Keeping the X-Men’s Greatest Secret Requires One Hell of a PR Campaign

Keeping the X-Men’s Greatest Secret Requires One Hell of a PR Campaign
Say hello to the newest X-Men member. (Image: Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, and Clayton Cowles/Marvel Comics)

Marvel’s mutantkind doesn’t die right now. Well, mutants do — they just come back. But only Krakoans know of the great secret their island nation has given their species… which makes it a very big problem when one of them perishes quite publicly. Just as Krakoa faces turmoil within, the X-Men right now are having to face the weirdest PR crisis they could think of.

Superhero comics have always treated death, outside of a certain few iconic expirations, as less of a permanent sacrifice and more of a temporary vacation. Within and without the texts of the genre, audiences and characters alike have come to treat death not entirely as something of a joke, but something more transitory. So when House and Powers of X made one of the Krakoan Age’s greatest twists that Charles Xavier, Magneto, and a deal with the devil that is Mr. Sinister gave birth to the Resurrection Protocols — a structured workflow combining the powers of five particular mutants with the island of Krakoa itself to resurrect any dead mutant in a new body, their memories restored via Cerebro — death became to Mutants as it was to the most seasoned comic book reader: an interesting problem that could be overcome, more or less, quite easily.

The ability to cheat death has become a vital branch of Krakoan society, transforming the sovereign nation into the utopian superpower it has become — with all the occasional ethical crises such a thing could entail. But it’s also one of the mutant civilisation’s biggest points of leverage against their foes, and so it’s one of the island’s biggest secrets. That was all well and good when Krakoa’s role in the world was more insular, even as it shared wondrous medicines with the world in a bid to fast-track recognition of its sovereignty. But as Krakoa’s citizens and leaders alike have begun to look to the wider world more openly — especially now that the X-Men as a team has begun to exist once more, establishing their own base of operations in New York — trying to keep the fact that mutants can come back from the dead a secret is getting harder and harder.

Even harder when one of their most famous heroes dies messily and publicly.

Image: Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, and Clayton Cowles/Marvel Comics Image: Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, and Clayton Cowles/Marvel Comics

That’s the case in last week’s X-Men #6, by Gerry Duggan, Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller. Having previously teased the arrival of a new X-Men leader in the form of Krakoa, so far the mysterious masked mutant is posing an even more interesting idea than mutantkind adopting, like other sovereign nations, a walking nationalist ubermensch of a PR campaign of their own. America has its Captain, Britain has hers (well, actually, Krakoa has dibs on that one too these days) — so why not a new Captain for the Krakoan Age? But X-Men #6 is far more interested in the immediate idea of why Krakoa needs its Captain beyond the dreams of a nation in this regard. It’s interested in maintaining an altogether different kind of dream altogether: how far are the Quiet Council and its commanders willing to go to preserve the secret of mutant resurrection?

Captain Krakoa’s debut doesn’t just reveal the new hero, but their identity — and it’s not quite who we thought it would be. Captain Krakoa is a new mask for an old mutant, but the circumstances are revealed to be much more complicated: set at a nebulous “six days in the future,” the issue reveals that somehow, Scott Summers, current leader of the first Krakoan X-Men team, is going to die. He’s done that before, that’s fine. The problem this time is that he’s going to die on human soil, and die in a way that is so very public that Cyclops just can’t simply show up again blasting eye beams like always. Fellow heroes console the mutants they know for their loss, crowds gather outside the X-Men’s New York habitat to pay tribute to the team’s fallen leader — and one of the city’s best journalists around, Ben Urich, is hot on the trail of a mutant story that could make the Resurrection Protocol public even if Scott didn’t just show back up again. But Scott Summers is Scott Summers, and he is a mutant: death means nothing to him, until it has to mean something beyond him. Which is that he can’t be Krakoa’s Captain as Cyclops, and for now has to take on a new identity begrudgingly: that of Captain Krakoa.

Image: Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, and Clayton Cowles/Marvel Comics Image: Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, and Clayton Cowles/Marvel Comics

Captain Krakoa, of course, is a very different hero than Cyclops, to truly throw the scent off. His costume is an elaborate holo-disguise for Scott to wear (hilariously, over his Cyclops suit), and what few powers we glimpse in X-Men #6 are far beyond Scott’s ruby-tinted energy blasts. The good captain can fly, for starters; he can shoot Krakoan vines from wrist-mounted gauntlets, and has at least some level of superhuman strength and durability. What more he can do is left unknown for now — his origin is left to be told for the next issue — but what he is, to Scott’s annoyance, is essentially that aforementioned walking ubermensch of a PR campaign in a very different way. Having a mutant publicly avow vengeance for the fall of Cyclops, a new hero in his stead, throws Urich off the trail of resurrection, and lends credence to the idea that for the X-Men, death is still a concept to grapple with in the way all comic book heroes do. Captain Krakoa doesn’t exist to promote his namesake isle’s greatest strengths, but to protect its greatest vulnerability from becoming public.

How long that ruse can last remains to be seen. Even without the Resurrection Protocols, death in superhero comics is always going to be in flux. One day, Cyclops will return, but not as soon as he hopes — and fellow New York heroes like Spider-Man and the Avengers aren’t going to bat an eyelid as much as they apparently would, should he return right now, in the wake of whatever his messy death will be revealed to be. Cyclops as an idea may have to be laid to rest, but Scott Summers hasn’t been — and now he’s really going to have to examine the price he’s willing to pay to maintain Xavier’s dream, for himself and for all mutantkind in the process.