A lot of Inferno #1 is a table-setting tease, but boy, it’s nice to see Moira X back in action and in direct confrontation with the one mutant that can negate her abilities and quash her plans, Destiny. Jonathan Hickman, Valerio Schiti, and David Curiel bring a small semblance of the epic thunder of House of X and Powers of X back in the high stakes arguments between Moira, Professor X, and Magneto as well as a brutal opening battle sequence between X-Force and Orchis. Plus there’s all the underlying elements about Krakoa being on thin ice culminating in a not exactly a shocker of a final sequence, but a statement piece that definitely has me invested in Inferno #2.
For all its flaws, Inferno is a book that is both time-spanning and cloak and dagger, and Schiti is good artist pick to juggle all this. He can use wide open layouts for fight and group scenes and then trim down and go tighter with nine panel grids as Mystique and Destiny confront Moira X and the use of her abilities to try to “cure” mutants once and for all. This storyline is something that has definitely popped up in X-Men stories quite a bit, but Hickman adds a SF wrinkle with the use of multiple timelines and reincarnation abilities. There’s also the failed utopia angle, and the last third of Inferno features plenty of hot people with superpowers acting like academics on a subcommittee with Madripoor substituting for the local watering hole. However, this awkwardness sells the last couple pages even more with Valerio Schiti nailing every Quiet Council member’s reaction to their new member.
Inferno #1’s extended length leads to plenty of Jonathan Hickman self-indulgence, including double data page spreads, a Warlock and Cypher interlude that might be Krakoa’s last happy moment before everything burns, and very long conversations. All the Orchis/Quiet Council maneuvering aside, Inferno is really the story of two couples: Xavier and Magneto, Destiny and Mystique. They are joined together via Moira X and set at cross purposes by her with Destiny seeing Moira’s real threat in her tenth life (The aforementioned cure). On the other hand, Moira sets Xavier and Magneto against Destiny and says she’s a threat to Krakoan stability, which leads them to do some very morally questionable things. This is par for the course in the “Dawn of X”/”Reign of X” era, their characters in general, and definitely backfires as evidenced by the issue’s first image of them crawling out of resurrection pods before a Cerebro-rocking Emma Frost. This page is a shining example of how Inferno #1 is more appetizer than full meal.
The Xavier/Magneto scenes definitely feel like they could be plucked from the better parts of Hickman’s X-Men run and also showcase Schiti’s skill with character acting. David Curiel also ups the intensity of the colors depending on the flow of conversation. Moira X is Krakoa’s ringer, and why they keep attacking Orchis over and over even as this starts to expose the resurrection protocols to their enemies. As anyone who has interacted with X-Men media knows, Sentinels are bad, and mutants are good. But after the double digit failures in taking out Nimrod, Magneto and Xavier start to wonder if a partnership with these machines might be a good idea. Unfortunately, Moira X has seen the future and knows this isn’t a viable path and directs their energies to a pre-cognitive mutant instead. Schiti draws panels of them sabotaging the resurrection process with close-up shots of Mr. Sinister (Or a clone) and Krakoan language vials that scream death of a utopia.
However, Jonathan Hickman and Valerio Schiti keep things ambiguous and basically smash cut to the election of a new Captain Commander and the ending Quiet Council meeting saving the consequences for a future issue. Sneaky, morally ambiguous Xavier and Magneto is a great time though even as they speak about humility and posture about resigning their positions of leadership and letting a new generation take over. It’s unclear how Inferno fits with Trial of Magneto, but these are two mutants that definitely don’t seem to be relinquishing power any time soon, hence, the shady shit with Moira X.
Inferno #1 returns to one of the most interesting plot threads from House of X/Powers of X: Moira MacTaggert being one of the most powerful mutants, who also acts as a kind of meta-commentary on the ideological evolution of the X-Men. (I can take or leave the Orchis stuff.) She has plenty of panel time in this issue, but it’s all set up for future conflicts that will hopefully shake Krakoa at its core and end Hickman’s run on the mutant books in a suitably dramatic fashion. For now, there’s a lot of speeches, posturing, and everyone’s favorite, data pages.
Story: Jonathan Hickman Art: Valerio Schiti Colors: David Curiel Letters: Joe Sabino Story: 7.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
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
The elevator pitch is that Way of X is about Nightcrawler founding a mutant religion. However, Si Spurrier, Bob Quinn, and Java Tartaglia bring so much more to the table in a book that visually looks like an X-book, but is far from it. What they’re really doing is picking up some of the threads from Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men and exploring what life is like on Krakoa and what holds it together.
Utopias seem to be doomed to failure, and Nightcrawler has a nagging feeling about that when the book opens with Professor X telepathically calling to him in shadows surrounded by pictures of his exes. Looking into Charles Xavier the man and not just figurehead or cameo king is one of the myriad delights of Way of X #1, which goes down many amusing and thought-provoking rabbit holes of potential storylines until finally finding a real hook in its final scene.
Before showing long conversations between Nightcrawler and Dr. Nemesis about Dunbar’s number, belief, and psychedelics or data pages that are feel like riffs on Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions (Kurt is Catholic), Spurrier and Quinn set up Way of X with a team of mutants going on a mission.In keeping with the series’ premise, this mission is religious theme with Nightcrawler, DJ, Pixie, Loa, and Blink disrupting a “museum of hate” that the cloak and dagger mutant-extermination organization Orchis is using to convince people that mutants are dangerous and evil. It’s like that room in Kentucky’s Creation “Museum” that pins all evils, wars, and sicknesses of the world on people not believing that the world is 4,000 years old and was created in seven 24 hour days, but with panels from old X-Men comics. This is pretty messed up and is a commentary on how museums (Especially more respectable ones than the one mentioned in the previous sentence.) can codify narratives about countries and people, but Si Spurrier and Bob Quinn also connect it to Krakoan belief systems when Pixie takes a bullet in the head so she can be resurrected again. This really messes with Kurt’s own beliefs and gives Quinn an opportunity to draw one hell of a befuddled Nightcrawler.
It also sets up the overarching conflict between the violent ritual of the Crucible being the shared narrative of Krakoa or something more peaceful, which Kurt is still workshopping in the data pages of Way of X #1. As seen in other X-Books and succinctly explained by Exodus, the Crucible is a ritual where mutants who were de-powered by the Scarlet Witch fight to the death so they can be resurrected and re-powered. It’s primal and bloodthirsty, and Bob Quinn switches from his usual grids and tiers to more diagonal and chaotic layouts to show the discomfort that mutants like the aptly named Lost feel as they are forced to be a part of a violent struggle to get their abilities back.
Java Tartaglia also uses flat, stark colors to show how much of the crowd has embraced the Crucible as Krakoa’s proverbial theory of everything. However, he, Quinn, and Spurrier hint at another way when Lost calls Nightcrawler a “kindly one” an allusion to the Greek play Eumenides, which showed the vengeful Furies becoming the protective Kindly Ones.
But, originally “Kindly One” was a euphemism so the people of Athens could avoid the wrath of the Furies and still mention them by name so maybe Nightcrawler is seen as more of a malevolent force a la the mysterious Patchwork Man, who is a kind of a folk Bogeyman spirit in Krakoa rising up through campfire stories along with the more “orthodox” baddie Scarlet Witch. Unexplainable forces dart between the margins of Way of X #1 culminating in Si Spurrier and Bob Quinn’s big final page reveal that makes sense in both of the context of this issue and Spurrier’s larger body of X-Book work. Nightcrawler and Pixie darting around in a big action scene is interspersed with a spooky figure that even causes Professor X to cry out in the night and cut the bullshit for once in his conversations. It’s a figure that can’t be taken out with the blunt force of a strike team, hence, its appearance in the clever, intellectual X-Book whose protagonist is trying to find a belief system for Krakoa that isn’t centered around ritual combat as things come fun circle.
Way of X #1 is a true feast of a X-Book from Si Spurrier, Bob Quinn, and Java Tartaglia. It’s funny, sensitive, smart, and covers a range of emotions from hope to doubt and even confusion. (It’s definitely one you’ll have to read a few times to let it sink in.) Its 42 page length also let Spurrier and Quinn give an extended glimpse at the life of the mind, body, and soul of Krakoa, pick the brains and feelings of an idiosyncratic cast of characters, including Magneto, Professor X, Nightcrawler, and stealing the whole damn show, Dr. Nemesis, and also set up the initial plotline of the series.
Story: Si Spurrier Art: Bob Quinn Colors: Java Tartaglia Letters: Clayton Cowles Story: 8.8 Art: 8.0 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
Krakoa has proposed a radical new vision of a mutant society, but in its hasty formation, it has also planted the seeds of it’s very undoing. I’d like to examine both the successes and failures of Krakoa’s model of justice and along the way explore some models of justice and community protection of our own world. There will be moments of alignment and moment of dissonance, both of which are infinitely fascinating in their own right.
Accountability and justice are among the most complex ideas to navigate in the new Krakoan paradigm. Because of the way that comic-books as a medium frame the morality of the characters in them, it’s unfair to look at their actions through the same moral lens with which we assess our world. With roughly 40 years of continuity, comic-book characters have constantly changed hands from one writer to another, leading to countless departures in characterization & rebranding, due to a writer’s biases and editorial campaigns. Fans themselves also hold biases for certain characters who have come to more strongly align with one particular reading of the mutant-metaphor or another. For example, Jewish readers may be more protective of Magneto or Kate Pryde, Romani readers will be more protective of Scarlet Witch, queer & trans readers may be more protective of Mystique (lacking explicitly trans characters) and chaos-lesbians would take a bullet for Magik. Because of what some of these characters have come to mean to fans from marginalized groups, their past transgressions can at times be overlooked. All of this leads to characters with immensely complex, at times contradictory, and unresolved histories that complicate any attempt to weigh the morality of any single character. It’s why for mutants, in particular, the semiotics of “hero-villain” taxonomy feels entirely ill-fitting.
House of X forever recontextualized the mutant-metaphor, breaking the status-quo for mutant communities and recontextualizing all previous relationships and conflicts, by bringing both “hero” and “villain” together under a single banner (House of X #5), defined by mutant solidarity. When antagonists like Exodus, Apocalypse, Sinister, and Sebastian Shaw showed up on Krakoa, discourse began about who did and did not belong in the new mutant utopia. To some extent, this same discourse continues to this day, and it’s likely that it will continue on for some time. House of X #5forced fans and characters alike to quickly adjust to this recontextualization in service of a revolutionary vision, without the space on the page needed for characters to work through their past conflicts and abuses. This rapid formation of a mutant nation raised a great many questions and while it may have radically changed the mutant mise en politique, the haste at which it was constructed left many toxic elements of the past unresolved.
Radical community building requires an equally radical approach to resolving conflict and healing broken bonds within the community, which we have not seen.Enter restorative justice.
Restorative justice is a model of community-protection that focuses on rebuilding the interpersonal & community relationships destroyed and/or damaged by crimes. In framing restorative justice in a way that maps to Krakoa, I’ll just say “abuses’ or “transgressions” since, with only three actual laws and no codified rights, most transgressions on Krakoa wouldn’t technically be crimes. Many propose the model as an alternative to the prison-industrial-complex because of the focus it maintains on the rights of the offender, rather than dehumanizing them. The model is built upon three major spokes:
the healing, protection, empowerment, and support of the victim,
the healing of community relationships destroyed by the transgression and
the rehabilitation & reintegration of the abuser into the community.
The process is generally conducted by the community to ensure that the results and the path to achieving them are in the best interest of the affected community. But the community privileges the victims’ needs, recognizing that an outcome can only truly benefit the community if it empowers the victim/s. Advocates of the model recognize that it can’t eliminate 100% of crime, though that would be welcomed if it were possible. The goal instead is to break cycles of abuse and injustice and therefore create safer more sustainable communities.
Restorative justice frames crime as more than a transgression of the law– it causes harm to people, relationships, and the community which the model aims to heal. The process can take many forms but at its core are facilitated meetings between victim and abuser. The goal of these meetings for the victim is healing & resolution and for offenders, it’s accountability and understanding the damage they’ve done. It requires a neutral mediator to first ensure the safety of the victim and to ensure all negotiations are equitable, preventing social power dynamics from influencing the decisions made. For example, a telepath like Emma Frost would mediate for Wanda Maximoff and somebody impacted by The Decimation, such as Melody Guthrie. This oversight ensures that if the conversation got too heated, that Wanda could not use her powers to influence the outcome or threaten the victim.
The model embraces a form of accountability that rises from within the abuser rather than be imposed onto them. They’re empowered to recognize the damage caused by their actions through a variety of empathy mapping practices and accountability meetings with the victim. Informed accountability aims to break cycles of abuse and empowers the offender to take greater agency in their own rehabilitation. This also builds empathy which in many cases breaks the cycle of violence, preventing relapses. Concretizing paths towards reconciliation is critical in repairing community bonds. Reintegration can be facilitated in many ways, but one of the most common is through community service programs, where reformed offenders are given the chance to not only repair broken community bonds but also to contribute to the growth of the community at large. Another such program for reformed-offenders is serving as mentors for individuals who are currently working through the process, functioning like a sponsor within the AA model. If reintegration is not possible, the goal should be rehabilitation to ensure they do not perpetuate this form of harm in other communities.
The model is far from perfect though and it hasn’t been tested on a scale needed to make it viable enough for many to consider replacing the prison-industrial complex. Beyond that, restorative justice presupposes a cooperative offender, but the model’s ideology breaks down if offenders are recalcitrant, unrepentant, or non-cooperative. It’s immediately undermined whenever it has to deal with repeat offenders and is strained further if the victim/s remains consistent. There are some transgressions that this model at times fails to appropriately address due to the severity of the offense such as assault, rape, murder, hate crimes, etc. And repeat offenders whose transgressions fall on this severe end of the spectrum can greatly challenge faith in the model’s efficacy. Some argue that the model’s idealism can put the community at risk again by reintegrating the offender. Until we see the model used on a larger enough scale, most of the criticism of the model remains speculative for the moment. In the context of applying the model to Krakoa, many of these concerns would be valid, along with considerations of how the model would be further strained by reality warpers or telepaths for example.
Krakoa is what you get if you took the restorative justice model and skipped all the work to get to the goal of reintegrating abusers into your society. It’s the form of privileged idealism we’ve come to expect from Xavier. It’s also great storytelling for exactly those reasons.
The justice system of Krakoa is still largely undefined, and in their current form, Krakoa’s laws make space for gross injustice and abuse, in part because there’s only three of them. Krakoa also does not have codified the rights for its citizens, making finding justice and building equity a moving target. The only forms of accountability we’ve seen so far are an infinite abyss or getting put on the mutant Suicide Squad. Outside of these two instances abusers go free from accountability, holding some of the highest seats of authority. In some cases, this places them in close proximity to their victims or gives them authority over their victims. Again, interesting story-telling, but a bad way to run a nation.
For the reasons I mentioned previously regarding how the medium of comic-books problematizes these considerations, I’m not discussing who is and isn’t redeemable. Many also conflate “redemption” with “absolution”, making those considerations feel even more fraught. But there are individuals whose past offenses make them questionable choices to sit on The Quiet Council, Krakoa’s sole body of authority and legislation. The council is actually composed of a number of current & reformed “villains”, and folks who have certainly “done some shit.”
Xavier, Magneto, and Emma (who fall into the latter category mentioned above) have each undergone periods of characterization that range from outright villain to morally dubious. Magneto has a history of large scale anti-human violence some of which could be seen as self-defense or preemptive strikes against bigoted humans. But there are also actions that are harder to justify like threatening earth with nuclear missiles from Asteroid M. He is also known to be incredibly manipulative of his fellow mutants. Xavierhas done his share of brainwashing, sexualizing his students, knowingly enslaving a sentient being [Danger], erasing memories, building a “theoretical” database on how to kill all of his students[ the Xavier Protocols], endangering the lives of children, and violated countless ethical boundaries while treating Gabrielle Haller. Emma has a history of working against the X-Men, but much of this is wrapped up into her association with the Hellfire Club, and it’s reasonable to attribute some of those actions to the abuse she suffered at the hands of members of the Club such as Sebastian Shaw, who also sits on the council. She’s also known for questionable practices when it comes to mentoring her students.
It is important to note that of these three, only Emma and Magneto are referred to as “reformed-villains”. Charles is not considered a “former-villain” largely because of the nature of publication history. The idea that Charles is a “good-guy” was fed to readers from the beginning, therefore he’s implicitly framed as such.If you were to explain his transgressions to a stranger without the context of his name or establishing him as a hero, they’d likely not even bat an eye at considering him a villain. I’ve done this, and never have I received push back on the label. This is yet another symptom of the way that the medium of comic books continues to frame the morality of characters. At any rate, though, all three are no longer considered to be villains.
The Council does include some explicitly villainous figures. One such figure is Sinister, who has a history of manipulation, abuse, and violence that should exclude him from holding such a position of power. One of the major offenses that should preclude him from holding a seat of authority is his orchestration of the Morlock Massacre. Sinister is responsible for the destruction of hundreds of lives, but because he possesses something that Xavier wants, his genetic archives, Xavier ignores the damage he’s done for his own gain. As a result, Sinister is given power over the very community that he previously attacked. Morlocks don’t even live on Krakoa but in a habitat somewhere in Arizona. Whether this is an empowered choice or not is unclear. Did they choose not to live on Krakoa? Or did they specifically choose not to live alongside their abuser, Sinister? Needless to say, in restorative justice models, you don’t put a violent abuser on the single body of authority within a community and give them further social & institutional power over their victims, while you force his victims to live outside of the community-proper.
Sebastian Shaw’s inclusion on the council is troubling as well. With his history of abuse and manipulation of both Jean and Emma, who are forced to sit on the council with him, he too should not be permitted to hold such a seat of authority. We learn in X-Men Black: Emma Frostthat Shaw also abused and exploited a number of underaged girls “employed” by the Hellfire Club. Shaw has long been an avatar for anarcho-capitalist ideology, a “radical” offshoot of capitalism that focuses on individual and decentralized wealth through participating in unregulated “free” markets. To put it plainly, Shaw is a monster whose sole impulse is self-interest with no allegiances of value. He constantly demonstrates a disregard for mutant identity, throwing mutant-kind under the bus for his own gain. Shaw’s behavior after stepping onto Krakoa represents one of the ills that restorative justice models aim to address, the cycle of abuse left unchecked. With the resources afforded to him by his seat on the Council Shaw wastes no time in conspiring to destabilize Krakoan infrastructure. In fewer than nine issues of Marauders, readers watch Shaw install his own agents into seats of authority [two of which are literal Nazis] and they watch him undermine Krakoan pharmaceutical-trade by disseminating faulty Krakoan drugs to bad-jacket Krakoa. Shaw collaborates with Hominus Verendi, hires X-Cutioner & Hatemonger to attack the Marauders, establishes ties with the Russian Ambassador responsible for developing power-dampening technology, and conspires with Verendi on a plot to use the Yellowjacket Probe to provide various anti-mutant parties with direct intelligence on Krakoa. Not to mention that Shaw murdered Kate Pryde.
In failing to hold Shaw accountable and giving him a position of power, Xavier has given him the resources to not only fundamentally undermine Krakoa’s diplomatic presence on the world’s stage but to also murder its citizens. Xavier’s ignorance is nothing new, but the choice to provide Shaw and Sinister with seats on The Quiet Council has set in motion the potential undoing of Krakoan society at large. Again, this is really good story-telling but a really bad way to run a nation.
Incarceration: The Metaphor & Beyond
One of the only examples we have of “mutant justice” so far, is the “trial” of Sabretooth. Sabertooth, of course, is on trial for breaking one of their three laws, “ Kill no man”. Only he didn’t break this law, because the law was established only after the violence in question took place. This is referred to as an “ex post facto” law, which retroactively changes the legal ramifications of an action, which many nations regard as a violation of individual rights. In fact, many countries’ human-rights codifications explicitly prohibit this form of legal action, such as theAfrican Charter on Human and People’s Right which specifies in Article 2, Paragraph 7 that
…no one may be condemned for an act or omission which did not constitute a legally punishable offense at the time it was committed. No penalty may be inflicted for an offense for which no provision was made at the time it was committed.
In the US Articles 25 & 26 of the American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man* , codify a citizen’s “right to be tried by pre-existing laws”. A number of nations have constitutional or equivalent prohibitions of ex post facto criminal trial including Brazil (5th Article, section XXXVI of the Brazilian Constitution), Canada (paragraph 11(g) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms), Germany (Article 103 of German Basic Law), India (Article 20(1) of the Indian Constitution, Iran (Article 169, Chp. 11 of Iran’s Constitution), Italy (Article 25, paragraph 2 of Italian Constitution), Japan (Article 39 of Japan’s constitution), Pakistan (Article 12 of the constitution of Pakistan), Spain ( Article 9.3 of the Spanish Constitution), and South-Africa (Section 35(3) of the South African Bill of Rights).
Since all mutants are Krakoan citizens & cannot be tried by human courts (House of X #3) and since at the time of the mission in question Krakoa had no established laws, there was no jurisdiction to which Sabretooth was subject to that prohibited his actions. That doesn’t excuse his actions on a moral level, but given the dynamics of his citizenship and Krakoa’s lack of codified laws at the time, he is not legally guilty of any crime. This makes his trial definitively” ex post facto”, which again many consider to be a violation of individual rights. It’s also critical to accurately contextualize Sabretooth’s actions; he was sent on this mission by Xavier, placing him in a situation primed for violent interactions with militarized human forces of a known anti-mutant organization. And if you can put somebody on trial “ex post facto” for killing humans, half of the council should also be placed on trial on the same grounds. We haven’t even mentioned that he was tried and sentenced without representation, without testimony or any ability to plead his case.
The viewer arrives at the mission in question in media-res, it’s possible that Sabretooth isn’t the only mutant to take a human life and perhaps the humans instigated violence, causing Sabretooth to fight back in self-defense. Considering the mission involved gathering intelligence for a military campaign, and that Mystique, Sabretooth, and Toad were under attack, Sabretooth’s actions could be argued to be acts of self-defense to one degree or another. So, not only can you not hold Sabretooth accountable to laws that didn’t exist at the time of the actions they prohibit, but given the context of Sabretooth’s involvement in this particular mission, the defense could make a reasonable case for Sabretooth’s actions to either lessen the sentence or have the trial thrown out. At least that much is true of a nation that has a due process legal system, which Krakoa does not.
Of all the things to retroactively put Sabretooth on trial for, this doesn’t even feel as narratively satisfying as it should have. Sabertooth has a long history of victimizing & attacking countless members of the X-Men with a fixation on the women of the team. He was also a member of the original Marauders team. Perhaps it would feel more like justice if the offense he was tried for had a deeper hook into this history. For a better look at Sabretooth’s complex history of violence and attempts at “rehabilitation”, check out the work of Sara Century. There’ve been periods of detainment and attempted rehabilitation in the past, and in the last 10 years we’ve seen him take a place on teams alongside the X-Men such as in Uncanny X-Men: Superior (2016-17), including some of his previous victims.
Sabretooth’s consistent lack of remorse and history of abuse should preclude him from taking part in larger Krakoa society, but I disagree with throwing anybody into a waking void indefinitely. Sabertooth is taken from human custody only to be placed in far worse conditions humans may have placed him in. Let’s look at Xavier’s exact words, just after passing the sentence of “exile” in House of X #6; “Alive but immobile. Aware, but unable to act on it. How long…? Forever.” This type of punishment is a radically more cruel form of solitary confinement, which is already known to have an immensely damaging impact on the victim’s physical & mental health. Solitary confinement has been studied rigorously by neuroscientists, who’ve found that even with less than a year of forced isolation victims experience loss of navigational-reasoning, memory loss, loss of temporal reasoning, develop a form of face-blindness, long term sensory avoidance behaviors, CPTSD & PTSD, loss of reading comprehension, loss of fine motors skills, loss of some gross motor skills and much more.
This form of confinement also causes the hippocampus [the portion of your brain that regulates learning & pattern recognition ] to shrink while the amygdala [ which mediates fear, anxiety, & stress ] increases in activity. In studies of victims of 10-20 years of isolation, it was observed that the brain significantly slowed the process of creating new neurons; even as little as two months in solitary can cause a 20% reduction in neuron creation. You should be able to extrapolate what happens over the course of 20+ years such as was done toRobert King, who spent 29 years in solitary confinement. It’s estimated that in the US there are an estimated 80,000 men (a disproportionate of that number being African American men serving in solitary confinement. Solitary Confinement exceeding 3 months is associated with a 26% increased risk of premature death, stemming from an out of control stress response resulting in higher cortisol levels, increased blood pressure and inflammation. Extensive forced isolation and sensory deprivation have been proven to cause permanent and long term damage to the mind of the victim which is the reason many regard it to be a form of torture. This is why a wave of activism, led by Robert King and his legal team to utilize the 8th amendment [prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment] to abolish the use of solitary confinement.
Comics, like all fiction can help us build empathy, but at the same time it can normalize otherwise cruel forms of treatment. Because of the way that the things media normalizes can spill-over into how we interpret our own world, it’s critical to acknowledge that what the council did to Sabretooth is not humane and that the members of the council who made that choice are complicit in torture & violations of individual rights. Sabretooth’s last breaths, before being swallowed by the void, were a promise of future violence. Clearly absolute sensory-deprivation & isolation in an abyss will do nothing to break the cycle of violence. It’s hard to imagine the idealism of restorative justice’s reform and rehabilitation working for Sabretooth but such an extremely cruel form of imprisonment is not only dehumanizing & torturous, but it’s also unlikely to prove effective. I believe firmly that for all the resources available to the X-men that they could devise forms of accountability that do not constitute torture.
Why do concepts like HellionsandSuicide-Squadappeal to us so much? I think many of us long for redemption; to not be judged by our worst choices or our weakest moments. For many, a reformed villain is a godsend; if these people can absorb an entire planet, kidnaps elected officials, or throw the planet of its axis, and still be given another chance, we feel like we stand a chance of overcoming our own mistakes. The Hellions aren’t villains, though some of them may look like it from the surface. Some of them are just looking for a place to be, some need to be looked after, some need an outlet, while others just need to atone. Empath and Scalphunter (I will continue to refer to him by his name John Greycrow, because I think “Scalphunter” is a wildly insensitive name for an American Indigenous character ) are characters whose story demonstrates one aspect of the restorative justice model that we’ve already discussed; reform through community service.
John Greycrow has a history of working for & against the X-Men but he’s largely known for his involvement in the Morlock Massacre. Greycrow certainly took lives, but as the result of his employment by Sinister. This by no means excuses him or assuages him of his accountability or atonement, but it changes the nature of his offense and his rehabilitation. He’s a hired gun, where Sinister is the hateful mastermind. Greycrow has also lived much of his life in a cycle of violence that he cannot escape, which Sinister points out to the council in Hellions #1.
When Greycrow was “executed” for attacking his fellow soldiers in World War II, there’s an ambiguity surrounding what incited his attack. Considering the way American Indigenous people were treated in and out of the military at the time, it’s entirely possible that his violence was in reaction to mistreatment and abuse from other soldiers. At a time where children were still being stolen off of reservations, indigenous histories were being erased culturally and in the education system, Greycrow was drafted into a war to fight for the country that was destroying his culture and his history. This isn’t the reason he became a mercenary nor am I establishing the two experiences in a deterministic relationship, but it could certainly build up a current of rage within an individual, which needs an outlet. Having settled on Krakoa though, Greycrow is given the opportunity to escape the cycle of violence.
On the anniversary of the Mutant Massacre, Greycrow is attacked by a band of Morlocks (Hellions #1). He doesn’t argue, he just gets up and prepares to defend himself to some degree and when the council accuses him of attacking the Morlocks, Greycrow makes no attempt to clarify that the Morlocks instigated the violence. The scene reads as him recognizing that he had this coming, showing him begin to more thoughtfully grapple with the role he played in the massacre. It also shows him protecting the Morlocks in question, putting him on a path towards atonement. Krakoa’s resurrection protocols present greater potential for Greycrow’s ability to reconcile with his past victims. This is one of the things that genuinely excites me about the series and its potential. Not only is it providing more nuanced ways of looking at purportedly villainous characters by making space for these individuals to have their own histories and trauma acknowledged, but it’s also creating opportunities for resolution that are unprecedented in our world.
Recognizing that for the moment it’s unsustainable for Greycrow and the Morlocks to freely cohabitate, the council assigns him to the Hellions. Many restorative justice models incorporate these forms of community service into the reintegration/rehabilitation process. Sometimes this takes form in community clean-ups, or programs like Philadelphia Mural Arts’ Guild Project. The goal is to allow the individual to contribute to the growth of the community that their transgressions have damaged. In doing so, they build faith with the community, can work to atone for their actions, and can acquire new skills and experiences that the individual can draw on to enhance the reintegration process.
Hellions also shows how the restorative justice model can provide more nuanced strategies for addressing how issues of class, education, ability, and neurodiversity can be contributing factors to some offenses. Relevant to the mutant metaphor, this is an idea which we see manifest in The Quiet Council’s approach to the actions of Empath, a former member of the Hellions. Sometimes, the restorative justice model embraces models of harm reduction. If we can’t get this individual to cease a certain behavior, then it’s in their best interest and the best interest of the community to find a safe outlet for them, in respect to narcotics these are called safe-consumption sites and they provide a safe environment, intended to reduce unsafe & unclean usage conditions as well as to prevent lethal overdoses. The Hellions provide just such an opportunity.
As a result of his mutation, Empath’s mind has developed using “bad data” to quote a data-page from Hellions #1. Rather than being a sociopath who was given powers, as is noted on a data page in Hellions #1, his mutation created sociopathic tendencies. While this doesn’t excuse his abuses or the damage he’s done, if he isn’t able to understand the consequences and impact of his actions, you can’t hold him accountable in the same way you could a neurotypical person. His mutation inherently prevents him from building the same neurological empathy maps that neurotypicals develop to help avoid doing harm to others in the future. If you push over your friend on the playground, your friend may bleed and cry out in pain. For some, this builds a cause-effect mapping in the mind and you’re able to anticipate that pushing over another person will likely have the same effect. But what if, from a young age, you were able to control and manipulate others to not only not crying or expressing pain, but you could manipulate them into thanking you for it.
On the data page, Empath is labeled “sociopathic” but in truth, his eroded sense of empathy leaves him somewhere between “sociopathy” and “psychopathy”, both of which are diagnostically known as “Antisocial Personality Disorders” (APDs) in the 5th edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders.The two terms are so heavily stigmatized in society because of the way that the media we consume has perpetuated the myth that both are 1.) Interchangeable and 2.) inherently prone to violence. This is largely due to the frequency at which lazy writers attribute a villain/protagonist’s actions to being a “sociopath” or “psychopath” when they need a one-word fix for their poor characterization. While there are cases of individuals with APDs who become violent, it’s a smaller number than we’re led to believe. From what we’re told about the effect his mutation has had on his mind, and what can be understood about the brain of individuals with psychopathy, it’s most accurate to describe Empath as psychopathic rather than sociopathic. While the two have some overlap, Empath’s eroded sense of “right and wrong” stems from his brain’s inability to emotionally & intellectually process and connect the consequences of his actions, which is most consistent with the pseudo diagnosis of “psychopathy”.
Because Empath is unable to recognize the damage he has done over time, he will likely continue to do harm without any awareness. He’s likely unaware that his manipulation of others is abusive, cruel, and invasive leading to an obstructed sense of “moral cognition”, or the neurological coding that dictates “right and wrong” decision making in our minds. This proposes a really interesting framing for mental health and mutant-justice. It’s a terrific example of how Krakoa continues to reframe parts of the continuity that we’ve written off. You can’t look at Empath’s past transgressions the same way after this page. Accountability means something different if you are neurologically wired in a way that prevents you from seeing the harm you do.
Appropriately, Krakoan leadership recognizes that the same measures of accountability used for neurotypicals, not only wouldn’t be effective for Empath but would not be appropriate either. He’s given an outlet and given a place on Krakoa that neither ignores his transgression nor demonizes him for his neurodiversity. In this sense, Krakoa is arguably embracing a social model of disability & neurodivergence to inform their justice model as well a model of harm reduction.
Looking at Krakoa’s failures and successes can help us to learn many lessons about the ways we navigate our own communities. It’s not just a matter of fan-analysis or a thought experiment about mutant-politics. This isn’t just a story, these situations happen within our communities on a regular basis; abusers hold seats of authority over victims, individuals are unfairly tried and subject to cruel & dehumanizing “punishment’, cycles of violence can go unbroken, and people commit offense after offense without understanding the consequences of their actions. Krakoa shows us what happens when abusers go unchecked and at the same time, there can be moments of nuance where communities seek out ways to break cycles of violence by embracing more holistic and humane models of justice.
Recognizing the reality of these situations can also deeply enhance our experiences in engaging with these stories, deepening our sense of nuance and empathy. Understanding just how flawed Krakoa is doesn’t take away from the story that’s being told. If anything, it underscores just how interesting Krakoa is a storytelling device. Krakoa is deeply, almost tragically flawed in some ways, and in other ways, it embraces some truly radical forms of community building. It’s that balance that has made the stories coming out since House of X #1 so much more memorable and engaging and have allowed the fanbase to explore aspects of the mutant metaphor that had gone largely unexamined until now.