This week the Hellfire Gala — Emma Frost’s now-annual championing of Mutant diplomacy and an excuse for gorgeous, gorgeous fashion — returned to Krakoa, and although this time the splashy soiree wasn’t the multi-comic event it was in its debut, that doesn’t mean the X-Men and their many… uh, allies didn’t find a way to make it even more bold.
This week’s X-Men: Hellfire Gala one-shot — by current X-Men scribe Gerry Duggan, and featuring art from Kris Anka, Russell Dauterman, Matteo Lolli, CF Villa, Rain Beredo, Frank Martin, Matt Milla, and Matthew Wilson, with letters by Cory Petit — marked the explosion of multiple long-simmering subplots in the current “Destiny of X” era for Marvel’s merry mutants. First of all, as is now tradition, Krakoa — with a little help from the audience — elected its second generation team of X-Men through public vote, marking a major sea change in the team. With Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Synch staying on, the X-squad welcomed in Iceman, Forge, Havok, and Magik as well as the winner of the real-world popular vote Marvel ran, the surprising choice of Ms. Angelica Jones, aka Firestar.
Angelica is a surprising choice in-universe, if not in our own. After all, in a list of candidates that was, diplomatically speaking, made up of largely niche characters outside of diehard X-Fans (justice for Monet, etc.), Firestar was easily the most recognisable mutant to casual audiences. But like Polaris before her — who, while a much more significant character in the comics, rode a wave of popularity from fans of the scrapped FX series The Gifted to join the team at the last Hellfire Gala — Firestar handily won this years poll thanks to the lingering cultural osmosis she gained from being a character on the classic Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon in the ‘80s. But in current comics, Firestar’s relationship with mutantkind at large is decidedly distant at best, something Hellfire Gala plays with in fascinating ways.
Angelica is one of the rare noteable mutants who has yet to immigrate to Krakoa since its founding, and with a history that largely ties her to other superhero groups like the Avengers rather than mutant squads, she’s developed a rocky relationship with her people. There’s a tension throughout Firestar’s appearances in the issue, from the gag that she makes to Emma that she was called a cop when she showed up to the Gala, to her own surprise when Emma herself nominated her to the X-Men in an attempt to gain her trust… and apologised for making her think she’d killed a horse that one time (it’s a long story). Having a member of the X-Men who has no idea if she even belongs on the team, especially in its Krakoan iteration as a public diplomatic front between the island nation and the wider superhero world, is a fascinating twist… one made even more fascinating when Tony Stark, also attending the party, congratulates Firestar by offering her the chance to be a mole for the Avengers on the team.
That twist comes from another bit of lingering tension that simmers throughout the issue, because this year’s Hellfire Gala takes place in the shadow of the biggest drama of the entire Krakoan age: the secret of Mutant resurrection isn’t just out, it was released by one of Krakoa’s most loyal agents, Scott Summers himself. Working with Ben Urich at the Daily Bugle, just days before the Gala begins Scott makes a play to rip the bandage off an inevitable firecracker of a situation: have mutantkind be honest about its new gift, or be caught in a lie by the villains that have slowly but surely been picking at the revelation over the last few months. In classic X-Men style, this has huge ramifications both in the macro scale of the Hellfire Gala, and the micro soap opera drama of it all — Emma’s party now finds itself a tense gathering of angry and shocked superheroes and diplomats who want answers, and she herself is furious that her on-again-off-again paramour would expose one of Mutantkind’s biggest secrets.
But what is Krakoa lately, if not built on layers and layers of people lying to each other? In a move that is almost as much about needling Scott for hurting her as it is exposing the shakiness the Mutant’s sovereign nation, Emma telepathically reveals some key information to Scott after he corners her for a dance. In front of gathered guests, to force him not to react openly, she details the knowledge currently only given to members of Krakoa’s Quiet Council: the real truth about Moira McTaggert hidden by Professor X and Magneto that rocked Inferno, and Moira’s belief that mutantkind is doomed no matter what utopia it creates for itself in the here and now. Ever since Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, Emma and Scott have had one of the most complex and intriguing relationships in the X-books, so this personal play amid the shocking revelation that Mutantkind’s solved for death — especially as in the Krakoan age Scott has frequently been propped up as Charles and Erik’s most loyal soldier — sets the stage for much more drama on the X-Men team than usual. And it’s the X-Men, they love drama!
The bad news is that someone else loves drama even more than Mutantkind these days, too: Moira X, now a firm foe of the nation she once helped thrive, attempting to live forever without her mutant gift and instead through a robot body that has made her increasingly more erratic. Having kidnapped none other than Mary Jane Watson to act as a disguise for her to infiltrate the Gala, Moira’s presence throughout the proceedings is not as explosive as the secret true foe of all Mutants hiding among them might seem. Although she makes clear to her allies in the human-supremacist group Orchis that if she has the chance, she’ll bring Krakoa down around her at the Gala, all Moira really manages to do is threaten her son Proteus before fleeing away with MJ as Logan and Spider-Man pursue her. Moira saves her real drama for after the party’s over — going to the Eternals and telling them just how Mutant resurrection works in the hands of the Five, framing them as deviants ready to be cast down. It’s almost like there’s a crossover event coming up!
Suffice to say, Emma might be slightly glad no one actually got killed — resurrectable or otherwise — at this year’s Gala, but times ahead for Mutants are even more dangerous than they were coming out of the last big public soiree. But as ever with the X-Men, the threats external to them are rarely the most interesting or most heartbreaking of conflicts: Mutantkind is always facing exclusion and extinction, regardless of its strength or public standing. This time, it’s the threats from within, and the damage to those relationships between characters like Emma, Scott, Firestar, and everyone else that are proving to be the most volatile — and could bring the Destiny of X crashing right down around them all.
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