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Jul 28

X-Men vol 6 #6-12

Posted on Thursday, July 28, 2022 by Paul in x-axis

X-MEN vol 6 #6-12
Writer: Gerry Duggan
Artist: Pepe Larraz (#6-7  & #11-12), Javier Pina (#8 & #10), C F Villa (#9)
Colourist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Design: Tom Muller
Editor: Jordan D White

There’s something about this book that doesn’t click for me. It’s certainly not the art, which is excellent. Pepe Larraz, the book’s primary artist, is just excellent. He makes Cyclops look like Superman while doing completely banal cat-rescuing; that Captain Krakoa costume is just ludicrous enough for the idea to work. The Martian landscapes are great; the detail in Dr Stasis’s lair is perfect.

True, he only draws four of these seven issues, but the other artists keep the book looking consistent; holding on to the same colourist obviously helps. Javier Pina delivers a joyfully ludicrous MODOK; CF Villa does a solid job on a relatively non-visual issue of meetings. It’s a good-looking book with a classic superhero feel that mirrors what Duggan’s X-Men are apparently trying to do – re-establish the X-Men as proper superheroes, in order to be cultural ambassadors from the isolationist nation of Krakoa to the outside world.

And I like that as a direction, too. The mutants have been hiding away on their utopian island; Cyclops thinks that’s an overcorrection and wants to engage more with humanity. Fair enough. And it does feed into one of the major plot threads, which is Cyclops wavering about whether to be open about resurrection. True, it’s a bit of a stretch to think that the Krakoans ever thought they could keep this quiet; other books have suggested that Xavier just wanted to hold off the inevitable for a bit, but that’s not really the way the debate is portrayed in X-Men itself.

And by the nature of the Marvel Universe, it’s incredibly difficult to set up the idea that a character died too publicly for his return to be explained. Nothing is beyond explanation in the Marvel Universe. The MU public are as jawdroppingly gullible as the plot demands, so you have to really stretch the genre rules to make this idea work. But if you can get past that, the idea is sound. Scott is forced into ludicrous contortions in an attempt to preserve the secret, which ends up just compounding his desire to come clean about everything. Dr Stasis is trying to engineer a situation where the mutants stage a cover-up that will rebound on them when it’s exposed, and the Quiet Council are going to fall for it, but Scott – the voice of traditional heroism on Krakoa – does the right thing. That’s all fine, and it fits in with the earlier suggestion that Scott was establishing a moral authority to compete with the Quiet Council. That remains very much a background note in this series, but it’s there.

Still, there’s something not quite working. Perhaps it’s the fact that the book feels a bit semi-detached from the rest of the line. They’re in New York, after all. The Orchis threads are obviously linked – the reveal of Dr Stasis is a good moment – but MODOK and Gameworld feel random. Gameworld in particular falls flat for me. It’s a vehicle to throw some random attacks at the X-Men in the early issues of the series, but it recedes into the background for most of this period only to come back for the end-of-year climax. And Gameworld is, well, silly. It’s an alien casino where the ultra-rich bet on the annihilation of entire planets.

Duggan tells us outright in issue #11 that it’s “capitalism’s final form” – but it’s way too over the top for that. My problem isn’t with the idea that if there was a demand for such a thing, capitalism would serve it. My problem is with the idea that there’s a demand for it in the first place, unless you want to cheat and play the “aliens can have whatever attitudes we like” card. I just don’t buy it as a ramped-up version of anything. Which would be okay if it was basically a gag, but it’s given too much prominence for that – and Duggan seems to want stopping Gameworld to be the way that Jean atones for Phoenix. And… you can’t atone for genocide by beating a comedy villain, you know?

I don’t think that’s the main thing either, though. I think what’s really missing from this book is a sense of the team as a team. Other than Scott and Jean, they feel like a bunch of arbitrarily-selected characters, each going about their own lives with little intersection. It feels like most of them could be swapped out with zero impact on the plot, and probably without the rest of the cast noticing. Synch and Wolverine have their subplot, but nothing much comes of it. Sunfire, Rogue and Polaris don’t do much of anything, and to the extent that they do have arcs of their own, they play out in isolation from one another.

Despite that, the book behaves at the end of the year as if everyone’s been on a journey together. And I’m not feeling that. It’s a disjointed book which cuts back and forth between assorted characters and stories but never makes me feel like they have much to do with one another. It’s just different stuff sharing a book. There’s a cast, but is there really a team?

I’m maybe more optimistic about the second year, which seems to have a team more obviously designed to interact with one another. And now we’ve got to the stage of Scott going against the Quiet Council’s orders, perhaps we can start doing more with that thread, which does interest me. But this first year is less than the sum of its parts.

Bring on the comments

  1. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    Yeah I’m not confident anything about this book will change with the new cast.

    Marauders had the same problems.

  2. Diana says:

    I mean… if they feel like a bunch of arbitrarily-selected characters, it’s probably because they were. I don’t know to what extent fan votes actually affected the team roster (because it would be perfectly in character for Marvel to run an “election” and then tweak the outcome to their liking), but quelle surprise the end result is that the pieces don’t fit together, no?

  3. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with the roster that prevents the book from having any unity or deep interaction.

    That’s just the writing.

    Duggan could have done something more with the Laura/Synch stuff besides wave at it in passing.

    He just didn’t.

    He could have given Sunfire a role in the cast, he just didn’t.

    This was a Cyclops book with Jean and Synch as his supporting cast, like Marauders was a Kitty book with Shaw and Emma as supporting cast.

    It also has the same superficial rah rah moments that aren’t really supported by anything in the story.

  4. Chris V says:

    Diana-Fans only select the final member of the team each year. Last year, they went with Polaris. This year, they chose Firestar. Fans aren’t selecting the entire team roster.

  5. Salomé H. says:

    X-Ben: I completely agree. There are loads of stories to tell with these characters, and ways of imagining how they might interact and understand one another. But Duggan seemingly departed from an inexplicable decision to do no character work whatsoever. I think that’s why the book falls so completely flat, despite having lots in its favour: it’s just polished blockbuster fluff.

  6. Bengt says:

    Changing the team every 12 issues probably doesn’t help. It creates additional deadlines for stories and competition between big super hero moments and character stuff.

    I haven’t read this series so I don’t know if this comes across but the extreme capitalism can work. Capitalism is all about concentrating wealth and power which causes extreme inequalities in material conditions. So normal people having their planets blow up from the whims and games of the ultra rich while the rich are safe somewhere. But you would need to at least allude to how the wealthy live and how safe it is there for that to work.

  7. Loz says:

    This is such an easy-to-ignore book at the moment. I’m a bit behind in my reading at the moment so this might be addressed, but if the Hellfire Gala is a yearly event then X-Men feels like it takes place over a few weeks and the team didn’t really have much to do. The plotline with the aliens seemed to be Mojoworld without the TV aspect and Captain Krakoa was a story of maybe two issues stretched out way too far.

  8. Omar Karindu says:

    Bengt said: I haven’t read this series so I don’t know if this comes across but the extreme capitalism can work. Capitalism is all about concentrating wealth and power which causes extreme inequalities in material conditions. So normal people having their planets blow up from the whims and games of the ultra rich while the rich are safe somewhere. But you would need to at least allude to how the wealthy live and how safe it is there for that to work.

    Even then, making the allegory work would probably mean ditching the Mojo elements, since those are about mocking media. Yes, the “gangster running a casino” thing is probably supposed to be the actual metaphor, with Cordyceps Jones as evil finance bro. But betting on whether a menacer destroys another planet kind of wrecks the rest of the intended allegory.

    If Gameworld is supposed to work as a criticism of hypercapitalism, surely the destruction of the other planets would have to be more of a willfully ignored byproduct of how the rich are getting rich, not the direct source of their idle amusement.

    The amusements would probably have to be played as a distraction aimed at the people being destroyed. Or perhaps the menaces sent to backwater worlds could be the product, like a planet that produces superpowered threats but ends up having to dump the unstable ones or one whose industrial processes create lots of “origin stories” resulting in insane, world-destroying superbeings who have to be dumped on other people’s worlds.

    At that point, though, the whole thing would probably seem like Marvel spoofing Marvel.

  9. Mike Loughlin says:

    I think issues 11 & 12 would have worked better as issues 4 & 5. Get the Gameworld stuff out of the way early in order to give each character a cool moment and show what the team can do against a big threat. Replace the Nightmare issue with a story of the team defending NYC from a threat visible to the public. Then, have issues 6-10 be about the threats of Orchis and Dr. Stasis. Weave the story of that billionaire guy throughout the series, have him be the big bad for the last two issues (maybe allied w/ Orchis, maybe as a self-made tech mogul trying to show the world that a rugged individualist is better than a bunch of mutants). As a result of that battle and the outing of the resurrection protocols, some X-Men decide to quit. Cyclops resolves to rebuild the team.

    None of my re-edit deals with the lack of characterization throughout the series, but I think the plotting would work better. This X-Men series wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t as good as it should have been.

  10. JohanL says:

    It’s wild that this is the *most* demand for Krakoan democracy (as opposed to their self-perpetuating Kratokratic Oligarchy) that we have yet to see.

  11. Mark Coale says:

    I’ve always preferred the old school DC team philosophy: if you’re a member, you’re a member, you just might not be in this issues story.

  12. K says:

    Paul’s review makes it easy to sum up the difference between different views on capitalism here.

    Paul’s view is that it doesn’t make sense to have alien comedy villains be part of capitalism… and the view represented in this book is that capitalism in the real world is nothing but alien comedy villains already.

  13. YLu says:

    It seems clear to me that Duggan is going for a JLA/Authority-esque “big spectacle, light characterization” approach to super-team books here. I doubt the character work is going to thicken in year two (unless he -wants- to do a 180, which maybe he does given the deliberately tumultuous new roster).

    Placing bets on disasters and crises is essentially what the rich already do.

  14. Luis Dantas says:

    Duggan’s “X-Men” book has not been light on characterization so much as it has been actively avoiding it.

    It is a very noncommitted book that does indeed remind one at times of stereotypical old school JLA. Down to the annual events and the apparent mission to carefully balance the roles of dutiful showcase and guide to the mutantverse.

    I wonder if that was not a deliberate choice; a stalling tactic of sorts while the important decisions about the post-Hickman Krakoa were being settled secretly in the background.

    It may have been a correct and necessary choice; it is commercially unwise to go through large periods of time without an obvious entry point to the X-Books for those who are not well versed in the current continuity.

    Hickman’s period lacked such an entry point and may in fairness be said to have neglected that consideration or even avoided it entirely, perhaps for effect. It had an obvious candidate in the book named simply “X-Men”, written by Hickman himself. But while other X-Books of that time often had unwelcoming premises and names, that volume of X-Men was remarkably ill-suited to a central role. At times it seemed to insist on being hostile to new readers and to actively avoid starting its own plots or following up on its own previous issues. It reads a lot like “X-Men Unlimited” with a single story per issue; informed by the core X-Books of the time, but it was not trying to be one of those core books. Duggan’s run is the opposite and has therefore entirely different shortcomings and flaws. Hickman’s run had weighty events but was hostile to casual readers. Duggan’s welcomes casual readers but does not have a lot of meaningful events to speak of. It is a showcase, and it is determined not to overstep the boundaries of that role.

  15. Paul says:

    @K: Not exactly my point. My point is that it’s one thing to say that capitalism is indifferent to the damage it causes, and another to say that there’s a CONSUMER demand for mass murder. Put in real world terms, commercially produced snuff films don’t exist, not because there wouldn’t be criminals willing to meet the demand, but because there’s no demand for them to meet in the first place.

  16. Mike Loughlin says:

    I don’t think Duggan was avoiding characterization exactly, but he didn’t write the X-Men as having much character beyond “good,” “determined to do good,” and “snarky.” Compare the character-focused issues of this X-Men run with the character-focused issues of Immortal X-Men. We get a thorough sense of Mr. Sinister, Destiny, Emma Frost, and Hope beyond their levels of heroism and/or snark level.

  17. Thomas Williams says:

    This book was sold as the big action superhero book of the mutant line but had to take a back seat to Inferno. When Inferno was done we are in the midst of a small scale big consequences story about mutant resurrection and Immortal looks to be the book anchoring the mutant line. I’m baffled by the decisions being made at this point.

    oops, I meant Inferno and x lives/x deaths

  18. Miyamoris says:

    @Luis Dantas, I think you make a fair point about this book being more suitable as a entry point than many others in the line; at the same time, I’m not sure some of the flaws present here are inherent to the role it is filling.

    With something like a “a cultural embassadors X-men team in New York” concept, you could still do some worldbuilding on how people outside Krakoa – not only humans but even mutants that chose to not live there – see the new mutant nation, even with an episodic structure. And yet this book never gets even close of that.

  19. Mark says:

    Marvel’s done much better takes on ‘final-form’ capitalism than this. Roxxon in Mighty Thor, for example

    Gameworld isn’t capitalism at all, it’s just barbarism — and that has existed through a wide variety of economic systems.

    If they wanted to put a capital spin on it, have the bad guys export the planet’s population before they destroy it, then relocate them to poorly maintained apartments with no rent control.

  20. Josie says:

    “Duggan is going for a JLA/Authority-esque “big spectacle, light characterization” approach”

    JLA wasn’t light on characterization. Under Morrison, we got entire arcs with Kyle Rayner, Huntress, Tomorrow Woman, Conner Hawke, and more. JLA was about the characters. The Authority was the book about explosions.

  21. YLu says:

    “JLA wasn’t light on characterization. Under Morrison, we got entire arcs with Kyle Rayner, Huntress, Tomorrow Woman, Conner Hawke, and more.”

    It was peppered with nice character -moments- but had almost nothing in the way of character arcs.

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