US: Apr 2014
It’s no secret that death is a revolving door in comics. When most characters die or are killed off, it’s more like the superhero equivalent of taking a sick day. They step down in the most definitive possible way, allowing other characters to try and fill the void. More often than not, they fail miserably or the novelty wears off. Bucky Barnes didn’t stay Captain America for very long. And Dick Grayson couldn’t give the mantel of Batman back to Bruce Wayne fast enough. It would be annoying if it didn’t work so well at garnering attention. It’s like someone burning their house down to get the neighbors to help with some landscaping.
But not all death in comics carries the same weight. That sounds like a strange concept because in real life, death the third most definitive event there is after birth and taxes. In comics, however, the very concept of a character being dead is subject to more technicalities than modern banking regulations. Sometimes a character can be officially dead, yet in a state of limbo. Sometimes they can be technically alive, but they might as well be dead. Like quantum mechanics, it’s as baffling as it is convoluted. However, it does have some perks in that it makes it easier to bring certain characters back from the dead without burning any houses down. And X-men #11 takes advantage of that in a way that would make any lobbyist for the banking industry smile.
Death and resurrection has been a consistent theme since Lady Deathstrike returned to the X-books. She had been a disembodied ghost. Now she has taken over the body of young Columbian woman who happens to be the daughter of a rich crime lord. In many respects, Lady Deathstrike traded up because this body gave her the resources to start the Sisterhood of mutants. And as the story has unfolded, she has brought a number of deadly female villains into the mix. In the process, however, she ceded her control of the Sisterhood to Akrea, another disembodied menace that was supposedly killed. It’s a common thread that has made the Sisterhood a much more compelling threat than just another killer robot.
And the all-female X-men are still several steps behind the Sisterhood. In the past few issues, they’ve been outsmarted and outmaneuvered to a point where they would come off as inept of this were a typical buddy cop movie. But that’s not the underlying theme here. They’re dealing with an enemy that is very resourceful, very powerful, and very dedicated to hurting them in every possible way. It’s like giving a jaded ex-spouse a blank check and unlimited access to automatic weapons. That’s what makes the Sisterhood more interesting than the X-men at this point. They are master villains with an agenda that even competent heroes can’t keep up with.
While the X-men keep falling behind, the Sisterhood take full advantage of it by adding to their ranks. This involves spinning that revolving door of death a little faster. The first one to benefit is Selene Gallio, the Black Queen. She is one of those characters who was never killed off in some dramatic battle. Her fate was left ambiguous after Necrosha, which was the last event she appeared in. This ambiguity is only partially addressed when Emora and Lady Deathstrike bring her back to life. Necrosha is mentioned, offering some insight into her status. But not much is explained about how she ended up some disembodied spirit in a special containment room. It renders the impact of her return somewhat muted. However, it does succeed in adding to the ranks of the Sisterhood.
That muted impact goes back to death not carrying the same weight for some characters. Given Selene’s background with magic and death, her return doesn’t conjure the same emotions as the return of Captain America or Superman. And it’s not supposed to either. Even as a villain, Selene is not Captain America. She’s not even on the same level as Squirrel Girl. She’s a character who uses her power and dark persona to contribute to a story. She’s essentially the hotness that a habanero pepper leaves in that the hotness tends to be more noteworthy than the pepper itself.
The same can be said for the other female villain that the Sisterhood plans to bring back, Madelyne Pryor. But unlike Selene, Madelyne has more emotional weight following her. As the former wife of Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey, she has been part of some very powerful moments in the history of X-men. She actually was the one that established the first Sisterhood of Mutants back during Matt Fraction’s run on Uncanny X-men. Her status is much less ambiguous than Selene’s and the X-men figure this out. They figure out what the Sisterhood is doing, but they’re still too far behind to stop them.
It has all the makings of a thrilling chase. It’s Jack Baur or Ethan Hunt trying to hunt down a team of highly skilled terrorists before they can strike. But this thrill is also heavily muted. They never even get around to bringing Madelyne Pryor back. It’s only set up for the next issue. The story loses focus when it diverts attention to another team of young X-men taking on an old army of Sentinels that Arkea resurrected. It also loses focus when the body that Lady Deathstrike has inhabited decides to turn against the Sisterhood. These developments don’t add much to the story. They’re more like distractions akin to the annoying pop-up ads that come up before a streaming video. So instead of taking advantage of this potential, the issue sacrifices it in favor of adding new plots. That’s like adding an extra racing stripe to a drag racer instead of a more powerful engine. It keeps the story from going as far as it could have.
Despite this unrealized potential, the death and resurrection theme remains a consistent and compelling feature of X-men #11. More than anything, it establishes the Sisterhood as a powerful threat that will test the all-female X-men in ways nothing else has to this point. It can do without the ongoing side-plots with Jubilee, John Sublime, and the other students at the Jean Grey Institute. These are characters that have no history of dying and coming back to life yet. Selene and Madelyne Pryor do have that history. This along with their choice of attire makes them a much more compelling story and one where too much material was wasted for no good reason.
// Graphic Novelties
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