Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Inhumans v X-Men 6, originally released March 8th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
“You guys… who are the good guys?”
Ms. Marvel, IvX 4
Patrick: Kamala’s rhetorical question at the end of issue 4 might have been meant to highlight the idea that there are no “good guys” in war, just people living out of various levels of desperation. And that’s definitely true of both the I and X Camps — these are peoples who believe that their survival is contingent on the destruction of the other. What they’re willing to do to each other is resultant entirely from the treat they perceive from their enemies. In effect, everyone is retaliating, acting in self-defense, and therefore the answer to Ms. Marvel’s question is “everyone.” But that’s not true, is it? There is one agent of aggression who has been manipulating all players, X-Men and Inhuman alike. And that person — the sole “bad guy” — is Emma Frost, who defines her identity by the fear she experiences as a mutant. It’s a heartbreaking fall from grace as the long-suffering White Queen finally succumbs to paranoia and unequivocally cedes the moral high ground.
I’m sure there are compelling arguments to be made about how Frost’s manipulations mirror the manipulations of the media-savvy white nationalist in the Trump administration. And we could also explore the question of how Emma’s downfall purposefully puts a definitive end cap on the last couple years of messy X-Men stories. But that’s a lot of outward-looking analysis, and I think it sells short the truly impressive narrative Charles Soule, Jeff Lemire and Leinil Francis Yu have packed into these 20ish pages. Soule, Lemire and Yu are very upfront about what this issue — and arguably this whole series — is about:
That’s page one, before the title page and the credits. Emma’s motivations are messy — a jumble of grief and ambition and a looming, constant fear for her own safety. Soule and Lemire are careful not to make her assention purely based in egoism, as Emma actually has an awful lot of support from her peers. Not only are all the X-men standing behind her (second only to them standing behind Storm), she’s got her own crack team of psychics in the form of the Stepford Cuckoos. I absolutely adore the nearly militaristic order implied by the sequence of the four of them taking control of a quartet of Inhumans.
We’ve been talking about Emma’s control over this situation since our conversation about IvX 0, and that same control is reiterated here, as she asserts influence (both psychic and otherwise) over seven characters simultaneously. It really is “all about Emma.”
The mental gymnastics that she’s going through to maintain the moral high ground is astounding. Emma’s lost everything — betting on Old Evil Scott was a fool’s wager, and the hill she chooses to die on ends up not being the revolutionary last-stand she was hoping for. The Champions-led group of Inhumans finds both a solution that requires input from both sides and a massive sacrifice from the Inhumans. Medusa takes that compromise, but Emma, already hell-bent on holy war, refuses to see herself as anything other than a ride-or-die revolutionary. She summons an army of Inhuman-Hunting Sentinels when an armistice seem immanent. For me, the most chilling moment is when she highjacks Magneto’s mind, and makes him stand by her side.
“Emma was right” is an obvious reference to the oft repeated choruses “Magneto was right” and “Cyclops was right.” But both Erik and Scott fought for Mutant Rights, and though their approaches may have been radical and dangerous, they always had the betterment of Mutantkind at the heart of their platforms. Brainwashed Magneto’s “Emma was right” immediately reads as hollow, an almost petty assertion that she still thinks she’s justified.
And that’s about as sad of an ending as I could imagine for Emma Frost. If I have a problem with the way this story wrapped up, it might be that Emma is simply too villainous for a story that had us asking “who are the good guys?” just a few issues back. The answer is easy: Medusa is the good guy. It’s her subjects — led by Ms. Marvel and Lunella — that come up with the plan and it is ultimately her sacrifice which brings peace. We’ve been zoomed in long enough, let’s go wide: what does this mean for the on-going relationship between Inhumans and X-Men going forward? Emma, and by extension the X-Men, were profoundly not right, which might make it hard for them to be the heroes in the future. Meanwhile, the Inhumans can be the adventure-ready heroes, locked and loaded with light, fun action. The final page sells that pulpy promise — the Inhuman royals achingly acting as noir protagonists.
Whatever those to get up to is going to be fun. Drew, what did you think of the ending of IvX? Do you think it sentences X-Men to being self-serious and penitent? Also, what do you make of Havoc squaring his debt with Cyclops? Lastly, Logan forgives Inferno for setting him on fire, his rationale being “Life’s too short to hold grudges.” Is this whole conflict likely to be swept away with that same logic?
Drew: Potentially. At the start of his current series, Logan was all about grudges, and while I’m inclined to think that his change on that front has more to do with accepting the oddities of multiversal travel than coming to peace with his enemies. Which is to say, “Life’s too short to hold grudges,” doesn’t really feel like it jibes with Lemire’s own take on Logan, but it might actually fit better with Soule’s take on the Inhumans. While there definitely are bitter factions within the Inhumans that wish to exact revenge for all of the injustices perpetrated against their race, the majority seem to emphasize peace and safety over vengeance. I guess the real question is: where does “vengeance” end and “justice” begin?
Because, obviously, the Mutants were way in the wrong here. They launched a first strike attack when a conversation would have sufficed. Or, as Medusa puts it: “Why didn’t they just tell us”?
Iso suggests that “they didn’t think they had time to negotiate,” which has to top the list of weakest justifications for war, ever. There have to be repercussions for using aggression as the first resort. I couldn’t begin to imagine what those would look like, but I also couldn’t imagine the Inhumans — to say nothing of the international community — will just let bygones be bygones here.
But maybe the more interesting question is how the X-Men react to their own actions. With so much of the Mutant story (and Magneto’s personal history) mirroring the persecution of minorities at the hands of the Nazis, it’s hard to imagine how they square that identity with attempting to exterminate another race for totally dubious reasons. This makes her choice to take over Magneto’s body particularly strategic; not only do his powerful mutant abilities give her the upper hand in her last stand, but his status as poster boy for the oppression of mutants gives her the symbolic high-ground. Obviously, doing so disingenuously totally undermines that point, though that ship may have sailed the second she continued to fight after the Terrigen cloud had already been destroyed. Maybe Magneto would have kept fighting, too (he has advocated for exterminating humans, after all), but in failing to give him the choice, Emma revealed how wrong she is.
Of course, it was never really that hard to see how wrong she was, which may be my biggest problem with this series. The X-Men teaming up with their mutant enemies to fight a greater threat to mutant-kind is a kind of classic story — X2: X-Men United is a great example — but usually, it’s in response to an act of actual aggression. In this case, the X-Men weren’t responding to a threat that had already foregone diplomacy, but chose to forego diplomacy themselves because “they didn’t think they had time to negotiate”. I expect that logic from the kinds of villains that would attack the X-Men for being threats to humanity, but not the X-Men who have fought off and condemned those attacks.
The X-Men becoming that which they feared most is an interesting premise, but this issue reveals just how much hand-waving we had to accept to get us there. Why would Storm listen to Emma over Beast when she’s advocating for the very thing that has terrorized mutants for decades? Hell, Emma even chides Rogue for naïveté for thinking she wasn’t in this to just kill as many Inhumans as possible. Havoc could see that this wasn’t about Terrigen — why couldn’t literally any other mutants?
I get that “this premise seems flawed” is kind of a shitty critique in the final issue of a series, but I think this issue struggles to find a resolution because of it. Medusa and Black Bolt free to adventure without their royal duties is kind of a fun place to end, but it feels like something out of a different story; this conflict was never really about them, their royal duties, or their relationship to one another, so using them as the button on this story feels wrong. I might argue that the mutants need the most closure here, and the opening lines of this very issue suggest that this story was always about Emma, but Medusa’s narration can’t really offer a satisfying conclusion for anyone other than herself. Emma is in hiding somewhere, the X-Men are going to “live with” the decisions they made, but the interesting questions about what this means for all of them are left unasked, let alone answered. I’m sure we can find the fallout in any number of series in the coming months, but failing to address them here seems to rob this series of whatever weight it might have had.
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