Welcome back to our multipart reread of Marvel’s big 2022 summer event, “A.X.E.: Judgment Day”; previously, we looked at the lead-up to this apocalyptic ruckus, as well as the basics you need to know about the Eternals—as this entire story really is event architect Kieron Gillen blowing up the narrative he started with his brilliant but criminally underselling (and thus prematurely ended) Eternals run.
Note that spoilers will follow. From here, we’ll assume you’re caught up on the event’s core narrative.
This time, we’re looking at A.X.E.: Judgment Day #1 by Kieron Gillen, Valerio Schiti, Marte Gracia and Clayton Cowles; Immortal X-Men #5 by Gillen, Michele Bandini, David Curiel and Clayton Cowles; and X-Men: Red #5 by Al Ewing, Stefano Caselli, Federico Blee and Ariana Maher. Covers by, respectively: Mark Brooks & Sabine Rich; Giuseppe Camuncoli & Jesus Aburtov; Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson.
A.X.E.: Judgment Day #1
“I do not yet exist. I am of such power that I can speak to you even now.” – This event’s opening lines are ominous yet inviting: “There is much you need to know. Come. Learn, along with me. Who are the heroes here? We will find out” (Of course, the question after the event might be: If the Progenitor somehow existed virtually before its creation, wouldn’t it have been able to peer into the future? Maybe it always knew that it would put the world back to rights, except for all the property damage. Enough quibbling!).
These lines only become more ominous once we’re actually introduced to their speaker in Judgment Day #2 (Btw, Valerio, is that Lorna out on the NYC streets in everyday-civilian chic or just a celeb lookalike?).
Many readers understandably misread these opening captions as belonging to Gillen’s narrator throughout his Eternals run—the Machine, who will instead pop up again narrating A.X.E.: Death to the Mutants #1-3. It’s interesting that these two drastically different but related figures are the event’s two narrators in parallel; we’ll have to see if there’s anything more to this as we move along.
The issue’s opening scene, Tony and Sersi’s dinner date recalls the flirty duo sharing another rooftop* meal in Eternals #5—but in that earlier scene, Sersi was playing Tony to smoke out “renegade” Eternal Gilgamesh (who believed his fellow Eternal was there to kill her hapless date) while here, the manipulation is reversed, with Stark setting up his erstwhile^ teammate for his current Avengers mates to nab her. Interrogating her back at Avengers Mountain, the Iron Avenger alludes to the Eternals sneaking into Earth’s Mightiest HQ “last month”—i.e., Eternals #10-12, which closed the series with Thanos defeated and Druig taking his place as Prime Eternal, meaning Druig’s tenure turns out to be very short-lived, especially for an Eternal.
During that interrogation, Iron Man notes that “something’s coming,” which likely refers to both the Hex making the rise from the ocean depths as well as Uranos’ armories preparing to open.
*Note the view of the X-Men’s Seneca Gardens Treehouse canopy in the near background.
**Avengers #314-375, 1990-1994—a considerable time! Toward the end she fell in love with Black Knight Dane Whitman; for more on that here, see the section on Immortal X-Men #5 below…
The second scene looks in on the official X-Men team in their Seneca Gardens (Central Park) Treehouse and the crowd of protestors making a ruckus below; now that the immortality secret is out (X-Men #12), mutantkind is back to its classic status as feared and hated. We focus in on one woman in the crowd, grieving over her recently passed daughter, who will be one of the six* humans we follow, one page for all each issue starting with issue #2—showing their varying reactions to the revelation of mutant immortality, Druig’s brutal show of Eternal power and the Progenitor’s judgment of every person on Earth. In her grief, the bereaved mother Jada teeters on despair, but she never turns to hatred born of fear; among the adults here, she’s the most relatable for any empathetic reader. That’s probably why she’ll soon be getting to offer Cap a cup of coffee and a brief chat (Judgment Day #5).
*Actually, in issue #2, the aging Arjun dies with Ikaris’ resurrection, and his widow takes his place as one of these six ordinary humans.
[Cyclops’ line finishes on the next page: “…it’s not as if everyone has stopped killing mutants.”]
Turning to Nightcrawler and his mother and her wife on Krakoa, it’s worth noting Krakoa’s population appears to be almost exactly the same as it was during the 2019 “Dawn of X” era—I guess Quentin Quire has been keeping the Five too busy to make greater headway there!
(And note that Arakko’s population is then given to be at one million, although Cypher has said previously, when Arakko rejoined Krakoa (Hickman’s X-Men #16), that the Arakkii outnumbered the Krakoans twentyfold—at 4,000,000. Go figure. Maybe Wanda’s been getting up to old shenanigans again, on the DL, or the Arakkii pastime of deadly dueling has gone totally haywire. Much more likely: Post-Hickman, corporate or editorial was like, yeah, we might have the movie rights now, but that’s still too many mutants about.
Note that even without the numerical revision mutantkind’s footprint is much smaller than it was before Genosha’s destruction by Cassandra Nova’s Sentinels in 2001’s New X-Men #115.
(Now, though Uranos’ mass killing of Arakkii is initially made to appear a total genocide, a caption at the end of X-Men: Red #5 notes that Uranos has killed “98% of all life in a fifty-mile radius,” though his death machines wreak their own havoc elsewhere. Still, with deaths at over 10,000, this revised population size of one million makes that tragedy all the more acute for the Arakkii, more than 1% of their people gone. Imagine >3,000,000 Americans dead in an hour; pretty bad!)
On Arakko, Magneto says mutantkind has surpassed the Eternals as Earth’s “new gods,” which echoes Gillen’s Eternals (as well as the first arc of Jason Aaron’s Avengers); see again the brief description last time of the Eternals’ Celestial-programmed purpose (related to battling the Celestials’ nemeses the Horde), a task long since accomplished in the modern MU, making the Eternals a sort of unnecessary appendix (and possibly just as deadly in their useless lingering 😉).
Notably, however, Druig’s reading of the Eternals’ Celestial-programmed principles that allows him to see mutants as Deviants who have become excessive/out of bounds is clearly a bad-faith interpretation—and even when he knows he’s failed, he digs in catastrophically, freeing Uranos on Earth, without limits (Judgment Day #4). Before that disastrously craven decision, he’s already expecting a negative judgment from the Progenitor (Death to the Mutants #2).
Judgment Day #1 does a good job of presenting Druig in his very new role as Prime Eternal (Eternals #12) and the contrast between his hidden motivations (naked self-interest) and his speechifying, addressing both his people and nonmutant humanity (cynically playing up ideological fearmongering to divide and distract and thus justify the use of world-shattering destructive power; timely stuff these days).
Note Druig’s dig at Xavier’s worldwide telepathic address in House of X #1 after he hijacks human tech for his own global pronouncements to us silly mayflies: “I could use telepathy, but we consider that intrusive and crass” (which is also how he considers humanity itself). Still, is hacking everyone’s phones that much of a relief? Sure, I wouldn’t want Xavier in my brain, but who’d want yet another creep up in their devices?
Presumably continuing their initial encounter at the end of the X-Men: Hellfire Gala one-shot, Moira meets Druig at the now Eternals-run Damocles Foundation—a fun Easter egg for continuity nerds. This company debuted in 1998’s X-Force #77-79 and popped up a handful of times over the next twenty issues (during John Francis Moore’s fan-favorite run); the organization was secretly established by Eternals and Deviants who, reacting in horror to the Cold War arms race, believed they must band together with humans who are equally conscientious about not destroying themselves and the world and, from this small alliance, create their own superhumans to bring peace to Earth; suffice to say, they failed. Flash forward 25 years, and now we see that at some point, Druig or some other mainstream Eternal reined in the breakaway triple alliance, flawed idealism replaced by pure cynicism.
The now murderously psychopathic Moira confers with the cold snake Druig on how to strike at the heart of Krakoa: Attack the Council psionically, with the Eternals’ Uni-Mind (the collective merging of Eternals as energy-forms, which, yes, they’ve always been able to do), take out the Five (Jack of Knives’ job, thankfully foiled, except for Egg’s temporary death) and send the ultimate WMD to Arakko (knowing the Arakkii shun Krakoan resurrection).
The top panel of page 19 (digital) correlates with the much more detailed climax of Immortal X-Men #5, where Emma, Hope and Exodus go on psychic defense against this force—psi warfare has rarely felt so dramatic and dynamic.
Several pages later, Cable’s resurrection follows his death by Uranos as seen in X-Men: Red #5, and we see the immediate aftermath of Uranos’ Arakkii massacre on the next page—including, atop a pile of skeletons, Magneto’s battered helmet and Dayspring’s skull crushed to dust in his killer’s hand, as the last few seconds count down for this world-killer before he’s teleported right back to his Eternal cell.
It’s gut-wrenching that Arakko has to be the present-day instance of Uranos’ genocidal brutality to show us how devastating it would be should he escape the confines of his cell for more than his allotted hour here, when the Arakkii still haven’t fully shone on the page yet in all the complexity of their living society—following centuries of untold hardship, and knowing that they won’t be resurrected (And of course, Druig will free Uranos when he sees his defeat coming, but we don’t see nearly as much of the grim, grisly details).
However, what’s surprising after Moira’s dramatic entrance into Druig’s domain in the Hellfire Gala issue is that Druig is already in the process of attacking Krakoa and Arakko. So, basically, Moira is just an epic heel, once again! But she’ll get her turn, an opportunity that must be forced upon her by Nightcrawler, to attack the Progenitor, opportunistically jumping on the bandwagon with all the real heroes (Immortal X-Men #7 and Judgment Day #6). What she did bring to the table at Damocles was her knowledge of the Five.
I do have one quibble with the idea that Uranos destroyed all the gates on Arakko back to Krakoa: Wouldn’t there be seeds held in reserve scattered across the red planet in case of an emergency? That’s, um, a pretty epic fail in basic statecraft and security.
But note the vast “X” Uranos had time to make of all those bones; that lurid memento mori is a message for which Immortal X-Men #5 has a strong though subtle rebuttal, in the shape of Exodus’ millennial zeal, in exaltation of Homo superior.
The event’s first issue ends with the only previously mentioned Hex (see Gillen’s Eternals #1 and 7) emerging out of the ocean depths. These Kirby-esque kaiju will keeping Krakoa busy for a minute. But it’s hard to imagine most of humanity not freaking out about those “towering death machines” regardless of who they’re hunting.
Meanwhile, Ajak and Makkari have come to Avengers Mountain—Ajak plans to rewrite their programming, so her fellow Eternal Druig will be forced, via that rewriting, to give up his genocidal attack. As seen throughout Gillen’s Eternals, Ajak’s existential melancholy and frustration lead up to this moment where she’s looking for her people to escape that kind of deeply encoded mastery of their lives. But as we see throughout the rest of the event, she’s an ancient religious figure who continues to act as an apologist for traditional Eternal faith (worshiping Celestials), even as she agonizes in doubt and resentment while also telling herself that these crises are still just tests of faith, a faith that she’s programmed to identify with as Celestial creation Ajak. There’s some subtle Gillen satire of religiosity here: She ends up making a god whose word she believes will provide the answers she needs and will follow, even as she begins to realize she’s created a monster, with the help of two other monsters of hubris, however differently aligned, Stark and Sinister. Zealotry is a broad tent that welcomes the morally grey, or just plain evil, for its purposes.
It’s better to keep your zealots subordinate and in check…
Immortal X-Men #5
This issue’s title, “Meditations on the X,” echoes the Christian “Meditations on the Cross”—a name put to countless theological collections on the nature of Christ, the Crucifixion and Christianity, generally. So, Gillen’s revision perfectly encapsulates the former Crusader Bennet du Paris’ transition to a nascent religion exalting Homo superior, after sleeping away the centuries since his last Crusade turned to heretical wonder (X-gene activation), revelation (subsequent fealty to the ancient mystery and power of Apocalypse), heartbreak and irreparable loss (refusing Apocalypse’s command to slay his best friend and unlikely love, the Black Knight Eobar Garrington, thus betraying his master, who then drained his new powers and forced the young Exodus into an endless sleep, entombed).
Granted, this tie-in’s story is quite tangential to the A.X.E. narrative—except… Gillen clearly continues to be fascinated by the religious and mythic themes coursing through much of his work, and Immortal X-Men #6 will see Exodus’ mutant-centric piety converge dramatically with his personal passion (the long-dead Eobar) and the Progenitor’s judgment (perhaps the most unusual instance in the event; more on that next time). Plus, while Al Ewing’s X-Men: Red tie-ins are most critical to the event’s tragedies (more on that below), Immortal X-Men #5-7, by way of their character portraits, speak to Judgment Day’s themes most directly; unsurprising, with Gillen’s hand on the tiller of this existential apocalypse.
However, as I believe Immortal X-Men #5 is such a perfect instance of Gillen’s mastery of the medium, whatever one’s feelings on Exodus, we have a pendant piece on this issue, specifically on the backstory that Gillen makes use of in subtly rehabilitating Exodus’ characterization for the modern age. Read it here!
For Exodus really is the perfect viewpoint character among the Council to start out Immortal X-Men’s A.X.E. tie-ins: He’s taken center-stage among his fellows because, oddly enough, he has more experience with the Eternals than anyone else present—he’s at least vaguely familiar with Sersi from a brief but intense encounter a thousand years ago. However, since that chance meeting culminated in a telepathic duel between young mutant and ageless Eternal*, Bennet’s still, artisanal waters run deeper than most readers might assume.
*A witch indeed in the medieval Crusader’s eyes ablaze with ardent zeal, especially as she steals his man!
In the opening present-day scene, Xavier tells the Council that Forge discovered a “Celestial technology energy signature” involved in Sinister’s super-science abduction, matching it with that present in the town Little Hollow when the Eternals rescued its inhabitants from Thanos’ weaponization of the Machine operating below the Earth’s surface, as seen at the end of Gillen’s Eternals.
He also notes that Krakoa certainly wasn’t expecting a fight with the Eternals—which also works as metacommentary on the fact that the buildup for this event in-universe was really all in the Eternals.
But this event is tragically well-timed for Krakoa since, as Emma notes, mutantkind is at a crisis point with “all the big dogs” off-world (Apocalypse and Magneto, but also with Storm divided between two planets) and the fact of Krakoan resurrection out in the open, however ill-understood.
Before the Council know they’re under attack, Exodus is plunged more deeply into his millennial past—about which, again, see more here. But he realizes, even as he struggles to maintain a foothold in the now, that Druig’s Uni-Mind forces is trying to drown Krakoa’s leadership in their own individual psyches.
While Exodus and the rest of the Council fight their way back to being present, Logan saves the savior and perhaps most critical member of the Five, returning us to pages 22-23 of Judgment Day #1.
Then it’s time to go on offense: Emma, Exodus and Hope (copying Exodus’ psi powers). In his own mind, Exodus realizes his full potential as a warrior by visualizing this super-science, kaiju battle in a manner that makes sense to him as a medieval knight. Even his comrades become, respectively, a jagged diamond shield and the flaming sword of his faith. And that “many-headed beast,” the Uni-Mind? A fearsome dragon. But slaying dragons, as Exodus well knows, is a true knight’s calling.
The data page that follows this depiction of Exodus’ mental battlespace provides a striking contrast that makes both perceptions of the “psychic engagement” that much more powerful. Another impressive design by Tom Muller shows us, abstractly yet dynamically, the Krakoan heroes “breach the surface e-psi-dermis,” a serendipitous neologism delightfully showing off that light-on-his-toes Gillen genius.
As to how this sublime moment plays out from the perspective of Exodus, in his genuinely earned resilience and self-actualized chivalry (unlikely as that sounds), again, read the details here!
“I remembered the fire in the desert.”
With the Eternals’ Uni-Mind skewered like a kebab*, Exodus turns his attention to the other dragons attacking Krakoa, the kaiju-like Hex (*It’s just too bad we didn’t get to see whatever kind of aneurysm this must’ve caused the Uni-Mind Eternals! 😉).
X-Men: Red #5
While Exodus on Krakoa battles with fist, faith, mind and memory, the Planet Arakko is utterly devastated, in Ewing and Caselli’s “Hour of Uranos.”
And where Camuncoli’s cover features mutantkind’s most zealous “wise man” ablaze with revitalized power, Dauterman gives us a once and future mutant messiah as a freshly flensed skeleton, courtesy of Uranos (himself a resolutely grim and unsexy prince of the air).
We open once more after Judgment Day #1 page 9, after Kurt’s arrival at the Great Ring from Krakoa (carrying along Destiny’s impending dire prophecy) and Storm’s departure for same. Uncharacteristically unaware of just how imminent their doom is, now one minute away from touchdown, Abigail Brand arrives next, bearing the same grim warning about the Eternals’ intentions. Also uncharacteristic is her deference to Arakko’s own expertise, specifically Idyll’s precog ability; yet the tongueless seer doesn’t even look up. So, Ora Serrata translates her silence:
We’ll see how this plays out in Judgment Day #4 and X-Men: Red #7.
As for Brand, wherever her fealty really lay, she feels as much urgency to stop Druig’s Eternals as much as any intelligent sentient in the solar system—and the Arakkii will need all the help they can get.
Page 21 of Judgment Day #1 showed us Cable’s communique to the Quiet Council interrupted by Uranos; here, we get a bit more of that briefing before Uranos’ attack.
Devastatingly, everyone knows which way this battle will go when Isca defects, choosing to decapitate Idyll, which—is a choice.
When Ewing and Caselli’s X-Men: Red started, I was so excited to find out more about each member of the Great Ring, but moments into issue #5, they’re tossed into the shredder, and none emerge unbattered. The only Arakkii among them to die, though, is Idyll—which makes sense story-wise: An Omega precog (meaning they’re far more powerful than Destiny) is a tough ingredient to include in an ongoing series. They need to be backgrounded or their ability would perpetually dominate, and that’d quickly become boring; anyway, Idyll’s father, of the same name, last seen in “X of Swords,” seems exactly the same power-wise but is presumably currently with Apocalypse and Genesis.
But it’s effectively ominous, horrific even, that Isca immediately switches sides, decapitating Idyll before Nightcrawler smartly takes her off the board with some well-timed BAMFs! We can accept that she’s helpless in switching loyalties to the winning side but, surely, just like Uranos, she chooses how to interpret her own programming. In other words, Idyll’s execution is still on her shoulders; she chose that. And I think it’s pretty clear that X-Men: Red has been billing her not as a villain but simply as someone who sucks, really a loser—smug, arrogant, without sincere loyalty or any code of honor. Her comeuppance is imminent with this latest bitter betrayal. And she won’t even relish passing the Progenitor’s judgment, her mouth full of ashen grapes by then (issue #7).
Next this issue, we get our first modern-day glimpse of Uranos outside his secure cell—terrifying.
Readers following in real-time had to anticipate Legion of X #6, as noted on the recap page, to find out how this issue’s events played out from the perspective of that second Arakko-based title, after the whole event was almost over! That Legion-centric story, the best of Si Spurrier’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink series thus far, is so excellent (however nonessential) exactly because it’s so focused and lends touching poignancy to the core event narrative while deepening some of the event’s central thematic motifs. If only the rest of Legion of X ultimately proves as powerfully memorable…
After the title page, we’re already 30 seconds into Uranos’ attack, with almost 12,000 Arakkii already dead. Then his armories open in the skies over inhabited Arakko: Sadly, the first community we see attacked is the Morrowlands, the artists’ colony from issue #2; next, those fleeing through the typically empty Valley of the Fallen, with its giant statues of Apocalypse and Genesis, cut down by a giant robot whose rampage will continue for some time; the devastation is all over: Olympus Mons (mountain), Argyre Planitia (plains) and S.W.O.R.D.’s Keep (sky; along with their HQ, the Keep’s personnel, including Abigail’s mutant team, are apparently annihilated—no survivors).
Then we zero in on more intimate fights, first with Ora Serrata attacking Uranos, which doesn’t go well, unsurprisingly. Since Uranos’ adherence is to the Eternal principles and not Arakkii law, he’s unaffected by Ora’s Omega “existence erasure” power (or “weapon,” to use the Arakkii’s word for mutant powers), which only works on those who are subject to Arakko’s legal system—a strange but sensible limitation for someone who would otherwise be a godlike basilisk (see X-Men: Red #2 and Legion of X #1 for more on her). Here, we learn that if her giant eye mount is damaged, she can’t use her weapon/power.
Legion then takes on Uranos—that’s what we’ll see more of, as a flashback, in Legion of X #6.
Here, we also see reference to the rarity of mutant circuits on Arakko—which is surprising given all the time they’d fought for their lives in Amenth; you’d think mutant circuit tactics would be a way of life. Then again, so many Arakkii were living as prisoners, for generations apparently, with the Locus Vile ruling over them, that they may be an atomized society in many respects. And yet they share a solidarity that seems meant to contrast with the Western-dominated cultures of individualism that many Krakoans come from. (Obviously, there’s still so much of Arakkii existence that has yet to be fleshed out.)
After Uranos rips out Magneto’s heart(!), Cable steps into the breach, with a big whopping gun, of course; despite its ridiculous size, he’s almost instantly incinerated.
Great Ring member and Arakkii historian Xilo gives it the old college try—the first time we’ve seen them do anything since literally fertilizing Mars’ dead soil in Planet-Size X-Men. At first, it seems like they’ve been killed, but we’ll see later this issue that they’re just badly injured. However, as a kind of hive-mind entity composed of countless tendrils, their mutilation, which we see as a severe diminishment in their size, results in a massive loss of Arakko’s history.
Nuts to that! I mean, we haven’t even really begun to explore that history yet, and now it’s mostly gone?! Well, to be fair to Ewing and any other Arakkii storytellers, that still leaves more material than Marvel could reasonably tackle anytime soon.
The three X-Men: Red tie-in issues do an excellent job of subtly presenting the idea that whoever occupies the seat of loss when Arakko is on the ropes inevitably takes more of a leadership or figurehead role, acting as a kind of mascot for all the underdog Arakkii. Thus, next issue’s “Hour of Magneto” will also kickstart Arakko’s road to restitution, their direction cemented in X-Men: Red #7 when Fisher King takes his place and Roberto reveals his clever machinations for a stealth takeover of the Great Ring with his allies.
Clearly, Isca’s imminent comeuppance and the radically altered nature of the Great Ring by event’s end will speak to the dead Idyll’s cryptic prophecy…
Attentive readers might pick up on the clue in the Fisher King’s comment this issue that “night has fallen”—intimating that he’s already part of the Great Ring with a seat on the Table of Night.
Metal-spewer and people’s poet Lodus Logos really starts to shine here, in this grimmest of hours. And we gradually see more use of the mysterious Lactuca throughout the Arakkii tie-ins the event, including Legion of X #6.
Cable had already been offed in issue #2, but Abigail’s never been killed before. Of course, she’s been hoping to avoid resurrection since that entails Xavier possibly looking into her memories as he downloads her personality into a hatchling husk. In any case, the Cable-Brand confrontation is right now popping off—see X-Men: Red #8-9. The rest of the Brotherhood will get in on the fight before the series takes a hiatus for “Sins of Sinister” early next year.
Earth’s first Nova, Dick Rider, a Ewing fave from his tenure on Guardians of the Galaxy (2020-2021), is still hanging about the Diplomatic Zone and is here in the fight. He’s clearly going to be a permanent member of this title’s cast. He’s the good soldier who’s been through all kinds of hell since Annihilation 15 years ago. This issue, he tries and fails to save some Kymellians, the horsey aliens from Power Pack in the 1980s.
Called away to Krakoa before the issue opens, Storm will feel quite guilty, again and more so than ever now, for not being with the Great Ring when Uranos and his armories first strike Arakko. She returns next issue, ready to fight side-by-side with her peer and surprisingly close friend Magneto.