For once, I have very little to say about a new issue of X-Men. That’s because X-Men #14 isn’t really a new issue of X-Men. Not entirely.
Mahmud Asrar (artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sunny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design)
November 4, 2020
It begins beautifully. Picking up immediately after X of Swords: Stasis #1, we find Apocalypse in the Starlight Citadel’s garden, newly reunited with his wife Genesis. Unfortunately, this meeting brings devastation instead of renewal: Genesis now wears the helm of Annihilation and seeks to destroy Krakoa.
As drawn by Mahmud Asrar and colored by Gho, this prologue is moody, striking, and even, it must be said, a little bit romantic. In a handful of pages, Asrar delivers evocative imagery: Apocalypse standing alone under a tree; the lovers putting down their swords—for now—to walk hand-in-hand in the twilit garden.
What happened to Genesis in Arakko? What made her pick up the weapon of the enemy and brought her here, now, to point it at her husband? Genesis tells her side of the story, and…the comic recycles fifteen pages directly from X-Men #12, drawn by Leinil Francis Yu with (mostly) new narration by writer Jonathan Hickman.
When it was announced that the X of Swords event was expanding to twenty-two issues, there was a conversation in the X-Men fandom about whether this was a tone-deaf, even arrogant move on Marvel’s part considering, you know, the pandemic and economic collapse and whatnot. (Of course, no one is forcing anybody to buy all twenty-two issues, but when have superhero comics ever discouraged the “Gotta Collect Them All!” mindset?) I’ve enjoyed the expanded scale of X of Swords so far, but expecting readers to buy a comic reprinting fifteen pages from an issue that came out seven weeks ago? If anything validates detractors’ claims that this event is bloated and pretentious, it would be this.
As an artistic gamble, X-Men #14 fails. But it didn’t have to! Consider a comic like The Wicked + The Divine #14, where creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie “remixed” panels from previous issues to tell a new story. That was an audacious little trick of a comic, an example of how much fun you can have playing with the medium. Compared to that, this issue is staid, static. Nothing about Yu’s art (which was perfectly enjoyable the first time around) has changed; even a handful of new panels told from Genesis’s point of view could have made an enormous difference.
Given that the version of events told to Apocalypse in issue #12 came from Summoner, an extremely unreliable narrator, there was an opportunity here for Genesis to surprise us and make us excited to re-read these scenes and dig out new nuances and contexts. But the lie and the truth are virtually the same, and not in a way that feels necessary or meaningful. There are a few interesting new wrinkles: the existence of Arakkii “vile schools” that are a perverted reflection of the institution the X-Men were built in; the heartrending pain Genesis feels when she meets her traitorous sister Isca the Unbeaten, summed up in the words, “She begged, I broke.”
In the end, at least, we return to Genesis and Apocalypse in the garden. (No symbolism there!) As I mentioned in the roundtable for X of Swords: Stasis #1, there’s an old tradition of X-Men fighting their loved ones who have been transformed or possessed by evil. Hell, Apocalypse has been responsible for some of those transformations himself. But there’s a fascinating dynamic between Genesis and Apocalypse, now that the events of X of Swords have reversed their expected roles. Apocalypse is now the man of peace, who wants to talk instead of fight, who made Krakoa with “soft hands…raised on a soft earth.” And Genesis, the symbolic “mother” of her people with the mutant power to grow and create, is now the face of Annihilation. This is good, rich stuff to build an event on, and I wish it could have dominated the whole issue.
Instead, this is a re-run instead of a remix.