Yes, yes, the Marvel universe is full of people bitten by radioactive spiders, humanoid subspecies enhanced by mysterious gases born of interstellar rocks, and more cosmic rays and kinds of radiation than you could shake a whole lab’s worth of scientists at. It’s weird. But it’s also so much weirder than you think—and one of its oldest powers is being disrupted by the X-Men’s resurgence.
While interstellar forces, energy projectiles, and superstrength might, on the surface, appear to be some of the most powerful forces in the wild world of superheroics, magic itself is one of the most fundamental and ancient powers of the Marvel universe. Magic connects realms of existence and ties humans and otherworldly beings together in ways both dangerous and delightful.
Some of the greatest heroes of the Marvelverse and some of its most dangerous villains, from the Scarlet Witch to Apocalypse himself, have dedicated their lives to safeguarding, understanding, and wielding its most potent secrets.
The ongoing “Dawn of X” in the wake of the House of X/Powers of X duology series has given us a new series explicitly aimed at tackling that issue in the form of this week’s Excalibur #1, by Tini Howard, Marcus To, Erick Arciniega, Cory Petit, and Tom Muller. It’s a series that, like last week’s Marauders before it, takes a step back from the wide lens the main X-Men book looked through, and considers a smaller microcosm of the Marvel world that has been impacted by the establishment of Krakoa as a new living and breathing sovereign state and major worldpower.
While Marauders focused on the migration and trade routes in a post-Krakoa world (made infinitely more exciting than that sounds by adding, well, pirates), Excalibur is beginning to explore Krakoa’s impact on the realm of magic—two worlds smushed together that find themselves suddenly both intimately intertwined and harshly contrasted.
It’s doing so through a character who is trying to re-examine her place in the world after great upheaval of two very different sides: Betsy Braddock, a.k.a. Psylocke. Who... well, went through some stuff recently that has seen Betsy’s psychic spirit put inside a new facsimile of her original, caucasian body, freeing Kwannon—the Japanese woman who’s body Betsy has been using for decades—to be her own person again.
And while Krakoa’s founding has given all of mutantkind, Betsy and Kwannon included, a chance to celebrate coming together, Betsy is far from a place where she wants to really be having extended conversation with the woman whose face she wore for near 30 years. Or with her newly resurrected brother Jamie, for that matter, the reality-bending jerkwad who’s now also hanging about causing a scene on Krakoa. So it’s a good job there’s some magical nonsense that can keep her away for a bit and give her some purpose, isn’t it?
Magic is a realm the Braddocks are explicitly linked to—even if it’s not through Betsy herself. Her brother Brian, after all, is Captain Britain—guardian not just of the British Isles (even with, y’know that whole thing), but of the plane beneath those isles: Outerworld. It and its kingdom of Avalon are among the innate sources of magical energy in the Marvel universe and are existentially important to the flow of magic, not just from its plane of existence to mystical artifacts like Captain Britain’s amulet, but across the entire Marvel world.
And Morgan Le Fay is currently in charge. That’s already a very not good thing, but matters have been made worse by the fact that, unbeknown to the mutants of the world above, Krakoa’s gateways aren’t just populating themselves on the Earth. They’re populating on the realms connected to Earth as well, other dimensions, other planets, and yes, even in the sacred halls of Avalon’s courts.
What Krakoa’s encroachment means specifically for magic is the creation of a powerful paradigm shift—one that Apocalypse has been working to capitalise on now that he no longer has to really concern himself with bringing every mutant into the fold of his worldviews when it comes to the superiority of their species. The energy produced by Krakoa to generate its flowers and create gateways has upset the balance of magic itself, inverting the established rule of law across occult writings that is “as above, so below”—that there are mirrored consequences to the use of magic that impact both the mortal realm and the realms connected to it.
Krakoa’s genesis has created an inversion of that established order, and, seemingly in the process, created a new way of wielding magic that only those with the X-gene can currently exploit—a magic that is not just much more potent, but requires fewer magic users to come together to wield.
You see what they did there.
This would already be enough of a thing for the magical heroes of the world to be concerned about, especially in an age where mutantkind is proudly standing alone. But Morgan, who, having conveniently usurped King Arthur’s rule to establish herself as not just one of the most powerful magic users in any Marvel reality, but Avalon’s ruler, is understandably very confused and very angry about this. So when she calls Captain Britain back to Avalon (as she is now technically Brian’s boss) to answer for Earth’s encroachment on her territory, things go immediately sideways.
Morgan not only forbids mortals from access to Avalon’s magics, she now sees mutants themselves as a direct enemy of magic itself, a threat to be eradicated in its name. So the fact that Brian brings Betsy along with him doesn’t just send her full-tilt into a rage, but creates the need for a rescue mission on Krakoa’s end—one hampered when Betsy herself psychically shatters the connection between Outerworld and Krakoa.
It’s a move that not only sees Morgan curse and corrupt Brian to be her dominated dark knight, but feedback from the Krakoan gateway’s destruction sends Rogue into a catatonic state as she seemingly merges with its remnants and Betsy’s psychic energies while trying to help recover her from Outerworld.
It’s also one that gives Betsy the new purpose that she’s been looking for since her separation from Kwannon. Taking Brian’s amulet before he’s fully dominated by Morgan, she magically flees back to Krakoa and finds herself surrounded by confused mutants...wearing a brand new set of threads:
Say hello to Betsy Braddock, Captain Britain.
It’s an interesting auspice for Betsy that raises some intriguing questions for her. Captain Britain’s mantle gives her access to an entirely new realm of power to safeguard, away from the world of mutantkind’s current ongoing struggles (and her own unease at being on Krakoa with Jamie), but it’s come at the loss of her twin and with Rogue herself undergoing some kind of mystical transformation. And if anything, it compounds all her internal doubts right now: in the midst of seeking an identity after decades of essentially stealing someone else’s, she finds herself doing so again by taking on Brian’s superhero legacy.
But it also raises questions about just what else Krakoa’s existence as a sprawling, expanding nation really means for the primal forces of the Marvel universe—not just magic. One of the core concerns that drove the real threat of House and Powers of X was the idea that mutantkind is a natural-born countercheck to human evolution, a superior species to balance and control humanity’s own growth. Somewhere down the line, a post-human singularity could undo it all, in the future Moira MacTaggert, Charles Xavier, and Magneto are now desperately fighting to avoid.
But if mutantkind is a primal force of the Earth itself, a natural reaction to human life, what does its new resurgence as not just a world power but a literal force of nature do to the very balance of existence? Magic can’t be the only power that has felt Krakoa’s emergence, or been so radically changed by it. Where else, when else, how else could Krakoa’s gateways have twisted the known laws of reality—not just this reality, but the many realities it is connected to?
The Marvel world is getting weirder, in ways good and bad. And mutantkind might be the only force that can confront that change head-on.