Welcome back to Mutantversity, a class offered at the Krakoan Akademos Habitat. This isn’t a place to find big reviews of X-books, (that’s what our Review section is for!) but it’s a great way to keep up with one of the most complicated superhero series around. We’re going to dive into the deep end as we try to parse all the secrets of this new era of “X-Men” comics. As your designated X-Pert, I will do my best to help you work through everything Marvel’s Merry Mutants have to offer!
That “X-Men” hot streak continues as the merry mutants throw another big party. You’re all invited!
An Iconic Image
“Immortal X-Men” #4 came out this month and it was great… but I still want to talk about #3! I’ve reread it a few times; it’s really quite spectacular. I’ve built myself at Multiversity into someone who exhaustively analyzes (and overanalyzes) the comics of Kieron Gillen. Let today be no exception. Even more than that, I want to call attention to one specific panel on the penultimate page of the story.
Gillen summarized his philosophy towards comics in his 2020 Masterclass. “You are a parasite. The artist does not need you.” Comics are understood to be a visual medium and as with a lot of visual media, is told through bold, memorable images. There is no iconic writing moment in comics without art to match, but there are plenty of memorable art moments with no words. Of course, most comic writers are working with the artist to make those images, so the point is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but by and large, a Gillen comic builds towards a great image.
Not only that, iconography is so crucial to his comics. Gillen reflects that (especially in his collaborations with art partner Jamie McKelvie) through the use of simple icons, blocking, and poses. Thing of all the symbols on the wheel in “Wicked + Divine” or the unspooled-dice symbols in “Die.” All of this brings us to this particular image, drawn by Lucas Wernick, with colors by Dijo Lima.
“Immortal X-Men” #3 is all about Destiny, mostly focusing on her relationship with her wife, Mystique. It’s pretty clear from reading old “X-Men” comics that these characters were intended to be read as a couple by writer Chris Claremont, but for various reasons, this was never made explicit. The now-iconic moment when Mystique shouts “I want my wife back!” in “X-Men” #6 was the first explicit textual acknowledgement of their romance. And I’ve seen that panel shared everywhere, it’s wonderfully drawn by Matteo Buffagni and it’s such a long-awaited moment. But that’s kind of bummer right? To have a romance only remembered for how it was ruined by outsiders.
Mystique and Destiny needed a big romantic moment, and that’s exactly what Lucas Wernick’s big kiss panel is all about. It’s a romance novel cover, a passionate kiss by the sea at sunset, framed by beautiful Krakoan ivy. Both women are in their costumes, which project confidence and feminine power. It’s a page that seems explicitly designed to be the thumbnail in artists about the characters. If a writer is looking for an image to use at the top of a clickbait article speculating on who will play Mystique in the MCU, that’s a great image to pick. It’s perfectly sized and framed for mobile. And it really sticks in your brain. Even the words (which the artist does not need!) are gorgeous.
“We are entwined. A rope through time. A red thread through the skein of fate.” That is top shelf goth poetry, exactly what these queer icons needed!
Krakoan Immortality Exposed!
Death is rarely permanent in comics, so it’s not a particularly dramatic story move. A much better story is that of the secret exposed. Mutants didn’t want the world to know about their resurrection protocols, but thanks to the super-sleuth reporting of regular mortal guy Ben Urich, they were caught. Urich is a stand-up dude though, and he approached Cyclops for comment. After some mind-erasing shenanigans, Urich finally printed the story and it was the kind of old-school journalistic writing that makes me smile.
Urich’s report positions Krakoan mutants as larger-than-life. “The conquerors of Mars have conquered much more!” the lead exclaims. Focusing on those achievements as “conquests” is really interesting, and one that makes mutants sound both scary and impressive. But Urich takes pains to show that Krakoans aren’t bloodthirsty. “In the course of writing this story, I ran afoul of a Krakoan security apparatus, and while weaker nations turn to violence, I was ultimately left to tell this story.” We have the benefit of seeing what Krakoa looks like, so we know that despite all the moral gray, our heroes are heroes.
The rest of the world doesn’t have our reach and insight. Hell, even after pounding the pavement and researching this story, Urich knows barely a tenth of what we know. But he saw his report as an opportunity to tell the truth while helping to de-escalate a global conflict. Ben Urich is a hero too. I wonder if the rest of the world is going to take his story as he intended?
Happy Hellfire Gala II
The new Hellfire Gala immediately points out that it can’t top last years’. If you need a reminder, last year, Omega level mutants terraformed and inhabited Mars. It was one of the most impressive feats of superpowers I have ever seen. This year, nothing really could compare. I mean, there were fun shenanigans where Emma Frost kept trying to dance with Jon Hamm. But the order of the universe wasn’t upset this year.
The biggest news was Ben Urich’s story- the whole world knows about mutant resurrection now, but very little about its mechanics and limitations. And everyone has the same major concern, mainly how long until mutants start resurrecting non-mutants. It’s probably only a matter of time before some country legalizes killing mutants.
This is one of those times I really like the mutant metaphor. This idea is on the silly side of pure fantasy, but plays out fairly realistically. We see Clea for example, only thinking about how this can be used to resurrect Doctor Strange. Mr. Fantastic, always the asshole, wonders why Cyclops made this “provocative” announcement. The Avengers are demanding the mutants share this technology with humans; all while Iron Man is tinkering with mutant inhibitor technology. The stated purpose of resurrection is to restore the mutant population to where it was before the Genoshan genocide. So obviously the humans are already over that and wondering when it’s going to be their turn.
Doctor Stasis Unmasked!
The biggest X-Men news this month crossed a number of books, the identity of one Doctor Stasis. In the ORCHIS hierarchy, Stasis is one of the seven directors, the head of Human/Resources. He leaked documents to Ben Urich to spur on his investigation. Oh and he is Mister Sinister.
Not our Mister Sinister necessarily! The guy sitting on the Quiet Council claims that Stasis is simply a clone gone rogue. The clone claims (and I believe him!) that he is the original Nathaniel Essex, the one who existed before the Mister Sinister we’ve been following stole his mutant X-Gene from Thunderbird.
When he was outed at the council meeting, Sinister didn’t take it very well. He didn’t yell “smoke bomb!” when he leapt over the table and used a stolen version of Nightcrawler’s teleportation, but he had the body language of a guy yelling “smoke bomb!” (Now I’m thinking about Laszlo yelling “Bat!” on What We Do In the Shadows. Oh shit, should Matt Berry play Mister Sinister?) It’s possible that our Sinister is in on the Stasis scheme. After leading the X-Men on a merry little chase, he was abducted before we could get solid answers.
Oh, also Doctor Stasis has a black club on his forehead instead of a red diamond. That means we’re going to get a spade Sinister and a heart Sinister too right? A council of Sinisters!?
All New New All Different Different X-Men
Of course, the real purpose of the Helfire Gala is to establish the new lineup of X-Men. If you forget, the annual Gala ends with mutant psychics reading the mind of every mutant and using that as a consensus to vote on a team. Cool system! Perhaps unfortunately though, the new team of X-Men looks like it’s going to be a mess. Unfortunately for Krakoa I mean. For readers, it looks like the perfect recipe for superhero soap opera drama.
The new lineup is Jean Grey, Cyclops, Synch, Havok, Magik, Forge, Firestar, and Iceman. Let’s break it down!
Jean and Cyclops are must-haves. On Krakoa, they have shown that above being a citizen or a mutant or anything else, they are X-Men. They are superheroes. They won’t follow an unjust rule, even if it’s a Krakoan rule. I love this being positioned so centrally in their identity. Synch is the only other member returning from the last roster. Being promoted to the main X-team has been a great opportunity for Synch, and if I had to keep one mutant from the previous team, he would have been my pick. He’s been learning about his powers and himself. He also has that superhero drive to help people regardless of the consequences.
Iceman is a superhero to his core too. The problem is, where Scott, Jean, and Everett keep things tight and organized, Bobby is sort of a mess. That’s why he fit so well on the Marauders. That was the superhero team for zany chaos.
Magik has been on the X-Men before, though for most of her tenure, she was pretty evil. The Magik on Krakoa is a lot more put together and level headed, though at best she’s as messy as Iceman. That, and she is one of the four commanders of Krakoa. Cyclops already stepped down from his commander role to join the X-Men. Maybe that was a better position for Illyana? Still, she has grown into one of the coolest X-Men in recent years, certainly the coolest to who has never properly shown up in an adaptation. I can’t complain about more Magik.
Havok I can complain about though. Alex sucks. I mean, I feel bad for the guy a lot of the time, but he is not an aspirational figure to be leading a superhero team; he’s a putz. Plus, there is still that whole unresolved thing from “Hellions” where he had an alternate evil personality? I’m sure we will deal with that, but it’s not going to be an asset to the team.
Forge is another guy who I don’t understand in the field. He’s so busy! We’ve seen his schedule, it’s all exercise and mad science. Right after being chosen for the team, Forge needs to psychically assure Professor X that he can still work on morally dubious projects for him. Forge is loyal to a not-so-great guy, and his responsibilities are split. I can’t see this going well.
Finally, we have Firestar. A lot of people really love Angelica Jones, myself included. I especially like how she’s positioned here as one of the only mutants to continue living outside of Krakoa. She’s seen as a traitor by some. And for good reason, by the end of the issue, she’s been recruited as a reluctant intelligence asset for Iron Man. She is spying on her own team!
Like I said, it’s going to be a disaster for them. But a good time for us!
“Immortal X-Men” #4 – A wonderfully written and drawn Emma Frost issue that also catapults the story forward in explosive ways!
“Marauders” #4 – The art is appealing but way too much of this story takes place with the Shi’ar or in flashback or with some other characters who don’t matter.
“New Mutants” #27 – This has shaped up to be a strong contender for the best story of all time about the Rasputin siblings.
“Wolverine” #23 – I didn’t hate this issue but a day later, I remember almost none of it.
“Gambit” #1 – As latter-day Claremont stories go, this one ain’t bad! It’s of a kind with the “X-Men Legends” series.
“X-Men” Hellfire Gala” #1 – I think I like this annual tradition! A good excuse for fun and story shuffling; from a collection of talented X-artists.