Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Trolling the Man of Steel: Superman #41

The following is my review of Superman #41, which was posted on PopMatters.com.

In the movie "Coming To America," Eddie Murphy plays a disillusioned prince in Akeem Joffer who kept a pretty big huge secret from the woman he loved. Granted, being the prince of a rich African nation is not the kind of secret that would upset most women, especially in the post-Jerry Springer era. However, Akeem kept this secret from his love for all the right reasons. He wanted her to fall in love with him for who he was and not just because he was a prince. As such, Superman maintained a secret identity in Clark Kent for a similar reason. He couldn't be the Superman he wanted to be without an anchor to the people he wanted to protect. So what happens when he loses that anchor and a good chunk of the ship it was attached to?

That's the premise of whole "Truth" arc that starts to unfold in Superman #41. It's an arc that has already unfolded on other books, such as Action Comics, Batman/Superman, and Superman/Wonder Woman. These books establish that Superman's identity has been revealed to the public, Lois Lane is primarily responsible for doing so, and he's lost a sizable portion of his powers. Even by Superman standards, this is the ultimate trifecta of a bad day. Even a collective attack by Darkseid, Brainiac, and Lex Luthor couldn't challenge him like this. Unlike his enemies, Superman can't punch this problem into submission or inspire it do good. He has to deal with it and he must do so in a weakened state.

It continues DC's ongoing theme of stripping Superman down to his core values, removing the powers that make him almost god-like and putting him in situation where bench pressing a small planet won't do him any good. Time and again, these situations offer compelling reminders that Superman is not just defined by his powers. He's defined by doing the right thing, even when he has the power to do otherwise. The narrative here is very different. It's not just about doing the right thing anymore. For once, Superman will have to pay a price for doing what he does. What does that do to him as a character? The answers in Superman #41 are incomplete, but it does lay the foundation for this dramatic upheaval in Superman's life.

The main conflict is fairly basic, but nicely refined in that it builds on a story that was established in previous issues. Somebody is selling some very powerful, very illegal weapons that even Ted Nugant wouldn't want to own. It's up to Superman and Jimmy Olsen to stop them and uncover the truth about where these weapons are coming from. It has many of the same themes as a typical Nicholas Cage movie, but there's one major complication that prevents this from being just another Tuesday for Superman.

There's this unknown mystery figure who happens to have footage of Clark Kent turning into Superman. We don't get a clue who he, she, it, or they might be. There's no ominous, Morpheus-like voice. There's no CSI style shadowy figure. There's just a series of text messages that attempt to blackmail Superman. It might as well be an overly ambitious internet troll. This just isn't the kind of troll that can be blocked or muted.

It feels kind of cheap on some levels, having somebody use text messages to blackmail Superman of all people. At the same time, there's something oddly fitting about it. In some respects, it's the state of the modern world catching up with Superman. This isn't the era of phone booths and goofy disguises anymore. This is an era where lives can be ruined with a single tweet. Just ask Anthony "Carlos Danger" Wiener. Superman has always been able to navigate the times and keep functioning as he has since the days of FDR. This time, even he's not powerful enough to overcome the power of internet trolls.

This isn't immediately clear to him from the beginning. Superman doesn't really take this threat very seriously at first. This is one of the biggest weaknesses of the story. The tone is almost casual in how Superman deals with this threat to his identity. He gives the impression that he can deal with it, but the very first page, which briefly flash-forwards to the future, reveals that he fails. It's somewhat of a disconnect in the path to this final outcome is unclear.

The helps feed the second major weakness of Superman #41, which is that it feels incomplete. The end result is already spoiled, both on the first page and in other associated Superman comics. In fact, this issue is way behind the curve in terms of tone and theme. It's like watching Terminator 3 before watching the first two movies. It only sets up for Superman's identity to be revealed and not in a satisfying way either. We know it's coming, but it just ends too abruptly.

It's disappointing in terms of what is promised by the reveal on the first page. There's no dramatic moment where Lois Lane gasps or Twitter explodes with the revelation that Clark Kent is Superman. This may still happen in the next issue. But at this point in Superman's narrative, it just limits the kind of dramatic impact. It obscures the perspective and undermines the substance of the story.

Without that first page reveal, there's less to obscure. But on its own merits, Superman #41 feels like only three-fourths an episode of the Wire. It has the right pieces in place. The characterization of Superman, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen is spot on. Superman knows his identity is in danger of exposure, but that doesn't stop him from doing the right thing. And the plot surrounding these mysterious weapons is one that has merit as well. It just fails to connect these pieces in a way that feels like a polished product.

Future issues may help fill in the gaps and make those connections. But on its own, Superman #41 feels less like a blockbuster movie and more like a teaser trailer. And in this age of cat videos and internet celebrities, that's simply no longer sufficient.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Monday, June 29, 2015

Strangers In Paradise Chapter 15: Heart Shaped Box is LIVE!

There comes a point in every relationship where just leaving the toilet seat down isn’t enough. Despite what every love song since 1955 might claim, it takes more than just love for a relationship to succeed. Most stories about relationships center around the will they/won’t they dynamic that Friends exploited to no end. Others revolve around love triangles or hook-ups that make every romantic comedy more predictable than GIECO commercial. With Superman and Wonder Woman, there seems to be a concerted effort to not stick to every formula that Disney has ever tried.

Getting together was the easy part for these two in the comics. In “Strangers In Paradise,” I made them work for it a little more. They had to fight just to have a chance to get together, but I never intended that to be the full story. To really make this relationship stronger, I set out to challenge them in a major way. But I didn’t want that challenge to come from another love interest. The last thing Superman/Wonder Woman needs is a fucking love triangle. Unless it’s in a porn parody of Man of Steel, it just has no appeal. For this story, the challenge goes beyond their relationship, but it’s not something they could’ve avoided.

Right now, “Strangers In Paradise” is entering a very volatile conflict. While Superman and Wonder Woman have been working on establishing their relationship and sharing their lives, their enemies have been plotting. The gods of Olympus are causing trouble again. Lex Luthor is causing trouble too, as only he can. Even the Amazons are getting in on the act. What makes this conflict so difficult is that Superman and Wonder Woman made all the right decisions for all the right reasons. Wonder Woman was right to leave her home when she did. Superman was right in not fighting the Amazons all those years ago. But despite their efforts to do the right thing, their enemies are still trying to tear them apart.

Now, as this conflict finally finds them, their relationship will face its biggest challenge to date. It’s not enough to just get through this together. They have to be stronger as individuals as well. That’s what makes a relationship solid, the ability to make each other stronger. Superman and Wonder Woman could probably fight this battle without being romantically entangled, but they would never be able to fight it with the kind of strength they give each other as lovers. The struggle is going to escalate and so are the emotions. It’s bound to get volatile, but in all the right ways.

This story has been an interesting exercise in exploring a relationship between two iconic characters. It’s been challenging, but insightful. I believe we’re entering an era where people just aren’t satisfied with the same formula for love stories. We’ve seen enough crap with the Ross and Rachels of the world. Let’s try something different and that’s exactly what I think the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship offers. And I hope to capture it in the pages of “Strangers In Paradise.”

Since it’s still my first ever Superman/Wonder Woman story, please take the time to submit feedback. I appreciate any reviews anyone can offer, constructive or otherwise. It’s the only way people like me will be able to tell stories that are more interesting than a Hugh Grant movie. Nuff said!

Friday, June 26, 2015

X-men Supreme Issue #124: Dark Legacy Part 4 PREVIEW!

Some of the X-men’s most defining moments have come in the face of a terrible loss. Major stories like the Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past became iconic because of the impact that such a loss had on the X-men. There have been losses in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Professor Charles Xavier lost his first real student in Kevin McTaggart during the Proteus arc. It was a deeply personal loss that hit him and his X-men hard at a time when they were already vulnerable. Now, as the events of X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths has unfolded, the X-men face a new kind of vulnerability. And this time, the losses will be much greater.

It’s always a risk, having characters endure a loss of some kind. The X-men have lost plenty over the years in the comics. The deaths of Charles Xavier, Jean Grey, and most recently Wolverine are just among the few. However, I’m of the opinion that Marvel goes overboard with this at times and I’m not just talking about the tendency for characters to come back to life. I think resurrecting characters is nowhere near as demeaning to a story than an overly callous plot. The death of Jean Grey in the Phoenix Saga was an intensely emotional moment for the X-men. That’s what made it so powerful. Jean Grey’s eventual resurrection didn’t change that. And if the X-men are going to suffer losses in X-men Supreme, I want it to be just as powerful.

At times, I’ve been overly careful with this fanfiction series. I write X-men Supreme with the assumption that the characters are the most valuable components of the story. So I’ve avoided some of the shock tactics that Marvel has been employing with stories like the Death of Wolverine. But for an arc like Dark Legacy, I can’t afford to be that careful anymore. This is an arc that is reshaping the way the world of X-men Supreme functions and it’s doing so under the weight of a terrifying atrocity by Sinister. Like any atrocity, there will be casualties.

So with the final issue of Dark Legacy on the horizon, I’m comfortable announcing that a character will die in this story. This death will have a significant impact. It will profoundly affect the X-men and a few other supporting characters that, for spoiler reasons, I cannot identify. I can only say that the millions of deaths caused by the Legacy Virus will take an emotional toll on many characters. Some will end up losing more than others. This will not be the same as the death of Wolverine or even the death of Jean Grey in the Phoenix Saga. This will be a shared loss within a story that has had many. As always, I’ve prepared a preview that puts the X-men right in the heart of Sinister's madness.

“Prepare to be enlightened, X-men. You’re in for quite a treat!” proclaimed Vulcan, the mysterious lesions bulging on his body.

“Fair warning…that treat may include a certain level of pain,” added the Goblin Queen, “But as our uncle says, all progress comes at a price!”

“Is part of that price your sanity, Madelyn?” questioned Phoenix, “What the hell have you done to yourself?”

“And what have you done with Wolverine and mah mama?!” exclaimed Rogue, her attention focused on the two infected figures in front of her.

“Let’s just say in terms of enlightenment, they’ve got a head start,” quipped Vulcan.

The lesions on their faces flashed. In doing so, Wolverine and Mystique’s bodies started moving against their will. Both were infected with the Legacy Virus and now it was manifesting in a new way. The X-men watched them rise up as if they were puppets attached to puppet strings. At first they stood tall and stiff. Then the lesions flashed again and they took defensive stances. Wolverine growled, trying to fight it the whole time. Mystique’s face remained confused and weak, showing immense strain.

“Okay, I’m officially confused,” said Thunderbird.

“That makes two of us, comrade,” said Colossus warily.

The threat became more pressing as Wolverine’s claws were drawn against his will.

“Errrrrrr! Get away!” warned Wolverine.

“Leave us, Rogue! Something is…controlling us,” grunted Mystique.

“To hell with that! Ah ain’t leaving!” said Rogue strongly.

“None of us are,” said Storm strongly.

“Come on, you two. Fight this!” encouraged Cyclops, “Don’t let it…”

The X-leader didn’t get a chance to encourage them. Wolverine’s body acted on its own and attacked, hitting Cyclops with a punishing drop kick. Then he turned his sights to Storm and struck her as well, kicking her right across the face and sending her falling to the ground. Mystique involuntarily attacked as well, slugging Rogue across the face with right cross and hitting Thunderbird with a roundhouse.

“Whoa! So much for that approach,” said Phoenix as she and Colossus narrowly avoided an attack from Wolverine.

“You almost sound shocked,” grinned the Goblin Queen.

“Maybe this will help you focus,” added Vulcan.

Vulcan and the Goblin Queen joined the battle. Their bodies were soon consumed in a bluish halo. Vulcan unleashed a massive energy blast and the Goblin Queen attacked with a powerful telekinetic burst. It looked no different than their usual attacks. But when they struck, both Phoenix and Colossus were in for a painful surprise.

Colossus was hit first. In his metal form he could usually resist these kinds of attacks. This time it sent tumbling across the area, his metal skin warping under the strain. He even felt some bones in his arm and side break, something he never experienced in this form.

“Arrrggghhhh!” he cried out.

“You thought you could resist that,” taunted Vulcan, “Surprised?”

“Hnn…you sooka,” was all the Russian could get out.

While Colossus was reeling, Phoenix experienced an equally punishing impact. The moment her cousin attacked, she instinctively put up a telekinetic shield. Usually this was sufficient, but this time she got knocked back at least ten feet. The Phoenix Force immediately came in to assist her, using cosmic energy to hold back the Goblin Queen.

“Ungh! That…hurt!” grunted Phoenix, her face already sweating from exertion.

“It’s…uncanny. Even I can’t sense where it’s coming from. It’s as if her power isn’t coming from one person. It’s as if…”

“An entire army is attacking rather than just one?” the Goblin Queen finished, showing little strain in her attack, “That’s the power of a collective. Where one may only move a rock, many can move mountains!”

“A…collective?” grunted Phoenix as she resisted her cousin’s onslaught.

“Yes, dear cousin. That’s the true essence of the Legacy Virus. It’s only when Sinister showed us that we understood its full potential,” proclaimed the Goblin Queen.

“The millions that are dying aren’t dying for nothing,” Vulcan added, now standing by his lover, “Through suffering, their collective genome is being compiled. Once enough information is processed, those who survive can taste their fruit and thrive.”

“Eventually the virus ceases to consume and begins to connect,” said the Goblin Queen, talking as though she and Vulcan were completely in sync, “One become many. The individual becomes the group. The virus connects the minds and DNA of all those imbued with it. From that connection we share knowledge, strength, and above all…survival. And for mutants like us, it comes with a little extra boost!”

“Through death, we are united,” said Vulcan, “Working as one, petty differences shall cease. There is no more selfishness or ego. There is only us.”

They sounded even more deranged than usual, but the believed every word of it. Somehow being in this collective mindset made them okay with the death and destruction Sinister had unleashed. They were long past the point of reason so Phoenix chose not to argue with her cousin. She wouldn’t have had the strength either way. All her effort was focused on resisting the Goblin Queen’s telekinetic blast.

“What they say…it sounds so wrong yet so pragmatic. I’m having a hard time understanding.”

‘I’ll point out all the flaws later. Right now, I need you to trust me Phoenix. Use some of that cosmic punch to keep Maddie from turning us into a telekinetic pancake.’

While Phoenix fought with cosmic fury against Vulcan and Goblin Queen, the rest of the team had their hands full with Wolverine and Mystique. They weren’t in control of their bodies, but they attacked with the same ferocity and skill that made them so deadly. Thunderbird and Rogue were forced to oppose them. Rogue was hesitant to strike back against her mother, but Thunderbird was more inclined to fight back when Wolverine landed a few slashes against his durable form.

“You’re hitting harder than I remember, Wolverine. Have you been working out or is this Sinister’s voodoo at work?” grunted Thunderbird as he struggled to block Wolverine’s attacks even with his strength.

“For now…let’s say it’s both,” said Wolverine as he did a back-flip and tried to stab the Native American mutant in the face, “Just stop me already. Repay me by buying me a round after this…or several.”

“Deal!” grinned Thunderbird as he narrowly avoided the stabbing attack.

Thunderbird attempted to subdue Wolverine, using his strength to shoulder-tackle the feral mutant away from him. Somehow the Legacy Virus made him more resilient because he barely stumbled before unleashing another barrage of claws slashes. It forced Thunderbird back on the defensive. Even with Wolverine’s permission, ending this fight would be difficult.

It was even more difficult for Rogue, who refused to strike her mother or absorb her. Once weakened by the virus, now she was hitting with force that Rogue had difficulty blocking. It had been so long since she had seen her mother and now she had somehow got herself caught up into Sinister’s affairs.

“You been workin’ out, mama. Since when do you team up with guys like Sinister?” grunted Rogue as she brushed off several jabs and a roundhouse kick.

“It’s a…long story, Rogue,” groaned Mystique, still unable to control her body, “If I make it out of this…I’ll tell you everything.”

“If you make it out?” questioned Rogue, ducking to avoid a jump kick from her mother.

“I’m not…in control. My body…is failing me,” she said, each word sounding like a struggle, “Please…you must drain me.”

“Now you wanna humble yourself? No chance in hell!” exclaimed Rogue.


Mystique sounded overly eager to subject herself to more punishment. That was not the hard-nosed mother that Rogue knew and clashed with so many times before. Something was different this time, but she couldn’t make sense of it in the heat of the battle.

Rogue still refused to strike her mother. All her moves were defensive, blocking Mystique’s barrage of attacks. But this strategy could not deflect every attack. While Rogue was trying to back away, Mystique managed to get in a couple of shots to the head. While disoriented from the blows, Mystique threw in a kick to the knee that threw her off balance.

“Ugh! There goes mah knee,” groaned Rogue as she clutched her leg.

“Do it, Rogue! Absorb…me,” grunted Mystique as she narrowly missed striking Rogue in the head again.

“Talk to meh, mama. What’s going on? Let meh help you!”

“I…can’t. No…time,” she struggled, “Listen to your mother…for once. Take me…down. It’s the only…”

I understand that many comic fans are somewhat desensitized to character deaths these days. As soon as Marvel or DC Comics kill a major character, the countdown until their inevitable return begins. That’s not going to be the case here with X-men Supreme. This death will stick. In the same way I avoid using time travel and parallel universes, I will avoid callous resurrections for the same reason I avoid callous deaths. This fanfiction series is entering a dark period in its history, but it’ll also be a defining period. As such, it’s very important that others provide feedback so I know I’m doing the right things with the X-men. Some have been very generous with their comments. I’d like to hear more like them. Please feel free to contact me any time or post comments in the individual issues. I’m always happy to talk X-men or comics in general. Until next time, take care and best wishes.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Scanned Thoughts: E Is For Extinction #1

In the history of the X-men comics, there was this strange yet beautifully fucked up era between the launch of the first X-men movie and the end of the first X-men cartoon. It was an era of transition. The X-men were evolving from the flamboyant, spandex-wearing super team of the 90s into a more serious set of conflicts that involved more than killing giant robots, pissing off racists, and ripping the adamantium out of Wolverine’s bones. The X-men tried to tell more high-concept stories that felt less like a Saturday morning cartoon and more like a Wachowski movie, minus the existential reality bullshit. And unlike every Wachowski movie since the Matrix, the X-men succeeded.

Grant Morrison, the writer who paved the way for bald-headed Scotsman everywhere, was the architect of this transition. He dragged the X-men into this era like a pissed off mother drags her kid to the dentist. His first major story, E Is For Extinction, was a major turning point for the X-men and how they operated. Dressing in flashy spandex just wasn’t enough anymore. They had to confront hard issues like genocide and not look like a Thanksgiving Day Parade float. Being such a huge turning point, it’s a fitting addition to Battleworld. It took certain characters in so many different directions. Some ended up dead. Some ended up in Emma Frost’s panties. Some ended up looking like an oversized cat. E Is For Extinction #1 revisits that turning point in the context of Secret Wars. Expect plenty of characters to end up dead, but also expect that the chances of ending up in Emma Frost’s panties are much lower for anyone not named Scott Summers.

It doesn’t take long for someone to end up dead in this world. In fact, the very first page establishes a pretty bloody foundation for this world. It takes a page out of one of the defining moments for this era of X-men comics that didn’t involve Jean Grey dying. It had Charles Xavier battling with Cassandra Nova for control over his mind. It was a battle that he won in the comics, for the most part. But in this world, nobody fucking won. He ended up blowing his brains out Kurt Cobain style. It’s as messy as it sounds, minus the heroin and flannel.

Flash forward from this bloody intro and we go from grunge to themes from a Ke$ha music video. Charles Xavier dies and now mutants are able to hang out in a club on a Friday night like Rob Gronkowski. I’m confused too, but this is an era of X-men that was full of confusing shit. I’m pretty sure reading it sober was detrimental in most cases.

In this case, mutants are considered sexy and cool so I guess Xavier’s death wasn’t in vain. Even a butt-ugly mutant like Beak can get a few pretty girls. Hey, it’s no crazier than the kind of women Donald Sterling hooks up with. But some people still don’t like it and I imagine these are the same people who have a hard time getting laid. The U-men are among them and they storm this club as casually as a kid storms algebra class. They claim they’re more deserving of mutant talents. They probably utilize the same criteria as Bill O’Riley in determining that, just less racist. But they really don’t come off as that menacing.

They don’t end up being that menacing either because the X-men show up to stop them. But it’s not the same X-men that led the way through the course of Grant Morrison’s epic run. It’s a team led by Magneto featuring a bunch of C-list and D-list characters like No-Girl and Dust. Others aren’t on any list and look like bad clip art. The only one who has any real relevance in that team besides Magneto is Kid Omega.

It’s a fucked up team line-up, but they’re able to handle the U-men. It’s not a very epic battle and it’s not all that detailed either. The U-men are a bunch of total pussies that really don’t put up much of a fight. Some of the X-men even try to have fun with it, but fail miserably. Maybe if Deadpool were present, they would be able to make this entertaining. I guess he’s still busy giving Ryan Reynolds pointers or something. There’s no way he wants his movie in 2016 to become another Green Lantern.

Some of the more classic X-men eventually do show up, albeit late and pathetic. But it’s only Cyclops and Emma Frost who bother to make the trip. Cyclops pretends like he’s still the guy leading an entire race against Norman Osborn’s asshole, but he just makes a fool of himself. Magneto establishes here that Cyclops and Emma Frost are basically the Vanilla Ice of mutants, a bunch of has-beens who can only ever aspire to do shitty reality TV shows. Even the rest of Magento’s team goes out of their way to berate them and not in a very good way. I’ve seen better insults in a Twitter war. But it gets the point across. The classic X-men have no place in this world.

So just how fucked up did this world become after Charles Xavier gave himself the ultimate headache cure? Well, this world has a lot of mutants. And by a lot I mean a fuckton of mutants. It would take more than a sentence fragment by the Scarlet Witch to deal with this many mutants. And most of these mutants attend the Xavier Memorial Education Nexus aka the Atom Institute, which I’m guessing is like the mutant equivalent of the Apple Store. It’s basically a monument to the extent that mutants have overrun the world and Magneto has used it as one big middle finger to every bigoted douche-bag who said mutants were a threat.

It’s a pretty powerful moment that helps define the concept of this series. This isn’t one of those Age of Apocalypse or Days of Future Past scenarios where Charles Xavier’s death means the future is fucked. This is a world where mutants simply overran the world and Magneto made sure they did it in a way that made humanity look like amateurs. It’s a unique yet compelling path for him to take. It effectively accomplished his goals in ways that no amount of dead Sentinels could ever match. He wanted mutants to become dominant. Now they’re dominant and he didn’t have to wipe out all humans. All it took was for Charles Xavier to kill himself.

And therein lies the flaw in this otherwise powerful moment. It’s compelling, but confusing. How the fuck did Xavier’s death lead to this outcome? There aren’t even any hints. It almost comes off as huge middle finger to Charles Xavier for being played by Patrick Stewart in the movies. It’s interesting like a Christopher Nolan movie, but contrived like Joel Shumacher.

There are other facets to this mutant dominated world that add to the intrigue. At a mutant medical center, Hank McCoy is helping out a couple of prospective parents. Apparently, they want to make sure their child is a mutant. In a world where mutants are the majority, just being normal is basically a handicap so they want to make sure their kid has that advantage. It’s a total inversion of the typical mutant paradigm where parents would strangle a puppy to keep their kids from being deformed. But that’s what makes it so intriguing. It also establishes that mutant birth is very high in this world and if you’re not giving birth to mutants, you might as well be inbreeding.

There’s a lot of intrigue in this world, but we still don’t get much in the form of answers. Instead, we just get meaningless conversations amongst mutants who enjoy living in a world where they don’t have to worry about constant Sentinel attacks. That’s all well and good, but it really doesn’t move the story forward or establish anything new.

But as nice as this world is, there are some who aren’t entirely comfortable in it. Cyclops can’t even get comfortable while in a bed with Emma Frost. That’s how fucking bad it is. And she’s in her underwear for crying out loud. What the fuck is wrong with him? To be fair, some of his concerns feel genuine. He feels as though he’s betraying Charles Xavier by siding with Magneto, even though Magneto is succeeding in ways Xavier never imagined. He’s like a burned out ex-football player who was once a pro-bowler and now doesn’t know what to do with himself, even though he has a hot blond in his bed.

That’s another thing that gets glossed over though. Jean Grey isn’t in the picture here. Just as we saw in Grant Morrison’s run, Cyclops hooked up with Emma Frost when Jean Grey “died.” I use quotes for that because death and Jean Grey tend to be a fluid concept. But what really makes this feel bland is that there’s really no drama. They mention Jean, but there’s no arguments or passion. There’s just Emma changing the subject and fooling around with the TV. It’s like they try to keep it light, but fail miserably. There’s only so much light-heartedness you can manage when Emma Frost is in her underwear.

There are other efforts to add a little punch to the story. It never ends up getting very serious. We see how Magneto runs the X-men and it’s really not that different from Xavier. He talks to them about being vigilant against the idiot bigoted humans who listen to too much Fox News and talk radio. He then runs them through the Danger Room in a scenario that might as well have been copied from the last two Expendables movies. It does give a chance for some mutants to establish themselves, like the Stepford Cuckoos. But all it really does is show that this version of X-men isn’t nearly as competent or as likable. It just establishes that Magneto is a bit more of a dick when it comes to training.

So in a world where Charles Xavier is dead and the classic X-men are out of a job, what does someone like Wolverine do? Well, he does the exact same thing he did when the X-men had a job. He goes out to a bar and gets shit faced drunk. No matter what part of Battleworld he’s in, he always has a reason to get shit faced. He gets into a half-hearted argument with a couple of drunks where he accidentally chops his fingers off. But nothing really comes of it. He doesn’t even threaten to chop a limb off. He must be drinking light beer or something because he comes off as downright weak.

He only shows some balls when Cyclops shows up, sober and clean cut, saying he has a mission and it involves Jean Grey. That’s more than enough to sober him up, as though he needed to in the first place. It’s also a somewhat confusing moment because when the fuck did he learn that Magneto has Jean locked up in his school? Not long ago, he was lying in bed with Emma Frost fooling around with the TV. Did I miss something or am I just higher than usual? I’ll just say it’s a little of both.

It turns out that Magneto has had Jean Grey locked away at the school for quite some time now. He explains to Esme Cuckoo, the same Esme that tried to kill Emma Frost in the original New X-men run, that Jean Grey fell into a coma after Charles Xavier killed himself. Apparently, their minds were linked during the struggle against Cassandra Nova. Now she’s tuck in this pseudo-Phoenix Egg and he wants to wake her up. Right, because nothing bad has ever happened from someone poking the fucking Phoenix Force. Seriously, how can Magneto be competent enough to realize his dream but stupid enough to fuck with the Phoenix Force? He even wants Esme to be the host. I’m pretty sure this ranks right up there with casting Ryan Reynolds in the Green Lantern movie as a shitty idea.

There’s another major WTF moment that opens more plot holes than a drunk wizard in a Harry Potter story. Beast is just sitting at home, enjoying a quiet evening when some drunk stumbles to his front door. That’s probably not entirely shocking to anyone who lived with Wolverine for more than three weeks, but this guy claims to be a human version of him. In terms of WTF moments, this is right up there with Rick Perry giving a science lecture. It’s really hard to know what to make of this shit. There are so many holes and so many unanswered questions. I don’t like trying to fill them with my twisted imagination because that usually involves Emma Frost and Jean Grey oil wrestling.

There’s one more shocking moment that tries to make this fucked up part of Battleworld feel more fucked up. This time, the WTF isn’t quite as serious. Cyclops, Emma Frost, and Wolverine go on a mission that has nothing to do with getting Jean Grey out of Magneto’s clutches. Instead, they break into some fortress that’s being guarded by the U-men. And inside, they find Xorn.

To anyone who read Grant Morrison’s run, this is more than a little confusing because Xorn ended up being Magneto and/or a clone of Magneto. So this guy may or may not be Magneto, meaning the Magneto running everything might not be Magneto either. Confused? Frustrated? In need of another joint? Join the club. That’s the kind of world this is and I think at this point, even Grant Morrison would need a bottle of Scotch.

Reading this issue, it utilizes a lot of the same themes that Grant Morrison utilized. It feels like it actually fits within the context of what Grant Morrison established in his New X-men run. However, the final product felt like something Grant Morrison would only right if he had been partially lobotomized. The concept is solid, but details around it come off as crude and flat. There’s no serious or dramatic undertones. It’s only slightly more serious than a Deadpool comic and it skips over a lot of dramatic elements. It’s almost like the Rock trying to do stand-up comedy. It’s a spectacle worth watching, but it fails to deliver.

There’s nothing terribly shocking or ground-breaking about this issue. Nobody’s going to really gasp at anything in this book. It tries to throw in a few twists, but only succeeds in part. That’s nothing to be ashamed of here. Grant Morrison’s work is defined by having strong concepts fleshed out in provocative ways. It’s not a style that can be easily matched. In the same way nobody should be ashamed they can’t throw a football like Peyton Manning, they shouldn’t be ashamed that they can’t capture what Grant Morrison captured in New X-men. Compared to some of the other X-men tie-ins with Secret Wars, this one is behind the curve and it has an uphill battle in its quest to be awesome. I give E Is For Extinction #1 a 6 out of 10. There’s a lot going on in this issue, but only part of it is worth giving a shit about. If nothing else, it proves that even when vindicated, Magneto will find a way to be a douche-bag. Nuff said!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Scanned Thoughts: Uncanny Avengers #5

There comes a point in a shitty movie where it’s clear that it’s not going to turn into the Godfather anytime soon. But you still sit until the end, if only as a lesson against getting movie recommendations from a stripper fresh off two lines of blow. Like a finding out the hot chick in a porno is actually a transvestite, you still keep at it to finish the job because who wants to leave something like that incomplete? It’s hard to imagine that Uncanny Avengers: The Quest to Justify Another Bullshit Retcon will be anywhere near as satisfying. But I’m still determined to see it through, even if the chances of it being awesome at this point are on par with the chances that Megan Fox will respond to my dick pic.

Now I’m not going to say that the story Rick Remender has been trying to tell with the High Evolutionary, Counter-Earth, and the Maximoff twins has been completely without merit. It does set out to answer an important question: who are the real parents of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch? The problem is this story goes about answering that question the same way most kids go about cleaning their room. They eventually do get around to it, but the results are messy and unsatisfying. The High Evolutionary didn’t offer the twins any soul-crushing, heart-wrenching revelations. Hell, he’s dealt this conflict the same way most people deal with a pizza that gets delivered late. It certainly hasn’t helped that all the side-plots have been dull and disconnected as fuck. But Uncanny Avengers #5 finally starts to bring them together. However, like condoms at the Duggars home, it’s a little late to have much effect.

It still tries to establish a foundation for those effects. Before we all figure out how the Uncanny Avengers deal with the High Evolutionary’s douche-baggery, we get a quick flashback to an era before bullshit retcons where goofy costumes weren’t restricted to gay pride parades. It recapped the fateful moment when Magneto confronted the Maximoff twins and claimed he was their father, thereby birthing a generation of lawyers for Fox and Marvel/Disney. It feels like another harsh reminder of how this moment was essentially shit all over by a retcon, but it actually helps re-establish the Maximoff family dynamic that has been central to this story. It still reeks of legal wrangling between Disney and Fox, but I get the sense those two would sue each other over pizza toppings at this point.

There’s a much less successful effort at establishing dramatic effects with Vision. As much as I enjoy hearing Paul Beatty’s voice in the words, the whole sub-plot with Vision and his hot new robot wife falls flat. She talks about leaving Earth behind and raising their robot children on some perfect utopian world where there’s no conflict, poverty, or shitty reality TV shows. As appealing as that sounds, she comes off as sort of the antithesis to Morpheus in the Matrix. She doesn’t want to guide Vision into a better world. She just wants him to say “fuck it!”

Now nobody at all would blame Vision for taking a hot robot woman up on such an offer, but there’s really no indication that he even considers it. There’s no passionate argument. It’s as flat as a debate on a physics message board. Like the rest of the sub-plots in this story, it feels forced. It’s basically a distraction with a predictable ending. And for a sub-plot that involved a hot robot woman, that’s downright tragic.

Finally, the sub-plots fade and we get to the shit that blows up. Most of the Uncanny Avengers have finally caught up with one another, albeit in a very sloppy and uncoordinated manner. It’s like a bunch of kids with ADD coordinating on a group project. It’s chaotic, but it does produce some nice visuals that Daniel Acuna brings to life.

It appears epic, but it still falls flat in a way that’s not entirely avoidable. This story dragged so much with slow sub-plots that it’s hard to get too excited about this battle. While it does have some visceral moments, it lacks drama for the most part. The Uncanny Avengers are just fighting the High Evolutionary’s forces in a way that’s not going to inspire the General Patton’s of the world. But it does finally establish a major confrontation, even if it took way too fucking long to get to.

The scale of the battle is quickly lost when the focus shifts to the Scarlet Witch. It’s not necessarily bad at first. We get to see the Scarlet Witch play the part of a merciful savior to a few innocent creatures, something she can never have too much of in the post-M-Day era. But she prioritizes beating the shit out of the High Evolutionary, if for no other reason than because he was a real dick about revealing their true history.

Now this is a problem. The High Evolutionary isn’t her father and he didn’t fudge the facts with her in the slightest. He flat out told the Scarlet Witch what happened to her and her brother. He needed test subjects. They fit the bill. That was all there was too it. It’s still a dick move, but again it really limits the impact here. Is she really going to be that pissed that Magneto isn’t her father? It’s just not really that clear she has a reason to go Wolverine-style berserker on his ass.

This still doesn’t stop her from taking her frustrations out on him and saving Rogue in the process. That’s another sub-plot that didn’t offer much drama. Rogue is pissed about the High Evolutionary purging Simon from her mind, but it really doesn’t add to the struggle here. Like the henchmen of James Bond villains, she’s basically a background character here. For anyone who came to enjoy Rogue’s sassy, sexy persona in the 90s cartoon, it’s just pain insulting. Seriously, how does an inverted Sabretooth have more lines than her in this issue?

While most of the sub-plots in this arc have contributed jack shit to the main plot with the High Evolutionary, one finally does something important. Hell, even the Oakland Raiders are capable of making a good draft pick every now and then. This one comes from Dr. Voodoo of all people. He managed to get in touch with the spirits of all those creatures that the High Evolutionary killed. Surprisingly, they didn’t like being cast aside like used toilet paper so they decide to fuck up the High Evolutionary’s shit. It didn’t necessarily happen in the most cohesive manner, but fuck if it isn’t satisfying on some levels.

This forces Luminous, the recently revealed half-sister to the Maximoff twins, to step up and pick up the slack. She’s a cunt, but not on Joffrey Baratheon’s level. She just tries to finish off the Scarlet Witch so that she can’t aid Dr. Voodoo. That and I’m pretty sure that beating up her siblings gets her sexually aroused. That’s all that has really been revealed about her to date. So she doesn’t even have Joffrey’s charisma going for her.

That makes it a relief of sorts when Vision shows up to take her down in the least surprising, least flashy twist since Bernie Sanders’ last campaign speech. Despite Vision’s history with the Scarlet Witch, there’s a distinct lack of drama in this moment. He just saves her, leaving behind a hot robot woman off-panel. It succeeds in neutralizing Luminous, but it doesn’t do much more beyond that other than give them a front row seat to watching the High Evolutionary get tormented by pissed off souls. I admit I’d pay to see a show like that. If the Paranormal Activity movies can turn a profit, why the hell couldn’t a show like this work?

But even the spirits of the damned can’t stop the High Evolutionary. He still shrugs them off the same way Taylor Swift shrugs off an Apple user agreement. He no longer has the same charisma and vision that he had earlier in the arc. He’s just an asshole making excuses now. He’s basically a smaller, less menacing, and gayer-looking version of Megatron from Transformers. He’s still powerful, but in the least interesting way possible. A villain can only look so menacing when his color scheme matches one of Elton John’s old outfits.

So if the spirits of the dead creatures he killed can’t stop him, who can? How about Quicksilver? No, that’s not a rhetorical question that Joss Whedon probably asked during a bar bet. That’s actually the guy who steps up to finish the shit once and for all. Given how few shits anyone gave about him getting killed in Age of Ultron, it sounds out of place. However, it somehow works here.

I’m as serious as anyone who puts whiskey in his coffee can be. Quicksilver manages to emerge from utter obscurity in the battle to take on the High Evolutionary before he can escape with Sabretooth and Rogue, who I’m guessing he wants to dissect or breed, not necessarily in that order. But as he’s going after him, there’s this insightful inner monologue that gives insight into the mind of someone who has only ever looked for more reasons to be an asshole.

It’s probably the most defining moment of the arc aside from the High Evolutionary’s revelations. He muses over how he’s always used his ties to Magneto as an excuse to be an asshole. Now he doesn’t have that excuse anymore. He actually has to own his douche-baggery and either live with it or hope Bravo gives him his own reality show. And he does all this while kicking the High Evolutionary’s ass. If he had done this in Age of Ultron, I might actually have been able to overlook his goofy accent. At the very least, he made sure the High Evolutionary doesn’t get out of this battle without looking fucked up.

While he’s able to rough the High Evolutionary up pretty damn good, he doesn’t get a chance to finish him off. Rather than stick around and tease the Maximoff twins about how they were just one of his many failures, he opts to ditch them and Counter-Earth. Luminous follows him as well because I guess he needs stay creepy by having an insanely super-evolved bitch at his side. He drops a few ominous warnings, but they’re no different than anything Dr. Claw has said on Inspector Gadget. It makes for a very rushed and unceremonious ending because he still had a whole fucking planet with which to fight the Uncanny Avengers. He just seemed to get bored and throw it away.

The aftermath of the battle is also pretty rushed. There’s no picking up the pieces of Counter-Earth or helping out the Low Evolutionary. They just skip right back to the part where they return to the Avengers Mansion and basically try to undo all the shit the High Evolutionary did to them in the most convenient way possible. That means Captain America will ditch his Groot-like appearance and Sabretooth will go back to looking like a deranged lumberjack on crystal meth. There’s still some nice insight from Vision regarding the hot robot woman he left, but that’s another element that basically gets ditched. So we didn’t even get a sexy new robot character out of this story. It would’ve made a nice bonus/consolation prize, but I guess society isn’t ready for sexy robot characters. If we can’t even get a fucking Wonder Woman movie until 2017, what hope do sexy robots have?

There’s still some effort to deal with what happened to Simon in this arc. It leads to another moment between Vision and the Scarlet Witch that falls somewhat flat within the context of their history. The Scarlet Witch is still upset that she can’t save Simon, which is understandable since she recently boned him in the previous Uncanny Avengers series. But it just leads to the kind of reassuring, friend-zone moment that seemed to happen in every other episode of Saved by the Bell. It was nice in that it showed there’s still a connection between these two characters, but not much beyond that.

Overall, Uncanny Avengers #5 offers something akin to light beer. It’s watered down. The taste isn’t going to soak anyone’s panties. But drink enough of them and it’ll get the job done. This story had the right ingredients. It just never mixed them together in a cohesive way. This issue finally brought the team back together to battle the High Evolutionary. And while the battle had its moment, it still lacked impact. It didn’t leave everything on the field and glossed over too much to feel really satisfying. That said, it didn’t just piss everything away. Something did come of it in terms of character development, but in a very limited manner.

Don’t get the wrong idea. This arc is not going to make everybody love Quicksilver. He still comes off as a raging douche whose entire life has been fueled by shitty excuses. He couldn’t be less likable without being one of the spoiled Hilton kids. But at the very least, he has a moment of clarity in this story that makes it feel like something came of this. But beyond that, there’s not much else to get anyone’s heart racing. The High Evolutionary is still an asshole who is on the loose. The Maximoff twins now have no family ties to Magneto. There’s not much else that can be said other than their accents in Age of Ultron still sucked. I give Uncanny Avengers #5 a 5 out of 10. In the same way light beer can only be so refreshing, this issue can only feel so complete. But on a hot summer day and in an era where it’s easy to gloss over certain details, it gets the job done. Nuff said!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Giant-Sized Teaser: Justice League of America #1

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

In a world of social media and viral videos, the concept of a deep dark secret is becoming increasingly foreign. It's next to impossible to keep a secret for more than five minutes these days without someone tweeting a vague hint of it. In some sense, this makes stories about secrets downright exotic. Why else would Dan Brown be a best selling author? Upsetting religious institutions just isn't enough anymore.

In the DC Universe, there are still forces capable of keeping secrets from the omnipresent eye of social media, intergalactic peacekeeping corps, and Batman. Some of those secrets have significantly changed the context and circumstances for certain characters. There's just no way to look at Wonder Woman the same way after finding out she was the product of yet another illicit romp by Zeus. While that secret would probably have a great impact on Maury Povich, the secrets in Justice League of America #1 require a very different venue.

To create this venue, Bryan Hitch has basically been given the keys to a Porsche paid for by Bruce Wayne's credit card and can take the kind of joyride that would inspire a sequel to Farris Bueller's Day Off. There are no more convergences. There are no evil double-gangers or reformed villains. There's just the Justice League, playing in their old sandbox without having to worry about Lex Luthor or Captain Cold spitting in it. This basic setup allows Justice League of America #1 to focus entirely on the story and the secrets that no TMZ reporter could hope to uncover.

The consequences of these secrets are revealed early on. There's nothing subtle about it. The mysterious new threat will turn the whole planet into a smoldering stain on Darkseid's boot, but it's not Darkseid who's behind this. That's what makes the secrets within the story intriguing. This is not the kind of threat from an A-list villain who tries to destroy Earth every other Monday in the DC universe. The Justice League deals with them the same way most of us deal with a traffic jam. There are many other forces at work here and Bryan Hitch created a nearly triple-sized book to explore them.

But as intriguing as these forces and the secrets behind them are, not much comes of it. There's still plenty of moments that highlight the personal conflicts for certain characters, namely Superman and Aquaman. There's even some solid action of the classic Bryan Hitch variety. However, it comes in the form of an overly generic and somewhat bloated battle against the Living Parasite, a DC villain who has never been more than a B-list star. He gives the Justice League a good fight in the same way Mark Whalburg stars in a decent movie every now and then, but nobody is going to mistake it for a cage fight with Superman and Doomsday.

There is a link to a larger conflict hinted at during this struggle, but it's subtle and unclear. It's like trying to watch the Matrix without Morpheus. It's clear there's something profound going on. It's just hard to figure out what it is until the final few pages. To get to those pages, there's a lot of exposition and a lot of wordy dialog. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. By making this book so much bigger and nearly doubling the price, it provides a lot more opportunities for characters to interact. Those interactions, however, don't produce a lot of depth. There are a lot of shovels handed out, but not many holes get dug.

That's not to say the interactions bring nothing to the table. There are more hints at a connection to a larger conflict. But again, those hints are very thin and some could even be skipped without limiting the impact of the story. Given the quality of Bryan Hitch's artwork, that just seems like a waste of ink. Even so, the interactions do feel genuine and in character. Superman, Aquaman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League each have a distinct voice. Nobody sounds out of character or anything. And in an era where too many characters are made to sound more like Batman, that counts for something.

What keeps the story from getting too obscured is the big reveal at the ending. While the connections aren't in place, the scope and scale of the threat is clearly established and it's on a level that even the Justice League hasn't encountered before. It goes a step beyond Darkseid and is just half-a-step down from completely absurdity. But it provides the necessary context to understand the threat the Justice League is up against. It's not just some invading alien army or some overpowered monster that looks like it came from Tim Burton's worst nightmares. It's the kind of threat that should more than inspire Dan Brown's next book.

This is where the extent of the secrets involved become clearer as well. It's clear someone is lying and without knowing whose paychecks are being signed by Lex Luthor, it's very hard to tell who it is. There's an element of mystery involved, but not in the classic Scooby Doo sense. There's nobody running around in a ghost costume. There are just forces that neither the Justice League nor the NSA can comprehend, but these same forces do plenty to peak their curiosity.

On the whole, Justice League of America #1 is like an extra large buffet at a fancy cocktail party. Not all the food in the buffet seems appealing, but there are enough tantalizing treats offered to justify a second helping. There are still too many missing connections to tie the plot together, but the secrets involved still hold plenty of intrigue. In an era where too many secrets can be shared in a tweet, that counts for a lot.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, June 19, 2015

X-men Supreme Issue #123: Dark Legacy Part 3 is LIVE!

Whenever a horrific atrocity is committed, an equally horrific justification is often given for it. There have been numerous atrocities and would-be atrocities throughout the history of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. There’s no doubt that Weapon X was an atrocity from the beginning. It tormented and abused the likes of Wolverine, X-23, Fantomex, and Mystique in ways that leave them scarred to this day. Magneto has come close to a few atrocities as well in X-men Supreme, coming so close as to incur an extinction event in the Overlord arc. In every case, Magneto and Weapon X made excuses for their atrocities. It was up to the X-men to stop them. In numerous instances, they succeeded before the situation could escalate a certain point. However, they are way past that point in the Dark Legacy arc.

The world of X-men Supreme has already been ravaged in ways that go beyond humans, mutants, and the X-men. Sinister’s Legacy Virus has killed millions and infected millions more. Within the span of a week, the entire world of X-men Supreme is facing a pandemic of apocalyptic proportions. Losses are mounting all over the world. Governments can’t do anything. Mutants can’t do anything. Even the X-men can’t do anything. The damage cannot be undone. It can only be mitigated. However Dark Legacy pans out, the X-men Supreme fanfiction series is going to be a very different world when all is said and done. But how can such a cataclysm end?

The X-men are no longer just standing back and lamenting at the death and destruction caused by the Legacy Virus. Thanks to Wolverine’s quest to reunite with his lost love, Rose, they know where Sinister is. They know where they have to go and who they have to attack. However, they’re fighting an enemy in Sinister who isn’t just on a murderous rampage. He still has an agenda and in some sick, twisted way, he believes his agenda is justified. Sinister is still tormented by the loss of Selene in the Civilization No Longer Lost arc, but he’s not at all dissuaded from his vision.

That vision and the horrors it has wrought is about to be revealed. The clock is ticking for the X-men. Everyone from Genosha to President Kelly is relying on them. They need to take down Sinister in order to save what’s left of their world. The emotional and dramatic toll will continue to escalate as it has never escalated before in this fanfiction series. Secrets and lies will finally start to culminate. And everyone, including the X-men, will suffer losses as Sinister’s agenda continues to unfold.

X-men Supreme Issue 123: Dark Legacy Part 3

There’s only one issue left in the Dark Legacy arc. Afterwards, the dust can finally start to clear on the new status quo for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. It’ll be a very different world for the X-men, their allies, and even their enemies. It’s a world I want to continue to explore and even with the limited feedback I’ve been getting, I’m inclined to keep going. However, I need to know that I can make this world as awesome as it can be. So please, I urge everyone to take the time to review. Either contact me directly or post your feedback directly in the issue. Either way is fine. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Excelsior!


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Scanned Thoughts: Ms. Marvel #16

It used to be that the only way for a female character to get attention was to have bigger tits. Don’t get me wrong. That still works to some extent. Emma Frost, Power Girl, and countless strippers in Las Vegas can attest to that. But we live in a time when anyone can download a billion pairs of tits on a cell phone in under five seconds. Now female characters have to do a lot more than fill out a bra to get attention. And in this new era where tits are no longer enough, Kamala Khan has become the gold standard.

Kamala might not have Emma Frost’s sex appeal or Wonder Woman’s warrior spirit, but she has a special kind of charisma that makes her so endearing that even Ann Coulter can’t help but love her. She’s not some overpowered force of nature with a convoluted backstory akin to a Wachowski movie. She’s a 16-year-old Pakistani American from Jersey City with powers that can be understood by anyone who has played a video game in the past 20 years. There’s so much to love about her and because of that, it’s hard to avoid the impact when something happens to her.

The events of Secret Wars affected everybody in the Marvel Universe, from Jersey City to Wakanda. It was the kind of big destructive tragedy that usually makes Roland Emerich rich. We know what happened in the eye of the shit storm. But what about those who are less concerned about invading armies from a parallel universe and more concerned with their family? That’s the story in Ms. Marvel #16. It’s Kamala Khan’s place in the universal clusterfuck that is Secret Wars and being the lovable girl she is, she finds a way to make it special.

And as it just so happens, the cosmic clusterfuck that is Secret Wars comes at the worst possible time from the perspective of a 16-year-old. Kamala Khan just had her heart broken by her first true love interest. Kamran, who also happens to be an Inhuman whose powers turned him into a massive douche, went out of his way to make Kamala swoon as only a hormonal 16-year-old girl can. Then he flat out ripped out her heart, wiped his ass with it, and stepped on it. To say Kamala is broken up about it would be like saying Ron Swanson enjoys a little sip of whiskey every now and then.

To her credit, Kamala’s coping skills are far healthier than most teenagers. She doesn’t cut her hair, get a tattoo, and start a goth band. She drowns her sorrows in hot dogs on the Jersey City Waterfront. Not saying hot dogs are healthy, but there are way worse things a teenage girl could do to cope with her first breakup. She says it feels like the world is coming to an end. And that’s completely normal. Who hasn’t felt that way after having their heart broken? This is just one of those instances where karma is a truly exceptional bitch.

Kamala goes from confiding in a hot dog vendor to having a front row seat to the first wave of WTF that came with Secret Wars. She wasn’t at all involved in it. She’s wasn’t rubbing elbows with the illuminati or swapping notes with Reed Richards. She’s just like every other civilian who thinks an incursion is just a sub-plot in a Tom Clancy novel. It puts Kamala in a very different frame of mind compared to other Marvel heroes. She’s not exactly Facebook friends with the rest of the Avengers so for all she knows, this is just another case of the Chitari being bored. That still doesn’t stop her from being Ms. Marvel.

She doesn’t hesitate in the slightest to slip under the dock and don her Ms. Marvel uniform. Then, in an act that would make Leonardo Di Vici proud, she creates massive duck feet so she can walk across the river and into Manhattan. While I’m sure this was debunked on an episode of Mythbusters, it’s quicker than hitching a ride on a ferry or swimming in a New Jersey river. I think the laws of physics are willing to make an exception for someone like Kamala.

That exception ends the moment she arrives in Manhattan, where she gets her first glimpse of the coming incursion. Suddenly, that sentiment about how having a broken heart feels like the world is coming to an end takes on a whole new meaning. At least with a broken heart, she had hot dogs. This is one problem where no amount of hot dogs, with or without relish, will alleviate. The world really is coming to an end here and it’s ending before she has a chance to punch Kamran in the jaw one last time. It’s the worst of both worlds.

Knowing she really can’t do jack shit about an incursion, Kamala immediately does the responsible thing. No, I don’t mean she curls up into a ball and whines about it on Facebook like a lot of teenage girls would be inclined to do. Instead, she turns her attention back to her home town and the people she cares about. It’s more responsibility than we expect from teenagers these days, but that’s what makes Kamala the hero she is.

Her first stop is the Circle Q where the Bruno, who she recently friend-zoned, is trying to defend his place with his brother. They’re armed only with baseball bats at a time when a planet is about to collide with their world. It’s not much, but it beats waving stale bread at them. Ms. Marvel’s presence is a bit more menacing than a bad so that ensures the candy bars and slurpie machines are safe. It also gives her time to coordinate with Bruno. They really can’t do much with a fucking incursion on the way, but Kamala has watched enough of the Weather Channel to know what has to be done in an emergency. She tells them to get others to hunker down at the school. It already survived an attack by killer robots and Loki. It’ll at least hold up better than most places during an incursion.

Kamala’s next major concern is her family. Yes, she is a hero who still loves and cares for her family. No, she didn’t become a hero because someone hurt her family. They just did a damn good job raising her. I think that’s worth mentioning because it makes her desire to save them all the more powerful. It’s true. Teenage girls are capable of really loving their parents, despite what every 90s teen sitcom would have you believe.

However, the end of the world just enough to ruin Kamala’s day. Fate has decided that it isn’t done tormenting Kamala. As soon as she gets home, the first person she finds is her ex, Kamran. It couldn’t be more infuriating without someone destroying the world’s hot dog supply for her. It’s immediately tense and for good reason. Kamran isn’t done being a total dick to Kamala. He reveals that he knocked out her parents and sent her brother, Aamir, to undergo an Inhuman transformation. In terms of being asshole exes, this guy is one act of arson away from being a weapons grade douche.

It adds another crisis beyond the world ending for Kamala to endure. Her entire focus since the incursion began was protecting her family and friends. Now one of them happens to be in the clutches of her ex. There’s a very tense, very heated exchange between the two. Basically, Kamran wants Kamala’s brother to join his team of renegade Inhumans because Kamala wouldn’t. It’s like a guy wanting to knock up his ex-wife’s sister on principle alone. It’s a shitty principle, but it rubs some extra salt in the wound.

It really does hurt Kamala in all the right ways. She doesn’t even get a chance to fight him. He doesn’t even have to. He hits her where it hurts and it impacts her in ways that feel genuine for a teenage girl. She doesn’t hulk out or go into a Wolverine berserker rage. She’s just overwhelmed and pissed as any teenage girl should be. It also complicates her mission to protect her family during the end of the world in ways that only an asshole ex-boyfriend can.

At the very least, her parents are okay. They wake up from Kamran’s assholery and find out like everyone else that the world is coming to an end. This would be a perfect time for Kamala to tell her parents what an asshole Kamran is, but she remains focused on finding her brother. She tells her parents to get down to the school where everyone is meeting. It’s still a reasonable plan, even if doesn’t do shit to stop an incursion.

The streets of Jersey City are still a clusterfuck. There are riots on par with the Lakers’ last championship win. Some are using the end of the world as an excuse do the Christmas shopping they wish they could’ve done. Eventually, some end up at the school. This is where Loki’s recent visit to Kamala’s school actually came in handy. This happened in another issue, but Loki left his mark as he always does. He actually used some runes to protect the school because why not? He’s the God of Mischief. He doesn’t need a reason. And it works perfectly. Some Asgardian mojo scares the shit out of the looters and the school is safe. I don’t know what the fuck they were hoping to loot from the school. Then again, I understand some will go to great lengths to get the answers to an SAT test.

Kamala arrives at the school just in time to see that she was right. The school, coupled with Asgardian runes, provides a safe haven for her community. Bruno and his brother even brought over a bunch of snacks from his store. Cheetos and orange soda don’t help save the world from incursions, but they certainly don’t hurt either. It’s the first bit of good news Kamala has had all day. Between incursions and asshole ex-boyfriends, this is a decent consolation, if that even matters at this point.

And it really does matter in the sense that it shows how the civilians are dealing with the incursion events. That’s something that Secret Wars didn’t really explore, the impact on the people. Kamala went out of her way to help these people and they acknowledged it. That’s way more than the X-men have ever gotten. It’s a pretty powerful moment that helps make the events of Secret Wars feel more personal. It’s personal to the point where it overwhelms Kamala, even when everyone is praising her. It’s a great moment, especially after the epicly shitty day she’s had.

She eventually has to leave because she still needs to save her brother. And since her day is way past the point of being shitty, she has to do it with the knowledge that the world is coming to an end. It’s like having to fix a toilet on a sinking cruise ship. It’s a tough situation for any teenage girl to handle.

However, it turns out Kamala doesn’t have to handle it alone. Someone finally comes by to help her. Who could it be and who could possibly be in a position to help her anyways? How about Captain Marvel? As in the same Captain Marvel she idolizes? That would be like me meeting Emma Frost outside a strip club. It’s a powerful moment that I imagine will make the end of the world just a bit more enjoyable for Kamala Khan.

There’s so much heart and so much win in this story that I’m not afraid to admit I squeed a little. Okay, maybe a lot. I can only restrain myself so much when I’m not sober. But I think I deserve a pass for Ms. Marvel. I think everyone deserves a pass because she’s just that awesome. She’s not the kind of hero who just sees a crisis and looks for ways to punch it. She sees a crisis and her first instinct is to protect her family, her loved ones, and her home. And the fact that she’s a minority within a minority in that home only makes her more of a hero than any Batman rip-off could hope to be.

We already know how the final incursion unfolds in the events of Secret Wars #1. Seeing how those events affect the actual people running for their lives helps give this issue the kind of dramatic impact you just can’t get by watching Tony Stark try to invent his way out of a problem. There’s a lot of personal and emotional drama, ranging from ordinary people stepping up to do good and asshole ex-lovers finding new ways to be assholes. And having Captain Marvel show up at the end just added a layer of frosting doused with chocolate fudge and Jack Daniels on top. Secret Wars has had all sorts of impacts on so many characters, but the Ms. Marvel #16 is by far the most memorable and the most endearing. I give it a perfect 10 out of 10. Now Kamala understands that there is a difference between heartbreak and the world ending. Yet even in the presence of both, she finds a way to be awesome. She’s truly the kind of girl I would actually quit drinking for. Nuff said!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Scanned Thoughts: Old Man Logan #2

No matter what your high school guidance counselor says, getting ahead and getting shit done sometimes requires a “fuck it!” mentality. I imagine Steve Jobs’ guidance counselor warned him that he would be flipping burgers and selling crack after dropping out of college to sell computers. I hope at some point, Jobs went back to his guidance counselor and kicked them in the ass with a boot made out of solid gold. That guidance counselor still would’ve gotten off easy if they gave the same advice to Old Man Logan.

If there’s anyone who embodies the “fuck it!” mentality and raises it to an art form, it’s Old Man Logan. He’s not a headmaster of a school. He’s not the leader of some secret kill squad. He’s just a bitter, cantankerous old man who hasn’t given a shit in decades. That’s exactly what makes him so qualified to piss Dr. Doom off in the pages of Secret Wars. I don’t know what Dr. Doom was thinking when he made Old Man Logan part of Battleworld. It must have been what other gods were thinking when they created the platypus or reality TV. Old Man Logan didn’t need much of a reason to start pissing Doom off, but he has one anyways. Now in Old Man Logan #2, he’s openly defying the rules of Battleworld and probably waving his dick in Doom’s face in the process. Wolverine fans might need another bottle of lube and some towels for this one. It’s going to get messy, but not in the way you might expect.

So we know Wolverine has climbed the walls separating his world from the rest of Battleworld. We also know that Doom doesn’t take kindly to people who do that and I’m not just talking about giving out bullshit parking tickets. This is a guy who would eat a live kitten to prove he’s better than Reed Richards, Tony Stark, and everyone else in the multiverse. Anyone who didn’t have the adamantium balls of Wolverine wouldn’t dare test that, but Old Man Logan’s capacity to give a fuck ensures he’s up for the challenge.

However, he learns right off the bat that Dr. Doom isn’t much for giving warnings or polite reminders about his rule. This guy as a whole army of Thors to enforce his law. So as soon as Wolverine gets to the top of the wall, he has one waiting for him. He responds short of giving this particular Thor the finger, but he might as well have because he still makes clear that he couldn’t give a cosmic shit about Doom’s decrees.

Wolverine then learns the hard way that Dr. Doom isn’t one for warnings. One Thor against an old, cantankerous Wolverine who looks like a crack head version of Liam Neeson isn’t a fair fight to say the least. He’s got claws. Thor has a magic fucking hammer. It’s not going to be an epic Hulk vs. Superman brawl. Wolverine gets KO’ed with a big fucking lightning blast that blows off most of his skin. It’s the kind of wound Wolverine used to suffer all the time before Marvel ditched his healing factor. But even with his healing factor, this isn’t some shit he can just walk off, although I don’t doubt that he tried.

Wolverine unceremoniously falls off the wall, losing most of his clothes in the process. This sounds like one of those epic fail moments that usually wind up on youtube at some point. That’s the benefit of being old, bitter, and past the point of giving a fuck. He really doesn’t give a shit how much he gets pwned. For this version of Wolverine, it’s more of an inconvenience and one that just happens to expose his junk. I’m sure LeBron James can sympathize.

The Thor that just casually fried his as is still flying around, probably hoping for something to throw on the grill. Wolverine slips away like the survivor he is, still butt naked mind you. He eventually finds a river with some water, if only to wash off some of the pwnage. Then a tiger just happens to show up because I guess an angry Thor just wasn’t enough. PETA doners might want to look away from this because he deals with the tiger the same way he deals with bottles of whiskey. He’s still a raging animal of a man who can hold his own in the wild and doesn’t care if his junk shows. LeBron should take note.

A tiger and a Thor is menacing enough. But I guess this Wolverine hasn’t been fucked up enough by defying Doom’s rules. So an alternate version of Sabretooth gets thrown into the mix and he just happens to be one of the versions who isn’t fucking inverted. So I guess in the same way this book give us a classic, don’t-give-a-fuck version of Wolverine, it also gives us a classic snarling psychopath version of Sabretooth. I say why the fuck not? It’s basic, but it works.

At the same time, it’s getting somewhat ridiculous at this point. I get that one of the Thors picked up on Wolverine’s defiance. I even get that he got burned to a crisp as a result. But then he just happens to run into a tiger and a pissed off Sabretooth with support trips happens to be nearby. I get that some characters have some really shitty luck. Just look at all the shitty luck Jean Grey has had to deal with. But even she would roll her eyes at this shit. As contrived as it is, it still makes for some visceral moments that Andrea Sorrentino’s art makes pretty damn satisfying.

However, the visceral action doesn’t last very long. Hell, it’s over faster than a Kardashian marriage in Vegas. It’s a bit rushed, but there’s a fairly decent reason for that. Some of the X-men in this world show up and one of them is Storm. Since a big ass lightning strike worked so damn well for Thor, why not Storm? She effectively proves the effectiveness of solving problems with big ass lightning by taking out Sabretooth and the troops nearby. Wolverine then comes face to face with a team of X-men who recognize him, but not as the younger-looking, Hugh Jackman-esque version.

This is a big moment and not just because they saved his ass. Anyone who has read the original Old Man Logan understands why this would fuck with him. In his world, he was tricked into killing the X-men and everyone he cares about. So seeing them again, having not killed them in an omega level berserker rage, hits him on an emotional level. It’s the first real emotion Old Man Logan has shown that can’t be properly articulated by a middle finger.

The pacing here continues to get a little chaotic. Wolverine passes out and then wakes up in a surprisingly pleasant area, complete with a poster of the All-New, All-Different X-men. It’s not unlike the poster I had in my room as a kid. Then Emma Frost shows up and it quickly turns into one of the twisted fantasies I had in my room as a teenager.

This serene environment is actually not real. It’s taking place in Wolverine’s mind. This marks the second time in this series that Emma Frost has probed his mind and not in a sexy way either. But this isn’t the same Emma Frost as the previous issue. That doesn’t matter to Wolverine. He still doesn’t appreciate it. This makes for a tense yet meaningful conversation where Emma Frost essentially gives readers a recap of who Old Man Logan is and what happened to the X-men in his world. It’s meaningful information for those whose memories were a little fuzzy around 2008. It’s the same year that the economy went to shit and people were willing to vote for a black President to fix it so I think some can be forgiven for needing a recap. But that doesn’t make the conversation less meaningful.

It still drags a bit, but it establishes that Old Man Logan is in a very different world and the X-men are just as confounded as him. While Emma is genuinely curious and maybe a little horny if she just watched a George Clooney movie, Wolverine isn’t in the mood to have his mind probed. Maybe if Emma Frost was a sexy redhead, he’s be open to it. But he’s more interested in finding out where the fuck he is and just how fucked he’ll end up being.

Emma gives him what he wants and Wolverine sees the shitty world around him. He’s still greeted by a team of X-men, which is still pretty jarring for him. However, these X-men don’t just belong to any world. They belong to the world of Age of Apocalypse. It’s a different kind of X-men team, but an X-men team none-the-less. Given the circumstances of Old Man Logan’s world, it’s still an upgrade.

There are some good reactions here, but not nearly as much as there could’ve been. Again, this part was a little rushed. It would’ve been nice to see Old Man Logan interact more with this new brand of X-men. They already seem to enjoy poking fun at his age, but not much really comes of it. We just get more reminders of what Wolverine did in his world and that doesn’t need to be reinforced. When Emma Frost reminds people of something while exposing plenty of cleavage, it’s pretty damn hard to forget.

The same shitty luck that just happened to put Wolverine face-to-face with a tiger earlier once again kicks in. Sabretooth shows up again and attacks, this time with Sinister as backup. It makes for another quick yet destructive clash with the X-men. It still feels rushed, but this time it has no excuses. It’s got a lot of flash, but it’s nothing that can’t be matched with a few firecrackers and some paint cans. The only important thing that happens in this battle is that Wolverine gets knocked out of a window. That’s it. That’s like hiring the cast of the Expendables to shoot an infomercial. It feels underhanded.

It still sets Wolverine up for a very important confrontation that more than makes up for the pacing. He’s had to fight a tiger, a Thor, and a non-inverted Sabretooth. Who else wants to get in on beating up an old man? Enter Apocalypse. This is his domain after all and Old Man Logan just happened to trespass on it. He might as well have taken a piss on Kim Jong Un’s front yard. He’s in some pretty deep shit. Maybe the younger version of Wolverine could muster up some bravado, but this is a burned out old version of Wolverine. To think he’ll stand a chance against Apocalypse is like saying Kevin Hart has a chance at winning an Oscar.

If the first issue was a reminder on just how few fucks Wolverine has left to give in Old Man Logan, this issue explores the extent of those remaining fucks. He’s willing to dive-head first and butt naked into a world where Apocalypse has made everyone his bitch and Sabretooth is his psychotic pit bull pet. That’s the kind of badassery we expect from Wolverine. But at the same time, we also learn that a part of him still cares about the X-men the friends he lost. And seeing them again, albeit alternate version in a shitty apocalyptic world, had a real impact on him. It helps add balance to a story that had been dominated by Wolverine giving the finger to Dr. Doom’s rules.

It moves a little quickly. The pacing may throw the non-stoners of the crowd off at times, going from a brawl with Sabretooth to a psychic conversation with Emma Frost. But it never becomes Mission Impossible chaotic. It works, even if some of some of the details are lacking. The story still delivers in all the ways Wolverine fans will enjoy. As a whole, it’s still a story that has a lot of “Oh fuck!” moments, but hasn’t had that defining “fuck yeah!” moment. I give Old Man Logan #2 a 7 out of 10. There are worse worlds Wolverine could’ve ended up in, but not many. It’s probably for the better. For Wolverine, a world where he can take his anger out on assholes like Apocalypse is the best kind of therapy that doesn’t come in a bottle. Nuff said!