X-Men #9: Naïve Politicking as Entertainment While Our Own World Shatters & Spins

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[Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia]

Elements of US and Russian* intelligence services allying to work at Orchis? A small thing, you might say, but a glaring dissonance to anyone who’s been following the apocalyptic news of the past week. But hey, it’s not impossible that mortal enemies could work together. In a much more positive light, we found out today that FSB agents tipped off Ukrainian intelligence of a Putin-directed Chechen hit squad gunning for President Zelensky. Apparently, the Ukrainians, with this rogue Russian help, took out the would-be assassins.

Already, before the world changed (again) on Feb 24, Putin said the Ukrainian people should not exist. That is a real-world genocidal statement. By the time this piece is published, the realization of his hatred may, tragically, be much clearer to us than currently.

By comparison, it’s a very small thing to wonder how Marvel will have to recast the use in recent years of the Russian state as a comic-book villain into some other more serious interpretation. This obviously is dicey territory. Most of us reading these books know Putin’s government (not Russians themselves) is evil, authoritarian, nationalistic, antiqueer, terroristic, brutalist, etc. Arguably, it’s already been guilty of acts of genocide throughout the Caucasus Mountains region. But make no mistake, everything is different now. The unprecedented economic war the West is waging on Putin and, really, all of Russia will spiral out. Trivially, it will be interesting to see how Marvel’s representations of their stock villainy shift. No doubt, it will be strange and awkward given the Big 2’s shambling corporate nature.

(*Oddly, Duggan mixed the Cyrillic “C,” for the Russian transliteration of “security,” with the roman letters that are otherwise standard in discussing Russia’s FSB, the official successor to the USSR’s KGB.)

Well, anyway! Here we are, in X-Men #9, back in an oligarchic deep-state allegory, with this chapter titled “The Rule of Three.” At least, Duggan has given us a fun puzzle of working out various instances of this pattern throughout the issue. Indeed, it opens with a triptych: Xavier/the QC; Feilong/Orchis; Isca/Arakko’s Great Ring.

Classic In-Threes Motif (mostly)

In the QC meeting, the Spring council bickers among itself while Summer looks rudderless while unknowingly plays host to Russia’s mole, and Magneto is playing to either grim humor or self-pity—maybe both!

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Of course, they have no idea what the (post)humans and their allies (robot and alien/mutant) have in store. On the Martian moon of Phobos (or what’s left of it), Feilong is playing host to the Krakoa era’s most expansive rogues gallery: Director Killian Devo (Orchis’ “central column”); Dr. Stasis (heading Orchis’ cleverly/sinisterly named “Human/Resources”); Nimrod; and—dun-dun-DUN—Abigail Brand, the traitor (re: S.W.O.R.D.; head of Orchis’ “Infrastructure/Influence”—frightening).

I do wonder if we won’t ultimately discover that Brand is playing some deeper game. That is her schtick, after all! Not that she’s a “good guy,” but it’s hard to imagine her going all the way with Orchis’ ideology. Will she undermine their infrastructure? Subversively package their “influence,” whether on Earth (which isn’t her bag anyway) or across the stars (where she has, in her view, bigger fish to catch)? In either case, could she turn out to be, when it counts, a friend to Krakoa? This last still seems the least likely by now!

The first data page shows us an updated Orchis org chart, with “the rule of three” for its “Direct Strategies” (Alia Gregor’s R&D; Brand’s I&I; and Feilong’s “Operations/Offense”—read: Phobos as confrontation) and for its “Oblique Strategies,” this being the more covert of an already covert organization. We don’t know yet who heads “Culture/Narrative” and “Sociology/Modeling,” but both seem more frightening in their way than the “daylight” departments; if they’re anything like Stasis and his Moreau-esque “Human/Resources,” watch out). Obviously, everyone—except Brand, maybe—wants a share of another angry-baby genius, voting for M.O.D.O.K. jailbreak!

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This is a watershed moment in our Krakoa narrative!

Unfortunately, guest artist C.F. Villa doesn’t quite sell the moment—too bad as this is the first issue to really move the overarching Krakoa narrative forward, albeit by smidgens. (After all, there’s no real revelation here; we already knew all these folks were working together.)

Dr. Stasis accompanies Nimrod to spring M.O.D.O.K. (again, scenes-by-threes!). The best part here is seeing Area 51’s War Machine suits, which I didn’t know Stark had farmed out there. They’re no match for the uber Sentinel.

In the Great Ring of Arakko, we have a rule of three: Storm, Isca, and Tarn, respectively representing peace, neutrality/abstention, and warmongering. The latter two are two/thirds of the Dawn council (somewhat analogous to the QC’s Autumn council), and Storm’s place as Regent is with the Day council. Dawn’s contingent is all in attendance with Idyll the Future Seer’s cameo.

What’s really neat here, though, is seeing Arakko send a floral/floronic message to Storm, reminding her that someone needs to speak for the nonhuman mutant, with Redroot captive in Otherworld (which is also recapped here; re: X-Force #14). Notably, Storm’s vote against aggression is one for defense but without posturing in the meantime. Of course, this will be ultimately successful because it’s a Marvel comic. Still, it would be interesting to play it otherwise, for the sake of realism—just a little bit!

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Unfortunately, we miss out on seeing most of the Great Ring: Idyll the Seer (Dawn); Lactuca the Knower, Sobunar (Day); and all of Dusk—Ora Serrata, Xilo, and Lodus Logos.

Don’t forget, Storm is still on the QC (Summer), and she represents the “doves” there, as well—whereas Destiny abstains, opting for covert tactics, as does Xavier, but only because the “hawks” are so clearly overruled. (More on that below.) Thus, another divided rule of three.

But we have only one member of the official X-Men in action this issue, Rogue, but she is in league with hubby Remy—while Shiro, in my opinion, gets the best scene this issue (see below).

At first defending themselves, and despite Destiny’s snootiness, the Deep South power couple, specifically Gambit, saves an apparently indifferent/detachedly deterministic Destiny three times in so many pages. Still, Irene snidely labels him “a cutthroat thief, assassin and horrendous gambler.” Yes, patterns of three abound.

The most notable thing here, though, I thought, was Villa’s art. It’s unclear if Destiny is trying to be funny or she’s really enraged, or both, or perhaps there’s an unintentional visual ambiguity—either way, this is probably the first time Irene Adler made me chuckle.

But since Gambit really does get the last word here (“my love doesn’t come with no strings attached”), Destiny’s hatred of him coming across here as frustrated impotence makes sense. It’s nice to see that we’re not simply going to get a “Destiny of X” without dissent 😉.

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Working out the QC Politicking

It is definitely worth noting that the Quiet Council vote in favor of not “confront[ing] the Orchis threat with extreme prejudice” carried the day with a vote from the Mikhail-controlled Colossus. If not for his nay vote, Xavier would likely not have abstained from voting yea—meaning there would have been a tie, and Sinister himself seemed to hold out until it was clear the nays had won out. Mystique, of course, followed Destiny in abstaining from the start, given Destiny’s argument that “hands in the air would not provide a path forward” (which clearly means she’s in favor of greater subtlety, to use her own language in the previous scene).

So, I wouldn’t take Xavier and Magneto’s differing votes as a sign of a widening split, but neither does it signal happy concord. Alas! Democracy is just as cantankerous among the oligarchs 😉.

However, I find it mildly irritating that Duggan has the “Queens” acting as the “doves” while not providing time for them to make cogent arguments. (Note, though, that one rule of three that breaks down here is Bishop, the “hawk” in stark contrast to Emma and Kate. Hopefully, that makes for interesting friction amongst Steve Orlando’s Marauders!)

Now, that we in the real world are literally, no hyperbole, on the edge of World War III, maybe we should think about having slightly weightier political arguments in our funnybooks. Or we could go the route of propaganda. Alas, I don’t see a third route of ostrich heads in the sand.

Maybe, dear reader, you think I’m jumping the gun or being alarmist. By the time this piece is published, though, lines in the sand you probably didn’t even think were there have been cemented in blood, money, and the raw resources of war by all means.

Okay, so what about my X-Men, chump?! Well, at the close, we (and Storm) return to the reformed Shiro, being chill and beautiful as he builds a home for himself with his bare (hottie) hands, on Arakko. Below lay the buried remains of a helmed war-leader and others of less renown who had tried to bully the Krakoan from his new homestead. With that last show of fatal might, his Arakki “cousins” apparently got scared off. (But I was a little confused if we were supposed to know who the dead champion was. At first glance, it was White Sword who came to mind, but those are obviously not his helm and sword. Oh well!)

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This whole scene renews my faith in Duggan as the new defining writer for Shiro. It is a relief and just exciting to guess where they’ll go next. Apparently, he could go deep into space (as I had wondered why Feilong hadn’t done for himself, to the asteroid belt at least). But it seems like Sunfire will be off soon for Otherworld—in search of Redroot (who, remember, plays a role analogous to Cypher’s).

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Yet I don’t think this is going to be a Tini Howard/Excalibur/Knights of X-style adventure. It could be, sure, but wouldn’t it be cooler if he ventured into one of the more unusual, sf-adjacent realms of Otherworld: Dryador is the most well-known now, but perhaps more intriguingly, there’s Hothive, Infuri the Everforge, and Mercator. Imagine Sunfire letting loose in any of those venues!

Yes, Redroot is trapped in a jar in Jaspers’ Crooked Market, but she could be a MacGuffin for a bit longer (after all, that’s clearly the purpose she’s currently serving!), get smuggled into one of those realms, and allow for Shiro to journey into mystery, on fire.

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Then again, maybe Duggan plans to have Shiro turn the Crooked Market into a conflagration? This did happen a little bit in Excalibur #23, but the Krakoans there weren’t meeting the Furies’ fire with the same; instead, they were doing damage control and rescuing the vulnerable. I think it’s time to see Sunfire again as a fiery comet, no holds barred. Just sayin’!

Whatever happens, NEXT TIME it’s: Wolverine vs. Lady Deathstrike! Hell yeah! I’ve been waiting for deadly-lovely Yuriko Oyama to get back in the game—claws out, ladies!

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