Friday, December 8, 2017

X-men Supreme Issue 161: Capital Corruption PREVIEW!


Certain plots take a great deal of patience and build-up. It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that the original Phoenix Saga that played out in the pages of Uncanny X-men unfolded over the course of three dozen issues. That kind of story is hard to tell today, whether it’s with X-men or any other comic book characters. That hasn’t stopped me from trying with the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Since its inception with X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution, I’ve taken my time to develop stories in what I hope is a sufficiently awesome manner.

I don’t claim to be as skilled as Chris Claremont, but I’ve made a concerted effort to develop the various plots of X-men Supreme in a way that has a solid payoff. Events like Overlord, the Outer Limits, and even the X-men Supreme version of the Phoenix Saga unfolded over the course of multiple volumes of this fanfiction series. Some stories had the seeds planted very early on in a very specific way.

The best example of this happened in the Overlord arc in X-men Supreme Volume 2: War Powers. In that event, there was a telling moment between Wolverine and Mystique that hinted at a deeper connection between the two. It wasn’t until much later in X-men Supreme Issue 120: Sinister Revelations when Sinister revealed that Mystique was actually Rose, one of Wolverine’s former lovers from before he joined Weapon X. That moment took a long time to build, even with the major hints I dropped in arcs like the Cambrian Explosion. I like to think that kind of build made the culmination that much more satisfying.

Now, the X-men Supreme fanfiction series is about to reach another moment. Coincidentally, this one also involves the mysterious pasts of Wolverine and Mystique. When I revealed their connection at the end of X-men Supreme Volume 5: Dark Truths, I did so with a much larger plan in mind. I had every intention of making their shared history part of a much larger story, one that incorporates a conflict involving a character that Wolverine fans should recognize. Developing that story has taken time, especially after the events of X-men Supreme Issue 148: New Divide. All that build and energy is finally about to culminate.

The events of the Drug War arc acted as the first shots in a much larger conflict. That story may have been centered around Sebastian Shaw and the emergence of Mutant Growth Hormone, but it also revealed the presence of other powerful forces that threaten more than the X-men and the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. Wolverine definitely sensed that threat and it took the form of someone that X-men fans should recognize as a major complication. It’s hard enough working against the X-men with Cyclops as a member of X-Force. Once again, Wolverine’s mysterious past will come back to haunt the X-men in a big way.

The biggest arc to date in X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided is starting to take shape. This is one of those stories that will leave scars. Like Dark Legacy or the Cambrian Explosion, this story will leave a powerful impact on the X-men, X-Force, and everyone in between. It all starts with a prelude of sorts, one that will add some very personal stakes to Wolverine, X-Force, and many others. I’ve prepared a preview of that prelude that I hope gets X-men fans of all kinds excited, some more than others.

“Thank you, Julian. You’ve been very helpful. Even if your maturity is constantly in question,” said Laura as she finished her snack.

“You’ve been talking to Sam and Roberto again, haven’t you?” teased Julian, “I thought I told you that half of what they say about me is total bullshit.”

“That still leaves half, but I don’t hold it against you,” she assured him, “You’ve done more for me than anyone at the Academy. I know I don’t make it easy for you. I’m surprised you haven’t quit on me a few times.”

“Well after that incident where you sliced through my bedroom door while I was watching a movie with one too many explosions, I did consider it,” he joked.

“And I can’t promise there won’t be more incidents like that,” she said in a more serious tone, “Logan told me that trying to be a normal teenage girl is important. I’m inclined to believe him. But it’s difficult when I still have these powerful instincts.”

“You’d be surprised how many other teenage girls struggle with instincts. Tabitha and Amara can’t seem to control themselves at times.”

“These instincts are different. I live every day with the assumption that I’m still being hunted. Wolverine told me himself that this mentality will never disappear completely. The problem is my instincts keep telling me that the threats are there and I need to attack them. Most of the time, nothing is there. Even if there was, it limits my ability to be normal. Sometimes I wonder that even after I do everything I can to rebuild my life…I’ll still be a monster.”

Laura led Julian away from the main boardwalk to a quieter part of the harbor. Having finished her snack, she needed a moment to collect herself. They found themselves standing between a closed food hut and couple of storage containers.

She was still not comfortable with crowds, especially when she got worked up. She had to pull away from Julian for a moment. He gave her some space as she hugged her shoulders. He stood awkwardly behind her, staying silent for a moment before trying to console her.

“Uh…is this one of those times where you need some space?” asked Julian.

“No. Please don’t leave,” she told him, “I just…”

“You don’t need to explain yourself,” he said, “I get it. Old scars have a way of re-opening themselves. There’s nothing I can say to make it go away. So I won’t try.”

Laura tensed as she felt Julian’s concerned eyes on her. It was one of those limits that made it difficult for her to relate to him or anyone for that matter. To his credit, Julian was patient with her. That didn’t make it any less frustrating.

An awkward silence lingered for a moment. Laura took deep breaths just as Logan and others at the Academy taught her, trying to collect herself before her instincts got the better of her. Just when it seemed as though the feeling had passed, a mysterious new scent filled the air. It was a scent that triggered an entirely new set of instincts.

‘That smell. It smells like…no, this is different!’

Clenching her firsts, the former living weapon snarled at more scents followed.

“You need to leave, Julian,” she said sternly.

“What did I do wrong now?” he groaned, “If talking about instincts is really that stressful, then I’ll…”

“It’s not that. We’re being watched,” said Laura intently, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll start running!”

“Well I’ve never been known for my judgement, so you mind giving me a better reason?”

Laura grunted in frustration. Julian clearly wasn’t going to just walk away from her and she didn’t have time to convince him that this wasn’t mere paranoia. As he looked at her in confusion, she noticed an ominous shadow come over him. Reacting on pure instinct, the former living weapon lunged towards Julian and tackled him to the ground.

“GET DOWN!” she exclaimed.

With only a fraction of a second to spare, Laura shoved Julian out of the way just as a dark figure passed over. He landed flat on his back, getting the wind knocked out of him in the process. While he was stunned, Laura instinctively shot up and drew her claws.

As she took in her assailant, she noticed an ominous similarity between them. Like her, he also had a set of claws protruding from his knuckles. He wore a black body suit not unlike the one her creators had her wear. He also had a dark helmet covering his entire head. However, the helmet didn’t hide a familiar scent.

“You…you smell like, Wolverine. But you’re not him!” she seethed.

“Weapon X-23,” said the figure in a voice that sounded like it came from a computer.

“My name is Laura! Laura Howlett!” she barked, “Get it right or I’ll carve it into your skull!”

“You must come with us. Your must fulfill your purpose.”

“Who the hell is us?” Laura snarled, “I killed every last asshole that took part in my creation!”

“No. You have not,” said the figure in a mechanical tone.

As soon as he said these words, Laura picked up more scents. In a series of flashes, four more mysterious figures appeared. They looked completely identical, bearing the same black suits and mask. As soon as they appeared, they each drew their own set of claws. Within moments, they surrounded her.

“Hnn…Laura?” groaned Julian, still trying to get his lungs working again.

“Do you need a better reason, Julian? Run!” roared Laura.

“I’m not leaving you!” he exclaimed.

“You can and you will. This is my fight. I can handle it!”

The dark figures surrounded her, their claws drawn as they prepared to attack the feral young mutant. They moved in perfect synchronicity. They surrounded their target from all sides, but former Weapon X-23 was ready to take them on. It promised to incur a great deal of violence and bloodshed. For that reason, the figures instigated special tactic that promised to mitigate this situation.

While X-23 was preparing to attack, another presence emerged from behind one of the storage crates. However, his was different from the other figures in that he wasn’t wearing a mask or a special tactical suit. Instead, he bore attire that ensured Laura and everyone related to Logan knew who they were dealing with.

Like a predatory animal stalking its prey, he snuck up to the still stunned Julian Keller. Just as he was about to get up, the imposing man pulled him into a powerful choke hold. Once the young mutant was in his grasp, he made his presence known to Laura.

“Ack!” choked Julian, once again unable to breathe.

“Care to rethink that, little miss runt?” snarled a bemused Victor Creed.

Laura tensed upon hearing that voice. She never heard it before, but it sounded familiar. When she turned around she recognized him as someone Logan had told her about. He was even more repugnant than she imagined. Worst of all, he had Julian in his grasp.

“Sabretooth!” she growled, “Logan was right. You stink worse than a thousand toxic waste dumps.”

“Good to know Logan told you all about his old buddy. Did he also tell you what I do to the people he cares about?” quipped Sabretooth, holding his claws closer to Julian’s neck.

“If you so much as breathe on him…” she threatened.

“Blah blah. You’ll cut me to pieces. Yada yada. You’ll kill me a dozen times over,” laughed the feral mutant, “Jeez! You really are his clone. Hope that means you’re not as stupid as him. Otherwise your boyfriend here is gonna regret ever wanting to bone you.”

Laura snarled with murderous rage. This man knew Logan very well. That meant he knew her too, possibly in ways she couldn’t imagine. Between him, the five masked figures, and Julian’s predicament, her decision was clear. This was one instance where her instincts and her humanity were in agreement. Despite a determined look from Julian, she withdrew her claws.

“What do you want from me, Sabretooth?” she said flatly, “How many more reasons are you going to give Logan to kill you?”

“I’ve yet to decide,” grinned Sabretooth, still maintaining a firm grip on Julian, “Cooperate and we’ll both find out soon enough. We’ve got an overdue reunion to get to. And you’re gonna make sure my old buddy ain’t late!”


I get that it’s difficult to be patient these days with the X-men. However, it can and does pay off. Most recently, Marvel finally announced the return of Jean Grey after nearly 14 years of being dead. While I don’t intend to make readers of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series wait quite that long, I still want to reward the patience of those who have supported X-men Supreme throughout its development.

To ensure that reward is truly worthy, it’s still important that I continue to get feedback. Even if you’re just impatient and want more clues as to what lies ahead for X-men Supreme, I still want to hear from you. Please contact me directly with your comments or post them directly in the various issues. Either way is fine and I’m always happy to chat. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Pressing Pitfalls of Powerful Minds: Astonishing X-men #6

The following is my review of Astonishing X-men #6, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


While death tends to be a revolving door with well-oiled gears in comics, there are many ways in which characters cheat it. Some are more compelling than others. By and large, clones and time travel are akin to overused cheat codes. They essentially circumvent the agency of a character and all those around them by forcing that character into a situation. It's akin to Photoshopping wherein the contrivances can be cropped, but not removed entirely.

That's why when a character cheats death in a way that doesn't involve time travel or clones, there's a greater sense of intrigue. It's more akin to watching an escape artist survive a death-defying stunt in broad daylight. If they can do it without the aid of cosmic power or a deal with Mephisto, that makes it all the more impressive. In that context, it says a lot about Charles Soule and his work on Astonishing X-men in that he's resisted the temptation.

The death of Charles Xavier at the hands of Cyclops in Avengers vs. X-men remains one of the most impactful moments for the X-men that doesn't involve movie rights. That death is what shaped the course of the X-men for the past several years, from the arrival of the original five X-men from the past to the mutant/Inhuman war. His return to the world of the living is not unexpected since he has come back from the dead before, but his presence is such a powerful force in the overall X-men mythos that it's bound to have an impact.

Soule and Michael Del Mundo are laying the foundation for that impact and Astonishing X-men #6 acts as the final layer of bedrock. The substance of that bedrock is build around another epic psychic battle between Charles Xavier and the Shadowking. While it's a battle that has played out many times before, it's still more compelling than one involve clones or time travelers. For this particular battle, though, the stakes feel even higher than usual.

Every psionic attack, psychic illusion, and telepathic trash talk counts in this battle. It doesn't just play out on the astral plane either. Some of it manifests in the non-psychic world as well, with Shadowking taking over the likes of Gambit and Old Man Logan. It creates battles on multiple fronts, which also creates multiple opportunities for Del Mundo to craft brutal, visceral struggles that take on a very psychedelic ambience. In terms of psychic battles, it's the perfect combination.

Even though a psychic battle between Charles Xavier and Shadowking is something that has played out many times before with the X-men, as a rivalry on par with that of Wolverine and Sabretooth, Soule finds a way to make this one feel more meaningful. It isn't billed as the final psychic showdown between two bitter rivals. It doesn't even try to be some sort of over-hyped, pay-per-view style event either. What makes it and the story around it work so well is how it brings out the more cunning aspects of Charles Xavier.


From the first issue of Astonishing X-men, Soule establishes the battle between Xavier and Shadowking as one driven by wit as much as psychic prowess. In a sense, Xavier dying at the hands of Cyclops finally levels the playing field between him and Shadowking. They're both disembodied spirits now. They're both stuck in a state of limbo, having limited influence on the physical world. Like having Iron Man fight without his armor, both powerful minds must now rely on other skills.

As a result, Xavier ends up relying on tactics that Shadowking has a history of exploiting. He  has to fight for the hearts and minds of his X-men in a very literal sense. He can't just flash his "world's most powerful mind" card and win the battle by default. He has to reduce himself to his enemy's level, which usually gives someone like Shadowking the edge. Up until Astonishing X-men #6, he seemed to have that edge every step of the way.

This is where the true extent of Charles Xavier's cunning reveals itself. It's also what makes Astonishing X-men #6 a major addition to Xavier's resume as Marvel's most powerful mind. Even when he's stuck playing by Shadowking's rules, having next to no advantages from the beginning of the battle, he finds a way to one-up him. He's able to blend his tactics with that of his enemy to win the day in a way that never feels cheap or contrived. Soule makes it clear that Xavier earns this triumph over his greatest psychic rival and Del Mundo helps make it a sight to behold.

It's the kind of triumph that Charles Xavier hasn't had in quite some time, going back to the Grant Morrison era in New X-men. For years, it seems, Xavier's greatest enemy is his declining credibility in the eyes of his fellow X-men. From keeping secrets to battling his own students, he's had few opportunities to be the mind and the mentor that only the likes of Patrick Stewart can hope to embody.

Xavier's inglorious death in Avengers vs. X-men further limits his ability to be the character that the X-men need him to be. Like the charm of Patrick Stewart, though, certain characters have traits that give them the ability to forge new opportunities out of rough situations. Between Shadowking and dying at the hands of his first student, the situation is pretty bad for Charles Xavier. That only makes watching him and his assortment of A-list X-men beat the odds feel that much more satisfying.

That satisfying victory, along with the profound implications revealed at the end, helps put Astonishing X-men #6 in a special category in terms of quality. From the first issue of the series, this latest psychic clash between Xavier and Shadowking carries the risk of being another generic battle with stakes no higher than that of an arm-wrestling match between the Hulk and Squirrel Girl. That's the challenge of any rivalry. Everyone knows that Captain America will beat the Red Skull, Batman will defeat the Joker, and Deadpool will make a dirty joke. It's giving those battles real stakes and nuanced circumstances that give them impact.

Soule and Del Mundo put in the necessary time, effort, and psychic mind games to make Round 616 of Charles Xavier versus Shadowking feel like the telepathic equivalent of a heavyweight prize fight. Each round feels brutal and bloody, but the style and substance behind it make it more than just a spectacle. It's a testament to mind and will of Charles Xavier. There's a reason why he's the visionary behind the X-men, as well as the perfect medium for Patrick Stewart's charm.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Friday, December 1, 2017

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


It's that time of year again. Decorations are going up, eggnog is on sale, and department stores are on their knees, begging people to come buy their crap. That's right. The holidays are here! If you don't care for the holidays, then I weep for your soul.

I, for one, love the holidays. I love everything about it from the shopping to the family moments to the peppermint lattes spiked with whiskey. I don't care that it has become so consumer-driven that Santa Claus may as well be a secret agent for Amazon. It's still a wonderful time of the year that evokes all sorts of wonderful experiences.

That brings me to my latest sexy side-project. Yes, I realize that was a poor transition on my part, but how else do you lead into project that combines sex appeal and the holidays? Moreover, how do you lead into it when that sex appeal also combines the sexiness of Jean Grey, Emma Frost, and Mary Jane Watson? Even Ebenezer Scrooge, himself, would be inspired by that.

Maybe it's just my overactive holiday spirit, but I felt compelled to make my next sexy side-project holiday themed. Since the world of The Red Queen is already so rich with sexiness, I used that to set it up. Given how much that world has grown this past year, I can think of few worlds better to celebrate the holidays in the sexiest way possible. Enjoy!


As always, I encourage everyone to provide feedback. I'm still not done with this world. I still keep getting new, sexy ideas that I can't resist pursuing. I'm still undecided on many, but I'm always open to discuss new ideas, especially the sexy kind.

If nothing else, I hope this story gets you in the holiday spirit, among other things. In case this is the last sexy side-project of the year, I want to thank everyone for helping me make this series such a success. I had no idea it would blossom like it has, but I'm so glad it did and I look forward to building more sexiness on top of it in 2018.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score 6 out of 10

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Friday, November 24, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

X-men Supreme Issue 160: Unholy Man Part 2

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

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

Jack

Friday, November 17, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Jack

Thursday, November 16, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Empires, Ambitions, and Atrocities: Star Wars #38

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Monday, November 6, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Friday, November 3, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

X-men Supreme Issue 159: Unholy Man Part 1

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

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

Jack

Friday, October 27, 2017

Evil Wonders: Wonder Woman #33

The following is my review of Wonder Woman #33, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


No matter how dysfunctional a family is, there's usually some kind of sentiment binding it together. That sentiment isn't always healthy. Many sitcoms, good and bad alike, are built on that kind of dysfunction. Add gods, demigods, and superheroes to the mix and that dysfunction takes on a level that even the trashiest prime-time sitcom can't match. Wonder Woman's family may not have that kind of dysfunction, but whenever gods and demigods enter the mix, it usually means she'll eventually start punching something.

Wonder Woman's family already has its share of complications, thanks largely to an origins story that is still muddled between clay figurines and Zeus not being able to keep it in his pants again. The events of Darkseid Wars adds another complication in the form of Grail, who is basically the anti-Wonder Woman. As the daughter of Darkseid and a self-professed daddy's girl, she exists to spit on everything Wonder Woman stands for while looking more menacing than any illegitimate offspring that Zeus could ever sire.

Grail is one of those characters who has the potential to be a true nemesis to Wonder Woman. Superman has Lex Luthor. Batman has the Joker. Wonder Woman really doesn't have anyone on that level who isn't a renegade god or demigod. Grail, after taking down the entire Justice League in Darkseid Wars, can challenge Wonder Woman on every conceivable level. Wonder Woman #33 finally puts Grail in that position and James Robinson makes the most of it.

Darkseid War introduced Grail, but offers little insight into who she is and what motivates her. She never comes off as an overly complex character. There's no effort to craft some elaborate story about how she ends up on the path of evil. Her father is Darkseid. Evil is literally in her blood and she doesn't even try to avoid that. She embraces it. Like Lex Luthor and the Joker, she is not in conflict with who she is. She's evil and she's fine with that. That kind of self-awareness may be basic, but it's oddly refreshing in an era where too many villains try to come off as tragic figures.

That simple, streamlined persona helps move the story along. Wonder Woman #33 isn't just about establishing Grail as someone who can battle Wonder Woman without relying entirely on played out themes from Greco-Roman mythology. It's about tying her story into Wonder Woman's world, specifically the ongoing conflict with her long lost brother. Again, Wonder Woman's divine brands of family dysfunction are complicated, but that makes Grail's simplicity all the more appropriate.

Like Wonder Woman, much of Grail's story revolves around her family. She isn't just driven by her dark heritage. She actively works to protect and preserve it. The recent events surrounding Dark Knights: Metal puts Darkseid in a strange, but vulnerable position. After his defeat, he reverts to the form of an infant and it's up to Grail to play the role of mother to her father. It sounds weird, but when Greco-Roman traditions involve multiple instances of incest, infidelity, and unholy unions, it barely raises an eyebrow.


Grail still embraces this role. She never shows any hesitation or reservations about helping Darkseid return to form. She's just like him, wanting nothing more than to spread death and destruction to everything she touches. Even when aiding her father means murdering various demigods, mostly the many illegitimate children of Zeus, she does so without a second thought. She never sees it as evil or inconvenient, for that matter. She's just an evil daughter helping her evil father.

This makes for plenty of brief, but brutal moments that reinforce the extent of Grail's persona. She is evil to the core and that doesn't bother her in the slightest. While this goes a long way towards establishing her as a menacing villain for Wonder Woman, it doesn't make for too compelling a plot. Wonder Woman #33 offers a great many insights into Grail, at least with respect to her role in the ongoing story surrounding Wonder Woman's brother. Beyond that, though, there aren't many complexities or revelations.

The simplicity of Grail's character may help move the story along, but it offers little else, in terms of intrigue. She has a problem, namely her father's nascent state. She has to solve that problem by killing the many demigods that Zeus sired when he kept thinking with the wrong head. She goes about solving that problem with the kind of gratuitous violence that would make any evil father proud. There's not much more to the story beyond that.

There are some characters whose evil nature needs to be belabored every now and then. Grail established during Darkseid Wars that she is not one of them. Anyone who has Darkseid for a father doesn't need that kind of effort. While giving her a defined role in Wonder Woman's ongoing narrative is important, Grail doesn't get much depth beyond that. For her to truly become the Lex Luthor or Joker for Wonder Woman, she needs more than just a desire to help her father.

Wonder Woman #33 still succeeds in exploring Grail, demonstrating just how menacing a threat she can be to anyone she faces, demigod or not. Robinson skillfully guides her into a collision course with Wonder Woman while the artwork of Emanuela Lupacchino provides the necessary brutal imagery to that journey. More than anything else, that journey ensures that any pending clash between Grail and Wonder Woman will carry a lot of dramatic weight.

The family dynamics for both Wonder Woman and Grail, as dysfunctional and divine they may be, create a unique appeal that feels right at home in the bizzare, yet lecherous world of Greco-Roman mythology. Wonder Woman still embodies the higher values that mythos, but Grail is set to embody the worse. The fact she can do all of this without being the bitter offspring of Zeus makes that feat all the more remarkable.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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


In ever medium of X-men, the team deals with a wide variety of enemies, some more eccentric than others. Those enemies include other mutants like Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants, humans like Reverend William Stryker, mad scientists like Sinister, killer robots like the Sentinels, and even uniquely deranged figures like Mojo. I’ve tried to incorporate as many as I can throughout X-men Supreme. I like to think this fanfiction series has done plenty to accommodate those iconic villains, even the weird ones like Mojo.

However, certain villains bring more drama to the X-men mythos than others and I want to crank up that drama in X-men Supreme. While some of the X-men’s villains leave their mark by being powerful and imposing, others present a different challenge. It’s one thing to take on Magneto and Juggernaut. It’s quite another to fight an enemy that hits the X-men with ideas that directly oppose Charles Xavier’s dream. More often than not, those threats come from humans and not other mutants.

Going all the way back to events in X-men Supreme Volume 1: Mutant Revolution, the X-men have faced anti-mutant sentiment from men like Robert Kelly. While his attitudes towards mutants became more tempered after being elected President of the United States in X-men Supreme Issue 71: Election Day, others are incapable of that kind of reform. When pushed to extremes, they’ll cross lines that even men like Magneto won’t attempt.

That’s where Reverend William Stryker comes in. Beyond being a recurring villain in the X-men movies, he’s established himself as the leading voice in anti-mutant zealotry in X-men Supreme. Beginning in X-men Supreme Issue 51: Stirring Outrage, Reverend Stryker has gone to great lengths to try and spark anti-mutant hostilities. He often does it under the guise of religion, not unlike real extremists. However, his resources and his willingness to use them are what makes him such a dangerous enemy to the X-men.

For a time, the danger posed by Reverend Stryker seemed to be a low priority. Between the Mutant Liberation Front and the Mutant Monitoring Initiative that followed, his efforts have been overshadowed in recent times. That’s about to change in a major way that will shake the X-men to their core. Stryker already found himself falling out of favor, thanks to the rising influence of General Grimshaw. However, desperation and frustration will make dangerous men do horrible things.

That’s why his return is going to present a great deal of trouble for the X-men. What he does and why he does it will act as a catalyst for the next major conflict in this fanfiction series. X-men Supreme Volume 7: United and Divided, has been steadily escalating the tensions. It’s not just between the X-men and X-Force either. Charles Xavier’s dream is about to take on a very profound complication and Reverend William Stryker is going to be the catalyst. As always, I’ve prepared a preview of the unholy conflict that's about to unfold.

“Can we go yet?” said an impatient Laurie.

“Hey, show some respect,” said Jubilee with a scold, “This is important to Idie. Therefore, it’s important to us.”

Laurie shifted uncomfortably. She had never been much of a church-goer. She never intended to start even after her mutant powers completely unhinged her life. As part of her new life with Jubilee in District X, she was doing plenty of uncomfortable activities she never thought she would do.

That involved joining the others in a visit to the Church of Humanity for a full mass. After sitting through the procession, they stayed after to meet with Father Hansen privately. They had plenty to talk about and even though Laurie had been reluctant, she gave it a chance.

In wake of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, the Church of Humanity became more active than ever. Some of it was positive. Father Hansen saw his audiences grow over the past few months. New mutants facing hardships under this initiative needed guidance and comfort. Even regular people were joining his congregation, sometimes out of curiosity and sometimes out of spite.

There were plenty of instances where some voiced concerns about the direction humans and mutants were heading. Some were a lot more vocal than others. It never changed Father Hansen’s message that God had a plan for mutants and humans alike.

For Idie, Teon, Kenji, Gabriel, Laurie, and Jubilee, it was hard to grasp that plan. After recovering from Shaw’s influence, they started new lives in District X. Jubilee was their leader of sorts. She called them the Lights of District X because they were tasked with inspiring mutants that were doubtful of their future. Having overcome the worst of Shaw’s influence, they were in a position to inspire others.

“Peace,” said Teon as he mimicked Idie’s gestures.

“Very good, Teon. I’m surprised you didn’t try to eat all the wafers,” said Kenji.

“Guess you’re extra training with him has paid off, Idie,” said Jubilee.

“Even a basic mind can appreciate the tenants of faith,” said Father Hansen as he blessed Teon with a casual gesture.

“That or he knows we’re getting donuts for lunch,” said Gabriel with a smirk, “That’s how my parents kept me going to church every Sunday since I was five.”

“Does that not defeat the purpose?” questioned Kenji.

“It worked, didn’t it?” shrugged Gabriel, “Sorry if that sounds underhanded, Father.”

“It’s quite alright. God is not opposed to incentives,” said the priest in good humor.

“Then I’ll try to provide more so we’ll come regularly,” said Jubilee, “Bishop was right. We need something like this after the whole Shaw fiasco. I would argue that mutants everywhere need it. I noticed the pews were more crowded today.”

“That’s probably because too many mutants placed their faith in Shaw,” said Laurie, “Guess that makes him a false prophet or something.”

“From what you’ve told me, I would say that’s an accurate description,” said Father Hansen, “That’s a common problem for those who place too much faith in a fallible man. In this case, that man was carrying a lot of sin. That’s why I believe the tragedy you experienced can become a blessing if you’re willing to have faith. There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding man and God. Blessed beings like yourselves are the true lights of God’s children. Don’t ever forget that.”

Jubilee and the rest of the lights smiled at the priest’s encouragement. For all the scars left by Sebastian Shaw, it helped to have some inspiration to go by. District X and many mutants like them were still recovering from Shaw’s downfall. They needed to be inspirational as well if they were to move forward.

“We won’t, Father. You can count on that,” said Idie strongly.

“And if anyone needs convincing that Sebastian Shaw wasn’t worthy of faith, I can just show them my face,” said Kenji, who was wearing a hooded coat.

“I think you’ll do much more by convincing other mutants that there is a better path. You’re already on your way. I encourage you to stay true to it,” said Father Hansen, “Now go in peace. And send my regards to Isaac when you see him.”

“Sure thing!” said Jubilee as she let the Lights out of the church, “Thanks again for putting in some extra time for us. I hope God pays overtime.”

Father Hansen laughed as he waved goodbye to the six young mutants. He took great pride in helping mutants at a time like this. The controversy surrounding the Mutant Monitoring Initiative tested the faith of many. He didn’t take sides on the issue. He had his private views, but he left the rest in the hands of the Lord.

His church now empty, Father Hansen had some research to catch up on. As he turned back towards the front pews, he noticed a figure kneeling before the front altar that wasn’t there previously. It was an elder man in a black coat and he appeared to be praying.

“Excuse me, but my sermon is over,” he told the man.

“Forgive me, oh Holy Spirit. Cleans me of my sin,” said the man in a desperate tone.

With growing concern, Father Hansen walked up to the man. He appeared troubled in a profound way.

“Sir, are you alright? Is there something I can help you with?” asked Father Hansen.

“Indeed there is, Father,” said the man in a deep tone, “You can repent.”

The man then shot up and turned around. As he did he revealed a loaded Glock pistol. Before Father Hansen could react, he fired a single shot. The powerful echo reverberated throughout the church. Father Henson’s expression was frozen as he clutched his chest over where the bullet had struck. He then fell to the floor at the feet of the mysterious man. As he bled profusely, the man revealed himself as Reverend, William Stryker.

“You made a deal with evil, Father Hansen. You of all people should know the devil will collect his dues,” said Stryker coldly as he stood over Father Hansen’s body, “May God have mercy on your soul. Take comfort in the knowledge that you shall aid me in redeeming mine.”


After the Volatility Sensibility and Drug War arc, X-men Supreme is poised to step up the pace of the action. This fanfiction series is set to enter dangerous new territory that will challenge the X-men like never before while also introducing some familiar threats to X-men fans. At a time when the X-men comics are revisiting old threats as well, I think the timing couldn’t be better.

I still want X-men Supreme to be as awesome as it can possibly be. I’ve been working on this fanfiction series for over seven years now and I still think it has room to improve. I can’t do that without feedback from the wonderful people who take the time to read this fanfiction series. Please continue to do so by contacting me directly or posting comments in each chapter. Either way is fine and I do take feedback very seriously. Until next time, take care and best wishes. Xcelsior!

Jack