X-Men #5: Lip Synch For Your Life

“It’s done.”

Those are the first words of House of X #3, spoken by Cyclops after he’s assembled a team of X-Men for a critically important mission. X-Men #5 opens with a scene that doesn’t echo this moment but challenges it, showing the normally self-assured leader stricken by doubt. “What have I done?” Cyclops wants to know. “What the hell was I thinking?”

X-Men #5

VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), R.B. Silva (artist)
Marvel Comics
January 29, 2020

X-Men #5 cover of Storm and Armor flying to battle

The devastating thing is, Cyclops did what he’s always done. Faced with the re-emerging threat of the Children of the Vault, Cyclops devises a plan to take the fight into the Vault itself. His team: Darwin, Synch, and Wolverine (Laura Kinney, again and forever), whose combined adaptive and regenerative powers make them the only X-Men who can survive the experience. Cyclops is a Captain of Krakoa, a field leader, and a brilliant tactician, but not even the best-laid plans can prepare the team for what’s inside the Vault. It’s too late, the deed is done. What the hell was Cyclops thinking?

X-Men #5 reunites writer Jonathan Hickman with his Powers of X artistic team of R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia, and the issue is a spike of adrenaline. The plot threads from the previous four issues are finally knitting together as we catch up with Serafina, last seen in issue #1 when the X-Men freed the chronologically-displaced posthuman from an Orchis lab. Originally unveiled in Mike Carey and Chris Bachalo’s 2006 X-Men run, the Children of the Vault were positioned as a radical new threat to the X-Men but soon fell into obscurity. As a technologically-manufactured evolutionary branch, separate from humans and mutants, the Children are prototypes for the homo novissima who nearly destroyed the world in one of the futures glimpsed in House of X/Powers of X.

The real pleasure is seeing the X-Men chosen for this particular mission. In this new, post-Resurrection Protocols world, nearly every mutant who’s ever appeared in an X-Men comic is suddenly playable again, and the character combinations have endless mix-and-match potential. (Damn, now I want a Krakoa LEGO set.) An X-Men team consisting of their most unkillable mutants? That’s a head-smackingly smart idea. Darwin on Krakoa again is immediately intriguing considering their history in Deadly Genesis, though that may be a reckoning for another time. If there was anything in this issue that made all of X-Twitter hoot and holler and fire their six-shooters in the air like cartoon Texans, it was the sight of Laura Kinney in a familiar pointy mask speaking the truth: “Actually, I’m Wolverine.” After her regressive characterization in the stillborn Fallen Angels, it feels like the real Laura is on Krakoa at last.

Page from X-Men #5, Cyclops explains the Vault to Synch, Darwin, and Wolverine

X-Men #5 re-introduces us to Synch, in his first major, non-zombified appearance since he was killed off in Generation X #70 way back in, woof, 2000. (I know, my bones just turned to dust too.) If you’re just-now meeting Synch, Hickman and Silva make a good impression: he’s charming, has fun banter with Darwin, and he’s up for an adventure. Synch’s big freeze-frame moment, complete with a “suit up” pose, a winning smirk (wonderfully drawn by Silva), and the line “Let’s go be heroes,” immediately cuts to a medical report by Cecilia Reyes that reveals the trauma hiding behind his brave face. He’s experiencing resurrection-induced culture shock, having woken up in a strange new world that’s moved on without him.

In that way, Synch is not so different from the Children of the Vault. Serafina and her ilk were, in effect, raised in a snow globe made of super-time, where hundreds of years can pass in a few days; released prematurely, they found themselves in a world far different than the one promised to them. It’s fitting that the Vault has its own key to immortality, as Serafina unlocks protocols that restore her fallen teammates Perro, Sangre, and Fuego. They’re not resurrected, but rebooted. This is in keeping with Hickman’s thesis that technology—cold, merciless, inorganic technology—is the biggest threat to mutantkind and their natural place in the world. What horrors will Wolverine, Synch, and Darwin find inside the Vault? The cryogenically-frozen head of Walt Disney? (Oh wait, that’s a different Disney Vault.) House of X and Powers of X ended with mutants stronger than ever and essentially immortal, so it’s a testament to the writer that in five issues he’s established multiple villains who are credible existential threats to the X-Men.

And it’s that connection to Powers of X that makes X-Men #5 so strong, because R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia do fantastic work here. From our first glimpse at Wolverine (Logan, the original flavor), a stocky, ferocious tank in pursuit of his quarry, it’s clear that this is going to be a comic book pounding with forward momentum. Silva is the kind of X-Men artist where you feel Wolverine’s punches and Storm’s lightning strikes. It’s an issue full of striking imagery, from an abandoned Sentinel crumpled over the Vault like a broken doll, to Logan’s “You tell ‘em, kiddo” smirk. He renders the inside of the Vault as a technological maelstrom somewhere between Tron and 2001: A Space Odyssey, a visual completed by Gracia’s psychedelic blues, purples, and greens. Looking at previous issues, Leinil Francis Yu’s work has its strengths—I enjoyed how he depicted the talking heads in Davos in #4—but it’s also frequently felt inert and lifeless. Between Silva’s work in X-Men #5 and the announcement of X-Men: Red’s Mahmud Asrar taking over X-Men #8, I find myself unfortunately more excited for guest artists than the regular one.

It’s difficult to give a final verdict on X-Men #5, however, because its cliffhanger ending makes it seem like the first part of a two-part story, and as future issues are promising Mystique, Nightcrawler, and the Brood, it’s unclear when the Vault will open again, or when Cyclops will get an answer to his question. Still, it’s exciting to see the creative team of Hickman and Silva unearth these underutilized characters and expose them to the bright light of the Dawn of X. X-Men is playing the deep cuts, as well as the hits.

Kayleigh Hearn

Kayleigh Hearn

Still waiting for her Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters acceptance letter. Bylines also at Deadshirt, Ms-En-Scene, The MNT, PanelxPanel, and Talk Film Society.