Rogue Element #107: Let Love Live

By Avril Brown

Maybe I’m just a touch sensitive, but I feel as if my fictional relationships are getting a little ridiculous. Relationships take work, there is no doubt. For some people love can come rather easily, but almost everyone would agree: relationships are continuous works in progress. That is not to say the effort involved has to be hard or painful; in fact it should be downright merry more often than not. Therefore it should not be terribly difficult to actually explore a happy relationship rather than tear it asunder before it even gets off the ground. Unfortunately, the creative minds behind my some of my ongoing fantasy relationships missed this memo, and the list of dysfunctional non-relationships on my dance card is growing.

Vampire Diaries – This teenage supernatural drama with its smoldering cast and clever writing has been a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine for three seasons now, but season four is starting to get on my nerves. Young Elena Gilbert is loved by two vampire brothers, Stefan and Damon Salvatore, and though she has been technically Stefan’s gal for most of the series, Damon has also been in her heart and mind (just take a peek at Ian Somerhalder and you’ll wonder why she didn’t start and stay with this brother). All last season Elena struggled with her love for both Salvatores, but Damon has been her brother of choice since her transition into a vampire at the beginning of the current season. ‘Delena’ (that’s Damon/Elena, for all you non-fan fiction readers out there) fans have been waiting patiently for two of the sexiest people on TV to finally get groiny, yet their climactic scene was ruined by an unwelcome revelation: Elena is sired to Damon, which according to this show means she does what he says and will do anything to make him happy. Ignoring the blatant dom/sub implications of such a bond, this ‘twist’ makes little to no sense.

‘Vampire Diaries’ lore proclaims that a ‘sire-bond’ is only created when a human was in love with the vampire who turned him/her before the transition from homo sapiens to undead bloodsucker, and such bonds are incredibly rare. I call bullshit. There have been two other relationships we’ve encountered in this four season show that fit the bill and were not ‘sire-bonded,’ so not only is the series not following its own rules, this also provides ample evidence that it is not uncommon for humans to fall in love with vampires. In addition, Damon, and every other character besides Elena, cannot believe her feelings for him are real because she sired…yet the only reason she’s sired is because she loved him before she was turned. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of backwards logic.

So rather than explore the emotional complexities of a young woman in love with two men, or rather vampires, the creators of one of my favorite fictional playgrounds decided instead to throw one hell of a moronic supernatural roadblock into what should have been the hottest and most labyrinthine relationships on television today.

Uncanny X-Force – The ‘X-Force’ title has a long, convoluted history in the Marvel Universe (complicated comic stories? Whoever heard of such nonsense!), but when it was resurrected in 2008 the general theme was much darker than its predecessors. Wolverine, Psylocke, Deadpool, Fantomex and several others operated as a black ops X-Men team, their bloody work off the books and unknown by their fellow spandex-sporting mutants. Such wonderfully morose, torturous stories were told in this series over the years as it morphed from ‘X-Force’ to ‘Uncanny X-Force,’ its roster growing and changing. Rahne was brainwashed and forced to attack her teammates by a man she once considered a father figure (a priest, point of fact, and Rahne is very religious), and who ended up being ravaged by his own monstrous creation. Angel became the thing he feared and hated most and was eventually killed by his former lover Psylocke in order to save the world, only to rise again a completely different person with no memory of his life, or love. Wolverine killed his only son to prevent yet another apocalyptic future. Fantomex made the controversial decision to kill a child, a cloned version of the immensely dangerous villain Apocalypse, who was being raised and indoctrinated by Apocalypse’s minions, for fear of what that child would become. He attempted to right his wrong by raising a different clone in an alternate world in a loving, stable environment, ideally proving that if raised right, anyone can become a hero.

Vastly different from the character first introduced several years ago in the regular ‘X-Men’ series, Fantomex was a changing man, evident by his pure love for Psylocke and the subsequent choices he made for her and for the man he wanted to be. Fantomex died for his love and teammates towards the end of the series. Using comic-infused technology, the three brains of the genetically engineered Fantomex (yes, you read that right) were placed into a cloning machine and out popped three people: the good, the bad, and the sexy. The bad version rabbited, off to cause unknown mayhem, the sexy happened come out female and the good took his lady love Psylocke home to meet his mother, who confirmed he’d never brought a girl home before. The series ended on such an uplifting, romantic note, I was high on happiness after finishing the issue, and eager to find out what came next for the unlikely couple.

Marvel is pulling a DC and revamping their titles, so although ‘Uncanny X-Force’ is back on the selves it is back at issue number one with a new roster of characters. Apparently Psylocke has been MIA for six months (I really hate it when they do that; it’s hard enough keeping up with all the books, I don’t need to wrap my lobes around the fact that supposedly six months have passed in one title but not the other two and half dozen) and something obviously bad went down between her and Fantomex, which she very much does not want to talk about. At the end of the first issue we find Fantomex merrily robbing someone with his partner in crime: his female self/brain/person, and the last panel shows them kissing. So, the writers took a character whose initial defining characteristics were arrogance, self-preservation and narcissism, put him through his paces, watch him grow from something other than thief, murderer and escapist, have him die and reborn for love…and then show him making out with himself. Way to grow a character. Given they have yet to tell the story of what happened between Psylocke and Fantomex I know I’m jumping the judgmental gun just a bit, but they better spin one hell of a yarn for me to let this one go.

Before Midnight – Now here is a story which may actually get it right. ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset,’ the two prequels to this upcoming film, are two of the most poignantly romantic films I have ever seen. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy meet for one day in the first film, walking, talking and falling in love. ‘Before Sunset’ picks up nine years later where the couple meet again after having gone their separate ways, yet by the end of their afternoon together it appears Jesse and Celine are not letting each other go, not again. ‘Before Midnight’ will not be released until September but it is already generating buzz amongst fans of the series. Another nine years have passed and though Jesse and Celine are still together, he is estranged from his son of his previous marriage, and the film is to follow them on another day together, possibly their last, as they consider their relationship and its future. As one reviewer wrote: “‘Will they stay together?’ it turns out, can be every bit as intense as ‘Will they get together?’ And also less predictable.” Amen, reporter Tim Wu! Cheers, director Richard Linklater, for providing a relationship story with as little unnecessary drama and fanfare as possible.

Yes, I know I have an addiction, not just to happy endings but fiction in general. However, I feel as if I can say this with confidence and clarity: this rant is not about happy endings. This is about the journey most creators are refusing to explore. Do I expect my favorite couples to ride merrily off into the sunset together? Hells no; in fact, I’d be immensely disappointed if they did. I like a little angst with my hot, sweaty love, but I do not prefer my angst in the form of a land mine exploding in the first five minutes of the drive. There is still a whole lot of story to tell after the ‘I love yous,’ even in a functional relationship, and here I’m left wondering why the hell the writers behind some of my favorite fictional vices haven’t picked up on that fact. Please, people: let love live. You’ll find the possibilities are infinite if you do.


CHEW #31
Written by John Layman and Illustrated by Rob Guillory
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Hot on the heels of unarguably the most depressing and poignant issue of CHEW yet, this latest chapter of CHEW seems to try and bring the fun back…in Layman and Guillory’s signature macabre way.

With twin sister Toni being laid to rest, every member of the Chu family has something to say to Tony, and for once they’re not hurling insults. Everyone wants justice for the irresistibly adorable Antonelle, but no one more so than Tony who is literally chomping at the bit to get back to work now that he and partner Colby have been reinstated at the FDA. What better way to work out some grief than catching the fiends responsible for dozens of charred, chunky citizens dropping dead left and right?

One of the many enjoyable aspects of CHEW is the multitudes of snippets readers can catch and wonder if they will mean something more down the line. During Toni’s funeral there are flashbacks to the last time Tony lost someone close to him: his wife Min who apparently died of brain cancer which had been affecting her increasingly erratic behavior, something we caught a glimpse of early on in the series. Will Min and her illness factor in further down the road as we learn more about the Church of the Divinity of the Immaculate Ova and their conspiracy against all chicken-eaters? Or is Tony’s late wife simply a tragedy which changed the course of his life, and subsequently his daughter’s life as well?

You never can know what to expect with Layman and Guillory at the helm, but readers can always count on one hell of a fun ride. Rife with portraits of parodies which include a rib at comic conventions and creators (every comedian needs to be able to laugh at him/herself on occasion), readers are likely still stinging from Toni’s violent exit, but seeing Tony Chu and John Colby back in action is an excellent balm.


Written and Illustrated by J. Marc Schmidt
Published by Milk Shadow Books

Reviewed by Avril Brown

ALL YOU BASTARDS CAN GO JUMP OFF A BRIDGE! is a variety showcase of comics from veteran writer/illustrator J. Marc Schmidt. From one-page one-liners to multi-panel on-going stories starring an atheist sex-addict, Schmidt covers quite a breadth of humor, sadness, and shit that simply cannot be categorized.

Schmidt’s work has been described as stand-up comedy, which is undeniably accurate. With each skit I was biting my nails in dreadful anticipation: is this one going to be a laugh, or a dud? The first few pages read flat to me, but then I arrived at the talking faces/vase ‘optical illusion’ with one face giving the other advice on how to interpret their own picture for a job interview. I enjoyed the clever humor and hoped to find more twisty nuggets as I read on, and ALL YOU BASTARDS is full of twist, turns, and more directions than Willy Wonka’s elevator.

Some panels were just too weird for words, such as the Body Floss, which read like an X-rated ‘Saturday Night Live’ commercial. Others came off as mean or pointless, such as the pages where everyone picks on Wendy the flight attendant, driving her to tears and laughing at her pain.

Still other sections had me in stitches and left me wondering why there couldn’t be more of the demonic, violent Low-Bro with his cooking lessons and rants on the uselessness of the third conditional in the English language. There’s fun vocabulary to pick up from Dr. Susan “Bandages” Jyhnsyn, the male-hating physician who throws around words like ‘kyriarchy,’ and the Procrastination Pterodactyl is something every writer and artist can understand and relate to, even if those stories became increasingly bizarre and disjointed.

When stories of sadness of poignancy appear in a largely humorous collection, I never quite know how to take it. The nurse in the WWI hospital narrating her history while talking to a patient in a coma almost made me cry. So is the point of this random collection to make the reader question everything? Or is the point to prove there is no point?

However, I am forever reticent to pass judgment on such a compilation. One reader’s head-scratcher is another’s belly buster, and where personally I would find greater enjoyment out of a book starring no one but Low-Bro and his advice column, still others may appreciate the unpredictability which every panel of ALL YOU BASTARDS has to offer.


Rogue Element #106: Bear Down, Comic and Football Fans!

By Avril Brown

There are five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bears need a field goal to tie it, touchdown to win and they’re about to receive the ball. Cutler’s been kicking ass in the fourth quarter but the opposing team has a formidable defense and everyone knows our offensive line is not our strong suit. We need to get down field to for those vital points while simultaneously taking our sweet time to burn up the clock. If only our coaches can coordinate the right plays. If only the refs can make calls in our favor. If only Cutler’s arm can get the job done with no injuries and our D backing them up to seal the deal. If only…

Rogue and Gambit are alone on a rooftop. The Big Bad de jour is being hauled away in chains, another day saved, but our heroes have yet to resolve their tense emotional issues since Gambit’s return from exile in the Arctic. There are only two pages left, a scant handful of panels available for these two crazy kids to somehow work it out. Rogue is apologetic for leaving Gambit alone in the frozen tundra; Remy is forgiving, knowing his self-loathing personality, borrowed with a kiss, was influencing her decision. Curling in close to her Cajun, Rogue opens up and tells him she still loves him and hopes he still feels the same, even after everything they’ve been through. Gambit’s arms are filled with his Mississippi belle, he opens his mouth to answer her, but even as her lips quiver with uncertainty and anticipation he cannot answer. If only the writers can let them have a happy reunion, just this once. If only that swirly green sentient mist which has taken residence in Gambit’s body hadn’t stolen our heroes words by threatening his lady love, should he resume his romance. If only the issue hadn’t ended with Rogue hurting and Gambit frightened, leaving a sixteen-year-old hopeless romantic with an aching heart and a new addiction. If only…

Football, or sports in general, and comic books have more in common than most typically imagine. The settings can be vastly contrary but people in both arenas invest an incredible amount of time and emotional energy with little control over whether or not a happy ending is ultimately achieved. Both are saturated with triumphs and tragedies with an army of super fans on the sidelines, cheering for their team.

One of my favorite television commercials released this football season was, naturally, a beer advertisement. Though I tend to reach for almost anything before I grab a Bud Lite nowadays, I couldn’t help but fall in love with their message. All over the country fans are donning their mismatched socks, twirling their necklaces, arranging their furniture just so and turning their beer so the label faces the field thereby creating a wind sheer which aids in a successful field goal, all in support of their team. “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work,” says the wise voice trying to sell me watered down cheap alcohol. Indeed, I have my own routine. Blue panties, jeans, an adorable Bears v-neck tee, Bears wrist cuffs and my silver charmed necklace comprise the outfit, and my arms do the rest. Every time my team scores, I drop down and give them pushups, one for every point on the board. That means during the Bears 51-20 win over the Titans this season, I did a total of roughly one hundred and fifty pushups (I may have fudged a couple), leaving me with arms so cramped and quivery I looked like a T-Rex.

I must have half a dozen or so issues from the nineties which declare on the cover in dramatic lettering, “Because YOU demanded it!…” backed with an image of a character who has been resurrected (sometimes literally) thanks to fans overwhelmingly begging for their return. Gambit only spent a year or so in the cold before readers pleaded he find his way back into Rogue’s loving arms. Blink was killed off in the regular Marvel universe so when she popped up in the alternate Age of Apocalypse universe those of us who adore the purple teleporter clamored for more, and soon enough she found herself on the roster of one of the best books Marvel has produced in the last decade or so. Though this type of support is less magic and more elbow grease, I believe emotions produce their own energy, and there’s nothing quite like the loyalty of a fan.

In both sports and comics we fans tend to remember the good times while glossing over the bad. My good friend Jack Silverstein is a sports reporter for the Chicago Redeye, which has allowed him access to the Bears locker room after games. In one of his interviews a Bears player commented that if they beat the Packers, especially in a home game, it is almost as if the rest of the season is a non-issue. Just beat the Packers and all is forgiven. I certainly enjoy pretending several stories in the X-Men history simply do not exist. ‘What? There was no story where Gambit cheated on Rogue with Mystique who was disguising herself as a blue-haired slut named Foxx before he offered himself for the role of the servant Death under a poor man’s Apocalypse which changed his skin to ink black and his hair to a snowy white. My friend, surely you have imbibed too much drink to believe this scandalous falsehood!’

The roster on our beloved teams change with a fair amount of frequency. We may only get a year or two, or we could have nine with a hit and miss coach, but rest assured nothing lasts forever. We can always revisit favorites, thumbing back to X-Men #30 where Jean Grey and Scott Summers finally tied the knot, and here in this digital age all you have to do is pull up Youtube to catch the 1985 Chicago Bears shuffling their way through Super Bowl XX for the win.

Sometimes we love our people but feel a desire to experience things a little differently, so we explore some fan fiction to read about couples who will likely never exist in any other forum, or we join a fantasy football league to find a way to win, even when our team is tanking.

Our love gives us such a thrill, but our love don’t pay our bills; we need money. Most comics are going for a penny shy of four dollars per issue (some of which are bi-monthly), and when you’re a Marvel fan the titles pile up pretty fast, not to mention Marvel is far from being the only comic company producing quality reads. Chicago Bears tickets are the second highest pricing in the NFL, averaging roughly $110 this year for your standard seat. Season tickets to Soldier Field, one of the smallest stadiums in the country, routinely sell out every year and have over a ninety percent renewal rating, the most consistent in the NFL. We haven’t won the Super Bowl since there was music still on MTV but the fans keep coming back for more.

Though we have love for our teams, they have a tendency to cut us deeply and often. How thrilling was it to make the Super Bowl in 2006, only to watch our beloved Bears crumble and disintegrate before our disbelieving eyes? How could we go from cheering wildly as Hester ran the first punt return of the game back for a touchdown, to watching fumble after false start after a number of errors to a 29-17 loss to the Colts? How could they hurt us so?

A couple years ago Rogue finally gained control over her powers in a multi-issue story arc with coordinating covers (put them all side by side and they paint an epic picture), she and Remy share a dramatic kiss laden with promises of more to come, and yet a double handful of issues later she decides to boink Magneto? Despite having an appreciation for the potential that pairing has, I found it bitterly disappointing he is the one she decided to get sweaty with over her hunk of Southern handsome. Now Rogue is single again. Single. Hell, I was single for nine tenths of my life and I’m all for Girl Power, but I’m also all for steamy ‘our characters have been in love for twenty years and we can finally get groiny’ sex as well.

Certain stereotypes exist for a reason but the ‘jocks versus nerds’ dichotomy is fading fast into the sunset. No longer are people pigeon-holed into devoutly following one or two hobbies. We’re crossing the streams, using the Force and engaging our passions where we please. Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs has over one thousand tackles and numerous interceptions and forced fumbles. He also has a website dedicated to comic books and has held drives at Challenger’s Comics for donated books which are then redistributed to low-income schools in Chicago. Whether you’re cheering a touchdown or fist-pumping the downfall of a villain, sobbing over a season sans a playoff seat or mourning the death of Jean Grey (again), just remember, we’re all in this together. Through the joy and despite the pain, may our loves never wane. After all, there’s always next year.