Welcome to “Off The Shelf”, our comic book reviews of recent titles. These are designed to be brief reviews of current books and series that we think you should check out.
Today, Sam reviews Way of X #1-- Story by Si Spurrier, art by Bob Quinn and Java Tartaglia
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Way of X #1
Story by Si Spurrier, art by Bob Quinn and Java Tartaglia
It goes without saying at this point that Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men run has been a paradigm shift for our merry mutants. They have achieved things that in some cases were long sought after, and in others not even dreamed of. The living island of Krakoa has provided them with leverage over humanity in the form of life saving plant-based pharmaceuticals for those countries which recognize their sovereignty. They’ve achieved a kind of unity that was previously unthinkable, with former enemies now working as allies. They developed their own system of law over and above human law. Most significantly they have, through a mutant collaboration called The Five, achieved a kind of immortality.
The ethical, philosophical and religious challenges arising from these events have been evident even as far back as House of X #1, where Magneto chooses Jerusalem as the place to tell the human ambassadors to Krakoa that they “have new gods now.” Mutants now see themselves not only as superior genetically or superior in power, but superior in morality and philosophy as well. While most mutants have embraced their new place in the world, others are wary of a snake in the garden, the most notable of those being Nightcrawler. Way of X serves as a starting point to examine the greater issues at play in a post-death and post-human society.
Nightcrawler is the perfect and most obvious choice to reflect on these issues. He is both a mutant and an outspoken man of faith, one who often serves as a moral voice among the X-Men as well as an earnest friend and companion. Way back in X-Men #7 Kurt Wagner voiced is concern about where Krakoa was headed as a society and pondered creating a mutant religion. Those of us who are fans of the blue furry swashbuckler as well as interested in examining what this faith might look like have been waiting for Way of X for a long time.
Way of X begins with a mission to investigate an anti-mutant hate group that has taken residence in a seminary in Venice, Italy. Nightcrawler leads a group of younger mutants to gather data from the group and get out. They find that the human-supremacy group Orchis is using organized religion to promote the evils of mutants to the general public, replacing the statues of saints in the church with statues depicting mutants such as Apocalypse and Sabretooth committing atrocities. When they are found out Nightcrawler tries to beat a hasty retreat, but not before the mutant Pixie willingly puts herself in harm’s way – not to protect her teammates, but so that her killer might feel remorse in doing so. While Kurt retaliates, the rest of the group films and cheers the murder, knowing that Pixie will be reborn again anyway. When Nightcrawler voices his concern about their attitudes, the group gives an “ok boomer” and teleports away.
All of this doesn’t sit well with Nightcrawler. Have the resurrection protocols made life cheap? What is right and wrong in a post-death society? We find out more about Kurt’s concerns letters which are apparently part of a flash-forward to what Nightcrawler’s mutant religion might be. What happens to a soul during resurrection? What about those missing parts of one’s experience that are left behind in the regeneration process? Many of Nightcrawler’s issues come to a head during the Krakoan ceremony called Crucible, where mutants who lost their powers have the chance to be reborn with them, but only after trial by combat and eventual death. When a de-powered stranger to the island comes to Nightcrawler for aid, he tells her not to be afraid and that Krakoa is a sanctuary. However Kurt is horrified and guilt-ridden when Magneto cuts her down in the Crucible to a cheering throng of other mutants.
Spurrier uses many characters who serve as creative foils to Kurt Wagner, but none more so than Dr. Nemesis. Dr. Nemesis sees traditional faith as more of a hindrance to progress than a guide, calling Nightcrawler’s concern for sin and moral right “gnostic bromide”. He poses what is probably the best question regarding the role of faith not only in Kurt’s life but in our own: “What does a credulous little believer do when all the big questions have been answered?”
By the way, it’s worth buying the issue just to read Dr Nemesis’ dialogue.
Even though this is only the first issue, Way of X does a tremendous job of bringing the hinted-at problems in Krakoan society to the forefront. Not all mutants are valued equally in the resurrection protocols. The Quiet Council, which leads Krakoa, doesn’t always follow their own guidance. The grounds for moral choices have become sinking sands rather than firm foundations. The ease of paradise has led to spiritual darkness rather than enlightenment. Meanwhile, something horrifying is lurking in the dreams of the mutants of Krakoa – the “patchwork man”. Oh, and Legion shows up at the end, so we know that things are going to get very messy indeed.
I’ve said before that Hickman’s X-Men run seemed to have run out of steam, at least for me. Way of X has been a real breath of fresh air though. Si Spurrier is a fantastic and witty writer, and seems to have the same interest Nightcrawler does in figuring out why people do what they do. He also seems to have the most fun writing over-the-top characters that leap over moral lines in order to reveal where those lines might be, in the past with Judge Dredd and Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, and here with Dr. Nemesis and Magneto.
The questions raised and probed in this series will be significant ones, not only for the mutants of Krakoa but for we readers. We live in a culture that is becoming more post-Christian by the day. Church membership and attendance are down. Many Christian leaders have gone against the very morality they proclaim from their pens and pulpits. What does that mean for us that continue, like Kurt, to hold on to faith in something unseen? As the traditional cultural centers of American culture have started to show their weaknesses, what will take their place? In a nation more and more divided, what, if anything can unify us? Will it be religion, morality, or something else entirely?
I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series and encourage you to pick it up as well at your local comic shop. As Relevant Magazine senior editor and comics nerd Tyler Hucabee recently tweeted, “if your interests inhabit the religion and comics venn diagram, trust me when I say that this is the abdolute dead center.”