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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House of X #4

In life, there are usually a handful of moments when you can say that you’ve had your finest hour. Whether it’s winning a championship, finding the love of your life, or winning a buffalo wing eating contest, those moments are special. They reveal just how good and capable you can be. For the X-Men, “House of X #4” is that moment.

Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Pepe Larraz have been redefining, revamping, and at times revolutionizing who the X-Men are and what they stand for. As a lifelong X-Men fan who will find any excuse to write about them, I could fill a pool with the tears of joy I’ve shed while reading this series. With “House of X #4,” however, those tears are mixed with a host of other feelings besides joy.

Since it began, House of X has put the X-Men and the entire mutant population in a bold new situation. They’re no longer hiding in fancy mansions, isolated islands, space stations, or hellish dimensions. Hickman has gone heavy on the world-building, turning the living island of Krakoa into a vast, expansive sanctuary for mutants. The results have been both functional and awe-inspiring.

However, building a new world for the mutants of the Marvel universe is just part of the story. Protecting their future and preventing their extinction at the hands of Nimrod and the Sentinels are a much larger part. That part of the story is what culminates in “House of X #4.”

It’s not overly elaborate. Hickman doesn’t try to reinvent the nuts and bolts of how the X-Men go about saving the day and their species. He simply raises the stakes while Larraz makes it a visual spectacle. It effectively builds on what was set up through the events of Powers of X and the many lives of Moira MacTaggart.

For once, the X-Men aren’t on the defensive. They’re not the ones caught off-guard by an army of Sentinels or some new mutant-killing menace. They know what’s coming. They know that Mother Mold will give rise to Nimrod and Nimrod will be the end of mutants, humans, and everything in between. Now, they’re in a position to stop it.

They don’t send the B-team for this mission, either. They throw the X-Men’s heaviest hitters with Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Mystique, Arcangel, and Nightcrawler. They even add in some lesser-known, but still-effective names like Husk and Monet. Their mission is simple, but the logistics are not. It’s an opportunity for the X-Men to be at their best and they take full advantage of it.

The struggle is intense. The battle is dramatic. Larraz’s artwork is simply stunning every step of the way. There’s never a sense that this is a mission from which the X-Men will escape intact, unscarred, and completely triumphant. This isn’t a Saturday morning cartoon or a movie where the good guys have to win outright. This is a battle for the present and future of the X-Men. Battles like that will come at a cost.

There’s definitely a sense that this mission is a suicide mission. There’s no teasing this mission will require heavy sacrifices. That sort of thing has been par for the course with X-Men comics for years, now. After they killed Wolverine for a while, the death of any character become much more trivial.

Making anything count in any comic these days is a challenge. Fans who have been reading the books for more than a few years know that nobody stays dead, nothing remains stable, and Deadpool never shuts up. The key is giving the conflicts weight and substance. In that, Hickman definitely succeeds in “House of X #4.”

The previous issues help establish why the X-Men need to take down Mother Mold. They also establish what happens if they don’t. The past, present, and future are all at stake at the same time and for once, it’s not because someone is abusing a time machine. For any superhero comic, especially an X-Men comic, that’s nothing short of revolutionary.

It all comes down to this single mission. Cyclops takes lead. Wolverine does something incredibly badass. Nightcrawler is astonishingly charming. Jean Grey has a flare for the dramatics. Even Monet gets a chance to cut loose. It’s a dire sequence of events, but one that has depth and meaning.

If someone ever wants to show who the X-Men are and why they’ve resonated so much since the Kennedy Administration, they would be wise to cite “House of X #4.” It doesn’t just depict heroes saving the day. It shows what the X-Men are willing to fight for and sacrifice for the sake of their future.

It’s not just about defeating the villains and winning the day. There are many personal moments in this battle that show the strengths and bonds of each character. Some shine more than others, but they never stray far from what makes them great. The stakes are high, but the characters stay consistent.

At their core, the X-Men are mutants and mutants are human. They’re not these larger-than-life icons in the mold of Superman, Captain America, or Spider-Man. They’re real people who didn’t get their powers by choice or circumstance. They were born that way. They can’t escape who and what they are. They don’t want to, either. They want a future for their kind and those who hate them.

They fight for that future in “House of X #4.” They know what will happen if they lose. There’s no ambiguity in what they do or why they do it. This is just X-Men being the kinds of heroes they need to be when everything is at stake. The story isn’t over, so their finest hour may still be ahead of them. However, the astonishing events of “House of X #4” are going to be very hard to top.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House of X #2

What would you do if you could live your entire life over again with all the memories of your previous life? What if you could do that more than once and come into the world with knowledge and experience equivalent to multiple lives? Movies like “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow” attempted to answer that question in part. Jonathan Hickman tries to answer that question more fully in “House of X #2.”

As someone who has been reading comics for a sizable chunk of his life, I know how rare it is to see a single issue come along that both redefines a character and explores a host of new, exciting concepts. I thought “House of X #1” was one of those once-in-a-decade comics that wasn’t going to be matched for a good long while. I was wrong.

I’m glad I was wrong too because what Hickman accomplishes in “House of X #2” is as remarkable as it is engaging. It doesn’t just give context to the previous events that were revealed in both “House of X #1” and “Powers of X #1.” It completely redefines the entire history of the X-Men.

For a series that includes multiple time travel plots and multiple dystopian timelines, that’s quite an accomplishment. It’s how Hickman and artist Pepe Larraz go about it that makes “House of X #2” so impactful. It begins and ends with how the story rewrites the role of Moira MacTaggart.

It’s not hyperbole to say that this single issue makes Moira the most important character in the history of the X-Men, the mutant race, and their future. For a character who was either a love interest for Charles Xavier or a side-character who often got overshadowed by other mutants, that’s quite an accomplishment.

This is not the same Moira from the “X-Men First Class” movie. This version of Moira is a mutant with a very unique power. It doesn’t involve shooting lasers out of her eyes, reading minds, or shape-shifting. Her power is basically a more complete version of the abilities that Bill Murray and Tom Cruise enjoyed in the aforementioned movies.

In essence, Moira lives her entire life, dies, and is reborn with all her memories and experiences intact. It’s not restricted to a single day. It’s not indefinite, either. Like an old Mario game, she has a limit to the number of lives she can live. What she does with them is up to her. Knowing what happens to mutants, humans, the X-Men, and Charles Xavier informs her choices.

It raises many profound questions about Moira’s role in the history of the X-Men and the Marvel universe in general. It also expands on how Moira came to influence the events of “House of X #1” and “Powers of X #1.”

The story, itself, is built around the multiple lives that Moira has lived. I won’t spoil the details, since this is one of those comics that needs to be read to appreciate the impact. I’ll simply confirm that she tries multiple approaches to averting yet another dystopian future for the X-Men, mutants, and humanity as a whole.

Some of those approaches involve working with Charles Xavier. Others involve actively opposing him. In all the lives leading up to her tenth, there are a few common themes. When two competing species inhabit the same world, there’s bound to be conflict. Efforts to escape or preemptively win that conflict rarely pan out.

Like Phil Connors constantly waking up on Groundhog Day, no matter what he does, Moira keeps hitting a proverbial wall. No matter what she attempts, there doesn’t seem to be a way around this conflict. It’s not until her 10th life that she comes to the realization that leads to “House of X #1.”

It’s hard to overstate how much “House of X #2” changes the overall context of the X-Men comic. Suddenly, Moira MacTaggart is the most influential character in the history of the X-Men, mutants, and everything in between. What she does, why she does it, and how she goes about it changes how we see the past, as well as the present.

The benefits of hindsight make it seem simple, but it isn’t. It also raises a great many questions. If Moira has all this knowledge, why didn’t she use it to achieve more? What made her choose the path that led to the most recent events for the X-Men and the Marvel universe, as a whole? Most of these questions go unanswered, but there are some telling clues that add even more intrigue.

Hickman and Larraz achieve something truly uncanny with “House of X #2.” I know I said the same thing about “House of X #1,” but that comic now has a greater meaning thanks to this one. The stakes for every other X-Men story that unfolds after this has a new meaning as well. Few comics can boast that kind of impact without being written by Jack Kirby, but “House of X #2” is definitely one of them.

Even for those unfamiliar with the convoluted history of the X-Men can appreciate the concepts this comic explores. We see someone who has lived multiple lives, cursed with knowing how things play out for those she cares for. She wants to make that life better for herself and the world as a whole. She’s in a unique position to pursue that change, but it’s fraught with more complications than any “Groundhog Day” rip-off could convey.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Powers of X #1

Lifelong comic book fans like myself wake up every Wednesday morning with a mix of excitement, anticipation, and dread. It’s a weekly event in which the worlds we love grow just a little bit bigger. However, not all New Comic Book Days are treated the same. Some are more memorable than others and I have a feeling that “Powers of X #1” will make this particular Wednesday feel special for X-Men fans.

The X-Men comics are in a major state of transition and upheaval. In the past, that has usually meant they’re facing yet another extinction event. Whether it’s Sentinels killing 16 million mutants or the Scarlet Witch going crazy, big change usually means the X-Men have to stave off another genocide.

Writer Jonathan Hickman is not taking that approach. As someone who has been reading X-Men comics for a good chunk of his life, I find it both overdue and refreshing. In “House of X #1,” he set out to build a bold new world for mutants. In “Powers of X #1,” he puts this world into a much greater context that will likely have X-Men fans talking for years to come.

This new vision for the X-Men isn’t just causing major upheavals in the present. It’s having an impact on the past and future, as well. Historically, this usually means that there’s yet another terrible dystopian future about to unfold and the X-Men already have way too many of those.

With Hickman, however, it’s not nearly as clear-cut and that’s exactly what makes “Powers of X #1” so engaging.

This isn’t just another case of some fateful decision in the past having dire consequences in the future. There’s no moment with Skynet or time traveling assassins. With “Powers of X #1,” the story unfolds across four distinct time periods. One takes place in the X-Men’s past. The other continues part of the story in the present that begins in “House of X #1.” The last two take place at multiple points in the future.

While much of the story unfolds in the future, there’s a never a sense that they’re too disconnected from the past or present. There are a host of new characters with familiar powers and appearances. Artist R. B. Silva is not subtle in who inspired the designs of these characters and that’s critical because a lot transpires in a short span of time.

We don’t get to know these characters very well, given their limited face time, but they do plenty to establish distinct personalities and motivations. We get a sense for what they’re after and what’s at stake. It’s not entirely dystopian in tone, but it is dire and not just for mutants.

Once again, Hickman goes heave on the world-building. In between Silva’s colorful depictions are little insights into how this future took shape. It’s not a simple as one fateful choice or one fateful death. It’s more a culmination of conflicts.

Mutants are on the brink, but it’s not because of a plague or a genocidal war. In this future, humans aren’t the enemy, but what they’ve become certainly is. They’re not just a bunch of fearful, mutant-hating zealots trying to product themselves with killer robots. They’ve actually become something more menacing.

The details aren’t all in place, but the hints are there. While mutants built on the foundation that Charles Xavier established, humanity went down a different path and it’s not one conducive to peace, love, puppies, and whiskey. Familiar faces like the Nimrod Sentinel make that abundantly clear, but it’s the new faces that add the most intrigue.

Nimrod and the other humans around it aren’t just human anymore. They’ve become part machine, as well. However, these aren’t Terminator knock-offs. They still have personalities. They even talk and converse like humans. They’re a whole new order of humans that Hickman identifies as the Man-Machine Supremacy. Given the events of “House of X #1,” it fits perfectly.

It also makes a twisted bit of sense in a not-so-dystopian way. In a world where mutants are suddenly organized, complete with a homeland and collective vision, humanity seems doomed to obsolesce. They’re only choice is to evolve in a new way so they have a chance at competing.

The story covers many concepts and raises many questions, but “Powers of X #1” works because there are just enough hints at the answers. It perfectly complements what “House of X #1” established with respect to setting, tone, and vision. Hickman creates a perspective that neither humans nor mutants want to go extinct. They both seek a bold vision for their future, but there’s only room for one in the future.

Every vision begins with a dream. Bold visions inspire bolder actions. This is the heart of what makes the X-Men who they are. It’s also the driving force behind the many conflicts they face. A book like “Powers of X #1” doesn’t attempt to subvert that conflict. It simply dares to evolve it in a new direction.

What this means for the X-Men comics moving forward remains to be seen, but it’s very likely that “Powers of X #1” will be one of those comics that gets cited for years to come as a major turning point. It affirms that while all New Comic Book Days are special in their own right, some will always be more special than others.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House of X #1

Ever comic book fan has been conditioned to revere Wednesdays as New Comic Book Day. It’s basically Christmas every week. However, much like Christmas, not all Wednesdays are equal in terms of the presents they bring. Every now and then, a Wednesday comes along that a certain segment of comic fans come to revere for years to come.

For X-Men fans, this will likely go down as one of those Wednesdays because “House of X #1” is just that astonishing. Every now and then, a book comes along that is presented as a major paradigm shift for the characters, the themes, and the over-arching narrative of a series. In superhero comics, books like that are hyped up at least once a month. Very few deliver on that hype. “House of X #1” is one of those select few.

To say that the X-Men comics needed a book like this is like saying an insomniac needs a good night’s sleep. For years now, going back to the days of “House of M,” both the X-Men and the entire mutant population of the Marvel Universe has been in a constant state of extinction-level crisis. Even when they’re not about to go extinct, they’re caught up in something that has them just one slip-up away from another dytopian future.

In “House of X #1,” writer Jonathan Hickman dares to rebuild the X-Men’s world without first sending them to the brink of extinction. For anyone who has followed X-Men comics for more than two years, this is like a breath of fresh air, a massage, and a chocolate milkshake all rolled into one. It shouldn’t be that radical a concept, but between Hickman’s vision and Pepe Larraz’s beautiful artwork, it sure feels like it.

This bold new world for the X-Men isn’t built around mansions with high-tech jets hidden below the tennis court. You won’t find orbiting asteroids, isolated nations, or island sanctuaries in the middle of San Francisco Bay. This world is more than a nation or sanctuary. It’s a bold new form for Charles Xavier’s dream.

It comes courtesy of Krakoa, a name right out of one of the most iconic X-Men comics of all time. This living island has evolved and Charles Xavier is maximizing its potential with intriguing results. He comes off as more than just a visionary or messianic figure in “House of X #1.” He has a bold new plan for the entire mutant race and it’s big.

By that, I don’t just mean it’s big in terms of goals and scope. This plan is something that changes the way the X-Men operate. It’s not just flying around in X-Jets anymore. It’s not just peaceful protests and confronting bigotry. Charles Xavier is rallying mutants to his cause in a bold new way. He’s also dealing with humans in a new way, as well.

It’s here where “House of X #1” explores some very interesting concepts that take the X-Men into uncharted territory. For much of their history, the X-Men have been either reacting to attacks by their enemies or trying to counter intense hatred and mistrust of mutants. It hasn’t just hindered Xavier’s efforts at peace and understanding. It has kept them isolated and always on the brink.

Rather than simply brace for the worst, Charles Xavier decides to offer something tantalizing to both humans and mutants alike. I won’t spoil too many details. I’ll just say that he puts the X-Men in a unique position, in terms of how the world sees them. It may not win them the love and adulation that the Avengers get, but it does provide some bold incentives.

That’s something that few X-Men comics have ever attempted on this scale. It’s not enough to confront hatred and mistrust. Hickman puts the X-Men in a position to be more diplomatic with the world. They have something to offer the world. Accepting that offer benefits humans and mutants in a tangible, positive way.

Again, that should not be such a radical concept, but Hickman and Larraz present it in a way that feels both novel and vast. It’s not entirely utopian in its potential, but it has the potential to bring positive change to a world and a narrative that needs it.

As a lifelong X-Men fan, “House of X #1” fills me with both curiosity and awe. There’s a lot to love about this bold new world that Hickman and Larraz are building. For once, it’s not just another threat that puts the mutant race on the brink of extinction. There’s a larger effort to do something bigger.

That’s not to say the threats aren’t there. Just as Charles Xavier pursues his bold new vision in “House of X #1,” other visions forged by other characters emerge to present obstacles. Some parts of that vision are new, but there is some familiar imagery that X-Men fans will recognize. It ensures that there will still be plenty of mutant-powered fights in this new world.

At the same time, “House of X #1” creates a clear impression that fighting killer robots will only be a small part of this new vision for the X-Men. There’s so much more going on, both with the characters and with the larger Marvel Universe. After all the upheavals they’ve had over the past 15 years, it finally feels like they have room to grow again.

It’s an exciting time to be an X-Men fan. On top of Kevin Feige confirming that mutants are finally coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Hickman and Larraz are taking X-Men in a bold, if not overdue direction in the comics. This sentiment is even captured perfectly in Charles Xavier’s first lines of the book.

“Humans of the planet Earth. While you slept, the world changed.”

Truer words were never spoken. In a world that gets invaded by aliens, Hydra, and renegade gods every other day, that’s saying something.

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Why Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique Is The Best Version Of The Character

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Everybody has at least one unpopular opinion that draws ire from the vast majority of people. I’m not referring to extreme political stances, though. Those who identify as full-fledged communists, anarchists, or theocrats are more defined by an ideology than an opinion. I’ve shared plenty of opinions in the past, some of which I’m sure qualify as unpopular.

Regardless of what those opinions entail, I’ve tried to make my point and most of the time, I can find a substantial group of people who share my views. It’s part of why I enjoy doing what I do. However, there’s one particular opinion I have that might be the most unpopular position I’ve ever held.

It has nothing to do with politics or ideology. It has to do with comics and superhero movies, another popular topic I’ve discussed many times before. I’ve shared it before in other forums and in almost every case, I have a hard time finding anyone who agrees with me. Knowing how dangerous it can be to share unpopular opinions on the internet these days, I’m going to take a chance and share it here.

I believe that Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Mystique is one of the best version of the character in any medium.

I’ll give X-men fans, comic book fans, and fans of superhero movies a moment to stop fuming. Take all the time you need. Believe me, I’ve heard and read all the vile insults you want to throw at me. Before you flood the comments section with a fresh batch of frothing hate, please hear me out because I feel like there’s a point worth making here.

If not, please take this stunning image as a consolation prize.

Before I get into the details of the comics and movies, I freely acknowledge that Jennifer Lawrence is one of those high-profile celebrities for which many have mixed opinion. Ever since she rose to fame, she has been a polarizing figure. People either love her or hate her with very little in between.

Regardless of how you might feel about her, as an actress, there’s no denying that she played an instrumental role in revitalizing the X-Men movies, beginning with “X-Men: First Class.” As Mystique, she succeeded a very popular version in Rebecca Romijn, who set the precedent for blue-skinned shape-shifters who favored nudity. However, there was one important distinction with Ms. Lawrence’s version.

Unlike Ms. Romijn, and every other version for that matter, Ms. Lawrence’s take on Mystique included a backstory that provided unprecedented depth for the character. That story, and the depth that came with it, proved critical in the role that this Mystique would play in “X-Men: Days Of Future Past.” I would go so far as to argue that both movies work largely because of how Ms. Lawrence carried this character.

I can probably find more than a few people who agree that Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique was important in making her first two movies in the role work. Where I probably lose those people is when I go a step further and claim that this version of Mystique is superior to most other versions.

Some might call that hyperbole and maybe it is, to some extent. I still contend that there is an argument to be made and anyone familiar with Mystique’s history in the comics can appreciate it. I doubt I’ll change anyone’s mind, but it’s that very history, or lack thereof, that helped make Ms. Lawrence’s take on the character so compelling.

Mystique, like many other comic book characters, has a history that is more convoluted than most. She’s been around since 1978, but in all that time, her character has never been developed beyond a certain point. In fact, in the grand scheme of Marvel’s vast universe, it’s remarkable that she has managed as well as she has with so little backstory.

There’s no canonical information about where she was born, who her parents are, or even how old she is. She has never appeared as a child or a teenager. She’s always been an adult who goes by the name, Raven Darkholme. It’s not even clear that’s her actual name. Being a shape-shifter, it’s impossible to tell.

Beyond her unexplored history, Mystique’s personality has been pretty flat over the years. She’s a villain. That much is made clear. However, her brand of villainy is not nearly as refined as others. She’s basically a sociopath whose only purpose in life revolves around tormenting the X-Men, especially Wolverine.

How she goes about it varies, but why she does it rarely gets explored. Granted, there have been times when she has joined the X-men, but it never lasts and often ends with her betraying them. It has happened so often that it’s somewhat predictable. Even when it seems like she has undergone some major growth, she always ends up regressing back to her psychotic ways.

She still looks sexy every step of the way.

That’s not to say she has no depth. Being the biological mother of Nightcrawler and the adopted mother of Rogue has been a major source of drama over the years. Her romantic and sexual entanglements have also been colorful to say the least, albeit not always in a good way. However, this drama rarely ever adds depth to her villainy.

While Rebecca Romijn’s version had some nuance, especially in the second movie, she didn’t deviate much from her comic book counterpart. For three movies, she was one of Magneto’s top henchmen and little else. Jennifer Lawrence’s version of Mystique dared to be more than that.

The first minutes of “X-Men: First Class” did more for Mystique’s backstory than three movies and four decades of comics had done to that point. It established her as a mutant who’d run away and had nowhere to go, something that has real-life parallels for certain minorities. From there, she develops a close sibling bond with James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier, which does plenty to develop his character as well.

However, what truly makes this version of Mystique special is how she grows over the course of several movies. Like her comic version, she shifts her allegiances repeatedly. She starts off as an ally of Charles Xavier. Then, she leaves and follows Magneto. Eventually, she returns to Xavier’s side, but not without undergoing major personal upheavals.

In both “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” she finds herself at a crossroads on multiple occasions. Sometimes, she walks a more villainous path. Other times, she’s more virtuous. They’re all contingent on difficult choices and, regardless of where they take her, there’s an underlying sentiment to those choices.

In “X-Men: First Class,” she chooses Magneto because she believes Charles wants her to hide her true form. In “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” she choose Charles because she realizes the consequences of her actions. Friends and enemies alike try to influence her. When she finally makes a choice, it feels like something a real character would make.

In the comics, you can always assume Mystique will make villainous choices and be right most of the time. With Ms. Romijn’s, you can assume she’ll choose whatever Magneto chooses and be right, as well. The choices of Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique are truly uncertain and for a character defined by her shape-shifting traits, that’s more than fitting.

It wouldn’t be accurate to call Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique a hero. In “X-Men: Apocalypse,” she resents that label. It wouldn’t be accurate to call her a villain either, even though she doesn’t always side with the X-Men. She adapts to whatever her situation requires, like anyone would expect of a skilled shape-shifter. It’s an understandable, and even admirable, take for a character in a superhero movie.

While her ultimate fate was tragic, as revealed in “Dark Phoenix,” her journey has been remarkable. Regardless of how the events of “Dark Phoenix” played out for everyone else involved, it’s still the most complete story that Mystique has ever had. That’s why I feel Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Mystique is the best we’ve seen to date.

That’s not to say she’s without flaws. I don’t doubt that her diminished role in “X-Men: Apocalypse” undercut her development. Even with those flaws, she’s still more balanced than anything the comics or previous X-Men movies have given us. Whatever happens with the X-Men as they joint he MCU, I hope Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique inspires the future of the character for years to come.

To all those who disagree with me, and I’m sure there are many, I welcome your comments and thoughts. I only ask that you keep it civil.

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“Dark Phoenix” Review: An Astonishing End To An Uncanny Era

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It’s never easy, trying to capture the essence of an iconic story. It’s even harder when you’ve tried once before and failed miserably. To say that “Dark Phoenix” faced more challenges than most movies would be like saying tobacco companies have an image problem. Many of those challenges go beyond the story, the franchise, the studios, and even the movie industry, as a whole.

Despite so many confounding circumstances, the most important challenge of “Dark Phoenix” was always the same. After this iconic X-Men story was horribly botched in “X-Men The Last Stand,” this movie’s primary goal was to do that story justice. The director and long-time X-Men producer, Simon Kinberg, has gone on record as saying he failed in his first attempt. This movie gives him a chance to rectify that.

Before I get into the fiery details, which may include light spoilers, I’d like to offer my personal sentiment after having seen the movie. I understand that not everyone will agree with me, but as a long-time lover of X-Men, this movie means a lot more to me than most in the superhero genre so I like to think that sentiment is strong.

Yes, “Dark Phoenix” does justice to the X-Men’s most iconic story.

Yes, “Dark Phoenix” succeeds where “X-Men The Last Stand” failed.

Yes, “Dark Phoenix” is a satisfying conclusion to this era of X-Men that has spanned nearly two decades.

I realize that many might disagree with my assessment. That’s perfectly fine. Every movie impacts people in different ways. For me, though, “Dark Phoenix” struck all the necessary chords and then some. It focused on the core components of what makes the Phoenix Saga so endearing and runs with it.

That means that there aren’t multiple plots being juggled constantly. From the very first scene, the focus is on Jean Grey and her journey towards becoming Dark Phoenix. It’s a journey that has a foundation in tragedy, lies, love, betrayal, and loss. What happens to her is never just a matter of circumstance. There are tough, meaningful decisions made before, during, and after the darkness consumes Jean.

At every turn, there is plenty of drama. Jean Grey isn’t just some obscure side-character. She’s surrounded by people who love her. Charles Xavier loves her like a surrogate daughter. Mystique loves her like a sister. To Cyclops, she’s the woman he loves and for once, there’s no terrible love triangle that detracts from that love.

That love gives the drama incredible weight, which is critical for any story derived from the Phoenix Saga. It also ensures the losses leave a major impact and, as one of the trailers revealed, those losses are pretty devastating. They’re not just glossed over or forgotten, which was a huge issue with “X-Men The Last Stand.” They resonate throughout the story and inform the decisions of multiple characters.

That’s not to say every aspect is caught up in personal dramas. “Dark Phoenix” still utilizes a villain to maintain some basic superhero dynamics. That villain, played by Jessica Chastain, isn’t as iconic as Magneto or Apocalypse. She and her villainous henchmen are aliens known as the D’Brai, who actually play a critical role in the original story from the comics.

While Chastain is no Thanos, she and her fellow D’Brai have clear, understandable motivations. They’re not just there to cause more suffering and upheaval. They sense the power in Jean and they want to use it to serve their agenda. That’s perfectly consistent with what Jean and the X-men faced in those same comics.

It also firmly establishes that the Phoenix Force in “Dark Phoenix” is not at all like the one on display in “X-Men The Last Stand.” The Phoenix isn’t some split personality within Jean. This movie actually embraces the more cosmic aspects of that story. While it only does so to a point, it helps raise the stakes in a way that goes beyond trying to save or kill Jean Grey.

Even with these cosmic elements, however, “Dark Phoenix” never loses its focus on Jean, her struggles, and the X-Men’s efforts to save her. The pace of the movie rarely slows down. Things happen quickly and concisely. There are still plenty of intimate character moments along the way, but they never drag. The plot keeps unfolding until the very end.

I won’t spoil too many of the details, but I will say that the ending is far less dire and depressing than what unfolded in “X-Men The Last Stand.” Jean isn’t a coward this time around. She doesn’t constantly whine or beg others to kill her before it’s too late. She is the one who ultimately decides her fate. More importantly, she is the one who makes those difficult choices.

Making all this drama and action work wouldn’t be possible without Sophie Turner turning in a truly uncanny performance as Jean Grey. She goes through many emotions over the course of the story. There are scenes in which she goes through more in five minutes than Famke Janssen did in the first three X-Men movies combined. She carries herself wonderfully through the movie’s most intense moments.

The collective efforts of James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Tye Sherridan as Cyclops, and Nicholas Hoult as Beast perfectly complement Turner every step of the way. They capture those essential elements of family and team that’s so critical for every X-Men movie. This being their last ride with these characters, they make the most of the opportunity.

Unfortunately, some characters don’t get as many chances. Alexandra Shipp’s Storm and Evan Peters’ Quicksilver have fairly limited roles, although Shipp turns in a powerful performance in the final battle. Chastain’s alien character, and the D’brai in general, only gets so much refinement. However, that doesn’t make “Dark Phoenix” any less effective because it is, at its core, a story about Jean Grey.

There are other flaws in the movie. To some extent, the constant focus on Jean and the rapid pace of the action prevent other characters or side-plots from getting much emphasis. The long-running romantic sub-plot between Beast and Mystique had some moments, but not nearly enough to maximize the impact of the story.

There are also times when the visuals of “Dark Phoenix” aren’t as colorful as they could’ve been. To some extent, that’s more a reflection on the overall style of the X-Men movies, going back to the first one in 2000. These movies have never focused too much on the flashy costumes that are so prominent in the comics. Considering the iconic styles teased at the end of “X-men Apocalypse,” it’s somewhat disappointing.

This movie might have been able to get away with that 10 years ago, but the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its embracement of iconic superhero attire make the overall style of the movie seem uninspiring. For most of the movie, nobody even wears a uniform or costume. While a movie like “Logan” can pull that off, it doesn’t work nearly as well in “Dark Phoenix.”

There are some moments where the visual effects really shine, but not in the ones that would’ve really complemented Jean Grey’s journey. While that fiery halo does show up at one point, it feels like it doesn’t show up enough and wasn’t quite as radiant as its brief appearance in “X-men Apocalypse.”

The finer details of the story aren’t flawless either. While they remain concise until the end, there’s a bit of ambiguity in terms of how the events in this movie tie to the epilogue in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” There’s certainly enough to imply that this movie does not completely undermine that ending, but a lack of specifics leaves a lot of gaps for the audience to fill in.

Even with these shortcomings, the most important components of “Dark Phoenix” still work. It seeks to tell a focused Phoenix story for Jean Grey and it never loses sight of that goal. The acting, the drama, and a brilliant musical score by Hans Zimmer simply add more gravitas to the mix.

Over two years ago, I wrote an article that laid out how the “Dark Phoenix” could succeed in this golden age of superhero movies. Pretty much everything on that list came to pass. This movie embraced the passion surrounding this iconic story. It made use of the Cyclops/Jean romance, kept the Phoenix as the primary plot, and ensured every dramatic moment felt genuine. It didn’t check every box, but it came pretty damn close.

Does that mean that “Dark Phoenix” is among the greatest superhero movies ever made? No, I wouldn’t make that case, especially when it came out the same year as “Avengers Endgame.” The bar for superhero movies is higher than it has ever been before and it’s a difficult standard to apply to a movie like “Dark Phoenix.”

Does that mean that “Dark Phoenix” is the greatest X-Men movie ever made? No, I wouldn’t make that case, either. There are other X-Men movies that rank above this one in terms, but it still captures the most important elements that makes these movies so endearing.

Is it a great movie in general? Yes, I certainly would say it is. If I had to score this movie, I would give it an 8 out of 10. It sets out to do a fitting adaptation of the Phoenix Saga and it succeeds, utilizing all the necessary drama and action along the way. It also caps off 19 years of X-Men movies.

Now, as the X-Men stand poised to enter the MCU, this part of their journey can end and “Dark Phoenix” ended it on a truly uncanny note.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: X-23 #12

Every week brings a new glut of comics and the world is a better place because of it. As someone who spends a sizable chunk of his time discussing unpleasant topics, it helps balance a lot of things out. I know the world is a messed up place. I survived high school and I watch the news. I understand the value of all things good, pure, and awesome.

When it comes to delivering on all three regularly, Laura “X-23” Kinney is more dependable than most. Ever since her debut on the “X-Men Evolution” cartoon in the early 2000s, she has found a way to endear herself to X-Men fans of all types. Her status as Logan’s most iconic offspring was further cemented in “Logan” and the past several years of comics have run with it.

Laura is now much more than just Wolverine’s clone/daughter. She has forged her own path and created her own identity. She’s not just Wolverine as a teenage girl, but her world is every bit as brutal. She has had to claw, stab, and snarl her way through hordes of terrible people who still think it’s a good idea to create a living weapon with the same volatile temper as Wolverine.

Along that journey, Laura’s story has had many turning points, some more tragic than others. “X-23 #12” marks another turning point that leaves Laura in a difficult, but intriguing spot. It’s not as tragic as other events in her life, but it definitely leaves her with a wounded heart that those who have followed her story in recent years will feel.

Writer, Mariko Tamaki, has been building towards this moment for the past several issues. When this series began, Laura was definitely on the same page as her fellow clone/sister, Gabby “Honey Badger” Kinney. I’ve done plenty to praise Gabby in the past and since her debut in the pages of “All-New Wolverine,” she has been an objective good in Laura’s life.

Part of that good stems from them being on the same page for much of their struggles. They’re both byproducts of secretive organizations trying to use Wolverine’s DNA to make living weapons. It already cost Gabby multiple sisters and nearly broke Laura. They have many reasons to keep fighting these organizations.

X-23 #12” establishes that these organizations are still out there and they’re still doing crazy things with Wolverine’s DNA. In this instance, they actually use it to make turkeys with a healing factor. I swear I’m not making that up and it’s as amazing as it sounds. However, the inherent strangeness of healing turkeys is only secondary, if you can believe that.

This whole issue is less about Gabby’s love of adorable animals and more about how they’re no longer on the same page. It’s something Laura has spent the past couple issues struggling with and it finally culminates in “X-23 #12.”

It’s not as bloody or destructive as some turning points are for anyone associated with Wolverine. Yes, a train does explode, but that’s pedestrian by Wolverine standards. The real volatility is in how Laura and Gabby’s path diverge.

Tamaki plays up the family dynamic to the utmost. These aren’t just X-Men who act like a family. They are family and families often fight. In this case, it’s not a matter of a simple disagreement or a costly mistake. This fight reveals that Laura and Gabby see the world in a very different way.

Some of it has to do with age. Laura has seen more tragedy and carnage than Gabby. She’s older and more hardened to the world of all things Wolverine. She has been fighting these battles long enough to know that there are times when she can’t avoid tragedy. Innocence will be lost. Pain, suffering, and injustice will win out.

Laura has had enough Wolverine experience to know when she’s in one of these situations. The past few issues have put her in more than one. Gabby, as adorable as she is, hasn’t experienced the same hardships to know when a battle is truly lost. She still tries to save everyone. She even tries to do it with an adorable smile and a pet wolverine.

It makes for a difficult situation because it’s easy to root for both of them. It’s easy to understand why Laura makes the difficult decisions that she does. She knows when a situation can only be resolved with claws. It often leads to tragedy, which is very much a Wolverine tradition. It’s just as easy to root for Gabby when she tries to salvage all the good from an impossibly bad situation.

It’s the kind of family conflict in which neither side is wrong or right. “X-23 #12” simply marks the point where they can’t side with one another anymore. For a family that has endured so much, it’s a sad, but understandable development.

The story of Laura, Gabby, and Wolverine is full of both drama and violence. “X-23 #12” certainly has plenty of that. The presence of mutant turkeys certainly makes it unique, but it’s the drama that really shines here. Tamaki has been building towards this moment for several issues and even though the outcome wasn’t surprising, it still carries plenty of dramatic weight.

The respective lives of Laura and Gabby are fundamentally different after “X-23 #12.” They still have plenty of battles to fight, but they’re no longer in it together. They’re still family, but they’re going their separate paths. Like Logan has often done throughout his history, they strike out on their own and try to do their own thing. Sometimes it works. More often than not, it leads them into more trouble.

That’s the essence of Wolverine and the larger Wolverine family. They keep fighting their own battles, making tough calls along the way, and often putting themselves at odds with those closest to them. Laura made one of those calls and even if it was the right one, it’s not an approach Gabby can be a part of.

X-23 #12” is a bittersweet end to Tamaki’s run on this series and the artwork by Deigo Olortegui helps make these powerful moments colorful. The future of the X-Men comics are already subject to some major upheavals. If nothing else, “X-23 #12” ensures that Wolverine’s family will still have plenty of drama to explore.

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