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Where to start with Marvel’s latest X-Men revamp

Krakoa cannot be stopped. Two and a half years ago, Jonathan Hickman sent the X-Men franchise in a bold new direction, turning the sentient island of Krakoa into the new home for all of mutantkind. Heroes and villains now worked together to develop their young nation and keep it safe, but the even bigger twist was that mutants discovered they could use their combined powers to resurrect those they had lost, resulting in a wave of returning characters and thrilling stories that no longer relied on death for gravitas. The threats have been great, but Krakoa’s power just keeps growing—to the point where the mutants have now terraformed Mars, claimed it as their territory, and made it the capital of the solar system.

Knights Of X #1 art

Knights Of X #1 art
Image: Marvel Comics

The X-franchise has been molded to fit basically any type of genre in the past, from traditional superheroics, to swords-and-sorcery fantasy, space opera, detective procedural, pop culture satire, and more. The Krakoa era fully embraces this versatility, giving creators the opportunity to approach mutant stories from a variety of angles that help individual titles stand apart and expand the overall scope of the line. Different titles will appeal to different readers: if you prefer fantasy, check out Excalibur; if sci-fi is your thing, read S.W.O.R.D. Want your X-stories steeped in coming-of-age drama? New Mutants will scratch that itch. There’s a ton of variety, but it’s all unified, thanks to a brain trust of creators working together to shape the line, as well as Tom Muller’s striking production design, which visually distinguishes the X-books from other superhero titles.

“Destiny Of X” is the latest phase of the X-Men’s Krakoa era, which began with the House Of X/Powers Of X miniseries and continued with “Dawn Of X” in 2020 and “Reign Of X” in 2021. What sets this phase apart is the absence of Hickman, who was instrumental in establishing the groundbreaking ideas of the last few years. Those ideas grew beyond what Hickman expected, and he stepped away when he realized that his fellow creators wanted to spend more time in this status quo rather than move on to the next stage of an overarching narrative Hickman had planned. That’s not to say that the larger plan has been scrapped and he’s never coming back—but his collaborators didn’t want to move away from the still very fresh sandbox they were playing in.

Hickman left with a hell of a mic drop in the form of the four-issue Inferno miniseries, which brought Moira MacTaggart back on the board just in time to have her life ruined by Mystique (and her newly resurrected wife, Destiny). Following the end of Inferno, most of the X titles took a short hiatus. But two intertwined miniseries by writer Benjamin Percy, The X Lives Of Wolverine and The X Deaths Of Wolverine, bridge the gap between “Reign Of X” and “Destiny Of X,” pairing the time-traveling shenanigans of Wolverine with the direct continuation of the Moira plot from Inferno. These books aren’t massive game-changers like House Of X/Powers Of X, but they’re both satisfying in their own distinct ways.

X Lives Of Wolverine #5 art

X Lives Of Wolverine #5 art
Image: Marvel Comics

X Lives started a little slow but quickly accelerated as it sent Wolverine to 10 different points in his past to stop Omega Red from murdering Charles Xavier and his ancestors, a chaotic plot that allowed Percy, artist Joshua Cassara, and colorist Frank Martin to explore nearly every major period of Wolverine’s extensive history. Rather than telling another Wolverine story, X Deaths is primarily about Moira, who is desperately trying to escape Mystique’s wrath and a Stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. Artist Federico Vicentini and colorist Dijo Lima charge the narrative with dynamic energy, and there’s a steady stream of adrenaline driving this tragedy about self-loathing leading to self-destruction. Percy remains one of Krakoa’s key creators, and his runs on X-Force and Wolverine are important—the former introduces the new threat of Cerebrax, which is most likely corrupted Cerebro technology, and the latter brings on a wacky guest star to lighten the mood after all the intensity of X Lives/X Deaths: Deadpool.

Not every series paused during the last two months. X-Men and New Mutants laid a lot of groundwork for the future: X-Men reinforced the danger of Orchis, an organization formed to prep for a doomsday-event extinction of all mutants. Meanwhile, New Mutants set up a journey into Limbo, as longtime favorites Magik and Madelyne Pryor crossed paths. Not content to let his archnemesis Wolverine hog all the spotlight, Sabretooth got his own miniseries in February, finally revealing what happened when he was exiled to The Pit way back at the start of the Krakoa storyline.

Sabretooth is, happily, much weirder than expected, with writer Victor Lavalle, artist Leonard Kirk, and colorist Rain Beredo positioning the lead character as the devilish overlord of a psychic hellscape. The book benefits from a larger ensemble of new additions to The Pit, and Lavalle uses their individual stories to give the book a deeper sense of mystery. It has an Immortal Hulk-esque fusion of supernatural horror and psychological exploration, illuminating the most terrifying aspects of its central character by putting him in captivity.

But the biggest surprise of the last two years was Hellions, a Suicide Squad-style series spotlighting characters who have been lured to the dark side at different points in their lives. X-Men regulars like Havok and Psylocke reluctantly joined forces with lesser-known villains like Greycrow, Wild Child, and the twisted pairing of Nanny and Orphan Maker, with master manipulator Mr. Sinister leading them to their doom for his benefit. It’s an action-packed series that explored themes of redemption and punishment with a dark sense of humor that made the misfit team really gel. The series highlighted the storytelling potential of the franchise’s deep, deep bench of characters, and the start of “Destiny Of X” indicates that the seeds planted in Hellions will play a major part in Krakoa’s future.

Immortal X-Men #1 art

Immortal X-Men #1 art
Image: Marvel Comics

“Destiny Of X” began last week with Immortal X-Men #1, and it’s a Mr. Sinister showcase written by Kieron Gillen, who redefined the character during his Uncanny X-Men run 10 years ago. This new series, featuring art by Lucas Werneck and colorist David Curiel, focuses on Krakoa’s ruling body, the Quiet Council, and the first issue delivers political intrigue on an extremely heightened scale. There are a lot of big personalities on the Quiet Council, and Mr. Sinister might be the biggest: a pompous, disturbed, and conniving genius whose secrets have already changed everything. He’s just the only one who knows it.

Mr. Sinister’s snide point of view comedically undercuts the high stakes of the council’s debate while hinting that there’s more going on here than meets the eye, and the issue really heats up with the second-half arrival of Selene, who brings magic and monsters to the stage. Werneck and Curiel present the Quiet Council as a sleek, shiny assembly of very attractive people, with Werneck’s character expressions helping drive the momentum of a dialogue-heavy script. Then there’s the cliffhanger, which has seismic implications for the entire universe. Gillen is writing the upcoming Avengers/Eternals/X-Men crossover, Judgment Day, and the last page of Immortal X-Men gives the mutants even more power than previously thought.

This week’s “Destiny Of X” books include the relaunched Marauders, which continues with Kate Pryde as captain of a mutant rescue squad, but gains a new creative team in writer Steve Orlando, artist Eleonora Carlini, and colorist Matt Milla. The first volume of Marauders was one of the early highlights of the Krakoa era, but started to lose its way, so some fresh creative blood is welcome. This new direction shifts the book from pirate ships to spaceships, sending a newly formed team into Shi’ar territory. That group includes Charles Xavier’s genocidal twin sister (and noted Shi’ar enemy), Cassandra Nova, and her presence creates a lot of complicated character dynamics, particularly her relationship with Kate, whose father was killed when Cassandra destroyed the former mutant island of Genosha.

Marauders #1 art

Marauders #1 art
Image: Marvel Comics

Cassandra’s redemption is likely just a ruse setting up an eventual betrayal, and the tension between that expectation and the promise of a new start for all mutants on Krakoa is the most compelling element of this new Marauders series. Carlini and Milla’s artwork has a more cartoonish look with sharp angles and exaggerated expressions—this take on Cassandra evokes Yzma from Emperor’s New Groove in the best way—and it helps to bring out the humor in Orlando’s script. Yes, Cassandra Nova killed 16 million mutants, but that’s all in the past! Now it’s time to have some fun, which will definitely not lead to pain and suffering for everyone who crosses her path.

Three of the other new launches in “Destiny Of X” are continuations of their writers’ recent Krakoa-tied runs. Al Ewing started to delve into Planet Arakko (formerly Mars) with his work on S.W.O.R.D., but his new X-Men Red puts the central focus on this alien world and its appointed regent, Storm. Magneto is leaving his Quiet Council seat to help Storm maintain power, and Sunspot is the third lead—which is extra-exciting because Ewing did such strong work with the character in his New Avengers and U.S.Avengers series. Ewing briefly worked with artist Stefano Caselli on an issue of S.W.O.R.D., and they should have a very fruitful collaboration on X-Men Red given Caselli’s talent for both superhero spectacle and emotional character drama.

X-Men Red #1 art

X-Men Red #1 art
Image: Marvel Comics

Writer Simon Spurrier and artist Bob Quinn’s Way Of X only ran for six issues (including a one-shot finale), but it packed a ton of ideas in that space, exploring the religious aspects of Krakoa through Nightcrawler’s eyes while also bringing Charles Xavier’s son, Legion, back into the fray. Legion Of X, featuring art by Jan Bazaldua and colorist Federico Blee, pulls Nightcrawler away from his faith fixation and puts him in charge of Krakoa’s law enforcement. But the biggest draw here is more of Spurrier’s Legion. Spurrier brought remarkable depth to the character in his 2012 X-Men: Legacy series, and Krakoa provides a completely different environment for Legion to prove that he’s a better man than his father.

Tini Howard and Marcus To’s Excalibur series brought the magical elements of the X-mythos to the forefront, splitting time between Krakoa and the fantasy realm of Otherworld. With the new series Knights Of X, featuring art by Way Of X’s Bob Quinn and colorist Erick Arciniega, Howard takes the X-Men even deeper into Otherworld to find the “Holy Grail of mutantkind,” making them public enemy No. 1 of the wizards and fairy folk of the land. Legion Of X sounds like more of a deviation from its preceding series than Knights Of X, but it will be interesting to see how both books carve out their own identities.

Outside of “Destiny Of X,” 2022 also brings the long-awaited return of Peter Milligan, Mike Allred, and Laura Allred’s X-Force/X-Statix characters in The X-Cellent, an irreverent look at legacy heroes and an industry that thrives on regurgitating the ideas of the past. Pop culture has changed a lot in the 21 years since these creators originally satirized the superhero genre, and it’s fascinating to see them address the genre’s current place in the entertainment world while still channeling the tone and aesthetic of their work from two decades ago.

Speaking of revisiting the past with a new twist, the upcoming X-Men ’92: House Of XCII from writer Steve Foxe, artist Salva Espin, and colorist Israel Silva imagines what it would have looked like if the 1992 X-Men animated series tackled the Krakoa storyline. It’s a fun way to tap into nostalgia while acknowledging what a sea change the Krakoa era is for this franchise. Because Krakoa is such an expansive and inclusive take on X-mythology, it’s an especially ripe concept for the What If treatment, revealing how different mythology reshapes the classic story.

X-Men: Hellfire Gala #1 cover

X-Men: Hellfire Gala #1 cover
Image: Marvel Comics

One of the things that has made the last few years of X-Men comics so delightful is the fan engagement. House Of X/Powers Of X got people invested in mutants again, and Marvel has capitalized on the franchise’s passionate fanbase with the annual X-Men election and Hellfire Gala. This election lets fans vote for a member of the main X-Men team, and the results are announced during the Hellfire Gala, which taps into an essential selling point of superhero comics: cool costume designs. Sure, the mutants made Mars a habitable planet at Krakoa’s first Hellfire Gala, but that’s nothing compared to the high-fashion ensembles they wear to the party. Those designs get posted all over social media and turned into sought-after variant covers, and that excitement carries over to the actual event.

This year will be the big indicator of the longevity of Jonathan Hickman’s big X-periment, and even though Krakoa is going strong, there’s no shortage of obstacles in its future. Looking beyond the threats on the page, there’s the looming introduction of mutants in the MCU, which could result in significant changes for the comics given the corporate synergy we’ve seen in the past. (Plus, there’s always the next phase of Hickman’s proposed plan, whatever that may be.) Going into “Destiny Of X,” it still feels like the line has the creative power to maintain this status quo for at least a few more years, and hopefully Marvel will continue to trust this team to take chances instead of backtracking to what is familiar.

Destiny Of X Reading Guide

First off, go read House Of X/Powers Of X if you haven’t already. It’s the Beginner’s Guide to Krakoa, and it’s also a very cool superhero sci-fi story. Everything below stems from there. The books are listed in order of the release dates of their first “Destiny Of X” issues.

Immortal X-Men: If you’re curious, Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men run from 2011 gives you the Mr. Sinister background, but Hellions is what will catch you up on what he’s been up to on Krakoa. You’ll also want to read the four-issue Inferno for the most recent Quiet Council drama before starting this.

Marauders: Gerry Duggan’s first Marauders volume lays the groundwork for this series, but if you want to jump in with the new team, Marauders Annual #1 gets the gang together for the first time.

X-Force: This one has a lot of long-simmering subplots, so start with Benjamin Percy’s X-Force #1.

X-Men Red: Start with Al Ewing’s S.W.O.R.D., and check out Planet-Size X-Men #1 for the terraforming of Mars, which explains everything prior to the start of this title.

Knights Of X: Start with Tini Howard’s Excalibur, and check out the “X Of Swords” crossover for major Otherworld developments before tackling this.

Sabretooth: Jump right in, the water’s warm. Oh wait, that’s blood.

X-Men: You can easily start with Gerry Duggan and Pepe Larraz’s X-Men #1, but a lot of the plot threads here begin in Jonathan Hickman’s previous X-Men volume.

Legion Of X: Start with Simon Spurrier’s Way Of X, and if you want more background on Spurrier’s Legion, seek out his phenomenal X-Men: Legacy from 2012.

New Mutants: Vita Ayala and Rod Reis’ run begins in New Mutants #14.

Wolverine: Read The X Lives/X Deaths Of Wolverine for a rundown of Logan’s life and current place in Krakoa.

https://www.avclub.com/x-men-destiny-of-x-marvel-where-to-start-1848721219 Where to start with Marvel’s latest X-Men revamp

Andrew Schnitker

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