Comics

A Journey of Damned Souls (to a Point) In Marvel's 'Weapon X #26'

Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente tap into hellish themes, but not enough to affect hardened souls.

Weapon X #26
Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Luca Pizzari

Marvel Comics

21 Nov 2018

Other

Superhero comics tend to play fast and loose with the concept of Hell. To some extent, that's necessary for worlds where gods, angels, devils, and beings with god-like power are so common. Add recurring themes like the dead routinely coming back to life into the mix, and the very idea of an afterlife almost seems mundane. Even with those complications, it's still possible to use the concept in a way that doesn't rely heavily on fire and brimstone.

Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente present a uniquely balanced approach to the concept of Hell in Marvel's Weapon X #26. It doesn't attempt to deconstruct or satirize anyone's theology. It's still a plot device, but one that furthers the story while also making a relevant point about Hell in comics storytelling.

Given the cast of Weapon X, complete with hardened villains, experienced assassins, and self-professed anti-heroes, Hell-like themes feel remarkably appropriate. The team can't avoid it, but not because of their personal sins. They have to traverse Hell because that's how Reverend William Stryker gained his menacing persona. He hates mutants so much and is so devoted to his crusade that he's willing to make a deal with the devil to achieve it. That kind of irony is as fitting as it is disturbing.

Getting to Stryker, however, involves the characters experiencing their own versions of Hell. Sabretooth, as both leader of the team and someone with an obscenely long list of sins, sets a high bar for torment. Hell, for him, is a world where all the lives he's taken and the suffering he's imparted comes back to haunt him. Pak and Van Lente single out his role in the Mutant Massacre as an especially egregious sin, but one that's only part of lengthy list of transgressions.

(courtesy of Marvel Comics)

Sabretooth doesn't just have to face those he's hurt. He has to do so while weak, sickly, and at the mercy of everyone around him. He's no longer the ferocious animal that strikes fear into his enemies. He's in the best possible position to be tormented, which quickly becomes a common theme as the story progresses.

Hell, by default, involves torture. However, everyone's worst torment is different. For Domino, torture is having to listen to Deadpool's jokes for all eternity. For Deadpool, it's being in a place where nobody laughs or gets his jokes for all eternity. It's a targeted, custom-made form of torment. Devils and demons only ever play a passive role. The damned do most of the work for them, creating for themselves their worst vision of Hell.

The concept pushes and strains the characters in ways that are both insightful and (perhaps a bit sadistically) entertaining. It helps that the notion of people condemning themselves to eternal torment are aspects of mainstream religious thought.

However, that only goes so far and Weapon X #26 does little to explore any larger Hellish themes. It doesn't tap into the more colorful imagery of the Jack Kirby era of Marvel, nor does it introduce anything new. Sabretooth and his team undergo plenty of torment, but the circumstances are so fluid that it's not clear how real their Hellish journey is by the end.

There are opportunities for this plot to have lasting impacts on characters like Sabretooth, but most of those opportunities go unrealized in this comic. The goal remains the same. Sabretooth and his team need to stop Stryker. Navigating the torture they must endure is just part of that mission. Even though many characters in the Marvel universe are oddly dismissive about the existence of a literal Hell, Weapon X #26 is a bit overly casual with the overall concept.

(courtesy of Marvel Comics)

However, it does in one important way that helps give depth to the story. It adds yet another layer to the breadth of William Stryker's hatred of mutants. While there has always been plenty of casual bigotry and blind hatred in X-men comics, Stryker really sets himself apart by showing just how much it affects him. His blind rage it so intense that he can never enjoy anything so long as mutants exist.

That kind of sentiment helps put Stryker's actions in previous issues into a greater context. Beyond just showing his dedication, it gives new meaning to the extent of his crusade against mutants. This isn't just someone who rants endlessly about the potential danger of mutation. Just living in a world of mutants is torture to him. Even the devil admits that Stryker's obsession makes his job much easier.

Weapon X #26 handles Hellish themes in superhero comics with tact and care. Beyond the insights into Stryker's hatred, though, it doesn't achieve much else. Luca Pizzari's artwork is solid, but lacks the spectacle of other hell-bound adventures. It puts Sabretooth in a position to confront Stryker, but not much beyond that.

The notion of Hell is one of the most distressing ideas that humanity has ever conjured. Even when villains go to Hell, it creates opportunities for lasting effects that further an existing mythos. There's little chance that someone like Sabretooth can ever be redeemed, but if a trip to Hell doesn't inspire some change in his character, then how will anything?

(courtesy of Marvel Comics)

5


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.