RSS Feed
Jul 31

X-Men Unlimited Infinity Comic #42-43

Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2022 by Paul in x-axis

“Cypher in the Cryptolect”
Writer: Alex Paknadel
Artist: Damian Couceiro
Colourist: Felipe Sobreiro
Letterer: Joe Sabino
Editor: Lauren Amaro

X-Men Unlimited Infinity Comic, by far the longest running of the Infinity books, has settled into a role as a quirky diversion for X-completists. Is that the sort of material that draws people in to Marvel Unlimited? Maybe it is. Maybe the audience for an archive subscription service (albeit one that covers pretty much the entire Marvel line on a three-month lag) is the hardcores and what you need to offer them is something, well, if not essential, at least additive.

So here’s a two-part Cypher story. Doug’s prominent in the Krakoan era but it’s not all that often that he actually gets to do anything – which is fine, since it has more impact when he actually does. Still, this is an actual Cypher story, written by Alex Paknadel, who was also responsible for the recent Maggott arc. Either he likes playing with underused characters, or this is just what’s available on X-Men Unlimited.

The thing with Cypher, and the main reason he doesn’t get many stories, is that his translation powers aren’t what you’d call visual, and don’t naturally lend themselves to more than a supporting role. But if you actually have some ideas about language that you want to talk about, well, Cypher’s your lad.

So Paknadel opens his story with Cypher monologuing about how languages like English and German lent themselves to both art and brutal rabble-rousing because the same ambiguity that enables poetics also makes it possible to manipulate a crowd, or at least justify things to them. I’m not sure I agree with that precisely as Paknadel explains it, but sure, I’ll accept the basic core of that argument: the features of a language that allow it to be used for art are the same ones that allow it to be used for oratory and manipulation.

Cypher tells us that he wants to make Krakoan a perfect language which can’t be twisted for evil ends. At the same time, he wants it to be usable for art. In fact, this story makes it pretty clear that the inhabitants of Krakoa can speak Krakoan, but they don’t. Cypher describes it as a “bureaucratic” language, which Kurt has extended for liturgical purposes… but it’s not a language of self-expression. It feels like Paknadel is skipping a few steps in this argument. After all, surely the point of having Krakoan as a shared language was as part of a nation-building project. If people aren’t using it for art and song, then that’s because they’re not using it, which seems like it strikes at the heart of the whole idea. Then again, though, maybe Cypher doesn’t see it that way – maybe for him it really is a project in creating a perfect artificial language.

Cypher’s solution to this dilemma is to… try and write poetry in Krakoan. If you actually want to, the page of symbols we see can indeed be transliterated into English, and it really is a poem – it seems to be Cypher wondering whether the utopian phase of Krakoa has passed. Nothing in the story turns on that, but bonus points for making it worth the effort of translating.

After this initial phase of linguistic musings, we get to the actual plot, in which a mutant language shows up on Krakoa jumping from host to host. To be clear, what we mean here by “a mutant language” is not “a language used by mutants”, but “a mutant whose power is to become a language”. Apparently, he alters his hosts when they speak his words, and the big threat is that he will somehow manage to spread across the whole population. Visually, this gets represented as hosts glowing with energy from their eyes and mouth, which artist Damien Couceiro makes quite effective, not least because there’s a nice sense of panic in the hosts.

Of course, when Cypher “learns” the language, he’s able to deal with it in a way that nobody else can, and so he can speak to the underlying mutant in a way that no one else can. All this calls for a certain degree of goodwill in the whole concept of mutants – how can you actually have an X-gene when you’re a concept? – but hell, if we’re willing to accept that Malice was still a mutant when she was a disembodied psyche, why not. Cypher’s discussion with Etienne is illustrated against the background of columns random letters tumbling down the screen, a cute effect which gets across the idea that we’re doing something different from just regular telepathy. (I mean, we’re probably not. But the visual helps sell the idea that this is something unique.)

Etienne has come to Krakoa so that he can stop hurting people, and Cypher’s solution is pretty simple: use his powers to document Etienne so that he exists as a written language rather than a spoken one. And we end with Cypher determined to write poetry in Etienne so that his language will, in some sense, live.

This is a rather nice little idea. Whether it has anything much to do with the stuff about the ambiguity of language and the need to perfect Krakoan at the start of the language, I’m not at all convinced. There doesn’t really seem to be much connection between these ideas. But at least they’re two interesting ideas, and this is a pleasant little story.



Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    I did like that Cypher’s poetry was terrible. Too often characters in stories, across all media, pick up a new hobby and are immediately gifted at it.

    One thing though, in his rare appearances in the regular comics, Cypher always seems to be up to something that we’re not shown, an equal yet understated opponent to Mystique, Sinister and Frost. In this comic he’s just a loveable kid living his best life. Which makes me wonder if I read too much into him otherwise.

  2. Chris V says:

    When exactly was this “utopian age” of Krakoa? When Krakoa was being used as a trap for Moira to “cure mutation”, while Xavier and Magneto manipulated everyone else? Ah, the good old days…
    Isn’t the whole point of the Quiet Council keeping the secret of Moira from the end of “Inferno” based on the fact that they explicitly don’t want to reveal to the population that Krakoa was founded on lies and was a failed utopian project at the start?
    Doug was right there for all the revelations.

  3. Si says:

    I imagine Cypher’s talking about the utopian age in regards to the general population. Despite what the comics show, we must assume the bulk of the nation building was done by ordinary citizens forging an identity. So while the elites were faffing about with honey traps and whatnot, ordinary mutants were building communities and common identities. They would have had a utopian phase, which has passed and now they’re settling in to the general utility of day to day life. The time for adopting a new language has also passed, there’s more utility in just speaking English because everyone* already does.

    Again I’m compelled to lament that the focus has been entirely on the A listers, their one bar and five houses. Even a semi-official blog would be welcomed. Such a wasted opportunity.

    *The world being 90% USA, as it is in the comics

  4. The Other Michael says:

    The entire concept of Krakoa developing a language which is telepathically downloaded into the residents’ brains upon arrival is, in itself, fascinating and worth exploring, and I’m sure would give actual linguists much fodder for discussion.

    Setting aside the “basically a one for one translation” that we get on the reader level, what does Krakoan actually look like in practice in the X-Men universe? What is its basis–what language family is it related to, what are sentence structures and grammar and vobaculary like? Who had a hand in creating it (besides Doug) and what thought went into its priorities? What does it sound like? How comprehensive a language is it? How many words does it currently contain? And so on and so forth.

    As Si says above, we never see anyone actually speaking it… we don’t even get characters speaking in brackets to suggest they’re using Krakoan amongst themselves. The wizard formerly known as Apocalypse is perhaps the only one to go so far as to rename himself, but even the other architects of the land didn’t seem to embrace this language or any other part of whatever unique cultural identity Krakoans are supposed to foster.

    At a population of 200,000, this puts theoretical speakers of Krakoan well above other constructed languages like Esperanto, but still way way down there compared to many other languages… but what are they even DOING with it?

    Of course, this ties back into the idea of there even being a Krakoan cultural identity, but as a nation, they’ve been around less time than your average summer camp session. Apart from the occasional genocide, there simply IS no shared mutant culture. Religion? Nightcrawler’s working on it. Music? Lila and Dazzler are all that come to mind. Fashion? Jumbo Carnation. Holidays? I dunno, the Hellfire Gala, M-Day, and Xavier’s birthday? Cuisine? I think Emma has a mutant chef named Saucier…

    The point is, this is a “nation” building itself from the ground up, whose inhabitants are almost entirely teens and adults already raised with specific nationalistic or cultural identities, whose shared experiences mostly consist of putting on costumes to fight one another–a nation without a planned infrastructure, support structure, educational system, a legal system that’s a farce, a government that’s even more of a joke…

    And the best we get towards world building in this new nation are tiny little snippets like this, while the main writers are faffing about with their RPG campaign transcripts or CIA fanfics. It’s been several years and Krakoa is, from all observation, an intentional failure due to both intentional and casual negligence.

    200,000 mutants, and they couldn’t find a few dozen or hundred people with actual practical skills and knowledge or jobs to plan out how a society works…

  5. Si says:

    I reckon if you made a psychic circuit between Cypher, Sage, Trinary, and whichever telepath, you could very quickly develop a new language. But the whole concept of a special mutant language is of questionable value to the plot. It’s a cute gimmick, and it I was 14 I’d probably have memorised the cipher and written it all over my schoolbooks, but as it is I’ve never bothered translating any of it and I don’t think I’ve lost anything in the comic-reading experience.

    I’ve been thinking about what Paul said at the start, about the purpose of Infinity comics. I understand that Marvel would have to be very careful not to upset retailers, and so nothing of real consequence can happen in online exclusives. And that’s fine. They read a bit like golden age stories, which isn’t a bad thing. But one does have to ask what the value is in having them be so shoddy in their writing. Some are good, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone get Unlimited just to read them. So if they’re not to make the Unlimited app more attractive, and they’re not, generally, experimenting with a different format, or even adding IP value to underutilised characters, why do they exist at all? A cheap way to keep trademarks valid?

  6. Luis Dantas says:

    Personally I think of the Infinity comics as the functional equivalent of the Marvel Comics Presents of the 1990s. A convenient avenue for new concepts and new talent to be put to the test without a whole lot of expectations and pressure. It is a good thing that such avenues exist and can reach wide audiences.

    It will be interesting to see Cypher (a very meaningful name in Krakoa) interact with X-Cellent’s “Pood” at some point. I assume that Doop has already talked with Cypher at some point, even if perhaps only off-panel.

    Not having read the comic, I assume that the utopian period of Krakoa would be that time when hopes for building something worthwhile were particularly high. It is all but unavoidable that Krakoa had such a time, even if brief.

    But by now most Krakoans will have accepted, at the very least, that they are under existential threat for the foreseeable future from Orchis and other groups; that their relatioships with the wider world aren’t particularly good nor very likely to improve significantly any time soon; and that being in Krakoa has not spared them from various conflicts and dangers from without as well as from within, and even the resurrections aren’t quite that ticket to bliss and lasting happiness that some may have mistaken them with. Overall morale has to have suffered somewhat.

    That is a positive development in my book. I am not fond of unrealistic expectations about nations, even fictional ones.

    Cypher is at this point a conspirator with Krakoa itself and something of a grey eminence, perhaps even by accident. His goals and methods are very much in doubt now, which I quite approve of. The loss of idealism in Krakoa is in not-so-small part a result of his personal failures as well. Between that and the possibility that his powers enable him to predict political trends in ways that others might neglect, he can potentially become quite the dark horse. That is good character use.

    But I hope they do not tell us outright that he can predict politics out of body language or something. Hint at that left and right, by all means. But don’t state it unambiguously; Cypher has a tendency to accumulate power upgrades that works best if they can be quietly forgotten about without need for comment.

  7. Drew says:

    “Cypher has a tendency to accumulate power upgrades that works best if they can be quietly forgotten about without need for comment.”

    Like his ability to read body language and the “language of violence” making him a master combatant who can take on all of the New Mutants at once; but pretty much just for that one Necrosha story? 🙂

  8. Luis Dantas says:

    Yes, very much like that.

    Heck, he could easily become the Marvel Universe answer to TV show “Heroes” Peter Petrelli and Sylar if writers and editorial wanted him to be that. Not quite the Mimic or the Adaptoid, but not terribly dissimilar either.

    That can get out of hand very easily. Fun for some What If? storyline or something similar, as Doug becomes evil and begins to accumulate ever more ludicrous levels of power while facing Doctor Strange, Fantomex, Taskmaster and eventually the Celestials, the Living Tribunal and Eternity itself. All the while solving existence’s big mysteries, from “how to bring Ben Reilly back for good” to “What is the question that 42 answers”. Which makes his eventual, epic final battle that much more poignant.

    But for his continued existence as a regular, usable character it is best if those extended powers are unreliable, unpredictable… and suspiciously undiscussed.

  9. Thom H. says:

    I’ve always liked Doug as the geeky guy who gets to join a superhero team(!) only to still just be the geeky guy. The living embodiment of “wherever you go there you are.”

    I can see how making his power more visual was maybe more difficult in the 80s, but these days graphic depictions of text are common in media. We see text messages pop up beside characters all the time in television and movies, for example. Or memes where people are thinking really hard and calculus symbols swirl around their heads. Or the inside of Iron Man’s facemask in the MCU.

    I’m sure we’d all be fine with Doug bringing language into 3D space and rearranging it (or grabbing letters and throwing them at people, Gambit style? Too much?). Or give him a whole mindscape to wade through like the astral plane. I can imagine artists could get pretty creative with those kinds of visuals.

  10. Evilgus says:

    To agree with Si, I’ve liked Cypher as being slightly enigmatic yet overlooked as a Krakoa as architect. All of us overlooking him as, well, it’s Doug. Plenty more to be explored there. But it got dropped slightly with the almost casual Warlock reveal and the abridged Inferno.

    The Krakoan era lends itself very well to a vignette book like this focusing on characters, regardless of the marketing/subscription rationale for it existing. So I’m for it.

  11. Si says:

    I think with Necrosha, Cypher was reading their body language for advantage in the fight, but mainly he was there to wipe them out as quickly and ruthlessly as possible, while the team a) was in shock that he was alive at all, b) didn’t understand why he was hitting them, and c) certainly didn’t want to hit him back. It wasn’t that he was suddenly a master combatant, he just had all the advantages.

  12. Taibak says:

    I feel like there are obvious real-world parallels here that they missed out on. Hebrew existed for centuries as a liturgical language, but it was revised over the last 80 years as a component of a new Israeli national identity. Similarly, Irish is compulsory in, well, Irish schools for nationalist reasons, but very few people actually speak it.

Leave a Reply