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Krakoa Is Dead, Long Live Krakoa


It’s fitting that the X-Men as an idea are as similarly cyclical as one of the franchise’s most iconic figures. Hear me, X-Men! No longer am I the woman you knew! I am Fire and Life incarnate!” cries Jean Grey, now the Phoenix, in X-Men #101, beginning a cycle of fated death and rebirth for her similar to the one that has chased mutant kind for its entire publication history.

Mutants rise, and they fall, and they resist, and they rise again. The story of this cycle is one the current Krakoan Age has tried to break—creating a mutant utopia that has offered an olive branch to old foes, cheated the specter of death itself, and created a mutantdom that is as close to paradise any of them has ever been. But such a meteoric rise can only followed by a meteoric fall, and in this week’s 2023 Hellfire Gala one-shot, almost every villainous thread of this era of X-Men comics has brought exactly that: a fall that, if not a death blow against Krakoa itself, is at least a death blow to one of the oldest mutant political ideas that helped found it.

The 2023 Hellfire Gala—penned primarily by Gerry Duggan (with a guest appearance by Krakoan-age architext Jonathan Hickman, and filled with a superstar runway of artistic talent from across the current X-era, including, deep breath, Adam Kubert, Luciano Vecchio, Matteo Lolli, Russell Dauterman, Javier Pina, R.B. Silva, Josh Cassara, Kris Anka, Pepe Larraz, Valerio Schiti, Rain Beredo, Ceci De La Cruz, Matthew Wilson, Erick Arciniega, and Marte Gracia—is the third such one-shot intended to herald in a new chapter of this idyllic age. Past Hellfire Galas—lavish, fashion-forward diplomatic balls designed to present mutant majesty on the world stage—have had trouble in the shadows of the bright lights and dazzling costumes.

Image for article titled The X-Men's Dream Has Died in Fire Again

Image: Marvel Comics

We’ve know for a while that dark times were coming—Marvel hasn’t been yelling about the Fall of X for nothing these past few months—but the 2023 edition of the Gala brings that previous trouble out of the shadows and to the forefront of proceedings in a flurry of death and destruction. It serves to underline mutantkind’s forever struggle in a way that may finally damn one of the franchise’s underlying political theses irreparably: Charles Xavier’s perpetual plight for human-mutant assimilation.

Things start all well enough at the Gala, but even then, a metatextual shadow lingers over it, as we see Kamala Khan resurrected as the first explicit Inhuman-Mutant, the fallout of her recent and very publicly messy death in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. It only goes from bad to worse when one page you’re meeting the newest X-Men team voted for by Krakoan residents (Synch, Talon/Laura Kinney, Dazzler, Prodigy, Cannonball, Frenzy, Jubilee, and the Juggernaut—who were all up for vote on a single position this year), and the next you are literally watching them get violently and graphically eviscerated by none other than Nimrod.

Image for article titled The X-Men's Dream Has Died in Fire Again

Image: Marvel Comics

That is the moment Orchis—the anti-human league that has been working alongside Nimrod since the dawn of this Krakoan era of X-comics, and now grown in number to include villainous developments like Sinister clone Dr. Stasis, and the manic, cybernetic turncoat Moira X—makes a move it has been setting up for years at this point. It’s a clever bit of surgery on Duggan’s part, bringing together the disparate threats of the wider Orchis entity with the ones posed more directly by Nimrod, Moira, and Stasis, now all staged as clear-cut direct villains for Fall of X after years of waiting in the wings. Because what else could lay something as well protected and safeguarded low on such a scale than every possible nightmare happening at once?

That’s what we get for pretty much the rest of the issue, vacillating between fraught tension and almost gleeful violence. Bobby Drake is graphically melted before his lover’s eyes. Human diplomats are gunned down in a hail of Orchis trooper fire. Jean Grey, knifed in the back with an otherworldly dagger to shut down her powers before she can save the day, burning herself up to place Firestar as an inside operative with Orchis, at the cost of making her a traitor in the eyes of her fellow mutants. Stasis revealing his grand plan that anyone who has taken Krakoa’s medicines—the very basis of the mutant nation’s recognition of sovereignty and its diplomacy to the human world—has been laced with a chemical fight-or-flight killswitch. Charles Xavier, at Moira’s knifepoint, psionically ordering every mutant in the world through the nearest Krakoan gateway to exile under the threat of human hostage extermination by factors of 10 (what else?).

Image for article titled The X-Men's Dream Has Died in Fire Again

Image: Marvel Comics

It’s awful, and graphic even for this death-filled era where resurrection makes it more of an impediment than it is permanent, even for the famously hard to kill X-Men. Even as they die, mutantkind fights to save this home they’ve made for themselves, until the moment that they can’t—and even then, still some resist, trusted agents trained to counter even Charles’ most powerful telepathic commands forming a retinue of survivors around Emma Frost. Even at the climax of the issue, when Charles is rescued from Moira’s judgement by a well-timed arrival from Rogue, and Emma’s survivors are secreted away from the Gala (another payment in blood, this time the death of teleporter Lourdes Chantel), more death awaits. Charles psychically realizes that he cannot sense any mutant on Krakoa at all—that he has commanded his people into a meatgrinder, not exiling them but murdering them. That last one might be Hellfire Gala 2023’s most obvious falsehood (the story of the X-Men might be one of death and rebirth, but even a company infamous for some bad decisions probably didn’t just give Mutantkind its third large-scale genocide after Genosha and M-Day), but even then, it is a reflection of the great heights this era of X-Men has achieved that the stakes must be so horrific to put them on the backfoot.

And on that backfoot they are, with all of Krakoa’s boons turned against them. With the Five missing in action, resurrection is off the table for now. The medicines that won them even scantest diplomacy from the human world are now a loaded gun held to their heads. The gateways themselves are now locked off for all but, ironically, Kate Pryde—who used to be the only mutant who couldn’t use them. And Charles Xavier sits weeping on the shores of his paradise, now a prison of one and a monument to his failures. And that really is the greatest death of Hellfire Gala, even if far from its most tragic or graphic. The Krakoan age has long questioned if Charles’ belief in assimilation over separatism would doom it—a question that has lingered over Charles’ political beliefs for 60 years now. Now, it appears to have delivered its coup de grace. With his former ally Moira now his most hated enemy, with his separatist foil in Magneto sacrificed in the events of Judgment Day, Charles has been, even with an increasingly fraught Quiet Council, largely been guiding Krakoa alone, and guiding it on his principles that mutantkind must ameliorate humanity, no matter the cost.

Image for article titled The X-Men's Dream Has Died in Fire Again

Image: Marvel Comics

Much of mutantkind has, seemingly paid that cost for Charles. “Just look at we have made,” Magneto told Xavier at the very end of House of X, as the two looked to the stars above their island utopia, a shared dream tempered by their ideologies. Now, in its empty ruins, Charles Xavier can see exactly what he has made for himself: a graveyard for his people and his dream.


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