Teased with a typically beautiful yet ominous Leinil Francis Yu cover, X-Men #7 set expectations high for raising the bar on internal Krakoan tensions—and the story delivered, along with many burning questions that mostly still haven’t been answered. We start with a literally iconoclastic image of a stained-glass version of the most famous Catholic mutant—Nightcrawler—shattered by Apocalypse wielding a sword (which seemed to both echo what we’d seen recently in flashbacks, of Apocalypse’s last stand on ancient Okkara, and call forward to the impending X of Swords event).
What’s most clear by issue’s end is that Kurt’s doubts and questions, even his spiritual vision of renewal, just don’t carry the day, at all. They certainly fueled readers’ hopes for more Kurt content, but it’s Apocalypse and the less humane elements on the Quiet Council—meaning, most of it, then—who win out here, thus allowing the Krakoan project to grow at a more rapid pace, driving up reader enthusiasm, as well. So, yeah, cynicism wins, as usual. At least Hickman’s being honest! 😉
X-Men #7 is titled “Lifedeath,” which for any longtime X reader immediately brings to mind the classic standalone story of the same title, in Uncanny X-Men #186 (with a later follow-up, in issue #198). In 1984, it was Storm who had recently lost powers thanks to a weapon designed by Forge, thoughtlessly working under the auspices of the US security establishment. The man who pulled the trigger was government agent and current Orchis point man Henry Gyrich (though he’d been aiming for Rogue). But Mystique had earlier informed Forge of Gyrich’s eagerness to test Forge’s prototype in the field; enraged, he tracked down the device to the scene just in time to rescue an unconscious Storm from drowning. The next chapter, “Lifedeath,” opened with Storm coming to in Forge’s palatial high-tech apartment; we see her at her nadir, the lowest point in her life to date, but Forge continued to care for, and she developed feelings toward him. (Apparently, she was too depressed to contact her teammates, which seems rather unlikely.) However, Forge withheld from her his indirect role in her depowering, and everything of course went sideways when at issue’s end, she accidentally eavesdropped on a conversation between him and Gyrich. (This obviously speaks to the weaknesses Forge has when it comes to being more of a hero and partner: He’s a tinkerer who’s quite asocial and doesn’t really think about the consequences of his inventions; his naivete feels like disingenuous cover for his selfishness.)
So, this classic story began Storm’s most revered character arc from being not only depowered but betrayed and cut off from her almost mystical, goddess-like connection to nature itself—to fighting her way into leadership of the X-Men, despite having no mutant powers. The whole point was that her grit and heroism came from a deeper part of her character that she had to uncover without the aid of superpowers. And with Jean Grey gone at the time, Storm was the most powerful X-Man, so having her “grounded” for a time allowed her to be viewed as less godlike and more down to earth, literally. In this era of personal struggle, her personality developed as never before.
Of course, this was at a time when her depowering was wholly unique, an exemplar for Claremont’s theory of what makes a true hero, Storm already having been his favorite character. It was inevitable that she would eventually regain her powers, but it took four years—when, in Uncanny #226, Forge created a device to restore them, after she’d really been put through a kind of hell and literally just in time for her to help save the world (at the climax of the Fall of the Mutants event).
Now, in the Krakoa era, we’re dealing with thousands of mutants who were permanently depowered by Wanda Maximoff’s M-Day curse, and just as bad, story-wise, none of the characters affected became stronger or more maturely defined as complex personalities or heroes. The most popular mutant to lose her powers was Dani Moonstar, and as a consequence, most writers dispensed with her (the exception being the amazing Zeb Wells in his New Mutants run).
And there’s no way to focus on all the living depowered characters the way Claremont did with Storm. So, in an era when mutants can resurrect not only with their powers intact but enhanced, what’s the solution that most obviously presents itself? Have the depowered die, somehow, and return repowered. It’s almost too obvious to argue with, right? And doesn’t it seem like the timing is perfect what with the X-Men and mutantkind just around the corner from being introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
So, our most spiritually moral of X-Men, Nightcrawler, can air his concerns while the cynicism of murder and suicide without any further ethical or spiritual consequence can move forward to pump up the hype around the new Krakoa era and mutantkind’s imminent reintroduction to cinema.
Overall, the recent numerous callbacks to the Claremont era have all come across initially as at least superficially reverent, but with the exception of definitively confirming Mystique and Destiny’s relationship, they’ve in fact been thoroughly, well, iconoclastic.
And that’s perfectly fine! Ruin your idols and all that; shatter the vessels to remake reality.
But there’s been a fair amount of cynicism too (as with the presumably editorial decree that Leah Williams tie up her X-Factor threads in a miniseries that will likely sell better under the title The Trial of Magneto, itself an homage to Uncanny #200, even though the two stories bear no resemblance to one another).
Meanwhile, Storm herself has become less of a character and much more of an icon that no writer has been capable of making relatable and enmeshed in the flow of ongoing dramas—with the possible exception now of Al Ewing, who’s simply taking her iconic status to the ultimate level, as goddess of the Solar System, clearly the polar opposite of her trajectory under Claremont. (Again, while I don’t want to be cynical here, there’s a sense that she could thus go from her early high of complex starring protagonist to a special effect in the cosmic background, the fate of all superheroes, even Marvel’s relatable folks-next-door types?)
II. The Cynicism of the Krakoan Project Thus Far (or, Apocalypse and Exodus Carry the Day)
And yet what a wonderful though painful issue X-Men #7 is. After all, when have seen the mutant Guthries all gathered together in one spot as they are here in the Arena? Yet what a conflicted reason for gathering, with emotions running between excruciating sorrow and a kind of religious celebratory joy. (Actually, while Josh, aka Icarus*, is listed by multiple fan sites as appearing here, I haven’t found any evidence for this; certainly, the only siblings ringside were Sam and Paige, the latter accompanied by recently returned friend Skin. Further, Jeb, still depowered but alive, isn’t present either.)
(*I first noticed Josh in the new era in an X-Factor #5 flashback image, showing him right after resurrection, which seems to have occurred before Melody’s; he’s cameoed in two further issues elsewhere.)
We open with the long-depowered Melody Guthrie, once known—for one issue—as Aero, given her talent for wingless flight. While she first appeared as an unnamed Guthrie child in New Mutants #42, not until Uncanny #444, Claremont’s 2004 return to the franchise, was she named and revealed as a mutant. But she didn’t appear for more than a year later when she’d already lost her powers due to M-Day.
Ironically, despite the big to-do here in X-Men #7, Melody hasn’t been seen since her resurrection. But who knows, maybe for her, that’s reason enough to be perfectly happy and not feel envy for the heroes getting killed and resurrected every other month.
However, with five of ten (blood-related) Guthrie siblings being mutants, this bloodline is indeed renowned among mutantkind—which we readers are seldom reminded of. (Jeb, however, is still depowered, while the AoA counterpart of the human Elizabeth Guthrie was a mutant, leaving open her potential, which goes likewise for the youngest Guthrie, a mere babe in arms.) However, only Sam (Cannonball) and Paige (Husk) have displayed serious power, meaning the Guthries are well behind the Summerses, to say nothing of the Rasputins and (wait, what?!) the Cassidys (Banshee, Siryn, Black Tom)! (Why the hell does no one ever speak to the potentials of the Cassidy lineage?!? 😉) (Poor Magneto; his prestige in this regard has really taken a hit in the 21st century.)
(To be fair, the wingèd Icarus, Josh Guthrie, is real durable—sure.)
All the above caveats are just to say: the Guthrie clan isn’t really that big a deal, after all! (Sorry, Big A.)
But with the opening of the Arena and the first sacrifice of the Crucible, Apocalypse indeed carried the day.
Obviously, someone being turned into or kept as something they feel they weren’t meant to be is torment, and here, most explicitly since the startling data page in House of X #4, Wanda Maximoff stands accused not only as Pretender but tormentor, as well. But was this how her M-Day curse was perceived at the time, back in 2005? No. Yet this is a meaningful revision of an event that, really, arrived empty of meaning—beyond being an “f-you” to Fox Studios, and thousands of fans. Still, this recasting of that old event has interestingly shaped new readers’ perceptions of the Scarlet Witch as sort of analogous to a TERF, even as Disney’s Marvel Studios has amped her into one of their largest cinematic properties.
It’s Exodus, the one QC member absent from the Arena, who expands on the Wanda hate as he indoctrinates numerous as-yet-unnamed mutant children in some classic fireside brainwashing.
It’s pretty odd to me that Kurt and Scott happen upon this eerie little happening and say nothing at all, despite the fact that Exodus is clearly drawing hard speciesist lines and instilling intolerance and hatred in the hearts and minds of these children.
III. The Triumphal Pomp of the Arena: The Worst of Krakoa’s Ideas (Worse Than the Pit)
Kurt has a seat at the table—but when is he going to really lean into it? (Probably never!)
Kurt’s impassioned argument against Crucible—to him, an everlasting moral stain on the Krakoan project—lost out not to pragmatism but to the cruel manipulation of base emotions, of fear, envy, and resentment—courtesy of Apocalypse and Exodus. This just wasn’t Nightcrawler’s day, his moment to shine once more among his fellows. We had to wait over a year for that moment, with Si Spurrier’s 2021 Way of X mini.
However, X-Men #7 was the first Krakoa era comic to really open up criticism about this seeming utopia, adding the moral quandary of the Crucible to the mix and thereby making the motivations behind Krakoa even more debatable.
Yet the issues readers must tackle here have oddly enough been watered down by Way of X, as well. There it’s revealed that the average Krakoan’s bloodlust around Crucible and their casual disregard for mortality have been almost wholly borne out of Onslaught’s hidden influence.
Of course, if this was the case, wouldn’t Apocalypse be more cruel than usual? After all, he’s still far more humane even here in X-Men #7 than in past appearances! And though tragically restrained, Kurt, Scott, Paige, and Sam don’t appear to be under any malign psychic influence—nor even Logan, despite appearing somewhat cynically detached.
So the later, rather perverse, Onslaught deus ex machina here was clearly not in Hickman’s plans early on, and while Si Spurrier told a wonderful story there—one of the best of this new era—it’s had the effect of sweeping the dilemma of the Crucible under the rug of Charles and Erik’s psychic love-child (Onslaught). This, or rather the moral quagmire of Charles and Erik generally, has been in the cards since the start, and at the end of 2021 we’re beginning to see the crumbling of the house they built—presumably to make way for not only a more democratic and transparently-run Krakoa but an experience that’s a bit easier on fans, as well. And yet, how are we really supposed to be left feeling about this apparently necessary ritual?
After all, most longtime fans are going to have much more sympathy for Kurt’s view than anyone else’s here. But there’s also an undeniable excitement over what depowered mutants we’ll get back next. However, in terms of page space, we’ve seen only three further uses of the Crucible, two of them presented in a positive but still difficult light, while the other was really damning.
Marauders #17 saw the depowered Callisto pick Storm for her opponent, so it was mostly a loving callback to their early feuds and the subsequent development of their close frenemy status. In New Mutants #18, Karma wanted her otherwise dead brother’s psychic presence finally out of her head, which could only be achieved via death, because when she died, so did his bodiless, parasitic self; she chose Dani to fight her, which made the event all the more wrenching but lovingly intimate at the same time—Xi’an dead at the hand of her should-be lover. But in Way of X #1, we witnessed the new addition Lost brutally murdered by Magneto. This issue was published a month before the New Mutants story and permanently soured most readers on the Crucible; the end of Spurrier’s mini really put the final nail in that coffin, for the time being anyway. (And why didn’t Aero get to choose her counterpart, with Apocalypse forced on her instead? That’s pretty bad optics. Clearly, the trajectory of the Crucible thread wasn’t planned out in advance!)
Yet we can assume that the Crucible ritual has been enacted enough so far that a sufficient number of formerly depowered mutants have now returned with their powers—not that fans ever knew most of those depowered anyway. And those minor characters like Beak had already been repowered rather awkwardly by the lame X-Men: Blue Mothervine story—and the birth of new mutant babies had already been resparked by Hope and Wanda at the end of Avengers vs. X-Men. Presumably, they haven’t through anywhere close to a million crucibles yet, which is around how many depowered there are. But hey, that’s too much for the X-Men franchise, right? We don’t need that many back! So, I mean, how far do we allow real-world analogies to go here? Wouldn’t we all end up looking pretty (pragmatically) callous?
Bottom line: Was the Crucible ritual a showy set-piece that made us all feel really bad and accomplished relatively little? Well, it did make for some interesting echoes and upped the malevolent atmospherics, which was surely intentioned. Before it was all blamed on Onslaught, I thought the Shadow King would be revealed as the evil maestro here.
We haven’t even touched on the pre-Krakoa existence of the Arena, which was originally a venue for Shadow King when he horrifically possessed Karma and then later Moira. So, rebuilding that space here for Krakoa, Hickman clearly seemed to be implying that some dark force was likely at play behind it. (See New Mutants #29-31 and 1991’s Muir Island Saga crossover event.)
IV. Kurt Finds His Cathedral—Or His Despair?
Somewhat like the new addition Lost in Way of X, Nightcrawler here is spiritually lost as well. The tower he’s been compulsively drawn to seems to speak to this. With no windows or points of egress, it’s only been explored by Kurt, who took quite a risk in teleporting inside sight unseen—a real leap of faith! And yet nothing but a chill ethereal beauty resides within, all of it mysteriously born out of the inscrutable bowels of Krakoa.
Notoriously but understatedly, we’ve seen this imagery before:
[left: Powers of X #5; right: Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Mist, c. 1818]
And inexplicably, this Krakoan architecture echoes the Tower of Nimrod the Lesser in Life Ten.
[from Powers of X #1]
So the context built up around this tower is already a strange mixture of the sublime and the grotesque (polar opposites in classical/romantic aesthetics), and yet Kurt calls it an ideal home—or at least that’s how his younger, less wise/more naïve self would’ve seen it.
But then he turns to Scott, asking: “Doesn’t that make the hair on your arms stand up?”
In other words, Kurt’s freaked out by this ideal form that seemed to have his own (prior?) ideals in mind. After all, Kurt’s faith has been shaken throughout his career as an X-Man, and his time in Heaven
And by the way, a central point of romantic writings on the Sublime, which for the Kantians and romantics was always an aspect of nature, not an anthropomorphic divinity, is that it’s inhuman—literally inhospitable. Rather, it’s an inspiration born out of terror, a challenge, with the puny human at an inherent disadvantage, all too easily swallowed up by nature’s indifferent ravenousness; its rapacity makes a sick joke of humanity’s. That’s certainly one way of looking at life/death!
Now, at the end of 2021, I look back at this moment and feel—not much at this point. Leinil Francis Yu’s characteristic chilliness doesn’t help.
But Kurt’s questions continue to compel. Way of X didn’t really answer them, either. Are souls or parts thereof piling up somewhere and amalgamated to freshly terminated offshoots every time a Quentin Quire dies?
Many fans have tried to dismiss this by saying that Cerebro captures whatever the Marvel Universe would consider a soul. I don’t buy it—and Si Spurrier seemed to hint strongly that the X office is aware of the need to resolve this dilemma. We’re just not quite there yet—which is fine if it means more good stories like Spurrier’s! More X-Men #7’s, we don’t need.
However, the question of the wills is introduced here and has frankly had the broadest story ramifications of any quandary showcased here in X-Men #7.
Tellingly, our first intimation of mutant chimeras in Moira’s tenth life is in recent wills from mutants requesting that when their time comes they be resurrected not only with enhanced versions of their powers but with those of other mutants whose talents they envy. And yet we know from following Hellions that chimeras will emerge as a top-secret, private project of Sinister’s—and only involve himself and an Arakkii. Still, we know that the mortal wish-fulfillment testaments of many a Krakoan have already reshaped mutantkind, at least in the background, undoubtedly enhancing the power available to their kind overall, certainly like never before. This all seems a catalytic prerequisite for the chimera stage of mutant evolution.
And yet, despite the ominousness and more than potential cynicism, there’s undeniable beauty at the end.
Though we can certainly acknowledge there’s something terrifying about beauty. Is this divine imagery really merely wholly inspirational/aspirational? Isn’t there something chilly here as well—despairing even? And isn’t Kurt’s burning need to create a new religion coming out of terror or at least despair of this moment?
V. Miscellany & Giant-Size X-Men: Nightcrawler
Lastly, there’s further pseudo-clue-dropping here regarding Doug and Warlock—and the possibility that Krakoa has a deep techno-organic infection.
[Krakoa is literally saying “gibberish” here—I looked it up and am now feeling trolled 😉]
This takes us into Giant-Size X-Men: Nightcrawler where frustratingly, we have the first acknowledgment of Warlock by another Krakoan, Magik—to absolutely no revelatory effect.
If there is a revelation to be had here, even the possibility of one won’t be aired again until Inferno—if then. (The potential here is that Black Tom might be infected, as is hinted in issue #1.)
Here, we have Eye-Boy, who doesn’t look nearly as cool, endearing, and relatable as he will in X-Factor by Leah Williams and David Baldeón, two of the best creatives at Marvel. By contrast, Alan Davis’ art here looks—stale, even rigid at teams, which is a bizarre thing to say!
Also, there’s the alien Sidri (see Uncanny #154), but in medium-distant hindsight, I couldn’t care less now. This was overload at the time, and maybe something was dropped due to the pandemic, but none of this Giant-Size material ever turned into much of anything and certainly not this. The takeaway is that everything that had once been even a minimal element in the X mythos is back and ever-present in the Krakoa era, or at least in the background.
Again, we have Doug’s nonchalant reveal. Surely there’s still something we haven’t been told here???
Ultimately, the immediate purpose of this story was to rediscover Lady Mastermind Regan Wyngarde and return her to the fold—and yet I swear we already saw her on Krakoa in House of X #5.
[House of X #5]
NEXT: Giant-Size X-Men—much to my chagrin, from the less enthusiastic hindsight of Nov 2021 😉