Racing Past the Tipping Point –
V. What Is Not Human? (pgs22-25)
In the second half of Hickman’s debut X-Men issue, the story returns to the Orchis Forge in a big way, though subtle (apparently my favorite adjective when describing Hickmanian storytelling). It’s reestablished here that Orchis is a “last gasp” supremacist hate group, and it will be nigh-untoppable as the ultimate organization of antimutant bigotry. Further, its existence is possible only in the absence of S.H.I.E.L.D., or at least as run by Nick Fury (Sr. or Jr.) or Maria Hill. (Which should make us wonder about the possibility of the super-spy organization’s eventual return.)
Previously: More in the Hickman X-Men Re-Read!
For all their elite and super-science resources, Orchis is an organization built entirely on existential dread and regimented hysteria, fixated merely on “survival”—even though humanity isn’t endangered, or at least not from Orchis’ chosen enemy. After all, humanity includes mutants: Mutant and nonmutant humans can breed with each other, and mutants might be more likely than nonmutants to sexually reproduce mutants, but they give birth to nonmutants as well; they’re the same species, full stop. Though calling them subspecies might work well enough, they’re certainly not different breeds! (However, Sinister believes he can breed mutants to order, but while he’s been wildly successful with cloning technology, none of that is breeding in any sense that we currently understand. And whatever he hoped for in matching Scott with Madelyne Pryor was not even close to being achieved; the result, of course, was entirely unpredictable.)
Orchis harbors a further fundamental and self-sabotaging flaw in their foundational and operational logic: “our enemy is the future.” These people aren’t just antimutant, they’re anti-change. And so it goes with all reactionaries: In clinging to the past, in anger and fear, they’ll not just harm their intended targets but everyone else too. Fascism works that way, racism, sexism, and all varieties of fundamentalism and extremism. They’re in a war against nature, weaponizing themselves against natural inevitability—a people as a weapon of mass destruction.
Yet the cultic organization’s éminence grise blames their only nearly catastrophic setback on his people “forgetting” that the enemy is this devious future force. It’s bizarre, twisted logic, but he’s saying that they’re not sufficiently fearful of the (chosen) foe. If they were, they would never relax their vigilance, always fixate on defeating the (supposed) existential menace of mutancy (yes, this is totally an SF word).
Briefly, let’s take a look at this guy. We’ve seen his name a few times before, first in the HOX 1 org chart (telling us the Orchis Director is a former S.T.R.I.K.E. agent—so, British accent 😉), but he was off-station during the Forge raid. We did see him in quarter-profile in HOX 6, page 6, during Xavier’s global speech (well, I guess it reached beyond the globe, lol), but his first full appearance here makes much it clearer that Killian Devo does not at all look like a representative sample of nonmutant humanity. His skin has been sutured together, all across his skull, and the sutures or the scars they left behind are still quite visible. Clearly, he’s undergone some radical, experimental surgery. And as we learn in this issue’s closing scene, he was born sightless, but his visor and headgear—which we can assume are prosthetic implants*—allow him to “see the world in the infrared, ultraviolet and a hundred ways beyond that.”
Apparently, Devo Frankensteined himself into his current existence.
*Oddly enough, another erstwhile agent of S.T.R.I.K.E. who had visual implants—though not by choice—is veteran X-Men Betsy Braddock (in her original body).
Of course, Devo’s stronger parallel might be with cyborgs Donald Pierce and his Reavers. But what about with Karima/Omega Sentinel? I’d argue that she provides stark contrast.
At the very least, superficially, she can come apart and put herself back together, seamlessly. And while Nimrod is her potential counterpart—as a created entity beyond lizard-brain fear and hatred at a minimum—Devo is more akin to the priests of the Church of Ascendancy (of Year 100), a would-be posthuman, or rather merely a transhuman, a human cyborg who may have radically altered his form but has only become different from the common run of humanity by prosthetic degrees. The kind of radical reprogramming necessary to other the human animal from its natural existence hardwired across eons of deep time is beyond Devo’s ken. By Year 10 of Moira’s tenth life, only a robot from the future (Bastion—who is, yes, also two robots combined through magic) has ever created a posthuman, the very first one strictly speaking* in the Marvel Universe—Karima Shapandar/Omega Sentinel.
(This is not canon! It’s just my position on posthumanism in mainstream comics. Of course, the Children of the Vault might perhaps have been created around the same time. Meanwhile, not even someone like, say, the Controller is posthuman; he’s certainly transhuman though!)
*I’m going by speculative definitions of post-humanity as articulated by classic SF writers like Greg Egan and academics like Kevin LaGrandeur—the link in the paragraph above being to one of his pieces on distinguishing posthumanism from transhumanism. What’s unclear, then, is that while Karima/Omega represents the possibility of further posthuman developments, the Homo novissima don’t really seem posthuman in the same way; their mentation doesn’t seem radically different from that of current humanity. And neither do the Children of the Vault seem particularly super-intelligent; they’re just superpowered like other Marvel superhumans, only through purely technological means over subjective millennia.
Of course, I’ll keep using the term “posthuman” for Carey and Hickman’s creations, but I’ll also occasionally point out that, as far as we know, they’re actually advanced transhumans.
Now, if Homo novissima fundamentally reprogrammed their mentation and/or emotional processes or uploaded into or altered their minds into a kind of planetary or galactic intelligence like a Worldmind (though it wouldn’t have to mean the erasure of individuality into a hive collective) those transformations would create the posthuman.
What is all too human, however, is Devo’s us/them logic, as he argues, “just look at what they have done,” while pointing to the recent dead in their formally arranged caskets. This exacerbating binarism complements perfectly that of Magneto and Xavier, his mutant counterparts.
Devo seems incapable of understanding that extremism will be met with extremism, even as he believes their recent failures were a consequence of not being extreme enough.
And yet Karima/Omega’s criticism makes it seem as if Orchis’ options are either to continue thinking like an obsolete people or adapt to the enemy’s capabilities. The latter would clearly lay the groundwork for Homo novissima—which is exactly what the creators of the Children of the Vault have already done. (So, it really makes you wonder what Orchis got out of capturing Serafina!) Perhaps Dr. Gregor is in her own way doing that as well, as we’ll see by the issue’s end (though it seems Omega is saying the recent widow has been “compromised” by her grief).
Note that while Devo later laments Gregor’s absence from this strange wake, there don’t seem to be any other humans here—just Omega and these Orchis-branded Sentinel units.
Lastly here, unlike the Krakoans, and potentially Gregor’s husband, the dead Orchis agents whose caskets are falling sunward will not be resurrected—another stark contrast.
VI. Summer on the Moon? (pgs26-34)
It turns out the Summer House isn’t related to the Quiet Council’s Summer faction; no, it’s the new home of the Summers family! Another stark contrast: The “human” winter playing out before the sun’s furnace, chill and grim even in the perpetual lurid light of the filtered sun (light without heat) while the iconic family among mutants reunites, albeit somewhat awkwardly, on the near side of the Moon (with human warmth and a grand view; note also that this is in the Moon’s Blue Area, an ancient Kree ruin—and that’s why they have standard gravity, not that anyone cares about actual physics in superhero comics!).
(Note also that although it’s not in Scott’s grand view above, the ruins in the Blue Area of the Moon are where Dark Phoenix met her end. It’s also where Scott and Jean had hoped to keep baby Nathan safe, but Apocalypse managed to infect him with the techno-organic virus there—though Mother Askani rescued him then, whisking him off to the future. In other words, this is a major venue for the Summers family.)
But Yu’s art is itself a bit grim for this kind of scene. Scott’s dad especially here and later comes off looking unhappy, first in finding his son—where he even looks like a gaunt shell of himself—and then in disgust at Summer House dish soap. Maybe he’s just still really unsettled by all this new nation-state business and great-power gaming. As a middle-aged parent, he probably sees the likelihood of major backlash to his son as the military leader of what is now Earth’s most powerful nation, but also its smallest—and youngest.
Corsair states his concern to Scott directly on page 34.
We’ll come back to the younger Summers generation below. First, though, Corsair has a wayward son and fellow pirates that deserve a quick look.
Now, the cover gave it away, but it’s still a big surprise to see Vulcan here—and, hey—he’s suddenly sporting … a sense of humor?! And he’s not an unremittingly homicidal maniac furious at everyone for not knowing that he even existed (no thanks to Xavier’s mind-mucking) and was left for dead in the apparent carcass of Krakoa in space after the rest of his teammates, except Darwin, were slain by the island that lives?? (See Brubaker’s X-Men: Deadly Genesis—hmm, wonder how long Hickman is gonna dance around that one…) Gabriel Summers was also enraged at the Shi’ar whose once and future emperor had kidnapped his parents and slain his mother while pregnant with him. Gabriel’s birth was completed in a Shi’ar incubator and accelerator, along with the empire’s other slaves. Growing up on Earth as the houseboy of an agent of Emperor D’Ken, he escaped captivity and was found by Moira MacTaggart. Some time would pass before Xavier met this lost amnesiac boy and discovered that he and Cyclops had a similar “mental imprint”—whatever that means.
But don’t forget, the surprise was already softened by the HOX 1 data page on Omega-Levels, where he was listed as a Krakoan.
Unlike his brothers, Gabriel is an Omega-Level mutant, and that was established from the beginning by Brubaker, though it’s stated most clearly in HOX 1. Still, his energy manipulation—which powerset is so expansive, it covers many diverse talents—has been shown to have serious limits, at least when going against his brothers’ own radiant powers. He’s also been seen siphoning other mutants’ abilities, a kind of vampiric version of Hope! And without having to make skin contact like Rogue.
Upon his seeming death when rescuing Scott (alone) from Krakoa—in the gap between the disappearance of the O5 on the island and Scott’s escape from it—Xavier erased all memory of Gabe and his team’s existence from his brother’s mind.
But he seemed to die for real at the end of 2009’s War of Kings event, when the Inhuman King Black Bolt battled against the mad usurper of the Shi’ar throne, Vulcan himself. Their clashing powers ripped a hole in the fabric of the universe—and that seemed to be the end of the story, at least for Gabriel, who left behind an as yet unnamed child with Deathbird, the dead Empress Lilandra’s sister (Xavier’s erstwhile paramour; hey, it’s a small universe when you’re an X-Man!).
For months after his surprise return here, Vulcan’s uncharacteristic behavior here fueled fan speculation that not only had he been resurrected but that his mind and memories had been tampered with as well. After all, when we look at his past interactions with the Starjammers, it would only make sense that Gabriel must be radically changed somehow—otherwise, the space pirates (except his dad probably) would undoubtedly want to finish up some nasty personal business with the erstwhile usurper of the Shi’ar throne and their former captor.
We’ll eventually return to what really happened, but for now let’s acknowledge the lack of answers here as cleverly adding to the sinister suspense around everything Krakoan, especially the Resurrection Protocols.
Gabe continues hamming it up, with his much-aggrieved father of all people, on page 30. And then page 31, the first data page on the Summer House, tells us that he’s quite an extrovert, “bringing home quite a few acquaintances from the Krakoan mainland who have stretched the acceptable bounds of decorum.” Now, that is something I’m much more curious about than the fact of the Jean-Scott-Logan thruple (which was just overdue anyway 😉). However, I do wonder about the empty room—is it for the fourth Summers bro? Probably it’s just a guest room.
B. The Starjammers
But the levity continues! With Kid Cable and Raza—Cable’s perfect counterpart among the Starjammers. And how adorbs to see Nate call Jean mom, who with Scott raised the boy only from his early days as a tot up through preadolescence. It was only after they returned to the distant past that he became a child soldier, but Papa Slim and Mama Grey certainly laid the groundwork for this noblest of hardened mutant warriors.
Before looking further at Summers family dynamics, though, let’s run through some background on these—Starjammers? This issue, only their ship goes by that moniker drawn from the many-sailed merchant vessels of the 19th century’s Age of Sail—the classic windjammers quickly outmoded by early steamships—and Claremont’s love of Star Wars. It’s the perfect handle for big-hearted, underdog pirates prowling the fringes of the Shi’ar’s vast hyper-militarized imperium. They’re space-age buccaneers.
[Uncanny X-Men vol5 #8 variant cover by David Marquez and David Curiel]
The four we see in this scene are the Starjammers’ original members, and they all met in Shi’ar “slave pits,” but soon escaped with a stolen starship, to become rebels against D’Ken’s throne; his successor Lilandra proved friendlier, but even then they were still considered disreputable. (See X-Men #104 for their debut, and Classic X-Men #16 for background.)
USAF major Chris Summers was once long ago piloting his family back home to Anchorage from vacation when they were attacked by a Shi’ar ship surprised by the Summers’ craft; Christopher pushed out his sons with a parachute while he and his pregnant wife were kidnapped and taken as slaves of the empire. Eventually, as leader of the Starjammers, he became known as Corsair (which isn’t dissimilar to a pirate named Pirate).
Raza Longknife is from a people with a fierce warrior ethos, but he may be the last of them after they were almost entirely wiped out by the conquering Shi’ar. During his time in Shi’ar captivity, Raza’s captors experimented on him, turning him into a cyborg while also brutalizing him continually. As a Starjammer, much later, he became close with another serious warrior—the new Starjammer recruit Carol Danvers, who went by Binary at the time.
The towering amphibious alien Ch’od is a gentle, good-humored soul despite his dread appearance. So preparing and serving tea is a very Ch’od thing to do. He usually has a ferret-like pet (Cr’reee) close by.
Hepzibah was another prisoner of the conquering Shi’ar who had long ago colonized her home-world. Hepzibah’s feline humanoid species, the Mephistoids, once had a mighty interstellar civilization and had nearly crushed the fledgling Shi’ar Empire—before the latter’s crippled fleet betrayed Mephistoid hospitality and went on to defeat their rivals through treachery, finally stripping away the Mephistoids’ autonomy throughout all their colony worlds. The daughter of a conquered people, future pirate Hepzibah was originally imprisoned for terrorism against the imperium. Since the early days of the Starjammers, Hepzibah has been Corsair’s paramour—a perfect match, really.
What’s strange, though, is that these four were captured by the usurper Vulcan and tortured for months in the lead-up to War of Kings, before making their escape to join forces with the deposed Lilandra (see miniseries X-Men: Emperor Vulcan and X-Men: Kingbreaker); now, they’re hanging about Gabriel as if he’s just another Summers boy, and none of that crazy, sordid business on the grandest of cosmic stages ever happened. That’s really weird.
Raza, for example, may have suffered the most: Even after regaining the cybernetic implants their captors had taken from him, crippling the cyborg, the worst torment was yet to come, when he was forced into hosting a symbiote and, now turned into a meat puppet, committing atrocities as one of Emperor Vulcan’s personal praetorian guard.
C. The Summers Fam That Never Was
Returning now to the teen Cable, let’s start with the long-established basics: He’s the son of Scott and Jean clone Maddie Pryor, which was Sinister’s plan for producing a powerful mutant who could protect him from Apocalypse, who, however, managed to infect the infant with the techno-organic virus in an attempt to kill the babe. Instead, he was taken to the far future to deal with his infection in relative safety, although it was a world ruled by a future Apocalypse’s iron fist. His parents (with Jean having absorbed Madelyne’s psyche and soul, remember) did eventually reach their young son via time travel in order to raise him, but when he was approaching adolescence, they were sent back in time. As a middle-aged man, Nathan returned to his native time, first debuting in New Mutants #86 (1990). But this younger teen version appeared in Extermination #1 (2018) to ensure that the time-displaced O5 return to their proper timeline, which he accomplished—along with the assassination of his older self. (It never felt clear to me why he had to do that, and it seems unclear to everyone else too.) But he was instrumental in resurrecting his father (see Uncanny X-Men Annual vol 5 #1, 2019)—which would surely help bring them closer than before.
In fact, teen Cable is a kind of time-variant of the older version. The instability of the timestream—which seemed to have everything to do with the time-displaced O5 continuing to overstay their welcome; shenanigans of the usual time-hopping variety elsewhere in the Marvel Universe didn’t seem to be a factor—caused certain events in teen Cable’s adopted future to diverge from that of old-man Cable. Most important was that teenaged Nathan discovered that his seeming, long-gone foster parents Slym and Redd Dayspring were in fact Scott and Jean (see X-Force vol5 #5, 2019), which discovery has led to stronger family affection as we’ll continue to see in Duggan’s Cable maxiseries. (That bond was never really explored before.)
His sister Rachel Summers has only a slightly less time-tortured background. After all, she’s from a future (The Days of Future Past timeline) that Earth-616 will never experience. Her parents Scott and Jean were native to Earth-811, and they are dead and gone. And she’s always felt conflicted about being accepted by Earth-616 Scott and Jean; she hid the truth from the former for a long time, and the latter was initially, bizarrely, unwelcoming. (Many would say, though, that this was entirely characteristic of the waspy Jean.)
Critically, Rachel formed an early psychic bond with infant Nathan (Uncanny X-Men #201, 1986), and while her subsequent history is very uneven and complicated, we’ll return to it piecemeal in future entries. However, just know for now that her older future self will become Mother Askani, founder of the Clan Askani and the woman who whisked baby Cable away from the Blue Area of the Moon. And we did cover her E-811 past in our second entry on POX 1—which extreme trauma at least partly explains the exchange she has with Hepzibah this issue, where Rachel’s withdrawn demeanor and spiky outfit can be read as discomfort in this otherwise comforting family setting.
Rachel’s always been one of my top fave mutants, but she’s rarely been done justice by editorial and writers. Leah Williams’ X-Factor (2020-2021) helped correct that, and hopefully we’ll see a lot more in the future—including a name change, because Prestige as a codename sucks (sorry, Mr. Guggenheim!). Really, she should just be allowed to be Phoenix again (but she can’t right now, no thanks to you, Mr. Aaron!).
I wonder if the empty room between hers and Nathan’s can also be used as a place for the kids to get away from the olds and say what they’re really thinking—psi-shields up.
Moving on to more standard family dynamics, however, it’s nice to see Corsair get a Krakoan flower for creating a gate on the Starjammer craft itself. At the time there was speculation about what a security risk that would be, but so far, it’s just a nice gesture at bringing the Summers clan closer together.
VII. Accelerando (pgs35-37)
Whatever Dr. Gregor is working on in order to resurrect her husband in some way it has clear parallels with the Resurrection Protocols—except that it’s purely technological and, well, crystallographic.
And Director Devo is completely in the dark about what she’s doing, so far.
Still, he inadvertently offers a hint when memorializing her dead husband Mendel as “A great strategist and hunter … A tower of a man.”
“A great […] hunter … A tower […]” Huh.
Postscript: As we move forward, keep in mind that Hickman’s vision will have a through-line across this entire era, but other creators are going to have different areas of interest. The Dawn and Reign of X haven’t been at all monolithic in terms of character or narrative focus. But as go along, we’ll distinguish one project from another, building up a cohesive picture of what each creator is going for. With this first issue, we see Hickman continuing themes from HOX/POX but shifting focus as well to the Summers family. Of course, this family focus will for some time be more in Duggan’s Cable series, and the Storm thread is picked up in his Marauders—starting next time.