[cover by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson]
A New Crew Sets Sail—over the skies of Westchester!
So, Steve Orlando, Kate Pryde, and Lucas Bishop’s new crew of Marauders hasn’t literally set sail yet, but this annual coming out two months before the start of the next volume of Marauders does neatly establish the working roster, with brief tidy scenes with great character work through the kind of snappy dialogue you’d expect from Steve Orlando, an energetic but deeply character-focused writer with a gift for gab*; Kate and Bishop each do their recruiting job efficiently, and we get a vivid sense of who their fresh mates are without undue exposition.
(*If you don’t know Steve’s work, at least check out his astounding Midnighter and Martian Manhunter, both complete, state-of-the-art 12-issue runs, each a highwater benchmark for 21st-century superhero comics, in a wildly innovative collaboration with artists ACO and Riley Rossmo. And his recent work I’ve not yet checked out has seen much praise, like the 2020 indie OGN with Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Kill a Man, and his ongoing Image series, Commanders in Crisis. Clearly, Mr. Orlando’s just revving his engines and there’s much more to come.)
In fact, we start right off with imminent new Marauder Daken in a torturous bind, and Marauders 2.0 gather to make his rescue their first mission—clearly what Logan’s restless loner son needed anyway, as he’ll get to take his newfound passion for rescuing mutants on the sea-lanes and spaceways with this found family that includes his girlfriend and potential boyfriend, sure to bring both joy and drama to the adventures ahead.
In a recent “X-Men Monday” interview with AIPT’s Chris Hassan, Steve said he most identifies with Daken as “an angry bisexual” and that he wants even those who are in what looks like a straight relationship (like Daken and Aurora’s) to feel like their bisexuality is validated. He’s always very clear that his characters aren’t ever “holding a neon sign” identifying their sexuality, “but it’s [necessarily] there in the way they act and it’s in the way that other characters treat them.” In other words, he writes rounded characters, characters that are vividly lifelike and relatable—the only really interesting kind, especially when they’re basically mythic gods strutting and fretting one another in a grand and glorious god opera.
Given Steve’s close identification with Daken and his overall passionate enthusiasm for the franchise, I’m expecting that he’s going to be the scribe to give us the definitive Akihiro in a way we just haven’t seen yet, not even close. Let justice be done, Steve!
So, first off, Kate recruits Psylocke, who recently lost all hope of rescuing her daughter’s consciousness when its cybernetic containment was destroyed along with the rest of Sinister’s illicit lab off Krakoa (thanks to Empath under Emma’s orders influencing Havok to unleash, well, havoc; Hellions #15. Frankly, this was for the best, since after her daughter was introduced and killed at once in the misbegotten Fallen Angels, Sinister secured Psylocke’s cooperation with the undoubtedly false promise of her eventual reincarnation—meaning it was a plot device that had outlived its purpose by the end of the series). My top Krakoan title by a country mile, Zeb Wells’ Hellions established Kwannon as a fierce and capable leader who is deeply loyal and caring toward those for whom she’s responsible; however, since she’s tragically lost that found family (and her hopes for the child she never knew), she would be rudderless if not for Kate’s invitation. That is what makes this early moment in Steve Orlando’s hopefully long run so meaningful, promising much more to come for this fast-rising star (and hey, let’s have that indefinite pronoun stand-in for both the hero and her new scribe😉).
Notably, in Inferno #1 and despite the Council’s previous misgivings, Kwannon was made a Great Captain of Krakoa, stepping up as Gorgon remains tragically addled.
We should note here that no reference is made in this issue to the bizarre close of Duggan’s Marauders run (issue #27), where Kate make a deal an inexplicable deal with Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four: If he helps her figure out a way for her to use Krakoa’s gates, then, as he requests, she’ll find out what exactly Xavier erased from his mind, which he knows was a design for a mutant “cure”; he just doesn’t recall anything about the specs—and can’t work it out, a nightmare for the narcissist genius. It was intended solely for use on his son, but since right after all this drama in Chip Zdarsky’s X-Men/Fantastic Four miniseries Franklin turned out not to be a mutant anyway (according to current FF scribe Dan Slott), ya gotta wonder why Mr. Fantastic feels he needs this information back in his head! Can he just not stand the not knowing? Surely the stalwart Red Queen wouldn’t actually give this dreadful dad cop what he wants. With Orlando now on the book, the FF will undoubtedly pop up only to get copious amounts of egg on their faces.
Next, in one of the funniest moments in this funny book, Tempo and super-deep-cut Bouncer break up right before Bishop appears to haul the indecisive Heather Tucker aboard the Marauders. I don’t know if the erstwhile reluctant terrorist (of the MLF, from New Mutants #86 to X-Force #28), later of the Acolytes (Messiah Complex), maybe a college student in between, and sort of, here and there, an MLFer again, actually suffers from indecision—or writers just haven’t known what to do with her. Either way, it’s clear that in this one scene, Steve gets this character who’s been woefully underserved over her 30 years of history. And not only does he promise to do right by this queer mutant of color, showing her to be an inspiration and tossing aside the lame hand she’s always been dealt by white cis-het male creators, Steve’s also promising to give us the clearest, sharpest depiction yet of her chronokinetic powerset. Can’t wait for more!
Of Bishop, Steve said in that recent “X-Men Monday” interview that he’s fascinated by Bishop’s perspective as a man out of time and living among what were once the blurry legendary figures of his own time’s past. But not only does this mean he “offers perhaps a little bit of realism because of all the wars he’s been in and the places he’s gone” (as a counterbalance to “Pryde’s sometimes foolhardy idealism”), he’s also grown to accept his up-close, warts-and-all life among those who were once mythic legends to him—making him perhaps even more of a realist! Further, he says both he and Pryde are the captains of the Marauders, really a perfect pair as working partners in the field, both as tacticians and strategists.
Most recently, again in Inferno #1, Bishop was officially made Captain Commander given Cyclops’ absence from the island.
Looking to recruit Daken, the Marauders find him missing and so track down his girlfriend Aurora, who suggests recruiting Somnus for the rescue mission, as well. Of the Canadian superheroine, Steve says she’s “on this team to prove that she is a powerhouse” and “she’s also looking to turn the page,” to find what has unfortunately been so elusive for her in her 40-plus-year publication history—confidence and thus stability. She started to establish the former in Leah Williams’ X-Factor, but there she was focused on investigating first her own death and then that of other Krakoans (which was indeed fascinating while it lasted); however, now “it’s about time she found some proof of life, and that’s why she joins the Marauders.”
This should further our excitement for Steve’s run, thinking of the vitality he’s bringing to Krakoa. For him, intensity is as much about peril and drama as it is about strengthening a sense of solidarity and affirmation.
It will also be good to see Aurora shine on her own without her twin brother Northstar around.
As for Somnus, he’s a very fresh face, an Orlando creation in fact, from last year’s Marvel’s Voices: Pride, in a short story titled “Man of His Dreams” and co-starring, you guessed it, Daken. And Steve’s excited to continue his journey, especially since he hadn’t initially known that he’d be recruited into the X Office and have this opportunity to bring a new queer character into such a prominent place in the franchise.
In the Pride issue, we see Carl Valentino and Daken meet and fall for each other in 1967 Toronto, but everything that follows, a beautiful open life together, is a fleeting dream—for Carl’s mutant power is oneiromancy, the ability to create and shape dreams at will. Akihiro’s demons, external and internal, are nowhere in sight, and the dreamy art of Claudia Aguirre and Luciano Vecchio has a softening effect on him even as the couple age gracefully over the course of a single page. But come morning, it’s still 1967, and Logan’s troubled son looks the hunted young tough he’s typically been depicted as. The two men continue on their separate paths after a one-night stand: one as a kindly uncle but forever closeted both as a mutant and as a queer man, and the other as a blood-drenched berserker hounded and haunted. But then Akihiro on Krakoa remembers the man of his dreams long ago, as he reads Carl’s recent obit, the brief life history of a selfless family man, and decides it’s now Carl’s moment to rise from the dutiful slumber of his past life and step out of the closet—and name his true self—with fashion by Jumbo Carnation.
While his oneiromancy undoubtedly has field ops usefulness, probably like Dani Moonstar’s, so far he’s been using it to give other traumatized gay men some happy dreams.
Laying the Circuitry of Good Teamwork
As the new crew goes on the hunt for Daken, we get a brief but very economical page of them efficiently working off each other’s strengths.
And the upcoming battle against a powerful foe briefly shows everyone’s strengths in a balanced manner, even as the fight ends without resolution. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but it all bodes well for Marauders 2022. I hope the book is a smoother ensemble piece than Duggan’s run, where typically character spotlights backburnered the rest of the cast too much and the attempts at ensemble scenes never really hit home (which doesn’t seem to be such an issue with his current X-Men work).
Now, as for the new crew’s first foe…
“Smells like bad faith”
Like fearmongering politicians of the right, Brimstone Love pretends to rhetoric “raw and real” simply to peddle in bad faith arguments, hitting people where they’re most vulnerable, with the basest of emotions—fear, anxiety, resentment, etc.
When I first heard the X-Men 2099 baddie Brimstone Love would be in this annual, I have to say I was pretty darn excited for more “genescrape” content; that, of course, is a made-up pejorative, but it was exactly that kewl 1993 future slang that whetted my appetite, that and the Ron Lim stylings with the neon highlights in a desert wasteland, or at least some of the other Theater of Pain cast, like La Lunática! Yes, yes, all that would’ve been a big distraction from the main goal of setting up the new Marauders, and haven’t we by now exhausted bad ’90s nostalgia, anyway? Sure; but while we’ve had more than enough of 1992, there’s been virtually no X-Men 2099 1993, let’s be real (plenty of Spidey and even Doom 2099, though).
Is it likely we’ll see any more 2099 content in the pages of Marauders? Maybe, but it’s unlikely likely that Brimstone’s mysterious benefactor is from that future, although I wonder if he isn’t another ’90s deep cut, Orlando knowing full well the deepest of cuts are much needed in an era when the recognizable baddies are all goodies now. Maybe it’s, let’s say, Graydon Creed? Not that deep, but his Friends of Humanity would fit with the Trumpy machinations here. And really, unfortunately, they aren’t a dated phenomenon; you could at this moment find Creed’s minions on alt-right social, no less than back in the day hiding their faces, or not, beneath the white bedsheets. Whoever’s the shadow man here, expect 2022 to be a rough year for Krakoa—tough times all over.
Anyhow, this ’90s is a John Francis Moore* and Ron Lim creation, but he appeared in only a bare handful of issues out of X-Men 2099’s three-year run. Except for his shadowy cameo debut in issue #3, none of these appearances are available on Marvel Unlimited** or in any collected edition. Still, his depiction here feels entirely true to his dystopian milieu while fitting all too well as another demagogue in our culture wars happening right now.
Note that South Salem is a 10-minute drive from where Xavier’s estate would be, by the Titicus Reservoir (which is real)—so don’t worry, the Sidri are no doubt still safe there in their subbasement nest!
*Moore is also known among X fans as the “Road Trip” era scribe on X-Force #63-100; unfortunately, he seemed to have dropped off the map, comics-wise at least, after a few small projects with DC circa 2003.
**The first nine issues of X-Men 2099 are on Unlimited, and although they’re not at all necessary reading for vibing with this annual, they do read pretty quick—and you will almost certainly find yourself falling easily into a twisted ’90s future vibe that keeps the pace swift, with some John Carpenter synths in the background, maybe even David Borden. Moore’s gnarly dystopian slang is a particularly unique and nasty delight.
Some More New/Old Faces
Carver: This Morlock is a survivor of the Mutant Massacre and led a very small group of other survivors, but he’s a Rob Liefeld creation from his four-issue 2000 Wolverine stint, specifically just issue #157—heretofore his only appearance. Unsurprisingly, he’s an uninspired rip-off of Marrow and probably won’t get too much further play.
Stitch: Rescued here by Aurora and taken to Krakoa, Jodi Furman debuted in 1992’s Alphas Flight Special vol2 #1 between then and now has appeared only in Alpha Flight #127 and Wolverine: First Class #5.
Her Magneto-lite ability involves psionic manipulation of only small pieces of metal, a sewing needle being her preferred battlefield weapon—and the method by which she sewed up her own face after it was mutilated by a fellow trainee gone berserk, Wild Child. Yep! Why Vindicator (Jim Hudson) recruited this troubled teen to his doomed superhero team is baffling (raising questions about a very questionable man).
Bouncer: Truly the deepest of deep cuts here, Renata da Lima has appeared only one other time, in 2002’s Muties #4. Muties is a long-forgotten anthology mini; each issue starred a different everyday mutant, all appearing only once, usually dead by story’s end. It’d be great to see these youths return in the Krakoa era, like Bouncer here, who was, well, a bouncer at a Rio club, an outcast from her family as both mutant and queer.
“There will be blood”—and wicked space spirits & star yachts, y’all!
In the first part of Steve’s recently-mentioned AIPT interview, he dropped a few more small hints of what’s to come, which portends exciting piratical space opera in Shi’ar space. You’ll find a Carlini redesign of an almost entirely unknown Imperial Guard character from the all-but-forgotten 2000 Inhumans mini by Rafael Marin and Jose Ladronn (Delphos, a pastiche of the DC Legion’s Dream Girl). More excitingly, Carlini has visually redesigned Cassandra Nova to vibe with Steve’s hinted-at evolution of the character from “mutantkind’s evil stepmother” to “very strict stepmother”—with some endearing expressions that look alternately bashful and maniacal. Expect her mean, dangerous energies to be directed “somewhere else” as she becomes one of Krakoa’s most stalwart defenders. What’s amazing here is that Steve might be allowing her to get back on track with her original potential character arc—of which Morrison showed the end result in their last New X-Men miniepic, “Here Comes Tomorrow” (issues #150-154), with the revelation that after her initial defeat in issue #126, she became Ernst (debuting in issue #135; No-Girl/Martha’s bestie)! With Cassandra’s return, expect nuclear fireworks against exotic starscapes.
But how are the Marauders going to have all these space adventures?
Well, all but destroyed off-panel during the Hellfire Gala, the original Marauder is officially retired, and after we briefly see the White Bishop Christian Frost’s Mercury in flying saucer form in Westchester’s skies (allowing the team to crash Love’s party from above), the shapeshifting spacecraft on the issue’s last page is now the Marauders’ flagship, rechristened the New Marauder. This exotic craft debuted in Marauders #5, was first seen as a flying saucer in issue #10, and its provenance as the erstwhile property of a space pirate was revealed in issues #24-25—so it’s getting back to its native environment, the deep chill of interstellar space. Hurrah!
Creees Lee, this issue’s penciler and inker, saw his Marvel debut in last summer’s Marvel’s Voices: Identity, where he drew the Greg Pak-written Jimmy Woo story. The ongoing will be drawn by another rising star, Eleonora Carlini, who debuted at Marvel with last year’s brief but charming Women of Marvel short story about Marrow and Feral’s friendship. In 2017, she was a guest artist on Green Arrow (#18-20), part of Ben Percy’s long run with that classic DC character, introducing his work to comics audiences. After seeing Carlini’s Marauders designs, I’m even more eager for Marauders vol2 #1 to set sail already!