Category Archives: X-men

Bringing The X-men Into The MCU: What To Do And What To Avoid

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These are exciting times for fans of Marvel and superhero movies. We thought we had reached a high point in 2012 when “The Avengers” came out. Then, we reached an even higher point this year with “Avengers: Infinity War.” Between raising the bar for superhero movies as a whole and generating billions at the box office, it seems impossible that Marvel could ascend any higher.

Well, Marvel Studios treat the impossible the same way the Hulk treats puny gods. They made Ant Man a successful movie franchise. They turned an obscure comic book featuring a talking raccoon into a multi-billion dollar phenomenon. At this point, doing the impossible is just another day at the office for Marvel and their Disney overlords.

In wake of the recent Disney/Fox merger, Kevin Feige and the brain trust at Marvel Studios will have even more tools with which to raise the bar. Even if they’re just running up the score at this point compared to the competition, there’s still plenty of room to grow now that they’ve got the entire mythos of the X-men and the Fantastic Four to work with.

This is already set to happen. Bob Iger himself has already indicated that there are plans to integrate the X-men and Fantastic Four into the MCU. How Marvel Studios will go about this is anyone’s guess and plenty of people have been sharing their guesses. I’ve tried to resist the temptation, but being a lifelong X-men fan and a lover of superhero movies in general, my restraint only goes so far.

However, I don’t want to wildly speculate or push an elaborate fan theory. Again, more than a few people have already done that. Instead, I’d like to do something a bit more generalized. Similar to my other articles on how not to screw up certain movies, I want to provide a guide of sorts.

At the very least, let’s avoid this.

I’m not going to get into specifics. Kevin Feige and a host of other people way smarter than me or anyone else on the internet are perfectly capable of handling those. Being a devout X-men fan, though, I feel like I can offer some basic pointers on what to do and what to avoid in bringing mutants into the MCU.

I think the X-men need that more than the Fantastic Four, at this point. Unlike Marvel’s First Family, the X-men entering the MCU will have far greater implications and not just because the last “Fantastic Four” movie almost killed the franchise. Mutants showing up in the MCU changes everything from what defines a superhero to how the physics of that universe operate.

At the same time, the X-men embody a particular theme, one that was relevant in 1963 when they first appeared, but has become relevant in entirely new ways in the 21st century. The last 18 years of X-men movies have tried to capture those themes, some being more successful than others. For the X-men to work in the MCU, it needs to capture those themes and get the characters right after Hugh Jackman set such a high bar.

Yes, it’s a daunting challenge, but one that Marvel Studios and their Disney overlords are more than equipped to handle. To achieve that success, and all the billions that come with it, here’s what I think they should pursue and what I think they should avoid.


Do: Tie The Events Of “Avengers: Infinity War” To Mutants (But Only Indirectly)

This is already part of the wild speculation surrounding “Avengers: Infinity War.” It would make sense to some degree, having Thanos’ universe-shaking actions lead directly to the creation and introduction of mutants in the MCU. However, I think having a direct link might undercut both the X-men and ultimate resolution of “Avengers 4.”

That’s why it would work better for both franchises if the link was indirect, at most. Part of the appeal of the MCU is that there are connections everywhere, but most of those connections are fairly loose. Sure, Dr. Strange will get a mention in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but the movie doesn’t center around setting up another franchise.

Ideally, the X-men would follow the same approach. Perhaps Nick Fury mentions some strange genetic anomalies popping up. Perhaps Bruce Banner or Black Widow mentions rumors of other living weapons, which could be a reference for Weapon X. Let those small hints establish that mutants exist, but save the particulars for an actual X-men movie.


Avoid: Having Mutants Appear Without Explaining Their Absence

This is probably the most daunting challenge for Marvel Studios to date, explaining how mutants exist in the MCU and why they’ve been absent thus far. Most people with an internet connection know why the MCU could never mention the X-men. Their movie rights were owned by another studio.

Just because Disney owns Fox now doesn’t mean that mutants can just suddenly appear. It’s not like magic in “Dr. Strange” or the Asgardians in “Thor.” These forces could operate under the radar, independently, and on a small scale. Mutants, by their very nature, cannot act like that.

The most defining theme of mutants, as they exist in Marvel, is that they’re random. They manifest all over the world in every major human population, regardless of geography, culture, language, or ethnicity. That’s not something that can just be ignored while aliens invade New York or killer robots invade Sokovia.

At the very least, an X-men movie in the MCU needs to establish a valid reason for why they’ve been absent. Moreover, it can’t just be the result of experiments or mad science, which was done in Marvel’s now-defunct Ultimate line comics and is way too similar to the Inhumans, whose TV show failed miserably.

Luckily for Marvel and Disney, there’s already an established way to do this and it came from an underrated cartoon called “X-men Evolution.” In that world, mutants are there, but their existence is kept secret by Charles Xavier. The events of “The Avengers” could give them even more reasons for keeping that secret and the whole movie could be built around mutants finally coming out.

Considering how mutants have often been used to symbolize the struggle of minorities, I think that’s both appropriate and compelling.


Do: Make The First Team Of X-men Young And Idealistic

The early X-men movies were a lot of things. Upbeat wasn’t one of them. The original “X-men” trilogy was very serious, full of brooding and tension, even among the younger characters. That worked for the early 2000s when superhero movies needed to get serious after the “Batman and Robin” fiasco. It won’t work in this current era.

The original X-men were teenagers when they first donned their costumes. They weren’t hardened soldiers like Captain America. They were lovably idealistic in pursuing Charles Xavier’s dream, believing they could be the ones that change the world. Unlike most teenagers armed only with a cell phone and no adult baggage, they have the powers to actually achieve it.

The heroes in “The Avengers” already provided plenty of jaded adult perspectives. The X-men can offer the youthful, idealistic perspective that’s so endearing, but so easy to undermine. That’s how the X-men started in the comics and that’s how they’ll thrive in the MCU.


Avoid: Making Wolverine The Center Of Everything

This is a caveat that’s just as relevant today as it was in the early 2000s when the “X-men” movies first came out. Now, I love Wolverine as much as the next X-men fan, but he is not the center of the X-men’s world. As lovable as Hugh Jackman is, the world of X-men cannot and should not be defined by all things Wolverine.

I would even go so far as to keep Wolverine out of the first X-men movie that takes place in the MCU. Establish the team before bringing him into the picture because it’s inevitable that he’ll command a lot of energy. If anything, Wolverine should get his own solo movie before he meets the X-men. Having held down three movies, it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

Wolverine is a great character, but he can’t be the main driving force of the X-men again. He already was with the original “X-men” movies and the MCU doesn’t need to follow that path again. Let Wolverine thrive on his own. Let the X-men thrive on their own. If they can complement one another along the way, then everybody wins.


Do: Highlight What Makes Mutants Different From Other Super-powered Beings

This is something that even the comics don’t do particularly well. Within that world, mutants exist alongside all types of heroes, from gamma-powered hulks to inter-dimensional refugees to Superman rip-offs. However, mutants are still hated and feared for being different.

The reasons for that are many, but poorly fleshed out. Unlike the Inhumans or unlucky teenagers who get bit by a spider, mutants are random. They’re born with their powers and they can’t avoid them. Being a mutant is like being a particular race. You can’t change what you are. That’s exactly what makes mutants both different and disconcerting for the public.

We already saw in “Captain America: Civil War” that the governments of the world are quite anxious about controlling super-powered beings. Add mutants to the mix and the potential for conflict is even greater. The foundation is there. The X-men just have to build on it.


Avoid: Making The Hatred And Mistrust Of Mutants Seem Contrived

This plays directly into my last point, but there’s a reason it’s worth highlighting. Like the comics, the MCU already has plenty of super-powered, super-capable beings that governments and average people rightly fear. There are legitimate reasons for that fear. Most people wouldn’t trust Elon Musk with a suit of armor. Why should they trust Tony Stark?

Fear and hatred of mutants is the primary driving force of conflict in the X-men. It’s also the primary motivator for characters like Magneto. That fear and hatred has to be different than the other logistical concerns that played out in “Captain America: Civil War.”

Dealing with mutants can’t just be about holding them accountable through some international treaty. Mutants are a lot more chaotic because they’re random and not every mutant seeks to be a superhero, which is part of why Charles Xavier formed a school in the first place.

The measures in the MCU, as well as the logic behind them, need to be different. At a time when people being detained is a hot-button issue, the X-men have could be extra relevant.


Do: Establish Minor, But Relevant Links To Other MCU Characters

A big part of the appeal in the MCU is how everything seems connected. Captain America has links to Tony Stark’s father, Howard. Spider-Man has a close link to Iron Man, as well. “Thor: Ragnarok” established some ties with Dr. Strange. “Guardians of the Galaxy” created ties with Thanos that later played out in “Avengers: Infinity War.”

These kinds of links help make the MCU the box office powerhouse that it is and those links should continue in X-men. Again, the foundation is there. Carol Danvers, who is set to appear in “Captain Marvel,” already has close ties to the X-men in the comics. Wolverine even had close ties to Captain America during World War II.  Storm also has a documented, but flawed history with Black Panther.

How these links emerge depends heavily on how Marvel Studios decides to bring the X-men into the MCU. If they shake up reality or tweak the timelines, then there will be opportunities to establish these links. If they opt for something less messy, then they can just as easily focus on setting new links for future movies. Either way works, provided it’s done right.


Avoid: Creating Unnecessary Rivalries Or Conflicts

This is something that could very well happen if those connections I mentioned earlier aren’t done particularly well. I know it will be tempting for Marvel Studios to pursue a big “Avengers vs. X-men” event like the one that played out in the comics. Personally, I think that would be a mistake and not just because “Captain America: Civil War” already played that idea out.

Superheroes fighting other superheroes can be compelling, but it’s easy to overdo. It also has a nasty tendency to bring out the worst in all the characters involved. That has happened more than once in the comics, especially recently. Whenever heroes fight each other, nobody really comes off as heroes and that’s not a healthy way to develop quality characters. It just makes them seem petty.

The X-men already have a lengthy list of quality villains beyond Magneto. The original trilogy did a poor job of utilizing them. The MCU has already dealt with a significant villain problems in the past, but has since raised the bar with characters like Thanos and Erik Killmonger. Before the X-men start butting heads with the Avengers, let them clash with the likes of Sinister and Mastermold first.


Do: Let Ryan Reynolds Continue Being Deadpool

Does this really need an explanation? Deadpool is awesome. Ryan Reynolds is lovable, talented, and charismatic. It’s not broke so don’t try to fix it. Just let Deadpool be Deadpool and let the money roll in.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Deadpool, superhero movies, X-men

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

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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.

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

Why We Should Embrace Married Superheroes

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What is more emotionally satisfying than seeing someone you care about find happiness? Whether it’s a friend, a sibling, or even a celebrity you admire, don’t you feel a twinge of joy when you see them achieve something special? Unless you’re a cynic or a sociopath, you’ve probably had those feelings at least once in your life.

With those warm and fuzzy feelings inside, why shouldn’t that also extend to the iconic superheroes we know and love? When our favorite heroes finally get around to marrying the love of their life, it’s natural to want to cheer them on the same way we would cheer for our best friend as he and his bride do karaoke at the reception.

However, those tasked with building the canon seem to have an aversion to married superheroes. Just this past summer, that aversion was on full display. Two major superhero weddings were set up, one involving Kitty Pryde and Colossus in X-men Gold #30 and the other involving Batman and Catwoman in Batman #50.

Sadly, both events ended without tearful vows and a drunken toast, although one salvaged a matrimonial quickie at the last second. I’ve already broken down how one wedding just prolonged an already drawn out romance while the other denigrated the entire concept of romance, as a whole. Rather than bemoan those romantic misfirings, I’d like to step back and look at the bigger picture of married superheroes.

This is actually a controversial issue among fans of superhero comics and those who create them. I’ve been browsing comic book message boards for years. I can attest to just how much fans care when their favorite characters get married. They continue caring long after the wedding reception.

On the other side of the controversy, though, there are the creators that work for Marvel, DC, and their corporate overlords. They have a slightly different view of married superheroes and one that’s not nearly as sentimental. To say their views are complex is like saying a plumber has mixed opinions on food poisoning.

While many of those writing, editing, and producing superhero media are fans themselves, they often have to leave their fandom at the door. Companies like Marvel and DC Comics don’t pay them to write fan fiction. They pay them to tell stories that will sell, increase the value of their brand, and improve market share.

A writer or editor’s ability to do this is prone to many challenges. Fans, especially comic book fans, are notoriously fickle with their passions. If they see something they don’t like happening to a character they love, they’re pretty vocal about it. Just ask fans of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, or Cyclops of the X-men.

In that respect, I have some sympathy for the people responsible for handling beloved characters. They’re basically playing with someone else’s toys and getting paid for it. However, if they break those toys or damage them in any way, there can be hell to pay. Just look at the current situation with Star Wars.

That sympathy, though, only goes so far and I can’t extended to how some at Marvel and DC have approached marriage. DC Comics editor, Dan Dido, once went on record as saying that superheroes should not get married. Long-time Marvel editor and COO, Joe Quesda, even had to justify breaking up Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson by claiming that it “stabilized” Spider-Man too much.

Now in general, I try to be understanding and respectful when people hold positions that I disagree with. I’ve even tried to do that with hot-button issues like abortion, feminism, and organized religion. In this case though, I just have to call bullshit.

Claiming marriage does too much to stabilize a superhero is like saying ketchup makes food too red. It gives the impression that stability is somehow a liability with superheroes, as though they can only be interesting when their world is falling apart and they’re one stubbed toe away from a nervous breakdown.

It’s true that we superhero fans love seeing our favorite heroes fight back invading aliens, punch Nazis, and even take on renegade alien gods. However, it’s also true that we don’t expect or want that to be the only story that superheroes tell. We’re also interested in the lives they live outside their flashy costumes. It doesn’t just humanize them. It gives us more reasons to root for them.

Both Mr. Quesada and Mr. Dido try to make the case that part of being a hero involves sacrificing parts of their personal life in order to serve the greater good. There’s little doubt that being a hero comes at a price, as many of Batman’s former lovers can attest, but that doesn’t have to involve outright isolation.

It also doesn’t mean being a superhero makes a functioning marriage impossible, either. Yes, it’s a lot harder to be a loving spouse and a superhero, but I wouldn’t say it’s as daunting as battling planet-eating space gods or surviving a team-up with Deadpool. In fact, it can enhance their heroics in ways that go beyond romance.

I’m not the only one to make that point either. In wake of the recent wedding debacles by Marvel and DC, Comic Books Resources asked why publishers are so afraid of married superheroes. They cited the same excuses I did about heroes needing to sacrifice, but they also pointed out how these kinds of real-life, mundane events help people connect with these characters.

What the article didn’t get into is why this matters. Superman is a hero with god-like power who can move planets and create diamonds with his bare hands. He’s also married to Lois Lane and still has to put in the effort to make that marrage work, even when it becomes prone to complications.

Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four is among the smartest beings in the entire Marvel Universe. He creates thought projectors, flying cars, and personal robots without breaking a sweat. He too has to work hard to keep his marriage and family functioning, especially when a handsome Atlantean king keeps trying to sleep with his wife.

Then, there’s Spider-Man. I know I’ve brought him up a number of times and not always in a positive light, but what happened to him and his marriage is still one of the most controversial things that have ever happened in comics. In many ways, he embodies the ultimate flaw in the excuses to undercut married superheroes.

In the infamous story, One More Day, Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson wasn’t just undone. He actually made a deal with Mephisto, Marvel’s stand-in for the devil, to sacrifice his marriage in exchange for saving his Aunt May’s life. Considering his Aunt had told him just a few issues ago that she didn’t want to be saved, Spider-Man still went through with it.

To say fans were upset by that decision would be like saying the Hulk has a slight anger management problem. This act didn’t just undercut an iconic superhero romance. It essentially reverted Spider-Man back to the state of an immature loser who had barely grown up since high school.

Again, Marvel made plenty of excuses. Long-time Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott, claimed that Spider-Man has to remain within a particular status quo. He has to keep being this lovable loser who is always struggling to hold down a job, keep a girlfriend, and still be a hero. In order to keep that unique appeal he has, and all the merchendising money it makes, he can’t be married.

I understand that logic, but I still call bullshit. You know what happens to characters who never change, grow up, or evolve over time? It’s the same thing that happens to real people. They become boring and unlikable. In Spider-Man’s case, he becomes something worse. He becomes the guy who sold his marriage to the devil to save someone who didn’t even want to be saved. That’s not heroic. That’s just plain selfish.

That’s the price a superhero pays for remaining in a prepetually regressed state. I contend that price is far higher than any associated with the inherent difficulty of writing married characters. With Spider-Man, One More Day established that no matter what he did in his personal or heroic life, he would never change. He’d always end up sleeping on his Aunt May’s couch.

It doesn’t matter if he pursues a new romance. It doesn’t matter if he becomes a billionaire and runs his own company. A reader can just assume he’ll screw it all up somehow and end up right back where he started. It’s just hard to root for any character that keeps regressing like that.

It’s like rooting for a sports team that never wins. Even terrible teams can turn it around at some point. Yes, that includes the Cleveland Browns. If that team never wins, though, why even root in the first place?

This is why marriage is so vital to the growth and evolution of superheroes. When a hero gets married, it’s not just an excuse to have a big event full of superhero-themed cakes. It’s a culmination of a much larger story about love, growth, and strength. It takes a lot to make a marriage work and not all of it can be done with superpowers.

Therein lies the ultimate appeal, though. When a superhero gets married, they go from simply pursuing a relationship to actually making it work. They have to learn how to build a life with another person and become part of a larger family, something that cannot and should not be exclusive to the Fantastic Four.

It fundementally changes how superheroes approach their lives, in and out of costume. It adds new layers of complexity and intrigue. Yes, it’s considerably harder than telling stories about Superman rescuing Lois Lane from Lex Luthor’s evil clutches. That’s exactly what makes it more compelling.

I don’t doubt that Marvel and DC will continue making excuses about married superheroes. Whether or not their approach to the issue evolves remains to be seen. However, since they’re in the business of keeping their characters relevant, they will have an incentive to adapt these characters for changing times and maturing audiences.

Being the romantic I am, I believe love will eventually win out in the end because love is part of why we root for superheroes in the first place. Love isn’t just about being unselfish. It’s also about achieving something special after so much sacrifice. Fans of superheroes want to see them achieve the things they struggle for. It affirms that all those heroics have meaning and purpose.

Marriage doesn’t have to be the ultimate achievement for a superhero. It can be part of it, though. It doesn’t have to be an end. It can be a beginning, as well. Until Marvel and DC lets its heroes get to that point, though, those stories won’t get told and hearts will keep getting broken for all the wrong reasons.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Love Or Obsession, Marriage and Relationships, romance, superhero movies, X-men

How To Denigrate Multiple Iconic Romances In A Single Comic

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I love romance. I also love comics. I’ve made my fondness clear for both on numerous occasions. When they’re combined, I’m twice as thrilled. It has proven to be a very potent combination before. Like real life, comic book romance isn’t always done right, but when it works, it’s a beautiful thing.

That’s what I had hoped to see with the release of X-men Gold #30, which was billed as the overdue wedding between Kitty Pryde and Colossus. They’re one of the X-men’s most prominent romances, having a history that spans decades and includes death, resurrection, and being trapped in a giant bullet. I swear I’m not making that last part up.

Earlier this year, I detailed why the Kitty/Colossus romance was so special in annuls of X-men lore. It’s one of those romances that isn’t assumed like Superman and Lois Lane. They have to actually work to make their relationship strong, which makes it feel more real than most superhero couples.

It’s why I had such high hopes for X-men Gold #30. It promised to reward these characters for their love and the work they put into it. Being the romance fans I am, I’m a strong believer in having that kind of effort pay off for a couple.

Sadly, and this was spoiled before the comic even came out, that’s not how things played out for Kitty and Colossus. I don’t mind spoiling it, either. Kitty and Colossus don’t get married. Kitty, for reasons that are more asinine than I can put into words, gets cold feet at the last possible second and calls it off.

She doesn’t even wait until she and Colossus are alone so she doesn’t create this mass spectacle that is sure to humiliate and hurt someone she loves in a very public way. She actually gets to the point where Colossus is about to put the ring on her finger and that’s where she stops it. Short of punching his jaw after being told he can kiss the bride, it’s one of the worst things she could’ve done to this man.

On top of that, Kitty was the one who proposed to him. This isn’t a case where a man pressures a woman into marrying someone or a woman feels pressure from her family and peers. The idea, request, and desire to get married came from Kitty and her being the one to call it off like that, after her friends and family did so much to help her, just makes her look more callous than an entire army of Lex Luthors.

I wish I could provide some context to her decision. I really do. I just can’t find a believable way to make her decision anything other than an act of heartlessness, cruelty, and cowardice. There were no hints, whatsoever, in the events that led up to the wedding that would imply Kitty was having second thoughts. In fact, the events of X-men Gold #29 doubled down on her love for this man.

Then, in just one scene that played out early in X-men Gold #30, it all comes apart thanks to a short, unspectacular conversation with Colossus’ sister, Illyana “Magik” Rasputin. It’s not dramatic. It’s not that revealing, either. Again, I don’t mind spoiling it.

Magik just reminds Kitty that she and Colossus had to overcome a lot in order to get to this point. She also throws in that, if they were meant to be, it would’ve happened already. Bear in mind, Magik is considered one of Kitty Pryde’s closest friends on top of being Colossus’ sister. Even if that remark could be attributed to her alcohol intake, it’s still a terrible thing to say to someone who is about to get married.

It’s one of those comments that shouldn’t have derailed a couple that has worked so hard to be together, but it did. Seriously, that’s all it took to convince Kitty that she had to stop the wedding, in the middle of the ceremony, and in front of all her friends and family. Considering she’s supposed to be a leader of the X-men and one of the toughest female X-men of all time, it’s pretty pathetic.

Her decision and terrible timing, alone, could’ve made X-men Gold #30 one of the least romantic stories in the history of the comics. I still wouldn’t have put it on par with some very disturbing romantic sub-plots that played out in some Spider-Man comics. If breaking off a wedding was all this comic did, I would still appreciate it for how it imparted so much heartbreak into a story.

However, it gets even worse than that. It wasn’t enough for X-men Gold #30 to undermine one of the X-men’s most likable romances. It actually succeeded in denigrating the entire concept of romance in superhero comics. I know that sounds like an exaggeration on my part, but I’m dead serious.

Yes, Kitty and Colossus don’t get married in this issue. However, a marriage does occur and it is between another iconic X-men couple that I’m actually really fond of. The lucky couple here is Rogue and Gambit. If you watched the old X-men 90s animated series, you understand why that’s a big deal.

Now, I could write several articles on the quirks of the Rogue/Gambit relationship. It’s another one of those romances that has become iconic in its own right. I would even go so far as to put it slightly above the Kitty/Colossus relationship, if only because both characters have had to deal with some pretty unique obstacles, the least of which involves Mystique being Rogue’s adopted mother.

In the context of X-men Gold #30, though, those various quirks don’t really play into the moment. They haven’t even played into any of the events throughout X-men Gold that led up to this wedding. In fact, they only recently rekindled their relationship in a mini-series called “Rogue and Gambit” by Kelly Thompson, which I highly recommend.

Even with that development, though, them getting married at this point would’ve been rushed, forced, and downright inappropriate, given what just happened to Kitty and Colossus. It would’ve given the impression that someone had to get married in this comic. It didn’t matter who, why, or for what reason. It just had to happen to salvage the issue.

To hell with crafting a story that documents the emotional journey two characters make to get to that point. Never mind the fact that other iconic couples have gone on that journey and made for some of the most memorable moments in the history of comics. Just having Rogue and Gambit randomly decide, on the spot, to get married should carry the same weight. If I could write that with more sarcasm, I could.

Again, I want to make clear that I like the Rogue/Gambit relationship. I’m glad their romance is evolving, once more, especially after some of the other characters they’ve been stuck with. The way it was handled, though, and at Kitty and Colossus’ expense, no less, was just downright demeaning to the very concept of meaningful romance.

It sends the message that romance is as interchangeable as a box of frozen burritos. If one doesn’t heat up right, then another one works just as well. It’s not like they’re unique, having unique emotional dynamics and personal journeys specific to multiple characters. One is no more special or meaningful than the other. Again, if I could write that with more sarcasm, I would.

What happened to Kitty and Colossus in X-men Gold #30 was tragic, but it didn’t undercut romance in superhero comics, as a whole. As soon as Rogue and Gambit were randomly thrust into the moment, doing on a whim what took other couples so much time and effort, the whole issue undercut any deeper meaning that both romances had going for them.

Great romance, especially those that go onto become iconic, can’t be the kind of exchangeable gimmicks that can be sold as easily as plastic cups at Costco. Great romance is like the cookies you bake with your grandmother from scratch. There’s work, patience, and a deeper personal touch to the effort.

I get the appeal of throwing in a major twist. Comics, movies, and everything associated with M. Knight Shyamalan have been doing that for years. That appeal isn’t there in X-men Gold #30 because it comes at the cost of treating romance with the same recklessness as super-villains treat their henchmen.

On it’s own, I thought X-men Gold #30 was just really disappointing for how it handled Kitty and Colossus. However, it’s the precedent and the implications that leave me concerned for the future of romance in comics, particularly Marvel. If this is how love is treated, as something easily cut and pasted into a plot, then I worry for other comic book couples that may face similar denigration.

Here’s to hoping that the upcoming wedding between Batman and Catwoman sets a better precedent.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Love Or Obsession, Marriage and Relationships, romance, X-men

How Negative Expectations May Ruin “X-men: Dark Phoenix” (For The Wrong Reasons)

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There’s an important, but understated difference between negative expectations and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Expectations are like reflexes. They’re somewhat involuntary, reflecting our assumptions and understanding of a situation. A self-fulfilling prophecy involves actual effort. Whether intentional or not, it guides our perceptions in a particular direction, one often associated with a particular bias.

To some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy is akin to self-hypnosis. We convince ourselves so thoroughly of a particular outcome that to consider otherwise would be downright shocking, if not distressing. That’s why it’s so difficult, at times, to escape a particular expectation, especially if it’s negative.

I bring up expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies because they do plenty to shape our reactions and attitudes, especially in the media we consume. For better or for worse, often varying from person to person, we tend to determine how much we enjoy something before we even experience it.

Sometimes, it works to the benefit of a particular movie, video game, or TV show. The powerful brand of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is built heavily on the expectations that a long list of quality, well-received movies have established. Conversely, the DCEU struggles with negative expectations, thanks largely to a catalog of movies that have failed to consistently deliver.

Then, there’s “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” It’s a movie for which I’ve made my passion and my excitement very clear over the past year. It’s also a movie that is in the midst of an emerging crisis. It’s not the kind that involves negative press, actors melting down on set, or sordid sex scandals, for once. Instead, it’s an issue that involves negative expectations that may very well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As big an X-men fan as I am, I don’t deny that the X-men franchise is not on the same level it was in the early 2000s when it dominated the box office alongside Spider-Man. Even though I loved “X-men: Apocalypse,” I can’t deny it under-performed and underwhelmed.

Despite that, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” has more going for it. It’s attempting to tell the Dark Phoenix Saga, the most iconic X-men story ever told. Moreover, it’s attempting to tell that story after it botched it horribly in “X-men: The Last Stand.” Even the director, Simon Kinberg, has gone on record as saying that he wants to “X-men: Dark Phoenix” to succeed where the last one failed.

Given how rare that kind of humility is in Hollywood these days, X-men fans and fans of superhero movies in general have every reason to expect better things from this movie. Given how low the bar is after “X-men: The Last Stand,” I’m more optimistic than I dare to be when it comes to comic book movies.

Unfortunately, that sense of optimism seems to beg getting less and less prevalent. Whether due to the underwhelming performance of “X-men: Apocalypse” or a growing impatience to see the X-men join the MCU after the Disney/Fox merger is complete, there’s a general sentiment that this movie is going to be bad.

I see it on popular YouTube channels. I see in the many comic book message boards I frequent. The overall consensus is that this is a Marvel movie that isn’t part of the MCU. Therefore, it’s going to be terrible. That is, by every measure, a terrible excuse to dismiss a movie, especially when we haven’t even seen a trailer.

To make matters worse, a recent string of leaks from an alleged test screening revealed details that have only fueled those negative expectations. For reasons that I’ll make clear in a moment, I won’t list the details of those links. I will, however, offer a direct quote that aptly sums up the prevailing attitude for this movie.

“I do believe some things won’t change. What can’t change is the movie being really underwhelming. Really lower your expectations because this one is not good.”

This news, if accurate, is not encouraging to anyone hoping to see a well-done Dark Phoenix Saga on the big screen. To make matters worse, those who already had negative expectations about this movie have even more excuses to resent it.

As I’ve noted before, people tend to cling to excuses that justify their preconceived notions. It doesn’t even matter if the excuse is true. Once they have it, they cling to it. It’s usually not done out of malice. It’s just a lot easier to keep thinking what you’ve already thought rather than adjust your expectations.

In this case those, the story surrounding the leaks has already confirmed to be untrue. That leak came from a Reddit post, of all things, which is akin to getting your news from 4chan. On top of that, and this is a testament to Reddit’s users, the mods have stated outright that the user was not credible. This is an exact quote.

Apparently test screen guy is Atlanta Filming, created an account and sent fake spoilers/leaks. Trying to discredit other bloggers because he wants to be “the only legit source”.

If that weren’t telling enough, it was already announced back in March that the movie was going to undergo reshoots in August. Now thanks to “Justice League,” reshoots have gotten a bad name, but they’re a fairly common practice. Even the heavily-hyped, positively-perceived “Avengers 4” is scheduled for reshoots.

Even if those leaks were accurate, chances are the cut of the movie shown at test screenings isn’t the final cut. Kinberg himself has said that the reshoots are intended to shore up the final product, as one would expect of any piece of art. It sounds so reasonable and logical.

That still doesn’t matter, though. It doesn’t change the expectations. This movie still isn’t meeting the impossible set of criteria that fans spoiled by the MCU have so unreasonably set. It’s not in the MCU, nor is it being guided by Kevin Feige. Therefore, it must be terrible.

It’s unfair, unreasonable, and just plain asinine to judge “X-men: Dark Phoenix” by those standards, especially with reshoots to come and no official trailer. At this point, the negative expectations are so heavy that they’re starting to sound more and more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With that being the case, I feel like I can predict the reactions from people once the trailer drops. Sure, there will be some like me who are eager to give this movie a chance after what happened with “X-men: The Last Stand,” but I think there will be more comments like this.

“It’s not the MCU. I’ll pass.”

“X-men Apocalypse sucked! I’m not even giving this one a chance.”

“To hell with this movie! Just let Marvel have the rights back already! Fox can’t do anything right!”

Now, far be it from me to defend Fox, the same company that gave us “Wolverine: Origins,” but these are all intensely petty reasons to judge a movie. I say that as someone who is guilty of setting low expectations for movies, cartoons, comics, and TV shows. Hindsight has done plenty to reveal which of those were the result of self-fulfilling prophecies. That still doesn’t make the expectations any less absurd.

Even for those who aren’t just ardently opposed to any superhero movie that isn’t a product of the MCU, I think I can predict the criticisms they’ll probably levy against this movie even after it comes out. Chances are, they’ll be every bit as petty and include comments like this.

“It’s too dark and not cosmic enough!”

“It’s too cosmic and not grounded enough!’

“It’s too much like the comics!”

“It’s not enough like the comics!”

“It doesn’t have enough [Insert Favorite Character Here]!”

“It has too much [Insert Intensely Hated Character Here]!”

There will probably be plenty more excuses for hating this movie, far more than I can list. It doesn’t even matter how subjective they are or how empty they may be. People who are determined to hate something will find an excuse that satisfies their psyche and vindicates their feelings. Anything else would require that someone actually re-evaluate their expectations and that’s just untenable.

It’s frustrating and tragic that a movie or any piece of media would be subject to this kind of debasement before it’s even completed. It’s one thing for a movie to face skepticism because of production troubles, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” being the most recent example. For a movie whose primary crime is not being in the MCU, that’s just plain absurd.

In terms of the bigger picture, it’s good for superhero movies, as a whole, if “X-men: Dark Phoenix” succeeds. It’s unhealthy for the genre if the MCU is the only acceptable avenue for quality superhero movies. We’ve seen with “Wonder Woman” that it is possible for a superhero movie to succeed in a world that doesn’t have Robert Downy Jr. or Chris Pratt.

X-men: Dark Phoenix” deserves the same chance. That’s why I intend to keep my expectations high, but cautious for this movie. Even if it turns out to be good, though, I worry that it’ll be undercut by too many people who are too eager to hate it. It would be both a tragedy for the movie and all those involved, as well as a bad omen for the genre as a whole.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, media issues, movies, X-men

A (Welcome) Message Of Forgiveness And Compassion In X-men Red Annual #1

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Who doesn’t enjoy a good revenge story? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m dead serious. Is there anyone out there who isn’t enamored with a story about sweet, bloody revenge? I know the success of movies like “John Wick” and the iconic status of Batman do plenty to answer that question.

The question is still worth asking because the answer says just as much about the appeal of stories about forgiveness. To some extent, it shows that forgiveness isn’t as sexy as revenge. A revenge story can be bloody, action-packed, exciting, and cathartic. Almost every moment in “John Wick” and every issue of the Punisher is like that. It’s not hard to see why that is the basis of so many movies, TV shows, comics, and video games.

That’s not to say that a story about forgiveness can’t have appeal as well. It most certainly can. Forgiveness may not offer the same spectacle as revenge, but it can incur a uniquely powerful emotional impact. There’s a reason why forgiveness has been shown to have therapeutic effects and was the basis of a major religion.

This brings me to a very special comic book entitled “X-men Red Annual #1.” Yes, I am going to tie this powerful human experience to a comic book. No, I’m not going to apologize for it. If you’ve had a chance to read this comic, you’ll understand why.

It’s been a while since I singled out a specific comic that I believe conveys a much larger message, but sometimes a comic comes along at just the right time and strikes just the right emotional chords. This one does all that and so much more, especially for a die-hard X-men fan like me. However, it’s the forgiveness themes I want to focus on here.

Without spoiling too much about the comic itself, which I encourage everyone to go out and buy, it’s important to establish the circumstances that make those themes work here. Those circumstances revolve around Jean Grey, a character who is no stranger to death, resurrection, love triangles, and clones. Even by superhero standards, she deals with a lot of emotional baggage.

Until recently, though, she didn’t have to deal with any, largely because she was dead. From 2004 until earlier this year, Jean was among the numerous superheroes who were “officially dead.” I put that in quotes because “dead” in the world of comics tends to have a pretty loose meaning, well past the point of absurdity. The fact that Jean Grey stayed dead for that long is, in and of itself, pretty remarkable.

However, it was never a matter of if she would return from the dead or even whether Marvel would resort to time travel to replace her. It was only ever a matter of when. Her return was bound to have a huge impact on the X-men and the entire world of Marvel comics. “X-men Red Annual #1” simply built a story around it and it’s a damn good one.

It unfolds mere moments after Jean officially comes back to life again on the final page of “Phoenix Resurrection #5.” That moment, in and of itself, is full of emotions that writer, Tom Taylor, captures beautifully. It provides insights into Jean’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions at that moment. It’s a lot to take in, but in addition to the joy, there’s also a heavy bit of sorrow thrown in.

In a sense, Jean Grey picked a lousy time to come back to life. She’s coming into a world where her mentor, Charles Xavier, is dead. Her best friend and occasional love interest, Wolverine, is also dead, although that’s already changing. Most painful, though, is that her husband, Cyclops, is dead due to the events that unfolded in a series aptly named Death of X.

These are people near and dear to Jean Grey. She’s not the kind of character who just brushes off that kind of loss, hardens her heart, and moves forward. She’s someone who wears her emotions on her sleeve and does it with pride. It’s part of what makes her such a lovable, endearing character. Sure, those passions attract destructive cosmic forces every now and then, but she makes it one of her strengths.

As she reconnects with those who’ve sorely missed her, she has an opportunity to confront the one most responsible for her husband’s death, namely Black Bolt of the Inhuman royal family. While Cyclops’ death was largely an accident, he’s still the one whose decisions ended up killing him and many other innocent mutants. For that, Jean has many reasons to hunt Black Bolt down and make him pay.

Had she gone that route, I don’t think anyone would’ve blamed her. Hell, some within the X-men would’ve gladly fought by her side, including a few who hate her guts. Accident or not, Black Bolt killed her husband by doing what he did. There’s no way around that. She has every possible excuse to channel her inner John Wick.

However, that’s not what happens. Yes, she still assembles a team of X-men to confront Black Bolt and the Inhumans. Yes, she has a very tense exchange with Black Bolt. What she doesn’t do, though, is seek vengeance for her husband’s death. Instead, she seeks forgiveness and that ends up being far more powerful.

Think about the mentality it takes to forgive someone like that. Imagine you knew there was someone responsible for the death of a loved one. Even if it was an accident or unintentional, chances are your first inclination wouldn’t be to forgive them. More than likely, you would rather see them suffer and pay for their crime.

Even if that person ends up going to jail or is held legally liable for your loved one’s death, you’re still going to resent them. They took the life of someone you loved and, assuming you’re not in a world where people regularly come back from the dead, you can never get back what you’ve lost.

That feeling would be even more intense if the person responsible never faces consequences for what they did. In the case of Black Blot, he didn’t face any repercussions for killing Cyclops. He wasn’t charged with murder or even for involuntary manslaughter. In fact, Cyclops becomes vilified for a while.

If anyone would be motivated to pursue retributive justice, it’s Jean Grey. She even has the perfect opportunity to do so when she fights her way towards Black Blot. At one point, she uses her telepathy to show him just how much she loved Cyclops and how much losing him hurt. She even admits she could make him feel some of that pain, if only to let him know why he deserves punishment.

She doesn’t do that, though. She doesn’t attempt to impart her pain onto him. What she ends up doing is much more heartfelt and meaningful. She gives Black Bolt a chance to offer genuine, sincere remorse for his role in Cyclops’ death. He ends up taking that chance. He apologizes for what he did and, more importantly, Jean accepts it.

For a woman confronting a man responsible for her husband’s death, even if she is a comic book character, it’s a pretty powerful moment. It’s one that carries a unique emotional weight that you wouldn’t otherwise get if Jean had just shot him in the head with a 44 magnum. It very much reflects the power of forgiveness.

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It’s the kind of heart that is exceedingly rare outside of Superman comics. At a time when we expect our superheroes to be edgy and tough, Jean Grey offers a very different approach in “X-men Red Annual #1.” It’s one that Tom Taylor uses to full effect, reaffirming Jean’s incredible capacity for love and compassion. It’s an approach that feels refreshing in an era of superhero civil wars.

It also reminds us that while vengeance may still be more appealing to our most basic instincts, it’s also incomplete at times. No matter how many criminals the Punisher kills or how many villains that Batman beats up, their loved ones are still dead. The pain continues and so too does the struggle. Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers a way forward.

Jean Grey feels the pain of loss like anyone else. She also has the choice to seek retribution or forgiveness. Forgiveness is, by far, a much harder recourse because it means accepting painful circumstances and even a certain level of injustice. Given how most of us are wired with an innate sense of justice, such acceptance seems untenable.

That’s what makes forgiveness so hard, but that’s also what makes it more impactful. Rather than focus on making Black Bolt pay for her husband’s death, Jean chooses to channel that pain into something positive. The very end of “X-men Red Annual #1” has her acknowledging how much it hurts losing her husband, but it also shows how this pain has inspired her.

Jean Grey is, essentially, doing the most heroic thing a superhero can do and it doesn’t even involve her powers. She decides to forgive the transgression that killed her husband and chooses to use that pain as motivation to make the world around her better. It’s still not as big a spectacle as watching John Wick kill 77 people over a dog, but it’s more dramatic for all the right reasons.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, human nature, philosophy, X-men

The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for X-men: Red Annual #1. Enjoy!

Overdue Resurrections and Heartfelt Reflections: ‘X-men Red Annual #1’

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June 1, 2018 · 2:14 pm