The dream team of writer Al Ewing and penciler Stefano Caselli, previously working together on S.W.O.R.D., continues to make X-Men: Red the Destiny of X title I’m most excited about (alongside Immortal X-Men, of course). Issue #2 is a killer follow-up, building Brand’s new “X-Men” threat and overall nefarious schemes, as well as underlining Vulcan’s explosive instability, with clues as to how this happened being revealed a little at a time in what feels like an inevitable build toward this omega timebomb going into full meltdown on Arakko—just what the bigoted and secretly anti-Arakkii extremist Abigail Brand wants, as she burrows deeper into her role as director of Orchis’ “Infrastructure and Influence.”
What hasn’t been stated outright yet in this new series is that as all her experience with interstellar threats and Machiavellian politicking, she’s bringing her own far-reaching network of mercenary contacts and alliances to the otherwise astronomically provincial Orchis. In other words, Abigail Brand is just about Orchis’ single most important asset (and anyway, Nimrod and Omega Sentinel don’t really count as assets any longer😉).
Ewing also continues a story that fans have been wanting, in some form, for many years now: not just something where Storm is the central protagonist but a narrative that delves into her character, advancing her into 21st-century superstar status among mutantkind. This is the promise of X-Men: Red at its core.
The thematic tension between (just two of) Storm’s identities (perhaps the most ambiguous ones), being queen of both Wakanda (starting with Black Panther vol. 4 #18, 2006) and, much earlier, the Morlocks (from Uncanny #170, 1983)—has clearly been one of Ewing’s central interests in Storm since he recast her as Regent of Sol in S.W.O.R.D. #6 (the “Hellfire Gala” issue). I believe that was the first time he really had, as a storyteller, to write her character, but right off, he seemed to have clear direction for her trajectory.
No doubt, Ewing is revitalizing Storm with an energy and clarity that we haven’t seen since Claremont, and who knows—but I’m hopeful he takes the evolution of Claremont’s most cherished character even further.
This issue, however, we’re focused on a raging dumpster fire: one of the three main antagonists of the series (along with Abigail Brand and Tarn the Uncarning, which is awesome because there’s nothing but hatred between them as much as for anyone else), but the most serious threat he poses to Our Lady of the Storm is on the gorgeous cover by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson.
For Vulcan, this issue is much more about revealing what the heck happened to get him booted from the Summers family nest on the Moon. With this reveal, which many a fan had guessed at, Al Ewing redeems the flub that Hickman most regretted during his time as Head of X: The miscommunication that turned Gabe’s hallucination of Petra and Sway into Petra and Sway’s return to life (which should’ve been impossible, as they had died, like Thunderbird, before the Cerebro backups). While the Scarlet Witch’s creation of the Waiting Room solved this problem (and then some; see Trial of Magneto #5), the premature return of these Deadly Genesis mutants remained a glaring oversight, but is now finally being put to good use.
Additionally, Xavier also mentions Changeling as a mutant who died before the Cerebro backups—back in X-Men #42, making him the first combat death in service of Xavier’s dream (not Thunderbird as is often assumed). But since Kevin Sidney was in fact a posthumous creation, revealed as a low-level telepath and shape-changer who had taken Xavier’s place, allowing for the real Xavier’s restoration two years later. Note that while Changeling’s reappearance early on in “The Dawn of X” was yet another flub, albeit very minor, readers can find him in the crowd of mutants around Xavier’s corpse in Percy and Cassara’s X-Force #2.
Readers familiar with Ewing know he’s a master at mining awesome story potential from obscure corners of continuity and smart retcons that never pander to mere shock value. And certainly the reveal this issue is true to the spirit of what Hickman already had in mind: An increasingly dangerously unbalanced Vulcan hallucinating his deceased best friends even as his uncharacteristically chipper exterior persona gradually crumbles to inevitably reveal the eldritch alien horror buried within.
But here we find out that Vulcan’s omega energy-manipulation powers allowed him to create simulacra of Petra and Sway that could not only interact with others but carry out lifelike actions far from Gabe’s presence (e.g., training students on Krakoa—as seen back in New Mutants #14). Xavier and the Summers clan had decided to humor Gabe, as Xavier’s data page reveals that he reacted threateningly whenever anyone suggested that his friends weren’t real. Xavier went on to explain that his condition had only deteriorated further: Vulcan had become a perpetually drunk recluse inside the Summer House, while his hallucinated companions had become flat zombie-like imitations of themselves, helping their “Emperor” drink away his sanity.
But note that while the hallucinated Petra and Sway call him “emperor,” his response in this flashback is, surprisingly: “Don’t call me that.” Since this occurred before X-Men: Red #1, we can assume that this was before he went all in for the notion that his former subjects should be recognizing him as such. His “flaw” cracked wide open between then and now, starting the process of activating whatever was implanted in him by his alien captors in the Rift (see X-Men #10). And I think it’s pretty clear the final catalyst in this regard was Xavier intrusively probing his mind at a moment when Gabe was extremely agitated (meaning that Professor X is a jerk with really bad timing).
Don’t forget that the only other Summer House residents at the time were Havok and Wolverine. Seriously—imagine having those three as housemates. Yikes.
Indeed, it appears Scott and Xavier’s intervention with Gabe resulted in the latter going from drunken stupor to omega outburst, destroying the residence. However, it’s unclear if Scott and Xavier were killed (not that death is an issue).
We also find out that Petra and Sway are now at the head of the resurrection queue—and it may well be that those two will prove crucial to healing and redeeming their broken childhood friend, on the other side of whatever potentially apocalyptic blowup is imminently in store for the mad “emperor.”
The greater revelation of what happened to Vulcan while seemingly dead in the Rift will have to wait. Although we do again briefly see his erstwhile captors, as regal and nightmarish as ever, this is no more than what we’ve seen previously in Hickman’s X-Men #10 (their lines in X-Men: Red #2 are taken verbatim from the Hickman story, book-ending the longer flashback sequence there showing Gabe unmade and remade by these beings).
Back in the now, double-agent Abigail Brand introduces Vulcan to her X-Men Red team aboard the Keep. Recall that she and Cable escorted him after nearly killing Sunspot in Bobby’s own new discotheque because Gabe couldn’t handle a rando Shi’ar diplomat not recognizing who he was at all (to say nothing of being his erstwhile emperor).
Yet while Brand gets her omega WMD, she’s not so in control that she isn’t in for an unpleasant surprise when Manifold, mutantkind’s “universal shaper*,” bows out. But fans definitely shouldn’t worry about this! Ewing is clearly a big fan of Eden, and he’s likely to end up with Storm’s band of warriors (there’s no way he’ll find himself on Aaron’s Avengers, though he was an Avenger during Hickman’s pre-Secret Wars run, the last time that franchise really ruled).
(*There was a time when there were two universal shapers, the other being Franklin Richards—oh well!)
Among Brand’s squad, Manifold gets the best lines with her this issue, as he gives her a piece of his mind on the way out the door. Eden openly questions Gyrich’s suspicious death and the S.W.O.R.D. station dropping on him, in Australia (S.W.O.R.D. #10-11).
Of course, this is right after Brand bracingly reiterates her condescending, colonialist view toward Arakko—as a second-class society on Mars. As we’ll see in her secret journal entry later this issue, she’s scheming to ultimately push the Arakki back to Amenth…!
Meanwhile, Frenzy doesn’t seem any happier being on Brand’s squad, but she’s probably quite reluctant about resigning from her hard-won, prestigious ambassadorial position (recalling her now shorter-lived time as Magneto’s Genoshan ambassador, 1999-2000). Cable, on the other hand, I’m still betting is calculating his own long odds against Brand—though he fell hard this time round!
What turns out to be Brand’s own curve-ball threat, the Progenitors, proves to be her very clever way of harvesting Cable’s techno-organics. And he dies before the Brotherhood of Arakko shows up, which is interesting. After all, he has a much closer relationship to Sunspot than anyone else this issue, and he’s the only traditionally heroic figure on Brand’s X-Men squad (with Manifold now gone).
We’ll look at who else is behind this attack, but here let’s take note of the Progenitor (and Brand’s) target: “the Morrowlands, a commune of artists and poets, seeking new purpose on their new world.” No one among them have powers useful for combat, but (perhaps to her surprise) that doesn’t mean they’re not ready to fight; far from it. After all, as they’re also said to “still remember the prisons [of Tarn the Uncaring and his Locus Vile]”—a motif among the Arakkii we’ve met in these past two issues.
Further, Brand only gives Vulcan the order to get the locals out of the way by force (paternalistically) after Cable is toast. It’s all quite well planned on her part—except that she wasn’t expecting the new Brotherhood of Arakko, though if not for them, it seems the S.W.O.R.D. director would’ve had Arakkii deaths on her, given Vulcan’s bloodthirstiness (Would she really be ready to have it out with Krakoa over this? Of course, that would be assuming the QC is committed or just with it enough to be actively concerned).
The Progenitors are an Al Ewing creation from his underrated, 12-issue Royals series, debuting in Royals #5 (2017). There, they were presented as overwhelming, godlike threats, not quite as powerful as Celestials but not far behind. So, what we learn in the data page later this issue, about their presence on Arakko, comes as quite as a surprise: Interstellar arms-dealer Orbis Stellaris had “programmed” them to attack the Arakkii—meaning an Earthling was able to hack into these inscrutable powerhouse aliens, as his personal WMDs. This is wild considering Progenitor science & tech are supposed to be as superior to Kree science & tech as human science & tech. Indeed, these lesser space gods experimented on the early Kree in a manner similar to Celestial experimentation on humanity—and other races—just without nearly the same success.
Note also that Cable speaks to some previous encounter with the Progenitors, or at least an opportunity to study them, likely many years ago—which is even more surprising than their reappearance here. And that is one story I would really like to see! Speaking of, it’s well past time for another Cable one-shot, at the least (Now imagine Ewing writing an ongoing, time-hopping, end-of-time Cable/Askani’son series. Who wouldn’t just eat that up?).
From the perspective of the new Brotherhood of Arakko, their first outing was a success, albeit bitter, because Brand still has the upper hand for now, and watching Cable get killed would still be shocking, especially for Bobby. Still, an immediate rapport develops between them and the local Arakkii, thanks in part to the fact that, apparently, the Fisher King actually used to be a king! “The Unnamed King,” as one of them whispers. He rouses their bohemian spirits, to focus their powers in aid of the newly created Arakkii defenders.
Quietly brushing off suggestions of prior kingship, the Fisher King notes that Magneto particularly will learn to work with the Arakkii more closely (not merely seeking “help” but forging a closer dynamic).
But of course, the locals are really most overjoyed by “Ororo who tamed the Circle!” And Vulcan as he is here never stood a chance, as the omega energy of each searched for the other’s flaw. Relatively small though it is, there’s no doubt this Battle of the Morrowlands will cement Storm’s legend across Arakko, to say nothing of rumors of the Fisher King and maybe Magneto, too (could be they’ll give gramps a chance).
To be sure, Ewing knows he’s echoing Vulcan’s alien captors, as Hickman wrote them in X-Men #10, where they said Gabe’s “flaw” was his potential to actually do good.
But there’s another sense of the word that’s been at play: the spreading and widening cracks in that potential that Gabe’s captors have somehow manipulated him into believing is merely a false/superficial “shell,” beneath which is his true self, or so they’ve made him believe – when it’s really whatever they seeded in him. Are these last two actually one and the same? Will Gabe discover there’s more to whatever he believes is true of himself now? Who would truly be able to answer such questions? Currently, they’re still dead, for the moment.
Brand’s super-secret journal entry that we’re privy to this issue drops a few bombs: she ordered the attack from the Progenitors not merely to destabilize Arakko (a tactic she promises to continue), but specifically to steal Cable’s “techno-organic viral package” for analysis by these apparently easy-to-reprogram space gods—with only the data on it (taking Brand at her word here) being sent to Orchis—which is bad enough!
And who’s the whiz who can program Progenitors to order?
Orbis Stellaris has been mentioned only a few times previously, in Ewing’s S.W.O.R.D. #6 and #9-11, where a data page in the last issue revealed that he’s an Earthling, although he’d already been established as a member of another recent Ewing creation, this time from his Guardians run, the Galactic Rim Collective—basically a trading alliance among various star systems on the edge of the Milky Way (like our solar system). In those closing issues of S.W.O.R.D., we also saw mention of Gyrich shady dealings with this arms-dealer who is likely something of a jumped-up space pirate.
As to Brand’s next likely cat’s-paw:
That “Skrull separatist who’s running the Chitauri these days” is Sister Talionis is another recent character from the growing Ewing-verse, debuting in Guardians #14 and shortly seizing power as the Chitauri queen (which, yes, is very unusual—a ploy to amass a loyal army that will one day oppose the Kree/Skrull Alliance in open war).
Worst of all in terms of the recent past, Brand reveals here that she manipulated Storm into becoming Regent of Sol for the short-term purpose of establishing a nominal/superficial Krakoan-Arakkii alliance on Mars only to immediately start undermining it. The fact that, reading between the lines, she seems a bit surprised that Ororo hasn’t just survived but has embraced her leadership role so earnestly is simply another sign that Brand’s machinations will prove to have been out of her control from the start; she will find herself, to be sure, in over her head.
For Now, Brand Has Tablets to Spare
At the close, Brand directs her new loose cannon, Vulcan, at a council member of the Great Ring, Tarn—which means Gabe will have a chance at playing the usurper again. Of course, once he’s fought his way onto the Arakkii governing council, will he manage to refrain from acting like he should be a one-man tyranny? Probably not! But sowing such chaos, especially to Storm’s detriment, certainly seems to be Brand’s intent. What both interlopers may underestimate, however, is the resistance Arakkii will put up against anyone trying to solve their problems (like the Locus Vile) for them.
After Xavier’s “intervention,” his humiliation at the Red Lagoon last issue and Storm’s quick defeat of him here, Vulcan’s “shell” must be all but completely shattered by now. Meaning there’s an omega-level firestorm loose on Arakko.