Waging Peace in X-Men Red Annual 1

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

“I was the Phoenix. I burned so brightly. Then I was dead. And everything was dark.”

Jean Grey, X-Men Red (2018) Annual #1

Writer Tom Taylor starts this issue with the narration above, quickly summarizing the tragic arc of Jean Grey. It was a violent life, and the bullet points of her story are mostly bummers. Over Scott Summer’s grave, Jean promises that this time is going to be different, and this annual is all about what that might look like. Taylor and artist Pascal Alixe offer an issue full of love, understanding, and difficult conversations. Jean’s still here to win, but it’s not war she’s waging. It’s peace.

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Reconciling with the Past in Black Bolt 12

By Drew Baumgartner

Black Bolt 12

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The superhero genre is littered with emotionally scarred men. Whether it’s a murdered loved one or a superpower-generating freak accident, trauma of one kind or another is a ubiquitous motivator for superheroes. Indeed, for most characters, that tragic backstory is so central to who they are and why they fight that it’s all but impossible to truly confront it — remove the psychological pain, and you “solve” the character’s motivating problem, effectively ending their story. So most of these characters are doomed to never resolve their issues. But what if why they fight has little to do with their trauma? What if that emotional baggage isn’t their motivating force? What if a superhero could confront their problems without destroying the conflicts that make them a hero in the first place? These are questions posed by discerning fans for decades, but rarely have those questions been answered as effectively as they are in Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s Black Bolt 12. Continue reading

Shortcomings of the Lone Wolf in Black Bolt 11

By Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

It might be sorta odd to cast one of the founding members of a famous superhero team as a loner. You’re always going to have your Raphaels, or your Wolverines, characters that bristle at the thought of getting too chummy with their teammates, but always end up affirming the value of teamwork before the issue is through. Black Bolt is a different animal entirely; separated from his people by the nobility of his birth and his inability to communicate, he may genuinely be more content to walk the world alone. Black Bolt 11 teases an origin for this misanthropic streak while also testing its strength. Continue reading

Lockjaw 1: Discussion

by Taylor Anderson and Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Taylor: Ancient wisdom states that you should never judge a book by it’s cover. We’re all familiar with this phrase and know that this metaphor extends far beyond assessing books by their cover art. Don’t judge people by the way they look and don’t assume a video game is good based on the franchise it hails from. Yet while I’m familiar with this sage advice, I often find it extremely hard to follow. Take Lockjaw 1, for example. It’s tempting to think this comic will be about its titular character, given his name splayed across the cover and the oversize likeness of this same dog. However, that’s not the case here, so how much you are inclined to judge a book by its cover might determine what you think of this issue. Continue reading

Snow as Setting and Tone in Black Bolt 10

By Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Not only is it cliche to say that setting of a story becomes its own character, it’s also inaccurate. I don’t care how much you think New York City is a character in [whatever movie you’re talking about], characters have wants, desires, arcs — characters can change and be changed by the story. A location cannot. A good setting can be incredibly additive, coloring in emotional information and setting an appropriate tone, but, y’know — isn’t a character. In Black Bolt 10, writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Christian Ward use the ancient Inhuman city of Orollan, nestled away in Greenland, to emphasize the cold lonely journey Black Bolt has been on since issue 1. Continue reading

The Futility of Definition in Inhumans: Judgment Day 1

By Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Reading any on-going comic is an exercise in accessing memory. If a writer, or an editor, is feeling particularly generous, there might be a note on the page to jog that memory a bit. Can’t remember what’s up with Karnak? Don’t worry, an editorial note has that addressed. Can’t remember what Swain’s power is? A narration box has your back with a one-word explanation: “Empath.” But these characters are too complex for that, right? Al Ewing’s Inhumans: Judgment Day 1 explores the limits of definition as it applies to a cast of characters that is both constantly changing, and constantly changing back. Continue reading

The Inelegance of Grief in Black Bolt 9

By Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

I just finished reading Who Killed My Daughter?, fiction writer Lois Duncan’s real life account of her daughter’s murder in 1989. It’s less a narrative, and more a collection of interviews with police, transcriptions from psychic readings, re-printed newspaper articles, and half-remembered conversations with loved ones. But the book opens and closes with the saddest, richest, most beautiful and heartbreaking mediations on love, loss and acceptance I’ve ever read. The explicitly stated point of the book was to bring tipsters out of hiding, to provoke someone who knew something to come forward, but for these moments, Duncan nakedly expresses her feelings. The truth is, the mess of primarily source documents that pad WKMD‘s page count add immeasurably to the expression of Duncan’s grief, because that’s what loss is — confusion, contradiction, a mess. Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s Black Bolt 9 embraces that same messiness to say farewell to Crusher Creel.  Continue reading

Reconciling Black Bolt in Black Bolt 9

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

After surviving every possible kind of of mythological encounter in the ancient world, Odysseus returns home to find his quiet domesticity in shambles. His home has become a campground for suitors intent on stealing his wife away from him. Odysseus isn’t much for subtlety by this point in his journey, so his solution is to slaughter the lot of them and forcibly reclaim the seat he was forced to vacate so long ago. Black Bolt is also returning from an unexpected journey and is forced to reconcile his time away with his desire to return. Unlike Homer, writer Saladin Ahmed does not allow his hero to slay his way back to normalcy.  Continue reading

There’s No Such Thing As “Down Time” in Black Bolt 7

by Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

I think it’s fair to ask where superheroes find their peace. Zipping through space, or ruling ancient kingdoms, or even fighting street-level crime leaves very little time or energy for self-reflection. Realistically, all these guys would be suffering from PTSD, so even those quieter moments would be rife with unease and conflict. As Black Bolt heads back to Earth, writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Frazer Irving demonstrate how, even when the weary do get to rest, it’s not very restful. Continue reading

Agency and Sacrifice in Black Bolt 6

by Drew Baumgartner

Black Bolt 6

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

“Freedom isn’t free” has become the insulting platitude gun advocates offer to justify the United States’ unrivaled gun violence numbers. Never mind that countless countries enjoy similar freedoms without the same body counts — the freedom to own a gun, the logic goes, is worth the lives of any number of concertgoers, congressmen, nightclubbers, pedestrians, or schoolchildren. It’s strange that the notion of the cost of freedom has gone from personal costs one might make in order to secure freedom for themselves and their country to some kind of blood sacrifice we demand of others, since the two couldn’t really be more different. One is about noble sacrifice, the other is about throwing someone else under the bus to save your own skin. It’s a point that Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward make elegantly in Black Bolt 6, as the mad scramble for freedom yields some unexpected costs. Continue reading