REVIEW: X-Men #5 – The Great Dane

x-men #5

“Fearless” is an apt title for any story arc in the Reign of X era, but for Gerry Duggan’s X-Men, it fits like an elbow-length yellow glove. The X-Men have terraformed Mars, built an island nation for mutantkind, and conquered death itself. Hell, in the last issue, they defeated a demon named Nightmare! Reenergized and ready to save the world, the X-Men have nothing left to fear – right?

X-Men #5

Erick Arciniega (colorist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Gerry Duggan (writer), Tom Muller (design), Javier Pina and Zé Carlos (artists)
Marvel Comics
November 24, 2021

x-men #5 cover

Okay, too bad the title Fear Itself was already taken.

X-Men #5 shifts from an external battle to an internal one, shining a big green spotlight on team member Polaris. The winner of the 2021 X-Men fan vote, the Mistress of Magnetism was a popular if controversial candidate, with many X-Factor readers fearing that she was about to be poached from that fan-favorite book. X-Factor writer Leah Williams later clarified that she had offered Polaris as a candidate before X-Factor’s cancelation rendered the whole topic moot. (I should probably also acknowledge the voting bloc made of fans of The Gifted, a show I’m still not sure ever existed.)

So, the pressure is on for Gerry Duggan to convince fans and skeptics alike: Why Polaris? And why now? Funnily enough, Polaris is asking herself the same questions.

The issue begins in media res, with the Reavers having toppled most of the X-Men with tranquilizer darts that affect their x-genes. As Sunfire falls (nerfed again, damn it), Lorna Dane rises from her daze to behold an awful sight. Her teammates? Down. Her coffee? Spilled. Her mood? Pissed. The title of this comic? “Don’t Piss Off Polaris.”

x-men #5

Her triumph over the Reavers is never in doubt, especially not when she uses her powers to swing the unconscious Wolverine by her claws and the metal darts in her limbs like a murder puppet. But what feels preordained (or is it preor-Dane’d?) to the reader comes more slowly to Lorna, as flashbacks reveal her uncertainty about her place on the team. Duggan revisits the X-Men election at the Hellfire Gala for a third (and, I’m sure, far from final) time to reveal an essential truth about one of the characters. But while Sunfire and Marvel Girl bared their souls to their people with psychic speeches about acts of service and balancing cosmic scales, Polaris gave a curt refusal: “Just not me.” Enter Marvel Girl – Jean, Jean, Jean, who has never been invasive in any of her infinite incarnations – who passes by and telepathically twists her words to “Just pick me.” And…they do!

Polaris has always had the power and potential to be one of the X-Men’s heaviest hitters, even overlooking her status as one of the Silver Age X-Men and Magneto’s daughter. By having Polaris initially reject joining the team, Duggan builds on decades of character development without crushing the reader under boulder-sized paragraphs of exposition. Lorna retired from the team early to pursue an ordinary life, not even getting a codename until roughly fifty issues after her first appearance. Despite having a doctorate in something other than “Sentinel Smashing,” normalcy has eluded Lorna: she has been mind-controlled by aliens, possessed by an evil mutant living inside a locket, stripped of her powers, struggled with mental illness, and survived a genocide.

None of these things define Polaris, and maybe you’re not truly qualified to join the X-Men until you have an identity crisis or two. After all that, who could blame her for not wanting to be an X-Man? But here’s the thing: she’s damn good at it. The best scene in the issue has nothing to do with Reavers or even Dr. Stasis’ adorable atrocities. It’s Dr. Dane in a nuclear power plant – smartly drawn by guest artist Javier Pina in an OSHA-approved hard hat – using her powers to stop a cataclysmic meltdown and, with help from Rogue and the Proudstar, dumping the reactor into the sun. Pina’s Polaris adjusts her shades, looking cool as hell when it’s hot as hell. Whatever melancholy or uncertainty she feels at that moment, she’s a superhero.

Back to the Reavers. There are few things this elderly X2 fan enjoys more than seeing the Magneto family get creative while dispatching their enemies. “I don’t just see the world with my eyes,” Polaris tells the Reavers as she rises above them, a green angel in a glowing halo of energy. “I see it on the electromagnetic spectrum. I see the iron in your blood…and the metal fillings in your teeth.” You can picture what happens next.

As gratifying as this scene is (Lorna even scores new shades!), the real emotional payoff happens in the aftermath, when Lorna and Jean finally talk to each other about what happened at the Hellfire Gala. (Another fantastic detail from Pina is Jean telekinetically tossing a Reaver into a dumpster.) Lorna admits that she is having a hard time and wants to know why Jean lied. Jean says she didn’t lie; Lorna’s first thought was “Just pick me,” but then she doubted herself and, well, you can’t psych yourself out in front of a psychic. I can guess the online response to this scene, but me? I love when the X-Men are messy and complicated and imperfect, and Jean’s actions remind me of the overstepping a sister does, a nudge to push you forward when you are in danger of slinking back. The curse of the Omega telepath is that they probably do know you better than yourself, goddamn it – but there are no lies detected when Jean says Polaris and the X-Men need each other.

Focusing on characterization rather than raw spectacle, Duggan gives X-Men #5 a substantive quality missing from previous issues. The downside of these laser-focused spotlights (Marvel Girl’s last issue, Polaris’ here) is that X-Men still hasn’t coalesced into a solid team. And as Lorna’s letter to former X-Factor teammate Northstar reminds us, there is no guarantee how long this lineup will even last before the next X-Men election. Five issues in, X-Men is a title I would call consistently good, with bright neon flashes of greatness. Even as I push for more, I know this X-Men volume has the potential to become a classic run. Like Lorna in the Proudstar, I want this book to keep aiming for the sun – then I’ll know if it is truly “Fearless.”

Kayleigh Hearn

Kayleigh Hearn

Still waiting for her Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters acceptance letter. Bylines also at Deadshirt, Ms-En-Scene, The MNT, PanelxPanel, and Talk Film Society.

One thought on “REVIEW: X-Men #5 – The Great Dane

  1. Deeply amused by the realization that they can never implement the telepathic voting system for anything important because both the Omega telepaths are ready, willing and able to meddle in it, Jean to support her friends rather they like it or not and damn anyone else who might get a position without nepotism intervening, and Quire because he’s CIA.

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