It’s 2020, a new year (and a new decade), and I urge you to take a break from stressing about your resolutions to do something much, much better: think about X-Men comic books for a few minutes, and the expanding role of the X-Women in Dawn of X.
A major similarity among all of the X-books released this week — Excalibur, New Mutants, X-Force and Fallen Angels — is their focus on some of the best X-Women Marvel has to offer. While characters like Cyclops and Wolverine are unsurprisingly popping up in multiple books (and multiple beds if all of the Krakoan gossip is to be believed), figures who are not typically treated so prominently are also getting a chance to stretch their wings. As characters like Nightcrawler and Angel — one of the five original X-Men — continue to be primarily sidelined in the Dawn of X, it’s refreshing that individuals like Kwannon and Betsy Braddock are receiving so much of the limelight and have personal arcs that are centrally tied to their respective books at a time when the X-Men franchise is so hot.
Over in Britain, Excalibur shines the spotlight on mutants’ confrontation with magical beings from the mysterious Otherworld. Apocalypse may be the one with the secretive plots, but it’s Betsy Braddock and Rogue who he puts faith in to fulfill those plans. As the new Captain Britain, Betsy is an official agent of the British state, reporting directly to the queen when she’s not performing Krakoan business. She’s the sole mutant with stately responsibilities separate from the new mutant nation, making her much more in demand than teammates like Jubilee or Gambit, and it’s been interesting to watch her juggle those responsibilities and grow into her new roles. While most mutants readers see are fixated on their new lives in Krakoa and making it as wonderful as possible, Betsy is stuck straddling both worlds and trying to progress in both lives.
Rogue is also in a relatively complex situation that puts her right in the middle of all the action. The cliffhanger at the end of Excalibur #5 shows her as a new avatar of sorts for Apocalypse after draining his abilities, but she had been locked in a coma since the end of the series’ debut. Writer Tini Howard finally gets to dig into Rogue in this issue, exploring her independence as she explores the corners of her trapped mind. She’s well aware of Apocalypse manipulative and trifling in her life, but, as Rogue puts it, she “ain’t a kept woman,” and she’s happy doing things her own way.
In fact, while Rogue may be the one who was technically “comatose” in the issue, it’s Gambit who actually serves as the damsel in distress here, with his agony serving as the catalyst that wakes Rogue up and flings her into action.
New Mutants and X-Force are both ensemble books that seemingly shift focus each issue, but this week happens to be one where characters like Magik and Domino take the lead. Both mutants are skilled fighters, but they also both relish in single-handedly taking on their foes.
Domino, despite pleading from the head of X-Force’s intelligence wing, Beast, slowly and methodically takes down each of her foes as a form of sweet revenge for the torture she endured. Sure, she did save one individual so Beast and Jean Grey could extract information from his mind, but she has no problem being as carnal as she wanted — and wasn’t technically breaking any rules — since her opponents weren’t actually human. Instead of being sidelined and forced to defend Wolverine’s tattered body, she’s the one who gets to be the triumphant hero and take down all of the bad guys while the man in the exo-suit guards his helpless friend.
Interestingly enough, Magik also takes advantage of the fact that her foes aren’t technically humans. Since X-Men and X-Women alike are prohibited from killing humans, it’s only when she learns that her opponents are aliens does she know she can let loose and have a little bit of guilt-free fun.
While Magik’s fight scene is left to our imaginations, the issue does feature the first time readers see her performing official duties as a Krakoan Captain. Once it is announced the ship the New Mutants are on is being attacked, Illyana quickly adapts to the situation and doles out orders that her teammates rapidly follow. While Smasher may not have been receptive to her orders because she’s performing official Shi’ar business, Magik still manages to come out on top, technically telling her that she should stay where she is and guard Deathbird from the intruders. Regardless of that, Magik is the best kind of leader: one who dishes out orders and then immediately dives into action herself.
I’ve made no efforts to hide my disappointment with Fallen Angels thus far, but I’m happy to report issue #5 was probably the strongest issue yet. There are still some characterization issues, but Psylocke finally feels like she’s coming into her own as a leader. Not only does she pledge her life to defend her new teammates in their battle against Apoth, but she confronts both Mr. Sinister and Magneto — two of the world’s most powerful mutants and members of the Quiet Council — alone to pursue her own interests. While these men have their own selfish interests, they have also come to trust in and recognize Psylocke’s strength. Magneto may not fully understand why Psylocke wants to help humans, but he respects her decisions and has given her free reign to perform her just missions outside of Krakoa without seeking Council permission in the future.
Even outside the issues released this week, X-Men and Marauders have done a fantastic job showcasing female leadership inside the new mutant world.
As I’ve written about in the past, Marauders in particular, with its strong focus on Emma Frost and Kate Pryde’s handling of the new, sprawling Hellfire Corporation, reinforces the fact that the X-Women are in the forefront of rewriting the rules for mutant society. In the series’ second issue, released back in November, Emma Frost voiced the urgency and need of female solidarity to the Stepford Cuckoos while discussing who would become the new Lord Imperial.
As this week’s X-Force pointed out to readers, mutants may be rapidly moving into the global 1 percent due to their Krakoan pharmaceuticals, but Emma wants to make sure that women, not just flashy men like Sebastian Shaw or Bobby da Costa, get a piece of the sweet, sweet financial pie. As people like Xavier and Magneto are busy thinking about long-term, big-picture problems, Emma just wants to make sure her fellow X-Women get to absorb some of the power, and the makeup of the X-line proves that it is already happening.
(Yes, X-Men’s sole primary character is Cyclops, but the series has done a great job spotlighting Rachel Grey, Emma Frost and Jean Grey, and is set to follow the always self-interested Mystique in issue #6. Hopefully, once the book crosses over with the cosmic plots building over in New Mutants, even more X-Women will become members of Cyclops’ special squad.)
X-Women may be slightly outnumbered on Krakoa’s Quiet Council, but look closely and they’re really the ones running the show. Once Moira’s presence is examined again, especially if she makes her place in this new society known to her fellow mutants, expect the ladies to wrangle up even more power on the island. Hopefully, with a full line of books still unannounced, popular X-Women like Storm and X-23 — who have primarily been used as background characters so far — will be able to have their own personal journeys in this brand new world for mutants.
For now, it’s time to reflect on everything that’s come before and check out some other HiX-Men moment of the week posts, including this breakdown on everything that took place in 2019, before theorizing about all the strange things to come!