Friday, May 26, 2017

Sexy Side-Project: The Red Queen Chronicles Part 2 is LIVE!

There's a lot going on in the world of X-men Supreme. There's also a lot going on in my pants. Yes, that means another update to an ongoing sexy side-project. We're at the very beginning of summer. The beaches are open. It's hotter out. Beautiful women are wearing bikinis. It's the perfect time of year for some extra sexy side-projects. The Red Queen Chronicles is no exception.

I've already told the story about how Mary Jane Watson went from a high-end prostitute to the Red Queen of the Hellfire Club. I've even told the story about how she's been exercising that power with associates like Wolverine and Black Widow. Now, I'm telling the story of how she and Emma Frost convince Cyclops and Jean Grey to join in the fun. The first part got them in the spirit. The next part will get them in on the action.

If you've been anxious to see Cyclops and Jean Grey, the X-men's oldest power couple, exercise their naughty side, then this is the story for you. Expect to see these two explore some of the pent-up desires that the Marvel editorial staff would never allow. If this doesn't make your summer hotter and sexier, then nothing will.

Hope this sets a fun, sexy tone for the rest of the summer. I intend to do one more chapter of this story before moving onto the next. As always, I encourage everyone to post their comments and provide feedback. But if you're expecting me to apologize for all the awkward boners and wet panties, you'll be disappointed. Nuff said!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Clawing For Relevancy: X-men Blue #4

The following is my review of X-men Blue #4, which was posted on

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for certain comic book characters to be too awesome. It's rarely the fault of the characters themselves. The problem is that when one writer finds a winning formula, a hundred others work tirelessly to recreate it, which leads to some predictably spectacular failures. With all due respect to characters like Hyperion and Sentry, the sheer volume of characters that try to match Superman's winning formula proves that even great success can breed greater problems.

When it comes to the X-men, Wolverine is the spitting, swearing poster boy of this issue. In terms of the overall X-men mythos, he is the standard by which all others are measured. He's an amazing character with a convoluted, but compelling past. He has personality, charisma, and mass appeal that's easy to stick on a T-shirt or lunch box. Few characters can hope to match that standard. Some characters, such as X-23, come surprisingly close. Others, however, fail miserably and become afterthoughts at best.

Up until Secret Wars, Jimmy Hudson was a case study in such failure. In the now-defunct Ultimate Marvel, he attempts to replace Wolverine and falls woefully short at every turn. He does nothing to distinguish himself. He brings nothing new or compelling to the story. He's basically just a teenage Wolverine, minus the skills, the mysterious past, the personality, and the overall appeal. At a time when there are so many other characters, such as X-23 and Old Man Logan, who do a much better job following that formula, Jimmy Hudson enters X-men Blue with some significant headwinds.

In some respects, he's entering a favorable situation. Like him, the original five X-men are exiled from their own timeline. They're also teenagers with lofty legacies to live up to. However, the baggage of being a failed replacement character from a failed series is not easy to escape. Cullen Bunn and Julian Lopez try to make the case in X-men Blue #4 that Jimmy can overcome that baggage. The verdict, however, is incomplete. The jury is still out, but the evidence is not on Jimmy's side.

The structure of the story, itself, as concise and well-crafted. The original five X-men respond to news of a distressed mutant. That's what the X-men of all generations do, time displaced or otherwise. Bunn establishes in the first three issues that this is the core mission of the team. It's simple, familiar, and functional. It works in the sense that it brings out the best in the original five X-men. It continues to work in X-men Blue #4. However, when Jimmy Hudson enters the picture, this core mission clashes with his heaviest baggage.

If Jimmy didn't have claws, wasn't related to Logan, and hadn't been part of a defunct world that stopped being relevant years ago, then his appearance would have some intrigue. Instead, he enters the world of X-men Blue in a way that's so familiar, so predictable, and so devoid of drama that it's hard to get excited about his arrival. Nothing he does sets him apart as a new and intriguing character. If anything, everything he does will just make Wolverine fans miss Logan.

It's one of Jimmy Hudson's biggest problems, both as a character and as plot for X-men Blue #4. It's a problem that has lingered since his first appearance in Ultimate X. The fact that Jimmy Hudson is Logan's son isn't the issue. The problem is he does nothing to really set himself apart.

In every comic since his first appearance, he doesn't carry himself as Jimmy. He carries himself as teenage Logan. It would be far more intriguing if someone had just cast a magic spell and reverted Logan back to a teenager. Given the abundance of overpowered sorcerers and time machines in the Marvel universe, that really isn't much of a stretch.

That all-too familiar tradition continues in X-men Blue #4. All the familiar Logan tropes are there. Jimmy is alone in a hostile wilderness, stuck in a blood rage, and can't remember where he came from. These are all core themes of at least a dozen other Wolverine stories since 1975. There's nothing distinct or memorable here. Jimmy once again conducts himself as a teenage Logan and nothing more. Unlike the original five X-men, though, he can't use time displacement as an excuse.

It might be understandable for Jimmy to struggle to escape his Logan's shadow in the sense that he sets the bar pretty high. Wolverine is one of the most popular comic book characters of all time. He's the one who helped make Hugh Jackman famous. Expecting Jimmy to even come close to that bar seems unreasonable. However, that excuse fails too because there is a precedent, which further undermines Jimmy's case.

Other characters inspired or derived from Wolverine have succeeded. Both X-23 and Daken have established themselves as solid, compelling characters who can hold their own without being too similar to Logan. X-23 does such a good job of this that she went onto become one of the best parts of the last Wolverine movie. Jimmy Hudson, though, gives no impression that he deserves a role next to Hugh Jackman.

Unlike Daken and X-23, Jimmy does nothing to stand out whether he's in a fight or standing on a street corner. His only distinguishing feature is his blond hair. If Molina were to use the wrong color, then few would be able to discern Jimmy from an overly youthful Logan. Given all the other distinguishing traits of Daken and X-23, which include tattoos and different claw configurations, Jimmy feels less like a derivation and more of a rip-off.

At the very least, his presence doesn't derail the story in X-men Blue #4. Bunn never makes him the primary focal point and that keeps the narrative on-track and consistent with the themes of the series. Jimmy's presence even manages to incur a distinct twist to the story that couldn't be done with X-23 or Daken. He acts primarily as a catalyst for the original five X-men's next challenge. He succeeds in this, but fails be distinct or compelling at any point in the process.

He's still that character who failed miserably to fill the void left by Logan's death in Ultimate Marvel. Now, he's in a world where two other characters can claim some measure of success, one of which made Dafne Keen famous. Jimmy is a long way from that kind of success. That baggage is still as heavy as ever. He's still that character few mourned when Ultimate perished at the end of Secret Wars. Escaping that baggage isn't easy and with X-men Blue #4, he's off to a poor start.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, May 19, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 151: Volatility Sensibility Part 1 is LIVE!

Every volume of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series creates a unique set of challenges for the X-men, their allies, and everyone in between. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is no different. Charles Xavier’s dream has evolved into something very different from what we saw in X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution. The challenges the X-men faced in conflicts like Revenge of Weapon X and Uprising are very different from what they faced in later conflicts, such as Natural Disorder and Dark Legacy. In every case, Xavier has had to adapt his dream.

At this point in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, it’s arguable whether Charles Xavier’s dream even exists anymore. The dream the X-men fought for in arcs like Uprising and Overlord is not the same dream they’re fighting for now. At first, the threats were fairly simple. Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants had a clear agenda. They were criminals and didn’t hide from that label. Then, as this fanfiction series unfolded, more complex threats like Sinister and the Mutant Liberation Front emerged. In X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, the line between enemy and allies is frustratingly blurred.

The first two issues helped establish the current state of the X-men, X-Force, and Charles Xavier’s dream. That state is fragile for everyone. The X-men have found a way to function under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative with General Grimshaw and President Kelly. X-Force has found a way to function outside the X-men and the law. They’ve been able to do this without a threat like the Brotherhood of Mutants or the Mutant Liberation Front causing trouble. That advantage, however, is about to change.

The first major arc of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is set to raise the stakes. It’ll mark the first time the X-men and X-Force will be at odds, but it will by no means be the last. The threats they face don’t have a clear face like Magneto or Sinister. Their faces are those of scared, anxious mutants who don’t know where they fit into this new world. Charles Xavier believes he can forge a better world with the aid of General Grimshaw and President Kelly. X-Force believes that Xavier can’t possibly control the kind of world that will emerge. Who is right and what are the consequences of being wrong?

Those are difficult questions to answer, but those questions will be the driving force for this fanfiction series moving forward. This first arc, Volatility Sensibility, will get the ball rolling. It’ll put Charles Xavier’s X-men and Cyclops’ X-Force on a collision course from which there is no escape. There’s no avoiding it. Someone will be vindicated. Someone will be proven wrong. These are volatile times for X-men Supreme and it’s only going to get more volatile from here on out, in some cases literally.

X-men Supreme Issue 151: Volatility Sensibility Part 1

As the X-men Supreme fanfiction series continues to evolve, the story and the characters are going to take a number of turns along the way. I know this may cause some anxiety among fans of certain characters. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years reading X-men comics, it’s that X-men fans are very sensitive about how their favorite characters are portrayed. I want to make sure that every character in X-men Supreme is portrayed in the fairest, most balanced way possible. Given the current divisions in this fanfiction series, it’s bound to be a challenge.

That’s why it’s so important that I continue to get reviews and feedback from readers. I know X-men fans are a passionate bunch. I know because I’m one of them. That’s why I want to make sure that every character and every story is as awesome as it can possibly be. So please take the time to provide feedback on this and every other issue. Either post your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly. I’m always happy to chat and I’m always willing to listen. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!


Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Familiar Youth Revival: Generation X #1

The following is my review of Generation X #1, which was posted on

Adolescence, in some respects, is a fitting metaphor for mutation. Bodies change, mentality changes, and strange new abilities develop that are downright scary for those experiencing them, as well as those around them. Anyone who goes to high school or spends any significant amount of time around teenagers understands this. In that respect, the themes in X-men are both relevant and personal for many. Some call it puberty. Some call it an omega-level hormone surge.

This also makes the stories about the younger, less experienced generation of mutants more salient to the themes of the X-men comics as a whole. These aren't characters who have received extensive Danger Room training. These aren't characters who have they proven themselves by surviving no less than a fifty Sentinel attacks either. They're still teenagers trying to find their place in the world while going through a traumatic change in their bodies and minds. It's hard enough just making it through high school. Adding real superpowers to the mix is like giving the Hulk a migraine.

Given the recent trends in extinction plots and mass sterilization, there haven't been many opportunities to explore the youthful side of the X-men. That finally changes with Generation X, a series where mutant teenagers can just be mutant teenagers without having to worry about poison clouds or the Scarlet Witch's mental health. Christina Strain and Amilcar Pinna bring the X-men's young guns back into the mix with a fresh foundation devoid of sterilization or extinction.

In Generation X #1, that foundation emerges through the perspective of familiar and not-so-familiar faces. The Xavier Institute is open once more. It's back to using its old title, no longer acting as a testament to Wolverine's creepy obsession with Jean Grey. It's not just a school anymore either. The Xavier Institute's mission is bolder and broader. After facing issues like cosmic forces, toxic gas clouds, and time travelers, it sort of has to be.

Teenagers have a hard enough time with school and hormones, but Generation X dares to add even higher stakes. The world after Inhumans vs. X-men is still taking shape in the sense that both teams are still finding their place in a new status quo. That's where Jubilee's familiar perspective helps give context. Beyond being a character closely associated with the classic 90s series, she brings her own story into the narrative.

It's a story that fell to the wayside during the conflict with the Inhumans. She's still a mutant vampire. She still has an adopted son named Shogo. She's still trying to navigate a world where her mentor, Logan, is dead. Her taking on a leadership role for a team of young, inexperienced mutants almost seems like overkill. However, Strain and Pinna make it easy to root for her. True to the spirit of the classic X-men cartoon from the 90s, she carries herself with an infectious spirit that sets the mood for the story and her supporting cast.

By contrast, a less familiar perspective offers more traditional adolescent angst. Nathanial Cavier, also known as Hindsight, is the other character that Strain and Pinna utilize to set the tone for Generation X. His is one that anyone who felt anxious on their first day of high school can relate to. He spends most of the story just in his surroundings, coming across the rest of the cast and learning about their quirks. It's like orientation with destructive mutant powers and nosy telepaths. From a teenage perspective, it's like boot camp and brain surgery all rolled into one.

Having both a familiar and unfamiliar character lead the narrative helps create a balanced perspective as the cast takes shape. While the main cast for the series includes Jubilee, Bling, Kid Omega, Nature Girl, Morph, Hindsight, and Eye-Boy, there are other major X-men characters that help tie Generation X into the larger narrative of the X-men comics. Kitty Pryde, being the new headmaster and leader, is the most notable. She's also the one who gives Jubilee her blessing to lead a new generation of students who are still learning how to fight Sentinels.

In terms of bringing the main cast together, Generation X #1 succeeds in that it navigates the X-men's unofficial bureaucracy. They don't get distinct uniforms or anything, but Strain and Pinna craft a narrative that establishes a new team with Jubilee acting as the catalyst. Beyond that success, though, the story doesn't check quite as many boxes.

Even as the team takes shape, the diverse and quirky class of young mutants don't get a chance to do much. While a new host of challenges and conflicts are set up towards the end, there's not really a major clash that helps bring the team together. In fact, the greatest source of action in the story involves Kid Omega throwing a temper tantrum over losing an expensive pair of shoes.

Granted, Kid Omega has thrown tantrums over far less and with far greater destructive power, but it doesn't exactly harden the cast of Generation X against other prospective threats. At the very least, though, it sets the tone for the kind of volatile dynamics they'll be dealing with. Being a team of superpowered teenagers, that should be the first and most important lesson of any mutant team.

Beyond Kid Omega's tantrum, only a handful of other characters get a chance to interact or participate. Other than Jubilee, Hindsight, and Kid Omega, the rest of the cast just puts themselves in a position to participate in Generation X. In that sense, Generation X #1 works as a successful orientation for an incoming freshman class. Between new and familiar faces, as well as the inherent volatility that comes with adolescence, Strain and Pinna set the stage for a new generation of X-men. Whether they survive the experience, or even wish they did, remains to be seen.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, May 12, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 151: Volatility Sensibility Part 1 PREVIEW!

Throughout the history of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, the X-men have never been far from a new conflict or a new enemy. First, there was the Brotherhood of Mutants, who established themselves as major threats in the Uprising arc. Then, there was Mr. Sinister, who established himself as a threat in the Sinister Intent arc. More recently, the Mutant Liberation Front’s activities in X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation presented one of the most daunting challenges the X-men have faced to date. It was so daunting that Charles Xavier ended up compromising his dream to forge a fragile peace.

That peace still came at a cost. The first two issues of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided established the scope of that cost. The X-men are divided now. On one side, Charles Xavier is working with President Kelly and General Grimshaw to maintain the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, a new policy for policing mutants. On the other, there’s X-Force. Under Cyclops and Wolverine’s leadership, they’re trying to preserve the essence of Xavier’s dream, even if it makes them fugitives. After the events of X-men Supreme Issue 150: Walking A Fine Line, the line is clear. Everyone in X-Force is a fugitive.

This is dangerous and uncharted territory for this fanfiction series. While the X-men comics have done more than their share of stories about divided X-men, X-men Supreme has never put these characters in a situation like this. It’s entirely new to them and it’s utterly gut-wrenching. It cost Charles Xavier his most trusted student. It may have irreparably damaged the romance between Cyclops and Jean Grey. Both sides have already lost plenty, but both still have plenty to lose and X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided will provide plenty of challenges.

The first two issues were largely an insight into how X-men and X-Force operate in this new world. Both sides have their share of benefits and drawbacks. Both are dealing with their share of personal issues and team drama as well. It’s a tense situation, but it’s still functional. That’s easy when there isn’t a major threat putting pressure on both. With the Mutant Liberation Front in prison and the Brotherhood of Mutants dissolved, there hasn’t been a real threat for Charles Xavier or Cyclops to consider. That changes with the next arc, which happens to be the first of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided.

For the first time within this tenuous situation between X-men and X-Force, a new threat emerges. It’s a very unstable threat in that it isn’t some organized team. This isn’t Magneto rallying other mutants to his cause or Sinister unleashing some new mutant monstrosity. This is just one particularly unlucky mutant being caught up in a dangerous situation. The challenge is how do the X-men and X-Force handle the situation? Is it even possible, given all the tension and uncertainty? What kind of price will they pay for their division?

It’s the first, but definitely not the last challenge that the X-men and X-Force will face. This fanfiction series is going to hit both teams with plenty of new threats, some of which have been brewing for quite some time. For now, though, the most immediate threat will come in this first arc of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, which I’ve dubbed Volatility Sensibility. As always, I’ve provided a preview that should give a sense of just how volatile things are about to get.

‘Insides burning. Feels like I just drank a shot of acid. It’s gonna happen again! Can’t let it! Gotta get away before…’

Robert Hunter’s thoughts broke down as another round of agony consumed him. His whole body ached. He had been running since the previous night. Since that first explosion at the old fire house, his only focus was getting as far away as possible. His problems with his loan shark were light years from his mind. Something was happening to him and as he clawed his way up a rocky hill, it happened again.

“No! Not again! I can’t…AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

His body erupted in another burst of bright bluish energy. It started from his eyes and quickly consumed him from head to toe. When it got to be too much, the energy was released in a powerful explosion. It wasn’t as powerful as the blast that destroyed the fire house, but it was still powerful enough to leave a circle of scorched earth around him.

Robert’s ears kept ringing as he lay helpless on the rugged terrain. Somehow he made it all the way to the old coal mines where his father used to work. It seemed like the only place left for him. Looking back towards the city, he saw no way for him to return. He was so tired and weak, yet he was still dangerous to be around.

“What am I going to do?” groaned Robert as he stared at the cloudy sky above him, “I’m not just a freak. I’m a walking time bomb! It’s official. There’s no possible way for my life to get any worse!”

The dazed young man closed his eyes and groaned. His world had been falling apart before this happened. Now it was beyond repair. He was lost and no one was coming to help him. Perhaps that was for the better. At this rate, he would only hurt them too.

As Robert lamented at his horrendous luck, he heard a noise in the distance. It came from the main entrance to the coal mine where heavy construction vehicles used to enter. He rose up and saw three trucks driving alongside a large van. The terrain around this mine was pretty rugged so it was rare for anybody to come this way. At first he was hopeful. Maybe someone saw the explosion he caused and was here to help. Then he recognized a figure in the back of a truck and his hopes were quickly dashed.

“Hey Nitro!” yelled the voice of his loan shark, “We’ve got unfinished business.”

“Looks like I spoke too soon,” groaned Robby.

The weakened young man stumbled to his feet. He tried running deeper into the minds, making his way towards what was left of an elevator shaft. He didn’t make it very far. Within minutes, the three trucks surrounded him and the van behind them pulled up. There was nowhere for him to escape. Robert froze where he stood, watching as over a dozen intimidating men armed with baseball bats and guns stood over him.

“You guys are making a big mistake!” he warned them, “You saw what I did back at the firehouse. Do you really want to be around when it happens again?”

“I sure as hell don’t. Hell, I was hoping you saved us the trouble and blew your ass up,” scoffed the loan shark, “But this isn’t about what I want. It’s what the boss wants.”

The loan shark signaled the van to pull in closer. It stopped about ten feet from where Robert was standing. He stepped back slightly, only to be shoved forward by one of the lone shark’s over-sized friends. He tried not to tremble as a neatly dressed Latino man stepped out of the van. He had short hair, dark sunglasses, and fancy-looking jewelry. Robert Hunter had been involved with criminals long enough to know that this man was powerful and dangerous.

“So this is the man I drove all the way from New York to meet,” said the man, “He’s not nearly as imposing as I thought.”

“You’re in good company, boss. Mr. Hunter is what you may call a lazy criminal,” said the loan shark, “He wants the money and the comfort, but he lacks the balls and the heart to go through with it.”

“Typical,” the boss scoffed, “You lazy kids, not looking both ways before you cross the fucking street. I’m not a cruel man, but guys like you deserve far worse than a bullet in the head.”

“Please,” said Robert, his tone weakening under the man’s gaze, “I really don’t know who you are or why you’re here. If you know my story, then you know I’m already screwed!”

“You don’t need to know my name, Mr. Hunter. Just call me, Boss,” grinned the imposing man, “As for your story, I would say you’re anything but screwed. In fact, you may be the luckiest punk this side of the Mississippi.”

“I just started blowing up randomly in a way I can’t control! How the hell is that lucky?”

The Boss and his associates started laughing. Robert grew increasingly anxious. That sick feeling in the pit of his stomach was starting to build again. It meant this bad situation was about to get worse in so many ways.

“ really are as stupid as you look!” said the loan shark.

“Cut the man some slack. He’s clearly had a rough couple of days,” said Boss as he patted Robert on the back, “Allow me to spell it out for you. This power that’s got you whining like a little girl has a lot of otential. You just need a little imagination.”

“I’d rather not imagine. I’d rather it just stop!” cried Robert.

“Why would you want to stop something so useful? The way I see it, you’re a walking bomb that no sane person would suspect. In my line of work, that kind of surprise goes a long way. For instance, there’s this nasty waste of flesh in Philadelphia that ran a few of my businesses out of town. I know where he lives. I know where he hangs out. Imagine if someone like you drops by, an unarmed weakling who he won’t suspect of anything. Then before he knows how fucked he is, what’s left of him is feeding the birds.”

I understand that many X-men fans are still burned out on stories about divided X-men and various schism. I completely understand that sentiment. I didn’t plan for X-men Supreme to coincide with a reunification and reconfiguration of the X-men comics. It just sort of worked out that way. Even for those X-men fans who are tired of a divided team, I want to make sure that this fanfiction series still appeals to them. That’s why it’s still vital that I continue to get feedback. Please take the time to post your comments in the comments section of each issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to talk X-men. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Before The Ashes: Jean Grey #1

The following is my review of Jean Grey #1, which was posted on

When she's not dying, coming back from the dead, or being on the wrong end of a love triangle, Jean Grey is one of those characters whose story often gets defined by others. This is understandable because in many respects, she's the heart and soul of the X-men. She embodies the hope, drive, and passion that guides them. She makes such strong connections to those around her, be they teammates or rivals, that it's hard for her to exist in isolation. From the famous Phoenix Saga to her most recent death in Planet X, she serves as an emotional catalyst for the X-men as a whole.

While this benefits the X-men, it also means she rarely gets a chance to grow on her own. Her story is often too tied to those of her teammates that she just can't forge her own path. Even after she and the original five X-men come to the future in All-New X-men, she continues to follow the path of her team.

It almost seems like a gross oversight that Jean Grey has never gotten her own solo series. Other characters such as Doop, Pixie, and even her arch-rival Emma Frost got a solo series at one point. Overdue or not, Dennis Hopeless and Victor Ibanez use Jean Grey #1 to finally give her a chance to tell her own story.

It's a story that emerges out of unfamiliar circumstances for Jean. She isn't just a teammate and guiding force anymore. She's the leader of a team that's taking guidance from Magneto, of all people. By X-men standards, these circumstances couldn't be more unfamiliar without the influence of the Cosmic Cube.

Even so, Jean's personal agenda is the same as it was in the early issues of All-New X-men. She seeks to avoid a future where she ends up dead, resurrected, dead again, and a topic of awkward conversation between Wolverine and Cyclops. Hopeless makes the story personal by exploring Jean's mentality and personal sentiments. There have been plenty of scenes with Jean lamenting, fighting, and complaining about her situation. The idea of her just taking a moment to process feels both novel and overdue.

That's not to say she's able to process everything. She's still a time-displaced teenage girl who learns that she dies multiple times, may or may not have destroyed a planet, and has at least one evil clone. Not even the mental fortitude of Reed Richards can process something like that, but that helps mold the overall tone of the story. Jean Grey, despite all her overwhelming burdens, is all too human when it comes to matters of life, death, rebirth, and evil clones.

From the beginning, Jean Grey #1 emphasizes Jean's humanity. Those not familiar with her humanity or the many obstacles, cosmic and non-cosmic alike, that strain it get a few major highlights of her story. The ones that stick out most for Jean, as a character, are those surrounding her multiple deaths and various resurrections. This is where Hopeless establishes a critical theme for her and the series, as a whole.

Jean Grey doesn't just want to avoid becoming the woman who ends up dying multiple times and inspiring multiple retcons. She actively hates that person. She doesn't see her future self as someone she aspires to be. She sees her as a painful reminder, one that actually gives her nightmares. Granted, it is a bit melodramatic in that it overlooks a lot of the good her future self did, but she's a brooding teenager so it's perfectly appropriate.

On top of these musings and dreads, Jean gets a chance to be a typical hero. Whether by coincidence or cosmic karma, she's having lunch in Kyoto, Japan just as the Wrecking Crew is doing a heist. It's admittedly contrived. Even those involved admit that. It also gives Jean a chance to show just how powerful she has become. It emphasizes that, despite how much she hates her future self, she's still a hero at heart.

The perspective and style in Jean Grey #1 feels very personal. Even if the action is predictable, Ibanez's art makes it flashy. It also sets the stage for the over-arching narrative that puts Jean on a collision course with the Phoenix Force. Given the status of the Phoenix Saga as one of the greatest X-men stories ever told, it raises both the stakes and the risks.

It's an unfortunate byproduct of such a dramatic and iconic story. Any effort to expand or explore that story tends to undermine, complicate, or convolute it to some degree. Sometimes it's for the better, as Chris Claremont proved with Inferno. Sometimes, it just comes off feeling too forced, as proven in Avengers vs. X-men. However, in the case of Jean Grey, it's a story that cannot and should not be avoided.

The foundation is already in place. The events of The Trial of Jean Grey proved that what the Phoenix did and what it can potentially do is still relevant. Jean, despite her best efforts, cannot avoid this part of her past and future. During the battle with the Wrecking Crew, she gets a harsh, but overdue reminder that her story and that of the Phoenix Force is inextricably linked.

While some details of the narrative in Jean Grey #1 are still contrived, the underlying themes and overall tones remain strong. They carry the necessary dramatic weight that is so critical to any story involving Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force. Hopeless crafts a story that makes it easy to sympathize with Jean. He makes it easy to root for her. For a character who is often the victim of so many dramatic tragedies and insipid love triangles, it's a welcome and overdue change.

The series still has a lot to prove. The prospect of more complications with the Phoenix Force and even more teenage melodrama ensures Jean Grey has many opportunities to falter. Whether or not Hopeless and Ibanez can avoid that cosmic trap remains to be seen, but they still succeed in reminding everyone why Jean Grey is the heart of the X-men.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Friday, May 5, 2017

No More Secrets With Much Greater Intrigue: Secret Empire #1

The following is my review of Secret Empire #1, which was posted on

There's a lot that can be said about Marvel's various crossover events, retcons, and relaunches over the past decade. It's now trendy for fans to roll their collective eyes at yet another major event that promises to shake the foundations of the Marvel universe, as if that doesn't happen every other week. To some extent, Marvel does rely heavily, if not excessively, on crossover events, either to raise the profile of certain characters or establish a new status quo. The success of these efforts vary wildly, from the blockbuster success of the original Civil War to endlessly forgettable Clone Saga.

Within this environment of cynicism and aversion to crossover events, Nick Spencer and Steve McNiven's Secret Empire is up against unreasonably unfair odds. It's a story that has been building for a while, having begun after the events of Avengers: Standoff. However, it's a story that Captain America fans, and Marvel fans in general, are already prepared to despise.

That predetermined sentiment has some basis in the growing aversion to crossover events, but that hate got a gamma-powered boost with the shocking reveal/retcon that Captain America is a secret Hydra agent. That revelation is on par with Thanos revealing he's Tony Stark's biological father. It's both shocking and infuriating with some eagerly awaiting answers while others complain that their childhood is ruined.

In both cases, Spencer and McNiven have an uphill battle with Secret Empire. They can't do anything about those who are already determined to hate anything that doesn't involve Nazi punching, but they can still make the most of Secret Empire's potential and the potential is there. Secret Empire #1 finally unleashes the full extent of Hydra's subversion efforts. While it's sure to trigger those who Hulk out at the idea of Captain America being a secret Hydra agent, there is a wealth of content and substance.

Those who can look past the lack of Nazi punching will uncover a world that offers much more than the stand heroes versus fascist narrative. Spencer dares to add a bit more balance to the conflict and when one side of that equation are regularly equated with Nazis, that's both bold and risky. It's also necessary within the context of Secret Empire. It's not enough to just have Hydra raise their flag over the White House, declare themselves rulers of the world, and spend every other moment twirling their collective mustaches in triumph. It's necessary to explore the kind of world they now rule and why some buy into it.

Spencer doesn't water it down either. The new world revealed in Secret Empire is a fascist, authoritarian world where children are taught the glory of Hydra and government-sponsored bullies arrest people for daring to scoff at such glory. The first part of the story doesn't even involve any heroes. It just shows how a few school-age children live their lives in a world now dominated by Hydra. Those lives, as well as the order they now regularly hail, provide an important context that gives greater weight to the conflict.

Hydra may be fascist and anything fascist tends to elicit Hulk-like outrage by most, but the order they offer is tempting to some extent. Throughout Secret Empire #1, Spencer shows some of the benefits of that order. There's a strong, well-equipped army armed with ridiculous Hydra weapons to enforce the peace. There's a robust, orderly economy that is rich in jobs and opportunity. Those who buy into it gain a level of security and certainty that doesn't require mind control to appreciate.

That's an important component of the narrative because it adds a certain level of complexity to the conflict. It's not just a matter of underdog heroes taking on the big Hydra bullies who spend their days bathing in the tears of sick orphans. Secret Empire #1 dares to offer two sides of that conflict. Usually, when one of those sides is an outright fascist, there isn't much to debate that doesn't involve lung-bursting outrage. By ignoring that unavoidable outrage, Spencer and McNiven set up a uniquely daunting challenge for those who oppose Hydra's new world order.

The circumstances are pretty dire, as they tend to be for those on the other side of a fascist conflict. Those who play by the rules in a fascist state don't lose their freedom, their lives, or even their internet connection. For those resisting this style of patriotic tyranny, it's a test of will and resolve. Unlike previous conflicts, there's no rousing speech by Captain America to inspire the heroes. For once, the rousing speeches are working against them.

Cap being on the fascist side of the conflict in Secret Empire completely flips the script. This time, the iconic leader and pillar of virtue is working for Hydra. His style is not like that of the Red Skull or Baron Zemo. He still carries himself as a patriot, seeking to preserve the values he believes are right. It doesn't just add yet another daunting element for the Avengers or any other hero seeking to oppose Hydra. It gives the overall conflict a dramatic impact that can only happen through Captain America.

In the same way that generations of Captain America fans who played with toy shields as kids refuse to believe his betrayal, the heroes now fighting Hydra share in that disbelief. They look for any possible excuse, clinging to the belief that the Captain America they know and love is still there. Spencer makes it clear, though, that there's no mind control, evil clone, or Skrull agent at work here. The Captain America now leading the "Hail Hydra!" cheers is the same Captain America they've always known. It's gut-wrenching on a level that no amount of Nazi punching can alleviate.

The fact that the context and structure of Secret Empire is so dramatically gut-wrenching is what gives the story such strength. The details and organization of that story are somewhat loose in certain areas, but the impact is still there. Those still determined to hate Secret Empire and everything that set it up will probably not change their opinion. Anyone who still despises the idea of Captain America being a fascist will still be sick their stomach seeing him salute Hydra's flag.

Spencer and McNiven take a huge risk in Secret Empire #1, daring to make a conflict that involves fascists feel balanced. While that balance is still somewhat fragile, it still works. It still creates a story that feels compelling and dramatic. It won't make anyone pro-fascist, but it will offer plenty of intrigue.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

New Sexy Side-Project! The Red Queen Chronicles: The Phoenix

Summer is almost here! That means beaches, bikinis, and beautiful women wearing bikinis is right around the corner. For those of us who need few excuses to wear less clothing, it's a beautiful time. But no matter what time of the year it is, it's always a good time for one of my sexy side-projects.

Yes, I'm still doing this. And yes, I'm still exploring the world I've created with Spider-Man, a former prostitute version of Mary Jane Watson, and the concept of her being the Red Queen. I've had a lot of fun expanding this world. It started out as a simple Spider-Man story that gave me ample opportunities to maximize Mary Jane's sex appeal. I've since expanded it to get her involved with Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club, as well as characters like Wolverine and Black Widow. The results have been even sexier than I expected.

Now, I'm ready to turn the sex appeal up to cosmic proportions. Yes, that means Jean Grey is entering the picture again. If you've been following my blog or my work in any capacity, you have no right to be surprised. Seriously, did you think I was going to build a world with this much sex appeal and exclude Jean Grey? I don't know what you're on, but you're taking way too much of it.

That's why, with an announcement I hope shocks zero people, I'm proud to announce the next sexy side project in the world of "The Red Queen Chronicles." This one will occur right after the previous entry with Black Widow. It involves Mary Jane, Emma Frost, and even Spider-Man working together to "recruit" Cyclops and Jean Grey to their ranks. How will they do that? How will they work around a few cosmic obstacles? Well, you'll just have to wait and see. I promise it's even sexier than you think.

Like my last story, this one will have multiple parts. I don't know how many it'll have just yet, but it won't be more than a few. I know I've done sexy stories with Cyclops and Jean Grey before, but believe me when I say I've never pushed it this far. You'll see what I mean very soon. Nuff said!