The Hellfire Gala is finally here! The stage is set for mutants to take their place as the foremost influences and visionaries on Earth as they show just how far they’ve come in front of the world’s rich and powerful. And also Jimmy Kimmell is here for some reason. Marauders #21 is the official start of the crossover event, unsurprising given the series focus on the Hellfire Trading Company and its staff, and after years of teasing, hints, and reveals I am here to tell you: it’s kind of disappointing!
Russell Dauterman (cover artist), Edgar Delgado (colorist), Gerry Duggan (writer), Matteo Lolli (artist), Cory Petit (letterer), Matthew Wilson (cover colorist)
June 2nd, 2021
I don’t think the issue as a whole is terrible, to be clear. It’s not a very substantive issue, largely set-dressing for the rest of the event and playing around with the rest of the Marvel Universe crossing paths with Krakoa on their own turf. The celebrity cameos are largely harmless, with Matteo Lolli doing an impressive job of rendering likenesses without being too distracting. It’s cute, it’s fun, it’s full of enough charming moments like Ben Grimm stepping away to play dice with the Marauders to work as an entertaining comic book tale. Where it fails to meet expectations, however, is in doing something NEW with the mutants.
Marauders is just one part of the event but as the debut issue, it has a lot of expectations riding on it. The Gala has been promised to be a game-changer for mutantkind, something that pushes them into a bold new future. While that may come later, most likely in Planet-Size X-Men which is also written by Gerry Duggan, this debut does little to shake things up. Krakoa is still treated like The Weird New Nation, the various heroes of the Marvel Universe still think the X-Men are playing with fire, and it’s all just a little flat. The biggest problem, however, is tucked away in a little off-hand line from Emma Frost.
Nine months ago, as of this writing, Kate Pryde kissed a girl. It was one of the most significant moments of the Krakoa era in terms of actually changing things for major characters, and paid off on 40 years of queer subtext and fan pleading for the X-Mainstay. Or so we thought. Since that kiss in Marauders #12, we have had zero follow-ups. No mention of Kate’s new sexuality. No romantic partners. Not even a brief moment of her telling Emma, who has become her closest confidant over the series. Complete silence. That silence extends to Marvel itself, who very notably did not include Kate on any of its Pride Month covers or stories, with Iceman taking the spot on Marauders‘ own Pride variant cover by Phil Jiminez. Now, nine months and nine issues later, we finally get our update. And I truly wish we hadn’t.
While discussing fantasizing about Captain America, Emma briefly mentions that she and Kate are “too busy for relationships.” This is horseshit. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with someone deciding they’re too busy to properly maintain a relationship. It’s a responsible, reasonable choice. There IS a problem, however, when a fictional character who is extremely important to many queer women, myself included, has her identity as a bi woman dangled in front of readers like a carrot only to be yanked away for the better part of an entire year and dismissed as something she doesn’t have time for. It’s insulting, it’s infuriating and it essentially poisoned this entire issue for me. Even if we have Kate making out with Illyana or Rachel by the end of this event, that still won’t erase the fact that Gerry Duggan, a straight cis man, decided that toying with significant queer representation like it was a plot point to drag out was a good idea.
While that may seem like an ultimately small bone to pick with the issue, it’s a single line, after all, it is just emblematic of my increasing problem with this era of X-Books. We were promised change with Krakoa. A new era of hope, optimism, and, most importantly, expression and representation. Now that we are two years in, however, it’s clear that the dream is as hollow as Xavier’s own. We’ve gotten big sweeping status quo changes for mutantkind and earth-shaking event crossovers, but we’re still surviving on scraps of queer representation. The fact that there are still no significant trans or non-binary mutants alone is a damning thing, even without the other myriad missteps. The X-Men are inseparable from their identities as a metaphor for marginalized people and the handful of brief moments we’ve gotten on Krakoa are nowhere near enough.
Marauders #21 doesn’t fail as a story, it succeeds at what it is clearly trying to do and is largely charming. It fails as an idea. I do not doubt that the Hellfire Gala will be full of huge changes for mutantkind, I just doubt any of them will be the kind that we actually need.