“Voices of Fire”
Credits: Si Spurrier writes; Paco Medina draws; Jay David Ramos colors; Clayton Cowles letters; cover by Leinil Francis Yu and Jesus Aburtov
Spurrier’s Nightcrawlers mini promises to bring the magic and mysticism to this semi-blockbuster X event (semi because not all the titles are involved)—which is both expected and unexpected, because while we’ve seen the sorcerous Mother Righteous in the pages of Legion of X, and everyone for at least a few months now has correctly assumed she’d unmask as the fourth “suit” of Sinister among the mainline Essex clones, we don’t really know what it means or how exactly it will play out as this mash-up of mad science and sorcery is explored in her full identity and origin. But the time has come… almost.
Like Ewing and Medina’s Storm & the Brotherhood of Mutants #1, Spurrier’s first “Sins of Sinister” entry is much worldbuilding setup and suggestive mystery. I do think the former was more successfully executed; partly that’s just the Ewing magic, but it’s likely also that Spurrier is continuing unresolved story threads from the most recent issues of Legion of X.
But the presence of three of the Sinister “suits” in Nightcrawlers #1 had me thinking about these characters more generally, as well.
One, it’s hilarious that the (“Nightkin”) minions of Mother Righteous immediately offed Doctor Stasis. After all, this event isn’t a Gerry Duggan joint! (Doctor Stasis’ debut was in Duggan’s ongoing X-Men.) But really, I never liked this first intimation of other Sinisters; the revelation of the club tattoo beneath the mask was, to this reader at least, groan-inducing.
And yet I think Orbis Stellaris (the Sinister of spades, or swords—more on Tarot card theory below) is great, but only because Ewing has him ensconced in the still titillating and mysterious cosmic Ewing-verse venue of the Worldfarm, and he clearly has cosmic-sized ambitions toward Dominion.
For her part, Mother Righteous is a fascinating addition because she is Sinister somehow transfigured into astral mistress of magic, a radical shift from the masculine wands (diamonds) and swords (spades) energy of the gendered male Sinisters to the impossible to pin down feminine flow of hearts (cups or rivers; and please understand that none of this gender talk should be taken as biological essentialism). She is indeed strikingly, almost certainly intentionally, similar to the occultic mythic figure of “The Scarlet Woman” praised by notorious occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and his Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn—which is in all likelihood the referent in Immortal X-Men #8 when the Nathaniel Essex of the 19th century rambles on to Destiny about his visions of the future to come.
In other words, the original Essex also worshiped at the occultic altar of the Scarlet Woman, at least symbolically if not as a socially active occultist—which, who knows! There’s some fun potential for story!
Legion of X #1 was titled “Do What Thou Wilt,” taken from a famous Crowley/Golden Dawn dictum, whose second half is “shall be the whole of the law” (which, hey, has as well a Khonshu connection for Moon Knight heads out there; obviously, pop culture creators have been enamored of Western occultism for a long time). These real-world occult connections are actually how Mother Righteous’ identity was sussed out ahead of time by astute fans—plus, again, the original Essex laying out two telling visions of combating the eventual rise of AI: “the science of the stars” (Orbis Stellaris is a giveaway here) and “science-tamed superstition” (Sinister turned sorceress, i.e., Mother Righteous).
(The other options he foresaw were, respectively, human and mutant stratagems—thus, Sinister focused on mutants and Stasis prefers working with humans, as Duggan has made clear in X-Men, specifically of the Orchis variety nowadays—and this is why Dr. Clubs is out of the running in “Sins of Sinister”: humans have in this future become a dead-end.)
Have we touched on Tarot cards yet? Okay—we’ll return there in a sec!
First, let’s assess what we think of these four Sinisters because it seems like the strength of this event, at least how each reader is going to make that judgment for themself, is going to come down to how compelling they are as nemeses of one another and of the mutants who retain autonomy (which could turn out to number far more than what we see at the event’s opening). For me, I like these figures conceptually but beyond the Sinister we’ve all known and loved since… well, we can just say, Gillen’s classic 2012 story “Everything Is Sinister” (Uncanny X-Men vol 2 #1-3), they don’t hold any interest as fleshed-out characters with compelling personalities. Are their interesting contrasting conceptual angles enough?
Based on the strength of the creators involved—probably yes!
Orbis Stellaris is interesting only because of his ambition to achieve Dominion intelligence status, probably via unconventional means (which options are briefly alluded to in Nightcrawlers #1’s second data page), but obviously what will be most compelling will be how the remaining autonomous Krakoans (including Storm and co., but also possibly Destiny and Mystique) work this to their own advantage. Mother Righteous has potential, but I have no idea yet what use she might make of “the instruments of the gods,” mystic artifacts that include the Siege Perilous, Mjolnir, the Eye of Agamotto, etc. (they’re not even in her possession yet; this will be the mission of her Nightkind—see below). Of course, he of the Red Diamond will continue to play a central role in the Gillen-written material, and that is sufficient to make those pages sing, increasingly with the happy relief of a heaping dose of comedy (Gillen is making the Krakoa Sinister more of a buffoon with every issue, and it is a delight).
Okay—‘nuff speculation. This first Spurrier issue of the event is good, but I’m not feeling it quite as much as the last two, by Gillen and Ewing, respectively. But each of these issues is still in set-up mode, and I’m just happy to be along for the ride right now.
So, what are some noteworthy details and Easter eggs in Nightcrawlers #1?
Ten years on from now, Vox Ignis (the two-in-one entity of Banshee and the Spirit of Variance) are still working for Mother Righteous (whom the Spirit sincerely calls “Mother”). David (Legion) is still in a coma due to his father’s vile (but oh so “well-meaning”) betrayal, via his neural Daedalus device. Kurt (Nightcrawler) is still a drooling monstrosity (as we already saw in Sins of Sinister #1)—but Sinister has become bored with this “pet” and had him removed to Xavier’s original Westchester School (which has long since been converted to Sinister’s main cloning facility) and placed under the care of Doctor Nemesis (who’s just as chained as the sleepy beast).
Oh! And Nemesis still has a giant fun-guy head—from Margali Szardos’ sorcery in Legion of X #9.
Margali’s sorcery, specifically her mythomantic spell (which we saw at work throughout Legion of X #7-10, transforming mutants so that they looked like mythic creatures) has still been in effect for ten years, affecting any mutant the Sinister of Krakoa has genetically tampered with—until Mother Righteous figured out how to break it (possibly by ritually killing Margali, which seems strongly visually implied, though the art is ambiguous, and there’s no textual explanation regarding this wordless flashback). Obviously, as far as Sinister’s plans for Krakoan chimeras, this would be a major, decade-long setback! But with that curse removed, he’s recently been able to create from Nightcrawler’s X gene, the “Nightkin.”
Just as clearly, Stasis is upset that she’s given the Krakoan Sinister a leg up by breaking the spell, which again, as we saw in LOX #10, Margali had worked out with Orchis. Of course, Mother Righteous’ aim here was self-interest, her method for this sorcerous breakthrough obviously kept dark from Vox Ignis—who is surprised when their “Scream o’ Change” breaks the enthrallment of Sinister’s newly created Nightkin. However, we’ll see by issue’s end the “Sinister Strain” threatens to reassert control of the freed chimeras. Again, we don’t know how Righteous is performing this sorcery as she’s still very much behind the scenes; Vox Ignis and then the freed Nightkin’s role is to be her cat’s-paws and thieves.
Mother Righteous has become quite the thief-master—of orphan thieves, no less! She really is bringing back 19th century London!
The Nightkin aren’t just chimeras connected by way of Nightcrawler’s genetics; somehow, there’s something about Nightcrawler and his quality of hopefulness, the Spark, that they share in. Is it just that they’ve been freed of the “Sinister Strain” or has it been with them since they were hatched on what’s left of Krakoa?
Taking on the MU’s magic angle, Spurrier may have more goodies in store for this event—or not. Seemingly, Doctor Strange (or whoever the current Sorcerer Supreme might be) has fled Earth for Otherworld; at least all the “occult eejits,” as Banshee calls them, have gone that route. At the opening, Vox Ignis is already hunting or scavenging for “items of power,” as part of Mother Righteous’s overall strategy, which otherwise remains unexplained, except her intent, with these gathered relics, to somehow create what she calls the Reliquary Perilous, “a holy weapon” to “purge the Sinister Strain from the heart of eery mutant—with the white-hot fire of faith.”
Speaking of, there’s a callback to Margali’s discovery and theft of the Hopesword from Kurt’s soul in LOX #10, where Margali pairs faith with “fanaticism,” dismissing both in favor of the power of hope (not hers, which is probably nonexistent now, but her foster son’s). In contrast, in Nightcrawlers #1, Mother Righteous denigrates hope’s “shoddy currency” while favoring faith’s potential as a commodity in trade. At first, this sounds vague, but it becomes clear enough that she fetishizes artifacts of mysticism (to what specific end we don’t yet know)—though her sorcerous practices clearly have a kind of black market value, as she intimates when meeting with her fellow Sinister “brothers” (Orbis and Stasis) at the former Summer House on Luna: “Spells…sacrifices…deals.”
Dismissing Mother’s “fuzzy huckster magic” as remotely any kind of threat to his Dominion ambitions, Orbis also tells her that “the sword does not fear the cup,” another arrogant dismissal—based an analogies drawn from the Tarot: In the Tarot’s four suits, Swords are analogous to mind, Cups to heart; a classic duality. (Traditional playing card suits are, in other words, substituted for more esoteric meanings—Wands (spirit/fire) for Diamonds and Pentacles (body/nature/abundance) for Clubs.) And these occult symbolic systems are really showing up throughout the work of not just Spurrier but Ewing (with his Defenders material, as well; and a respectful use of Kabbalah has been prominent for him too), and of course, Tini Howard mapped out and named the “X of Swords” event likewise. Of course, each Tarot suit has many, many, many more fascinating qualities than what those unfamiliar might surmise from just the schema laid out by each of these villainous clones; after all, this tradition has been built and elaborated upon for several centuries now, with a particularly sophisticated symbolic layering occurring during the Enlightenment era and once again during the Decadent/Theosophical 1880s-1900s.
We end with what Righteous must’ve known would be a suicide mission on the part of one of her Nightkin: a recon attempt on the living (genetically Unuscione) force field around Sinister’s stolen Moira lab sequestered within the Worldfarm. Effectively, Spurrier chooses his young teen Spidey-’Crawler chimera, “Wallcrawler,” to ’port to his doom against the field’s unforgiving surface. There’s a strong sense here that this was a deliberate tragedy to foster a deep feeling among the grieving Nightkin of having blood in the game, binding them strongly to Mother Righteous’ quest—whose self-interested nature she hides behind speechifying on the selfishness of those she claims they can’t work with, like Storm.
Only one person here is clearly beginning to doubt her—Vox Ignis; and with the Spirit’s deep bond with her, the likelihood of rebellion from that quarter will be hard-fought.
NEXT: Immoral X-Men #1 by Gillen & Medina!