X-Men #14 (Chapter 12)
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mahmud Asrar & Leinil Francis Yu
Colors: Sunny Gho
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Design: Tom Muller
Marauders # 14 (Chapter 13)
Writers: Gerry Duggan & Benjamin Percy
Artist: Stefano Caselli
Colors: Edgar Delgado
Letters: VC’s Cory Petit
Design: Tom Muller
The tournament of champions is upon the people of Arakko and Krakoa. Their ten swords have been found and the champions have assembled in the Starlight Citadel of the Omniversal Majestrix Opal Luna Saturnyne. Yet as the tournament approaches it is a time for introspection, reflection, and revelry. It’s time for Apocalypse to finally find out the true history of Arakko, the annihilation, the Mask of Amenth, and what happened to his family. It’s also time for a celebration, a toast of sorts to the assembled champions, some of who are comfortable and ready for the approaching combat while other are irritable and on edge, while a few still plot for an alternative.
X-Men #14 is a revealing issue that finally fills in the holes that is the full history of Arakko and somehow makes Apocalypse the most sympathetic character in the entirety of X of Swords. X of Swords: Stasis #1 ended with what some may have seen as a cliffhanger but in my opinion was an inevitable reveal that the current bearer of the Mask of Amenth, leader of the Annhillation horde, owner of the Twilight Blade that split the ancient mutant home of Okkara is none other than Genisis, the wife of Apocalypse. Readers already know that millennia ago there was Okkara, home to the first age of mutants. Ruled by Apocalypse, his wife Genesis, and their First Horsemen Okkara was a nation full of powerful mutants and the precursor to the current nation of Krakoa. Yet Okkara was attacked, split in two by the Twilight Sword and became Krakoa & Arakko. While Arakko fell into a void where Genesis, the Four Horsemen, and thousands of mutants went forth to combat the Annihilation Horde led by Amenth Apocalypse stayed behind as he was not strong enough to go and therefore not worthy. This event not only defined the entire history of Apocalypse, a mutant based in the beliefs of Darwin that only the strong can survive but also sets the stage for why Apocalypse has been obsessed with seeing Krakoa survive and establishing a foothold in Otherworld as he hopes for a reunion with his family, a family that still sees him as weak and unworthy.
Ever since a small piece of Arakko appeared off the coast in X-Men #2 readers have wanted to know the history of this land. X-Men #14 finally reveals what happened to Arakko once they entered the void. Once Arakko was established the mutants built 10 towers and created a kill zone within those towers that held back the Annihilation Horde. The mutants lived within these towers, reproducing and creating generation after generation of mutant but the conflict was unending. Eventually the Arakkoans came into contact with the White Sword, a mutant healer and current Arakkoan champion, who led the first campaign against the Annihilation Horde with 100 mutants at his back. We learn that the White Sword leads daily campaigns against the horde, sacrificing his 100 mutants every single day but uses his powers to resurrect them each night, which has driven him mad. In a brief window of pages Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu stress the struggle and despair that he mutants of Arakko have experienced for the thousands of years they’ve been gone, from the immortal mutants to the subsequent generations who never knew their original homeland. Their anger and disdain for Apocalypse and his new Krakoa is understandable. Especially as it is revealed how Genesis came to wear the Mask of Amenth. Once that is established then the events that began in X-Men #2 with the Arrako peninsula, and finally the betrayal of the High Summoner that led to X of Swords finally becomes apparent.
X-Men #14 was a fascinating history of Arakko and one that creates conflict within me as I feel empathy for the mutants of Arakko. Yet that empathy does not forgive their actions, yet with the Darwinian concepts that have always been attached to Apocalypse and to see how fervent those beliefs are in his original followers does paint a better picture of Arakko. To see Apocalypse and Genesis have a tender moment in the garden of the Starlight Citadel somehow is heartbreaking as I shockingly felt bad for Apocalypse, a feeling I never thought I would have.
While X-Men #14 looks to the past Marauders #14 leaves time for contemplation and introspection for the assembled champions on the eve of the tournament. Just like in medieval times, on the eve of a tournament the host of the tourney would hold a feast for the combatants. Since much of Otherworld’s politics is based on the feudal system of Earth’s history it is no surprise that the Omniversal Majestrix, Queen of Otherworld, Opal Luna Saturnyne would have a feast in honor of the assembled champions. While this was an unexpected occurrence it was also a brilliant choice as so much of X of Swords has been about assembling these champions that this issue allows for us to get a look at them, their emotions and motivations, prior to the ensuing combat.
It’s safe to say that on the surface the Arakoans are far more confident when it comes to the approaching contest of champions. Born in a cauldron of fury and despair where only the strong survive it would be easy to place all of my money on them being victorious when the contest is concluded. Marauders #14 does nothing but reinforce this belief. The Arakoans are dripping in confidence as they stroll around the celebration while the Krakoans find themselves in a mixed state of fear, steadiness, and tenseness. While the two most confident Krakoans, Gorgon and Magik, make an unlikely pair as they study each of their opponents, using their tactical mindsets to find weaknesses in their opponents the true stars of the book are Storm and Wolverine. Storm and Wolverine aren’t scared for themselves; they do have a wariness about their compatriots. Storm’s calmness is alarming to many of the Arakoans but intoxicating to Death, who finds himself infatuated with the X-Men’s Weather Goddess. Wolverine on the other hand is grouchy and most of his anger is aimed at Captain Avalon (Brian Braddock) and Avalon’s chief admirer, Saturnyne. Wolverine thinks that Captain Avalon should take one for the team and give into Saturnyne’s advances, hopefully ending the need for the contest before it even begins. Yet the good Captain is a married man, who takes his vows seriously and is less than happy with being pimped out by Wolverine. With no other option and knowing their odds it falls to Wolverine to take one last shot at ending the contest before it begins, and as Storm tells him- “Don’t miss.” For a quiet issue in this event Marauders #14 ended with one hell of a cliffhanger and I have no idea how it’s going to play out.
As we enter the second phase of X of Swords there seems to be no intent to slow down this story. This week was a perfect pause in the buildup to the inevitable tournament. Hickman is curating an incredible X-event and this week’s installments were enlightening and entertaining. I’m glad that X of Swords hasn’t turned into one sword fight after another. I love the depth and history Hickman and company are adding to the X-Men mythos. While House of X and Powers of X revived Marvel’s mutant franchise it feels that X of Swords is going to define it for the foreseeable future. I don’t know where X of Swords is going and for that I am thankful as I cannot wait for what the next week brings but whatever it is I’m sure it will be incredible and feel free to check back next week for X of Swords week 8.