Every two weeks, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic book of significance.
This week, it is Marauders #7. Written by Gerry Duggan (Deadpool, All-New Guardians Of The Galaxy) with art by Stefano Caselli (West Coast Avengers, Avengers), colorist Edgar Delgado (Champions, Tony Stark: Iron Man), and letterer Cory Petit (Guardians Of The Galaxy, Excalibur), this issue highlights the excitement and emotion that make this series a highlight of Marvel’s latest X-Men relaunch. Note: This review reveals major plot points.
In just two words, Marauders establishes itself as the cheekiest, most fun-loving title of Dawn Of X, the X-Men relaunch building on Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, and R.B. Silva’s brilliant work redefining Marvel’s mutants in last year’s House Of X/Powers Of X (HOX/POX). Charles Xavier has created a new mutant nation on the island of Krakoa, and defeated death with resurrection protocols that bring back fallen comrades using a mix of psychic data storage and the combined efforts of five extremely powerful mutants. Krakoa’s big play for international influence comes via its main exports, miracle drugs for humans that cure mental illness, extend life by five years, and function as adaptive antibiotics. But not every country is interested in these drugs or letting their oppressed mutants escape to Krakoa. Enter: the Marauders, a team of mutant pirates that take these super-drugs into anti-Krakoa countries and pull mutants out.
With the exception of one genuine disaster—the incomprehensible and already concluded Fallen Angels—Dawn Of X has impressively expanded on plot points introduced in HOX/POX. X-Men features standalone stories that introduce new threats and plant seeds that will bloom at some point in the future. X-Force follows Krakoa’s counter-intelligence/black ops team formed in the wake of Xavier’s assassination (he got better), tracking down mutant enemies and wiping them out before they can reach Krakoa. Excalibur explores the mutants’ relationship with the magic corner of the Marvel Universe, tapping into swords-and-sorcery fantasy with Betsy Braddock leading the team as the new Captain Britain. The uneven New Mutants splits time between space and Earth with two different creative teams, but Hickman’s issues with artist Rod Reis have been some of the most delightful installments of this relaunch.
And then there’s Marauders, a series that combines political intrigue with breathtaking action and a sharp sense of humor, digging deep into X-Men history while enthusiastically sailing into a future full of promise and danger. The first arc of Marauders expertly balances light and dark elements as it details the exploits of the new Hellfire Corporation, splitting power three ways between White Queen Emma Frost, Black King Sebastian Shaw, and Red Queen Kate Pryde, who has relinquished her Kitty nickname as part of her never-ending identity crisis. Krakoa’s teleportation gates don’t work for Kate for some mysterious reason, motivating X-Men like Storm and Iceman to stay by her side and protect her in case the resurrection protocols similarly malfunction.
This week sees the release of the first Dawn Of X collection, which features the first issues of all six series. It’s a puzzling approach, and while these books are deeply connected, forcing readers to buy a full collection to get one chapter of a series stinks of corporate greed. If you don’t like one of the books, you’re stuck paying for those issues in future books. It makes sense if this is a sampler to introduce readers to each title before they get their own individual collections, but this structure continues across all the future Dawn Of X volumes. That’s one way to get people to buy Fallen Angels, which is so bad it makes you wonder how it got through editorial in the first place.
Marauders is on the flip side of Dawn Of X, hitting on all of the major plot points of the Hickman era while enriching its steadily expanding cast of the characters. The drugs, the resurrections, the political machinations—they all play into writer Gerry Duggan’s story in big ways, and the scope only keeps growing. Duggan also does remarkable work incorporating the data pages that Hickman and designer Tom Muller introduced in HOX/POX, using them to build an ongoing side narrative. Most of the text pieces are correspondences from an unnamed government employee assigned to “The X-Desk,” keeping track of the Hellfire Corporation’s movements while experiencing first-hand the effects of the Krakoan drugs on their ailing mother. These data pages provide laughs via the employee’s frustrations over the lack of resources given to his department, but over the course of the series, this human is becoming a stealth mutant ally after discovering the benefits of these drugs and the ruthlessness of Krakoa’s enemies.
Marauders only gets better with the start of its second storyline in Marauders #7, welcoming the art team of Stefano Caselli and colorist Edgar Delgado to elevate the book’s visuals with sleek action and rich expressions that sell both the drama and humor of Duggan’s script. This issue introduces Callisto to the book’s cast, and the leader of the Morlocks brings even more style and swagger to the series as she takes on the role of Emma’s White Knight. Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson’s cover distills Callisto’s aggressive attitude in one striking, in-your-face image, tapping into her fashion model past with her sleek white suit while still presenting her as a formidable fighter, creating an X with two of her many, many knives.
The arrival of Callisto is notable for multiple reasons. She’s a representative of a mutant population that we haven’t seen on Krakoa, the Morlocks who previously lived in the sewers of New York City but have since relocated to sunny Rio Verde, Arizona, thanks to the Hellfire Corporation’s duffel bags full of cash. She has a deep history with both Kate Pryde and Storm, who defeated Callisto in battle to briefly become leader of the Morlocks. Callisto also provides the opportunity to address the legacy of the Marauders name, given that the original Marauders were a team of supervillains responsible for slaughtering the Morlocks during the “Mutant Massacre” crossover in the ’80s.
Marauders #7 directly addresses this in a scene between Callisto and a fellow Morlock on a Rio Verde golf course, where Callisto makes it very clear that she’s done living in the dark and will do whatever it takes to give her people a better life. When asked if she takes offense at Kate calling herself a Marauder, Callisto responds: “Kate was on the spot and reached for a name. She blurted the one that hurt her bad. Let her have it.” Kate was nearly a casualty of the massacre herself, harpooned by an energy spear that left her stuck in her phased state and in danger of disappearing completely. The aftershocks of that story still resonate to this day, and her post-massacre status led to teenage Kate developing a friendship with Franklin Richards, which is an integral element of the X-Men/Fantastic Four miniseries that began last week.
Callisto makes her big Marauders debut by walking into a wardrobe fitting for Emma Frost by the newly resurrected mutant fashion designer, Jumbo Carnation, introduced in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run as the victim of a hate crime. One of the things this book does best is ground the characters with scenes that show them enjoying each other’s company, whether it’s having the Marauders go get tattoos together or having Emma and Kate share their disdain for men over drinks. In just a few pages, Duggan establishes a thorny relationship between Callisto and Emma that is still rooted in mutual respect, and there are two great moments between Callisto and Jumbo. The first is when she whips out her knife and cuts the sleeves off the white duster he wants her to try on so that it fits her punk aesthetic. The second is when she hands him a knife and says: “If you get into trouble again, pull this and go for the eyes.”
Callisto’s knives are a constant source of humor throughout this issue. She throws a knife at Storm’s head when she runs into her old rival, and Storm catches it before she gives her best frenemy a welcome hug. “They just whip knives at each other’s faces,” Pyro says in disbelief. “No wonder the Brotherhood never finished off the X-Men.” It’s a tiny action moment, but it says a lot about both characters’ toughness and how that unites them. The action in Marauders has been phenomenal since the start, and Duggan takes full advantage of the powerhouses on this team to make this the most thrilling series in Dawn Of X.
Kate’s phasing power is used to devastating effect, and she has no problem phasing objects into the bodies of her attackers, causing them unspeakable pain. At one point, she phases her ship through another vessel to prevent a crash, pushing herself to save her crew. The combination of the fire-controlling Pyro and the fire-breathing Lockheed allows the team to blaze through their attackers, and facing off against soldiers with power-dampening armor brings out the physical prowess of characters like Storm, who whips out her Vibranium knife and starts stabbing enemies in their eyeballs. Marauders #7 gives Bishop the action spotlight as he charges into Madripoor to find out what happened to Kate, who has disappeared after being betrayed by Sebastian Shaw. All Bishop does is throw a grenade through a gate before shooting up hostiles, but Caselli and Delgado make it look so damn cool, steadily building the momentum to Bishop’s hilarious final line: “‘Kill no man’ don’t mean ‘%#$@ no man up.’”
That cool factor is vital to Marauders’ success, and even when it’s being goofy—Pyro has a skull tattooed over his entire face—it does so with so a mixture of confidence and glee that brings out the fun these mutants are having in their new world order. Yes, they’re still dealing with an onslaught of people and machines that want to see their entire species obliterated; but for the first time, mutants have the upper hand. There’s a feeling of liberation and endless possibility on the open seas, and even though Marvel is teasing dark times ahead for Kate and her crew, the first seven issues have proven this creative team knows how to set high dramatic stakes while still delivering blockbuster, crowd-pleasing entertainment.