Monday, September 26, 2022

Them Guys Ain’t Dumb 09 (Judgment Day #5, Avengers #60, and Fantastic Four #47)

I may be biased in stating that The Infinity Gauntlet #4 is the best single event issue of all time – it’s still true, though. If you’re not familiar with the issue by Jim Starlin, George Perez, Ron Lim, Josef Rubinstein, Bruce N. Solotoff, Max Scheele, Ian Laughlin, and Jack Morelli, it’s an issue of Thanos slaughtering the half of Earth’s heroes that weren’t snapped away in the first issue. To prove his worth to his love, Death, he puts aside some of his godly omniscience granted by the Infinity Gauntlet, and agrees to fight the attacking horde of heroes. It’s actually only 15 that Thanos kills (more like 13, really), but it feels like so many more. With heroes like Captain America, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Thor, and Iron Man amongst the group attacking Thanos, it feels like the entirety of Earth’s heroes mounting an assault and getting run through like they were nothing for 40 pages. Never before had a collection of heroes like this been so thoroughly beaten and killed. It was shocking in its brutality and finality. Much ado is made of the speech that Captain America makes as he stands alone against Thanos; less is made of Thanos absent-mindedly slapping his head around with minimal effort.

While not intended to replicate that famous comic, echoes of it appear throughout Judgment Day #5 by Kieron Gillen, Valerio Schiti, Marte Graci, and Clayton Cowles. On the sixth page, Captain America stands before the god determined to kill them all and makes a passionate speech as only he can, before that god kills him with minimal effort. Just as placing him in a riot is a sign of a world gone wrong, having Captain America tell off God before God kills him is a sign that everything and everyone is completely and thoroughly fucked. Gillen flips the order of events of The Infinity Gauntlet #4 by beginning with a god killing Captain America and, then, moving on to the wholesale quasi-ironic slaughter of the rest of the heroes.

Jim Starlin having Thanos kill all of Earth’s heroes with ease was shocking (and entertaining) – it was also about sending a message to readers about the scale of the story being told. Usually, the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four et al are equal to any task, on Earth or off. Here, though, they were out of their league, up against a cosmic threat on a scale well beyond their abilities. Starlin’s most famous creation could only really be stopped by a character that may as well have been a Starlin creation in Adam Warlock. In many ways, The Infinity Gauntlet was a story about Starlin drawing a line between his characters who operate on a higher cosmic level and the regular Marvel heroes who just aren’t able to hang.

That, of course, is not what Gillen is doing here (unless I’m way off and you can look for the Progenitor to be the secret member of a new Eternals team that is waging war on the Celestials so this can never happen again or something...?) and the allusions to The Infinity Gauntlet #4 are more for effect than anything. It’s hard not to read a little self-deprecation in the Progenitor narrating, “I try to kill creatively because to be a god is to be creative... but there are so many of you, and I admit that, occasionally, inspiration is elusive,” as it kills the heroes in as many different and inventive ways as Thanos once did. Starlin and company kept it up for most of the 40 pages that make up their comic; here, it’s roughly five or six pages total.

The Progenitor isn’t toying with its attackers like Thanos, it’s playing a role it seems. Informed by its creators, there’s almost a sense that it understands that, as far as the heroes are concerned, it is the big villain to defeat and it must allow them to attempt to do so. But, it also has no compunction about killing them immediately and doing so in as many fitting and ironic ways as possible. This Celestial, based in some ways on Tony Stark, is a victim of genre, unable to not play into its role as world-threatening cosmic monster. If the comic alludes to The Infinity Gauntlet, it’s because the Progenitor is playing into the role established by Thanos. At the end of Judgment Day #4, it seemed like, now that Earth has been judged and found wanting, it would be destroyed immediately. Instead, the Progenitor stands around in the same place as it has always stood... waiting... why?

The judgment has not ended.

The failure is part of the judgment; the overcoming of a cosmic threat to end all life on the planet is part of the judgment.

Maybe not in an explicit manner where the Progenitor, dying, will reveal that it was all part of the test. Maybe the Progenitor doesn’t even know what it’s doing entirely. Its narration has implied a lack of self-awareness at times where it knows enough to question its own actions but not enough to answer why. Some of the key heroes to overcoming the Progenitor are, so far, ones that failed, notably Destiny and Captain America. Perhaps, they have learned something from their judgment and failure... perhaps, overcoming those failures is a part of the judgment as well...

If The Infinity Gauntlet #4 was about proving that Earth’s heroes can’t stand against truly cosmic level threats, maybe Judgment Day #5 is about proving that they can.


“Laughed that [Mark] Russell has clearly not actually read Judgment Day[...]” – David Mann on Avengers #60

I actually go out of my way not to read anyone else’s thoughts on these comics usually in an effort to stay in my little bubble where it’s me and the comics and nothing else except the odd song. But, David posted some quick reviews of the books he’d read this week and, it was after I’d read my comics, so I thought “What the heck...” And, of course, it contains a fantastic prompt for this...

I don’t disagree with David’s tossed off assessment of this issue; I also don’t agree with it.

In Avengers #60, the Progenitor comes to Clint Barton in the form of the Black Widow and, instead of judging him immediately, tells him that he has the day to prove “where your life brings as much joy and meaning to the universe as that blue metal box.” The box in question is a mailbox. It is the first time the Progenitor makes an explicit challenge of its judgment. In that and how it plays out, David is correct: this doesn’t read like anything we’ve seen in Judgment Day to this point. I’m not convinced that that necessarily places it outside the event or as ‘invalid’ in some way.

Most of the judgments we’ve seen to this point have been written by Kieron Gillen. They tend to be brief and involve the decision already being made prior to the Progenitor making its presence known. It’s not necessarily an interactive process like we get in this comic. Yet, it’s not exclusively not an interactive process. Kro, for example, gets to plead his case and what he says seems to sway the Progenitor. In Judgment Day #4, we get hints that the Celestial creates pass/fail tests in some cases without the knowledge of the participants and judgment hinges on their performance in that specific instance.

What we’ve really seen is that the criteria that the Progenitor uses for each person tends to come from the judged. How well they measure up against their own standards. With that as a guidepost and Russell writing Clint within the Matt Fraction/David Aja mould, it is conceivable that his judgment would play out this way. Clint specifically criticises the Progenitor for having no objective benchmark in its judging – and you don’t get much more objective than a mailbox. It’s the sort of dopey gag criteria that Clint would come up with for himself; he doesn’t argue against it.

Even with that in mind, this issue stands out in the way that the judgment plays out over the course of the entire issue. In Gillen’s comics, judgments rarely last more than a few panels at most, while they haven’t come up too much in non-Gillen tie-ins. Cyclops was judged in X-Men #14 over a few pages and his talking back to the Celestial stands in contrast to what we’ve seen in Gillen’s scenes. While some almost-judgments happen in Wolverine #24. None have shown up in the two X-Force or X-Men Red issues to date, leaving only the other tie-in from this week, Fantastic Four #47 where we don’t see any judgments, only the allusion that the entire Fantastic Four has already failed.

In Marauders #6, I’d argue that we get the roleplay therapy versions of the judgments where the judged are given the opportunity to answer all charges with perfect self-awareness, ostensibly not showing us how the judgments actually played out. In fact, the pushing back against the Progenitor’s judgment is the largest hallmark of the non-Gillen issues. His judgments are usually taken as fait accompli, because the judged know that it’s the truth. If there’s a misreading that we’ve seen so far, it’s not adhering to that idea necessarily. There’s too much desire to show the characters standing up against this god-like figure, refusing to be judged in that way that humans always do in stories like this. That righteous defiance in the face of overwhelming power and inscrutable morality.

We also haven’t seen a number of non-Gillen tie-ins that seem like they will show judgments, like Wolverine #25, Amazing Spider-Man #10, AXE: Iron Fist #1, and Captain marvel #42. I’m curious to see if those or even the remaining two issues of X-Force or X-Men Red #7 show further judgments and how they compare to what we’ve seen from Gillen.

The only part of Avengers #60 that rang false, for me, was the ending. The Progenitor sends Clint a letter via the mailbox and it ends with these words: “There may not be any such thing as moral clarity, but that doesn’t mean we can’t grow. And you have grown, which, apparently, a mailbox cannot do. So much judgment is that you pass. You will live. But we’ll be watching from time to time, Clint. So much advise is to act as if someone is always watching. Until you are wise enough to act as though no one is.” This flies completely in the face of Judgment Day issues four and five. It’s the exact opposite message that we get from the Progenitor at the end of issue four where the idea of growth and progress is dismissed, because it will never be enough. The promise of tomorrow’s success will always be put forth as an excuse for today’s failures. These final words prove David’s assessment as correct – or they’re foreshadowing the final issue of the event. Given Marvel’s history with tie-ins veering off and contradicting one another and the main series, I know where my money is placed.

Next week: AXE: Avengers #1 and Amazing Spider-Man #10.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Them Guys Ain’t Dumb 08 (X-Men Red #6 and Judgment Day #4)


Well I thought that we all cared

About peace

And I thought that we’d all cry

About love and loss

And I thought that we were somehow holding on

But I’m just standing here

—“Ballad of Humankindness”

The Dears



I don’t know when I realised that I never understood the Arakki people and their culture properly. I don’t believe that I’m alone in that, for the longest time, I thought of them as warlike and aggressive. Debuting in the X of Swords linewide X-Men event, the Arakki are a sort of lost tribe of mutants who ventured into another dimension to fight and unbeatable enemy, living under a code of survival of the fittest. They, at first, seemed to embody only the most literal meaning of that concept. Warriors who live only to fight where each victory means the whole is improved by the absence of the weak. And that’s not wrong; it’s also not true. I don’t know if they were ever meant to be a lot more than that or if they were simply meant to grow into more than that.

X-Men Red, written by Al Ewing, has expanded upon the Arakki culture on the new Arakko formerly known as Mars to suggest that they were always more than the most narrow definition of ‘survival of the fittest.’ Yes, they have a power structure rooted in physical conflict. But, they also have an openness and welcoming to all. Early in X-Men Red, the concept of ‘doors’ is dismissed as not in keeping with their culture. Or, as a NASA scientist puts it at the beginning of issue six, “But if someone’s not an enemy, they’re a friend. If you don’t come here to fight them, they don’t want to fight you.” Because there’s no logic in endless conflict. In fact, what we see from the Arakki is a desire to avoid conflict, finally. They have spent so much time in endless conflict, never ceasing warfare, that the chance to build something new and different is appealing.

There are many ways to prove yourself fit.

Not all Arakki are opposed to warfare or undesiring of it. Some conform to that initial view of them, and that only makes the culture richer. It would be false to reject that first impression as entirely untrue. By maintaining that idea that some Arakki are disdainful of outsiders and look only to fight to prove their worth, it gives a breadth of voices. Oddly, it’s that perspective’s lack that I miss in X-Men Red #6. The fools who would welcome the war that Uranos’s machines bring to the Sacred Land. A return to the ways that they know would be a comfort to some, even if when it means slaughter of fellow Arakki. Uranos and his machines would be another chance to prove one’s self fit.

Where are those Arakki?

Maybe they were the first to die.



You know things have gone to hell when Captain America stands in the middle of a riot. If you’ll recall, Fear Itself began that way. That was the big clue that All Was Not Right. When Judgment Day #4 starts with a riot and Cap trying to calm things before he’s overrun by rioters who begin attacking him, it’s shorthand for “Everyone is doomed. Humanity has failed the test.” If you need to know the end of the issue, you need only read the first two pages. I don’t know what Captain America ever really expects. I know that he hopes for better. He always hopes that people will be better this time. That they won’t give into their worst selves and panic and hate and hurt... but they always do. They always do. He keeps fighting the same fights and he keeps expecting them to stop, for people to be better. “He needs to believe the world is fundamentally a good place,” the Progenitor says. But, if it is a good place, why does it need him to inspire them to be better? If it were a good place, why would it need a Captain America?

He may need to believe that it is a good place, but does he actually believe it?

Sometimes, I think Captain America is like a drug. He doesn’t produce lasting change, only a temporary high where people can briefly go beyond their normal limits, do more, be better, save the world. And, then, it fades away and they go back to who they really are. “Avengers Assemble!” is nothing more than a superhero amphetamine to put down the bad guy. See, the problem is that he thinks what people need is a soldier to inspire them to be better.

He is the living embodiment of someone who fights and kills his problems away and he wonders why people keep fighting and killing. I mean, hey, he already failed the test and he’s still fighting, which is admirable, in a way. But, he’s also out there just barking orders and telling people what to do. He’s a man who keeps yelling “Be better!” and he never is. He’s always the same. What does he inspire by dressing in his soldier costume and throwing shields at people? By punching people in the face? You don’t back down from the bad guys – you put them on their ass. He rarely considers that there is no set definition for ‘bad guy.’

At the beginning of issue three, the Progenitor judges him under the guise of himself carrying his original shield, wrapped in the flag, and so optimistic of the future. A future where Hitler, the Nazis, and the Japanese are beaten, and America leads the world, living up to its promise finally. That Shining City on the Hill. And it did all of that. And things didn’t get better. But he keeps hoping. It’s that eternal hope that seems to doom him. Because he always hopes that things will be better, they never get better. “Why do today what can be done tomorrow?” If he really wanted to inspire change, he would change. He would be different, he would be something other than a soldier or a man who hits things, who barks orders, and expects people to fall in line, hoping that things will get better despite all evidence that they won’t.

There’s always hope, there’s always another chance, there’s always tomorrow...



Every time I think about what I can do

It just slips away

And every time I think that we can make things work well it

Just slips away



Is it meant to be obvious why Sersi fails? I feel rather obtuse for not seeing it. Sometimes I miss the obvious in these things. I also miss the cleverly hidden. I’m the sort of reader who will read a mystery novel and never try to solve it unless the solution is so obvious that it smacks you in the face. And even then. But, hey, let’s see if I can rise above myself a little...

“What have you done, Sersi?” Tony Stark asks before she shrugs off her judgment with a flip remark. What has she done?

Given what we know about the Progenitor and that it uses each person’s self-conception to judge them, I think it may have something to do with her actions to help create this new Celestial. Covered briefly in Judgment Day #2 and, then, in-depth in Death to the Mutants #1, she helped gain knowledge of the Celestials from their slaughter of the Deviants previously. She uses her powers to psychically take that “eyewitness testimony” and provide it to help construct this new god. Seeing exactly what her existing gods did, she first thinks “Our gods did this. The only gods we’ve ever known.” They killed their creations en masse. She sees what they are...

“And then she has two contradictory thoughts...

“‘Why would we make another?’

“‘How could we not try to make a better one?’”

These contradictions betray her hypocrisy. She sees what the Celestials are and she hopes that she and the others can make a better version of that using what scraps they can find of the Celestials. She contributes knowledge of their wrath and their ability to kill indiscriminately. How can she expect to create a better god using the worst actions of the old as a blueprint? She sees what the Celestials are and contributes that to the project! She hoped for something new and better, but didn’t think to change a thing! She has two contradictory thoughts and embraces them both at the same time, hoping it will all work out. If she stood by her convictions, she would have lost all of the data she gathered of the Celestials and tried to make a new, better one without the example of the old ones, seeing what her gods are at their worst. That’s why she doesn’t look surprised when she fails. Most don’t it seems. She looks sheepish and embarrassed, drawn so well by Valerio Schiti, already knowing that she failed in her convictions.

Just spitballing. I could be wrong.



Druig is not judged, that we see, in Judgment Day #4. Not specifically, at least, given that, at the end of the issue, the entire planet is judged and fails, which would include the former Prime Eternal. For some reason, I think Druig would pass judgment. Maybe it’s just my contrarian streak or my sense that Gillen sometimes shares that same proclivity (you don’t kick off moral judgments of Marvel characters by having Captain America fail without enjoying going against the grain a little bit) that makes me think that. He seems true to himself throughout the event so far, which is that he does everything to hold and secure his position that he can think to do. He seeks to unite the Eternals under his strong rule, so he seeks out a war against a group of powerful Deviants, the historic enemy of his people. He seeks to win that war decisively with minimal effort, so he unleashes a monster to destroy a planet that could aid the enemy, while sending an assassin to silently kill the enemy’s keys to endless resurrection. After that fails to produce the victory he seeks, he takes the fight to the public relations front before unleashing a new sort of living weapons to kill the enemy. When confronted with a new god that challenges his existence, he doubles down on the war, jumps at a chance to consolidate power, and unleashes the monster again. At each step, he is true to himself, which is what everyone expects of him and why he is so easy to defeat. But, he would pass, I believe. Not that that matters, it seems.



And I can’t believe I haven’t lent a hand

That I’m just standing here



The closest thing we get to a warrior that glories in battle in X-Men Red #6 is Isca the Unbeaten, I think. Yet her fighting is a compulsion, something that she can’t overcome. Her ‘weapon’ is that she cannot lose, so she fights against her people, on the side of Uranos. Just as she fought against her people previously. She only gets a single panel here when Storm briefly takes her perspective as she searches for the right place to be. The narration is, on the surface, neutral, yet it’s difficult to not read sadness in the words “I have no choice in this matter. I can never lose.” The unsaid irony is that Isca most likely loses quite a bit when it’s a conflict between her true desires and her mutant ability. Her weapon wins every time.

As the Arakki live on Arakko and not Earth, the Progenitor doesn’t judge them (that we have seen yet). We don’t know if they would pass or fail. Frankly, I’m not that interested in if they would or not, for the most part. I think most would pass as it seems like a society built on a decided lack of hypocrisy. You don’t become fit by lying to yourself, it seems.

But, I do wonder about Isca. Her mutant power compels her to act a certain way, one possibly contrary to her true desires. She immediately abandons all loyalty, the ultimate example of ‘survival of the fittest’ where she cannot help but join the winning side of any conflict, forever surviving. We’ve seen her displeasure at that ability being manipulated by others when Roberto ensured Magneto’s victory to ascend to the Great Ring. She seems to chaff against the lack of free will brought on by her power. She never gets to choose her side, never gets to be the underdog who overcomes adversity. She never really gets to prove herself as her victory is always assured. She may as well not even be a person at all.

I’m not sure if that makes her a hypocrite, though. Or a failure by the standards that the Progenitor adheres to. After all, she is literally unable to lose. That lack of agency makes her true desires irrelevant within this context, I would argue. In a similar way to Thor passing because he wields Mjolnir and its inscription says that only those who are worthy can wield it, making it irrefutable that he is worthy, because she can never lose and she always adheres to that idea, she is always true to herself and her moral code.

What that suggests, to me, is that she is the only being alive that doesn’t hope for tomorrow. She knows it is guaranteed and that she will always be victorious. No matter what.



Well I’m gonna change I’m gonna change

I’m gonna change I’m gonna change

I’m gonna change I’m gonna change

I’m gonna change I’m gonna change

I’m gonna change


Eros is a sociopath. This is canon. I think. It was established in Thanos: The Infinity Siblings written by Jim Starlin, creator of Eros. That graphic novel and the ensuing sequels are the only time that Starlin spent much time with the character. Prior to this, having Eros, devoid of a mouth, narrate The Infinity Gauntlet #4, the issue where Thanos kills all of your favourite heroes, save the ones that he already wiped out with a snap of his fingers. Not much is revealed about Thanos’s brother in that issue. It could have been anyone providing the running commentary of Thanos killing hero after hero in new and inventive ways. Despite creating the Titan branch of the Eternals, Starlin never seemed to have much use for any of them save Thanos. It was a surprise when, for his second trilogy of Thanos graphic novels that he would then turn his eye toward Eros finally. Positioning Thanos as a psychopath, it makes sense that Eros, the emotional manipulator, would be cast as a sociopath. A cold, self-serving being who flits through life, unconcerned with others except for how it relates to him. That was how Starlin wrote the character in that trilogy and I can’t quite tell if that’s how Gillen is writing him here.

Freed from the Exclusion at the end of Judgment Day #3 (and expanded upon in Death to the Mutants #2), Eros is sort of the ultimate politician in issue four. He goes from meeting to meeting, listening to what various people want, what they need to come together. The idea is that, if they can get over their differences and become unified, then they can pass the Progenitor’s judgment. It’s his alternative to using his emotional manipulation powers to simply force the planet into harmony... but it doesn’t strike me as much different. The cosmic dandy as Schiti draws him, his body language oozes manipulation and charm. That he’s applying the empathic part of his abilities towards this goal is still using his power to make people do what he wants. He gets everyone on board by making big promises and putting himself in a position of power (the panel where he’s declared Prime Eternal has such an ominous look to it), setting himself up to be the one who makes the impassioned plea to the Celestial on behalf of the world. And all he has to offer is the promise of hope. That they can change. That they can try.

His big speech rings false. Schiti has him overact, ham it up, and I kind of laughed a little. The word seem sincere, but the body language is far from. And the words are the wrong ones in the circumstance. It’s the sort of speech Captain America would make. The “We can be better” speech. The “We can change” speech. The lie. It’s a lie. It’s a bunch of desperate people grasping at whatever straws they can find in the vague hope that it will satisfy an unknowable god that sees through their lies. They pinned their hopes on a sociopath and thought that it would win over this god. Eros lies to everyone, including himself.

“If we can’t pass this test, we deserve to fail. If we don’t believe love can win, what’s the point?” Eros says early in the issue. Yet, what does he do that embodies love from that point? He listens, he makes deals, he assumes power, and he makes a stab to not die for good. Where is the love? There’s certainly self-interest, especially if he is the saviour of the world and the new Prime Eternal to boot. It’s very much the other side of his brother... different motivations, different means, same end goal... the same Eros.


Is there anything more shocking in this event to date than Uranos finally getting free, beginning to unleash utter destruction on the world, and, then, immediately getting his ass kicked all of the way back to the Exclusion? That it comes at the hands of people who just beat back his leftover weapons on Arakko makes it even funnier. Taken together, the arrival and victory/sacrifice of Storm and Magneto turns Judgment Day #4 into “The Hour of Magneto Pt. 2” in a sense.

I don’t want to minimise Storm’s role here... but it’s really about Magneto taking on Uranos. The two ugly patriarchs of their respective people facing off. Uranos is the unchanging epitome of the Eternals. “Undying.” Never evolving past a certain point: exterminate all deviance. So focused on his singular revelation of how to satisfy that Principle that he cannot think of anything else or become anything else. He managed to take a single leap beyond what he was and stopped, never to advance.

It’s very reminiscent of Magneto, the dark side of Charles Xavier’s dream, wanting to secure his people’s survival by killing humanity. No coexistence, no quarter given, just exterminate the brutes and be done with it. He spent a long time trying to accomplish that goal, but, unlike Uranos, he managed, over time to evolve. He deviated from his original ideas. Instead of focusing on tearing humanity down, he shifted his focus to building mutants up. And when the mutants of Krakoa made it clear that they were ready to move past his ideas, he went to Arakko to see if he could help build something there. He gave up mutant immortality, preferring to abide by the code of this different mutant culture. He continues to change and seek out new experiences as part of his love of his people.

Uranos wishes to stand alone and only uses others, viewing them as pawns for his own ends. He lies to Druig to gain his freedom and thinks nothing of betraying him. Magneto embraces the community around him, accepting the life-giving assistance of Storm to fight for something more than himself. It would never occur to Uranos to sacrifice himself for his people or his Principles the way Magneto freely does, never wavering on his decision to embrace the spirit of Arakko and forego resurrection. If there’s a brief moment of hope in Judgment Day #4 for the future of the planet, it’s when the Progenitor focuses in on the conflict between Uranos and Magneto, and, while dying, Magneto never calls out to Charles to save him, to ensure that he is reborn and will keep on living.

While he continues to change and evolve, in the end, Magneto is true to himself and his beliefs of the moment. He is nothing if not sincere. But, so is Uranos. They reflect one another better than Charles and Erik ever did. While we never see Uranos’s judgment, it’s hard to believe that he fails except in that he failed. He did not correct excess Deviance.

Yet, in the wake of his defeat and Magneto’s sacrifice, and Eros’s last ditch plea, the Progenitor decides. Earth fails.

“We’re going to die.”



No one should have to live all of their life on their own

No one should have to live all of their life on their own

No one should have to live all of their life on their own

No one should have to live all of their life alone

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Them Guys Ain’t Dumb 07 (Death to the Mutants #2, Immortal X-Men #6, Wolverine #24, and Marauders #6)

I’ve always admired the creators who bend events for their own purposes, advancing their own plots or characters through an event, even if it means falling a little out of step with the event. It’s hard not to admire and love the way that Kieron Gillen, for example, wrapped Journey into Mystery’s beginning around Fear Itself and made the event seem like a tie-in to his story rather than the other way around. Part of the success, of course, depended upon your familiarity with the title doing the tying in. Sometimes, it’s hard, when following the event, to appreciate what a tie in title is doing as it flirts with the event concept in its own service. You lack the appropriate context and sympathies to really be on board.

Which is my tap-dancing around how, on one level, I rather admire the concept of Marauders #6, while, on another level, feeling very little about it. It’s the only issue of this series that is part of the Judgment Day event and it very much uses the conceit of the event post-issue 3 to its specific purposes. With the new Celestial created by the Eternals priests, Iron Man, and Mister Sinister judging all of the world, this issue takes place post-judgment of the entire team. The Progenitor has come to all of the Marauders and judged them accordingly, leaving them all, those who passed and those who failed, feeling somewhat out of sorts. The idea of a cosmic god-like being appearing before you as someone or something meant to represent the most judgmental aspect of your life (whatever that means for you) and judging you for you worth as a person is one that would leave anyone shaken no matter the result.

With the team in that state, Aurora suggests to Kitty Pryde that through a combination of Somnus (whose powers allow people to exist in a dream world for whatever subjective length of time they require) and Birdy (a ‘combat psychologist’ whose mutant power allows for mental healing, at least temporarily), every member of the group could receive treatment from Birdy while under Somnus’s influence, allowing for massive progress in only ten minutes of real time. (This is a clever idea that potentially pushes things further than writer Steve Orlando intends as the potential of this concept in larger applications is one of those ‘broken’ sort of ideas you sometimes see in superhero comics where it could radically alter the world in ways that would be difficult to walk back. But, that’s a discussion for another time.) What follows are a series of two-page scenes where Birdy walks through each member’s respective judgment and leaves them feeling better.

Except, that’s not what happens exactly.

We get to witness a version of the judgment. A self-aware judgment. One that is a meld of memory, dream, and Birdy’s influence where she is healing whatever trauma or negative feelings remain from the judgment (at least in the short-term). In scene after scene, the judged present a calm, rational, albeit passionate, case for themself in response to the Progenitor’s probing and judging. Rarely are they rattled or fazed by the form(s) the Progenitor takes. In every case, they push back on the Celestial and its folds easily, though without judgment one way or the other (except for an allusion to judgment from Psylocke). The psychic therapy is aimed at putting them all at peace where they present themselves in an honest and shockingly self-aware fashion, leaving them feeling like whatever the end result, they were true to themself and at peace with that knowledge.

Given the judgments we’ve seen elsewhere, particularly in the comics Gillen wrote this week, none of these experiences seem to reflect the judgments of the Progenitor. In those, the Celestial appears, almost always with the judgment prepared, and the judged (particularly those who fail) are overwhelmed by the sight of a loved one or a deep-seeded guilt judging them so intimately and completely, declaring them a success or failure worthy to live or die. If the judgments occurred how we see them in Marauders #6, then none of them would need the combat therapy to be ready for what comes next. The comic is a very clever use of the event to spotlight the ensemble cast, give Orlando a chance to give some quick yet intense takes on where each character is mentally, and deliver what I would imagine is a very good read for fans of the title/characters. Me, I’m left to coldly admire it while feeling very little about the insights each character gained/showed one way or the other.

Gillen’s two additions to Judgment Day this week showcase the two approaches of tie-ins to an extent. Immortal X-Men #6 feels like it’s more focused on advancing its characters and plots than those of the event, while Death to the Mutants #2 leans more towards the event. I’m not sure how much of that is a conscious choice and how much of that is borne out of the fact that the event is very much the next Eternals arc blown up in size and scale to encompass the X-Men line and the Avengers (kind of). That leaves Gillen’s X-Men book as a slight outsider to the event, reacting to what’s happening more than determining what’s happening, while the Eternals stand-in title provides more shape to the event, adding depth around the edges. And that mirrors the event where the inciting events have been determined by the actions and decisions of Eternals, while everyone else is left reacting.

Given the judgments we see in these two issues, the criteria of the Progenitor does appear to be along the lines of how closely one lives to their core goals, ideals, morals, etc. How true to yourself are you? Captain America does not inspire greatness in his country. Cyclops is the leader of the X-Men and the husband of Jean Grey. Emma Frost is a teacher whose students keep dying because of her. Kro and the Deviants continue to live and thrive and hope even when they know their gods do not love them. Who is burdened by guilt in their life? Who lies to themself? Who is living their best, true life?

It’s a very ‘coming out of two years of global pandemic’ sort of event. Everything was thrown into shambles and it was a period for reflecting for many people about how they wished to live their life going forward. The most obvious signifiers have been shouted again and again in headlines about ‘the great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’ where many people’s relationship with the labour they do every day to survive in a capitalist society has been changed to acknowledge that reality, albeit framed from the perspective of the exploiters rather than the exploited. But, at its core, the lockdowns gave some the chance to decide, with much of the elements of their daily lives taken away, how do they wish to live when those elements are available once again? What sort of life have they been living? Was it worthwhile? Was it justified? “I should’ve learned to play guitar... I should’ve learned to play them drums...”

That idea resonates with me deeply and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has asked themself how a judgment from the Progenitor would go for them. Of course, I’m afraid mine would go much like Sally’s in Death to the Mutants #2. “I’ve helped doom the world with procrastination.”

Ouch. I’m hit. Man down.

Next: Judgment Day #4 and X-Men Red #6

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Them Guys Ain’t Dumb 06 (X-Men #14 and X-Force #31)

The last time we had an X-Force tie-in issue for Judgment Day, it had nothing to do with the event. No mention of Celestials or Eternals or attacks on Krakoa, just another issue of X-Force. It came out the same week as X-Men #13, which was very much about the event, expanding on both Judgment Day #2 and Death to the Mutants #1 (itself an expansion on Judgment Day #2 and out the same week as the two X-titles). Skip ahead two weeks and we’ve got X-Force and X-Men again, and I figured I could almost copy and paste in what I wrote then for now...

Well, you know what they say about god and plans and assumptions and Celestials, right?

Neither of these issue are much of a tie-in. Between the two of them, I’d argue that there are eight pages related to the event with the rest having nothing to do with the Judgment Day beyond the odd reference or allusion that makes no difference. Both of these comics function as just your average issue of each title with a scene plugged into each involving the Progenitor that could be excised completely and have no impact whatsoever.

No, I can’t copy and paste what I wrote two weeks ago, because this is a whole different sort of pointless cashgrab tie-in approach. This is the “technically it did feature something about the event” tie-in meant to silence anyone complaining that the banner on the front was false advertising. Because it’s not. Because these comics each feature scenes with the Progenitor. So it’s about Judgment Day, really. 18.18% is about Judgment Day to be a bit more exact. Shame I couldn’t have just paid $1.45 for the parts that I wanted, right? It was still $7.98 (more in Canada).

I don’t want to harp on about money and get back into that “riding the gravy train” stuff. I’d much rather continue discussing the Progenitor and the Eternals and the mutants and all of the things that I’m loving about this event. That’s not what events are about, though. They’re about giving you enough of that other stuff to get you excited and wanting more, so you begin buying anything with the banner on the cover, because you love the story so much! You see a cover with Cyclops in what looks to be Celestial-esque bonds, hood over his head, and you think that you’re going to get yourself an issue of Cyclops facing down his judgment with the Progenitor.

You get three pages that feel like an afterthought to the other 19.

None of this is about the quality of the comics themselves or even the creators involved necessarily. I don’t have the knowledge to know why they made the decisions they made, why editorial made the decisions they made, or why the event banner is on the cover of comics that have little to do with the event. All I can talk about is what it feels like when you pay your money with certain expectations and get comics that do the absolute bare minimum to fulfill those expectations. It feels like a cynical cash crab. It feels like everyone involved is happy to take your money by lying.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you go back ten years, Wolverine & The X-Men took an issue off from Avengers vs. X-Men in the middle of a run of tie-ins to do a Doop issue. No AvX branding or anything. Just took an issue off from the event, because they felt like it. That’s what X-Men #14 seemed like it wanted to do. And I get it. We went from the Hellfire Gala when the new X-Men roster was set right into a big line-spanning event and maybe everyone involved just wanted to do an issue involving this new team doing some X-Men shit. Then go for it. Take an issue off from the event. No one will mind.

I mean, me, personally, I knew what I was getting into when I signed up to buy about every comic getting released with this event and write about them every week. Every event has bullshit like this. Comics that say that they tie into the event when they don’t; pointless mini-series and one-shots that add nothing; creators gritting through their teeth as they shoehorn in event details without derailing their ongoing plots... that’s the name of the game, right? Money for nothing.

And, damn, if that doesn’t sound dismissive and harsh about the hard work that went into these comics. They’re fine enough comics, I suppose. Hell, the X-Force arc could still turn itself around given we have two more issues coming out. But, these two comics are what they are, and I’m going to treat them as such. So, here’s 18.18% approximately about the pages that relate to the event:

The X-Force scene where Kraven faces the Progenitor naked, wanting some sort of acknowledgment tell us nothing. It’s about Kraven and the lack of response from the Celestial doesn’t tell us anything of any value. Was it ignoring him? Was it still judging him? Was it even aware he was there? Dunno.

The Cyclops scene has a little more meat to it, though not by much. It works best if you know a little bit of the history between Cyclops and Celestials. Along with Jean Grey and some aliens, he managed to blow Arishem’s hand off once; and, then, later, he told a whole group of them off in a manner that got them to leave Earth alone. Cyclops is nonplussed when it comes to the judgmental space gods. His unwillingness to be judged except by his wife, someone who knows him and his goals, successes, failures, etc. intimately falls in line with each judgment being subjective to an extent. Cyclops is living his life as best he can these days and generally succeeding at what he sets as his goals. His recent disclosure of the resurrection protocols was a definite doing what he thought was right no matter how it looked. Of course he gets the pass. Krakoa Cyclops is very much living his best life and doing it up to his own standards.

I wish I could say that these are the last issues I’ll be buying for the event that will feel like wastes of my time and money (at least in how it relates to Judgment Day). I doubt it, unfortunately. As I said, it’s how these things go and, looking over what’s coming, it’s hard not to spot a few questionable comics. It bugs me not just because of the money it costs me; I’ve really been enjoying this event and am excited by the potential stories left on the table by the main series for others to pick up and run with. Instead, we get brand issues that engage minimally with the event, and it’s hard to not jump to conclusions as to why.

Next week is a rather large week with Death to the Mutants #2, Immortal X-Men #6, Marauders #6, and Wolverine #24. With two of those written by Kieron Gillen, we are assured two issues about the event. That I feel the need to jump to the solicitations in order to prepare myself for the other two is sad. The “this issue takes place concurrently with Wolverine #24” note in X-Force #31 doesn’t warm my heart.