Credits: Si Spurrier writes; Jan Bazaldua draws; Federico Blee colors; Clayton Cowles letters; covers by Dike Ruan and Matthew Wilson
Despite series writer Si Spurrier’s smorgasbord of ideas for Legion of X, little of which comes into focus until the last issue of the first arc (likely to happen again with the conclusion of the second, issue #10), Spurrier has one simple message throughout, which may or may not help readers appreciate it more:
Love, or Liebenden (German for “Lovers”), defeats (Ever)war.
(“A Canticle for Liebenden,” a riff off the sci-fi classic A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter Miller, Jr. is the title of issue #5; “Everwar” is what the Arakkii call the centuries of conflict with Amenth.)
When these early issues were coming out, I’d already checked out with issue #1—but rereading them now on Marvel Unlimited, I find them worth returning to a few times over; however, I’m still not going to invest in getting the trade. If the rest of the series turns out to be more memorable, then we’ll see.
Obviously, we now know that some of the material here will be essential to understanding upcoming event Sins of Sinister, with zany Si Spurrier and superb artist Paco Medina penning the Nightcrawler miniseries, one-third of the event’s trio of three-issue minis. Leaving aside the dire spoiler-iness of solicits, it’s logical that Legion of X’s subtly antagonistic mystery figure with the British accent, Mother Righteous, will play something of a Sinister role; after all, event architect Kieron Gillen’s Immortal X-Men villain is Sinister and the third writer involved, the cosmo-spectacular Al Ewing, has revealed another of Essex’s earliest clones, Orbis Stellaris (in “the suit of spades”), in his X-Men: Red.
In other words, after the top-tier “dueling aces” of Immortal X-Men and X-Men: Red, the current X title with the most immediate relevance is indeed Legion of X, however much you can or cannot stand the pace of Spurrier’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink storytelling style.
Frankly, sometimes a talented creator’s best hope when working on licensed properties (as opposed to creator-owned material) is to generate a bunch of wild ideas for whatever time they have on a given title and so leave it to subsequent creators to pick up whatever threads seem most fruitful—mix-n-match as they will. Almost a year in, this seems to be the case with Legion of X. Hence, if you read it as a zany ideas generator, you’re probably following Spurrier’s intent; thus, he’s succeeded with his remit as far as he views it.
My primary criticism of the book at the start of 2023 is its confusion of protagonists: The Legion title was quickly revealed to be Nightcrawler-centric—but occasionally still also Legion’s spotlight. But last summer, the most prevalent complaint about the series was its tone-deafness concerning social justice issues around crime and punishment, where the alternative intentional society of Krakoa was supposed to be providing models for, well, alternatives to the way we do things so badly in our own reality. The glaring hypocrisy, always intentional on Hickman’s part, was the existence of the Pit and Xavier’s ready willingness to condemn whoever even mildly displeased him … (Had Sinister tendencies already taken over???) However, Legion of X was supposed to provide yet another alternative. It’s right there in the first issue’s solicit:
Krakoa has its laws—but does it have justice? To remain a mutant sanctuary, Krakoa must safeguard itself against those who would damage its peace or traumatize its people. The lost must be found, and the wicked must face redemption—or retribution.
Okay, well—maybe that was the first issue, but apparently Spurrier didn’t think this was his remit for the title as a whole, however it wholly comes together or not. This quote’s last sentence would appear to reference fascinating (but still quite unknown) new mutant Lost (from Spurrier’s Way of X), and the rest of it (which is quite detailed, revelatory of why as a reader I detest solicits!) mentions the other characters “on the beat” (phrasing that refers only to cops, though it’s not otherwise explicit there): Nightcrawler, Pixie (“on point”) and Juggernaut (“a one-man riot squad”).
[First and last briefing at the precinct, issue #1]Just bear in mind, the storytellers on licensed properties do not write the solicits. Yet still, editorial must’ve had some idea from the author as to what the series was to be about! (Was Spurrier pressed in duress to give some accounting of what he, as a clearly experimental and thus process-oriented teller, would’ve rather left unaccountable?)
So, it’s perfectly understandable that the popular critique centered on Spurrier’s apparent tone-deafness here: He provides no real, substantive alternative community policing, much less ideas for retribution, or restitution, even once the Krakoan bad guy/chaos-maker, a sorry nobody named Switch, is apprehended (and then executed without Kurt’s knowledge, essentially by his lover, the Arakkii Weaponless Zsen).
And yet taking in the first arc only now, this reader at least left behind any expectation for diligence and depth on this particular hot-button topic with that first issue. I knew there’d be nothing gained there, so simply read to enjoy what could be enjoyed. In doing so, I found more than expected—indeed, too much!
That said, the finest feature of this first arc is the way it almost comes together in issue #5, which however, of course, leaves several mysteries unresolved—though they happily remain, I believe, tantalizing enough.
Yet what it all means? As stated above: Liebe trumps Krieg. For all Spurrier’s zaniness, pretty simple, nein? Well, this might be what formal thematic closure there is to the first arc, but it’s pretty clear that the point is really: To dwell in possibility (to cop a phrase from the inimitable Emily) is the victory against the Death—that is closure. Looking back at the Spurrier oeuvre, isn’t closure itself really the nemesis behind and haunting the scenes, beleaguering the questing artist in the market of a medium increasingly favoring just that, that closing down of possibilities, of interpretive reader response?
Do I read too generously? Perhaps that’s a question that doesn’t yet know what reading can be.
To bring it back to mutant brass tacks, the fan-relevant deets: Legion of X offers the finest characterization of Nightcrawler since … a really long time! Hickman in Powers of X and X-Men #8 gave us his character in choice snippets, amplifying by implication in those all-too-brief moments. Spurrier, however, operates expansively, that is, in a Romantic mode that (however much it, as such, succeeds or not) is pitch perfect for our swashbucklin’ romancer (Imagine how perfect, too: Kurt Wagner as German Expressionist, and depicted in that way. There is the potential of this in the art of Bazaldua).
Think, too, of Spurrier’s new seemingly gonzo creation, the Spirit of Variance—that is, of chance operations; of hazarding a try at something new, different; of breathing in the renewal of the ever-renewing Spark.
Read Spurrier as a writer in the Romantic mode, where the fragment replaces the totality of formal structure (and thus the deadly dry air of closure), and you will have a high fun time. Oddly, though, he reads as more inspired upon reflection rather than in the moment.
Certainly, he is not playing second fiddle to the more formally realized operatics of Gillen’s Quiet Council and Ewing’s Great Circle. Spurrier is writing exactly the series he wants; its import is in another direction; hopefully, we’ll get to see how these three visions of the X mythos converge and compliment and contrast with another in “Sins of Sinister”—of course, in an alt-reality fun-house mirror kind of way. In fact, I’ll bet this event is going to excite new or lapsed readership to Legion of X, when it resumes in, presumably, May.
Here are some useful notes on this arc for readers:
First off, while this isn’t a knock against Spurrier’s story, it is a bit irritating that issue #4 cover’s features Loki—false advertising! But in the comic itself, (Silver Age) Loki’s (shadowy) presence is briefly suggested, exciting readers to read on…?
The deity Tumult, “The Trickster Chimaera” (issue #4), is an amalgamation of various tricksters out of Earthling mythology, courtesy of Ora Serrata—both his Inquisitor-style persecutor and initial worshiper. Throughout this arc, until the final issue, he protected his second follower, the opportunistic body-hopper Switch, in what was referred to as a “No-Place” on Krakoa; however, it seems clear that Tumult’s powers are what hid this space from even Warlock’s awareness (Warlock being enmeshed with Krakoa’s). So, this wasn’t another of Xavier/Moira/Magneto’s hidden, “tumorous” No-Places.
At Nightcrawler’s encouragement, Tumult broke out of this space by realizing he was allowed to serve himself and not just be a tool of those who created or made offerings to him.
Having swapped bodies with the body-hopper, Tumult left Arakko in Switch’s body as Switch was slain, apparently, in Tumult’s giant form, in the Circle Perilous. Only time will tell if Spurrier or another picks up his story and deepens it with greater interest. This character would seem to have some interesting potential in a fictional universe that really only has one prominent trickster god, Loki; it will just take the right hands to bring out something original and worthwhile. With his traumatic entry into the world and his anomie (both in the sense of being cast adrift from the certainty of a tradition and of being restless and uncertain from a lack of purpose or higher ideals), this “patchwork”* deity is already more human than divine—he’s relatable.
(*Interesting that in Way of X, the apparent shadowy threat there was the Patchwork Man, who turned out to be Legion himself—ahem, him selves… And who is more patchwork than he???)
As it is, Tumult’s reason for being here is to reveal Ora Serrata’s hollow zealotry and hypocrisy. He is still, unsurprisingly, a child—newborn in the world.
Ora Serrata summoned this amalgamated deity using limited magical abilities conferred, in an esoteric pact or Faustian bargain, by Mother Righteous (who eloquently enough insists on gratitude from those who receive her questionable gifts—and becoming her hanger-on, as with Banshee and the Spirit of Variance, seems to be the deepest of her satisfactions, so far). Ora’s creepy design fits perfectly with her duties (presumably self-conferred) as the embodiment of Arakko’s domestic law enforcement, such as it is (“justice” for the Arakkii centers on the challenges that take place in the Circle Perilous); her eye at least feels as if it has a panoptic surveillance power (thinking here of the 18th-century “Enlightenment” conception of the carceral Panopticon, amalgamated with the zeal of the Spanish Inquisition, despite the Arbitrix’s screed against gods).
The body-hopping “skinjacker” Switch is a deep cut from the late ’90s, fan-favorite John Francis Moore run on X-Force (issues #87-90). He was one of the so-called New Hellions, basically just mutant terrorists (and not under Emma’s purview, although one of her erstwhile Hellion students, Tarot, was on the team, as was ex-New Mutant Magma). No one’s going to be missing him—and he, much like Tumult, is in the story to serve Spurrier’s thematic interest, with Kurt as the vehicle.
Kurt is the appropriate vehicle for questions of moral crime, or sin, and punishment—and redemption; above all, though, Spurrier wants our swashbucklin’ hero to do some shadow work, for which it’s past time, what with not just his codename but his very appearance. It was enough in the early years that Claremont, working off Dave Cockrum’s original visual design, wanted to make a point about being a mutant: Appearing different, or devilish in the eyes of simple-minded yokels, doesn’t mean you can’t be a nice guy, and Nightcrawler is the nicest, most wholesome X-Man ever. But there’s a danger of a Mary Sue there, someone who’s too perfect, too well-rounded, too balanced. I commend Spurrier’s ambition here to explore Kurt’s deeper psychic terrain.
As to the massacre Ora Serrata unleashes in the Altar once Kurt catches her out in her lies and conspiracy to sow chaos via her hounding of Tumult, it’s wild to me that Krakoa did not seek any sort of retribution or even restitution. Well—death is not the end; still, that giant eye seems like a hard though swift way to go (however temporarily).
There are a few interesting lead-ins to the next arc, which is even clearer in hindsight, months later: Zsen leaves Kurt with a portrait of his true self, of which we see only Kurt’s shocked and humbled reaction; Warlock is alarmed at some kind of techno-organic “blooms,” bright little flakes sticking to Juggernaut—who says they “just kinda … drift in outa the Astral Plane” (recall that in the first issue we learned that Magus, Warlock’s father/tyrannical progenitor was slain by Nimrod, which atrocity echoed through “dreamspace,” surprising Legion, who didn’t think “synthetic intelligence” had any kind of presence there; presumably, Xavier is surprised as well); Nightcrawler’s investigative team is now on the case of Paulie’s murderer, who we saw only briefly in issue #4, just his purple arms and rectilinear word balloons—indicating some kind of artificiality, perhaps something techno-organic (he had come to retrieve Switch’s psyche that had been trapped in a kind of jar and watched over, oddly, by Paulie).
Lastly, I do personally prefer Xavier as arrogant but hapless heel rather than Sinister-possessed diabolical mastermind (Immortal X-Men), but the best would be seeing the latter version defeated through his own hilarious idiocy, like so…
NEXT: Nightcrawler wrestles with his devilishness and goes digging in his own dirt—fitting for one named after a worm! Worm! Worm! (Sheesh, those literal-minded Arakkii cannot stand anyone not having the most flowery, byzantine names, like Ora Serrata (hour of sawing? golden sawtooth?), Lodus (Lodos as in muck and mire?) Logos, even Lactuca; she’s what, an amoeboid fungus or a lettuce, or just something else to do with milk?