Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Let’s check in on the Mutant Corner of the Marvel Universe, shall we?

Last week I bought Immortal X-Men #1, and I finally got around to reading it (you can tell I’m behind on my reading because I haven’t posted my monthly reviews post yet, but it’s coming, I swear!). I bought it because I like to get #1 issues every once in a while, and when they’re written by Kieron Gillen, one of my favorite current writers, that’s a nice incentive, as well. I don’t recognize Lucas Werneck, the artist, but the art is quite nice, in that inoffensive superhero way that a lot of Marvel and DC books are drawn these days. Plus, the one variant cover, by Emanuela Lupacchino, is pretty bad-ass:

I read the issue, and it’s fine. I don’t really want to write about the quality of the book, as Gillen is a good writer so he can make a lot of things work, and he’s working within the confines of what Marvel’s Mutant Mess is these days. But as I read it, I kept thinking, “That’s a thing now?” because I haven’t been keeping up with the Mutants. So let’s see what we can glean about Mutantdom just from this comic, shall we?

As you know, a few years ago Marvel gave the Keys to the Mutant Kingdom to Jonathan Hickman, and a lot of people believed he revitalized the mutant line with a fresh new story. I bought the big 12-issue Set-Up Story, and I thought it was HAWT GARBAGE of the hottest variety. I mean, Hickman went scorched earth on the mutants and came up with … Krakoa, the new Mutant Utopia? Moira MacTaggart as some kind of Deus Ex Machina Mutant, who resets timelines every time she dies? It was terrible, and I despaired. I read one or two of the first issues of the follow-up series, and they were trash, too. So I bailed. When Joey Q calls me to beg me to write the X-Men, in the first issue, they’ll be sitting around the school reading comics in which the Krakoa story takes place and commenting on what madness it is. That’s the only way to get out of this, I think – It Was All A Dream!!!!!

Ahem. So, the Krakoa thing is terrible. Okay. But I thought I’d check in to see just how terrible it was. That’s what I’m doing here. So, SPOILERS AHOY, obviously. Let’s see what’s what in the Mutant World!

Page 1: Mr. Sinister is reading a newspaper in Paris in 1919. One panel in, and I’m already annoyed. Far too often in comics, you see something like this:

This, my friends, is not how newspapers work. Unless, I guess, it’s in Hebrew? Or Arabic? Does that look like Hebrew or Arabic to you?

Pages 2-4: Irene Adler shows up and chats with Mr. Sinister. They speak of Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” and of a coming war (superheroes are always talking about the coming war, do you notice?) and Irene whispers something to Nathaniel that causes him to have a seizure of some kind. Raven Darkhölme shows up and they stroll away. There’s nothing terribly objectionable here. I’m a bit annoyed that so many mutants, even before the Krakoa foolishness, were alive well before the 1960s, even back to ancient times, but I’ve made some semblance of peace with it. Let’s move on!

Pages 5-6 are those weird text pieces that Hickman likes to put in his comics. The credits page, basically, with a brief explanation of Krakoa and the “Quiet Council” – twelve mutants – that run things. We’ll get to the Council soon enough.

Pages 7-8: Essex is in his lab, which is not on Krakoa, because, as he puts it, “What kind of fool would I be to put my secretest of secret labs where someone could just find it?” He’s running some kind of experiment, which we will find out about at the end of the issue, believe you me! I’m not the biggest proponent of characters being written “the same way they’ve always been” – writers change, times change, let’s roll with it – but Goofy Sinister is not to my liking. “Secretest”? Really? On these two pages, we see his face in five panels, and he’s grinning maniacally in four of them. He narrates that he’s engaged in “evil schemes” gleefully. One of his experiments is one of those hairless cats … wearing a Scott Summers visor. It’s a bit odd, but only mildly annoying. Gillen likes not taking this all too seriously, but I don’t know if this characterization of Sinister is brand-new or if it began at some point in the past decade or two.

Chris Giarrusso could do an entire series about these two!

Pages 9-12: Okay, we’re at the Quiet Council, and Magneto is resigning and going back to Arakko. “Arakko” is Mars, for those of you who haven’t been reading the X-Books. Yes, not only is there Krakoa, but there’s its “sister-entity,” Arakko, which has relocated to Mars, which has been terra-formed, and a bunch of mutants now live there. Yes, it’s stupid.

Anyway, Essex observes the various Councilors reacting to the news. Xavier never takes his Cerebro helmet off, so he’s hard to read. Emma Frost has “had enough of useless men,” so she’s happy that Magneto is fucking off. Sebastian Shaw is apparently Emma’s toadie these days. Kitty Pryde dresses like Michael Jackson these days for some reason. Exodus – God help us, Exodus is a major player in the X-Books these days – is a religious nut. Ororo – not, sadly, Candace Flynn – is the Queen of Mars. Colossus is … being mind-controlled by Russians and only Sinister knows? Da Fuq? Kurt Wagner is best friends with Legion? Mystique doesn’t dig Magneto and Xavier because they didn’t want to bring Irene Adler back from the dead … but Irene is alive, and also on the Council. Phew! Emma says that since Magneto is taking his ball and going home, he shouldn’t get a vote on his successor. Magneto has a hissy fit and leaves. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the “Malcolm X” of Mutantkind. Passive-aggressive and whiny. Good for him!

Magneto whined less when he was an ACTUAL BABY

Page 13: It’s a text page! It’s secrets that Sinister knows. Number One: “[H]umanity still doesn’t know that mutants are immortal.” Man, this is so stupid. I mean, yes, they’re comic-book characters, so they’re immortal anyway, and Hickman just made the subtext the text, but it’s still idiotic. I don’t love bringing up Claremont because that run ended 30 years ago, but one thing Claremont did very well was give us a sense of both the mortality of the characters and the sense of time passing. This development robs us of both. We know that Marvel will never let something like Claremont’s run (or David’s run on the Hulk, to use another example) happen again, so that sense of time passing isn’t really a consideration, but Jeebus, this is a dumb idea.

Mystique impersonated Xavier and gave a Cerebro helmet to Hope Summers, who resurrected Destiny. You might think this is the stupidest sentence you’ll read all day, but you haven’t read further down this post yet!

Doug Ramsey, the “omni-linguist,” and Warlock have integrated with Krakoa and prevented Mystique and Destiny from killing Moira, but now Moira is depowered and on the run. You might think this is the stupidest sentence you’ll read all day, but you haven’t read further down this post yet!

“The radical human organization Orchis was founded by an A.I.-consciousness from a future where mutants annihilate the A.I. Omega Sentinel and Nimrod are using Orchis to prevent that happening.” There it is: the stupidest sentence you will read all day!

Pages 14-15: Candidates for Magneto’s place! Warren says he should take it partly because the PR would be good, given that he’s an “angel” and, it’s implied, he’s a pretty blond white man; Monet wants it simply because she doesn’t think Warren should have it; someone named Gorgon simply says “Me,” which is a pretty good argument, I reckon; Gabriel Summers is kind of douchey about his qualifications running an empire, and as since “douchey” seems to the default for most comic book characters these days, he’d be a perfect fit on the Council; Abigail Brand simply says she’s awesome; Hank has a PowerPoint presentation and also says that having blue fur is somehow a qualification. None of them are good candidates, and Kurt tells Kitty that Hank is “unethical.” I know I’ve missed some things going on with the Beast, but that seems odd. They debate some candidates – Legion is too unstable, Namor is too much of a dick, no Martians want to join because they don’t have to fight for it, Doug/Warlock thinks “it’ll compromise everything,” which sounds portentous. Where can the mutants turn?!?!?!?

‘Billie Jean is not my lover …’

Pages 16-17: Hope and some others resurrect a mutant, and then Exodus slobbers all over Hope for a bit before she finally asks him what he wants. He gives her possibly the creepiest smile in comic book history:

Pages 18-21: Selene is arguing that she ought to be on the Council. She points out that she knows magic, and if bad guys come at them using magic, she can stop them. She also points out that she brought everyone in Genosha back to life in a day, while it will take Hope quite some time (I guess Selene’s thing didn’t take?). Really, Marvel? We’re bringing 16 million Genoshans back? Sheesh. Anyway, Hope shows up and says that she has to be on the Council. The “Five” – the mutants that resurrect people, of which she is the chief, I guess – are the foundation of Krakoa, so they should be represented on the Council, and Hope is the hottest one, so of course it should be she. Sinister says he hears an “or else” coming, but Hope just points out that the mutants on Krakoa love the Five, and if the Council turns one of them down, it might go poorly. Selene, grumpy, says that she could easily disappear the gate to Mars, if she felt like it. As she leaves, Sinister gets the best line in the book:

Who doesn’t dig a good cape?

Pages 22-24: It’s time for a vote! There’s nothing more exciting in superhero comics than parliamentary procedure!!!!! Sinister narrates that he knows how everyone will vote, and he’ll prudently vote “no” to distance himself “from the various disasters that Hope being on the council will help precipitate.” Not sure how he knows that (but we’ll find out!), but he wants her there but wants deniability when and if those disasters occur. However, he miscalculates, as Destiny – whom he thought would definitely vote “yes” since Hope, you know, brought her back to life – votes “no” after he does. He interrupts and changes his vote, which gives Emma a reason to insult him but which puts Hope on the Council.

Page 25: More text! It’s kind of bland and vague. Let’s move on!

Pages 26-29: Xavier tells Selene about the Council’s decision, and she gleefully calls up a sand centipede from Arrakis to … do something? Kurt says “That’s … the gate. She’s resurrected the gate!” I don’t know what that means. It’s clearly a giant sand centipede ripped off from Frank Herbert. It has legs, a big mouth, and it spits fire. I guess when you don’t read X-books for a while, you don’t realize that their English words don’t mean the same things as ours do anymore! Anyway, Kurt is all pissy because they didn’t debate the Council position better, as then they could have defused the situation and Selene wouldn’t have sicced a fire-breathing … gate? on everyone. While the X-Men are fighting, Sinister yells at Destiny, who tells him (probably for the umpteenth time) that her powers don’t allow her to see the future. Then she drops the mic and fucks off. Essex heads to his lab.

Look out for the gate, everyone!

Pages 30-33: Wait, did he go through some kind of teleportation portal? His “secretest” lab isn’t on Krakoa, after all. I guess we’re supposed to assume that. Okay. He says that Selene shouldn’t have escalated, so there’s something he’s missed, and now he can try again. He raises a weird-looking gun and aims it … but after the page turn, he decides against firing it. He narrates about needing more data, and then we get the big reveal – he has cloned Moira MacTaggart and is using her power to investigate what happens in a timeline before killing the clone and using its knowledge in the new timeline. Oh, Sinister. You’re so sinister. That’s how he knew Hope being on the Council would be a disaster, I assume. He’s been doing this for a while. It’s not very nice. Exeunt, everyone!

So that’s Immortal X-Men #1. It’s not a very good comic, but, weirdly enough, it’s not because the writing or art is bad. I mean, some of the writing is weird – as I noted above, Goofy Mr. Sinister is really strange – but it’s not necessarily bad. This comic is bad mainly because it has to fit into this Krakoa Idiocy that Marvel’s X-Books are going through right now, and Gillen can’t really do anything about that if he wants to write an X-Book right now. As I’ve often said, I don’t mind if superhero comics aren’t wall-to-wall action, but this is taking it to the extreme a bit with its emphasis on Bureaucracy! In! Action! The balance is a bit off, but it’s not the worst thing in the world, just a bit annoying.

What can we glean from the X-Books based on this issue? Well, it hasn’t gotten better in the few years since Hickman came on board. As we debated a bit when Fraser wrote about female love interests becoming super-powered, Marvel (and DC, to be sure) are not terribly interested in the interaction between the superheroes and the “regular” world, and it’s particularly galling with regard to Marvel, which has always been about the “superhero outside your window” thing, and the X-Men in particular, as the idea of mutants as a persecuted minority is baked into the storytelling engine. This Krakoa Nonsense makes them gods, and gods are boring. There’s a reason why Thor was always getting kicked out of Asgard – no one wanted to read about the Norse gods fighting giants, they wanted to read about Thor overcoming whatever made him lose his powers and prove that “god-ness comes from within!!!!” and shit like that. This Krakoa Krap takes the X-Men away from anything that makes them relatable, and there’s no reason to care about Selene and her giant centipede or Exodus and his creepy smile. These are just dull people doing dull things and patting themselves on the back because they’re so awesome. I get that things get stagnant in superhero comics and they need to go in a different direction occasionally, and I wouldn’t even mind seeing mutants be a bit less persecuted. But going too far in the other direction, as has happened here, is blah. There’s no tension in these comics except wondering when Krakoa is going to fall apart, and that won’t have any consequences in the wider world.

The characterization feels a bit off, especially with regard to Magneto, who, even when he was an out-and-out villain, was still fairly noble and eloquent and here comes off as a big baby, but that’s not the worst thing in the world. Every writer puts his own spin on the characters, and I don’t know if Wah Wah Magneto is a Gillen thing or a Hickman thing, much like Sinister the Hilarious. So I can let it go. I don’t love it, but whatever.

The many Smiles of Sinister!

As I often point out, I love the X-Men. I think the characters are fascinating, and I think that the X-Men and Spider-Man are the best characters to tell stories in the way Marvel likes telling stories. I bought Uncanny X-Men for far too long after it turned to shit, but I always have hope that things will return to some semblance of glory. Marvel hasn’t managed that in a long time, however, and Hickman’s Folly isn’t doing it. I wondered what was going on in the Krakoa Korner, so I picked this up. Now that I know a little, I can go back to ignoring it. Call me, Joey Q! I can get you out of this mess with no fuss!


  1. conrad1970

    I kind of enjoyed Hickman’s run at the beginning. Came off the rails far to quickly though with the resurrection nonsense and far to many tiles to follow, the only way to read this run that makes any sense whatsoever is the Dawn of X/Reign of X trades.
    Hickman’s finest hour remains his stint on FF, his Avengers run just left me cold.
    The thing that caught my eye though was 30 years since Claremont’s run ended! That can’t be right.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Claremont left the books in 1990/91 (I’m not exactly sure of the date). He wrote X-Treme X-Men after that and did come back to the book around the turn of the century, but his “run” as we think of it ended 30 years ago. We’re not getting any younger! 🙂

  2. Eric van Schaik

    How many drinks did you take after reading those stupid sentences? Quite a few I would imagine. Boy, am I glad that you took the bullet.

    After Conrad 1970’s comment I had to check what mine last Claremont X-Men issue was: # 243 in 1989. 33 years ago! I’m getting old. 🙁 The ending of Inferno was a great jumping off point for me.

  3. Darthratzinger

    My question is: what team or cast of characters is this particular X-series about? Is it this council group?
    I´m glad that Gillen is probably making a bit of dough with this title but it still seems like major waste of his talent.

    1. Greg Burgas

      It seems like it’s going to be about the Council, mainly, and Sinister’s machinations. Which is fine, but I’m not sure how much potential there really is there.

      Gillen just had a kid (well, he didn’t, but you know what I mean), so I’m glad he’s able to do this and make some coin, but yeah, a lot of Marvel and DC books these days seem to waste the talent on them.

  4. jccalhoun

    While I liked the ambition and scope of House/Powers of X, it just seems so at odds with everything that has come before. I’m not even an X-Men fan and I feel like it is just off.

    It just seems weird that two of the big changes, X-Men having an island nation and terraforming Mars, have both been done in recent years – hell, Hickman was the one who did the terraforming thing in Avengers. And the characters don’t seem to mention it.

    It just seems weird that not only would all the villains agree to set up shop on Krakoa but that none of the heros would hold a grudge.

    And the philosophical implications of being cloned over and over seem to just be ignored. Even Nightcrawler who is religious just had a couple pages where he was like, “yeah, it is weird and I’m not sure about the whole soul issue but whatever…” It seems like someone worried about a soul would have more qualms about endlessly cloning themselves.

    And the whole “no one can speak to Krakoa except Doug” is dumb. No one else can learn its language? Forge can’t build some translator?

    And why is Captain Britain involved in this at all? He isn’t a mutant and yet he was one of the champions of Swords of X. There was just one line “most of us are mutants…” and then they never mentioned why this non-mutant is one of the champions in this fight between mutants.

    Maybe if I had been reading X-Men leading up to this or if I had read all the mutant books these questions would be answered (apparently Beast has been doing shady stuff for a while? A long way away from the jovial Beast)

    1. John King

      this may be nit-picking, but, last time I checked, the current Captain Britain is a mutant (and has been a member of the X-men for some time).
      While her brother Captain Avalon (who used to be Captain Britain) has not been identified as a mutant it is quite possible that he may one day be announced as one –
      and even if not, his sister is a mutant and his wife is a mutant so he has a strong connection to mutants
      the swordbearers were chosen by Saturnyne who has a long history with the Captain Britain corps
      also the sword he used is part of the Captain Britain origin

    2. Greg Burgas

      The “villains hanging out with the heroes” thing was addressed in the set-up, as Xavier and Magneto were saying that these poor villains were just mutants who wanted to live their lives and the mean humans wouldn’t let them, and in Mutopia they’d be good! Yeah, it sounds dumb, and I guess it hasn’t quite worked out that way, as we see from this book. Sheesh.

      Wait … is Psylocke Captain Britain now? She’s the only sister of Brian Braddock that I know of, unless we got one of these ridiculous “You have a secret sister!” story. Which I wouldn’t be surprised by, sadly.

      1. John King

        it’s a bit complicated
        Betsy Braddock has died and returned from the dead a few times … finally reverting to her original Caucasian body (Hunt for Wolverine:Mystery in Madripoor).
        Then Brian Braddock fell under Morgan Le Fey’s spells so Betsy took over the Captain Britain identity in the most recent Excalibur series.
        When Brian was freed from the magic he adopted the Captain Albion name,

        As Betsy was no longer using the Psylocke name she allowed Kwannon (now resurrected in her own body) to take over that costumed identity (costume and all)
        (in Fallen Angels and Hellions)

        So Marvel no longer have a problematic faux Asian character but have a genuine Asian character instead

        1. JHL

          Putting Kwannon and Betsy back into their original bodies is easily the best creative change they have made in the Krakoa era. What they have done with the two characters since then has been all over the place but that is pretty par for the course in X-books right now. Betsy as Captain Britain is a fun idea but the actual story has been a bit of mess. I really like that Kwannon has stayed a featured character post body switch instead of just having fade back into the mutant masses of Krakoa. I do however think that having her use the Psylocke code name is an awful choice. Given all she (and Betsy) have been though taking the name of the person who ‘wore’ her body for years seems wildly unhealthy from a mental health perspective. I could also see it causing confusion with readers who might jump in have not having read every mutant book from the last couple of years.

  5. JHL

    The ‘goofy’ Sinister is an in universe acknowledged thing. Since at least Gillen’s first run with the X-Men Mr. Sinister has been depicted as cloning the crap out himself to the point where Sinister can be thought of as a system as much as a person. As of the Hickman era it’s been shown that Sinister often tweaks his clone to see what come outs. So you can, and do, end up with different powers. The idea that one of them is the ‘real’ Sinister isn’t really a thing at this point but there often is one Sinister who has seized control of the Sinister system resources and the Mr. Sinister identity. The current Mr. Sinister was specifically shown to be more, ummm, theatrical than the version he replaced. And relevant to the Krakoa era stuff, while the original Nathaniel Essex was not a mutant, the current Mr. Sinister does have an X-gene. Anyway, Sinister’s goofy personality was a deliberate choice and has been a thing though out the Krakoa era books.

    And yeah, Beast has been on the road to Dark Beast for a pretty long time now.

    Just about everything about the Krakoa era is kinda bonkers. Despite having an almost commune like outward presentation, Krakoa is actually an authoritarian regime controlled by a cabal of self appointed elites. That’s a real damn weird direction for the ‘good guys’ to go in a Super Hero comic. It actually has narrative potential, but only if the writers have a clear understanding of the thing they have constructed, and I’m not always sure they get just how messed up a society and nation they have created with Krakoa.

    1. Greg Burgas

      I seemed to vaguely recall Sinister being goofy before this, which is why it didn’t bug me too much. I don’t love it, but as long as it’s not out of the blue here, which I had a sense that it wasn’t. The explanation for it is dumb, but at least it’s been established.

      From the beginning, the Krakoa thing has seemed shady, I agree, and I recall in the first issue of New Mutants, someone made a reference to it, but they were too busy fucking off into space to wrench Cannonball from his domestic bliss because they’re jerks. So I imagine it’s built into the endgame scenario for this story, but I wonder if the dilution of the line – with so many titles and so many writers – means that even if they have an “X-Summit” about the direction, it’s unclear if everyone is on board. Because you’re right – the whole Krakoa thing is just bizarre, even more than just “Hey, it’s Mutant Heaven right here on Earth, guys!”

  6. This reminds me of the 1990s and the plethora of game-changing concepts (the Twelve! The Externals! The Upstarts!) that never went anywhere and never changed any games, not even a little.
    The impulse to establish everything has ancient roots is odd. I’ve noticed it on TV, where every contemporary conspiracy turns out to go back centuries, much like Hydra becoming Leviathan and being around since ancient whenever (or so I understand it).

  7. DarkKnight

    I actually liked House of X/Powers of X because Hickman was really trying to shake things up especially since the X-men line had been in the toilet prior to that. Everything X-men from 2015 thru 2019 were some of the most miserable comics I’ve ever read. I was pretty happy with the line up until the ending of X of Swords. Then it seemed everything was starting to spin it’s wheels which was really annoying because the house of cards aspect is what got me excited about the line in the first place. Hickman leaving also deflated a lot of my interest and it didn’t help that they canceled Hellions which was far and away my favorite X-men book. That being said I have high hopes for X-men Red when I can read it in trade since Al Ewing is currently one of my favorite writers. Any chance you’ll be reviewing that as well Greg?

  8. Bright-Raven

    Burgas: “Call me, Joey Q! I can get you out of this mess…”

    Yeah, I can too. I think there’s a whole lot of people who could “fix” the X-Books, but whether or not Marvel truly wants to fix them, is another matter entirely. While I think now would be the perfect time to do so, because they haven’t yet re-introduced the X-Men to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it would be smart to set that up. I know what *I* would do to make that happen, but it would probably hack off half the fandom and make the other half have a fan-gasm, and that’s problem. You really can’t “fix” this stuff after decades of Marvel mucking it up massively, without ticking off some faction of fandom that liked whichever era(s).

  9. JHL

    Travis, you might be right about the body switch timeline. It all blurs after awhile. The Krakoa era stuff does definitely spend time dealing with the psychological fallout of the switch for both Betsy and Kwannon in Excalibur and Hellions (pretty sure there is zero reason the book was called Hellions, but whatever) so that is why I was thinking it happened more recently.

    Arrako is a dumb name. They renamed Mars after a twin island of Krakoa’s named Arrako. All the Arrako/Arrakons stuff has been pretty dumb. Except that Krakoa (the island) and Arrako (the island) don’t seem to actually like each other at all. That is legit funny.

  10. John King

    the Uncanny XMen series referred to was published in the 9 months before House of X/Powers of X
    Betsy reverted to her own body just before that in Hunt for Wolverine – Mystery in Madripoor issue 4
    Kwannon was (officially) resurrected in her old body at the same time but did not appear until issue 16 issues of that run of Uncanny Xmen calling herself Nothing

    So Betsy reverted to her own body 14 months (real world time) before taking on the Captain Britain identity (again)

    so it was before Krakoa, but not long before

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