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Aug 24

Empyre: X-Men

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2020 by Paul in x-axis

by Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, Gerry Duggan, Benjamin Percy, Leah Williams, Vita Ayala, Zeb Wells, Ed Brisson, Matteo Buffagni, Lucas Werneck, Andrea Broccardo & Jorge Melina

There was a time when the X-Men got to sit out line-wide crossovers that didn’t concern them, back when they ruled the roost at Marvel. Innocent times. But this is 2020, and so here we are in the margins of an Avengers / Fantastic Four crossover about alien plants invading. We all know the Marvel event format for these events by now. The actual plot is confined to the core miniseries; there are a few side quests to keep the secondary characters occupied; and then there are books that are just finding something to do against the backdrop of the big event without really having any impact on it. This isn’t the X-Men’s story; we’re in category three.

In fact, there’s an obvious angle for the X-books – they’re all about plant-based technology these days, and here come the plant invaders. So you might expect them to do something with that. But not really, no. Maybe there are plot reasons for saving Krakoa-centred plots for a more core title. Either way, the X-books have opted for the “romp” angle instead, with a kind of jam book.

Take a look at that parade of contributors. Basically, it’s the ongoing writers, plus a variety of pencillers who’ve worked on the X-books in the past, all taking turns on different issues – with Jonathan Hickman writing the start and the end. You can’t easily do a serious story in that style, and they don’t try, at least until the closing beats – instead, we’re going ridiculously over the top with the X-Men, Hordeculture, alien invaders, and millions of mutant zombies. The plot – which isn’t exactly complex – involves the hapless Cotati invaders trying to set up a staging post on the seemingly deserted island of Genosha, only to discover that the Scarlet Witch’s latest attempt to atone for M-Day has led her to raise its slaughtered population from the grave. But not in the form she had in mind.

To be honest, the end result has a common problem with jam stories – it feels like the creators are having a lot more fun than I am. As a story, it’s incredibly slight, with the middle chapters feeling padded, and bits of plot mechanics feel disjointed even then. There’s a subplot with Magik that feels like filler. None of which would matter if it was funnier, mind you.

Your mileage may vary, of course. A lot depends on how you feel about zombie armies (meh). And a lot depends on how funny you find Hordeculture. I don’t actually mind the old ladies as a concept, but at this point they’ve got one joke shared between four characters, and it outstays its welcome pretty rapidly. There’s not much else to them, and even as gimmick villains they need a bit more depth than this, at least if they’re going to stick around for a whole mini. I’m meant to be taking this as all great fun, but it’s just a bit flat.

The final issue changes tone, which kind of works. Much of it is devoted to one of the Genoshan zombies meeting his own resurrected self from Krakoa, for reasons that are never really very clear. The sudden tack into elegy at the very end of issue #4 is frankly weird. But what does come off is the reminder that this whole set-up, however much it’s been played for comedy in the earlier issues, has uncomfortable implications for what’s going on on Krakoa – implications which the book studiously ignores until it’s ready to draw them to your attention.

You might well think this is an odd way to bring Genosha back into the frame. It’s always been an uncomfortable presence in the Krakoa era, a reminder that the mutants have tried island nations before, and it worked out really, really badly. It gets alluded to just often enough to let us know that it hasn’t been overlooked. On Krakoa, it’s the elephant in the room, which may be why they’re so keen to revive the Genoshan dead as part of their programme of resurrection. At the same time, though, the Genoshan massacre was always a little bit over the top, not least because nobody ever seemed to have thought there were anything like that many mutants living in Genosha until the moment they got slaughtered.

But if all the mutants are already resurrected on Krakoa, how come the zombies on Genosha still have their personalities? Are we quite sure the resurrected versions aren’t mere copies? The way the stories are written firmly steers us towards them being the originals – not least because several key characters have been killed and brought back through this device, and it’s hardly likely that they’re going to end the Hickman run by revealing that all the main characters died in act 1. But the rationale for why they’re the same characters, let alone why all the mutants are so unquestioning about it, has always been hazy, and even on Krakoa there’s an acknowledged concern to make sure that they don’t accidentally revive people who are still alive. Because that would demonstrate that the people they’re bringing back are copies and, well…

Moreover, the framing sequence of this series goes out of its way to stress that Wanda’s plan is a disaster, not because she made some sort of technical error, but because it’s fundamentally misconceived. She’s trying to reverse death itself, and that’s such a violation of nature that (we’re told) it’s always going to go horrendously badly. But this is exactly what the X-Men are doing on Krakoa – it’s literally the point of the resurrection gimmick. It’s a glaring warning that it’s all going to go catastrophically wrong.

And tagging that onto the end of a throwaway comedy story – yes, that’s a gear change that I quite like. It gets the point out there without being too heavy handed about it; it’s another piece of reassurance that while these obvious objections to the set-up may not be being addressed right now, they haven’t been forgotten about either.

But that switch would work better if the main part of the series was actually as fun as it clearly means to be. As it is, Empyre: X-Men is an interesting final issue tagged onto an eminently skippable crossover.

Bring on the comments

  1. Tim XP says:

    I’m not sure this is where Hickman will take things, but I’ve had a suspicion since HoXPoX that when and if editorial decides to pull the ripcord on this status quo, they’ll reveal that the original X-Men (or at least most of the major characters) were safely stored away in pods this whole time, willingly or not, just in case Xavier discovered a flaw in the resurrection protocol. It would be a bit of a copout, but if you downloaded all the clones’ memories into their heads via Cerebro backup you’d have just enough wiggle room to argue the stories still “really” happened to them.

  2. Mark Coale says:

    Should I just read Plants v Zombies instead?

  3. Krzysiek Ceran says:


    Ah, the old Jamaica Bay switcheroo.

    I don’t see the editorial making that decision, though. Maybe if it devolves into a Clone Saga-level mess (which I write having never read the Clone Saga, I’m going by the popular opinion).

  4. SanityOrMadness says:

    There’s also Nightcrawler. He was one of the characters killed off in HoXPoX, but there was a whole thing about him not being able to die again, wasn’t there?

  5. Chris V says:

    Or, this is just an issue that Hickman finds to be endlessly fascinating, so he is attempting to work out his thoughts on the matter on the page, and that is why he can’t let it go.

    Anyway, I can’t wait for the Maximum Mutant Clonage Massacre event!

    So, Moira’s plan looks stupider and stupider. She has lived all these lives, attempting to perfect her vision for the future…then, in this current lifetime, she sees her major plan being played out in miniature by Magneto with Genosha.
    Something which never happened in any of her past lives, as she makes a point.
    Yet, she just decides that this idea couldn’t possibly go wrong again, even though this is one of her last attempts to get her plan right. So, she just goes ahead with Krakoa anyway.

  6. Luis Dantas says:

    @Krzysiek Ceran: the Spider-Man Clone Saga _could_ have turned out well under different circunstances. The core idea was certainly decent enough.

    But a lot went wrong, including the editorial pressure towards making the event ever more bombastic and longer lasting and a general sense of shock and drama without a clear direction. I somewhat liked the first few months, but at the end it was a dragging colossus of a ludicrous number of books that hardly even attempted to keep a coherent storyline.

  7. The Other Michael says:

    “they’ll reveal that the original X-Men (or at least most of the major characters) were safely stored away in pods this whole time…”

    And then at some point, this safety batch is freed from their pods, at which point we have multiple teams of X-Men, and neither is sure which is the original team, and which are the clones. A veritable legion, as it were…

    And then we split off the books to follow both batches for a while, with the younger team adopting new costumes and codenames…

    And then we discover that time itself is ending and the universe is about to reboot yet again so old and new must merge…

    And then we get a full on X-Men reboot. A… threeboot, as it were.

    At this point, I don’t know if I’m referring to the time-displaced O5 X-Men, or the Batch SW6 Legion of Super-heroes, so take your pick.

  8. Chris V says:

    Marvel finally solved the problem of too few X-titles and too few popular X-Men characters.
    Thanks to the genius of Hickman.
    Now, Marvel can finally make their entire line solely with X-Men comics.
    Marvel’s sales will finally go back to the early-1990s level now that they have one hundred exact copies of Wolverine. Each one in a different costume! Which Wolverine titles are you going to buy?

  9. Andrew says:

    The Clone Saga is fucking terrible.

    I read bits of it at the time and then read the whole thing in the last decade and it’s a disaster from top to bottom.

    The core idea and the original intent would have been great – a one-year story which would have had a beginning, a middle and and end.

    Unfortunately the sales were great and Marvel basically made it an open-ended thing which dragged out for three and a bit years, got extremely convoluted, kept introducing more and more characters who had little more than a cool name and then they ended it by randomly bringing Norman Osborn back.

    There was a recap thing they put out at the end of it which tried to make some sense of what the hell we’d just been through. What was described in that bore little resemblance to what was actually printed.

    Marvel had an awful habit in the mid-90s of producing absolute shit in high-profile storylines – see Onslaught or The Avengers: The Crossing for other prominent examples. None of them made any goddamn sense.

  10. Luis Dantas says:

    @Chris V: I don’t know how it will be called yet, but word has it that there will be a team book featuring Wolverine, Millie the Model and Misty. Wolverine in a different costume every issue.

  11. Vanja says:

    >it’s hardly likely that they’re going to end the Hickman run by revealing that all the main characters died in act 1
    Pretty sure it ends with Moira dying again and all of this getting written out ala Dan Jurgen’s Thor run

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