Friday, October 14, 2022

Them Guys Ain’t Dumb 12 (Immortal X-Men #7, Death to the Mutants #3, AXE: Eternals #1, AXE: Iron Fist #1, Legion of X #6, Captain Marvel #42, Fantastic Four #48, Wolverine #25, and X-Force #32)

Somewhere during the reading of the three Judgment Day tie-ins that Kieron Gillen wrote and were released this week, I was stunned by the complexity of the narrative he is telling. It is absolutely stunning to see the various threads weave in and out of different comics, pulling together all of these characters. Most events have a variety of narrative threads that the writer must hold together, though I find that they’re usually left loose for others to pick up or cast aside when the time comes to focus on a specific, singular endpoint. Somehow, Gillen’s narrative for this event has grown more and more complex as it has gone on – and he hasn’t abandoned any elements, instead keeps adding new ones. I’m still trying to make sense of it all, to be honest.

Since issue five of Judgment Day, we’ve been fooled into thinking that this was a simple, straight forward story, as the tie-ins that take place after that issue focused entirely on the group inside the Progenitor, looking to shut it down. That’s a fairly simple and direct story. Last week also saw the addition of the Starfox one-shot, which didn’t seem like it was adding a lot to the larger narrative, more tying off a loose thread. This week’s issues put that interpretation into question by dramatically expanding the scope of what is occurring in the world outside of the Progenitor. I’ve contemplated trying to lay out the entire plot/put it into some sort of workable order and that seems tedious. It’s rather cool how much is just forming connections in your head based off what order you read the comics in and what stray lines you pick up on. More than past events, I think Judgment Day will reward rereading greatly.

Immortal X-Men #7 stunned me. It was not just the best comic of the event this week, it might stack up with one of my favourite Kieron Gillen-written comics. And it shouldn’t. If you look at it from afar, it is a frantic mess that covers a huge amount of plot ground in a manner that probably only makes complete sense if you’ve read the other comics it references/teleports into briefly. Yet, grounding it in Nightcrawler’s perspective – his determination and fierce humanity – adds a needed throughline to tie it all together. From a structural perspective, it’s fitting that this issue that jumps from Judgment Day #4 to Judgment Day #5 to Death to the Mutants #3, possibly all the way into Judgment Day #6 with stops in between is centred around a teleporter. It’s a nice bit of cohesiveness that you’d expect from Gillen the formalist; as Nightcrawler jumps from place to place, moment to moment, the issue similarly makes jumps.

Yet, what hit me harder was the dedication and determination of Kurt Wagner. If you didn’t think him a top-class superhero before, this is the issue that should push him near the top of your list. He is relentless in his efforts to propel himself and the rest of the planet towards survival – so much so that he dies. Again and again. And again. Oh, and, then, again and again and again. It’s tiring to see what he does in this issue – it’s inspiring that he somehow does it with optimism and joy. While there is an element of necessity to everything he does, that he has to do it or they will fail, there’s also a willingness that comes through; that, if there were several options for survival and him doing what he does was only one of them, he would be happy to volunteer. So big is his heart and his love for... everyone. That doesn’t always come out in happy-go-lucky quips. Sometimes, Nightcrawler is angry and brutal, yet it comes from a place of love and terror.

Part of me wants to give Gillen credit for not going heavy-handed with Kurt’s Catholicism. A lot of writers would be tempted, particularly in the way that Judgment Day is very much rooted in conceptions of a judgmental Old Testament-style God and Catholic guilt (the judgments are basically, do you feel guilty for betraying your own ideals?); instead, most of that is pushed aside as Kurt embodies his Christian ideals through his (seemingly) endless sacrifice. He offers up his life numerous times, putting himself in a position of total service for the good of his fellow people of Earth. And he inspires others, truly. His scene with Destiny stands out as a truly touching moment – and demonstrates the effect that a failing judgment has on some, as Destiny seems equally inspired by Kurt and her own failure/fear to proceed in crafting the plan to save the world.

Gillen wouldn’t have a chance of pulling this issue off without Lucas Werneck’s line art. Crisp and evocative, that art holds together the frantic pace of the issue, keeping things clear in time and space. I’ve enjoyed his art on Immortal X-Men to this point and this is the issue that cements his status as one of the best artists in comics. He draws one hell of a Nightcrawler, maintaining that needed look of joy and optimism that sells scenes and makes his words actually seem more than platitudes. The cheeky grin on his face as he falls to the ground with Destiny, followed by the warm smile as he extends his hand to her, offering to walk down the difficult path ahead with her... they’re different looks to convey different emotions and meanings despite being the same smiling face. Werneck shows the difficulty of Kurt’s sacrifices, his tireless work – and how close he is at times to breaking. The smile that never leaves his face in the final attempt to recruit Moira isn’t a show of optimism for anyone, it’s a deserved self-satisfaction with a plan that’s working and the hope that he genuinely feels for the future.

Kurt’s sacrifices and his religious faith in the future are contrasted with the sacrifices of Ikaris and Phastos in Death to the Mutants #3, and Ajak’s trial of faith in AXE: Eternals #1. While we see exactly why Sersi failed her judgment, the continued willingness of Ikaris to sacrifice for others, to try to be better hit me. Did he know that the Resurrection Engines were gone? Does it matter? While Phastos killed his friend to save his friend... it’s a key plot point and a small sacrifice, in a way. It’s also one of the more meaningful deaths I’ve come across in an event and, given the deaths we’ve seen so far, one of the few that may actually stick when all is said and done. The Machine has been our entry point throughout Gillen’s Eternals run, right up through Death to the Mutants and, by restarting The Machine, Phastos effectively kills that mind. The Machine lives on, but The Machine that we’ve known is gone.

The judgment of Ajak didn’t go how I thought it would. AXE: Eternals #1 is the final of three one-shots bridging the gap between issues five and six of Judgment Day, following the group that is inside the Progenitor. So far, we’ve seen Tony Stark pass judgment and realise that the trial didn’t actually end, while Jean Grey failed. In both cases, the judgment (as it has for the others written by Gillen) hinged upon how much they live up to their own morality, their own code of conduct. What are their ideals and their goals – do they actually stand by them or do they betray them? Do they feel guilt for lying to themselves? That is the only measure of objectivity that the Progenitor seems to possess and it’s been interesting to see it applied to different characters.

Just over halfway through the issue, the judgment hits a moment that should solidify how the rest of the issue (and judgment) plays out: Ajak, having killed every human whose life was taken to resurrect her, battles against the ghost of the Progenitor while justifying herself and her actions, ending by stating “I am many things, my god. But I am not a hypocrite.” The Progenitor-as-Makkari responds “Yes...” acknowledging that Ajak lives a life completely adhering to her personal beliefs, morals, goals, what have you. Unlike Makkari, she does not regret creating the Progenitor and, in adherence to her goals, she continues to seek to make it into the god that she believes it can and should be. By all rights, she should pass judgment.


It seems like the Progenitor is ready to fail Ajak, citing the consequences of her strict, fanatical faith. She created a god that will destroy everything, including her. Even it can see that that was a mistake and says, “There is faith... and there is too much faith.” To this point, the Progenitor didn’t judge the subjective morality of anyone, only how closely they lived up to their own closely held ideals. We know that the trial has not ended, that the Celestial still judges the planet, and that there is a larger plan in play that we don’t have the details of yet, so this could merely be an element of that – another deferral of judgment after we’ve seen it defer many before. Not at odds with that interpretation is that this is the beginning of the further growth of the Progenitor into the sort of god that Ajak believes it can become. It moves past its singular form of judgment to a more nuanced one when forced to finally judge its primary creator. This is a god that we know was created through an act of belief and that belief continues to shape it, mould it subtly and gradually. Thus far, this new god has been mostly viewed as a static creation, one set in stone – but some of its narration has suggested growth and change throughout the event – and few gods remain in a single place.

The primary question remains as we head towards issue six: what sort of god will the Progenitor be at the end of Judgment Day?


In this week’s glut of tie-ins, I found myself increasingly disappointed with the writers of them. The quality of the individual comics varied, but quality wasn’t what I found myself focusing on. No, what bothered me is how Kieron Gillen is the only writer to have the Progenitor fail a hero/protagonist of his comics. In fact, aside from one instance of a villain being failed in one tie-in, no writer explicitly failed any of their characters. To me, that’s a big failure to actively engage with this event in a truly meaningful way.

Let’s go back and look at the actual judgments, shall we? I’m skipping anything that didn’t have a definitive or deferred judgment or was written by Gillen, with one exception.

X-Men #14: Cyclops passes.

Avengers #60: Hawkeye passes.

Amazing Spider-Man #10: Spider-Man passes.

Fantastic Four #47-48: This is maybe the only contentious one as the end of issue 48 shows a thumbs up, possibly just for Reed Richards (it seems almost symbolic for the whole world, to be honest) and issue 47 has Reed narrate “So, if my family – my ordinary, extraordinary family – could be judged and come up wanting?” which could be read as either a hypothetical by Reed or a statement that the other three have already all failed. Given that the other three seem pretty unbothered by the whole Celestial judgment thing, treating it like any other world-ending threat, I’m interpreting it as they hadn’t yet received judgment and Reed was talking out his problem, proceeding on the idea that Earth would need to be saved from a being that could fail his family. The judgment at the end of issue 48 is also vague and not entirely consistent with the rest of the event. But, there are no definitive failures.

AXE: Iron Fist #1: Iron Fist and Loki both pass, while Iron Fist’s brother fails. We are not given enough context for Lin Feng’s failure. The two passes make sense as both characters show a lack of hypocrisy consistent with the judgments we’ve seen elsewhere, while the failure lacks any real context.

Captain Marvel #42: Captain Marvel, Lauri-Ell, and Chewie the cat all pass. This is a fine enough issue and has a bit of a clever conceit in following the cat around. The only moment that struck me as out of place with the event was when Chewie catches a mouse and the Progenitor-as-Carol following it around briefly gives it a thumbs down until it lets the mouse go.

Wolverine #24-25: Wolverine passes, other judgments are deferred/not shown.

Legion of X #6: Legion passes.

Marauders #6: We don’t know who passes or fails. Steve Orlando chose to engage with the process of healing and justification rather than the end result, which seems like a fair way to engage with the event. Although, Psylocke does explicitly get mentioned as passing, while Daiken theorises that he failed without it being confirmed.

The X-Men Red tie-ins featured no judgments except overlapping with Magneto’s passing in Judgment Day #4, while X-Force’s tie-ins haven’t had any judgments yet either, but still may next week.

Now, let’s contrast that with the various judgments that have occurred in Gillen’s titles:

Pass: Kro and the entire Deviant race, Phastos, Kitty Pryde, Thor, Ms. Marvel, Starbrand, Daniela, Dr. Doom, Jada, Miles Morales, Magneto, Ikaris, Iron Man, and (possibly) Ajak.

Fail: Captain America, Emma Frost, Destiny, Mystique, the Delphan Brothers, Makkari, Sally, Sebastian Shaw, Tom, Luke Cage, Katrina, Charles Xavier, Daredevil, Sersi, Eros/the world(?), and Jean Grey.

Plus many deferrals/non-judgments that also say something, I suppose. But, looking at those two lists, it’s a healthy mix of heroes, villains, civilians, and characters that feature heavily in the two regular titles that Gillen writes, Eternals and Immortal X-Men.

What makes the choices to pass all of the characters so frustrating is that the majority of the tie-ins by writers other than Gillen and Al Ewing take place between issues three and four of Judgment Day, focusing on that period of Celestial judgment. Some handle that judgment well, some less than well, some not at all... yet, overwhelmingly, whether the comic is good or bad, consistent with the Progenitor in Gillen’s books or not, the result is the same: everyone passes. We get one singular explicit failure of a character that’s meant to be the bad guy but lacks further context, one possible suggestion that three quarters of the Fantastic Four failed before maybe they all passed, and an issue that engages with the idea of the event by not delivering definitive judgments. There is a concerted effort throughout the tie-ins to engage with the Celestial judgment and the way that most use it is to blandly give a thumbs up to their characters. If you focus in on individual issues, the results seem justified and not a problem, but, taken as a whole, it points to the lack of editorial cohesion and overview that is needed to create a balance, unified event. The result, as a whole, is to further separate Gillen and his work from that of his peers – to further emphasis that, with a few exceptions, this event and its strengths are carried by him and his artistic collaborators with others either unwilling or unable to actually engage honestly with the true premise of the event.

How could no one want to tell the story of a character that fails and what that means aside from Gillen?

Soon after issue three, I had an idea that, at the end of the event, I’d go through and give every issue involved a pass/fail to see if the event, as a whole, passes. Since then, I’ve seen such a gulf expand between what Gillen and Ewing have been doing consistently throughout and what nearly every other writer involved has produced that it doesn’t seem fair. The event is a great one and happens to feature a host of bland, skippable tie-ins that add virtually nothing to it, like so many events of the past (and future). What tips things in favour of the good is that, along with the main series, Gillen wrote a large number of tie-ins, making it so he wrote nearly half of the total event himself. It’s easy to toss out the forgettable tie-ins when over half of the total event is incredibly high quality that actively adds to the story and themes.

If that sounds harsh, that’s because it’s meant to. Thanks to the quirks of scheduling, this week had nine Judgment Day tie-ins come out for a total of $37.91 USD (more in Canada!) and what became incredibly apparent is that, after reading the three written by Gillen and Legion of X #6, the remaining five were barely worth the time and money. I could have stopped there and gained the same amount of insight into Judgment Day as I did after reading the remaining five comics. More than half were completely skippable and... I don’t get it. I truly don’t understand the process that leads to this. Which is why I am dismissive and chalk it all up to efforts to get money for nothing, piggybacking off the event for a sales bump, and delivering little of consequence.

And I don’t mean in a plot sense. Legion of X #6 didn’t actually add a whole lot to the main event story. It mostly contributed some surrounding details for the plots of X-Men Red #5-7, which itself carved out a nice little slice of the main event for itself. These are comics whose primary focus is their own characters and advancing their own stories using the event and, in the process, manage to enrich and deepen the event. It’s not just “Hey, what happened on Arakko?” Legion of X #6 adds extra depth to the efforts of Nightcrawler in Immortal X-Men #7 without directly commenting upon them. The X-Men Red issues, yes, expand upon Uranos’s attack, but quickly sidestep that to focus on its own characters and the fallout of that attack, positioning Magneto and Storm into their position to act in Judgment Day #4 and, then, deal with those consequences. These comics engage with the event, both in how they can affect it, but also in how it affects them. X-Men Red, in particular, veers in an out of connecting actively with Judgment Day, almost like a line on a graph that moves towards, away, and overlaps with the mean. Marauders #6 also felt like a tie-in that tried to genuinely apply the ideas of Judgment Day to itself and how that could impact its characters and story going forward.

The other tie-ins took a superficial element of the story, did an issue or two featuring it, and it feels like it meant nothing. Not really. They were issue(s)-long versions of single panels from Judgment Day #4, except less consistent or intellectually curious.

And we still have one tie-in left to go before we get to the finale of this event.