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Apr 7

Marauders #1-9

Posted on Tuesday, April 7, 2020 by Paul in x-axis

Ah, my favourite.

If X-Men is carried by the promise of future gratification when the big picture starts to pay off, Marauders is the X-book that delivers the most entertainment here and now. In some ways it’s the most traditional X-book of the current line – Chris Claremont always liked writing the sort of story that characters could describe with a straight face as a “caper”.

On paper, the premise of Marauders didn’t sound all that enticing. A vaguely pirate-themed book about, er, pharmaceutical smuggling. It didn’t exactly leap off the page. But it turns out to be the most consistently fun of the current titles. Probably because there isn’t all that much smuggling in it. Or rather, we’re not expected to get all that interested in the mechanics of flower distribution.

Instead, the Marauders turn out to be an erratic selection of characters sailing around the seas, rescuing mutants who can’t get to a convenient gate, beating up bad guys, and pausing rather too frequently to get completely wasted. They come across as an erratic bunch who are relishing the new status quo that puts them on top for a change. Marauders isn’t brooding like Fallen Angels, or violent like X-Force, nor is it overly prone to people dancing around Krakoan groves. On the surface, it’s the book for characters who are just enjoying their new status quo.

So Gerry Duggan’s script keeps up the pace, throws in the odd wild idea like Yellowjacket infiltrating Krakoa by getting himself injected into Pyro, and gives plenty of opportunities to see the stars actually winning. Which is something we don’t see all that often in the X-books, when you stop to think about it. The Marauders are not the plucky underdogs who won’t give up. They win, quite a lot.

Matteo Lolli’s art is a good fit for all this – bright colours, clean lines, not leaning too excessively into the pirate theme. At the same time, though, there’s enough to suggest that all is not entirely well beneath the surface of the Marauders, whether in terms of what the team themselves are thinking, or the scheming going on within Krakoa. For once, the Marauders’ surprisingly decent win-loss record helps to lull us into a false sense of security for when Kitty gets herself killed.

After all… they’re called the Marauders, a name which has tons of connotations for the X-Men, none of them remotely positive. So there’s something a little bit weird about this team from the outset. And Duggan is quite subtle about which members of the team he chooses to play up; sensible characters like Storm, Iceman and Bishop are on this team, but it’s the newly swashbuckling Kate who gets more of the page time, and the crazed Pyro burning everything in sight who helps to set the tone for the whole thing.

In fact, despite the title, this isn’t so much a book about the Marauders at all. The focus of this book is far more on the Hellfire Club and the rivalry between its various wings. It’s far more interested in Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw than it is in Storm. Really, the first arc plays as a Kate Pryde series with an extended supporting cast – which makes it all the more effective when she’s taken off the board.

The undercurrent here is that Kate doesn’t fit in on Krakoa, and she’s taken on some nastily self-destructive tendencies. For reasons yet to be determined, Kate can’t use the Krakoan gates, and the resurrection thing doesn’t seem to work for her either. (I mean, we all know she’s coming back, but that’s the claim.) The gates are the bigger thing at first, though. They’re an essential part of the Krakoan set up, and for whatever reason, Kate isn’t invited. So while she’s out and about doing her pirate thing for Krakoa, she also feels excluded from the new mutant society, or at least like a second class citizen. Her new attitude isn’t quite so celebratory after all.

Nor does the book cross the line too readily into silliness. That may not be immediately apparent when you see that the kid Hellfire Club from Wolverine and the X-Men have been brought back as the main villains. They were designed for a book that was frequently very silly indeed, and so they were divisively silly characters in their own right. I always hated them. Duggan is using them, true, but he’s dialled them back just a little to make them work in a more normal story. Really he’s just playing the original idea straight, and letting them be a bit more convincing as evil prodigies. You still probably wouldn’t use them if it wasn’t for their symbolic value as a rival Hellfire Club. But he’s made them work, which is something I wouldn’t have expected.

There’s plenty in Marauders that doesn’t really make sense on analysis. Given what we’re told about Krakoa’s massive global impact, are these three boats really meant to be enough? Why does everyone assume that just because Kate can’t use the gates, there’s going to be some issue with the resurrection protocols? (It turns out they’re right, but they don’t have any particular reason to do so.) Why is Pyro now a drunken lunatic getting facial tattoos, and why doesn’t anyone stop him? He was never remotely like this before.

My biggest problem is probably the vague, arbitrary rules about how the Hellfire Club actually works, which seem to be made up on the fly – who actually decides on the Red Queen’s appointment and why can Emma outvote Sebastian? Plus, it bears no resemblance to anything we’ve seen in the Hellfire Club before, particularly with the three-colour set-up. Maybe it’s the fact that the Hellfire Club characters are acting as if everyone knows these rules, which have been in place all along – it’s not easily attributable to the Krakoan status quo change. And this stuff is important to the politicking, which means it’s important to the plot.

But I’m willing to look past these things because Marauders works so well on its own terms – which are at least internally consistent. There’s a sense of reckless abandon about this book, where the heroes are winning for a change, but in a way that feels like it could go horrendously wrong at any minute. As a standalone title, it’s the most satisfying of the current X-books.

Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    I’ve given up thinking that there’s anything ominous about the group taking up the name Marauders either.
    I’m guessing it’s a corporate move to renew copyright on the name Marauders.
    Probably some Marvel bigwig thought it would be cute too, since the title plays in to the pirate theme.
    Then, Duggan was just stuck trying to write around the fact that Kitty used the name of a mutant deathsquad, which nearly killed her and her boyfriend.
    So, there’s some hand waving on Duggan’s part.

  2. Andrew says:

    This book has been lots of fun.

    And yeah the internal machinations between the Hellfire Club members and the East India Company thing have been by far the most interesting part of it so far.

  3. Evilgus says:

    I’m really enjoying Marauders – it feels firmly character based (and in-character), as opposed to the other X-titles.

    Kitty herself can have a temper and be petulant. This plays to that, contrasted with the fact we know she’s a hero. And the dynamics of her against Storm and Emma as two female mentors on different sides of the coin play nicely for nostalgia purposes. Kitty as viewpoint also works for the reader who thinks something is rotten with the state of Krakoa.

    Bishop fits nicely as the straight man for the more humourous tone, and Iceman as more obvious levity (and a close friend of Kitty’s, from recent stories). The only odd one out is Pyro who I always thought was a bit more erudite than currently portrayed. But maybe that’s editorially mandated, to get a traditional villain on each team/links to Mystique and Destiny further down the line?

    And I love the kinetic art. Matteo Lolli does a fantastic Kitty & cute Lockheed, and serious Bishop too.

    My main criticism is the set up – why the need for boats when we have hypersonic jets? – but I’ll accept it for thematic purposes about islands and naval traval.

  4. ASV says:

    This book works fine and is enjoyable on its own, but there are an estimated ~200K mutants in the world, exactly one of them can’t use the gates, and the only person who can talk to Krakoa is one of that person’s best friends. It’s difficult to suspend disbelief on everybody just shrugging over this.

  5. Kenny Norman says:

    This book is absolutely beautiful, and far more fun than I expected. Good art, good cast, and good interactions between them.

  6. Drew says:

    “The only odd one out is Pyro who I always thought was a bit more erudite than currently portrayed.”

    Well, he is a former journalist and author of numerous bestselling (albeit critically panned) novels, including Gothic romances. Of course, writers aren’t always the most stable (especially after beating death), and one could argue he’s leaning into the whole “gonzo journalism” thing…

    I *would* love to see a minor plotline where Pyro tries to collect back royalties on all his books since his death, or writes a new series starring thinly-veiled analogues of the Marauders, or something. Just seems like a shame to waste that interesting backstory. (Non-canon, of course, but I remember one of the old X-Men novels had one of the Acolytes — Unuscione, I think — fawning over meeting him and asking when his next book would be out.)

  7. Ben says:

    While I don’t think it’s bad, I don’t think it’s particularly good either.

    I don’t like that it’s not very much about the stated premise.

    I don’t like that’s it’s a Kitty book where everyone else just kind of stands around.

    Kitty can’t go through a portal, so now she’s a drunk ultraviolent pirate? Pyro is a goofy maniac?

    The Kid Hellfire Club played straight isn’t interesting. They’re just little adults.

  8. Chris V says:

    I agree with Ben. I was more interested in the series because of its stated premise. It would have been something very different for the X-universe.
    It’s often felt like most writers don’t really want to write about a different status quo with Krakoa, they want to just write the typical X-Men stories.
    Only with odd characterization, like making Iceman suddenly willing to torture and maim a helpless human.

  9. Anthony says:

    Nice review as always.

    Not sure I agree with your take on Pyro’s characterization. In fact, I’d argue he’s the most in character of the whole bunch in this book. This is very in line with how Claremont wrote him as part of Freedom Force.

  10. YLu says:

    The book is fun, but maybe I’m just too jaded or frugal or whatever, but that alone isn’t enough to justify continued purchase. Marvel publishes a dozen similarly fun books. And I don’t just mean they’re equally fun but that they offer a near identical style of fun. The same kind of fun beats, the same fun jokes. This is a very typical 2020 Marvel fun book.

    “It’s often felt like most writers don’t really want to write about a different status quo with Krakoa, they want to just write the typical X-Men stories.”

    Though for all I said about the book’s lack of distinctiveness, I don’t agree with this. It’s not doing much with the drug-running stuff, but it *is* doing a lot with other aspects of the new set-up: X-Men living and working alongside their villains, resurrection, the world’s response to mutants as a superpower.

  11. Nu-D says:

    I thought Emma outvotes Shaw because she has money and power, and he doesn’t. I didn’t think it was a “rule.” I thought it was a pure power play. If he argued, she’d get the council to vote him out. She’s more essential and more connected than him…for now.

  12. YLu says:

    Emma can outvote Shaw because technically she didn’t. She made Kate the offer *before* Shaw was reinstated as Black King. As she says in issue 2, “When I was alone on the board, I offered an invitation to take the red and it was accepted.”

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