Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Matteo Lolli and Federico Blee
Lettered by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Up until last Wednesday, this new era for the X-Men has consisted entirely of issues penned by overseeing architect Jonathan Hickman. The new Krakoa-centric status quo for mutants established by him and his artist collaborators is the most daring relaunch in quite some time, though it remained to be seen whether other creative teams would be able to take to it as easily as the man masterminding the affair.
So it’s a relief and a pleasure that the first issue from one of those other teams is a swashbuckling success. Marauders #1 comes from the collaborative efforts of Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Federico Blee, and Cory Petit, with the reason being that is works so well is that even as they build off ideas established in House of X and Powers of X, the creative team tackle them with a decidedly lighter touch. As a result, they instantly contribute to fleshing out this era further in terms of the variety of stories that can be told and the range of tonality in which they can play out.
Although, from the opening scene which establishes the series’ concept, plus the overall presentation of the book’s cast list and credits page – the overall design work of the line is credited to Tom Muller – you’d be forgiven for thinking this would be handled at the same register as the past 13 issues of the era. In Central Park, Storm and Nightcrawler welcome a new group of mutants to Krakoa via a gateway. One by one, they step in, until it comes to Kate Pryde, who hits the barrier with an almighty smack, somehow unable to pass through. It’s a shock for all three, with Lolli’s linework sticking close to the trio with their mouths wide open while Kitty’s eyes draw narrower. Central Park is of course where the school was last established in X-Men: Gold, and the idea that Kate can’t move from her last stage of life to Krakoa as freely as most mutants presents the first facet of the book’s thematic tension.
Following this is a text page, a typed-up version of a message in a bottle left by Kate as she navigates the high seas with a stolen boat. Day Two reads “I’m the Captain now,” and from this point onwards, it becomes clearer that Duggan isn’t trying to emulate Hickman’s writing style, instead letting Marauders have its own identity within the line. As he brings the rest of the team together, including Iceman and Storm, their repartee ensures a jaunty pace and glimpses of the inventiveness that can come from their power sets in combination.
With this character-first approach, the book works to help further understanding about how the world is moving forward in the wake of mutant sovereignty. While many do recognize Krakoa as a nation-state, and as such have opened themselves up to receiving the life-sustaining drugs, there are countries that have rejected such an offer, and countries which remain hesitant to let those they believe to be their citizens leave for the island.
Emma Frost breaks this down for Kate – as well as pushing for her to use that as her name instead of Kitty – in a psychic conversation that adds to the book’s globetrotting sense. Lolli and Blee transport Kate to the White Queen’s location as a projection while the latter is en route to another destination. It’s a way to keep things moving, not only narratively, but in terms of what readers are looking at as this exposition plays out.
Elsewhere in the book, their depiction of Kate’s Krakoan arrival nails the scale and sense of awe that comes with something that was once a speck on the horizon growing before your very eyes. Blee’s colors have a light, shiny feel to them, and as with moments on the open water later in the book, the sense that there’s more out there beyond the glimmering is clear. But it’s their character work that’s the strongest aspect of the artwork, hitting the balance between the overall light-hearted tone and rising stakes of the plot. There’s a moment with Iceman – who is fun throughout the issue in a way that other writers have struggled with in recent years – that sets up the team’s first mission, and the change in Bobby’s body language and expression sells his realization that things won’t be going the way he hoped and that another approach is in order.
That said, this issue truly belongs to Kate, and the big setpiece is where Duggan, Lolli and Blee show exactly what she’s capable of in their hands. As she nearly single-handedly brings down a group of Russian soldiers, it's both an inventive sequence in terms of how she makes use of her powers and a sharp insight into how she feels about those who want to restrict mutant movement. The arc of the issue and establishing Kate's status quo comes full circle in setting up the team’s reason for being, pushing the concept and personal journeys forward, hand-in-hand.
Even as it moves full steam ahead, Duggan’s team dynamic is a lot like his first issue of Guardians of the Galaxy in showing how far he can stretch his creative muscles without getting bogged by the number of characters. His confident opening scene shows how efficiently it spins a premise out of the new status quo, those two pages being the proof that this new era can work.
In other words — Marauders, you had me at “ahoy.”