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Sep 10

X-Force #23 annotations

Posted on Friday, September 10, 2021 by Paul in Annotations, x-axis

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

X-FORCE vol 6 #23
“The New Tsar”
by Benjamin Percy, Martin Coccolo & Guru-eFX

COVER / PAGE 1: Mikhail Rasputin drives the Cerebro Sword into the Beast’s head. A very symbolic rendering of the attack on Beast’s mind by one of Mikhail’s agents.

PAGES 2-6. The Man With the Peacock Tattoo brings soldiers to Mikhail Rasputin.

Mikhail’s very uneasy alliance with XENO – an alliance of convenience against Krakoa – was established back in issue #12. The artificial red soldiers seen here are the same type of XENO agents previous seen in issues #11-12 and, before that, Wolverine #3. We saw their “nesting doll” schtick in issues #11-12, which is of course a reference to Russian nesting dolls.

PAGE 7. Recap and credits.

PAGES 8-11. A nesting doll enters the Beast’s ear.

As usual in this series, the Beast is doing something both morally dubious and practically unwise. One of the issues with the way Beast is being written here is that he’s not hypercompetent but unethical – which would invite the obvious moral dilemmas about whether the ends justify the means. Rather, he’s both unethical and massively arrogant and incompetent. Then again, that’s not necessarily a problem, depending on where Percy is going with this. Arguably the “ends justify etc” character has been done to death, and if the idea here is to have a character who gets away with far more than he should because too many people assume he’s that character – including himself – then maybe that works.

“There is no crime of which I do not deem myself capable.” This is indeed a quote widely attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), although it’s remarkably difficult to find any source being attributed to it, which makes me more than a little sceptical about it.

“After Xavier died…” When he was assassinated in issue #1.

PAGES 12-13. Mikhail imprisons the Man with the Peacock Tattoo.

“Human and mutant.” The irony here is that Mikhail’s vision of co-operation with the Russian state is, in that respect at least, the traditional statement of Xavier’s dream.

On the other hand, Mikhail seems to be identifying with a very outdated view of Russian-ness. Vladimir Putin’s party is not the Communist Party but United Russia, which is certainly nationalist in tone, but doesn’t go in for Soviet iconography.

The Pale Girl was the villain from the opening arc of Percy’s Wolverine run. Siber is new, as far as I know.

PAGE 14. Data page. Some sort of excerpt from a Kremlin document deeming depowered mutants after M-Day to be a destabilising force, for reasons that are not remotely clear. This must be going back a few years in Marvel Universe terms.

PAGES 15-16. The Beast asks Sage for help.

“I died once already.” Issue #18.

“The anxiety … that someone might try to change me upon my rebirth.” Beast’s narration here is referring in a rather meta way to people who preferred the traditional interpretation of the character (though it’s fair to say that what Percy is doing with him is an extension of something that began with Brian Bendis). Specifically, he’s worried that if he does die, the Five might be prevailed upon to restore him from an earlier back-up, when people actually liked him. It’s certainly possible that this is the ultimate way out of Beast’s storyline and the route towards redemption. The possibility that his radical personality change might suggest that somebody has been tinkering with him already doesn’t seem to occur to him.

In issue #18, Sage told us that the Beast had given clear instructions that he should be killed if his body was compromised, because of the security risk. Obviously, he isn’t doing that here.

PAGES 17-18. More exposition from Mikhail.

“I was supposed to receive a load of Shi’ar logic diamonds. To help power and decrypt the Cerebro sword. But that never came to pass.” The Cerebro sword, made from the Cerebro unit that was damaged in issue #1, still contains at least some data about mutants from the time. Shi’ar logic diamonds are the permanent storage medium for that data. The logic diamonds that Mikhail is referring to are the ones that were delivered during the Hellfire Gala crossover by Shi’ar agents who thought they’d been requested by Emma; we still don’t exactly know who did order them, given that Emma certainly knew nothing about it. Solem would be a reasonable bet, given that he stole the things over in Wolverine.

After that we get a tour of the great cultural achievements of Russia, all of which are fairly obvious choices.

“Vonnegut once said everything you need to know in life can be found in The Brothers Karamazov.” Sort of. It’s an opinion voiced by one of the characters in Slaugherhouse Five.

PAGE 19. Data page. This is written by the same “Летописец” (Chronicler, or Scribe) who’s been shown writing various similar narrative data pages throughout the course of the series. This scene apparently shows Mikhail reading out a speech, presumably written for him by the Chronicler, and enthralling the Russian authorities with its vision of Russian nationalism. It’s not 100% clear whether Chronciler is meant to be some sort of writer of superhumanly convincing material, or whether his power is more to do with altering reality by writing about it. Hopefully the latter, because it’s usually a terrible mistake to give a character the status of “greatest writer error” and then actually show his work on the page.

The Russian history stuff here is… all a bit surface level and Wikipedia, to be honest. It doesn’t convince as a conversation that actual Russian people would have about their own country. For what it’s worth, Mikhail is correct that St Basil’s was built to commemorate a military victory in the Russian-Kazan war.

PAGE 20-22. The Beast calls in Black Tom Cassidy.

“Like in Genosha?” In Empyre: X-Men, Black Tom did indeed send a little miniature version of himself as an avatar to Genosha, to steer the golems that were part of the main force.

PAGES 23-24. Mikhail visits the Chronicler.

The first time we’ve seen him on the page, I think. The text in the foreground is obviously something to do with Piotr Rasputin. I suspect we’re supposed to be able to stick the rest into a Cyrillic keyboard, feed it through Google Translate and work out what it says, but honestly, I couldn’t figure out how to match up the writing here with actual Cyrillic letters, so I gave up. Still, points for getting it hand lettered! Looks better!

PAGE 25. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: INNER PEACE.

PAGES 26-32. The 9/11 anniversary story, “The Four Fives”.


Bring on the comments

  1. CitizenBane says:

    This issue left a bad taste in my mouth. It felt like a lot of Cold War-era Russophobia warmed over for modern sensibilities. I don’t know if Mikhail is actually supposed to be some kind of ardent communist, but it just felt like Percy pulling up a grab bag of anti-Russian tropes. (Communism! The new Tsar! Gulags!). And then you have Peacock Man reciting the familiar sneer about vodka-soaked peasants in a frozen wasteland, reframed a thousand ways over the years in the NYT opinion section.

  2. Paul F says:

    Will you be doing annotations for the digital exclusive X-Men Unlimited book by Hickman and Shalvey?

    No idea if there’s anything in there worth annotating (and it doesn’t really have pages, which might make it harder), but it is Hickman-written.

  3. Alastair says:

    I’m hoping that when beast was resurrected they either accidentally used dark beasts brain patterns or more likely merged both McCoys together. Even good McCoy as been a self righteous know it all since endangered species.

  4. Paul says:

    X-Men Unlimited Infinity Comic #1-2 are canon, but they’re basically an extended action sequence to show off the format. So no, I won’t be annotating them.

  5. Ben Johnston says:

    @CitizenBane — I agree, although that stuff didn’t offend me as much as it just bored me. As Paul noted, it doesn’t really feel like anything here is relevant to modern Russia.

    I assume the Chronicler has reality-altering powers, hence why we didn’t read his speech… we read his account of Mikhail reading it. I don’t know why they’d present it that way otherwise.

    I also assume that he’s the cause of Beast’s personality swap, since Beast found a scrap of paper that just read “Chronicler” in his lab in an earlier issue.

    X-Force continues to have stories I’m interested in reading on paper, but the execution never quite seems to land for me.

  6. Ben Johnston says:

    That was way back in issue #7, in fact.

  7. The Other Michael says:

    Meta-commentary about people preferring the earlier Beast aside…

    I would not be upset if they really did reset Beast to a pre-Bendis (or whoever) stage, because this incompetent, arrogant, unethical, ruthless, dismissive, sociopath is not a character I particularly care for, especially given that I grew up on the Defenders and X-Factor-era Beast.

    Yes, I know that the depiction of Dark Beast from the AoA suggests that the -potential- for evil sadist was there all along under certain circumstances, but I still hate seeing the 616 version slide further and further into outright villainy. So fire up the backups and let’s reset Hank to an earlier, non-corrupted patch already.

  8. Si says:

    In the 60s, scientists were the visionaries of tomorrow. In the 90s, scientists were inscrutable and untrustworthy. In the 20s, scientists are incompetent monsters. It’s not just Beast. It’s not just superheroes. It’s our world today. I’m sure the X-Men creators aren’t even doing it on purpose, they’re just reflecting the zeitgeist.

  9. Si says:

    But who knows, maybe Beast will be reset by the end of this arc into something a bit more like one of his previous incarnations. We can but hope.

  10. Chris V says:

    I believe that Beast as he’s being written in X-Force is actually Benjamin’s commentary on the CIA.
    X-Force is described as Krakoa’s version of the CIA, and that entails a story where some of the characters become morally compromised in the name of a “greater good” while also offering a critique on the incompetence of such organizations as has become more the norm in the 21st century.

  11. Luis Dantas says:

    One difficulty that comes with this genre is that there is usually some amount of protagonism. It is not hard or unusual to apply generous doses of plot immunity to the protagonisms to protect them from reasonable objections to their behavior and goals. That is my main peeve with some characters, including Wolverine: it is just too hard not to see the plot going out of its way to make the protagonist appear admirable, sometimes at direct odds with what is actually shown.

    Maybe this take on Beast offers some measure of criticism to that problem, or at least an alternative view.

    Beast may be a good choice for that story, given the Krakoa setup. He was, after all, the one who brought the early X-Men forward in time in order to underscore how off the rails militant Scott presumably was. Embracing Krakoa now brings questions about his moral integrity. Maybe he is sincerely confused.

  12. Voord 99 says:

    In the 60s, scientists were the visionaries of tomorrow. In the 90s, scientists were inscrutable and untrustworthy. In the 20s, scientists are incompetent monsters. It’s not just Beast. It’s not just superheroes. It’s our world today. I’m sure the X-Men creators aren’t even doing it on purpose, they’re just reflecting the zeitgeist.

    I think this is a very sharp comment. One might wonder about how happy we should be about this at a time when appreciating how indispensable scientific expertise is (while being realistic about the inevitable uncertainties) is really pressingly relevant to matters of life and death. I suspect Si is 100% right about this reflecting the same Zeitgeist that is producing anti-vaxxers.

  13. Chris V says:

    Anti-vaccination has a long history.
    The Nazis (before they came to power) promoted a popular conspiracy theory that the medical practice in Germany was controlled by the Jews and they were using vaccinations as a way to sterilize Aryan males.

    In the United States, minorities remember the American government using them as test subjects for such unethical and immoral projects as the Tuskegee experiments, which causes a justified distrust of a scientific and political establishment.

    Then, there are the New Age and religious fundamentalist movements which have always been disdainful of medical or scientific fields.

    I’d argue that this view of science isn’t a recent trend.
    While the government and popular culture promoted scientific progress as the salvation of the future during the “Space Race”, it was hard to not see it against the backdrop of a seemingly looming nuclear armageddon.
    The science which had once given the world a cure for many diseases seemed more and more to be intertwined with a military-industrial complex which had given the world an atomic bomb dropped twice on the people of Japan.

  14. ASV says:

    I don’t the evidence really supports the idea of an anti-science zeitgeist, but it does support the idea of anti-institution cynicism being on the rise over the last several decades. It so happens that Marvel has a lot of super-scientists characters who could “go bad” in one way or another (Beast, Reed Richards, Tony Stark, etc.), but all of the non-scientist Illuminati members need a broader pattern. We’ve also seen, going back to the foundational grimdark classics of the 80s, any number of “What if Superman was bad?” stories that carry an undertone that is more “crumbling institutions” than “cratering trust in science” (all of Mark Millar’s increasingly fascist bibliography fits here).

  15. Chris V says:

    Tony Stark is also a billionaire corporate CEO don’t forget. One who was created as a beacon of Cold War militarism, no less.
    He was always going to be a problematic character in an industry dominated by liberal writers.

  16. Maxwell's Hammer says:

    Cyrillic ‘cursive’ is notoriously hard to read for foreigners. Just a bunch of loops upon loops. If you could shoot me a picture of the Cyrillic text, I could translate it for you.

  17. Josie says:

    “In the 20s, scientists are incompetent monsters. It’s not just Beast. It’s not just superheroes. It’s our world today.”

    Um wait what. Is this a “plandemic” thing?

  18. Si says:

    You’re not kidding about the Infinity comic being one long fight sequence, one long, nasty fight sequence. I felt a lot more sympathy for that AIM guy who got punched in the face for half an issue than for Wolverine.

    And Wolverine killed a few dozen humans. Guess it’s pit for him.

    By the way, I’m not sure what “plandemic” exactly refers to. I wasn’t referring to covid specifically, but anti-vaccination in general is definitely part of the modern version of the anti-science trend that Beast exemplifies.

  19. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    At least in America, science and logical thinking is falling back into medieval times.

    Education is mocked, science is misunderstood and mistrusted, magical thinking is the norm.

  20. Mike Loughlin says:

    Anti-vax sentiment is not new, but it gained a lot of steam in the early ‘00s when people blamed vaccines and/or their delivery system for the huge increase in cases of autism. Thanks partly to Jenny McCarthy publicly blaming the MMR vaccine for her son’s autism, a significant number of parents refused to vaccinate their children. Multiple scientific studies found no relation between vaccines and autism, but facts that don’t confirm what a person already believes hold little power. Rates of easily avoidable diseases climbed.

    Refusing the COVID vaccines has a different set of root causes, most of them (MUH FREEDOMMMMM!!!!) less reasonable than fear of autism. It’s just depressing to see science denial causing active harm twice (so far) in my lifetime.

  21. Mark Coale says:

    Even before Covid, anti vaxxers were usually blamed/crecited for the upswing in the return to prominence of things like measles and other long-thought contained health issues.

  22. neutrino says:

    Despite the impression given in the media, anti-vaxxers aren’t mostly MAGA types. Only 20% of the vaccine hesitant are Republicans, and only 19% are Republican leaning. The educational group with the greatest proportion of the hesitant are Ph.D holders. The ethnic groups with the greatest proportion are Blacks and Hispanics. Nicki Minaji just poeted a cautionary tweet about her cousin’s friend in Trinidad going impotent after getting his shot.

    As for science and logical thinking, the Smithsonian had an exhibit last year that said they were signs of white supremacy.

  23. Omar Karindu says:

    Nope.Data shows white Americans are still the biggest proportion of unvaccinated Americans.

    From the Austin American Statesman:

    In Texas, 44% of residents who are eligible for the vaccine are unvaccinated — about 10.7 million people. According to vaccination data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, white people make up the largest portion of this total. About 6.2 million white people are unvaccinated, or roughly 53% of the eligible unvaccinated Texans.

    Hispanics make up the second-largest group with 4.7 million people, 44% of eligible unvaccinated Texans, followed by Blacks with 1.8 million people, about 17%, and Asians with 364,000 people, less than 4%.

    The same is true for the nation at large as well. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 57% of unvaccinated people in America are white, while 20% are Hispanic and 13% are Black.

    From the Kaiser Family Foundation:

    At least seven in ten White adults, older adults, Democrats, college graduates, those with serious health conditions, and urban residents say they have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Younger adults (18-29 years old), Republicans, rural residents, and the uninsured still report lower rates of vaccine uptake than other demographic groups. A larger share of Hispanic adults (16%) than Black adults (11%) and White adults (8%) say they want to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated, and at least one fifth of uninsured adults, White Evangelical Christians, rural residents, and 18-29 year-olds say they will “definitely not” get a vaccine.


    A previous KFF analysis examined the demographic groups among the unvaccinated population finding two distinct groups, those who are open to getting a vaccine (“wait and see”) and those who say they will definitely not get a COVID-19 vaccine. The latest KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor finds the key demographic differences between the “wait and see” and the “definitely not” groups still center on racial and ethnic identity and political partisanship. Four in ten of those in the “wait and see” group are people of color, while the most vaccine resistant group, those who say they will “definitely not” get a COVID-19 vaccine, is overwhelmingly made up of White adults (65% of the group compared to 50% of the “wait and see” group). Partisanship also plays a major role with more than half (58%) of the “definitely not” group identifying as Republican or Republican-leaning. In addition, religious identity also plays a role as White Evangelical Christians make up nearly twice the share of the “definitely not” group (32%) as the “wait and see” group.

  24. wwk5d says:

    “Only 20% of the vaccine hesitant are Republicans, and only 19% are Republican leaning”


  25. Col_Fury says:

    re: Nicki Minaji
    Hilariously, Trinidad health officials publicly debunked the story of the swollen balls / impotency thing today.

    oh, what a world we live in now.

  26. neutrino says:

    @Omar Karindu

    Whites are in the majority, so they’d tend to be in the majority of non-vaccinated. The question is whether their numbers are proportional to their percentage of the population, such as Blacks making up 17% of the unvaccinated group as opposed to 13% of the population.


  27. Brent says:

    I’ve had huge problems with the way Percy is worrying Beast. Up until this issue, I assumed he was just unfamiliar with the character outside of Hickman’s Avenger Illuminati storyline (where every character was written like a cold dead robot) or just from reading notes on the character. But it seems quite intentional after reading this issue, so hope we get an explanation of why he’s being written so radically different at some point soon.

    The argument I don’t understand at all is that this is a natural progression from him bringing the past X-Men to the future. The whole reason he did that was in hopes that Scott would see the error of the more violent path he’d chosen. Isn’t that the polar opposite of the character we see here?

  28. Omar Karindu says:

    The question is whether their numbers are proportional to their percentage of the population, such as Blacks making up 17% of the unvaccinated group as opposed to 13% of the population.

    Both here and in your original claim, you shift between “proportion of antivaxxers” and proportion relative to proportion of population.” You use the second to discuss people of color, and the first to discuss vaccine hesitancy among self-defined Republicans.

    These aren’t the same measure, and don’t mean the same thing.

    But even so, only 28% of the population identifies as Republicans in polling, per Gallup research:

    Yet the KFF’s August data, which I linked above, shows that 56% of those who say they will “definitely not” get the vaccine are Republicans. So despite being 28% of the population, republicans make up 58% of the “definitely not” contingent of anti-vaxxers.

    That’s a far greater disproportion than that of Black Americans. So the “proportion” number you are using also suggests that MAGA types are a much bigger issue there.
    More generally, KFF’s data shows that Republicans lag behind Black adults by 11 percentage points in terms of those already vaccinated.

    Both the “total numbers” measure nor the “proportion of adult population” number make it quite clear that Republicans are the most vaccine hesitant group in the country by some measure.

    But I suspect the rest of the site would like to read comments about X-books, not this tangent, so this will be my last contribution on this matter.

  29. Col_Fury says:

    Just because I find this so (deleted) humorous…

    Dr. Fauci has now debunked the swollen balls / impotency thing. AND! the White House has offered a phone call invitation to Nicki Minaj to explain how the vaccine works.

    I mean, every urban legend starts with “something happened to a cousin’s friend, someone I never met”. Why is it never “something happened to my sister”? Or “something happened to my best friend”?

    It boggles my mind. If your toilet is plugged up, everyone calls a plumber. If your power is out, everyone calls an electrician. If your car doesn’t work, everyone calls an auto shop. If there’s a raging pandemic sweeping across the planet, don’t call the people that have been trained in this field for decades, listen to the rando loudmouth on the internet. Or someone’s cousin’s friend.

    Anyway, yes, I agree with others that I hope this plot leads to Beast being reset to ’70s Avengers era Beast.

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