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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Powers of X #6

When assessing the greatness of a particular story arc in comics, there are many factors to consider. There’s the quality of the writing, the strength of the characterization, the cohesiveness of the plot, the vibrancy of the artwork, and how it all fits together in terms of the greater narrative. Many comics succeed in some of these areas and are worth reading. Very few manage to succeed in most.

I usually try to avoid spoiling too much of a great story, but I will spoil one thing. “Powers of X #6,” and the overall story arc it capped off, is among those select few. In the history of X-Men comics, Marvel Comics, and superhero comics in general, this is one of those stories that will likely stand out as an example of what’s possible when all the right story elements are in place.

Writer Jonathan Hickman has always been someone with big ideas who builds even bigger stories around them. He starts with a concept. Then, he positions the characters around it in such a way that requires them to evolve in ways that they’ve never dared. From there, the story only gets bigger in terms of scope, scale, and impact.

He did it with the Avengers. He did it with the Fantastic Four. Now, he’s done it again with the X-Men. As a lifelong X-Men fan, who has seen some pretty awful runs and some exceedingly dark times, I cannot overstate how refreshing this story is. I honestly cannot think of a time when an X-Men story arc felt so meaningful and relevant.

I’ve highlighted and praised various issues of House of X and Powers of X before, but “Powers of X #6” faces a unique challenge that many story arcs fail to overcome. It can’t just end the story on a particular note. It has to fill in some lingering plot holes while leaving just enough unfilled for future stories to build on. It’s a difficult balance to strike and one past X-Men story arcs have come up short.

That balance never falters in “Powers of X #6.” It fills in a few key plot holes, most notably the events of Moira MacTaggart’s mysterious sixth life. At the core of this story, and everything that stems from it, is the impact of Moira MacTaggart. It’s not hyperbole to state that she is now the most important character in the X-Men mythos.

Her role doesn’t just involve revealing what worked and didn’t work in terms of mutants trying to survive in a world that hates and fears them. In “Powers of X #6,” she witnesses the ultimate endgame for the human/mutant conflict. She sees the inevitable result of this conflict, regardless of which side she takes.

It doesn’t matter if someone sides with Magneto.

It doesn’t matter if someone sides with Professor Charles Xavier.

It doesn’t even matter if someone swears allegiance to Apocalypse and fights by his side.

The events in “Powers of X #6” establish that none of these conflicting groups, who have been clashing in X-Men comics since the Kennedy Administration, will be vindicated in the long run. Ultimately, they will be defeated, but not by the forces they think.

It’s a point that Hickman makes clearly by building on key moments established in past issues of Powers of X and House of X. Within these moments, harsh truths are dropped and fateful choices are made. They help give the achievements that played out in “House of X #6” even more weight. They also establish the stakes the X-men, and the entire mutant race in general, face moving forward.

These are powerful moments that impact the past, present, and future of the X-Men. Through Moira, the greatest threats facing mutants takes a very different form. It’s not a menacing new Sentinel. It’s not some mutant tyrant, either. It’s not even some bigoted human who thinks interment camps are still a good idea. I won’t spoil the particulars, but c makes clear that the X-Men have an uphill battle.

That’s saying a lot, considering the mutant race is more united than it has ever been. They have a home in Krakoa. Teammates who have been dead or missing for many years are back. They have valuable resources that the world wants. They’ve even won over their greatest enemies, like Apocalypse.

However, even with Moira’s foresight, that still might not be enough.

It might be the greatest achievement of “Powers of X #6.” It is an ending to a bold new beginning for the X-Men, but it also redefines the challenges they face. Through Hickman’s skilled world-building and artist R. B. Silva’s brilliant renderings, it genuinely feels like a true paradigm shift for X-Men comics.

They’re still mutants. They’re still the same superheroes they’ve always been. Their goals haven’t fundamentally changed that much. What has changed are the stakes, the forces opposing them, and their approach to dealing with them. It feels both hopeful and dire at the same time.

Whereas “House of X #6” establishes the promise of a brighter future for mutants, “Powers of X #6” reveals the ultimate barrier to that future. It’s not something they can shoot, blast, stab, or punch. If they want to succeed, then they have to fundamentally change how they go about Charles Xavier’s dream. Moreover, the dream itself needs to evolve.

Years from now, X-Men fans will likely look back on “Powers of X #6” as a defining moment for a narrative that has been unfolding for over 50 years. Those moments are few, far between, and precious. This one in particular may go down as one of the most uncanny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back (And Exhausted) From New York Comic Con 2019

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It was a long, eventful day, but it’s over now. I built my entire day around attending New York Comic Con 2019 and, without a doubt, it was a day well-spent. I saw so many amazing things. I met so many awesome people. Between the fans, the costumes, the panels, and the big news, there was just so much to experience. I’m still processing it all.

To be honest, it’s going to take a few days to fully appreciate what I experienced. That’s to be expected for the New York Comic Con. For as long as I’ve been going, it has always been this huge spectacle that overwhelms me with so many things I love. Every year I feel like it has to take a step back, it somehow surprises me.

This year was no exception. It was an incredible experience. Now, I’m exhausted and badly in need of some rest. As long and arduous as this day was, however, it was SO worth it.

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On My Way To New York Comic Con 2019!

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It’s that magical time of year again! The New York Comic Con for 2019 has arrived! For lifelong superhero fans like me, this is like Christmas, the Super Bowl, Black Friday, and Halloween all rolled into one glorious event. I could write an entire book about how excited I am and it still wouldn’t get the point across.

I know I said that last year and the year before that. I’ll probably say it again next year. The sentiment will be the same. The New York Comic Con is one of my favorite times of year. It’s an event that’s near and dear to fans of superhero comics, movies, video games, and all things awesome. For that, it is special.

I hope to share plenty of details when all is said and done. Until then, excuse me while I soak in every glorious moment.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House Of X #6

There’s an unwritten rule in superhero comics. Heroes can enjoy a happy ending every now and then. However, it can only go so far. For every happy ending, there must also be a setup for the next conflict. It also can’t be too happy. The struggle can never stop or slow down. More epic battles must follow. Where else will Marvel and their Disney overlords get ideas for new billion-dollar movies?

Sometimes, the happy endings are as short-lived as they are shallow. This is especially true of X-Men comics. Their struggle is more complicated than fighting hordes of Hydra soldiers or battling invading Chitari armies. Sure, they regularly battle killer robots, but the primary source of their problems come from hatred and fear. There’s only so much they can triumph over that. A typical internet comments section is proof of that.

As a result, any victory the X-Men enjoy seems fleeting. Any semblance of a happy ending or true progress comes off as shallow or temporary. That has been my experience, as a lifelong X-Men fan. Then, “House of X #6” comes along and in the span of a single book, those unwritten are bent, broken, and redefined.

Throughout the X-Men’s colorful history, there have been many defining moments. Unfortunately, most of them often involve tragedy, destruction, and decimation. The moments that involve a triumphant, happy ending that feels like real progress in their struggles are few and far between. That only makes “House of X #6” more precious in the grand scheme of things.

This epic, world-building narrative began with a simple proclamation from Charles Xavier. While humanity slept, the world changed. In “House of X #6,” the sheer breadth of that change becomes clear. Xavier doesn’t just announce to the world that things are different. He explains why and how they got to this critical point.

It’s the kind of speech that leaves you anxious, astonished, concerned, and elated, all at the same time. He doesn’t talk around the truth or rely on alternative facts. He lays out clearly what mutants have been through. Even if you haven’t been following the X-Men comics for the past several decades, you get a clear understanding of how they got to this point.

They’ve been bullied, attacked, ignored, and driven to the brink of extinction more than once. They’ve clashed with other superheroes while being held to a different standard. In a world where so many other people have superpowers and aren’t subject to constant killer robot attacks, mutants are seen as a menace.

Now, they’re not just outcasts fighting for their lives and working towards impossible dreams. They’re a full-fledged society. They now have a home in Krakoa, which is now a full-fledged nation. They have their own culture and identity that they’re willing to fight for. These all feel like changes that are exceedingly overdue. Writer Jonathan Hickman finally put it into words while artist Pepe Larraz gave it vibrant visuals.

It’s a beautiful, cathartic moment that X-Men fans of all kinds can appreciate. On top of this momentous announcement, Hickman adds a few more details to the world-building. Now that mutants have their own nation, they have to go about governing it. It’s the kind of detail that tends to get overlooked in most superhero narratives, but it’s those same details that give depth to this emerging status quo.

The government of Krakoa is not overly complicated, but it’s still comprehensive in its vision. Hickman does not skimp on the details. We even get to see how Krakoa handles difficult issues, such as major laws and what to do with those who break them. It’s not quite like watching a mutant version of C-SPAN, but it gets the point across.

This isn’t just mutants consolidating their power. They’re trying to function as a real nation with real connections in the international community. They’re not going to be some isolated enclave. They actually have something to offer the world with the miracle drugs Krakoa produces. However, they’re not treating them as bargaining chips or gifts. They’re real assets with which to create standing in the world.

It’s uncharted territory for mutants. It also opens the door to a new host of complications, but for once, they don’t involve drawing battle lines between humans and mutants. Xavier still seeks peace, but not through impossible dreams anymore.

This is a huge shift for Charles Xavier’s character. It’s a huge shift for the X-Men, as well. They’re not just a team of mutant superheroes anymore. They’re something greater and “House of X #6” is their way of announcing that to the world.

I won’t spoil the many other ways Hickman and Larraz explore this exciting new world. There are plenty of moments that set the stage for a very different kind of struggle with the X-Men. There are also a few hints that they’ll be dealing with a few threats down the line, some more familiar than others. That’s unavoidable, both for superheroes and blossoming nations.

However, I will spoil one critical detail. “House of X #6” gives the X-Men, mutants, and long-time fans a reason to celebrate. It wasn’t that long ago that the X-Men were in a dire state. Marvel was going out of their way marginalized them in favor of propping up the Inhumans. Major characters were being killed off, left and right. Now, in wake of this issue, those dark days feel like distant memories.

The events of “House of X #6” feel like the end of a long, tumultuous period of tribulations and the beginning of a new era. It’s not all doom and gloom, for once. There’s reason to be happy. There’s reason to grab a beer and celebrate. If the X-Men comics were to end with this issue, it would be a damn good ending.

A new world has been built. A new era has arrived for the X-Men. It’s as satisfying as it is overdue. To X-Men fans of all kinds, get some friends, grab a cold beer, and have a party. Hickman has given us a reason to celebrate.

 

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