Welcome back to our multipart reread of Marvel’s big 2022 summer event, “A.X.E.: Judgment Day”; first, we looked at the leadup to this apocalyptic ruckus, and then we dove in with the first event issue and tie-ins, with a side piece on Exodus, star of the tie-in Immortal X-Men #5.
A.X.E.: Judgment Day #2-3: Kieron Gillen writes; Valerio Schiti draws; Marte Gracia colors; covers by Mark Brooks.
A.X.E.: Judgment Day: Death to the Mutants #1-2: Gillen writes; Guiu Vilanova draws; Dijjo Lima (R.I.P.) colors issue #1, Alex Guimarães on #2; Travis Lanham letters; covers by Esad Ribic.
X-Men #13: Gerry Duggan writes; C.F. Villa draws; Matt Milla colors; Martin Coccolo cover.
Clayton Cowles letters all but Death to the Mutants.
Judgment Day #2 opens by introducing the six ordinary people whose reactions to the ongoing apocalypse we’ll be following, mostly for one page per issue, for the rest of the event. Of course, we’ve already met Jada. Each character represents a different emotional reaction to, initially, the news of mutant “immortality” and then to the Progenitor’s plan to judge the whole world and the heroes’ apocalyptic fight against this Frankenstein god.
Significantly, the chimerically* revived Progenitor does see these people, as it presumably sees everyone in the world, individually, as themselves here, apparently without pre-judging them, which is more than could be said of most of us about in the world (*Using the term half-jokingly here, but regarding the Progenitor’s scavenged Frankenstein’d parts, see issue #2 page 12’s montage and the notes on that below).
Turning to Krakoa and continuing from Immortal X-Men #5, we see Exodus fighting Syne the Memotaur, one of the kaiju-like Hex—and whose name plays off “minotaur” but to what end is unclear. Nevertheless, it’s a dope visual. Of course, Krakoa’s ancient knight of X slays this particular “dragon,” who unfortunately returns later in the issue, at the cost of a human’s life: Arjun, one of our six viewpoint humans. His widow will take his place in the narrative.
Note that while Syne is much more ancient than the already seemingly ageless Exodus, she seems psychologically immature by comparison: Eternals do not mature in any meaningful way; if anything, they fall prey to cynicism (Sersi; Druig)—rather than growing into anything resembling wisdom (even Phastos, who certainly exhibits such positive attributes, was designed that way; he didn’t grow into them).
Cyclops actually has written “kaiju” protocols, per an Immortal #2 interstitial, which also referenced Celestials—and “kaiju” would seem close enough to “a skyscraper-sized centaur,” except that it also “generates its own attack fauna.” Devastating. Scott is such a good boy-scout, though, we can be sure that he updated his files as soon as this fight was wrapped up!
Exodus is peeved about non-mutant heroes helping them, and a few pages later the Avengers seem to flee, evoking Exodus’ ire even more—even though he hadn’t wanted them there in the first place! But in reality, Cyclops asked Earth’s Mightiest to leave in order to help ordinary people around the world endangered by tsunamis generated by the raging Syne slamming her fists into the ocean floor, even endangering the mantle. Jean broadcasts the threat level to some of the heroes present, but not most—thus, Exodus and Destiny’s sniping at the Avengers’ backs as they bounce.
(For anyone not following Jason Aaron’s Avengers, Namor has indeed joined up; the Phoenix currently resides in Echo; the new Starbrand is a child; and this Nighthawk is a creation of Mephisto at the request of (a resurrected) Agent Phil Coulson (weird). Don’t worry about any of this—A.X.E., oddly enough, is not really an Avengers event! The only Avengers that seem to actually matter to it are Iron Man and Cap).
Except—the Avengers’ HQ throughout the Aaron run has been the corpse of the Progenitor, which died eight billion years ago when it came to Earth already infected by Celestial nemeses the Horde. But if Ajak can revive this dead god of hers, she believes (or rather, assumes) it will put Druig back in his place—and it’s very likely that she presumes the Progenitor’s actions will benefit her personally in some way, or award her recognition, because Ajak’s role within the Eternals’ extremely small and insular society is priestly. It’s not that she’s pettily self-centered; instead, and perhaps far more dangerously, she’s intensely zealous—and like most zealots (Exodus comes to mind!), unable to recognize the egoism of their supposedly selfless beliefs.
And then there’s Sinister. He helps revive and recreate the Progenitor but is at least entirely frank about being a selfish bastard. Of course, both Ajak and Stark really should’ve been taking him seriously when he says he’s the only one that actually signifies. This is not someone you want on your team, no matter what. The Quiet Council will be learning that glaringly obvious lesson soon enough…
Ajak does accuse Sinister of “transgressing against the Celestials,” not that this will stop her from using him, as she believes, in her single-minded pursuit (more fool her)—but this accusation does recall the classic story that every Sinister fan loves: Gillen’s own “Everything Is Sinister” arc (Uncanny X-Men #1-3, 2011-2012), which recast Sinister’s character into something fans could finally get behind as a delightfully vile villain.
For a summary of this extravagant turn for the adorably despicable eugenicist, see this character synopsis from CBH’s HOX/POX reread. The specific Celestial he violated was the Dreaming Celestial, which provides some of the components that will go into remaking the Progenitor, as seen on page 12; see below.
Page 12 is a double-page montage showing us the makings of Ajak’s new god, the components that will be melded to the Progenitor’s corpse: Arishem the Judge, known by classic Eternals readers as the Celestial who judged with a thumbs-up or -down, was last seen in Avengers #1, killed by one of the Dark Celestials; the Dreaming Celestial (aka Tiamut) was once condemned by their Celestial fellows to an endless slumber on Earth (Kirby’s OG Eternals) but later woken by the Deviants (Gaiman’s run), left as an unmoving statue in San Francisco, where the dastardly Sinister overhauled him for his own sinister purposes (Gillen’s classic Uncanny X-Men #1-3); the Destroyer was revealed to have been, all along, an anti-Celestial weapon in Thor #300.
We also see Gillen’s Ajak motif of her trying to challenge her Celestial programming even while there’s ambiguity about how much that resentful rebelliousness had been programmed into her from the start, millions of years ago.
There are also references to Christopher Cantwell’s excellent recent Iron Man run, wherein Tony took on the Power Cosmic and King in Black #3, which saw him piloting a dead Celestial; the Pym/Ultron reference here is ironic given Ultron’s rebellion against his creator—with that Frankenstein-ian history about to repeat in spectacularly apocalyptic fashion.
Interestingly, on page 17 (digital), Sinister drops a hint that he knew Howard Stark back in the day—which wouldn’t be surprising, but I don’t think anyone’s ever mentioned this connection before. Kudos, Kieron! Sounds like a tall tale to be told.
When the Frankenstein’d Progenitor comes online at issue’s end, the epic event battle readers were expecting to play out across the rest of this blockbuster limited series effectively ends. And thank god, indeed! Gillen had a much more interesting story to tell, which really gets started in issue #3…
But first, let’s check in on the woefully misnamed Death to the Mutants #1—whose first page feels like Gillen trolling, idk, the corporate suits or something; beyond that point, this miniseries had little to do with the Eternals trying to wipe out the Krakoans, but rather one group of (heroic) Eternals trying to stop another faction of (dastardly) Eternals from wrecking the entire planet.
The miniseries is narrated by the Machine (with the blue caption boxes, not the pink of the Progenitor), telling us this is indeed a continuation of Gillen’s Eternals.
This is the second Eternals-centric story of the event, following the prologue Eve of Judgment. Rising artist Guiu Vilanova continues to advance by leaps and bounds, and it makes sense that with his fill-in spots on Gillen and Ribic’s Eternals, he would pick up art duties for this brief miniseries. The most jarring thing here in relation to the event’s core series, however, is the unusual lack of vibrancy to Dijjo Lima’s colors. Regardless, RIP Dijjo Lima—he was known for his vivid palette, which next issue’s colorist Alex Guimarães does follow up on.
What’s nice here for Eternals readers is that we see more than just Sersi as the Eternals’ heroic figurehead; rather, we get the whole gang back from the prematurely ended ongoing, wherein Sersi’s place is critical but not central (as a former Avenger, however, she is the most famous Eternal). But in the overall event, she does seem to be the star among her fellow Eternals (which again, historically, does make sense).
Phastos’ fury at Ajak’s creation of a new god is rooted in his well-intentioned but wildly desperate attempt (during the first arc of Gillen’s Eternals) to simply end his people outright due to their resurrection process being inherently morally corrupt, a secret kept from most of the Eternals, all a product of their creators or “gods,” the Celestials. In Judgment Day #3, we see Phastos willing to preemptively shut down their new god, entirely at odds with the quietly zealous Ajak—both characterizations wholly consistent with the Gillen run.
Overall, while Gillen’s done the best he could wrapping up his Eternals series in various event one-shots and this miniseries, it’s still a bit a choppy and compressed—what’s amazing, though, is that he made it work at all. The crux of this first issue is the heroic Eternals’ mission to, well, corporealize ancient Deviant ghosts who were destroyed with much of Lemuria by the Celestials’ Second Host about 20k years ago; their goal is to “gather eyewitness testimony to the nature of the Celestials,” hoping this help Ajak create a god who’s more “clement.” Hah, well. Well, maybe, in the end, they succeeded?
Then, Ikaris has a surprise bright idea (that will also take the heat off the Deviants, whom he wants to protect from Druig and Uranos)—enlist renegade Eternal Gilgamesh’s help in infiltrating the enemy. His “stealth suits,” which allow Gilgamesh and his “Forgotten” renegades to hide out in the Machine’s “subspace tunnels”; thus, the infiltration is a success. Druig’s arsenal and his psi-assault on Krakoa/Xavier are temporarily neutralized.
But in X-Men #13 (the next tie-in to read), we actually see this accomplishment owes just as much to the X-Men stealing into Uranos’ armory.
In line with his dour attitude about his own kind throughout Gillen’s Eternals, Ikaris ends this issue, unsurprisingly, with a message to Druig, which overrides the miniseries’ own title: “Death to the Eternals.”
Of course, it is important to Ikaris (and the other heroic Eternals) that they not get any of their fellows killed, in order to prevent a human dying in their place as they resurrect via the Machine (Also, note the clear badass callout to the Psylocke-trademark psi-blade, used to displace a piece of Zuras’ brain—which, critically, does not kill him, only knocking him out for some time, helping to break Druig’s attack on Krakoa).
The best thing about X-Men #13 is the art of rising star C.F. Villa (Black Cat). What’s oddest, though, is Magik’s depiction here is out of step with the end of Vita Ayala’s New Mutants run, which in-universe is supposed to take place before the Gala—which precedes this event. And yet, she appears in Duggan’s tie-in as no differently than the start of “The Labors of Magik” arc in New Mutants. Oh well!
Overall, though, this is issue all about battle action; there’s not much else going on—the new team doesn’t really gel in Duggan’s scripting—but otherwise, it’s mindless fun that fills out more of the event’s hot battles than most other tie-ins (excepting X-Men: Red and, on the Eternals’ side, Death to the Mutants). X-Men #13 actually meshes well with A.X.E.: Death to the Mutants #1, where the Eternals help stall Druig’s attack on Krakoa; we get the X-Men side of that here, as our mutant heroes continue fighting for their homeland by infiltrating Uranos’ armory themselves, at last defeating the threat of the Hex.
Death to the Mutants #2 picks up on Ikaris’ inner conflict as a self-hating Eternal, which is also of course directed against the genocidal Druig—while Ajak continues to zealously believe in a kind of redemption. Glancing briefly further ahead to the event epilogue A.X.E.: Judgment Day Omega, it’s clear that her vision wins the day, albeit in a surprising and difficult manner. More on that later.
This issue does take place during Judgment Day #3, which should be read first—especially as it’s the debut of the Frankenstein’d Progenitor in its judgmental capacity. We’ll look briefly at issue #3’s highlights below, including the surprise return of Eros (Starfox), which the last scene of Death to the Mutants #2 fleshes out a bit more, as well.
Most importantly for this issue, we also see the Kro-led Deviants join the Krakoans in the fight against Druig’s forces on Krakoa. So, while the Eternals are internally divided, a bad sign for the enemy, and their heroic faction’s glancing alliances with the mutants are primarily wartime conveniences, we see something deeper and stronger in the alliance between these two kinds of “deviant” outcasts. Hopefully, we’ll get more exploration of this in future stories beyond the event!
For one, the Deviants can use the Krakoan gates—which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re actually the same as mutants, but there is some overlap. After all, the X gene exists as a result of Deviant evolution, but so too do human mutates (like the FF and Spidey); they gifted their ability to adapt and change to humanity, however much they also often suffer for own free-ranging evolutionary gifts (Per Gillen’s Eternals, this is how and why the Celestials designed the Deviants’ nature as they did).
It would also just be fun to see Kro and Emma interact more!
Issue #2 does force the attentive reader to ask: Are the Progenitor’s individual judgments consistent? But if we’re really paying attention, the obvious answer is simply, “No, and who cares—because the Progenitor is not nor has any Celestial ever been an actual god.” Calling them “space gods” is fun, but they are no more divine than any other nonmagical/non-mythic sentient in the Multiverse, period (Indeed, the no one anywhere in the MU appears to be an infallible divinity, not even the one potential candidate, the One-Above-All, not after Ewing’s brilliant twist of the One-Below-All being the shadow side of that godhead, which, frankly, is just honest spiritual wisdom; there is no perfection nor perfect judgment from on high!).
Even saying that the Progenitor is judging individuals by their own standards (the rationale for Cap’s failure) doesn’t hold up as entirely consistent, even though it puts a fine point on Cap being in a crisis of faith as national hero while Cyclops, however self-critical he may be, is unquestionably fighting for his people—forever framed an “endangered species” (although this, too, can be easily problematized; and of course, Scott’s judgment is crafted by Duggan, not Gillen, in X-Men #14, a decent issue but not event-essential, much less so than the fairly incidental issue #13).
Going with the notion that individuals are being judged by their own standards, let’s look at who gets judged in Judgment Day #3: Somewhat similar to Cap in having set unrealistically high expectations for themselves, Emma, Destiny and Mystique each fail the Progenitor’s judgment; like Cyclops, however, Kro passes (as also seen in Death to the Mutants #2)—highlighting the fact that these two men are simply fighting for their people and do not inflate their roles beyond that basic but highly admirable warrior function.
Also significant this issue is the way the present Krakoan council members vote to destroy the Progenitor, which passes five-to-three, with one member abstaining—Emma. Xavier is temporarily dead from psi-war, and Storm is back on Arakko. Traditionally “villainous” (or self-interested or motivated only by “tribalism”), Mystique, Destiny, Shaw and Exodus vote to attack, but somewhat surprisingly, Hope goes along with them (yet don’t forget the unforgiving post-apocalyptic wastelands of her childhood*). Unsurprisingly, the heroic Kate, Kurt and Piotr^ vote against an act of aggression of doubtful efficacy and high risk to their fellow Earthlings (^Of course, Colossus is still, um, compromised, not that you’d be blamed for not remembering with how dormant that particular Percy plot-thread has become!).
*Hope’s decision is clarified in Immortal X-Men #6: She’s given to understand there’s risk involved but isn’t aware how high it is—and of course, zealous puppy-dog Exodus unquestioningly follows her lead anyway. Also, Xavier isn’t around to talk her out of her inclination. Like Hope, Shaw is willing to vote yea when the potential of destroying human cities is minimized; however, it’s likely that his reasoning is economic rather than humanitarian! After all, he is a global businessman.
(Btw—good thing Sinister was whisked away by Ajak and remains, throughout the event, far away from his Moira farm, right?!)
Much of this issue is given over to spectacular apocalyptic imagery as the Krakoan contingent arrives at the North Pole to attack the Progenitor head-on. It all turns out to be a gruesome illusion, sufficient warning that conventional superheroics will not work. (Initially, we get a vividly terrifying moment of the heroic Eternals turning on the other heroes as their Celestial-programming activates to protect their cherished “god.”
At the end of issue #3, the Eternals’ surprise 11th-hour savior is revived from the Exclusion (Eternals Limbo, essentially): Eros, code-named Starfox when joining the Avengers during the early ’80s Stern Avengers run (the franchise at its best ever until Bendis disassembled and wholly remade it during the 2000s). However, previously, he was not portrayed as androgynous or gender-fluid/ambiguous; rather, he was depicted somewhat as a straight man’s imagining of a sort of effete Don Juan/godly playboy—totally unsexy, unerotic. Stern and others, bumbling with this character, simply presented him, perhaps unwittingly(?), as utter sleaze. Dan Slott’s 2000s She-Hulk run fumbled in the other direction without any sense of real redemption (Starfox’s earthly superhero romancing has pretty much been confined to Shulkie, and it was pretty ick, which, hey, wasn’t too dissimilar from Aaron’s handling of Jen’s weird relationship with Thor; argh).
Hilariously, his warden in the Eternals limbo, the Exclusion, does not seem to care much about this particular very low-level security-threat ward of hers. His status as a Titanian Eternal (like Thanos, an outsider) and erstwhile Avenger simply makes him a clever choice for Sersi (who really is, among the Eternals anyway, the main hero of this event; Ikaris is next, while Ajak is the problematic crux).
Eros was probably locked not just because he’s Thanos’ brother (whose parents are also in the Exclusion simply because they conceived Thanos!): In Donny Cates’ 2019 Guardians run, Eros’ body was the vessel for the return of Thanos, his consciousness taking over his brother’s body. But as the process finalized, Gamora slew her poor, hapless uncle to halt the resurrection of Thanos (who’d previously been killed, again by his adopted daughter, in 2018’s Infinity Wars Prime).
Intriguingly, this same scene plays out in a bit more detail at the end of Death to the Mutants #2, where Jack of Knives is not simply escorting Sersi to retrieve the imprisoned Eros for some kind of simple fee (as implied in Judgment Day #3); rather, they’re* shown as initially somewhat fearful of going against Druig and the Exclusion’s warden—and receiving a failing grade from the Progenitor. Sheesh! Sersi’s deal to them is that they get a future to live.
(*Recall that Jack is nonbinary.)
Jack of Knives keeps a lot of blades on hand. One is this “possibility-blade” allowing them to strike at anything perceived as weakness—such as the Exclusion warden’s pride (at keeping her prisoners locked up), allowing them to “slice an arterial wound in time and space” to infiltrate the Exclusion and open Eros’ cell. A poetic weapon; pretty cool.