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Jan 5

X-Men #10-15

Posted on Tuesday, January 5, 2021 by Paul in x-axis

X-MEN vol 5 #10-15
by Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu, Mahmud Asrar & Sunny Gho

As with Excalibur, I’m including the “X of Swords” issues here, because that crossover was central to X-Men in a way that it wasn’t for most of the titles. And with that arc, we get to the first major turning point in Hickman’s overreaching plot, with Arakko returning to Earth.

This is a crossover-heavy bunch of issues. Not only does it include three chapters of “X of Swords”, but issues #10 and #11 are tie-ins to Empyre. However, those are a very different affair; Empyre is completely peripheral to X-Men. Both of those issues use the tie-in sensibly enough – they just treat it as a readymade alien invasion that doesn’t call for further explanation, and use that as a backdrop for their own stories.

It’s tempting to say that, nonetheless, it makes for a scattershot set of stories. But that’s not really to do with Empyre. The format of Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men is decidedly scattershot anyway. On the one hand, his run is built around grand large-scale plots and a sense that everything feeds into something bigger. On the other, it skips from topic to topic from issue to issue, without much in the way of issue to issue continuity. So nothing in these issues picks up on, say, Mystique’s anger about Destiny (from issue #6), or Nightcrawler’s new religion (from issue #7), or the Brood (from issues #8-9). It’s a curious mixture of the one-off and the long-term without much middle ground.

And yet that big picture is essential to the individual issues, since they wouldn’t have much weight without it. Issue #10 is an Empyre crossover because it happens to involve Vulcan dealing with the Cotati landing party on the moon, but the main point of it is to explain how he came back from the dead, and the setting up of a subplot about his manipulation by yet more strange aliens. It’s not a hugely satisfying issue, since it boils down to cryptic hints about the weird causes of Vulcan’s mental health problems, none of which is particularly easy to identify with. But it does show off Leinil Francis Yu’s art in its best light. Alien plant people, strange jungles on the moon, and Krakoan architecture all play well to the brittle feel of his work.

Issue #11 is an even more rudimentary tie-in, since the point of the issue is really to have Exodus sing the praises of Magneto for the benefit of an audience of mutant children. For that purpose, Exodus needs to tell the story of how Magneto helped to defeat an invasion; any invasion would have done, and Empyre helpfully provides one that lets the story skip over the “why” and get to the meat of it.

I like this issue. One of the more intriguing features of the Krakoan era is the tension between, on the one hand, portraying it as a paradise and home for the long-suffering mutants who deserve the upper hand that they’ve finally acquired; and, on the other, the repeated suggestions that all is not quite right here, that it’s a cultlike society with an unearned sense of moral superiority based on physical power, and that some very questionable people (such as Exodus) have an awful lot more influence than you might be comfortable with. Exodus’ story is very simple, but done with a nagging sense that Exodus is building up his idol’s role in a way that isn’t entirely accurate. It’s also got a gleefully absurd sequence of Magneto dropping satellites on his opponent, which Yu pulls off nicely.

And then we get to Arakko. Is Arakko interesting? Up to a point. It clearly figures into Hickman’s grand design, and I’m more interested in it with hindsight now that I can see where it’s going. Arakko as a dark Krakoa fighting demons in a hell dimension is not very interesting to me. But that’s not something that Hickman ever really wrote; we’ve heard a lot about it, but we saw very little of it. Arakko has already fallen to Amenth by the time we first get to see it. And with the end of “X of Swords” it’s relocated back to Earth, there to create an awkward contrast with the naive souls on Krakoa. That’s much more interesting to me, and viewing all this as necessary set-up to get to that point, it works much better.

Nonetheless… issue #12 is Summoner’s tale of the history of Arakko and Amenth, and even as a condensed history of the place, it’s a bit of a drag. More to the point, it’s evidently intended as a companion piece for issue #14, in which Genesis gives her own account of the history of Arakko. This turns out to be a reprint of most of issue #12, except with new lettering.

This really, really doesn’t work. I’m not completely averse to the gimmick. But if you’re going to sell people the same issue twice – especially so close together – the second one really needs to put a clever new spin on the first. Reading the same art with different narrative needs to feel like it’s adding something. That simply doesn’t happen here.

From the look of it, Summoner is meant to be putting a questionable spin on events in order to manipulate Apocalypse. But there are all sorts of problems with that. Apocalypse is already bound and determined to return to Arakko – it’s been his entire motivation throughout Excalibur – so Summoner’s lies neither motivate him nor seem to make any real difference to his behaviour when he gets there. And Genesis’ version of the tale isn’t much different from Summoner’s. There are changes, but they’re not very substantial ones. It’s mostly just repetition, and that makes the re-use of art annoying.

Issue #13, although it’s a chapter of “X of Swords”, is set around another flashback to Arakko’s back story, which is trying to build up Apocalypse’s history with Genesis and the circumstances in which they were separated. This one does at least offer significant new information, but my interest in it is more as back story for Arakko than as a story in its own right.

All this material is meant to be setting up Apocalypse and Genesis’ relationship so as to give it weight when he gets to be reunited with her, albeit in Amenth, at the end of the crossover. It’s only partially successful in that. It’s convincing when it comes to Apocalypse’s feelings for her, and selling the idea that this former A-list villain was somewhat overshadowed by her back in the day. What it doesn’t do is make Genesis herself into a particularly well developed character, let alone the Annihilation personality that controls her. It’s enough to make the ending work, but it feels like we needed to know Genesis better – she doesn’t even get that much to do during the rest of the crossover.

The other big moment comes in issue #15 when Cyclops re-forms the X-Men. Rather than go for the obvious big moment, Hickman plays it in reverse by never formally revealing up to this point that the X-Men had disbanded in the first place. I’m not convinced this was the right call. It depends on you registering the X-Men as an absence while on Krakoa, and yes, in a sense we’ve seen them fade into the wider Krakoan structure. But the X-Men drifted long ago into being an umbrella term for anyone who was hanging around at the Mansion and helping to teach the kids. So there’s nothing really very new about the idea that they’ve ceased to exist. Their formal existence as a team, rather than as a vague category, has been intermittent at best for 15 years or more. Revealing it as a feature of Krakoa doesn’t work.

But as tends to be the case with Hickman’s run, my doubts about the details are outweighed by the bigger picture. I like where we’ve ended up with Arakko and I see a lot of potential in what happens with them now. What isn’t quite convincing as an immediate story is more persuasive in the longer term as set-up.

Bring on the comments

  1. Andrew says:

    The point you raise about the drifting of the X-men from being a set team into a loose category is something I generally tie to the Matt Fraction era or even earlier to the Ed Brubaker period.

    There were still fairly strongly set team line-ups as late as the Whedon run (Which more or less kept it’s set cast for the whole run) but once you get into the Brubaker/Fraction era and the move to San Francisco, the cast starts to balloon enormously and the line-up on any given storyline was very fluid.

    Also, it led to one of the repeated problems of the pre-Hickman era of the Xbooks launching a new comic with a six-issue gathering of the team storyline, only for that comic to either be cancelled, looped into the next crossover etc and have all of the events of that first storyline be rendered moot or irrelevant almost immediately.

  2. Diana Kingston-Gabai says:

    Seriously, can someone kill Moira already? I’m so damned *bored* of all this. Bring on the reboot!

  3. Mikey says:

    So, wait, is Apocalype in Amenth currently? Or is he on Arrako, on Earth, with all those mutants?

    Are we done with Amenth? Pretty please!?

  4. Chris V says:

    Apocalypse has to stay behind on Amenth. It was the deal.
    Genesis got to choose one member of Krakoa to leave behind in Amenth, and Krakoa got to choose one being for Krakoa to take with them.
    Genesis chose Apocalypse, and Apicalypse chose Arakko on behalf of Krakoa.
    Unfortunately (for the reader), that also meant a bunch of ancient mutants coming with Arakko as part of the deal.
    Apocalypse is currently written out of the stories.
    We are probably supposed to read that as a bad omen for Moira, since Apocalypse was apparently a very big deal for her plan.
    I’m sure Apocalypse and the original Horsemen are going to return at some point.

  5. the new kid says:

    What I’ve read of the current Krakoa era is kinda more interesting than entertaining. Kinda waiting to see where it all goes.

  6. Si says:

    It’s not just the X-Men that have a nebulous roster of course. Who are the Avengers right now? I read it regularly on Unlimited, and I only have a vague idea. Who are the Champions? Last issue that came out seemed to have about 30 characters. Even Guardians of the Galaxy keeps changing.

    Maybe the idea is that it’s easier to make movies and cartoons if they can pick and choose which members they want. It causes real trouble with identity though. See also constant costume changes.

  7. Uncanny X-Ben says:


    Iron Man
    Capt Marvel
    Ghost Rider

    It’s actually been very stable for the Aaron run.

  8. Thom H. says:

    Expecting the audience to figure out that the X-Men had been disbanded while they’re reading a book called “X-Men” is not quite reasonable.

    Maybe they should have called the book “Krakoa” or “All the Mutants” or something.

  9. Joseph S. says:

    A mixed bag perhaps, but the issues with Cyclops and Jean confronting the council, during and after X of Swords, contain some of the best scenes Hickman has written since Moira X explained to Charles that not changing wasn’t a compliment. This works for me in t he same way Ewing’s Hulk works. They make use of continuity in service of a new story, reconfiguring past perspectives on the characters while simultaneously making a meta intervention. (Not what I was referring to but: Look at how resurrection functions in both books. Takes a practical business matter—keeping valuable IP in circulation—into serious story fodder.)

  10. Chris V says:

    Thom-They probably should have called the book House of X to continue the momentum started with House/Powers.
    The title obviously for marketing reasons. You need your flagship mutant title to be called X-Men, in order to attract fans.
    A book called X-Men is going to sell better than one called Krakoa.
    In this case, House of X would have served the same purpose.

  11. JCG says:

    Yeah, I had no idea the X-Men were supposed to be disbanded, so this revelation would have fallen a bit flat had I been reading the book.

  12. Thom H. says:

    @Chris V: “House of Summers” or simply “Cyclops” would more accurately summarize the contents, but I get your point.

    “House of X” and “X-Men” both have brand recognition and selling power. But choosing one of those titles is all the more reason to explicitly state that the team has been disbanded.

  13. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    This is not related but – Marvel announced today what the Spurrier x-book will be. It’s called Way of X, it stars Nightcrawler with Blink, Pixie and Dr Nemesis set to appear as well.

    Spurrier says that it ‘starts with the mutant religion but is not really about it’.

    Issue one comes out in April.

    A little more detail can be found here:

  14. Chris says:

    I still love my “Uncanny X-Men” idea

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