Review: X-Men #18
Writer Jonathan Hickman tugs on a long-simmering plot thread in X-Men #18 as he, Mahmud Asrar, and Sunny Gho send the rough and tumble team of Wolverine (Laura Kinney), Darwin, and Synch into the Vault to confront and find information about the Children of the Vault, who appeared way back in X-Men #5 after a lengthy absence from the X-Books. (This is a great explainer about them.) The Children of the Vault are shrouded in mystery, hence, the risky reconnaissance mission in an environment where time doesn’t work traditionally, but they’re humans evolved over a period of 6,000 years in a specialized environment that have given them superhuman abilities. They also see the mutants and Krakoa as a threat so Darwin, Synch, and Wolverine are not in for a good time.
“Escape from the Vault” is going to be a rare two-part story in a series that has mostly been loosely connected done-in-ones that give readers a flavor of the Krakoa era. However, with the impending election of an X-Men team and coming of last issue’s space mission, it looks like Jonathan Hickman and Mahmud Asrar are back on a “mutants going on a mission” kick even if it’s not traditionally superheroic.
Basically, the team in X-Men #18 are like the members of the various hapless crews in the Alien franchise, but with special abilities that could get them out of this bind. And speaking of powers, Hickman crafts this team lineup almost perfectly with Wolverine’s healing ability, Darwin’s adaptability, and Synch’s ability to duplicate any mutant power make them have a chance in this hostile environment. Hickman takes a purposeful approach to superhero team building, and you can see this throughline of complementary abilities echo down the X-Books from SWORD and the magic in Excalibur to the training exercises in Vita Ayala and Rod Reis’ New Mutants and even in the Resurrection protocols of The Five. The previous issue was more self-indulgent with 1990s style art and costumes from Brett Booth and star turns from Hickman faves Cannonball and Sunspot, but X-Men #18 is back to the business of setting a tone for the line of comics and showing how Krakoa deals with threats.
After a foreboding setup and quick introduction to the team, Hickman, Asrar, and Gho dive straight into combat. Wolverine, Darwin, and Synch fight more like the X-Force (Sans guns and pouches.) than the X-Men with Wolverine especially being a ball of rage. Asrar draws her from overhead angles and with plenty of speed lines to show her aggression, and that she isn’t holding back with blood spurting out of Serafina, the only Child of the Vault who gets mentioned by name in this issue. Colorist Sunny Gho accentuates this panel by switching the usual blue background of the Vault to red. Laura is more into action than words, and she demonstrates this in X-Men #18 through her single-handed focus on the mission unlike Darwin and Synch, who are hoping for a quick in and out mission.
Synch acts as the narrator of X-Men #18 providing commentary on the team’s time in the Vault while Jonathan Hickman and Mahmud Asrar show that a seemingly timid character that’s been dead in the comics since 2000 could be one of Krakoa’s deadliest weapon. Synch’s tone is fairly neutral, yet a little freaked out as he reminds readers that even though this comic has a fairly straightforward plot, time isn’t working normally right now, and the team is probably end for some weirdness one they reach the other side, especially after this issue’s, shall we way, nuclear finish. If the middle of X-Men #18 is Aliens, its bookends are Alien: all horror, atmosphere, and tension tinged with science fiction. Because his powers literally make him the ultimate support character, Synch is very passive in the early stages of the fight against the Children of the Vault walking around with a water bubble around his head once he takes a flame to the face.
However, fire plus water equals boiling, and Synch unveils his grisly potential in a sequence where he reveals that he can duplicate the powers of both mutants and other superpowered beings like the Children of the Vault. It immediately shifts the momentum of both the battle and X-Men #18 with Sunny Gho bringing some vivid oranges in his palette to go with Asrar’s skeleton silhouettes. The A.I. in the Dome was right that the Children of the Vault needed more training, upgrades, and/or evolution to have a chance against the mutants even if total victory doesn’t happen in this issue. However, Synch’s flame on moment pays off a data page earlier in the issue where Dr. Reyes says that his power limits have increased, and that he can “connect” to any kind of superhuman ability.
There is only one other data page in X-Men #18, but Hickman makes them crucial to the plot and arc of the main character. Their placement is also clever with the aforementioned payoff, and more importantly, he puts the text of a letter allowing the team to use deadly force because the Children of the Vault aren’t classified as humans after Wolverine and Synch have done their thing. It’s a great final page of the issue that adds an ethical dimension to the snikts and explosions and shows again that the Krakoans are a little hypocritical and are just like any human nation snuffing out a threat to their sovereignty via various black ops and cutthroat ways, especially since they and the Children of the Vault are a lot alike.
X-Men #18 shows Jonathan Hickman putting his own spin on the typical X-Men “rescue” mission, and the focus on a tight-knit, complementary cast lets Wolverine, Darwin, and Synch’s personalities and abilities shine. Mahmud Asrar and Sunny Gho also get to draw riveting action sequences that showcase this cast of character’s unique powers while working in tandem with Hickman to create an uneasy tone around the team’s actions. By the end of the issue, we know so much about who Wolverine, Darwin, and Synch are, but their opponents are basically explod-y action figures. Hmm…
Story: Jonathan Hickman Art: Mahmud Asrar
Colors: Sunny Gho Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.4 Overall: 8.2 Recommendation: Buy
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review