eXaminations – 1/13/21

It’s a new year and once again time for me to try to get back into reviewing the X-Men titles. A lot has changed since the “Dawn of X” brought about the new standard for Marvel’s mutants, and now that X of Swords has ended, it’s a good time to get back to covering everything. My goal is to go back and catch up the entire series since House and Powers of X launched, but until that point, there’s no time like the present.

Since we’ve just started a new reading list, I’ll also cover last week’s two issues. That means we’ll be looking at:

As always, I’ll toss up a SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read any of the issues, but there’s nothing Earth-shattering to really spoil.

by Leah Williams and David Baldeon

In case you’re unaware, X-Factor has been established in the old vein of an investigation entity, but rather than being PI’s like Madrox’s old group was, instead they investigate missing and presumed deceased mutants. One of the key aspects of the Krakoan society is the resurrection protocols, in which any deceased mutant can be brought back to life. However, a key to that is confirming that the mutant to be revived is actually dead, to avoid the thus unknown consequence of creating a copy of a still-living mutant. This group was formed when Northstar had to prove that his sister Aurora had actually been killed, and since then they’ve also successfully revived Wind Dancer of the old New X-Men.

The team is a very motley crew:

Northstar and Aurora are old Alpha Flight characters. Prestige is the current codename of Rachel Summers, the alternate timeline daughter of Cyclops and Marvel Girl, and longtime X-Man. Prodigy is a former student and member of the New X-Men and Young Avengers, formerly depowered, but since resurrected with his powers restored. Eye-Boy is a mutant from the Wolverine and the X-Men student body. Daken is the morally-lacking son of Wolverine. Polaris is pretty much the de-facto leader of the team, and holds high standing on Krakoa as being the daughter of Magneto, now earning her lofty position by doing work for the benefit of mutantkind. Rounding out the side-cast is Northstar’s husband Kyle, Rachel’s pet warwolf, and Wind Dancer, who is hanging around. Cecelia Reyes also pops up a lot, as she’s the default mutant doctor.

If you’re interested in forward-thinking comics, this book features three LGBTQ characters, in Northstar, Prodigy and Daken.

Here we’re looking at the death of Siryn, who had just been resurrected five days previous after dying in what she claimed was an accident. When she is again resurrected, she again claims an accident, but gets very defensive when details are sought. It of course seems like there’s something shady going on – perhaps just a death wish and a run of suicides for the thrill – or something even darker. When you get a page like this, it’s hard to think that something’s not up.

In development terms, this is doing something of a reset for Siryn. When last we saw her, back during Peter David’s X-Factor run, she had become something of an Irish goddess entity. She has been purged of that and is back to being the wild girl daughter of Banshee with a bit of a drinking problem.

Another thing established in this issue is just what happens with all of the bodies from the mutants who have died. Prodigy, being the uber-nerd that he is, decides that the bodies can be used for scientific study and establishes a body farm in X-Factor’s area.

So now not only is X-Factor confirming deaths of mutants for resurrection, but they are also doing medical examination. This is a very fun book.

by Zeb Wells and Stephen Segovia

Hellions, if you’re just joining us, is a team of ne’er-do-wells that are basically just given shady busy work to do so they don’t kill anybody. What could possibly go wrong with a group like this?

Havok is a longtime X-Man who may or may not be evil because of a mind-whammy thing that was supposed to be fixed but not really? Nanny and the Orphan Maker are old villains from the days of the X-Men living in Australia. If you want some context to how old, they were the villains of Uncanny X-Men #248 featuring the X-Men debut of some artist named – let me check here – “Jim Lee”. I wonder what ever happened to that guy? Anyway, Nanny is a demented mother obsessed with protecting those she considers her children, which is pretty much everyone. The furthest she got was faking Storm’s death, then regressing her to childhood. Chris Claremont was getting weird by that point. The Orphan Maker is her actual son, named Peter, whose powers are so dangerous that he has to be sealed in a special armor.

Wild Child is an old Alpha Flight character whose characterization has been flipped all over the place in the decades he’s been around. He was probably best known in the X-Men world during the Age of Apocalypse in which he was kept on a chain by Sabretooth on Rogue’s team. Currently, he’s being written like his AoA version. Empath is an old member of the Hellfire Club’s answer to the New Mutants, the Hellions. With the power to control emotions, he was the only real villain of that crew, and he hasn’t gotten any better since. Jonathan Greycrow, formerly known by the very un-PC name Scalphunter, debuted as a member of the Marauders team that slaughtered the Morlocks during the Mutant Massacre. Unlike the other Marauders, he was fleshed out a little and put into the backstory of Gambit. This Psylocke is not Betsy Braddock, but rather Kwannon, the Japanese ninja assassin whose body Betsy had been using for decades. She’s been dead most of that time, but was revived at the same time Betsy got her original body back. Since then, she’s been accepted on Krakoa and taken up the Psylocke name now that Betsy has become Captain Britain. Unlike the others, she’s not a troublemaker, but instead has been put in the group as something of a chaperone, since none of them are particularly trustworthy.

Most recently, the Hellions were sent on a fool’s errand during X of Swords to steal their opponents’ weapons. They never made it, as Sinister instead led them to Arakko rather than Otherworld to get new mutant DNA for his experiments. The mission saw every member of the team killed, save Sinister, who in turn lied to the Quiet Council about what actually had transpired. Wild Child and Nanny were killed on Arakko itself, causing their resurrected forms to be more serious and straightforward about everything. Orphan Maker’s armor was destroyed, making him too dangerous to allow free until it can be replaced. Havok is especially distrusting of Sinister, but finds that no one really trusts him either, so he’s stuck with the team he’s been placed on.

Now that we’re caught up, Nanny has the means to rebuild her son’s armor, but she needs her ship that has been claimed by the Right, the anti-mutant group led by Cameron Hodge. After running away from Hodge and his robots, Empath returns to try to give him the mental whammy, only to find that he doesn’t have a human mind. Hodge refuses to believe that he is a robot duplicate and not the actual being, which leads him down a very slippery slope.

With Hodge destroyed (and Empath dead of his wounds), Havok goes to the robot Right “smiley” soldiers and begins negotiating. Since they have been purged of Hodge’s influence, they no longer have any need for aggression against mutants. They express interest in finding their own place in the world. Seeing them as a sort of mutants themselves, Havok encourages their growth and exploration.

Unfortunately, that goes against one of the main tenants of Krakoan society, as the lives of Moira MacTaggert has shown that developed AI will always become a enemy of mutantkind, and thus must not be allowed to grow and self-replicate with Hodge’s transmode virus.

The Quiet Council gives Psylocke an order to download a virus into their system and eliminate them. Greycrow attempts to do the deed, as mass extermination has been something he’s done, but Psylocke, herself an assassin, frees him of the burden as he truly wants to redeem himself from his previous life and does it herself. This causes the robot talking to Havok to implode right in front of him, speaking out mutant words and revealing a mutant virus. He doesn’t take the news well.

This has been a very interesting book, and not one I was expecting to enjoy as much as I do. All of the X-books have seemingly been a grab bag of cast members, but they’ve all been pushing the grand narrative. Zeb Wells is a great writer who I’ve enjoyed since he did his New Mutants thing. This book is starting to show the shadier side of the mutant community, using a character like Havok who has traditionally just been dragged behind the rest of the group just because of who he’s related to. He’s a sympathetic character that is probably going to be a big figure when something inevitably blows up.

by Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti

SWORD was established back in the Joss Whedon era of Astonishing X-Men as Earth’s defense against interstellar threats. Kind of like SHIELD, just in space. The whole thing was blown up real good during one of the recent crossovers, but the destroyed station was discovered during X of Swords and now it’s back up and running, now run by the Krakoan government. The leader, once again, is Abigail Brand, the green-haired Nick Fury type who was long ago revealed to be a mutant, though I can’t recall her power off the top of my head. They have a whole organization set up for interstellar exploration and communication, largely headed up by Magneto (he did live in an asteroid for years after all), and featuring a lot of characters in very specific roles. For this story, we’re looking at this group:

Wiz-Kid is an old Louise Simonson X-Factor character, a wheelchair-laden technopath who is in that Artie and Leech group of never getting older. Manifold is a Jonathan Hickman character that I’m not really familiar with, representing a division of teleporters. Fabian Cortez is a longtime baddie and former Acolyte of Magneto who can enhance another mutant’s powers. Frenzy, also known as Cargill, is a longtime thug villain from the original X-Factor, then Acolyte of Magneto, then made an X-Man proper during a Mike Carey alternate reality story. Following her entire run, she a great story of redemption and a character who has earned respect from the bigwigs, namely Magneto. Random is a perennial background character from Peter David’s X-Factor run who is usually just a goon that can make his body into anything he wants, though not quite to the level of Mystique or Morph. Mentallo is a D-list telepath that worked for Hydra. Hail Hydra! Paibok, a Skrull and Sunfire are just guest stars.

When SWORD went down, interstellar threats to Earth were, in theory, to be handled by Alpha Flight. But that never goes well, and through mass failure on numerous levels, the king pooh-bah of the symbiotes (of Spider-Man lore) have taken over Earth. So that’s where we are. This seems like a really big event that is happening, but it is not appearing in any other of the X-Books, and I’m long past the point of trying to follow Marvel mega events. This story is being used to establish that Agent Brand is using her position to do what she thinks is best, outside of the established ways of the superhero or even Krakoan community, whom she feels cannot deal with the level of threats they are facing. So much so that she is using Mentallo, because he’s pretty much the only mutant telepath who is not extremely loyal to Charles Xavier or has ulterior motives.

The wild card in the mix is Fabian Cortez, who is perfect in the role that he’s been given as a power buffer, but has the very big problem that he’s Fabian Cortez. He’s only ever been about personal glory, and everyone thinks that he will inevitably betray them all at the earliest convenience. Oh, and Cable has been possessed by the symbiote lord. So that’s bad.

The book is quite interesting, and I have never read an Al Ewing book that I didn’t enjoy.

by Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli

We’ve strayed a bit from the original path of Kate Pryde sailing the seas for mutant goals, as Sebastian Shaw threw a monkey wrench into the plans by going and murdering her. Now that he’s been punished for his actions (left powerless and wheelchair bound), the Hellfire Trading Company is reorganizing for the future. And since we have a bit of downtime, we’re going to bring up an old feud from the Morlock days.

In the Krakoan society, mutants who have lost their powers can be restored through the resurrection protocols via the Crucible, forcing them to die fighting to get their true being restored. It’s one of the cooler aspects of the whole deal. Callisto was depowered on M-Day and was one of the victims of Quicksilver’s ill-advised attempt to repower them using terrigan crystals (no one likes Inhumans). So now that Apocalypse has been removed from Krakoa in the aftermath of X of Swords, a former mutant wishing to participate in the crucible must bring their own participant to kill them in combat. When Callisto arrives for her Crucible, now run by the Silver Samurai, he offers to fight her, as do the Fenris twins, out of nowhere. But Storm does her old friend the solid and shows up and they once again have a knife fight reminiscent of the iconic duel in the tunnels of New York for leadership of the Morlocks. And like that original one, Callisto is bested by Storm, who electrocutes her heart and kills her, allowing her to be resurrected with her mutant senses restored.

Elsewhere, Emma Frost follows up on Sebastian Shaw’s betrayal of Kate Pryde, but finds that his son Shinobi had no part of the scheme and was thus left unpunished for what happened. Kate herself visits the Madripoor family that had fished Lockheed out of the ocean and nursed him back to health and gives them substantial compensation for their efforts. But since they live in poverty and are unable to fathom what to do, Kate decides to move forward and starts establishing a foothold in Madripoor’s impoverished crime-ridden district and rebuilding it with their resources, undercutting the Verendi government controlling it.

This book is a lot of political manipulation and it’s unlike any other title in the line. Using super-heroes as political chess pieces is interesting, and this book does its job very well. It’s amazing that the Hellfire Club has come from basically a brothel to a political force in the Marvel world. Very good book.

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