Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing IvX 0, originally released November 30th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Spencer: I don’t know much about my ancestry or heritage other than the fact that I’ve got blood from at least six or seven different European countries in me (I’ve been known to describe my ethnicity as “White Mystery”). Combine that with a family that’s never been all that worried about tradition and you get a guy who just doesn’t care about his culture (if I could even be considered as having one). This is absolutely not the case with the mutants or the Inhumans, though; although the two groups’ concepts of culture and tradition differ greatly, they’re absolutely vital to both camps. That’s something Charles Soule and Kenneth Rocafort make abundantly clear in IvX 0 — the conflict that’s been brewing between them isn’t really about the literal deaths of individuals anymore, but about the possible figurative death of their very ways of life.
IvX 0 fills in the blanks between Cyclops’ death (and the transmutation of one of the two Terrigen clouds) in Death of X and the present day. Soule splits the narrative equally between the two camps; Beast works with the Inhumans to find a cure/vaccine for M-Pox while, simultaneously, Emma Frost slowly formulates a plan to wipe out the final Terrigen cloud and get revenge on the Inhumans. In theory, this difference in approach should paint the mutants as the bad guys, but it doesn’t for several reasons. The first is that Emma’s largely a rogue agent, unaffialiated with Storm’s core group of X-Men (in fact, we barely see Storm or Medusa in this issue — the leaders are being quite hands-off so far). The second is that the Mutants appear to be suffering far more than the Inhumans.
I’m struck by how cavalier the NuHumans are here. Sure, Flint and Grid are worried about literal war, but they’re saying this on the deck of a state-of-the-art warship touring the world, and they barely know the names of the mutants they’re scared of. Meanwhile, the X-Men are literally hiding in Limbo to avoid death from Terrigen exposure, and Magneto of all people is so spooked by the Inhumans that he can recite the names and abilities of all their major players at a moment’s notice. The mutants clearly come across as the underdogs in this conflict.
I mean, they’re fighting for their lives while the Inhumans are simply fighting to protect the last of the world’s Terrigen, right? Magneto points out that Terrigen is sacred to the Inhumans, bound up in their culture, but surely culture and tradition shouldn’t trump actual human (or mutant) lives, right? When we find a part of our belief system that’s harmful, we change it, right? Absolutely, but, Soule throws in a few wrinkles that keep the Inhumans from being the “bad guys,” and keep the mutants from simply coming across as victims. The first is the fact that, without Terrigen, the Inhumans can’t undergo Terrigenesis, can’t attain their trademark abilities. If Emma were to destroy the last Terrigen cloud, the Inhumans wouldn’t just lose a sacred artifact, they’d lose a key aspect of their identity. Maybe it’s worth it, losing part of your culture if it means saving another, but it’s not a decision that can be made lightly, and it would never be one that all Inhumans would go along with: they’d spark a civil war by trying to avoid war with the Mutants.
The second wrinkle is the fact that the Mutants have the very same option at their disposal.
Beast has found that coming up with a one-size-fits-all vaccine for M-Pox may be impossible — Terrigen attacks the X-Gene of each and every mutant in an entirely different way. As Iso points out, though, one option that would work would be to excise the X-Gene altogether. It would save the lives of all mutants, but at the expense of the very thing that makes them mutants in the first place; it’s essentially the same scenario the Inhumans would be facing if they eliminated the last Terrigen cloud.
I love how Soule has taken what could have been a black-and-white, good guy vs. bad guy conflict and made it far more complicated. Both groups have an “easy” option at hand that actually ends up being as complicated as humanly possible. In a way the mutants may still have more to lose if this stalemate keeps going, but either war or compromise would mean either massive loss of life or the loss of an entire culture, respectively. For both groups, their powers are about as entwined with their identities as their race or sexuality would be. Is losing an aspect of your identity as intrinsic as that really something we can, or should ask of a group? It’s not an easy question to answer, especially when you factor in the current imbalances of power between these two groups.
Further complicating things is that neither group will ever reach a complete consensus. Among the mutants alone we’ve got Storm, who’s withdrawn her school from the world as a result of the Terrigen, Beast, who is trying to straddle the line and work to save both groups, and poor, poor Emma Frost.
Emma isn’t supposed to be able to feel emotions while in her diamond form, yet here she is crying literal diamonds at the sight of Young Scott. Combine that with the fact that Emma seems to have forgotten her own role in Scott’s death in her grief, and you’ve got one complicated situation; I may be more interested in what’s going on in Emma’s head than I am in this conflict as a whole. Regardless, it’s hard enough to broker peace from a place of objectivity — throw this many volatile emotions and viewpoints into the pot, and it might as well be impossible.
Drew, are you as taken by this upcoming war as I am? Any theories on why the Terrigen Cloud is shrinking, and how that’s connected to the Savage Land? Do you think there’s any chance of this ending well?
Drew: If by “well” you mean “peacefully”, I’d have to say all signs point to no (after all, the “v” in the title doesn’t stand for “validates”). If, however, by “well” you mean “entertainingly”, the answer is quite the opposite. As ever, Soule has a confident handle on the voices of his characters — all the more remarkable here given the size of his cast. Soule has always been a capable team book writer, but this series features sizeable contingents of five separate teams, plus the important leading roles of Beast and Emma Frost, neither of whom fit neatly into any of those teams.
More importantly, Soule’s characters don’t just talk differently from one another; they think differently. Beast is the best example of this. While lesser writers might rely on big words and the occasional “oh my stars and garters”, Soule bakes Beast’s reverence for science into virtually every act in the issue. His opening “through science, all things are possible” conversation with Iso is an obvious example, but I’m most impressed at how his love of science advances the rest of the issue. He basically can’t stop collecting data, even when he incidentally sees an image of the terrigen cloud on screen.
Of course, that nose for observation puts Beast in an uncomfortable position when he overhears Medusa’s plan to prepare for the worst in the Inhumans/X-Men conflict.
Spencer, I’m glad you dug into the apparently intractable differences between these groups. For me, it doesn’t take much to read the premise as a parallel to any number of conflicts throughout history, all of which revolve around some important element of identity for the parties involved. Maybe it’s religion, maybe it’s national identity, maybe it’s a subtler political disagreement, but virtually every war in history could have been avoided if one or both sides were simply willing to give up the element of their identity at issue. Soule cleverly avoids any pretext that this conflict is about land or rights — this is an existential conflict, down to its core. Either one of these groups could insure their own safety (at least temporarily) if they eliminate the other.
In that way, the conflict most resembles the Cold War, a conflict whose tactics revolved around consolidating power and positioning offense as defense — in effect, preparing for the worst, but generally trying to avoid provoking the other side. At least, it’s clear that that’s the Inhuman’s strategy. What’s scary is that, while Emma seems to get the “consolidating power” bit, she’s taking the adage of “the best defense is a good offense” a bit too proactively. In spite of Magneto’s warnings, Emma doesn’t quite see the mutually assured destruction in advocating open war with the Inhumans.
(Then again, a stronghold in Limbo — a plane of existence unreachable to the Inhumans — might make that destruction less mutually assured than I’m giving it credit for. So long as Magick is safe, the X-Men could launch attacks from Limbo without much fear of reprisals. Or maybe Magick can swap the school for the cloud, allowing the X-Men to basically hold the Inhuman’s future hostage. Point is, there’s a lot of shitty things Emma could have up her sleeve.)
I’d be remiss if I allowed all of this strategic theorizing to prevent me from mentioning Rocafort’s art. I’m so used to seeing Rocafort drawing heroes in spaceships and shiny armor that I may have pigeonholed him a bit. This issue presents an opportunity for Rocafort to flex his range a bit, and boy does it shine. Beast is about as far as you can get from shiny armor, and this issue carries its characters to some truly exotic locations. It’s a feast for the eyes, right down to the big establishing shots that kick off each vignette.
It doesn’t look like Rocafort will be the artist for this miniseries going forward, but with pages like this one, it’s hard not to wish he was.
Taken together, this issue puts all of the pieces in place for the coming conflict, hinting at how each side’s strategies might play out. I’m never quite clear what a “#0” on a cover is meant to convey, but Soule makes a strong case for its use as vital connective tissue, lending texture and characterization that may not be essential to the series proper, but adds depth for those who pick it up. It’s a hype piece for #1, but it’s one of the subtlest, most nuanced hype pieces you’ll ever hope to find.
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Rocafort is such a specific talent. I think there’s something about the way he draws (and maybe it’s all that extra visual noise he includes between the panels) that makes me very anxious. He’s best deployed when that anxiety is part of the storytelling, as it is here. Because there’s no “good” way for this to end, it’s kind of just a prelude to fucking disaster, with no satisfying outcome for either team.
I also think he’s a great match for drawing metallic Emma Frost – it’s the prefect mix of terrifying and emotionally detached. Emma was the secret protagonist of Death of X, and I expect her to slip into the background of IvX proper, but it’s nice to see her take center-stage in this zero issue.
Interesting — I guess I assumed Emma was going to be a key player in bringing the conflict to a head. Without her machinations, the rest of the mutants seem more than comfortable leaving the Inhumans alone. She’s the only one on either side spoiling for a fight.
Emma is certainly going to be a key character. In fact, she looks like she will be the lead of the story.
And honestly, Patrick, I disagree with your description of Rocafort. I think Rocafort’s strength is a real mix of organic and sci fi elements. To me, Rocafort combines the two in such fascinating ways, and really manages to to create this sense of these two worlds being both seperate and interconnected, to create amazing images. TO me, that is what I’ve always liked about Rocafort
I actually read this issue, despite having not read X-Men in ages and not starting the Inhumans. Not sure why. THe issue itself was done really, really well, but felt… ordinary. After Civil War II, I can’t help but find this disappointingly typical
I’m obviously doing some guessing about the future of this series, when I speculate about Emma. I’m just taking cues from Death of X, in which she plays a huge role, but the size of her influence isn’t really revealed until the final couple pages. I actually really like the idea that she can be a rogue actor and revolutionary from behind the scenes. We see a fuck ton of her scheming in this issue, but maybe that’s all she needs to do to give the X-Men an advantage in the upcoming war.
And Matt, I don’t think we’re saying different things about Rocafort. It’s absolutely his mix of glossy sci-fi imagery with organic textures that appeals to me. I think it’s just that he does it in such a singular way – he’s not a provocateur like H.R. Giger, for example. There’s light, energy and color to his stylistic mashups that makes the confluence of technology and human feel welcome but still sorta unnatural. I just think it’s perfect for telling a story that expresses some kind of fundamental anxiety. Like – worked well for the first issues of Red Hood and the Outlaws partially because Jason’s very existence is anxiety producing. Ditto The Ultimates. But Rocafort’s art didn’t make much sense to me in Superman (which was going to be a bad series anyway).
You gonna be sticking around for the rest of the series? The first issue is out next week and Drew and I were a little surprised to see how fucking expensive it is. We’re in it ’til the end on IvX, but that $5.99 price tag is a bit of a deterrent. (Though, it should be noted that future issues look like they’re coming out at regular Marvel pricing.)
I think it is entirely possible for Emma to be both the lead of the series and be a rogue actor from behind the scenes. In fact, she feels like she will be a bit of a villain protagonist in this series, though a sympathetic one. The character who goes out of control at just the time everyone else comes to their senses, creating a threat that can unite everyone so that they enter the brighter future of ResurreXion.
On Rocafort, I guess I didn’t explain myself well enough. To me, a big part of Rocafort’s ideas is a harmony between those two worlds. I remember is Cyborg Superman design, and while the mechanics look scary (of course they do, he’s a supervillain), the way those mechanics combine with the organic elements is wonderfully harmonious. To a degree, it reminds me of Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s Neo-Renaissance look. THe superficial elements are all different, but the elegance in how the too elements interweave never feels unnatural. THe mechanics look unnatural, as Rocafort loves to emphasise technology’s difference from organic components. Yet it appears to fit in place, and there lacks a border between the soft organics and the scary machines.
To use IvX as an example, the page in the Savage Lands shows the Inhumans’ craft doesn’t feel out of place, even the purples and oranges and harsh lines inside the ship contrast with the Savage world outside. Distinct, but harmonious.
You are right that Rocafort ‘makes the confluence of technology and human feel welcome but still sorta unnatural’, but I don’t think that unnatural aspect is supposed to be anxiety producing. To me, the fact that something so unnatural fits so perfectly in Rocafort’s art feels less anxiety producing and more peaceful, unified.
I’ll probably read a bit more of IvX. It is well executed. As much as I love Civil War II, it botched its first issue (though interestingly, in retrospect, the problem with the first issue isn’t that it made mistakes, but that it looks like a mistake without the full context of the rest of the story. Thanos is a bad inciting incident for Ulysses, but that is what Bruce Banner is for. But Thanos is the perfect inciting incident for the true story, about Tony). So IvX certainly has that advantage.
But I would like to see something that feels a little less ordinary. Something like Civil War II that twists expectations and so fully commits to the ideas that it starts giving completely new ideas. That zags when we expect it to zig. I’ll give IvX another chance. But I hope it comes up with something a little fresher soon
“Emma isn’t supposed to be able to feel emotions while in her diamond form, yet here she is crying literal diamonds at the sight of Young Scott.”
I imagines it was rolling down her cheek before she turned and it just fell off. I love everything about this issue except this moment. That diamond is so cartoony. It’s already cut and just look at the size of the thing. I understand where her riches come from now.