WARNING: Major spoilers for the entire Way of X series!
I finally figured out the main theme of Way of X. In a series that has covered a number of philosophical, sociological, moral and religious questions, either briefly or in depth, one topic has risen above the rest: Does death or life have any significance or meaning in the post-mortal society on Krakoa?
Well, Does Death (or Life) Matter?
Writer Si Spurrier clearly draws our attention to this question in the dialogue immediately preceding the recap and credit pages. As Nightcrawler desperately tries to restrain Fabian Cortez and Lost from killing each other, Lost shouts, “DYING DOESN’T MATTER!” To which Kurt replies, “Of course it does!…It has to!” before he whispers, “Or neither does living.” But, why does death (and life) matter, when resurrection is assured?
Maybe this main focus should have been obvious, as it has shown up in every issue of Way of X so far. (Well, except issue #3, which focused instead on the topics of sex and reproduction with mixed results.) Issue #1 introduced us to a troubling trend among Krakoans, especially the youth; with resurrection assured and easily accessible, they have trivialized death to something of a commodity and treat their lives as disposable. Throughout the series, Nightcrawler has struggled with this problematic moral development, referring to it as “Cheap Death.” Especially as a Catholic, he cannot reconcile cheap death with his deep conviction in the sanctity of all life.
Why didn’t I see this main theme sooner?
So, why did it take me until Way of X #5 to realize that the problem of “Cheap Death” was Spurrier’s main focus? Well, first off, one of my problems with the Way of X series as a whole is how convoluted it has been. Spurrier has touched upon so many interesting subjects in such a small amount of issues; most of the topics didn’t receive the space necessary to be dealt with satisfactorily and, ultimately, the main focus got lost.
Furthermore, it seemed that this topic had been resolved back in issue #2 with Kurt’s reluctant decision to kill Legion, symbolically killing off his religious faith and its aversion to cheap death. When the subject of death and resurrection never came up in issue #3, I assumed Kurt had already gotten past it. So, I was surprised to find him once again struggling with the idea of using death and assured resurrection to potentially end a conflict in issue #4. Adding to my confusion, in Way of X #4, Kurt finds a solution that doesn’t involve the use of cheap death, basically reversing the resolution presented in Way of X #2.
Now, in Way of X #5, there can be no more confusion. The problem of trivializing death and life in the light of assured resurrection obviously takes central focus. And in this issue, Nightcrawler finally finds his true solution.
“We are the sacred land!”
Kurt rediscovers the sanctity of life in a very broad interpretation of the third law of Krakoa, “Respect this sacred land.” In his confrontation with Lost and Fabian Cortez, he rebukes them with his realization, “We are the sacred land!” And since the mutants themselves are the sacred land, they must respect each other’s sanctity.
Spurrier provides a contrasting example just a few pages earlier. Legion sorrowfully confesses his sin to Nightcrawler; he often treats people like things, failing to recognize or respect their sacredness. He brings up the horrible situation he created with Mercury and Loa in Way of X #3, which kind of feels like Spurrier’s in-story response to the criticisms surrounding that scene. (Anna Peppard and Jude Jones discuss this more thoroughly in their review.)
In his confession, Legion laments that he shares this sin with his father, Charles Xavier, Krakoa’s founder and god-figure. In fact, at that very moment, Xavier attempts to reprimand his son, unfortunately treating Legion as nothing more than a danger to his plans on Krakoa.
Legion recognizes his need for Nightcrawler, whom he again refers to as, “one of the kindly ones.” If anyone can figure out a way to stop the growing divisions within the burgeoning Krakoan culture and unite all mutants, than it is the man who never treats people like things.
And Kurt does indeed receive an epiphany: life is still sacred, even when resurrection is assured. He reproaches Lost and Cortez for thinking so little of the gift of resurrection. In one of his more powerful statements, he admonishes them, “There are millions awaiting the gift of life that you think so meaningless.” He calls out their disregard for the sanctity of each other’s lives. Treating anyone’s life as meaningless or worthless, even an enemy’s, when they are in fact sacred, is a sin. Whether the person can be brought back to life or not doesn’t make it any less a sin. And in this scene, Nightcrawler condemns Lost and Cortez in righteous judgement.
Are we the sacred land?
Kurt’s renewed commitment to the sanctity of life is all very well and good. But it feels weird that he came to this conclusion while considering the third law of Krakoa, “Respect this sacred land,” because that was not at all its original meaning.
The Quiet Council decided upon this law in House of X #6 after a reminder from Cypher that Krakoa, their island paradise, is not just a piece of dirt (as Kurt regrettable refers to it in Way of X #5), but a living person. The third law governs how mutants should view and interact with their sentient paradise. Their paradise is not their right, but rather a gift, given and sustained by a person, Krakoa.
This alludes directly to religious ideas of holy places, whether that be the Garden of Eden, Mount Sinai, or the Jewish Temple. Biblically, a place was most often considered holy because of God’s dwelling presence. Accordingly, such a holy place should be revered and treated with special honor. On Mount Sinai, God told Moses in Exodus 3:5, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Also, the most inner room of the original Jewish Tabernacle and later the Temple was called, “the Most Holy Place,” where God’s presence dwelt. The Most Holy Place could only be entered by a Jewish priest once a year, on the Day of Atonement, under very strict guidelines (see Leviticus 16). In the Jewish culture, respecting sacred land was taken very seriously.
Similarly, respecting the sacred land of Krakoa, the mutant paradise, should also be taken seriously. Kurt’s reinterpretation of the third law of Krakoa actually takes away from its original purpose, rather than giving it a deeper meaning. It feels a little too much like Spurrier forcing this law into the conclusion he wants Kurt to make.
Which wasn’t even necessary, because, as I discussed in my essay on Way of X #4, Kurt could have come to this conclusion while considering the second law of Krakoa, “Kill no man.” Pondering the question, “Why shouldn’t we be allowed to kill others?” actually leads more directly to a moral philosophy on the intrinsic worth of every person. But, I suppose discovering this unifying idea in issue #4 would’ve come one issue too soon for Spurrier’s desired narrative.
Becoming something sacred
Nevertheless, Nightcrawler’s broad interpretation of the third law of Krakoa also alludes directly to religious ideas, this time from Christianity. Many Christians would claim that the church is not some building, but rather the congregation of believers themselves. They would claim, “We are the Church,” in a similar way that Nightcrawler declares, “We are the sacred land.”
Furthermore, the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, asks rhetorically, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” Just as God’s presence made the innermost room of the Jewish temple The Most Holy Place, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit turns every Christian into a kind of holy temple.
I actually expected to find this biblical symbolism in Legion’s plotline. At the end of the previous issue, Legion planted a Krakoan gate seed within his brain, saying that mutants need a sacred refuge or temple where they can be safe from Onslaught’s evil influence. Throughout this issue, he is mostly preoccupied with whatever he is building within his psyche. Artist Bob Quinn wonderfully visualizes the psychedelic structure growing out of Legion’s head. But, in this issue about sacred land, Spurrier doesn’t dig deeper into Legion’s creation.
What is the Way of X?
Instead, we stay with Nightcrawler’s renewed conviction in the sacredness of life and his later revelation about “The Way,” the solution to the horrific cultural and moral developments which threaten to tear apart the Krakoan society. He receives this revelation when Fabian Cortez boosts his mutant powers to their extreme.
Here, the creative team includes six panels of images from previous issues, obviously meant as clues as to what The Way actually is. We see scenes of compassion and mercy; of apology and reconciliation; of humor and positivity used to combat hatred; scenes of sacrifice. This calls back to the most important message from issue #3, “What we need is folks who give a damn about other folks.” But as I wrote in my essay on issue #3, Kurt shouldn’t have needed to learn (or relearn) this lesson; he is normally the role model for this way of loving others.
Accordingly, in this climactic scene, he acts once again in love, sacrificing his own life to teleport the Martian moon, Phobos back into orbit, saving the millions of lives now living on Mars. Strangely, as in previous issues, Spurrier brings up the suggestion or rather the question if this kind of sacrificial death is akin to suicide or the “Cheap Death” Kurt so despises. Fortunately, in this issue, Spurrier gives a definitely answer, having Lost tell Kurt upon his resurrection, “You died so it mattered.”
Returning to Nightcrawler’s epiphany about The Way; in this issue, he only refers to it as, “The unseen spark in all things.” Obviously, this connects directly to his renewed conviction in the sanctity of life, as if he were answering the question, “What makes life sacred?” But, Spurrier purposefully leaves this idea mysterious; he still has one more issue of story to tell.
The missing moments of life
Unfortunately, at the end of Way of X #5, Nightcrawler no longer remembers his epiphany about the Spark or the Way, because this realization occurs after Cerebro last recorded his mind. This raises another one of those philosophical and religious questions that the Way of X series tries to deal with, “Is the whole of who one is actually resurrected, when moments go lost in the process?” As with many of these difficult questions, Spurrier only briefly brings the topic up, without having the space to explore it more deeply. In any case, this wrinkle in the resurrection protocols leaves Nightcrawler without his epiphany.
Furthermore, as can only happen in a work of fantasy, Spurrier uses these moments lost in resurrection to provide another answer to the main question of this series, “Why does death (and life) matter, when resurrection is assured?” Death matters, because, as Legion figures out, Onslaught is using these missing moments of life to sneak into the minds of Krakoan’s mutants upon resurrection. Accordingly, each frivolous use of cheap death increases Onslaught’s power. In a sense, Onslaught is a kind of demonic spirit, corrupting the mind and soul of mutants from within, intensifying their immoral tendencies toward selfishness, hatred, and division.
An end still waiting for resolution
And so the Way of X series comes to an end. Through Nightcrawler’s renewed conviction in the sanctity of life, we readers have been reassured that life and death do, in fact, have meaning. Repeatable and easily accessible resurrection doesn’t remove the unseen spark in all things which makes all life sacred. But, Kurt no longer remembers this epiphany and his messenger, Fabian Cortez, lies in a vegetative state (most obviously caused by Onslaught). All the while, as seen on the last page, the evil influence of Onslaught, the personification of all that corrupts the sanctity of life, hangs quite literally over everything.
All this must be resolved, but not in Way of X #6, because issue #5 was the last issue in the Way of X series. Instead, resolution should come in the upcoming, double-sized, one-shot, X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation, the actual concluding issue in this story arc. I’m excited to see just how Quinn illustrates the final conflict in the mindscape that Legion is currently building within his own psyche. In the already released preview pages, Onslaught appears to stand victorious. But, I assume that Nightcrawler will again find The Way to unify the Krakoan culture and bring an end to Onslaught’s evil corruptions. I just hope Spurrier provides enough intriguing twists and turns along the way to raise the conclusion of the Way of X story above the usual superhero fare.
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