X-Men #2: The Garden of Unearthly Delights

X-Men #2: The Garden of Unearthly Delights

X-Men #2 Gerry Alanguilan (inker), VC's Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sonny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), Leinil Francis Yu (artist) Marvel Comics November 13, 2019 What’s remarkable about the Hickman era of the X-Men—unbelievably, we’re still only five months in, all of us having fallen into a swirling pool of Comic Book Time—is

X-Men #2

Gerry Alanguilan (inker), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sonny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), Leinil Francis Yu (artist)
Marvel Comics
November 13, 2019

What’s remarkable about the Hickman era of the X-Men—unbelievably, we’re still only five months in, all of us having fallen into a swirling pool of Comic Book Time—is how it throws a grenade at everything we’ve taken for granted about the franchise while still telling very classic X-Men stories. After the birth of Krakoa, the millennia-spanning machinations of Moira X, and the death of death itself, a comic like X-Men #2 feels like a small gift. Simply put: Cyclops takes the kids to Monster Island.

x-men

After the assassination of Professor X in X-Force #1, Krakoa is on lockdown—though try telling that to Krakoa, since the island itself is shimmying across the ocean to make contact with another mysterious landmass. Since Cypher, the only mutant able to communicate with Krakoa, happens to be in another galaxy (it must be said that the X-Men books haven’t felt this interconnected in a long time; even the upcoming Dawn of X trades collecting the first, second, third, etc. issues of all the DoX books together feels less like gratuitous cow-milking and more like an inventive new way to read the line), Cyclops takes an X-Jet to scope out the new island that’s crawling with monsters. Along for the ride? Cyke’s kids, Cable and Rachel Grey, because nothing brings a superhero family together like punching some Eldritch horrors.

There’s an economy of storytelling on display from the creative team of Hickman and Yu right on the very first page. The way Rachel and Cable greet Cyclops at the Summer House tells us everything we need to know about the current state of family relations without the back-breaking weight of expositions or flashbacks. We don’t need to know that Rachel is technically the daughter of a different Cyclops in another timeline, or that things have been chilly between her and this Cyclops since he betrayed her mom and she dropped his last name. We sense the distance between them in the way she says, “Hello, Father,” just like we can tell that the teenage Cable, born to Cyclops in this timeline (and raised by him in another one, because X-Men) has a more comfortable relationship when he casually drops, “What’s up, Dad?” Hickman is very aware of how these characters relate to each other–or spark off each other, given the bickering between the bratty teenage Cable and his exasperated older sister. They never feel like plastic action figures smashed together.

x-men

The island proves to be a garden of unearthly delights. From our first real glimpse of it we see fiery tentacles writhing from the hellish maw at its center—and it only gets squirmier from there. I was a little cool on Leinil Francis Yu’s art in the first issue, but I could happily wrap it around my shoulders like a blanket here. Yu not only has a tighter grasp on the characters (look at Rachel’s little smirk on the first page!), but he seems to be having wicked fun drawing the monsters, which include a spiky squid and a giant crab with a mouth full of terrifying teeth.

Also emerging from that aforementioned hellish maw is the Summoner, a marble-skinned war child who looks both angelic and ominous. Tom Muller’s data pages give us a tantalizing glimpse of the Summoner’s enormous purpose (a High Summoner can “summon a horde of elementals and up to three major daemons”—neat!) and we the readers feel another vine creeping around our ankles, ensnaring us in the larger plot that Hickman is growing. Clear away the branches, and more mysteries reveal themselves; could this meeting be fate? The Summoner summoned Summers by the seashore?

X-Men #2 also answers, in an indirect way, one of the dangling questions of the X-discourse. Now that mutants are effectively immortal, what happens to the X-Men if you take away life-or-death stakes? If the X-Men can’t die, what do they do? They breathe. Look no further than our protagonist Cyclops, who hasn’t been this fun to read in years. He’s still good ol’ Slim, the confident leader and soldier. But how often do writers let him be funny? If “Does it need doing? Then it will be done” is a damn good Cyclops line, so is “I’ve got more hours in a cockpit than I do in therapy, son.” The rigid, revolutionary Cyclops always fighting on the edge of the abyss may have made a cool t-shirt, but he was one-note. Iconography over characterization. The ascendency of mutantkind allows Cyclops to make a new effort at things that have eluded him before, like, well, parenthood. Yu draws a fantastic panel of Cyke, Cable, and Rachel opening telekinetic-optic-laser fire at a monster that could serve as a Summers family portrait. Life on Krakoa means new beginnings—if teen Cable doesn’t accidentally blow it up, of course.

The second installment of Hickman and Yu’s X-Men run ends with a reunion that’s surprising even as we realize its inevitability. This is, after all, a comic about fathers and their children. X-Men #2 is a funny, feisty family outing with multifaceted characters and organic storytelling. Hell, “organic” may be the word to define the Dawn of X line at its best: fresh, alive, essential. If you need convincing, Krakoa gives us an impromptu biology lesson.

You see, kids, when two sentient mutant islands love each other very much….

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