What is a marauder? One who roams about living off what they’ve plundered from others. Apparently, maraud in French means “rascal” or “rapscallion” which was once pared with “rampallion” (now “ramp”), meaning an “ill-behaved woman”—a notion Captain Kitty Kate Pryde might be coming to appreciate! 😉
But well before the early 18th century’s Age of Piracy, the French maraud was initially an onomatopoeia for a horny tomcat’s meow—and then it simply came to mean “prowler.” In the Thirty Years War of the 1600s, it became a popular pun on a particularly nasty rascal and his posse, Count Mérode and the Mérode Bros. Hence, the original “marauders”—which picked up a range of related wartime meanings: straggler, deserter, plunderer.
Whatever the case, there’re surely a few good reasons why Captain Kate Pryde might choose this moniker for her crew of mutant-liberating pirates, having nothing to do with Sinister’s foul band of mass murderers. In other words, she too can thumb her nose at respectability without playing to the sort of nastiness that Sinister enjoys dishing out.
Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson’s stunning cover perfectly captures Kate’s truculent new look, bearing the broken nose and black eye Krakoa’s dished out to her for no reason other than, well, of course it’s Kate who just doesn’t fit in, ever the square peg being pushed toward a round hole.
Well, no more. Now, she’s going to have allies: a newly styled Emma Frost, going for the look of untouchable businesswoman rather than incel cartoon fantasy; her sometime guardian X-Man Storm; another hard-ass—Bishop (much deserving still of a new lease on life since his total character assassination over a decade ago); and the odd but natural-enough pairing of Iceman and Pyro—not the newer one who had a one-night stand with Bobby back in Guggenheim’s X-Men: Gold; this one’s the original, the Aussie St. John Allerdyce, erstwhile romance novelist and member of Mystique and Destiny’s Brotherhood—and who in Moira’s third life burned Moira alive, slowly. (His Brotherhood career does show his strengths as a team player: he follows orders but knows how to have his bit of fun, too.)
I. Kitten’s Blooper (pgs1-2):
It’s nice to see Storm again after X-Men #1, though we’ll get to the problems with how she’s rendered*—excepting Dauterman’s stunning depiction. (And even now, there’s been only a couple of Storm-centric issues in the Krakoa era, though at least they’re fabulous.) Of course she and Nightcrawler are perfect as ambassadors welcoming young mutants through the Krakoan gates.
Kate, too, finally decides to give it a try, but—nope!
What’s going on?! Could Kate be a pretender like Wanda?! Is she really a Neo after all?! (Neos were—okay, never mind; you can go back to 2000’s execrable X-Men vol2 #99-100 if you like. Fans who recall this eminently forgettable blip did speculate that, just as was rumored back then, our Shadowcat might’ve been all along one of these creatures of the extreme ’90s. Duggan’s first red herring…)
*Matteo Lolli’s art does at least mostly match the lighthearted tone Duggan is going for, and yet with Kate having developed a harder edge, making her fit more naturally into her piratical salty dog role, there’s definitely a clear mismatch with the style Lolli is known for—which is more on the cartoonish side and bland in conforming to received, overly simplistic standards of Western beauty in commercial figure drawing. Yeah, burn. It’s no surprise he’s rendered Storm as a white woman occasionally with fuller lips when there’s little originality in his technique elsewhere. (Looking forward to Kate getting her Jewish curls back!)
I know drawing comics is hard work. That’s why starting strong is so important. Lolli starts with being reliable in the standard house style. There’s occasional sketchiness and stiffness even in this first issue, though, and his art is my least favorite among what’s on offer in the ongoing X titles.
II. Recap/Roster/Title (pgs3-4)
The recap/roster page fills in some worldbuilding details in the gap between HOX/POX and this issue, telling of nations recognizing Krakoa seeing mutants inside their borders going through Krakoan gates within their territories, but there’s at least one—Duggan’s fictional North Valnon, mentioned only once before in his Hulk vol3 #5 (2014)—that presumably recognized the new nation but isn’t allowing gate access.
Or maybe it’s one of the nations that refused to recognize Krakoan sovereignty although it wasn’t listed among the other deniers on the HOX 5 data page. After all, the Krakoans have apparently put gateways in virtually every country, and while there’s a brief mention of Brazil’s sadistic deterrence methods (which seemingly never get another look in this series, not even word of any kind of workaround) it’s Russia that’s the focus of the Marauders in this debut issue—with some slow-simmering intrigue in Taiwan (which will lead back, unsurprisingly, to the corrupt pseudo-state of Madripoor*).
*Madripoor on the HOX 5 map page is shown as if it were Singapore, but a higher-res graphic would show that it’s actually one of the islands southeast of Singapore’s island, so while it’s clear that the fictional city is, insultingly, an analogue of the actual Singaporean city-state, there’s in fact a double-insult here, since apparently Madripoor’s location would be on top of the real-world Indonesian Batam.
*Or it could be these locales are under constant threat from the Madripoor-aligned “corsairs” marauding about the (again, fictionalized) Buccaneer or Dagger Bay. You’d think more Marvel superheroes would be hanging around the region to help out considering it seems way more dangerous than NYC! (Okay, Madripoor critique finished—until next issue, lol.)
(This page also sports the first of Duggan’s many dad jokes and puns—“A Shore Thing,” lol, sigh. But Gerry is, I have no doubt, a wonderful father 😊.)
Now, remember that Emma telepathically manipulated Russia’s UN Security Council vote (which seems like it might have, more realistically, caused a serious international incident). So I don’t know if they did or could unrecognize Krakoa, but Russia has definitely declined the ensuing trade deals other nations made.
Cue: The perfect opportunity for both “mutant piracy” and Krakoa-jilted Kitty’s Kate’s surprise dream job—on a boat…
III. Kate’s Welcoming Party (5-11pgs)
Duggan and Krakoa-era design artist Tom Muller* seem to have intercepted a top-secret communique from the ONI for X fans’ eyes only detailing a found message in a bottle they’ve already sent to the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID)—making clear as well that they know Kate cannot access Krakoa’s gates. (“Possible opportunity for leverage? Forward to PSYOP…”)
And what did Naval Intel glean from this message? That Katherine Pryde is guilty of stealing a boat, that she’s the captain now, and that she’s quite drunk—jilted and alone, except for Lockheed!
*I should’ve given Muller explicit credit well before now for the design elements of HOX/POX. That will now change.
Further, Duggan and Muller are clearly making a post-HOX/POX statement: This book is going to be fun, leave the grim-dark philosophizing to others.
I like that Duggan waited till Kate was on the high seas to reintroduce her once constant companion, Lockheed—pragmatically trying to offer his wayward mutant sustenance, as all sensible companion animals try to do for their foolish simian friends.
But don’t forget: He’s not a pet! After Lockheed’s quick fire-breathing saved a young Kitty from the Brood on the hive aliens’ home planet and he stowed away with the X-Men returning to Earth, he—slyly—took on pet status and became Kitty’s close companion (Uncanny X-Men #166-168, 1983).
However, while we’re not going to get much Lockheed development in the Dawn of X, it’s worth noting that he’s actually a highly intelligent warrior of the spacefaring Flock and was once the terror of Brood everywhere (Excalibur #40, 1991). What’s strange, though, is that Kate still doesn’t know his real name—this in a universe with fairly easy access to universal translators! So she’s named him after one of the behemoths of the aerospace and defense industries.
Of course, some writers have been fooled by Lockheed’s deep cover and treated him as if he really were little more than a pet. Still, it was revealed in X-Men: Gold #30 (2018) that he and his mate Puff—lol, yes, another, even sillier human name—have had children. I guess when he’s out adventuring with Kate, she’s the stay-at-home mom—ouch.
While we’re discussing logical inconsistencies, let’s drill down briefly on my one beef with Duggan’s story this issue: Kate’s journey after her rude discovery of Krakoa’s apparent rejection up through her arrival, upon the island’s shores—having sailed a ridiculously small pleasure boat, apparently without any kind of navigation device, across the vast and savage tumult of the Pacific, with no help at all from her friends and erstwhile mentors, who supposedly value her so much. (And Magneto did singlehandedly/single-mindedly bring her back from deep space where she was trapped in a giant alien bullet sailing inertially into the dark, in Uncanny X-Men #521-522, 2010.) No one could just send a jet for her??? Or a teleporter?? (We’ll see Krakoa has quite a few!)
It at least would’ve been nice to see Kate’s journey across an America in which she continues to help ferry mutants through the gates even as she knows she can’t go with them. Even just a compact montage of such an experience would have helped readers new and old see the groundwork laid for her motivations and what seems like the hardening of her character (although she’s had plenty of trying experiences in the past) readying her for heartily taking on the role of a marauding sea captain seeking to aid more of her fellows across the world. To have seen her witness and aid the mutant exodus to their new land would’ve been something indeed.
Perhaps even in her initial trek across America, she could’ve picked up a few mutants who also couldn’t pass through the gates. It could’ve been a whole thing.
Indeed, while I get that Duggan wants to establish this book as a marked contrast from Hickman’s work, why is there a whole page wasted on Logan’s shopping list??? First off, Logan could have just gated over to Memphis, Canada, Manhattan, or wherever for all this high-maintenance stuff—in much less time. Second, does anyone really think ribs would’ve kept even in dry ice while crossing the Pacific in a dinky sailboat??? And how is meat being grown on trees when Krakoa can’t grow coffee???
But above all, not only does this make Logan come off as completely stupid (while other Krakoans are undoubtedly doing their own shopping via gates), but it really makes Kate seem like a pushover when longtime fans and X-Men very well know she’s not. Why would she agree to do Logan’s picky shopping when she might’ve more believably responded to this fussiness (with that lame faux-friendly suggestion tacked on) with the completely reasonable demand: Send a damn jet for your pum’kin, you dim bub! (And one with some of that Shi’ar hand-wavy engine that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels!!)
So, Duggan is really just driving home that nobody—not even her old mentor and guardian Logan—appreciates Kitty Kate. (And how much she actually benefited from Logan’s looming but sporadic presence in her childhood probably deserves a closer look than anything we’ll be getting in this lighthearted series. Though “lighthearted” might not be the right word, I’d like to steer clear of just saying “shallow.” Surely, one would hope to stay away from the treachery of shallow waters while on a high-seas adventure!)
Still, Duggan might’ve practiced a bit more subtlety—instead of wasting a couple of expensive pages! (Logan probably spent more energy swimming out to the damn boat and back than he would’ve just ambling through a few gates!!)
I saw some early theories about Kate being possessed by the bodyless psionic mutant Malice—formerly of Sinister’s Marauders—based on Kate’s choice of her crew name, her inability to access the gates (as if it were deliberate sabotage somehow). If one included the image on the right below, I’d get the misdirection:
But not only will we see that Malice will get a much more interesting story soon, this speculation was unnecessarily convoluted—though maybe fun as a red herring.
Iceman’s the first X-Man to welcome Kate “home”—which is odd at first, if only because he’s never been even remotely close to her, but maybe he was just out and about nearby, munching on that meat fruit, or whatever one calls meat grown on trees, fully cooked and ready to eat! Ah, Krakoa. Maybe Duggan’s been reading some far-future sci-fi (like Tom Toner’s Amaranthine Spectrum trilogy, which features such delicacies simply growing in a posthuman wilderness on the planet once known as Earth. I’d eat tree meat, too, to save the rainforests and grasslands.)
Most importantly in this scene, it’s clear that whatever “top men” are supposed to be solving the mystery of Krakoa’s inability to “read” Kate as mutant are really just a lame fiction fed to her by those whose wisdom and authority she should be able to trust, like all the other Krakoans do.
In other words, Duggan’s setting up the now disgruntled Kate as a potential voice of dissent.
IV. Step into My Office: Invitation to Hellfire and High Seas (pgs12-15)
Kate finds a much kinder (psychic) reception in London, where Emma invites her into the lap of luxury Hellfire style. And it seems like she’s already spent some time in Emma’s telepathic company recently, probably on her long, lonely trip across the Pacific.
After all, the first thing Emma asks is about her urging Kate to really take on her adult name—as if this is something they’ve already been discussing.
And ironically, the very reason Emma gives for why everyone trusts Kate will be shown this issue as completely superseded by Kate’s awakening assertiveness, her meekness as dead as her childhood name: “You never once gave someone an extra shot in the ribs simply because they deserved it.”
Even so, Emma’s right that Kate will always be “predictably dependable”—a strength certainly considering the shenanigans of her role models and peers.
Perhaps it was Emma who kept the Krakoans from lending Kate a hand or wing in crossing the ocean—opting instead to make of the voyage a test, for becoming Emma’s Hellfire captain of the high seas.
And that’s the job: piratical mutant liberator. She even gets to choose her own crew. Awesome.
(Hey, there’s an idea: A Choose Your Own Adventure tale where the reader gets to be Captain Kate marauding rogue nations and hunting treasure for her mutant brethren!)
Seriously, though, what Emma’s saying here about the imperialistic history of Western trading companies parallels Kate’s reappropriation of the Marauders name. Yes, the historical record of these things is brutal and ugly, but they can be made new and different in new and different hands. Exactly this is always the hope of any society looking to renew and remake itself.
Now it’s hard to imagine Emma actually tried to get Storm on board for this job before Kate. Emma’s dynamic with both women has always been fraught, but it’s certainly never been less than frosty with Ororo. Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men in the early 2000s at least began establishing a precedent for rapprochement between the White Queen and the young woman who first saw her as a fraud and villain—trying to get preteen Kitty to her Massachusetts Academy before Xavier got to her and then, failing that, abducting Kitty’s future mentors and surrogate family. Still, Duggan’s run here will establish something approaching true friendship between the two women, without the
(The Whedon run is also where Kate first became a schoolteacher following her absence from superheroics while at college, a years-long period was briefly depicted in Claremont’s 2002-2003 Mekanix miniseries.)
So if it wasn’t already becoming clear, Duggan drops two last hints in this scene that Emma isn’t looking for a Red King but a Red Queen: “Imagine it [the job, the adventure]. Be a queen, Kate. […] You will ravish in red. Put yourself in my hands. You deserve it.” A queen, indeed.
It’s past time Kate got some respect and appreciation—as much as she can take, which will prove quite a bit, thank you very much.
V. Bobby Picks a Name from the Hat—It’s Russia! (pgs16-18)
Earlier, Bobby hared off through a nearby gate, wondering why it wasn’t seeing any new arrivals and so proving a responsible young man after all, as he sought to investigate—albeit characteristically unprepared. And that’s why he finds himself in snowy Vladivostok still munching on his bizarre Krakoan drumstick and wearing only flip-flops and ice-blue briefs when a soldier wearing the power-dampening armor created by Professor Phobos zaps away Bobby’s powers, temporarily.
Phobos, like the masters of Moscow’s Red Room, brutally turned young children into killers for the state (or maniacal Phobos’ vision of Mother Russia with him in charge) though in his case his orphaned charges were mutants. This was the Soviet Super-Soldier program. (See Incredible Hulk #258-259 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema.)
So this is a delightful deep cut from Duggan.
Still: Can’t the gates be destroyed, and if so why haven’t hostile nations done so?
Also, interestingly, Bobby’s near loss of life, played for laughs, is in stark contrast to his three peers sacrificing their lives on the Orchis Forge raid. And at this point in 2021, Bobby is the only original X-Man who hasn’t been killed and resurrected. (That said, pre-Hickman era, neither he nor Hank had ever died, unlike the rest of the O5.)
Well, no matter—now we have a rogue nation in our happily drunk captain’s sights!
And with Storm finally having shown up and Kate’s ego buoyed on whiskey* and her exhaustion apparently evaporated—they’re ready to go! (Does this mean Kate has some other superpower we’re unaware of? Seriously, she hasn’t even rested up after sailing solo—and drunk—across the Pacific. Wild!!)
Yes indeed, buoyed by drink: Kate and her impromptu crew don’t even have access yet to the Marauder still docked in London. (It gets that name next issue.) They’re taking that dinky sailing boat back out. Wild. Just. Wild.
* “Ororo. I. Am. The. Stash.”
Interlude: Fear & Loathing in Taipei (pgs19-20)
This two-page interlude in nighttime Taipei is a nice mysterious setup for the alt-Hellfire kids club plot that will swiftly become the series’ primary focus, up to the present moment. We’re talking here about those insufferable filthy rich brats Jason Aaron introduced way back in 2011’s underwhelming Schism event. But we still have a few issues before they show up, still kids of course—living it up these days in Madripoor where silver-spoon children never have to grow up! Not with a soul or conscience anyway.
They still go by their old Hellfire names (with Kade Kilgore, for example, still taking the title of Black King), and the seemingly merely concerned citizen we see here giving an impassioned speech outside her high-rise will shortly become the White Bishop—while Emma’s brother Christian will also take that name next issue, but as part of Krakoa’s Hellfire Trading Company.
The villains in Madripoor, however, will shortly become known as Homines Verendi—which can be translated from Latin as “sublime humans,” emphasizing these rich brats’ human supremacism, when really their actions put more emphasis on their own wholly self-interested elitism, the standard M.O. of elites everywhere.
In issue #4, where Chen Zhao joins Homines Verendi as their White Bishop, we also see that her husband has indeed been missing since Krakoan gates began appearing in Taipei, but she has been his prisoner—because he turned out to be a fetishist who worships mutantdom, much to Chen’s outrage and disgust.
The theme of mutant-fetishizing cults will continue throughout Duggan’s X titles, especially in Cable. Strange, but a fun commentary on what comic fans with nothing better to occupy themselves might do if superheroes and mutants were real 😉.
I guess it takes all types.
Anyway, it’s so nice to see Bishop in detective/investigator mode—not being a crazed mass murderer and mutant-messiah hunter. We’ll certainly see a much more chill version of this cop from a dystopian future. His return to form here will also be less racially cliched than the policing and investigatory role he took on in 2004-2005’s District X series, which is still a good book worth returning to. Amidst Marvel’s superheroics it was an untraditional bit of “crime noir,” but lacking the humor of PAD’s (early) X-Factor Investigations. After the Decimation, District X or Mutant Town, of course, disappeared, and with this ’90s fave adrift, Bishop’s fate became vulnerable to creators and/or editors needing a disposable character to assassinate, hence him becoming psychotically committed to murdering a (mutant) baby.
It’s perfectly fine that that Bishop is by now wholly in the dust bin and no longer discussed in-universe.
This is a subtler Bishop who takes his role seriously, not seeking to “make more waves” than necessary.
VI. Out on an Adventure—Mutants Bound for Trouble (pgs21-31)
Is it really a Russian “splinter group”? After all, Putin would say any bad actor in Russia is not associated with the state, and yet he—a KGB spymaster and ex-Soviet hardliner—has no appetite to reign them in.—Sure.
But hey, there’s Pyro! From 1993 to 2000, he was dying of the Legacy Virus—a long time! Also, St. John was already coded as gay, so the optics there aren’t great. Selene resurrected him for Necrosha, but her defeat saw the resurrected die again. And so here we are.
Sheesh. Coverage of these debut issues is certainly tending to bloat. Suffice to say, the rest of this issue is Kate being her now fully bad-ass self.
Some fans have been a little unsettled by this new turn, but I think it’s perfectly natural and realistic considering her career to date.
Doesn’t it though, Kate?
Yes. And hey, Pyro and Lockheed aren’t making mutant tech/magic, but that’s some hella teamwork.
And after taking an unlikely sword from a Russian soldier, Kate has her Marauders PR moment—worldwide (courtesy of the migrant kids with their smartphones).
It’s nice too that the Marauders sail back with Kate instead of bailing on her through a gate.
Epilogue: Reasoning the Marauders (pgs32-35)
We already discussed possible reasons for Kate choosing this team name, but her reasoning at the end about the X-Men not wanting to be associated with the Marauders liberating mutants from oppressive states doesn’t make much sense. One, the whole world is going to look at famous Krakoans and think X-Men anyway, no matter what team they’re on currently. And two, there won’t actually be any X-Men as such anyway, not until July 2021 (also written by Duggan).
Regardless, Storm is with Kate but not, of course, Emma.
However, if Storm is Kate’s partner in their liberationist guerrilla op, Emma’s still her boss, one that, surprisingly, she seems happy to have. Because now, Emma is there to empower Kate.
After all, Emma is going to need allies—knowing that Xavier and Magneto are not “predictably dependable.”
It’s this unexpected and refreshing development in these classic characters’ interpersonal dynamics that makes this debut issue so outstanding. And the surprise genre mashup of swashbuckling pirate adventure and mutant superheroics helps move the narrative along at an enjoyable clip—in marked contrast to Hickman’s hermetically designed narratives!
Storm’s unfortunate rendering in what would otherwise be a purely beautiful moment between these two is an issue. Critic Wendy Browne writing for Women Write About Comics put together a thorough analysis of problems and relative successes artists have had over the years in rendering Storm. Anyone interested should check it out.
Next week: Excelsior! I mean—Excalibur!