[cover by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson]
Quiet (Suspense) Before the Storm
After the violent events of last issue, this one is sort of in downtime mode, as in lieu of action we get a ratcheting up of political tension, not just for the Krakoans on the Arakkii Great Ring but also between Storm and T’Challa, and Krakoa and the still mysterious Galactic Rim Collective, as represented by Orbis Stellaris on what passes these days for an interstellar/intergalactic council (even though there are only a handful of sentients on it). Yet there are also poignant and meaningful moments of catharsis that, quiet though they are, begin to shift, wrinkle and question the narrative around the value of Krakoan resurrection–refracted through three fascinating perspectives: Magneto; the mutant who is a strange amalgamation of all possible Rockslides; and the recently assassinated Shi’ar Majestrix Xandra, or rather others’ reactions to her assassination and potential return to life…
This is also the first issue of any X book this year that directly alludes to the current goings-on of more than one other title in the franchise–and these references are crucial to both the theme and narrative of this issue’s thematically braided story, straightforwardly titled “Three Short Stories about Death” (We also get another direct reference to happenings in the ambiguously adjacent Black Panther).
At least the Emily Dickinson reference on the title/credits page is a little more evocative: “Because I could not stop for Death” is one of her most famous poems and while complex, what matters here is that it’s essentially a surprisingly peaceful lyric on the acceptance of death. Broadly spiritual, it could speak to anyone of any faith or philosophy: Death is real, but that’s no reason to hasten it or grossly/unnaturally delay it out of fear. Of course, for those who believe/have faith in some version of immortality beyond life, there’s that too–the horses of the poet’s carriage riding without haste toward that limitlessness, of which dying is only a moment in infinity.
Of course, the rest of the opening line’s sentence after “Because I could not stop for Death” is: “he kindly stopped for me” – which out of context could apply to Krakoa, but the poem is clearly saying that while the poet was too busy/preoccupied with life to stop – and die – Death’s “carriage” stopped for her, that is, to pick her up on the way to eternity. Krakoans can no more truly stop or cancel mortality than anyone else.
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The steeliest acceptance of mortality here is from Magneto, who, after all, isn’t exactly surrounded by friends, much less allies.
This series just keeps getting better, more interesting with every issue. I do miss the stunning beauty and drama of Stefano Caselli’s artistry, but guest artists Juann Cabal, Andres Genolet and Michael Maria do serviceable work, only occasionally jarring. All three typically do much better, though, and much of the art throughout feels a like it might’ve been under tighter deadlines than usual. Whatever happened on the production side of things this time, well, who knows, but there’s not a strong narrative reason for to be different art styles whose differences aren’t striking enough to do anything interesting for the story.
We open with what appears to be Magneto’s first time seated on the Great Ring, while Storm is off at an emergency meeting with the (Inter)Galactic Council at the politically neutral space station called the Proscenium (which until now had only been seen in Ewing’s recent Guardians run, starting with issue #7). The third of this issue’s three short stories is mostly set on a Krakoan beach at sunset.
So, three relatively basic settings (two councils and a beach) in a braided narrative where these individual stories converge and refract each other only thematically. And the theme is death.
In the Great Ring: Ora Serrata v. Magneto – v. Isca?
Ora Serrata makes her case in the data page at the opening of the issue. It’s a cogent argument: Arakkii do not resurrect (except for those in the White Sword’s army, which as far as we know has no presence on the Great Ring), so what are Krakoans actually risking when they fight in the Circle Perilous? Smartly, Ora’s case isn’t about whether Arakko should be friendly with Krakoa:
“Krakoans have a place in the broken land.”
What she provocatively but reasonably argue is: “But we must decide if they have a place here [on the Great Ring, where losing a seat in a challenge is permanent, regardless of whether death is].”
Now if there’s not even a risk of permanent death, then the value of the challenge is hollowed out, especially as it’s their only path to power: Seven other Krakoans could repeatedly challenge Arakkii of the Great Ring until they’re victorious and their opponents are permanently dead. Obviously, that’s not what an upstanding citizen of Krakoa would ever do – but why risk it? It’s not a gamble worth the Arakkii’s interest.
A striking moment in this issue of great moments is Ora very dryly (oh man, dry eye!) sniping at Isca – who finally comes off as just a tad grating this time, which is good; we have to start to see some cracks in “the Unbeaten.” And it’s interesting that Ora’s concern is focused on the possibility of more Krakoans winning seats on the Ring and much less concerned with Isca’s claims that Roberto simultaneously undermined the nature of her power and of the Circle Perilous.
At this point, Magneto seems to know he’s at a disadvantage, off his home turf.
But a Great Ring Arakkii we’ve barely heard from yet, Lodus Logos, quietly challenges Isca by questioning whether she herself ever truly risks death. The Unbeaten retorts that she can die like anyone else; after all, “victory in death” might in some situations be the only path forward. And yet another member, Xilo, points out (as a question rather than a direct challenge) that she could never be unseated from the Ring by challenge.
Defensive now, Isca argues that she’s only keeping Genesis’s seat warm, awaiting her sister’s return, making it sound like she’s regent for a missing queen – which Magneto points out. And Genesis is not the one on a collision course with Arakko’s current, um, executive(?), however uncomfortable Ororo is with her ambivalently queenly position.
Certainly, as we get to see more Arakkii characters developed, Isca’s views no longer appear to represent those of her fellow Arakkii, whereas in her early appearances she appeared to go about blithely unchallenged. For someone who’s unbeaten, she’s beginning to look hemmed in by everyone around her – she really must be impatient for Genesis to get back!
The Intergalactic Game Goes On
On the Proscenium, Storm attends an emergency meeting of six of the eight diplomats who represent the interests of a pretty wide swath of space (which must include many billions of sentients, and this softer version of the Illuminati doesn’t exactly look to be practicing soft power in the way we in the real world usually think of it, unless you’re a credulous cynic/conspiracy theorist). Notably, one of those absent is Lactuca, who’s currently watching Magneto in the hot seat, because she deems galactic politics beneath her (making her an odd choice for their Council).
It’ll be interesting to see how the Great Ring Arakkii develop as characters, starting with how they voted in X-Men: Red‘s debut issue: Lactuca and Lodus voted for peace; Xilo and Ora for war with Amenth; Isca, of course, abstained.
As for Storm, she’s not to be put in the hot seat, much less “live on [anyone’s] chessboard” – here referring to T’Challa Wakandan politics (intergalactic or otherwise) but of course implying that she’s no one’s pawn, or queen, to be moved about by another’s hand.
Their marriage having been annulled a decade ago (in AvX, after only a handful of years), Storm and T’Challa don’t really owe anything to each other as heads of state, and she certainly owes him not even a hint of Krakoan resurrection. And it sounds like Wakanda’s king never told his wife about his own state secrets (both the Galactus Protocols and Kimoyo communications technology, which allowed for mass surveillance, can be found in the pages of previous Black Panther runs; Krakoa’s resurrection protocols have been, at least among those it directly concerns, comparatively anodyne).
Indeed, the Russo-Wakandan mutant Gentle has been a sleeper agent for Wakanda for a long time, since before X of Swords, as revealed in January’s Black Panther #3 (Since the end of Coates’ run, he’s been a minor supporting character in the title; hopefully he can be put to more interesting use elsewhere).
The Shi’ar Imperial Guardian Oracle has called this meeting, to sorrowfully share the news of Xandra’s assassination – which is interesting as she and Delphos, whom it appears she didn’t know was a Kin Crimson agent all along, masterminded Deathbird’s kidnapping, which she here laments, in Tini Howard’s Secret X-Men one-shot earlier this year (I don’t think she expected things to go sideways so disastrously). The Kin Crimson were first revealed recently, in Marauders #1, and they’re agents killed Xandra at the end of issue #3.
In fact, it’s wild that Xandra’s posthumous story is continued here rather than in Marauders, somewhat undermining its latest issue’s cliffhanger uncertainty. I dig it, though. And it means Orlando can open the next issue with different surprises.
As revealed later in the issue, Xandra “broadcast” not just her mind but her entire being (which is, after all, an energy form) all the way to her “father”* Xavier, who Storm says is perhaps the most powerful telepath in the universe, even though he’s not an Omega (but Jean is).
(*Half his clone, shared with Lilandra’s DNA, she otherwise has zero relationship to either of her forebears.)
Without Xandra, the Shi’ar Imperium will fall into chaos and civil war, leading to trillions of deaths. As the cynical and mysterious arms-dealer Orbis Stellaris argues, the Shi’ar have by the sword of imperialism, and so they’ve made their deathbed. Like his globularly themed counterpart, Ora, he makes a decent case against Xandra’s resurrection on Krakoa: What reasonable person would consent to “an immortal dictator on the throne … till the end of time”?
But knowing full well his position would lead to trillions dead in interstellar war, he nevertheless believes that’s the lesser of two evils.
We’ve Been Getting the New Rockslide All Wrong
Magneto’s stoic existential line about people being perhaps only “a handful of memories held tight against the setting sun” is followed by Roberto finding the non-Santo Rockslide on a Krakoan beach at sunset.
After Rockslide’s death in Otherworld at the start of X of Swords, the Krakoans resurrected what seemed to be little more than an animate jumble of rocks – the result of Otherworld death followed by resurrection, something of a literal jumbling of all possible versions of a person from myriad parallel universes (this was Gorgon’s fate too).
But for the first time here we find that someone’s home in these resurrected vessels, after all. This new Rockslide is probably even more articulate than the original! Certainly, he has an ageless wisdom entirely unlike Santo’s puppyish adolescence – as much as the latter was far more vibrant, as Roberto acknowledges. It’s wild to think that Santo and Gorgon have been the only true deaths of the Krakoa era so far.
This scene seems to firmly establish that the Earth-616 Santo is gone for good. And that is meaningful. It shouldn’t be betrayed (though the cynical reader believes it surely will be, eventually).
Indeed, youth only lasts so long too, a much shorter time than life as a whole – making it all the more meaningful, as it skips along the water’s surface, farther from shore with each forward leap.
The mysterious Cerebro-like sphere Magneto brought with him to the Ring turns out to have been created by Forge as a “Cerebro Drive,” basically a small-scale version of the cradles, storing only current copies of himself and Storm. We also get the clearest statement about the relationship between the purely secular “mental records” of a person’s memories and their soul: If the latter senses the existence of the former embodied once more, then it’s drawn back – at least that’s Magneto’s conjecture; he doesn’t seem overly preoccupied with souls, more with a heroic fatalism, like a Marcus Aurelius, a classical Stoic of antiquity.
Is it Isca’s derision here that forces Magneto’s decision – to destroy the backups?
I doubt it. My argument is that not only was he already decided on this course – the problems of Krakoan immortality as embodied by certain individuals on the Quiet Council are a prime reason that Magneto is no longer on Krakoa.
He came to Arakko, and he’s inevitably becoming Arakkii, especially if the average Arakkii outside the Ring has already accepted him, which we’ve seen.
Perhaps he’ll need an army, and Storm’s Brotherhood, as a bulwark against the corruption of both councils.
Ororo’s Fait Accompli Over Xandra’s Fate
Nova’s little speech here may prove unnecessary, since for Ororo’s big surprise this issue, she was already decided, but I’m glad Ewing got to bring in one of his top faves from his Guardians run. Here, he speaks of those tragedies where “he stood when all else fell.” Most famously, he survived the destruction of Xandar in 2007’s Annihilation event, but the world had already been destroyed once before, by Nebula, in 1985’s Avengers #259-260 (a Roger Stern classic!); Richard Rider restored the Xandarians and their home in 1993’s New Warriors #40-42 (a Fabian Nicieza joint).
What matters here is that Nova’s argument certainly trumps Orbis’: Saving countless lives, even if it means maintaining the fragile status quo of a military empire, is definitely a lesser evil than the potential for someone like Xandra, a child ruler, to turn out to be a wicked or just plain self-interested immortal hanging on to power for centuries.
And Storm has already made sure that Xandra is coming back. She did reach her father, and Xavier, despite their non-relationship, didn’t hesitate to make her resurrection his top priority immediately.
But though “there was never a debate to be had over this” from Storm’s perspective, still, she knew the need to show up and remind everyone from across the far reaches of space that “Mutantkind does not need permission.”
Also, she has a clear ally now in Rick Rider. He wants to be on her side for whatever storm is brewing. So, expect him to be a staple of X-Men: Red going forward – and an interesting addition to the cosmopolitan mix of the Diplomatic Zone, an urbane concentration of high and low, frontier and establishment, subcultures and power politics, a fine place for an evenhanded space cop (if only such people actually existed).
Rockslide’s Wisdom & Roberto’s Mysterious Suggestion
The most radical idea this issue, though, is surprisingly reserved for “Wrongslide” – unlike anyone else, he’s been envisioning a new kind of resurrection, his way, what everyone believes to be the wrong way. But truly, it’s the most natural way, like the Tao: “I’ll lie down in the flowers and give myself back to the everything.” Critically, though, only “when it is my time,” which he assures Roberto that he doesn’t intend to happen for many years.
But going to Otherworld to die once more will allow yet another wholly new version of Rockslide to be born. It’s the radical remix version of resurrection. And if that’s the future of the Krakoan narrative for at least several prominent mutants, I’m all here for it. After all, once you kill death – where can this franchise go next? It either resets at some point, rather abruptly, or the X office figures out how to work out all the permutations of this idea first, leaving us with a bigger sandbox of ideas – always additive – stuffing in as much wonder as possible, and sharing the beauty of that.
For now, I wonder what Roberto envisions for Rockslide on Arakko. He certainly won’t just be a pile of rocks none of the kids want to talk to; he will be seen, whole, as he is, in the broken land.
First though: Eternal War…
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