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'Way of X by Si Spurrier' Vol. 1 attempts to answer mutantkind’s philosophical and religious questions

Comic Books

‘Way of X by Si Spurrier’ Vol. 1 attempts to answer mutantkind’s philosophical and religious questions

‘Way of X’ starts off strong but falls apart after that.

When Jonathan Hickman completely altered the state of the X-Men in the House of X/Powers of X series, he created a number of complex moral, philosophical, and religious quandaries in the process. Writer Si Spurrier was given the task of tackling some of these difficult themes and questions in the Way of X series. Unfortunately, although the six issue series is incredibly well made, with art by Bob Quinn, colors by Java Tartaglia and letters by Clayton Cowles, its brevity did not provide enough space to handle such deep themes in an adequate way. Consequently, the characterizations and narrative suffer.

With the Way of X Vol. 1 collection coming out today, I present my final words on the series as a whole.

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What’s it all about?

Way of X spins out of X-Men #7, which really should’ve been included in this collection as the prologue. In that issue, Nightcrawler struggles with the difficult religious and moral questions which the new mutant status quo on Krakoa asks of him. Most of these musings center on the nature of the soul and the meaning of life and death, leading Kurt to an interesting conclusion: “I think I need to start a mutant religion.”

The main Way of X series starts strong in issues #1 and #2, picking right up with Nightcrawler’s religious struggles. Then, in a brilliant bit of dramatic storytelling, Spurrier turns the many difficult questions facing Krakoan culture into something mortally dangerous to its society. 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.

Among all the complex philosophical questions facing mutantkind, one rises above the rest: Does death (and, accordingly, life) have any meaning when resurrection is assured? Nightcrawler recognizes a troubling trend among Krakoans, especially the youth; with resurrection guaranteed and easily accessible, they have trivialized death to something of a commodity and treat their lives as disposable, engaging in what Kurt calls, “Cheap Death.”

Additionally, as could only occur in a work of fantasy, Spurrier personifies this abstract, sociological danger in the psychic villain first introduced as the Patchwork Man and later revealed to be Onslaught. He is infecting minds on Krakoa, further accelerating the moral and social decay.

To combat this evil, Legion (Way of X’s second leading character) takes 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.

Way of X by Si Spurrier Vol. 1
Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Where it falls apart

Unfortunately, things fall apart in issues #3-5.

First off, the themes become too convoluted. Most philosophical questions are only briefly mentioned and then cast away without enough deep discussion or exploration. Even the main focus on “Cheap Death” disappears in issue #3.

On top of that, with the limited amount of space to develop his overarching narrative, Spurrier makes some puzzling choices with the characters and the plot. Off the top of my head, I could list at least four plot developments that Spurrier sets up but does not properly resolve. They were important at the time, but ended up being just plot devices for the overall narrative.

Basically, it all comes down to trying to cover too much in too little space. I can imagine the series working much better in 12 issues, rather than the six provided. Maybe Spurrier got tripped up by the changes demanded by Hickman’s pending departure and the consequential reboot of the X-Men line.

Additionally, probably the worst part of Way of X is how most characters are reduced to types in order to play the role necessary for the desired narrative. Nightcrawler is characterized almost solely by his religious faith and is often referred to as a priest, even though his priesthood was retconned away long ago. Especially in issue #3, he acts completely out of character, judgmental and closed-minded, presumably so that Spurrier could tell the story he wanted. Only Legion (Spurrier’s obvious favorite) avoids this reduction to a type. Furthermore, besides Kurt and Legion, most characters come and go, more cameos than actual roles, used solely as the narrative requires.

The most unfortunate example of this is Way of X’s original character, Lost, and her subplot involving Fabian Cortez. (Warning: major spoilers in this paragraph!) She is introduced as an extremely traumatized woman, but in the end she’s reduced to a plot device; the person within whom Onslaught was smuggled into Krakoa. In issue #5 and X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation, her suffering is used to drive Cortez (the one who originally traumatized her) toward a redemption arc. Appallingly, almost all of the focus goes to the white male perpetrator rather than the Black female victim. This too is then used as a plot device to smoke out Onslaught. I understand Spurrier trying to connect each character arc to the battle against Onslaught, but it ends up making the characters only exist to serve the narrative, rather than allowing the narrative to naturally grow out of the characters’ struggles and decisions.

Way of X by Si Spurrier Vol. 1
Courtesy of Marvel Comics

A solid ending

At least Way of X has a solid ending in X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation, which is actually just issue #6 with a different title. It manages to bring a sufficient conclusion to the superhero conflict against Onslaught while supposedly resolving the main philosophical themes. Also, it answers (or at least acknowledges) a few of the open questions. Mostly, it highlights the strengths of the whole series.

As in nearly every individual issue, the pacing of the storytelling is quite good, building in action, emotion and suspense before culminating in a satisfying climax. And just as each issue ended with an attention-grabbing cliffhanger or a thematic denouement, X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation also concludes with a hopeful final scene which teases a future series.

Good art and great lettering

Another strength can be found in Bob Quinn’s exceptionally suitable art style, which he describes as cartooning. This is not normally my favorite style for superhero comics, but Quinn won me over with dynamic movements and expressive, varied facial expressions. His style is also particularly good in illustrating the psychedelic scenes set within the mindscape, which feature prominently in at least three of the six issues, especially X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation.

Java Tartaglia also does a very good job in adding the appropriate psychedelic colors to the mindscape scenes. Elsewhere, especially in the final chapter, his colors create the proper atmosphere as well as signal changes in setting.

And one cannot overlook letterer Clayton Cowles’ contributions to both the story and characterizations. He often uses a smaller font size to denote whispers, adding to the emotional impact of the dialogue. Also, X-Men: The Onslaught Revelation includes at least two pages in which the narration or dialogue are not read completely from left to right, and yet Cowles arranged the narration boxes and word balloons so that the eyes immediately go through the correct order. It’s no wonder he’s been nominated for an Eisner in three of the past four years.  

Way of X by Si Spurrier Vol. 1
Courtesy of Marvel Comics

(Not a) mutant religion

Moving on, as an evangelical Christian, I was most interested to see how Way of X would handle Nightcrawler’s original intention of starting a mutant religion. But, what we ultimately find in Way of X’s conclusion left me more than a little disappointed.

In fact, when I analyzed it more deeply, I’m not sure the new mutant religion (if it can be called that) really even answers the complex philosophical and religious questions that originally set up this series. In Spurrier’s defense, these topics probably have no definitive answer. But, if the concluding idea of Way of X doesn’t adequately address these issues, then what exactly does it bring to the series? Handling these quandaries was supposed to be the purpose of Way of X.

Do I recommend Way of X?

In conclusion, you may be wondering if I would recommend the Way of X Vol. 1 collection. Well, I can imagine that a cursory read-through would be very enjoyable, picking up on all of the good, while not recognizing the bad. The ideas and messages that initially come across do so very well and can be very inspiring. The themes and questions covered will definitely make you think about things from different perspectives. Moreover, for a devoted X-fan of the current Krakoan-Era, Way of X is probably required reading.

But a deeper analysis will most likely bring out too many problematic aspects.

So, enjoy the dynamic art of Bob Quinn, the atmospheric colors of Java Tartaglia and the incredible lettering of Clayton Cowles. Get caught up in the pacing of the story. And let the complex moral, sociological, philosophical and religious topics that Spurrier touches upon keep you thinking long after you put the book down. But, don’t ask too many questions of the narrative itself or its thematic conclusions. It may all fall apart.

'Way of X by Si Spurrier' Vol. 1 attempts to answer mutantkind’s philosophical and religious questions
‘Way of X by Si Spurrier’ Vol. 1 attempts to answer mutantkind’s philosophical and religious questions
Way of X Vol. 1
In Way of X, Si Spurrier attempts to tackle some of mutantkind’s difficult philosophical and religious questions. Unfortunately, its brevity did not provide enough space to handle such deep themes in an adequate way. On the plus-side, Bob Quinn’s pencils, Java Tartaglia’s colors and Clayton Cowles’ lettering are all excellent.
Reader Rating1 Votes
8.5
Bob Quinn’s and Java Tartaglia’s psychedelic art
Clayton Cowles’ outstanding lettering
Interesting philosophical and moral themes
The interesting themes weren’t explored in enough depth
Out of character Nightcrawler
Too many characters and scenes used as plot devices
6
Average

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