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Despite problematic aspects, ‘Way of X’ #3 offers a message for life

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Despite problematic aspects, ‘Way of X’ #3 offers a message for life

“What we need is folks who give a damn about other folks.”

WARNING: Major spoilers for Way of X #3!

Was Way of X #3 the strongest issue in this series so far, the absolute worst or somewhere in between?

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If you’ve been following my coverage, you’ll know that I wrote a rather glowing review of issue #3. All the while, I planned on writing this longer, spoiler-filled analysis. Until I read some other reviews, which ranged from exuberantly positive to passionately negative. After more thoroughly analyzing Way of X #3, newly informed by the perspectives of other critics, I’d have to say that I now fall somewhere in the middle. While I still see wonderful things in this issue, including a message that continues to inspire me, I realize now that I also missed a few problems that deserve more attention.

What makes Way of X #3 difficult to write about, and may also be the cause of such varied reviews, is that it deals with a topic as sensitive, intimate and emotionally charged as sex and reproduction. It’s hard to share an opinion on this subject without causing a strong emotional reaction. Too often people end up feeling judged for having a different opinion or lifestyle. And being judgmental is the last thing I want.

Despite problematic aspects, ‘Way of X’ #3 offers a message for life

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

 

Because judgmental is exactly how Nightcrawler acted in Way of X #3. And, as Anna Peppard passionately explained in her joint review with Jude Jones on ComicsXF, this is completely out of character for Kurt. Kurt has always been more than a little sexually adventurous. But in this issue he condemns at first the use of contraception and then the apparent brothel which Stacy X has set up on Krakoa, even claiming that the couples involved were surrendering to empty desire. Again, Kurt himself has a long history of joyfully surrendering to this same desire. Just read issues #16 and #17 from the original Excalibur series for a few examples.

Even worse than Kurt’s out of character views on sex is his judgmental indignation. The most lovable part of Kurt, the characteristic that I relate to the most, has always been his empathy for and acceptance of all people, even going out of his way to love and win the friendship of people who fear him for his appearance. But here, writer Si Spurrier has turned Nightcrawler into one of the worst things possible, the complete opposite of everything lovable about his true character: a judgmental jerk.

Initially, I just chalked up Nightcrawler’s actions as that of a man in the midst of complete existential crisis. Way of X #1 established the broken down state of Kurt’s Catholic faith in the face of the new status quo on Krakoa. In the climax of issue #2, Kurt symbolically kills off his religious faith. In this issue, we find Kurt basically grasping at straws for “unifying ideas,” some solid foundation upon which the Krakoan culture, and his own life, can be based.

Following Legion’s suggestion, Kurt seeks to unify Krakoa’s mutants under the First Three Laws of Krakoa, starting with “Make More Mutants.” Kurt himself came up with this law in House of X #6, referencing God’s commandment to Adam and Eve directly after their creation in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:28 from the King James Version), “And God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…” Ironically and regrettably, having just lost his Catholic faith and desperate for something of meaning, Kurt apparently latches onto this biblically-inspired law with a close-minded and fundamentalist strangle-hold. In doing so, he becomes exactly the stereotype of a judgmental Christian, something he would have renounced and rejected in year’s past. In other words, it appears that the story defined what Kurt’s character should be, rather than Kurt’s character driving the narrative.

Considering my evangelical Christian faith, I should have picked up on this immediately. Judgmental self-righteousness is, unfortunately, one of the most prominent flaws of Christians (of which I’ve definitely been guilty in the past). This is probably why the Bible so often explicitly rebukes judging others, for example in Jesus’ famous words in John 8:7, when a woman caught in adultery was brought before him to be condemned, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus even more clearly says in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged…” (See also Romans 2:1 for another good example.) These warnings against judging others should have immediately come to my mind as I read Nightcrawler’s condemnation of others’ sexual practices.

“Kurt apparently latches onto this biblically-inspired law with a close-minded and fundamentalist strangle-hold.”

But, instead of recognizing Kurt’s out-of-character judgments, I focused more on the surprisingly thoughtful, deep and caring characterization of Stacy X. In this issue, Stacy reveals that the so-called Bower is not exactly a brothel, but rather a place for the lonely to find intimate companionship, be that in sex, just cuddling, or merely in conversation. The question of agency and consent could be brought up, since Stacy does use her powers of seduction on the participating couples. She says that she “can’t make anyone do what they don’t want,” but also admits that she provides a “nudge of encouragement.” Still, in this scene she comes off more empathetic and accepting than Kurt does, referring to the healing and sacred nature of intimacy.

I was also intrigued by the thought-provoking arguments made on both sides of the moral spectrum about sexual practices. I concentrated more on what the comic as a whole was saying without attaching specific viewpoints to the characters expressing them. Since the comic as a whole never seemed to agree with Nightcrawler’s judgmental accusations, I didn’t notice how far out of character Kurt’s opinions deviated. 

Moving on to the one problem I did mention in my original review, the horrible scene involving Loa and Mercury only got worse with further analysis. The older Legion facilitates the two teen-aged girls’ first sexual experience together on the astral plane, all while Pixie giddily and the Xorn brothers stoically watch along. It only becomes more cringe-worthy when Legion, sensing something amiss, invades the young girls’ psychic intimacy, rather than simply stopping it. He takes Pixie with him, blurring all lines of privacy and consent. Spurrier’s self-awareness, using Legion to justify these actions with an explanation akin to “on Krakoa, anything goes,” doesn’t succeed in redeeming these actions.

Maybe it’s only fitting that this scene concludes with another ill-fated moment. Loa and Mercury’s psychic, sexual encounter, influenced negatively by the evil machinations of the Patchwork Man (i.e., Onslaught), ends in trauma and tragedy, with the girls sickened by and rejecting one another. What makes this worse, Spurrier seemingly reduces this incredibly intimate and ultimately tragic moment to nothing more than a plot-device in the growing conflict against the super-villain. As we find out, Legion used Loa and Mercury’s sexual encounter as bait to coax Onslaught into the open. Although we may learn what happens to Loa and Mercury in future issues, here they and their trauma are forgotten in favor of the general super-hero fight against the super-villain.

Way of X 3 Loa und Mercury

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Despite the unpleasantness of most of this scene, one aspect still strikes me as beautiful and of great worth. The description of the mental sexual encounter, together with the stunningly psychedelic visuals from Bob Quinn and Java Tartaglia, gives a very good illustration of what Stacy X earlier referred to as the sacredness of sex. And, ironically, this depiction agrees well with how the Bible describes sex.

Both Pixie and Legion compare this level of intimacy to becoming one, “blurring together…Sharing everything.” Quinn draws Loa and Mercury in their mindscape embracing, their lower bodies melting into fluid-like tails which intertwine with each other. This almost directly references the very first occurrence of sex found in the Bible, in Genesis 2:24, described as “becoming one flesh.” Furthermore, Legion says that the mental intimacy is “like a million gettin’-to-know-you dates, all in a moment.” This parallels the common biblical euphemism for sex, “to know someone,” for example in 1 Samuel 1:19 (in the King James Version), “…and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife…”

In the next scene, returning to the Bower and the First Krakoan Law, “Make More Mutants,” Stacy X reveals to Nightcrawler that mutant babies are being born quite regularly, only to be left by their extremely selfish parents. And this is occurring at the unspeakable rate of one abandoned baby per week.

The implications of this revelation for the Krakoan culture are appalling. It seems to imply another very judgmental indictment, which Jude Jones called-out in his co-review via ComicsXF: that irresponsible sex leads to the irresponsible decision to abandon your own baby. At least this time, the judgmental accusation doesn’t come from Kurt, but rather from Stacy. Moreover, there has been absolutely zero build-up or backstory suggesting that even enough time has gone by on Krakoa for this to occur. This is another troubling aspect of this issue that I should have noticed, but simply overlooked.

Instead, as in the first scene in the Bower, my attention was completely wrapped up in the unexpectedly heartwarming actions of Stacy X, joined now by Lost, whose name is revealed to be Marinette. Although it places them firmly in the “caregiver” stereotype, it touched my heart to see these women, who had themselves experienced the trauma of abandonment and life on the street, displaying such sacrificial love in caring for these orphaned babies. It also reminded me of how often the Bible commands us to care for orphans and widows (see, for example, Exodus 22:22 and Psalms 82:3), including the following strong words from James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”

Additionally, in a panel showing Lost joyfully attending to a crying baby, one statement from Stacy X spoke directly to the depths of my soul, “What we need is folks who give a damn about other folks.” This is a message I continually need to hear and one I believe we could base our lives upon. It reminds me of the words of Jesus found in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another.”

Actually, this is the message that I most often connect to Nightcrawler, at least how he is normally written. Not because he preaches this message with a self-righteous arrogance, but because he lives it out. As mentioned before, Kurt is most loved and adored for his caring, forgiving, and accepting nature toward all people, no matter how those people have treated him. He is the role-model for giving a damn about other folks, which just highlights how strikingly out of character he appears in this issue, needing someone else to remind him of the heart of his personality.

Way of X

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

In conclusion, on the surface, Way of X #3 could be read as a rather self-contained issue exploring the topics of sex and reproduction on Krakoa within the context of the “Hellfire Gala” crossover. But, how does this issue connect to the more general, overarching themes and story of the series as a whole?

In the previous issue, the Patchwork Man was revealed to be Onslaught, a foreign agent introduced into the thoughts and minds of Krakoan’s mutants in order to disrupt their unity. In this issue, the creative team shows Onslaught influencing the burgeoning “anything goes” culture of Krakoa, leading to the destruction of relationships and the extremely selfish, “Me before we” behavior that will eventually tear the society apart.

Accordingly, Onslaught’s machinations cause the trauma and tragedy of Loa and Mercury’s first sexual interaction. Onslaught later controls Lost, so soft-spoken and gentle up to this point, forcing her to use her powers violently against Fabian Cortez and putting the orphaned children at risk. Presumably (since it’s never said explicitly), Onslaught has been motivating the mutants of Krakoa to act so selfishly as to abandon their own new-born children. If it was Spurrier’s intention to have Onslaught cause these horribly disturbing developments on Krakoa, then he succeeded. Unfortunately, two of the three listed here were so problematic as to take away, rather than enhance the quality of this issue.  

Finally, Nightcrawler’s apparent mission in this series is to find “unifying ideas” which will abate the current, Onslaught-driven deterioration of Krakoa’s culture. In this issue, he starts with the first of the Three Laws of Krakoa, “Make More Mutants.” But, as Stacy X tells us in the final summarizing scene, a societal mandate to reproduce appears to be an inadequate foundation upon which to unify a people group. Instead, Krakoa needs loving relationships, people humbly and sacrificially caring for one another. Of course, it should have been Kurt giving us this message, rather than learning it from Stacy. Because unconditionally caring for others has always been an integral part of his character.

Be that as it may, hopefully we can put the problematic aspects of Way of X #3 behind us and instead start living out the inspiring final message. Let us be the folks who give a damn about other folks.

Note: All biblical quotes are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version NIV unless otherwise denoted.

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