X-Men #16 is written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Phil Noto, letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles, and designs by Tom Muller, published by Marvel Comics. The main cover is provided by Leinil Francis Yu and Sunny Gho.
**Spoilers For X Of Swords and X-Men #16 Ahead**
Love Is In The Air
Once upon a time, two islands were one, but they were cleaved in half by a Twilight Sword, and one half was lost for thousands of years. And now, the ex has at last returned, as a result of the contest in X Of Swords and the sacrifice made by Apocalypse. But people (islands) change over time. One island has seen an everlasting war, becoming a home for the most dangerous and sharpened blades among mutants, while the other has only recently been joined by its own mutant family. Can they find a common ground and reunite in matrimony?
One of the most…unexpected parts of X Of Swords was the sudden marriage of Doug to Bei, Swordbreaker of Arakko. While Bei isn’t present in X-Men #16, she is certainly referenced as Doug is still trying to wrap his head around that, as am, I. Doug is almost the center of the issue, which really works out because Noto renders him so affectionately, with his doe-eyes, and his “I have no real idea what I’m doing” stare. Luckily, Doug is the right-hand of Krakoa, and gets to help facilitate the meeting between Arakko and Krakoa. Surely it will go perfectly, with such a master of love guiding the way for these long-separated islands.
It Did Not Go Perfectly
It’s not Doug’s fault though, he did his level best. Hickman explains how the islands are basically just not on the same wavelength, or anywhere close. Centuries upon centuries apart and vastly different circumstances have made them into something that the other barely recognizes. Personifying them as walking, talking creatures, with an immense scale that Noto knocks out of the park, makes their tale much more engrossing, and the kind of crazy you can only find in an X-book.
Krakoa and Arakko’s relationship mirrors the relationship of Apocalypse and Genesis. They were separated for the same amount of time, and one became much colder than the other due to war-torn surroundings for centuries. Like Apocalypse still longed for Genesis, Krakoa still longs for Arakko. It’s less about being able to rejoin in peace as a result, and more about finding a way to co-exist. The development of the islands’ relationship has such a human quality to it that I’m curious to see how that will change over time, and if it will continue to reflect a marriage of sorts.
The Unending Dream Of Charles Xavier
There has been one idea at the forefront of Charles Xavier’s mind for decades: Unity. It was once the dream of unity between humans and mutants, a coexistence that would be mutually beneficial. That didn’t really work out after the first several hundred attempts. Mutants asserted their place in the world and gave rise to Krakoa, but now, they’re met with the merging of Arakko, where there are twenty times more mutants than are present on Krakoa. Sure, it would be foolish to wage war against them, but Xavier’s first inclination is peace and unification, unsurprisingly.
His request is met with defeat by a resolute Isca The Unbeaten. Their people are too different, despite all being mutants. They have carved different lands and lived by different codes, to say the least. The meshing that Xavier hopes for out of the gate is just not feasible, but it shows that while his dream may have evolved, he is still the same hopeful old man that would really just prefer if everyone got along.
Here Come The X-Men
Despite this book being called X-Men, there has not been a formal team like that throughout this era so far. That’s about to change, as Scott and Jean have decided the time for their people’s heroes to return is at hand. I’ve missed having a dedicated team of heroes among the mutants who will fight for the people, and not for the nation of Krakoa, or for the Quiet Council. This was the natural evolution of the journey Scott has been on in the core book and Jean’s realizations in X-Force. She tried to be something she wasn’t, to be proactive in the defense of a nation, but Jean is a hero of the people and deserves to be brought back to that level. So does Scott. Their method for selecting a new team is by vote, bringing a tinge of democracy to Krakoa. The people will decide who will be their champions of peace, and that is a hell of a hook for this book going forward.
Final Thoughts On X-Men #16
Noto illustrating this issue was a gift. He renders very beautiful people, but not without authenticity that makes them feel real. His coloring for the islands was sublime, and I could read him doing 9-panel grids of council meetings for days. Emotion leaps off the page from the art of his facial expressions. Isca’s body language here, engaged in conversation, relays more to me about her character than the whole of X Of Swords. It’s just good visual storytelling.
I appreciate how Hickman utilizes X-Men #16 to answer as many questions as he could, within reason, from X Of Swords. The information imparted in these pages regarding the structure of Arakko, their mutants, and their ruling body, is invaluable and incredibly promising. New Omega Mutants being added to the fold is something I didn’t expect for potentially years to come, but this era is all about being additive and that’s really on display here. I would argue this is one of the most satisfying issues of Hickman’s work on the core book so far. It lays the groundwork for what’s to come and gives you plenty to chew on in the meantime.
Hickman seems to be on the verge of reshaping the core book, making it into something more familiar to long-time fans of the franchise. The promise of an actual team of X-Men implies this will be their book, abandoning the nature of its storytelling up to this point, or there will be another book announced to put them in, allowing for X-Men to continue to be less connective from issue-to-issue, and centered more around one-and-done stories that leave implications for down the road. One way or another, the line of X-books is about to be sharpened and refined.