Credits: Steve Orlando writes; Eleonora Carlini draws #1-4, Andrea Broccardo on issue #5; Matt Milla colors; Ariana Maher letters; covers by Kael Ngu
By turns poignant and silly, rousing and baffling, Steve Orlando’s Marauders is, regardless of your stance, chock-full of fascinating pulls from and allusions to Silver and Bronze Age X-Men comics—and of course, the greatest era of all, the x-treme ’90s. Steve is trying to do a lot with this title, cramming in all he can as if he might not get to keep it for more than a year; and these days, who knows. He’s in the big leagues now and making a name for himself at Marvel, the chance of a lifetime. So, he’s got to make his mark quick, and do it splashy, garish and even ghoulish—because that’s what we remember, plus his distinctive surname that keeps popping up on covers across the MU. Nowadays, even seasoned vets aren’t guaranteed more than half a year on any given title, so Steve’s frenetic penchant for everything and the kitchen sink makes sense—indeed, it’s strategic.
Really, who can say—We might be witnessing the stewing up of the primordial soup of the Orlando-verse, just as there was the Hickman-verse of the 2010s and now the Ewing-verse coming to fruition in the 2020s. Will the 2030s be Steve Orlando’s?
Again, who knows—but Steve is clearly having a lot of fun giving fans old and new endless Easter egg hunts, and all this mulching could one day become a lush wild garden from which to pick many a season’s harvest. And whether or not he is one of those future gardeners (Elder of the MU or not), he’s still bequeathing those creators much to chew on if time is taken to unpack his compressed ideas and oddball character beats.
That said, I’m betting that the Shi’ar elements, particularly Xandra, will be more fully folded into the story of Krakoa later this year with the “Fall of X.”
So, let’s look at some of what he’s been drawing from and see if we can suss out where it all might be going… starting with Marauders #1-4. At the very least, you’ll discover or rediscover some fun comics, however classic or pure rubbish or both, along the way.
The question for Orlando is what he might do with all this mulch, when a majority of these obscure pulls get more focus instead of feeling like tossed off moments that have the feel of gratuitous referentiality.
That said, the first arc does open with such a moment that is definitely saved by the poignancy of its pathos…
Marauders vol 2 #1-5: “Extinction Agenda”
The second volume of Marauders opens with the new team rescuing the obscure mutant Fever Pitch who debuted as a teen member of the Dark Beast’s Gene Nation in 1999’s Generation X #50 by Jay Faerber and Terry Dodson. With only twenty appearances since, he’s certainly an obscure Orlando ’90s pull. Seemingly killed by X-Man in his second appearance, he next popped up in Joe Casey’s brief Uncanny run (#402-406, 2002) where powerful illusionist Lady Mastermind Martinique Wyngarde had mind-controlled several thuggish mutants into serving X-Corps, Banshee’s fascist mutant police force in Europe, with Sean the one brutally controlling Mastermind himself; once she found her moment, her enthralled minions rampaged through the streets of Paris to undermine mutantkind’s public image. This walking man on fire with no face must have been a favorite of mid-2000s writer David Hine, for he had him keep his powers after M-Day, and he was a supporting cast member of Hine’s X-Men: 198 and Civil War: X-Men minis. Grisly fate sealed as the 2000s got grimmer, he was abducted by human terrorists the Sapient League, injected with the Legacy Virus and dropped off in Wyoming where his powers went haywire, and he exploded, killing hundreds of innocents including himself. However, he apparently did survive, albeit as electromagnetic energy—a science fantasy specter.
Another Hine pull we see is Gregor Smerdyakov, pulled from 2004’s District X, wherein he gradually evolved into a sentient tree, per his X gene activation, and bearing a “boost fruit” activating or enhancing mutant powers. He’s never even had another mention until Orlando’s Marauders—Smerdyakov fans everywhere are, of course, beside themselves with ecstatic surprise and a confidence-boosting sense of geekdom recognition. Best of all, their guy now gets to be a vital team player.
Now, anyone who read Grant Morrison’s fan-favorite New X-Men run from the early 2000s remembers Cassandra Nova, who debuted in the run’s first issue, #114, which was followed by her genocide via Sentinels of 16 million mutants on Genosha. A few writers have indirectly attempted to use her again, but really she was trapped inside the shapeshifty Shi’ar bio-computer named Stuff (since New X-Men #126) until she wasn’t—many years later in Tom Taylor’s X-Men: Red, where she tried for a terrorist comeback, only to be bested by the recently resurrected Jean Grey. Morrison had originally intended for her to undergo reform within the bio-computer, but that plot thread was left dangling; Taylor got her there otherwise, but the end result was the same: Cassandra Nova’s repentance seemed genuine, and now Orlando is going to develop this further, while reminding us that this wicked spirit twin of Charles Xavier remains wickedly unpredictable and terrifyingly powerful but now on the side of mutantkind.
And she did in fact conquer the Shi’ar empire (while possessing her dear brother’s body) in New X-Men #122-126—all off-panel too!
Bishop mentions his erstwhile paramilitary outfit, the XSE, from his native dystopian alternate future; teammates and friends Randall and Malcolm who arrived with him in the present day of 1991’s Uncanny #282 by Whilce Portacio and John Byrne were soon killed while hunting their quarry Trevor Fitzroy. Bishop’s memories are haunted by these two, as we’ll see in “Judgment Day” tie-in issue #6.
Orlando indirectly references Bishop’s character assassination during the late 2000s, when he turned evil and hunted Cable and baby Hope across myriad dystopian futures, believing only Hope’s death would prevent his own broken future. It was not a good look, and Marvel has since pretended it never happened. Since Marauders #1, there have been a few superficial acknowledgments of that dark period, but it’s probably best if we all just forget about it—it was insanely out of character.
The following is a little Easter egg from the first issue’s second data page, a recorded conversation between Mr. Sinister and Doctors Cecilia Reyes (who debuted in 1997’s X-Men #65 but is sadly underserved currently, on the page, despite being critical to Krakoa’s Healing Gardens) and Nemesis:
Nemesis was indeed originally known as Doctor Death during 1993’s Invaders vol 2 #1-4 by Roy Thomas. But when he next appeared, in Matt Fraction’s late 2000s Uncanny run, it was under his current alias (starting with issue #504); he’s played a supporting role ever since, although after Si Spurrier’s 2014 X-Force (vol 4), his presence faded until 2019. While Fraction gave him a somewhat deeper backstory (born 1906), in Thomas’ original conception James Bradley was portrayed as a domestic US agent for the Nazis, persuaded to join the Reich by how much he felt his heroic genius undervalued by his own government; indeed, his Battle-Axis team he composed of other disillusioned superheroes. Pretty weird, huh? Now, they don’t seem to have been depicted as antisemitic or even racist—they simply wanted the US to withdraw and become isolationist. Of course, in the real world, ideological isolationism is never so cartoonishly simple. However, as soon as he showed up in the Fraction era, readers were assured he’d long been making good by establishing himself, under the Nemesis name, as a fearsome Nazi hunter.
But why this background? Probably, it was Fraction being the deep Marvel head that he is, and knowing that Roy Thomas had wanted to use the Golden Age Doctor Nemesis from the short-lived Timely Comics (from whose ashes Marvel later emerged)—though editorial had kept him from using this heroic figure for Nazi employ. In other words, Fraction’s intention was to rehabilitate this character absolutely no one else cared about and made him a mutant genius to boot! Like I said, strange.
That’s what we love about Marvel, though, right?!
Whereas Oracle has been around since 1977’s X-Men #107, which first introduced the Imperial Guard, and was forced to serve the usurping Emperor Vulcan (Gabriel Summers), like fellow Guardsmen (as seen in the 2007/2009 minis X-Men: Emperor Vulcan and X-Men: Kingbreaker), the quite short-lived Delphos is rather obscure. Her first and only appearances were 2000’s Inhumans #3-4 by Rafael Marin and Jose Ladronn followed by Tini Howard’s Secret X-Men #1. This obscurity makes her ideal as a sleeper agent for Orlando’s retcon of an ancient Shi’ar sect that views its authority as superseding the Imperial Majestrix or Majestor (indeed, preceding the Empire’s existence), “when the Shi’ar were little more than galactic raiders”—as shown later in Marauders #4.
The Stygian mutiny, which Delphos mentions dismissively, was sparked on a Shi’ar colony world (homeworld of the Stygians) by the empire’s disastrous financial policies, as seen in Hickman’s X-Men #17. Having Storm save Empress Xandra’s life and symbolically defend a rapacious empire was an odd choice, especially because the clash of values between these intergalactic allies has never been adequately addressed.
The first Shi’ar to appear in comics, in X-Men #97, the oddly named Eric the Red always felt like he was meant to be someone else—at least as a double agent inside S.H.I.E.L.D. or the US armed forces, spying or who knows what at Emperor D’Ken’s behest. But we never see him in any other guise than the future-retro leather-and-steel kink that actually feels just a bit more family-friendly on the closing page of Marauders #1. As far as we know, his strength, hypnosis, and blastin’ powers come from his techno-barbarian armor, so he’s gotten an upgrade here. His new outfit comes with more super-science tech and flamboyance. Snazzy.
For the more numerous and obscure but titillating callbacks and creative remixing in Marauders #2-3, I recommend seeing my earlier review of these issues, where you’ll find all the relevant annotations laid out And if you want more on Eric the Red’s history since the Claremont days, including his Crystal Claws, which is referenced in Marauders #4, see my first-issue review.
In Marauders #4, we have a wildly obscure reference to Lupak gland, an extra-dimensional organ that’s home to the soul of each Lupak (the sort of Wolverine-ish aliens debuting in the classic X-Men #107, 1977, in the person of Fang, along with the rest of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard). The strange notion of this gland was introduced much later, in Charles Soule’s Wolverines (2014-2015), but in Orlando’s Marauders, we see that the Kin keep the gland of their living Chronicle, a grimly happily imprisoned Lupak, in physical space, which is odd since this allows Akihiro to easily destroy it—and thus the Kin’s Chronicle historical record. That seems like a lapse in security protocols on their part.
Presumably just for fun, Claremont and Cockrum in the classic X-Men #107 did have Wolverine steal and wear Fang’s costume after his own is ruined. In Marauders #5, another Lupak offers it and the moniker to Akihiro, who did tussle with the Fang of the mid-2010s in Wolverines. Honestly, this feels silly, and it’s hard to imagine this sticking, even if we move on from “Daken.”
Oddly, the very obscure Elder of the Universe the Obliterator is shown in Marauders #4 to be a hired thug, albeit with doomsday weapons (which won’t prove sufficient against the Thresholders), of the Shi’ar of yore. Maht Pacle debuted in 1987’s Silver Surfer vol 3 #4 by Steve Englehart; he’s the sole survivor of his kind after he wiped them all out himself, but his immortal Elder status made him an Overman over and above his fellow mortals. He’d been missing from publication for almost a quarter century until briefly in 2016 with Al Ewing’s Contest of Champions, but just a couple months ago, superb artist Patrick Zircher used him in his Avengers Unlimited Infinity Comic arc, aptly titled “The Doomsday Man.”
The Avalon station went down in flames when “Age of Apocalypse” son of Apocalypse Nemesis (née Holocaust) randomly attacked after getting the boot from his destroyed home reality. His battle with Acolyte leader Exodus hastened the station’s destruction. See 1995’s X-Men #42-43 by Fabian Nicieza. And that is a pretty random place for a time-frozen Threshold refugee pod to pop up from the primeval past!
Years later in publication time, his unfortunate name was retconned to Nemesis, and he found himself booted from the AoA reality to the 616 without the AoA crystal containment suit allowing him to maintain his form; in his next 616 appearance, in X-Force #49, Sebastian Shaw hired him to capture X-Force (which he did, quite easily) in exchange for a new suit of armor—the one we see in Marauders #4-5. Now, clearly, Orlando or editorial just wanted readers to recognize everyone in this time-jump to Avalon to appear instantly recognizable (even the Acolytes did not appear then in their trademark costumes, and three of four of them weren’t in X-Men #42-43). Maybe the Marauders’ time-traveling caused everyone’s memories of this past event to change, or… Really, who cares? The basics are still more or less consistent.
The adolescent Shi’ar Warbird is from Jason Aaron’s Wolverine & The X-Men (2011-2014) but since then, she’s never really made much of an appearance. Her childhood backstory in slavery and sexual exploitation is rather troubling material to work with, however removed exoticized in the context of far-off space opera, which certainly doesn’t make it any less problematic—but perhaps she’ll get a new lease on comics notoriety with something a bit more interesting to offer now, since Cassandra, after being bonded with and healed by Zzxz, the mutant symbiote previously enslaved to the Kin Crimson (see the issue #1 review link above), passes it on, clearly in agreement with the symbiote’s apparent wishes, to Warbird’s martial use.
Somnus in Marauders #5 says Aussie-martial artist Red Lotus (from early in Claremont’s X-Treme X-Men) taught him martial arts in a night, via Somnus’ his oneiromantic time dilation. He’s later seen sleeping with Imperial Guard Neutron, clearly a new recruit after the previous one’s death in Ewing’s S.W.O.R.D. #9 (he’s from Stygia, which planetary culture we briefly touched on above).
Lastly for now, at the very end of Marauders #5, an alternate version of the 2099 universe mutant Cerebra shows up, newly resurrected on Krakoa (as we find out in issue #6), where she died upon arrival from 2099, carried into the past by a medium-young (😉) Cable (whom we don’t get to see here; sigh)—except, you can totally see him and Cerebra’s first appearance, where she is indeed mortally wounded by a Sentinel, in Orlando’s recent Spider-Man 2099: Exodus #5, penultimate issue of his “Spider-Man 2099” event.
The Cerebra from the original early ’90s 2099 universe debuted as a member of the future-dystopia X-Men in 1993’s X-Men 2099 #1, and a couple years later she founded X-Nation, which was actually a small group of mutants who were allowed to live in a city-state ruled by the Doom of 2099.
Both Orlando’s Earth-2099 Cerebra and the original Earth-928 version from the ’90s have the ability to detect the presence of other mutants telepathically (X-factor detection); however, the “original” could also manipulate others’ (autonomic) nervous systems while the one we get in Marauders can record DNA and minds—just like the Cerebro helmets (since the Krakoa-era retcon revealed that’s what they’ve been doing for many years now, thanks in large part to Forge).
But why two separate 2099 realities? Simple: The original got pretty dated (And it didn’t evolve over time since that universe didn’t enjoy any new stories beyond the ’90s)! Credit for the new 2099 belongs to creators Nick Spencer and Viktor Bogdanovic (typically a DC artist), with 2019’s 2099 Alpha #1, which kicked off a brief, two-month mini-event that was unfortunately rather forgettable. Overall, Orlando’s crack at this venue suffered from a similar flaw: Too broad a canvas in too short a window. That is, of course, simply the way the game must be played nowadays, if you want to revive a whole slate of neglected material. It probably didn’t convince many of an urgent need or interest for a revisit any time soon, but at least it’s updated for the 2020s now—though if neglected again for too long, we’ll need another update in 30 years. After that, this separate timestream will be on a swift approach for its vanishing point in the real-world 2099!
NEXT: A quick continuity therapy dive followed by a deep time quest against microbial tyranny—Marauders #6-10!