In Krakoa, no one can hear you scream!
Mahmud Asrar (artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sunny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design)
March 11, 2020
X-Men #8 by Jonathan Hickman and Mahmud Asrar is a WHIZZ BANG BOOM of an issue, loud and action-packed, hitting us with the THOOM of a space whale crashing to Earth or the ZZAA-ZARRKK of one of the Brood exploding via laser fire. After the philosophical, almost holy brutality of X-Men #7, this issue is a sharp exhalation of breath: sometimes, you just want to kill some alien scum.
The issue begins with the energy of a crossover – not an overstuffed turkey of an event, but one of those organic mergers of the classic Claremont years, where the New Mutants might stumble into the main X-Men book, dragging trouble behind them. Trouble, in this case, being the King Egg (as in, “Beware the King Egg!”) introduced in New Mutants #1. Wolfsbane’s “pirate booty” is, in fact, the egg of a future Brood king, every Brood drone in the galaxy wants to get their nasty little pincers on it, and Krakoa is ground zero for an alien invasion. WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?
We’ve reached a turning point in Hickman’s X-Men; the previous seven books have all been tightly-focused, standalone stories, and X-Men #8 blows that wide open for our first multi-part saga. And “saga” is the word, since the climax sees Cyclops, Marvel Girl, and other members of the ever-expanding Summers clan blasting off into space, and space is where the best X-Men sagas (as in “Phoenix,” “Dark Phoenix,” or “Brood”) happen. Even if this arc isn’t setting out to match those stories in their epic scope, it’s enough just to be a damn good space adventure. And considering that the series so far has developed new villains (Orchis, Hordeculture) or explored former villains integrating into Krakoan society (Mystique, Apocalypse), seeing familiar foes like the Brood again is like having brunch with old friends. Old friends who are immediately cleaved in half by Magik’s soulsword, that is.
Guest artist Mahmud Asrar provides spectacular visuals for an issue that is by turns funny, electric, violent, and haunting. As a big fan of Asrar’s work on the dearly-departed X-Men: Red, I loved seeing his Jean Grey again, even in only a handful of panels. This is an interesting example of how certain character designs, like Marvel Girl’s much-ballyhooed Silver Age costume, look and feel different depending on the artist drawing them. Asrar gives Marvel Girl’s pointed yellow mask a dynamic, almost alien shape similar to the Brood’s own pronged heads; not that I think anyone needs to develop any off-the-wall fan theories here, but it’s a nice bit of visual symmetry.
The action is slick and bold, and my eyes turn into giant cartoon stars whenever I see mutants use their powers in a creatively exciting way, like Cyclops sending his optic blasts through Magik’s teleportation disks to raze a swarm of Brood drones. Asrar also deftly handles the issue’s tonal shifts, like Broo’s sputtering shock at seeing the King Egg just chilling on Wolfsbane’s shelf like a Funko Pop (“Listen here, you insane, befurred woman! That’s a King Egg!”) immediately leading to the disturbing image of thousands of Brood drones scuttling out of a dead Acanti’s mouth and eyes. This issue is a striking reminder of why Mahmud Asrar is one of my favorite X-Men artists in recent years.
One of the more interesting aspects of following Hickman’s X-Men is that you never know which thread in the giant tapestry he’ll pull on next. The New Mutants make a great appearance here, not just tying the plot back to their space adventures in the first arc of the new, ah, New Mutants run, but reminding us that it was an adventure with the Brood that sparked the very first meeting between the X-Men and the New Mutants all the way back in Uncanny X-Men #167. Thankfully, this issue is more than a reunion of the Class of ’83, as characters from Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men (Oya, Kid Gladiator, and Broo, the mutant Broodling with a taste for knowledge instead of blood) make valuable showings as well. Hickman makes time for charming little character moments amid the chaos – Scott and Jean being so in sync that they say the exact same thing is a light and observant touch.
Ah, but speaking of Scott and his family…we have to talk about Vulcan. Thinking about Gabriel Summers is, I must admit, like thinking about television static or the taste of a wooden Popsicle stick. This distaste fully comes from my feelings toward Deadly Genesis, the miniseries that introduced him. Deadly Genesis was an especially tiring example of the “Everything you thought you knew was WRONG!” retcon, uprooting the bed of roses that was Giant-Size X-Men #1 to show all the dirt and worms underneath. It was an unnecessary story and Vulcan was an unnecessary character, but here’s my point: I’m curious about Vulcan now.
One of the best moments in X-Men #1 was the throwaway gag that Vulcan – last seen as a patricidal, galaxy-conquering despot – was now the weird loser brother of the Summers family, bringing hookups to the Moon Flower Space House and burning Wolverine’s steaks. Imagine my delighted surprise seeing his return here, passed out on Scott’s couch, and finding out that it was an actual plot point waiting to be explored! Tom Muller’s data pages are essential here, delivering a revelation of intriguing possibilities. (Though one ongoing fan theory, I’m afraid, has one less bullet in its bandolier.) Such are the small joys of the Dawn of X, that even my least favorite moments of X-Men history can spawn something interesting and new.
X-Men #8 is an exciting start to a new space adventure, rich in character and feeling, as well as action. As Cyclops, Vulcan, Marvel Girl, and Broo blast off for one more battle with the Brood, let me end this review with just one more movie quote: It’s a bug hunt!