The X-Books’ big summer event “Hellfire Gala” kicks off with Marauders #21, and it’s quite refreshing after the punch-ups of the last few Marvel events. Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, and Edgar Delgado dive into my favorite part of the Krakoa era X-Books, and that’s the political side of things. The Hellfire Gala is an event to show that Krakoa is a country worth recognizing, but the Hellfire Trading Company also wants to go legitimate and do trade deals and not black market swaps. It’s all orchestrated by the fabulous Emma Frost, who is the throughline of the issue, playing perfect hostess. Or is she?
In the usual event comic, there may be some arguing about ideology, philosophy, or personal issues, but then the fisticuffs start. Duggan and Lolli subvert this and use the fancy gala setting plus Krakoa’s status to just focus on the conversations, whether serious, (mostly) passive aggressive, or just jokes like Thing rolling dice with some of the Marauders or Quentin Quire roasting the hell out of Tony Stark. There are visitors from space, different Earth countries (Including Latveria and Madripoor), and superhero teams like the Avengers and Fantastic Four. All have varying responses to Krakoan hospitality, which includes a telepathic violin concert and cryptically whispering in Professor X’s ear.
There are lots of characters in Marauders #21, but for the most part, Duggan connects these cameos and guest spots into gauging what the world thinks of Krakoa. Vastly different party guests make uncomfortable comparisons to Latveria (In or out of Dr. Doom’s presence), and the Shi’ar delegation acts as a tantalizing teaser for Planet-Sized X-Men. Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli also deal with the fallout of X-Men/Fantastic Four and the whole Franklin Richards not being a mutant incident with Kate Pryde encouraging Franklin Richards and gassing him up in some nice moments that shows they’ll still have a good relationship event if he’s not a mutant for now. As mentioned earlier, Reed Richards has a completely different reaction to this and has a chaperone vibe while the Thing almost steals the entire comic with his everyman charm and reactions to Krakoa nailed with grace and comedic timing from Lolli.
Speaking of Matteo Lolli and Edgar Delgado, the visuals of Marauders #21 do Russell Dauterman’s wonderful costume designs justice from the wardrobe swaps of Emma Frost to the golden god complex get-up of Professor X and even the smart black and white tuxes of X-Force, who are on security duty. They give everything a festive air even as ambassadors trade barbs, and awkward encounters happen. Lolli has Emma pull some hilarious faces as her perfect evening starts to go awry. I also love the ethereal color palette that Delgado gives the telepathic music performance, and the shiny touches he adds to other panels like any time Emma Frost walks into the room or a guest walks through a Krakoan gate. However, he drops these effects during the last few pages set after the party and makes it almost like staggering around with a hangover or waking up from a dream.
Not to spoil the last few pages, but Gerry Duggan structures Marauders #21 in an engaging way. It’s like Reservoir Dogs with a Cecil DeMille-sized cast starting up the players and overall mood, cutting out the big action, and wrapping up with the aftermath of the big blow-up/action/what we’ll see unfold in the other chapters of “Hellfire Gala”. Plus Duggan and Matteo Lolli don’t give up the whole game and tease us with dialogue and more great facial expressions. As a kind of cherry on top, this comic also includes a reprint of a Classic X-Men story from Chris Claremont and John Bolton showing the first Hellfire Gala that explores similar themes like mutants increasing their influence and scaring humans. It also adds context to the hollowness in wheelchair-bound Sebastian Shaw’s eye throughout the soiree.
Marauders #21 is the first chapter of a new kind of a crossover, and I, for one, welcome our fabulous mutant overlords and look forward to seeing how these powerful, flawed characters screwed it up in the upcoming issues of “Hellfire Gala”.
Story: Gerry Duggan Art: Matteo Lolli
Colors: Edgar Delgado Letters: Cory Petit
Story: 8.8 Art: 8.3 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review