for a refreshing story.

There's nothing too complicated about the war Wonder Woman's fighting. It's not some vague border conflict in the Middle East or some petty infighting among nobles in Game of Thrones. It's a very simple good vs. evil kind of war between the forces of Nemesis and the forces Wonder Woman has assembled. The circumstances come right from the pages of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nemesis' forces are vast and overwhelming. Wonder Woman's forces are limited and poorly equipped. Yet it still feels like a fair fight because Wonder Woman is the one leading the charge.

It's a conflict that forces Wonder Woman to embrace her role as the God of War. It's a role she's been putting off since the death of Ares and against the overwhelming armies of Nemesis, she shows she can carry out that role very well and look way sexier than Ares ever could in the process. But style points aside, Wonder Woman doesn't shy away from the brutality of her role. There are a number of battles she fights that would warrant more than a PG-13 rating if this were a movie, but it's never done in a way that gives the impression it's just trying to upset One Million Moms.

By embracing this role, it takes a toll on Wonder Woman. She sustains the kinds of injuries and wounds that everyone sustains in a prolonged war. She's less a warrior princess and more a hardened soldier, having fought for so long that it's difficult to imagine doing anything else. It's a perspective that Wonder Woman has rarely shown over her history. She's always walked a fine line between being a champion of justice and being a proud warrior. There's no line in this conflict. It's war at its most basic and brutal.

She struggles with this conflict ways that make for some pretty brutal struggles, but at the same time she makes clear that she's not fighting for the sake of fighting, as any God of War is prone to do. She still tries to fight for hope and that's what really resonates with the people fighting for her. When she tries to take on Nemesis forces single-handedly, they refuse to let her do it alone. That's the mark of a great leader, inspiring others to fight against overwhelming odds. Some use it to become overpaid motivation speakers. Wonder Woman uses it to fight a war that they can't afford to lose. Whether she's the God of War or a hardened soldier, she never loses sight of what makes her Wonder Woman.

Even though the story has some fairly bleak themes, Wonder Woman: Futures End #1 provides an inspiring, uplifting narrative that captures many of the traits that make Wonder Woman a compelling character and a great leader. She's willing to endure and struggle in a way that would inspire any army against any foe. Even as the future around her has become more depressing than one of Sarah McLachlan's ads for the ASPCA, she keeps fighting for hope when that's usually the first thing that's lost in war.

Over the course of Futures End, numerous characters have been strained or distorted by the circumstances of this future. It's not entirely dystopian, but it's no hippie dreamscape either. Some have lost their way completely. Some have disappeared altogether for reasons not fully explained. That's why Wonder Woman's story in Wonder Woman: Futures End #1 is so refreshing. It shows a Wonder Woman that has been affected by this future, but not in a way that deviates from the core of her character. She's still a beacon of hope and love. And for a God of War, that's saying something.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Friday, September 19, 2014

Scanned Thoughts: Uncanny Avengers #24

Few things unite people more than being stuck in a situation where they’re all equally fucked. It’s remarkable how quickly petty differences disappear when everybody is facing the same shit storm. It’s only when that shit storm finally reaches them that they realize it stinks for everyone, no matter what the color of their skin is or who they want to bone. When I look at the Uncanny Avengers, I see a team that could never have found a way to get along if they hadn’t had a common enemy to battle in the Red Skull or the Apocalypse Twins. They proved early on that there’s a damn good reason why the X-men and Avengers didn’t mingle all that much and it’s not just because Tony Stark can’t be trusted around mutant women like Emma Frost.

They function so differently and deal with such different struggles. In wake of Kang’s recent attack, they’ve had to come together in ways they never would have been able to do through team-building exercises and softball games. Now that the Red Skull is set to unleash some old school Nazi style shit storms, they can’t afford to be petty again. I’m sure that’s not going to stop them though. Uncanny Avengers #24 throws a new wave of shit in their direction and I’m as about as confident as I am in their ability to handle it as I am in Comcast’s customer support.

Almost as annoying as Comcast’s customer service is Havok’s bitching and moaning. It has been a major factor, and at times a major detriment, to Uncanny Avengers since it began. But at least this time he has a good reason to brood. He lost his daughter. He got his face fucked up. And he gets a rather nasty reminder when he’s doing something as simple as going to the grocery store. Given all the advanced alien technology the Avengers have, I would have thought they had something that would unfuck his face. I guess they just reserve that for real Avengers and not mutants. Fucking racists.

Havok ends up getting even more reasons to brood because after a woman and her kid get all awkward and uncomfortable at seeing his face, he gets attacked in an alley by one of the S-men. It’s not much of a clash really. There’s little action and given his current state, I can’t take any perverse satisfaction in him getting beat. I guess that shows some progress in that I feel sorry for Havok, but it still severely hinders any possible excitement from this scene, which might as well be cut and pasted from the last two Taken movies.

Things are a bit more pleasant with Wolverine, Rogue, and the Scarlet Witch. Now I never thought I would use the word “pleasant” in the same sentence that has both Rogue and the Scarlet Witch after how they clashed early in in Uncanny Avengers. I guess it shows just how much they’ve progress as well. That or the presence of beer helps to keep things calm. I’m going to say it’s a little of both, but give more credit to the beer.

This conversation also helps establish that this is taking place after Wolverine has lost his healing factor. Uncanny Avengers is unfashionably late to the party in that respect. He’s been without his healing for a long time now Uncanny Avengers couldn’t really use that because it had such a long ass arc. Late or not, Wolverine does make some very important points. He basically admits he’s no longer fit to carry out Xavier’s legacy. He’s a guy who murdered his own son. He’s not exactly an inspiration of peace and understanding. Someone else needs to pick up the slack and why not two beautiful women? Who can wage war and hatred against two beautiful women? Besides, Rush Limbaugh that is. The first step in that process, of course, is to kill the Red Skull.

It leads to another nice moment between Rogue and Wolverine that doesn’t feel overdue for once. Wolverine takes a moment to comfort Rogue after having lost control of her powers again. He does this before he runs off, presumably to take part in all the shit he got himself into after he lost this healing. Unlike many of the other emotional moments in Uncanny Avengers, this one feels genuine. It harkens back to the kinds of emotions Rogue often dealt with when she was sassier, sexier, and not afraid to show off her ass. It almost made me miss the 90s. Then I remembered that the 90s also had no internet porn or Netflix and I quickly got over it.

Rogue is definitely in a vulnerable place now. She’s lost control of her powers, can’t touch, and has to rely on the Scarlet freakin’ Witch to fix her. And she has to go through all of this without the guidance of Charles Xavier. It’s not a pleasant place to be in. Naturally, the Red Skull and the S-men are eager to make it worse. So after Wolverine leaves and Rogue starts remembering all the ways Xavier helped her, the S-men show up to ruin her day even more.

Again, there’s no action here. There’s no clash or struggle. They just show up and the fight is over. I get that the S-men are getting the jump on them, but that doesn’t mean they have to go down after one fucking punch. Even a drunk gets a swing in after someone breaks a beer bottle over their head. It only serves to make the story choppy and dull. Besides, I think someone like Rogue is more capable than a typical drunk.

That’s not to say the lack of action leads to nothing of value. As soon as Rogue gets knocked out, she starts having crazy dreams of herself back home in Mississippi before she started running around in skin-tight outfits. It should be a nice, pleasant place before she wakes up in whatever hell the Red Skull has created for her. But then the brainless corpse of Charles Xavier shows up. I know he’s supposed to be dead. I know Marvel has made it clear that Charles Xavier is dead, but only in the sense that Bill Clinton made clear that he didn’t bone an intern. Xavier’s mind is still somewhat present and he’s able to use what’s left of it to warn Rogue what the Red Skull is up to. He also reminds her that she still has Wonder Man inside her in a completely non-sexual way. The Red Skull probably isn’t prepared for that shit and she better use that to her advantage because Nazis like him don’t offer much. It’s still a disturbing conversation, talking to a brainless Xavier. I imagine it’s still less disturbing than a conversation with Glenn Beck.

When Rogue wakes up, she’s chained to the wall with Havok and the Scarlet Witch within the Red Skull’s mutant concentration camp. Even with a warning from the astral ghost of Charles Xavier, I imagine that’s pretty disturbing. It’s never pleasant to wake up chained to anything that isn’t within Megan Fox’s bedroom. For that reason, Rogue doesn’t hesitate to take Xavier’s advice. With Wonder Man’s strength, she busts out and frees her friends. Right now, that strength is the only advantage they have. They’re in a concentration camp on Genosha run by the Red Skull, who has the telepathic power of Charles Xavier. In that sense, it really isn’t much of an advantage.

A Nazi concentration camp is as unpleasant as they would expect. Anyone who read Magneto #8 isn’t going to be too surprised, but they’ll still be pretty sickened. There’s really no joke or comment I can say about a Nazi concentration camp. It’s as dark as can be without an Oscar winning movie being involved.

Speaking of Magneto #8, there’s also another nice act of convergence that isn’t overdue like so many have been. As Havok, Rogue, and the Scarlet Witch are making their way through the camp, they find Magneto, who was captured at the end of that issue. It’s not the smoothest convergence, but it’s still satisfying because it also shows Magneto telling Mzee, an oversized Ninja Turtle knock-off, to fuck off. It also gives them someone else with plenty of power and motivation to take down the Red Skull. Since I’ve already pointed out that Rogue’s Wonder Man strength is hardly enough, I think this makes them a little less fucked. They’re still fucked overall, but not as much as before.

Freeing Magneto had all the makings of a powerful moment. However, that moment falls painfully flat. Here Magneto is, in a concentration camp and reunited with one of his daughters, and nothing really comes of it. It’s the exact opposite of the moment Rogue shared with Wolverine. Now I don’t blame them for focusing on the Red Skull, but there’s no effort to really make this a family conflict. Magneto just gets pissed when they talk about escaping and summoning the Avengers. Magneto, not one to leave anyone stuck in a concentration camp, has a problem with that for obvious reasons. It has all the conditions to be a tense, emotional moment. But it doesn’t turn out that way. It only makes the story feel more choppy, which is not good for anyone who mixes comics with weed.

It gets a little more concise when the Red Skull shows up while they’re bickering. I imagine he didn’t even need telepathy to sense it. Again, someone gets the jump on them and no action comes of it. That limits the potential for awesome in many ways. At the same time, the fact that this issue is billed as a prelude limits it as well. It’s supposed to be a precursor to the AXIS crossover, which means it’s pretty much a given they’re not going to beat the Red Skull. I know that would be a given in most stories, but this just makes it feel too predictable. When even a stoner can predict how the story is going to play out, it severely limits the excitement. Nobody’s panties are getting soaked after reading this.

I found it oddly refreshing to see how the events of this issue converged with events that unfolded in Magneto’s solo series. It’s the kind of convergence that, like a nude scene in a movie with Megan Fox, is as rare as it is beautiful. Other parts of convergence, like Wolverine losing his healing, were way overdue. But when it doesn’t involve a woman’s period, I’m okay with this sort of thing being late. The overall flow of the story was still choppy and flat, but not so much that it’s impossible to enjoy, even with a sober mind. That’s why I give Uncanny Avengers #24 a 6 out of 10. I know they’re not going to beat the Red Skull before AXIS kicks in. I know Havok is still going to find a way to fuck this up. But if it’s a story that leads to Rogue kicking ass or Magneto torturing a Nazi, I’ll gladly jump aboard the AXIS train and right that motherfucker to the end. Nuff said!

X-men Supreme Issue 104: School Daze PREVIEW!

Over the years, the X-men have evolved to take on many different roles within many different conflicts. Sometimes they are teenagers struggling with both the rigors of having mutant powers and growing up. Sometimes they are a team of superheroes on part with the Avengers, taking on powerful enemies that others are not equipped to handle. As I've developed the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, I've done my best to capture as many of those roles as possible. But one core role that has always helped the X-men stand out is the role they play as teachers and educators. While the X-men will always be seen as heroes in some respects, education is a big part of their mission. Professor Charles Xavier is, after all, a professor.

I've highlighted the X-men's role as students and teachers at many points during X-men Supreme. This fanfiction series actually started off with the Xavier Institute getting a new teacher in Storm. But more often than not, the X-men's role as students often gets interrupted by conflicts created by the likes of the Brotherhood, enemies like Sinister, and even ordinary humans seeking to undermine human/mutant relations. It's a difficult challenge for the X-men, being students and heroes. It gets quite overwhelming at times. The world in X-men Supreme has grown so big that it's hard for them to keep up now. They can no longer do it on their own. That's exactly why this fanfiction series is set to evolve in another way in that the X-men are about to get some badly needed allies.

During the recent Prison Break arc, it was revealed that Emma Frost had been putting together a team of her own since the events of the Phoenix Saga. That team consists of young, largely inexperienced teenage mutants who only recently got their first taste of what it's like to be an X-man. They were tasked with protecting the Stepford Cuckoos while Emma Frost worked with Cyclops and Phoenix to take down Shanobi Shaw. They succeeded in their role. Now they're ready to see that role expand. X-men Supreme is now ready to expand the number of mutant teams in this fanfiction series. Emma Frost is about to open the doors to her mutant school, the Academy of Tomorrow. It's an exciting time for the X-men and for mutants as a whole. I've prepared an extended preview to offer a taste of what this new world for young mutants will bring.

“The Academy of Tomorrow,” read Kitty Pryde as she stood before an imposing structure, “Not a real subtle name, but I guess it works better than calling it the other school for mutants.”

“You sound like you’re sizing up the competition, Kitty,” teased Jean Grey, who was standing next to her.

“Are you telling me this doesn’t qualify? It’s a school, it’s full of mutants, and it’s being run by a former X-man.”

“That shouldn’t be cause for concern,” added Scott as he joined the two girls, “If Emma really wanted competition, she wouldn’t have invited us to tour the campus.”

“Could just be her way of showing off her fancy new digs,” scoffed Kitty.

“This is Emma Frost we’re talking about. Showing off is part of her charming personality,” snickered Jean, “Had we not helped her against Shanobi Shaw recently, I may share your concerns, Kitty. But I’m willing to give Emma the benefit of the doubt.”

“Even if it means giving her another chance to betray us?”

Kitty Pryde’s remarks earned her a harsh glare from Jean and Scott. She shrugged innocently, accepting it up to one of those comments that was too blunt for everyone besides her. Jean and Scott were willing to let it slide though. Emma Frost’s betrayal with the Inner Circle was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Even though they filled them in on what happened with Shanobi Shaw and the Stepford Cuckoos, there was still plenty of skepticism.

Never-the-less, Emma still worked to make amends. She stayed in touch with Scott and Jean. They even helped with the funeral for Esme and Sophie, the daughters she lost at the hands of Shanobi Shaw. These were bleak circumstances for them to reconnect, but this visit was their way of starting anew.

This time Emma invited Charles Xavier and anyone else he cared to include on this visit to her new school. The Academy of Tomorrow campus was located near the outer city limits of Boston and was built from an old boarding school. Thanks to Emma’s vast financial resources, she gave it a substantial renovation. It had a very similar feel to the Xavier Institute. The campus was gated, the buildings were nicely designed, and there was a very modern aura to the area. Upon exiting the cab, Professor Charles Xavier led Scott, Jean, Ororo, Kitty, and Betsy to the front gates.

“This is quite a campus, Professor. I didn’t realize Emma had such vast connections,” commented Ororo.

“Emma has always been a very resourceful woman. Her ability to make remarkable progress in a short amount of time is one of her defining attributes,” said Xavier, smiling as he took in the facility before him.

“You mean third most after the ones that fill her bra,” said Kitty under her breath.

“Based on what I’ve heard, I’m sure some of that progress wasn’t entirely honest,” said Betsy dryly.

“You don’t even know her and you’re already making harsh judgments?” asked Ororo with a slight scorn, “I expect that from Kitty, but not from you, Betsy.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be harsh. I guess I’m still a bit bitter towards the accomplishments of beautiful people,” she sighed.

“I take it you mean Remy,” said Ororo, offering a more reassuring gesture.

“You dated him too, luv. You of all people should know the phases I’m going through.”

“Which is why I feel it’s best for you to join us,” said Professor Xavier, “It may be beneficial for you to see the less obvious influences of the X-men.”

“So long as it distracts me from all things Cajun, I’ll manage,” she sighed, “Just don’t expect me to be all smiles and sunshine. I’m still several phases away from that point.”

It was no secret that Betsy had been going through a rough patch after breaking up with Remy. She and Remy hadn’t talked much since it happened. He was coping better because he had Rogue to lean on. Betsy didn’t have that luxury. She didn’t know much about Emma Frost or her history, but she was badly in need of a break from all the drama.

With the Professor and the X-men, the gate automatically opened and they were greeted by Emma Frost. She was wearing what may have been the most appropriate attire they had seen her wear in some time. She looked like a full-fledged business woman, wearing a nicely tailored pantsuit. It was still a bit revealing around the chest area and was white like everything else she wore, but that was to be expected. Even if she was now principal of a school, she was still Emma Frost.

“Professor Charles Xavier, you have a knack for making your presence known,” greeted Emma Frost, “Welcome to the Academy of Tomorrow.”

“It’s a pleasure to be here, Emma. You’re looking lovely as always,” said Xavier in a friendly tone.

“I expect to be nothing short of fabulous in front of the X-men, despite recent events.”

“That’s a relief. Some of us still worry. Especially after what happened with Shaw,” said Scott.

“You of all people should know I’m not one to wallow in sorrow, darling,” said Emma with an aura of confidence, “But I prefer we avoid such grim topics. The Academy has much to offer and I’m sure the X-men are interested in how my students measure up.”

“So you are flaunting for the competition,” commented Kitty.

“Competition is such an ugly word, even if it made me obscenely rich at my hedge fund. I’d like to think of it as a partnership. Unless, of course, you feel threatened by another mutant school.”

“Let’s not get overly competitive just yet. This is supposed to be a friendly tour,” said Ororo, stepping between Kitty and Emma.

“I’m confident most of you will remember that. It’s not my fault if others are horrendously insecure,” replied Emma, still staring down Kitty.

Kitty scolded the older blond, but didn’t respond as Emma led Professor Xavier and the team onto the campus. Despite the recent clash against Shanobi Shaw, Kitty wasn’t around when Emma was an X-man. She wasn’t convinced of her sincerity just yet and she wasn’t the only one either.

“She’s harsh,” commented Betsy.

“You think?” said Kitty.

“Give her a chance,” said Jean, rolling her eyes, “If I can give her a chance despite being Scott’s ex, you can too.”

Throughout the history of X-men, there have been many different teams with varying casts of characters. Their methods might be different, but their goals are usually similar. They seek to confront the challenges facing mutants the same way the X-men have. I feel it's a natural progression from the events I've developed in X-men Supreme, having a new team enter the picture. That means a whole host of new and familiar characters will be showing up in the issues that follow. I'm hoping this further expands the appeal of this fanfiction series. But as always, I strongly encourage readers to provide feedback to let me know if my efforts are working. Please contact me directly or post your comments in the issues. Either way is fine. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Excelsior!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scanned Thoughts: Uncanny X-men #26

We all do favors in our day-to-day lives. It’s one of the only ways human civilization can function, being able to cooperate with one another. Sure, it still leads to shitty things like wars, genocide, and reality TV, but it has helped us progress to the point where we have abundant internet porn so I won’t say it’s a total burden. But every now and then, someone will ask a favor that will make us want to choke on our own piss. And when those favors come in the form of a will from a dead loved one, that piss is more bitter than usual. That’s what the X-men have been experiencing in wake of revealing Charles Xavier’s last will and testament.

First, they found out that he secretly married Mystique. That alone was harder to swallow then ten gallons of piss. Then they find out that Xavier had been secretly monitoring a dangerous mutant named Matthew Malloy for much of his life. Never mind that he somehow managed to hide this during all the other times he was dead, evil, or MIA. I doubt those kinds of details are ever considered when shitting all over 50 years of convoluted continuity. But now that Xavier is dead, the X-men must continue what he started or their entire function as X-men is completely fucked. I’m expecting plenty of Xavier’s loved ones to be choking on plenty of piss in Uncanny X-men #25. But since this is the last will of their mentor, they might as well hold their nose and pretend it’s cheap vodka.

They might be able to take some comfort in the knowledge that Maria Hill will be drinking her share as well because she’s still trying to keep SHIELD in the mutant-policing business. After the epic clusterfuck that Dark Beast pulled them into with the Sentinels, I would think that Maria Hill would avoid mutant issues like a hypochondriac avoids a gas station toilet. But after the big fucking crater Matthew Malloy left in South Carolina, she’s going to take another swing at it. Sure, she might leave a few more craters and she admits this one of her worst nightmares that don’t involve killer clowns. But hey, nobody can accuse her of not being persistent. It’s admirable when Rocky Balboa doesn’t. Not so much when a government agency with a history of fucking up a certain issue.

I still think Cyclops would gladly trade places with Maria Hill at this point because after hearing the full extent of Charles Xavier’s will in the previous issue, he’s understandably pissed. Xavier now wants the X-men to continue his legacy of mind-fucking Matthew Malloy into not blowing everything up. Sure, that goes completely against everything Xavier taught his X-men about teaching mutants to accept who they are. But this is a case where he had to make an exception and keep it a secret from everybody. Why? I’ve given up trying to figure it out and so has Cyclops.

It’s a pretty emotional moment in that it gives Cyclops a chance to fully react to Xavier’s will. But the impact is pretty limited because Cyclops is the only one that has such a reaction. It’s not even a completely understandable. He’s pissed that Xavier would lie to them like this and wait until he’s dead to tell them. I’m not sure why he would be more pissed now than he would all the other times he’s lied. Xavier has gone behind the backs of the X-men before and he’s gone so far as to mind-fuck them. It just feels like he’s being pissed for the sake of being pissed. What makes it feel even weaker is that the rest of the team are on board with doing as Xavier asks. They pretend they’re okay with Xavier doing this. They treat it like we’ll treat boy bands one day, as one of those things we just wish never happened.

Usually, this is the perfect opportunity for Beast to do something that would make him even more of a douche. But this time, it’s Iceman who takes advantage of this opportunity and he really swings for the fences. Whereas everyone else just yells at Cyclops to go along with Xavier’s last wishes, he just keeps trying to throw in more jabs about how he murdered Xavier. Never mind that he wasn’t in control of himself. Never mind that he’s standing right next to Wolverine, a guy who murdered his own son without the influence of the Phoenix. Never mind he’s standing next to Beast, who has helped murder entire universes. He just has a permanent rage boner for Cyclops and only Cyclops.

Iceman swings for the fences with his douche-baggery on this one. Everyone else is more understanding in getting Cyclops to go along with Xavier’s will. Firestar even shows sympathy, noting just how tortured Cyclops is. She has this thing called empathy. Iceman clearly never even heard of it because when everyone else asks what he would do, he actually says he hopes Cyclops dies in battle. That sounds like the kind of shit seen on a 4chan message board, not from someone who was once Cyclops’ friend. It puts Iceman into a whole new world of douche that even Beast has never entered. I thought nobody could be as big an asshole as Beast, but Iceman just made him his prison bitch.

All this outrage and douche-baggery still centers around Matthew Malloy, who is probably the least douchy character in this conflict. For a guy who just blew up an entire town and killed thousands of people, that’s saying something. It helps that he does come off as sympathetic. He doesn’t understand what’s happening with him. He’s still trying to figure out his powers. With Xavier having suppressed them for so long, he might as well be a 12-year-old trying to play quarterback in the NFL. The problem is he still doesn’t have much personality. He’s just perpetually shell-shocked the whole time. Given the circumstances, that’s understandable. But it still makes him feel like more a prop than a character.

Shell shocked or not, he’s still at the top of Maria Hill’s shit list. Since Cyclops was once at the top of that list, that’s not saying much. To her credit, she does try to do more than just throw bombs or killer robots at the problem. She’s not John McCain. So in an effort to be a little smarter, she enlists help from Exodus and Headlok, who happen to be part of SHIELD’s psi division. Not even sure how long they’ve had that because it sure as hell would’ve come in handy when Dark Beast was screwing them over. But I digress.

They make a concerted effort to attack Matthew psychically, just as Charles Xavier had done. Since SHIELD has no psychic on the level of Charles Xavier, it doesn’t turn out very well. It turns out like most government operations turn out, but it does yield one important detail. Matthew is a mutant. That means SHIELD has to deal with mutants again. It also means that Maria Hill will be having more nightmares about mutants. On the other hand, some of those nightmares might involve Cyclops so that means she’ll at least get a few wet dreams out of it. Not saying it balances everything out, but it’s something.

It’s setting up for a powerful convergence between SHIELD and the X-men on Matthew. That’s why it’s more than a little jarring and disappointing when another unrelated side-plot enters the picture. It’s not related to Xavier, Matthew Malloy, or secret marriages. It’s just the New Xavier students training with the Cuckoos in the Danger Room in a scenario that pits them against the Avengers. It’s not even that novel because they actually faced the Avengers earlier in the series when they tried to arrest Cyclops and he told them to piss off. Since they don’t have Cyclops do to that with this simulation, they’re understandably inept. I know they’re teenagers, but this wasn’t supposed to be a story about how inept teenagers are against the Avengers. It’s supposed to be about the last will and testament of Charles Xavier. That or somebody got way too stoned when they made the solicits for this.

As out-of-place it might be, it does lead to a meaningful conversation between Triage and the Stepford Cuckoos. Triage rightly points out that training to fight the Avengers sort of has some unpleasant implications. The Avengers are supposed to be the good guys. That’s how the world sees them. That’s how their PR team keeps it, even if some of them secretly meet to destroy other universes from time-to-time. So if they ever did fight them, then that would make them villains by default. It doesn’t matter if it’s overly simplistic. Triage understands that the people of this world have minds organized like Fox News in that overly simplistic explanations are the only acceptable explanations. The Cuckoos paint it a different way, saying they’re training to protect themselves. But Triage still isn’t buying it.

It’s not clear if anyone wins the argument, but Triage does seem to get his point across. Nobody seems to know what Cyclops’ “mutant revolution” is supposed to look like. Just preparing to fight the Avengers sets a bad precedent. Now that’s not to say he’s completely right here. Cyclops actually went to a rally in a previous issue and told everybody that the Avengers aren’t the enemies. He hasn’t tried to fight them. They come to him. But it’s something nobody talks about or thinks about. It gives the impression that there really is no clear understanding about Cyclops’ mutant revolution at this point. It would be so much more relevant if it actually fit cohesively into the ongoing story about Xavier’s will. Instead, it just reminds everybody that they really have no idea what the fuck Cyclops has planned for them in the long run.

Nobody seems to have a plan on dealing with Matthew Malloy either. That’s what makes this glorified student debate feel even more out-of-place. As the X-men are making their way towards Matthew, SHIELD shows up and basically tells them what they already know. They don’t wait until they can enter the story in an interesting way. They just catch up in time for Beast to tell them how fucked they are. It’s probably the longest Beast has ever gone without being a total douche. He just tells them that Matthew Malloy’s mutant signature reveals that he’s powerful enough to consume an entire state and shit out the entrails. Again, this is shit we already know and don’t need to be reminded of. Even I don’t smoke that much pot.

This issue really didn’t accomplish much other than make me want to punch Iceman in the jaw and kick him in the balls. I honestly thought only Beast was capable of being more of a prick, but Iceman just joined him in the douche-bag Hall of Fame. Thankfully, nobody else had a chance to carve their own bust because the plot really stalled. All they did was react to Xavier’s will and that’s about it. Matthew Malloy is still a walking death machine. Maria Hill is still enduring migraines over all mutant-related issues. The only really compelling part of this story was the debate with Triage and the Cuckoos. But given the circumstances of the story, it felt really out of place. If it’s supposed to be a prelude to the upcoming AXIS event, then it’s the comic book equivalent of premature ejaculation and that’s not enjoyable for anyone. Uncanny X-men #26 gets a 5 out of 10. I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to add another name to my list of characters I want to drop kick into a vat of cat piss, but Iceman has joined Beast as permanent members on that list. And I really don’t like having people I have the urge to beat up while I’m sober. Some just do way too much to deserve it. Nuff said!