Tag Archives: superhero comics

What “The Gifted” Reveals (And Warns Us) About Ourselves

Every now and then, a TV show comes along at just the right time. Like bikinis in the summer, hot chocolate in the winter, or beer at a football game, it just makes the right connections for all the right reasons.

You could argue that shows like “Married With Children” or “South Park” were shows that just happened to come along at a time when audiences were eager for something different, but didn’t know it. Some, especially “Married With Children,” couldn’t be made today because of changing standards. The fat jokes alone would’ve triggered endless whining on social media that would’ve gone on for years.

That brings me to “The Gifted,” Fox’s latest effort to squeeze every cent of profit from the X-men franchise. Yes, this is going to be another one of those posts. As I’ve done before, I’m going to tie real-world issues to one of my favorite superheroes. Unlike other posts, though, those ties go beyond getting romance tips from Deadpool.

While I’m usually skeptical about efforts to shamelessly exploit the glut of superhero shows on TV, I gladly make an exception for “The Gifted” and for a good reason. Compared to superhero melodrama on the CW or the gritty violence of the superheroes on Netflix, it’s a very different kind of show with a very different kind of struggle. Unlike aliens, blind lawyers, and secret armies of ninjas, this struggle is more relevant.

That’s because “The Gifted” doesn’t focus on heroes. Sure, it takes place in the same world as the X-men, but they aren’t the focus. Instead, the show builds its story around the Von Strucker family. They don’t live in a mansion. They don’t have their own personal hypersonic jet. They don’t even have their own personal high-tech training room.

The Von Struckers, unlike their comic counterparts, are an ordinary middle class family. They aren’t concerned with superheroes, super-villains, and insane love triangles between heroes. They’re concerned with work, school, taxes, and taking out the garbage. In a sense, they are a reflection of real people in a world with unreal challenges.

That’s a perspective that rarely manifests in the X-men movies. In fact, other than a memorable scene in “X2: X-men United,” the impact that mutants have on ordinary people is rarely touched on. Sure, they’ll show humans running in terror from a Sentinel or a pissed-off Magneto. That doesn’t give us much insight into the lives these people live.

The Gifted” builds an entire narrative around a family that lives in this world and during exceedingly tense times, no less. This is not a world where seeing the X-men take down a Sentinel is the sort of thing that happens every other Tuesday. This is a world where both the X-men and the Brotherhood have disappeared in an event that has only been referred to as “The July 15th Incident.”

That incident, much like 9/11 or a major assassination, created a dramatic/traumatic shift in society. Suddenly, mutants aren’t just another minority issue. They’re an existential threat, like nuclear weapons or mass pandemics. Mutants aren’t just a distant threat anymore. They’re a real threat.

From the perspective of the Von Struckers, at least in the first episode, the danger of mutants is like the threat of terrorism. They know it’s there. They accept the systems and precautions that society has put in place to deal with it. They’ve learned not to think much of it. They’re too busy just being an ordinary family in a world that happens to have individuals who have the mutant ability to turn into ice cream.

In a sense, we’ve done the same thing in the real world. We accept that we live in a world where the NSA reads all our emails, the CIA tries to assassinate world leaders, and gross injustices happen every day. We know, to some extent, that it’s manifesting all around us. We just shut it out and try to live our lives.

What happens, though, when that injustice hits you or someone you love? That’s what happens to the Von Struckers in the very first episode of “The Gifted.” Their blissfully oblivious lives are shattered when Reed and Kate Strucker find out their children are both mutants. Not only that, one of them ends up trashing the school gymnasium when his powers first manifest.

Their happy, middle class lives aren’t just disrupted. They’re shattered, spit on, and covered in fresh whale shit. To make matters worse, Reed Strucker, played by Stephen Moyer, was a prosecutor who made his living sending mutants to prison. Short of beating mutant children with a baseball bat for a living, he couldn’t have had a worse job.

The mutants he sent to prison weren’t always guilty of crimes. Sometimes, it was just a matter of being in the wrong place when their biology decided to act up. It would be like a teenage boy being arrested for an awkward boner, something we can’t always control. Granted, mutant powers tend to be more destructive, but they can be just as unpredictable.

It’s this revelation, as well as the events that unfold in the episodes that follow, that really highlight the impact that “The Gifted” leaves. It’s an impact more relevant than most X-men stories, including the ones that involve jealous ex-lovers. In a sense, it’s one that many minorities already understand all too well.

From the beginning of the show, there’s never a sense that Reed Strucker believed that he was hurting anyone. He never came off as the kind of guy who hates mutants and longs for the days where men like him can throw mutants into internment camps. He’s just doing his job, which he believes is making the public safer.

It’s really no different from those who genuinely believe that homosexuality is inherently harmful or that gun control will only lead to more violence. Most of the people who believe these things, the Pat Robertsons and Richard Spencers of the world notwithstanding, are decent people who want to live in a world where they’re families are safe.

Then, something traumatic comes along that shatters this worldview. They find out they have a gay son or they find themselves in the crossfire of a mass shooting. Suddenly, they can’t ignore these injustices anymore. They can’t go about their happy lives as though the system isn’t victimizing someone. It’s one of those rare situations where no amount of excuse banking can change the truth.

In a sense, the Von Strucker family are reflections of the families in the real world that find themselves on the wrong end of injustice. Whether it’s a Muslim family victimized by racial profiling or being on the wrong side of a sexual harassment claim, it’s not possible to avoid or ignore it anymore. These injustices are hurting you and the people you love. It’s soul-shattering, but that’s what makes “The Gifted” so compelling.

In the fourth episode, this message really hits hard. Reed finds himself in a jail cell right next to Polaris, a mutant who he prosecuted in the first episode, who also happens to be Magneto’s daughter. In these bleak conditions, she basically lays out all the hard truths that he and others like him avoid.

Yes, there was an incident where a group of mutants, which you could substitute for any minority, did something terrible. That was a terrible incident, but efforts to prevent other incidents like that are just hurting real people who don’t want to be superheroes fighting killer robots. Polaris is just one of them. Reed’s children are two more.

That harsh message is one that carries over in the real world, often in tragic ways. Back in 2007, a documentary called “For The Bible Tells Me So” highlighted deeply religious families who had been vehemently anti-gay, only to have one of their children turn out to be gay. Sometimes, it changed their perspective. In some instances, though, it ended tragically.

It’s a harsh, but necessary truth. We can’t control our circumstances. Much like Reed Strucker, we sometimes find ourselves in the worst situations at the worst possible times. The world is chaotic, full of strange people who do terrible things. The fact we can’t control or prevent those things is agonizing, at times. We, as a society, will do as much as we can to mitigate that danger.

In the process, though, we’ll try to fight injustice with more injustice. We’ll obsess less over what is real and more about what is potentially real. It leads us to do extreme things like throw innocent people into internment camps or create killer robots to protect people.

The Gifted” reveals the cost of those measures. It goes beyond the eccentricities surrounding superheroes and focus on the real impact that real minorities feel. Most who are lucky enough to not be part of that group remain content to ignore it. Then, when it finally affects them, they realize just how unjust it is.

At a time when injustices are harder to hide and minorities are a growing part of society, these are important messages. The X-men have been exploring these themes for years, often with colorful adventures involving cosmic birds. “The Gifted” goes even deeper and during these troubled times, these are messages worth heeding.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, X-men

My Justice League Review (And Why The Criticisms Are Unwarranted)

When I did my review for the “Wonder Woman” movie earlier this year, I did so under fairly favorable circumstances. The movie was already getting a lot of positive buzz from critics and general word-of-mouth. I was excited to see it in any case, but that buzz certainly set a positive tone when assessing the merits of that movie.

With “Justice League,” I face the polar opposite of those circumstances. While I generally try not to give much weight to critics or Rotten Tomatoes scores, it was hard to avoid this time. Unlike “Wonder Woman,” the buzz for this movie was entirely negative and it showed in the box office returns, also known as the only real measure that studios care about.

For a movie that was set to be a major milestone, finally putting DC’s most iconic heroes into one movie, it has since become an outright scandal. How can a movie with so much superhero star power do this poorly? That’s a question I am not equipped to answer, especially since people much smarter and more well-connected than me already have.

Instead, I’m going to walk right into this ongoing firestorm of whining and anger to give my spoiler-free review of this movie. I wanted to do it sooner, but I decided to let that firestorm die down just a bit before I offered my take. That might have been a mistake on my part. There’s a lot of noise surrounding “Justice League,” but not much insight.

With that in mind, I’m going to keep my review simple. I’m not going to try and extrapolate a bigger picture, like I did with “Wonder Woman.” I’m just going to focus my review on one simple question.

Is “Justice League” a good movie?

Before I go into detail and try to talk over all the noise, I want to answer this question with my honest and sincere sentiment. Given how much I’ve talked about comic books, superheroes, and superhero movies, including the sexy parts, I like to think my answer has at least some weight. However much stock you put into my opinion, here’s my ultimate conclusion on “Justice League.”

It is a good movie.

Yes, I realize that sentiment doesn’t reflect its Tomatometer score. Keep in mind, though, that score reflects the opinions of critics who are paid to see and/or overthink movies. It doesn’t reflect how actual fans feel about it, which actually shows in the response for this movie.

Even critics can’t deny that this movie went out of its way to please fans, especially those who were dissatisfied with “Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.” It directly dealt with the aftermath of that movie, as well as the characters’ reaction to it. It even dealt with the aftermath of “Wonder Woman,” building upon a foundation and creating connections, exactly like a real movie universe should.

Those connections weren’t too critical to appreciate the movie as a whole. It also works very well on its own, creating a simple, concise plot that really ramps up the scale. Again, it’s entirely consistent with the effort to make a large, inter-connected movie universe, just as Marvel has done with so much acclaim.

However, that’s not my primary reason for me saying that “Justice League” is a good movie. In simplest terms, this movie is good because it sticks to the basics and does them very well. It doesn’t try to be overly elaborate. It doesn’t attempt to reinvent the characters to an excessive degree. Yes, those characters have some variations, compared to their comic counterparts, but it’s nothing that warrants confusion or outrage.

Superman is still Superman. Wonder Woman is still Wonder Woman. Batman is still Batman, even if it is through the brooding demeanor of Ben Affleck. Getting those three right is critical to the success of any “Justice League” movie and this one makes it a point to do that early on.

It doesn’t stop there, though. It puts time and energy into developing the rest of the league, namely Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. These three characters had only brief cameos in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice,” but they achieved much greater depth here.

These supporting members weren’t just there to fill out the ranks. They each had their own personal story to follow. Through that story, Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg gain a personal stake in “Justice League.” It’s not just about saving the world for them. They’re struggling for something greater and, through the story, they achieve it.

At times, there are a lot of plots unfolding simultaneously. The personal stories of all those involved tend to mix. While it does get somewhat messy, it never gets chaotic. The story never goes off-track and it never becomes too confusing, which was a common criticism levied against “Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.”

A major reason why the story remained so concise was because of the main villain, Steppenwolf. While he’s not as iconic a villain as Lex Luthor, Loki, or Darkseid, who is mentioned multiple times, he does plenty to establish himself as a powerful threat and a highly motivated villain.

Like the other members of the league, his role in the plot has a personal component. He doesn’t just show up, wanting to destroy the world for shits and giggles. There’s an actual reason behind his actions and those reasons never become excuses, something that should carry weight for any character.

On top of those reasons, Steppenwolf’s story helps build the bigger picture of the DC Extended Universe. Through it, we learn that there are much larger conflicts in this universe that go beyond the Justice League. It helps establish a larger role for the Amazons, who showed their strength in “Wonder Woman.” It also establishes the Atlanteans and Green Lantern Corp, who are set to show theirs in future movies.

If the secondary goal of “Justice League” was to build a world and expand the possibilities, it certainly succeeded. If its primary goal was to bring each hero together in a way that was entertaining, flashy, and dramatic, then it succeeded as well.

There were plenty of powerful moments. There were plenty of dramatic moments. There were even some funny moments, most of which involved Ezra Miller’s Flash. Few of the moments felt forced or contrived. None felt empty either. There was purpose in every moment, decision, and action. By those most basic of standards, “Justice League” works.

I would even argue that this movie works better than a lot of Marvel movies. I would certainly put it above titles like “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” and “Iron Man 3,” movies that I think get more praise than they deserve. “Justice League” even makes the effort to improve on the mistakes of its predecessor, something few franchises even try, as “Amazing Spider-Man” can attest.

None of this is to say that “Justice League” is without flaws. It certainly has a few. The effects aren’t as flashy or colorful as other movies. Even “Man Of Steel” had better effects, by comparison. It’s also worth belaboring that Ben Affleck is no Christian Bale and Steppenwolf is no Darkseid. It really did feel as though the movie held back, at times.

If that’s the biggest shortcoming of “Justice League,” though, then I still say it qualifies as a good movie. It tells a story. It fleshes out characters. It tells a big, flashy story, full of big battles and satisfying conclusions. There’s a sense of emotional catharsis at the end that is much more uplifting than what we got in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice.” When put in the context of the greater DCEU, it acts like frosting on the cake.

Why, then, does it receive such hate and scorn from critics? If this movie does have a major crime, it’s that it isn’t crafted in the same mold as Marvel with their cinematic universe. I don’t deny that Marvel sets a very high bar. However, this movie cannot and should not operate by those same standards. If it did, then those same critics would just whine that it’s ripping off Marvel too much.

There are other criticisms of “Justice League,” but when so many of them revolve around Henry Cavill’s digitally-removed mustache, those criticisms are downright petty. It is possible to hate and criticize this movie by focusing on those petty issues, but that’s hardly a fair way to judge the actual substance of the movie.

In terms of actual substance, “Justice League” has it and plenty more. It Superman being Superman, Batman being Batman, and Wonder Woman being Wonder Woman, just in case her movie didn’t give you enough of that. For that reason, “Justice League” deserves far more praise than it has gotten and far less petty criticism.

In the end, it still gives us a satisfying, live-action Justice League movie. That, in and of itself, makes it inherently awesome

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Movie Reviews, Wonder Woman

Five Reasons Why “X-men: The Animated Series” Was More Progressive Than You Think

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This past Halloween was extra sweet for a certain group of comic book fans, one that I just happen to be part of. Even if you’re not a comic book fan and were just a kid of the 90s, growing up on a steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons, this year marked a special milestone for one of the best shows of that era.

Yes, it involves superheroes. Yes, it involves X-men, which I often go out of my way to discuss. Yes, it involves this iconic theme music that has since become my ring tone.

That insanely catchy guitar rift that got stuck in the heads of millions of fans is from “X-men: The Animated Series.” On October 31st, 1992, this series debuted on Fox Kids and countless childhoods were forged from that day forward, including my own.

That was 25 years ago and while that thought makes me feel way older than I care to feel, it still brings back fond memories. One of my favorite parts of the day, as a kid, was rushing home from school, turning on the TV, and watching my favorite shows. “X-men: The Animated Series,” along with shows like “Spider-Man” and “Power Rangers,” were a big part of my carton diet.

I largely credit this show and “Spider-Man” for getting me into comic books, superheroes, and everything that came with it. I also credit those shows with giving me an early understanding of character development, romance, and storytelling, which would go onto help me write my sexy novels.

For that reason, and many others, “X-men: The Animated Series” has a special place in my heart. I imagine many X-men fans feel the same way because it was this show that helped the X-men really peak in the 90s. What the Avengers are today, the X-men were in the 90s. They were very much the alpha and omega of all things involving superheroes.

While this 25th anniversary gives me time to reflect fondly over how much this show enriched my childhood, my life as an adult has only further expanded my perspective. When I look back on “X-men: The Animated Series,” I’m somewhat amazed by how relevant it still is in terms of theme, drama, and story.

It’s easy to forget that this series came out at a time when most cartoons followed a simple, predictable formula, regardless of whether or not superheroes were involved. There was evil. The heroes found out about said evil. They fought it. Then, the credits roll. “X-men: The Animated Seriesdared to think bigger.

While the animation and voice acting might be somewhat dated, this show dared to speak up about social issues. It dared to explore ideas of hate, bigotry, and discrimination. At a time when parents were still fighting mortal crusades over rock music, this show tried to be relevant in a new way.

Now, as I look back on this series that lasted for five years and 76 glorious episodes, I realize just how progressive and insightful this show truly was for its time. As more and more forms of media, including comics, push for greater diversity, “X-men: The Animated Series” found a way to pull that off 25 years ahead of schedule.

In a sense, the X-men have always been about progressive themes like inclusion, diversity, and justice. Even though some of those words have become toxic today, they embodied the best of it, going back to its earliest days of drawing parallels with the Civil Rights movement. This show just captured it at a time when it a new form of progressive concepts were taking hold.

So, in honor of the 25th anniversary of this show,  I’d like to highlight five reasons why “X-men: The Animated Series” was even more progressive than you remember. Even if you’re not a fan of X-men or comics, it’s amazing to think that a show from 25 years ago achieved so much of what others are trying to accomplish today.


“Genuine bigotry and hatred was depicted in ordinary people.”

To X-men fans, it seems obvious. Bigotry and hatred are very much a part of the X-men’s DNA, going all the way back to their early days in the 60s. However, for a kids cartoon, this was akin to Miley Cyrus flashing her tits on an episode of “Hannah Montana.”

X-men: The Animated Series” did not water down the themes of blind hatred and bigotry espoused in the comics. If anything, they took it a step further by giving a voice, putting that blind hatred on display through characters like Graydon Creed.

This especially played out in the second season where hate groups like the Friends of Humanity formed. They’re the anti-mutant equivalent of the KKK. Their hate was so blind and deep that when one character, Jubilee, asked them why they hated her so much, Creed said simply, “You were born!”

That kind of hatred is harsh in real life, let alone a kids show. The fact that this show gave the X-men more than just monsters, tyrants, and aliens to fight showed an uncanny, if that’s not too fitting a term, willingness to scrutinize these painfully real issues.

As a kid, I barely understood it. As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate it even more. I like to think that exposing that kind of hate in a cartoon showed an entire generation of kids what true assholes look and sound like. Given the amount of assholes in this world, those lessons were invaluable. Plus, it was way more entertaining than “Sesame Street.”


“The characters were diverse and had vastly different personalities.”

Here’s a quick question that should trigger some unpleasant conversations on message boards, as if there are any others. Look at the cast of the Avengers movie. Aside from talking raccoons and androids, what do you notice? They’re mostly men, they’re mostly white, and they mostly have the same avenging personality.

Now, look at the X-men. You’ve got an uptight white guy, a burly Canadian, a sexy southern woman, an African goddess, a smooth-talking Cajun, a giddy teenage girl, and a guy in a wheelchair. Even by today’s absurd diversity standards, the X-men check a lot of boxes. They’ve been checking those boxes since long before diversity was even an annoying buzzword.

It’s not just that the cast of “X-men: The Animated Series” was diverse on the surface. It’s not just that they disagreed with each other, as the Avengers frequently do. They had such wildly different personalities that didn’t always mesh. Cyclops and Wolverine alone had all sorts of clashes and not just over wanting to sleep with the same redhead.

That kind of diversity of thought and personality is something modern cartoons, TV shows, and movies still struggle to achieve. “X-men: The Animated Series” managed to achieve that at a time when Hillary Clinton was still likable. It was a big accomplishment at the time and one that only gets more impressive as the years go by and people still fight about diversity in media.


“The show did feminism and strong female characters RIGHT.”

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I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it in future posts. Talking about feminism is dangerous, divisive, and frustrating, especially in wake of recent scandals. Nobody seems to know how to even handle feminism or strong female characters who aren’t Wonder Woman. Long before the “Wonder Woman” movie raised the bar, though, “X-men: The Animated Series” made sure it set that bar pretty damn high.

Even by modern standards, “X-men: The Animated Series” found a way to do feminism right. Unlike other cartoons, the female characters weren’t part of the supporting cast or relegated to roles of a love interest. They actually participated on the same level as the male characters.

They didn’t have to create new female characters or force a female character into a male role. “X-men: The Animated Series” simply took characters like Storm, Rogue, Jubilee, and Jean Grey and maximized their strengths. They gave them personalities, power, and individual stories. They didn’t have to show up their male teammates. They could stand on their own and thrive as women.

In terms of feminism, “X-men: The Animated Series” was at omega-level standards long before it became a priority. At a time when we’re still struggling to make solid female characters, it’s remarkable and refreshing to see how well it was done.


“The show didn’t shy away from harsh, dramatic moments.”

People used to make a big deal about cartoon violence. The big worry was that kids would see a cartoon duck fighting with a cartoon rabbit and think that playing with double-barreled shotguns were toys. It was a very different, very strange time, to say the least.

X-men: The Animated Series” basically gave a big, adamantium finger to this debate, at least to the extent that they could get around the network censors. This show did not shy away from the harsh, dramatic moments that had played out in the comics. In fact, in the second episode of the series, one of the characters dies.

Keep in mind, this is a kids show where characters are not allowed to curse or show blood. The fact that this show killed a character in an early episode, and referenced death on more than one occasions, showed a remarkable willingness to portray real struggles with real stakes. Sure, it probably upset a few parents, but it sent a powerful message about the real world.

X-men: The Animated Series” dealt with real issues of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance. As such, it couldn’t water down the harshness and the pain it incurred. These are issues that people are still reluctant to talk about today and this show brought it up during the Clinton Administration. That shows both guts and foresight.


“The villains, heroes, and themes had layers of complexity.”

Watch any cartoon made before 1992 and chances are the characters you see will be pretty basic. You have your evil, mustache-twirling villains. You have your generic good guy/hero types. You have exaggerated violence and shameless toy promotions. There’s not a whole lot of depth there.

X-men: The Animated Series” once again dared to do more. It dared to let its characters grow and evolve over the course of five seasons. It’s an approach that worked so well that others, like the “Spider-Man” cartoon that debuted two years later, went onto adopt it. These characters had all sorts of layers and depth in the comics. The show chose not to simplify it for a young audience and embrace that complexity.

Sure, characters like Magneto, Sinister, and Apocalypse came off as generic bad guys at first, but they developed more and more depth as the series went on. There were even times when Magneto came off as genuinely sympathetic. For a kids show, these moments were pretty heavy and something you just wouldn’t get with the Ninja Turtles.

Today, everyone is trying to give their characters that Walter White style of complexity. Everyone is trying to create a series with a sense of progression. Well, “X-men: The Animated Series” were already doing that in the days of dial-up internet.


The fact this show succeeded to the extent that it did, while being as progressive as it was, even by modern standards, is nothing short of uncanny. After 25 years, the show still has a special place in the hearts of X-men fans. Sure, the animation and dialogue may be dated, but those progressive themes have never been more relevant.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, X-men

On My Way To New York Comic Con 2017!

Some days are special, but only to a specific group of people. For some, it’s Elvis’ birthday. For others, it’s the birth of a child. There are even those who just get emotional on Taco Tuesdays.

For notes comic book fans, like myself, that day is today because as I write this, I’m preparing to make my way to the New York Comic Con. It is, quite possibly, the closest thing comic fans to a holy day. It involves parties, performances, and elaborate costumes. It’s basically like Mardi Gras, but with less nudity and public drunkenness.

It’s a wonderful time when comic fans gather over a shared passion. For someone like me, who writes a lot about passion in my novels, it’s a special feeling and one I intend to celebrate to the utmost. Expect me to enjoy this experience to the utmost and share the memories, sexy or otherwise, as I see fit.

So for all my fellow comic fans, or just those who share in this special passion, I thank you for helping to make the New York Comic Con awesome.

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Big Superhero/Romance News: Batman And Catwoman Are Getting Married!

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I had a whole other topic I wanted to discuss today, but sometimes certain events occur that require you to throw out your plans, spit on your schedule, and love every second of it. Despite some of the tragic news to come about in the last few days, something big just happened in the world of comics, a world with which I’ve made my passions known.

It’s news that appeals to both the comic book fan in me and the erotica/romance fan in me. It’s rare that a combination that potent converges in my world. When it does, my heart and loins are sent into overdrive for all the right reasons. I don’t care if that sounds overly dramatic. I’m in good a mood right now to dampen my spirits.

This time, I’m not going to provide a larger context. I’m not going to give some elaborate backstory on the circumstances to explain an ongoing controversy. Whether you don’t know squat about superhero comics or haven’t felt a romantic sentiment since the series finale of “90210,” you can’t deny this is big.

You don’t need context. You don’t need much insight either. All you need to know is this.

Batman and Catwoman are getting MARRIED! 

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That’s right. USA Today broke the story. In Batman #24, Bruce proposed to Selena on a rooftop. Now, after months of agonizing build-up, Batman #32 gives the answer. The Dark Knight and the sexy jewel thief who dresses in a skin-tight costume are getting married.

In an era where 95 percent of all Batman stories involve him brooding all the time, including those involving Lego-themed characters, Batman is getting married. If you put your ear to a computer screen, you can hear thousands of comic fans squeeing and cheering uncontrollably.

In the context of superhero comics, this is big news and not just because it means seeing Catwoman in her underwear more often. As I write this, superhero comics are going through a rough patch in which iconic romances, especially those involving Marvel’s heroes, are being undone, undermined, or reserved for non-canon alternate universes. It’s a tough time to be a romance fan and a comic fan.

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Lately, DC Comics has been trying to change that. They’ve been expanding the long-time marriage between Superman and Lois Lane in recent years, building on a family element and even giving them a son to raise. Someone actually had the audacity to think that a loving relationship can have appeal outside of a toxic love triangle. What a concept, right?

While they may not be as iconic as Superman and Lois Lane, Batman and Catwoman have had their share of romantic and sexy moments. Theirs is not the sweet, cuddly relationship that Superman has with Lois Lane. Theirs is more complicated, but many times hotter and not just because Catwoman looks sexy as hell in her underwear.

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These are two people who don’t always find themselves on the same side of the law, but they both have lines they won’t cross. They both have principles they won’t compromise. They’re both tough, capable, and know how to handle themselves in overwhelming situations.

He’s the goddamn Batman. She’s the sexy-as-hell Catwoman. Superman and Lois may make sweet, passionate love. That’s fine for them. For Batman and Catwoman, they’ll settle for the hot, exciting, dangerous love that gets the heart and genitals going in all the right ways. It’s even sexier than it sounds.

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For Batman, a character best known for brooding, growling, and making Christian Bale one of the biggest names in Hollywood, it’s a huge shift in his life. The past several years of Batman comics have expanded his mythos in many ways, even giving him a son, but he’s never really gone beyond brooding and beating up criminals. For a man defined by how tortured he is, this sort of thing adds some badly-needed balance.

Ever since the mid-80s when Frank Miller got his hands on Batman, he’s been such a dark character who is so overly serious in everything he does. At times, he seems to go out of his way to deny himself any measure of happiness. It makes Batman feel less like a hero and more like someone who’s just obsessive and/or mentally ill.

By having him find love with someone, that adds an important dynamic to his character. It means that he doesn’t just want to brood all the time over Gotham City’s crime problem. He wants to find some measure of happiness. Despite the loss his suffered as a kid, he still wants and feels love. Something about that shows just how resistant he is as Batman.

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Granted, Batman has had his share of love interests over the years, as is the case with most heroes. He’s still nowhere near as bad as Wolverine. However, of all those love interests, Catwoman is probably the most iconic. They’ve been married in other realities with varying degrees of success, but this is the first time DC Comics is giving them the same shot they gave Superman and Lois Lane.

Not much has been revealed beyond Catwoman’s acceptance of Batman’s proposal. I doubt anyone has thought about wedding plans or honeymoons just yet, which for them probably involves beating the snot out of the Joker. There may or may not be a wedding special like there has been with other iconic romances.

All we know is that the desire and the will is there. For Batman and Catwoman, or passionate lovers of any kind in any reality, real or fictional, sometimes that’s all you need.

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What Jean Grey Of The X-men Can Teach Us About Life, Love, And Growing Up

These days, when most people read comics or watch movies, they do with an emphasis on escapism, spectacle, and an ability to talk/whine about it on message boards. Most people would rather not consume media with the idea that it has a bigger lesson to teach. We got plenty of those lessons in grade school and most of us got sick of that crap before we hit puberty.

However, there are occasions when a comic, movie, or TV show reveals something deeper about ourselves and our world that’s worth noting. I’m not talking about the kinds of crazy fan theories that claim Jack in “Titanic” never existed. It is possible for the media we consume to give us real, meaningful insights about ourselves.

That brings me back to comic books and X-men. Yes, this is going to be another one of those posts. After talking so much about the horrors of millennial life and the potential horrors of their children, I’m in need of a less serious topic. I think I’ve made clear that I love comics, I love X-men, and I’ll keep finding reasons to talk about them on this blog.

As it just so happens, a comic came out that conveys just such a lesson. It involves Jean Grey again. Other than Wonder Woman, she’s one of the most frequent topics of discussion on this blog. Considering she has a movie coming out next year, that’s likely to continue.

However, this comic has little to do with her movie and more to do with the themes of Jean Grey’s struggle. Some of them are relevant in the sense that they’re common to many major superheroes. Others are more subtle in that they have a bigger message to convey, one that applies to those who don’t have superpowers.

I doubt that the message that Marvel, a company owned by Disney, no less, intends to convey directly. Most of that message is indirect, but it can still function as a lesson, of sorts, that even aspiring erotica/romance writers like myself can appreciate.

The comic, in question, is Jean Grey #6. It’s the latest in a series that began earlier this year and focuses on the exploits of a teenage Jean Grey, who was plucked from the past several years ago in an event that has too many complications to go over without inducing migraines.

You don’t need to know too many of the particulars. You only need to know that she has a good reason for not liking her future. A lot of her adult life, as has played out in the X-men comics over the years, involves death, rebirth, and more dying at the hands of overwhelming power, often at the hands of the Phoenix Force.

Her teenage self is understandably frustrated with how that life played out. For the past several years, she’s gone to considerable lengths to change her fate, going so far as to ditch the X-men and try to be a normal teenage girl. As is often the case with superheroes, and teenagers in general, that doesn’t work. She still finds herself dragged back into the world of X-men and superheroes.

To her credit, she has handled herself fairly well. She’s managed to endure a space adventure with the Guardians of the Galaxy, go on trial for her future crimes that she’s yet to commit, and take part in a superhero civil war. It’s worth remembering, though, that she’s a teenager. She’s doing all this while also being one of the most powerful mutants in all of Marvel comics.

Her solo series, as written by a very talented writer named Dennis Hopeless, takes Jean Grey out of those roles with the X-men and sends her on a more personal journey. As I said before, her adult life is plagued by many complications that end up killing her. Chief among them, though, is the Phoenix Force. Pretty much all her frustrations begin and end with Phoenix Force.

She’s spent most of her time in the future just actively avoiding it or not thinking about it. In the very first issue of her solo series, though, she gets a message that makes clear she can’t ignore it anymore. Eventually, she has to prepare to confront the all-powerful Phoenix Force and all the problems/heartache it’ll cause her.

As part of that effort, she’s been seeking guidance from various sources throughout the Marvel universe. In a universe full of gods, aliens, and talking raccoons, there’s a lot to go around. Jean Grey #6 has her touch base with Dr. Strange. Those who saw Benedict Cumberbatch bring the charming sorcerer supreme to life last year shouldn’t be too surprised.

It actually starts off fairly similar to her previous efforts to seek guidance from more experienced Marvel heroes. Dr. Strange agrees to help her, which involves a little mystical mojo that should offend One Million Moms and amuse card-carrying Satanists. It’s here, though, where the journey and the lesson play out.

It’s a spirit quest, of sorts, one that takes the teenage Jean Grey through the life she seems doomed to live. It spans multiple eras of X-men comics, from the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby days of Uncanny X-men to her latest death in the early 2000s. What makes this journey a bit rockier, though, is that she’s not just a spectator.

These visions of her future self aren’t just there to remind her why her future sucks. They’re basically drills sergeants trying to hammer some hard lessons into her head that Jean, and teenagers in general, refuse to learn.

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It’s here where Jean starts to get a harsh lecture on having one persona that you have for all those around you while also having a very different, much less pleasant persona just under the surface. Like celebrities that are assholes when the camera isn’t rolling, some people have to pretend to be something they’re not.

With Jean Grey, one of the most powerful mutants on the planet, it’s even more difficult. Jean’s vision basically tells her what she refuses to admit. She makes herself out to be this quiet, upstanding young woman on a team of teenage boys. However, under the surface, she knows she’s more powerful than everyone else on her team and most other teams.

Her maintaining that facade is like trying to play chess with a brain-damaged monkey and trying to give the monkey a fair chance. As is the nature with mutant powers, she can’t turn them off. She can’t ever not be so powerful and frustrated. It’s a lesson that is hard for a teenage girl to wrap her head around, but easy for most adults who can’t stop being adults.

By now, it should be somewhat easier to see the real-life parallels here. We’re talking about overwhelming feelings that we can’t turn off, which tend to affect us greatly later in life. As teenagers, we don’t know how to deal with them or even how to make sense of them. They still affect us, though. We can try to ignore them all we want, but that doesn’t make them go away.

I’ll give the less kinky readers a moment to fill in the blanks. In the meantime, the life lessons in Jean Grey #6 get a lot harsher. As Dr. Strange guides her towards other moments in her life, she encounters a later version of herself that fans of the 90s X-men cartoon should recognize.

This is a version of Jean Grey who has put in the time, effort, and passion to endear herself to a lot of people. This is the woman that many of the other X-men see, or want to see, when they look at teenage Jean Grey. There’s a reason why Jean ranks among the most popular X-men characters of all time. The woman she becomes, which also happens to be a woman teen Jean resents, is just that endearing.

It’s a lot for anyone to live up to. Being a teenage girl, though, Jean isn’t going to just accept that this is the person she becomes. She knows that person still ends up dying. She knows that person still succumbs to the demons she can’t control, namely the Phoenix Force.

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It gets even harsher, though. As with every teenager, Jean Grey’s perspective is very limited. She hasn’t experienced enough of the world to understand what actually shapes someone into a functioning adult.

She, like many other teen heroes, have this idealized version of who they want to be and what life is like. It’s tragic, but inevitable that such idealism will eventually be shattered. That’s just the nature of life, in general. Ideals are for a perfect world and nobody, not even superheroes, live in a perfect world.

This is where the message becomes bigger than Jean Grey. It’s a message that can resonate with all teenagers. Her older self basically lays it out for her in a way so simple that even a teenage mind can process it. The life she thinks is doomed to tragedy and pain isn’t just a matter of rotten luck and crushing disappointment. It’s just life.

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It’s one of those messages that can apply to much more than superheroes and mutant powers. It can apply almost every teenager to some extent at some point in their lives. They’re just starting to learn what the world is like without the rose-colored glasses of childhood. They’re just starting to feel things that are strange, powerful, and make their pants feel tighter than they want. It’s not a tragedy. It’s just life.

It’s a lesson almost every teenager learns the hard way, regardless of whether or not they have mutant powers. I certainly did. I challenge anyone reading this comic, my novels, or this blog to say otherwise. The transition between childhood and adulthood is hard and it has to be hard because it’s such a harsh world.

On top of that, we have to enter that world with all these powerful feelings and emotions that kids just can’t process. This is where the Phoenix Force, the utter bane of Jean Grey’s life and many deaths, enters the picture.

In a sense, this cosmic space bird is a manifestation of the greatest extremes that we experience. In the comics, it’s a force that pushes Jean Grey’s powers over the edge and beyond. In life, it’s basically every overwhelming experience we’ve ever had, amplified to infinity.

When you’re a teenager, you’re full of all sorts of overwhelming feelings. As an adult, they’re still overwhelming, but you gain a sense of perspective. From our ability to love to our desire to make love, it’s a powerful force that shapes how we live and how we die. Being immature teenagers, and even immature adults, we often try to suppress it. Not only does that fail, but it can make everything worse.

Jean Grey, being a teenager, can’t wrap her head around those extremes, be they the Phoenix Force or just being a functional adult. Again, the visions of her older self basically have to belabor it, to the point of frustration.

In her vision, she starts to gain a better perspective of what these feelings are. She comes to see the Phoenix Force as more than just that big cosmic fire bird that ends up killing her twice. It’s not just a force for death. It’s also a force for life. Being a teenager, she can’t help but focus on the death. In doing so, she only ever obsesses over one extreme.

That’s understandable for a teenager who hasn’t lived enough of a life to make sense of it. It’s also the exact mentality that gets her killed. It’s why people who obsess over death tend to live in a state of near-constant distress. It affects them and those around them. By only focusing on one extreme, they basically doom themselves.

Jean Grey is in that exact position. She’s focused entirely on the end, but not on everything else around it. Teenagers, with their limited experiences, are like that and through no fault of their own. That’s why they’ll make such poor decisions, both in their adult lives and in their personal lives.

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This is where Jean Grey has her most defining moment of the comic, if not the past five years of X-men comics. Despite the benefit of foresight afforded to her by time travel and psychic abilities, she still refuses to confront the extremes of the Phoenix Force. She refuses to accept the person she becomes.

Finally, after all the belaboring and mystical-induced spirit quests, she does it. She finally takes a step back from the doom and gloom of her impending death. She finally looks at the bigger picture. She admits that who she is now and who she’s afraid of becoming are the same person. Those feelings that overwhelm her that she’s been trying to suppress are there and they’re not going away.

As an X-men fan and a fan of personal insight, it was one of the most satisfying moments I’ve reading an X-men comic that didn’t involve Emma Frost’s costume. It was one of those moments that felt much bigger than the character. It’s a powerful message that people without mutant powers can appreciate.

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Jean Grey’s struggles are very much akin to the struggles everyone faces when they have overwhelming experiences of any kind. Those experience don’t always have to have a sexual or personal connotation, but those are the ones that tend to stick out.

They’re also the experiences that teenagers, and even many adults, are likely to suppress. They’ll see certain experiences and desires as this powerful, dark force that will consume and destroy them, much like the Phoenix Force. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just acknowledging that those feelings exist is an important step, especially for a teenager. There are people out there right now in societies and cultures that pressure them to repress desires that cannot be repressed. Like Jean and the Phoenix Force, those feelings eventually find us in the long run. If we refuse to confront them, then they can destroy us.

It’s a powerful lesson, especially for young people still making sense of their experiences. They may not have Jean Grey’s psychic abilities or the insight provided by time travel, but their future still seems every bit as daunting. It only becomes less daunting when you step back and realize that the overwhelming feelings we dread are just part of life, in general. We can’t always suppress them. Sometimes, we just have to embrace them.

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Lessons In Fate, Power, And Passion (From An X-men Comic)

Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey (2017) #1

As kids, it seems as though everyone is trying to teach us morality lessons that’ll help us grow into functioning adults. Those lessons aren’t always effective, though. Just ask the potheads who sat through the DARE program in school.

As adults, we tend to pay less attention to those kinds of lessons because we arrogantly believe we’ve figured it out. We think we know enough about the human experience to determine what is right and what is wrong. People who think that way tend to be the arrogant assholes who refuse to admit that Dr. Oz is a quack and a fraud.

Truly functional people, be they kids, adults, or adults who still act like kids, never stop learning important life lessons. Life is a constantly changing, obstacle-filled struggle where you never see the finish line and are guaranteed to fall flat on your face at least once a week. That’s why lessons that really deliver a powerful message in a compelling way is a special, precious thing in this chaotic world we live in.

That brings me to comic books, superheroes, and the X-men. Yes, this is going to be another one of those posts. Yes, that means I’m about to extrapolate a major philosophical insight into the human condition from an X-men comic, most likely in a way that applies to love, sex, and everything in between. You’re welcome.

It’s not the first time I’ve gleaned such lessons from an X-men comic. A year ago, I singled out X-men 92 #5 as a testament to just how powerful a romance between equals can be. Chances are, I’ll single out more comics in the future and there’s a high possibility that they’ll involve the X-men, Deadpool, or Wonder Woman.

The comic in question today is Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1. It’s actually not part of any ongoing X-men series. It’s a single, self-contained story that’s part of an major promotional effort by Marvel called Marvel Generations.

The goal is as simple. Marvel seeks to bridge the gap between its older incarnations of iconic characters with the newer versions. While some of those newer versions have already caused controversy, the goal is always the same. Marvel hopes to appeal to their long-time fans while appealing to newer fans who are just getting into the world of Marvel.

Comic companies do this fairly often, trying to please old fans while creating new ones. Having followed comics for a good chunk of my life, I’ve seen more than my share of efforts. DC Comics, Marvel’s chief rival, did it last year with their DC Rebirth initiative. By most accounts, it was a success. Now, Marvel is attempting to achieve similar success.

There are many challenges to that effort, but for Jean Grey of the X-men, those challenges are more daunting than most. I’m not talking about the kind of daunting that involves dragons, killer robots, and Brett Ratner movies. I’m talking about convoluted complications involving time travel, evil clones, and cosmic forces. Trust me, it’s way more complicated than it sounds.

For this particular issue, though, you don’t need to know the fine print of those complications. You only need to know that Jean Grey’s story, after 50 years of X-men comics, got so crazy that one of her teammates, Beast, traveled back and time and brought her and the rest of the original five X-men to the future.

Now, since 2012, Jean Grey has basically been Marty McFly from “Back To The Future,” minus the incest sub-plot. She knows that her future sucks in that she ends up dead, and multiple times, no less. On top of that, she finds out she’s destined to become corrupted by a cosmic power known as the Phoenix Force, which will go onto cause all sorts of headaches, heartbreaks, and overall frustration.

That destiny is a huge part of the X-men mythos. That’s the part that “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” a movie I’ve talked about extensively, is going to try and capture. In this comic, Jean Grey has already read the spoilers to that story. She knows it doesn’t turn out well.

In fact, she has an ongoing solo series where the primary theme involves her preparing herself to face the Phoenix Force so that she doesn’t become that cute redheaded mutant who constantly dies and ends up on the wrong side of a bad love triangle. That’s entirely understandable and Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1 gives her the best opportunity she’s had to date to change her fate.

This is where the lesson that Marty McFly learned the hard way comes in. Through elaborate space-time machinations that would give Doc Brown a migraine, Jean Grey is transported to a critical moment in the history of her character. It’s a moment that puts her in a position to change a lot more than just her fate.

That’s because she’s plopped in the middle of the iconic Phoenix Saga, also known by fans as the greatest X-men story ever told. It’s after her older self gains the cosmic power of the Phoenix force, but before it corrupts her in a way that destroys an entire star system and dooms her to a life of death and resurrection. There’s no part of that last sentence that’s exaggerated.

It’s an understandably confusing situation, but it’s one that puts Jean Grey in a position that even Marty McFly never dealt with. She doesn’t just have a chance to change her fate or learn more about her older self, who she’s only really known through the memories of other X-men. She has a chance to learn more about the cosmic power that she knows will doom her.

It makes for a series of colorful interactions between her and her older self that will bring tears of joy to the eyes of X-men fans of any generation. It’s hopeful, sincere, dramatic, and impactful. It fits perfectly within the narrative of Jean’s ongoing story in other X-men comics, as well as the story of her past self.

There’s so much to love about this comic, but I’m not going to spoil the entire thing here. I’d much rather have people go out and buy the issue. It’s money well-spent. Even if you don’t know much about comics or only know the X-men through the movies, this comic will appeal to you.

Beyond that appeal, though, I want to highlight an important theme within this comic. It’s a theme that applies to stories beyond comics and is relevant to life, in general. It especially applies to matters of love, passion, and intimate connections, which are major topic of this blog and the novels I write.

Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey (2017) #1

At the heart of Jean Grey’s struggle in Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1 is a difficult decision that everybody who isn’t a psychotic dictator faces at some point in their lives. It has to do with having the power to effect a situation and choosing whether or not to exercise it.

In the comic, Jean Grey has a chance to tell her older self everything she knows about her fate. She could, in principle, warn her about how the events of the Phoenix Saga play out for her. As a result, she could ensure it turns out differently, preferably in a way that doesn’t leave her dead and subsequently cloned.

On the surface, it seems easy. We saw what Marty McFly chose. We saw what the entire cast of “Hot Tub Time Machine” chose. They chose the easiest, most obvious path. They understandably wanted to improve their situation. In doing so, they created a lot more problems that they had to solve. The stakes for Jean’s problems, though, are much higher.

The problems she could create by changing her fate might be far worse than simply ending up dead. She’s not dealing with incestuous infatuations here. She’s dealing with a cosmic force that eats entire stars just for the fun of it.

She already knows the consequences of not changing anything. That has been hard enough to deal with. However, she has no idea whether she’ll fix anything by choosing otherwise. Given the Phoenix Force’s mixed track record, the odds are not in her favor.

I won’t spoil the choice she makes or what goes into. Again, I’d rather people read this comic to appreciate the full weight of its message. I’ll just say that the decision Jean makes is one that we all indirectly make when we have any kind of power over someone and can affect the course of their life.

Whether you’re a parent, a spouse, or an authority figure of any kind, you have an ability to make choices that affect other peoples’ fate. This is especially true when you’re in a relationship with someone. Your love for them and their love for you effectively links your fate. That makes your ability to make the right choices for the right reasons so critical.

It happens all too often, people using their position of power over others to abuse them. We see it when police harass minorities. We see it in crimes of passion. We see it in cases of spousal abuse and child abuse. When someone else trusts us with authority, we impact their lives in so many ways, often in ways we can’t see.

It can bring out the best and the worst in people, as the Phoenix Saga famously demonstrated. Real life demonstrates it too. Power does corrupt people. Sometimes the hardest choice to make is to not exercise that power to avert the potential consequences it might incur. It’s a choice that a lot of crazy dictators fail to make.

It’s a choice ordinary people fail to make as well. Parents find this out the hard way when they try to make decisions for their children. Sure, it seems like the right thing to do at the time. They may see it as them just protecting their child, as every parent should. However, they don’t realize until it’s too late how much damage that can do.

When you’re in an intimate relationship with someone, it can be just as powerful. If someone loves you implicitly and is willing to trust you so completely, you have the power to guide their lives in profound ways. That guidance, though, can be detrimental to the both of you.

When you have the power to influence a person or a situation, it’s easy and tempting to bend it to what you think will be more beneficial. The problem is that, without the benefit of hindsight, it’s impossible to know whether you’ll actually make things better or much worse.

The hardest decision in that situation is to acknowledge the problems as you understand them, bear the burden of solving them, and focus on the future rather than agonizing over the past. It’s rarely a preferable decision because it means accepting a situation and your role in it. It may feel like a missed opportunity, but it can just as easily be an averted crisis. Hindsight may be painfully clear, but possibilities are painfully vague.

Jean Grey, who is a teenager, mind you, in the story that plays out in Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1, has to make this decision in the face of impossibly high stakes. What she does is a testament to the kind of character she is and the values we cherish in our heroes.

It’s a short, but powerful story that teaches an important lesson to children, adults, comic fans, and non-comic fans alike. Whether you’re a comic book character, a celebrity, an authority figure, or just someone with the slightest bit of leverage over someone, it’s a lesson worth learning.

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