This week, Kieron Gillen and Valerio Schiti's A.X.E. event begins, pitting the Avengers, the X-Men, and the Eternals against each other. "The X-Men claim they're the planets' new gods. The Eternals know that position is already filled," which sounds like a pretty good tagline for an event.
Honestly, I thought I'd get out of X-Men comics after Hickman left but Gillen has been doing some really intriguing work over in Immortal X-Men and Gerry Duggan's X-Men has been slow and steady but has really built up the mystery in the last couple of issues. I kind of want to quit the X-Men but Gillen and Duggan are making that difficult. (I'd also include Al Ewing's work on X-Men: Red as the third strong voice on the X books right now but he didn't have anything out last week.)
Last week, Marvel Comics released three comics leading up to this event, X-Men: Hellfire Gala, Immortal X-Men #4, and A.X.E.: Eve of Judgment. Let's take a quick look at these issues and catch up with the party and the afterparty.
Welcome to the Party (X-Men: Hellfire Gala)
During the recent era of Marvel’s mutant titles, the mutants have faced adversity from outside of Krakoa. However, they have largely still remained their own worst enemies during the Hickman-driven portion of X-Men stories. With X-Men: Hellfire Gala, Gerry Duggan resets that status quo to once again be the mutants versus the world. Emma Frost’s party to celebrate the medical “gifts” that the mutants have shared with allied countries becomes a defensive stand against the revelation of mutant resurrection as allies like The Avengers and the Fantastic Four view the X-Men once again as a possible threat while enemies like Orchis take it as proof towards what they’ve always believed.
Duggan and artists Kris Anka, Russell Dauterman, Matteo Lollie & CF Villa condense last year’s mini-event down to a workable issue, cutting out the fluff to show the Gala as the stage for the world to question the mutant’s motives. Emma Frost takes point in this defense of the mutant nation, with most of Krakoa’s “government” watching from the shadows. The White Queen becomes the face of the mutants as Duggan pulls together a number of threads that have run through X-books the past year, including events from his own X-Men title as well as Moira’s return in The X Deaths of Wolverine and even the manipulations happening in the background of The Immortal X-Men. Duggan sets the tone of the party and the artists provide the atmosphere for it, showing beautiful people being outwardly beautiful, trying their best to hide their own damaged selves from the rest of the world. Duggan has been portraying a heroic idealism in X-Men but here he begins to let show the cracks in that strong facade.
Remember Hickman’s first issue of X-Men, when he tried to sneak in hints that Scott and Jean had an open marriage with Wolverine and we all thought how scandalously great that was? This issue reminds us of the other threesome at play here; Cyclops, Jean, and Emma. These three have always had this fluid relationship going back to Grant Morrison but Duggan turns the love/rivalry of these X-Men into a fortified front, establishing them as the movers and shakers of Krakoa. There may be the Quiet Council at work in the background but it’s going to be these three who really get things done as this Gala is sure to give way to the next big challenge set to face the mutants.
The Afterparty Kicks into Gear (Immortal X-Men #4)
Secrets shared in private at the Hellfire Gala need to be dealt with in the harsh light of the day. The last two issues of Immortal X-Men focus on the wildcards of the Quiet Council, Emma Frost and Destiny. Sure, the Quiet Council consists almost exclusively of wildcards but these two share a hope for a type of better tomorrow that may not quite align with other’s goals for the mutant nation. Immortal X-Men #4’s focus on Emma shows a woman who tries to project one image of herself while trying to hide her real self-image from the world, thinking it’s a sign of weakness when strength is needed.
As Kieron Gillen writes her, Emma is someone who needs to look like she’s always in control of the situation but the Hellfire Gala just showed how unwieldy all of the chaos surrounding Krakoa is. She needs others to believe that she has a handle on situations that are completely out of her powers of influence, such as the world’s knowledge of mutant resurrection. The last issue with Destiny and this issue with Emma are about two strong women who see the world for what it is while both have dreams about what they want it to be. That’s the difference from the Hope-driven second issue; Hope just doesn’t have the same perspective that Emma or Destiny possess.
It almost sounds like this whole issue could just be introspective navel-gazing but Gillen and artist Michele Bandini keep the action moving as the revelation of another Sinister in the world puts a target on the council’s Mr. Sinister that everyone wants to take a shot at. Between this title and Gerry Duggan’s X-Men, Sinister is being shown as more than just the dangerous court jester he’s largely been lately. There’s a mystery to his past, his present, and even his future that is the chaos engine driving these stories. What’s his true role in these comics? There’s a part of him that’s a clown but there’s also that part of him that lives up to his name “sinister” that’s easy to forget about. Gillen builds this issue around both Emma and Sinister, getting to show that all of these characters are more than just their roles on the Quiet Council. Gillen hints at the motivations driving these characters, giving glimpses of the forces that drive these characters forward. But as with any government, these motivations are often at a cross purpose, leading to the kind of conflict that we expect out of Immortal X-Men.
So what were the unpopular kids doing during the party? (A.X.E.: Eve of Judgment)
While the X-Men have been dealing with their drama in many X-titles, the Eternals have had their own issues to deal with, finding themselves in a spot where they question their own self-value. In case you need it before the next big Avengers/X-Men/Eternals event, A.X.E.: Eve of Judgment is a nice issue to catch up with the Eternals after their recent series. Kieron Gillen shows these god-like beings trying to figure out their relevance in this world of super-powered beings. They’re trying to figure out if they still even matter. So what better way to do that than going after the new gods of this world, the mutants.
This could easily be the next issue of Eternals as Gillen and Pasqual Ferry structure this as a “let’s see where everyone is” issue, establishing the current status quo of the Eternals, the two or three different factions of them that have developed, as well as ultimately the self-centered motivations that lead to the next genocidal event possibly facing the X-Men. For as long as the Eternals have been around, this issue shows them feeling like the forgotten kids of the world, having to do something splashy to get their elders’ attention again and prove that they’re still here and relevant. The mutants may feel like they’re the red-headed (pun intended) stepchildren of this world but the Eternals are right there, lacking the red hair but pretty much without any unique purpose for a race of super-powered beings.
Ferry and colorist Dean White capture the longing of these characters; longing for purpose, power, clarity, and direction. These characters feel like they’re in a transition stage of their long lives, trying to figure out what their next step is. Ferry and White provide an interesting bridge from Esad Ribic and Matt Wilson (artist and colorist on the previous series) into the A.X.E. event. Their artwork evokes Ribic and Wilson’s mythic art but feels more classically super-heroic, invoking Kirby (the Eternals’ creator) as much as they are Ribic.
A.X.E.: Eve of Judgment is probably a needed but enjoyable bridge issue to catch up non-Eternals readers (and really, you should check out the Gillen/Ribic/Wilson series) before the real start of the A.X.E. event this week.