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Why Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique Is The Best Version Of The Character

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Everybody has at least one unpopular opinion that draws ire from the vast majority of people. I’m not referring to extreme political stances, though. Those who identify as full-fledged communists, anarchists, or theocrats are more defined by an ideology than an opinion. I’ve shared plenty of opinions in the past, some of which I’m sure qualify as unpopular.

Regardless of what those opinions entail, I’ve tried to make my point and most of the time, I can find a substantial group of people who share my views. It’s part of why I enjoy doing what I do. However, there’s one particular opinion I have that might be the most unpopular position I’ve ever held.

It has nothing to do with politics or ideology. It has to do with comics and superhero movies, another popular topic I’ve discussed many times before. I’ve shared it before in other forums and in almost every case, I have a hard time finding anyone who agrees with me. Knowing how dangerous it can be to share unpopular opinions on the internet these days, I’m going to take a chance and share it here.

I believe that Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Mystique is one of the best version of the character in any medium.

I’ll give X-men fans, comic book fans, and fans of superhero movies a moment to stop fuming. Take all the time you need. Believe me, I’ve heard and read all the vile insults you want to throw at me. Before you flood the comments section with a fresh batch of frothing hate, please hear me out because I feel like there’s a point worth making here.

If not, please take this stunning image as a consolation prize.

Before I get into the details of the comics and movies, I freely acknowledge that Jennifer Lawrence is one of those high-profile celebrities for which many have mixed opinion. Ever since she rose to fame, she has been a polarizing figure. People either love her or hate her with very little in between.

Regardless of how you might feel about her, as an actress, there’s no denying that she played an instrumental role in revitalizing the X-Men movies, beginning with “X-Men: First Class.” As Mystique, she succeeded a very popular version in Rebecca Romijn, who set the precedent for blue-skinned shape-shifters who favored nudity. However, there was one important distinction with Ms. Lawrence’s version.

Unlike Ms. Romijn, and every other version for that matter, Ms. Lawrence’s take on Mystique included a backstory that provided unprecedented depth for the character. That story, and the depth that came with it, proved critical in the role that this Mystique would play in “X-Men: Days Of Future Past.” I would go so far as to argue that both movies work largely because of how Ms. Lawrence carried this character.

I can probably find more than a few people who agree that Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique was important in making her first two movies in the role work. Where I probably lose those people is when I go a step further and claim that this version of Mystique is superior to most other versions.

Some might call that hyperbole and maybe it is, to some extent. I still contend that there is an argument to be made and anyone familiar with Mystique’s history in the comics can appreciate it. I doubt I’ll change anyone’s mind, but it’s that very history, or lack thereof, that helped make Ms. Lawrence’s take on the character so compelling.

Mystique, like many other comic book characters, has a history that is more convoluted than most. She’s been around since 1978, but in all that time, her character has never been developed beyond a certain point. In fact, in the grand scheme of Marvel’s vast universe, it’s remarkable that she has managed as well as she has with so little backstory.

There’s no canonical information about where she was born, who her parents are, or even how old she is. She has never appeared as a child or a teenager. She’s always been an adult who goes by the name, Raven Darkholme. It’s not even clear that’s her actual name. Being a shape-shifter, it’s impossible to tell.

Beyond her unexplored history, Mystique’s personality has been pretty flat over the years. She’s a villain. That much is made clear. However, her brand of villainy is not nearly as refined as others. She’s basically a sociopath whose only purpose in life revolves around tormenting the X-Men, especially Wolverine.

How she goes about it varies, but why she does it rarely gets explored. Granted, there have been times when she has joined the X-men, but it never lasts and often ends with her betraying them. It has happened so often that it’s somewhat predictable. Even when it seems like she has undergone some major growth, she always ends up regressing back to her psychotic ways.

She still looks sexy every step of the way.

That’s not to say she has no depth. Being the biological mother of Nightcrawler and the adopted mother of Rogue has been a major source of drama over the years. Her romantic and sexual entanglements have also been colorful to say the least, albeit not always in a good way. However, this drama rarely ever adds depth to her villainy.

While Rebecca Romijn’s version had some nuance, especially in the second movie, she didn’t deviate much from her comic book counterpart. For three movies, she was one of Magneto’s top henchmen and little else. Jennifer Lawrence’s version of Mystique dared to be more than that.

The first minutes of “X-Men: First Class” did more for Mystique’s backstory than three movies and four decades of comics had done to that point. It established her as a mutant who’d run away and had nowhere to go, something that has real-life parallels for certain minorities. From there, she develops a close sibling bond with James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier, which does plenty to develop his character as well.

However, what truly makes this version of Mystique special is how she grows over the course of several movies. Like her comic version, she shifts her allegiances repeatedly. She starts off as an ally of Charles Xavier. Then, she leaves and follows Magneto. Eventually, she returns to Xavier’s side, but not without undergoing major personal upheavals.

In both “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” she finds herself at a crossroads on multiple occasions. Sometimes, she walks a more villainous path. Other times, she’s more virtuous. They’re all contingent on difficult choices and, regardless of where they take her, there’s an underlying sentiment to those choices.

In “X-Men: First Class,” she chooses Magneto because she believes Charles wants her to hide her true form. In “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” she choose Charles because she realizes the consequences of her actions. Friends and enemies alike try to influence her. When she finally makes a choice, it feels like something a real character would make.

In the comics, you can always assume Mystique will make villainous choices and be right most of the time. With Ms. Romijn’s, you can assume she’ll choose whatever Magneto chooses and be right, as well. The choices of Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique are truly uncertain and for a character defined by her shape-shifting traits, that’s more than fitting.

It wouldn’t be accurate to call Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique a hero. In “X-Men: Apocalypse,” she resents that label. It wouldn’t be accurate to call her a villain either, even though she doesn’t always side with the X-Men. She adapts to whatever her situation requires, like anyone would expect of a skilled shape-shifter. It’s an understandable, and even admirable, take for a character in a superhero movie.

While her ultimate fate was tragic, as revealed in “Dark Phoenix,” her journey has been remarkable. Regardless of how the events of “Dark Phoenix” played out for everyone else involved, it’s still the most complete story that Mystique has ever had. That’s why I feel Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Mystique is the best we’ve seen to date.

That’s not to say she’s without flaws. I don’t doubt that her diminished role in “X-Men: Apocalypse” undercut her development. Even with those flaws, she’s still more balanced than anything the comics or previous X-Men movies have given us. Whatever happens with the X-Men as they joint he MCU, I hope Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique inspires the future of the character for years to come.

To all those who disagree with me, and I’m sure there are many, I welcome your comments and thoughts. I only ask that you keep it civil.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marvel, movies, superhero comics, superhero movies, X-men

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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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: X-23 #12

Every week brings a new glut of comics and the world is a better place because of it. As someone who spends a sizable chunk of his time discussing unpleasant topics, it helps balance a lot of things out. I know the world is a messed up place. I survived high school and I watch the news. I understand the value of all things good, pure, and awesome.

When it comes to delivering on all three regularly, Laura “X-23” Kinney is more dependable than most. Ever since her debut on the “X-Men Evolution” cartoon in the early 2000s, she has found a way to endear herself to X-Men fans of all types. Her status as Logan’s most iconic offspring was further cemented in “Logan” and the past several years of comics have run with it.

Laura is now much more than just Wolverine’s clone/daughter. She has forged her own path and created her own identity. She’s not just Wolverine as a teenage girl, but her world is every bit as brutal. She has had to claw, stab, and snarl her way through hordes of terrible people who still think it’s a good idea to create a living weapon with the same volatile temper as Wolverine.

Along that journey, Laura’s story has had many turning points, some more tragic than others. “X-23 #12” marks another turning point that leaves Laura in a difficult, but intriguing spot. It’s not as tragic as other events in her life, but it definitely leaves her with a wounded heart that those who have followed her story in recent years will feel.

Writer, Mariko Tamaki, has been building towards this moment for the past several issues. When this series began, Laura was definitely on the same page as her fellow clone/sister, Gabby “Honey Badger” Kinney. I’ve done plenty to praise Gabby in the past and since her debut in the pages of “All-New Wolverine,” she has been an objective good in Laura’s life.

Part of that good stems from them being on the same page for much of their struggles. They’re both byproducts of secretive organizations trying to use Wolverine’s DNA to make living weapons. It already cost Gabby multiple sisters and nearly broke Laura. They have many reasons to keep fighting these organizations.

X-23 #12” establishes that these organizations are still out there and they’re still doing crazy things with Wolverine’s DNA. In this instance, they actually use it to make turkeys with a healing factor. I swear I’m not making that up and it’s as amazing as it sounds. However, the inherent strangeness of healing turkeys is only secondary, if you can believe that.

This whole issue is less about Gabby’s love of adorable animals and more about how they’re no longer on the same page. It’s something Laura has spent the past couple issues struggling with and it finally culminates in “X-23 #12.”

It’s not as bloody or destructive as some turning points are for anyone associated with Wolverine. Yes, a train does explode, but that’s pedestrian by Wolverine standards. The real volatility is in how Laura and Gabby’s path diverge.

Tamaki plays up the family dynamic to the utmost. These aren’t just X-Men who act like a family. They are family and families often fight. In this case, it’s not a matter of a simple disagreement or a costly mistake. This fight reveals that Laura and Gabby see the world in a very different way.

Some of it has to do with age. Laura has seen more tragedy and carnage than Gabby. She’s older and more hardened to the world of all things Wolverine. She has been fighting these battles long enough to know that there are times when she can’t avoid tragedy. Innocence will be lost. Pain, suffering, and injustice will win out.

Laura has had enough Wolverine experience to know when she’s in one of these situations. The past few issues have put her in more than one. Gabby, as adorable as she is, hasn’t experienced the same hardships to know when a battle is truly lost. She still tries to save everyone. She even tries to do it with an adorable smile and a pet wolverine.

It makes for a difficult situation because it’s easy to root for both of them. It’s easy to understand why Laura makes the difficult decisions that she does. She knows when a situation can only be resolved with claws. It often leads to tragedy, which is very much a Wolverine tradition. It’s just as easy to root for Gabby when she tries to salvage all the good from an impossibly bad situation.

It’s the kind of family conflict in which neither side is wrong or right. “X-23 #12” simply marks the point where they can’t side with one another anymore. For a family that has endured so much, it’s a sad, but understandable development.

The story of Laura, Gabby, and Wolverine is full of both drama and violence. “X-23 #12” certainly has plenty of that. The presence of mutant turkeys certainly makes it unique, but it’s the drama that really shines here. Tamaki has been building towards this moment for several issues and even though the outcome wasn’t surprising, it still carries plenty of dramatic weight.

The respective lives of Laura and Gabby are fundamentally different after “X-23 #12.” They still have plenty of battles to fight, but they’re no longer in it together. They’re still family, but they’re going their separate paths. Like Logan has often done throughout his history, they strike out on their own and try to do their own thing. Sometimes it works. More often than not, it leads them into more trouble.

That’s the essence of Wolverine and the larger Wolverine family. They keep fighting their own battles, making tough calls along the way, and often putting themselves at odds with those closest to them. Laura made one of those calls and even if it was the right one, it’s not an approach Gabby can be a part of.

X-23 #12” is a bittersweet end to Tamaki’s run on this series and the artwork by Deigo Olortegui helps make these powerful moments colorful. The future of the X-Men comics are already subject to some major upheavals. If nothing else, “X-23 #12” ensures that Wolverine’s family will still have plenty of drama to explore.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Uncanny X-Men #16

Every Wednesday, this crazy world of ours gets a little less intolerable thanks to a fresh batch of comics. At a time when most of our heroes are in movies and too many villains run free in the real world, we need a little something to remind us of all things good, upstanding, and awesome. As such, I make it a point to select one comic from this batch that’s a better reminder than most.

While the world of superhero comics goes through cycles of hope and despair as often as the Hulk goes through cheap pants, the state of affairs for the X-Men have been more dire than usual. Since the reality-warping events of “Uncanny X-Men #10,” the state of mutant affairs in the Marvel universe hasn’t just been tenuous. Mutants are essentially fighting for the right to be more than an afterthought.

As much of the mutant population is exploring the dystopian utopia that is “Age of X-Man,” the remaining X-Men have been trying to find their place in a world that seems all too happy to be rid of mutants. It has not been an easy endeavor, but “Uncanny X-Men #16” reminds us why it’s worth doing.

The X-Men have been beaten, demoralized, wounded, and marginalized. They’ve had to battle old enemies, attack old allies, and even clash with close family. To say they’re at a low point would be like saying John Wick likes his dog. This is one of the most dire situations the X-Men have ever had to endure, including everything ever written by Chuck Austin.

Despite all that, “Uncanny X-Men #16” finds a way to bring out the best in the X-Men’s most ardent champions.

If you’re a Cyclops fan, you’ll find something to love about this issue. If you’re a Wolverine fan, you’ll find something to love about it too. Hell, if you’re a fan of mutant ninjas fighting alongside magic-wielding Russian teenagers, you’ll find something love about it. That last one is not a metaphor, by the way.

Uncanny X-Men #16” continues a story that has wounded the X-Men in so many ways. A lot of it is mental. Some of it is physical, as Cyclops’ lingering head injury shows. Even as the X-Men fight on, this issue finally shows all the struggle getting to the team. It’s not the first time these characters have expressed doubts, but in the context of the story, it does something important with respect to the past, present, and future of the X-Men.

Everyone on Cyclops’ team knows that mutants are in an existential crisis. They know their numbers are dwindling and that humanity is doing everything possible to make them an afterthought. How does anyone even go about being X-Men in a world like that? Thus far, that has been an unanswered question.

Cyclops and Wolverine tried to answer it by creating a new team out of what remained of the mutant population. They’re actually setting aside their differences and attempting to keep the spirit of the X-Men going. Keep in mind, these are two people who don’t like each other. One of them kept trying to sleep with the other’s wife and the other has shot him through a wall on more than one occasion.

Just putting the team together and fighting what’s left of the X-Men battles has been a struggle over the past several issues. However, “Uncanny X-Men #16” dares to step back and question what they’re fighting for and why they’re even fighting.

Writer, Matthew Rosenberg, explores some overdue discussion among the team. He also puts Cyclops in a unique position that somehow makes him more awesome. For much of his history, as well as his ill-fated roles in the movies, Cyclops has always been the uptight leader who barks orders and expects others to follow them. While we’ve seen hints of that Cyclops here and there, he finds himself in a more uncertain position.

Cyclops no longer trusts himself to be the leader he once was. Even his own brother, Havok, isn’t sold on his leadership at times. While it’s hard to be much of a leader when your entire species is on the brink of extinction, the criticisms aren’t without merit.

Essentially, Cyclops gives the X-Men a chance to show that they can be X-Men without him barking orders. He goes so far as to temper his own leadership in order to give the X-Men a chance to prove their causes is bigger than one person. I won’t say it’s Cyclops’ greatest tactical decision, but the results speak for themselves.

The criticisms and difficult discussions are relevant, giving “Uncanny X-Men #16” much more depth than a typical X-Men comic. It still has plenty of standard superhero action that artist, Salvador Larroca, renders beautifully with his skills. It’s not the flashiest battle, but it has a few twists and complications that require more than just better leadership.

Some of the choices made over the course of the story are questionable. Many of the wounds they’ve suffered haven’t entirely healed. These X-Men are still a far cry from the X-Men that hang out in mansions, fly around in high-speed jets, and fight killer robots. They’re not just struggling to find their place in a world where mutants are almost extinct. They’re trying to find a better way to do what they’ve always done.

The events of “Uncanny X-Men #16” prove that the X-Men still have plenty to offer. They’re still in a tenuous state, but they’re still intact. They’re still finding their way. They’re still learning overdue lessons that bring out the best in each character while not overlooking the worst.

These are exciting times for the X-Men and not just because the movie rights have returned to Marvel. Rosenberg and Larroca have broken the X-Men down in their darkest hour. Now, it feels like they’re becoming the superheroes they have to be. There’s bound to be setbacks, mistakes, and tragedies. However, that’s often when heroes like the X-Men are at their best.

 

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: X-23 #11

Every week, a new crop of comics enters this world to make the world a better place and/or help tide fans over until the release of “Avengers Endgame.” Whether you’re a fan of superheroes, melodrama, or just pretty artwork from artists not afraid to draw gaudy costumes, there’s something for everyone.

Every Wednesday, I take it upon myself to select one comic that I feel offers something extra beyond the price tag. Historically, few characters offer a wider range of appeals than Laura “X-23” Kinney.

Some know her as the daughter of Wolverine. Some know her as the breakout star of the “Logan” movie who helped make Dafne Keen a star. Regardless of how you know her or the medium in which she comes, she often brings a diverse story of violence, brutality, melodrama, and heartbreak. This week’s pick, “X-23 #11,” delivers on all of this, and then some.

Since writer Mariko Tamaki took over the series, Laura has gotten back to basics in terms of her mission. While she served admirably as Wolverine for a while, her priorities often change when she finds out some mad scientist wannabe is trying to make living weapons again. Considering how often this results in a blood bath, such efforts should count as an elaborate suicide attempt.

It’s a bigger deal to Laura than most. Like Logan, these programs have brought her nothing but pain. Unlike Logan, though, she doesn’t have the benefit of having holes in her memory. She remembers all the horrible crap that these programs did to her, which included the murder of her mother. She has more incentive than most to take these programs down as quickly and brutally as her father would have.

This is the primary goal in “X-23 #11,” but there’s a lot more at work than just someone with adamantium claws tearing through a weapons facility. In X-men comics, that’s basically a typical Monday. What makes this typical part of Laura’s mission harder than usual is the growing divide between her and her clone sister, Gabby “Honey Badger” Kinney.

That divide began several issues earlier. Like a pissed off Wolverine chasing the last can of beer, things have been getting anxious between the two. Since her debut in All-New Wolverine, Gabby has been a wonderful ray of sunshine mixed with omega-level cuteness for Laura. I’ve documented the breadth of that cuteness before, but it has never worked against Laura until now.

Laura knows it’s happening. She even senses that there’s some simmering resentment in Gabby, so much so that it affects her tastes in music. This isn’t just sisters bickering over what to binge-watch on a Friday night, though. “X-23 #11” establishes a fundemental divide between Laura and Gabby that may very well send the two sisters in a very different direction.

Tamaki has been setting up that divergence for several issues, but now there’s no putting it off any longer. It started with a debate over what to do when a shady company called Harvest made an army of X-23 clones that had been augmented/hijacked by cybernetics. While it made for some pretty brutal battles, it also highlighted the difference in Laura’s approach to dealing with other living weapons compared to Gabby’s.

Gabby, being the glowing ball of lovable cuteness that she is, wants to save these weapons. She sees them like other sisters. Even when it they come off as brain dead, like the cyborg X-23 army they battled, her first instinct is to save them and not destroy them. Laura, having seen too many clones cause too much suffering, favors a more direct solution that involves adamantium claws.

What makes the drama in those issues, as well as “X-23 #11,” so compelling is that it’s easy to see both points of view. Gabby knows that she wouldn’t even be alive if Laura hadn’t shown compassion when dealing with the clones that these living weapons programs produce. She also wasn’t subject to the same tragedies as Laura so she still has that wide-eyed optimism about helping other clones.

Laura, being older and a lot more damaged from her experiences, knows that the real world tends to crush optimism the same way Logan crushes beer cans. She has suffered and lost a great deal in dealing with these living weapon programs. She understands that not every clone can be saved. She knew that was the case with the cyborg clones that she and Gabby battled, but also knew Gabby was not going to agree with her.

Now, as the aftermath of that conflict sets in through “X-23 #11,” they both face some difficult, heart-breaking choices. For once, few of those choices can be made while stabbing heavily armed henchmen. There is some of that in this story and Diego Olortegui’s artwork does plenty to make that a visual spectacle. However, it’s the family drama that really sets this issue apart.

If you’ve been following the evolution of Laura and Gabby’s relationship since her debut, then the events of “X-23 #11” are genuinely heartbreaking. These two have steadily become a real family in their brief time together. Now, they’re being torn apart by bitter disagreements and painful choices.

Both Laura and Gabby experience the heartache. Even if you haven’t been following their respective stories, it’s easy to appreciate the bitter divide between two sisters. It happens in the real world and without mutant powers. Sometimes, things between siblings go bad and they drift apart. Seeing that happen with Laura and Gabby is nothing short of tragic.

It’s bittersweet, but it also helps set the stage for the future of both characters. “X-23 #11” is one of those comics that doesn’t avoid a difficult moment between two characters who no longer see eye-to-eye on an important issue. Even within family, these moments happen. This one was inevitable, but Tamaki and Olortegui made sure this one hit hard in all the right ways.

With Logan back from the dead, it promises a very divided Wolverine family, to say the least. For a family that has been subject to cloning experiments, constant torture, and even a trip to Hell, it’s a tough situation, but one that tends to make them all more badass in the long run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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