"So… how long?" Cyclops asked, probably not wanting to face the answer.
"Best guess?" Xavier answers. "537 years."
That was the ending of X-Men #5 after Xavier and Cyclops sent a young team of mutants into the Vault, a self-contained city where time moves much faster. So 537 years was how much time had passed for Wolverine (Laura, not Logan,) Synch, and Darwin in the Vault when barely more than three months had passed in the real world.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Sunny Gho
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
With X-Men #18, Jonathan Hickman and Mahmud Asrar show us what happened immediately after the trio stepped through the portal into this fantastical city. What this issue doesn't give us is any idea of what the team is experiencing. This issue is a continuation of their adventures but barely moves it forward, instead giving us a tour of the Vault and the Children of the Vault, its protectors. This issue doesn't resolve anything and it also doesn't particularly pose many questions. It's a strange catch-your-breath issue as it feels like it's stuck in place as it builds to the next big thing.
Asrar looks to be having fun in this issue. After some setup and expository gobbledygook to reintroduce us to this plot threat of Hickman's larger story, the issue settles into some general mayhem as the X-Men and the Children of the Vault throw down. Asrar even gets to do a nearly iconic Wolverine shot of her jumping into the fray, claws extended, and ready for action. It's one of those images that kicks in a bit of adrenaline in the reader, signaling the fight that's to come. And it's cool that it's this Wolverine and not old man Wolverine because it feels fresh and new, not just some standard regurgitation of every Wolverine shot that we've seen before even though that's exactly what it is. It's cool because it's Laura getting this kind of bad-ass moment. Context matters and this context makes what could be a cliche into a fun moment.
More than that moment, Asrar gets to illustrate a fight where we get to see power out of these characters, more than we thought they had. Darwin particularly gets a twist to his powers, first revealed through one of the patented Hickman text pages and then brutally depicted by Asrar. For a story that moves any kind of plot forward in drabs and dribbles, Asrar finds ways to show the more interesting moments of this story, creating a sense of awe in an issue that feels like it's fallen into a narrative rut.
X-Men #18 preview
Since Hickman took over the X-titles, his stories have lived on a momentum of twists and surprises to standard X-Men lore. This issue is still playing with old concepts of the Vault (first seen back in 2006) but makes them look new. Hickman's method of storytelling here has been for pretty much each issue to stand on its own. So instead of getting long arcs, we get snapshots of story progression, one issue diving into a character or situation before the next issue moves onto a different aspect of mutant life on Krakoa. It's refreshing to see all of these balls that Hickman is juggling, shaping all of these different plots concurrently and showing just how fragile whatever hope that the mutants are holding onto really is.
The frustrating part though is that any progression happens in sparse servings. For the massive dopamine hits that House of X/Powers of X and X of Swords were, Hickman counts on us being patient with his X-Men issues, taking our smaller hits, and hoping that we can hold out for the next big rush. X-Men #18 is one of those smaller hits, giving us a glimpse into the larger story without really giving us much forward movement. It was over 10 issues ago that we were told that 500+ years had passed for Wolverine, Darwin, and Synch but this issue is still only showing us the first moments after they entered the Vault.
Under Hickman, X-Men has been a slow burn story that requires some patience from the readers. Sometimes we'll get issues full of ideas, action, and progress. Other times we'll get issues like X-Men #18 which add layers to the story without the fireworks and excitement that we remember from Hickman's first mutant stories. This issue shows slow, steady progress and is over by the time it starts building up some energy and passion behind it. Kind of like the ending of X-Men #5 which ended on a cliffhanger revealing how much time was passing for the trio of mutants, this issue ends with a bang just as it begins to establish the stakes of this issue.
Something is happening here and hopefully, we'll get to see more of it before another 13 issues pass.
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