Thursday, November 30, 2017

Doubling (And Tripling) Down On Time Travel: X-men Blue #16

The following is my review of X-men Blue #16, which was posted on

There's a certain point in a narrative where a certain subplot either needs to be abandoned or shoved back into the spotlight. It's like that point in a poker game where pushing all the chips to the center of the table is the only sound tactic left. It's a major risk and one that potentially undermines the entire foundation of a story, but the payoff is significant. For the time-displaced X-men in X-men Blue, the time is right for that kind of gamble.

There's no getting around it. Since arriving from the past in the pages of All-New X-men, the mission of the original five X-men seems to change every other week. One week, they're trying to stop Cyclops from ushering in a full-blown mutant genocide. The next, they're joining Cyclops to become mutant revolutionaries. The week after that, they're working with Magneto, the same guy who tried to kill them on their first mission. While it's not uncommon for teenagers to have erratic priorities, time travel seems to exacerbate the situation for the time-displaced X-men.

Beyond these varying missions and allegiances, though, there remains one common, unresolved thread. These time-displaced X-men are, for reasons not yet explained, cannot go back to the future. The events of X-men: Battle of the Atom establish that there is something keeping these time traveling teenagers stuck in the future. The nature of that mechanism is vague and rarely hinted it. For the most part, it's like Spider-Man's marriage in that it's overtly ignored for the most part.

In X-men Blue #16, Cullen Bunn and Thony Silas finally revisit this issue in a way that requires them to push those proverbial chips to the center of the table. It all happens quickly and under the backdrop of some typical teenage melodrama that always seems to find its way into the pages of X-men Blue. The mixture and transitions aren't always seamless, but few things involving teenage melodrama are.

That melodrama is only a small part of a much more serious conflict that has roots that extent back to X-men: Battle of the Atom and beyond. Anyone who has seen Back To The Future more than once understands the erratic and chaotic nature of time travel. Mess with the timeline too much and eventually, it'll get impatient. Whatever patience kept the original five X-men intact in the future seems to have run out, albeit quite suddenly.

There's little build-up or foundation to the sudden fracturing of time. It just starts happening, forcing the time-displaced X-men to react on the spot. Part of that reaction involves them engaging in more time travel. On the surface, that seems like fighting fire with napalm. In this rare instance, though, it makes sense and it addresses an important issue that has remained vague since X-men: Battle of the Atom.

Even those who haven't seen Back To The Future understand on some levels that time travel, especially one that involves changing the past, tends to incur an unpredictable impact on the present. For the most part, the impact of the original five X-men being in the future hasn't been that significant. The final few issues of Dennis Hopeless' run on All-New X-men even imply that their presence may not affect the timeline at all, which undermines the entire premise of a time travel story to begin with.

Like the events of X-men: Battle of the Atom, the temporal details remain vague. However, X-men Blue #16 ditches much of those subtleties and makes one thing very clear. The original five X-men's presence is indeed having an impact on the timeline. They aren't just a bunch of clones or alternate versions of themselves from a dystopian future, of which the Marvel universe already has plenty. They are from the same timeline and what they do does effect the present. That reaction may have been delayed, but it's happening.

It's an important facet that Bunn and Silas belabor, which helps establish the premise and the stakes of the Cross Time Capers arc that begins in X-men Blue #16. It's an overdue dose of clarity for an issue that many recent stories involving the time-displaced X-men go out of their way to ignore. It's both refreshing and profound in that sense that it gives the story genuine stakes, but still doesn't forget that those involved are teenagers. That means that no matter how serious the story may be, there's going to be some entertaining awkwardness along the way.

There is some of that in X-men Blue #16, but not nearly enough. Much of the melodrama involves ongoing emotional entanglements between Cyclops and Jean Grey. While those kinds of entanglements are a major part of X-men drama, regardless of timeline, they seem somewhat forced. It's as though these two always have to have the same kind of drama thrown in, as though that's the only drama they know. Being teenagers, that's less believable than anyone shooting lasers from their eyes.

Even if the melodrama is forced and the pace is quick, the sheer intensity of X-men Blue #16 make it a solid beginning to what promises to be a chaotic arc involving time travel. Given how X-men Blue is coming off an event that involved Mojo, that's saying something. Bunn's concise storytelling and Silas' colorful lay a solid foundation that has the potential to incur more significant implications than anything the time-displaced X-men have experienced to date. Like Marty McFly though, they will likely have to learn about those implications the hard way.

Final Score 6 out of 10

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Secrets, Convergence, and the Sacred: Doomsday Clock #1

The following is my review of Doomsday Clock #1, which was posted on

In the colorful history of comics, there are only a handful of sacred concepts that can never be sullied. They can be refined, reimagined, or expanded, but to twist them is akin to poking the Hulk in the eye. It's just a reckless invitation for outrage and anguish. Whether it's Superman's virtue, Batman's gadgets, or Deadpool's love of tacos, these ideas have a special place in comics lore that may as well be carved in adamantium.

In the annuls of the DC mythos, few stories are as sacred or revered as Alan Moore's Watchmen. Even today, it's impossible to overstate just how groundbreaking this story was for DC and comics, as a whole. That story, in all its dark and cynical glory, shows just how far comics can take a particular concept. Watchmen really went for broke, taking on everything from the merits of heroism to the corruption that comes with god-like power. These are all concepts that play out in countless myths and Watchmen found a way to break new ground on these concepts.

It's for that reason that incorporating Watchmen into the DC universe carries a huge risk. It's one thing to expand the world of Watchmen, which was done in the Before Watchmen series. It's quite another to work it into the ongoing upheavals of the DC universe. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank set these worlds on a collision course with the events of DC Rebirth #1.

Now, with Doomsday Clock #1, the collision is imminent and the sacred status of Watchmen is at stake. Given that Johns and Grank are DC's creative equivalent of the A-Team, this historic gamble is in the best possible position to pay off. Doing so, however, means recapturing the same complexities and quirks of Watchmen. That's exactly what Doomsday Clock #1 spends most of the time doing and while Alan Moore may still resent everything DC does with his creations, it finds a way to succeed.

The world of Watchmen is still as dark as ever, but Doomsday Clock #1 effectively doubles down on it, building upon a world where heroes and men with god-like power set humanity on a dark, dangerous course. In a sense, it picks up where the last panel of Watchmen left off in a very literal sense. Rorschach's journal, which thoroughly documented the events of the original Watchmen, helps expose Ozymandias' elaborate ruse. From there, a world built on cynicism and disillusion somehow becomes even darker.

In a sense, the world of Doomsday Clock is the ultimate extreme in terms of what happens when a lie becomes too big to brush aside as an alternate fact. This concept is wholly relevant in an era where the biggest threat isn't the Soviet Union launching a nuclear attack. It's people who buy into the lies, half-truths, and agendas. A willingness to buy into those lies is exactly what characters like Ozymandias exploit, what Rorschach despises, and what the Comedian laughs at.

It's one thing to brush aside stories of presidents colluding with foreign agents. It's quite another to brush aside a massive deception that unleashes armies of monsters and kills millions in a bid to unite the world. That's a lie that nobody in the world of Doomsday Clock can accept or spin. Even the news media at their worst cannot hope to twist the facts into serving an agenda.

Johns and Frank really channel their inner Alan Moore and David Gibbons, which may be much easier today than it was in the mid-80s. They don't just guide the narrative through a darker, more cynical path. They push it to an extent where extremes like nuclear war feel expected, if not logical. They build a world full of people who find out that their heroes and their most powerful icons lied to them in a way that killed millions. It's a dark world, to say the least, and one where outrage manifests in more than hashtags.

Doomsday Clock once again puts the world of Watchmen on the brink of destruction. However, it's the ties to the world of DC Rebirth that really raises the stakes. What happens in this world can't just be brushed aside like one of the many elseworlds that build their structures around apocalyptic scenarios. Due to the events of DC Rebirth #1, these worlds are entwined now. That makes the story that unfolds in Doomsday Clock #1 feel so impactful.

That story doesn't rely heavily on DC's biggest heroes, nor does it try to incorporate the entire cast of Watchmen into the mix. It focuses on key characters like Ozymandias and Rorschach with support from secondary characters like Marionette and the Mime. They guide the bulk of the narrative, bringing Superman and the world of DC's heroes at the end. The ties between the two worlds are somewhat loose, but since they are already established thanks to DC Rebirth #1, there's still a strong sense of cohesion.

A big part of what makes Watchmen such a powerful story is how well it reflects the sentiments of a certain period in history. It's something that Before Watchmen didn't attempt, but Doomsday Clock #1 dares to follow that same approach. By nearly every measure, it works. The themes in the story are even more relevant in 2017 than they were in 1985. Adding the impact on the greater DC Universe only heightens the importance of those themes.

Every comic tries to be groundbreaking in its own right, but few have the context and the themes to achieve this. Watchmen succeeded by being ambitious at just the right time with just the right kind of story. That's a big part of why it has such a sacred status in the history of comics. Doomsday Clock can't achieve that same sacred status just yet, but it succeeds in capturing many of the elements that make Watchmen such a powerful story.

The prospect of the world of Watchmen impacting that of the larger DC universe remains intriguing. The events of Doomsday Clock #1 helps set that story up in a way that captures the same sentiments that make both worlds so compelling. Such an effort still has some lofty goals with some long odds, but so far, that gamble is paying off in a profound way.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Friday, November 24, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 160: Unholy Man Part 2 is LIVE!

It’s Black Friday and I’m sure most people out there are still digesting their Thanksgiving dinner. I know I am. I also hope everyone is still hungry for another major turning point in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Those tend to happen a lot when Reverend William Stryker is involved. Since he showed up in the District X arc, he has been a recurring threat for the X-men. Fueled by hatred and religious zealotry, Styrker has put Charles Xavier and his team in a lot of tough positions. However, this latest predicament may be the hardest and have the most implications for the course of this fanfiction series.

For a time, Reverend Stryker was dealing with various setbacks. At one point, he was a key advisor to President Robert Kelly. He wielded a great deal of influence, which he hoped to channel into his anti-mutant agenda. Then, General Grimshaw entered the picture in X-men Supreme Issue 75: Renegade. His approach to Charles Xavier, the X-men, and mutants hasn’t been the same. However, his influence eventually superseded that of Reverend Stryker. General Grimshaw’s position was only further strengthened at the end of X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide with the implementation of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

Reverend Stryker may have taken a major hit, in terms of influence, but his religious zeal never faltered. It was only a matter of time before he became an issue in this fanfiction series. There’s a reason why he constantly confounds the X-men in both the comics and movies. It’s not enough that he’s determined. He believes that he is divinely ordained to take on mutants. He isn’t afraid to put himself out there and attack. Unfortunately, this time the attack found him.

In the first issue of the Unholy Man arc, it’s revealed that Reverend Stryker and his Purfiers endured a sudden and devastating attack. An unknown threat composed of operatives who appeared to wield mutant powers struck in the middle of the sermon, killing dozens of Stryker’s militant followers. It wasn’t much of a fight. It was a true massacre. The X-men only arrived after the devastation and after Styrker took his outrage out on Father Ryan Hansen, another religious man who has been an ally to mutants.

The mysterious threat remains at large, but Stryker is prepared to take his anger out on the X-men. What happened to him and why marks a pivotal moment for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. To date, the X-men have faced a number of threats to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative and not just from X-Force, the team founded by Cyclops and Wolverine to oppose the initiative. They’ve dealt with dangerous mutants and the return of Sebastian Shaw. However, the they now face is unlike anything they’ve ever dealt with.

It’s a threat that I’ve been building since X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. It’s one I’ve been eager to bring into this fanfiction series for quite some time. This threat should be familiar to those who have followed the X-men comics. It involves some controversial characters that I’m sure will cause some reservations. I would urge those who feel that way to bear with me because I intend to make those characters awesome in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. First, though, the X-men need to get through the events of Unholy Man with their spirits intact.

X-men Supreme Issue 160: Unholy Man Part 2

I’m very excited for the future of this fanfiction series. X-men Supreme has incorporated a long list of iconic X-men and Marvel characters into the story. Some are easier to utilize than others because they’re so closely tied to the X-men. Others are a bit lesser known and controversial. I understand that not every character in the history of the X-men mythos is beloved. Some are downright despised. That makes bringing them into X-men Supreme and making them awesome all the more challenging.

I intend to rise to that challenge. I want to make every character that shows up in this fanfiction series as awesome as possible. To do that, I need feedback from the passionate X-men fans who help make them awesome. This latest issue helps set the stage and it’s only going to escalate from here on out. So please, as always, I urge you to take the time to review. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issue. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!


Friday, November 17, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 160: Unholy Man Part 2 PREVIEW

Desperate times call for desperate measures, but sometimes those measures can be foolish, extreme, and downright cruel. The X-men have found themselves in many situations like that over the course of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. From cosmic battles against the Phoenix Force to the global crisis with the Cambrian, the X-men are no strangers to desperation. They’ve often found a way to beat the odds against the likes of Magneto, Sinister, and the Mutant Liberation Front without resorting to extremes or cruelty. Reverend William Stryker does not share that kind of reservation.

The ongoing Unholy Man arc has put Reverend Stryker in a dangerous, albeit tragic position. He has been a major source of conflict for the X-men ever since his arrival in the District X arc back in X-men Supreme Volume 3: Ashes of Hope. He embodies the worst kind of religious zealotry, painting his bigotry and hatred of mutants as some sort of holy crusade. That kind of religious extremism has all sorts of painful parallels in the real world. Those are the kinds of parallels that help X-men resonate, as a story. Like real life, unfortunately, that zealotry has led to serious atrocities.
For reasons not yet clear, Reverend Stryker attacked and seriously wounded Father Ryan Hansen.

Like Stryker, Father Hansen is a man of great faith and one of the few original characters in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, alongside the likes of Captain Freeman and General Grimshaw. However, he stands in stark contrast to Reverend Stryker. Since his arrival in X-men Supreme Issue 111: Divine Intervention, he has become a close ally of the X-men. Instead of hatred and bigotry, his faith inspires hope and love between humans and mutants. While it has resonated with some mutants, including X-men like Rogue, it has only provoked men like Reverend Stryker.

His attack on Father Hansen hasn’t just hit the X-men on a personal, spiritual level. It has also revealed another looming crisis in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. It’s one that I’ve actually been building towards since the events of X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. The events of Unholy Man simply represent the first shot, of sorts. In the attack that decimated Reverend Stryker’s Purifier army, this unnamed threat has made its presence known to this fanfiction series. The identity and goal of that threat is one that should inspire a mix of reactions among X-men fans. It’s also going to test the X-men, right down to their souls.

Since the beginning of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, I’ve charted a course for the X-men and their rivals in X-Force. The ongoing dissention surrounding the Mutant Monitoring Initiative remains unresolved and promises to get more heated. Charles Xavier still believes he is doing the right thing. Cyclops and Wolverine still believe they’re doing the right thing as well with X-Force. They’re about to encounter a threat that will test their beliefs and the conclusion of the Unholy Man arc is just the beginning. As always, I’ve prepared an extended preview of the unholy action that awaits.

“My god…” gasped Professor Charles Xavier as he pieced together the gruesome details from Reverend Stryker’s thoughts.

“No, Charles Xavier…this wasn’t your god,” said Stryker coldly, “Only evil could produce such carnage. Only evil tainted by your kind’s cursed blood.”

It had been a long time since Xavier had been in the middle of such a bloodied battlefield. During his travels as a young adult, he had seen many horrific scenes. Even those paled in comparison to what he saw before him. If Stryker’s twisted thoughts were accurate, then the source of such carnage utilized some ominously familiar methods.

For Phoenix, Storm, and Captain Freeman it left them feeling sick. As they followed Professor Xavier to the central area, they passed by rows upon rows of bodies. On each body, they could make out the distinct claw marks that were so familiar to them. It raised many disturbing questions that were sure to have equally disturbing answers.

“There’s no way Wolverine or X-Force did this. They couldn’t!” said Storm as she looked over the bodies.

“Maybe they wouldn’t, but I can see Weapon X doing this sort of thing every other week,” said Phoenix angrily.

“I agree. This kind of brutality is practically their business card,” said Captain Freeman as he investigated some of the bodies.

“But I thought Weapon X was finished after the death of John Wraith,” said Storm.

“It wouldn’t be the first time Weapon X defied its own demise,” said Professor Xavier as he remained focus on Reverend Stryker, “This wasn’t just a slaughter. It was a statement. Someone wanted to demonstrate their lethal capabilities.”

“And they did,” said Reverend Stryker, now standing shirtless before a pile of dead bodies, “They slaughtered my flock. To ensure their evil spreads, they spared the women and children. Their traumatized stories will fill all those who receive God’s truth with terror. It is a direct affront to God. As such, I cannot allow it to stand!”

“If you think that’s an excuse for shooting Father Hansen, then you’re worshipping the wrong God, reverend,” said Captain Freeman as he caught up with Professor Xavier.

“Don’t you dare claim to know God better than I do! I’ve endured the scars of sin. I’ve dedicated my life to repenting…not just for myself, but for all humanity. Father Hansen was just one of many false prophets that you X-men have allowed to propagate. He will burn, as well the rest of your corrupt brethren.”

“Enough with the preaching. We get it. You hate mutants,” said Phoenix, “What is shooting an innocent man and luring us here supposed to accomplish anyways?”

“I don’t think you understand what took place here,” said Storm, “There’s no need to make this tragedy any worse.”

“Shut up! I understand perfectly,” said Reverend Stryker sternly, “God tested Job with many hardships on his path to salvation. I’m nowhere near as holy as Job, but if God sees fit to test me then I shall pass with flying colors…even if it requires sacrifice!”

This man was both distraught and determined, almost to the point of madness. There was no making sense of what happened to his Purifiers. Reverend Stryker had drawn his own conclusion.

He wasn’t going to accept any aid from the X-men. It didn’t matter if attack was carried out by Weapon X or Satan himself. He was prepared to retaliate. As the emboldened holy man stood before the X-men, he took out a small device from his pocket and held it up.

“Ah hell, is that what I think it is?” groaned Phoenix.

“He’s rigged this place to blow!” exclaimed Captain Freeman, “Hurry up and…”

“Too late, X-men,” seethed Reverend Stryker, “May god have mercy on our souls!”

With this holy proclamation, Reverend Stryker pressed one of two large buttons on the device. A deafening explosion followed, shaking the mega church to its core. In an instant, chaos turned to darkness as the roof of the building came crashing down.

There are plenty of upheavals to come in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Expect plenty of action, drama, and strain. Hearts will be broken and mended. Spirits will be crushed and strengthened. The X-men are at their best when they face overwhelming odds and dramatic conflicts that test more than their strength. I intend to embody that struggle in this fanfiction series and make it as awesome as possible.

As such, it’s critical that I continue to get feedback. When I planned out X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, I did so knowing that I would be taking this fanfiction series in a controversial direction and at a time when the X-men comics are going in the opposite direction. I also did so believing that this direction would have a huge payoff at the end, one I intend to make awesome for every X-men fan. To reach that goal, I still need feedback. Either contact me directly or post comments directly in the issue. Either is fine and I’m happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Life, Living Weapons, and (Unlearned) Lessons: Weapon X #11

The following is my review of Weapon X #11, which was posted on

There are certain narratives that can only offer so much novelty and shock value. Audiences can only see Captain America punch the Red Skull so many times before it loses its underlying impact. There's nothing inherently wrong with these stories. They can still be uniquely satisfying in their own sort of way. However, there comes a point where the novelty is so absent that the concept lacks any sense of tension.

When it comes to the Marvel Universe, there aren't many rules, written or otherwise, that don't get bent or broken at some point. The dead come back to life with almost as much regularity as Spider-Man's immature wisecracks. Villains become heroes and villains become heroes with the ease of changing car insurance providers. The malleability of Marvel, and comics as a whole, is part of what makes it so entertaining in the first place.

However, there are still a few rules carved into adamantium that rarely get broken. One such rule involves living weapons. It may as well be as ironclad as Deadpool's immaturity. Anyone who creates a living weapon will be unable to control it. It's as inevitable as the Hulk's mood swings. That still doesn't stop the forces Weapon H, the latest attempt to subvert the living weapons rule within the pages of the Weapon X comic.

In a sense, this attempt is the most ambitious effort to date to make a story about living weapons seem novel. It involves both the Hulk and Wolverine, two characters that Greg Pak has extensive experience writing. It plays to his strengths and the over-the-top destruction plays into Marc Borstel's strengths as an artist. Weapon X #11, which marks the conclusion of the Weapon H arc, has every necessary tool to succeed. The results are somewhat generic, but the conclusion is still satisfying.

Weapon H has an uphill battle from the beginning, but does plenty to set himself apart, even if he is a simple mix of Wolverine and Hulk type brutality. Like nearly every living weapon ever created in an X-men comic, Weapon H has a wannabe puppet-master in Dr. Alba. Having already gotten assistance from the likes of William Stryker, Dr. Alba establishes herself as the kind of callous, corrupt manipulator who is crazy enough to think she can buck the trend of living weapons turning violently on their creators. To her credit, though, she manages to accomplish more than most.

Her hold on Weapon H comes off as more complex than simple brainwashing, at first. For much of the Weapon H arc, as a whole, Dr. Alba proved herself to be more thorough than the typical Hydra spy or used car salesman. She places herself at the center of Weapon H's world, making it seem as though she's less a puppet-master and more a friend. Throughout the story, she presents herself as the only friend Weapon H has left whereas William Stryker sees him as just another blunt instrument to satisfy his thirst for mutant blood.

It's cunning and it helps create a solid backstory around Weapon H, whose identity remains somewhat guarded. However, he is shown to have a civilian life. Like the Hulk and Wolverine, there is a man behind the monster. While that man makes his share of questionable decisions, especially being a special ops soldier who gets involved with a living weapons program, he does make clear that he values his humanity. He shows that he's not quite as eager to throw that away, which is something Logan can't always claim.

However, whatever complexity the man behind Weapon H may have, much of that gets undercut when Dr. Alba resorts to using the kind of outdated control methods that failed miserably with Wolverine and everyone like him since the late 70s. Not surprisingly, she still can't make anyone who values their humanity to willingly become a living weapon. She ends up resorting to hypnotic suggestions and a mind control serum. That may occasionally work in a bad CIA movie, but against the Hulk, that's akin to giving Deadpool unlimited amounts of tacos and napalm.

It still makes for some brutal, Hulk-level action that Borstel's art brings to life nicely. However, it never gets too brutal, primarily because Old Man Logan and his Weapon X crew don't let that happen. To some extent, that does limit the impact of the action. There's never a sense that the brutality has some sort of price beyond property damage. Unless insurance premiums are sentient, nobody suffers beyond the utter terror that comes with seeing a monster that blends the Hulk and Wolverine.

Even if the action is generic, the way the conflict gets resolved still feels satisfying and carries with it a fair amount of drama. While the method by which Weapon H regains control of his faculties are somewhat predictable, the way he deals with his situation is probably the healthiest way any living weapon can cope. He doesn't suffer the kind of violent, blood-rage breakdown that Wolverine seems to endure every other week. What he does is actually consistent with that of a soldier who understands what that role entails.

This is what gives Weapon X #11 more staying power, beyond simply resolving the Weapon H arc and bringing yet another living weapon into the Marvel universe. It creates a character in Weapon H, or Hulkverine as he's also called, who has something to offer that goes beyond the standard narratives that Wolverine and the Hulk have been telling since the Cater Administration.

Weapon H may be the latest in a long line of failed living weapons, but he establishes his own unique character and story. He's not like Wolverine and Sabretooth in that he's not a mutant. He's not like Bruce Banner either in that he's not a scientist with anger management problems. He's a soldier, but the complexity Pak establishes in previous issues help set him apart.

In doing so, the way in which Weapon H ends the conflict has a sense of dramatic weight. It also lays a foundation for more stories involving this character. Even if he is a basic blend of Hulk and Wolverine, that blend is still pretty potent. Like putting a fresh coat of paint over a new car, there's still plenty of appeal with Weapon H.

That, in essence, is Weapon X #11's greatest accomplishment. It doesn't just give Old Man Logan and his team of Weapon X outcasts another victory in the never-ending war against people who still think living weapons are a good idea. It creates a character in Weapon H that is worth rooting for and caring about. Even in a world where there are multiple Hulks and multiple Wolverines, it makes clear that there's still a place for someone like Weapon H. In the same way a world can never have too much chocolate or free donuts, it can never have too many compelling Hulk/Wolverine characters.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Empires, Ambitions, and Atrocities: Star Wars #38

The following is my review of Star Wars #38, which was posted on

When it comes to evil empires, Star Wars sets the bar high and the scope even higher. It's one thing to subjugate a kingdom, continent, or planet. It's quite another to conquer an entire galaxy. Even someone as bad as King Joffrey from Game of Thrones can only inflict so much evil. It says a lot about Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and the Empire, as a whole, when that evil is so far-reaching that blowing up a planet is no more ambitious than Joffrey cutting out someone's tongue.

At times, however, the evil of the Empire becomes an afterthought in order to focus on the story surrounding Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. While the original trilogy and the much-maligned prequels do plenty to explore the cruel nature of the Empire, few outside the ruins of Alderan can appreciate how bad it can get for those living under its thumb. It's important for the overall Star Wars mythos to belabor why the Empire is evil in the first place. That makes seeing the Death Star blow up all the more satisfying.

This is where Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca come in. Having made various contributions to Marvel's line of Star Wars comics, they enter a mythos far, far away that is rarely short of drama, dread, and droids. At times, the narrative lacks direction, but Gillen and Larroca have already made numerous contributions through Darth Vader and Dr. Aphra. Star Wars #38 offers them a chance to contribute to the bigger picture and leave a more indelible mark on the galaxy. Having to do that without the aid of another Death Star is always a challenge.

The Force is on Gillen's side, though, because the Empire's atrocities don't stop at just blowing up planets. Like many other evil empires, it also goes out of its way to plunder the places they've destroyed. While there are many real-world parallels of evil empires that plunder, going back to the days of the pyramids, not even the most blood-thirsty ruler could do so on the scale of the Empire.

That's what brings Luke, Han, Chewy, and Princess Leia to Jedha, a planet that the Empire partially destroyed, but not out of mercy. The planet happens to be a rich source of kyber crystals, a mineral that the Empire values. That means they can only partially destroy it, but that still means blowing a huge chunk of the planet away. For the Empire, that's the most mercy it'll ever show. This says a lot about how they operate and why blowing up multiple incarnations of the Death Star is so cathartic.

There's nothing that big for the Rebels to destroy in Star Wars #38, but there's still a chance to frustrate the Empire. That's an opportunity that Luke and his friends rarely pass up. That also involves teaming up with the residents of Jedha, which include someone named Chulco Gi, a name that sounds custom-made for the world of Star Wars. His story and the way it ties into that of the Rebels further expands on the evil of the Empire because that can never be too belabored.

It isn't enough that the Empire partially destroyed Jedha, just to get its resources. It also isn't enough that it displaced a huge chunk of its population and did so with the kind of overkill that's akin to swatting a fly with a bazooka. The people of Jedha have their own culture, customs, and religion. Gi is a pious adherent of that religion. However, the Empire just blows that up like they do everything else that gets in their way. Whether it's a planet, a people, or a culture, they deal with it by destroying it. When they have weapons that blow up planets, it's just easier than diplomacy.

This sort of callous approach leaves plenty of scars, even on Gi. He, like Luke to some extent, believes that all the suffering and loss has a greater destiny in mind. So much of the Star Wars mythos is built around fulfilling or fighting destiny. The atrocities of the Empire just raise the stakes even more, which helps give greater weight to the struggle in Star Wars #38.

That struggle has more moving parts than simply sending Storm Troopers and Imperial Droids to shoot things. Gillen also takes some time to explore the logistics of plundering a planet with the Empire. It doesn't just involve shooting giant lasers or Darth Vader force choking subordinates. Gillen actually taps some characters from the pages of the Darth Vader comic, namely Shu-Torun. While the Empire makes few allies that aren't easy to blow up, they tend to be pragmatic when it comes to allegiances. That shows that the Empire isn't just evil. It's competent, which only makes it scarier.

That added fear factor helps make Star Wars #38 feel like part of a larger picture, one that is actually impacted by events in other Star Wars comics. That's something many of the Star Wars comics have been missing since the Vader Down event, which Gillen also helped right. The fact that a story with those connections unfolds without creating a new Death Star makes the story that much more impressive.

It's still a story that only gets so much time to develop. Star Wars #38 does plenty to establish that the situation on Jedha is dire and its people are suffering. It also establishes the personal stakes for characters like Gi, who have more reason than most to fight the Empire. What isn't clear, at least from the outset, is the larger plan the Rebels have. When there's no Death Star to blow up or plans to steal, their tactics tend to be more subtle. They also tend to be vague, which makes it hard to evoke the same drama that comes with watching Luke hit a thermal exhaust port only two meters wide with nothing but the Force.

There are a number of blanks that need to be filled. Star Wars #38 creates a story that feels part of a larger narrative, but that story isn't quite as concise in terms of purpose and intent. It still marks an overdue improvement, of sorts, with Marvel's Star Wars comics. It's not just trying to fill the sizable gaps between iconic movies. It's trying to build bigger worlds in a story where worlds regularly get blown up. It's still a challenge, as is often the case with Evil Empires, but the payoff is worth its weight in destroyed Death Stars.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Monday, November 6, 2017

Wars of Hearts, Minds, and Psychics: Jean Grey #8

The following is my review of Jean Grey #8, which was posted on

In a perfect world, a friendly rivalry brings out the best and worst of two characters. Since no world is perfect, especially one that has Loki and shape-shifting aliens in it, that kind of friendliness is next to impossible. In the Marvel universe, rivalries between heroes and villains are widespread, common, and a vital part of its mythos. There isn't too much complexity in the sense that the dynamics are fairly clear-cut. The two characters are on opposing sides. They hate each other and want their side to triumph. Anyone who watches professional wrestling can understand that.

It's only when two heroes develop a rivalry that the narrative gains a layer of dynamics that can't be fleshed out by seeing Captain America fight the Red Skull for the billionth time. These rivalries often pit two characters who are on the same side against each other, sometime to the point where they undermine their own heroic efforts. For Jean Grey and Emma Frost, that point is far behind them and they've long since entered uncharted territory of bitterness.

These aren't just two characters who occasionally disagree with how to conduct themselves as superheroes. These are two characters who have actually hurt each other, physically and emotionally, on multiple levels. Going back to the early days of the Phoenix Saga during Chris Claremont's run on Uncanny X-men to Grant Morrison's run on New X-men, these two have a long and varied list of reasons to hate each other.

Even though Jean Grey ends up dead, there's a sense that these two are destined to clash again. With Jean Grey #8, the beginning of the Psych War arc, the wait is finally over. Dennis Hopeless pits a teenage, time-displaced Jean Grey against Emma Frost at a time when she shows little hesitation in sparking wars between the X-men and Inhumans. It may not involve the same dramatic elements that Morrison or Claremont utilized, but the stakes feel every bit as high.

From the beginning, Jean Grey #8 follows similar themes that Hopeless has established in previous issues. The time-displaced Jean Grey, in her effort to prepare for the Phoenix Force, finds herself in a situation she's completely unprepared to handle. Her being a teenager gives her a pass to some extent, but that only goes so far when the stakes are cosmic and the egos involved include Emma Frost. There's really no amount of preparation that can prepare anyone for that kind of struggle, regardless of how much time travel is involved.

In a sense, Jean is in a unique position to offer commentary on the events that led to her most recent death. Her venture into the mind of Emma Frost, her future rival, sends her on an abridged journey through those moments, eventually culminating in a direct encounter with the former White Queen during a lurid, yet familiar situation. It's the context of that encounter, though, that establishes the stakes and the drama for the Psyche War arc.

It's a rare, but increasingly common theme throughout her solo series. The time-displaced Jean ventures into a world that's destined to kill her, but with a different set of perceptions, compared to her older self. While being an immature teenager does plenty to skew anyone's perceptions, it still has the advantage of lacking the baggage of the older Jean Grey that perished. That's an important factor for the Morrison-era X-men because that same baggage played a significant role in causing her death.

Hopeless doesn't ignore those factors as the time-displaced Jean traverses Emma's mind and the memorable moments from the world of New X-men. In a sense, that baggage takes form and substance with the ghost of the older Jean Grey. The previous issue establishes her presence with the teenage Jean and not in a very friendly way either. The two Jean Greys from two different eras are constantly at odds, arguing and yelling at one another in various moments that would strain anyone's mental health.

That constant clash, which becomes a lot more heated as they fight through Emma Frost's mind, establishes an important distinction for Psyche War and for Jean Grey's ongoing story, as a whole. The Jean Grey of the past is still very much at odds with the Jean Grey of the future and not just because she ends up dead. Even though both Jean Greys share the same goal in avoiding the fate of the Phoenix Force, they're not on the same page in terms of methods. If anything, they trip over one another in their conflicting efforts.

It raises the stakes in the ongoing struggle while also revealing how ill-prepared Jean Grey is for the challenge before her. It gives the impression that she has never had a true grasp of the Phoenix, despite her being its most iconic host, going back to the Claremont era. It also makes the role Emma Frost plays feel more personal, especially as it sets the stage for a more heated battle that won't just involve psychic attacks.

The situation, context, and tensions are all there for Jean Grey and Emma Frost. The journey to their clash never gets derailed or subverted. However, even with so many critical ingredients, the lack of heated drama leaves the overall story in Jean Grey #8 feeling muted. While it doesn't try to fight the entire battle between these intensely passionate characters all at once, it stops short of probing the open wounds between them.

They never berate each other over past failures. There's no heated exchange on how Emma affected Jean's marriage to Cyclops. There are all sorts of emotional sub-plots that didn't find their way into the conflict. While the door is left open for these sub-plots, the story still lacks the connecting emotions that give all its potent ingredients the necessary impact.

Psych War still has plenty of potential to make this latest clash between Jean Grey and Emma Frost as dramatic as it deserves to be. Jean Grey #8 is just the first step in that effort. These are two of the most powerful psychics in the Marvel universe and they just happen to have a long list of reasons to resent each other. Anything less than an omega-level clash just won't cut it.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, November 3, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 159: Unholy Man Part 1 is LIVE!

Things in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series are getting more and more complicated lately. Ever since the events of X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide, the stakes have changed. It’s not enough for the X-men to just be heroes anymore. They can’t just thwart the likes of Magneto, Sinister, and the Mutant Liberation Front and hope that it inspires peace. In a controversial move, Charles Xavier dared to upend his dream to team up with the likes of President Kelly and General Grimshaw in a partnership that he calls the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. That effort has taken this fanfiction series in a very different direction. Compared to previous eras, X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided may very well be the most dramatic to date.

It’s not just because Xavier’s divisions divided the team, driving Cyclops and Wolverine to quit the X-men and form X-Force. He’s taking a huge risk in hopes of putting the X-men in a better position. Throughout this fanfiction series, Xavier has made his share of mistakes. Some of them nearly cost him his life, so much so that he had to leave the X-men briefly during X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. It’s understandable that he would want to make up for those mistakes and do better by his X-men. However, even the best of intentions can have unexpected consequences.

Some of those consequences have already bitten the X-men in major ways. By sparing Magneto in the events of Uprising, they only set the stage for his return in the Overlord arc. By pushing his psychic powers beyond their limit in the Dark Legacy arc to cure the Legacy Virus, Charles Xavier developed a debilitating addiction to pain pills that nearly cost him and his X-men their lives in the events of X-men Supreme Issue 127: Terror Sell. These difficult moments all act as reminders that even dreamers like Charles Xavier are still human and the X-men are still vulnerable.

That vulnerability is about to manifest in a very different way. It involves an ally who is unique to the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, namely that of Father Hansen. Like General Grimshaw or Captain Freeman, I’ve been careful to make every original character in X-men Supreme an important contributor. I realize that X-men fans read this fanfiction series for X-men, not unknown characters who have never appeared in the X-men comics.

However, I wanted Father Hansen to play a different role for the X-men. Since his introduction in X-men Supreme Issue 111: Divine Intervention, I’ve treated him as the antithesis of the zealous Reverend William Stryker. While Stryker uses his religion to justify his hatred of mutants, Father Hansen uses that same religion to celebrate them. It’s reflective of real life in that people use their faith to justify opposing sides of an issue. That opposition can cause major conflicts and that’s exactly what is set to play out in the latest arc of X-men Supreme. It’s a culmination of a conflict between two men of faith, as well as choices that Charles Xavier and his X-men have made thus far. It’s sure to test the faith of everyone involved.

X-men Supreme Issue 159: Unholy Man Part 1

Between the events going on in the X-men comics and the events in X-men Supreme, the themes and circumstances couldn’t be different and not just because I’ve yet to resort to time travel in my fanfiction series. I started X-men Supreme in hopes of creating an alternate outlet for X-men fans. Part of that effort involves taking characters in new directions and creating a few new characters entirely. There’s a lot that goes into making this fanfiction series awesome and I want every issue to contribute to that effort.

That’s why I always urge everyone to take the time to post feedback. X-men Supreme is an ever-evolving saga. I try to treat it with the same care as I would if Marvel gave me control over a real X-men comic. I need to know I’m handling them correctly because I’m an X-men fan too. As such, I want to hear from other X-men fans as well. Either contact me directly or post your comments directly in the issue. I’m making progress against the spammers, but I still prefer contacting me directly for now. Thanks to all those who have supported this fanfiction series from the beginning. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!