Mutantkind has changed. No longer societal outcasts but a global, independent power of their own, the Dawn of X at Marvel Comics has seen the X-Men and other mutants rise as a new kind of society — but one among them is starting to wonder what the spiritual cost of their collective rebirth really is: Nightcrawler.
The bold re-alignment of mutantkind’s place in the Marvel Comics oeuvre underneath the guidance of Jonathan Hickman since House of X and Powers of X has dramatically flipped the lid on what it means to be a mutant. Since the arrival of Krakoa as a sovereign nation, the mutant peoples of Earth have come together in a form of unity unseen in eons. It’s more than just a new home, a new government, a new approach to the outside world both amicable yet isolationist in equal measure. Krakoa has brought with it the seeming antidote to decades of persecution and decimation that has driven X-books for years: Mutants have defeated death itself, and through the powers of Krakoan resurrection, they are ascendant.
In the years since HoXPoX, there have been series across the X-catalogue that touch on the fact that the X-Men and their fellow mutants’ ability to just cheat death is pushing their new society down dark, disturbing paths. But this week, the first issue of Way of X — by Si Spurrier, Bob Quinn, Java Tartaglia, Clayton Cowles, and X-Team designer Tom Muller — is the first time one of these books of this hopeful new era has really taken a step back and to question if there is something deeply rotten in the state of Krakoa.
Deep down, it comes to a singular question: what is faith when you live in Eden’s garden?
Way of X centres this question on perhaps the most spiritual of the X-Men, Kurt Wagner, the Nightcrawler. On Krakoa, Kurt has been an important figure — not just an operative on the X-Team but one of its leading council. He’s the one who helped establish Krakoan society’s core tenants, forged the founding of it as a nation with one simple rule: Make More Mutants. But he is also naturally the perfect lens to frame the concept of mutant spirituality through; a former man of the cloth and a devout Catholic, faith has been at the core of who Kurt is as a person for much of his Marvel comics life — a life that has seen him face cosmic gods, confront his hellish upbringing, and face death and rebirth even before Krakoa made that a mundanity of a new, blessed kind of life. His faith has never left him, a choice to believe in a life of the unbelievable.
But Krakoa has begun to test it.
Way of X sees Kurt more isolated from his fellow mutants than seemingly ever, as questions claw at his consciousness, questions whose voices grow only louder when he begins to see cracks in his society that we as readers have been speculating about ever since the early days of House and Powers. Even having experienced it himself, Kurt has become fascinated and haunted by mutants’ new approach to resurrection — and what the belief that death is just a momentary status, an annoyance rather than the ultimate arbiter of a person’s being, has done to every single mutant who calls Krakoa home.
Surrounded by young people who see death not as something to be feared, but to be chased and experienced — their lives thrown away with a casualness that, to them, reads as confidence but to Kurt reads as something chilling — the X-Men’s usually chipper teleporting trapeze artist finds himself in a crisis of faith he’s not seen in years. Krakoan Resurrection, Kurt believes, has already fundamentally changed mutants as we know it, and not entirely for the better. Death by death, rebirth by rebirth, the very soul of Mutantkind is being chipped away to leave something much darker in its stead.
Whether it’s watching fellow teammate Pixie gleefully embrace a shotgun-blast to the face from an anti-mutant terrorist to the cheers and glee of her allies, or even pondering the role his own faith — a human faith — has in a distinctly mutant society, Kurt finds himself seeing a coolness behind his companions’ seeming joy at making death an impossibility. Without death as a factor, he sees a society that is more than just alien from a biological standpoint, but almost alien from a spiritual, moralistic standpoint. What does it mean to sacrifice, if you know it is only for a moment? What does judgment mean when taking a life is not the ultimate act, but a crucible for rebirth? Can mutants be, as people say of Kurt throughout Way of X #1, “the kindly ones,” when immortality has slowly begun to rob them of a moral core?
These questions don’t just plague Kurt on a personal level as he contrasts his faith with his “new” life on Krakoa, they also allow Way of X to begin answering another question readers have been dying to see answered since House and Powers of X founded this nation in the first place. Watching nation-making happening is fascinating, sure enough, but what’s it’s actually like to live in the nation you have made for yourself?
Part of life in any society is some kind of belief system. Connecting an entirely new society of the size of Krakoa bleeds into theoretical concepts like Dunbar’s number — the belief that after a certain limit, the number of cognitive connections an individual can make with other people can only increase on abstract rather than personal levels, through ideas like law, faith, and mythologies. It’s a concept namechecked in the issue itself, when an angst-ridden Kurt crosses paths with kooky mutant scientist/occasional megalomaniac Doctor Nemesis (who’s taken to growing Krakoan fungi out of his own head as an experiment).
As it turns out, Krakoa isn’t exactly lacking in those ideas, even as we’re repeatedly reminded in this issue by those around him that Kurt has been trying, and mostly failing, to create some kind of new mutant-based faith system. While Kurt has not managed to do so yet, certain kinds of rituals and mythologies have already begun to crop up in paradise… and they’re not exactly quite so comforting as whatever system he had hoped to conceive.
When Kurt first crosses paths with Nemesis, for example, he’s watching over a campfire gathering of young children, being told tales of the Great Pretender, a boogeyman-like term adopted for Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, after her decimation of Mutantkind in House of M. The children in turn counter with another dark myth of their own, a thread interwoven throughout the background of Way of X: the Patchwork Man, a shadowy figure that apparently stalks Krakoa psychically suggesting dark acts or mutilating people. Then there’s the ritual Kurt seemingly hates most of all in paradise: the Crucible, a trial-by-combat that allows Mutants depowered by Wanda’s chaos magic to be reborn with their abilities restored.
We get to see a particularly horrifying example of it in action, in fact. A mutant we’d seen earlier begging Kurt for help, as one of those aforementioned “kindly ones” (he brushed them off thinking they simply needed directions) ends up facing the Crucible’s most ardent defender, Magneto. The mutant, named only as “Lost,” was instead begging for Kurt to be her Crucible opponent, it turns out. It also turns out opponent is not exactly the right word. Crucible participants are choosing an executioner, as crowds whoop and wail that their brutal death at a fellow mutant’s hands is actually joyous, the indicator that one of their kind once taken from them is about to return to the fold.
Kurt is horrified, as likewise we are intended to be, but it all comes back to that central question: what do faith and morality look like in a world of abundance, what are ethics in a world where death is no longer one of life’s constants? They look like this: cold, cruel, calculated, and distant. They look wrong. And maybe it is, as an unseen narrator opens the issue (one heavily suggested to be Kurt, writing the beginning of what could become his Krakoan faith), an anxiety arisen from “outdated modes of thought rooted in the outside world.” We are, after all, aliens looking into the window of this new society and what it is meant to be — but the fact that Kurt feels as we as an audience are meant to shows just where cracks are starting to appear in Krakoa’s bountiful paradise.
Nightcrawler doesn’t have all the answers just yet but he’s trying to find some semblance of them. With the Dawn of X having laid the foundations of this new mutant world, watching one of their own wrestle with the heady idea of how to live in its imperfect perfection is already proving to be one of the most fascinating X-series on shelves.