Who Murdered Empathy?: Commanders in Crisis #2 Advanced Review

I wanted to thank my readers for your support of Stars and Monsters this year. It is now November, and despite this year being almost over, we still have a long way to go before we see real change in our world. With that said, I wanted to give a big thanks and shoutout to Steve Orlando for allowing me to write an advanced review of issue 2 of his new series from Image Comics, Commanders in Crisis.

Commanders in Crisis perfectly touches on intense themes that are timely during our very real political climate this year. Set in a universe where a diverse set of former U.S. Presidents with superpowers from other realities act as the line between patriotic heroes and vigilante outsiders, this second issue continues to touch on out-of-this-world ideas with powerful and thrilling new turns.

American Individuality – Better Than Our United States?

Mind Muggers: Stealing Our Hope 77 Years from Now

One of the things that makes this topical issue exciting for new readers is its release post-election season this year. The series delves deeper into a version of America where a politician is aiming to pass a bill for all 50 states to secede from the nation and become 50 independent nation states. Dissolving the entirety of the United States in this way is argued to allow citizens to feel safer about being considered “evil” for having other beliefs and disagreeing with others.

What I love about this narrative is it allows us to view our own world’s problems with ideological disagreements and consider whether forcing separation from those opposing of us would bring about the betterment of America. In Commanders in Crisis, the politician enacting this plan feels as though this bill of American Individuality create less opposition. Where we have failed to force Americans to be great by being the same, we will be better off by not being united.

What do you think, folks? Will that save our nation? I suppose you’ll have to pick up this issue to find out more.

God’s Quantum Eye and Rewriting Reality – Beyond Our World

Ridiculously Hot Former Presidents – Variant Cover #2

Okay, now, politics aside, Commanders in Crisis is so gosh friggin’ awesome. My absolute favorite element of this superhero series has been the grand scale of the abilities shown here; the sheer powerhouse of — with her Quantum Eye, and — using her articulate knowledge of vocabulary to rewrite reality itself allows for each issue to feel as climatic as any other comic book event series. The kicker is that Commanders in Crisis doesn’t hold back when it comes to characters utilizing their reality-bending; these characters are the main defense against threats from the entirety of the multiverse and its secrets. There’s no room for error as the stakes are big in this series. A heavy weight burdens our heroes, and seeing how much each one is capable of in these issues is more of a reason to see how the rest of this story unfolds.

Answering to the People, Not a Flag – Heroes or Menaces?

Commanders in Crisis #2 – Out Now at Image Comics!

The Commanders are some of the most interesting and impressive new heroes to strike against evil forces in comic lore in recent time. From cosmic warfare to multiversal secrets, Commanders in Crisis #2 is a must-read that should be on every comic reader’s pull list, both for die-hard comic fans and those hoping to jump into something brand new. Check out the new issue at Image Comics, currently out now!

Jessa Furches: A Rising Star Among Us

I want to thank all of my readers who have supported Stars and Monsters and our blog site this far into the year. It began as a small endeavor to make use of a writer’s free time, and it became something more. Between discussions about books and comics to interviews with inspirational connections I’ve made, I knew there was nowhere else to go but up from here. Thankfully, that’s where we are headed now, thanks to my guest on this week’s blog post.

This week, I had the privilege of being able to interview someone very special; someone who has not only garnered so much internet fame and success in the music industry as an independent artist, but has also become an inspiration by fighting through dark battles, slandered reputations, and a chronic illness that has made living in a post-pandemic world a lot harder for her this year in 2020. Her name is Jessa Furches, of the singing duo, the Furches Twins.

Jessa Furches: A Star

Jessa and Gwynne, the Furches Twins

From Greensboro, North Carolina, Jessa and her twin sister Gwynne were both thrust into stardom and music at such a young age. When they were both only four years old, the Furches twins were brought into community theatre year after year, partaking in loads of different productions.

“The Wizard of Oz and the Music Man were always my favorite movies,” Jessa said, “and after I learned how to sing songs from the Wizard of Oz, we auditioned in community theatre productions for six years, and we did it until we were twelve years old.” They did Wizard of Oz every year, with Gwynne and Jessa both given identical roles as the Gatekeeper, having the two girls stand and walk side by side in unison. Audiences loved the twist in the character, and from there, the twins knew music was their calling.

Following those years, Jessa and her sister became victims of severely cruel bullying in middle school and high school. Between being made fun of for her body image, being called flat chested, or flat-assed, and being called too skinny, or ugly, nothing hurt Jessa more than being ridiculed and made fun of for her love of Michael Jackson. “People were not only mean to me, they were nasty,” Jessa described. “Around 2010, I had no group of friends to fit in with. The only ‘friends’ I had, told me I needed to eat cheeseburgers…they were the only friends I had because nobody else gave me a chance, and the ones we had bullied us.” There was little to no help given to the twins. Even when Jessa and her sister had to switch schools in the 8th grade in hopes of ending the bullying and harassment, nothing had changed. It got severely worse; it got so bad that Jessa and Gwynne had to fake an entire fight with each other during gym glass so they would be suspended and leave school. It was what they needed to do to get out of the awful environment. “One of the preppy, popular students encouraged the other students to yell and shout nasty, incestuous remarks about us, about my sexuality, and about my issues with my own self-harm. They’d target me when I was alone, asking ‘What do you like to do, cut yourself?'” This was something Jessa struggled with for the entirety of her teen years, up until she was 18 years old. By the time high school came around, kids were only more cruel.

One of the things that got Jessa through the harsh mean girls and hating trolls of those adolescent years was the fact that her twin sister, Gwynne, was by her side. “I vividly remember a guy who’d bully us in a class with Gwynne and I, where him and three other guys got the whole class to say ‘You don’t belong here! You need to go back to where you came from!’ And Gwynne and I just sat next to each other. Having each other made it easier for sure.” The bond that Jessa and Gwynne share, not only as twins, but as friends, is something that has saved these twins time and time again. Seeing their love and loyalty to one another brought tears to my eyes as we discussed Jessa’s childhood growing up.

Jessa and I went on to talk about what motivated and inspired her. “I adored Michael Jackson’s music,” Jessa said. “See, when I was ten, my dad left us. It was a huge blessing in disguise, to not have him around. He left a woman who loved him for 14 years and her two chronically-ill children, so I’d be inclined to agree as well. Jessa went on, explaining how her role model shifted when Michael Jackson’s Thriller came on the radio one night. “My mom was all like, ‘Listen to this! He is a legend!'” Jessa’s mother began to share all of his different albums with her and Gwynne, and played all of his music videos for them. Michael Jackson and everything he was became a safe haven for Jessa. “I’d cry by his posters, wondering why he’d gone, and my mother would hold me and, with tears in her eyes, she’d say ‘Listen to Michael; Keep the faith.'” He was always meant to be placed in her path, and it was Jessa’s single mother who gave her someone great to look up to.

Michael continues to be one of Jessa’s biggest influences in her music career. From when she was just starting out in choir, taking after Jackson himself to not sight-read sheet music, to drawing vocal influences in her music and covers of pop songs and classic ballads, her stylistic voice is what got Jessa and her sister the internet fame and stardom that launched their music career. They started uploading to YouTube, creating singing videos, and gained a following. By 2015, the Furches Twins had 100k subscribers on YouTube channel, and a combined Instagram follower count of over 900,000 followers. The two had garnered so much recognition from their music covers on social media, the twins were even able to sign with a record label in North Carolina called Othaz Records. Since then, Jessa has managed to begin writing and creating her own original music as a solo unsigned music artist, with new music available on YouTube, iTunes, and Spotify.

Gwynne Furches – My Other Half

Jessa, Gwynne, and their Mother

When Jessa told me about her music endeavors as a solo artist, I asked about her sister, Gwynne. After a traumatic vehicular car accident that cost someone their life last year, Gwynne was charged with a felony, and it shook the Furches family in ways that are almost beyond words. When asked about the night Jessa got the news of the incident, she said, “I didn’t know what was going on. My girlfriend at the time woke me up, because I was asleep. I was confused, and went to the hospital and received the tragic news.” As we talked, I realized we were dredging up memories that were best left alone, but Jessa faced this heartbreaking event in her life, and she reaffirmed that she was willing to confront this with me during the interview. She asked me to include the following statement from her:

“I, myself, and Gwynne as well, know what she has done, and she made a horrible mistake, but it was an accident. She’s willing to do whatever she has to do, however amount of times, for the family of who was hurt. I support my sister, but I do not support her actions on that night.”

With that, I ask my readers to be kind, considerate, and continue to help each other move passed horrible traumas, regardless of what they may be. As I told Jessa, 2020 has been a year that’s required so much reevaluation and insight into ourselves, that even facing the most discomforting moments are meant to better us and, eventually, others around us.

Admittedly, I shed a few tears as Jessa and I talked about her sister. As someone who has an older sister, I dread the possibility of losing her. With Jessa’s sister also being her twin, I wondered if, despite everything, she still feels as close to her sister as before. “I will always feel close to her,” she said, “no matter where she’s at. She is my other half. I cannot think of one moment when my world fell apart…other than that horrible tragedy that could have been prevented.”

With all of these sudden changes in Jessa’s life, between what changed for her personally, and the sudden changes that took place in our world this year, 2020 was all around a drastic shift in perspective and awareness. Jessa mentioned her desire to go and help make a difference with recent protests for the Black Lives Matter movement, to the racial conflicts and broken tension in the nation, and the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic. As I mentioned, she and her sister have chronic illnesses. “With cystic fibrosis, being immunocompromised makes things difficult for me,” she mentioned, “it’s hard to go to the grocery store, or go to work, and it’s been even harder because of the conflicts going on right now. I wish I could go and protest so much. I asked about her condition, and whether the pandemic has caused any issues in getting treatment. Thankfully, Jessa is still able to treat her cystic fibrosis twice a day, for twenty minutes a day. Because of her condition, however, leaving her home becomes quite difficult. Thankfully, her mother has been able to remind her to continue to move forward day in and day out. “‘You’ve got to keep going’ she’d always say. It’s why I won’t give up on this; the Black Lives Matter movement, the fight against COVID-19, the bullying and conflicts. It’s why I’ve continued to make music.”

One of Us

Sweet Sisters

So much lies within Jessa Furches. Between her passions and love that she brings into the world, and her adoration of legends like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Marilynn Monroe, she continues to forge success triumphantly. “Marilynn Monroe was trying to be taken seriously as an actress instead of a sex symbol. I myself want to be taken seriously as a singer, and not just a sex symbol. In that regard, I see myself in her, but I began to make money selling my photos of myself and other NSFW content.” In a post-pandemic world, jobs have become more difficult to come by, and whether it’s the new gig-economy that saves our asses, or the success of platforms like OnlyFans, people need lucrative ways to maintain sustainable income. For Jessa, it was more about empowerment for herself more than anything else. “Of course it’s empowering. It’s less about the money, but it has been good to save up for my family and such. The money doesn’t bring me happiness; the rich that comes from it means nothing when it feels like nobody cares about you.”

That’s the stigma with OnlyFans, it seems like. More people seem to have a lot more to say about empowered women taking advantage of a platform that allows them to profit off of their own body and image while maintaining ownership of their work, but keep quiet about the pornographic sites that exploit women and content without any accountability for those who steal from content creators and abuse platforms that way. Just my two cents as a fellow content creator.

Anyway, I lastly wanted to share a final word from Jessa Furches, who was so kind enough to say to my readers.

“I want whoever is taking the time to read my story, who may be a little inspired, or feel like they can relate to, we all deserve love, and we all deserve to be accepted. I ask that you all take care of each other, take care of yourselves, and wear a mask. I’m compromised with cystic fibrosis, and it’s BORING, and it’s lonely. Always worry about your families, friends, those around you, including your pets, and God bless all of you. So much love, no matter where you are, and who you are, and stay safe.”

I agree. Be sure to follow Jessa Furches on Instagram, YouTube, and OnlyFans, and check out her single, L.O.V.E, available on iTunes and Spotify now. If you’re a longtime fan of hers, then y’all will be pleased to hear, exclusively here at Stars and Monsters, that she’s got an upcoming new single being released sometime in November 27th, titled Seeing is Believing.

And, again folks, stay safe, and stay lovely to one another.

Protecting the Multiverse Head First: Commanders in Crisis #1 Advanced Review

From Midnighter and Apollo to Wonder Woman, Steve Orlando’s upcoming new comic book series is one that pushes the boundaries of superhero stories in a fresh and exciting new way. From vampires to psychic thieves, this book throws creative new foes at this brand new superhero team. Do your favorite superheroes fight universe-ending threats during those big annual crossover events? The Crisis Command does that for breakfast.

Image’s Commanders in Crisis, written by Orlando and art by Davide Tinto, is a story that takes the expansive scale that traditional superhero comics slowly build towards, and give it all to you in Issue #1. As the mantra goes in Dan Didio’s introduction for this book, “Worlds Live, Worlds Die, and nothing will ever be the same.” Cosmic destruction is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this ensemble of heroes, and Orlando manages to pace this book perfectly, balancing the rad action sequences with moments for each original superhero character to shine on their own.

This series debuts some of the coolest superheroes in this new epic saga. The Commanders, each with powers as diverse as the characters themselves, make up a united front that defends the world from reality-altering time travelers and blood sucking thieves. With the group’s collectively grandeur abilities like rewriting timelines and seeing the future to x-ray visions and super-strength, the Crisis Commanders are nothing short of powerhouses and strong leaders of their own worlds. It’s really fun to see the big-time heroes teaming up so early on in this big-stakes storyline. We get RIGHT to the good stuff in Commanders in Crisis.

Representation Matters

When it comes to our heroes, it’s the diversity aspect of it that sold me. Each lead is a character that comes from some marginalized community; Through representation of queer identities to BIPOC, this book becomes a lot more enjoyable for a reader like myself, because I see not just one character, but a GROUP of characters that all remind me of, well, me. As a biracial bisexual, that’s hard to say. Big props need to go to Tinto for not only helping bring Orlando’s vision to fruition, but also making everyone just so pretty. The character designs are also really cool, from Prizefighter’s stunning champion gear to Seer’s ethereal look. The art on these pages alone is enchanting enough to keep you hooked into the Commanders’ journey in this comic book.

C.I.C. #2 – Who’s Killing Reality?

Get ready for this series, folks. It’s the next big thing, but even bigger. The sheer scale of this book’s main conflict will surely excite new readers, and to back that up with an original team as fresh and unique as the Commanders, it’s gotta be the next thing you pick up. If you’re interested in getting your copy of Commanders in Crisis before the Oct. 14th launch, you may check out the order form below. Bring it to your local area comic book shop before the deadline on Sept. 21st to reserve your copy!

Artist Interview with The Artist J

Hi folks, back with another one! This week, I figured I’d share this little interview I got to have with this comic creator, The Artist J. He’s got a book out called Superhero University, and his artwork on the project, along with the other work he’s done, was just so dope, I HAD to do an interview. Hoping to put out a few more of these, and I hope y’all enjoy!

Me: “So, tell us about Superhero University and your time drawing for that comic series.”

Superhero University

J: “How I got that job is actually a really awesome story. Last year I was at a point were I was barely getting any commissions, and by barely, I mean none. I wasn’t getting any. So I went outside one night and prayed about it. I’m a Christian, and I told God that I felt like He called me to be artist, so if He had then I could really use some commissions to supply me with income. Literally the next day the author contacted me, and said he thought my art would be perfect for a big project he was doing called Superhero University. He asked me to be on board, and seeing as how God answered my prayer, I said ‘Yeah!’

His book is a 43 lesson manual on how to become a superhero. He hired me to create a comic section to go along with each lesson he wrote. The author is really cool and was super easy to work with. It was a blast because he gave me free reign! So I got to create and design all the characters, add in fight scenes (which are my specialty,) and write the comic’s story just as long as it tied into what the lessons he wrote were about. It took about 6 months to finish, and I did all the pencils, inks, colors, and lettering myself. I ended up doing a 110 comic pages I think, along with the cover and few other things. It was definitely a fun project that God used to help me out and hopefully the author and others. Since then I’ve have had constant commissions!”

The Bible Goes Hard

Me: “Where would you say your inspiration comes from?”

J: “So many different things and so many other artist! My older brother inspired me to start drawing in the first place. He would draw all the time, so I just followed his example and started drawing whenever I had the chance. Also just having a ton of stories in my head that I need to get out and put on paper so others can see them and enjoy them. Though my main inspiration to draw just comes from being able to. God has given me a talent for it and I love using it and want to do it, for His glory and to support myself financially at the same time. From there I would just say probably from watching cartoons and anime to reading comics and manga growing up is where most of the things I’m inspired to draw came from.”

Anybody Can Be Super

Me: “So would you saw your inspiration has also influenced your art style?”

J: “Well, I’ve found my own art style in mixing elements from both Western comics and anime style. My style is a unique mixture of both, and those elements were influenced by certain artists I’ve admired in comics, like Jim Lee and Joe Madureira, or a particular way that I liked how something was drawn in specific anime, like Dragon Ball Z. I was able to take those things I’ve learned by studying those artist and combine them into my own art style! I still do that, I don’t really change the general look of my art style now, but I still implement how things are drawn from other artist that I admire into my own style. There’s always room for improvement, and I’m always looking to get better!”

Spawn – Superhero for the Metal Fans

Me: “Do you have a certain creative process that you tap into to begin a project?”

J: “I’ve never been much of a planner. I’m about as laid back as they come, so my process is usually just thinking of a cool concept for a storyline or drawing, visualizing it in my head and being like “yeah, I think that would be cool. Time to make it happen!” I’m a simple guy! Haha! I do always start with a very loosely drawn rough sketch, just to get some poses down of what I thinking, and then begin drawing over that with the actual outline.”

Filling A Manga-Shaped Hole in my Heart

Me: “Laid back gets the job done, folks, y’all heard it here first! Any dream job you want to land as an artist?”

J: “I feel like most comic book artist’s dream job is usually to draw interior pages for Marvel or DC, but that’s not me. I’ve always wanted to bring out my own stories. Unless it’s drawing interior pages for one of my own comics that I’m trying to bring out, I actually prefer to do character designs and the comic covers for other people way more than drawing interior pages. So my dream job is literally to just be able to create and sell my own comics with original stories and characters I’ve made that people will love, and hopefully want to keep reading about. So I guess in short my dream job is to be a comic cover artist and to keep creating original comics of my own.”

Me: “Oh, that’s the dream, I feel that on a deep level. Here’s a heavy one; Where would you want to see comics go in the next few years in terms of direction?”

J: “Wow, that’s a tough one. Comic industry aside, all I know is the direction that I want my comics to go in. My goal is to provide good clean comics that everyone can read while still being action packed with interesting stories and characters to follow along with. My main focus has always been on the action and providing high quality fight scenes. To be honest, I’ve always been a little disappointed in Western comics fight scenes. I’ve always found them to be choppy and hard to follow exactly what’s going on. It’s more like random punch here, then random kick here in this next panel, with no cohesiveness between them. My mission is to make fights that have a fluidity to them. Like, you’re watching the fight play out on the paper as if it you were watching it animated. So that’s the direction I would like to see my comics go at least.”

Oh, how I LOVE sick action. Whether it flows well in comics, or is executed perfectly on screen for TV or film, I love a quality action sequence. Looks like J is the artist to look out for when it comes to the good stuff, am I right folks?

There you have it. A brief one, with more content coming at you soon. Just like J, I’ve got projects under wraps as well, and I’m working on getting them up in the air before announcing anything big. Thank you again, folks. Until next time, stay safe, and stay lovely.

Super-Gods, Sick Mixtapes, and a Surreal Universe: Leaders of the Free World Review (#1 – #2)

If Gods blessed you with powers, would that make you one? Or does that just place you on a tier-level below the source of your abilities? It’s okay, don’t dwell on the existential question for too long, because thankfully we’ve got the answers for you. Hi, folks, and thank you for being patient with this anticipated post (just getting back to the day job grind) and welcome to my first ever Official Stars and Monsters comic review!

I was honored to be offered an opportunity to review the comic series Leaders of the Free World by one of the creative minds behind it, Corey Pruitt (better known as Task on Twitter) and quite frankly, it might have been the one of my most exciting experiences since the initial launch of this blog. Task is not only a comic writer, but also a podcast host on Supersuit Show, but also a major source of influence in the vortex that is the comic twitter community (Spider-Man fans hate Spider-Man, it’s the truth!) Task allowed me to preview his first two issues of his series, drawn by Elijah Johnson (also known as @artbyatlas0 on Twitter), and share some of my thoughts on Leaders of the Free World #1 and #2. So without further ado, let’s jump right into it!

Leaders of the Free World #1 – “A Surreal World”

I dove right into the first issue with the same initial thought that new readers to any series worry about; “Will I be overwhelmed by the world that was built before me?” I suppose the breakdown of the Free World mythos stems from the origin of the Godsend, a group of super-powered gods who arrived to the planet, each instilling themselves in one nation, and essentially committing to their nation’s image, government policies. In return, the Godsend provided tech and knowledge to help advance the world, which inadvertently birthed a new generation of super-powered beings: the Archetypes, a less powerful group of people who created more conflict than safety in the world. After a war killed a third of the world’s population, the Godsend issued laws to limit an Archetype’s activity to only their respective country. This is the lore of Leaders of the Free World.

This series starts with an excellent brief look at the world’s history in the form of a history class, narrated by Surreal, a teenage Asian-American descendant of the an ancient god known as the Monkey King. He fits every relatable aspect of being a teen whose heritage holds more power than they realize. With great power comes great responsibility, and thankfully, we don’t have another Uncle Ben-esque character to reminds Surreal of that. Instead, he meets Eco, the Son of Gaia, who is a superstar wrestler with abilities drawn from, well, Gaia. When these two characters meet and share scenes together, there’s definitely an undeniable chemistry between the two when it comes to the hilarity in their bantering back and forth, and Eco’s unconditional support towards Surreal. The young Monkey King doesn’t know his own true worth yet, and thankfully, the powerful and wise Eco stands beside him from the very beginning, showing a kind of trust that makes me reminisce about the days when Luke Cage and Iron Fist teamed up in Marvel’s Heroes for Hire series.

“Timber”, Eco’s wrestling signature move. Also named after my dog.

As I continued through the issue, I enjoyed the spotlight on these two characters a lot, while also finding myself more enthralled by the joy in seeing Surreal’s old school hip hop playlist scattered across text-boxes in the comic. It creates an entertainingly new and fun experience in a comic book that feels as authentic as a classic comic series as you go through each panel. It was one of the things I was most excited about discussing with Task. When asked where the inspiration for this came from, Task said, “I always listen to music when I write. So I thought ‘What if each issue had its own soundtrack?’ It’s a way for the reader to see where my headspace was at during the creative process.” Nicely done, Task. We love it.

One of my other favorite story threads in this issue specifically included the introduction of Moonshine, the wildly erratic and drunken female superhero whose abilities appear to rival even Superman. It was just one of the many things I enjoyed in this first issue, and I could easily list more, but I have LOTS more to gush about!

Leaders of the Free World #2 – The Beginning’s of Freedom

Aright folks, this is my favorite issue of the two for sure! In Leaders of the Free World #2, we are introduced to my absolute pairing of characters in this set universe. Like Ying and Yang, we meet Medic and Doctor Seance. Medic is, well…if God was a woman, to put it perfectly. As an angel of war and peace, she’s a balance between life and death. In nothing but merely scrubs, she manages to kick enough ass to make Jessica Jones second guess her career as a comic book badass. Alongside her is Doctor Seance, an evil necromancer whose character visual design homages aspects of Robbie Reyes’s Ghost Rider, with a symbiotic relationship to Medic like that of Venom, and a sinister and calculating villain mind that crosses between Lex Luthor and the Batman Who Laughs. These two characters, joined together by a holy and flaming halo over Medic’s head, embark on a quest to join the other lead heroes as they prepare for a crisis of epic proportions.

This, however, prompted me to ask Task about the bonds between the various characters, like the development between Surreal and Eco, or between Medic and Doctor Seance. Task’s response was, “When I came up with the characters I had to ask myself ‘Who would get along the most? Who would hate each other?’ Surreal and Eco are both mythical beings born into a life that they never asked for. So they relate to each other the most. Medic and Seance have history that will be explored throughout the series. I don’t want to reveal everything now but let’s just say you will be surprised.”

Comics can mend ya heart, kid.

As I continued on in this issue, completely enthralled by the concept of Medic and Doctor Seance (and Surreal’s Mix scattered through this issue as well to help set the tone), we soon learn more about the hardships that some of these characters hold in their personal lives. Medic, being a superhero and all that, is still a medical doctor, and has a duty to both the world she saves and the world she inhabits. When she turns to work from battle, she unfortunately fails to save her patient’s life. She storms out, completely broken, and her coworker consoles her by stating a sad, but accurate fact of life. She says, “You can’t save everyone all the time.” When I read this comic panel, it was then that I knew this was going to continue to become a really powerful story, with a really exceptional writer behind this stunning and beautiful line work. And, just as the moment on the page was beautifully had, it was interrupted by a beautifully nostalgic shot…

*CUE FREEZE FRAME*

FREEZE FRAME!

The story returns to the initial group, with Surreal. Eco, Tech-Neek, and Moonshine briefly meeting, but it’s just as an invasion brews in the sky above them. From that, to their hilarious first encounter with Doctor Seance, we get really funny dialogue, awesome action sequences, and super dope nostalgic homages to things in nature of, say, giant mechas, or Power Rangers, or maybe even Dragon Ball Z, or just plenty of West Coast classics to keep the action seamless like a swift breeze under Surreal’s feet. Another one of my favorite shots out of this back half of this issue is most definitely Eco’s greeting to the invaders, known as the ominous Outreach. We get some top-tier Samoan representation, some more amazing character moments amidst the action, and an epic finale shot that may tease an epic clash between two of the most powerful beings on the team. Both beautiful and strong women, might I add.

One of my last questions, more of a fanboy-gushing moment, was me asking about what could be teased to other fans of this series, whether it be epic shonen-styled fight scenes between certain highly powerful characters, or the brief tease of the mysterious Mr. Excellent. Task answered with, “I’m trying to make this world seem as big and alive that I can. And that there’s more going on than what is happening in the books. Mr. Excellent’s story will lead to another story arch that I am excited to share. And it’s funny how you brought up the fights with Lunar because let’s just say she’s not entirely sold on the idea of this team up yet. Where she comes from she reigns over these beings, not collaborate with them. Issue 3 is on the way folks. Stay tuned.”

Well done, Free World. You have a special place in my love for comics now, and I cannot wait to see what an amazing franchise this becomes soon.

A Cybrogi. That’s it. ‘Nuff Said.

No weekly plugs this week, folks. Not like I usually do, I mean. No, all I want to suggest to my readers is to check out this new comic book ASAP. This is seriously one of the most enjoyable comic reads I’ve had in a very long time, for sure. It’s pretty amazing, and the series is available on Comixology right now, or, if you’d like, you can follow the writer @uptotask, or the artist @artbyatlas0 on Twitter.

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Leaders of the Free World #3!

Switchin’ up my outro like I usually do too, folks. This time, I’m quoting Gamer Presidential Candidate, Mr. Ace Watkins.

*ahem*

Not solo; squad.

Harley Quinn: Chaotic S-Tier Heroine

Hi there, folks. I’ve got another one for you, and this one is all of the fanboys. That’s right; I’m calling on all DC comic, movie, and television fans, because I’m about to gush about the DC comics breakout star, Harley Quinn. Whether you’re familiar or not, Harley Quinn was famously known for her debut in Batman: the Animated Series, where she started off as the psychiatrist-turned-villain who teamed up with Joker who commit crime in Gotham, yada yada yada. Since then, the character has evolved beyond that, by standing out as own character outside of that shadow, and became one of the most fun and bad ass characters since Deadpool (a shout-out for any Marvel fans).

The character has been sweeping her way across all DC content this past year. She debuted in mainstream media and theaters this year with Margot Robbie as the titular character in Cathy Yan’s film Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (don’t worry about the really long name they gave it at first). Harley Quinn also stars in the self-titled animated series that launched on the DC Universe streaming service. Both of which were so successful, that Warner Bros. already green lit a sequel for the film, and the animated series received a second season only a month or two after the first season aired. Harley Quinn’s animated series is already being brought to the Syfy network, and the film has already been released for video on demand, and both were highly praised by critics and fans. If we’re being quite honest, the only people who didn’t enjoy either iterations are the fans who view Harley Quinn’s character arc as SJW propaganda. That being said, I am not here to discuss that flawed logic, because even from an objective standpoint, Harley Quinn, film or television iteration, is a character that kicks ass in every aspect.

Many Sides to Harleen Quinzel

In the 2020 film Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, we see Harley Quinn at a very interesting point in her character’s development. Margot Robbie plays the character in a point in her life in which she has left her psychology practice, became a part of Batman’s rogue gallery alongside Joker, was placed in a government sanctioned task force for expendable criminals, and finally gained her freedom in all sense of the word. As she descended into a downward spiral of insanity, the Joker took advantage of her devotion and love for him (granted, a delusional love, maybe even a distortion of Stockholm syndrome) and abused her physically, emotionally, and mentally, all for the sake of having another clown-themed lackey by his side. Even in the animated series that ran during the 90’s, we see examples of that abuse, despite the context shifted towards a younger audience; the abuse is apparent. The 2020 film shows the long-term effects of that abuse, after she finally breaks up with the Joker and embarks on her own solo journey.

Her True Origin Was Never at Ace Chemicals

In this live action iteration, she begins to learn what it’s like to step out of one’s shadow, and discover her own potential, from picking up roller-derby, getting her own cozy apartment in Chinatown, and exorcising her inner demons and tackling her trauma head-first by blowing up Ace Chemicals, where her ex bathed her in the acid that made them the way they are today. You know, typical post-breakup stuff. Of course, the film follows some other story threads, introduces the characters that would soon form the female-heroine group known as the Birds of Prey, and pits Harley against the infamous Black Mask (played by Ewan McGregor, for any Star Wars prequel trilogy fans). This film showcases exactly why Harley deserves to stand out on her own, way beyond being Joker’s sidekick, and way beyond being a part of the Suicide Squad. Hell, she received her own comic book series at DC more than a handful of times. She not only single handedly unites a cop, an assassin, a meta-human enforcer, and a thief together as a team in the film, but she also takes down the most terrifying and unhinged crime boss. Harley Quinn is a character whose origin was never based on the acid bath, or even her meeting, treating, and falling in love with Joker; her origin was always her earning her freedom. From Joker, from the law, from the crime world, and from the rest of the misogynist men who claim to own her.

“Because I’m Harley F*ckin’ Quinn!”

A true queen in every right. Margot Robbie reminded me why a character as chaotic and daring as Harley Quinn always deserved more exposure. Thankfully, after the success of her role in the movie industry, DC decided to push forward with an animated iteration of Harley Quinn in her own series on the DC Universe streaming service. With the humor and fourth wall breaks that make any Rick and Morty fan cackle in laughter, this version of the character not only highlights the character’s best traits, but justifies why she should’ve had her own series long ago.

Heads Up, Chaotic Clown Babe Comin’ Your Way!

This animated series takes a vastly similar approach when it comes to developing Harley’s character. It starts her off as Joker’s “partner” (I use that term lightly, seeing as they were never equals), committing crimes and fighting Batman in the name of love for Joker, only to find herself locked up in prison for a year, awaiting her clown prince’s rescue, which never happens. Instead, her best friend and one of Gotham City’s Sirens, Poison Ivy, breaks Harley out of jail. However, with any person in any toxic relationship, Harley goes right back to joker, to find herself making the same mistake she’s made over and over. After all, isn’t insanity just repeating the same thing, expecting a different end result each time? I’m sure Harley could tell you, since she’s got a degree in psychology anyway.

“Mistakes Were Made, but We Love You Anyway.”

Despite all of that, she eventually learns the same lesson that Margot Robbie’s Harley learns, in that with self-actualization of her own self-worth and potential, she can become her own top-tier villain in the DC Universe (for evidence, check out Sam Humphries Harley Quinn #45 from 2018, where she takes on Darkseid, the literal DC version of Marvel’s Thanos). She decides to break up with the Joker in an appropriate slaughtering of his clown goons, and teams up with her closest ally Poison Ivy, alongside Clayface, King Shark, and other goofball DC rogues. She grows, she evolves, and she continuously kicks ass in the show, embarks on the craziest set of journeys (more than was possible in the realistically grounded Birds of Prey film), and manages to earn her own freedom and respect as her own villain, or even anti-hero, the same way Robbie’s portrayal did. With the same support that the live action iteration found strength in allies and friends, the animated series shows Harley at her strongest when she has people she loves, and who love her too, backing her up.

This is What We Call “Growth.

So for anyone who believes Harley Quinn is just a character pushing some sort of feminist agenda, or can’t stand the sight of a Harley Quinn that isn’t sexualized by James Gunn or something, they are wildly misguided, and quite frankly, missing out on a hell of a fun time. Cathy Yan’s Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey shows the character’s independence from the Joker, and from outdated source material, to bring a fierce and gratuitously violent heroine to the big screens and mainstream media, for fans of action movies, comic films, or maybe just really tough and strong women. In the same way, DC Universe’s Harley Quinn series shows us a similar development of her character’s arc, while also providing genuine laughter and humor, proving that raunchy and adult humor is just as good, if not better, than other adult animated shows. Both at least deserve to be on your radar. I said 2020 would be an artistic renaissance, and this is just one of many examples of that truth.

Share This If You Stan Bisexual Villains, because I know I Do!

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk, folks. Hope y’all enjoyed this piece. If anyone would like to spread some love to other artists and creators, I encourage y’all to check out a good from of mine who is making her own clothing, done entirely with crochet! Check out @beas_artesania on Instagram. Products are being hand-crafted as we speak, so if you’re interested, place your orders soon! If you’re in the Texas area, and you’re having your seasonal withdrawals from not seeing the Gypsy Dance Theater girls belly dance over at the Texas Renaissance Festival, then feel free to follow those lovely ladies on Instagram as well, over at @gypsydancetheatre. And, lastly, if you’d like to support your fellow freelance writer, and are unsure how to go about that, then I’d like to humbly welcome donations over at PayPal, which aren’t required whatsoever, but would drastically help improve the quality of the content I’m working to start up and create, from digital comics to an animated series, and of course, help keep this blog alive. Thanks again, readers. Much love comin’ your way. ✨🙏🏽💫

Vicious Rivals and Endless Dreams: A Look at Potential

Happy Wednesday, folks! I hope everyone is enjoying their time right now, making good use of their energy and efforts these days. May has just started, and Mother’s Day is around the corner, and with that, I hope everyone is able to reach out to a loved one, where ever they may be. Nobody is ever completely out of reach, if we reach out just a little. With a few moments out of our day to check up on friends and family costs nothing, and it’s important to open up just a little bit more. That’s my message to my readers this week. If we just open up our hearts a little bit more, I promise, we’ll all be that much more happier.

Now, with the sappy stuff out of the way, I wanted to shine a spotlight on some creative works that I found myself completely mesmerized by with this week. Granted, one of these is a novel that I had already read, but just came across when my sister was cleaning out her room. It’s an amazing piece of science fiction in the YA genre of literature, and dare I say might be the juiciest and sexiest crime thriller around as well. I pitched it to my sister as “Professor X vs. Magneto” meets Grey’s Anatomy, but, she’s busy watching Money Heist on Netflix. For those of you who know exactly what book I’m talking about, I just want to thank y’all for putting me onto this series. I love y’all!

The book is Vicious by V.E. Schwab, first of her Villains series and predecessor of Vengeful. It’s so lovely how dark this tale is, while taking readers on a suspenseful journey across a gritty comic-book-styled world. The story follows Victor Vale and Eli Ever, two college roommates and medical students who explore the possibility of near-death experiences being the catalyst that can awaken superhuman gifts within them. As the two embark on this journey as academic rivals, they become obsessed with the results, leading to a battle between the two brilliant minds as they use their newfound abilities to destroy one another as arch-nemeses.

If anybody has read this book, then you know why it’s such a highly recommended novel. Along with V.E. Schwab’s wonderful writing style, development of the characters in her stories, and the sheer scope of the superhero dynamics she explores in the series, it’s also just a hell of a great time for any fan of revenge thrillers. 10/10 coming from me, folks! And if you aren’t interested, then we can at lest admire these gorgeous covers.

I, personally, was drawn into the series by the premise of unlocking newfound abilities through pushing one’s self to the brink of death, and to be brought back with a new breath of life. Vicious doesn’t dwell heavily on the sci-fi aspect of the abilities by allowing Victor and Eli’s medical student backstory to help ground the concept in a realistic scenario. That being said, I found the unique look at a human’s untapped potential to become superhuman in Vicious vastly more fascinating than, say, a radioactive spider, or “You’re a lab experiment, Rogers; everything special about you came out of a bottle.” (Yes, I’m calling Marvel out, let the Disney overlords take me away.) There’s something truly extraordinary about the possibility that, in order to become the more capable version of ourselves, all we need to do is dare to explore scientific experimentation in a trial and error fashion, while also gambling one’s own life. That’s what the two characters, Victor and Eli, end up doing, but with completely diametrically opposing mindsets and viewpoints. At the start of the novel, Victor is a lonely cynical atheist, whose trust issues stem back to his absent parents, while Eli is a loving and passionate young man, whose big heart is a result of his devotion to a righteous God. As the two’s philosophies and beliefs contradict one another, they test the theory with less interest in the ramifications or consequences of these tests, but rather out of pure jealousy and rivalry. Victor believes he can accomplish this by succumbing to a messy overdose, while Eli believes he can create a controlled environment in order to slow his heart rate to the point of nearly flat-lining. As the experiments continue, with success, more and more chaos ensues, and we see what it’s like when two people attempt to play God with their lives and those around them.

Untapped potential and superhuman abilities? Perhaps these two could’ve, I dunno, stayed in school and cured cancer or something. They were both arguably smart enough to become amazing men, and instead they just…well, I suppose you’d have to read the book yourself to find out what happens to these two young men.

On another note, I wanted to continue the conversation about untapped potential with another creative project I came across. This one also came about when my sister jokingly asked me “Why don’t you get into computer science? Make a video game or something.” Now, if anybody knows me, they know I absolutely abhor math and science form a professional standpoint. I say this fully aware that I just went on and on about a book involving medical students, but, you will never catch me learning how to code in Python or anything like that. However, my sister did spark an idea in me that led me to a pretty worthwhile investment (if you can even call it that; I spent maybe 20 bucks on this only.) Anyway, check out Dreams, a video game that is essentially a game creator system published by Sony, from the creative minds behind Little Big Planet.

It’s SO heckin’ cute!

It’s a weird concept to explain on paper (or screen?) but basically, the game allows you to utilize mechanics found in video game development engines to create your own video game projects! In Dreams, tutorials on the development of levels, characters, and stages are optional, as you are also given free range to test out and play other creations made by other users. Whether it’s a remake of Super Mario 64 in the Sony game engine, a test run of an original video game character’s animations, or a completely rendered cinematic of the Batman: The Animated Series intro. There are also music-based projects, like synth machines and piano rolls, and visual environments used for background noise and concentration, like study beats! There’s even some weird remakes of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, but that’s for the meme-loving gamer.

So Much Power and Potential In Dreams

Speaking of gamers, if anybody is looking for any good light-hearted satirical humor tailored to gamers AND politics, check out Ace Watkins’s podcast, The Ace Watkins Presidential Hour. Their latest episode features Ace Watkins and his team as they discuss Hillary Clinton’s endorsement of Joe Biden, weigh the pros and cons of drinking bleach, and talk through what grinds their Metal Gears. So, ya know, just another President candidate, spittin’ stuff that’s quite normal in comparison to, ya know, those in Office.

I do want to give a big thanks to my sister who, without her finding my copy of Vicious and her inspiring me to try out Dreams, I wouldn’t have had anything to discuss today! So, for that, I’m going to shout her out, my immensely supportive pain in my ass sister. Love ya. Stay safe, folks.