Tag Archives: Matthew Rosenberg

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-Men #11

Every week, a fresh crop of new comics comes out and the world is a little bit more awesome because of it. As a lifelong fan of comics, superheroes, and many other things that the Bill Maher’s of the world despise, I take it upon myself to single out one comic from that week that makes this most special of days for superhero fans that much more memorable.

This week was a busy week with big events brewing with DC’s Heroes In Crisis story and Marvel’s ongoing Age of X-Man event. Being a lifelong X-men fan, I know I’m somewhat bias towards the X-men side of things. This week, however, I didn’t need that bias to single out Uncanny X-Men #11 as my top pick of the week.

It’s not just because this book comes on the heels of Cyclops’ latest return from the dead, which occurred in Uncanny X-Men Annual #1 a couple weeks ago. It’s not just because he’s returning to a world where most of the X-Men have disappeared and been presumed dead after their battle with Nate Grey in Uncanny X-Men #10, either. What makes this comic my top pick is something far greater.

In every superhero comic, you learn the most about a character when they’re at their worst. It’s easy for any hero to shine when things are going well. When the world loves them, when super-villains despise them, and when they’re not stuck on the wrong end of a love triangle, it’s easy to seem heroic. It’s when everything is terrible and their world is on the brink that you learn who they truly are.

Uncanny X-Men #11 lets everyone know who Scott “Cyclops” Summers is. In this story, he has no X-men to lead. He has no beautiful wife by his side or buxom blonde lusting after him. His mentor is gone. His home is gone. Everything he ever fought to defend is gone. What does a man like that do in a situation like that?

He can either cower and whine or he can step up and fight. Cyclops, having gone to war with the Avengers and the Inhumans, has never been one to cower. The story that Matthew Rosenberg and Salvador Larroca tell here shows why he’s the leader of the X-men in the first place. It shows why beautiful telepaths are attracted to him. When things are at their worst for the entire mutant race, this is the man you want leading you.

If you’re a Cyclops fan in any capacity, Uncanny X-Men #11 is a must-have. However, what makes this book even more valuable is that it’s giant-sized. That means it costs a little more than the typical two to three dollar price, but you get a lot more for those few extra bucks.

In addition to Cyclops kicking ass, Wolverine has his own story that unfolds in the background. He too recently came back from the dead and has been dealing with the many complications associated with resurrection in his own series, Return of Wolverine. Having sufficiently stabbed those complications, he’s ready to return to the X-Men and he’s just in time to help Cyclops, a guy who’s wife he kept trying to sleep with.

It’s a beautiful thing, these two coming together once more in the X-Men’s darkest hour. The way it happens and the action it inspires is too great for words. That’s why I’m not going to spoil it. I’ll just say that if you’re a Cyclops fan, a Wolverine fan, or an X-Men fan in general, this comic feels like one of those books that will one day be critical in the history of the greater Marvel universe.

As it stands, the X-Men are gone and the mutant race is fading into obscurity. Rather than genocide, they’re facing a future where people simply treat mutation like a flu shot. The vaccine that was introduced in Uncanny X-Men #1 works. Parents can now keep their children from becoming mutants. While it greatly limits their chances of becoming superheroes, it ensures they can lead a “normal” life.

What does this mean for the future of the X-Men? What does it mean for mutants? These are unanswered questions that will probably linger for many issues to come, but Uncanny X-Men #11 effectively fires the first shot in a new struggle. Cyclops, Wolverine, and the rest of the mutant race aren’t content to just whither away. That’s not their style and this issue demonstrates why in so many uncanny ways.

If the measure of a true hero is determined by how they handle their darkest hour, then Uncanny X-Men #11 reaffirms why the X-Men are in a league all their own. The world may always love the Avengers, but the X-men will always command their respect.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

Jack Fisher’s Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-men #10

Every Wednesday, fans of comic books and superheroes are blessed with fresh batch of comics. It’s like Christmas every week and you don’t have to suck up to some jolly fat guy who lives at the North Pole. You just have to have a few extra bucks and a Comixology account.

This week, however, those extra bucks go a lot further than usual for X-men fans. That’s because “Uncanny X-men #10,” the final issue in a story arc that assembled almost every notable character associated with X-men has come out. Some weeks are harder than others when it comes to picking the most worthy comic from the bunch. This was not one of those weeks.

Make no mistake. “Uncanny X-men #10” is both a game-changer and a major upheaval for the X-men. It acts as a culmination of a battle that began with the return of Nate “X-man” Grey, but in a powerful new form. He’s not just another displaced character from a dystopian timeline, of which there are many in comics. His agenda is different and his personal connections to the X-men make him a daunting foe.

He’s not Apocalypse. He’s not Magneto. He’s not even some uneasy ally who was once an enemy and the X-men have had plenty of those. Nate Grey is out the save the world, but not by protesting injustice or signing an online petition. He literally wants to destroy it and remake it. Given the insane breadth of his power, that’s entirely possible.

For the past nine issues, he’s gone about his plan with the subtly of a hurricane. He’s abducted senators, mind-controlled powerful mutants, and waged war on anyone who might stand between him and a better world. The X-men, who have a strict policy against over-powered mutants destroying the world to remake it, oppose him at every turn.

Uncanny X-men #10” is just the final showdown and it’s a battle for the ages. The writing talents of Matthew Rosenberg, Ed Brisson, and Kelly Thompson team up with the artistic talents of Pere Perez to craft a mutant-powered spectacle that never slows down. It’s the most powerful mutants in the Marvel universe against a threat who wasn’t just a close friend. To characters like Jean Grey, he’s family.

This is where “Uncanny X-men #10” shines in a special way. While a good chunk of the comic is dedicated to epic mutant battles, there’s never a point where the action is mindless and impersonal. In between all the fighting, there are major personal stakes for Nate and his alternate universe mother, Jean Grey.

Their interactions is what really gives dramatic weight to the spectacle. I won’t spoil the details of their exchange. I’ll just say that it’s beautifully done. It’s genuinely heart-wrenching to see Jean having to battle her own son. Even if he’s from an alternate universe, she sees him as family and that makes fighting him all the more difficult.

That kind of heavy drama is what brings out the best in the X-men. It’s what makes for the best moments in superhero comics, as a whole. However, what really makes “Uncanny X-men #10” worth getting is how it sets up the future of the series.

Again, I won’t spoil it. I’ll just say that the aftermath of the battle creates a very different world for mutants, humans, the X-men, and everyone in between. It’s a world where all the hopes and dreams of the X-men are effectively moot. What does that mean for them and those they protect? There are some telling hints, but there’s definitely an impact when all is said and done.

I’m sure there will be plenty of X-men fans who feel both excitement and dread after reading “Uncanny X-men #10.” If you’ve been following X-men comics in any capacity for the past several decades, then you know that’s not unusual. However, this feels like one of those issues that people will be referring to for years to come. Whether they love it or hate it, this comic marks a major turning point for the X-men.

Most X-men fans knew that 2019 was going to be a major year for the Children of the Atom. Between two movies, the pending Disney/Fox merger, and the return of multiple major characters, there’s a lot get hyped about. “Uncanny X-men #10” is just the latest catalyst that can only help the X-men’s prospects in 2019.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jack's Quick Pick Comic

The Distressing (But Relevant) Questions Raised In Uncanny X-men #1

711931-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

The most relevant stories are often the ones that ask the most difficult questions. The nature of those questions vary among places, people, cultures, and whatever happens to be pissing off a significant chunk of the population. Regardless of the circumstances, those questions are important and sometimes they come from unexpected places.

I wasn’t expecting such questions when I picked up “Uncanny X-men #1,” the latest relaunch in the most iconic X-men brand of all time. I was just glad to see Uncanny X-men return to prominence after an extended absence dating back to 2016. This first issue was over-sized and priced at $7.99, which is a lot for a single comic. I still feel like I got my money’s worth.

In addition to telling a great story that brought many prominent X-men characters to the forefront, “Uncanny X-men #1” did something unique in terms of how it established a conflict. For once, it didn’t involve killer robots, preventing a genocide, mutant terrorist, or alien space gods. Instead, it asked one profound question.

What if there was a way to preventing people from becoming mutants in the first place?

That may sound like a question that has come up in other X-men stories, but that’s only partially correct. This isn’t about curing mutants, a story that Joss Whedon brilliantly told during his run on Astonishing X-men and that “ X-men: The Last Stand” botched horribly. This is about inoculating children the same way we do for polio.

Specifically, a lab develops a vaccine that prevents the X-gene from expressing. Technically, they would still be mutants in that they would still have this gene. It just wouldn’t express itself. It would be akin to turning off the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia. It essentially treats mutation the same way we would treat any other genetic-based disease.

Naturally, the X-men and many other mutants don’t like this idea and not just because it’s akin to treating homosexuality as a mental illness. It reeks too much of genocide, something they’ve faced on more than one occasion. It would’ve been easy for “Uncanny X-men #1” to present it in that way, but that’s not how it plays out.

The all-star creative team of Ed Brisson, Kelly Thompson, Matthew Rosenberg, and Mahmud Asrar frame the issue in a very different way. Instead of some anti-mutant racist like Graydon Creed or William Stryker calling for mutant extermination, we get Senator Ashton Allen. He’s as generic a politician as can be in a superhero comic, but what he says and how he says is revealing.

Amidst a crowd of humans, mutants, and X-men, he talks about this mutant vaccine as a tool to alleviate suffering. He doesn’t rant about the dangers of evil mutants like Magneto or Apocalypse. He talks only about mutant children developing powers that could be dangerous to themselves or others. In that context, a vaccine might actually help them.

When you consider the mutant powers of characters like Rogue and Cyclops, who have mutant abilities that do real damage when uncontrolled, it seems entirely reasonable to make this vaccine available. Senator Allen never says anything about forcing it on kids or on mutants that already exist. He only ever emphasizes making it an option for concerned parents.

That’s distressing for the X-men because they don’t need to be omega-level psychics to imagine the implications. They can easily envision a concerned parent who doesn’t want their child to deal with the possibility that they may shoot lasers out of their eye one day. Any parent who cares for their child will want to mitigate the chances of them enduring such hardships.

In a world populated by mutant-hunting robots, parents already have plenty of incentive to use this vaccine. Given the damage that mutant-led conflicts often incur, the government has just as much incentive to make that vaccine available to everyone, free of charge and tax deductible. Governments less concerned with things like human rights could force it on children and that has some real-world parallels.

For mutants and the X-men, though, that means a permanent loss of their identity. Considering how mutants act as a metaphor for other oppressed minorities, this has implications for the real world, as well. I would even argue that the question will become increasingly relevant in the coming decades.

To appreciate just how relevant it could be, you need only look up the heartbreaking stories of parents who have disowned their children because they’re gay or transgender. In tragic some cases, people are driven to suicide. Even for those who aren’t parents, anything that might avert this kind of hardship is worth considering.

Given the complex causes of homosexuality, as well as the many factors behind transsexuality, it’s unlikely that there could ever be a vaccine to prevent it. The same can be said for conditions like Dwarfism. It’s not just genes, hormones, or radioactive spider bites that shape an individual’s persona. It’s a complex confluence of many things.

However, we are getting very close to a point where it’s possible to design children at the genetic level. Thanks to tools like CRISPR, it might even be possible one day to cut out entire traits from the human genome. That could, in theory, eradicate both cystic fibrosis and Dwarfism. More than a few people have expressed concern about that possibility.

Homosexuality and transsexuality are a bit different since there is no one gene or hormone that causes it, but most contemporary research suggests that genetics do play at least some role. Using similar technology, it might be possible for parents in the future to minimize or eliminate the chances of their children being homosexual or transsexual.

I imagine many in the LGBT community feel the same way about those efforts that the X-men felt about Senator Allen’s efforts in “Uncanny X-men #1.” Even if it only extends to giving parents this option for children and provides strict protections for those already born with these traits, it still treats who and what they are as a disease.

It’s dehumanizing and demeaning. More than one X-men in “Uncanny X-men #1” makes that abundantly clear. They don’t see being a mutant as a disease any more than homosexuality, transsexuality, or dwarfism. The fact that there’s now a way to prevent this makes for an existential crisis with some pretty heavy implications for the real and fictional world.

In the world of Marvel comics, a world without mutants has its own set of issues, the least of which would be the loss of a top-selling comic series. In the real world, though, the stakes are even higher. What would we, as a society, do if we suddenly had the tools to prevent homosexuality, transsexuality, and dwarfism in children before they’re even born?

I’ll even ask a more controversial question that’s sure to draw plenty of ire. What if those same tools could be used to modify the skin color, facial features, and overall appearance of our children? We already understand how genetics affects our appearance to some extent. What happens when we’re able to determine that for someone before they’re ever born?

These are objectively distressing questions. I’m glad “Uncanny X-men #1” dared to ask them. I doubt they’ll get debated or resolved completely in the proceeding issues, mostly because such resolutions are impossible in superhero comics. It still presents the X-men with a unique issue to confront and one that we will likely have to confront in the real world.

As is often the case with difficult questions, the answers are likely to anger some and distress many. Most people genuinely and sincerely want what’s best for their children. In the world of Marvel Comics, that could mean preventing them from gaining the kind of superpowers that makes them targets for Sentinels. In the real world, that could mean removing an entire class of people from the gene pool.

In issues like this, there are no heroes or villains. There are just difficult choices that we must make before someone else makes them for us.

Leave a comment

Filed under comic book reviews, futurism, gender issues, human nature, sexuality, superhero comics, Thought Experiment, X-men

The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters on Uncanny X-men #1. Enjoy!

An Uncanny Deconstruction of Superheroes in ‘Uncanny X-men #1’

Leave a comment

November 15, 2018 · 10:09 pm

The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for Astonishing X-men #15. Enjoy!

Heroes, Criminals, and Heroes Operating As Criminals: ‘Astonishing X-men #15’

Leave a comment

September 6, 2018 · 8:39 pm

The following is a review I wrote for Popmatters on “New Mutants: Dead Souls #1.” Enjoy!

Teenagers And Zombies Are A Good Mix In “New Mutants: Dead Souls #1”

Leave a comment

March 16, 2018 · 5:51 pm

Romance And Tragedy Done Right (In An X-men Comic)

598135-_sx1280_ql80_ttd_

When it comes to two genres that are often associated with one another, romance and tragedy are the literary equivalent of peanut butter and jelly. When you think of one, it’s not long before you associate it with another. Romance without tragedy is like fries without ketchup. Both are still good on their own, but it’s only when they’re together that they maximize their potential.

In that same spirit that the likes of Shakespeare and “Titanic,” superheroes often follow that narrative, but with more spectacle than old playwrights and even James Cameron could ever imagine. Being such a huge fan of superhero movies and comic books, I’m more familiar with their take on romance and tragedy than most aspiring erotica/romance writers.

As such, when an amazing, uncanny, astonishing, or whatever other adjective that a comic book puts before their title tells a story that truly embodies those ideas, I take notice. Seeing as how I’m also an unapologetic romance fan on top of being a comic book fan, those kinds of stories resonate especially well for me. They don’t come around too often, but when they do, they’re worth appreciating.

This particular story involves the X-men, which should surprise nobody who has followed this blog over the past couple years. It also involves the romance/tragedy of Cyclops and Jean Grey, which should also not surprise anyone. I’ve mentioned them before when talking about balanced romances and insufferable love triangles. This might end up being the most heart-wrenching, albeit for all the right reasons.

The name of the story is called Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey by Matthew Rosenberg. Now, if you don’t want to be spoiled, I strongly encourage everyone to read it. Either buy it at a comic shop or buy the digital version. Even if you’re not a comic book fan, it’s a great story that will still evoke all the right emotions.

That’s because this story does something that’s very rare and very difficult to do. It’s something that everyone form Shakespeare to Tolken to Stan “The Man” Lee struggled with at some point in their creative endeavors. It gets the balance between romance and tragedy right. It gets it so right, in fact, that I intend to judge all future romance/tragedies by this comic. That includes any I write.

To understand how I came to this conclusion, it’s important to understand the context of the story and why it had such a powerful impact. To do that, it’s necessary to point out the circumstances of this story. When it was announced last year, it’s stated goal was to bring Jean Grey back from the dead. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with comics knows that’s not all that groundbreaking.

Superheroes have been dying and coming back to life for decades. While “The Death of Superman” might have been the most high-profile, the initial death of Jean Grey in the original Phoenix Saga is probably the most iconic. That story established Jean Grey as a character who would be defined by death, rebirth, and everything in between. That’s part of the reason it’s the foundation of the “X-men: Dark Phoenix” movie.

That original story had a lot of romantic elements in it, but it was largely defined by its tragic ending. In that original story, Jean Grey willingly sacrificed herself in front of Cyclops and her friends to stop herself from becoming corrupted by the cosmic power of the Phoenix Force.

It was a truly gut-wrenching moment. It’s because of that moment, though, that it’s often singled out as one of the best X-men stories of all time. It was the culmination of Jean Grey’s struggle to deal with the immense power with which she’d been imbued. Moreover, she reached out to that power in order to do the impossible to protect those she loved, even if it corrupted her.

That’s an important detail to note because that’s a theme that would go onto play out on many occasions for Jean, eventually culminating in her second death in 2004. Her constant struggle to manage the immense power granted by the Phoenix Force and the corruption that often came with it is one of the primary driving forces behind Jean’s character. It’s also a big part of her appeal.

Rosenberg uses those same themes, as well as the immense power afforded by the Phoenix Force, to build the tragedy and romance that plays out in Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. It’s a story that has more drama going for it than most because, despite the presence of time travelers, Jean Grey has been dead since 2004. Her coming back after such a long absence is a big deal for X-men fans and for her character.

The challenge Rosenberg faced was making that resurrection feel more compelling than overdue in an era where dead characters come back all the time. On top of that, Jean’s association with a cosmic force known for death and resurrection means her character basically has a built-in cheat code for bringing her back. How can that be so compelling, let alone raise the bar for romance and tragedy?

This is where the spoilers come in so again, please take the time to read the comic if you can. That’s because the way Jean comes back in this story has less to do with tragedy and more to do with agency. Way back in the original Phoenix Saga, Jean reached out to Phoenix Force in an act to save her friends. It was a choice of desperation.

Well, since that fateful choice, the Phoenix Force has been like a clingy ex, wanting desperately to stay bonded to her, even thought it often corrupts her. I’ve argued before how the context of that corruption might be more complicated than it seems, but on the basis of history alone, Jean Grey has many reasons to regret that choice.

The Phoenix only gives her another in this series. After having bonded with plenty of other hosts since her death, it goes to great lengths to bond with Jean again. It goes so far as to resurrect both her and everyone she ever cared about, creating this own little world in which Jean never experiences the many tragedies that befell her. It’s like the Matrix, but with a volatile cosmic bird running the show.

 

As part of that fantasy world, Jean Grey’s long-time love, Cyclops, is alive and well. That’s critical because, at least for the time being, he’s also dead. The Phoenix Force basically gives her everything to be happy, content, and loved. Keep in mind, though, it’s not doing this out of pure altruism. It wants to bond with Jean again. That’s the goal and the fantasy world is just a means to an end.

That makes the tragedy inevitable. As is often the case with fantasy worlds, even those created by a cosmic power, they tend to crumble under the harsh weight of reality. The way in which this happens is best revealed through the story. However, the part of the story that really balances out that tragedy occurs in the final issue.

In that issue, the fantasy world crumbles, thanks largely to the efforts of Jean’s fellow X-men. Naturally, the Phoenix Force fights this and tries to tempt Jean into bonding with it again, saying its power can give her everything she desires. It can even bring back those she loves.

As part of a last-ditch effort, it demonstrates this by bringing Cyclops back to life. He’s not a clone. He’s not a time traveler. He’s not some illusion either. He’s the real, flesh-and-blood Cyclops, complete with the thoughts, feelings, and passions of the man she married.

It’s a dick move on the part of the Phoenix Force, to say the least. It’s also the moment where the romance balances the tragedy in an important way. That’s because in that moment, Jean makes another fateful choice, one every bit as dire as the one she made in the original Phoenix Saga. This time, though, she lays her heart on the line, knowing damn well it’ll be broken.

Rather than just reject this tactic as another attempt by the Phoenix to lure her in, she embraces it for a brief moment. In that moment, she gets to say goodbye to her husband. She and Cyclops even go out of their way to make clear how much they love each other, both in life and in death. Even if you’re not a big romance fan, this is a moment of pure, unadulterated heart.

27336727_267041877163590_5082078064572181652_n

We still know the tragedy is coming. We know it’s a moment that’s going to end with tears and sorrow. Anyone that ever had to read “Romeo and Juliet” in high school English class knows it’s coming and is might think they’re numb to it, especially if they flunked the test.

That’s why it was so important for the story to reaffirm that sentiment. Rosenberg did something critical when he had Cyclops and Jean Grey remind each other just how deep their love went. He gave even greater weight to the loss.

At least with “Romeo and Juliet,” the characters involved had just met. They barely knew each other. Cyclops and Jean Grey’s love story spans 50 years of X-men comics, complete with weddings, clones,  and raising a child together in the future. To know the extent of their love is to know just how much that tragedy hurts.

27540538_267041950496916_4695939471462432658_n

That, more than anything, is what puts Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey in a league of its own in terms of romance and tragedy. Instead of the tragedy defining the romance, it’s the other way around. It’s the romance that gives that tragedy such immense weight.

In too many stories, both in comics and in other mediums, tragedy relies too heavily on its own weight to make an impact. Making a love story dependent on that tragedy gives the impression that the love needed it in order to have depth. That’s why, when the tragedy eventually occurs, it doesn’t always hit all the emotional chords.

Rosenberg left no emotional chords unstruck with this story. It’s because Jean shared that special moment with the man she loved that her decision to reject the Phoenix Force carries so much weight. That decision comes with so much pain, anguish, and sorrow. It’s one thing to just depict it. It’s quite another to truly convey it.

That’s what truly makes Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey so special. It conveys both the breadth of the romance and the extent of the tragedy. Moreover, it does that in a way where one complements the other. For a romance built heavily around two characters operating as equals, I can’t think of anything more fitting.

Again, if you’re fan of romance, tragedy, or both, check out Phoenix Resurrection: The Return of Jean Grey. Even if you hate comics and the X-men, this one will evoke all the right emotions. You’ll shed tears of sorrow and joy at the same time. It’ll feel so weird, but so right.

7 Comments

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, X-men