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Handling difficult moral and philosophical questions in ‘Way of X' #4

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Handling difficult moral and philosophical questions in ‘Way of X’ #4

From ‘cheap death’ to ‘cheap grace,’ the Krakoan culture has a lot of problems to figure out.

WARNING: Major spoilers for Way of X #4!

The tension explodes and everyone dies. Or the tension releases and everyone laughs.

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The two major plots of Way of X #4 end in one of these two scenarios. But, before we get there, we should analyze the conflicts and problems which created the tension, including the difficult moral and philosophical questions which have accompanied us throughout the Way of X series so far.

Cleaning up the bosses’ mess

Writer Si Spurrier includes a rather surprising cameo in a somewhat curious scene in Way of X #4. Sooraya Qadir, the mutant known as Dust, arrives on Mars to take care of a massive, potentially dangerous dust storm. The storm represents just one of the problematic consequences created when the omega mutants terraformed Mars for the settlement of Arakko, as seen in Planet-Sized X-Men #1. While talking about these mutant-created natural disasters, Sooraya whispers, “Nobody seems to care.”

Although Bob Quinn and Java Tartaglia’s visuals of Dust becoming one with the storm are incredibly stunning, the scene feels a little random. It adds nothing to the plot. Instead, I believe Spurrier uses this scene as a metaphor for the general purpose of the Way of X series.

Jonathan Hickman completely altered the state of the X-Men (and the whole Marvel Universe) in the House of X/Powers of X series. Among other things, he introduced the mutant paradise of Krakoa, the resurrection protocols, and unconditional amnesty for all mutants, including former villains. But, as Hickman touched upon in X-Men #7, these events produced a number of complex moral, philosophical, and religious quandaries. Just as Dust shows up on Mars to clean up the problems created by Krakoa’s leaders, Way of X exists to handle the difficult questions created by Hickman.

The flawed paradise

In a brilliant bit of dramatic story-telling, Spurrier has taken these difficult questions and turned them into something mortally dangerous to the society on Krakoa. As first explored in issues #1 and #2, without a moral or philosophical foundation, the growing, “anything goes,” mentality on Krakoa is driving the young mutant culture further and further into anarchy and social decay.

Handling difficult moral and philosophical questions in ‘Way of X' #4

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Additionally, as could only occur in a work of fantasy, Spurrier has personified this abstract, sociological danger in the psychic monster, Onslaught. Legion and Xavier discuss this “snake in [the] garden” and its influence in the most interesting scene in Way of X #4. Xavier realizes his paradise is flawed and something or someone is “infecting us…Exploiting every question…” But, he can’t see that it’s Onslaught, even as the villain manipulates and amplifies the tension in everyone else present. A tension visualized by Quinn’s vivid facial expressions along with Tartaglia’s use of red tones.

Xavier can’t recognize this villain, because Onslaught was born from the darkest parts of Xavier’s and Magneto’s psyches. Symbolically, it represents the fatal flaws of both, although Way of X focuses solely on Xavier’s shortcomings. To fight this evil, Legion has taken on the task of dealing with Onslaught, while Nightcrawler attempts to develop the ideas which will resolve the moral questions and unify the society of Krakoa.

The shoddiest kind of grace

In that vein, issue #4 actually opens by addressing the morally problematic consequence of all mutants, including former villains, receiving complete amnesty on Krakoa: it disregards due justice. The character Lost, whose real name is Marinette, tells a story of ancient alien tribes in a style similar to a biblical tale of the Old Testament. During a time of famine, an evil man kills a child’s parents, driving the child into the wilderness. When the famine is over and the tribe thrives again, the child returns, demanding justice. (Although, some may interpret her demand as a call for revenge.) But, the tribal leaders, with the murderer sitting arrogantly among them, deny the plea for justice, claiming that, for the good of the society, all prior sins must be completely forgiven and forgotten. The child laments that this kind of forgiveness cannot heal her wounds.

Handling difficult moral and philosophical questions in ‘Way of X' #4

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Legion compares the story to a parable, and it does in fact work best as a moral tale about the emptiness of forgiveness without justice or repentance. It reminds me of what the Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer termed as “cheap grace” in his book The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer wrote that with cheap grace, “no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.” This emphasizes why Christians generally believe that true absolution of sin can only be granted to the truly repentant.

Moreover, the story also reminds me of the reason Jesus had to die. According to the Bible, Jesus died in our place, to take upon himself the just punishment that our sins deserve, so that our sins can be forgiven. As written in Romans 3:25, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.” In other words, Jesus’ death fulfills the need for justice.

Lost’s story reminds us that forgiveness as a principle, the absolution of sin without any requirement of justice, retribution or repentance isn’t morally right or good. It’s cheap; it’s empty and it leaves the victim broken. But, exactly this kind of cheap grace has been given to all mutants on Krakoa, including former villains. In Way of X, Spurrier has chosen Fabian Cortez as his example of an obviously unrepentant and morally detestable person, who enjoys free forgiveness in the mutant paradise. 

Cheap death, disposable life

This brings me to the other main storyline in issue #4, in which Cortez attempts to trap Nightcrawler in what he calls a “moral quandary.” This scene really only works as a morality play and not as a real moment in the comic book universe. Each character is reduced to a simple role; Gorgon a helpless victim, the human crowd an angry mob. Cortez most obviously fills the role of devil or trickster, forcing the saint, Nightcrawler, to make an impossible moral decision.

Cortez offers Kurt three solutions. Kill Cortez, which could result in Gorgon killing the human mob. Kill Gorgon, although his next resurrection could be more spoiled than the current one. Or sacrifice himself to stop Gorgon. Kurt would simply be resurrected, but the act could be considered suicide, a grave sin. It’s a contrived moral dilemma (Kurt could just teleport Gorgon away) meant to force Nightcrawler into accepting what he denounced in Way of X #1 as, “cheap death.”

Trivializing death to something of a commodity, to use and abuse as one wishes, represents the morally problematic consequence of the assured and easily accessible resurrection which mutants enjoy on Krakoa. And it was exactly this moral development which Kurt had such a hard time reconciling with his Catholic faith in issue #1.

But, this theme also came up in the climax of issue #2, which placed Kurt in a similar moral quandary. That scene ended with Kurt’s reluctant decision to kill Legion, and in doing so symbolically kill off his religious faith and its aversion to cheap death. Consequently, the current scene with Gorgon and Fabian Cortez feels unnecessary, because the thematic has already been handled in this series before and with a fairly clear resolution.

I’m just not quite sure what Kurt thinks about these moral questions anymore. Is he still clinging to his Catholic faith, trying to find solutions that align with his convictions? Or has he let his faith die, in order to search out new answers, as was implied in issue #2? With only two more issues to go, it feels like we should know by now, in which direction Nightcrawler is heading. 

However, this time Spurrier has Kurt find a solution that doesn’t go against his religious convictions. Instead of surrendering to the use of cheap death and assured resurrection, Kurt turns to slapstick comedy involving an oddly present ice-cream wagon. He successfully turns the negativity of the human crowd into laughter, calming Gorgon and potentially foreshadowing the solution to Onslaught’s amplification of negativity on Krakoa.

Way of X

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Kurt’s continued aversion to “cheap death” falls in direct contrast to Legion’s acceptance of the resurrection protocols and the opportunity they provide. Returning to Legion’s meeting with his father, we learn that Legion has enlisted the Xorn brothers, not just as devoted disciples, but as insurance in case he loses control of his multiple personalities. If this happens, the Xorn brothers have promised to vaporize David’s brain, so that he will resurrect back in control. And when Xavier triggers the full release of Onslaught in the Green Lagoon, Legion and the Xorn brothers just vaporize everyone present, including Xavier. Why not use this solution? They will all just be resurrected anyway.

What about, “Kill No Man?!”

Looking back at Way of X #4 as a whole, I recall that the recap page promises an exploration of whether the Krakoan law, “Kill No Man,” could provide the “unifying idea” upon which the mutant culture could stand. But, we actually don’t get much of this. Sure, early on Legion suggests using this law to make a scape-goat out of Fabian Cortez, uniting mutants in righteous vengeance against evil. But, Kurt rightfully rejects that idea immediately.

Nothing else in this issue really digs deeper into the philosophical and moral foundations of this law. Instead, Spurrier seems to assume that everyone agrees that “Do not murder” is a good principle. Then, he focusses on the moral ambiguity of whether Cortez’ actions constitute murder or not.

In doing so, he misses out on a potentially intriguing moral and philosophical exploration. Jean Grey first suggested this law in House of X #6 as the highest of moral ideals. “Kill No Man” forbids a mutant from killing a human, who cannot be resurrected. It’s a pledge by the immortal, the strong, to protect the mortal, the weak. But, since many mutants on Krakoa (mostly the former villains) still consider human beings worthless, it would’ve been interesting to go into the philosophical questions, “Why shouldn’t mutants be allowed to kill humans? What gives every life, including a human life, worth?”

A moral philosophy on the intrinsic worth of every person, human or mutant, could’ve been the “unifying idea” Nightcrawler has been searching for. Why not unify the mutant culture around the idea of the sacred worth of every life? Wouldn’t this provide an answer to the problem of “cheap death?” Why not make it mutant’s collective goal to protect and uphold every life, to do whatever it takes to make every life, both mutant and human, the best it could possibly be? Krakoa wouldn’t even be the first government to base its society upon this idea. It’s found in the first and second articles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, “Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected,” as well as “Everyone has the right to life.”

Oh well, it seems that Nightcrawler just missed out on this unifying idea. Or, maybe it’s just too much of a human idea, the kind of thing which mutants are trying to get away from on Krakoa. We’ll probably never find out.

Whatever may come

Looking ahead, Way of X #4 concludes by setting up issue #5. Nightcrawler takes Cortez to have a conversation with Lost. We’ll hopefully see a resolution to Lost’s story in the next issue, probably one that involves a religious pun along the lines of, “Lost being found.”

More interestingly, on the final two pages, Legion, with the help of the Xorn brothers, uses the Krakoan gate seed he received from Xavier to turn himself into a temple or maybe just a gate to a temple. He calls it, “a place where the devil can’t whisper in their ears. A sacred refuge…” I assume this development refers back to the religious symbolism used during Legion’s resurrection scene from issue #2, which set Legion up as a messiah-figure. Perhaps this is how Legion brings salvation to the people of Krakoa, by becoming their sacred refuge. I guess we’ll find out in Way of X #5, which will focus on the last of the Three Laws of Krakoa, “Respect This Sacred Land.”

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

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