If streaks of alien laser-fire ever obliterate my review of X-Men #9, leaving one word intact, let it be this: CHOMP!
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sunny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), Leinil Francis Yu (artist)
March 25, 2020
When reading a comic book, never underestimate the power of a well-placed sound effect. Consider this scene from creators Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu, and Clayton Cowles. Alien powerhouse Gladiator surges at the weapon-wielding Kree Accuser; we don’t see the punch, but we see the hull-shattering impact, as the Accuser is reduced to a streaking comet in outer space. His body slams uselessly against the newly-arrived X-Men’s ship. He then drifts into an Acanti whale’s gaping maw, black as oblivion. Space is merciless and silent. And then the Acanti’s jaw snaps shut. CHOMP! No rimshot could have landed better.
X-Men #9 is a swift, invigorating ride, its tone immediately set by Yu’s winning cover, which advertises the Mutant-Alien-Space Pirate Movie of your dreams. Gesturing at the famous movie poster art of Drew Struzan, our gathered heroes are all cocky smiles and pumped fists – the only characters missing are Marty McFly and Burt Reynolds, but at least Corsair has the mustache. As for our villains, the Brood have always owed a debt to the Xenomorphs from Alien, but this isn’t that kind of alien adventure; in space, no one can hear you scream, but we can hear the Queen soundtrack.
We begin this issue with the genesis of the King Egg 8,000 years ago. When the Kree first discovered the Brood, “spawning in the dark matter flow of a collapsed universe,” they bio-engineered the King Egg to add a “patriarchal element” to the matriarchal species. This essentially weaponized the Brood, with the intended effect of pointing trillions of drones like nasty, scuttling little arrows at the Kree Empire’s target, the Shi’ar. Now, thousands of years later, the King Egg’s purpose is about to be realized, and the X-Men and the Brood are on a collision course with destiny.
With this comic, Hickman and Yu have created the kind of escapade that gets descriptors like “rip-roaring” bolted to it. It’s rogues ‘n ray guns sci-fi, sharply and knowingly conceived, with the finishing moves delivered in a showdown in an alien graveyard. You can practically smell the hot splashes of green Brood blood. The X-Men franchise has, at different points, been a soap opera and a space opera, with all the pulpy grandiosity that implies, and it’s great to see those elements embraced here. Yu carries a strong artistic load on his shoulders; one splash page, featuring the Imperial Guard and the Starjammers fighting off the endless Brood hordes, with the four mutant members of the Summers clan – Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Havok, and Vulcan – a united knot of power in the center of the page, is particularly striking.
Family is key. That revelation struck me while re-reading this issue; if anything defines Jonathan Hickman’s current X-Men run, which manages to be simultaneously self-contained and sprawling, so far it seems to be family. There’s Cyclops and his family, of course, which has been made whole for the first time on Krakoa and has another awkward reunion in space. Consider Mystique’s longing for her late wife as well, and the found family that is all of mutantkind, gathering together and repairing the bonds broken by Scarlet Witch in the Crucible. (“Brotherhood of Mutants” has a different connotation now, doesn’t it?)
On the lighter side, X-Men #9 also features Gladiator and Kid Gladiator, whose family outing was oh so rudely interrupted by imperial bullshit. And that brings us back to the Accuser being punched right into a space whale’s mouth. Kid Gladiator says, “Well, I’ll forgive you if you #$*@ this guy up for me” and Gladiator, like any divorced dad trying to impress his kid at Disneyland, complies. Just call him Dadiator.
And what’s a synonym for family? Brood. “Family” seems like too warm a word for parasitic monsters, but lineage – one generation of a species spawning another, and another, for thousands of years – is significant here too, as the Kree’s biological interference with the Brood has driven them to madness. Marvel Girl channels the Brood Queens’ frenzy, and her explanation will sound familiar to any longtime X-Men reader. “Imagine living your entire life as a predator—hunting whatever you felt needed to be hunted…Now imagine something unexpected—unforeseen—that could take it all away from you…How badly would you want that threat to die?” This “alien” mindset belongs to some of the biggest enemies the X-Men have ever fought and is all too human.
X-Men #9 is an exciting blaze of a story, but burbling underneath the action and humor is an intriguing undercurrent about family, change, and power. What do we owe the generations that come after us? The Brood Queens’ quest for the King Egg is driven by their need to hold onto their power at any cost; meanwhile, the humans in Orchis and Hordeculture see the rise of mutantkind as a threat to their supremacy that must be eliminated. One is a natural evolution and the other assuredly is not, but change is inevitable. Just as the Brood are conquered by a mutant, one hopes the worst of humanity will be defeated by the children of the atom they mean to destroy.
At least Cyclops wants to take his kids on vacation to Chandilar.