The X-Men have conquered death. They’ve established a sanctuary nation state for all mutants. They have biological kitchen appliances that automatically clean and dry dishes with antibacterial green goo.
This is the brave new world of Dawn Of X, Marvel’s branding for six new titles spotlighting different aspects of mutant life on Krakoa and beyond. The story begins with this week’s X-Men #1, written by Hickman with art by Leinil Francis Yu, inker Gerry Alanguilan, and colorist Sunny Gho. And after months of tearing up the foundations of the mutant world, the biggest surprise of the issue might be how fun it is.
Previously, on X-Men
Jonathan Hickman has created a paradise for Marvel’s mutants with his run on the X-Men comics, beginning in July with the companion miniseries House Of X and Powers Of X (read as “Powers Of Ten”). Working with the all-star team of artists Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva, colorist Marte Gracia, letterer Clayton Cowles, and designer Tom Muller, Hickman has redefined life for mutants over the past three months, telling a centuries-spanning story of an oppressed people doing whatever it takes to avoid inevitable suffering.
For decades, X-Men comics have rehashed the same ideological conflicts with slight variations. Grant Morrison’s run in the early ’00s was revolutionary in how it explored the ways mutant culture diverged from humans, but then Marvel wiped out the mutant population and erased all that progress. Hickman starts his X-Men story by going even further than Morrison, giving mutants their own safe, sacred space to reach their full potential as a people. How does this all happen? Moira X, a revived and retconned Moira MacTaggert, who is now a mutant with the power to resurrect and relive her life from the same birth point.
Moira is on her tenth and (maybe) last life, and in each previous one she’s learned something new about the mutant struggle that gives her the opportunity to make things better in the next. The only strategy left is for all of mutantkind to work together as a united front, and by imparting the knowledge of her past lives on a young Charles Xavier, Moira changes the trajectory of the X-Men and plants the seeds for the future mutant nation on the living island of Krakoa. This nation gains diplomatic power through its main exports: Krakoan flowers that extend human life by five years, cure “diseases of the mind”, and function as the ultimate antibiotic.
All of this alone would make this story a massive change to the X-Men mythos, but Hickman takes an even bigger leap with the “resurrection protocols.” A system of databases fed by Xavier’s Cerebro technology saves regular backups of every mutant’s mind. If they die, they are brought back in a new body created from their genetic material and regrown by the concerted effort of five mutants. With the exception of anyone who can see the future, any previously dead mutants are back on the table, and death as a plot device is off.
While you slept, the world changed
This week, with X-Men #1, we finally got to see how all of those changes would play out in an ongoing series with a focus at the character-level, rather than a macro view Comic Book Event. The lesson so far: It’s pure joy.
[Ed. note: The rest of this piece will contain spoilers for X-Men #1.]
About a quarter of X-Men #1 is spent on building up the menace of the mutants’ human and machine enemies in Project Orchis, last seen building a Sentinal Factory Factory in close orbit around the Sun, but the rest is dedicated to Charles Xavier’s number one pupil and the captain commander of the island’s defensive force: Scott “Cyclops” Summers. The cover for this issue is a poor indicator of the book’s interior contents, and those gruff, grimacing characters spend most of their time in this issue chilling out during the Summers family reunion in their new house on the moon.
The biggest surprise of X-Men #1 is its exuberant sense of fun, channeling a carefree spirit reminiscent of 2006’s Nextwave, Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s wildly inventive and zany series. Nextwave initially played as superhero satire, but it would impact other creators who embraced the ridiculousness of the genre to give their stories a comedic bent. Books like Aleš Kot and Michael Walsh’s Secret Avengers and Jason Aaron’s Wolverine And The X-Men followed in Nextwave’s footsteps, and Hickman’s script for X-Men #1 is infused with playfulness.
“These monsters can have my science when they pry it from my cold dead fingers,” a mad scientist says before injecting himself with a serum that devolves him into a rampaging ape. When he and his simian colleagues attack the X-Men, Cyclops yells, “Be careful, they’re sure to be savvy — all these apes have PhDs!”
The dialogue is where Hickman has the most fun. There are some awkward lines during the issue’s big action sequence — Cyclops and Storm basically become mouthpieces for the ideas posed in the preceding miniseries — but Hickman settles into some delightful banter as he moves forward. He has a tight grip on these characters’ distinct voices, and finds humor in how their personalities interact. Magneto carries himself with the grandiosity of someone who considers himself a god, but Hickman deflates that ego by having Magneto’s daughter, Polaris, say that his behavior is “getting a little embarrassing.” Vulcan has the most Nextwave cartoony voice, with Hickman taking the villainous third Summers brother and using him as comic relief that compares everything to the burning fire that fuels his soul.
Unfortunately, Yu’s artwork is tonally mismatched with Hickman’s script. Yu isn’t an artist who draws joy very much, and he’s often brought in for stories that have a darker, more serious tone. The smiles of his characters never feel as natural as their scowls, and he doesn’t always draw pupils, giving his faces a ghostly quality. It’s a bumpy transition from highly expressive artists like Larraz and Silva to Yu, whose austere characterizations reduce the range of emotions on the page.
Where the art team excels is in the spectacle, particularly in the depictions of Krakoa and Orchis’ space station. Sunny Gho’s rich colors compensate for the coldness in the linework, and he retains Marte Gracia’s palette of purple, pink, orange, and green for the Krakoa scenes, giving them an alien quality that still remains pleasant and inviting.
The data pages in House Of X and Powers Of X played an important part in providing background for both the present-day status quo in Krakoa and the future timelines of Powers Of X, allowing Hickman to devote art pages to more active material. These data pages, designed by Hickman and Muller, will continue to appear, albeit more sparingly if X-Men #1 is any indication. There are only two data pages here, showing two maps of the Summers House, but there’s a potential bombshell hidden in there, suggesting that a polyamorous relationship implied in previous chapters might be a reality. That would be an incredible development, and given Hickman’s eagerness to break from the storytelling traditions that have defined previous X-Men comics, it’s very possible.
The Summers family is one of the most complicated in all of superhero comics, but X-Men #1 dumps all of the past baggage to tell the story of a man who has finally achieved a life of happy stability after endless suffering. Cyclops tells Polaris about the fear he experienced when his son was born, and how he had to stop himself from surrendering when all of those fears came true. But he held on to his belief in Xavier’s dream, and he saw a better world emerge from it. This issue’s flashback prologue shows the first moment when young Scott Summers puts on the ruby quartz glasses that restrain the devastating force of his optic blasts, a literal eye-opening moment that sets up the theme of Cyclops’ evolving worldview under Charles Xavier’s guidance.
While washing dishes with the aforementioned Krakoan goo gun, Cyclops eases the nerves of his space pirate father, Corsair, the sole human in a family of mutants. The elder Summers is concerned about what the mutants are doing, but his son reminds him that this is a response to an entire universe that has gone out of its way to eradicate his people. He no longer cares if others are afraid because mutants are finally prospering. “I’m done focusing on the things that want me dead — and I’m choosing to spend my days focused on the things that make me want to live.”
The issue has warm atmosphere, showing these fantastic characters in relaxed domestic bliss, adding gentle character-driven humor to its ape battles. Vulcan taunts Wolverine by cooking his steak medium rare. Alien cat-woman Hepzibah admires the spikes on Prestige’s costume before getting “another hard drink for another hard girl.” Cable can trade guns with their cyborg houseguest, but only once he finishes setting the table for dinner.
This is what these characters have been fighting for their entire lives, the opportunity to sit at a table and enjoy each others’ company without constant fear of death. Of course, there are malevolent forces doing everything in their power to squash this joy, but by launching Dawn Of X on such an optimistic and personal note, Hickman gets the reader and the characters more invested in the sustained success of this new mutant paradise.
Oliver Sava is an Eisner Award-winning comics journalist from Chicago, IL. He is the head comics writer for The A.V. Club, where his biweekly Big Issues column has run since 2012.