Category Archives: comic book reviews

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: X-23 #11

Every week, a new crop of comics enters this world to make the world a better place and/or help tide fans over until the release of “Avengers Endgame.” Whether you’re a fan of superheroes, melodrama, or just pretty artwork from artists not afraid to draw gaudy costumes, there’s something for everyone.

Every Wednesday, I take it upon myself to select one comic that I feel offers something extra beyond the price tag. Historically, few characters offer a wider range of appeals than Laura “X-23” Kinney.

Some know her as the daughter of Wolverine. Some know her as the breakout star of the “Logan” movie who helped make Dafne Keen a star. Regardless of how you know her or the medium in which she comes, she often brings a diverse story of violence, brutality, melodrama, and heartbreak. This week’s pick, “X-23 #11,” delivers on all of this, and then some.

Since writer Mariko Tamaki took over the series, Laura has gotten back to basics in terms of her mission. While she served admirably as Wolverine for a while, her priorities often change when she finds out some mad scientist wannabe is trying to make living weapons again. Considering how often this results in a blood bath, such efforts should count as an elaborate suicide attempt.

It’s a bigger deal to Laura than most. Like Logan, these programs have brought her nothing but pain. Unlike Logan, though, she doesn’t have the benefit of having holes in her memory. She remembers all the horrible crap that these programs did to her, which included the murder of her mother. She has more incentive than most to take these programs down as quickly and brutally as her father would have.

This is the primary goal in “X-23 #11,” but there’s a lot more at work than just someone with adamantium claws tearing through a weapons facility. In X-men comics, that’s basically a typical Monday. What makes this typical part of Laura’s mission harder than usual is the growing divide between her and her clone sister, Gabby “Honey Badger” Kinney.

That divide began several issues earlier. Like a pissed off Wolverine chasing the last can of beer, things have been getting anxious between the two. Since her debut in All-New Wolverine, Gabby has been a wonderful ray of sunshine mixed with omega-level cuteness for Laura. I’ve documented the breadth of that cuteness before, but it has never worked against Laura until now.

Laura knows it’s happening. She even senses that there’s some simmering resentment in Gabby, so much so that it affects her tastes in music. This isn’t just sisters bickering over what to binge-watch on a Friday night, though. “X-23 #11” establishes a fundemental divide between Laura and Gabby that may very well send the two sisters in a very different direction.

Tamaki has been setting up that divergence for several issues, but now there’s no putting it off any longer. It started with a debate over what to do when a shady company called Harvest made an army of X-23 clones that had been augmented/hijacked by cybernetics. While it made for some pretty brutal battles, it also highlighted the difference in Laura’s approach to dealing with other living weapons compared to Gabby’s.

Gabby, being the glowing ball of lovable cuteness that she is, wants to save these weapons. She sees them like other sisters. Even when it they come off as brain dead, like the cyborg X-23 army they battled, her first instinct is to save them and not destroy them. Laura, having seen too many clones cause too much suffering, favors a more direct solution that involves adamantium claws.

What makes the drama in those issues, as well as “X-23 #11,” so compelling is that it’s easy to see both points of view. Gabby knows that she wouldn’t even be alive if Laura hadn’t shown compassion when dealing with the clones that these living weapons programs produce. She also wasn’t subject to the same tragedies as Laura so she still has that wide-eyed optimism about helping other clones.

Laura, being older and a lot more damaged from her experiences, knows that the real world tends to crush optimism the same way Logan crushes beer cans. She has suffered and lost a great deal in dealing with these living weapon programs. She understands that not every clone can be saved. She knew that was the case with the cyborg clones that she and Gabby battled, but also knew Gabby was not going to agree with her.

Now, as the aftermath of that conflict sets in through “X-23 #11,” they both face some difficult, heart-breaking choices. For once, few of those choices can be made while stabbing heavily armed henchmen. There is some of that in this story and Diego Olortegui’s artwork does plenty to make that a visual spectacle. However, it’s the family drama that really sets this issue apart.

If you’ve been following the evolution of Laura and Gabby’s relationship since her debut, then the events of “X-23 #11” are genuinely heartbreaking. These two have steadily become a real family in their brief time together. Now, they’re being torn apart by bitter disagreements and painful choices.

Both Laura and Gabby experience the heartache. Even if you haven’t been following their respective stories, it’s easy to appreciate the bitter divide between two sisters. It happens in the real world and without mutant powers. Sometimes, things between siblings go bad and they drift apart. Seeing that happen with Laura and Gabby is nothing short of tragic.

It’s bittersweet, but it also helps set the stage for the future of both characters. “X-23 #11” is one of those comics that doesn’t avoid a difficult moment between two characters who no longer see eye-to-eye on an important issue. Even within family, these moments happen. This one was inevitable, but Tamaki and Olortegui made sure this one hit hard in all the right ways.

With Logan back from the dead, it promises a very divided Wolverine family, to say the least. For a family that has been subject to cloning experiments, constant torture, and even a trip to Hell, it’s a tough situation, but one that tends to make them all more badass in the long run.

Leave a comment

Filed under comic book reviews, Jack's Quick Pick Comic, superhero comics, X-men

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-Men Annual #1

Every Wednesday, a new crop of comics enters this world and makes it just a little more awesome. Being a lover of comics in addition to a lover of love, I try to select one comic from this fresh batch that I feel offers the most awesome for just a few bucks. At a time when the economy is always on a verge of tanking, it’s hard to find a better value.

This week’s pick was an easy one with “Uncanny X-men Annual #1” and not just because I’m hopelessly bias towards the X-men, in general. This issue marks a critical development in the overall landscape of the X-men and the Marvel Universe, as a whole. As the beautiful cover art by Salvador Larroca indicates, it’s all about Cyclops.

That may not seem like a big deal for those who don’t regularly follow the X-men comics, but trust me when I say that this is a huge development. That’s because for the past three years, Cyclops has been dead in the X-men comics. In an event aptly called “Death of X,” Scott Summers met an inglorious end at the hands of the Terrigen Mists, the alien gas cloud that gives the Inhumans their powers.

His death had a major impact on the overall landscape of the X-men and very little of it was good. In the same way that the Avengers aren’t the same without Captain America and the Justice League isn’t the same without Superman, the X-men just aren’t the X-men without Cyclops. He’s literally been with the X-men since the beginning and there’s just something missing when he’s not there.

Writer, Ed Brisson, makes it a point to highlight this throughout the issue. Aside from just telling the story of how Cyclops came back from the dead, he takes some time to demonstrate why he’s the leader of the X-men. He even puts him in a position to show why he’s a hero and why other heroes follow him.

Without spoiling too much, the story builds beautifully off the events of both “Death of X” and “Extermination,” which is another brilliant X-men story by Mr. Brisson that I highly recommend. It even references moments from “Phoenix Resurrection,” another story I’ve given high praise. The connections and details in this comic fit beautifully. It shows that there was a lot of effort and thought put into this story.

As someone who has read more comics than most will ever admit to reading, I can safely say I know when a writer isn’t trying very hard. For the past couple years, a new crop of writers that include the likes of Mr. Brisson show that there’s a new round of passion surrounding the X-books and it clearly shows in “Uncanny X-men Annual #1.”

Beyond making appropriate connections to recent continuity, the story checks all the right boxes in terms of telling a quality X-men story. It even checks some extra boxes in terms of showing a character at his best when they sorely need it.

Cyclops is one of those characters who always seems to generate heated debates among X-men fans. He’s also someone a long list of talented Marvel writers have mishandled over the years. The fact he’s part of the worst love triangle of all time is proof of that. This issue cuts through those complications and just gets to the core of what makes Cyclops great.

This issue is one of those comics that will definitely have a ripple effect for future X-men comics. Any time a major character comes back from the dead, which happens a lot in X-men comics, it’s a big deal. It often marks a turning point for the course of the story and lays the groundwork for the future of the series.

By the time you finish “Uncanny X-men Annual #1,” you really feel as though you’ve just witnessed one of those turning points. On top of that, there’s a sense that this character who has been so maligned over the years for all the wrong reasons is back to his old self. If that doesn’t get your inner X-men fan excited, then you’re just being difficult.

For Cyclops fans, X-men fans, and Marvel fans in general, “Uncanny X-men Annual #1” is one of those rare books that actually gets you excited about the future. At a time when you can’t go more than a day without something terrible trending on social media, that’s worth the price of a comic book.

Leave a comment

Filed under comic book reviews, Jack's Quick Pick Comic

The Distressing (But Relevant) Questions Raised In Uncanny X-men #1

711931-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

The most relevant stories are often the ones that ask the most difficult questions. The nature of those questions vary among places, people, cultures, and whatever happens to be pissing off a significant chunk of the population. Regardless of the circumstances, those questions are important and sometimes they come from unexpected places.

I wasn’t expecting such questions when I picked up “Uncanny X-men #1,” the latest relaunch in the most iconic X-men brand of all time. I was just glad to see Uncanny X-men return to prominence after an extended absence dating back to 2016. This first issue was over-sized and priced at $7.99, which is a lot for a single comic. I still feel like I got my money’s worth.

In addition to telling a great story that brought many prominent X-men characters to the forefront, “Uncanny X-men #1” did something unique in terms of how it established a conflict. For once, it didn’t involve killer robots, preventing a genocide, mutant terrorist, or alien space gods. Instead, it asked one profound question.

What if there was a way to preventing people from becoming mutants in the first place?

That may sound like a question that has come up in other X-men stories, but that’s only partially correct. This isn’t about curing mutants, a story that Joss Whedon brilliantly told during his run on Astonishing X-men and that “ X-men: The Last Stand” botched horribly. This is about inoculating children the same way we do for polio.

Specifically, a lab develops a vaccine that prevents the X-gene from expressing. Technically, they would still be mutants in that they would still have this gene. It just wouldn’t express itself. It would be akin to turning off the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia. It essentially treats mutation the same way we would treat any other genetic-based disease.

Naturally, the X-men and many other mutants don’t like this idea and not just because it’s akin to treating homosexuality as a mental illness. It reeks too much of genocide, something they’ve faced on more than one occasion. It would’ve been easy for “Uncanny X-men #1” to present it in that way, but that’s not how it plays out.

The all-star creative team of Ed Brisson, Kelly Thompson, Matthew Rosenberg, and Mahmud Asrar frame the issue in a very different way. Instead of some anti-mutant racist like Graydon Creed or William Stryker calling for mutant extermination, we get Senator Ashton Allen. He’s as generic a politician as can be in a superhero comic, but what he says and how he says is revealing.

Amidst a crowd of humans, mutants, and X-men, he talks about this mutant vaccine as a tool to alleviate suffering. He doesn’t rant about the dangers of evil mutants like Magneto or Apocalypse. He talks only about mutant children developing powers that could be dangerous to themselves or others. In that context, a vaccine might actually help them.

When you consider the mutant powers of characters like Rogue and Cyclops, who have mutant abilities that do real damage when uncontrolled, it seems entirely reasonable to make this vaccine available. Senator Allen never says anything about forcing it on kids or on mutants that already exist. He only ever emphasizes making it an option for concerned parents.

That’s distressing for the X-men because they don’t need to be omega-level psychics to imagine the implications. They can easily envision a concerned parent who doesn’t want their child to deal with the possibility that they may shoot lasers out of their eye one day. Any parent who cares for their child will want to mitigate the chances of them enduring such hardships.

In a world populated by mutant-hunting robots, parents already have plenty of incentive to use this vaccine. Given the damage that mutant-led conflicts often incur, the government has just as much incentive to make that vaccine available to everyone, free of charge and tax deductible. Governments less concerned with things like human rights could force it on children and that has some real-world parallels.

For mutants and the X-men, though, that means a permanent loss of their identity. Considering how mutants act as a metaphor for other oppressed minorities, this has implications for the real world, as well. I would even argue that the question will become increasingly relevant in the coming decades.

To appreciate just how relevant it could be, you need only look up the heartbreaking stories of parents who have disowned their children because they’re gay or transgender. In tragic some cases, people are driven to suicide. Even for those who aren’t parents, anything that might avert this kind of hardship is worth considering.

Given the complex causes of homosexuality, as well as the many factors behind transsexuality, it’s unlikely that there could ever be a vaccine to prevent it. The same can be said for conditions like Dwarfism. It’s not just genes, hormones, or radioactive spider bites that shape an individual’s persona. It’s a complex confluence of many things.

However, we are getting very close to a point where it’s possible to design children at the genetic level. Thanks to tools like CRISPR, it might even be possible one day to cut out entire traits from the human genome. That could, in theory, eradicate both cystic fibrosis and Dwarfism. More than a few people have expressed concern about that possibility.

Homosexuality and transsexuality are a bit different since there is no one gene or hormone that causes it, but most contemporary research suggests that genetics do play at least some role. Using similar technology, it might be possible for parents in the future to minimize or eliminate the chances of their children being homosexual or transsexual.

I imagine many in the LGBT community feel the same way about those efforts that the X-men felt about Senator Allen’s efforts in “Uncanny X-men #1.” Even if it only extends to giving parents this option for children and provides strict protections for those already born with these traits, it still treats who and what they are as a disease.

It’s dehumanizing and demeaning. More than one X-men in “Uncanny X-men #1” makes that abundantly clear. They don’t see being a mutant as a disease any more than homosexuality, transsexuality, or dwarfism. The fact that there’s now a way to prevent this makes for an existential crisis with some pretty heavy implications for the real and fictional world.

In the world of Marvel comics, a world without mutants has its own set of issues, the least of which would be the loss of a top-selling comic series. In the real world, though, the stakes are even higher. What would we, as a society, do if we suddenly had the tools to prevent homosexuality, transsexuality, and dwarfism in children before they’re even born?

I’ll even ask a more controversial question that’s sure to draw plenty of ire. What if those same tools could be used to modify the skin color, facial features, and overall appearance of our children? We already understand how genetics affects our appearance to some extent. What happens when we’re able to determine that for someone before they’re ever born?

These are objectively distressing questions. I’m glad “Uncanny X-men #1” dared to ask them. I doubt they’ll get debated or resolved completely in the proceeding issues, mostly because such resolutions are impossible in superhero comics. It still presents the X-men with a unique issue to confront and one that we will likely have to confront in the real world.

As is often the case with difficult questions, the answers are likely to anger some and distress many. Most people genuinely and sincerely want what’s best for their children. In the world of Marvel Comics, that could mean preventing them from gaining the kind of superpowers that makes them targets for Sentinels. In the real world, that could mean removing an entire class of people from the gene pool.

In issues like this, there are no heroes or villains. There are just difficult choices that we must make before someone else makes them for us.

Leave a comment

Filed under comic book reviews, futurism, gender issues, human nature, sexuality, superhero comics, Thought Experiment, X-men

Exploring Radical (And Kinky) Idealism: “Wonder Woman Earth One Volume Two” Review

cover-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

When “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 1” came out in 2016, it was groundbreaking in how it re-imagined Wonder Woman while reconnecting her with her kinkier roots. For years, she’d been moving away from the unique brand of feminism that her creator, William Moulton Marston, had once defined her. This culminated in her 2017 movie in which all the BDSM connotation were purged from her persona.

While many creative forces over multiple decades turned Wonder Woman into someone very different from her creator had intended, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette went in the opposite direction. They dared to embrace the kinks and reshape Wonder Woman’s story in a way that works while retaining Marston’s original themes.

That story remains one of my favorite Wonder Woman stories of all time and one I’ve gone out of my way to praise. Finally, after a two-year wait and a prolonged absence of kink from superhero comics, “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 2” has arrived. Fans of warrior women, feminist utopias, and not-so-subtle bondage themes can rejoice.

Like any sequel, it faces the inescapable challenge of matching the high bar set by its predecessor. On top of that, it also has to dig deeper into an aspect of Wonder Woman that generations of writers have tried to overwrite or ignore. Even with an elevated profile, thanks to her movie, this is a part of Wonder Woman’s persona that is largely unknown or undeveloped.

The greatest challenge of Volume 1 was to reintroduce Marston’s radical concepts of love, submission, and domination in a way that didn’t feel like bad fan fiction. Morrison and Paquette succeeded by building the story around this dazzling, techno-feminist utopia on a mythology built on ideas that seem antithetical to the world dominated by lies, mistrust, and cynicism.

If the goal of that story was to affirm the potential of these ideas, then “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 2” is built around how those ideas are challenged. It’s one thing to defend them on an island paradise populated by immortal warrior women of unyielding compassion. It’s quite another to defend them in a world where gay frogs inspire conspiracy theories.

Wonder Woman’s situation is considerably different this time around. She’s not insulated on her island paradise. She’s well-known public figure, an established superhero, and a vocal proponent for her radical ideology. She presents it as a viable way of achieving peace and justice in a world full of suffering and hatred. Unlike other wide-eyed idealists, she comes off as entirely genuine.

Not surprisingly, the world isn’t eager to sign up for her novel approach of peace through submission to a loving authority. It doesn’t just come from grumpy old men who only want women to make babies and sandwiches, either. Even among other women, her ideas are challenged and deconstructed throughout the story.

What does it even mean to submit to a loving authority?

Why is she so sure that it’ll work in the world outside her idyllic homeland?

How are men supposed to approach this concept?

How far is she willing to go to implement her ideas?

These are all difficult questions that get asked throughout the story. Wonder Woman doesn’t avoid these questions, but she doesn’t get a chance to answer them either. Even though she is celebrated by many, nobody seems capable of embracing her ideology as completely as her.

To further complicate this challenge, Nazis enter the picture. Trust me, it’s not as shallow as it sounds. The story isn’t built around Wonder Woman acting like Captain America, traveling the world and punching Nazis. In fact, the way she handles her enemies in this story is very different to the methods she used in the “Wonder Woman” movie. However, that’s where the story gains both complications and nuance.

Through a few flashbacks and side-plots, we get to see how Wonder Woman’s ideology confronts something that’s completely antithetical to everything she stands for. Initially, it looks like her approach works. She’s so compassionate and so empathetic that she can take violent, hate-filled Nazis and redeem their souls. That’s where the complications come in.

In both the events that unfolded in the past and those that play out in the present, we see shortcoming of Wonder Woman’s ideals. It’s not that someone taints or disproves them. As the conflict plays out, we see how the components necessary to make her ideology work aren’t as abundant as they are in her homeland. As a result, Wonder Woman pays a price for her idealism and it’s a steep, heartbreaking price.

Not all of it is a direct result of her ideology, though. Wonder Woman also deals with a devious adversary in Dr. Psycho, who effectively turns her ideals against her. He doesn’t just question or deconstruct the merits of submission to a loving authority. He manipulates them to his own ends, which plays right into the hands of her critics.

It’s tragic in that it leads to heartache for Wonder Woman and her friends, but it stops short of breaking her. This is Wonder Woman, after all. Loss, defeat, and criticism do not break her. No mortal or God can break her. Those are her words, not mine. These challenges, however, put her in a difficult position where she has to confront unpleasant truths.

Without spoiling too many plot points, I’ll note that Wonder Woman comes to realize that there are grater complexities to loving submission than she ever could’ve realized. She sees first-hand how difficult it is to get someone to willingly submit in a world where weakness can invite harm, exploitation, and injustice. Just preaching her message isn’t enough. By not doing more, it costs her and those she cares about.

In terms of the larger narrative, “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 2” is a wonderfully effective evolution of the world that Morrison and Paquette created. Along the way, the story continues to embrace the unique principles of the original iteration of Wonder Woman that Marston crafted in 1942.

Not entirely, that is.

If there’s any shortcoming to the narrative, it’s how incomplete it feels at the end. It’s not a cliff-hanger, but there are many lingering plot threads that don’t get resolved. Granted, it says on the final page that there is a Volume 3 planned for this series. Given the two-year gap in between this book and its predecessor, the wait seems nothing short of agonizing.

Even with those dangling threads, “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 2” is still a complete Wonder Woman story that’s unlike anything you’ll get in the movies or comics. If I had to score it, I would give it a 9 out of 10. The lack of resolution at the end is the only thing keeping it from a perfect score. It still gets so many things right about who Wonder Woman is and why she’s so endearing.

The fact that she can be endearing while retaining the radical spirit that Marston had envisioned helps make “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 2” all the more remarkable. She’s not just a fierce warrior woman. She’s the personification of a different approach to gender, power, and love. It may seem bizarre and kinky to us, but it has powerful implications for people of any gender.

It doesn’t go overboard with the BDSM undertones, nor does it focus heavily on gender politics. They are mentioned, but not forced into the plot. There are things Wonder Woman does that feminists, conservatives, and BDSM fans can get behind. At every turn, she carries herself as someone who is willing to embrace everyone. It’s that unconditional, universal compassion that makes her Wonder Woman.

Leave a comment

Filed under comic book reviews, gender issues, superhero comics, superhero movies, Wonder Woman

Jack’s Quick Pick: Wonder Woman #55

cover-_sx360_ql80_ttd_

I’m going to try a little something new here so please, if possible, tell me what you think. Every Wednesday, a crop of new comics come out. I’m usually up bright and early to read them, thanks to digital subscriptions through Comixology. It makes for many restless nights, but it’s worth it to start my day with an awesome comic. As such, I want to single out a particular comic that I feel really stood out.

This week, it’s Wonder Woman #55. Granted, I’ve written plenty about Wonder Woman and the many reasons why she’s an iconic female hero. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that she still has comic coming out regularly come out and this week, we got an especially wondrous treat.

Steve Orlando and Raul Allen capped off a story that began several issues ago that had Wonder Woman reunite with her renegade Amazon sister, Artemis of Bana-Mighdall. While this isn’t the first time they’ve clashed, this particular comic beautifully demonstrated what sets Wonder Woman apart from her fellow Amazons and so many other heroes in general.

While Wonder Woman’s power set makes her one of the most powerful figures in the entire DC Universe, even those immense abilities don’t reflect her greatest strength. Sure, they come in handy whenever Darkseid invades Earth, but those are not the most important weapons in her arsenal.

More than anything else, Wonder Woman’s greatest power is winning battles with truth and compassion. She doesn’t seek to solve problems through domination. She seeks peace through truth and loving submission, a theme with some kinky undertones. She wields that power with effective grace in this, albeit not in too kinky away.

I could go on and on about the non-kinky aspects of the story that make it so awesome, but I’d rather let the book speak for itself. That’s why I’m proud to make this comic my first quick pick. Even if it doesn’t make you submit, it’ll fill your heart with Wonder Woman’s love and compassion. Any comic that can do that is a true wonder.

Wonder Woman #55

Leave a comment

Filed under comic book reviews, Jack's Quick Pick Comic, superhero comics, Wonder Woman

A Sweet (Atypical) Love Story In “Sugar”

677954-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

Not every love story begins with a daring rescue followed by a witty exchange, culminating in an act of passionate lovemaking. Fairy tales and romantic comedies tend to present an obscenely skewed picture of how love actually manifests. In the same way porn gives fanciful depictions of sex, most love stories present an idealized, but flawed understanding of romance.

To be fair, though, love in the real world tends to lack that magical nuance. That’s why those fanciful depictions have so much appeal in the first place. It’s also why “Sugar,” the latest slice-of-life graphic novel from Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung, brings something interesting to the world of romance.

It doesn’t involve superheroes. It doesn’t involve elaborate emotional entanglements, either. It’s just a unique, engaging, and distinctly sexy story that resonates in the current year. This being the same creative team behind “Swing,” another novel love story that I lauded earlier this year, the bar is higher than most.

While I’ll won’t say “Sugar” is better than “Swing,” it has plenty to offer for those looking for a different kind of love story. This is not one of those boy-meets-girl or girl-crushes-on-cute-guy narratives that follows a familiar script. It doesn’t try to reinvent the genre, either. Instead, it takes two characters who find themselves in frustrating, but believable predicaments and has them find each other in a unique way.

Julia Capello and John Markham aren’t eccentric personalities with extreme quirks. Julia is a 23-year-old college student working multiple jobs, constantly worrying about tuition and her financially struggling mother. It’s not a ground-breaking basis for a young woman, but it never comes off as overly-tragic. Hers is a story that many young people today can relate to.

The same goes for John, a middle-aged businessman who thought he did everything right. He married his high-school love, created a thriving business, and played by the rules that men believe they’re supposed to follow. Then, out of nowhere, he finds out his wife is cheating on him and she serves him with divorce papers. In an instant, everything he thinks he knows about love is shattered.

These are two people with significant emotional deficits. Julia makes it clear that being alone doesn’t sit well with her. Her love of romance movies and her reactions to her roommates kinky antics with her boyfriend make that apparent. John is broken and lonely, needing a new connection to fill the void that his ex-wife left in his heart.

How they come together isn’t that romantic, in terms of logistics. Their first interaction is an otherwise forgettable joke in diner. However, their paths eventually cross again, this time with much sexier interactions. Instead of turning into a traditional relationship, though, these two follow a different path.

SugarTPv1_REVIEW-page-029

This is where “Sugar” twists the standard romantic narrative. Instead of two people coming together in moments that go onto inspire Taylor Swift songs, they end up following a much messier path. John, who is still very hung up on his wife, doesn’t jump into another relationship. Instead, he seeks an “arrangement,” of sorts.

Instead of an actual girlfriend, he asks Julia to be her sugar baby. That’s a term that exists in the real world and often gets conflated with prostitution. In fact, that’s a common refrain throughout “Sugar.” Julia goes out of her way to belabor the fact that she’s not just exchanging sex for money. It’s worth belaboring too because that’s not the crux of their arrangement.

Yes, the arrangement does involve sex.

Yes, the arrangement does involve activities associated with dating and relationship.

No, the arrangement does not involve the promise of marriage, kids, and a white picket fence.

No, the arrangement does not involve contracts, dungeons, and bondage in the mold of “50 Shades of Grey.”

In practice, it doesn’t necessarily convey the traits of an epic love story. It doesn’t depict that of a kinky porno, either. The arrangement between Julia and John serves a defined purpose that benefits them both.

John is someone who has spent most of his life in a relationship. Being alone for him is untenable. Julia is someone who clearly wants intimacy, but struggles to fit it into her hectic life. The arrangement they pursue together fulfills them both in a particular way. John gets companionship. Julia gets intimacy and some badly-needed financial support.

If that were the only result of the arrangement, though, there wouldn’t be much of a story. It doesn’t take long before Julia and John encounter various complications to their arrangement. Emotional entanglements do enter the picture. Some of them are a bit predictable, but others are less obvious.

SugarTPv1_REVIEW-page-071

There’s an underlying sense that neither character really understands what they feel for one another. John often finds himself pulled in multiple directions by his emotions whereas Julia tends to make more assumptions than she should. It makes for an eventful emotional journey, which leads to some interesting choices in the end.

When all is said and done, “Sugar” comes off as a real love story, but in an indirect sort of way. It take a strange, meandering path to get to that point, but it still gets there. While a second volume of the story is teased at the end, the story feels complete. There’s a sense that both Julia and John take a step forward in their lives, both together and as individuals.

There are a number of flaws with how “Sugar” goes about guiding Julia and John through the story, though. Neither character has much of a supporting cast. Both Julia and John are surrounded by archetypes with the personality depth of meathead jocks from 80s teen movies.

John’s business partner, Richard, is basically a well-dressed frat boy whose only role is to present the idea of an “arrangement.” His ex-wife, Karen, is even less developed. She is the personification of everything that rabid anti-feminists dread, a callous bitch who preys on the emotions of rich men while indulging her hedonistic proclivities on the side.

Julia’s supporting cast isn’t much better. Aside from a roommate who constantly encourages her to get laid and bosses that see her as nothing more than a cog with a pretty face, there’s nobody that really complements her. The people around her are just extra and bring little to the table.

On top of that, there are times when Julia and John rely too heavily on tired tropes. John has a few moments where he tries to be a White Knight and Julia has a few moments where she tries to be overly independent to the point of being an asshole about it. While these parts of the story can be eye-rolling at times, they don’t take away from the overall story.

At its core, “Sugar” is still a love story. It’s just a very different kind of love story. It takes two people in need of love and brings them together, albeit in an unorthodox way. It still works, though. It still evokes just the right emotion without resorting to princesses and dragon-slaying.

If I had to score “Sugar,” I would give it a 7 out of 10. It’s a solid, above-average story that applies just the right amount of romance and sex appeal. It has a novel concept that has plenty of potential, sexy and otherwise. It lacks the various support structures necessary to make it feel complete. Compared to “Swing,” it doesn’t quite measure up in terms of refinement.

Unlike “Swing,” this is a love story that feels more definitive. It’s concise, streamlined, and genuine in ways that few love stories dare to be in an era where one or more love interests has to be a superhero. Hawkins and Cheung once again achieve something special and sexy with “Sugar.” It may never be an epic love story that inspires a James Cameron movie, but it doesn’t have to in order to be sweet.

1 Comment

Filed under comic book reviews, romance, sex in society, sexuality

How “Mr. And Mrs. X” Provides Hope (And A Template) For Married Superheroes

672890-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

If you were to go back 40 years and ask someone to tell a story about epic space battles, death stars, and wookies, chances are you’d get a lot off odd looks and insipid excuses. Some might even laugh in your face, saying such a story could never be told, let alone make over $7.7 billion at the box office. George Lucas is probably laughing at them on top of a bed made of money.

Great stories like “Star Wars” didn’t just prove there were millions to be made from elaborate space operas and quality sci-fi. It helped establish a template for others to follow in telling similar stories. Some have followed it better than others, but the most important thing “Star Wars” was demonstrate that it can be done.

The current state of married superheroes is in a similar situation to what the sci-fi genre was before “Star Wars” came along. Both Marvel and DC Comics have done a lot over the past couple decades to undermine married superheroes, some of which have left major scars for fans and characters alike. Just look up a story called One More Day for proof.

The excuses Marvel and DC have made aren’t very convincing, but they’re not entirely wrong either. Telling stories about married superheroes is challenging. There are only a handful of married superheroes that have stood the test of time. However, even the most iconic superhero couples have been prone to the complications of marriage.

That’s why a series like “Mr. and Mrs. X” is coming along at the best possible time. This series, which spins directly out of the denigrating heartbreak that unfolded in “X-men Gold #30,” may very well provide both the hope and the template for married superheroes moving forward.

The first thing I need to say about “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” is that it’s part of a larger story that began unfolding before the events of “X-men Gold #30.” Kelly Thompson, who wrote “Mr. and Mrs. X,” also wrote a mini-series called “Rogue and Gambit,” which I highly recommend. That story did something important for both fans of superhero romance and of superhero cartoons from 1990s.

In the world of iconic superhero couples, Rogue and Gambit occupy a gray area of sorts. They’re one of those couples that rarely tops any list of notable superhero romances, but they’ve always been closely linked to one another. This is due largely to the chemistry they showed in the “X-men Animated Series” cartoon that defined so many childhoods back in 1990s. I know because I was one of them.

While Rogue and Gambit have always had romantic potential, it was never fully utilized. Neither the cartoon nor the comics ever took it beyond a certain point and not just because Rogue’s life-draining powers hindered their capacity for intimacy. There was just no real effort to evolve their romance beyond flirting and card puns.

Ms. Thompson changed that with “Rogue and Gambit.” This under-developed romance grew more in the span of five issues than it had in over 15 years of comics, cartoons, and failed efforts to get a Gambit movie off the ground. With “Mr. and Mrs. X #1,” Ms. Thompson dares to skip several steps and let this couple take the plunge into superhero marriage.

Considering how even a much more iconic couple in Batman and Catwoman failed to get that far, that’s quite an achievement. However, the way in which “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” portrays the sexy, romantic details of married superheroes is a far greater accomplishment. I would go so far as to say that it sets a new standard for just how appealing married superheroes can be.

One of the most important things “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” does is expand on the events of “X-men Gold #30.” This isn’t just critical for the sake of Rogue and Gambit’s relationship. It helps fix the greatest flaw in that issue. When the marriage of Kitty Pryde and Colossus fell through in a heartbreaking moment, Rogue and Gambit basically stepped in to keep the ending from being a complete tragedy.

The way their impromptu marriage presented in “X-men Gold #30” is both shallow and crude. It’s basically just forced in there, a marriage for the sake of saving a botched wedding. It never even gave the impression that Rogue and Gambit were serious about marrying one another. They just did it on a whim, their wedding having the depth of a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas.

Mr. and Mrs. X #1” fundamentally changes that. It dedicates over half the issue to providing more details of that ceremony, making clear that Rogue and Gambit gave this more thought than the brand of cereal they ate that morning. There was preparation, planning, and even a surprise visit from Mystique, Rogue’s adopted mother.

This goes a long way towards showing that Rogue and Gambit are serious about getting married. Even if you didn’t read Ms. Thompson’s “Rogue and Gambit” series, the first eight pages do enough to show that there’s genuine love between these two. Moreover, they want take that love to the next level.

Even for a romance not built on Disney-style fairy tales, that’s a pretty important detail. There’s a major difference between characters actually wanting their relationship to evolve and just doing it because it makes for a nice event. It’s the same difference between wanting to eat to McDonald’s and having to eat at McDonald’s. It affects the experience.

That shared desire between Rogue and Gambit shows in both the ceremony and the honeymoon. That’s another key component that “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” adds to the template. It doesn’t just stop at the heartfelt wedding ceremony they share with friends and family. It acknowledges and even shows off the sexy tidbits of married life.

Rogue and Gambit don’t just love each other enough to want to get married. They also want to express that love like any other horny couple. It doesn’t have to be a dirty secret or some trivial side-note. It can be part of the story and thanks to the wonderful artwork of Oscar Bazaldua, it’s a spectacle to behold.

We get to see these two in expensive wedding attire and their birthday suit. There are moments of genuine affection. There are moments of playfulness. There are also moments where they address more serious issues, such as Rogue not being able to touch without the aid of a device that inhibits her powers. All of that is fit into a single issue.

On top of all that, “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” still finds time to squeeze in some heroics at the end. It’s not all heart-warming ceremonies and sexy honeymoons. Rogue and Gambit are still X-men. That means they still answer the call to adventure when it comes. That’s just what heroes do. Being married doesn’t have to change that.

That shouldn’t be such a novel concept, but that is a common criticism of married superheroes. Once they get married, their ability to be superheroes is somehow diminished. That’s like saying being a rock star diminishes someone’s ability to enjoy random songs on the radio. It’s a false flaw that Ms. Thompson and Mr. Bazaldua go out of their way to subvert.

The nature of the conflict that interrupts Rogue and Gambit’s sexy time is somewhat underdeveloped. It involves aliens and space battles, which is basically a typical Tuesday for the X-men. There’s not much in terms of refinement, but that’s less a flaw and more a logistical limitation.

Mr. and Mrs. X #1” is the first issue of a series, which means there will be other opportunities to expand that story. Rogue and Gambit’s life as married superheroes isn’t ending. It’s just beginning. They’re still going to be heroes. They’re still going to fight aliens in between hot romps between the sheets. Married life doesn’t have to be boring. What a concept, right?

I’m not being coy. That’s the ultimate takeaway from this comic. Two well-known, well-developed characters can get married, share some loving moments, get sexy, and still be superheroes. Being married doesn’t have to supercede their heroics. It can complement it as well.

It’s a lesson that other superhero couples, be they iconic or based on a random hook-up, would be wise to learn. Even powerful heroes like Superman are only as compelling as the relationships and interpersonal dynamics that highlight who they are. In the same way teamwork makes the Avengers and the Justice League strong, marriage can make a superhero couple strong.

That really shouldn’t be such a radical notion, but Ms. Thompson and Mr. Bazaldua do plenty to remind us why it shouldn’t be. “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” sets a bold tone for Rogue and Gambit. It doesn’t stop at a beautiful wedding or a sexy honeymoon. The heroics continue. It just takes a different tone.

The ending of the issue, which I won’t spoil, even sets up some new drama between the happy newlyweds. It’s not the kind that’ll instigate another frustrating love triangle, but it does hint at a conflict that wouldn’t be much of a conflict if Rogue and Gambit weren’t married. Rather than limit their story, it expands it.

Mr. and Mrs. X #1” does so much in the span of a single issue that it would take me all day to list them all. It’s not a perfect issue. If I had to score it, I would give it a 9 out of 10, just because it had piggy-back on the heartbreak in “X-men Gold #30.” The most important achievement, though, is the precedent it sets. Married superheroes can be sweet, sexy, and fun and this is how you do it.

Like a marriage in a real world, relationships evolve. Getting married is not an endpoint. It’s another step in the dramatic, yet sexy narrative that is romance. Superheroes are fully capable of taking that step without turning into a bad sitcom. “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” shows that this step is worth taking. Hopefully, other couples follow and build on this sexy new template.

5 Comments

Filed under comic book reviews, Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, sex in media, X-men