I already talked about half of this volume with Rob, and the other half when talking about the tie-in issues to “Empyre.” Still, as Hickman and crew are onto something special with their
“X-Men” relaunch, I felt that this volume deserved to be written up here and assessed as a whole. Even if it does continue the trend established in the first volume of offering up short stories which introduce concepts that will be paid off down the line.
There’s no reason that delivering that kind of setup can’t result in a quality story in and of itself, however. Which is what we have with the first, and best, story in this volume “Lifedeath.” It starts off with Melody Guthrie, a depowered mutant formerly known as Aero, finding out that she has the chance to undergo something called Crucible to regain her powers. As she’s getting ready for it, we follow Cyclops as he grapples with the implications of it and seeks out a friend who has also been doing some thinking these same things: Nightcrawler.
What is Crucible, you ask? It’s the means by which the Quiet Council has come up with in order to deal with all of the mutants that were depowered on M-Day by the Scarlet Witch. There’s around a million of them and the only way their powers can be restored is by being reborn through the Five’s resurrection process. That’s a massive undertaking, so the Council has determined that it should only be offered to those who really want it. The thing is that one mutant suggested and was put in charge of being the one who decides who really wants to die and be reborn: Apocalypse.
You can probably see where this story is going. If not, it’s worth reading either by itself or in this collection. It’s an impressive piece of storytelling, and not just because it finds a unique way to address a continuity issue specific to the current status quo. Hickman also uses it as a way to address the moral and spiritual issues relevant to the resurrection process through Cyclops’ and Nightcrawler’s discussion. It’s good stuff that leads to an outcome that’s equal parts expected and un- from the religious mutant. (And which will be tackled in the upcoming “Way of X” series from Simon Spurrier, though there’s no cliffhanger from this issue leading into it.)
Next up is a two-part story that’s both payoff and setup. It’s paying off on a plot thread set up in the Hickman-written issues of “New Mutants.” There the team went into space, had some adventures, and came back with a little something. Thanks to the arrival of Broo, the sentient superintelligent Brood, we get to find out what that something is. It’s a King Egg, a biological device that can grant someone control of the entire Brood species. Naturally, the existing Brood Queens are not keen on the idea of being subservient to a King, and they’ve finally tracked the egg to Earth. Hijinks ensue.
Taken together, “Swarm” and “The King Egg” are a solid little two-part story. We get lots of quality alien-fighting action in the first part as some of the island’s big guns have to bring their A-game to fight off the onslaught. That’s also true in the second part as the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard comes into the mix. Yet the second half is also the more interesting of the two because we also get an origin story for the Brood which ties into the Kree, their Accusers, and the Supreme Intelligence. There’s also some more quality trolling from Sunspot, which is always welcome.
The only real catch in this story is that, in the end, it reveals itself to be more setup. A Brood King is established and now we have to wait and see where the story is going to go with that. One hint is offered in the information pages at the end of the story, and it does not bode well for this particular king’s reign. Still, even if I’m left waiting to see where this storyline goes, it at least makes me want to see where it winds up.
Last up are the “Empyre” tie-in issues, “Fire” and “One War, One Mutant.” The former is a spotlight issue for Vulcan, whose presence has been one of the biggest question marks in the series so far. You would think that reintroducing a character who has been missing in action after being the insane Emperor of the Shi’Ar Empire, telling us how he got back here, and why he’s not insane anymore would’ve been a priority for the writer. Hickman apparently decided that he could wait until the tenth issue of his run to do this, and so here we are.
As far as explaining Vulcan goes, “Fire” gives us most of the answers. Without giving too much away, we learn that the character was “tampered” with in the aftermath of “War of Kings.” While this tampering has led to his insanity being addressed, it’s only a surface-level solution. We find this out when he goes to find out what the Cotati are doing on the moon and gets himself captured. They decide to perform a mental interrogation and… it winds up not going well for them.
This ultimately results in some more questions being added to Vulcan’s current status. Which is something the character really didn’t need at this point. The answers we do get, are satisfactory enough and they at least set up an interesting status quo for the character. Granted, the setup of a character afraid to cut loose because they’re afraid of what they might do isn’t anything new. It is at least a refreshing change for a character who was nothing but a mix of anger, crazy, and crazy anger up to this point.
Then we come to “One War, One Mutant,” and it’s a Magneto-centric story. It’s also the rare kind of story where the character is allowed to be a big damn hero for mutantkind without any catches. After the Cotati find out that Krakoa is the home of the mutants who destroyed their base on the moon, they come looking for a little payback. What they don’t know is that Magneto is there and he’s the lynchpin of some new tactical combinations that the Quiet Council has been looking to put into practice.
The best Magneto stories will always be the ones that address his moral flexibility when it comes to advancing the cause of the mutant race. This is not one of those stories. This is just a big showcase for the character’s powers as he works with Magma, Iceman, and some unlucky satellites above Krakoa to almost singlehandedly take down the Cotati invasion force. Playing up the spectacle is the character’s onetime hype man Exodus, as he exults the magnetic mutant’s power and showcases him as a reason for the mutant children not to be afraid. Part of me thinks that this is also setup, or maybe even foreshadowing that the character is going to do something more true to his ruthless side down the line. Taken on its own terms, the story is a quality showcase for Magneto’s power in a way that we haven’t seen in a while.
With the exception of “Swarm,” all of the stories in this volume were illustrated by Lenil Yu. Whether he’s drawing talking heads or fights against aliens, he knows how to keep things visually interesting, and make them look larger than life when necessary. Like when Magneto is dropping satellites on an alien leader’s head, just to throw out a random example. So while he does quality work here, the one exception in this volume is handled by Mahmud Asrar. He does solid work as well, as his strengths are much the same as Yu’s, with the main difference between them being Asrar’s thicker and more solid linework. He’ll be sticking around for future issues and I have no problem with that based on what I’ve seen here.
There is one last bit of setup to address: The final issue opens with a scene involving the Summoner of Arakko playing a (clearly not) innocuous game with some mutants. This is meant to be a lead-in to the “X of Swords” event. Aside from the fact that it involves the Summoner, the implications of the scene are oblique at best. The good news is that we won’t have to wait long to find out what the payoff for this scene is as “X of Swords” is basically the next (proper) volume of the series. I’m looking forward to it, as much based on the quality of “X-Men” issues up to this point, and on the hope that it’ll start paying off on what has been set up in them as well.