Really, the superficially cynical maneuverings of these worldly aristos are potentially as compelling as those happening in the mysteriously remade Otherworld. Yet while I’ve enjoyed Marauders, its overall execution is flawed in ways quite different from Excalibur’s challenges. Indeed, it’s been the least consistent ongoing, both in terms of direction and quality. But throughout, we’ve certainly gotten a better-than-average series, and dear daddy Duggan shows he’s still got his finger on the pulse of the present. That doesn’t mean it’s not quite literally all over the map!
Matteo Lolli’s rather bland style, overly sleek with the coloring, doesn’t help, while the issue #6 fill-in art of Mario Del Pennino is just painful—sapping the impact of the opening arc’s climactic action.
The best art here is oddly placed, in issue #4, drawn by rising star Lucas Werneck—most recently rocking it on The Trial of Magneto. By now, he’s worked out his individual style and pacing; meanwhile, Lolli’s work seems to be exactly the same.
For those who are current with the Marauders, let’s see whether the seeds planted in these early issues have actually borne fruit by now, towards the series’ end. What I found in rereading was that Duggan has played it maybe too subtly with a number of clever but backgrounded plot elements, like with Christian and Shinobi, but with frequent whiplash tangents like Wilhelmina’s breakdown but also the great but inevitable sidetrack of X of Swords, the title’s subtle strengths have been undercut.
I. Marauders #2: Red Coronation
Near the end of this issue, a communique from the CIA’s X-Desk department notes their surprise and suspicion that the Marauder’s engines are powered by some unknown advanced tech. They speculate that it could be Forge’s doing, which is likely—but they don’t know that he’s likely utilizing Shi’ar specs. Certainly, the Marauder wouldn’t be the only Hellfire ship using alien technology (see the brief note on the Mercury below)…
Sebastian Shaw, who had long been planning on violently pulling Emma’s red carpet out from under her, finds himself already outmaneuvered. Unsurprisingly, he shamelessly tries to argue that he’s been wronged by Kate when she foiled his hired merc, Batroc, from stealing Krakoan drugs for Shaw’s wealthy US friends; they were secretly bound for a poor, politically precarious African country, and while a new shipment will easily replace them, the Black King has been wrist-slapped for his greedy penchant to turn every little thing to his own profit.
The team also finally gets their ship, the Marauder.
And, hugely satisfying for Kate fans, the Spring Council’s third seat is filled at last.
II. Marauders #3: The Bishop in Black
Potentially confusing, while most of this issue occurs before the events of issue #1, but there’s no caption signaling this to the reader. (The untattooed Pyro drunk in a wheelchair is the single visual clue.) Page 19, though, tells us we’re back in the present, and Shaw euphemistically admits the defeat of his initial ambition for his son.
So instead of Red King, Shinobi will be Shaw’s Black Bishop—along with a sleek stealth battle-yacht, unfortunately christened the Upstart. (More on its namesake in the section below!)
A. The New Black Bishop, Shinobi Shaw
Sebastian’s son Shinobi Shaw was born to an unidentified Japanese woman and faring little better in terms of recognition, he was throughout his childhood abused and demeaned by his selfish overbearing father. However, he was at least close with his mother, the only time he was known to be happy. But this period was seen only briefly, in a flashback in 1994’s X-Men #29.
Here in Marauders #3, we see a grisly reminder of his bizarre death. Somewhat like the android Vision, Shinobi can phase his body into diamond-hard density or into a hologram—which interestingly likens him to both his father’s current Hellfire rivals: Emma and Kate. We’ll return to his recent suicide below.
As a child, he was occasionally ushered about Hellfire gatherings—where he met and quickly came to idolize his agemate Warren Worthington III, who snubbed the already emotionally fragile Shinobi. Here, I think the recent X-Corp mini missed a real opportunity to further explore Warren’s off-putting arrogance further, by returning to the unequal power and privilege dynamic between these two, fertile groundwork developed masterfully by X-Men scribe Fabian Nicieza. Unsurprisingly, Nicieza’s touch humanized and individualized an otherwise stock ’90s villain.
Shinobi had debuted earlier, in 1991’s X-Factor #67, and was a joint creation of Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, and Claremont. Soon after, he was revealed to be team leader of Selene and the Gamesmaster’s Upstarts, recreational mutant-hunters who were themselves mutants, albeit the most despicable—like Trevor Fitzroy, Siena Blaze, Fabian Cortez, and Fenris. The nonmutant bigot Graydon Creed was a probationary member. Early on, the Gamesmaster directed aspirants to kill one Inner Circle Hellfire member as a test to join. Thus, Shinobi’s interest in joining was motivated by his lifelong hatred of his father, the Black King. Indeed, he manually gave Sebastian a heart attack, seemingly killing him. He soon took Sebastian’s title.
While the Upstarts debuted in 1991’s Uncanny X-Men #281-283 in ’90s ultraviolent fashion—massacring Emma’s Hellions students—the team appeared only a few more times early on before disbanding. After all, it was only ever a game—a gimmick, really. Each of these cold killers is notoriously bad in their own right, however; banding together is just an opportunity for low drama among flashy thugs.
The mutant members of this kill-team, minus Fenris, reappeared briefly in Matt Rosenberg’s Uncanny run, seeking to fatally trap the ragtag remnants of the X-Men. But their ignoble return after a quarter-century ended with their cowardly escape, ditching Shinobi—who chose suicide over capture by the Hellfire Club. (Shortly thereafter, the others were slain by the US government’s Office of National Emergency, O*N*E*.)
Shinobi was also involved in the complex yakuza and Hand machinations around the Betsy/Kwannon swap, which is too byzantine to go into here. However, it’s worth considering the potential drama of an encounter between these three, given Shinobi’s greedy and conniving hand in Betsy and Kwannon’s fate.
Frankly, after Nicieza’s depiction of Shinobi as a child, Marauders #3 is the most humanized version of him we’ve ever seen. (Mutantized?) But whatever sympathy we might feel for him here will vanish by issue #8, when he recruits his old buddies Fenris, literal Nazis, to his father’s cause—with Shaw being very welcoming.
And more so than in his previous publication history, Shinobi is firmly in his father’s shadow and enmeshed entirely within Shaw’s anti-Emma machinations.
Shinobi’s scant further appearances show him as having become fast friends with Christian Frost. Issue #17 reveals that they have some secret dealing that Emma luckily finds out about. But what exactly it was, we don’t yet know.
(More on Christian in section IV below!)
From the moment of his son’s return, Sebastian’s machinations continue in the form of lies and conspiracy.
In fact, this issue ends with Shaw lying to his son about his death—that it was the doing of Emma and Kate.
Equally intriguing, Shinobi pays a brief visit to his old stomping grounds to reassure an erstwhile mentor or some form of creditor (or both) that he hasn’t forgotten his debts. (The Japanese terms used here are indicative of yakuza hierarchy, with oyassan being a father figure and kodomo the child or pupil.)
But wait a second! Shinobi will continue to be of service to this shadowy figure? Giving this guy an insider on Krakoa? And what’s this blade?! We still don’t have even a clue to any of these questions.
There’s also a neat scene in this issue with father and son moving aside some all too ordinary human waste—the simultaneously self-effacing yet selfish mutant-worshipping acolytes of the Order of X.
B. Courts Red, Black, White
Issue #3 sees the debut of Kate’s Red Keep, Sebastian’s Blackstone, and Emma’s White Palace. The first seems like an homage to the castle of King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. Grown by the living island itself, these edifices look impressive, and it would be neat to see more of their interiors, just like we’ve seen with X-Factor’s Boneyard. (Unfortunately, the canceled X-Factor has been the only post-HOX/POX series with a strong sense of inhabited spaces.)
While these Marauder venues will pop up a handful of times, it’s only Emma’s that has any prominence, unsurprisingly. After all, Kate is so often on the high seas, at home on the Marauder—which, again, never got enough page-time to give it a sense of being a uniquely—let alone entertainingly—inhabited space.
III. Marauders #4: The Red Bishop
Most importantly this issue, Kate recruits Bishop as her Red Bishop. Bishop’s private text to Beast shows the latter is supportive of this move, believing that he can pump the erstwhile police officer for inside dirt. But given the current opposing trajectories of these two characters, it’s likely Hank will be disappointed, though I’m sure whatever the Marauders find in the way of intel critical to Krakoan security will be shared.
The Brazilian mutant known only as Fish first appears here but after his welcome to Krakoa has been seen in just a few cameos. We’re also introduced to the anti-Krakoan Paragon, a Brazilian super-soldier working to prevent mutants from leaving the country. Storm kicks his ass, and he hasn’t popped up again.
We also discover that Chen Zhao has joined up with those erstwhile Hellfire brats, the Homines Verendi, as their new White Bishop.
And Chen’s husband, it’s revealed, was never kidnapped by mutants. He was an Order of X acolyte abducted by his own bigoted wife and locked in a panic room in their penthouse.
To bust out of there, the Red Queen and Red Bishop take on Chen Zhao’s hired help, two women cyborgs looking just like Lady Deathstrike. And Kate again shows herself to be increasingly ruthless in battle.
It’s worth noting here that Homines Verendi’s own White Queen, Wilhelmina Kensington, is portrayed characteristically as a demented Stepford Wife in waiting…
…But with issue #21, the character commences a complete about-face, with all her suppressed traumas and horrific deeds brought to the fore of her suddenly clearing mind by the Stepford Cuckoos. The result was, oddly, a poorly executed character redemption that neither the character nor this series needed. Frankly, it proved a baffling distraction from the title’s already numerous plot threads.
IV. Marauders #5: A Time to Sow
This issue we find out who Emma’s White Bishop is, and it’s a satisfying surprise—her brother. Already, issue #4 hinted at the White Bishop’s activities with the X-Desk communique* detailing their suspicions of another active Hellfire ship running stealthier drug courier missions. But since Marauders #8, there’s been strong hints that Christian Frost has stealth interests kept even from his sister, though they’re perhaps shared with Black Bishop Shinobi Shaw.
(*The communique also delves into suspicions around Jumbo Carnation’s mysterious return to life. Clearly, the secret of Krakoan resurrection won’t be secret for long.)
A. Christian Frost
Emma Frost’s parents and siblings first appeared in flashbacks in Grant Morrison’s classic New X-Men #139 (2003), and the family sees fuller treatment that year in the first arc of the deeply flawed Emma Frost series.
Christian is the only male and eldest of the four Frost siblings. But Emma, the middle sister, is much closer to him than anyone else in this family of sneaky, narcissistic backstabbers. Cordelia is, of course, named ironically, not at all like King Lear’s humble daughter; she’s more like Regan—but there was a mutant who already had that name! 😉 The unassuming Cordelia of King Lear is instead closer to the young Emma, surprisingly; certainly, they’re both hapless victims of overwhelmingly selfish and toxic family drama. Adrienne and Cordelia vied for their father’s favor while Emma’s brother had aged out of caring.
However, in Emma Frost #5-6, it’s revealed that after Emma’s unconsciously burgeoning powers helped her see her family’s sordid secrets and machinations, her attempts to fight back first backfired when Adrienne outed Christian to their bigoted father, who then framed his son’s lover as a dealer to get him deported. Emma thwarted Christian’s suicide attempt, but in coping with his depression he became a drug addict.
When their father had him institutionalized, Emma quit the family, rejecting her father’s will to name her his heir. But in the 2018 Iceman mini written by Sina Grace, she was surprised to learn he’d recently been released into the care of their father. After many years away, she returned to the family home in issue #2 accompanied by Iceman*, only to discover her father’s corpse. Perhaps more to her surprise, she discovered that Christian was a mutant, with the ability to weaponize astral energy and (as seen only once thus far) psionically create lifelike constructs (of his father in the one instance). After years of hate and abuse from his father, including institutional “conversion therapy,” Christian murdered him in a passion of rage. Emma felt deeply guilty for leaving him to his institutionalized fate all these years (never mind the fact that news of his existence arrived 20 years after her own debut), and so for the time being she sheltered him.
(*This makes sense, as shown in this issue, because having once briefly inhabited Bobby, Emma knew that he was closeted but said nothing so that he could find his own way. There are some dubious aspects to this, but it’s a way of explaining the fact that she would’ve known years before anyone else.)
Now as Emma’s White Bishop, he captains the Mercury to run even stealthier missions than the Marauder, which became world-notorious by the end of Marauders #1. In issue #10, we see that it can, astoundingly, turn into a flying saucer. Here, it’s in the form of a submarine; in either case, Christian pilots it via a piano—call it his preferred neural interface!
(The deep-space provenance of this strange ship wasn’t revealed until the recently released Marauders #24!)
However, like Adrienne and Cordelia, Christian is immune to Emma’s telepathy, and he’s clearly been trying at least to use this immunity to his advantage—how and to what end we don’t yet know.
After all those miserable years neglected by his family and apparently entirely forgotten by Emma, is Christian—whose lifelong trauma surely didn’t merely end with his father’s recent murder—holding on to some secret grudge against his once-favorite sister?
Notably, Christian didn’t vote with Emma and Kate in restricting Blackstone’s operations to Madripoor.
And certainly, his romance with Bobby Drake was off to a somewhat chilly start this issue, what with Christian’s dismissiveness regarding Kate and the feelings of loyalty she invokes in those close to her—meaning not just Iceman but his own sister too.
But truly damning, in the climax of this opening arc in issue #6, we find that Christian was a party to Shaw’s conspiracy to murder Kate.
B. Like Sisters
Speaking of Kate, given that she can’t interface with Krakoa itself, she finally has Emma download Krakoan into her mind, thanking her in, um, Spankoan—you know, instead of Spanglish? 😉
Best of all, though, we get the best heart-to-heart yet between Emma and Kate, who quietly, half-jokingly speculates on what life would’ve been like had she long ago picked Headmistress Frost over Professor X (who’s a jerk!).
A bittersweet prologue, then, to Kate’s death next issue.
C. The Trap is Sprung
This is where Shaw’s machinations come to a head, as he lures the Marauders to Madripoor with a little Gulf of Tonkin incident, allowing his contact in the Homines Verendi, the foul erstwhile White Bishop Donald Pierce, to take aim at Shinobi and his ship in Madripoor Bay.
Meanwhile, as Bishop and Storm soon discover, the Verendi have called on the working poor of Lowtown to go a-hunting for mutants. This is the Marauders’ first inkling of Kade Kilgore’s refurbished organization, and they’re surprised to find the once mutant-friendly Madripoor playing host to such bigoted scum. Frankly, though, it’s obvious: It’s the money they bring.
After this arc, Shinobi will be telepathically cleared of any guilt here; he apparently didn’t know what Shaw had planned. And so, I suppose in this scene we’re meant to read him as surprisingly humane and sympathetic. Perhaps the wounded child in him reclaimed his heart for once, to protect these children—or was he merely hiding out too?
Most stunning of all here, though, is Storm’s show of force after getting blasted with the power neutralizer. This fool obviously didn’t know a depowered Storm had once led the X-Men for years—because she is just that bad-ass, a warrior born.
Note that the Russians’ neutralizer armor has made only one further appearance after this arc, in issue #10, where it’s revealed that its design was stolen from Forge’s specs for the power-neutralizing weapon he had created for the US government way back in Uncanny #184, and which was turned, notoriously, on Storm—leading to her depowered years, when her star shone brightest as the X-Men’s leader.
After all, it’s not about special powers at the end of the day; it’s who best wields their own strengths.
This fraught background between Storm and Forge is mentioned briefly next issue.
V: Marauders #6: A Time to Reap
We start out with the Pym-particle-infused Yellowjacket stealthily infiltrating Pyro’s bloodstream.
Yellowjacket (Darren Cross) reappears only in issue #9, where he’s caught and mind-wiped. But typically, when he’s not running Cross Industries, he kicks around with the likes of the Masters of Evil; so it seems Duggan just likes to throw in C- and D-list Marvel villains that don’t usually mix it up with mutants. Fun!
And of course, that’s why we get Hate-Monger, although X-Cutioner has primarily been a Gambit foe—and Nicieza’s Gambit series tied him to Amanda Mueller’s Black Womb Project.
So, Verendi’s rather brilliant scheme here…
…thankfully gets spoiled in short order.
A. The Queen Is Dead—
However, Shaw’s own plans aren’t spoiled here. This will only make Emma and Kate’s later vengeance against him that much more bittersweet.
Shaw breaches the hull of the ship full of power-neutralizing armor that had been bound for Madripoor. So, with Kate trapped on deck and entangled by Krakoan roots that were perhaps designed to attack her, Shaw reveals all.
What I still don’t understand is what Kate doesn’t either: Why would Shaw do this, knowing he should expect brutal blowback at some point? My only guess is twofold: misogyny and entrepreneurial spirit. Always the risktaker, he stupidly miscalculated not only the ferocity of his opponents but their power.
NEXT TIME: X-Men #5-6—the Children; and Destiny