X-Men Red #2: Al Ewing Fixes Hickman’s “Biggest Screw-Up”

Storm and Vulcan circling each other on the cover to X-Men Red #2.

Al Ewing is a master of comics continuity, and X-Men Red #2 further proves that point.

From the delicate baton-race of plotlines that Ewing passed from one tragically shortlived Avengers title to another a few years back, to the stunnningly informative deep cuts that he manages to weave into the fabric of books like Immortal Hulk and Defenders, Ewing has proven time and time again that he knows how to handle continuity. Usually, this takes the form of picking up long forgotten plot points and cultivating them into wild new ideas. In other cases however, he’s able to fill in the gaps that other writers were unable to solve themselves.

X-Men Red #2 is one such case. It takes what Jonathan Hickman (previous Head of X at Marvel) described as his ‘biggest screw up’ during his tenure on the X-line, and not only fixes it, but builds upon it in fascinating new ways.

Following on from the events of S.W.O.R.D., Inferno and X Lives / Deaths of Wolverine, X-Men Red picks up with a cast of scheming mutants on Mars. If you haven’t been keeping up with modern-day X-Men lore, Mars has recently been terraformed into the first mutant planet Arakko. And as you can imagine, the emergence of the first mutant planet brings with it plenty of galatic and political ramifications. Abigail Brand, commander of the S.W.O.R.D. station, is setting up her pieces in the brewing cold war with concerned figures – namely: Storm, Magneto and Sunspot.

One of those pieces is a bomb in the shape of a man: Gabriel Summers, A.K.A. Vulcan. Brother of Scott Summers, A.K.A. Cyclops. Previous Shi’ar Emperor. Current walking nuke.

It is through Vulcan that Al Ewing has not only added great depth to the already wonderfully messy Summers’ family dynamic, but also repurposed an abandoned plot thread with expert craft.

What continuity error does X-Men Red #2 fix?

Back in 2020, Marvel was deep into its pandemic summer event Empyre (also co-written by Ewing). The short version: plant people from space came back to Earth to get revenge for how those pesky humans mistreated them during the Kree-Skrull War. Some of those plant people, the Cotati, had set up camp on the Moon, using it as something of a forward operating base in their assault on Earth.

The Moon also happens to be where the Summers’ House resides, and where Vulcan spends his days avoiding working through the trauma of dying and coming back to life.

In X-Men #10 (2019), Vulcan, aided/accosted by fellow mutants Petra and Sway, takes the fight to the Cotati’s Moon base. What’s interesting about this is that Petra and Sway died in a book called Deadly Genesis. Nowadays, death isn’t much of an obstacle for the X-Men – they’ve conquered that irritating problem of mortality through their Resurrection Protocols. Any dead mutant can be brought back to life, with their memories transplanted into a new body courtesy of Cerebro. That is, so long as they died after Cerebro came online.

Petra and Sway died before that.

Petra and Sway antagonising Vulcan in the Summer House
Leinel Francis Yu. Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Their presence in the narrative was confusing for readers, especially as the rules of the Resurrection Protocols had been made extremely clear. Was this a deliberate choice, meant to provoke questions in the fanbase? Or was this simply an editorial blunder? The answer was, actually, something of a mixture of the two.

On an episode of Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, Jonathan Hickman revealed that the dangling plotline of Petra and Sway’s seemingly inexplicable resurrection was, in fact, a bit of a error. It is revealed in X-Men #10 that Vulcan was returned to life, not through the mutant system, but through the machinations of meddling alien beings. They also turned him into a literal ticking time bomb, with his Omega-level fire powers set to go off at any moment. Such an experience would undoubtedly cause some psychic scarring, of which Petra and Sway were originally meant to be part of.

Indeed, their presence was meant to be as hallucinatory manifestations of Vulcan’s fractured mental state. ‘Petra and Sway are dead,’ says Hickman. ‘They exist only in Vulcan’s mind. […] All of the scenes you see Petra and Sway in, that’s just him imagining it.’ However, in the rush to edit the issue in light of editorial notes, Hickman made such an explanation impossible. ‘My biggest screw up in the entire thing,’ Hickman says of his time on the title, ‘I rewrote some dialogue really, really quickly, and one of the lines I rewrote […] was Havok saying “Petra and Sway are back on Earth’.

The issue with this, of course, is that if a third party comments on the physical presence of hallucinations, they can’t really be hallucinations. And so, X-Men #10, while still a fantastic character study on Vulcan and a tantilising set up for things to come, ultimately caused some problems for the X-line. Not only was one potential plotline culled before it could start, it also broke the logic of one of the foundational elements of this new Krakoan era. Enter: X-Men Red #2.

How did Al Ewing fix Hickman’s mistake with Vulcan?

As mentioned above, Vulcan is one of the key players in Al Ewing’s Mars-based series. Each issue so far hones in on a different cast member. Issue #1 centres mostly on a weary Magneto, ridden with questions, while X-Men Red #2 shifts its focus to Vulcan, and his myriad instabilities.

In it, we discover that the Petra and Sway we (and Havok, and various other mutants since) have seen are once again said to be figments. While they aren’t simply just hallucinations, as Hickman intended, they are nonetheless constructs of the mind. Energy constructs, to be exact.

“Put simply, Gabriel’s mental state has become a serious cause for concern — and the most obvious symptom of this decline is the presence of “Petra” and “Sway” in the Summer House.
When Vulcan first conjured energy constructs of his dead friends, it was an impressive, if unsettling, feat of mutant power. When he refused to accept that they were constructs — when he became violently angry at the notion they had not been resurrected as surely as any whose minds were actually stored in Cerebro — the Summers family and I found ourselves at something of a loss.”

Charles Xavier, in the “NOTES RE: VULCAN/GABRIEL SUMMERS” data page of X-Men Red #2

Al Ewing does something truly marvelous with this development. He not only performs a resurrection of his own by bringing back Hickman’s original intent through this ‘subconscious expression of grief’, but he also magics away any potential plotholes this thread would create. Just as the mutants are presented with new challenges, and the potential for new solutions, in the Krakoan age, so too is Ewing, as he expertly navigates the burgeoning narrative playground that this new status quo supports.

As a result, X-Men Red #2 operates successfully on multiple levels. First, it marries the two halves of Vulcan’s innate metaphorical nature. Ewing conveys how ‘the fire that burns within’ (a constant moniker tied to Vulcan through) stands just as much for his self-consuming, self-destructive nature as it does his capacity for creativity.

Second, it works to textualise one of the wider themes of the Krakoan era: a platform to reimagine the trappings of the past as a canvas for the future. From the repurposing of 1986’s Giant Sized X-Men’s “island that walks like a man” Krakoa, to the recontextualisation of Apocalypse’s mission to be “the strongest there is” in X of Swords, to now, with the broken plotline of a broken man given new life, all to break him again in totally new ways.

What does this mean for Vulcan in X-Men Red #2?

Without spoiling where Vulcan’s violent response to the truth brings him, Ewing primes to be a major played moving forward. It’s unclear as of yet how long X-Men Red is planned to run for, and therefore where we might see the explosive final consequences of this issue unfold remains vague.

It’s not even certain that the fallout will be limited to this title alone. The X-line is notorious for its carefully managed interconnectivity, and with sister titles like Immortal X-Men also centring on the inner politicking of Krakoan society, it’s possible there will be spillover.

What’s even more exciting than the Chekhov’s X-nuke that Vulcan presents though, is the thematic ramifications this could have on the line. X-Men Red #2 mentions that the ‘true Petra and true Sway’ are soon to be properly resurrected, courtesy of the Waiting Room invented in Trial of Magneto. (In short, it allows Krakoa to resurrect any dead mutants, regardless of when they died, due to a magical workaround). The inevitable confrontation thats coming between these two and Vulcan poses lots of philosphical and existential questions.

What will happen when Vulcan’s confronted with the women whose ghosts once propped up his fragile hold on his own sanity? How does grieving, and the psychological need for it, change as the meaning of death warps? Is Krakoa prepared for the messy psychological impacts of altered-mortality, and how does a culture adapt when one of its few certainties – loss – is continually distorted?


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