Previously: More in the Hickman X-Men Re-Read!
I. Something Sinister This Way Comes (continued from our last entry)
[Uncanny X-Men #1 (2011) by Kieron Gillen, Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith, Frank D’Armata, Joe Caramagna]
C3. Sinister Mystery Tour—with a Mysterious Side Dish of Phalanx
Returning this time to a closer look at the Year One Bar Sinister scene, let’s ponder it through the lens of Kieron Gillen’s classic Sinister stories, “Everything Is Sinister” and “This Strange, Unpleasant Land” (Uncanny X-Men #1-4, 14-17, 2011-2012), rare highlights from the general disarray of the post-Schism era. In San Francisco, Sinister somehow hacks into and commandeers the head of a dormant Celestial (Tiamut), getting up to some mad science inside the cranium before piloting it over to the Palace of Fine Arts*—which is suddenly “reconstructed” (using Danger’s terminology, UX 1) into “Sinster’s World-Fair,” a funhouse of endless Sinister facsimiles that are nevertheless tightly controlled in this extreme instantiation of Sinister’s aristocracy of one, himself. After a fierce battle with the X-Men, one new iteration of Sinister emerges from the “Creation Engines” inside the Palace, which Sinister repurposed from the hijacked Celestial (bio?)tech, and reaffirms that “Sinister is a system” before causing the Palace to vanish to who knows where and then shooting himself in the head.
Crazier yet, we see in issue #4 that Sinister had at some point mothballed a lab holding a captive Phalanx (what had once been a human body before the viral techno-organic race colonized it), one of the very same who had hunted mutants in 1994’s Phalanx Covenant. Significantly, this is the most sympathetic portrayal of a Phalanx entity, by far. Unsurprisingly, our empathetic viewpoint character here is Storm, who is all alone in voicing regret about their destruction of the sentient life-form; she’d wanted to dialogue with it, not just out of empathy but to learn something of its dark hints of some secret knowledge. The general antipathy between mutants and various forms of machine intelligence will continue to be a theme.
We find out where the Palace was teleported in issue #14: “This Strange, Unpleasant Land”** beneath Anchorage—city of Scott’s birth—in a vast stretch of subterranean caverns previously occupied by Moloids and now terraformed—or rather Sinister-reformed—into a hybrid feudal/Victorian “Sinister London.” Soaring above this city of Sinisters is Sinister’s castle on a hill, which turns out to be an obedient clone of Krakoa (much smaller than its template).
[UX 14 by Gillen, Dustin Weaver, Jim Charalampidis, Joe Caramagna]
After the Phoenix Five incinerate all the clones (including endless, apparently mindless Maddies, Sabretooths, myriad X-Men clones, and Phalanx bots) and the city itself—well, what happened with Sinister? Did he have an escape route back to Bar Sinister? Does it matter when someone’s endlessly iterative and has no “prime” vessel? Who knows!
*SF’s Palace of Fine Arts is an apt choice for Sinister’s World-Fair—a sprawl of majestic neoclassicism surrounded by the modern townhomes for the city’s blue bloods and yuppie elites.
[UX 1 again]
**The title is an irreverent twist on the traditional description of England as “this green and pleasant land,” taken from a poem by William Blake—who might have been having a sarcastic moment, given that his work was more preoccupied with his country being swiftly and thoroughly colonized by “dark Satanic mills,” which could as well describe Sinister’s Creation Engines.
C4. Our Too-Brief Visit to Bar Sinister
So, Gillen’s run showed readers a radical escalation in Sinister’s ambitions, especially with his Celestial tech and production of countless Maddie clones with the aim of wresting control of the Phoenix. And yet Hickman is showing us in “Year One” here, presumably some short while before Mutant Massacre, that Sinister already had such an insular world of clones on this never before seen island. Apparently, Sinister didn’t need that Celestial’s head to mass produce clones; it was just a convenient magic wand to make more almost instantaneously.
Regardless, Sinister’s high camp and eccentricity were taken to new heights by Gillen, whose work here Hickman has happily called out as an inspiration.
Here, with dripping sarcasm, the guardsman suggests that capes don’t make appointments, before echoing Sinister’s now-typical arch snobbishness, when he gets a closer look at Xavier: “This just won’t do. It will not play well at court. A sad little man in his sad peasant suit.” Unlike Magneto—in his “ridiculous” outfit—Xavier’s appearance is, as ever, intentionally that of a baseline human, a flatscan.
We’ll get even more Magneto flattery from the Prime Sinister, presaged here by the guardsman’s fawning: “You do have an air about you … there’s no denying that.”
The guardsman removing his helm—and so revealing that he’s a Sinister clone—is an echo and mockery of Magneto’s like gesture in POX 2, which was a rare moment of trust for Erik (since his helmet is a shield against telepathic intrusion).
Given the interminable iterations of Sinister on his sadistic funhouse island, trust is impossible; connoting bastardy or illegitimate birth, and with a name maybe even inspired by a BDSM/fetish goth club in L.A., Bar Sinister is a very Sinister milieu, where the only predictability is unpredictability.
Xavier and Magneto’s welcome feels both ominous and tantalizing with (shadowy) possibility.
Before getting to my favorite moment here, note that, unlike Gillen’s Sinister World-Fair, there are women on Bar Sinister, and if we look closely at the top panel on page five, the one on the right does seem to have a diamond on her brow. Also in contrast to Gillen, all the clones here have red diamonds on their brows, while in the chronologically later stories in Uncanny X-Men (2011-2012), only the Sinister Prime had one. The logic seems to have been that as Sinister’s ruling consciousness moved around, the diamond space gives way from white flesh to emergent ruby.
(The diamond’s facets were also given prominence in Gillen’s version of Sinister, whereas the diamonds appear relatively flat in HOX/POX. In contrast, check out that fabulous throne!)
A third major difference here is that none of Gillen’s Sinisters wore that trademark cape—nor was it seen among the denizens of Battleworld’s Bar Sinister. So, Hickman seems to be signaling something by introducing the classically caped Sinister as a mutant into Bar Sinister’s seemingly static hierarchy.
The best line this issue is, of course, Sinister’s:
“Stop. Before either of you say another word I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I. Love. That. Cape. Amazing. Why do I not have a cape? How do I not have a cape?”
His right-hand manservant is promptly and efficiently dismembered for this oversight. Apparently, this is what “plays well at court”! And check out that fabulously controlled reaction from Sinister: an exaggerated wince and grimace before he suavely relaxes into an almost bored attentiveness for his bewildered guests.
Now we get into one of the most shocking revelations of HOX/POX, prefaced by Xavier’s cryptically saying that “we have our ways” of discovering jealously guarded information, like Sinister’s “ongoing endeavors in the area of genetics.” We can assume that Moira knew where to find Sinister—but maybe Cerebro helped ferret out a mutant in the same location as well? Sinister, surprisingly, doesn’t seem surprised. Maybe he hasn’t been closely guarding whatever he’s been up to? Shouldn’t that come off as strange?
Never let it be said that Sinister doesn’t love and need an audience.
I do wonder what Xavier and Magneto had planned for in case things on Bar Sinister went pear-shaped. But the Prime Sinister only begins to anger in response to Magneto’s suggestion that he’s seen the future, where Sinister’s work is focused on mutantdom—and he’s assassinated mid-sentence by the mutant Sinister, the one with the cape, at last.
But first on page 7, Xavier makes his shocking little speech requesting Sinister compile a secure database of “all mutant DNA.” Now, when he further says, “We can provide you with samples you might have trouble getting on your own, including ours,” we don’t actually see this transaction. Does it happen in this meeting? At some later point? We just don’t know!
And to think that Hank McCoy’s moral decay began in earnest with handing the poor and ailing mutant Threnody over to Sinister’s dubious care in X-Men #27 (1993), never knowing that his beloved Professor was already in cahoots with the mad scientist!
Regardless, the Prime Sinister has nothing but derision for this idea while, shockingly, Xavier and Magneto think it would be quite useful just based on what they know of Sinister’s ultimate trajectory in Life Nine. Which is crazy! These two world mutant leaders are knowingly recruiting the sentient viral system that’s already creating chimeras (including “himself”). They know that his destiny is to weaponize mutantkind for his own purposes.
We can only assume they aim to keep this world-shaking threat on a close leash. But remember, the joke is on Xavier, not knowing Sinister’s matrix has been lying dormant within Xavier’s genes since childhood.
Now we find out at least one “result” of the Prime Sinister “introducing that aberrant [X] gene into [his] superior genetic structure”—and apparently it didn’t ultimately matter whether he “tolerated” such tinkering or not, because his particular story is done.
Enter: The one with the cape.
What a delightful entrance!
Caped Sinister is the mutant, but where’s he been? Passing the time with Scott and Maddie genes and twiddling his thumbs over Apocalypse’s return? Chilling with Dark Beast as the AoA terrorist mucks about with the Morlocks?
It’s impossible to tell how surprised Erik and Charles are about his existence, but they seem to take his sudden coup in stride. Magneto is quietly snarky while Xavier strains to make Sinister forget their visit and the reason for his new line of research. Why the strain? Well, there are countless Sinister clones present and watching—but who knows!
Let’s close with one last glaring contrast with Xavier’s visit to Island M in POX 2: There’s no handshake, not a single like gesture of mutual trust, between the desperate mutant leaders and the mad carnival tyrant.
Note also the parallels and contrasts between Sinister’s enthusiastic reaction here (“I love the ambition.”) with Doug’s on page 18 (“Well. That’s ambitious.”): the latter at least doesn’t appear to have his mind tampered with by Xavier. (But really, y’all. Who. Knows.)
II. The Red Diamond, pgs9-10
These HOX/POX data pages probably sparked more debate and speculation than any of the others. While some of them seemed to have been clarified in the Dawn of X titles, I’ll try not to spoil anything but clarify as much as possible. Also, this setup is hilarious and ingenious: Sinister’s gossip rag is a way for the narrative to drop provocative and/or quizzical hints that never come across as infodump-y.
A. Sinister Secret #1 & Sinister Secrets Revealed! (1)
We don’t see anyone wearing red shoes on Bar Sinister here. But there’s the 19th-century fairytale that’s also a classic Hollywood movie. And there’s Dorothy’s teleporting magic slippers (and their movie production doubles/clones/variants). But we’re talking about a Sinister man here.
And then there’s John Proudstar, aka Thunderbird and the deadest X-Man ever! He first appeared in Giant-Size X-Men and died two installments later in Uncanny X-Men #95 (1975). Now, I’m fairly certain that I heard this first from Dave Buesing’s Krakin’ Krakoa (thanks, Dave!): There’s a coloring mistake with John’s boots just before he dies in a jet crash (even though the pilot Count Nefaria mysteriously survives). Throughout the issue, they’re blue—just as they are the two times we see their coloring in GSX—but then, for one panel, they’re red:
[UX 95 by Wein, Claremont, Cockrum, Sam Grainger, Petra Goldberg, Karen Mantlo]
But there’s actually more. In issue #94, on page 7’s montage, John’s boots appear alternately blue (top) then yellow (bottom). On page 8, in a different scene in the same setting (the Danger Room), they’re red.
Why would any of this matter? Let’s skip to Sinister Secrets Revealed! (#1): Somehow, the story of Sinister pilfering John’s DNA isn’t interesting, but the fact that it was John is. Strange!
(Also, don’t forget that Sinister didn’t just “dispel” Bar Sinister’s “tyrant,” one of his original goals has always been the eventual destruction of the tyrant Apocalypse—by forging a mutant from the Summers bloodline!)
B. Sinister Secret #2
We don’t see him in HOX/POX, but this clearly refers to Jumbo Carnation, a Grant Morrison creation first seen in New X-Men #134, where he’s promptly murdered by a lynch mob. Primarily, this secret seems to herald Hickman’s interest in mutant fashion—couture being vital to cultural identity, here emphasizing Krakoa’s autonomy from human society.
C. Sinister Secret #3
This is obviously Madelyne Pryor, who made a deal with the demon N’astirh and did leave behind Nathan, her son with Scott. But this is common knowledge among mutantkind—as is the fact that Sinister created her as a clone of Jean Grey, who at the time was “dead” (following The Dark Phoenix Saga).
The “pact with the devil” was her agreement to create an opening to Earth from Limbo in exchange for demonic help in tracking down her baby Nathan who’d been kidnapped by Sinister’s Marauders (UX 239, 1988—the prologue to Inferno). At the end of the Inferno event, which was very public, Jean Grey absorbed Maddie’s memories and personality—so what could Sinister be hinting at here?
[UX 239 cover by Marc Silvestri and Dan Green]
It’s surprising Sinister doesn’t mention that the reality-displaced Age of Apocalypse Nate Grey unintentionally resurrected Maddie (X-Man #5, 1995), leading to their weird years-long involvement, before appearing as an undead “psionic ghost” trapped on the astral plane (Cable #76, 2000), where she ended up trapped for many years—undoubtedly going insane—until she returned to haunt and torment Scott while scheming to find a new body (UX 501-511, 2008-2009). She finally found a corporeal home—for one issue—in X-Men #12 (2014), in the pristine corpse of a nanotech cyborg—which I guess is functionally immortal even if its original consciousness (Ana Cortes) proved otherwise. (After all, what chance had she against Maddie Pryor, Jean Grey’s clone?)
D. Sinister Secret #4
Huh! Well, we know there are a lot of Sinisters out there!
The most significant thing I find here is: As mentioned last time, Xavier is deeply concerned with the cost of achieving mutant paradise. So, while the rest of mutantkind is partying on Krakoa, Sinister might prove immune to the revelry—despite his high camp appearance and madcap persona—because he’s got to outmaneuver the Quiet Council until he achieves his own ends—at which point his celebration may ensue!
We’ll just have to be on the lookout for what might’ve washed ashore with none but Sinister the wiser.
E. Sinister Secret #5
1. Logan, obviously. 2. Who’re the most famous married mutants with a kid? Jean and Scott! (Cable is Jean’s son both genetically and in terms of nurturing; see The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix, 1994.) This would also imply that the third member of this menage-a-trois is still seeing Emma. Say what?! That’s right, poly pods are the new normal. Hope the Krakoans can make it work!
F. Sinister Secret #6
“Progerian” relates to a rare and fatal childhood disorder that makes the child look aged before their time. This is a clear reference to Ernst, another Morrison creation, but it was in Spider-Man and the X-Men #1-4 (2015) where she delivered to Sinister DNA samples of everyone at the Jean Grey School, all for help in creating a body for her bodyless best friend, Martha (No-Girl)—which didn’t work out. It seemed like Spidey was had destroyed the genetic prizes—apparently that didn’t happen!
Fun fact: Grant Morrison originally intended Ernst, who first appeared in New X-Men #135, to be Cassandra Nova reformed, after the consciousness of Xavier’s evil twin was trapped inside an animate slab of Shi’ar biotech called Stuff, with her mind rebooted to undergo a virtual reeducation from “childhood” (NX 126). Unfortunately, they never showed how this was supposed to have come about, and it was immediately retconned away (intentionally or not) by incoming author Chuck Austen (NX 155, 2004).
In the brief alternate-future epic that closed out Morrison’s run (NX 151-154), Ernst appears as Cassandra in the bizarre safari outfit she had originally appeared in (NX 114)—to which Xavier’s appearance in POX 4, Year 10 bears an uncanny resemblance (see next week’s entry!).
[NX 152 by Morrison, Silvestri, Joe Weems, Billy Tan, Steve Firchow, et al]
G. Sinister Secret #7
Scott and Alex jumped out of their parents’ plane over the Alaskan coast, as it was attacked by a Shi’ar craft. Their mother was pregnant with Gabriel, whose continued existence, like that of their parents’, neither boy knew about for many years.
Much later, Sinister taunted Scott with hints about another Summers brother (X-Men #23, 1993). Writer Fabian Nicieza went on to introduce Adam X in X-Force Annual #2 (1993) and had intended his origin as that missing sibling to be gradually revealed—but he was fired or quit over general editorial interference. However, in Nicieza’s much later Captain Marvel #2-3 (1996), he did start to outline Adam’s background as an orphan in Shi’ar space, only learning of his origin as a lab-hatched genetic hybrid of the Shi’ar emperor and someone else (with the aim of producing a super-powerful successor).
[from the Captain Marvel #3 cover by Ed Benes, Mike Seller, Marie Javins]
So, this rumor is certainly believable. Why bring it up now, though?
H. Sinister Secret #8
We already saw what appeared to be Apocalypse’s First Four Horsemen in Marvel Comics #1000 (2019), and they definitely bear a strong resemblance to the figures we see in Krakoa’s flashback this issue!
(Again, next week’s entry!)
I. Sinister Secret #9
Krakoa is the flawed paradise here. And right now, I can’t help thinking of the original New Mutants when looking at “the kids are all right.” Can you, dear reader, think of a “non-couple couple” in that group? Just spit-balling 😊
Further keywords: Fireworks? Universe? I definitely haven’t seen any likelier contenders.
J. Sinister Secrets Revealed!
Constructing a square, which is incommensurate in form with a circle, to have the exact area measurement of a given circle is impossible.
Is constructing mutant paradise another hopeless effort at squaring the circle?
Given the mention of Inferno: Was Sinister’s effort at creating Maddie Pryor doomed to fail, a squaring of the circle? This would suggest that Madelyne and Jean are incommensurate … Interesting.
Furthermore, Maddie’s baby Nathan was the ultimate fulfillment of that long-term Sinister project, but that proved quite fleeting as well, because Apocalypse—Sinister’s creator and nemesis—infected the newborn with the techno-organic virus. For his treatment and security, this almost immediately necessitated him being whisked away on a one-way trip to the future by a time-traveler named Askani (X-Factor #65-68, 1991), who turns out to be an older, time-displaced Rachel Summers (Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix, 1994).
[XF #68 by Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee, Claremont, Art Thibert, Dana Moreshead, Michael Heisler]
(That techno-organic virus was, by the way, originally transmitted from a time-traveling Nathan in his prime to Apocalypse in Ancient Egypt [Cable & Deadpool #26 by Fabian Nicieza, 2006]. For readers who know Nicieza’s work, this closing of a time loop shouldn’t be too surprising, but it’s narratively unsustainable in an ongoing shared universe. It’s certainly no squaring of the circle. If not for this wrinkle, it would have been safe to assume that the T-O virus is of Celestial origin.)
Whatever the case, destruction is always swifter than creation. (And Inferno was the fiery end of an era.)
[UX 243 cover by Silvestri, Green, Glynis Oliver]
K. Sinister Secret #10
Which brainwashed mutant Sinister was replaced? Really?! Obviously: we just can’t know.
Clearly, Sinister has been in on the game way before Xavier knew there was one! Shush, indeed.
Next time: We’ll wrap up POX 4—at last! (Blame Sinister)