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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Black Cat Annual #1

Being an unapologetic fan of romance and superhero comics, I like to think I understand the dynamics of superhero couples better than most. Some, like Superman and Lois Lane, will always be iconic. They’re defined by how strong and ideal their love is in the face of overwhelming forces. There’s certainly a place for couples like that in comics.

Then, there’s Spider-Man and Black Cat. In terms of romance, they’re one of those couples who are like nitro and glycerin. Alone, they’re stable in their own right. Put them together, though, and things get volatile. Sometimes, it’s sexy. Sometimes, it’s literal. Most of the time, it ends badly, even by Spider-Man’s defining Parker Luck standards.

However, it’s because their relationship is so volatile that it’s also a lot of fun to follow. If ever you needed proof of that, “Black Cat Annual #1” should make that point beyond a reasonable doubt. In one single comic, you see why Spider-Man and Black Cat have such unique chemistry, yet still frustrate one another in the most adorable way possible.

You don’t have to be a romance fan to appreciate it, but it certainly helps. While “Black Cat Annual #1” is entirely a love story, it dares to have fun with a historically volatile relationship.

The story is billed as the wedding between Spider-Man and Black Cat. To all the Mary Jane Watson fans out there, as well as those not familiar with the dynamics between these two, there’s no need to worry. I won’t spoil much, but I will spoil that the wedding isn’t exactly traditional, even by superhero standards.

The wedding is just part of a more elaborate plot hatched by Black Cat. She just ropes Spider-Man into it because it involves dangerous criminal organizations like the Maggie. He’s reluctant. He’s not thrilled about it. Even his usual wisecracks are somewhat tempered. He still does it, though. That’s the kind of effect Cat has on him.

It’s not healthy, but it’s hardly the most toxic relationship Spider-Man has had over the years. This is a guy second only to Wolverine in terms of getting caught up in unhealthy relationships, some more so than others. While Black Cat might not bring out the worst in him, she’s more capable than most at getting him involved in less-than-heroic endeavors.

In this case, the wedding is almost secondary. Initially, it looks like Black Cat is just looking to steal from the Maggie and humiliate them while looking good in a wedding dress. Even for Cat, that’s pretty ambitious. However, as her plan and its many dangers unfold, her motivations aren’t quite as clear cut.

Writer Jed MacKay nicely captures Black Cat’s persona and motivations. She’s still a thief at heart. That, she doesn’t run from. On the surface, she’s cunning, sassy, and manipulative. However, she’s not a thief in the same mold as Spider-Man’s other villains. She doesn’t steal food from orphans and chuck it in the East River.

MacKay balances out her sass with some genuinely respectable goals. Even Spider-Man cannot deny that. While he’s still not thrilled with her methods or the fact that she roped him into a wedding ceremony, he still gives Black Cat his tenuous trust and she rewards that trust, for the most part.

There’s plenty of banter. There’s also plenty of quips and complaining on Spider-Man’s part. That doesn’t stop Black Cat from having fun with him, even as they face danger and deceit every step of the way. By the end, she clearly has had more fun than Spider-Man.

It’s a fitting summation of their relationship. They have chemistry. They genuinely care about one another. They also work well together. At the same time, they really push each other’s buttons, get on each other’s nerves, and have them do things they prefer not to do. It can make for a volatile and sexy romance, but it’ll never be stable.

MacKay captures the best parts of that dynamic in “Black Cat Annual #1” and fits it into one of Black Cat’s more creative heists. It all comes together perfectly in a single comic, complete with a beautiful cover by J. Scott Campbell and incredible interior artwork by the likes of Natacha Bustos, Juan Gedeon, and Joey Vazquez.

Black Cat Annual #1” will not convince you that Peter Parker and Felicia Hardy are star-crossed lovers in the mold of Superman and Lois Lane. However, it does nicely demonstrate that there’s plenty of room for a different kind of romance in superhero comics.

It doesn’t have to be a classic love story. It doesn’t have to be totally toxic, either. There’s a lot of gray area in between. Spider-Man and Black Cat occupy a unique spot in that area. They can team up. They can oppose one another. They can even love one another. All this is possible due to the unique dynamics between them. That’s what make them a special kind of superhero couple.

While “Black Cat Annual #1” didn’t give us a true, full-fledged wedding, it offered plenty of fun for these volatile ex-lovers. At the very least, this phony wedding went a lot better than the wedding between Kitty Pryde and Colossus.

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The (Amazing) Sights, Spectacles, And Lessons Of New York Comic Con 2019

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Another New York Comic Con has come. Once again, I managed to experience it for a single day. While I would’ve loved to spend another day seeing everything I didn’t get a chance to see yesterday, it was an incredible experience. I enjoyed every minute of it and, like other New York Comic Cons before it, this one will be full of many treasured memories.

I could write several books, and even a couple sexy short stories, about all the things I saw while I was there. I attended panels, met incredible people, saw amazing costumes, saw some breaking comic book news, and even got a chance to connect with some real celebrities. I cannot overstate what a thrill that was.

New York Comic Con has always been so much fun, just as the entire city of New York always been fun. There are so many places to see and people to meet. I found myself running around the Jacob Javits Convention Center, trying to experience as much as I could. I like to think I took in as much as I can, given the constraints of time and only having a Friday pass.

By far, one of the best parts of New York Comic Con was seeing the costumes of fellow fans. This year might have been the most diverse, creative year yet. I saw plenty of typical costumes, like Batman, Superman, Deadpool, and the Joker. This year, however, had one of the most diverse set of costumes that I’ve ever seen.

It was so incredible that I nearly drained the batter on my phone, trying to get as many pictures as I could from those willing to share one. Here are just a handful of the ones I managed to get. Trust me when I say this is just a small sample of the creative passion I saw.

Every year, the fans who make these costumes find a way to surprise me. Next year, however, is going to be tough to be. That said, I’m sure the passion of these fans will help them find a way.

In addition to the costumes, New York Comic Con often leaves me with some unique takeaways that I could never get by just reading stories about it. Actually being there and seeing it first-hand will always have a more extensive impact. This year had some more nuanced lessons than previous years.

The first, and most apparent, lesson I learned is that the impact of anime is growing. This year, I saw more anime-inspired costumes than any previous year. I didn’t recognize all the anime that it came from, but there was definitely an uptick in anime costumes and that nicely reflects the growth of the genre.

The second lesson, which is more or less a reinforcement of what I’ve learned in previous years, is that most writers, creators, and celebrities are awesome in person. Many consider themselves fans, as well. I’ve interacted with plenty online, mostly through Twitter. They’re as nice in person as they are in real life.

I even had the privilege of meeting a few I’ve worked with. A while back, I reviewed “Swing Volume 2” after getting an advanced copy. While in artists alley, I had a chance to meet the writer, Matt Hawkins. He was an awesome guy and the insights he gave were incredible.

To those who think the details of that story were embellished or eroticized, I can attest that they weren’t. Everything Mr. Hawkins wrote about in that story was inspired by real people and real couples. I can’t thank him enough for sharing such insights and I’m already looking forward to Swing Volume 3.

The third lesson, which I guess is more an exercise in best practices, is that if you really want to get into a panel, you need to get in line at least 20 minutes early. While I managed to get into all the panels I wanted, the lines were long and I just barely got in.

For the advanced screenings of upcoming movies and cartoons, you need to be even more proactive. I was unable to get into a screening of “Wonder Woman: Bloodlines” or “Joker.” Those filled up very quickly and if I want to get in next year, I’ll have to be even more proactive.

There’s so much I experienced. There are many more things I wish I could describe, but it would take too much time and energy away from writing sexy short stories. I’ll just belabor that I had an amazing time. I saw so many amazing things and met so many awesome people. I’m already looking forward to going back next year.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Captain Marvel #5

Every Wednesday, passionate comic book fans like myself wake up early to take in a fresh batch of awesome. I can’t think of a better way to start a morning that doesn’t involve a hot tub, a massage, and fresh donuts. In the spirit of making those mornings that much more special, I select one comic from that batch that I feel carries the satisfaction of a thousand hot tub massages.

This week, “Captain Marvel #5” delivers just that much satisfaction as writer, Kelly Thompson, caps off her first arc on this series. It’s a story that began just as all things Carol Danvers began ascending into the stratosphere, thanks to the “Captain Marvel” movie. Now, as Carol is still flying higher than ever, Thompson affirms why she soars like no other female superhero.

The stakes in this story aren’t quite as high as they were in her movie or in “Avengers Endgame,” but that actually helps her shine even more in some ways. For the past several issues, she’s been trapped inside a barrier that has covered Roosevelt Island in New York. Inside that barrier, she’s been waging a tough and gritty war alongside several fellow female heroes against Nuclear Man.

Now, you don’t need to know who Nuclear Man is. In terms of overall threats, he’s definitely no Thanos. He’s also an unlikable douche-bag by every measure. He’s equal parts King Joffrey, Ramsey Bolton, and Kanye West. He’s the kind of guy you want to see Carol punch, but he doesn’t make it easy for her. What he lacks in Thanos-level power, he makes up for with his ability to push Carol’s buttons.

For the past several issues, Nuclear Man has pushed, strained, and tested Carol in ways that don’t involve how hard she can punch an incoming asteroid. He certainly has enough power to fight her one-on-one, but that’s not his style, nor is it his goal.

He’s not out to defeat Carol. He wants to enslave her, along with every other woman who stands against him. He created the barrier to trap them, strain them, and wear down their ability to oppose him. Carol just happens to be his ultimate prize. He sees her as the strongest, most capable woman in the world. He’s not entirely wrong.

For him, enslaving her means forcing her to be his wife and bearing his future children. Given Carol’s distressing history with being manipulated by devious men, that just makes the fight more personal. Now, she has even more reasons to kick his ass. However, Nuclear Man still finds a way to hit her every bit as hard as Thanos.

That’s where Rogue comes in. Make no mistake. She makes “Captain Marvel #5” worth reading every bit as much as Carol.

Rogue’s history with Carol is not a good one, to say the least. These two may be superheroes in their own right, but they’re not friends. They’ll never be friends. Carol even says as such at one point. That’s exactly why them having to work together to fight Nuclear Man is so satisfying.

That fight takes up a good chunk of the story, but Thompson goes out of her way to emphasize why Rogue still makes her feel vulnerable. Some of her weakest moments came by Rogue’s hand, literally in some cases. A sizable chunk of her journey as a superhero is defined by Rogue and Nuclear Man used that against her.

It helps give the battle the kind of dramatic weight that makes every punch, quip, and thought bubble feel more impactful. Both Carol and Rogue have to push themselves and each other to get through the final showdown against Nuclear Man. It’s not easy. Victory still comes at a cost, but the end result will still put a smile on your face, especially if you like seeing insufferable douche-bags fail.

If you’re a fan of Captain Marvel from the movie, “Captain Marvel #5” will give you plenty to enjoy. It’s a story in which you can easily imagine Brie Larson handling the action and drama, as only she could.

If you’re primarily a fan of Carol Danvers in the comics, then you’ll have plenty to enjoy as well. By bringing Rogue into the picture, Thompson connects Carol’s past struggles with her ongoing ascension. It’s a connection that feels overdue and welcome, if only to affirm why she’s such a great character.

Captain Marvel #5” doesn’t try to reinvent Carol Danvers, nor does it try to turn her into someone she’s not. It’s the culmination of a story that gives Carol a chance to rise up, affirm her status as Marvel’s premier female superhero, and battle some old demons that still haunt her. Between Thompson’s skilled quips and Carmen Carnero’s vibrant artwork, it’s a complete superhero experience that anyone can appreciate.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-Men #16

Every Wednesday, this crazy world of ours gets a little less intolerable thanks to a fresh batch of comics. At a time when most of our heroes are in movies and too many villains run free in the real world, we need a little something to remind us of all things good, upstanding, and awesome. As such, I make it a point to select one comic from this batch that’s a better reminder than most.

While the world of superhero comics goes through cycles of hope and despair as often as the Hulk goes through cheap pants, the state of affairs for the X-Men have been more dire than usual. Since the reality-warping events of “Uncanny X-Men #10,” the state of mutant affairs in the Marvel universe hasn’t just been tenuous. Mutants are essentially fighting for the right to be more than an afterthought.

As much of the mutant population is exploring the dystopian utopia that is “Age of X-Man,” the remaining X-Men have been trying to find their place in a world that seems all too happy to be rid of mutants. It has not been an easy endeavor, but “Uncanny X-Men #16” reminds us why it’s worth doing.

The X-Men have been beaten, demoralized, wounded, and marginalized. They’ve had to battle old enemies, attack old allies, and even clash with close family. To say they’re at a low point would be like saying John Wick likes his dog. This is one of the most dire situations the X-Men have ever had to endure, including everything ever written by Chuck Austin.

Despite all that, “Uncanny X-Men #16” finds a way to bring out the best in the X-Men’s most ardent champions.

If you’re a Cyclops fan, you’ll find something to love about this issue. If you’re a Wolverine fan, you’ll find something to love about it too. Hell, if you’re a fan of mutant ninjas fighting alongside magic-wielding Russian teenagers, you’ll find something love about it. That last one is not a metaphor, by the way.

Uncanny X-Men #16” continues a story that has wounded the X-Men in so many ways. A lot of it is mental. Some of it is physical, as Cyclops’ lingering head injury shows. Even as the X-Men fight on, this issue finally shows all the struggle getting to the team. It’s not the first time these characters have expressed doubts, but in the context of the story, it does something important with respect to the past, present, and future of the X-Men.

Everyone on Cyclops’ team knows that mutants are in an existential crisis. They know their numbers are dwindling and that humanity is doing everything possible to make them an afterthought. How does anyone even go about being X-Men in a world like that? Thus far, that has been an unanswered question.

Cyclops and Wolverine tried to answer it by creating a new team out of what remained of the mutant population. They’re actually setting aside their differences and attempting to keep the spirit of the X-Men going. Keep in mind, these are two people who don’t like each other. One of them kept trying to sleep with the other’s wife and the other has shot him through a wall on more than one occasion.

Just putting the team together and fighting what’s left of the X-Men battles has been a struggle over the past several issues. However, “Uncanny X-Men #16” dares to step back and question what they’re fighting for and why they’re even fighting.

Writer, Matthew Rosenberg, explores some overdue discussion among the team. He also puts Cyclops in a unique position that somehow makes him more awesome. For much of his history, as well as his ill-fated roles in the movies, Cyclops has always been the uptight leader who barks orders and expects others to follow them. While we’ve seen hints of that Cyclops here and there, he finds himself in a more uncertain position.

Cyclops no longer trusts himself to be the leader he once was. Even his own brother, Havok, isn’t sold on his leadership at times. While it’s hard to be much of a leader when your entire species is on the brink of extinction, the criticisms aren’t without merit.

Essentially, Cyclops gives the X-Men a chance to show that they can be X-Men without him barking orders. He goes so far as to temper his own leadership in order to give the X-Men a chance to prove their causes is bigger than one person. I won’t say it’s Cyclops’ greatest tactical decision, but the results speak for themselves.

The criticisms and difficult discussions are relevant, giving “Uncanny X-Men #16” much more depth than a typical X-Men comic. It still has plenty of standard superhero action that artist, Salvador Larroca, renders beautifully with his skills. It’s not the flashiest battle, but it has a few twists and complications that require more than just better leadership.

Some of the choices made over the course of the story are questionable. Many of the wounds they’ve suffered haven’t entirely healed. These X-Men are still a far cry from the X-Men that hang out in mansions, fly around in high-speed jets, and fight killer robots. They’re not just struggling to find their place in a world where mutants are almost extinct. They’re trying to find a better way to do what they’ve always done.

The events of “Uncanny X-Men #16” prove that the X-Men still have plenty to offer. They’re still in a tenuous state, but they’re still intact. They’re still finding their way. They’re still learning overdue lessons that bring out the best in each character while not overlooking the worst.

These are exciting times for the X-Men and not just because the movie rights have returned to Marvel. Rosenberg and Larroca have broken the X-Men down in their darkest hour. Now, it feels like they’re becoming the superheroes they have to be. There’s bound to be setbacks, mistakes, and tragedies. However, that’s often when heroes like the X-Men are at their best.

 

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A Sweet (Atypical) Love Story In “Sugar”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, the arrangement does involve sex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Compelling (And Balanced) Insight Into Open Relationships: A Review Of “Swing”

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When it comes to my love of comics, I sometimes give the impression that I’m overly narrow with my tastes. Given how much I’ve made my love of X-men, Wonder Woman, and Superman known, I wouldn’t blame anyone for believing my collection consists entirely of the kinds of superhero comics that big movie studios are using to rake in billions at the box office.

While I don’t deny that comics featuring mutants, aliens, and super-powered demigods make up a significant portion of my collection, there are a few other comics that stand out. I’m the kind of person who will go out of his way to look for something different every now and then, if only to take a break from seeing Batman fight killer clowns.

Most of the time, I don’t find anything that warrants more than a quick skim. Then, there are those rare, special occasions when I do find a comic that stands out and does it without resorting to superpowers, spandex, or ripping off Jack Kirby. Those books are as rare as they are special and I’m proud to report that I’ve uncovered such a title.

It’s called “Swing,” written by Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung with gorgeous art done by Linda Sejic. It’s not a superhero comic. It’s not a comic published by Marvel or DC. It’s a publication by Image Comics, a publisher known for supporting creator-owned comics and letting creators maintain the rights to their creations. It’s also a publisher that dares to tell stories about mature themes that would offend any Disney-owned company.

In other words, it’s the perfect place to tell a story about love, sex, and open relationships. Those aren’t just the underlying themes of “Swing.” They’re topics I’ve discussed on multiple occasions. I’ve even incorporated it into one of my books. How can a comic like this not appeal to me? Moreover, I feel like I’m uniquely qualified to review it, if only to determine whether the story deals with these themes in a compelling way.

If you’re looking for the kind of love story that involves tragedy, magic spells, or curses by evil witches, then “Swing” probably won’t appeal to you. If you’re in the mood for a love story that feels real, genuine, and overtly sexy, then this comic is for you. It’s a story that tries to be real by providing insight into a world that is still taboo and associated with one too many bad pornos.

The characters involved in “Swing” are not porn stars, though. They’re not exceedingly deviant or damaged either. Cathy Chang and Dan Lincoln are two healthy, affable, multi-layered individuals. Cathy starts off as a wide-eyed college student eager to start building a life of her own. Dan is grad student and aspiring writer. Their paths cross, they fall in love, and things evolve from there.

This isn’t a case of a student falling in love with a teacher or a teacher becoming infatuated with a student. Dan and Cathy come off as two functioning adults who develop a very healthy attraction to one another for all the right reasons. It’s the kind of romance that most people can easily picture unfolding in the real world.

That’s a critical element for the drama that later unfolds between these characters. By most measures, Dan and Cathy’s romance follows much of the standard model for romance. They meet, they feel attraction, they fall in love, and they immerse themselves in that passion. Yes, that passion involves sex, but never in an overly gratuitous way. The sex, in this case, is a product of the passion and not the end result.

Then, like many other real-world romances, that initial spark fades after life gets in the way. Cathy becomes pregnant, she and Dan get married, and they build a stable family life together that involves considerably less sex. According to traditional models of modern romance, this is where the story ends. However, this is where the story in “Swing” starts to escalate.

Cathy is not content to let stable family life define her love life. She wants to maintain that passion. She wants to still experience an exciting sex life. However, she and Dan just aren’t on the same page anymore. It makes for some awkward/hilarious moments, but it also helps establish that Dan shares those wants too. They both seek to sustain that passion, but they’re not sure how at this point in their relationship.

It effects them both and not just in terms of their sex life, although that does make for a few other awkward/hilarious moments. This is where polyamory enter the picture. Within their respective lives, Dan and Cathy aren’t immune to temptation. Dan attracts cute girls. Cathy attracts cute guys. They never cheat, though.

They make clear that they love each other. Resisting the urge to sleep with co-workers not that hard, but recapturing some of that passion makes it seem so much harder. They’re sticking to the script of what they think a married couple with children is supposed to be, but it’s just not working for them.

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That’s when Cathy brings up the idea of swinging. It’s an idea that seems crazy and evokes plenty of mixed emotions in both of them. Again, the feelings come off as real. There’s uncertainty, anxiety, jealousy, and outright paranoia at times. Both of them feel it, but both of them also want that passion again.

Together, they start to explore the world of swinging. It doesn’t directly lead to the kind of decadent antics once reserved for the letters section of Hustler Magazine. Dan and Cathy’s journey is a bit bumpier than that, but never stops feeling sincere or genuine. Without spoiling the outcome, I’ll just say that “Swing” sets these two lovers on a path that’s both intriguing and sexy.

This comic achieves something remarkable, both as a love story and one built around mature themes. It presents both monogamy and polyamory in a way that’s balanced. Neither is overly glorified. The benefits and flaws of both are laid out for all to see. There aren’t any moral judgments or social agendas being pushed. It’s a personal journey between two characters with a shared desire.

It’s not just sex positive in how it presents sexuality. It’s positive in how it conveys romance, as well. The love Dan and Cathy share is healthy, mutual, and strong. The sexual component helps complement that. One doesn’t depend on the other, but one certainly helps the other.

The story in “Swing” does not attempt to redefine romance. Through Dan and Cathy, it reveals the inherent struggle two people have when they want to maintain the passion in their lives, but aren’t sure how. If there’s an underlying message to the overall story, it’s that the pursuit sometimes requires nuanced thinking.

 

Hawkins and Cheung clearly put a lot of thought and effort into balancing the romance, the sex, and the inherent kink that comes with polyamory. Thanks to Sejic’s masterful artwork, there’s an undeniable beauty to that balance. Whether you’re a fan of love, sex, or comics that aren’t afraid to depict female nipples, “Swing” brings something special to the table.

If I had to score this comic, I would give it a solid 8 out of 10. I can’t give it too high a score because the story is incomplete. That’s a given since this was just Volume 1 of “Swing.” At the same time, there were other parts of the narrative that weren’t as well-developed.

Dan and Cathy’s surrounding cast didn’t get much depth beyond Cathy’s mom. Dan’s backstory isn’t really touched on, even though his personality is nicely fleshed out. In addition, the pace was uneven at times, but never to the point of being confusing. As a whole, the flaws are minor and do little to detract from the finished product.

As a fan of comics, romance, and all things sexy, “Swing” really surprised me in the best possible way. Regardless of how you feel about polyamory or open relationships, there’s a good story here that’s brought to life with amazing artwork. There will always be a place for comics with superheroes in spandex uniforms, but “Swing” fills a special role that even the greatest superhero can’t hope to fill.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, polyamory, romance, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

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