Certain characters always seem to have a target on their backs. Sometimes, those targets are so big that it doesn’t take the skill of Hawkeye to hit it. It’s not hard to figure out which characters have those targets. If they have alternate versions of themselves running around and aren’t part of a franchise whose movie rights are wholly owned by Marvel and their Disney overlords, they should be very afraid. Unfortunately for Cyclops, he checks all of those boxes.
Since the eight-month time skip that spun out of Secret Wars, there’s an ongoing mystery within the X-men comics and it’s been dragging to a point where the frustration overshadows the intrigue. Cyclops did something horrible. He did something so horrible that every one of his friends and former teammates despise and disavow him. All the good he ever accomplished, from saving the mutant race from extinction to dealing with Wolverine on a daily basis, may as well be a moot point.
It’s the ultimate character assassination, destroying Cyclops’ entire legacy off-panel. Brett Ratner’s efforts in the third X-men movie just aren’t enough anymore. Now, after overly vague hints and constant whining from characters who once called him their friend, we finally get a chance to see the horrific details of why Cyclops is the worst thing to happen to mutants since Chuck Austin. Death of X #1 sets up the narrative that will finally fill in the blanks. Unfortunately, it’s not a very balanced narrative.
There are two primary plots unfolding in this story. One involves the X-men investigating a distress call on Muir Island from Multiple Man. The other involves the Inhumans overseeing the Terrigen Mist as it blows through a heavily populated city in Japan. Writers Jeff Lemire and Charles Soule create a very different, if not polar opposite, tone with each plot. One is a hopeful, upbeat, cheerful endeavor right out of Ms. Marvel’s fan fiction. The other is a solemn, dire confrontation with despair right out of Magneto’s worst nightmares.
These contrasting tones are somewhat appropriate in that they reflect the vastly different fortunes that these franchises have gone since Secret Wars. For the X-men, any mutant not associated with Deadpool is a target subject to the strictest interpretation of Murphy’s Law. If there’s a way for mutants to be marginalized, denigrated, or shipped off to a demon-infested haven, then it will happen. It’s just a matter of crafting it in a manner that doesn’t require the Scarlett Witch going crazy.
The situation is pretty much the exact opposite for the Inhumans. They’re basically on a winning streak at a black jack table where the dealer and pit boss doesn’t care that they’re counting cards. They’re population is growing. Their influence, from the royal family to young Muslim girls from Jersey City, is expanding. They’re a prominent part of a major Marvel TV show in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the subject of a major crossover event in Civil War II. They’ve managed to do all of this without ever being attacked by killer robots, sterilized by magic spells, or cloned to an excessive degree.
While such contrasting tones are appropriate for the context of the story in Death of X, there’s a clear and unambiguous bias that shows in the characterizations of both teams. The X-men are bleak and dire. The Inhumans are cheery and upbeat, even in the face of a Hydra attack. Reading through this issue, contrasting the portrayal of the X-men against that of the Inhumans, it’s painfully obvious whose movie rights Marvel and Disney fully own.
This is most obvious in the way Cyclops is portrayed. For most of the story, he seems to pick up where he left off at the end of Uncanny X-men #600. He still has the respect and admiration of his teammates. He carries himself as competent, thorough leader through a mission that requires him to walk over the bodies of dead and dying mutants. Then, the unambiguous bias hits and undermines that characterization.
Cyclops, and his fellow X-men by proxy, are set up to be the villains of this narrative. They’re dark and depressing whereas the Inhumans are sunny and upbeat. There’s no real sense of balance between the two teams. Cyclops reacts to this revelation that the Terrigen Mists are poisonous to mutants in the same way he reacts to a Sentinel attack. It does not at all fit with the careful, tactful persona that he displays for most of this issue.
To make Cyclops the monster that he eventually becomes, he is effectively forced into this role. He doesn’t descend into it. He doesn’t stumble into it. This narrative needs a villain and instead of guiding him into that role, he is effectively shoved into it in a way that feels forced and disingenuous to the character.
The end result of Death of X is already established in the events of the post-Secret Wars X-men comics. The appeal of this narrative is the possibility of putting those events in a proper context so that it doesn’t feel like Brett Ratner got to decide what happens with Cyclops. Some of that appeal is still present in Death of X #1. The skilled artwork of Aaron Kuder definitely adds to that appeal. However, the bias in the story is just too overt to make the narrative feel balance.
It’s a poorly kept secret that Marvel gives preferential treatment to characters whose movie rights are not owned by another company. This doesn’t have to make for a bias, unbalanced narrative. That’s just the narrative we get with Death of X #1.
The details of what Cyclops did and how the outlook for the mutant race got so bleak remain unresolved, which still gives the overall narrative of Death of X promise. However, given the not-so-subtle undertones of this issue, it’s painfully apparent that this conflict between the X-men and the Inhumans will not be a fair fight. Whoever has the advantage in movie rights is likely to come out ahead in more ways than one.