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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Age Of X-Man Omega #1

Comics are a unique form of media in that its structure allows a certain kind of story to be told. It’s not like a movie in that it comes out once every few years and costs over $150 million to produce. It’s not like a TV show either that requires broadcast rights, streaming services, and dealing with cable companies.

The simplicity of comics, unfolding on paper and needing only ink and text to convey the story, gives it near unlimited capacity for telling big stories with bold concepts with vibrant imagery. There’s no need to pay Michael Bay or a special effects team to bring it all to life. It just requires a bold idea and someone with incredible art skills to make it real.

A comic like “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” is one of those books that fully utilizes the greatest strengths of the medium. It builds entire worlds while exploring bold concepts on a level that, if it were a movie, would take the gross national product of a small country to make real.

Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, alongside artist Simone Buonfantino, created an incredible world. Mutants, the X-Men, and their struggle took on an entirely new context within a new realty, courtesy of Nate Grey, one of the X-Men’s most overpowered characters. Age of X-Man has been a story about the strengths and flaws in this reality. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” brings that story to a close.

From its inception in “Age Of X-Man Alpha #1,” this world that Thompson and Nadler created has been an elaborate thought experiment. What does a perfect, Utopian world look like for mutants and the X-Men? Given the many dytopian timelines the X-Men have explored, it’s not an unreasonable question.

Over the course of multiple books that cover multiple characters and concepts, we get to explore that world and all its complexities. Thompson and Nadler go heavy on the world-building, revealing the best parts of this Utopian vision, as well as price it incurs. With “Age Of X-Man Omega #1,” the full story of this world is complete. Now, it’s up to the X-Men to decide what to do with it.

Like all Utopias, the Age Of X-man comes at a cost. On the surface, everyone is safe and happy. However, there are some dark, disturbing reasons for this. The X-Men of this world, which include the likes of Jean Grey, Storm, Magneto, Nightcrwaler, Mirage, Colossus, Beast, and Bishop, have been uncovering those reasons over the course of the series. Now, they know the full truth.

However, this isn’t just a matter of fighting the source of these harsh truths. Nate Grey is not a mustache-twirling villain. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” goes out of its way to justify his actions and the logic behind them. In the grand scheme of things, his logic isn’t that twisted.

The greatest strength of “Age Of X-Man Omega #1,” as well as the overall event, is that none of the conflicts were born out of total malice. Nate Grey didn’t create this world to toy with the X-Men or get revenge. He did it because he had the power to end the never-ending struggle that only ever brings them pain and suffering.

It’s at the heart of every Utopian vision, attempting to eliminate suffering so that everyone can be happy. It always comes at a price and Nate Grey understood that price. He even goes out of his way to justify it to the X-Men as they’re opposing him. To some extent, he has a point.

He highlights how the relationships the X-Men forge have been a liability in their efforts. He points out, ironically, how some of their most human traits are the very reason why they suffer so much. His world worked to subvert that and, even though it meant manipulation and subjugation for some, it succeeded in its own perverse way.

That’s exactly what makes the ultimate conclusion in “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” feel dramatic. It’s not entirely framed as the X-Men escaping from a prison or uncovering Nate Grey’s secrets. There is a final clash and it definitely maximizes Buonfantino’s talents. However, that clash doesn’t end because the X-Men defeated Nate Grey.

Without spoiling too many details of a story that has such an immense scope, I’ll note there are some powerful moments in which the X-Men and the mutants they’ve sworn to protect make some difficult choices. They’ve lived in this Utopia. They now know the price of such a Utopia. What they do with this knowledge is less about the battles they fight and more about the choices they make.

For once, there’s no army of killer robots to fight. There’s no deranged, mutant-hating villain to thwart. “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” puts the burden on the X-Men and the entire mutant population of the Marvel Universe to decide the course of their fate. Being heroes, their decisions aren’t that surprising. Even so, those decisions carry a great deal of weight.

As a final chapter, “Age Of X-Man Omega #1” caps off a bold story within an exotic world that dares to explore some weighty concepts. The idea of a Utopia is not new, but it’s a concept that still resonates in both real and fictional worlds. As long as people live in imperfect worlds, fictional or otherwise, it’ll continue to resonate.

The Age of X-Man built a story around an ideal life for mutants, free of conflict and killer robots. That story didn’t bring an end to the X-Men and their mission, but it did put it in a very different context. That, in my opinion, is an uncanny accomplishment.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Age of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5

For comic book fans, Wednesdays are basically our weekly holy days. It’s the day when we take a moment to stop obsessing over the latest casting rumors for the MCU and just enjoy a stack of new comics. After all, superhero movies wouldn’t be the multi-billion dollar draw they are without these comics.

The over-arching narrative of superhero comics is powerful. They embody the best parts of the classic hero’s journey that often finds their way into our most iconic stories. They can inspire, as well as guide people down a particular path. In “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5,” however, someone finds a way to weaponize that narrative.

For the past several months, the X-Men comics have undergone a strange, yet colorful upheaval. Nate Grey, an overpowered mutant capable of warping reality on a level that makes “The Matrix” look lazy, basically lost his mind and decided to go out with a bang. That bang involved taking nearly every major X-Men character with him and putting them in an entirely new reality with an entirely different history.

On the surface, it’s a utopia. Granted, love and intimacy are outlawed, but there are no mutant internment camps so that counts as an upgrade for the X-men. Everyone lives in peace and the X-Men aren’t just celebrated. They’re basically real-life holy figures. There are no more killer robots to fight or extinctions to avoid. They basically won.

However, that’s just the primary narrative of this world. That finally starts to unravel in “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5.”

Since the whole Age of X-Man story began, Nate Grey has basically been the architect of his own world. He’s built the society, crafted its history, and completely changed the life story of every individual. This isn’t just another case of wiping someone’s mind to think they once dated Taylor Swift. This is an entirely new world, but to the X-Men, it’s the only world they’ve always known.

This huge gut-punch to reality isn’t something Nate did out of malice. Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler establish from the beginning that Nate’s intentions are good, albeit tragic. There’s never a sense that he created this world for selfish reasons. He genuinely believes that this world is one in which mutants can live in peace and everyone he loves can be happy.

Even his power and the narratives he weaves around them have limits, though. While investigating the murder of Moneta, the X-Men finally uncover unambiguous clues as to just how much Nate has been manipulating things. The signs have been there throughout the Age of X-Man story, but now there’s no avoiding the truth. They know the story he’s trying to tell and the lies he’s using to tell it.

When Nate wrote the history of this world, he did so knowing that it wasn’t enough to make everyone happy. Even in a world without killer robots or convoluted movie rights, people need something to strive for. That means it’s not enough to give the heroes a good story. He has to give the villains a story, as well.

That means that even Apocalypse, Nate’s biggest enemy, has to be part of this narrative. His role is very different from the murder-happy social Darwinist he’s always been, but he still acts as this powerful threat to this utopian world. He makes the X-Men necessary and creates discord that requires more than just fighting.

Even as Thompson and Nadler finally peel back the curtain, Nate’s efforts to maintain this narrative never waiver. In some parts of the issue, Nate acts as the narrator, trying to justify the story of this world. There’s still no mustache-twirling evil in his story, but it’s clear there are a few plot holes that he just can’t plug.

Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5” isn’t entirely built around the X-Men uncovering the truth. There’s no existential crisis or mental breakdown upon learning the truth. Instead, there’s a sense of anger and betrayal. Nate isn’t just some unhinged, overpowered mutant. He’s their friend. He’s family. To them, he was a hero before he tried telling this bigger story.

In many respects, that’s what has made Age of X-Man such an engaging story. “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5” effectively doubles down on the tragic elements of that story. This is very different from the Scarlet Witch going crazy and committing mass genocide. Nate comes off as disturbingly sane as he tries to protect and maintain this world that he’s created.

In any superhero narrative, intentions matter. Villains, by definition, tend to have selfish and destructive motives. By that standard, Nate is not a villain. He is certainly misguided, though. The extend of just how misguided he is finally plays out in “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5.”

For many of the characters involved, especially characters like Jean Grey, Storm, and Nightcrawler, it’s devastating in ways that go beyond having their lives manipulated. Nate Grey is their friend. He’s helped them in the past. Hell, he goes by the code-name, X-Man. He’s supposed to embody the best aspects of who they are.

Now, they have to take him down. After learning about what he did and how much he warped their lives, the X-Men have to be the ones to end Nate’s story. It’s tragic, but fitting. In terms of ending a story, though, that can be a potent combination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Second “Dark Phoenix” Trailer: Reaction And (High) Hopes

It’s been a long wait since the first trailer for “Dark Phoenix.” In that time, there have been plenty of distractions and upheavals, from who would host the Oscars to trolls attacking the “Captain Marvel” movie for asinine reasons. Plenty still find excuses to whine about this movie, also for asinine reasons. Finally, despite all that proverbial noise, we get a second trailer and it was so worth the wait.

There are a lot of things that a quality story about the Phoenix Saga needs to capture all the right feelings. This one checked nearly every box, more so than the first.

It had drama.

It had devastating emotional upheaval.

It had elements of cosmic influence.

It had inner turmoil.

It had heartfelt sorrow.

It had despair.

It had desperate people trying desperately to save someone they loved.

Even if you haven’t read the originals story, these are all important components for a powerful story. It’s part of the reason why the Phoenix Saga is often identified as the greatest X-men story ever told. Unlike previous attempts, this movie is making that story front and center.

That, more than anything, should give me and other X-men fans hope that this one will be done right. I’ve seen more than a few people whine about how similar this movie is to “X-men: The Last Stand.” I don’t blame those people for seeing this as a bad thing, given how poorly that movie handled the Phoenix plot.

Nuff said!

However, this trailer does much more than the first one to set itself apart. Yes, Jean is still wearing a large red overcoat instead of her iconic Phoenix attire, complete with the waist sash, but attire was not the reason why the previous attempt to tell that story failed.

As I’ve noted before, the most critical part of telling any story about the Phoenix Saga is capturing the right emotions with the characters. With all due respect to Famke Jansen, Sophie Turner shows more emotional range in this trailer than Ms. Janssen did over the entire course of “X-men: The Last Stand.” Moreover, it highlights the emotional impact that her growing powers have on everyone Jean loves.

That impact includes a heavy loss, as evidenced by the funeral scene. It also shows in how both Jean’s friends and enemies react to handling her. Some, even those who think themselves her friend, think she’s beyond saving. Others, namely Cyclops, are still determined to save her.

Not ignoring the fact that Cyclops is actually playing a major role here instead of getting killed off in the first 10 minutes of the movie, thereby worsening the worst love triangle of all time, this trailer leaves one other important element unspoiled and up in the air.

We know there will be death and loss in this movie, as is often the case in any X-men story involving the Phoenix Force. I even uncovered some critical hints during my trip to New York Comic Con last year. There’s still one burning question that will likely determine how this movie is received.

What is the ultimate fate of Jean Grey?

This is one instance where the answer could take us down many paths. If Jean Grey ultimately dies, as happened in the original story, it would be keeping in the spirit of loss and sacrifice. It’s difficult to pull off, but given how bland, cowardly, and unceremonious her fate was in “X-men: The Last Stand,” it wouldn’t be that hard to improve upon.

If she lives, though, which actually was the initial ending to the story in the comics, it would require a very different recourse compared to the previous movie. That may ultimately be the best way to silence those who keep bemoaning how much this movie resembles “X-men: The Last Stand.” However, getting Jean to a place where she could survive, even after losing control, would be a difficult task.

Whatever the outcome, the stage is set. “Dark Phoenix” is coming and will likely be the swan song of this era of X-men movies. With Disney about to take over Fox and set to bring the X-men into the MCU, it would be perfectly fitting if this movie ended on a high note. We saw how powerful that kind of story can be with “Logan.” After seeing this trailer, I believe this movie has that potential, but with more cosmic flare.

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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.

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The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for X-Men Red #11.

Jean Grey Exercises the Power of Emotional Intelligence in ‘X-men Red #11’

 

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December 17, 2018 · 8:47 pm

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’

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November 15, 2018 · 10:09 pm