Friday, February 23, 2018

Mighty New Worlds and Mightier Complications: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #24

The following is my review of Might Morphin Power Rangers #24, which was posted on

Some things just don't translate well across mediums. The lack of quality movies based on video games is proof of that. Whenever story is told, the nature of that story is often affected or dependent on the medium through which it's told. For a narrative as iconic and well-known as Power Rangers, it's somewhat hard to imagine its story playing out on anything other than a Saturday morning TV show with poor graphics, goofy costumes, and recycled footage from Japan.

Hard or not, Kyle Higgins and Boom Studios make clear that it isn't just possible for a story to maintain its appeal through a different medium. It can actually do so in a way that improves the story on multiple levels. Under Higgins, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers grows in ways that just aren't possible with a Saturday morning TV show and not just because some of the themes may not sit well with network censors. In the medium of comics, the story of the Power Rangers has opportunities to grow in a myriad of ways that aren't just restricted to Zords destroying giant monsters.

Higgins doesn't try to reinvent the overall themes of the Power Rangers, nor does he try to make them too mature for fans of the old TV show. The approach he takes to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers involves adding new layers and complexities that just can't fit into a half-hour TV show. In this story, Rita Repulsa isn't just some screeching witch who just keeps throwing monsters at the Power Rangers in hopes of destroying them. She's more devious and tactical, showing a more refined level of villainy that requires more than just zords to defeat.

That makes stakes much higher and the tension much greater in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #24 because the complexities of the plot have long since exceeded the boundaries of a kids show. The conflicts here don't just involve monsters, putty attacks, and teen drama that's save for everyone under the age of 10. They also involve new allies, new enemies, and alternate universe versions of beloved characters. There's a lot of potential, as well as many complications, at work here.

As a prelude to the upcoming Shattered Grid event, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #24 establishes takes full advantage of a world not bound by the half-hour time constraints of a TV show or network censors who need every second of air time to cater to younger demographics. That's not to say the plot is so mature that it would confuse most kids and terrify their parents. It just brings some added complexity that requires more than just a grade school mentality to appreciate.

The world that Higgins creates for the Power Rangers is no kids show. It's not just about balancing life as superheroes and melodramatic teenagers. There are nuance challenges for the Power Rangers that cannot be resolved with a zord battle or a heartfelt talk at the end. It's a world in which the right course of action isn't restricted to whatever Zordon says. There are vast gray areas and having to navigate those areas tests the Rangers in ways no network censor would ever allow.

The primary test leading up to Shattered Grid involves just how much the Power Rangers can trust Grace, a character unique to the series with a role that's unique to the narrative Higgins crafts. She carries herself as someone with good intentions, but questionable methods. She's someone who could end up being a hero or a villain, depending on which methods she utilizes more.

Since the revelation several issues back that she was part of a previous Power Rangers team in 1969 that suffered too many losses for Zordon's comfort, she is very much a wild card. Her efforts to help the team are very much a divisive issue among the team, especially for Jason, whose added burden of being a leader adds more tension. It's easy to forget that, despite being the headstrong leader, he's still a teenager. Even with superpowers, there's only so much burden a teenager can endure.

That strain is part of what allows Grace to establish trust with the team. She also brings resources to the table, some of which are even more useful than zords. Being an adult and the head of a corporation that thrives because of her experience as a Power Ranger, she gives them plenty of incentives to trust them. Some of those incentives play out in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #24.

The Power Rangers find themselves in a situation where it's not just one monster or one life lesson they have to learn. It's multiple monsters on multiple fronts, not just at Angel Grove, that force the Rangers to stretch themselves farther than usual. It's not the first time Higgins has taken the team to new places with familiar battles, but beyond taking the narrative beyond the old TV show, it gives the impression that the scale of the conflicts in this world are bigger and bolder.

Even with that scale, the monster battles still play out like many classic Power Rangers battles. These monsters, despite the exotic locations, still have that distinct cartoonish charm that ensures the narrative never become too serious. They never take the form of something that feels out of place for a Power Rangers story. Even with all the complexities that Higgins uses, it still comes off as something that appeals to older fans who fondly remember begging their parents for the latest toys.

That's not to say that all those appeals fit together. The battles have an epic scale, but the way in which they're resolved come off as overly convenient. There are also moments when Grace sheds her complexity and just sets herself up to be someone the Rangers will regret trusting. She's still a compelling character, but there's a sense that she's destined to make things harder for the Power Rangers in the long run.

Even so, the action is familiar and quick-paced. It's also not random, either. It's very much a culmination of an ongoing side-plot with Finster, Rita's resident monster maker. That side-plot adds even more layers to the Power Rangers' enemies and that's critical because it gives weight to the revelation at the end, which effectively establishes the Shattered Grid as a conflict that won't just further raise the stakes. It may very well break the hearts of everyone on the team.

The impact of that revelation, as well as Grace's role in it, make Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #24 a new standard-bearer for a more refined Power Rangers story. It's reflects an evolving story and an evolving world that takes full advantage of the medium it uses, unbound by network censors and commercial breaks. However, it never goes past a point where it doesn't feel like Power Rangers. It never tries to give the franchise the Batman Begins treatment. It just mixes in a little nuance to go along with the giant robots and monsters. It's still absurdly fun, but in a way that kids and adults alike can appreciate.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Sexy Side-Project Announcement: A Red Queen One-Shot Featuring Cyclops!

There are some sexy side-projects that are inspired in unexpected ways, often by unexpected events. If you've been following the X-men comics lately and you're a fan of any character other than Cyclops, then you're probably pretty excited about the future of the X-men. Jean Grey is back from the dead. Charles Xavier is back from the dead. Logan is also coming back as part of a big event involving the Infinity Stones. This, combined with Marvel's announcements at another "fresh start" in may, should have every Marvel fan excited.

Again, this is all great unless you're a Cyclops fan. Sadly, he's still dead, having died one of the most unceremonious deaths in the history of comics. Hell, it's right up there with the shitty send-off he got in X-men: The Last Stand, but without undermining James Marsden's career. There's so much hope to go around for so many X-men characters. Unfortunately, Cyclops remains dead and there's no hint that he'll be coming back anytime soon.

It's for that very reason that I have even more incentive to make my next sexy side-project even sexier. I've bounced around a bit with my Red Queen series, taking it to places like Asgard and throwing surprise birthday parties. While I've given Cyclops a few opportunities to indulge in ways the comics would never allow, he hasn't had much room to grow as the new Black King. That changes with this story.

Three weeks from today, I'm giving Cyclops the opportunity he'll probably never get in the comics. He's not just going to use his newfound position and sex appeal to make his mark on the world of the Red Queen. He's going to do so with the kind of poise and leadership that make him such an endearing character in the first place. If you're a Cyclops fan, you won't want to miss this.

I don't know how long it'll be until Cyclops returns to the X-men comics. Other than his role in the upcoming X-men: Dark Phoenix movie, we may not get anything other than his time-displaced self for the foreseeable future. I'm not saying this sexy side-project will completely fill the hole, but I hope it can tide Cyclops fans over during the arduous wait. Nuff said!

Friday, February 16, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 164: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 3 is LIVE!

The X-men have a long list of colorful, powerful, and sometimes eccentric villains. Characters like Mojo check every one of those boxes and then some, as I’ve highlighted on the X-men Supreme fanfiction series during the Impossible Odds arc. At least with Mojo, there ways to navigate that long list of eclectic skills. The X-men usually find a way, even when they’re divided like they have been throughout X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided. Then, Romulus came along and both X-men and X-Force are tested to their very limits.

How do you stop a villain who is so old, so experienced, and so cunning that there’s pretty much nothing the X-men, X-Force, and even non-allies like Deadpool and Fantomex can do to get the jump on him? How do you thwart someone who has been alive for centuries and has spent many years manipulating the lives of Wolverine, X-23, and even X-men allies like Thunderbird? This is not a man who can be easily outwitted. This also isn’t someone who leaves himself vulnerable, as Magneto and Sinister have done on more than one occasion.

Romulus presents the X-men and X-Force with a challenge like no other. It’s a challenge I’ve been setting up since X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. Even though the X-men have a long history of iconic villains, from Magneto to Mojo, a big part of what makes them iconic is putting them in situations that maximize their potential. The X-men comics have many of those moments. While I can’t hope to recreate stories like God Loves, Man Kills or the Morlock Massacre, I can try to capture that same spirit with stories like the Phoenix Saga and District X.

With Romulus, it’s a bit trickier because the X-men comics weren’t exactly kind to him. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that he’s one of those characters the comics just failed to make work. I always thought Romulus had the potential to be a truly iconic villain for Wolverine, right up there with Sabretooth. That didn’t happen, though. That’s why I’m using the X-men Supreme fanfiction series to give Romulus another chance. The Crimes Against Inhumanity arc is a moment that has been a long time coming. It’ll give Romulus that chance and I intend to make the most of it.

The situation will have to get worse before it gets better, though. The X-men and X-Force are both working from a position of weakness. X-Force managed to get themselves captured while the X-men are struggling to gain support from General Grimshaw and President Kelly, even after their successes in the Drug War arc. As a result, none were in a position to stop Romulus when he launched his attack throughout the world, using the legacy of Weapon X as the catalyst for his army.

That attack is happening. All over the world, creatures bred from the legacy of Wolverine, X-23, and the Weapon X project that has plagued the X-men since X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution are attacking anyone and everyone who tries to make war. Romulus is setting himself up to be the sole source of war in the world of X-men Supreme. That’s not a world the X-men or X-Force want to see, but time is running out for them to stop it. Like other major arcs in this fanfiction series, there will be casualties in Crimes Against Inhumanity. Another one is about to unfold in the pages of this game-changing arc.

X-men Supreme Issue 164: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 3

I won’t pretend that this arc in X-men Supreme will make Romulus the kind of iconic X-men villain I believe he could’ve been. My goal for this, and every other X-men character I use in this fanfiction series, is to make him a compelling character in his own right. He may never get this chance in the X-men comics. That’s why I want to make Romulus’ chance count in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series.

I know he’s a controversial character, even among die-hard X-men fans. I know Crimes Against Inhumanity probably won’t win him any new fans. However, I still want to know that I’ve been handling him well. I genuinely want Romulus to be the kind of X-men villain that X-men fans can appreciate. To do that, I need feedback. This is a critical point in the arc and feedback is that much more critical. So please take the time to review in whatever way you can. Either contact me directly or post your comment directly in the issue. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Petty Villains Makes For Shallow Conflict: Wonder Woman #40

The following is my review of Wonder Woman #40, which was posted on

There are certain villains who don't need much push to fall into that never-ending cycle of evil, resentment, and constantly seeking new henchmen. Characters like Thanos, Lex Luthor, or Darkseid rarely a lot of motivation to walk that path. They're kind of expected to because they fill a particular role. They're the kind of villains whose existence makes the struggle of the heroes necessary. They provide obstacles that often have to be fought with fists rather than words.

Then, there are the villains who need a much harder push to walk that path. These are the Walter Whites of villains, characters who tried to live an honorable life, but chose a different path when circumstances worked against them. As such, the dynamics driving these characters tend to be more complex. Sometimes, they can be downright erratic because it's not always clear whether such a character qualifies as a villain. When those dynamics are working, though, these kinds of characters can be uniquely compelling.

Most of Wonder Woman's villains don't fall into the category of a Walter White. Historically, her villains involve gods, demigods, mythical monsters, and alien tyrants. The dynamics with those kinds of characters tend to be pretty basic. That's what makes Silver Swan a breath of fresh air in James Robinson's ongoing run in Wonder Woman. She's no demigod or mythical monster, but her conflict with Wonder Woman is uniquely dramatic in that it's so personal.

The story that begins in Wonder Woman #38 takes someone who never showed an inclination towards evil and guides them down that path. Wonder Woman #40 marks the culmination of that journey. It puts Wonder Woman in a difficult position, one in which every punch and every attack she unleashes against Silver Swan is like a jab to the heart. It's one of those battles that's destined to feel like a loss, even when she wins. That kind of inner struggle and tends to bring out the best in Diana.

There are key instances in the story where Wonder Woman demonstrates that unique strength. The path that leads to her showdown with Silver Swan is pretty direct. There aren't many diversions or mysteries to solve. There's no need for Batman's detective skills or a favor from Olympus either. The path to that dramatic clash is pretty straightforward, so much so that there isn't much room for tension. Given Silver Swan's willingness to attack a hospitals and slit throats, particularly the one of the long-lost brother that Diana just reunited with, there isn't much need for it.

Much of the clash and the story around it is fairly basic. Silver Swan's motivations don't include some grand, deranged vision that involves tearing the universe asunder while using the pained cries of her enemies as background music. She just hates Wonder Woman because she feels betrayed by her. Before she becomes Silver Swan, she believes she's Wonder Woman's friend. She draws strength from that as she deals with her own personal issues. Then, when she really needs that friendship, it's not there and that pushes her over the edge.

In terms of the catalyst that turns someone from a friend to an enemy, it's pretty shallow. Silver Swan is no Lex Luthor or Joker. She's no Mole Man either. She never comes off as psychotic or broken. If anything, she comes off as petty, as though she's somehow entitled to Wonder Woman's support during her time of need. She sees her as the emotional equivalent of an Uber driver, someone she can call on to feel strong and loved again. She doesn't seem to realize that Wonder Woman, as a full-fledged member of the Justice League who has to battle alien tyrants and demigods every other week, has a lot on her plate.

This is what makes Silver Swan seem downright petty, even by villain standards. It also makes it hard to see her side things when the battle between her and Wonder Woman finally erupts. Quality villains, even the exceedingly unlikable kind like Lex Luthor and Darkseid, have some sort of grievance to bring to the table that makes their hatred of heroes seem legitimate. Silver Swan primary grievance is that Wonder Woman didn't inconvenience herself enough for her. That makes her difficult to sympathize with, let alone root for.

She still manages to come off as a highly-driven villain that hurts Wonder Woman on an emotional level. That part of the story still carries plenty of dramatic weight and that gives Wonder Woman #40 a sense of depth. However, the impact of that depth is somewhat undermined by how rushed the final battle ends up being. There isn't much time to build the tension. There's still plenty of heartfelt strain, but it ends before anyone needs to catch their breath.

That's somewhat necessary, though, because a good chunk of the story is spent on how Diana's long-lost brother, Jason, is adapting to being part of Wonder Woman's life. That's a compelling story in its own right and while it does make for some colorful moments in previous issues, it's more of a distraction in Wonder Woman #40. Despite being a demigod like Wonder Woman, Jason does more to hinder rather than help his sister's efforts against Silver Swan.

The family drama and the personal drama just don't effectively mix. Given how dramatic and convoluted things can get whenever demigods are involved, that comes off as a missed opportunity. The aftermath of the battle itself also leaves a lot of issues unresolved. While Robinson does plant the seeds of new mysteries and further complications with Jason, it doesn't make for much impact because it contributes so little to the battle against Silver Swan.

On paper, the story surrounding Silver Swan and Wonder Woman's newfound family connections has all the necessary components for a big, dramatic story full of heart, tragedy, and jokes about Zeus' various infidelities. It's an opportunity to create a new villain for Wonder Woman that tests her in ways that make iconic heroes even greater. Just being able to do that without creepy clown makeup is an accomplishment in modern comics.

Unfortunately, the story that culminates in Wonder Woman #40 doesn't make use of those components. The characters and situations are there, but connections and motivations aren't. Silver Swan isn't going to be placed in the same tier as Lex Luthor, the Joker, or even Cheetah anytime soon. Robinson does leave her story open for more development, she has a long way to go before she becomes the kind of villain that deserves Wonder Woman's tears and fists.

Final Score: 5 out of 10

Friday, February 9, 2018

X-men Supreme Issue 164: Crimes Against Inhumanity Part 3 PREVIEW!

The most compelling villains are the ones with a vision. Part of what makes villains like Magneto so intriguing is the understanding that he doesn’t just do what he does, taking over entire countries or holding the world hostage with an asteroid attack, for personal gain. He genuinely believes that his vision for the world will do the most good for mutants, the X-men, and everyone who has been oppressed. Given some of the things that have happened to him in the X-men Supreme fanfiction series, can you really blame him for having such a vision?

Magneto may be missing for the moment in this fanfiction series, but the X-men have plenty of other threats to deal with. In fact, Magneto’s absence hasn’t reduced the amount of threats. It has just opened the doors for others. The Mutant Liberation Front did a lot of damage in X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation. In many respects, they helped set the stage for the eventual division between the X-men and X-Force that began in X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide. However, even with all these threats, neither the X-men nor X-Force could know that there was another threat looming behind the scenes, seeking a vision of his own.

For those who know Romulus only through the X-men comics, that vision may seem strange. I don’t deny that I really changed things up for Romulus in this fanfiction series. For certain characters, that’s somewhat unavoidable. Someone like Magneto is already iconic and established. You can’t change too much about him and expect him to be the same character. With Romulus, however, there’s not nearly as much history or too many iconic moments that undermine his persona. In fact, more than a few X-men fans that I know have called Romulus a failed character.

Maybe that’s the case for the X-men comics. For X-men Supreme, though, one character’s failure is an opportunity for this fanfiction series. I’ve had a plan for Romulus since the latter part of X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths. No part of that plan involved following the similar path the comics did with Romulus. Other than a role for a few key moments of Wolverine’s life, there was never much vision for Romulus. His connection to the X-men, Wolverine, and everyone in between just never got fleshed out. Most importantly, though, his character never had much a vision.

That’s not the case in X-men Supreme. In the first few issues of Crimes Against Inhumanity, I’ve established that Romulus isn’t just someone who has been manipulating Wolverine all his life and run the mysterious organization, White Cell, which I introduced way back in X-men Supreme Volume 2: War Powers. He’s a very old man with a very ambitious vision. He’s a warrior who only knows how to fight wars.

All that fighting, though, has left him broken and hallow. He’s ready to stop fighting. He’s ready to end it all and he’s willing to use Wolverine, his own son, to do it. It’s a bold vision that seems so impossible to most, but with White Cell, X-Force, and centuries of experience, Romulus is in a position to do it. He has already showed the power of his army in the Unholy Man arc. Now, he’s ready for a much larger attack. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of the extent of that attack and just how far Romulus is willing to push it.

“Warning. Atmosphere anomalies detected. Signal output below 30 percent. Psionic uplink compromised. Initiating defense protocols.”

The blaring alarm was the latest in a series of warning signs that further frustrated Romulus. The disturbance on the surface clearly hadn’t panned out. The elite units were still offline and the alpha unit wasn’t checking in. While Romulus maintained control of X-Force, he had to divide his attention between keeping them uncomfortable and continuing his vision.

“These disruptions are becoming quite annoying,” said Romulus as he wrestled with jumbled signals, “Regardless of what your friends did to my elite forces, this sudden change in weather is starting to slow my operation.”

“That would be my ex-girlfriend and Warpath’s pseudo-girlfriend raining on your little parade here,” said Wolverine, grinning through the pain.

“Pseudo-girlfriend?” grunted Warpath.

“Be thankful, Warpath. That’s as polite as Wolverine vill be vith you,” commented Nightcrawler.

“You think this will stop my attack? My warriors have sufficient protocols to guide them through their respective missions,” said Romulus, “It should give me plenty of time to clean up this mess you clearly brought with you.”

“You’re giving yourself too much credit, Romulus. Clearly, you’re not as in control as you think you are!” scolded Cyclops, who vehemently resisted the paralysis, “It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been planning this. Just look at what you’re doing! Is it really war you hate? Or is it not being able to control the outcome?”

Romulus’s scowl hardened as he worked swiftly to ensure his warriors could handle themselves while he took care of this inconvenience. They couldn’t coordinate properly if these disruptions continued. With growing frustration, he turned away from the core and narrowed his gaze on Cyclops.

“My age may have made me a patient man, but even I have limits,” said Romulus firmly, “Your resistance as well as your attitude has worn on my last nerve!”

“Welcome to my world, paps,” commented Wolverine, “It’s about time Summers put that charming personality of his to good use.”

“That may be the nicest thing Wolverine has ever said to me,” made Cyclops, “That proves how little control I have over him. And if you made your warriors in his image, what chance do you have?”

“You speak of control as if I don’t already have it,” seethed Romulus, “You think with all this time I don’t have a firm grip on my own vision? If so, then allow me to prove you wrong.”

Romulus raised his gauntlet and clenched his fist and issued a series of commands to psionic substance that controlled the X-Force leader’s body. Despite Cyclops’s fierce resistance, he found himself turning his head and placing his hand on his visor. He was now staring directly at Angel, who was kneeling right next to him. As Cyclops felt this, a new wave of horror came over him.

“No! I won’t…let you…use me!” he seethed, resisting with all his might.

“You don’t have a choice. Not anymore,” said the old warrior.

“Uh…Cyclops, I don’t mean to add any extra pressure, but could you at least try apologizing?” said Angel warily.

“It’s too late for penance. You’ve no one to blame but yourselves,” seethed Romulus.

Despite his best efforts, Cyclops couldn’t prevent what happened next. Under Romulus’s control, he fired an optic blast that hit Angel dead on. It hit him so hard that it blew him across the lab and into one of the examination tables they had been lying on earlier. Due to the setting on his visor, it was sure to leave him seriously injured.

“NOOOOO!” exclaimed Cyclops as he fired the blast.

“Angel!” exclaimed Emma as she watched on in horror.

“You son-of-a-bitch!” yelled Wolverine.

It was Cyclops’s worst fears taking form and substance. He couldn’t control his powers and someone he cared about got hurt as a result. He was left feeling so sick that he tried to throw up, but his paralyzed body wouldn’t let him. The X-Force leader’s resistance collapsed and he fell to his hands and knees, leaving Romulus utterly vindicated.

“He’ll live…for now,” said Romulus stoically, “I believe I’ve made my point.”

“Yeah…you’ve proved you’re a total asshole!” yelled Hellion.

“That’s not helping, Julian!” scorned Warpath.

“What difference does it make?” argued Domino, “He has control. He can use us however he wants.”

“Is zhat how it’s going to end, Romulus? You’ll have us do zhe dirty work so you don’t have to?” questioned Nightcrawler angrily, “If so, zhen I don’t see much honor in it!”

“I wasn’t planning on ending you. I was planning on having you witness the world that would emerge from the ashes of this battle,” Romulus replied, “But since you insist on being so arrogant, I’ve changed my mind.”

Bringing controversial characters like Romulus into X-men Supreme is always tricky. Twisting the history, connections, and backstories of other more established characters is even trickier. I’ve already done plenty of that with characters like Mystique. Chances are I’ll be doing plenty more of it as this fanfiction series continues to evolve. I know that carries risks for X-men fans, but I’m willing to take those risks in order to make X-men Supreme as awesome as I want it to be. In order to ensure those risks are paying off, though, I need feedback. Please take the time to tell me what you think of how I’ve been handling the tweaks to X-men Supreme. Either contact me directly or post your comments in each issue. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Heart, Rebirth, and Vision: X-men: Red #1

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

When a hero dies and comes back to life, it tends to cause varying degrees of upheaval. For some characters, namely villains like the Joker or icons like Thor, the extent of that upheaval is limited because it's assumed rather than expected that they'll return. The only real upheaval involves how team lineups get reshuffled and how much it'll frustrate heroes like Batman. Heroes returning from the dead is so routine, at this point, that the dramatic impact is almost muted.

Routine or not, the return of Jean Grey after a 14-year death sentence warrants an exception. Few characters affect the entire X-men narrative with their presence or lack thereof. It's impossible to make sense of the major events surrounding the X-men over the past decade-and-a-half without understanding the influence of Jean Grey. Her death and subsequent absence affected the X-men in ways that went beyond any death, resurrection, clone, shape-shifting alien, or time traveler.

As such, her return carries with it the kind of upheaval that's rare in an era where everyone not named Uncle Ben is a candidate for resurrection. That upheaval is still unfolding. With the conclusion of Phoenix Resurrection, there are no more teases or jokes. Jean Grey is back and she's returning to a world that is so different from the one she left that it's difficult to imagine her finding a place in it. After 14 years of functioning without her, a couple superhero civil wars notwithstanding, Jean faces the prospect of finding a new place in this world.

X-men: Red #1 marks Jean's first steps into re-entering a world that has left her behind, but has still struggled in her absence. The state of the X-men is mixed at best and messy at worst, a common byproduct of having too many time travelers and clones. In a sense, the time is right for someone like Jean to come along and get the X-men back on track.

Tom Taylor and Mahmud Asrar set the stage for that effort, establishing a new narrative for her with a new team. The core mission of that narrative is pretty familiar for an X-men comic. It's very much a back-to-basics approach, focusing on the true underpinnings of Charles Xavier's dream of peaceful coexistence. That dream may seem even more remote these days with mutants fighting Inhumans and X-men fighting Avengers. However, that's exactly why Jean's approach is so refreshing.

She doesn't try to reinvent what it means to be an X-man. From the very beginning, she does what the X-men have been doing for 50 years, helping innocent mutants who victims of hate or injustice. Like Charles Xavier before her, she doesn't just stop at saving the day and humiliating anti-mutant lynch mobs. She actually goes out of her way to show compassion and understanding to both scared young mutants and their parents. It's the kind of love and heart that even Charles Xavier couldn't always convey, even when portrayed by Patrick Stewart's uncanny charm.

That personal touch, going out of her way to show an extra bit of compassion, is an element of Xavier's dream that has been notably lacking during Jean's 14-year absence. That's not to say it was completely gone, but there's only so much heart and compassion the X-men can manage when Emma Frost is the lead telepath. X-men Red #1 effectively reaffirms Jean's place as the heart and soul of the X-men. She plays that part well, but that's still only part of the underlying narrative.

In returning from the dead after such a long absence, Jean Grey is in a unique position to assess the X-men and their efforts at human/mutant peace. By not being around during M-Day, Avengers vs. X-men, or the conflict with the Inhumans, she can be more objective than most in judging the effectiveness of their efforts or lack thereof.

Beyond just saving a couple innocent mutants, Jean acknowledges the no-win situation that mutants often find themselves in when attempting to better their situation. When they ban together and create mutant havens like Utopia, they become bigger targets. When they try to live their lives as individuals, they just become easier targets for hate-fueled lynch mobs. In either situation, they're targets and there seems to be no way around it.

When she's not saving innocent mutants, Jean attempts to forge a new path that's somewhere in the middle. It's not enough to just help mutants one at a time. Like Cyclops and Charles Xavier before her, she attempts to give mutants a larger voice on the international stage. While that makes her a target too, it can't be any less nerve racking than being dead for 14 years so there's little doubt that Jean can handle it.

It's her ability to forge a new team of X-men who can help her pursue this vision that brings out the true strength of the narrative. In the same way she injects a little heart into saving innocent mutants, she does the same in recruiting other mutants like Nightcrawler and Namor to her cause. She doesn't approach it like a diplomat or the leader of a mutant army. She just presents her hopes and dreams for a better future for mutants, never talking down to them or acting as though she's right by default. That ends up being more effective, much to the chagrin of every Magneto fan.

That element of heart is a big part of what gives X-men Red #1 so much appeal. It's not just about Jean Grey being alive again and having a chance to contribute to the X-men. It's about infusing elements into the greater X-men narrative that have been missing during her long absence. Even though these are familiar elements to anyone who saw an X-men movie other than X-Men Origins: Wolverine, they still resonate on a personal level that gives the story dramatic weight.

That weight ends up being important, especially at the end when Jean's approach gets tested in a big, brutal way. Heart or no heart, X-men Red #1 still exists in a world of killer robots, evil clones, and potential Skrull agents. There will always be powerful forces looking to strain, wound, or even break the hearts of someone like Jean Grey. The end reveals a threat that is in a position to strain her more than most, but that only makes her efforts more critical.

X-men Red #1 presents a flawed world in which Jean Grey is in a unique position to help. More than anything else, it shows that she has plenty to contribute, despite her long absence. In fact, that same absence puts her in a better position than most. If there's a shortcoming to that concept, it's that the scope of the story too limited.

It feels like it skips some critical elements, like showing Jean adjusting to a world she hasn't been part of for over a decade. Her place in the over-arching narrative of X-men isn't really established and, with the exception of a couple characters, she doesn't get a chance to deepen her personal connections to her new team. Some just end up going along with her because she's Jean Grey. Granted, that's not a bad reason to follow her, given her history, but it can't be the only reason.

This doesn't detract from the core of the story, though. If the goal of X-men Red #1 is to re-establish Jean Grey's place in the X-men, then it succeeds. If part of that goal involves reminding everyone what the X-men stand for and why a little compassion goes a long way, even in the face of hate, then it succeeds in that effort too. Taylor and Asrar do plenty to forge a narrative that remind everybody why Jean Grey was so sorely missed. Hopefully, she gets a chance to explore to pursue that narrative without cosmic forces trying to kill her.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Friday, February 2, 2018

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

It took longer than I wanted. I ended up getting delayed a couple times, once because of having to move and another for just not having enough hours in the day. I know some have been eagerly waiting for it and I'm here to say the wait is finally over. My next sexy side-project is complete and I think the timing is better because it should get everyone in the mood for Valentine's Day.

While I'm not exactly fond of Valentine's Day, I understand it still has some pretty sexy implications. It's a time to celebrate romance, love, and the joys of making it. Some do a better job of it than most. Within the pages of my Red Queen series, I think it's safe to say that Spider-Man and Mary Jane definitely qualify.

They're one of Marvel's most iconic couples for a reason and it's not just because Mary Jane looks damn good in a thong, although that is a factor. No matter what Mephisto may say, their romance is special and I've tried to capture that in this series, despite tweaking some of the circumstances by making Mary Jane a former prostitute.

That doesn't make their love or their connection any less special. I've gone out of my way to highlight that through multiple entries in this series. Sure, some are just fun, sexy explorations into this far kinkier world, but the depth of the Spider-Man/Mary Jane romance remains important. That's exactly what this latest side-project will affirm.

Rest assured, there's still plenty of kink. There's still plenty hot, steamy material that should get everyone's blood flowing, even those who don't care for Valentine's Day. However, it's done in a way that I hope highlights the breadth of this iconic romance. Enjoy!

I hope this helps everyone enjoy Valentine's Day a little bit more this year. I still have plans for other stories, some of which are further along in development than others. I hope to announce more soon, but I promise there's still plenty more to come, literally and figuratively. Nuff said!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Patience, Virtue, Resurrection, and Heart: Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #5

The following is my review of Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #5, which was posted on

Patience in comics isn't just a virtue. It's built right into the industry. Unlike a movie or TV show, the stories are often structured in pieces and drawn out over multiple issues. That means if something exciting happens in one issue, it could be at least a week or several before anyone finds out what happens next. That structure works well within the unique storytelling format that comics utilize, but the need for patience is a lot harder in the era of binge-watching.

Other than video game fans still waiting Half Life 3, few comic fans exercise more patience than those waiting for the return of Jean Grey in the X-men comics. For over a decade-and-a-half, her absence acts as a glaring hole in the heart of the X-men's collective soul. Every now and then, there are teases like Phoenix Endsong, Hope Summers, and the teenage time-displaced version of Jean Grey. However, none of them can quite fill that hole. Only the real, non-clone, non-time displaced Jean Grey can do that.

Now, with Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey, the time for patience is finally at an end. At last, Jean Grey is set to return to a Marvel universe that is very different from the one she left in the flip-phone loving days of 2004. In a world that tried to replace her with Emma Frost, time travelers, and clones, the return of the one true Jean Grey promises the kind of catharsis for which even the most patient X-men fans have longed.

Matthew Rosenberg does not not shy away from hitting every emotional chord as hard as possible without bringing Juggernaut into the picture. Throughout the story, he puts Jean in a situation where the prospect of heartache and loss is unavoidable. Such themes are painfully common for Jean Grey, but also bring out the best in her and those around her. Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #5 takes those themes, supercharges them with cosmic energy, and pushes the drama to limit. For a character as beloved and passionate as Jean Grey, there can be nothing less.

The mystery that plays out over the course of several issues gives way to a battle of heart, tragedy, and spirit. The blanks are filled in. The motivations, mechanisms, and undertones are all in place. The how, the why, and the context of Jean Grey's return to the world of the living is firmly established. All that's left is for Jean to confront it. That confrontation brings out every bit of passion that has made Jean Grey such a compelling character. From Chris Claremont to Grant Morrison, this moment highlights both the strength and tragedy of who she is.

This is not one of those struggles where the X-men have to fight to save Jean. This is a battle Jean fights largely by herself. The X-men are there and they provide support, but they don't try to fight the battle for her. Other than Old Man Logan putting himself in the line of fire, literally to some extent, to get the struggle going, it's Jean who does the heavy lifting. Between dealing with cosmic forces and being Emma Frost's rival, she's more equipped than most for this kind of battle.

It's the kind of battle that only a handful of characters can fight and do so in a compelling way. That's because Jean Grey is one of those characters whose story is so defined by tragedy, loss, and being overwhelmed by a situation. Whether it's a cosmic force or an attack by Juggernaut, Jean fights more of these battles than most, but still does it with a sense of heart and compassion. She never lets herself become too jaded or hardened by the struggle. It's part of why she's often considered the heart of the X-men.

That heart is often strained and the workings of the Phoenix Force push it to its limit in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #5. It doesn't just tempt Jean with the possibility of great cosmic power. That kind of power tempts someone in the X-men every other week. The Phoenix Force makes it more personal.

It reminds Jean of how many friends, family, and loved ones she has lost over the years. It also lets her know that embracing cosmic power will give her the ability to stop all that. It all sounds so tempting and reasonable, but Jean knows better than most how that kind of power tends to come at a price. Having been killed by that price more than once, though, such temptation only goes so far with Jean.

It's not just a matter of power corrupting, a theme that goes back to the original Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont. The Phoenix Force, in this case, actually shows Jean that it's possible. It literally creates a fantasy world full of all the people Jean knows and loves, uncomplicated and untainted by tragedy, loss, and the influence of Emma Frost.

It's a world that anyone with any measure of emotional vulnerability would want to embrace. Jean has to do the opposite in lieu of reliving those painful themes that Claremont did so much to belabor. It's not the same inner struggle that Jean seems to deal with every time the Phoenix Force gets a little too clingy. Jean has to actively fight the Phoenix Force, pushing it away along with all the temptations that its power allows.

It's a fight that that involves much more than simply saying no or resisting temptation. Jean and the Phoenix Force have an overdue heart-to-heart, one that strains both her and the Phoenix Force on an emotional level. However, that doesn't stop the Phoenix Force from making the strain on Jean much greater, attacking her in ways that break her heart multiple times. It hits harder than any attack by Juggernaut or any snide comment by Emma Frost ever could.

It's because those attacks have such a dramatic impact that Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey #5 carries with it a unique weight that goes beyond just bringing Jean Grey back to the world of the living after 14 years. The way in which she struggles against the Phoenix Force and the way she confronts the many tragedies of her story resonates on so many levels. Those hit hard by her death 14 years ago are hit just as hard by her resurrection.

That, more than anything, is the primary appeal of Jean Grey's story. Whether through death or resurrection, hers is one that evokes all the right emotions. It goes beyond survival and tragedy. It even goes beyond the recurring themes of absolute power and its corrupting effects. Jean Grey, even at her most powerful, embodies the humanity that is so championed throughout the over-arching themes of the X-men. In both life and in death, Jean's ability to channel that humanity is what makes her so endearing.

Her death in the original Dark Phoenix Saga years ago remains one of the most defining moments in the history the X-men. Her return to life in the pages of Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey may not achieve the same iconic status, but Rosenberg still succeeds in capturing the themes that made that moment so special. Coming back from the dead is so common in comics that it's practically required for heroes of a certain status. Coming back in a way that still hits with such heart and rewards the patience of fans is a true accomplishment.

Final Score: 9 out of 10