The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It is another entry in my ever-growing Jack’s Comic Gems playlist. This time, I highlight a gem from the lands of Latveria with Fantastic Four: Books of Doom. Enjoy!
Category Archives: comic book reviews
The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s the latest entry in my ongoing Jack’s Comic Gems series in which I highlight a quality gem from the world of comics. This one brings to light a gem from the world of Duke Nukem, a video game character who hasn’t been relevant since the 90s. However, he still managed to be part of an unexpectedly good comic. I was surprised too, but in a good way. Enjoy!
Whenever there’s an alternate version of an iconic character, writers often try to give them their own unique twist. Most of the time, it’s distinct, but still subtle. They try not to veer too far from the established canon of the character. Unless they’re writing weird fan fiction, writers stick to whatever is most prominent version of the character within the cultural zeitgeist.
However, Grant Morrison is not like most writers.
He doesn’t follow along with the cultural zeitgeist. Instead, he reverses it. When he writes iconic characters, he reshapes and reimagines them in big ways. All the cultural zeitgeist can do is try and keep up.
He did it for Superman in his critically acclaimed run on “All-Star Superman.”
He did it again with “Wonder Woman: Earth One.”
These stories didn’t simply tell new stories with DC Comics’ most iconic characters. They channeled every element from every era to mold a unique narrative. That’s difficult enough for Superman, given his 80-year history. With Wonder Woman, the challenge is even greater.
Before I get too heavy into spoiler territory, I’ll just say this. Morrison successfully rose to the challenge when reimagining Wonder Woman in the first volume of “Wonder Woman: Earth One.” He succeeds even more in completing that story in “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 3.”
It’s challenging because most Wonder Woman fans, including older fans more familiar with her lengthy history, know her mostly as a proud warrior woman. They think Wonder Woman and they see Lynda Carter in the classic 70s show, Gal Gadot in the recent movies, and even the animated version in “Justice League Unlimited” that was voiced by Susan Eisenberg.
These are all great versions of this iconic character. That warrior spirit that makes her one of the fiercest fighters in the DC Universe is a major part of her persona. However, there are other aspects of that persona that have been either retconned or ignored. Morrison makes it a point to embrace those aspects in “Wonder Woman: Earth One.”
Yes, that does include some of the kinkier aspects of Wonder Woman’s origins, which I’ve highlighted before. Namely, it embraces some of the BDSM elements that were woven into the early lore of Wonder Woman by her creator, William Marston.
However, it would be wrong, shallow, and short-sighted to call this aspect of Wonder Woman’s character too crude for modern tastes. These elements aren’t just for sex appeal and titillation. They reflect an important element to Wonder Woman’s philosophy, as defined by Marston.
To use power to dominate over others is inherently cruel and repressive.
To willingly submit with love and compassion is the truth path to peace and justice.
This is the core philosophy that Grant Morrison spends the first two volumes of “Wonder Woman: Earth One” exploring. That philosophy faces its ultimate test in “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 3.” I’ll spoil another detail here. It passes with flying colors and in a way that makes for a satisfying conclusion to such a uniquely wonderful story.
The story isn’t just about Wonder Woman facing the worst elements of domination at the hands of arrogant men and powerful gods. It’s about how this unique philosophy ultimately wins.
Now, contrary to what a bunch of whiny trolls may say, this effort is not about “smashing the patriarchy.” Seriously, don’t give these trolls any attention. They’ll say that about any comic that doesn’t cater exclusively to their narrow tastes, which usually involve Wonder Woman being a glorified warrior/stripper.
The story in “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 3” is more ambitious. It also has an unusual structure, although not too unusual for Morrison. His writing style often takes advantage of different time periods, using future events to give context to the past. It’s what he did in the first volume of “Wonder Woman: Earth One.” He uses it again, but to tell a very different story.
In the past, Wonder Woman is still sharing her philosophy with man’s world. She continues her fight against what she sees as an endless cycle of domination by the powerful. To her, it’s no different than how the old Greek Gods attempted to dominate the Amazons. It just leads to more conflict and suffering for men and women alike.
This ideology of power domination isn’t exclusive to men, either. Early in the story, it’s established there are women who still fall into this trap, namely Artemis. She doesn’t care for Wonder Woman’s more compassionate approach to dealing with men. She sees them as extensions of Hercules, the man who once brutalized her sisters.
It’s a not-so-subtle nod to the more radical elements of feminism that tend to espouse the same hatred as their anti-feminist counterparts. It’s ironic, but one that Wonder Woman confronts with a unique blend of love, understanding, and warrior spirit.
That’s a potent, but critical combination. It’s very much in line with the persona that William Marston created for her in the early years of her story. While she is certainly capable of fighting with the tenacity of an Amazon warrior, she doesn’t approach conflict the same way as her male counterparts.
For her, fighting isn’t about dominating or subduing an opponent. It’s a way of countering and subsequently tempering their misguided passions. Whether it’s Artemis or Ares, she doesn’t win the battle by knocking them out. She wins it by convincing them to willingly submit. When they do, she embraces them with love and compassion.
This works well for Artemis, but the men outside her homeland are a lot harder to persuade. In both the past and the future, we see male characters trying to cling to or re-establish the domination that they once enjoyed.
In the past, it’s Ares trying to continue his war machine with help from the American military. In the future, it’s a member of an extremist faction of angry men who long for the days when they could dominate women. Given the atrocities committed by angry, misguided men in the real world, this struggle is more relevant now than ever before.
I won’t spoil all the details of how that conflict is confronted and resolved. Those simply looking for Wonder Woman to fight her way through the conflict are only going to get half of what they seek. There is plenty of fighting, courtesy of Ares, but the way those fights end don’t follow the same script as your standard superhero slugfest.
There’s always a larger conversation at play.
There’s always an effort by Wonder Woman and those who support her to confront these misguided passions.
It’s never with force, contempt, or scorn. They all listen with compassion, even to those who spew hate. They let angry men and angry gods voice their grievances, even while fighting back. However, they always counter with love. They understand that you can’t counter anger with more anger or hate with more hate.
Again, that’s a very relevant principle. Anyone who has visited 4chan or a Reddit comments thread understands that.
There’s also a larger story about this world’s version of Steve Trevor. He may not look like Chris Pine from the “Wonder Woman” movie, but the role he plays is just as critical. What he does and what he chooses is instrumental in helping Wonder Woman win the day.
Again, winning in this world doesn’t mean blowing up the bad guys or their weapons. It means winning the argument about which philosophy is more just. More than anything else, “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 3” makes the case that a philosophy of loving submission is more palatable than one of angry domination.
Morrison even refines some of Marston ideas from the early Wonder Woman comics. In this world, it’s not men or masculinity that’s the problem. It’s the domineering ideology they’ve embraced and relied on for so long. Letting it go isn’t easy, but convincing men to do so cannot be done with force. That realization must come from within.
In many respects, the philosophy in “Wonder Woman Earth One: Volume 3” transcends gender. Whether you’re a warrior woman or just some normal man with a family, there’s something to be gained by these insights. Loving submission offers something that angry domination does not. Embracing it comes with sacrifices, but Wonder Woman demonstrates that they’re worth making.
It makes for a powerful combination to a power story. Morrison really makes the extra effort to flesh out these ideas that Marston first established while artist, Yanick Paquette, crafts a beautifully colorful world that does justice to all its wonders.
It’ll challenge you perceptions while providing plenty of classic Wonder Woman type entertainment. It’ll also present a different kind of Wonder Woman, one that embraces both her modern iterations and the those of her past. The end result is a true wonder that does justice to this iconic character in a very unique way. If, by the end, you aren’t willing to submit to the loving authority of Wonder Woman, then you’re missing the point.
For some couples, monogamy is great.
It works for them. They meet, they fall in love, they get married, they have sex, and they have children. They go onto live predictable, but satisfying and respectable lives. There’s nothing wrong with that.
That sort of thing just doesn’t work for Dan and Cathy in the world of “Swing,” Top Cow Comic’s ambitiously sexy slice-of-life saga. Their story, and the many sexy details it entails, has offered many colorful insights into a world that actually exists outside the book. It also explores the life, love, and growth of two endearing characters as they navigate that world.
There are no superheroes in this story. There are no James Bonds or Pussy Galores, either. The world of “Swing” is a world that never attempts to break the laws of physics, psychology, or believability. Compared to the fanciful spectacles offered by other comics, it’s a breath of fresh air. It also helps that it’s sexy as hell.
The first two volumes of “Swing,” which I’ve reviewed and praised, set Cathy and Dan on this path to a sexy, swinging world. I’ve been following their story closely, watching these characters grow together through and not just in terms of romance and intimacy.
“Swing Volume 1” showed how they met, fell in love, had a family, and became interested in swinging.
“Swing Volume 2” showed how they entered this world, began exploring, struggled at first, and learned to embrace it. Now, “Swing Volume 3” provides us the next step in Dan and Cathy’s story as a couple involved in this lifestyle. It explores how they grow and mature. It’s not an entirely smooth process, but that’s part of what makes this entry of the story the best of the saga thus far.
Like its predecessors, “Swing Volume 3” picks up at a pivotal time in Dan and Cathy’s life. They’ve settled into the lifestyle. They’ve become a lot more comfortable with the unique dynamics of an open marriage. Writer, Matt Hawkins, makes every one of those dynamics both believable and rooted in real life examples.
Yes, there are real couples who engage in this lifestyle and it does work for them. I’ll give the puritanical crowd a moment to stop gasping. At the same time, that’s an important context to consider in appreciating the type of narrative that “Swing” has to offer.
It’s not entirely built entirely around sex scenes, innuendo, or the kind of shallow characters you often find in cheap softcore porn. A big part of the story is where this lifestyle takes Dan and Cathy, as a couple. It’s not all fun and sexy games. They have jobs, children, and career ambitions outside their sex life.
Dan is still trying to become a published author. Cathy is still building her career in the entertainment marketing industry. They also love their kids deeply and want to give them the best life two loving parents can give them. That element of the story is not glossed over, more so in “Swing Volume 3” than the previous two entries.
How does any couple balance that sort of thing? How does a story like that work without becoming too pornographic or too bland? Well, “Swing Volume 3” finds a way and the artwork of Yishan Li and Linda Sejic makes it a sight to behold every step of the way.
Both characters take major steps forward in their professional lives, as well as their sex lives. However, those steps don’t happen without some conflict along the way. In fact, much of Dan and Cathy’s growth in “Swing Volume 3” stem largely from those conflicts.
Some are small, as is often the case in any functional relationship. There are misunderstandings and miscommunications. There are also instances in which Dan or Cathy makes a choice that doesn’t sit well with the other. On the surface, it just seems melodramatic. However, the way it plays out feels real and genuine.
At every turn, Dan and Cathy make clear how much they love each other. They want nothing more than to make one another happy, both in and out of the bedroom. It’s a simple desire, but one prone to many complicated efforts.
Even though they’ve been involved in the world of swinging for a while now, there are still missteps and mishaps. The couple takes quite a few baby steps in the first few volumes, but “Swing Volume 3” is much more ambitious, both in terms of the sexy details and the emotional ramifications.
Whereas Cathy led the charge through much of the last volume, Dan is a lot more involved this time. I would argue he undergoes more maturation in “Swing Volume 3” than the previous two volumes combined. The details involve some spoilers, including some of the NSFW kind. Make no mistake, though. Both Dan and Cathy mature a great deal in this story and it’s a satisfying process, if that’s not too loaded a term.
For a story like “Swing,” which doesn’t rely on superpowers, superheroes, or supernatural forces, it’s important to come off as genuine. The story can’t work if the characters don’t feel real and believable. Otherwise, it has little depth beyond the sexy stuff.
The events of “Swing Volume 3” further affirms that genuine spirit for Dan and Cathy. The more they go through, the more real they seem. Nothing about the challenges and struggles they face feel like something that has no real-world parallels. It’s easy to relate to them. It’s even easier to root for them.
In essence, “Swing” is one of those rare erotica romance stories that strikes a perfect balance between erotica and romance. The sex positive spirit of the story ensures that one complements the other. Sex doesn’t define Dan and Cathy’s love for each other or vice versa. Their desire to explore this world is as sexy as it is romantic.
That dynamic has been a hallmark of the “Swing” series since it began, but “Swing Volume 3” really takes it to another level. Dan and Cathy are done with the baby steps. They’re diving deeper into this sexy world together.
That process will bring drama and a few consequences, as the cliff-hanger ending shows. That just makes these couple all the more likable. For that, I applaud Hawkins, Yi, Sejic, and Top Cow Comics for what they’ve achieved with “Swing Volume 3.” If I had to score it, I’d give it a solid 4.5 out of 5. It’s not perfect. Very few things in this world are. It’s still sweet and sexy to the utmost. In a year like this, we need that.
Another Wednesday has arrived. Once again, it’s another Wednesday without the weekly dose of joy that is new comics. It wasn’t a surprise, but it still happened. All major publishers, including Marvel and DC, have announced that no new comics will be released this week, except for digital only titles or previously scheduled compilations.
There aren’t enough words in any language for me to articulate how much this sucks. However, rather than spend another lonely Wednesday complaining about it, I’m going to make an effort to find a shining gem in this sea of doom and gloom.
Yes, major publishers are still delaying their shipments and releases. That’s to be expected of big, entrenched businesses who have been following a particular model for decades.
At the same time, independent comic creators still have an opportunity to publish their work on established platforms outside that entrenched system. Thanks to sites like Comixology, some creators can bypass the typical comic publishing model altogether and release their work straight to the public. As a lifelong comic fan, I can’t say enough about these creators.
While the selection of independently created comics tends to be limited, there are still quality books within this crop. I would even argue that the current lack of major titles gives them a chance to shine in ways they never would’ve been able to in an ordinary market. If a book is really good, it deserves to be singled out for the joy it brings during these difficult times.
To that end, I’d like to highlight one particular book that came out today. It’s not a superhero comic. It’s not from a major publisher, either. Despite all the forces working against it, this book still found a way to shine through on this gloomy Wednesday and for that, I’m happy to single out its greatness.
Lost On Planet Earth #1
Some stories don’t need to be full of epic space battles and alien invasions to be impactful. In fact, the sheer grandiosity of those stories often make it hard to relate to. Most people aren’t billionaire playboy philanthropists or a demigoddess born into a race of warriors. We can be in awe of their exploits, but overwhelmed by their impossible standards.
That’s exactly why “Lost on Planet Earth #1” is so refreshing. It’s a story built around futuristic, sci-fi aesthetics in a post-scarcity world. It involves alien races, star ship fleets, and a universe full of interplanetary intrigue. At the same time, it feels like a down-to-Earth, slice of real life story that real people in the real world can relate to.
Written by Magdalene Visaggio, with art by Claudia Aguirre, we follow the boundless ambition of a young woman named Basil Miranda. She starts out as focused, determined, and dedicated. She’s like that person we all knew in high school who went out of their way to overachieve, setting a high bar for herself and doing everything she can to top it.
She’s not smug or self-righteous about it, either. She’s also not someone who relies on a super soldier serum, bites by a radioactive spider, or a billion-dollar bank account to pursue that ambition. She’s just a very driven young woman who decided at age 5 that she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. From that day forward, she worked hard every day in pursuit of that goal.
Then, the day of her exam to join the interplanetary fleet, something unexpected happens. She’s asked a question that she never could’ve prepared herself for. It’s a simple question, but one people in real and fictional worlds alike struggle to answer.
What makes you happy?
It sounds basic, but it has profound implications, both for Basil and for anyone who has ever thought about it for more than five seconds. In all her ambition, she never stops to contemplate whether this goal she decided when she was five-years-old is what will make her happy.
Yes, it will make her successful.
Yes, it will put her in a position to have a major impact on her world and others.
However, will it make her happy?
That triggers a full-blown crisis in Basil, which Aguirre’s colorful artwork captures beautifully every step of the way. Suddenly, this determined young woman who was so disciplined and certain is now utterly overwhelmed. She doesn’t know what to do with herself and struggles to figure that out. I won’t get into spoilers, but it does lead her down some unexpected paths.
What Visaggio does with “Lost on Planet Earth #1” is remarkable in how it flips the script on an ambitious character’s journey. It’s easy for anyone in a sci-fi fantasy world to look up at the stars and yearn to explore, thrusting themselves into new conflicts. It’s also easy for someone in the real world to envision their future, thinking this is what they want for themselves.
It’s a lot harder to stop for a moment, take a look inside yourself, and ask why you pursue these goals in the first place. Do you genuinely think they’ll make you happy? Is success and achievement really the same as happiness and fulfillment? These are questions some people go their whole lives without contemplating. Many people, especially young people like Basil, aren’t inclined to think that far ahead.
These heady concepts help make “Lost on Planet Earth #1” a unique story within a sci-fi worlds. They’re concepts that are worth exploring in the real world, as well. We can all identify with Basil’s unexpected struggle in this story. In times of crisis when we have more time than usual to think about these things, this book asks some profound questions that are worth answering.
To Magdalene Visaggio and Claudia Aguirre, thank you for making this comic and releasing it during difficult times like this. As a comic fan and just someone in need of a more uplifting story, I really appreciate it.
Every relationship is different. How they come together and how they stay together varies from couple to couple. Some work perfectly fine a traditional, monogamous setup. You marry one person and that’s who you make love to, till death do you part. There’s nothing wrong with that and plenty of great love stories can be told from it.
However, that approach doesn’t work for everyone and there’s nothing wrong with that, either. It’s just more challenging to tell a non-monogamous love story without it becoming overly pornographic. That didn’t stop Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung, with help from artist Linda Sejic, from telling a genuine, compelling love story about non-monogamy in “Swing: Volume 1.”
When I reviewed this graphic novel last year, I highlighted how it perfectly balanced the romance with the sex appeal. The first part of the story was about how its two protagonists, Cathy Chang and Dan Lincoln, fell in love. Then, after settling into married life, complete with two kids and decent careers, they sought to recapture that passionate spark that helped bring them together.
It culminated with them navigating the colorful world of open relationships. At the same time, it laid the foundation for a deeper romantic journey in a future sequel. Having waited anxiously for over a year, I can safely say that “Swing: Volume 2” was worth the patience. This book doesn’t just continue Dan and Cathy’s journey. It takes the sexiness and romance to new heights.
The story picks up where the first book left off. Dan and Cathy got their first state of the non-monogamous lifestyle and they liked it. That’s made abundantly clear through Yishan Li and Linda Sejic’s art in first several pages. However, that’s not the end of their romantic journey. It’s just another step in the process.
Now that Dan and Cathy are in this sexy new world, their next challenge is successfully navigating it. Having a few threesomes is fun, but the swinging world of non-monogamy is much bigger. It’s also a world that requires Dan and Cathy to confront certain aspects of their relationship that they’ve never had to deal with before.
While Dan admits that he’d been with multiple women, Cathy has only been intimate with one man. She lived a more sheltered life, which was nicely established in the first book. The second book builds on that, showing that there are parts of her sexuality that she hasn’t explored. That desire to explore this world is what helps drive the plot and the drama in “Swing: Volume 2.”
Yes, there is drama. It’s not all fun sexy time all the time. While those times are certainly present, Hawkins and Cheung make this exploration feel genuine and believable. From how Cathay and Dan establish a set of rules to how they struggle to find compatible partners, the various details of the story come off as something that can happen in the real world.
There are triumphs and setbacks. Some of those setbacks make for the funniest moments of the story. Like any relationship, an open relationship takes a great deal of work. Dan and Cathy find that out the hard way on more than one occasion. That only makes the fruits of their labor satisfying, both in terms of plot and sex appeal.
Compared to the first book, “Swing: Volume 2” has a lot more sex appeal and I’m not just referring to Li and Sejic’s graphic, yet tasteful depictions. There are plenty of scenes that involve exposed body parts, intimate love scenes, and overt innuendo that anyone’s inner 13-year-old will recognize. However, it never comes off as crude or gratuitous.
The overall tone of “Swing: Volume 2” is very much in keeping with the sex positive themes of its predecessor. It also does something important with those themes. As the story unfolds, we see how Cathy and Dan’s relationship evolves. Before, they were just a typical married couple looking to spice things up. Now, their relationship has gained greater complexity and, most importantly, it’s better because of it.
Both characters get an opportunity to narrate parts of the story. We get insights into their thoughts and feelings, revealing how they each approach this new facet of their relationship. Dan shows his share of insecurities, at times. Cathy’s reservations also crop up, as well. There are times she feels things that she doesn’t express and that causes some tension.
They make an effort to establish rules and boundaries. Many of them feel like concepts that actual couples who have navigated the world of open relationships would exercise. When the rules work, Dan and Cathy’s relationship benefits. When they don’t, even when it’s not intentional, it causes problems.
The problems never get overblown, but they don’t get brushed aside either. If “Swing: Volume 2” has an overarching theme, it’s that the world of open relationships is difficult. It’s not for everyone. It’s not the kind of thing that’ll fix a trouble relationship, either. Dan and Cathy make very clear that they love each other. Venturing into an open relationship wasn’t meant to fix that. It was meant to make their lives more exciting.
Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll say that Hawkins and Cheung once again succeed in making all these dramatic elements work. There’s never a point where “Swing: Volume 2” feels too focused on sex or too focused on romance. It seamlessly blends the two together so that they complement one another, as any good love story should.
There is romance.
There is eroticism.
There is personal growth for both these characters.
Along the way, you don’t just find yourself rooting for them or their relationship. You can’t help but be curious to see where this journey takes them. Like real relationships, there’s no endgame or culmination in mind. This isn’t that type of story. The lives of Dan and Cathy stay firmly grounded in a realistic setting. That’s part of what makes it so impactful, as a story.
That’s not to say that “Swing: Volume 2” is without flaws. There are parts of the story that feel a bit truncated. A few dramatic moments don’t come off as intense as they’re set out to be. There are also other characters that don’t get fleshed out as much, despite them showing potential in the first volume.
It doesn’t stop the overall story from fitting together seamlessly. The story effectively builds on the foundation that the first one established while ramping up the passion along the way. It’s compelling, heartfelt, and sexy. Between the mature themes and the beautiful artwork, “Swing: Volume 2” stands out as a fitting slice-of-life style comic in a sea of superheroes and spectacles.
If I had to score “Swing: Volume 2,” I’d give it a solid 8 out of 10. If you’re looking for something different, mature, and even a little risqué, then this book will check all the right boxes and then some. I’m not saying it’ll give all monogamous couples second thoughts, but it’ll give more than a few some interesting ideas.
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.
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.
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.