X-Men: Red #1 written by Al Ewing with art by Stefano Caselli and Federico Blee opens with a splash page flashback to the brutal challenge for the regency of Arakko that, previously, we had seen only in two panels in last year’s S.W.O.R.D. #8 (also a flashback sequence). The second panel there is now the opener here, masterfully reinterpreted by Caselli’s elegant linework—albeit without the same sense of nightmare brutality and no bruised eye and bleeding nose for Storm. But now we get more (though still incomplete) context and narrative that were totally missing before.
For instance, we now know for sure that Storm won the regency before Arakko departed Earth (as seen in the Hellfire Gala’s Planet-Size X-Men one-shot) and that Storm’s apparent doppelganger, at last named—sort of—and described (“Nameless, the shapeshifter queen”) was then regent herself. Indeed, this Arakki was a “shaypshiftur omeyga” (in her own strange speech), claiming to appear in Storm’s shape from a time when Ororo was “kleen,” not “taynted” by the seduction of “powrr”—I guess from her early X-Men years, then, before she ditched her original costume in 1983’s Uncanny X-Men #173, taking on a rad punk look while hanging with her new (very close) friend Yukio, also punked out, in Tokyo.
That look is my personal favorite! And this phase of her life is clearly still deeply important to both Storm and Ewing.
Regardless, while the regent’s taunting understandably strikes a nerve (as we’ll get into), her specific framing of Storm’s “corruption” is somewhat puzzling, given, first-off, Storm’s pre-X-Men life of being worshipped as a literal goddess in rural Kenya. For all his faults even then, Xavier did urge her to live among equals (though obviously she was still more powerful than her teammates barring the Phoenix-possessed Jean). And after Jean’s “death” and Scott’s departure, Storm became team leader and soon found herself 1) fighting for and falling in love with the warlord and benevolent dictator Arkon the Imperion of Polemachus and then 2) aggressively courted by Dracula as a potential bride worthy of his stature. This is all before Storm’s slumming-it-with-Yukio romance. This early period, from getting caught in a duel between Death and Elder of the Universe Grandmaster (in Contest of Champions) to her cosmic voyage with the Acanti (primordial space whales) and become Morlock leader after a fierce trial by combat with Callisto, Storm was perpetually swept up in god-tier power drama, inhuman sublimity and the stresses and seductions of leadership.
In fact, she was so powerful early on, Claremont had to depower her to prove that she was more than just an awesome power, that she was even worthier of leadership when forced to fall back on her own native wit and grit—as he built her back up to winning her powers back, valuing her own sublimity with greater wisdom and maturity than ever before.
But throughout X-Men: Red #1, Ororo’s fixation on the ex-regent’s vicious taunts do speak to temptations she’s dealt with since childhood—the one Claremont retconned in for her, undoing Len Wein’s exoticism (Storm simply as African weather goddess), making the Artful Dodger of Cairo, forced into thievery but quickly mastering her profession before adolescence (though her temptation to prove herself the best was really accentuated by Scott Lobdell in X-Men vol2 #60).
Obviously, none of this makes her “tainted,” but the temptations of power and showing off both her skills and powers have always been something Ororo has wrestled with—a sign of her basic goodness and exemplary status as an inspiration in her world as well as ours.
And that is why she has more than earned the title now of Regent of Arakko.
There are many omega-level mutants, but only one of them is Ororo of the Storm.
Bleeding out in the Arakki trenches is no longer a prerequisite for the regency (which is why Nameless resents Storm so much that she immolates herself rather than submit), but trial by combat very much still is. What really matters now, though, as the new regent shows Arakko is how one harnesses their experience, not ham-fistedly lashing out with rage and hurt. Those too, of course, can be harnessed, directed constructively; otherwise, they fuel resentment, which not a few Arakki have in spades—especially those fixated on the gladiatorial subculture of the Circle Perilous.
Later this issue, half the Great Ring along with Kobak Never-Held and the Fisher King show us, as well as Earth’s mutants, that there are many Arakki we’ve just barely met who have resolutely turned away from these ingrained cycles of violence.
The Great Ring’s Existential Vote
Worrying Old Wounds or Turning to the Future
This debut issue spans three days, throughout which Storm is worrying at the soured memory of her victory in the Circle Perilous, distracting her from the many continually moving parts of the political gameboard—both on Arakko and with Abigail Brand’s scheming. At the opening, the Great Ring is weighing whether to return to Amenth for vengeance, “as the law of Genesis demands,” or to turn to “a new beginning,” which is the promise of the Arakki’s new home. Yet despite a whole new planet, the Arakki still see their life-world* (the place they live, whether displaced into a war-torn, demon-haunted dimension or homesteading Mars, already aptly named) as “the broken land.” Moving forward will be difficult, though beyond the politicking of the Ring’s councilmembers, we’ll find the potential of redemption signaled, like a beacon or lodestone (appropriate, considering who meets him first), by the peaceable, salt-of-the-earth figure of the Fisher King.
(*I’m lifting this term from classic phenomenology and sociology.)
In the Ring, it’s Isca the Unbeaten who nettles Storm, playing a game despite her formal abstentions, while in the crowded, new-world restlessness of the Diplomatic Zone and in the space between worlds, it will be Brand, with her own schemes. Caught between the two, Storm will not fold—expect the unexpected.
Both women believe, like the ex-regent, that Storm is where she is because she desires power, as no more than an autocrat. However, I suspect Isca’s game might be subtler—at best, hopefully, that she has been pushing Storm into a definitive response by simply knowing how to irritate her, getting her to snap out of the sour aftertaste of her victory (the shapeshifter’s resentful taunting followed by rageful self-immolation). We shall see. But expect Ewing’s storytelling to hew closely to making good on the old X-Men catchphrase mentioned above.
Even if we find Isca ultimately sympathizes with Ororo, the regent will have no easy time of it—leading without ruling.
With the results of the ruling council’s vote and very brief (and beautifully written) descriptions of each councilmember and their reasoning, presented in a pair of infographics late in the issue, we are left wanting so much more story now on who these people are, what makes them tick and how they really interact with one another and Arakko at large. Obviously, we’ve gotten a disproportionate amount of Isca and Tarn, who are both uniquely fascinating—but I have great expectations for the others and Ewing’s craft in delivering.
Magneto’s New Companion (and dare we say, helpmeet?)
Much Cooler than Charles
Initially, the Fisher King of Arthurian legend and the Arakki of the same name seem to share in common only their occupation, being fishermen (though the former, Christianized, is really a fisher of men’s souls—Christ). Unlike the human myth, the Arakki fisherman seems hale and hearty, a sturdy rustic not in need of help or healing. But he certainly seems like he could be an unfussy helpmeet to a fallen king who is ailing, grievously wounded in heart and soul: Magneto…
Or Max? Obviously, “Max” and “Magnus” are related, but the first time Magneto was presented as Max was Greg Pak’s 2009 Magneto Testament mini detailing his horrific childhood experiences as a Jew orphaned by the Shoah and surviving the numbing brutality of Auschwitz. He later adopted the name “Erik Lehnsherr,” first mentioned in 1993’s X-Men Unlimited #2 as Magneto’s real name, though Fabian Nicieza made some basic errors (understandable, pre-Internet!) that made this identity easy to overturn, as occurred in Joe Kelly’s X-Men vol2 #72—which left readers again not knowing his birth name. The Nicieza issue, however, identifies him and his wife as Romani (unwittingly using the slur “Gypsy”), but we also see here that Magneto was sent to Auschwitz in 1939—though the Romani didn’t start showing up there until 1943. Further, in Uncanny #274, Claremont established that Magneto had been a Sonderkommando—an inmate who escorted fellow inmates to the gas chambers, undressing them, shaving the women’s heads and removing all valuables, including dental work (though only by the dentists among them), and then cremated the corpses—a position assigned almost exclusively to Jews, but also some POWs, at least at Auschwitz. Direct witnesses to mass murder, these people were otherwise kept apart from the other prisoners. Lastly, “Lehnsherr” means “liege” or “feudal lord” in German, which is no one’s surname, really, but definitely, distinctly and emphatically, neither Romani nor Jewish—not even as a passing name.
Max/Erik/Magnus/Magneto comes from myriad broken lands and has arrived in yet another. (This time, what will be the difference?)
Despite Joe Kelly’s retcon of a retcon of a retcon, “Erik Lehnsherr” stuck in future writer’s minds since it was Magneto’s real name in the movies!
But he first went by “Erik” in the classic Uncanny #161 retcon story, with the familiar Silver Age “Magnus” as surname. Chris Claremont himself being ethnically Jewish and clearly an enthusiastic amateur historian well understood many Jews’ historical desire to pass without greater conflict among the goyim and so might have had Magneto take this name for the same reason—after all, he was hunting down Nazi war criminals. Still, readers had to wait until the 2009 mini for “Max Eisenhardt” and his definite representation as Jewish. (Who knows exactly why Claremont did not want to confirm it during his tenure; perhaps his intent was to simply make the connection between Jews and mutants as a persecuted minority, leaving it to audiences to interpret as they wished. Back then, identities of all sorts were often suggested, evocated or glanced at through indirect means, and sometimes that was sign of mainstream oppression but not always.) However, anyone reading Claremont’s classic Magneto arc from Uncanny #150-200, which established Magneto as deeply complex, would find Greg Pak’s depiction of his childhood in a Jewish family inevitable and satisfying as such.
Now, one wouldn’t think a mutant supremacist like Magneto would have such a complicated relationship to his birth name—after all, it’s just a human thing. But I went through all that background because Ewing has certainly been thinking about it too. Since 2009, Magneto has been known by all his names at various times, but mostly, he’s been “Erik” rather than “Max,” and the latter not at all since 2019. Magneto has just left Krakoa, wounded, betrayed, broken. Remember his mythic heroic stature early in Hickman’s X-Men run? Sometimes, it verged on messianic. That Magneto has been gone since Inferno. The man who remains, however desolate, has returned to the basics, fallen back on or inside himself, without anyone to impress or prove anything to. So, still battling against his ego—which he never does well with on his own—he is returning to his first name. Thankfully, he doesn’t really end up alone.
And first, there is Fisher King, who was not born with this name but who has no need for multiple names; he is simply who he says he is in this moment. So yeah, he could really be a lodestone for the fallen master of magnetism—at a time when “Max” doesn’t believe in the meaning of any of his titles.
No doubt, though, Fisher King is intriguing because his unrevealed backstory promises to be fascinating. Magneto, Max, is shocked to find out he was born without powers—because until now, we’ve all assumed that the Arakki are mutants, no exceptions. But neither does the man see himself as a human; to him, humans are from Earth—and he is from Arakko.
Ewing has set up an interesting conjunction here: In Arthurian legend, Christianized or not, the Fisher King is disabled or impotent, his disability or infertility reflecting the sickness or barrenness of the land that’s really no longer under his rule. Arakko’s Fisher King lacks only mutant power Magneto expects him to have while Arakko itself is understandably known as “the broken land”—it was broken off from its other half (Krakoa, thus creating their separate identities) and broken by centuries of war and terror and hopelessness. Also, critically, have we seen Arakki children?
In how many senses is Arakko broken?
But we certainly can’t see Magneto as Sir Perceval or Galahad come to heal the Fisher King! Isn’t it him who’s “the maimed king”?
I do wonder if Max’s magic castle* sprung from a bubble (of metal) will prove the Grail Castle of legend. Perhaps from here, this secluded island continent far from the bustle of the Diplomatic Zone, Fisher King will make of his new Krakoan friends fishers of, er, mutants (happily mangling the Gospel of Matthew).
*Note the tentacular motif on its edifice, recalling the ancient Lovecraftian palace on Island M that was Magneto’s longtime home and thus signaling his retreat from the world—but by issue’s end it seems like it could be a fine and private place to build another kind of Round Table… (almost all of whom have been Inner Circle at one time or another, and Fisher King has the appropriate title in his name! 😉)
You Are Seen – And You Have a Place
(even if at first you yourself see only through a glass darkly)
Is Beto looking through the bottom of a glass darkly? He at least knows how to make friends! Like Kobak Never-Held, apparently aptly named with his prominent spikes, though he has known reciprocated love—as we find out the first man he loved died for him, in the same Abyssal prisons where Fisher King was born—those run by Tarn, which means this fellow Arakki who preys on his own people has forged Arakki identity through his cruelty directed at his fellows. But clearly there are internal divisions and strata; not everyone is seen as they would like—just look to the differences around the Great Ring. So, obviously, and refreshingly, the Arakki are heterogeneous, and unexpectedly, to both Krakoans and us readers, two wayward X-Men are finding friendship from underdog types among the Arakki (which I suspect is really the majority of them!), and they’re having honest conversations they perhaps haven’t enjoyed elsewhere in recent times.
Both down-to-earth underdog types, Kobak and Fisher King, each clearly have very different backstories that leave us wanting to know more! Arakko is in good hands with Al Ewing, to be sure.
Sunspot himself has always been down to earth and is unlikely to ever be a hardcore Krakoan nationalist given his love of human culture. Bobby has been a Ewing favorite since his leadership on New Avengers vol4—to easygoing comic effect. But here is lamenting his first lost love whose tragic fate can be seen in Marvel Graphic Novel #4, which introduced the New Mutants, a classic for all involved.
But Bobby’s comedy is on full display later when he shows up at Max’s Autumn Palace calling him “Headmaster”—hearkening back to the shenanigans and tragedies of the New Mutants era when Magneto was indeed headmaster, with Xavier off consorting with Lilandra among the Shi’ar.
(However, it will surely be relevant that while Kobak tells Bobby he has a place in the broken land, he has previously appeared once, in S.W.O.R.D. #11, howling at the new regent, Ororo of the Storm, that she was not there, in Amenthi hell, just as Nameless had accused her, even as Storm defeated him in the Circle; he may or may not still see her as a usurper.)
But while Bobby is having dreams of a disco renaissance on Arakko, courtesy of his new Red Lagoon bar (he namedrops an important ’70s DJ and a major guitarist who worked with Bowie, Diana Ross, INXS, etc.), the surrounding Diplomatic Zone might be in the very bad clutches of Abigail Brand’s creeping hands and her new mad dog, Vulcan. (Old man Cable, meanwhile, has new mysterious plans of his own… hopefully; otherwise, Brand is playing him for a fool—how likely?)
“Am I Already Forgotten?”
Yes, indeed, Gabriel Summers has fully tumbled from his rocker—we have not seen him in a red fury since his mysterious return in the new era. He had only seemingly died at the end of 2009’s War of Kings event after becoming the mad usurping majestor of the Shi’ar Empire in Uncanny #485 two years earlier.
And now he’s outraged a rando Shi’ar diplomat isn’t kowtowing before him as if he were still majestor and complaining that Gladiator “usurped” “his” throne after Gabe’s apparent death—obviously, he’s very much living in the past, putting him in the dark company of others in this book who will continue to insist on looking backward, with vengeance in their hearts (like half the Great Ring).
This could also be those creepy interdimensional aliens who vivisected him (X-Men #10’s flashback).
Speaking of the past, Cable mentions that Gabe is persona non grata at the Summer House since whatever “that thing with Petra and Sway” is supposed to have been. Some speculate that Gabe was indeed hallucinating his dead teammates from the Deadly Genesis retcon as Hickman had originally intended, but that’s not for certain here. Why would Scott and Jean kick him out just for that anyway? No, something else must have happened, and since Hickman’s great regret was that that scene was botched, that those two are confirmed as resurrected, whatever the impossibility pre-Trial of Magneto, it would be odd if there was eventually a do-over as if the mistake had never occurred. Still, my theory is that Gabe did recently end up believing they were hallucinations, became infuriated—and then murdered them!
It’s very likely he would have murdered Bobby here in Bobby’s future disco club—if not for Thunderbird stepping in. But what a fascinating choice on Ewing’s part! Far more forgotten than Vulcan, until recently, has been John Proudstar, who was never Vulcan crazy, but these two are both defined by their rage and lashing out at those who could easily have been friends. I’m looking forward to the Giant-Size X-Men: Thunderbird one-shot by Nyla Rose, Steve Orlando and David Cutler, later this month, but do hope that he stays on with X-Men: Red, indeed disregarding Brand’s dismissively “rescinding” his “Martian privileges” and hanging out with the new Brotherhood…
I bet Fisher King could be a good influence on John; he’s not one of the “vultures” that he believes brainwashed his younger brother, James (not that he’s accurate about that; Cable is blunt but correct)—and hey, neither are the others gathered at the Autumn Palace, Magneto, Sunspot, Storm. None of them particularly like Xavier lately!
Abigail Brand should certainly be placed amongst the “vultures”: Her punitive and threatening reaction to John is in glaring contrast to her recruitment, forced or not, of a homicidal maniac who also happens to be an omega-level energy manipulator—as a tool to secure her place amongst the “galactic Illuminati,” which we’ll soon be introduced to.
And Brand is no friend of Arakko, to be sure. It’s been evident since the Hellfire Gala, and it’s signaled here in X-Men: Red when she: repeatedly refers to the newly colonized planet as Mars, to Storm as queen, in a crass attempt at Machiavellian temptation (and she’s clearly not interested in being corrected), and to the Arakki themselves as “violent morons”—which is pure chauvinism and bigotry that could be as simplistically applied to humans, mutants or the aliens among whom the S.W.O.R.D. director hobnobs. She’s the perfect villain for this book!
But as much as it pains me to agree with her, Brand is correct that terraforming and settling a new planet is colonization, regardless of whether there was preexisting native life.
That said, if Storm is saying it’s instead a “resurrection” for Arakko, as a life-world, then, yes, that rocks. Initially, I thought she was referring to resurrecting the fact of life on Mars, period, in which case—that just sounds like hokey mysticism.
Then again, I think Ororo of the Storm has multiple kinds of resurrections in mind…