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Sep 25


Posted on Sunday, September 25, 2022 by Paul in x-axis

Writer: Victor LaValle
Artist: Leonard Kirk
Colourist: Rain Beredo
Letterer: Cory Petit
Design: Tom Muller
Editor: Jordan D White

So there’s a couple of reason why I didn’t do annotations for X-Terminators #1: one, it’s not that sort of book, and two, my backlog of reviews runs all the way back to this miniseries. But look, the trade paperback’s not out until the start of October. So it’s not late. On the contrary. It’s actually very timely.

And this book is good, isn’t it? Sabretooth isn’t necessarily the easiest character to build a series around. He is, after all, proudly one-dimensional, that dimension being extreme violence. He was brought in to the X-books to serve as a mirror for Wolverine, after all. But in Krakoa he has another role, as the mutant who was banished to the Pit practically on day one, and hasn’t been seen since. In an age when the central premise is that all the mutants are on the same side, even the likes of Apocalypse and Omega Red, Sabretooth is indigestible.

Then there’s the Pit itself. The basic premise of the Pit is obviously horrific – back in House of X, Professor X described it as being “alive but immobile … aware but unable to act on it”. It sits next to the Crucible as one of those neon signs that all is not well in paradise, some of which have become a little uncomfortable now that the decision has been taken to have Krakoa stick around for longer than seems to have been initially planned, and to take its utopian aspects at face value – at least for a little while longer. Even on its own terms, far from being a more civilised mutant equivalent to prison, the Pit is just a way of shoving malcontents out of view and trying to forget about them.

For LaValle, that clearly makes it a good metaphor for prisons (and the US prison system in particular). But it’s clear from the start that the Pit does not operate as Professor X promised. Krakoa doesn’t approve of the Pit, and decides to give Sabretooth the chance to build his own dreamscapes. That leads to a series of revenge fantasies and fantasy pastiches, none of which is ultimately all that satisfying, until the next batch of inmates show up. They’re a genuinely odd bunch of characters: Nekra, a mutant who’s barely interacted with the X-books; Madison Jeffries, who was a member of X-Club; Oya, who was actually prominent in some real X-books; Melter from the Young Masters of Evil; and a new character, Third Eye.

Krakoa remains entirely unimpressed with the entire Pit concept, and so everyone ends up in a shared mindscape together. And Third Eye, being a psychic, is able to start spreading the word about the Pit among the background characters on the surface – the only ones who seem to have time to listen.

A story which largely consists of dreaming characters planning their escape doesn’t sound like it should work. But LaValle has a good handle on his obscure cast and how they fit in to his prison theme. He teases out over several issues the information about why exactly these people are in the Pit. Sabretooth, of course, is as unsympathetic a character as it’s possible to imagine. He’s a sadistic murderer. But even he has a legitimate point that he was led to believe he had some sort of asylum – and what on earth did Professor X expect when he sent Sabretooth on a mission for the nascent state?

Everyone else is, in one degree or another, more likeable. Nekra and Oya have been off patrolling Krakoan waters freelance – it’s profoundly awkward to have them out there killing the bad guys on their own, but they’re well intentioned. Madison is here because of an unwelcome interest in Danger, who (as an AI) is unacceptable on Krakoa. And Melter and Third Eye were, really, just asking awkward questions – though Melter is the white kid who fundamentally believes in the system and has faith that Professor X will set things right somehow, while Third Eye is a cynic about the whole thing.

LaValle’s point is that the law is an excuse to shove undesirables out of view; selective enforcement means that a law becomes a cover for getting rid of the people you don’t want. Of course, the absurdly vague nature of Krakoa’s laws makes this problem particularly blatant, but it’s an issue with any laws that are broad enough to involve prosecutorial discretion (or with enforcement priorities).

LaValle may be interested in these ideas, but Sabretooth isn’t – except in as much as they can be used to stir trouble. He just wants to engineer his escape by creating problems until Krakoa lets him out, and if that can’t be done the normal way, then he’s going to be sneakier about it. Scheming with his fellow inmates is just a way of piggybacking on their work, as far as he’s concerned. Putting him at the centre of the series helps to muddy the waters and stop this just being a diatribe about prisons. Yes, it’s plainly the wrong solution for most of these people… but containing Sabretooth does kind of feel like a good idea. It’s the other guys who make Sabretooth’s attack on the Pit convincing.

I’ve always liked Leonard Kirk’s art, and it’s no surprise that he does good work on what’s fundamentally a character driven series. But the dreamscapes give him plenty of new locations to keep the book interesting, and then there’s the more abstract stuff of Third Eye on the astral plane or the inmates physical bodies underground. He’s also stylised enough that Sabretooth’s more violent fantasies are a bit distanced.

The only thing that doesn’t entirely satisfy me about this book is the final issue, which tacks at the last minute to set up a sequel. One on the same theme, admittedly, but still one that feels like a late addition. The sudden appearance in the final issue of Nanny, Orphan-Maker and Toad also feels alarmingly like somebody noticed far too late in the day that other books had also sent characters to the Pit – while it’s better in the grand scheme of things for them to be acknowledged somewhere, for the purposes of this series they’re just cluttering up the final act.

But none of that ultimately stops this from being one of the more ambitious and successful stories of the Krakoan era, building something unusually thoughtful around a character normally notable for being anything but.

Bring on the comments

  1. Mark Coale says:

    The Pit reminds me of the Phantom Zone in some ways. Of course,in the Silver Age, it was only for the worst of the worst.

  2. Chris V says:

    Sabretooth (the character) does raise pertinent points.

    Why is Sabretooth so much worse than some of the characters granted amnesty? He’s a serial killer. He’s killed some people, yes. Meanwhile, Apocalypse has been responsible for attempted genocide, if not outright genocide. Yet, he was part of the ruling triumvirate of Krakoa. How is Sabretooth more irredeemable than Apocalypse?

    Another point to consider is a case like the Blob. Sure, he was never a bloodthirsty killer like Sabretooth. In the utopian environment of Krakoa though, a character like the Blob has no problem settling down and running a bar. The message is that everyone deserves another chance.

    I think the heart of the matter may be, not Sabretooth’s homicidal inclinations, but the fact that he doesn’t fit in on Krakoa. His creed, his actions, they all go against the official ideology of Krakoa. He doesn’t believe mutants are more evolved, he accepts that he’s an animal, just like all living beings are animals…you are either predator or prey. Also, unlike so many mutant villains (including Apocalypse), his past has nothing to do with mutant supremacy. He kills because he can and because he enjoys killing, not in the name of a cause or ideology. This is another aspect putting him in the role of an outsider on Krakoa.

    These views may not all be readily explicit in this mini-series, but they are all points that Sabretooth does bring in to consideration.

  3. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Even if there weren’t other good books – and there are – the convoluted setup of Krakoa would have been worth it for this book alone.

    I’m not sure LaValle can keep it interesting enough in the sequel – ‘this time, for-profit prisons!’ – but I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

  4. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    What a good weird little book.

    I’m always happy for Sabretooth to cause problems, and then to add a thoughtful story on top of it was great.

    As I’ve harped on about ad nauseum, Krakoa is so much more interesting when it’s actually a flawed place that can be made better instead of an instant paradise in a bottle.

    I like that in the end the solution is to jettison these characters from Krakoa forever. The Pit becomes a ghost story, and no one in charge actually suffers any consequences.

  5. Michael says:

    @Uncanny X-Ben- the problem is that according to spoilers, someone will be sent to the Pit in Immortal X-Men 9.

  6. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    It couldn’t go poorly twice in a row, right?

  7. neutrino says:

    Wolverine is supposed to go there in Wolverine #28.

    Did LaValle say that Professor X sent the other Exiles after Sabretooth like Oya to the Pit without the rest of the Quiet Council’s knowledge? That seems to be pinning all the guilt on the white man while letting favorites like Storm and Nightcrawler off the hook.

  8. Douglas says:

    To be fair, the only time Nanny, Orphan-Maker and Toad could have appeared earlier is in #4. #3 is set shortly before the 2021 Gala (so before those three were sentenced); #4 is tied to the beginning of X Lives/Deaths.

    Worth noting that the Council finds out that Nature Girl and Curse are no longer in the pit in the storyline in X-Men Unlimited Infinity Comic #44-49. Which, incidentally, has to take place between the 3rd and 4th story pages of X-Men Red #3: it refers to the events of Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird, but Sinister is still on the Council, and there’s no other place with room for it to happen. (The latter part of that issue of X-Men Red is no more than two days before the 2022 Gala, and Sinister is spirited away the evening after the Gala.)

    The part that surprises me is that no one thought to let Toad out once the scheme behind Wanda’s death and resurrection became clear!

  9. Taibak says:

    @neutrino: I wonder if there’s an interesting story in Wolverine being sent to the pit, only to discover that Sabretooth is no longer there.

  10. Mike Loughlin says:

    @neutrino: while also letting fellow white men Shaw, Sinister, Nightcrawler (a white guy who happens to be blue), Magneto, and maybe Exodus (I think he’s French) off the hook. Not to mention upperclass white woman Emma Frost. The only mutants of color on the QC were Storm & (maybe) Apocalypse. Kate Pryde is from a minority religion, but she’s also light-skinned. The latest members are Mystique, Destiny, Colossus, & Hope – all white.

    Also: most of the writers and editors are white.

    Maybe a book about race, power, and incarceration has a point to make in such an environment!

  11. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    I mean the other inmates are three black people, a white guy with a “deviant” sexuality and Melter.

    I’m beginning to think this book may have had a subtext.

  12. Ceries says:

    It still kinda floors me that LaValle slipped in “by the way the Krakoans don’t criminalize homosexuality they criminalize robosexuality.” Like, way to layer on the subtext of Krakoa’s anti-AI stuff, I’m sadly unsurprised that most of the other writers haven’t bothered to apply that metaphor. Reminds me of when Danger showed up for the first time and Cyclops was righteously pissed that the Professor was blatantly just doing to AI what humans had done to mutants. There’s something to be said about the metaphor shifting as the mutants continue to flex the power fantasy.

  13. Josie says:

    Something I’d be interested in seeing in future reviews is how accessible a given story is. We’re three years into the Krakoa era now. It sounds like a reader only has to be familiar with that one issue of House of X in order to read this series, but the same can’t be said of every current X-book.

    This isn’t quite the same as a given arc in a long-time writer’s Spider-man series, where the status quo basically remains static with the exception of a couple subplots.

  14. neutrino says:

    @Mike Loughlin:
    Are you saying Nightcrawler has white privilege? Jews like Magneto and Kitty Pryde are considered white when “white” is derogatory. Exodus isn’t light-skinned, and Apocalypse is definitely considered a POC by Tini Howard. Maybe I should have said straight white man? The point isn’t that the majority of the Council is white, but that LaValle apparently rewrote the sentencing procedure to exclude them, apparently to keep the popular characters from being complicit. Like Way of X, the problems of Krakoa are pinned on one man, Charles Xavier. If it’s supposed to be a subtext for the US penal system, it should be a bigger than one individual, including minorities (like Kamala Harris).

  15. Mark Coale says:

    I dont think I’ve heard the term “robosexual” outside of couple of Futurama episodes.

    I can say from personal experience, trying to explain Krakoa-era continuity to “laymen” even lapsed former comic readers, is a chore,

    I had the same issue trying to explain the history of the Thunderbolts to people at work after the MCU announcemnts. If only there was, say, a podcast. I could direct them to about the Thunderbolts.

  16. Mike Loughlin says:

    neutrino- “Are you saying Nightcrawler has white privilege?”

    That’s a really goofy thing to write. Is that a serious question?

    To your greater point- sure there are PoCs involved in the criminal justice system. If the majority of the criminal justice system has been white, historically and currently (most recent stats I found: 64% of police are white, 79% of judges, 77% of Congress & that’s the most diverse it’s ever been) then it makes sense that Xavier would represent the state.

    In fictional terms, he has been written less heroically since at least the early ’00s. Unilaterally sentencing people to the pit doesn’t come across as out of character, especially because Xavier considers himself a reasonable, respectable leader and mentor.

  17. Josie says:

    “I had the same issue trying to explain the history of the Thunderbolts to people at work after the MCU announcemnts”

    If you’re just describing the first-year Zemo concept, it’s not too hard, right?

    When a bunch of heroes disappeared, a group of villains disguised themselves as heroes to win over the public and infiltrate their security protocols.

    If you’re describing anything past year one . . . well, that just seems like pointless cruelty to everyone involved.

    (That’s not a criticism of Thunderbolts. I am a fan, but a fan of its punishing convolutedness.)

  18. Josie says:

    The Warren Ellis Thunderbolts, which I assume the movie is based on, seems even easier:

    The government ropes in a bunch of villains to work for it.

    Or put another way, it’s Marvels Suicide Squad.

  19. Josie says:

    Marvel must have its own synopsis of the Krakoa-era X-Men somewhere, right?

  20. Si says:

    I don’t see how Krakoa is so hard to explain either. “Mutants have set up their own homeland again, and they have Lazarus pits” covers about 80% of what you need to know for most stories. Unless the comic involves Mars or Otherworld, then good luck.

  21. Mark Coale says:

    Because I was dealing with lapsed fans, I was probably inserting info I thought they knew, like referencing Kroakoa from Giant Size or explaining its the Masters of Evil trying to replace the Avengers, etc.

    For the non fans, yeah, just say Marvel’s Suicide Squad with all the new legacy characters (yelena, us agent) and villains.

  22. ASV says:

    The core of Krakoa is fairly easy to explain. The Moira stuff and the Arrako stuff, less so.

  23. Tim XP says:

    Obviously the point of this story is that the Pit is an inhumane punishment no matter what the prisoners are guilty of, but sentencing a troubled teenager like Oya to eternal torture for something Wolverine does routinely seems a bit beyond the pale even for modern portrayals of Xavier.

  24. Si says:

    An awful lot of the themes and plotlines are extremely complex and I can’t say I understand bits of them (I have a habit of skipping data pages, which can’t help), but strip away the Hickman worldbuilding intricacies, and the core concepts can be actually quite simple.

    Arrako is ancient alien fantasy warrior mutants who now live on Mars. They could be the Morlocks or the Inhumans or the Atlanteans. There’s stuff about demon blood and Apocalypse’s wife and kids, and the original mutant homeland being sundered and all of that, but if you wanted to read about Starlord getting in trouble when he’s in port, all you need to know is “ancient alien fantasy warrior mutants on Mars”.

    Moira McTaggart is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A supporting character retconned into a supervillain mastermind. Avengers did that with Jarvis the butler once. If you want to get into how she has a bookmark in a Choose Your Own Adventure book, has read many death endings and is now flicking back to make the choices to reach the good ending; and how all that is true but also just a honey trap that backfired, and now she’s a genocidal robot, it’s very complicated. But explaining why Cyclops hatched out of an egg lives in a tree in the park now? You don’t even need to mention Moira. For such a major retcon and seemingly central pillar of the entire Krakoa era, Moira is at the end of the day almost completely superfluous.

    All this could be considered a weakness, but it’s really a strength, which is paying off for today’s X-writers. It’s like how you don’t need to even know the Silmarillion exists to enjoy The Hobbit, but boy does it ever add dimensions to the story.

  25. Mike Loughlin says:

    The base premise of the Krakow era – mutants can come back to life now and they live together on an island- is easy to explain. Answering almost any follow-up question is terribly complicated.

    “What’s the island like?”

    It’s a living being that spits out food, miracle drugs, and teleporting gates.

    “What do they do all day?”

    Drink, screw, and abandon babies.

    “What is [character] up to?”

    Let’s see… Leading/ being on an X-Men team (ok), being a pirate (sure), being on black cops squad (oh?), making up a new religion (ok…), being controlled by Russians (huh?), ruling Mars (wait…), almost destroying the whole thing unless she got her dead wife back (um…), sentencing people to eternal torment (WHAT)

  26. Omar Karindu says:

    Moira McTaggart is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A supporting character retconned into a supervillain mastermind. Avengers did that with Jarvis the butler once.

    In Jarvis’s case, that was pretty much the first time he’d gotten an iota of characterization, the whole thing was a “last-page shocker” fakeout for the debut of Ultron, and he was back to being the butler by the end of the subsequent issue. The whole ting is more int he realm of Silver Age wackiness than the kind of thing we’re seeing here, and it was retconned as mind control many years later.

    In contrast, Moira had a substantial role in the X-books and an established characterization, nearly all of which is radically changed, in retrospect, by the Hickman retcons. The retcons are largely in service of retooling the whole franchise. And her villainous turn seems designed to make her a longer-term threat, not a gimmicky one-off menace.

    The better point of comparison here might be Maxwell Lord, a longtime Bronze Age supporting cast member largely phased out by the time of his return as a villain. Lord was turned not only into a villain, but a murderous creep who now apparently secretly had ulterior motives even during all the years the stories showed otherwise in many of his past appearances. All of this retconning was done in service of a new vision of the affected franchises as part of an “event.”

    Lord did start out a lot shadier than Moira and then underwent development to become a better person, while Moira stayed mostly good but had “brainwashing baby Magneto for the greater good” added to her characterization.

    Still, I suspect that, like Lord, Moira is going to stay a villain, and perhaps be written and remembered mostly as a villain. Part of this is that, like Lord, the supporting role she used to have doesn’t fit very well with the directions the X-books have taken in the years since.

  27. Josie says:

    “mutants can come back to life now and they live together on an island”

    But if when explaining the concept to someone, one would have to explain WHY they’re living on an island. All the mutants moved to this one island full of mutants because . . .?

    . . .?

    I’ve been generally following the Krakoa era and I still have no idea.

    Also, what is the premise of the X-Men now? The X-Men are a team made up of a few of the hundreds? thousands? millions? of mutants that live in Krakoa, whose purpose is . . .?

    . . .?

  28. Actually, I think the best comparison is Cameron Hodge and I think there’s definitely a story to be told about past contacts between the two – and a potential future link-up between them now they’re both robots.

  29. YLu says:

    Lapsed readers often get more confused than new readers. The latter can just accept what’s on the page, while the former gets thrown off by their own expectations: “Wait, why is this thing like this now instead of like that?”

  30. Thom H. says:

    “For such a major retcon and seemingly central pillar of the entire Krakoa era, Moira is at the end of the day almost completely superfluous.”

    This is such a great point. How many things can simply be lifted out of the narrative when explaining the current X-Men status quo? Moira’s entire history, Krakoa’s (the island’s) entire history, Krakoan flower drugs for humans, Orchis and Nimrod, the Technarchy and all that cosmic stuff. Weirdly, Arrako on Mars and Otherworld have stuck around despite seeming like the least essential bits of the story.

    It makes me wonder how much of that stuff mattered to Hickman’s story in the first place and how much of it was a red herring. (He created an entirely new — and stupid — set of villains to fight over the flowers. Remember that?) We’ll probably never know, but I do still hope we’ll get a revealing interview with one of the X-writers someday. Or maybe Marvel is telling the truth and the entire X-line will eventually fall back into line with Hickman’s plans?

  31. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    It’s either that or Hickman will write his story the way he always intended in House of X Forever, published sometime in the 2040s.

  32. Si says:

    I said at the beginning that I think only two or three plot points and a maximum of half a dozen characters will actually matter for the conclusion. That would make it easy to write years of stories in between, almost completely unfettered, as long as a brief list of bullet points aren’t altered.

  33. Josie says:

    “How many things can simply be lifted out of the narrative when explaining the current X-Men status quo?”

    This presumes there’s even a cohesive narrative rather than a jumble of random ideas. Like the resurrection stuff isn’t a narrative. There was no point A where characters said “we need to find a way to bring people back from the dead,” and a point B where they accomplished that goal. It’s just an idea thrust into the status quo.

  34. Dave says:

    “It’s a living being that spits out food, miracle drugs, and teleporting gates”
    I constantly find myself wondering WHY Krakoa has a whole teleportation network attached to it, that has no problem sending people to other galaxies. Is it Krakoa’s mutant power? Could other Krakoan plants have such immense potential in them? Was it shown somewhere that the mutants asked if it it could help them move around easily, or was it a VERY happy accident?

    “And her villainous turn seems designed to make her a longer-term threat, not a gimmicky one-off menace.”
    Does it really seem designed, though? To me, Inferno seemed to leave Moira in a state where she wasn’t going to turn up again…at all, maybe, until the possible time where Hickman would come back and pick up the story. And that tiny bit of the cure ‘reveal’ was far from making her the genocidal nutter she is now. So I’m not even convinced she was supposed to be a menace. She might have had a change of heart when it looked like Krakoa was going quite well, and could have realised that the Nimrod timeline changes were an indication that there was time travel acting against her. Inferno really was quite unsatisfying in terms of plot development.

  35. K says:

    Here is my summary of the Krakoa era.

    In the 20th century, the power fantasy that outcast young people needed the most was being able to fly and shoot beams.

    In the 21st century, the power fantasy they need the most is sociopolitical soft power.

  36. Omar Karindu says:

    Dave said: Does it really seem designed, though? To me, Inferno seemed to leave Moira in a state where she wasn’t going to turn up again…at all, maybe, until the possible time where Hickman would come back and pick up the story.

    I guess I’m thinking more of X Lives/X Death as an immediate followup that gave us Evil Robot Moira, member of Orchis.

  37. Dave says:

    Another thing I keep wondering about is – does it make any sense that after being alive as ascension loomed, and dedicating her next 3 lives to taking down AIs and teaming with villains to do it, Moira joins up with team Nimrod? How did she go from the end of life 9, where the critical goal was finding out info about Nimrod’s ‘birth’, to deciding that machines winning was perfectly acceptable? She just hates Destiny THAT much? Or was the cure only something of a backup, or ONLY for use after beating the machines? Sadly we’ll never know, as ANY kind of detail around the cure reveal was bizarrely deemed completely unimportant.

  38. Mike Loughlin says:

    Dave – my impression was that Moira wanted to cure mutants because she conceived of no other way to stop the slaughter. On a personal level, she hates being a mutant and wants to be done w/ reliving timelines and experiencing endless tragedy.


    K: Perfect summary of the difference between older X-Men and the Krakoan era!

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