Author Archives: Troy Powell

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Game Review: Pokemon Sun & Moon

pokemon-sun-moon-trailer-gameplayGame reviews aren’t something I’ve taken the opportunity to venture on with Graphic Policy, but I do consider myself a gamer in every sense of the word. In 2016 the Pokémon Franchise celebrated a remarkable 20 Twenty Year milestone, and I am happy that my first game review is an opportunity to chime in that celebration. Pokémon’s latest installment Sun & Moon is marked with sustained freshness, polished gameplay, and fresh mechanics, that have frequently changed the strategic dynamic. I.e. mega evolutions, z-crystal moves, regional variants.

With its rich lore, with intergenerational ties, and more recently multiversal implications/migration, the seventh generation brings a level of “meta” to the game that we haven’t seen since Generation 1’s glitch Pokémon Missingno. which unintentionally pierced the veil between fantasy and reality. With Pokémon Sun & Moon and the recent OR/AS  it is now canonically established that individual game versions and former generations are self-contained worlds/dimensions, which now experience intergenerational migration (both Pokémon and People) as of Generation VII. I noticed this when discovering the presence of a  version exclusive pokémon,(Restricted to my version) near a monument that seemingly allows travel to another “universe” Upon reflection this made sense as what is called the “Ultra Wormholes” in this game was explicitly referred to as a “Link Cable” in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. It’s these little touches that really shows how layered the franchise has become and makes me appreciate it more, doubly so when such elements aren’t heavily announced and left for the player to discover.

Gen VII’s offering seem to me, to be as a truce between the so called “Gen Oners” and more recent fans to the franchise.The regional variants offer a fresh new take on many beloved gen one favourites. This was a welcome compromise with respect to not adding as many new creatures comparable to prior generations. All of this praise aside, there are some critiques that I have, but they are nitpicks at best and borne from my deep love for the game.

Critique 1 – The current game’s lack of a national pokedex. It has been a  growing fear of mine that the meta-quest of “Catching them all” has become a Sisyphean task and may be de-emphasized or pushed to the wayside entirely eventually. This fear was confirmed to some degree with the lack of a national dex, omitting the full pokedex listing of every pokémon in the series. Where this may come as some relief to some, to me it somewhat betrays the core goal and mantra of the series “gotta catch them all”

Critique 2 – “Too little water!” If ORAS committed the infamously parodied sin of Too Much Water (sorry IGN). I argue that the Alola Region commits the sin of too little of it. The choice to overhaul and remove the HM system is a double edge sword. On one hand It frees up your pokémon move repertoire choices, and eliminates the need for “HM slaves “but it also restricts your exploration. Having just experienced the immersive freedom of the Hoenn remakes where you can surf, dive and travel up waterfalls. Alola by contrast feels a bit limited. Especially so considering its beautiful environments and vistas that just beckon at you to be explored intimately.

All this said, Gen VII is still a strong offering to a franchise that is not going anywhere soon. The creature designs of the current generation are also a marked improvement from what we’ve seen in recent installments.  My personal favourites are the Rockruff and Stufful evolutionary lines . This is a good sign letting us know that the game creators are listening to the fans.

7 generations and 20 years strong  The sky is the limit for the franchise and it looks as though that is where it is indeed heading.  There have been rumours that we will see a third version of this generation titled “Pokemon Stars” as a launch title for the upcoming Nintendo Switch. (to be honest I think the title “Eclipse” would have made much more sense)  with all of the cosmic/interdimensional themes, that have been popping up in the franchise lately this makes sense.

Final Thoughts

I Really love the Lovecraftian designs of the Ultra Beasts

Game Freak really missed out on an opportunity and should have revealed Missingno as an Ultrabeast. It would have connected Gen VII organically to the events of Gen 1 in a way that fits with the current mythos magnificently.

Review: All-New X-Men #18

all-new-x-men-18Continuity is a beautiful thing. All-New X-Men #18 has that in spades and adds another strong tie -in to the IvX event. All-New X-Men #18 brings the series full circle. The current volume began with the young time-displaced Scott Summers dealing with and living in the shadow of his elder self’s infamy. Issue #18 brings the series back to this inner conflict as the book focuses on the All-New X-Men’s participation in the Siege of Attilan. Ironically the young Scott Summers finds himself in the shoes of his controversial future self.  Young Scott who is trying so hard to not be seen as a villain really has a hard time with the necessity of this mission, a conflict that offers up an interesting little journey into the mind of both Summers.

The issue takes place mostly after the siege of Attilan as the X-Men regroup on Muir Island. Scott takes a moment to confide in Warren Worthington, discouraged by the way everyone looks at him. The two friends take a moment to discuss the modern day news, the heroic status of Magneto among other things.  Some Inhuman espionage takes place when the memory scanning inhuman Mosaic infiltrates the team and uncovers some startling revelations last seen at the conclusion of Death of X.

The revelation serves to dispel the young Summer’s doubt and reinvigorates him. Given the revelation that Emma Frost telepathically staged Cyclops’ attack on the Terrigen cloud, the young summers now views her as the puppet master, and refocuses all his shame anger and disappointment towards her at the conclusion of the issue.  I find this interesting for a number of reasons. First the Cyclops of modern day continuity has experienced a landmark number of physical possessions by malevolent entities, there’s an argument that this has shaped his personality considerably over the years. Lets not forget that it was after his possession of Apocalypse that his marriage to Jean Grey fell apart and he initially ended up in the company of Emma Frost. Also in the aftermath of his possession by the Phoenix, Scott doubled down on his militant and revolutionary rhetoric. Secondly, most of Scott’s most shocking behaviours have taken place under the auspice of reasonably sound argument and in the light of mutantkind’s various dire predicaments. Nobody seemed to be able to rationalize shocking behaviour better than Scott Summers. And here we see his younger self so quick to exonerate his older self and seizing upon on what is in my opinion a very convenient revelation. Frost’s machinations aside the seeming act of pre-emptive inhuman genocide is not entirely out of character with the Cyclops we’ve come to know. Whether he did it or not, Scott still has so much to answer for (Previous possessions notwithstanding,) and I find the fact that young Summers is so eager to brush this aside, says more about him than his older self. In this sense, they appear more alike than the young Summers would like to admit.

All-New X-Men #18 provides a dialogical exploration into the mind of both Summer’s men. And presents some interesting questions on the themes of choice, consequence, fate and character. This issue had some really nice artistic touches exploring the memory-scape of both young Scott and Magneto. Some memories were explored showing vintage moments in the lives of both characters, I really enjoyed this. Additionally, the “crossing-over” of magneto’s memories and the use of his helmet was a real cool as a symbolic flourish. This took me back to the Uncanny X-Men issue where Scott revealed his telepathic Black Box to Emma Frost. Really cool stuff. ANXM 18 Ties in seamlessly to IvX and should be considered required reading for comic events collector.

Final Thoughts.

In Magneto’s Memory-Scape we see him as Xorn which I assume we are led to believe is either first-hand memory or his recalled observation of the event. Given Xorn’s recent resurgence I expect that this will be cleared up soon.

Story: Dennis Hopeless Art: Mark Bagley & Andrew Hennessy
Story 10  Art 8  Overall  Recommendation: Buy!

Marvel Provided Graphic Policy with a Free copy for review

Review: All-New X-Men #17

all_new_x_men__17All-New X-Men #17 offers another grassroots perspective, of how the IvX conflict directly impacts another faction of X-Men. What I have been enjoying about issues of this series I have read is its heartfelt, real-life, tone. This is a title that really looks at the X-Men and mutants in general in terms of their place of the world. This brings a flavor of storytelling to the X-books that in my opinion has been missing since the post-schism New Mutants title.

It’s safe to say that all of the time-displaced X-Men have encountered some degree of development or milestones that they would not have experienced otherwise in their own temporal continuity. This issue focuses on bobby’s new experiences as he explores his sexual identity. The issue centers on Bobby Drakes budding romance with the Inhuman Romeo. The timing of this romance is tragic given the current state of affairs between the Inhumans and the X-Men, but it makes for a fresh and poignant perspective on the conflict.

Bobby’s and Romeo’s relationship makes me think about authentic buy-in, perspective appreciation and cooperation that is required to transform any seemingly intractable conflict. Despite the fatal stakes for mutant-kind Bobby is firmly aware of the cultural importance of Terrigen. Similarly, I am sure that Romeo is equally concerned about Bobby’s stake in the conflict not just on romantic grounds but in terms of his well being. The way the currently conflict is going if either side wins their relationship will be threatened, because of this we can argue that Bobby and Romeo are perhaps the most invested in a solution that benefits both species. This reality is poised to make the two important players in this conflict going forward.

Much of this issue shows bobby’s reaction to the impending assault on Attilan and it’s punctuated with flashbacks of his previous dates with Romeo dates. It  was really heartfelt and anchors the emotional stakes for Bobby. I really enjoyed how the encounter between Bobby and his peers upon the news of the Attilan offensive mirrors the Senior X-Men’s encounter with Beast when he vehemently protests their chosen action. Whereas Beast’s objection was immediately interpreted as a security threat and allegiance to the Inhumans resulting in his detainment, Bobby’s objection was understood and no such action was taken against him. Maybe this speaks to the fact that youth are more open, and diligent in exploring more peaceful options. I hope they explore this parallel further. Especially given the launch of the recent champions team which has an inhuman and mutant in their ranks.

All-New X-Men is to be commended for being a solid example of intersectional storytelling. Throughout this title’s run we’ve seen these young X-Men deal with thorny issues such as religion, genetic determination, the consequences of magic and interspecies relations. In the recent light of IvX it has maintained this intersectional bent while organically contributing to the greater arc without losing its voice, a feat not easily accomplished.

A small note about the art, Mark Bagley really did a good job of capturing  the expressive emotion on the team’s faces in this issue. Apart from that though, there was a moment  where I assume Bobby experiences his first kiss, where his ice form shatters away. Not sure if this was intentional but it seemed artistically to be a symbolic flourish, for “breaking ice” between the two warring super species.. kudos. I’m sure it’s no mistake that Bobby’s boyfriend is named Romeo, and obvious wink to Romeo and Juliet. Another strong tie-in to an already awesome core event.

Story: Dennis Hopeless Art: Mark Bagley
Story: 9.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Extraordinary X-Men #17

extraordinary-x-men-17Extraordinary X-Men Issue #17 is a good example of how a tie-in to an event should be handled. This issue navigated all the gravitas of the X-Men’s impending war with the Inhumans, while taking a down to earth, outsider’s view of the situation. It’s a very refreshing vantage point to take an assessment of the status quo. The issue overall was very emotional, and a much-needed change of pace for this team of X-Men.The Extraordinary X-Men have definitely been served their share of crazy, so it’s very impressive that this issue is successful at moving the meta-plot forward by slowing things down a bit.  At the end of this

The Extraordinary X-Men have definitely been served their share of crazy, so it’s very impressive that this issue is successful at moving the meta-plot forward by slowing things down a bit. At the end of this issue this team of X-Men is wholly galvanized and convinced of their need to fight. All of this without a single punch thrown, or laser beam blasted…. Ok just one emotional lightening strike by Storm but I’ll touch on that in a bit. This issue took me back to the tie-ins from Wolverine and the X-Men during AvX, which reserved some space to explore the moral quandary of the overarching conflict. There isn’t always space to do that in the main title issues, so it was refreshing to see this explored here again to great effect.

What I find interesting and didn’t really notice before recently is how much the X-Men and Inhumans have had a role reversal of sorts. Not too long ago Earth’s atmosphere was poisonous to the Inhumans prompting them to take New Attilan to the Blue Area of the Moon. The X-Men and the entirety of Earth’s mutant population are in a similar predicament here, faced with two bleak options. Destroy the Terrigen cloud or leave the planet. The urgency strikes home for the X-Men once more when a Mutant girl named Maya dies in the X-Men’s care. The majority of the story is told from the perspective of her sister, who has to forcefully interrupt the X-Men to draw their attention.  The moment bears a lot of emotional impact as Maya, a young mutant who has idolized Storm, succumbs to the M-pox disease right after meeting her hero. This is a significant moment for Storm who since the beginning of this series has shown a rare lack of confidence in her leadership, pondering whether she was helping or endangering the mutantkind with her team’s approach to the current crisis. Throughout all the whirlwind drama and threats faced in the past 16 issues we see Storm’s uncertainty come to an end in this issue,  and symbolically it occurs after the dying mutant girl Maya chooses the nickname “Lucid” after Storm’s honorary induction of her into the X-Men. It was a beautiful moment and almost made me tear up. Writing and moments like this have been very rare, it was just beautiful to read.

Another positive with this issue is how neutral it is in its narrative. In many comics or narratives, we’re inclined to view the primary characters as tacit protagonists who are immediately afforded moral superiority. In this issue the exclusivity and prejudice within the X-Men themselves is confronted, As Maya’s sister notes how busy and perhaps standoffish the X-Men are to less pressing (or perhaps forgotten) concerns, she interestingly identifies Jean Grey as the top of the social ladder. There is even a very poignant discussion on what it means to be “hero” between Storm and Old Logan. This seemed to be a direct answer to Brett’s remarks that the X-Men didn’t seem heroic in his review of Inhuman’s vs X-Men #1. It was a moment of candid reflection, and despite the clear moral ambiguity of the X-Men’s dilemma it was very refreshing to see it addressed so honestly. I tend to pay more attention and invest emotionally more in characters when they are written (and read) critically in this way without bias.

Extraordinary X-Men #17 as well as the previous issue do a great job of framing the moral and practical reasoning for why this faction is jumping into the fight against the Inhumans, it was a heartfelt issue that took a tone and style that is quite rare. The art somehow felt very personal as well, There were some shots of Maya that were reminiscent of Frank Quietly’s art which I enjoyed and some vignette’s of Storm’s life that had a very tributary feel to it. Extraordinary X-Men #17 a must read for anyone wanting to take a quick glimpse into the X-Men’s side of the upcoming war from a moral standpoint.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly I am pro-mutant / pro X-men in this conflict however I can’t help but be fair and note that Inhumans may have some moral high ground in this conflict when faced with pollution in years passed they didn’t go to war with humanity over it, they simply left. I’ll be disappointed if this fact does not come up in any future issues of IvX X-Men or Inhumans.

Spoiler: The Inhuman’s were given multiple visions of the future(s) at the conclusion of Civil War #8. Precognition being a tricky yet powerful tool, this makes me wonder if the Inhumans won’t be as taken by surprise by the Mutant offensive as we are led to believe.

Story: Jeff Lemire Art: Eric Koda, Tom Palmer, Morry Hollowell
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy!

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Uncanny X-Men #15

uncanny_x_men__15The X-Men have been in a weird place lately, I think at least that much we can all agree upon. With the recent wave of Terrigen placing mutants once more on the brink of extinction, and the X-Men themselves more fractured than ever, everything old seems new again. Mutation it seems brings with it the metaphor of change and I have always marveled at how the thematic arcs that have served as milestones and metaphors for our merry mutants in a way reflect their biological nature.

That said, as an X-Men fan I have always worried about stagnation, there are only so many permutations and remixes of past themes we can endure until we must ask. What is the purpose and Mutantkind in the Marvel Universe? where are the mutants headed? 

I must admit after the years long storytelling of Hope Summers’ birth and return to mutant kind, and the subsequent reinvigoration of Mutantkind, seeing the X-Men back in the throes of extinction has been a bit of a concern to me. It seems that both the X-Men and Mutantkind are consigned to a Sisyphean quest to stave off extinction.  Hated, feared and endangered has always been the watchword for the X-Men,  but I must ask will this always be the predicament? Will we be stuck in an eternal loop where this is concerned?

I tend to judge author runs and story arcs by what landmarks it has introduced, and character developments it has fuelled. Uncanny X-Men #15 did not disappoint in this regard despite my misgivings on the status quo. I have always loved these little one off issues that take a break from the current goings on, and really zero in on character development. This issue focuses on Psylocke who takes some time since her departure from Magneto’s X-Faction to do some clean up, handling some classic loose ends from the X-Rogues gallery. No discredit to the current writer but this issue really had me feeling nostalgic. The tone and pace of this particular story hearkened back to an era I recall fondly when Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen. This was a bit around the 500+ issue era of the and featured many changes and milestones both individually and in the landscape for X-Men.

There is an encounter between Mystique and Psylocke in this issue that I would be remiss not to address. This encounter is a significant turning point on years of story telling. Psylocke seemingly cures mystique of a physical side effect caused  by her shapeshifting powers. I thought this was an interesting development which hearkened back to the day’s monumental events frequently happened to x-characters that spurred interesting character development.  I’m reminded here of when Emma frost was stuck in diamond form containing the void after Utopia. This is not a singular occurrence as we have seen with recent happenings with M. But it is nice to see the author taking a page from earlier storytelling elements that have worked. It’s little moments like this that really shape the X-Men as a whole. I’m happy to so a return to this. So often monumental shifts are relegating big events which are quickly shuffled off in the next editing cycle. (Whatever happened to all the free food / energy and dismantled instruments of war courtesy of the phoenix five btw??)

Psylocke’s spotlight in this issue was long overdue. Over the recent years, she has really emerged as an interesting character, interesting because of her penchant for carving out unique paths. Her character really caught my attention during the past schism between Cyclops’ and Wolverine’s  factions for not falling squarely within either camp and always taking her own bold approach to Xavier’s dream. Calling it now, solicits notwithstanding, I am predicting a leadership role for Ms. Braddock in the near future.

Uncanny X-Men #15 feels like a return to form and a refreshing promise given the familiar yet daunting landscape are X-Men find themselves in. Most importantly this was a return to storytelling that works for the franchise. Again I’m very blasé on Greg Land‘s art, but that’s yet another old story.

Story: Cullen Bunn Artist: Greg Land
Story: 9.0 Art: 7.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE issue for review

Review: Inhumans vs X-Men #0

inhumans_vs__x_men__0Inhumans vs X-Men issue # 0 sets the stage for the next superhero smackdown. For those feeling an acute onset hero on hero violence fatigue, be patient. The next superhuman bout may deliver where Civil War II faltered. IvX #0 continues in the same vein as Death of X filling the much-needed gaps, to paint a current picture of both the Mutant and Inhuman landscape.  To be honest I definitely had my gripes about the flash-forward and off panel milestone story telling that Marvel had cozied up to. Having the complete picture now gives a coherence that in my opinion makes the story more enjoyable. I really hope Marvel sticks to more linear storytelling in the future.

Overall I found the characterization in IvX #0 quite strong. Hank McCoy the elder, has been slowly transforming with a bent towards unabashed arrogance as of late. I was just thinking the other day how much similar he has become too his Dark Beast counterpart from the age of apocalypse reality. There’s a flashback to his early lab work with the Inhuman ISO, and his flippant remarks about the current situation and his faith in science to solve it all came off as very blindsided. For all his genius Hank doesn’t seem to appreciate that through science he has created some unsolvable problems as well (i.e. the temporal displacement of the original five X-Men). This is very much the same Beast who we saw depart from the X-Men in the Uncanny #600 issue. (link to  Unapologetic, stubborn, arrogant, and kind of an asshole. I’m very proud of Charles Soule for continuing on this characterization thread.

Emma Frost also enjoys a well-deserved spotlight.  In my review of an earlier Inhuman title I wrote how Medusa’s character really got to grow and flourish in the absence of Blackbolt post-Infinity. In this respect, Emma serves as a mirror to Medusa throughout the issue. I have always marveled how desperation has fueled Emma and made her operate at her best.  With Cyclops’ untimely demise she’s returned to that same Emma Frost we saw during the Dark Reign/ Pre-Utopia era. Devious, ambitious, and conniving. We see Emma tapping into her Hellfire roots on behalf of mutantkind in a pure way this issue and I couldn’t help but think how good it was to have the White Queen back! And its very symbolic that we have three queens (ex-Wakandan, Inhuman, and Hellfire) interlocked in such an interesting drama, with their own signature approach to statecraft. I love it!

With that said IvX excels at framing the oncoming conflict in evolutionary and political terms. We learn in this issue that the pre-emptive strike lead by Cyclops’ faction of X-Men neutralized half of the Terrigen cloud encircling the globe. This is quite a big deal as it shows mutants to be a force to be reckoned with deterrent wise. I’m reminded here of the Inhumans war against the Shi’ar in the War of Kings volume when it was speculated that Terrigenesis had a somewhat prescient element giving the Inhumans exactly what they need when they need it. Both the Inhumans and the X-Men are equal in this regard and this should make for and interesting conflict. It’s becoming ever more clear that there will be multiple perspectives on this conflict depending on the vantage it is viewed from. Given the reveals we have been given in Death of X Magneto remarks that the Inhuman missions upon the RIV are a protective military measure masked as a humanitarian mission. This threw me for a loop because I would have never considered this on my own. Naturally, Magneto has the eyes and the experience to make this interpretation. Given what we  have seen overall his assessment has merit. This outlook is also significant given some of the early story arc’s of the All-New Inhumans, which dealt directly with themes of a humanitarianism, genocide, geopolitical gesture and espionage. Beast overhears Medusa ‘s planning asserting that whatever the outcome of the current détente, the Inhuman’s must be prepared to win. I believe this was Beast’s come to Jesus moment arrogance/optimism wise. To see these themes revisited and interwoven in such an organic way for this upcoming conflict organically was such a treat.

The art was vivid and had a serious tone similar to the work of Lenil-Yu, the facial expressions were also very expressive. A small touch that I always appreciate when I come across it as it always makes me more attentive and invested in the characters.

Admittedly I rolled my eyes at the prospect of another superhero conflict, but I must say I am now hooked and eagerly awaiting the next volume if the plotting and themes are as smart and organic as IvX #0 suggests then I think we’re in for a fun ride. Doubly so considering the Ressurexion event that is on the horizon.

Story: Charles Soule Art: Kenneth Rocafort
Story: 10 Art: 8 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy!

Marvel provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Agents of Shield #10

agents_of_s_h_i_e_l_d___10When having a read through Agents of Shield #10, I had no idea the title had been canceled. I was a casual reader of the series but all the same I was sad to see the goodbye message at the end.  This review will be a cover not just issue 10 but also the rest of the short-lived series as a whole. Since his appearance in Iron Man in 2008, Phil Coulson exemplified the everyman of the extraordinary Marvel Universe. Coulson was/is our stand in to the spectacular world of Marvel, the proverbial fan boy / SHIELD company-man smack dab in the middle of the world that we all know and love. “Our Universe”

In some respects, I feel the comic iteration, achieved this sentiment more strongly than its televised counterpart.

One reason for this is that the Agents of Shield in the comic version had more free reign and artistic license than the ABC tv show does overall. Since the beginning of AoS the show, the central premise was to explore the non-superpowered aspect of the MCU, a faithful link and crossover over into that world, that maintained its own character and plotting. As I have written elsewhere the limits of the show’s base premise slowly grew  as the interconnectivity of AoS and the greater MCU of which it was a part of is shackled by the intellectual property turf war between the movie and television studio.

The AoS comic series did not share in this disadvantage. Reading through the AoS comic series was like a reading a love letter to the greater MU of which it was a part of. The last time that  I read a comic and felt this way was during the heroes for hire series, which played with so many aspects of the Marvel U and lead to some creative team-ups. AoS in a similar fashion, bore many touchstones  to the MU, whether that was Elektra, Jonas Graymalkin or Deathlok among many others. I am sure that if this title was not prematurely canceled this trend would have continued and would have been enriched.

agents_of_s_h_i_e_l_d___10-1Despite its short shelf span, Agents of Shield was able to enjoy at least two forays into major events namely; Civil War II and Pleasant Hill. Where I’d argue that SHIELD took a greater role the first superhuman civil war event, it is not as front and center in this current one. This may be a good thing, as the challenge for titles tying into a major event, is to do so without having too much of its own voice, and plotting being co-opted.  I would say that this series succeeded in this challenge, organically telling its own story and exploring the politics of SHIELD given the event without getting too eclipsed by it. This is exemplified in Coulson’s approach to find a “third option” to the latest superhuman disagreement.

It was a real treat to see Coulson and co. interact with such high-profile characters from the MU. Although I must admit it was a bit difficult delineating some characters from their comic versus TV counterparts. I am specifically talking about Daisy Johnson and Bobby Morse. Much like  Nicholas Fury Jr., I argue that the latest iteration of these characters suffer a degree of conceptual blending from the MCU and the Comic canon which was a bit a disservice, but this is a minor gripe. The outcome with Jemma Simmons being saved with Deathlok technology in this issue was very interesting, especially so considering the transhumanist bent that the title’s TV is currently exploring with the introduction of the Life Model Decoy AIDA and Dr. Radcliffe. Not sure if this was intentional, but if it was that would be brilliant

Agents of Shield was definitely beginning to blaze a trail that would have made a firm example for the television series. Although I’m sad to see the comic series go, I’m sure we’ll see more of SHIELD in the future, as it  as had a firm presence in the MU whether or not it has a dedicated SHIELD-centric title in publication. Given more issues, I’m sure this series would have grown to be a fan favorite with some awesome cameos, and tie-ins and stronger connection to the greater MU.

Story: Marc Guggenheim Art: Ario Anindito
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation Buy

Marvel Provided Graphic Policy with a Free copy for review

Ominous Parallels: a Comparative Analysis of Donald Trump & Norman Osborn

modakWe’re going to make America Great Again!”  – Donald Trump

” I want to weed out the malcontents. I want an army of men and women ready to take back the world. And those who are not ready will be replaced….I want you to take this Starktech Golden Goose of a Helicarrier and I want it scrapped .. You use my designs. You put them into full production. I want this red and gold out of sight” – Norman Osborn

In 2012 I was fortunate to contribute to Blackwell‘s pop culture and philosophy volume on the Avengers. My essay compared the controversial rise to power of Norman Osborn to an arrogant Athenian Noble named Alcibiades in the Socratic Dialogues. Much like Alcibiades, Osborne, was obsessed with accumulating state power for his own benefit, conflating his need for power with national security. To borrow Socrates’ leaky jar analogy, the egos of both men were markedly fragile, causing both to seek an endless abatement of their superficial desires and validations. As a Canadian I have been following the 2016 presidential election quite closely. And I am always given pause when I find instances of art imitating life or vice versa. More and more I am realizing that the current politic drama playing out with my neighbor to the south, seems very much like a landmark story from Marvel called Dark Reign.

donald_trump_by_gage_skidmore_2As of this writing Donald Trump has been formally nominated as the candidate for the Republican Party. This has been achieved despite a campaign with thinly veiled overtones of bigotry, threat exaggeration, Ad hominem argumentation, insecure bluster and unabashed demagoguery.  During Marvel’s Dark Reign, we a saw a similarly unlikely rise to power, one that put the “bad guys” firmly in power, and had most of our heroes on the run. It’s important to note that the Dark Reign came about off the heels of alien invasion, qualifying as a threat on existential terms. Though this threat was credible and resulted in the breakdown of many of the Earths’ protective institutions (i.e. SHIELD, SWORD, the Avengers) the fact still remains that this threat was politicized and weaponized to the benefit of the new established  political and security order. Through five points of comparison I would like show some striking similarities between Mr. Trump and Norman Osborn, in order to show why these similarities should give both Americans and the rest of the world pause. Although I enjoyed the subversive Dark Reign event and the political commentary that came with it, seeing life imitate art so closely in this political election has been a bit disturbing.

Showmanship

Both Norman Osborn and Donald Trump have demonstrated an incredible knack for showmanship. During his stint as the director of the Thunderbolts, a rehabilitating  initiative that employed super villains for heroic tasks, Norman slowly and calculatedly fashioned an image of himself as a trustworthy civil servant. This was  despite his monstrous alternate persona the Green Goblin and his dubious intentions. This showmanship culminated in his strategically timed execution of the Skrull Queen during the final throes of the Skrull invasion, an act taking place before many cameras and ultimately cementing his place at the head of national security.

Similarly Donald Trump’s thirst for fame has become a central pillar of his career. Trump slowly evolved from the real estate mogul symbolic of the 80s to reality personality we know today. That Mr. Trump chose to announce his political ambitions, through his media ventures was of no surprise, as he became quite adept at using any platform afforded to him to further his own goals. In a short span of a few years the currency of Trump’s rise slowly transitioned from real estate to notoriety. What I find so fascinating about Donald Trump’s untrammeled ambition in the mediascape appears  to be sourced from a deep lack of confidence. A classic “Trumpian” mindset seems to be the following whatever promotes or aggrandizes me is trustworthy and good, and whatever criticizes or challenges me is flawed, envious and bad. His recent comments on SNL indicates this, a show he was happy to host recently, which is now unfunny in his eyes and in need of retirement now that he is being parodied. Similarly after Osborn’s rise to power, any degree of opposition or challenges to his order was met with draconian authority. Both Osborn and Trump suffer  from a deep insecurity which brings me to the next point of comparison.

Insecurity

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Trump brought the election to new lows, using his newfound political soapbox to defend not only his vaunted wealth, and business acumen but also his physical attributes like the size of his genitalia, fingers, and the authenticity of his hair. This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t have insecurities, however his choice to use his political campaign to chronically redress this that is remarkable. Most politicians can cultivate a degree of thick skinned resolve that allows them to maintain a presence and agenda consistent with campaign objectives. Trump has routinely been veered off course, falling for bait that would typically fall beneath the attention, and stature of your general presidential candidate.

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Norman Osborn also shared this personality flaw. In my essay I argued that Norman’s enmity towards the newly outlawed super heroic community, stemmed from his insecurity about independent and self-derived sources of power. Instead of working with those who were seemingly on the other side, Norman worked tirelessly to oppress and subdue them. For Norman this may have been tied to his fragile ego, and dove tailed into his exaggerated view of the world’s threats. The mini-series Dark X-Men explicitly touches on Norman’s inner psyche where super powered opponents are concerned.  It explains a lot of his heavy handedness throughout his tenure as the head of national security.

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Threat Exaggeration/Inflation

Both Donald and Norman exhibit an exaggerated understanding of national security threats, however where Osborn’s stems from his insecurity and ego issues, Trump’s is a more opportunistic variety, rooted more in his showmanship.  At the end of the Dark Avengers title we get a final panel of an incarcerated Norman, meandering over all the threats that may take place without his oversight. It’s a telling insight into his fragile mind, a plausible set of scenarios, but obtuse and over the top. This isn’t to say that Norman’s assessment of things was never opportunistic (See blurring personal vendetta with national security) it was just that his reaction to super powered opposition (actual and imagined) overwhelmed him and perhaps fed (and spurred) his Goblin persona.

Donald Trumps’ variety of threat exaggeration, is rooted in bigotry but more heavily on spreading doubt and lack of confidence in the established governmental order. I say this highlighting Trump’s lack of understanding of geopolitical issues (see vague platitudes and agenda) and his complete dearth of viable or coherent alternatives. Trump knows people are scared and he has seized on that fear to bolster support for his campaign.

There are striking parallels here with what took place during the Dark Reign. Both Skrulls and the specter of ISIS are existential threats, both of which can appear as anyone (The Skrulls being shapeshifting aliens) and infiltrate borders and institutions. Both also use religious ideology for a mission of conquest. Although there were peaceful Skrulls living on earth before and after the invasion, and peaceful Muslims who are not radically indoctrinated, conflations are made in both cases. Where Trump has used this to deride immigration policy and pander to the ignorance and fear of his base, Norman used this to take out a clear and apparent threat cement his place as a trusted government official, while eventually moving on to other threats by defining them in a sense.

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Voracious Branding 

Both Donald and Norman true to their sizeable egos, need to see their names on everything. During his Dark Reign, Norman usurped and subverted many franchises and established institutions. Norman overhauls S.H.I.E.L.D. replaces it with his H.A.M.M.E.R. and creates “Dark” versions of the Avengers and X-Men staffing them with  controversial villians. The overcompensation here is noteworthy and seems to be subtle taunt to the old heroic guard he was once answerable to.

One doesn’t have to look far to find a litany failed Trump ventures, whether Trump Air, Trump University or his casinos. Trump’s past business ventures, and past grievances attached to them show one who is not just hungry to see his name everywhere, but someone with dubious ethics and integrity. The egos of both men in this regard are strikingly similar here.

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Vague Platitudes & Agenda

A noteworthy observation about Norman’s agency H.A.M.M.E.R. is that it was never quite revealed what his agency stood for. I argued in my essay that Norman’s vagueness here was deliberate as he wanted an agency that would latch on to the current zeitgeist of insecurity and lack of confidence in the previous regime’s protective institutions.

This is the main strategy of the Trump campaign.

What I find so striking about Trump is his complete lack of alternatives and general understanding of geopolitics that we’d expect of any person running for the office of POTUS. Another tried and true “Trump-ism” is documented here, when pressed about legitimate foreign policy concern Trump tacit reaction is to deflect and distract, a disturbing behavior for one seeking such a high and important office. Although unprincipled Norman had some concrete objective and policy, Trump apparently has none and this should give everyone pause.

Blurring Personal Vendetta with National Security

“A man that you can bait with a tweet, is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” – Hillary Clinton

The Dark Reign mini series called “The List” documented Osborne’s draconian tour of the MU, taking out his perceived threats. If my memory serves me well this takes place soon after two of his inner cabal members Emma Frost and Namor, publicly defect from his regime. What follows is a calculated yet somewhat petty show of force. He creates a biological WMD to slaughter Atlantean terror cells, among other affronts to the newly downtrodden heroes of MU. I was reminded of the list Donald claimed very brazenly claiming he would arrange “special prosecution” in order to prosecute Hillary Clinton. Given the rest of the characteristics I used for comparison between the two men, it should come as no surprise that their personal grievances impinge so much on their handling (or approach towards) National Security.

In my analysis of Norman Osborn I wrote that the moral of the Dark Reign was to show the consequences of what happens when people who are unfit for power get it. Osborn’s Dark Reign ended during the Siege crisis, an event that saw a mentally weak Osborn goaded into sparking an international incident by unilaterally attacking Asgard. This wasn’t just done as a show of strength, but to prove to the world that Osborn was not to be trifled with. It was a disastrous outcome that ironically put the world in danger, in the name of protecting it.

Although the prospect of a Trump Presidency remains to be seen, I argue that the consequences  of such an outcome would similar if not more dramatic. Sam Alexander’s chastisement of the fictional POTUS, (after the Dark Reign) would also speak the system and individuals that paved the way  for Trump’s rise should he secure the presidency.

“….You sacrificed honor for expediency. You traded intent for quick action. You were wrong and we all suffered for it”

Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men Apocalypse PosterBryan Singer does it again!

I have to be honest I had my doubt with this movie. Having watched it last night I am very proud to see that most if not all them have been put to rest. Maybe I’m a sucker for the 80s, (1984 baby here) but the time period, the clothes, the  references, resonated very strongly with me. Xavier’s school in the era of skinny jeans, the cold war and President Reagan is a very fun place to be.  The themes and struggles of that era pair themselves well to the unfurling X-Men Mythos one that continues to tread Xenophobia, difference, the red scare and the spectre of mutually assured destruction. Apocalypse seizes on these zeitgeists in a way that punctuates his threat.  I shared the concerns of how Apocalypse would be presented but these were quickly alleviated. Oscar Isaac‘s really sold Apocalypse as primal and ontological threat.

One of my gripes was the lost opportunity for philosophical engagement. Ideologically Apocalypse is the diametric foil to Xavier, most of their conflict in the movie is confined to physical and psychic combat however. To me this was a bit of a lost opportunity (but still very cool visually). Apocalypse’s Darwinian proclivities could have benefited the film with a more thorough exploration. This is also the case at least 2 of his horsemen, (Psylocke and Storm) who’s motivation for aligning with the God-Mutant aren’t entirely clear.  In the comics, mutants chosen to become Horsemen undergo profound brainwashing that endures for years after the fact, in the movie it wasn’t too apparent whether this was taking place. Additionally  The notion of first mutation was introduced and also could have benefited from more explanation, with 7 installments into the franchise I think the time is ripe to explore the ontology of mutation, especially considering a jaw dropping event that takes place near the end of the film. Spoiler: with a telepathic assist from Jean on the Astral plane Xavier instructs her to unleash her potential giving us a more faithful adaptation of the phoenix force on the big screen.  This moment was huge and I doubt that its ramifications have been all settled.

Bryan Singer is to be commended for the way he interwove the plotting and pacing,  the interaction between the mentor X-Men and younger team was masterfully done in a way that was organic and believable. I was worried how they would throw the neophyte X-Men into the ring training and all, but their involvement and the nature of the threat they are presented with makes it work. The progression of the film did feel a bit fast but there was good economy of screen time per character vs set up on the hero side of the equation. As I mentioned earlier however Apocalypse and his horsemen suffered a bit in this regard. Quicksilver returns once more doing what he does best …stealing scenes. This time his powers are shown off to an 80’s hit track that had everyone in my theatre laughing. Made me wonder and anticipate what he’ll speed out to if they get a 90’s sequel off the ground.

Magneto had some very good scenes, and the story did a good job raising some pathos for his character. A new plot element takes its cue straight from the comics, and really cements Magneto as a tortured soul, justifiably incensed with humanity. As I mentioned earlier however die hard fans will be left unclear as to how much of Magneto’s rage is his own, versus how much is of Apocalypses influence.

As the installment closing out the second X-Trilogy I would say X-Men: Apocalypse did its job admirably. The call backs and homages to past movie elements really show how much Singer and Simon Kinberg love and respect the franchise while providing winks to the audience. Above all this however, X-Men: Apocalypse injects fresh blood and opportunity into a run that could have easily gone stale 16 years and 7 films in. To see the broad range of philosophies presented thus (egalitarian, Darwinian, bioethcial etc) aside multiple/alternate timelines, is quite a feat. It is fair to say that the x-movies have juggled and adapted its source material wonderfully, while using time travel to cleverly edit out or otherwise erase its less than stellar flops (Sorry Brett Ratner). As the X-students say after walking out of a Star Trek movie “The third movie is always the worst”

There is a post credit stinger you will want to stick around for, providing another hint that we are not finished with the X-Universe just yet. This stinger also hints at another iconic villain I am excited to see. Apocalypse is one of the most iconic villains in the X-Men rogues gallery, was he perfectly adapted? That is debatable. Will this movie have you excited for what’s to come? Without a question….yes it will and for me that’s where this movie’s strength lies. Clearing away the stagnancy of what came before   and being the fire that ignites new life, to paraphrase Apocalypse’s words, I think that was the underlying ethos for this movie as well…that’s kind of meta.

Final Thoughts

Although the political themes weren’t showcased as strongly as I had hoped, the opening title sequences explored them quit a bit symbolically. They are really starting become a hallmark of the franchise, reaching James Bond Levels of Iconic.

Overall Score 8.5

New Frontiers: A Dialogical Analysis of Steven Rogers Part 1 – Captain America: The First Avenger

“You better get cleaned up” – Bucky Barnes

“Why where are we going” – Steve Rogers

“The Future!” – Bucky

Captain America First Avenger PosterThe next installment of Captain America has hit theaters. With five movies strong, Captain America’s character has become a pillar within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) much like his canonical comic counterpart. This pillar is about to have its mettle tested as the seismic Civil War adaptation is on our horizon. Steve Rogers is a very compelling character, in some ways (pre-serum) the everyman emblematic of our desire to reach our heroic potential and in most respects (post serum) A towering hero, symbol and example. Through and through Steve Rogers is a character who exemplifies not just his time, as well as change but a conversation, or dialogue between the two. Of all the characters I have observed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Steve Rogers embodies not just the process but the tensions within globalization. This is evidenced quite firmly across the spate of movies he has been in. I have been doing some reading on Dialogical Self Theory (DST) in the context of globalization. DST explores the positioning and counter-positioning that takes place within the self in reaction to change, difference and uncertainty. DST in a way accounts for our perennial negotiation with the various aspects of our core self, imagined others, as well as the countervailing or complimentary narratives that they bring to bear. Having watched several of the MCU movies involving Captain America’s character, I would like to show how Captain America’s vantage point and dilemmas are the perfect means to address some of these dialogical themes.  This article will explore those themes as found in Captain America: The First Avenger (CA: TFA)

Central to DST is the concept of the traditional, modern and postmodern self. These aspects of the self are atemporal stages, that relate to our various positions, and narratives given particular contexts. These aspects coexist, and at times negotiate depending on the particular dilemma at hand. (I.e. we maintain our traditional self despite having a modern and postmodern one)  Each aspect of the self has benefit or a disadvantage (shadow).

Steve Rogers & The Traditional Self

531115The traditional self is what governs our view of the world in terms of totality, unity and purpose. The traditional self, adheres to hierarchical and fosters obedience. The primary benefit of the traditional self is that it provides for us a meaningfully ordered cosmos, where one’s position and purpose are clearly defined.  The drawback or shadow side to the traditional self is found in the blind adherence and deference to authority that it inculcates. At times this can come at expense to the individual as it is poised to choke their potential.

In CA:TFA we see the traditional Steve Rogers, as a scrawny Brooklynite yearning to find his place in the world and contribute his fair share to the war effort. Due to unfortunate life circumstance of a series of ailments he finds himself an outcast, relegated to the world outside meaningful order and purpose as he understands it. Here Rogers is not just outcast forbidden from the rank and file of the conventional war effort, he is a patriot unable to serve his country in the means he sees required. His yearning for purpose and place is shown in the following exchange with his best friend Bucky Barnes

“There are men laying down their lives…I have no right to do any less than them, that’s what you don’t understand. This isn’t about me” – Steve Rogers

His physique and fitness notwithstanding it is Rogers’ sense of duty, character and determination to serve which catches the eye of Dr. Erskine, who is looking for characteristics “beyond the physical” to compliment the super soldier serum.  This takes our budding hero into the ambit of the strategic scientific reserve, and his progression into his modern self.

The Star Spangled Man & The Modern Self

The modern self is where justification is found within its own ground. In philosophical terms the modern self has been described as a “Sovereign Self” (Richardson et al. 1988) The modern aspect of the self is where ones autonomy is expressed however, its shadow/disadvantage is a risk of considerable alienation from the social and natural environment, emotional isolation, loneliness and excessive competition. A hallmark of the Modern Self is its advancement in the context of industry.

Captain-America-trailer-screencaps-the-first-avenger-captain-america-19929974-1920-800In CA: TFA this is exemplified perfectly by super soldier program and strategic scientific reserve. Steve Rogers is able to become his ideal self through the scientific integration and innovation on the part of the SSR and Howard Stark. Competition through espionage  with HYDRA however, results in the success of the super soldier program being rendered a one off. Instead of Steve becoming the first in an Army he is once more a minority and outcast. Albeit a particularly buff one.

I asked for an Army and  all I got was you. You are not enough” -General Phillips

We find Steven Rogers, here as an oddity. An outlier at odds with the system of command  that he respect so much. Despite his transition into a super soldier the program is deemed a de facto failure.  When given the opportunity to “serve” Steve is relegated to moral boosting pageantry as the “Star Spangled Man” naturally this rouses the ire of his brothers in arms who have to risk life and limb, without his abilities.  Once more competitiveness albiet an internecine variety is a driver for Steve’s alienation, and his yearning to be more than just a show puppet. A yearning which brings conflict between his Modern and Tradition self ultimately setting the stage for his Post-Modern emergence. Steve is now caught in the dilemma of just following orders, or fulfilling what he feels he was meant to.

“You were meant for more than this you know” – Peggy Carter

*The symbolism of Steve on the stage taking out a superficial threat (Adolf Hitler) while later encountering the true threat (Johan Schmidt)  is significant here.  Setting the stage for his development and autonomy and cementing his place as a leader of men.

Captain America & The Postmodern Self

cap1The Hallmark of the postmodern self is the end of truth pretension. Here the self comes to terms with the protean nature of “truth”, recognizing that what is understood as such is firmly influenced by systems and institutions. In addition to the movement away from universalistic truth notions and hegemonic narratives, the postmodern self is informed strongly by the dissolution of hierarchies, as well as an emphasis for difference, otherness, and local knowledge. In the Postmodern self, truth, meaning and value are self-derived.

Steve’s initiation to post-modernity and ultimately Captain America occurs when he breaks orders in order to rescue a regiment of soldiers that Bucky is part of. Steve is operating outside the military’s sanction, and without their faith in his abilities. This is of no consequence to Steve as he now has faith in himself. This defining infraction has a few outcomes that are notable, it earns him the respect of his superiors, it earns him the respect of his peers and it leads to the encounter with the true threat, Johann Schmidt and the opportunity to study his weaponry (The Tessaract). After Steve asserts himself and the value of his abilities, he transitions into the leader the SSR needs to counter the threat of HYDRA.

“I am assembling the best men.” – General Phillips

“With all due respect sir, so am I” – Steve Rogers

The shadow aspect of the self, results from a form of nihilism born the recognized pliability of the truth. This can lead to a view of the other in the self which known as the abject self. The abject-self houses a contempt for others borne from a sense of superiority and a lust for domination.  In the search for meaning one can revile the otherness they encounter.  Though it can be argued that Steve Rogers does not experience this shadow. I would say it is exemplified perfectly Johann Schmidt. In many ways Steve Rogers and Johann Schmidt are equal opposites, where Steve’s leadership serves as integrative and unifying Johann’s variety is oriented towards fear, domination and fragmentation a natural offshoot of Nazi ideology. It also involves the seizure of power it cannot control nor completely understand. His adherence to myth and legend is rooted in his desire to be godlike.  Rogers on the other hand does not forget his humble beginnings. After being questioned about what makes him so special, Rogers quips.

“Nothing…I’m just a kid from Brooklyn”  – Steve Rogers

This speaks to the heart of Rogers leadership style, he doesn’t just lead he inspires. Steve Rogers doesn’t just become the super soldier, he becomes a catalyst who recognizes virtue in others and fosters that to its highest potential

It is not just Steve’s ability to unify his peers, his country and integrate his various selves that set him apart, but also his ability to lead through challenge and uncertainty. As I will show in the next part this positions him perfectly as the leader of SHIELD’s most uncertain heroes, the Avengers. Steve Rogers meets the future.

Almost American
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