Friday, January 26, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 163: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 2 is LIVE!

When I started the X-men Supreme fanfiction series back in 2010, I did so with the intent on either avoiding some of the mistakes I’d seen in the X-men comics over the years or improving on certain concepts that I thought had been negated. Being a lifelong X-men fan myself, there are no shortage of things that I didn’t care for in the comics. Issues like the relationship between Wolverine and Jean Grey, the way Charles Xavier became paralyzed, and the handling of characters like Madelyn Pryor had always bothered me. I’ve done my best to use those elements in X-men Supreme and make them better.

I understand that it’s debatable on how successful I’ve been in those efforts. I’ve heard from those who’ve said X-men Supreme fixed major problems with certain characters. People really seem to like how I handled the Phoenix Saga in this fanfiction series, as well as how I turned Toad into a more menacing villain in X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. Not every effort has been a success, though. Some readers didn’t care for how I’ve handled Mystique, especially after the events of X-men Supreme Issue 120: Sinister Revelations. Others have had concerns about the direction I’ve taken characters like Psylocke, Gambit, and Rogue.

Most of those concerns haven’t been all that outrageous and I don’t think I’ve driven too many readers away with how I’ve handled the more sensitive details in this fanfiction series. However, I imagine that hasn’t made X-men fans any less anxious in finding out that Romulus is now a major player in X-men Supreme. I’ve been planning to bring him into this fanfiction series since X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. As soon as I mapped out his story, I knew I was taking a chance. X-men fans, especially Wolverine fans, have some pretty strong opinions on this character. That’s why I’m being especially careful with the ongoing Crimes Against Inhumanity arc.

In the X-men comics, Romulus was one of those characters who seemed to exist solely to complicate Wolverine’s already-complicated history. I didn’t really care for him, personally. He always seemed like a background character or a plot device for Wolverine and the much more interesting Daken. His role with Wolverine always seemed so contrived and shallow. Add a bland and generic personality on top of it and he’s a character that X-men fans rightly resent.

I wanted to avoid that in X-men Supreme. This fanfiction series already took bold chances, turning Toad of all characters into a menacing villain who nearly defeated the X-men in the Natural Disorder arc. For Romulus, I knew I needed to take even more chances. Some of those have already played out. Beyond the revelation that Romulus is Wolverine’s father, I made him a prominent influence in Wolverine’s life, including the parts he doesn’t remember.

In that sense, he’s similar to the X-men comics. However, his connection runs much deeper in X-men Supreme. Romulus is already the visionary behind White Cell, an organization unique to this fanfiction series that has been influencing the X-men since X-men Supreme Volume 2: War Powers. Through him, White Cell played a part setting the stage for the division between the X-men that occurred in X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide. That made the X-men, Wolverine, and the world as a whole vulnerable. Now, he’s ready to exploit that vulnerability and he’s going to use the legacy of Weapon X to do it.

More than anything else, the Crimes Against Inhumanity arc will establish Romulus as someone poised to exploit Wolverine’s legacy and the legacy of Weapon X. In doing so, he’s poised to reveal the weaknesses that have been brewing since the divide between Charles Xavier’s X-men and Cyclops’ X-Force. It’ll establish him as the kind of menace he never got to be in the X-men comics and while it may not salvage his character there, it’ll ensure he leaves an undeniable mark on this fanfiction series.

X-men Supreme Issue 163: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 2

I understand that I’m still taking a big chance, using controversial character like Romulus in X-men Supreme. It’s a chance I’m willing to take, though. It’s a chance I have to take if I’m going to make this fanfiction series as awesome as I want it to be. Much like Romulus, there’s all sorts of untapped potential. I don’t want leave any of that potential behind. That’s why it’s so critical that I continue to receive feedback for X-men Supreme. If you have a chance, please post your comments directly in this or other issues. Also, you can contact me directly. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Transcending Time-Tested Tropes: X-men Blue #20

The following is my review of X-men Blue #20, which was posted on

Time travel stories are kind of like those needlessly loud stereo systems that some people put in their cars. From a purely functional standpoint, there's not much to gain by having the ability to project music at volumes that make most peoples' ears bleed. However, the functionality of such a system is hardly reflective of its value. There are other, less tangible reasons why someone would want those systems in their cars. More than anything else, such elaborate systems create equally elaborate spectacles.

Time travel plots are similar in that they rarely function as a means to simplify or clarify a story. Most of the time, they create additional complications that only get more complicated when time paradoxes enter the picture. Such stories may not be simple, but they can work even in light of those paradoxes, as multiple Back to the Future movies have proven. The X-men also have a better track record than most when it comes to compelling time travel stories, going all the way back to Days of Future Past from the Chris Claremont era. Cullen Bunn and R.B. Silva are making a concerted effort to channel Claremont's skills with Cross Time Capers in X-men Blue.

In some respects, this is a story that had to happen sooner or later. Going all the way back to the early days of All-New X-men, when the original five X-men first ventured into the future, those inescapable complications that come with time travel continue plaguing the young X-men. They can't avoid the fact that their presence in the future and their absence in the past is bound to have serious ramifications. Some of those ramifications play out over the course of their story, particularly in events like X-men: Battle of the Atom.

With Cross Time Capers, though, Bunn puts the time-displaced X-men in a position to confront the consequences of their time-traveling shenanigans. It may have taken longer for them to feel those consequences, but they finally get a sense of perspective throughout the arc. It's only in the concluding conflicts in X-men Blue #20 that they gain a better understanding of how they're affecting the space-time continuum.

If there's any lesson the original five X-men should learn from this, it's that when there's a gaping hole in the timeline, someone or something will come along to exploit it. Biff Tannen did it in Back to the Future. The future Brotherhood of Mutants, led by Charles Xavier Jr. and his omega-level daddy issues, do the same. While they're not quite as ambitious as Biff Tannen, they are every bit as devious. What they do to exploit the time-displaced X-men's absence is neither subtle nor minor. It leaves an impact, one that goes beyond the usual lessons learned by messing with time travel.

Bunn closely follows the traditions of Chris Claremont in that respect in that the sci-fi elements associated with time travel are secondary to the dramatic elements. The story is less about the original five X-men traveling through time to fix the past than it is about them confronting the consequences of their actions. Their continued presence in the future has consequences and these are the kinds of consequences that literally fight back.

It's that element of drama that helps subvert the usual complications and confusion often associated with time travel. Classic stories like Days of Future Past show that this is an effective way to give time travel stories a genuine impact without making every other conversation an existential crisis on time paradoxes. Those conversations still happen in X-men Blue #20, but the assorted techno-babble is kept to a minimum.

Instead, Bunn relies on converging the various elements seeded throughout the journey that unfolds in Cross Time Capers, throwing a many of them as possible in the final battle. It's a battle that Silva effectively turns into a colorful, vibrant spectacle that feels epic in both size and scope. While it unfolds quickly, it hits on all the necessary dramatic elements, from confronting Xavier Jr. to the original five X-men reuniting with their mentor. Each moment carries weight and without incurring more time paradoxes.

That's not to say the time travel elements don't also carry weight in this story. Given the circumstances and context of the original five X-men's time displacement, those aspects of the conflict are unavoidable. The story clearly establishes that their decisions in the future have an impact on the past. It also provides some ominous, albeit not too surprising, foreboding about the decisions they'll have to make at some point.

Like Battle of the Atom before it, Cross Time Capers makes clear that what the original five X-men are doing still has an impact on the overall timeline. The choices they make, the battles they fight, and the impact they have on the past and future all matter. It also puts the team in an awkward position because to some extent, they already know what they'll end up having to do. It's like reading an unwanted spoiler in that they can't unread it.

This is where X-men #20 stumbles a bit into the inevitable complications of time travel stories. Even with the drama, there are some details that don't get fleshed. There are moments that have the potential to become very emotional and impactful, but some of that potential is lost for the sake of keeping the story going. Certain elements from the early parts of the story don't really play a role in the final battle, but they aren't rendered meaningless by the final conclusion.

In terms of the most critical elements, X-men Blue #20 handles those very well. There's reason and purpose behind every decision. The motivations and emotions of each character is clear. The events of previous issues influence the outcome of the final battle. Even with the complications of time travel and the erratic pacing of that final battle, the end result is a concise, cohesive story that satisfies as much as any time travel story can without getting too caught up in paradoxes.

That's not just an accomplishment that honors the standards set by Chris Claremont. It's a testament to the unique challenges of time travel stories. They have so many moving parts and so many potential complications that may or may not result in someone like Biff Tannen messing up the timeline. Being able to tell that story and not lose track of all the frustrating time travel tropes that derail so many stories is quite a feat. While Cross Time Capers may not be in the same league as Back to the Future, it certainly makes the case that those stories are still worth telling.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, January 19, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 163: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 2 PREVIEW!

When it comes to messy family drama, the X-men have more than their share with some characters having more than others. Throughout the history of the X-men comics, characters like Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and even Charles Xavier have shown just how messy these family affairs can be. I’ve made an effort to capture those throughout the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Early on, it was Mystique’s constant clashes with Nightcrawler and Rogue that set the standard for family drama. I like to think that since then, this fanfiction series has escalated those conflicts on multiple fronts.

Among X-men fans, it’s often debatable whether Cyclops or Wolverine has the craziest family drama. In the X-men comics, Cyclops would probably win that debate more often than not. In X-men Supreme, however, I think recent events have given Wolverine the edge in the family chaos department. I’ve been complicating Wolverine’s family for quite some time, going all the way back to X-men Supreme Issue 21: Chasing a Memory. Those complications only really began escalating when I brought X-23 into the mix with the Time Bomb arc. It gained even more complexity after he learned about his connection to Mystique in X-men Supreme Issue 120: Sinister Revelations. From there, Wolverine has steadily been developing a sense of family.

Having a sense of family, though, hasn’t tempered Wolverine’s propensity to get into messy fights. That happens to him regardless of any family ties. It has throughout his history in the X-men comics and this fanfiction series. However, family ties add give even more weight to those conflicts, especially when they end up affecting the other X-men. Before the Crimes Against Inhumanity arc, Wolverine was pretty good about keeping those personal conflicts from affecting the team. Even his clash with Lady Deathstrike in The Lotus and the Warrior only had a minimal impact on the X-men, as a whole. That is not the case now that his father, Romulus, has entered the picture.

While he’s a controversial, if not infamous, character in the X-men comics, he’s one of those characters who always finds a way to frustrate or complicate Wolverine’s story. He’s also one of those characters who has never had a chance to maximize his potential. I always felt that Marvel mishandled him whenever he showed up and I wanted to do something different with the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. With Crimes Against Inhumanity, Romulus isn’t just a master manipulator for the sake of it. He has genuine motivations to go along with his powerful ties to Wolverine.

I’d always intended to bring Romulus into the mix somehow in X-men Supreme. My plans for doing so didn’t really take shape until after the revelations with Wolverine and Mystique took place during the Dark Legacy arc in X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. I’ve been steadily guiding this fanfiction series towards a major clash with Romulus ever since, one that also incorporates the plot involving White Cell, which I introduced all the way back in X-men Supreme Volume 2: War Powers. These connections are all starting to finally converge and that convergence will shake the X-men Supreme fanfiction series to its core.

How it does this and how Romulus will leave his mark is still unfolding. The Crimes Against Inhumanity arc is just beginning and is poised to be the biggest of X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided to date. Whether you’re a fan of Wolverine or still despise Romulus for whatever reason, I intend to make the payoff both satisfying and revealing. The direction of both the X-men and X-Force will be very different when all is said and done. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of the upheaval that lies ahead.

“Professor Xavier! General Grimshaw! We need to talk!” said an irate Captain Freeman as he stormed into the main conference room.

“Nice to see you too, Captain Freeman,” said Piotr dryly, “Was knocking first not part of your training?”

“We should consider ourselves lucky. At least this time he didn’t bust through the door,” said General Grimshaw with an exasperated sigh.

What was scheduled to be a regular, boring meeting had been abruptly shattered. Captain Freeman’s outburst disrupted what had been three days of unusually uneventful activity. Professor Xavier immersed himself in meetings involving the case against Sebastian Shaw.

He also kept his X-men busy, especially Piotr and Betsy, with operations that involved cleaning up what was left of Shaw’s shady operations. After having made such a scene about White Cell, he dropped his concerns with unusual ease. It was only a matter of time before someone got suspicious.

Professor Xavier didn’t pretend to be startled as Captain Freeman stormed over to the conference table. General Grimshaw and Colossus stood up to restrain him. The Green Beret was in one of his anxious moods and he didn’t need to telepathy to figure out why.

“What seems to be troubling you, Captain? I thought you were coordinating the escort convoy for Shaw’s trial,” said Professor Xavier, trying to sound reasonable.

“There’s only so much grunt work I can handle before I start to get suspicious. If a guy as dumb as me can see the signs, then you must not be trying very hard,” said Captain Freeman sternly.

“Bloody hell, this better not be what I think it is,” groaned Betsy, who was sitting next to Professor Xavier.

“And what exactly do you think it is, Miss Braddock? Would you say it’s worth the Captain barging in on us like this?” said General Grimshaw, shooting the Green Beret an irritated glance.

“Why don’t you ask the Professor, here?” quipped Captain Freeman, “Ask him why Storm, Gambit, and Rogue didn’t answer my calls through the secure line that they’re obligated to answer? Ask him why Jean Grey has spent an unusually long time working on upgrades to Cerebrum? Or if you want to skip all that, ask why the Velocity’s tracking gear shorted out over District X of all places?”

Now even General Grimshaw was curious. He shot Xavier a stern glare. It wasn’t anger as much as it was disappointment. It was almost as if he was asking him how he could be clumsy when it came to covering his tracks.

“What do you say, Professor? Care to address the Captain’s concerns?” asked General Freeman.

“If there’s a problem with the Velocity’s equipment, then that’s something you’ll have to take up with Hank. He’s more familiar with such hardware last I checked,” said Professor Xavier, who did his best to maintain an innocent tone.

“He didn’t answer his line either. Agent Brand is already yelling at me,” said Captain Freeman, “So why don’t we skip the part where you play dumb? You’re not very good at it.”

“I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Professor Xavier.

“And here I was hoping we were done with this,” groaned Betsy, “Guess I really was hoping for too much.”

“By this, I take it you mean White Cell again, yes?” said Piotr.

“You mean the same White Cell that’s supposed to be a dead issue?” said General Grimshaw.

“Is there any other?” said Captain Freeman dryly.

The Professor maintained his silence. He couldn’t afford to say anything too foolish or incriminating. He had a feeling something like this would happen eventually. Jean must have found something with Cerebrum. Neither she nor the others were all that concerned with remaining subtle about it. He assumed that was because she discovered something.

Captain Freeman leaned over the conference table and stared down Professor Xavier. As the field leader of the X-men, it was his job to confront issues like this. When the very team he was supposed to lead started going behind his back it was a problem both for him and for the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

“I don’t if all of you are trying to live in the same fantasy land, but this is a serious problem if it’s exactly what I think it is,” said Captain Freeman.

“And what do you think it is, Captain?” asked Professor Xavier stoically.

“You’re still investigating White Cell, aren’t you? Despite the President of the United States and every other high-ranking official at every level telling you to drop it, you’re not letting this go. Do I even need to tell you how much damage you could do with this? Assuming, of course, that you even care!”

“Of course I care, Captain,” said Xavier, “You know as well as anyone how important the Mutant Monitoring Initiative is to me.”

“Then tell me with a straight face that it isn’t true,” said the Green Beret, “Tell me you didn’t allow your X-men to go rogue and confront White Cell on their own.”

Professor Xavier remained dead silent. It was the only response he could give without lying in front of his X-men and the General. Lies and deception had hurt him before. He wasn’t willing to risk it again with something this sensitive.

“Professor, I thought we were committed to convincing everybody that White Cell was a clear and present danger,” said Piotr, “You told me this yourself. Was that also a lie?”

“I didn’t lie, Peter,” said Professor Xavier in an only partially assertive tone.

“Bullocks! Lying isn’t required to simply avoid the truth,” said Betsy, “So you let the others work behind our backs? I thought we were a team!”

“We are a team,” said Xavier.

“Then quit avoiding my question and act like it!” said Captain Freeman, pounding his fist on the table, “I’m not doing this because I’m trying to bust your balls. I’m doing this because this can only end in disaster. I don’t want that. And if we’re really a team, you’ll come clean and let us help you!”

“Calm down, Captain. We’re not going to address this in a reasonable manner if you keep using an unreasonable tone,” coaxed General Grimshaw.

“I’m amazed you’re not as outraged as I am, sir. Did you know about this? Or at the very least suspect it?” said the Green Beret as he turned back towards his superior officer.

“Don’t start a witch hunt, son. I know as much as you do and I was as suspicious as anyone. I was just hoping it wouldn’t come to this,” said General Grimshaw.

There was a silent admission in his tone that told Professor Xavier that he had been operating under the same willful ignorance. If Captain Freeman was this worked up about it, then others in high places already suspected it. If Agent Brand started talking to the President or the UN, then the whole Mutant Monitoring Initiative was in jeopardy.

Captain Freeman turned back to Xavier, who still hadn’t given him an answer. No matter what he said, it would do great damage to his own credibility as well as his initiative. Even Betsy and Piotr were looking at him apprehensively. He knew he couldn’t stay silent forever. So with a deep, solemn breath he prepared to answer.

“The truth…is rather complicated, Captain,” he began, “I’ll tell you what I know.”

“I’m all ears, Professor,” said General Grimshaw.

“Me too,” said Captain Freeman sternly, “For all our sake, I hope you have some damn good reasons…”

Professor Xavier was about to continue when another uniformed MSA officer stumbled through the vacant doorway. Since Captain Freeman already destroyed it earlier, he didn’t have to knock as he came running up to Professor Xavier and the General.

“General Grimshaw! Professor Xavier! We have a situation!” said the officer.

“Is there even an infinitesimal chance this can wait?” groaned Captain Freeman, “We’re kind of in the middle of something here.”

“I’m afraid it can’t!” said the officer breathlessly, “It happened so quickly and it’s getting worse by the second.”

“Catch your breath, soldier. Tell me what this is about,” said General Grimshaw, who was all too eager for a distraction.

“Twenty bucks it’s related to this,” sighed Betsy.

“No deal,” said Peter.

The officer took a brief moment to gather himself, but he didn’t take long. It looked like he had just seen the ghost of Magneto. He was a high-ranking officer, yet his hands were trembling. That hinted that this was big.

“We’re under attack!” the officer said without fully catching his breath, “Our military installations here and aboard are being hit. They just appeared out of nowhere and…”

“Wait…slow down for a sec,” said General Grimshaw, “Which installations are we talking about here?”

“And who is they?” asked Captain Freeman.

“It’s everywhere! Every base we have! And it isn’t just us either. We’ve been getting reports from China, Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Europe. They’re all facing the same attacks! Every weapon, every system, and every combat vehicle is being wiped out! As for who’s behind it…”

This arc is far from over and will likely span a couple more issues. In that time, I hope to win over those who were disappointed or dismissive of Romulus after his shortcomings in the X-men comics. X-men Supreme gives me opportunities to take concepts that didn’t work in the X-men comics and make them work in this fanfiction series. I see it as a challenge and one that will help make X-men Supreme awesome. In order to ensure I’m meeting those challenges, it’s critical that I continue to get feedback. Either contact me directly with your comments or post them directly in the issue. Either way is fine and I’d love to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Strength In Numbers With Youthful Idealism: Champions #16

The following is my review of Champions #16, which was posted on

Any gambler not named Remy Lebeau knows there's a time to fold, a time to double down, and a time to re-evaluate one's bluffing skills. So long as they're not down to their last penny, it's usually wise to know when the odds just aren't favorable anymore. Young superheroes, especially those still in their teenage years, face greater odds than most. At the same time, however, they have the benefit of not being too jaded to throw away their ideals the same way Peter Parker claims to give up being Spider-Man every now and then.

Youth may inspire the kind of wide-eyed optimism that makes most jaded adults roll their eyes. However, that's exactly what makes teams like Champions so endearing. They live in a world where adult superhero teams have waged a civil war on one another twice. They regularly see established heroes like Captain America fall prey to sinister influences like Hydra while villains like Magneto somehow manage to operate with some semblance of credibility. These are some pretty mixed messages, especially for impressionable youth.

Mark Waid and Hamberto Ramos don't shield the members of the Champions from those messages. In fact, confronting those heroic inconsistencies of the modern Marvel universe is a major theme of Champions, as well as a major appeal. This cast of younger, less jaded heroes want to cling to those superhero ideals that seemed to go out of style since the Frank Miller era. The world around them isn't making that easy. If anything, that world keeps upping its bets and skewing the odds.  

Champions #16 has these idealistic young heroes respond by having them go on a recruitment run. Considering the events of previous issues, which included crossovers and clashes with the far less idealistic adult Avengers, it comes off as strange, if not too soon. From the perspective of young, teenage heroes who cling ardently to their idealism, though, it makes perfect sense. Tragedy and drama may hit adults and teenagers equally hard, but teenagers will often find more creative ways of dealing with it. Those ways aren't always healthy or rational, but that's exactly what makes them endearing.

The tragedy and drama in this case has to do with the recent upheavals surrounding Viv Vision. Even by advanced android standards, she's in a strange position. After the Champions and Avengers' recent clash with the High Evolutionary, there are now two versions of her, one human and one android. It's an identity crisis that's unprecedented, even in a world full of clones and shape-shifting aliens. Neither version is able to make sense of the situation. Viv's teammates don't fare much better.

There's now a sense in Champions that the team is more vulnerable than it was when it began. It's not just because one of their members is a time traveler who could trigger a paradox with one bad decision. The events surrounding Viv painfully demonstrate that there are times when the team becomes fractured. There are moments when personal dramas hinder the team's ability to function. It's a problem adults face too, but adults are more inclined to stick with what works and preserve the past. Teenagers, not having much of a past to begin with, look to the future.

That's the underlying theme of the narrative that Waid crafts in Champions #16 and Ramos' colorful visuals make it feel optimistic, despite the dramatic circumstances. Despite the seriousness of these circumstances, Waid preserves the light-hearted, upbeat tone that gives Champions much of its appeal. Throughout the story, the fact that these are still teenagers never becomes lost. They see what happens to their friend. They don't make light of it, but they still move forward.

That part of the story works to the extent that it lays the foundation for more interactions between the Champions and other young heroes. While Viv heals, their recruiting run leads them to cross paths with the likes of Moon Girl, Red Locust, Iron Heart, and Patriot. Some of these characters have crossed paths with the Champions before. Like the Champions, though, they respond to the message because they too lack the jaded mentality that plagues older heroes.

It's a golden opportunity for young heroes to come together and remind older heroes that there's still room for the kind of wide-eyed idealism that most superheroes lose in their first year. Unfortunately, little of that opportunity is realized in Champions #16. The recruitment run does get off to a good start, but there's not much depth beyond just interacting with other young heroes. Some, like those with Moon Girl, fit the spirit and character of the story. Others, like the moments with Iron Heart, don't really contribute much.

That lack of depth is partially due to the unfolding side-plot surrounding Viv. In many respects, this plot carries with it much heavier drama. Viv's identity crisis and sense of self are in flux. There's a lot of internal conflict that plays out in between interactions with her android self and Vision. Some of it still echoes with the kind of teenage melodrama that is so distinct of Champions. Most of it, though, comes off as detached narration.

The intent is clear throughout the story, both with Viv Vision and the Champions' recruitment drive. It's the execution that leaves much to be desired. Both elements of the story have the right dynamics, but both end up feeling incomplete. It gives the impression that the story needed to be at least twice as longer for the necessary elements to play out. It makes Champions #16 feel somewhat truncated, even if the potential is still there.

The idealism and appeal of Champions never wanes, even in light of major upheavals, both personal and circumstantial. That remains one of the greatest strengths of the series. It's realizing the potential of the various plots and sub-plots that keep it from having the kind of impact that teenagers and adults alike can appreciate. Even if both are destined to end up jaded, the appeal of the idealism espoused by young heroes remains as strong as ever.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Personal Connections and Alien Invaders: X-men: Gold Annual #1

The following is my review of X-men: Gold Annual #1, which was posted on

The greatness of a character is often proportional to the amount of connections they make over the course of their history. No character ever becomes great just by hanging out with a handful of people and never really interacting with anyone else. Even The Three Stooges make an effort to connect with others in between slap-stick humor and casual violence. In the Marvel universe, connections are hard to keep up with, but some find ways to create their own elaborate web of friends, enemies, and frenemies over the course of their narrative.

While some, namely Wolverine and Spider-Man, end up sleeping with too large a portion of their connections, others manage to expand their web in a variety of ways. With respect to the X-men, few characters network better than Kitty Pryde. Even though she isn't among the original five X-men and had a lot of catching up to do after her debut during Chris Claremont's iconic run, she somehow finds a way to establish herself in every superhero social circle she's in.

Some of it comes from her natural charisma. Some of it comes from her tough, yet likable attitude. Having a pet dragon probably doesn't hurt either. Since taking on a leadership role in X-men: Gold, Kitty Pryde is often in a position to reconnect with old friends and forge new ones. It has already helped her rekindle things with Colossus, a relationship that is still a developing part of the narrative in X-men: Gold. It also gives her more opportunities to reach out to older connections, which she does in X-men: Gold Annual #1.

Marc Guggenheim and Leah Williams work together in an singular, extra-sized story that puts Kitty and her gold team back in touch with the likes of Captain Britain and the Braddock family. It's a connection that she hasn't explored in quite some time, but the story makes clear that the connection remains as strong as ever. Like old friends getting together after life gets in the way, the reunion feels real and genuine. The only difference with the X-men is that life getting in the way often takes the form of superhero civil wars.

The circumstances surrounding the reunion aren't elaborate or contrived. In fact, it adds to the overall realness of the reunion because it involves Brian and Meggan announcing that they've had a baby. Even though the circumstances with such major life events take on some twisted quirks, which is all too common with the X-men, it's still one of those unique moments that feels personal. It only becomes more fanciful when aliens attack.

While that may seem contrived in most other narratives, it's downright inane in an X-men comic. The only way to make it seem meaningful is to give an alien attack some context and that's what Guggenheim and Williams attempt to do in X-men: Gold Annual #1. The attack isn't entirely random, nor is it impersonal either. It actually involves the D'Bari, an alien race with strong, albeit antagonistic, personal connection with Rachel Grey and the entire Grey bloodline. Those familiar with the events of the original Phoenix Saga don't need much context as to why that animosity exists.

Even those unfamiliar with such classic moments in X-men lore won't be too lost because the story makes it a point to establish some emotional stakes, alongside the connections. The angry D'Bari involved, Starhammer, has a valid reason and an understandable motivation for dropping in on Rachel, the X-men, and the Braddock family. That motivation gives the conflict that unfolds some dramatic weight. It's not overly elaborate, but there are personal undertones, which is critical in making any generic alien attack more interesting.

While the connections and the context are there, the depth is somewhat lacking. There's actually more story built into Kitty Pryde, Rachel, and Nightcrawler catching up with Meggan and Brian than there is with the fight against Starhammer. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because those moments make for some of the most meaningful interactions in the story. They're cute, they're heartfelt, and they're even pretty funny at times, which is entirely appropriate when adults gush over a new baby.

However, those moments aren't necessarily balanced or complemented by the conflict that unfolds with Starhammer. If anything, it comes off as detached. It just interrupts Kitty, Rachel, and Nightcrawler's efforts to catch up with old friends and nothing more than that. Even with the personal connections there, the narrative does little to expand or enhance on them. It doesn't undermine them either, but that still results in a great deal of untapped potential.

Some of that lost potential is a byproduct of the pace. While there is plenty of time allotted to exploring the newly-expanded Braddock family, the battle against Starhammer comes off as rushed or condensed. It never gets a chance to be dramatic or epic. For conflict built around a very personal moment that spun out of a very iconic X-men story, it feels like a missed opportunity.

That doesn't stop the resolution from being fitting. Rushed or not, the way in which the X-men and the Braddock family resolve the conflict is very much in keeping with the traditions of both the X-men and Excalibur. The story doesn't try to reinvent or subvert these themes. It just doesn't provide enough depth to make the resolution more memorable.

Despite this, X-men: Gold Annual #1 never feels like an incomplete or empty story. True to the tradition of annuals, it offers a simple, self-contained narrative that leaves no loose ends or unanswered questions. It doesn't attempt to be bigger than it needs to be. It just offers a simple narrative built around strong personal connections. The fact that it somehow manages to squeeze in an alien attack is almost secondary.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, January 12, 2018

Jokes And Harsh Truths: Batman: White Knight #4

The following is my review of Batman: White Knight #4, which was posted on

If any competent therapist were to sit down with most superheroes not named Superman, then it's very likely they would diagnose them with some form of mental illness, be it a chemical imbalance or personality disorder. It says something about the persona of superheroes that part of what makes them who they are requires some sort of psychological aberration that drives them to do what they do.

While some heroes carry themselves better than others, it's hard to argue that Batman is the picture of mental health. So much of what he does and why he does it is built around the trauma he experiences as a child. In a sense, Bruce Wayne is the mask he wears in that it hides just how tortured he is by that trauma. Batman is his true persona and no licensed therapist would dare call that healthy. It's one of those unspoken truths that often hides within the Batman narrative. Part of what makes the Joker his greatest enemy is his efforts to expose why pretending he's sane is the greatest joke of all.

That's exactly what makes the premise of Batman: White Knight so intriguing. Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth skip the part where they try to find a novel way for the Joker to poke Batman beyond the strict limits he imposes upon himself. Instead, they remove the limits that hold the Joker back, treating his insanity as a barrier similar to the ones on Batman. Absent those barriers, he becomes something far more menacing than a clown armed with exploding whoopee cushions.

Without his insanity, the Joker becomes a threat unlike anything Batman has ever faced before. He's no longer out to just expose his efforts as one elaborate joke. He's out to subvert the entire concept of Batman. Batman: White Knight #4 acts as an indictment of how both Batman and the Gotham City Police operate. In a sense, by being sane, the Joker makes it abundantly obvious just how much of a joke those operations are in practice.

Joke or not, nobody is laughing and that's exactly what makes the narrative so compelling. The Joker, now operating as a public advocate in Jack Napier, uses the same charisma that gets henchmen to wear clown makeup to rally support from the media and the population. What he does is devious, but not in the sense of pumping laughing gas into a crowded warehouse. Rather than make people laugh with hard truths, Jack Napier shoves the truth in everyone's face in a way they can't ignore.

It's haunting in its effectiveness. It comes off as something that could very well play out in the real world, minus the costumed villains and exploding pies. Conceptually, Gotham City has always been a metaphor for a troubled city plagued by crime and corruption, but the only method for confronting those troubles comes from Batman. Jack Napier dares to offer an alternative, one that brings to light the inherent flaws in Batman's approach.

It doesn't help that Batman ends up playing into Napier's hands throughout the course of Batman: White Knight #4. His reactions come off as self-destructive at times, which is understandable given the complications Bruce Wayne is dealing with outside the mask. There's a sense that the trauma that drives Batman is finally catching up with him. Jack Napier is just accelerating the process by putting him in the worst possible situation and without even cracking an insidious smile.

Napier doesn't just go after Batman's principles and sanity. He even goes after his support structure within the Batman family. He does what few have dared to do and offer an alternative to simply letting Batman operate freely with no accountability or oversight. He actually makes an offer to Nightwing and Batgirl that's both intriguing and practical. He doesn't just try to undermine Batman. He tries to one-up him by doing what he's trying to do, but more effectively. That ends up making any effort on Batman's part to cling to his old approach an even bigger joke.

That, in many ways, is the most brilliant part of Jack Napier's plan. He's still doing what the Joker has been attempting to do for years, but without the clown makeup and insane plans that involve exploding novelty gags. He's trying to expose Batman and the injustice around him as a joke and it's working with terrifying efficiency. Nobody is laughing, but there's still plenty of intrigue.

That's not to say everything Jack Napier does in Batman: White Knight #4 goes flawlessly. He does encounter complications, as anyone operating in Gotham City would expect. There are still deranged criminals running around and not all of them wear clown makeup. With or without Batman, these are problems that nobody can ignore for too long, even a reformed Joker. However, the way he handles it is a testament to just how charismatic he can be, even without the makeup.

With every issue of Batman: White Knight, Batman's credibility crumbles and Jack Napier's efforts make more and more sense. Batman: White Knight #4 makes clear that these two personalities cannot coexist, regardless of how sane or insane one of them is. At some point, one of them has to fall and every conceivable force is now working against Batman.

The conclusion of Batman: White Knight #4 opens the door even more distressing truths that will strike Batman to his core. With every truth, what Bruce Wayne does and why he does it becomes less a joke and more a tragedy. The extent of that tragedy, of which much of Batman's motivation is built from, is entering new and distressing territory with Batman: White Knight.

However distressing it may be, the implications are both compelling and revealing. If a superhero's greatest villain can expose the serious flaws in their approach for seeking justice, then what does that say about superheroes in general? It's not an easy question to ask in the first place, but Batman: White Knight's attempt at answering it offers some dark possibilities.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Sexy Side Project Update: Next Story To Be Released In THREE Weeks

I know it's been a while since I announced anything regarding a sexy side-project. Since "The Red Queen Chronicle: The Holidays," I haven't had much to update and there's a good reason for that. It's not just because things tend to get hectic around the holidays. I had the added complication of going through a very tedious move to a new place. It's only within the past week, or so, that I've gotten back to some semblance of normalcy.

As a result, my ability and opportunities to work on sexy side-projects suffered. I actually did have a story in mind that I hoped to post after New Years. I ended up falling behind significantly during my move. As a result, this latest project won't be ready for three weeks. Beyond the time and energy necessary to ensure that this story is up to the same sexy quality as those that came before it, I also had to work overtime just to ensure that X-men Supreme was updated on time.

Now, I hate delays as much as the next guy who'd hoped that Half-Life 3 would be out already. However, I make it a point to ensure that extra time goes to good use. I intend to take next several weeks to complete and refine this next sexy side-project to ensure it's worth waiting for. I won't continue hiding the details either.

This next side-project is actually one I thought about posting last month, but opted for a more holiday-themed story. It still takes place in the world of "The Red Queen." However, it takes a step back to revisit the original catalyst for this whole series that began way back with "Spider-Man and the Prostitute." More specifically, it's going to flesh out the evolving relationship between Spider-Man and Mary Jane in the overtly sexy way that many have come to expect from this series.
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I feel as though this is necessary for the continued progression of the story. A lot of what has happened in the world of "The Red Queen" is because of how Spider-Man and Mary Jane have affected one another in this series. I've spent more time lately on developing some of the other corners of this sexy world, but I can't forget about those who helped create it.

The name of the story will be entitled "The Red Queen Chronicles: The Promise." If you're a Spider-Man/Mary Jane fan in any capacity, this is a story that should keep you warm for the rest of the winter. Even if you're not, it'll cater to others with more kinky tastes in sexy side-projects.

I don't want to give away too much more. I'll just say that this is a story I believe Spider-Man/Mary Jane fans will really appreciate while maximizing their sex appeal. I'll also make clear that I do have other side-projects in mind as well so there are more coming. Rather than risk turning that into a very dirty, albeit fitting joke, I'll just urge everyone to be patient with this latest sexy side-project.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Reborn and Revitalized: Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey #1

The following is my review of Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey #1, which was posted on

A lot can change in the span of a year, especially in a world full of cosmic cubes, infinity gems, and deals with Mephisto. One year, Wolverine is an Avenger, Spider-Man is married, and the Fantastic Four are still relevant. The next, Captain America is a Hydra agent, Thor is Jane Foster, and Spider-Man is sleeping on his Aunt May's couch again. Things change very fast, very quickly in the Marvel universe, often within the span of a single year. Go back even farther, say 14 years ago, and it may as well be a different multiverse.

That's because 14 years is how long Jean Grey, the non-time displaced version of her, has been dead. In December of 2003, during the tail end of Grant Morrison's famous run on New X-men, she dies at the ends of Xorn, who is actually Magneto, but is also an imposter. At that time, land lines are still common, YouTube doesn't exist, and people are actually excited about the release of a new Fantastic Four movie.

So much changes within the real world that it's impossible to overstate how different things are in the comics. The fact that Bucky Barnes comes back to life before Jean Grey in that span says a lot about the impact of her death. However, her being Jean Grey, the same character who attracts cosmic forces with a propensity for resurrection, it was only a matter of when and not if she returned.

After 14 years, multiple crossover events, multiple relaunches, and a takeover by Disney, the wait is over. Jean Grey is finally set to return in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey #1. After so much time and so many complications along the way, Matthew Rosenberg has both a privileged and responsibility in crafting this narrative. He gets to bring Jean Grey back, but he faces a challenge in doing it in a way that doesn't feel predictable or contrived, which is no easy feat for a character associated with a cosmic force.

His approach is one that relies heavily on mystery elements while also bringing every major X-men team into the picture. From a situational standpoint, that makes sense. Jean Grey coming back, and likely bringing a cosmic force with her, is bound to require more than a few veteran X-men. However, Rosenberg doesn't throw everything into the story all at once. That may work for the Cables, Deadpools, and Wolverine knock-offs of the Marvel universe, but Jean's story requires a different kind of nuance.

A big part of Jean's appeal, both as a character and as a catalyst for a major story, is how her stories are built around significant emotional undertones. The original Phoenix Saga itself is an emotionally-driven story, one that has a major impact because it makes the losses and emotions feel genuine. Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey #1 already sets Jean up for a similar impact. While the situation is very different compared to previous stories, but when a character has been dead for over a decade, that's understandable and somewhat necessary.

This is where the mystery elements of Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey #1 really shine. In the same way it avoids putting the X-men at ground zero of another Phoenix-powered clash, it establishes a series of unknowns that puts Jean and the X-men in a volatile situation. It doesn't start off with a cosmic bird, but it doesn't take long to hint at one. Even with those unknown, it makes clear that the X-men's path is eventually going to find its way to Jean.

Like going up the first steep hill of a roller coaster, it's fairly obvious what Jean and the X-men are about to face. Anyone who knows anything about the stories surrounding Jean and the X-men can sense it, but the subtleties of the story still find a way to make it enticing. Rosenberg doesn't try to use old formulas that involve cocoons, time travel, or evil clones. His approach is different, even if the themes are similar. That big drop at the top of the hill is still coming and it promises to be every bit as thrilling and dramatic as other Jean Grey stories before it.

Beyond just setting the stage for the X-men's reunion with their beloved friend, Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey #1 also takes the time to acknowledge classic elements of Jean's story. There are references to the original Phoenix Saga, End of Greys, and even some of the lesser-known aspects of Jean's history. There's a sense that both the past and the present matter, which is difficult to do when it's just so much easier to use time machines, clones, and Skrull agents.

In a sense, the outcome of the story is already established. Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey #1 makes clear that this isn't going to be a tease like Phoenix Endsong. Jean Grey is, indeed, coming back. It's just a matter of how volatile, dramatic, and impactful that return will be. Any story involving Jean Grey is bound to be emotional to some extent and Rosenberg puts everything in place for those emotions to shine.

The final page, alone, effectively guarantees that hearts will be broken and spirits will be wounded. The presence of Jean's loved ones, of which she has many, also guarantees that the drama will be intense. The narrative sets all these important themes up without utilizing a single clone or cocoon, which counts as an accomplishment.

While these nuances work beautifully for anyone familiar with Jean Grey's history and the dramatic undertones that her stories inspire, there are times when her prolonged absence hinders some of the impact. When a character is dead for so long and the world changes so much, it's hard to fit them into the bigger picture. In a sense, Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey #1 is starting behind the curve in terms of creating impact on the larger Marvel universe. After multiple civil wars, a Skrull invasion, and a take-over by Hydra, Jean's return almost feels out of place.

However, even though the Marvel universe has gotten used to functioning without her, Phoenix Resurrection: The Return Of Jean Grey #1 does plenty to generate excitement for her overdue return. Her being dead for so long may have limited her impact, but it does little to diminish her place in the X-men and the Marvel pantheon of heroes. She still is, even after 14 years, the heart of the X-men. The team just isn't the same without her. No amount of time travelers or alternate universe versions can change that.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, January 5, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 162: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 1 is LIVE!

I hope everyone had a supremely awesome New Year. I certainly did and I’m looking forward to making 2018 another awesome leap for the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Every year, I’ve tried to raise the bar in terms of quality and vision. Given that this fanfiction series has been going on since 2010, that gets more challenging year after year. I think I’m up for it in 2018 and I’m ready to hit the ground running with the biggest arc since the big split that occurred in X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide.

I keep referencing that issue for a reason. It’s not just because that’s the issue when Charles Xavier and Cyclops began the bitter dispute that fractured the team between the X-men and X-Force. It’s not just over the fundamental issues that have emerged with Xavier’s effort in pursuing the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, which is still at the heart of the divide. This split is important because by dividing the X-men, the entire world of X-men Supreme is more vulnerable. It really was only a matter of time before someone took advantage of it.

Throughout this fanfiction series, the X-men have struggled to deal with powerful foes, even while at full strength. They barely overcame the Mutant Liberation Front in the Natural Disorder arc and struggled just as much against the ancient Cambrian within the Cambrian Explosion. Now, they’re up against a threat that has been operating behind the scenes since the events of X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths and even a little bit before that. I’ve been dropping hints, many of which involve Wolverine and Mystique’s mysterious past, and the events of Drug War offered the first major strike.

Most seasoned X-men fans, especially the Wolverine fans, recognized Daken when he showed up in the battle against Sebastian Shaw. As the colorful, albeit devious son of Wolverine, his history in the X-men comics is a complicated, fluid one and not just because of his flexible sexual preferences. Daken is not like his father in that he is willing to cross lines that Wolverine won’t. While I intend to tweak some elements of Daken’s origins in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, I intend to preserve those critical elements, much of which will reveal themselves in the next arc.

This arc will shake the foundations of the entire mission for the X-men and X-Force. Both Cyclops and Charles Xavier will find their visions tested in ways they never expected. They’ll also learn the hard way that a divided X-men makes for a dangerous world. It’s a hard lesson that the X-men seem to learn every other month in the X-men comics. The X-men Supreme fanfiction series will be no different. Both the nature of the threat and the impact it’ll incur will strike Xavier, the dream, and everything in between.

The arc is entitled Crimes Against Inhumanity. It’s one of those core arcs that will help mark an important turning point in X-men Supreme. Those arcs are a challenge to craft, but make for some of the most satisfying moments in this fanfiction series. From the Phoenix Saga to Overlord to Outer Limits, I put extra effort into making these arcs more awesome and I hope it shows. It starts with this issue and it’s one that I hope X-men fans, especially Wolverine fans, really appreciate.

X-men Supreme Issue 162: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 1

As always, arcs like this especially important in terms of maintaining the quality of X-men Supreme. In my effort to make 2018 another step forward for this fanfiction series, I want to make Crimes Against Inhumanity an important milestone. This year is already set to be a big year for the X-men with the return of Jean Grey and Wolverine in the comics, as well as the release of three X-men movies. I know X-men Supreme will never have that kind of profile, but I still want to match the effort.

In order to do that, I need to keep getting regular feedback from the wonderful people who have supported X-men Supreme since its inception in 2010. You guys are wonderful and I can’t thank you enough for all your support. I know it has been a long, arduous road for this fanfiction series and it’s only going to get trickier in 2018. I want those challenges to make X-men Supreme more awesome. That’s why it’s vital that I continue to get regular feedback. Either post your comments directly in the issue or contact me directly. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!