"Mutants of the world, unite!"
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Mahmud Asrar and Sunny Gho
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Design by Tom Muller
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
We're almost halfway through 'X of Swords' and Jonathan Hickman takes some time to tell us what Apocalypse is all about with X-Men #13 (opens in new tab). While Big Blue has long been one of the X-Men's greatest foes, his motivations have always felt... a bit lacking. Here Hickman considers what Apocalypse's "survival of the fittest'' credo really means and gives the character significant depth especially within the constraints of the Krakoan X-Men status quo. Mahmud Asrar remains a welcome sight on any comic book with pages and while this is a relatively slow-paced chapter in 'X of Swords,' it is a wholly satisfying one.
An annoying take that I have on this issue is that it's an extended reference to the Smiths song "Shoplifters of the World Unite" and not just because of the small reference to the title. Hickman uses this entry to dig into Apocalypse's romantic history with Genesis, how Apocalypse fits into the greater narrative surrounding Arakko/Krakoa and why he's been on a "survival of the fittest" tilt for the entire time we've known him. If you wanted to be really specific in your reading of that Smiths song, it lines up in a lot of ways.
And you know what? I'm sold on it.
Maybe it's that I can finally connect to a giant blue sad boy Apocalypse who has a sword "imbued with external sadness." (I mean, if that's not the most Morrissey thing in the world...) Apocalypse's first love left him and gave him a mission that he tries to follow through on in hopes that they will be reunited once again. I've never really considered Apocalypse to be a particularly romantic character but hey, it works here.
The second verse of "Shoplifters..." begins as follows "A heartless hand on my shoulder/A push and it's over/Alabaster crashes down..." Before Apocalypse goes to get his sword, Professor X puts a hand on his shoulder. Apocalypse heads to Egypt to find his weapon and destroys four sarcophagi that hold its pieces. Alabaster was used in Egypt for sarcophagus and other sacred and sepulchral objects. Apocalypse reclaims the Scarab sword but will he claim victory? For an answer to that, we can refer to Morrissey and the song that was originally supposed to the A-side to "Shoplifters..." Apocalypse, "Just [Hasn't] Earned It Yet, Baby".
Now the general narrative structure of a lot of these issues has basically been 'character needs to get a sword.' Many of them didn't need a sword previously but who cares! As a lot of this issue is really told in flashback, Mahmud Asrar and Sunny Gho aren't given the same kind of exciting pages we've seen elsewhere in the event. This isn't really an action-focused installment after all. But he does nail some key elements that are sure to have an impact as we continue to move forward. Asrar's strong character work sells the heartbreak inherent in Apocalypse's story here but it also shows the difference in his resolve just through body language. It doesn't take much to make a character like Apocalypse look imposing on a page but it takes a deft hand to balance that with genuine emotion.
Now is X-Men #13 going to sell everyone on this event? Probably not. If you aren't already onboard, nothing I've said here is going to move the needle for you. Hickman and company have been smart about the way they've built this event but they've made it clear that it's going to be extremely different from the traditional superheroics that many Marvel fans are used to and will be extremely additive to the mythology of these characters. But they have delivered on those two basic tenets every step of the way and X-Men #13 is no exception.
Get up to speed on the X-Men's big event with our guide to 'X of Swords.'