[cover by Kael Ngu]
Three issues, Steve Orlando and Eleonora Carlini’s new Marauders title still promises to be fun, colorful and breathlessly action-packed. Much mystery remains, though how much that mysteriousness proves relevant beyond the pages of Marauders isn’t clear. Orlando delights in the obscurest pulls and references from X-Men lore, and that’s catnip to deep Marvel heads—but could this also be distracting us from the lack of gravity to the story so far, or maybe detracting from the story’s broader potential relevance? Regardless, this series feels like it’s shaping up to be a fresh take on Krakoan era adventure, a freshness that is otherwise sorely lacking elsewhere in the franchise. So far, this is quite a good comic, though it doesn’t have the heft and epic scope of Immortal X-Men and X-Men: Red, nor does it involve and provoke like Sabretooth, and it doesn’t promise the earnestly thoughtful and long overdue character reconstruction of beloved characters that New Mutants is doing for longtime fan faves who’ve been dealt too many bad hands.
All the same, Marauders is far ahead of the other books—all of them, notably, by writers who have been with Krakoa since the beginning. I’m not going to argue that all would be better if Hickman hadn’t left, because that’s a counterfactual we’ll just never know the answer to, except that he wanted to leave, so he did. Where we are now, it’s just a telling observation that following Hickman’s departure, the Krakoan narrative has drastically loosened, is maybe in a transitional period of restructuring, and the storytellers who appear most ready to strongly define the franchise and carry it forward are all taking their first swings.
It could be that in a few months, as this newest stage of this new era—the Destiny of X—takes clearer shape, we’ll find all the X books equally fresh and exciting. This is probably magical thinking. Still, it will at least be interesting to see how the various creative teams grapple with Hickman’s legacy and the perennial dilemmas of this wonderful but ridiculously unwieldy franchise. One big question is: Exactly what kind of X-Men story do these writers want to tell? Hickman undid the franchise’s evermore embarrassing narrative disarray with the hardest reset possible without a complete reboot. A move so radical wouldn’t seem to be an option for the current writers. Chris Claremont, Grant Morrison and a few others remain clear inspirations, but those earlier creators had so much more runway, it’s hard to see how the status quo won’t soon fall back into a too-familiar pattern of hectic muddling through—now with Disney gatekeeping.
Issue #2 opens unexpectedly with Lockheed happening upon a monstrosity composed of human corpses. Kate’s best bud and alien dragon (only, um, disguised as a pet) has popped up a couple places recently, and surprisingly without Kate, whom he was last seen with near the end of Duggan’s Marauders.
This is setting up a future plot point that must involve the Order of X, as Lockheed has followed his snout into one of their chapels, discovering evidence of violence and a sci-fi horror that looks dead, possibly.
Recall that the Order apparently emerged in response to Xavier’s telepathic message to the world announcing the existence of the Krakoan nation—and its adherents may have indeed been affected psychosomatically, or some such.
Page two and we’re back on Chandilar for the rest of the issue. Xandra is arguing for her mutant friends, but Delphos’ will is inflexible, the Kin Crimson secret agent taking it for granted that the child empress is simply a child. So far, Xandra’s inclination seems to be toward potentially caving; this is clearly a critical test for her character. But nodding to the next issue, where this is resolved, readers might have enjoyed more suspense there; at least for me, I like character turns and resolutions to build up more steam beforehand.
At least in the second issue Xandra’s siding with the Kin Crimson gave readers pause, only to discover that she was just playing along until she could come to the Marauders’ rescue in the next chapter.
As for the Kin Crimson retcon generally, we’re given to understand that previous regimes, including Lilandra’s and Gladiator’s, recognized their authority, which as far as we know was never an issue—though, who knows, maybe Lilandra had some secret meeting with them once; anything’s possible. Understandably, Xandra didn’t know about these people since she was not raised at court (indeed, she popped into existence not that long ago); still, given the apparent power and privilege accorded the Kin Crimson’s agents, it’s surprising Xandra’s erstwhile mentor Deathbird never mentioned them, especially since Deathbird’s status as both the new empress’s closest advisor and as a recent assassination attempt survivor was quite uncertain, before she was indeed exiled to certain death by the same would-be assassins, one of whom then unmasked as an agent of the Kin Crimson.
Would-be assassin Delphos assures Xandra that Deathbird’s rescue is underway, though the brief cutaway to Deathbird battling against humanoid elephants that could be Kin Crimson agents belies her assurance.
Note that Delphos, formerly just an Imperial Guard precog, here calls her precognitions or predictions “preconceptions,” almost always a wholly negative word in English, though I’m guessing all its connotations wouldn’t be heard in Delphos’ speech, as her character doesn’t seem capable of irony. So the word choice is a little on the nose when readers would already be very clear on this depiction of intolerant fascist cops.
Delphos also calls Deathbird a “genetic throwback,” a bigoted term for Shi’ar with the more avian features that most the species has lost over millennia of evolution. It’s unclear if this makes her a mutant, but Marvel’s more recent handbook guides have suggested it, perhaps to nudge her toward closer alignment with Earth’s mutants (who she’s never been particularly interested in as people).
Most the rest of the issue is a space action. An no doubt about it, Carlini is a dynamic choreographer, which is clearly a priority for her and Orlando’s Marauders—delivering high-octane energy with figurework that manages to be elegant and intense, light and quick but also fierce. Matt Milla’s colors are also of course crucial in really making the action zing and pop.
Secrets of the Kin Crimson
Eric the Red is the oddest aspect of the Kin Crimson retcon since it establishes that the reason he was assigned to Earth way back in the early Claremont days was to ensure that Earth’s mutants never learned about anything to do with the Shi’ar, which must be why he was depicted then as having lived in leisure, undiscovered by earthlings, before his mission changed to stopping Lilandra from contacting humans. But here in Marauders #2, he says that “Davan Shakari,” which we’d always assumed was his real name, was merely a “mask”—and that he’s “watched [Earth’s mutants] for centuries.” Only now have they got too close to the state secrets Eric’s true self has ever been dedicated to protecting.
Only now, in Shi’ar space, not on Earth, has he been activated in his secret agent role, due to a message handwritten and time-displaced—which seems like a shaky pretext for blowing one’s cover. If they had just played ignorant when the Marauders had arrived with bizarre-sounding demands, then Kate’s group would’ve immediately looked more like the aggressors, showing up with the dreaded mummudrai no less!
Similarly, Eric seems excited about telling the Marauders that they’ve come digging for dangerous secrets, heavily suppressed secrets whose existence he pretty stupidly acknowledges, sort of defeating his function as a keeper of secrets.
And oddly, Gladiator tells Xandra the Kin Crimson haven’t revealed themselves in centuries, meaning he’s always known of their existence but apparently never knew Eric the Red was among their number, and whatever reason he and everyone involved was given for Eric’s presence on Earth must have been a lie—created by Emperor D’Ken (Lilandra’s usurping brother)?
So why does the existence of the Kin Crimson need to be secret? The idea of them is interesting, but to only be activating now because of a cryptic message that points to absolutely nothing concrete or specific is a little odd. It could be that we’ll discover their other activities, which maybe we haven’t heard about because they didn’t involve Earth’s mutants—just censoring and suppressing local Shi’ar knowledge. Still, with such a broad function, one would think a savvy advisor like Deathbird would’ve told Xandra. Plus, given the Kin’s almost violently colorful armor and gear, how can they really be that secret; they’re simply much too glam to be secret police.
Perhaps the Kin Crimson idea will become more intriguing as classic Excalibur ally Cerise enters the story. She debuted in Excalibur #46 during Alan Davis’ solo run wherein she was later revealed to have been bioengineered into a living weapon, but after his abrupt departure from the book, writer Scott Lobdell interpreted her as Shi’ar, although that was likely not what Davis had intended. Besides her super-strength and stamina, she can generate energy constructs à la Green Lantern, except they’re red. The data page suggests that she’s somehow connected to the proprietary Kin Crimson tech Hard Skin.
[art by Jim Lee]
Cerise is primed to step into Marauders soon, and her characterization as a conscientious objector (defying expectations) would be a perfect foil to what we’re seeing to be the worst of the Shi’ar—the Kin Crimson.
The data page’s author is a Kin Crimson agent named Emperiax the Red, also said here to be the inventor of Wet Skin—which gets a bit more detail next issue: The Kin Crimson experimented on a symbiote, Zzxz (from the War of Kings event), which they captured, lobotomized and then weaponize, using it in battle now against “the beast” Cassandra. Unfortunately for them, she manages to activate the symbiote’s genes that make it hungry for brains. Weaponizing symbiotes always backfires one way or the other.
Here we also learn that the Kin Crimson may have killed off the inhabitants of D’Bari III, not D’Bari IV, which was the planet the Dark Phoenix destroyed in “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” the home of broccoli folk who don’t match the description of the D’Barians mentioned on this data page.
The second data page reveals a non-Shi’ar alien named Pilgrimm is of the Kin Crimson (that extra “m” clues us in that he’s one of those demonic aliens who can vibe with America’s goth kids). This scary fella was introduced during Joe Kelly’s late ’90s X-Men run (issue #75), and he then popped up in a few issues of the strange and forgotten 2000 mini-event Black Sun; he hasn’t been seen since.
Also mentioned here are the Hodinn, sentient stars in humanoid form*, first appearing (albeit very briefly) in Morrison’s New X-Men #124. Much later, in War of Kings and Realm of Kings, two Imperial Guardians go by this same name. But here, it’s properly used, though we never see anything of the dragon-rider Betel to say, oh my, yes, that’s a human-shaped star! Next issue, Cassandra will kill him, never mind that supposedly they’re an endangered species? The dragon, also killed, is probably a P!ndyr, alien dragons seen only in Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men #265, 275 and 277.
*Apparently, these are containment suits maintaining the Hodinn’s integrity; without them, the star beings collapse in on themselves, as we’ll see with Betel.
What is totally new here is the so-called Ten Shames. These fetishized pieces of knowledge made taboo lends an authentic feel to this dour ancient cult, appropriate to a militant/fundamentalist secret police force. The unraveling of these secrets should have the most weight in this story. Clearly, “the First Blood Spilled” is the central secret, but the next two have also been strongly hinted at (“the Theft of the Hard Skin” and “the Birth of the Wet Skin”). The rest carry much mystery but no clues as to how they might be relevant currently (though I’m most curious about “the Goblin Extraction”).
The use of Somnus’ power for creating a dream-space meeting place for the team is neat, especially since his power set doesn’t lend itself to immediate or obvious usefulness in the field. Still, he can’t protect them externally, only buy them some time to strategize—before a few seconds of exposure to the vacuum of space inevitably and horrifically kills them (Too bad Tempo doesn’t seem to be helping here! Next issue we see that Aurora is somehow thinking at super-speed here, though that’s a new aspect of her power here). Really, I’m just saying that when a spaceship explosively decompressing isn’t taken at all seriously, then who cares. If the team was on a submarine in Earth’s oceans, we’d see more respect for reality, even in a comic book.
Kin Crimson Routed?
Issue #3 doesn’t check back in with Lockheed, but we do see Deathbird fighting off a swarm of Brood on some watery planet. Clearly, the Kin Crimson have done what they can to make sure she’s not rescued. Meanwhile, Delphos wants the Marauders’ ship “destroyed at Infinity’s End,” which we can assume means the God Quarry or Quarry of Creation, most recently seen, I believe, in Free Comic Book Day 2021: Avengers/Hulk, where the new Avengers Tower is established in what until now has been a graveyard for gods and cosmic beings (first introduced in Jeff Lemire’s Thanos #8, 2017).
It’s unclear why an ordinary spacecraft would need to be taken to this forbidding site for destruction; that seems like overkill—but maybe we’re just being told that the Kin have access to some far-out places.
It might be useful to put Cassandra there, but the Kin believe Betel and the space dragon are about to “cull” the mummudrai. Nope! Nova actually says she “flayed” Betel’s “would-be assassin years ago”—when she possessed Xavier’s body and wreaked havoc across the Shi’ar Empire, way back in New X-Men #122-126. While I’m not sure who she’s referring to, this Kin’s mind is where she learned of the Ten Shames.
Ordinary Shi’ar rank and file don’t seem to have a high opinion of “Delphos’ cult,” and they’ve at least rescued the unconscious Marauders, to be taken as prisoners, while Cassandra finishes off the Hodinn and space dragon—using the weaponized symbiote (Zzxz) to destroy its own host. The dead Pr!z the Red wakes into a kind of afterlife in his “Black Bug Room,” which Cyclops famously has as well, as seen once way back in New X-Men #116 (continuing with the Morrison homage). Presumably, any sentient being has one, since it’s a feature of the individual’s subconscious where, if stuck, they lose contact with outside reality and are lorded over by their suppressed fears personified by grotesque avatars. It’s unclear if this is anything more than an Easter egg here.
As the team wakes and fights their captors, Gladiator calls Daken a “false Lupak,” which is an in-joke, since this is the alien race Imperial Guardian Fang belongs to; he’s the one that looks like a slim version of Logan.
Looking kooky in her fallen foe’s helmet, Cassandra joins in to help—and then Majestrix Xandra arrives, astride an owl? This psychic projection does seem to recall Cassandra’s relatively odd potential future persona as the Owl Queen, as seen in Sam Humphries’ 2013 Uncanny X-Force run (starting with issue #4); this never really went anywhere, though.
The first data page this issue is the initial entry in The Kin Crimson Chronicle; a book bound in the flesh of one of the Nobles of Kin Crimson, it’s a record of the true/secret history of the Shi’ar. Its author, Sharraka the Red, hasn’t been mentioned before. The Xorrians are an obscure pull from Thor #215, where they’re said to be the genetic template for all humanoid races throughout our intergalactic neighborhood (groan—I’ve never understood why comics writers need to bring in alien civilizations from other galaxies; really, given how rarely Marvel has given us aliens from our own galaxy, it makes you wonder). Here, it’s claimed that this ancient race “offered up their science and instruction in culling the weaker, avian traits from [Shi’ar] biology.”
Mostly, this entry is just telling us again that the Kin are crazy fundies. Which is of course why Xandra hasn’t seen it yet. In fact, Delphos’ cult seems ready for something of a coup—until the young Majestrix surprisingly stands up and lays down her law, with a burst of psi power bringing Delphos to her knees, apparently with all her thoughts riffled through and filed away in Xandra’s own mind, or something. She orders Gladiator to arrest her, a satisfying moment.
As is Xandra siding definitively with the Krakoans, going on the journey with them to uncover the truth of “the First Blood Spilled.” Again, though, it would have been nice to see more of Xandra’s inner tension; throwing in with Krakoa so quickly here makes it feel like a foregone conclusion. But hey, Marvel comics have to move fast these days, for the most part.
I’m guessing Marauders will be a series of relatively short action-packed arcs light-on the kind of characterization that really digs into a character’s inner workings and how they might go through changes over the course of a more sustained narrative.
The next data page is about the Krag, a “pan-dimensional” prison planet whose Kin Crimson origins are described here, but it’s actually a venue that’s appeared once before, in Excalibur #69-70, though without any significant detail: A barren planetoid where Cerise had been imprisoned and then freed by Rachel and Kylun.
And that’s where our team is headed next! Perhaps they’ll find Cerise there, too. We’re definitely ready for a Cerise renaissance.
Oh—and reviewing Marauders #1, I quibbled that the Kin Crimson felt redundant given the prior existence of the Fraternity of Raptors—from the War of Kings—but in the data page here, we find that the Raptors are said to have similar goals, but they’re much too “showy”; true secret police do things more, y’know, secretly. And so they actually started a civil war with the Raptors, who apparently gave a good showing, but ultimately, they are now only “allowed to survive as a loud, useful distraction.” Veteran Raptor leadership was wiped out, with the order’s elders imprisoned by the Kin in the Krag, and the Fraternity’s legacy has been left in the hands of the youngest members “whose every memory of the Kin has been redacted.”
As soon as Xandra and the Marauders disembark, prison guards seemingly assassinate the Majestrix. Oh no!
She’ll be fine.
Bottom line, Orlando and Carlini’s Marauders is a very fun, beautifully dynamic cartoon mutant A-Team. That and the fact that I can always rely on Steve bringing out those delightfully obscure pulls make this title strong B-action movie/geek hybrid entertainment. It likely won’t have the focus on gradual character build and complicated frenemy dynamics, the kind of storytelling most exciting to me—and that we’re sure to find in abundance in Immortal X-Men and X-Men: Red, the two titles that are justifying the continued relevance of the Krakoan era.