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X-Force #1 is a violent test of the X-Men’s new status quo

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What is the meaning of death on Krakoa?

In House of X/Powers of X, the X-Men recreated mutant society, redefining the X-Men setting for readers. Krakoa is a sovereign nation. Humans can’t enter it. Professor X brokered peace with the world. Mutants don’t die.

This week’s X-Force #1 tests all of those rules.

[Ed. note: This piece contains big spoilers for X-Force #1.]

Wolverine tells Beast that Krakoa makes everyone feel safe. “And when you’re safe, you’re soft,” in X-Force #1, Marvel Comics (2019). Benjamin Percy, Joshua Cassara/Marvel Comics

In writer Benjamin Percy and artist Joshua Cassara’s X-Force #1, a commando force of four heavily armed human soldiers eludes Krakoa’s defenses by disguising themselves with Domino’s DNA. After hijacking a passenger jet, they parachute onto Krakoa and seemingly kill Professor X. The issue’s final pages show the X-Men reacting in horror and rage, while its final image is of the Professor’s inert hand and his Cerebro helmet, which has been shattered by a bullet.

There’s a lot of things that this could potentially foreshadow. As it says in one of the comic’s data pages, “Any openly hostile behavior toward mutantkind will be subject to an immediate tactical response.” But we know at least one thing.

Professor X isn’t dead.

Mutants don’t die

This isn’t just a fact of the new Krakoan state, it’s a deliberate editorial choice. House of X/Powers of X writer Jonathan Hickman spoke at length last week, on SKTCHD’s Off Panel podcast, about the creative collaboration between the Dawn of X writers room and himself. (On the title page of X-Force #1, he’s credited as “Head of X.”)

Hickman felt that X-Men comics had become repetitive, dark, and defined by death. “Whenever you come onto an X-Men book and you make a list of characters you want to use — half of them are dead, half of them don’t have powers, half of them just came back from being dead and somebody’s pitching that they’re going to kill them again,” he told host David Harper.

And furthermore, he noted, the use of death as an emotional jolt for the reader no longer worked. There’d just been too much of it. He wanted to make a deliberate storytelling choice to make additive, positive books.

Black Tom expresses concerns about Krakoa’s security, while Professor X reassures him that all mutants can be trusted, as human commandos parachute onto the island, in X-Force #1, Marvel Comics (2019). Benjamin Percy, Joshua Cassara/Marvel Comics

“I’ve said this in the writers’ room; [stuff] like ‘You need to stop telling those stories about killing characters,’” he told Harper. “‘I understand that sometimes narratively you want to do something dramatic. But let me tell you, as a storytelling mechanism, walking in the room and kicking all the toys over — it’s not a good look anymore.’”

Creating an infinite system of resurrection for mutants was the easiest way to put any dead or depowered mutant that the X-book writers could possibly want back on the table. But it was also, he said, a challenge.

“We made it so that if you told a story where [someone] died, it’s a plot device and not an emotional hammering of the reader,” he said. “You can’t play it as, ‘Oh my God, this is awful and terrible.’ You have to be more creative than that. I’ve challenged all of the X-writers to — if you have a story where a character has to die, that’s fine, but what’s the other story? What’s the more interesting story?”

So... what happens next?

On the surface, X-Force #1 feels like the antithesis of this editorial mandate: a violent story of mutants failing to uphold Krakoa’s primary purpose of providing sanctuary that ends in the shocking death of a major character. But being the darker X-Men book is well within the tradition of the X-Force title. As the book’s own official summary puts it, “X-Force is the CIA of the mutant world. [...] In a perfect world, there would be no need for an X-Force. We’re not there…yet.”

And given what we know about Hickman’s mandate, we’re probably not in for the usual aftermath. If Professor X and the other slain mutants can be resurrected, there’s no need to mourn. We’re here to observe the reaction, as the X-Men reassess Krakoa’s security, and bring that “immediate tactical response” to those who have exhibited “openly hostile behavior.”