The X-Men need a priest


In the X-Men comics, Nightcrawler is everyone’s best friend. Since his introduction in 1975’s Giant Size X-Men #1, he’s been one of the most beloved characters in Marvel’s mutant pantheon, in large part because he’s a mutant that’s overcome tremendous adversity to become not just comfortable in his furry blue skin, but comfortable at swashbuckling. Nightcrawler — also known as Kurt Wagner — is dashing, a personable horndog with a strong moral compass that comes from, of all places, his Catholic faith.

But times are good now. After years of stories about persecution and disaster, the X-Men are finally in a place where everyone can stop feeling tortured and get on Nightcrawler’s level.

Way of X is the book about the dark questions of the new mutant future, and why Nightcrawler can’t ignore them.

Who is making Way of X?

Way of X is written by Simon Spurrier, one of comics’ most astonishingly prolific and consistently satisfying writers. Most recently known for his acclaimed, gone-too-soon run on John Constantine: Hellblazer and the irreverent fantasy Coda, Spurrier has a knack for character-centric worldbuilding. A Spurrier comic will never give you a lore dump when it can show you an interesting person who is up to no good instead. He’s also fond of telling stories that end — a bit of a rarity in comics —and by the time you reach said ending, a story ostensibly about one thing turns out to be about something else entirely.

Magneto stands over a mutant killed in Krakoa’s crucible ritual in Way of X #1, Marvel Comics (2021) Image: Bob Quinn/Marvel

Artist Bob Quinn is relatively fresh to the superhero scene, having spent his early career working with Dynamite Comics’ roster of pulp characters like The Lone Ranger and Red Sonja before crossing over to Marvel. Way of X sees Quinn working in a dark, but approachable style, with colorful characters never fully depicted in light. It’s a good fit for a story about the shadows on the edge of paradise, and colorist Java Tartaglia keeps the color palette muted just so to make everything seem just a little bit unsettling.

What is Way of X about?

Is something wrong if it doesn’t hurt anyone? What does morality look like when your most basic needs aren’t just taken care of, but abundantly so? The book begins with young mutants intentionally getting themselves killed while out on field mission, secure in the knowledge that, in the current X-Men status quo, they’ll be resurrected. Nightcrawler is troubled by this, and the first big question Way of X asks is: Is he right? Or just old-fashioned, applying human ideas of morality to a brave new mutant world?

Way of X is a book about someone who’s lived through enough hard times to be suspicious of the good ones, and a mystery about how we always invent our own boogeymen to haunt us.

Why is Way of X happening now?

Nightcrawler overlooks the Hatchery, where mutants are resurrected in Way of X #1, Marvel Comics (2021) Image: Bob Quinn/Marvel

The Reign of X has ushered in an era of mutant maximalism. The mutants of Krakoa are expanding their horizons and dreaming bigger. S.W.O.R.D. is a comic taking them to space, the forthcoming X-Corp will show them taking seats in the world’s boardrooms, and in the background, plans are being made for a Hellfire Gala that will dazzle the fashionistas of the world.

Marvel’s mutant world has been steadily growing in exciting new directions for two years now, but that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and optic blasts. Throughout the Krakoan era, troubling story threads have been quietly dangling from the very start, and Way of X is the first book where the primary mission is to tug at them.

It’s easy to assume that Way of X takes that expansion into the spiritual/metaphysical realm by exploring the formation of a mutant religion, but the book itself quickly distances itself from that idea. Instead, it’s interested in identifying the problems that religions try to solve, and the things that might emerge in the absence of one. In picking at these scabs, Way of X dives into the darker and weirder side of the Krakoan age, as the promise of resurrection gives mutants a new perspective on death and license to try things they wouldn’t otherwise.

It also means that its protagonist, Nightcrawler, must start asking questions that may lead him to discover that his young nation might already have disturbing secrets.

Is there any required reading?

Kind of. Like most current X-Men comics, reading the dual miniseries House of X/Powers of X is necessary to understand the new status quo, with a new mutant nation established on the sentient island of Krakoa. That’s also where you’ll learn about how mutants have gained the power to resurrect one another and rendered death obsolete. So they’re pretty vital.

Beyond that? X-Men #7 is a standalone comic that poses the question Way of X sets out to answer. Consider it a prelude to this story, the beginning of the unrest that Nightcrawler feels deep down about something

Finally — and this is completely optional — but Simon Spurrier does have a history with the X-Men, and it’s brief enough to knock out over a long weekend. His 2014 run on X-Force with Rock-He Kim and others is an underrated exploration of trauma and mortality, dealing with a black ops team lead by Cable at a time when his superpowers were killing him daily, forcing him to clone himself and jump to a new body constantly. It’s a good companion to a story that’s going to examine the implications of resurrection.

Similarly, Spurrier’s run on X-Men: Legacy, primarily with artist Tan Eng Huat, is a character study of David Haller, the mutant known as Legion whose limitless powers manifest as an array of alternate personalities vying for control over his body. Taking place in the wake of the death of Haller’s distant father, Charles Xavier himself (long story) it’s a book that asks questions about how the X-Men do things, and doesn’t necessarily think of them in the best light. Which might be worth thinking about as you go into Way of X.

Is Way of X good?

Yes. Essential, even.

Way of X #1 is a meaty 42-page comic that does a lot of work, and all of it well. Bob Quinn’s art is full of inky figures in bright contexts doing upsetting things like willfully getting themselves killed, in a way that’s definitely troubling but never grotesque or exploitative. Above all, it’s an art style that’s thoughtful — if Way of X sounds like a talky book, that’s because it is, but there’s also plenty of action, and that action takes on an equally contemplative air with dense page layouts and panel compositions that range from uncomfortably close to chillingly distant.

Pixie taunts a man with a shotgun in Way of X #1, Marvel Comics (2021) Image: Bob Quinn/Marvel

But like I’ve already suggested, this is a book that’s openly about confronting uncomfortable things that are ignored in the name of progress, about asking questions that pragmatism says we shouldn’t bother asking. Who cares if mutants have souls if all they have to do is get in a line for resurrection? To most of his peers, Kurt Wagner is a spoilsport looking for the rot in paradise, but to the readers, he’s onto something. Followers of the X-books have known Krakoa has come at a cost, and certain moral judgment calls with upsetting implications have been made in secret.

Way of X is satisfying because it looks like it’s out to confront both its characters and its readers with the fallout of these uncomfortable truths — like why precognitive mutants are not being resurrected, or what happens when someone like Charles Xavier recedes from the people he is helping to lead, and someone like Magneto decides to take his place among them.

It’s all deft, dense storytelling that gets my wheels spinning the way House of X/Powers of X did, because while watching people build a nation is arresting stuff, watching people figure out how to live in it is the sort of thing that will keep me coming month after month.

One panel that popped

Doctor Nemesis is a relatively obscure mutant who’s kind of an evil genius. Spurrier seems fond of the guy, since he appeared during his run on X-Force, but he’s a bit different here. Finding out how different is a freaking trip.

Dr. Nemesis shows off the mind-expanding mushrooms growing out of his skill in Way of X #1, Marvel Comics (2021) Image: Bob Quinn/Marvel

Get it? Trip? Because mushrooms?

Anyway if you were worried Way of X was going to be about church….it’s not.