X-Men #5 and 6, published just before Lockdown—and therefore at the tail-end of the Before Times—were the two issues of Hickman’s run that each most clearly prefaced a mystery whose suspense was left to hang for a long time, with the mystery of the mutants in the Vault having been recently and only partially resolved (of course), in X-Men #18-19, and with the mystery of Mystique’s scheme apparently now in payoff mode with the Inferno miniseries. In the Dawn of X, it seemed likely that these and the HOX/POX mysteries—which is obviously where the Destiny plot thread started—would all come crashing down simultaneously when the time came. And they still might, but these days, it seems likelier that these early story seeds will each develop further and resolve at least somewhat on their own and with hopefully more decompression, perhaps aided by a more adroitly staggered publication schedule. Although each of these issues is a teaser and no longer appears to offer any clues to the near future, they still read well and look gorgeous.
I. X-Men #5: “Into the Vault,” with art by R. B. Silva and Marte Gracia:
What the hell was Cyclops thinking? Well, the usual: survival of the species; the greater good. Not so unlike Xavier. But sure, the situation this time is extreme, as he sees three young mutants off into far futurity.
The catch is this isn’t time travel; the City of the Children is a pocket universe whose rate of change is extremely accelerated rate relative to Earth. However, it does seem like the Children’s time acceleration has sped up significantly since their debut in Mike Carey’s inaugural X-Men issue, X-Men vol2 #188 (2006).
We’ll get to the larger mystery of how they fit in with the new cosmology of Moira’s ten lives, but first, let’s clarify the Children’s publication history—because they haven’t made many appearances, but each story has brought forward evermore complex questions about their origins and native environments.
A. How Many Vaults?
For new readers, X-Men #5 might feel more straightforward than it would for longtime fans. After all, we’ve had two classic story arcs involving the Children, both by Mike Carey: “Supernovas” in X-Men #188-193 and “Collision” in X-Men Legacy #238-241. I’m not sure if he had planned a third story, but it seemed like it would’ve been natural and more satisfying to make a triptych of these Children stories.
[X-Men #191; art by Clayton Henry, Mark Morales, Christina Strain: the Children emerging from the Conquistador’s hold]
Whatever the case, these two stories do present rather different visions of the Children and their society. We know that their origin begins in the hold of a Chilean tanker called the Conquistador. There, a group of scientists, mostly biologists, led by a temporal physicist implemented her widely mocked theory of accelerating time by utilizing the resources provided by their secret backers in Chile’s government.
Talking about the passage of time in Big 2 comics is, of course, very dicey. But I think we’re meant to accept that 30 years had passed since the project’s successful launch of the accelerated pocket world up until M-Day, when Wanda’s curse against mutantkind caused such a massive release of energy that it triggered the opening of the Children’s “vault.” This was only meant to happen in the event of a true apocalypse, allowing the Children to inherit the Earth as its sole sentient survivors. For them, 6000 years had passed. So, we can assume that within their environment 200 years pass for every Earth year. The project’s first subjects were mere humans, but inside the hold, they achieved some sort of technological singularity far in advance of the excruciating slowness of the rest of regular, plodding humanity.
(But even the Children’s initial environment inside the Conquistador seems to have been much slower than what Laura, Synch, and Darwin experienced in the City inside the Wild Sentinel Factory in the Amazon.)
Still, it’s very odd to me that such a hyper-technological society had grown to only 3000 individuals by then. Insofar as technology advances along with economic growth, in the regular world at least, population grows in tandem with such advancement, fueling it. So, they must have very strict population controls, and indeed the meshing of the technological and the biological seems to be the Vault’s religion, its raison d’être.
It seems these scientists, one of whom is still alive—the temporal physicist Bella Pagan—didn’t plan at all well for the fact they live in a world of regular near-apocalypses and other calamities catalyzed by superpowers.—Oops?!
Upon the initial vault’s opening, the Children’s immediate goal was to eliminate their primary rivals: mutantkind, which at the time was down to 200 mutants.
However, Mystique, of all people, not only killed the Children’s leader Sangre aboard the Conquistador, but having turned him into a living bomb, she was responsible for the ship’s destruction—along with the rest of the Children. Or rather, the ones who happened to still be aboard.
[(not soon enough apparently!) X-Men Legacy #241; art by Clay Mann, Jay Leisten, Brian Reber]
Sangre knew not to put all their eggs in one basket, so the vast majority of the Children survived elsewhere, unbeknownst to the X-Men. They had taken up residence in a new vault in the abandoned Sentinel factory deep within the Ecuadorian Amazon (which had previously appeared once before, in New X-Men #114, as Cassandra Nova’s staging ground for her Genoshan genocide).
Without their plodding human progenitors, the Children had recreated their time-accelerated pocket world within a vault beneath the seated Master Mold.
The Children next appeared in X-Men Legacy #238 with their parasitic city-world, the Corridor, which was extradimensionally attached to the outside of Earth-616’s dimension—whatever that means!
What exact relation the Corridor bears to the Ecuadorian City is unknown; the Corridor’s provenance has never even been hinted at, except that it’s a Children creation.
Cadena, the Children’s new leader after the Conquistador’s destruction, first appeared at the tail end of “Supernovas,” in the Ecuadorian vault, and she later appears in the Corridor, along with recognizable faces Serafina and Perro—but who knows if they were even the same iterations of their earlier selves.
In Hickman’s X-Men #18-19, it’s clarified that the Children are functionally immortal thanks to resurrection protocols roughly analogous to the Krakoans’. Perhaps not coincidentally, in X-Men Legacy #238, they’re said to be ruled by a “Council”—yet another similarity the mutants now share with them. While this seems innocuous enough, we should definitely expect the parallels between the two camps to grow and become more clarified as the Krakoa era continues.
(Interestingly, the name of the Corridor’s ruler at the time, “Corregidora,” translates as the Corrector.)
Also somewhat like Krakoa, the Corridor sought complete autonomy from the outside world, but here, they’d been running their society off energy siphoned from Earth or its home dimension, at least (yay—vagaries of super-science!). But the Children’s plans don’t pan out, thanks to the X-Men, and this city, known also as Quitado, the “removed” or “taken,” returns to drift in its bizarre non-dimension.
3. The City in the Forest
As far as readers can tell, there’s no relation between the Corridor and the City inside the Ecuadorian vault. But with Hickman’s X-Men #18-19, this setting becomes by far the most fully realized of the venues featuring the Children. But here in issue #5, we see only the latest iteration of Serafina and the mutant trio cross the bizarre hyper-technological threshold between Earth and the Children’s homeworld.
B. She’ll Always Be Our Wolverine
[X-Men vol6 #1 Yoon Lee variant cover]
Originally understood to be a clone of Logan that came to term in her “creator’s” womb, Laura Kinney was much later revealed to come from a mix of both Logan and her birth mother’s DNA (see Tom Taylor’s Hunt for Wolverine: The Adamantium Agenda #4, 2018).
Apparently, she had become too important a character to leave her as a mere clone. But why do clones get such a bad rap? It’s just lazy and ignorant to assume they’re not as fully human as non-clones. However, Taylor is the one who gave us Laura’s clone, the preteen Gabby, one of Marvel’s more endearing creations of the 2010s—so maybe the Hunt for Wolverine came prepackaged with a number of editorial dictations (gee, ya think?) or the return of the ghost of Laura’s “mother” was a genuine attempt to more fully redeem the biologist Sarah Kinney, who in true 2000s fashion was something of a case-study in trauma porn that nevertheless came across as well-intentioned at the time, at least superficially.
[X-23 #6; art by Billy Tan, John Sibal, Brian Haberlin]
Whatever the case, except for the arrangement of her claws, her powerset is virtually identical to Logan’s. But while Logan having numerous naturally born children makes natural but regrettable sense, Laura as both clone and weaponized lab creation offered a refreshingly unique possibility—Wolverine as a teen girl. That said, her initial publication stories (in 2004’s NYX mini) failed, utterly, to feature anything refreshing or positive about this new-century take. By comparison, her ensuing stories don’t seem so sensationalistic; perhaps only hindsight does the entire era reveal itself as thoroughly perversely fascinated with trauma, especially that experienced by female fantasy characters.
In her next focus title, though, 2005’s X-23 mini by contemporaneous New X-Men scribes Kyle and Yost, she’s revealed to be a clone of Logan, created from DNA stolen from him in an act of corporate espionage while he was held captive by Weapon X. In fact, the thieving spy didn’t make it out alive, killed by Logan, but the samples, though damaged in the attack, were recovered by a colleague. The samples’ damage was primarily in the Y chromosome, necessitating a female Logan clone instead, but many years later, this becomes the rationale for Facility biologist Sarah Kinney incorporating her own genes into the mix—retconning Laura’s status as a clone.
It was always the case, however, that Dr. Kinney brought Laura to term in her own womb, even when X-23, as Laura was named until gaining her freedom, was meant to be a clone.
So, Laura was born in a private, not a state, compound, and there raised as Logan himself would have been had he been a child when captured by Weapon X. This R&D group, the Facility, had already been trying to recreate the Weapon X program based on what they could glean from espionage. But they, at last, accepted that they’d need to literally replicate the man known only as Weapon X—because their own test subjects kept dying during the adamantium-bonding process. Horrifying.
Lucky Laura, they ended up coating only her claws! Well, I suppose being susceptible to broken bones is something of a tradeoff? They heal quick enough anyway. Plus, she can likely swim, run, leap, and dance more ably than Logan.
We can also think about her upbringing in captivity as a cross between the Weapon X program and Russia’s Red Room.
[X-23: Target X #1 cover by Mike Choi and Sonia Oback]
A greater difference with Laura’s conditioning was the Facility programming her to fly into a murderous rage at the inhalation of a Facility-made “trigger scent.” After her escape from their clutches, she would still be dogged with this sabotage potion by both the Facility and other actors who’d got their hands on it. At last, during Tom Taylor’s character-defining, 2015-2018 All-New Wolverine title, Laura conclusively overcame the trigger scent’s hold on her, as well as the Facility’s agents.
This series remains Laura’s career high so far, along with Marjorie Liu’s 2010-2012 X-23 title, which will be tough to top. After Logan’s “death” in 2014, Laura became his no-nonsense, new-century replacement—which many fans still sorely miss, more so as time goes on. Personality-wise, she was timelier for the age: Logan’s gruff persona appeared downright gregarious next to Laura’s spiky, laconic demeanor, which was refreshing. But undoubtedly the 2000s penchant for sensationalistic trauma porn was excessively layered into her backstory, and after Taylor fully realized Laura as a powerful, independent heroine, portrayals of the character have waffled between this new challenge of Laura-as-hero and the old habit of Laura-as-barely-holding-it-together (the latter being just one fatal flaw in Bryan Hill’s Fallen Angels mini). Unsurprisingly, since Logan’s return, we’ve seen a serious diminishment of the character’s presence, which strikes many as a ridiculous tradeoff. At least in X-Men #5 here, Logan reaffirms Laura’s status as Wolverine, full stop. Now, in X-Men vol 6, Laura has hopefully found in writer Gerry Duggan a steward back toward superstardom.
[Laura adopting her surviving clone, Gabby, as a younger sister—All-New Wolverine #6; art by David López and Nathan Fairbairn]
C. Our Favorite Mutant That the New Century Forgot
[Generation X #6; art by Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, Steve Buccellato, Electric Crayon]
Post-Hickman, Duggan is already doing that for Everett Thomas, Synch, who debuted in the 1994 event Phalanx Covenant, only to die a little more than six years later in Generation X #70 written by Warren Ellis and Brian Wood (the series itself would last only five more issues). But even with less than 90 appearances, he continued to be a fan favorite well after his demise, though totally unknown to younger generations. Having been a 90s teen and Generation X fan, I would say that Everett’s has been my favorite resurrection of the Krakoa era. He too has found a sure steward currently in Gerry Duggan on X-Men.
Everett can synch up his mutant aura with the superpowers of anyone else in his vicinity; before his death, this talent was limited to synching up with other mutants. So, if he synchs up with an Omega mutant, he’s effectively an Omega too, for the duration. He can also track the energy signatures of others of his kind.
The most well-adjusted of the original Gen X crowd, Synch was the character readers were meant to identify with the most, and this was (sadly) exceptional at a time for a teen African-American hero—one of the first at Marvel to not be presented through White mainstream stereotyping.
He had an endearing romance with Monet, which considering their drastically different personalities wouldn’t have lasted long had he survived his selfless and successful heroic attempt to protect others (mutant and human students at Emma’s Massachusetts Academy) from a campus bomb planted by thoroughly despicable Frost sibling, Adrienne.
Recently, he was one of the first to return via the Resurrection Protocols, because, well, Hickman loves him, but he can also in case of an emergency act as a substitute for any one of the Five.
But then the Council found a new use for him. Unlike Rogue, Everett can take on others’ powers (and immediately deploy them with greater power and finesse) without sapping them of their life—making him the perfect infiltration partner for Laura and Darwin.
Also, crucially, there’s something about his ability that allowed Synch to interface with the Vault’s threshold and not be destroyed, or experience “temporal shear” at least.
It will also be nice to see a deeper exploration of his character, given the depression or disassociation that Synch might be experiencing as a result of his resurrection after so many, many years.
D. Ultimate Survivor
[X-Men vol5 #18; art by Mahmud Asrar, Sunny Gho]
Like Vulcan, Darwin (Armando Munoz) was one of Moira’s students sent by Xavier to rescue the X-Men from Krakoa—and then erased from Scott’s memory after the initial rescue mission went pear-shaped. (See 2005’s X-Men: Deadly Genesis by Ed Brubaker, the still embarrassing debacle of an auteur who had been sent on a fool’s mission well beyond his bailiwick.) With his ability to instantly adapt to any environment, he kept himself and Gabe Summers alive in space all that time after the combined might of Storm and Polaris sent the living island hurtling into high orbit.
But not only can Darwin reactively adapt, he can also proactively concentrate his adaptive powers toward engineering or even weaponizing his body when defending himself against lethal foes and forces.
[X-Men: Deadly Genesis #6; art by Trevor Hairsine, Scott Hanna, Val Staples]
Unlike Vulcan, Darwin joined the X-Men to save his erstwhile best friend—and the universe—from himself, in Brubaker’s Uncanny run. Personally, I think he was by far the best thing about that brief era of Uncanny. Beginning with 2008’s X-Factor #33, he stepped into the Peter David title and stayed on for the duration, allowing for a number of memorable Darwin-focused tales—with one of the most striking being the time he took on Hela’s powers to defeat and usurp the death goddess. Bizarre but true.
[X-Factor vol3 #212, 2011]
But Darwin is still awaiting more fruitful stewardship, creators who will more fully flesh out the humanity of this austere, super-intelligent survivor—who as an African-American Latino has also been whitewashed quite a bit, no doubt inadvertently (i.e., lazily).
Maybe in 2022 we’ll start to discover a more humanized Darwin, even as he may be more powerful than ever before. But if there’s an earlier version of him still alive inside the Vault, that iteration may now be beyond humanity, stretched taut against the rack of relentless torment spanning millennia. Sheesh. I swear, the X-Men exist to be traumatized.
Does anyone really think Cyclops didn’t know exactly what he was doing? (Well, I guess he could’ve been under the shadow of Onslaught…?)
By the way, like Everett, Darwin had a brief fling with Monet—briefer, probably. So far, she’s been his one.
II. X-Men #6: “The Oracle,” with art by Matteo Buffagni and Sunny Gho
[although Mystique does try one more time for them, we’ve now seen in Inferno #1 that she brought Destiny back herself]
This issue picks up on Mystique’s ulterior mission for Charles and Mags in HOX #4, and here we see her returning to the Orchis Forge via the secret gate she had planted just before her death.
In HOX #4, it was clear she was up to something, but readers didn’t know what, not even that it might be at the behest of anyone else. So, the questions surrounding Mystique’s actions and motivations are cleared up here, and we’re presented with a new wrinkle on an already established mystery:
What’s almost wholly new here is that, as we saw at the very end of X-Men #1, Dr. Alia Gregor is working to bring her husband back to life somehow. There, she had apparently figured out how to store his engram in a crystal, not entirely unlike what the Krakoans have been doing. However, what we see here is that she’s creating Earth-616’s first Nimrod as the vessel that his resurrected spirit will inhabit.
[having delivered an essential Nimrod component, Mystique in disguise walks away]
The next time this is picked up on is in X-Men #20, Hickman’s penultimate issue. There, Mystique is sent once more to the Forge to blow it up as Nimrod comes online. Of course, it doesn’t go as planned, and Mystique’s failed mission ends with Erasmus sacrificing his consciousness when he translocates the bomb, with the Nimrod vessel surviving intact and Raven sent back with a dire message to mutantkind.
Publication-wise, that was five months ago, but it’s safe to assume that with Nimrod and the Orchis Forge appearing in last month’s Inferno #1, this plot thread could be resolved by the end of that miniseries, Hickman’s last X title for the foreseeable future. In fact, there we see that X-Force has been trying to destroy Nimrod for some time already—and failing miserably.
Frankly, I don’t understand how the Krakoans are going about this so stupidly.
First, what I don’t get is why Charles and Mags were so bent on sending Mystique on a potential kill mission to off Gregor or any other top-level Orchis scientist. Of course, she didn’t do it because she has demands—resurrect Destiny. Why didn’t the Autumn Council just send an Omega, like Magneto himself, to destroy the entire facility??? Forget pushing the damn thing into the Sun; just breach the hull at myriad points. Habitats in space are inherently fragile, fantasy “Dyson engines” or not.
And besides one instance out of a dozen X-Force infiltrations, it’s unclear how X-Force has been boarding the Forge. Whether they’ve used Mystique’s gate at all, at this point, they’re just stumbling into traps, while Orchis learns more of their enemy than vice versa. Isn’t this stupid and overly drawn out in a universe where Mars is full of Omegas and the X-Men are still allied enough with the likes of the Avengers that nonmutant superheroes would also have a keen interest in destroying Nimrod???
Long live Krakoa; now let’s off Orchis and move on to more interesting things—I for one am glad that Hickman is taking a break!
NEXT: Nightmares in green—X-Force #7-9