Ever since House of X/Powers of X gave the X-Men a new status quo, the mutants of the Marvel universe have been struggling to build their own nation, with a government and culture to match. This week’s X-Men #7 is all about a new expansion of what’s maybe the most fundamental part of any culture.
It’s also about a mysterious Krakoan ritual called “Crucible” — and it’s totally brutal.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for X-Men #7.]
X-Men #7 ends with Nightcrawler resolving to start his own mutant religion. But to explain how writer Jonathan Hickman and artists Leinil Francis Yu and Sunny Gho got him there, we have to explain Crucible.
Crucible is a ceremony in which mutants who lost their powers on M-Day fight for the right to be made whole by resurrection — specifically by fighting Apocalypse to the death in front of their friends and family.
So, that’s a yikes
In X-Men #7, we watch Melody Guthrie, formerly the X-Man known as Aero, as she faces Apocalypse in Crucible for the right to be resurrected by the Five with her powers intact. And while we watch, Nightcrawler and Cyclops explore why Krakoa’s ruling council thought such a bloody, painful trial was necessary for such an obvious right of autonomy.
First, Nightcrawler explains the practical concerns: Since the Scarlet Witch used her reality warping abilities to strip 90% of the mutant population of their powers in House of M, 986,420 depowered mutants remain. “If one million depowered mutants decided to kill themselves tomorrow so they could be reborn in mutant glory, well...” he says, “that represents a very real and practical problem for the Five.”
As the Five are currently occupied with resurrecting 16.5 million dead mutants one by one — a process we’ll be getting a closer look at in the upcoming X-Factor series — we can’t exactly disagree.
But it wasn’t just an argument for practicality, Nightcrawler says, his words appearing over an ominous panel of former X-Men villain Apocalypse standing in the Crucible arena with a giant sword. Apocalypse’s whole deal as a villain was forcing mutants to strive in order to make the race stronger as a whole, and it may be his rationale that fueled the invention of Crucible.
Nightcrawler brings up the real problem Crucible is designed to address: If depowered mutants can be “repaired” through resurrection, mutants should be able to request “repairs” in other ways. “Why shouldn’t they be able to be the very best versions of themselves — or perhaps even a better version?” Nightcrawler asks.
Cyclops agrees, but says that there are mutants arguing that the “best version” of themself is “being reborn in a copy of Magneto’s body with his powers.”
Nightcrawler has already seen that written into a new mutant will. “But why stop there? Why not combine two? Why not add a third into the mix?” This kind of mutant mixing shades close to the kind of genetic and cybernetic meddling that humans are using to become an existential threat to mutantkind. (And also, Mister Sinister used it to preeeetty disastrous results in one of Moira X’s lives.)
It’s clear that in a time when the Five are so well occupied in reversing decades of mutant genocide, the Crucible was designed to weed out mutants who would selfishly or frivolously use their gift. In order to be worthy of being reborn anew by the Five when they’re not even currently dead, the Crucible allows mutants a ceremonial way to show that they are willing — not to die for it, because mutants don’t die — but to fight and bleed for that rebirth. And for depowered mutants, to fight and bleed to be part of the mutant community.
In the real world, we might do that sort of thing with, you know, a psychological evaluation, but this is comics, and this is the X-Men, who are really living up to that mandate of being “uncanny.”
But we were talking about religion
Kurt Wagner, mutant name “Nightcrawler,” has always been the most famously devout of the X-Men (the Hot Priest, you might say). And it’s clear throughout X-Men #7 that Krakoa is giving him a lot of questions about the nature of faith, the soul, and the purpose of his existence on earth. He reveals to Cyclops that he’s found a beautiful space inside Krakoa’s mysterious forked tower (a repeated visual motif throughout Dawn of X) that feels like “home” to him. It also looks a lot like a place of worship. Kurt wants to seek answers to those questions, both for himself and others.
On the final page of the issue, as Melody Guthrie — reborn as Aero — takes flight for the first time since M-Day, Nightcrawler simply tells Cyclops “I think I need to start a mutant religion.”
Apocalypse must be pretty pleased.