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Nov 25

Death of X

Posted on Friday, November 25, 2016 by Paul in x-axis

Death of X is pretty wretched.  But at least it has the decency to be revealingly wretched.

When the Marvel Universe picked up again after Secret Wars, we were told that during the gap, Cyclops had got himself killed doing something fairly awful involving the Inhumans.  Death of X is tasked with filling in that gap, presumably to lay the groundwork for the upcoming Inhumans vs X-Men crossover (though how much it really adds is debatable).

The oddity of this crossover is that given the raft of X-Men titles already announced for launch in the new year, it rather gives the game away that the X-Men seem to be coming out ahead.  That doesn’t necessarily make the promotion a bad idea: sometimes it’s no bad thing to send a clear message that the storyline is coming to a climax.  If people didn’t like it until now, maybe at least they’ll show up to see it end.

But regardless.  Death of X is co-written by Jeff Lemire from Extraordinary X-Men and Charles Soule from the Inhumans books.  Both are talented writers, even if neither is doing their best work on those franchises, let alone the checklist that must have come with this title.  Artist Aaron Kuder is perfectly fine.  The problems here lie with the idea itself, far more than with the way it’s carried into practice.

The series starts off doing a parallel structure where it cuts back and forth between Cyclops’s X-Men team discovering that the Terrigen Mist is lethal to mutants, and the Inhumans cheerfully celebrating the arrival of the Mists in another city to activate new Inhumans.  (There were two separate clouds at this point; Death of X explains what happened to the other one.)  Obviously, this leads to Cyclops declaring war on the Inhumans.

What actually stems from that, though?  Issue #2 has Storm alerting Medusa to the issue, and Medusa at least giving a few orders to try and have mutants evacuated from the path of the cloud.  So you’ve got both women trying to be vaguely co-operative while recognising that there’s a potential conflict here they might not be able to avoid.  Then Cyclops makes a global announcement that the Mists are fatal to mutants and, hey, who knows, quite possibly fatal to humans too.  Which he doesn’t really have any evidence for, but hey, the Inhumans completely missed the problem with mutants, so it’s not a completely absurd point.  This brings us to one of the central problems with the whole set-up, namely that the story asks us to accept that people had hitherto been pretty chilled about the whole idea of mutagenic clouds coming into their city and possibly giving them superpowers and changing what they look like.  I don’t believe for a second that people would be relaxed about that, no matter how “safe” the Mists were.  It’s nonsense.

At any rate.  This leads to Crystal and her team (the cast of All-New Inhumans) trying to keep the Terrigen Cloud away from Madrid until the mutants can be evacuated, and finally succeeding with Storm’s help, because Yay Teamwork.  But then Scott and Emma bring in Magneto to provide a distraction, and miscommunication ensues, and you know the drill.  Meanwhile, Scott’s group enlist Alchemy, of all people – you know, the kid who can change one substance into another, he was in a couple of issues of Excalibur back in the day – with the perfectly sensible plan of getting him to just change the Cloud into something else.  Which sounds like a solution, doesn’t it?

And in issue #4… that’s what they do.  Alchemy does indeed simply destroy one of the Clouds by turning it into something harmless, but in doing so he gets infected and dies.  Scott then goes to confront the Inhumans and gives a little speech about how the ideas he represents will never die.  And then Black Bolt blasts him into oblivion.  For reasons which are wholly unclear, this is described later in the issue as “suicide”, when it seems pretty clearly like murder.

Now, there’s a twist at the end – spoilers! – which is that Cyclops didn’t actually do any of this.  In reality, he just dropped dead from the M-Pox in issue #1, and Emma has been using a telepathic illusion of him to motivate other characters and to allow him to make the grand symbolic sacrifice that was denied him in real life.  In theory there’s something to this idea, but it’s patchily handled in the rest of the series.  On a re-reading, most scenes do indeed fit with this – Emma stands on the edge of the group, and occasionally other characters say something that indicates that they’ve twigged.  The scene of Scott’s pep talk to Alchemy is definitely improved on a re-read: presumably Emma/Scott wasn’t kidding when she said “I want you to make a choice of your own free will”, but she’s still manipulating him.  And yet then there are scenes in issue #3 where she’s talking to Scott when they’re alone, and unless we’re supposed to think she’s having a breakdown – which is not otherwise implied – that’s just odd.

But never mind that.  The upshot of all this is that the dreadful, villainous thing that Scott did was, apparently… to get rid of one of the Terrigen Clouds in a way that harmed nobody.


The fundamental problem here is that “Scott” is plainly right about everything, other than when he’s stirring about the possibility of Terrigen killing normal humans too.  The Cloud is poisonous.  It kills people – never mind whether they’re mutants or not.  It’s a massive pollution problem.  If it can’t be contained – and nobody suggests that it can – then eradicating it is not just perfectly reasonable, it’s a moral imperative.  For this story to work – to work in the slightest – we need to accept that there’s some sort of moral grey area here, just because the Inhumans are quite keen on Terrigen and place great cultural value on it.  At best that’s not a properly explored theme, but in any event, some serious heavy lifting would be required to persuade me that the Inhumans have any arguable case that their cultural sensitivities are deserving of greater weight than the fact that the Cloud kills people.

It occurs to me that this might be a story that went off the rails by cranking up the peril too far.  Suppose the Cloud didn’t kill mutants.  Suppose it just depowered them.  Then you’d be able to tell a story where the Cloud is powering up Inhumans and powering down mutants, and it’s a bit of a zero sum game.  The mutants are the only ones who lose out and even they just wind up as normal people again.  At that point maybe you’ve got a story about whether the mutant identity is worth fighting for, or something on those lines.  Maybe.

But as it’s set up, the concept just fails.  It’s a big cloud of poison gas.  Cyclops tries to get rid of it in a way that hurts nobody.  What’s the problem?


Bring on the comments

  1. Kind of related to Chief’s “back to basics” approach (or least a shift from current state), I was randomly re-reading Girl Comics the other day, the Marvel anthology of all-female creative teams. Out of the whole thing, the two stories that stuck with me were Marie Liu and Sara Pichelli’s “Things Never Change,” where a depowered Jubilee reconnects with Logan, and Cara Speed McNiel’s “Mixology at Terato Gena’s,” where Logan takes a just-turned-21 Kitty out for drinks.

    The lesson here isn’t that I want more Logan (uh, no thank you) but for me at least, what I want from the X-Men is more family bonding that builds on character shared history. New X-Men is probably the title closest to that right now, and honestly, despite Hopeless’ good work and years of Bendis’ efforts, out of all the X-Men I’d like to see a retread of their teenage years, the original five is at the bottom of the list.

    I think what I’d really want is something like the first year of Gotham Academy–not necessarily a teenager centered story, but a story where the character interactions were first, and there was an ongoing action or mystery subplot in the background. Liu’s run on Astonishing, basically, but a little more even balanced.

  2. FUBAR007 says:

    @Chief: And I just want a book about the actual X-Men. No teenage versions, no alternate Logans. Just X-Men doing X-Men stuff. Fighting Sentinels. Nightcrawler and Wolverine drinking beer. That kind of thing. Why is this so hard for Marvel to figure out?

    The sweet spot would be something like the Claremont/Byrne era roster cosmetically updated for contemporary sensibilities. Cyclops, Phoenix (Jean, not Rachel), Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Colossus, and Shadowcat–“the magnificent seven”–seem to be the characters fans most think of as THE X-Men. Have Prof. X in a supporting role as The Boss with the next-tier down characters (e.g. Iceman, Beast, Rogue, Gambit, et al) revolving in and out as semi-regulars.

    But, getting there from here would require rolling back substantial chunks of continuity or an outright reboot. As much of Marvel editorial consists of ascended fanboys, that’s anathema to them. I suspect they’d also argue that part of what distinguishes Marvel as a brand from DC is that Marvel doesn’t do reboots.

    There’s also the lack of economic incentive. Perlmutter and Marvel corporate don’t want to invest much in the X-Men as a franchise due to Fox having the film rights. That said, they don’t want to cancel it a la Fantastic Four either because X-Men merchandise still sells. So, they’ll put enough effort into the comics franchise to keep it visible, but not so much as to put it back on top and in so doing potentially help Fox.

  3. Suzene says:

    Back on the whole Death of X/IvX topic, one of the co-writers just compared the mutant situation in the face of the Terrigen genocide to managing a peanut allergy:

    I now officially have no hope that IvX will be anything but awful.

  4. Voord 99 says:

    To be fair, peanut allergies are extremely dangerous, and exposure is everywhere. I am astonished how many children with them survive to adulthood.

  5. Niall says:

    Peanut allergy? It’s more like hayfever – if hayfever killed and sterilised members of particular minority group and that this had resulted in genetic cleansing (see Nightcrawler).

    Or I dunno AIDs – if AIDS only affected gay people like some people thought back in the 80’s and had been made airborn by Iran. Sure, it’s easy to avoid AIDS! Just like peanut allergies!

  6. Col_Fury says:

    The interview also says (thanks for the link, by the way!) that the X-Men and Inhumans are tracking the cloud, and moving mutants out of the way so they don’t get exposed.

    But… what about all the teens hitting puberty that they don’t know are mutants yet? And what abut “closeted” mutants that don’t want to be outed? The Inhuamns swoop in (do they have their own Cerebro?) and move them out so they don’t die (which is nice), but now everyone knows, right? What if the cloud stays in the area for a while, say a few days or a week? If those people have jobs, do they get fired for not showing up for work? Or “laid off” because their employers (who are prejudiced) now know they’re mutants? I kind of doubt that in a world where the government occasionally build mutant-killing robots that there are any kind of protections for mutant-based employment discrimination, you know?

    This was kind of touched on in the Extraordinary Annual with prison inmates, I guess, but still.

    Also, the interview says the idea behind everyone blaming Cyclops and not Black Bolt is the trend where people read a headline but not the article, and base their opinions on just the headline, facts be damned (if they’re even aware of the facts). If that’s the climate they’re going for, where’s the other side of it? It seems pretty lop-sided toward Cyclops from what I’ve seen. Did I miss something?

  7. Niall says:

    The unfortunate thing is that, as with many of Marvel’s less successful status quo shake-ups, there is potential but the interesting aspects happen off screen. I’d love to read an arc with the story of an outed mutant dealing with the reprucussions of being “saved” by Crystal and co. Likewise, Medusa manipulating the media also has good potential as a subplot.

  8. ChrisV says:

    Yes, surely there would be, at the very least, conspiracy theorists on the internet stating that the Inhumans’ mists are part of an UN plot to sterilize humanity…they might even sympathize slightly with mutants.
    Mutants might be kinda, sorta even like humans. Inhumans sound pretty “nonhuman”, eh?

  9. Chris says:

    you can murder more people with peanuts than you can with hey fever

  10. Niall says:

    Marvel’s next super-event-crossover: Peanuts Versus Hayfever – Charlie Brown’s Super Civil Attacks

  11. Bob says:

    Charles Soule should stay the fuck away from writing mutants.

  12. “Also, the interview says the idea behind everyone blaming Cyclops and not Black Bolt is the trend where people read a headline but not the article, and base their opinions on just the headline, facts be damned (if they’re even aware of the facts).”

    That seems pretty silly, considering one of the major groups we’ve seen blaming Cyclops is the X-Men themselves, who were actually there, or at least are in regular communication with people who were.

  13. Bob says:

    Being obnoxious shitheels treating Sunfire like a villain also doesn’t make any sense. Especially considering that Magik was there too. Does she hate him due to her own complicity?

  14. Nu-D says:

    Alchemy, of all people – you know, the kid who can change one substance into another, he was in a couple of issues of Excalibur back in the day

    I don’t know if he was ever in Excalibur, but his origin was in X-Factor v.1 #41-42.

  15. Paul says:

    So he was. But yes, he was in Excalibur too – in one of the Scott Lobdell issues, I think.

  16. Manu says:

    Just read that Charles Soule interview.

    Wow, that was bad. Almost Chuck Austen-level bad.

  17. Taibak says:

    Alchemy was definitely in Excalibur. Volume 1, issue 57, Written by Scott Lobdell, drawn by Joe Madureira, made all the more disappointing because it came right after a string of Alan Davis issues.

    Really, the only high point of the issue was that it was the first time anyone in Excalibur had met any of the X-Men in person since the Mutant Massacre.

  18. Nu-D says:

    Oh the Lobdell years, when the X-Men franchise was dead on its feet and nobody noticed.

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