After weeks of hype-building, the X-Men’s 2021 Hellfire Gala kicked off this week in the pages of Marvel’s ongoing Hellions, Marauders, and X-Force series. Unsurprisingly, the extravagant mutant gathering is already threatening to upend the delicate balance of power keeping humanity from going to war with Krakoa. Let it be said, though, that everyone arrived to the party looking absolutely stunning.
Hellions #12, from writer Zeb Wells, and artists Steven Segovia and David Curiel; Marauders #21, from writers Gerry Duggan, Chris Claremont, and artists Matteo Lolli and John Bolton; and X-Force #20, from writer Benjamin Percy and artist Joshua Cassara, begin the Hellfire Gala event as the X-Men open Krakoa’s gates for the first time to a select few non-mutant celebrity guests invited to fete mutantdom’s ascendance. Organised by Emma Frost, the Hellfire Gala’s billed to the public as a fashion-forward celebration and chance for superhuman schmoozing between heroes and (former) villains willing to set their differences aside in the name of nation-building. What becomes clear in Marauders #21, though, is that while there are many delights to be found at the Gala, the event, much like the X-Men as of late, isn’t exactly what it seems.
After many of the guests arrive thanks to temporary access granted to them by special flowers, they’re called into one of the party’s gathering rooms for a unique musical performance by the mutant Rhapsody, Jean Grey, and Emma Frost’s cloned quintuplets, the Five-In-One. By linking their seven minds together, the performing mutants are able to create a psychic light show. It allows the audience to not only hear the music emanating from Rhapsody’s instrument, but to feel what it’s like to play the tune with her deep understanding of music. The spectacle of it is a beautiful display of the kinds of art that can be borne of mutant talents, and the X-Men’s newfound fondness of using their powers in concert with one another. But Doctor Doom’s demeanour as the Gala’s human guests “ooh” and “ahh” draws attention to how frankly unsettling the X-Men’s actions have been as of late.
There’s nothing overtly malicious about much of what’s put on display in the Hellfire Gala’s opening acts, but a number of characters like Captain America and Iron Man — both of whom have fought the X-Men on multiple occasions — are quick to point out how unsettling the event is because of the sheer amount of power concentrated there. This isn’t a new reality about the X-Men, who have always been beings with outsized super abilities, but the observations have a different gravity to them in this Dawn of X era where Charles Xavier and his cult-like following have begun devising ways to do things like cheat death.
The Hellfire Gala is a celebration of the X-Men’s greatness, but it also highlights how the X-Men have become a different kind of body as they’ve worked to establish Krakoa as a nation on the world stage. Hellions #12, Marauders #21, and X-Force #2o all touch upon how the presence of so many telepaths on Krakoa means that there’s a certain degree of privacy that’s given up while on the island. Though the Five-In-One and Jean’s telepathic projection might have seemed invasive to guests who weren’t expecting it, it’s likely they’d be much more concerned about Quentin Quire and Sage’s surveillance if they were fully aware of it. Though none of these concerns have yet been articulated on the page, seasoned heroes like Captain America and Iron Man have sense enough to know that altruistic as the X-Men’s intentions may be, their ambition makes them formidable. What has the potential to make the Hellfire Gala dangerous, though, is that many of the power players aren’t exactly on the same page.
While most X-Men in good standing spend the night on the dance floor and socialising, Sage and the rest of X-Force monitor the function to keep tabs on those invited and to signal the alarm in the event of danger. As in control as Emma is of most everything at the Gala, X-Force #20 introduces a very interesting twist of events as Sage and Beast proceed with a plan to bug a number of unsuspecting human dignitaries from the countries bordering the Central American country Terra Verde. Back in X-Force #10, innocent humans living in Terra Verde lost their lives as a direct consequence of an underhanded decision Beast made and concealed from the rest of X-Force, one that ultimately led to Jean Grey leaving the team after beating Beast into the ground for what he did.
Beast’s tendency toward letting his intellectual hubris blind him to his moral failings isn’t new, but X-Force #20 underlines how the scientist still refuses to learn from his mistakes, even when they’re the kind that have people on high alert about his behaviour. By shifting into her organic diamond form after taking note of a handful of suspicious things, Emma briefly leaves the festivities to get the jump on Sage, whose telepathy can’t detect her presence when she’s in that state. Like Beast, Sage’s mind has always been what made her truly gifted, and Emma knows well enough that trying to wrest the truth out of her psychically would likely be more difficult. Instead, Emma plays a much more traditional mind game of very gently threatening Sage with her gleaming physical presence. She insists to her fellow mutant that Beast will be the only person held responsible for almost jeopardizing everything the X-Men have been trying to build with Krakoa. Were humanity to learn that the X-Men were actively spying on them, it would undercut all of the goodwill the team’s been fighting to build as part of its larger “rebranding” in the public eye. Espionage is not a Krakoan innovation, but the mutants being caught trying to stack the deck in their favour would confirm many people’s fears about the danger Krakoa poses to non-mutant nations.
All of this is likely very apparent to Sage, which makes the tidiness of how Emma “catches” her feel like just a prelude for more drama that’s to come down the line. What none of the mutants could have anticipated, however, was that Beast’s telefloronic spying devices might backfire and transform the bugged humans into plant monsters. Ordinarily, this sort of mishap could be attributed to an untrained mutants’ powers going haywire per se during an open house. But within the setting of the Hellfire Gala, Beast’s latest mistake has the potential to completely derail Krakoa’s ascendance as a country and tear the X-Men apart.
What’s wild to consider is that the Hellfire Gala event’s only just begun, and many of the X-Men’s most interesting players have yet to make their proper entrances. Helions #12, Marauders #21, and X-Force #20 are on sale now.