The Krakoan Era of X-Men comics was built on two big ideas that greatly changed the kinds of stories that are told about mutants. The first was that this would be the most prosperous time that they had ever experienced due to their island nation and political power. The second was that all villains with an X gene were given amnesty and any bad blood was set aside. What Victor LaValle and Leonard Cook’s Sabretooth & The Exiles asserts with a powerful lack of subtlety is that there are many mutants not popular enough for the light of this new age to shine upon them, and in the darkness unspeakable horrors await.
This story is a continuation of LaValle’s Sabretooth miniseries, where a handful of characters found themselves in The Pit, Krakoa’s prison for mutants who break one of the main laws and are given an indefinite sentence. Sabretooth was the first one put there but managed to escape. Now the other detainees, including Third Eye, Oya, Toad and others, are tasked with catching the savage mutant. What both Sabretooth and these “exiles” discover, however, is the work of a human scientist named Dr. Barrington who has been dissecting mutants in an attempt to give the human race abilities.
Writer Victor LaValle wastes no time connecting these atrocities to ones in the real world, as the doctor herself compares how she is treating mutants to surgeries performed on black slaves without anesthesia in the 1800s. Sabretooth is often a character almost over the top in his violence, and this series does not excuse his previous actions, but it does make a smart choice in pitting him against an evil so cold and calculating. We support these protagonists and their murky morals because no matter what their motive is, their goal of stopping this mutant genocide is an altruistic ideal.
If this all sounds too weighty and dour, don’t worry, LaValle knows how to have fun as well. Two standout characters from Zeb Wells’ Hellions series, Nanny and Orphan Maker make an appearance here and have a sitcom-like rapport, and the overall ragtag atmosphere among the group creates some delicious drama. And there’s plenty of superhero action. Mechs, missiles and plenty of melting (courtesy of a character called Melter) are given wonderful splash page glory by artist Leonard Kirk. A team book relies heavily on the alchemy of its members, and this group provides all the wit, action, and gravitas necessary for a compelling title.
One of the best aspects of this current era of the X-Line is the opportunity to showcase the more unknown characters that we don’t normally see. The ones who won’t factor into the big crossover event or get elected to the X-Men. Their stories can often feel more emotional in their smallness, and the writers of them surely have more freedom to make unpredictable choices. These are the characters left in the shadows, but the mission statement of this book is that they too deserve a place in the spotlight. And I for one hope that it shines on them for a long time to come.