Learning Sketchbook 14: Back to Reference

Since going back to work, I’ve found that a really fun way for me to spend break time (which typically happens in short stints between handling low-key emergencies and doing paperwork) is to pull up a reference photo of a person that I want to draw and, well, draw them.  I continue to be fascinated and frustrated by the gap between figures and faces that I draw from imagination and the ones that I draw from reference, but I’ve settled on the assumption that improving my imaginary library requires me to practice a lot of actual reference drawing.  It’s been fun because the finished sketches look way more polished than my older stuff (it helps that folks are really impressed by the look of a reference drawing), and the repetition of familiar forms has helped me get more comfortable practicing different techniques to convey shape and texture.

If there’s a downside to all this practice with reference photos, it’s that I’m really hungry to get more in a wider variety of subjects.  The site that I’ve been using has a decent sized library and a random picture function if I just want to draw whatever, but the diversity of subjects is lacking.  Overwhelmingly, the available photos feature thin, white models, which after a little while all begin to look very samey.  Going to look for specific subjects becomes tricky because the site doesn’t have a quality search function, and it’s awkward to browse through the various collections in search of something that looks different from most of the pictures on offer.  So, if you happen to know a good reference photo site for practice, please let me know.

Let’s get to the pages, because that’s what folks click through to see anyway, right?

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Also included in the reference library are a lot of photos of various actors and celebrities.  I’ve taken to occasionally asking my coworkers if they recognize who various drawings are modeled after.  On the page above, I have a Sebastian Stan, a Leonardo DiCaprio, and I think a Timothy Dalton?

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There’s a lot of play in these pages particularly with figuring out styles of shading.  I tend to vacillate between wanting to give sketches a lot of texture and sticking to simpler lines as though I were going to go over them later in inks (my sketchbook’s paper isn’t really right for inking since I use both sides of each page).  A lot of it is informed by the photo itself; if there’s really dramatic lighting that creates lots of shadows, I’m more likely to do a textured sketch, like the one on this page on left of the middle row.

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One night I took a break from faces to do some hands.  Hands are not quite as fun, but it was good to change things up a little bit.  I think it’s obvious that I don’t practice hands very much from these sketches; they’re all extremely rough and the fingers frequently have weird proportions in relation to each other.

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In an effort to not just draw white people, I did a page where I specifically sought out photos of Black people to draw.  The thing that I kept worrying about in the back of my mind as I was working on these was that I wanted to be careful to avoid caricature.  I think these are mostly pretty good (I paid extra attention to proportions to try not to make anything look exaggerated), but I still don’t feel like Idris Elba looks like Idris Elba.

The more I do reference drawing though, the more I get the itch to practice making stuff up.  I expect there’s going to be a hurdle to going back to doing that soon specifically because the finished product is going to look less appealing than what I’ve been producing these last couple weeks.  We’ll see where it goes, I suppose.

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Reading “The Wicked + The Divine #45”

So we’ve made it to the end now.

Somewhere on the internet more than a few years ago now, I read a very smart person detail a theory of story that centers one specific part of any narrative: the ending.  The context there had to do with the issue of religious texts, specifically the Christian Bible, and the need for a story about a world that is ongoing to imagine some kind of ending as a way of imposing meaning on the thing that is still in progress.  The New Testament ends with Revelation, an apocalypse, because the tradition of apocalyptic literature has always been about presenting the end of one thing and its replacement with something new.  John of Patmos’s Revelation is as much a political document as it is a religious one, serving as a manifesto about the injustices of the Roman Empire at the same time that it presents this fantastical vision of old suffering passing away into new flourishing.  The modern reading of the text as a vision of a literal future robs Revelation of much of its depth and consequently cheapens the whole of Christian visions for the future.  Perhaps it’s human nature that compels us to try to flatten out the Divine into something limited and containable.  We’re just as hungry for endings as we are repelled by them because on the one hand they bring closure and on the other they eliminate mystery.

The Wicked + The Divine is a series that I had to work to get into.  I’m pretty sure I’ve written in the past that my first reading of The Faust Act was underwhelming and more than a little confused.  I knew that Jamie McKelvie’s art was totally engrossing, but I had so many questions about the world by time I reached the technicolor splash of Lucifer’s not-actually-exploded head that I wasn’t sure why this particular series was the new hotness.  Perhaps the most fortunate thing about the timing of my picking up WicDiv is that it came at a point where I didn’t have much expendable income, and my relatively small library of comics demanded that I spend more than a single read-through with them.  The second time through things made more sense, and I felt some deep affection for Laura as she struggled with feeling like the sooner her life ended the sooner she’d be done trying to make sense of it.

In the intervening years I’ve become a fairly dedicated fan of Kieron Gillen’s comics writing.  My first exposure to him was his X-Men run, which revolves around the Schism, the thoroughly gonzo Generation Hope, and the Asgard-inflected crossover event Fear Itself.  He did some wild stuff in there, and that was within the constraints one of Marvel’s biggest serialized IPs.  To this day I’ve still not read his and McKelvie’s Young Avengers, although it sits on my to-read list.  I have read the entirety of Phonogram, and I continue to have the nagging feeling that I need to go back to it again.  Die is excellent, heartbreaking fun.  His extended Star Wars saga begun on his run in Darth Vader and carried on through parts of Doctor Aphra and the main title of the space opera series is deeply engrossing.  Something about Gillen’s style and subject matter seriously clicks for me as a reader.  Moreso than his style though, I think I’ve come to appreciate a core part of his ethos as a writer: Kieron Gillen doesn’t like mystery.

I don’t mean that in the sense that he doesn’t like to write mysteries; unanswered questions are one of the great pleasures of going through any of his extended narratives.  What I mean is that Gillen is a writer who always and forever sets out to demystify what he does as a writer.  It might be a holdover from his earlier career as a journalist or just a tic in the way he processes his craft; I don’t know.  The point is that even if he doesn’t want readers to know what’s going to happen next, he always works very hard to let you know exactly what he’s doing with a story.  My great joy in reading The Wicked + The Divine was always to go back and re-read the series after each major revelation; new facets in this ornate, crystalline structure would suddenly come into view and there’d be another layer waiting to be found in the old issues.  The only real worry was that as the end approached, the limits of the story would show.  You can’t have undiscovered country forever.  The mysteries, planned to become obsolete with time, would eventually give way to the full meaning of the work.  We’ve been warned this was coming for years; it’s still not easy to accept.

In the middle of the last arc of The Wicked + The Divine, my mother died.  This was back in May, so it wasn’t too long after issue #43, the one where Laura finally shows the others how to break Ananke’s cycle, was published.  I was in the middle of doing a re-read of the series on Twitter, and somewhere in the jokes and the half-clever insights I sort of hit a wall of realization.  My relationship with my mom was left in a holding pattern for most of my adult life because I never figured out how to communicate with her in a way that invited deeper understanding about who we were as people.  We were affectionate to each other, but the relationship felt shallow, at least to me, and I had settled into a kind of complacence about it all.  The finality of her death shocked me, not precisely because her life was over, but because the possibility of adding new dimensions to our relationship was gone.  The end came, and now there’s just the meaning of our shared time to turn over until my own life is done.  It’s no wonder that Gillen’s chosen to end The Wicked + The Divine with a funeral; how else could you finish something so preoccupied with mortality and ephemerality and the search for meaning in chaos?

They’re so cute together. (Cover by Olivia Jaimes)

Turning to the issue itself (what a long preamble), I feel slightly wary of posting an image of the cover here because it resolves one of the great tensions of the series: does Laura survive?  Monthly readers already know the answer to this; she does, and she has a long life after all the business with the Pantheon.  Trade readers, like I was before I decided I just couldn’t wait for the final arc to be done, don’t yet know what happens, and the twisty, turn-y nature of WicDiv kind of demands that the spoiler wall be respected.  Also, it’s been pretty clear in the online milieu that Gillen and McKelvie have wanted to keep the cover under wraps for now as well.  What can be posted here is the alternate cover by Olivia Jaimes which nods towards one of the most delightful turns of the epilogue, the eventual romance between Laura and Cassandra.  While their friendship has been pretty central to the story at various pivotal points, this last revelation marks it as a key anchor point in Laura’s character arc.  Issue #44 ended with the implication that Laura and Eleanor were OTP, but Gillen swerves that ship pretty deftly in the finale.  It’s most beautiful specifically because the elision of Laura’s life from the end of the Pantheon up to Cassandra’s funeral leaves plenty of space for anyone who prefers Eleanor and Laura together to imagine the shape and length of that relationship.  We only know that it ended; the rest is up to the individual’s headcanon.  There is a little bit of undiscovered country left for us to sit with.

The question of Laura’s series of one-and-onlies points towards the larger theme of this coda: all the survivors of the Pantheon, while bound together by the shared experience, have gone on to lead whole other lives independent of what they did when they were cool teens.  For readers, the great mass of The Wicked + The Divine is the story of the eighteen months between Laura’s attendance at Amaterasu’s New Year’s 2014 concert and her incarceration for Ananke’s murder after the confrontation with Minerva at Valhalla in mid-2015; for the characters, there’s forty years after that which both add layers of significance to their youth and diminish it as a part of larger lives.  The meaning of it all isn’t clear to them because they kept going, and examining, and living.  Cassandra’s death is an occasion to pause and reflect on the facet of the cast’s lives that the readers care about, but while it signals one kind of closure, everyone else continues on with other things.  There’s no great secret or meaning to be found here beyond the usual reaffirmations of human connection and bonding.  Zahid still mourns for Valentine and his ruthless love; Umar is haunted by spirits from his past; Jon can’t help but continue to make things just as Aruna has persisted through everything to make art; Zoe and Meredith have moved on from a moment to which they were never sure they belonged.  Everyone is just busy living because they’ve no idea what to do with an ending.

And it’s okay.

Reading Powers of X #4

I think the best way to sum up this issue is that the first two thirds are fun and intriguing, and the last third has to do a lot of work to remind readers about the stakes of the One Thousand Year time period.  We get in the opening scene with Sinister a lot of camp; Hickman adores making Sinister an over the top, larger than life character with lots of ambition and swagger, and it’s all terribly fun until you stop to remind yourself that Sinister is a manipulator, and it would probably be best to assume every move he makes on his island is some kind of misdirection.  Does Sinister enjoy being a chaotic mishmash of infighting clones loosely ordered into some kind of feudal hierarchy?  Yes, absolutely.  Is he also screwing around with Xavier and Magneto?  Almost certainly.

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I know this is a callback to Marvel’s old corner boxes, but heads without necks creep me out. (Cover by R B Silva & Marte Gracia)

It’s fair, especially in a series of this length, for creators to take a breath from driving hard on plot (which was pretty much what the middle third of the series did) to engage in some character work.  The endless jokes about Magneto’s cape help establish what version of Sinister we’re looking at here, but they’re also silly fun following a lot of character deaths.  My feeling with this whole scene is that it feels like an interlude that offers very little in the way of pertinent information to the reader.  We already know Sinister is involved in the Krakoa project somehow because he was recruited in the Moira-Apocalypse timeline.  The interesting question that arises from there is how, knowing what Sinister intends to do with Krakoa, Xavier figures he can contain and subvert the inevitable betrayal.  The Sinister gossip pages suggest that whatever safety measures have been put in place, Sinister’s already figured out a way around them, because of course he has.

The middle section’s a nice little character sketch showing us more of this version of Doug Ramsey, who it’s becoming more and more clear is a lynchpin in the whole Krakoa plan.  We still don’t have any explanation about how he got his Technarch arm, but we do see it doing what Technarchy does: spread the techno-organic virus.  What I’m curious about at this point is whether Doug is aware of what he’s doing or if his arm has a mind of its own; either way could lead to some fun story beats, all of which have major potential to totally undermine the new mutant paradigm of purely organic technology.  We also see that months before everything went online on Krakoa and Xavier started wearing the Cerebro helmet he was playing at colonialism like a certain evil twin with a pith helmet that conveniently covers his forehead.  The associations of that costume appearing in a remote tropical locale are not good ones; the Krakoa project is ostensibly about stopping the evolution of the Sentinels, but now, who knows?  Other interesting bits in this sequence include the tease of Apocalypse’s original Four Horsemen who were apparently sealed in an alternate dimension or something to stand guard over Krakoa’s evil… twin.

Arakko’s going to end up being a Mummudrai, isn’t it?  And it’s connected to Krakoa via the black seeds?  Fun times.

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I never thought I’d find myself thinking about Doug Ramsey as an analogue to Larry Trask, but here we are. (Artwork by R B Silva, colors by Marte Gracia, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The issue’s last third is the most disorienting primarily because we haven’t revisited the Year One Thousand time period in about a month of real time, and the last thing we saw was the Phalanx descending to absorb the ascended humans’ society into their cloud.  It was all very harrowing.  This issue shows us that there’s a little bit more to what happened before that whole cloud of darkness thing.  My big complaint with this scene is that it involves a lot of talking heads among characters that we haven’t really spent any time with yet.  The Librarian, our perspective character from previous visits to this era, is just a silent observer here while a couple of other blue people talk in circles around their plan to persuade the Phalanx to incorporate organic life into their assimilation schema.  It all sort of makes sense as an extension of the thematic arc of the series revolving around the tension between synthetic and organic life and the acceleration towards grey goo, but the whole sequence left me mostly indifferent to what was happening.  There’s certainly potential for that plot line to pick back up and become interesting, but right now it feels like this weird appendix to the superhero stuff going on in the present day timeline.

We Moved And I Am Tired

I expect this won’t be a terribly long post as the point of it more to just give a general update on why blog production has taken a nosedive in the last week after I was all excited and raring to go when the school year started.  The big reason is that we moved house!  I mentioned that before, but it’s worth saying again.

We moved house!

The past two weekends have been a pretty steady stream of chores all oriented towards the ultimate goal of getting out of a tiny apartment and into a slightly less tiny house; at this point we’re done with the move itself and all the necessary aftercare that follows from telling someone you’re ending your lease and handing custody of a thing back over to the actual owner.  It’s been a weird sort of limbo as officially did the move a week ago, but our lease didn’t technically end until (as of this posting) yesterday.  They were very laid back about the whole thing, it turns out.  No one wanted to do an inspection of the apartment with us; instead they just suggested we take some pictures if we were worried about discrepancies and then wished us well.  It was the most uneventful move out I think I’ve ever done.

Finishing up with check out at the old apartment has left us with a house that now needs to be organized and slightly better furnished than we’re able to do with what we’ve brought along with us.  As a result of those needs, we made two separate trips to IKEA to get some things this weekend, and we have spent at least a quarter of the waking hours from Saturday and Sunday in the process of moving and construction the new furniture.  My back and my feet hurt from spending so much time getting up and down off the floor, and I find myself slowly coming to a new level of empathy with the Olds.

Other things that I’ve discovered this weekend include the fact that the regional house pests of Oregon are not roaches (shudder) but a friendly arachnid known colloquially as the giant house spider because an average specimen is a little bigger than the diameter of a silver dollar.  I’m taking this return to life with obnoxious house bugs with equanimity, mostly because spiders do not occupy a place of primal fear in the base of my brain the way that roaches do.  It’s still annoying to encounter them after dark or during a relatively heavy rain though.

When I think of things not related to settling into the new house, I think about work mostly, which has overall been good but exhausting.  I think “good but exhausting” shall be my general state of being for the foreseeable future.  It’s actually very comforting to go back to work and be in a position where I know most of the rhythms of the workplace now.  I’ve changed schools so many times in a row that I’d forgotten on an experiential level that a return to work can actually be a familiar thing rather than a wave of new things to learn every year.  It’s comfortable; I think I’ll do this returning to the same school thing again next year.

Among the pieces of furniture we’ve gotten and assembled for the house is a shiny new desk for me to sit and do my writing and drawing in an upright chair by an actual window (the view, admittedly, is not much as I look directly out into our neighbors’ backyard), which has me all sorts of thrilled.  Maybe at some point in the near future, when the boxes have all been unpacked and collapsed, and there’s no more flat pack furniture coming and going from the house, I’ll get back into a normal routine of writing.  It will be very satisfying, even if I can expect to share the work space with giant house spiders.

Reading House of X #4

I think the weirdest part of reading X-Men comics is that I have a relatively low emotional investment in them at this point in my life.  One of the major trends I’ve seen in the aspects of the fan community that I frequent is a sort of universal assumption that part of belonging to X-Men fandom is professing extreme affinity to at least one, if not more, specific characters as the reason you are here.  I engage in this element of fandom mildly in the form of a general preference to see stories about a few characters from New Mutants (I show my affection by spending time analyzing characters; both Illyana Rasputin and David Haller have gotten significant numbers of words out of me over the years), but compacting nearly fifty years’ worth of comics into accelerated reading over the course of a decade has left me with a relatively sanguine attitude about ongoing serialized comics in general and the X-Men in particular.  It’s great to read good stories about characters I love, but that’s just not always going to happen, and different writers will take different tacks when they get their turns to play in this shared universe.  Sometimes there will be narrative beats that we don’t like, but it doesn’t invalidate the ones that we do, and the status quo tends to be robust enough that changes to characters’ core concepts happen at a glacial pace.

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Everyone on this cover dies. Now you don’t have to read the issue. (Cover by Pepe Larraz & Marte Gracia)

All this preamble is to say that I try not to react angrily to stories, especially ones where it’s painfully obvious that extreme misdirection is going on and things will turn out likely very different from how they look in the moment.  Given that, I find myself grappling with some mixed emotions about Hickman’s House of X #4.  The big thing that I find myself puzzling over is the absurd death count of the issue.  It’s not surprising that everyone on the team dies on the suicide mission (that’s why they call them suicide missions); it’s surprising that in a franchise like X-Men, where death is never permanent, particularly for the headliners of the core team, Hickman went to such lengths to give the male heroes (apart from Warren) these big, dramatic character moments coupled with their deaths while the women were mostly just, well, there.  We can argue all day about whether Jean Grey’s weird characterization in this series is due to authorial dissonance or pointing towards something more complicated about what’s going on within the larger narrative, but the fact remains that Hickman has made the choice in this series to reintroduce Jean to the core team with all the trappings of her timid Silver Age characterization and then put her in a position of helplessness as the rest of her team violently dies before she gets snuffed out in a tin can floating through space.  The rest of the female members of the away team don’t fare any better (except for Monet, which still seems like an odd way to express affection for a character) with Paige Guthrie, an esoteric enough character that her inclusion on the team should have pointed towards some intricate plot involving her specific powers, dying off panel, and Mystique, a shape shifter, doing absolutely no shape shifting.  The sheer imbalance in styles of death between these characters and the men feels uncomfortable in ways that are actually pretty easy to identify.

The grand purpose of all this character death (little, if any, of which will likely stick beyond the end of the HoXPoX series) is to up the narrative stakes with the possibility that the Mother Mold has been brought online and precipitated something potentially worse to take form (nanites are a nasty thing, and very narratively convenient when your big bad is a homicidal AI) and also to give Charles Xavier his veritable Blue Screen of Death moment, which will undoubtedly lead to some catastrophic things in the future.  Before this issue I was thinking there was a strong possibility that we were looking at a team of cloned X-Men, but given the way it ends I’m now more inclined to think that we’re pushing towards the abuse of some of the reality warping mutants that were highlighted back in House of X #1.  Given the series’s obsession with echoing and remixing X-Men history, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re moving towards a rehash of House of M with Xavier acting in place of Wanda Maximoff.

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In the unlikely event anyone reads this but hasn’t yet read the essential HoXPoXToX for the week, it can be found here.

*In the even more unlikely event that you want to read more of my thoughts about Illyana and David, here are a few more posts that center those specific characters.

Illyana

David

Life is Strange 2: Log 3

It took me a long time to work up the will to play Life is Strange 2: Episode 3.  After I finished the second episode many, many months ago there was a glitch with the game that erased my save data.  Given the emotionally brutal nature of playing a Life is Strange episode, I honestly didn’t relish going back to replay the first two episodes over again.  Beyond that reluctance to go through the gut punches again, I also found myself caught up in a more banal dilemma: make different choices while knowing the potential outcomes or try to do a playthrough as close to identical to my first one as possible in order to maintain story continuity going forward.  Fans of decision games understand that it’s rare for your choices to create drastically different plot points, but the context in which various decisions are made do change based on the history a player establishes with their character.

My version of Sean, before he got erased, had tried his best to take care of Daniel while avoiding running any more afoul of the law than the circumstances with the cop in Seattle had already done, and he’d made some pretty significant mistakes in encouraging Daniel to try to keep as low a profile as possible.  The most egregious one was in the second episode where Sean’s constant reminders to Daniel not to casually play with his powers for fear of blowing their cover led to him being too afraid in the moment to save Chris, the kid who lives next door to their grandparents, from being hit by a police car at the episode’s climax.  My powergamer instincts created this obnoxious feedback loop where I’d want to replay that episode and try to make sure Chris doesn’t get hurt, but then that wouldn’t be true to some abstract notion of story integrity, and it was a whole mess.

Eventually I got over all of that stuff and decided to dive back into Life is Strange 2.  I was finally emotionally ready to replay all the terrible stuff that happens in the first two episodes, and then when I loaded the game up I found that Dontnod had actually done a thing that anticipates lost save data.  I couldn’t recover every minute decision I’d made, but I could pick a predetermined starting scenario to jump into Episode 3 and save myself a bunch of agony.  I decided to do that; also, I picked the scenario where Chris doesn’t get hit by a car because children don’t deserve to suffer even if the entire premise of the Life is Strange universe is that children suffer a lot.

Anyway.

The third episode of Life is Strange 2 has an extremely different tone from the first two episodes.  It still ends in a place where everything is horrible, but the several hours before the climax are relatively chill and hopeful.  Sean and Daniel have escaped from Beaver Creek and made their way south to northern California where they’ve spent a couple months working on a marijuana farm.  It’s good money, Sean gets to hang out with a bunch of folks his own age (including Cassidy and Finn, who appeared briefly in Episode 2), and the brothers are relatively safe for a while.

Although things end poorly, the majority of the episode is concerned more with Sean dealing with the tension between his own needs as a person and Daniel’s needs as his little brother.  There’s some worry on Sean’s part that Daniel is growing more independent and reckless under the influence of Finn, the charming ringleader of the group who also has a bit of a crush on Sean.  Daniel frequently insists on doing things with Finn that he used to want to do with Sean, and Sean finds himself in the position of managing his own feelings as his brother begins to develop an identity separate from him.  The flip side of all that is the fact that Sean hasn’t been able to socialize with actual peers for months; camping in the woods with all these young folks is incredibly refreshing for him.  The more subtle theme of earlier episodes surrounding the disappointment of being a caretaker when you really want something else for your life come more to the forefront here, although not in the totally explosive ways I would have expected.  So much of the joy of Episode 3 comes from Sean choosing to do things for himself, and while Daniel occasionally expresses disappointment, his responses are tempered by the presence of Finn, who enjoys playing the cool big brother figure (all without really comprehending the importance of trying to set a good example for Daniel).  It all amounts to an episode that focuses much more squarely on Sean’s need for care and support after two brutal episodes that forced him to make frequent difficult decisions for Daniel’s welfare.  Here, the most consequential decision Sean has to make outside of the ending crisis is how he’d like to explore his own sexuality; it’s still a very momentous thing to ask the player to navigate as Sean, but it’s also much more normal than anything else he’s been faced with in the story so far.

Reading House of X #3

When Xavier says to Cyclops before an obvious suicide mission, “You’re not going to die.  I won’t allow it,” I had some weird feelings.  We’re halfway through the macro series at this point, and every appearance of Scott and Xavier have felt off in various ways.  Scott was weirdly antagonistic about Franklin Richards in House of X #1, he seemed almost slavishly devoted to Xavier and Magneto’s plans in Powers of X #2, and here in this issue he’s expressing some major misgivings that the premier mutant power couple assuage with assurances that he’s not going to die.  Xavier, meanwhile has been… well, Xavier.

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Things are going to get bad. (Cover by Pepe Larraz & Marte Gracia)

In this scene Erik follows up Xavier’s bombast with a rhetorical flourish that points towards the memorialization that great heroes of worthy causes enjoy after they die.  It’s a very metaphysical appeal, suggesting that Scott’s death on this mission will ensure the continued survival of the Krakoa project, and so he’ll live on as a treasured memory.  This stuff tracks with Erik’s revolutionary bent and the general need in dire circumstances to give the people making the greatest sacrifice some kind of incentive they can hang on to through impending doom.  What feels off, as usual, is Xavier.  That god complex that we’ve seen on display since the first issue when he was playing Messiah in the Garden with his Krakoa pod babies is in full effect here; there’s a significant distance between making assertions of what must happen as a form of encouragement and declaring what will or will not happen as though one controls the fate of everyone involved.  Xavier seems to be speaking literally when he says emphatically “I won’t allow it.”

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Because they’re clones! (Artwork by Pepe Larraz, colors by Marte Gracia, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The matter of how he can achieve that end is up in the air, but my preferred hypothesis is that we’re looking at a variation on the Marauders, Sinister’s pet team of cloned supervillains that he deploys indiscriminately with the assurance that he can just decant a new set whenever the old ones get killed.  It’s not been revisited since House of X #1, but Krakoa has a place where mutants emerge from pods fully grown, and at least two of those mutants appeared to be Scott and Jean.  I think the team that’s being sent to destroy Mother Mold is composed of copies of the original mutants, probably with implanted memories so they don’t realize they’re clones.  It would explain pretty neatly the personality discrepancies we’ve seen up to this point, particularly with Scott and Jean, but also in the small glimpses of the others.  Kurt’s almost flirty with Mystique before he jumps to the Orchis Forge, which is, well, not how Kurt would interact with Mystique even under the best circumstances.  Logan has been shown joyfully playing with children despite lots of evidence that he doesn’t enjoy being around kids.  Paige Guthrie, Husk, is on this team and seems to have reverted to all the markers of a period in her life when she was at her most vulnerable.  These characters are acting in ways that are strange beyond the normal realignment of character voice that happens when a new writer takes over an extant series, and I think it’s because they’re clones that have been grown from Krakoa.

Aside from that relatively wild speculation, I think this issue’s most interesting narrative development comes from the time spent with Karima Shapandar and Dr. Erasmus aboard the Orchis Forge.  Their conversations depict an organization that doesn’t recognize its own bigotry towards mutants; aside from the faceless goons who wander the space station’s hallways, Erasmus and her team are obviously the “civilian scientists” that Jean mentions when the team is discussing the mission’s acceptable losses.  Hydra remnants excepted, most of Orchis’s members don’t see themselves as acting in a way that’s morally unjustified (which is a distinct attitude from being indifferent to moral justification).  It complicates the conflict in ways that are sort of uncomfortable because they highlight how ideological and systemic struggles eat up individuals whose isolated actions feel inconsequential.  It opens up an ongoing debate about the culpability of a cause’s rank-and-file in comparison to their leaders, asking us to consider where we draw the line in terms of overall impact.  How much do we need to care about the human stories that sit in the middle of these conflicts?

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Logan always coming in with the simplified bottom line. (Artwork by Pepe Larraz, colors by Marte Gracia, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Update: The essential HoXPoXToX for this issue is up now, so definitely go there to learn about stuff that Hickman is probably trying to make us think about.