In deep space, a casino full of nasty aliens treats humanity’s fate as a game. On Earth, a desperate scientist has uncovered mutantkind’s most important secret.
In other words, the X-Men have a lot on their plate. Let’s get into it.
SPOILERS AHEAD for X-Men #2!
The Krakoa era has established a familiar rhythm for the X-books. As disparate as, say, Excalibur is from Hellions, the content of both books tends to reflect the unique status of Krakoa and mutants in this new status quo.
X-Men, only in the second issue since its relaunch by writer Gerry Duggan and artist Pepe Larraz, does not abandon that premise. Krakoa is still vital to this story, but as a comic, it reads much more like a classic, Marvel team book. That sense of open-skies heroism isn’t to the book’s detriment; it just reflects the new reality of mutants in the Krakoa era and the mission its X-Men have to represent the best of their mutant nation.
If the first issue left some quiet character beats to be desired, Duggan quickly rectifies that here. Synch and Jean Grey get an early spotlight, as Everett reflects on the transformational experience he had with Laura Kinney in the Vault. He remembers their time-dilated adventure; she doesn’t. An early mystery for the series is when Synch will decide to tell Laura about their history together. Duggan foreshadows that here by having Jean remind him that he could use her powers to show Laura everything that happened.
Sunfire also gets a beautiful moment to explain why he decided to fight for Krakoa. “You would not have always cheered me, I’m afraid,” he tells a friendly bystander, but this is no normal time for the “hated and feared” X-Men. Their heroics are actually appreciated now. Instead of being chased by an angry mob after a rescue, the X-Men are treated to barbecue.
Looming in the background are two, widely divergent threats: Orchis scientist Doctor Stasis, whose face Larraz slyly leaves out of frame, and the nefarious alien fungus Cordyceps Jones. First introduced in Al Ewing and Adam Gorham’s delightful Rocket series, Cordyceps is the ringleader of the intergalactic gambling ring that has its sights set on Earth.
Duggan’s decision to bring him (it?) back is an inspired choice and indicative of the zany tone of this comic, which finds time to advance Orchis plot beats set up in Jonathan Hickman’s earlier series while putting the X-Men on a collision course with….a fungus! (The grand villain of New X-Men was [spoiler alert] a sentient bacteria, so I suppose it’s not too weird of a choice!)
Another inspired choice: having this band of X-Men actually work together as a team! Synch as a character is a great excuse to pair two mutants together, but Duggan doesn’t stop there. After an issue in which the team joined up, Powers Rangers-style, into a mech, Duggan has Polaris and Jean Grey find a new, strange use for their powers.
These moments are conducive to character development, but also a neat way to show off the combined might of Larraz and colorist Marte Gracia. Even when dealing with Annihilation Wave bugs, who don’t tend to be (for me) the most visually legible villains, Gracia does well to isolate them amid the swirl of color emanating from the team’s power signatures.
The visual highlight of the issue is a flashback page that detail a speech Sunfire delivered at the Hellfire Gala. As storytelling, it does well to let Sunfire describe himself in his own voice, but also incorporates his powers in a fascinating way. Larraz uses flame as the panel borders — one of the only times in the issue where traditional borders are not used — and the importance of Sunfire’s speech is made immediately clear.
Some other, scattered thoughts on the issue:
- Feilong, who was introduced in the prologue of X-Men #1, is absent in this issue. I wonder if he is headed toward some kind of collaboration with Orchis and Doctor Stasis.
- That Rocket series is really worth your time, if only to see the very gross way Deadpool defeats Cordyceps Jones.
- The solicitation for next issue teases a fight with the High Evolutionary, who appears in X-Men #1 at Cordyceps’ deep-space casino.
- From Rogue interrupting Gambit’s poker night to Cordyceps’ casino, this issue really sets the bar high for “Most Gambling in an X-Men Comic.”
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