The X-Men are no more. The X-Men are forever!
Mahmud Asrar (artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sunny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design)
November 25, 2020
X-Men #15 is a study of two marriages. Once considered anathema to superhero comics (being frequently misunderstood as the end of a story instead of a new chapter), marriage as a concept has been laced throughout X of Swords. The event has featured Cypher’s surprise marriage to Bei the Blood Moon (cue me singing “Two of Cups” to the tune of “Two of Hearts”), as well as Captain Avalon’s refusal to break his marriage vows for Saturnyne, even if that would end the tournament. And then there’s Genesis and Apocalypse, whose separation thousands of years ago has proven to be a more cataclysmic split than the Twilight Sword dividing Krakoa and Arakko. Placing X of Swords next to Empyre, which gave Wiccan and Hulkling not one but two weddings, this might be the year of the Marvel superhero marriage event.
Creators Jonathan Hickman and Mahmud Asrar begin X-Men #15 with another couple: Cyclops and Marvel Girl. In a past review, I likened Scott and Jean to the “Adam and Eve” (Atom and Eve?) of the X-Men—the first and most enduring couple of the entire mythos. The opening scene emphasizes this point in its depiction of a husband and wife in paradise, with a waterfall and surrounding foliage vividly and serenely colored by Sunny Gho.
Cyclops has never taken the promise of Krakoa for granted; as he admits, “I never thought we’d have this place, Jean.” Krakoa is where his family was made whole, and even expanded. It means something when Cyclops and Marvel Girl are willing to leave Eden and waltz into hell—they have something to fight for now, not just a dream, but a real home. And god help anyone who tries to stop them from bringing their son home.
In other words, god help the Quiet Council. Marvel Girl and Cyclops make their case in front of the Krakoan government—the X-Men are losing and an army of demons is coming, so let’s smash our way into Otherworld and get our people back–but bureaucratic red tape is harder to cut through than an Amenthi demon. Though Xavier and Magneto are sympathetic, they cannot give their official approval, and the Council votes that if Marvel Girl and Cyclops leave, Jean will forfeit her seat on the Council and the gates will be closed behind them to stop any enemy invasion. No one is exactly wrong here (except for Sebastian Shaw, who remains a colossal piece of shit), as Xavier and Magneto know the existential importance of Krakoa for mutantkind, but Cyclops remains sharp and focused, and he aims his words like optic blasts.
“You formed the Quiet Council to be the government of Krakoa. Well…the X-Men are its heroes. And we will save those who need saving. Whatever the cost.”
This is, as they say, king shit. X-Men #15 is a return to form after the misfire that was the previous issue, intense and moving and definitive. I don’t use that last word lightly, but when Hickman’s scripts are at their best, it feels pretty damn correct. Leading up to X of Swords, most of Hickman’s X-Men run focused on the enormous task of building a nation (and defending it from an alien invasion or two) rather than traditional comic book heroics. As Tom Muller’s data pages reveal, the X-Men have been officially dissolved to protect the Quiet Council’s singular authority, so the reminder here is vital—this is who the X-Men are, and this is what they do.
Mahmud Asrar is a fantastic artistic partner here, turning a scene that could have been a log jam of exposition (nine-panel grids of people talking about councils and plans and gates, oh my!) into the bedrock of the issue. Visually, the characterization is strong, urgent, and even funny—just look at Kate’s perfect scowl and she curses and shakes her fist in disappointment. And Cyclops, who wouldn’t be an emotive character on his best day even if we could see his eyes, is strikingly readable as we see the faces of the Council staring back at him in the metallic sheen of his visor. I’d never realized this before, but with half his face now obscured by the Cerebro helmet, the resemblance between Xavier and Cyclops is uncanny. Reflecting the other’s gaze, they’ve never looked more like father and son.
If Cyclops is the mind of the X-Men—driven, logical, forward-thinking–then Marvel Girl is the team’s brave, empathetic heart. At their best, these strengths complement each other; Jean’s compassionate nature unlocks Scott’s powerful emotions, and Scott’s grounded steadfastness is Jean’s connection to humanity when her passions are at their most cosmic. Scott and Jean have not been this good together in an X-book in a long time. (And though it’s brief, I enjoyed Cyclops’ moment with Emma, which highlights the key difference between the two loves of his life via good characterization instead of bitchily pitting the women against each other.) When they reach for each other’s hand before walking away from the council, making the right choice even when it means personal sacrifice, I’m reminded of their last stand in The Dark Phoenix Saga—not because of any intentional homage, but because it captures that same exhilarating feeling of seeing two heroes in love fighting insurmountable odds.I said X-Men #15 was a study of two marriages, which brings us to the second set of spouses in the issue, Genesis and Apocalypse. Worlds apart from Scott and Jean, Genesis and Apocalypse are a union at its most fractured and violent; there’s rot at the base of this family tree. Apocalypse playing the role of the romantic hero has been one of the more welcome surprises of X of Swords, and it’s to the credit of the creative team that in less than two dozen issues, his relationship (tortured as it is) with Genesis is so believable. Asrar skillfully and kinetically draws the battle between husband and wife for the fate of Krakoa. We feel every crash and clang, as well as the emotional weight of thousands of years of war and separation on the lovers’ shoulders. Apocalypse’s words are pulp poetry: “I will not yield. Not to fear. Not to doubt. And not to love.”
It’s an admirable sentiment in the face of Annihilation. It’s a shame that Otherworld brings new meaning to “till death do us part.”