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Oct 22

X-Men #13 annotations

Posted on Thursday, October 22, 2020 by Paul in Annotations

As always, this post contains spoilers, and page numbers go by the digital edition.

X-MEN vol 5 #13
“X of Swords, Chapter 10”
by Jonathan Hickman, Mahmud Asrar and Sunny Gho

COVER / PAGE 1: Apocalypse and the original Horsemen stand over defeated opponents, with Apocalypse carrying his two swords.

PAGES 2-3. Recap and credits.

PAGE 4. Data page on Grasscutter and Godkiller. These two swords have nothing in particular to do with this issue; it’s just part of the series of data pages on the contest swords which have been scattered through the stories to date.

Grasscutter is not original to Marvel. It’s a legendary Japanese sword which represents the virtue of valour; its actual name is Kusunagi no Tsurugi (literally, “grass-cutting sword”). The real thing is supposed to be one of the Imperial Regalia of Japan, though by tradition the Regalia are only seen by the Emperor himself and certain priests. In the original legends, Grasscutter was discovered inside the body of a dragon.

The account of its origins given here – and the whole history of its sister sword Godkiller – comes from a storyline in Secret Warriors #10-21, also a Jonathan Hickman story. The “mutant [who] raised them up” is Gorgon. That storyline ended with both swords seemingly being destroyed, which seems like it might have been worth mentioning.

PAGE 5. Banshee in the Healing Gardens.

Banshee is recovering from the injuries he sustained in X of Swords: Creation.

Note that in the establishing shot of Krakoa, the volcano (which contains the closed portal to Arakko) is smoking very conspicuously.

The narrator describes Krakoa as “home” and “paradise”, which is pretty standard, but also as “an open grave” – apparently due to the impermanent nature of death on Krakoa. It’s another reminder that however much the X-Men may insist that resurrection is a wonderful triumph over death, there’s something really quite wrong about the whole thing.

PAGES 6-9. Hope helps the Healer to heal Apocalypse.

Self-explanatory, really. This leads into Apocalypse retelling the story of Okkara again…

PAGES 10-11. Apocalypse begins his story.

We’ve seen versions of this story before, in Powers of X #4 (as told by Krakoa) and in the previous issue (as told by the unreliable Summoner).

“It was ancient before that word existed, but not yet old in the way they were old.” This is always the opening line. By the way, for those wondering about where this fits into Apocalypse’s timeline, the X of Swords Handbook says unambiguously that Apocalypse was still born in ancient Egypt, and that the events surrounding Okkara happen after that.

The next two lines of dialogue are also straight repeats from the previous tellings

“The living ikons of Okkara – the twin elementals of life – were the first to fall.” At this point, Apocalypse deviates from the previous accounts. This is the first we’ve heard of “the living ikons of Okkara”, but the art shows what appears to be two green people, one male and one female. The suggestion may be that one of these goes on to become the persona of Krakoa, and the other one becomes the persona of Arakko.

The One Hundred and the White Sword. The One Hundred are presented here as ancient Egyptian warriors. Apocalypse tells us on the next page that they went through the portal – without him – to take the war to the enemy. He describes the White Sword as their champion.

Apocalypse says he doesn’t know what the Hundred did on the other side of the rift. This is disingenuous – Summoner told him last issue. He said that when the ancestors of the Arakko mutants arrived in Amenth, they found the place a desolate wasteland, with their enemies already largely slaughtered by “the White Sword and his One Hundred Champions”. Summoner said that later in life, the White Sword – also called Purity – lived alone, resurrected his One Hundred every day, and rode out every day for another day’s fight with the Amenthi daemons, in which the rest of the army would invariably die. Purity himself is apparently an External, and thus immortal.

In fairness to Apocalypse, Summoner is not a reliable source, so he doesn’t know that this account is true.

Genesis is Apocalypse’s wife, and we’ve seen her before in X-Men #12. In the next scene, she stresses herself as a “mother”.

PAGES 12-16. Annihilation sues for peace and makes her offer.

Apocalypse is sitting in the forerunner of the current Quiet Council room. Note that instead of Okkara having a single tree face behind them, it has two – one for Arakko and one for Krakoa. He says that the Amenthi “split the world”, so it’s possible this is a recent thing.

Apocalypse is joined by the four Horsemen, Genesis, and a Summoner.

Annihilation has been seen before in the previous issue, in Summoner’s account. As there, she’s the goddess ruler of the Amenthi forces. It appears from this version of events that Annihilation takes the form of a mask which is worn by one of its followers, and rapidly consumes and destroys their body. The data page later in the issue clarifies that this effect depends on the strength and power of the wearer, and clearly this particular follower isn’t up to much.

Hoork and Dai-Damun are new, and are basically there to talk themselves up before being summarily despatched by Genesis.

PAGE 17. Apocalypse continues his story.

“Until her sister Isca the Unbeaten turned.” Summoner mentioned Isca in the previous issue, but didn’t say that she and Genesis were sisters – he may not have known. According to Summoner, Isca’s power was that she cannot be beaten – which compelled her to switch sides and join the Amenthi. The idea is that Isca is unbeatable in a very narrow and literal sense – her powers don’t allow her to achieve any particular goal or guarantee success for her side, but merely ensure that she doesn’t end up on the losing side when the chips are down. Also, she apparently can’t turn off her power or choose to ignore its steer. So if Isca changes side, it indicates that they’re in trouble.

Except of course if Isca changed sides this early then the war went on for centuries – so Summoner’s account doesn’t entirely make sense.

PAGES 18-19. Apocalypse bids farewell to Genesis.

The basic idea is that Genesis and the Horsemen lead the forces of Arakko through the portal to hold off the Amenthi while En Sabah Nur – apparently deemed to weak to join them, for reasons not entirely clear – remains behind to try and steer the development of mankind to ready it for the day when the Amenthi overcome Arakko and attack Earth again. In other words, this is a retcon attempting to justify Apocalypse’s obsession with making the world fitter and stronger – he’s been trying to get everyone ready to fight the Amenthi.

PAGE 20. Data page on Annihilation, which speaks for itself.

PAGE 21. Apocalypse is ready to go and get his sword.

PAGE 22. Data page on Apocalypse’s Scarab blade. We’re told it was made by Isca from “the melted and recast blades of the vanquished Uhari royal vanguard”. The Uhari are an undersea race from Hickman’s Fantastic Four run.

PAGES 23-26. Apocalypse retrieves the sword.

The Temple of the Horsemen. We’ve seen this place before in the X-Men page in Marvel Comics #1000 – though in that page Apocalypse was thinking about the Horsemen rising from their tombs, which doesn’t really bear much resemblance to the storyline we’re seeing now. Then again, the timeline in House of X #2 said that in one of Moira’s previous lives, she and Apocalypse “rescue the first Horsemen and return to Earth” when she’s 24, which fits rather better.

Apocalypse looks down into a reflection here, and sees himself. In the Marvel Comics #1000 page he saw himself with the Horsemen, and so this is presumably a callback.

PAGE 27. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: CHAMPIONS.

Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    Except Apocalypse has already explained to be obsessed with the idea of “survival of the fittest” due to misunderstanding a message given by the Celestials.
    So, apparently, Apocalypse has always had two reasons for testing the world to make it stronger.

    That’s good. It’s always best to have more than one reason for committing to a life-altering obsession. It just motivated him all the more.

  2. Ben says:

    After liking the last issue I think this is egregious filler.

  3. Matt Terl says:

    I can’t get over how dreadful I find this crossover, and how far it is from what interested me in the HoXPoX era.

  4. Thom H. says:

    Egregious Filler: The Hickman Method

  5. Adam says:

    I think you could argue the overall obsession of Apocalypse and his family with becoming strong enough to survive an upcoming onslaught is very much a parallel to the overall raison d’être of Krakoa.

    Also: What’s the point of having a crazy new setup in which Apocalypse is an X-man and stuff if not to do storylines about those characters? I think even if it wasn’t thematically linked, the storyline an example of the X-books mining the new status quo for material.

    My only real issue so far is that I can’t help feeling like Apocalypse just isn’t the sort to cry. Much too repressed.

  6. Mikey says:

    It’s just so much convoluted nonsense, like I’m reading the Wikipedia page of some book series I never plan on reading… but I’m reading this!

    I hope the second half of the crossover feels more *present.* My entryway into X-Men events was Messiah CompleX, where every character and every conflict felt clearly defined and very urgent. This? Not so much.

  7. Adam says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it but the parallel between Apocalypse’s mission and Moira’s reminds me of how Kieron Gillen wrote his relaunch of UNCANNY X-MEN. Each villain the X-Men faced was either the last of its species or among them, mirroring the X-Men’s post-M-Day problem.

  8. Chris V says:

    Personally, I like the idea of the new status quo being that the mutants are now fighting against the machines and the rise of post-humanity.

    It moves the X-Men away from the tired old status quo of “fighting for a world that fears and hates them”, but keeps the core idea of them fighting for a place in the future and against their persecution and eventual extinction.
    I don’t think the line needs much more than the telling of that story.

  9. Alan L says:

    You mean the tournament bracket stuff doesn’t do it for ya? I for one am thrilled to see the X-men eventually fight the Horde from Halo. They took all of their well-developed villains off the board, and made them heroes so we could have this new cast of faceless villainy instead.

    I have started to find this book so bad that it’s funny. All this tabletop gamer gobbledygook and the serious tone Hickman takes when he writes it is becoming kind of laughable.

    The part where I guffawed out loud reading the issue is when Hickman delivered that line about the living ikons of Okkara being the first to fall. Paul was able to wring meaning out of them, but to me they’re just one more meaningless invention to come out of the blue, because Hickman has to figure out how to make this conflict sound serious in an AD&D kind of way. It reminds me once again of classic Hickman characters like Black Swan, Corvus Glaive, and whoever that gold dude was with the lopsided horns in Avengers––you can say his name if you want, I promise you I won’t remember it next time I bring it up––whoever he was, he just didn’t leave a big enough impression. These are characters created for a particularly mechanical purpose in a story. They don’t have personalities, they rarely have agency of their own, and they are abandoned immediately once Hickman’s story is over. They exist just to create a mystery––usually one of incredibly diminishing returns––over who they might be, and when allowed to speak, they usually intone some fatuous garbage about the world coming to an end, or needing to find a builder, or a prodigy, or a paladin, or to seek a seeker. These living ikons are like the diet cola of this trope––background players in a single panel who will never be more than an insubstantial mystery box. That Hickman dredges them up at this point because he needs to create stakes for a long-ago settled conflict gives me the giggles. It’s like a parody of his own writing at this point. We’re at the second line–wide event of this relaunch and Hickman is plodding on, still dredging up new and insubstantial mystery elements and backfilling lore, instead of working out the conflicts he sets up. It’s all still shot through with Hickman’s “great man” theory of storytelling, his idea that the most powerful and authoritative male figure is naturally the most interesting narrator and subject of any tale. So here’s an issue where what meager plot there is stops entirely so that Apocalypse can recapitulate for us a story we’ve already heard in the lead-up to this very crossover. Why in the world would Hickman be playing for time at this point? It’s not as if he doesn’t have a lot of story beats left over from HoXPoX yet to cover, themes left on the table, waiting to be addressed.

  10. Ben says:

    Listen, we can all have differences of opinion.

    But Corvus Glaive and the Black Order are pretty fun.

    I was sad the got the Marvel movie villain treatment.

  11. Mark Coale says:

    Grasscutter was also an award winning arc of Usagi Yojimbo.

  12. Evilgus says:

    “These are characters created for a particularly mechanical purpose in a story”
    You’ve hit the nail on the head there. Hickman is very mechanical, and this applies to existing characters as much as new villains.

    However what I’m enjoying in this crossover is that we’re getting a LOT of character ‘moments’ in the wider issues – it feels suitably grand. And I’m willing to forgive the new Horsemen and villains their interchangeable personalities, as some have very cool designs. And isn’t that what comics are about sometimes? Shiny visuals

    For what it’s worth, I liked the smackdown on Apocalypse – “because you aren’t strong enough”. Oof!!

  13. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    @Chris V ‘So, apparently, Apocalypse has always had two reasons for testing the world to make it stronger.’

    If anybody ever bothered to do a coherent retelling of Apocalypse’s life, this could be explained away – say, Apocalypse was already making Earth ‘fit’ to survive the Celestials’ judgement, with Genesis sharing his life and his mission. In that case their conversation from this issue could be recontextualized – she’s not giving him instructions that will define his later life, she’s saying ‘well, you just keep doing what we were doing’.


    I wonder when revealing that the villain was only trying to make the heroes stronger to survive an even bigger villain’s impending assault became a trope. I think there’s a lot of that in anime. And it was applied unsuccessfully in the old Star Wars Expanded Universe to Thrawn and even Palpatine.

  14. Bob B says:

    I agree completely with everything @Alan L says. I’ve been reading X-Men comics since I was about 12 years old (now 40) and I gotta say, the quality of the writing has been in decline pretty much the whole time. I’ve enjoyed various individual writers at times, I thought Grant Morrison gave the X-world a much needed kick in the pants, but frankly nothing has really grabbed me since say Mike Carey’s X-Men Legacy. HoX/PoX was interesting enough thematically but Hickman is a terrible writer – his characterizations are laughably bad. I don’t expect Marvel writers to simply reproduce Chris Claremont’s soap opera era, but there is rarely any meat on the stories they churn out now. I have been really pleasantly surprised by Leah Williams’ writing in X-Factor, so there are occasional glimmers to remind me why I enjoy the X-Men when they’re done well. But boy those glimmers are few and far between these days.

    On a brighter note – thanks so much for doing your writeups Paul. I generally get a lot more out of reading your blog posts and the comments than I do out of the actual comics!

  15. Gareth says:

    Juggernaut was good this week. I thought.

  16. Dave says:

    “We’re at the second line–wide event of this relaunch”

    Have I already forgotten the first? There wasn’t a line when HoXPox was happening.

  17. Jeremiah says:

    These writeups are indeed way more fun and enjoyable than the actual comics 🙂

  18. Bob B says:

    I agree @Gareth – Juggernaut #2 was good. Fabian Nicieza doesn’t get a whole lot of love, but I remember a lot of his X stuff fondly.

    I think too often the corporates over-promote certain writers like they’re name brand celebrities, regardless of how good their actual work is or isn’t. Seems similar to what the movie industry do with many A-list Hollywood actors.

  19. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Doesn’t he? I thought he’s generally remembered as one of the good 90s writers. Then again my perspective is skewed, since I’m basing that on a small section of Polish Marvel fans I had contact with coming into comics…

    Jay and Miles basically single him out as the best of the early to mid-90s bunch, though.

  20. Alan L says:

    Nicieza steps in right at the era when I stopped collecting comics as a teenager. But everything I’ve heard about him suggests that he labored pretty hard to make the work of the soon–to–be Image artists make a little bit of sense, and to develop a sense of narrative continuity and character focus in the titles he wrote. I later read that first crossover he worked on…X-cutioner’s Song? He did fine there, I thought. In interviews Nicieza often seems to be talking around the idea of how hard it was to work in the X-office at that time. I remember him grumbling at one point about how working with Bob Harras was difficult because the next idea to come through the door was the best one, and the one they should be doing––hey, why aren’t they already doing it? In the forward I read to X-cutioner’s Song he mostly seems to be saying it isn’t the best event, but that the writers had that premise dropped in their lap, with no notes, and no one to help them find their footing on the title, because everyone had left (of course, Harras was still there, but he sounds as if he was highly distractible. My impression from all of that, and from reading the writeups of his books on The Real Gentlemen of Leisure, is that Nicieza seems like a capable writer who does his best with a bad hand, and who never gets to really shine or go his own way in the X-office. It sounds to me like Bob Harras managed the office straight into the ground. But Nicieza in interviews seems really good-natured and perceptive; he seems like he understands the craft of storytelling well, but that he just was hardly able to do anything special with it when he worked on the X-books.

    @Dave, I’m talking about HoXPoX there; I suppose it’s a difference of definition, and I see your point that the line of books as we know them now hadn’t been launched yet. I guess, conversely, I consider the X-line to be whatever books the X-office is running at any given time. HoXPoX is meant to be an event, with the cast of the various X-men books. And the event directly lead into the books in the line.

  21. ASV says:

    I think “never got to shine in the X-office” is reasonable enough, at least in the early to mid 90s. But Cable & Deadpool was quite good, and his other work at the same time as X-Force/X-Men was great, IMO. New Warriors was the series that really hooked me on comics in general, and I was also a big Nomad fan.

  22. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Since the conversation veered this way, this might be a good opportunity to ask – I’m making my way through various old series on Unlimited (speaking of Nicieza, I’m still waiting for Marvel to add the New Warriors issues after #36) and apparently there’s a whole Gambit ongoing by Nicieza from around 2000 – is it worth putting higher in my reading order or, you know… not?

  23. Gareth says:

    @Krzysiek – the Gambit ongoing from back then was excellent. The old x-axis reviews rated it highly as well IIRC

  24. Chris V says:

    I would also recommend that Gambit series. It was one of the few X-books from that time which I enjoyed.

  25. Dave says:

    It was surprisingly significant to the ongoing mysteries, too.

  26. Paul says:

    Yes, the Nicieza Gambit series is pretty good. So was Cable & Deadpool.

  27. SanityOrMadness says:

    Cable & Deadpool, perhaps unsurprisingly, fell apart when Carey yoinked Cable and destroyed the series’ whole premise though. The best issues of the de facto Deadpool Team-Up phase that made up most of the last year of the book were the last two, which Fabian only scripted (Reilly Brown, the artist, did the plots).

    (The narration to C&DP #40 (or was it #41?) is one of the bitterest I’ve read – I feel like Cable was just channelling Fabian’s own thoughts on the matter.)

  28. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Thanks everyone, I’ll move Gambit up the list. 🙂

  29. Hi, I’ve been reading the X-Axis since well I was 12. I’m 30 now. I hope I have made some of you feel old.

    This is my first time actually posting a reply on one of these things, but I just want to add my own opinion here.

    I have totally checked out on Hickman. For some of the reasons others have listed. But yet I feel cursed because I really wanted Hickman on X-men.

    X-men is really the only comic line I read regularly and have enough knowledge about that I don’t need to wiki stuff. So when I read Hickman’s Avengers run during a period where I was trying to expand my superhero comics I liked it a whole lot.

    I see people say Hickman can’t write characters. Well that may be true because my experience with the Avengers is through the movies, but I thought the character work was great in his Avengers. It was full of great character moments.

    Now what I think is that Hickman is a very subdued writer. To the point that he comes off cold and sterile. His is overly serious, which is not necessarily a bad thing. He does like to bring in characters that simply are there for plot devices.

    But you say his character writing is bad? I disagree as I mean yeah characters like Ex-Niho are weird and kind of forgettable. But I mean I remember Ex-Niho as a jovial dude. Hickman wrote him as this strange being that was just full of life, because he was in awe with how life worked.

    But I also remember fantastic moments like Thor and Hyperion facing death with honor. All the stuff with Black Panther and Namor. Doctor Strange’s moral event horizon. Doom in general. Like Hickman is obviously a very plot focused writer, but I’ve felt like his characters have been filled with perscene and enough personality. It’s the same with East of West. Very plot focused, but the characters are distinct still. I feel like his Avenger’s run was filled with great character interaction and development. It wasn’t thrown out equally, but in team books it rarely is.

    I liked his Avengers run. It was weird and very high sci-fi. Took the material seriously and seemed planned and thought it. These are things I wanted for X-men. I got into X-men with New X-men. And honestly till this day few things have touched that. Like another poster here, I really liked Mike Carey’s run. But a few years a Bendis spinning wheels and not like what Jason Arron was doing with Wolves and the X-men, I really wanted Hickman to bring a weird and thought out long form story to an X-men run.

    I got my wish, but man I have not liked anything since House/Powers. Which I thought was great and made me really excited. Since then it just has seemed like an overly bloated line with a main series that feels like it’s spinning its wheels.

    Maybe its because I am familiar with the characters, but Hickman’s takes on them just feel really off.

    I’m not sure his more cold and sterile work with X-men as well X-men to me are a family. Like I love Grant Morrison’s run, but he really sells those characters as people first, and people who are are all friends who work and live together. Hickman has just kind of written relatively bare. I have not gotten a feeling for what he wants to do with the characters. Does his Cyclops have a character arch? Does he want to do anything with them? I mean I can’t say that about his Avengers. Great character theming with Namor and Black Panther. Comparing and contrasting with Iron Man and Cap. Even small characters like Hyperion got a character arch with him and his strange family. And this is in a book with characters who also have their own books for the real character storytelling. There just hasn’t been anything to grab me.

    Now I didn’t read the Avengers run as it came out. Jumped onboard with Time Runs Out after reading the back issues. By then the direction was clear and the action was building. The main Avengers book was also pretty aimless seeming until Infinity. Maybe that will be true for X-men.

  30. Chris V says:

    I share your feelings about Hickman.
    I really liked him as a writer, and got excited when he was announced as writing X-Men.
    I really enjoyed his run on Avengers and FF.
    I was also still very excited as I read House/Powers.
    Then, I’ve been very disappointed by what has come since House/Powers ended.

    I think a major issue with me is that I never felt there was some final aim that the books were moving with Hickman’s FF or Avengers*.
    *Well, eventually Avengers was moving towards “Time Runs Out”, and I thought that story did work, even if the Secret Wars follow-up didn’t end up as promised.

    When I read a Fantastic Four comic, I want to read about characters (a family) exploring the unknown and big ideas.
    When I read an Avengers comic, I want to read about the most powerful superheroes fighting threats too great for other heroes.
    I don’t really need anything more from either of those comics, and I felt Hickman delivered.
    The Infinity cross-over did read like a huge mess though.

    The thing is that Hickman wasn’t advertised as writing one of the most important stories in those characters’ history.
    There also wasn’t any series setting up a core premise for the Avengers or the Fantastic Four as a concept.

    With X-Men, I thought Hickman had captured what made the X-Men (as mutants) an interesting concept with House and Powers.
    Hickman hasn’t really followed through with any of the ideas introduced in House/Powers since that series though.

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