Gerry Alanguilan (inker), Rain Beredo (colorist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sonny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), Leinil Francis Yu (artist & inker)
December 4, 2019
A Krakoan gate is jeopardized, and the X-Men travel to the Savage Land to investigate an unexpected threat. Just the mention of the Savage Land, and a glance at Leinil Francis Yu’s cover of Cyclops and Emma Frost riding a Tyrannosaurus, makes us anticipate a humid, dinosaur-punching jungle adventure. And the X-Men do fight some dinosaurs. Just not the ones you were expecting.
The basic tension in Hickman and Yu’s X-Men #3 is the same one that persists through House of X, Powers of X, and the rest of the Dawn of X line: mutants vs. humans. Some humans, as seen in Marauders #3, are ready to worship their “new gods” (as Magneto so unforgettably put it) while others, such as the Reavers in X-Force #1, resort to assassination to rip out mutant ascendency by its roots. In a way, it’s the ultimate generational conflict, with one group growing to hate its newer, shinier replacements. Enter Hordeculture, a quartet of elderly, radical botanists who hijack one of Krakoa’s gates to seize samples grown by the X-Men’s flower children.
“KRAKOA IS SCREAMING” reads a data page in what sounds like a brash Silver Age exclamation. Hordeculture is hurting Krakoa by forcing its gate open, which in turns causes psychic distress among the living island’s resident telepaths. The Quiet Council meets to send Cyclops on a field mission, but the scene carries with it a whiff of drama that also happens to smell like Emma Frost’s perfume. The White Queen and Marvel Girl verbally circle each other, no longer rivals in this brave new world, but not quite friends yet, either. Their glances are narrowed and their words salted (“That’s so kind of you…but I’m not big on borrowing things. That’s really more of a you kind of thing, isn’t it?”), but then the ice cracks with laughter and promises of getting a drink later. The characters are sadly underserved by Yu’s art, their faces rendered like ambiguous masks whether the dialogue is tense or light. Scenes of human drama have not been the high point of this series, artistically speaking—Yu seems much more confident when the optic beams (or in Hordeculture’s case, the green goo guns) come out.
The women of Hordeculture—Edith, Augusta, Lily, and Opal—appropriately feel like they crawled out of another epoch, wearing Plague Doctor masks and clunky, gear-like armor with a metallic sheen from colorist Sonny Gho that predicts all your Golden Girls jokes. The prehistoric Pamela Isleys are all brilliant scientists whose work was exploited by corporations and unscrupulous male contemporaries; disgusted, they turned their enemies to fertilizer (depicted in gruesome, wonderful detail by Yu) and made plans to return the natural world to “pristine” condition. But this is really just another form of eco fascism, as Hordeculture wants to control the world’s food supply to decide who eats and who starves, who lives and who dies. The significance of an older generation controlling resources and burning it all down rather than give anything to the ones who come after them isn’t lost here. (Hell, even their name sounds swarming, grasping, seizing.) Neither is it a coincidence that the teenage Pixie and Anole are their first victims. OK, Bloomer.
Grim stuff? Possibly, though writer Jonathan Hickman clearly thinks Hordeculture is a hoot. He gets a lot of mileage out of the old girls bickering over social security and ex-husbands while they stand over the frozen bodies of mutants and plunder their garden. If you ever knew that particular strain of hypocritical nice old southern lady like I did, their habit of saying “d-word” and “a-word” (again: they’ve killed people) to sneak profanity into a T-rated comic book may hit a particular nerve. And when most superhero comics would rather throw themselves into a paper shredder than admit a female character is over 29, to have four elderly women in X-Men #3 who aren’t fretting aunts is pretty novel. They know their age and sex mean they’ll be underestimated; when Sebastian Shaw tries to pull his Vampire Chronicles cosplayer schtick during negotiations, smugly calling himself a “carnivore,” the herbivores neutralize him instantly. (I do love Cyclops’ half-hearted defense: “Please step away from the aristocrat.”)
Hordeculture is a good gag, but one that drags on too long. Calling Emma Frost a slut—excuse me, the “s-word,” is a cheap shot that we should be way beyond at this point. It’s also hard not to see the Hand of God—or, at least, the Hand of Authorial Intent, tipping the scales just a bit; like in the controversial House of X #4, the X-Men can be very easy to beat when the story decides it. Shouldn’t Emma at least be able to mentally trap them in a Diagnosis Murder rerun? “Their minds are shielded somehow.” Oh well, so much for that. Not that anyone should have expected Cyclops to coldcock an old woman with an oxygen tube, to be clear—it’s completely fitting that his Boy Scout heart is his undoing, and that he falls for that old “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” chestnut.
This is also the third new threat for the X-Men in as many issues, following the lingering danger of Orchis and the demonic children of Arakko. It’s unclear how all these plot threads will knit together, or if they’re even meant to. What ends up linking these three issues isn’t plot, but character. This is Cyclops’ story, with each subsequent issue scratching away at some of the mysteries at the heart of the most, ah, emotionally non-forthcoming X-Man. If all mutants are now brothers, he has the biggest family of all. Issue #1 showed him with his partners on the battlefield and, if a house layout is to be believed, in the bedroom, and issue #2 sent him on a mission with his children. X-Men #3 is slightly trickier, but the significance of Scott and Emma just happening to arrive together at the Quiet Council meeting, or Emma calling him “dear,” certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by fans of the pairing. This is still a story taking place mostly off the page, but it’s another sign that the X-Men are no longer restricted by the old rules.
And, oh, there’s that generational conflict again. Hickman and Yu’s X-Men #3 takes us to that unlikeliest of green growing places, the Savage Land, and introduces a new wrinkle to the X-Men’s battle with their oldest and most existential enemy. It tells us something about humans and nature. And human nature.