Tag Archives: Marvel

Selling (And Exploiting) Human Enhancement: An Ominous Lesson From “Superior Iron Man”

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_251b2rz5uxz4s4sssw0skg04c_640

How much would you be willing to pay for perfect health, perfect beauty, and a greater capacity to enjoy life as you see fit? This is not a rhetorical question. I would even argue that it’s an increasingly relevant question. In the coming years, answering it might even become more urgent.

I’ve talked about the prospects of human enhancement through emerging technology before. From its impact on our concept of beauty to how our society will function, there are many impacts to consider. Some of those impacts are already manifesting before our eyes. Just last year, the first genetically modified babies were born in China. Like it or not, this is happening.

It’s impossible to overstate the benefits, risks, and upheavals that human enhancement will have on our species and our world. Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen as this technology matures or how societies, economies, and governments will react to it. Even so, it’s worth contemplating. It’s even worth imagining elaborate scenarios in fictional worlds.

While plenty of noteworthy stories have imagined such scenarios, some more dystopian than others, there’s one in particular I’d like to single out. It’s not entirely dystopian, but it does offer some distressing lessons about the larger economics of human enhancement. It also helps that those lessons come through a forgotten, but criminally underrated Iron Man comic.

Given the rapid rise of Iron Man’s star power over the past decade, his character is uniquely qualified to explore these difficult questions surrounding technology and how we use it. He is, at his core, a visionary who uses technology to solve problems, save lives, and occasionally fight invading aliens. In the series, “Superior Iron Man,” he takes that vision several steps further and cross many lines along the way.

While there are some convoluted circumstances surrounding this series, the ideas it explores are profound, even by the standards of superhero comics. You don’t need to know the specifics of those circumstances. They involve forces like magic and inversion spells, which are far too complicated to explain to those who haven’t followed Marvel comics for more than two decades.

The only detail anyone needs to know about “Superior Iron Man” is that the Tony Stark in this story is not the same lovable character that helped make Robert Downy Jr. one of the most lovable stars in Hollywood. This version of Tony is less bound by concepts of heroism, selflessness, and sobriety. That’s not to say he’s evil, but he’s definitely no hero.

Within this ethically bankrupt state, Tony embarks on a new initiative that’s as selfish as it is lucrative. It revolves around Extremis, an exotic cocktail of nanotechnology and biotechnology that effectively rewrites the blueprint of the entire human body into something better, stronger, and more robust. In essence, it is the ultimate tool for human enhancement.

While the initial version of Extremis was lethal to most people who used it, Tony creates a more commercialized version in “Superior Iron Man” that gives everyone a chance to enjoy its benefits. He calls it Extremis 3.0 and people can access it through a simple smartphone app. With it, people can achieve what Tony describes as physical perfection.

Everyone can be perfectly healthy.

Everyone can be young and beautiful.

Everyone can be functionally immortal.

It sounds like a miracle drug and by every measure, it is. This isn’t some Dr. Oz wannabe pitching vitamins that do nothing other than give you false hope. This technology actually works. With it, Tony gives the entire city of San Francisco a chance to experience the fruits of human enhancement.

Understandably, once people get a taste of what Extremis 3.0 has to offer, they love it. They also take full advantage of it. At one point in the story, Pepper Potts says it’s turning the streets of San Francisco into a non-stop parade of debauchery and self-indulgence. Tony does not see this as a bad thing. If anything, it perfectly complements his plans and his renewed appetite for self-indulgence.

This is where “Superior Iron Man” attempts to answer that question about putting a price on physical perfection. Writer Tom Taylor, alongside artist Yildiray Çinar, doesn’t hide from the disturbing parts of that answer. By the end of the first issue, Tony puts a literal price on that perfection. Needless to say, it causes plenty of conflict and it escalates quickly.

When he initially released Extremis 3.0 onto San Francisco, he gives ordinary people a taste of what it’s like to be as fit as Captain America, as beautiful as Emma Frost, and as physically endowed as Thor. It’s not a drug that just attempts to match that feeling. It physically changes their bodies and their capacity for using them. That taste, however, was just a free sample. To keep enjoying it, they must pay $99 a day.

It’s crude trick right out of the playbook of subscription apps. People get a free trial period that’s just long enough to get them hooked. Then, before they even realize they have to pay anything, they get hit with a paywall. It’s a cruel bait-and-switch, but this isn’t just another streaming video service. This is physical perfection and unlimited self-indulgence. Is $99 a day really that unreasonable?

It certainly rubs plenty of people the wrong way, including many of Tony’s long-time friends and allies. Both Daredevil and Pepper Potts turn against him for such devious tactic. It also has some noticeable effects on the people who use it. By the end of the first issue, a stark class divide emerges between those who can afford Extremis 3.0 and those who can’t.

Naturally, it causes crime and conflict among the residents of San Francisco. Tony, now both feared and beloved by these people, takes it upon himself to manage it. He gains power, wealth, status, and an endless supply of eager party guests for whenever he seeks to indulge. It’s a perfect cocktail of recklessness and irresponsibility.

Without spoiling the rest of the story, which ended too soon, I think it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture that “Superior Iron Man” presented. If you take away the iconic characters and the superhero themes, you get a story about a selfish business tycoon who has sole possession of the ultimate biotech product.

The goal isn’t to heal the sick, ease suffering, or evolve the human species. The goal is simply to make a lot of money, feed an inflated ego, and indulge in every conceivable vice without consequences. It’s a worst-case scenario for liberals and conservatives, alike. At the same time, it makes a compelling case that our current system can’t handle the impacts of large-scale human enhancement.

That doesn’t mean it can’t succeed in our current system. The size of the current biotech industry is already measured in the hundreds of billions. Overpriced drugs are nothing new, either. Just this past year, the FDA approved a drug called Zolgensma, which costs $425,000 a year for five years to treat a rare genetic disorder called spinal muscular atrophy.

By comparison, Extremis 3.0 is a bargain with far greater value. Even at $99 a day, the yearly cost of enjoying that physical perfection amounts to around $36,500 a year. That still takes up a good chunk of the average income for most Americans, but considering all the benefits of having a perfect body, is it still a bargain?

For anyone who has overpaid for inflated medical expenses, I suspect they would gladly pay that high price for Extremis 3.0. Tony Stark banked on that in “Superior Iron Man” and he was right. People did pay and it was very lucrative for him. The population of the San Francisco Bay Area in which he unleashed Extremis 3.0 is around 4.6 million. At $99 a day, that’s a potential annual revenue of $167 billion.

In terms of business ranking, that would put Tony’s venture in the top 20 in terms of largest companies by revenue. If he were to unleash Extremis on the entire United States, the potential annual revenue would be near $11.8 trillion. That’s a little more than half of the entire US economy.

Imagine one company, let alone one person, having that much money and influence over a population. Tony was already a billionaire before “Superior Iron Man,” but Extremis 3.0 rewarded him with more than just money. Tony, being the sole provider, held a great deal of power and influence over San Francisco. As is often the case in superhero stories, that power goes to his head.

That story plays out in the real world just as often. In some cases, it brings out the worst in people. For a product like Extremis 3.0, which provides human enhancement into a simple commercial package that anyone can access through an app, the potential for abuse is much worse.

Beyond the greed it would inspire and the recklessness it fosters, it would also widen and solidify a gap in society that might be impossible to close. The wealth gap is in the non-superhero world is already egregious. Adding something like Extremis 3.0 to the mix would only make it immeasurably worse.

More than a few people has expressed concern about the prospects of such an enormous societal divide. “Superior Iron Man” showed just how bad it could get and how quickly it could escalate. While the series only managed to explore this conflict to a point before it got canceled, Tom Taylor did enough to get a powerful point across.

In a world where human enhancement is real and commercially available, how do we go about distributing it among a population? Should we put a price on it? How high should that price be? Who should be in control of it?

Worst case scenario.

Superior Iron Man” never got a chance to explore the answers, but these are questions that will become increasingly relevant as advances in biotechnology accelerate. We may not be close to having a product like Extremis 3.0 and it’s uncertain whether we’ll even develop something like it in the next few decades.

Even if we do, “Superior Iron Man” made one thing clear. We, as a species and a society, are not ready for it.

Leave a comment

Filed under biotechnology, futurism, health, human nature, Neuralink, Sexy Future, superhero comics

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Dr. Doom #3

Death has always been a running joke of sorts in superhero comics. Characters die all the time, but rarely stay dead. That includes important, iconic characters whose deaths resonate beyond the pages of comics. Sometimes, these deaths are incredibly dramatic, showing just how great these characters can be when everything is on the line. Regardless of how heroic their deaths might be, however, it rarely sticks.

That’s why it’s often more interesting when major villains die. While they rarely stay dead as well, their postmortem journey is often more arduous. If ever there was a villain who constantly skews the concept of death, it’s Victor Von Doom. If anyone needs proof, then look no further than “Dr. Doom #3.”

While he has “died” before, he rarely stays dead. It’s not just because every one of his “deaths” can be attributed to a Doombot, either. This is a man who has been a God and won battles against Marvel’s version of the devil. To him, death is more an inconvenience than a permanent end. It’s just a lot more inconvenient than usual in “Dr. Doom #3.”

These are not good times for Victor Von Doom. The Fantastic Four are back. His brief stint as the new Iron Man ended before he had a chance to show up Tony Stark. He has also been deposed from Latveria, exiled from the country, and thrown into a world with a target on his back for every superhero and SHIELD agent. It is the most vulnerable Doom has been since he was stranded butt naked on Counter Earth.

In short, he’s vulnerable, pissed off, and under constant attack. It’s precisely the situation that brings out the best and worst in Dr. Doom. While the events of “Dr. Doom #2” ended with him “dying” at the hands of Taskmaster, death only gives him a chance to remind everyone why no afterlife can hold him.

It also gives him a chance at another rematch with Mephisto, also known as Marvel’s devil and the one responsible for breaking up Spider-Man and Mary Jane’s marriage. It’s not the first time they’ve clashed, but to date, Dr. Doom has a winning record against Mephisto. That’s something Mephisto is eager to change in his own hellish way.

It makes for a battle full of hellfire. Artist Salvador Larroca brings beautiful depictions of the hellscape that is Mephisto’s domain and writer Christopher Cantwell captures their less-than-heavenly egos every step of the way.

Mephisto tries to torment Doom with what he has sacrificed in the past to achieve his goals. Doom tries torment Mephisto by reminding him that he has beaten damnation before and only got stronger because of it. Neither one of them comes off as heroic, but that’s exactly what makes Doom’s defiance of death’s grip so unique.

Dr. Doom is not the kind of man who makes heroic sacrifices, but he’s also not a man who does what he does for no reason. As I’ve noted before and as other comics have highlighted, Doom doesn’t terrorize innocent people, heroes, and even other villains for no reason. He does what he does because he truly believes that the only future in which people are free from want and suffering is a future in which he rules.

It’s a sentiment that the late Stan Lee himself echoed. The first two issues of this series effectively double down on this vision, but “Dr. Doom #3” presents it with a major challenge. There are obstacles in his way aside from the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. Death and damnation only compound those obstacles, but as is often the case, Doom raises to the challenge.

There are times when Mephisto tries to poke at Dr. Doom’s very few, but very real vulnerabilities. He tempts him with challenges and deals that test even his unshakable will. Cantwell never lets Doom come off as pure evil or pure ego, but he never comes off as a hero, either.

Heroes don’t beat death, Hell, and the Devil like this. At the same time, villains don’t prevail in ways that makes us want to cheer them on. That’s what Dr. Doom does in “Dr. Doom #3” and he’s somehow more menacing because of it.

There are only a handful of characters in comics that can truly die and stay dead, even if some of them do find roles in alternate universes. There are also certain characters who can die in any number of ways, but will never stay dead for long. Dr. Doom is definitely on that list, if not at the very top.

Dr. Doom #3” might very well be Doom’s darkest hour in the sense that his destiny to rule the world in a Utopian future seemed most distant. He has been dethroned, killed off, and sent to Hell to be tormented by a devil with plenty of motivation to see him suffer. For once, Doom has to beat the odds when they’re not stacked in his favor.

It’s a test of his will and resolve, but one we expect him to pass because he’s Dr. Doom. This is what he does. It doesn’t matter how many times every hero, villain, angel, or demon takes him down. Doom always finds a way to claw his way back. It’s not always easy to root for Dr. Doom, but when he’s beating the devil himself, it’s hard not to cheer him on.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Invisible Woman #5

Certain characters are held to very high standards. That’s especially true of superheroes. Not all heroes can or should be judged with the same criteria. Wolverine can go on a rage-fueled killing spree, lust after married women, and drunk a gallon of whiskey a day, but still get labeled a hero. That’s because he’s held to a different, albeit very lenient standard.

That sort of standard just can’t work for a character like Sue Richards. Aside from being a hero, she carries herself very differently from the likes of Wolverine, Tony Stark, and Black Widow. She’s not a career assassin, a playboy billionaire, or some cosmic tyrant. She’s a hero, a role model, a loving wife, and a caring mother. She knows who she is and cherishes that identity.

That same identity has been tested, strained, and pushed in her latest solo series, courtesy of writer Mark Waid. We’ve seen her revisit an old part of her life that almost took her down a very different path, one that would not have met those lofty standards ascribed to heroes like her and teams like the Fantastic Four. In “Invisible Woman #5,” she comes dangerously close to crossing lines she swore to never cross.

It’s the end of a story that has taken Sue Richards away from her family and her life of wild cosmic adventures. Instead of battling planet-eating cosmic beings, she navigates the shady world of espionage. By the end, it’s easy to see why she prefers battling Galactus.

At first, the mission was simple. Sue set out to find a former friend and partner, Aidan Tintreach. As is often the case in stories involving spies, espionage, and beautiful women, it gets exceedingly complicated very fast. Along the way, Waid explores just how capable Sue is on her own. She’s one of those characters who is often defined by her team and her family. She rarely gets a chance to show what she can do by herself.

As a spy, Aidan saw that potential in her. Throughout the series, he has forced her to realize it in ways that don’t always sit well. Initially, it was as an ally and someone in need of her help. The events leading up to “Invisible Woman #5” steadily revealed the kind of person he became. He now has Sue in a position to become that same person.

True to the high heroic standards that she holds for herself, Sue never stops trying to save her former partner. She keeps trying to reconnect with the man she once knew. At every turn, however, Aidan keeps shooting holes in their history and her faith in him. It puts Sue in a difficult position in “Invisible Woman #5,” one for which she can’t play by the same rules that help make her an iconic hero.

What starts as a rescue is now an unfolding tragedy and it comes dangerously close to becoming much worse. At this point, there’s no more room for betrayals and secrets. Sue has to confront Aidan, who at this point has a death wish. However, rather than poke the Hulk’s eye or kick a puppy in front of the Punisher, he wants Sue to be the one to stop him.

He seems so far gone, but Waid never paints Aidan as someone who has just lost their mind. He’s not the Joker, the Green Goblin, or a villain from a James Bond movie. He’s just someone who has crossed so many lines over the year as a spy, lying and betraying everyone along the way, that there’s no standard left to judge him. As a character and someone who used to ally himself with superheroes, he’s gone morally numb.

At times, Aidan comes off as a dark mirror for Sue. In him, she sees what she could’ve become if she’d remained a spy. He is living proof of what happens when you’re held to a high standard, but cross too many lines. It makes what Sue has to do to stop him feel so dramatic and impactful.

Along the way, she has to push herself and her powers in ways we rarely see outside of trips to the Negative Zone. Artist Mattia de Iulis does an excellent job showing off what Sue can do when she needs to use her powers creatively. The visuals make clear that, even without her family, Sue is very powerful.

Anyone who has read more then one Fantastic Four comic knows that. However, seeing her powers applied in such unique ways helps demonstrate what Aidan sees in her. If she held herself to a different standard, she could be a true force to be reckoned with and not just as a spy.

Between de Iulis’ renderings and Waid’s characterization, “Invisible Woman #5” shows the Fantastic Four’s perennial mother figure in a new light. We get to see glimpses of her past before she became this iconic hero that we hold to such lofty standards. We also see how her approach to heroism differs from those who immerse themselves in situations where heroes and villains alike have to lie, cheat, and deceive.

It’s not one of those stories in which Sue can rely on her family, teamwork, or her inherently endearing personality to save the day. She has to face down someone who ventured into the same shady world, but came out far worse. It’s not the kind of situations that Sue often finds herself in with the Fantastic Four, but “Invisible Woman #5” shows that she can handle it, albeit with a heavy heart.

In the end, that same heart is exactly why Sue Richards holds herself to such high standards. It’s the same reason why her heroism is judged by such a strict criteria compared to other characters in the greater Marvel pantheon. When she does have to cross a line, it breaks her heart, as it would for anyone who hasn’t been too hardened by circumstance.

The fact that there are still characters like Sue Richards, who hold onto those values and refuse to cross certain lines, is nothing short of refreshing. In an age where we expect heroes, celebrities, icons, and leaders to cross lines all the time, a hero like Invisible Woman stands out for all the right reasons.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Deadpool #1

Sometimes, the right job finds you before you find it. I would even argue that’s how most people find the right job. Only a select few of us are born with the natural talent and the right opportunities to do what we love. Unless your name is Tom Brady, Elon Musk, or Taylor Swift, you usually end up in a job you don’t expect, but still embrace.

Take that premise to an absurd, vulgar, and violent extreme, and you basically get the life of Deadpool in a nutshell. As a kid, I doubt Wade Wilson thought he would grow up to be a wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking, sharp-shooting mercenary who frequently teams up with time travelers played by Josh Brolin. Then again, is it really less absurd than wanting to be an astronaut?

Deadpool, for all his insane antics and violent tendencies, often finds himself in in unexpected roles, but they’re usually roles that makes the most of his talents. Writer Kelly Thompson and artist Chris Bachalo take that concept, run with it, and inject it with some fresh absurdity in “Deadpool #1” by making him King of the Monsters.

That’s not a ceremonial title, either. That’s a real, actual role in the Marvel Universe and Deadpool essentially stumbles ass-backwards into it. It’s every bit as crazy, fun, and entertaining as it sounds.

Deadpool comics aren’t known for high concepts, cerebral plots, or fanciful world-building. These are comics built on a foundation of gratuitous violence, dirty jokes, and concepts that even a paste-eating fifth-grader can understand. Thompson embraces that style perfectly in “Deadpool #1” and even finds time to work in a few colorful cameos.

The story doesn’t begin with Deadpool making it his lifelong mission to become the new King of the Monsters. He’s not the kind of guy who thinks that far ahead. He’s just another gun-toting mercenary celebrating his birthday with a mailman he kidnapped. Like I said, he tends not to think that far ahead.

He then lands a new mercenary gig that involves traveling to Staten Island to slay someone who goes by the completely unsubtle title, King of the Monsters. The gig pays well and up front so Deadpool isn’t inclined to ask too many questions. There is a more detailed lore about who the King of the Monsters is and why they’ve set up shop in Staten Island of all places, but none of that matters to Deadpool

What matters is that it puts him in a position to inflict a little rampant destruction on a hideous, Lovecraftian monster that is beautifully rendered by Bachalo’s art. It’s simple. It’s fun. It’s everything you want a quality Deadpool comic to be.

Deadpool #1” checks all those necessary boxes, but it doesn’t stop at the basics. Thompson throws in a few bonuses as well, including appearances from Elsa Bloodstone and Gwenpool. While Elsa’s appearance is a bit more pragmatic, being that she’s Marvel’s premier monster hunter, Gwenpool just adds a little extra entertainment value.

Plus, she brings a baby shark with her. Yes, this comic has a baby shark in it too.

What other comic besides a Deadpool comic would that both work and make perfect sense? I challenge anyone to find one.

Even with those cameos and the quirky details, “Deadpool #1” still has a coherent plot. Deadpool becoming King of the Monsters is just part of it. Even if he didn’t set out to achieve that title at first, it’s not something he just shrugs off. He now finds himself in this strange new role that comes with responsibilities, crowns, and minions. He’s going to try and have a little fun with it. That’s just how Deadpool approaches things.

It ensures his story rarely has a larger, over-arching theme. Deadpool is not the kind of character who can carry an epic, Lord of the Rings level quest on his own. He just doesn’t have the necessary attention span. He just takes random jobs, follows them to whatever messy outcome they inspire, and takes it from there. The fact it includes so much R-rated entertainment along the way is just a nice bonus.

Deadpool #1” doesn’t reinvent the character or how his comics are crafted. Thompson and Bachalo stick to the basics, but still find a way to mix in some extras. Some of those extras even lend themselves to bigger stories that promise even more absurdities, some of which will require more monsters and more explosions. It’s every bit as appealing as it sounds.

It even makes the case that Deadpool is uniquely qualified for his new role as King of the Monsters. While he’s not a monster and is hardly qualified to be king of anything not associated with a Bea Arthur fan club, he knows how to handle himself around monsters. He knows how to slay them and get along with them. Isn’t that a prerequisite for any king?

Being so immature and unbalanced, Deadpool is uniquely suited to his new title. He may still be a mercenary at heart, but he now finds himself in an unexpected role that fully complements some of his most eccentric traits. It’s a fertile foundation on which to build Deadpool’s story. With monsters, violence, and baby sharks, I’d say Deadpool’s new reign is off to a promising start.

With that, I say all hail the new King of the Monsters!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: X-Force #1

Even the cleanest communities need a functioning sewer system. That’s something that even the most wide-eyed, Utopian-seeking idealists understand. Throughout the history of the X-Men comics, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-Men have had to learn this lesson on many occasions. While they don’t outright abandon the idealism at the heart of Charles Xavier’s dream, they understand that less ideal methods are necessary.

That’s where X-Force comes in. Whereas the X-Men are the public photogenic faces of their heroic exploits, X-Force is the secretive, less scrupulous team that fights the ugly battles that need fighting. They are, in essence, the sewer system of Charles Xavier’s dream. Where heroes and idealism fails, they step in.

It’s a tradition that has gone through many eras, dating back to the X-Men’s heyday in the early 1990s. The threats and the circumstances have changed, but the tactics don’t. Even though the X-Men and the entire mutant race are in the best position they’ve been in since the Clinton Administration, there’s still a need for X-Force.

Writer Benjamin Percy, along with an impressive cast of artists, establishes the extent of that need in “X-Force #1” and does so in an appropriately brutal fashion. Charles Xavier may have set up an ideal environment for mutants to thrive, but that environment is still vulnerable to major threats who don’t stop at throwing killer robots at them.

The nature of these threats are vague, as is often the case with X-Force, but their motivations are clear. The new order that Jonathan Hickman built in “House of X” and “Powers of X” has shaken up the geopolitics of the Marvel universe. Mutants are no longer a disorganized hodgepodge of scared mutants, costumed heroes, and Deadpool. They’re a sovereign nation with valuable resources.

While this has set mutants up to prosper like never before, it also makes them a much bigger target. Instead of hunting mutants in dark alleys, there’s an entire country full of them and not all of them have trained in the Danger Room. It doesn’t take long for a shadowy group of masked mutant-haters to take advantage of that.

Initially, it’s hard to know how serious this threat even is. There have been all sorts of shadowy organizations who wear funny masks and dream of slaughtering every last mutant with a smile.  A few have a notable place in the X-Men’s history. However, they’ve never had to face mutants that are this well-organized.

These aren’t just mutant struggling to survive anymore. They have a living island to protect them. They have standing in the international community and they didn’t even need to threaten the planet to get it this time. On top of that, they have powerful psychics, living weapons, and Emma Frost’s sex appeal on their side. How can anyone threaten them?

This is where “X-Force #1” really makes its mark. It doesn’t just set up a new threat for X-Force to combat. It shows that this threat is capable of hitting the X-Men where it hurts. Their elaborate defenses, their legions of powerful mutants, and their emerging place in the international community isn’t enough. They can still be attacked. They can still suffer casualties.

It’s a rude awakening, especially after everything Charles Xavier did to make Krakoa the ultimate haven. It’s also shocking at how successful this attack is. Even those who aren’t traditionally associated with X-Force, such as Jean Grey and Beast, see first-hand how devious their enemies can be.

It’s a harsh reminder that they’re still living in a world that isn’t swayed by their idealism. While some might have their attitudes tempered by diplomacy, life-saving drugs, and Wolverine’s claws, others won’t stop until they’re dancing atop a mountain of mutant corpses.

Those aren’t people that the X-Men can confront through heroic means. This is the kind of challenge that needs X-Force and their less-than-ideal tactics. The last page of “X-Force #1” makes that abundantly clear. The only question is how far are they willing to go in order to respond?

Through its many iterations, X-Force has always had a darker tone to go along with its darker themes. Percy captures that tone perfectly in “X-Force #1.” He crafts a story that isn’t entirely built around X-Force’s harsher tactics and the lines they’re willing to cross. More than anything else, the story reaffirms the need for X-Force.

It lays a foundation that includes characters who are no stranger to X-Force’s methods, such as Wolverine and Domino. It also sets the stage for other characters to play a role, like Jean Grey and Black Tom Cassidy. In other eras, these same characters would oppose the very existence of X-Force or actively fight against them. However, in this new emerging order with Krakoa, they cannot avoid it.

X-Force #1” has most the defining traits that X-Force comics have always had. What makes it stand out is how it builds those traits around a world in which mutants have never had it better. This is as close as they’ve ever gotten to fully realizing Charles Xavier’s dream, but X-Force is still necessary.

It’s a sobering reminder. You could even argue that it’s a necessary reminder. After what happened on the final page, nobody in X-Force is going to forget that anytime soon.

1 Comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Amazing Mary Jane #1

An iconic character is only as great as their supporting cast. On their own, icons like Batman, Superman, and Captain America can only do so much to carry their story. Like Santa Claus without his elves, they’re limited in how compelling they make that story without other characters around them adding dramatic fuel to the story.

This is especially true for characters like Spider-Man, whose supporting cast is one of the strongest and most in extensive in comic book history. If you need proof, just remember that a movie based around one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains grossed over $856 million. However, if you need further proof that Spider-Man’s supporting cast is what makes him so amazing, then look no further than Mary Jane Watson.

She’s not just Spider-Man’s girlfriend.

She’s not just the super-hot, super-sexy redhead who gets every straight man’s blood flowing for all the right reasons.

She’s not just the eye candy that makes for some of the best variant comic book covers of all time.

Mary Jane Watson makes Spider-Man a greater character because she’s a great character in her own right. She didn’t come into his story as some wide-eyed bimbo who existed only to make Peter second-guess the merits of male superheros wearing skin-tight outfits. She has her own story, motivations, and aspirations.

Most of the time, her story is relegated to secondary sub-plots in Spider-Man’s stories. While some of those stories are great for both characters, she’s never had a chance to carry her own story. Leah Williams and Carlos Gomez finally give her that chance in “Amazing Mary Jane #1.”

It’s still a story closely tied to Spider-Man, but Mary Jane is the one leading the charge this time. It’s not a radical reinvention of who she is or what motivates her. Williams and Gomez simply shift the spotlight to her and let her work her amazing charisma. It’s a simple approach, but it works.

Mary Jane is still an aspiring actress. Like many aspiring actresses, she’s looking for ways to further her career. The basic premise of  “Amazing Mary Jane #1” is that she gets an opportunity to do just that. It even involves a role that she’s very familiar with. She’s caught up in a battle involving Spider-Man. For her, she really doesn’t need to do much acting.

There’s just one glaring problem and it’s not just that her role is reduced to being a beautiful woman in a skin-tight outfit. This opportunity that she desperately wants happens to be courtesy of Quentin “Mysterio” Beck, one of Spider-Man’s most colorful villains and one whose star really rose with “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”

It’s a situation that might make even the most ambitious actress hesitate. At the same time, it puts Mary Jane in a position to show her greatest strengths, none of which involve superpowers. She’s able to carry the story with her personality and William captures it wonderfully on multiple fronts.

Mary Jane doesn’t just smile and nod to go along with everything. She speaks her mind, but never in a way that makes her sound condescending or self-centered. She sees something wrong with the role she’s playing and she confronts it. When the nature of that role is objectively bad for both her and the movie, she says so.

It’s an issue ripped right from recent news surrounding the Hollywood horror stories that ambitious actresses have endured. It’s a sensitive, hot-button issue, but one that “Amazing Mary Jane #1” doesn’t ignore. The characters don’t ignore it, either. It’s a real issue that’s worth addressing, even in a superhero comic.

However, that issue never derails the story or takes away from the substance of the plot. “Amazing Mary Jane #1” is not about Mary Jane Watson calling out the predatory practices of Hollywood producers. It’s about her finding out that this major opportunity her in the center of Mysterio’s latest endeavor.

Being Spider-Man’s girlfriend, she knows better than most that this endeavor will likely involve something going horribly wrong. Since she’s in Hollywood and Spider-Man is in New York, she can’t count on being rescued this time.

It’s a great setup that perfectly blends Mary Jane Watson’s personal story with one of Spider-Man’s most well-known villains. She’s still part of Spider-Man’s story, but this is one in which she shoulders the responsibilities. On top of that, she has to do that without the aid great power.

At the same time, the very absence of that power is part of what makes Mary Jane such a strong supporting character for Spider-Man. She knows she’s not the one with the superpowers. Even Spider-Man knows this. That doesn’t stop her from accepting those responsibilities. She, more than anyone, shows Peter Parker that responsibility doesn’t end with stopping muggers, criminals, and guys with fish bowls for heads.

Even when she’s accepting responsibility, Mary Jane Watson still knows how to have fun. Williams goes out of her way to capture that in “Amazing Mary Jane #1” and Gomez makes her look great while doing it. The sweet, playful moments between her and Spider-Man often bring out the best in both characters. They’re the kind of moments that are sure to piss off Mephisto.

Peter Parker will always be the center of the greater Spider-Man universe, even when that universe involves talking pigs. However, Mary Jane Watson makes that universe more compelling and dramatic with her presence. She also makes it sexier, but that’s just a nice bonus. Amazing Mary Jane #1” further proves that she’s capable of being amazing in her own right. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic, Spider-Man