Warning: spoilers for New Mutants #17 by Vita Ayala, Rod Reis, VC’s Travis Lanham, and Tom Muller are ahead.
On the surface, the island of Krakoa inhabited by the X-Men appears to be a mutant paradise, but the reality of it is much darker in Marvel Comics. While mutants have been able to live in relative harmony on their own, away from humanity, several aspects of Krakoa’s emergent culture have created unequal conditions for specific mutants on the island. As it turns out, the main selling point of Krakoa, its resurrection capabilities, have proven to be the very thing that divides mutants on the island. And one villain, Shadow King, is taking direct advantage of the inequalities that resurrection has brought on the island.
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In New Mutants #17, Shadow King appeared to comfort Wolfsbane (Rahne Sinclair), who had been grieving after hearing that her son, Tier, was not in the resurrection queue (written by Vita Ayala, art by Rod Reis, letters by VC’s Travis Lanham, and design by Tom Muller). Tier’s exclusion from the resurrection queue is part of a broader set of problems related to resurrection and life on Krakoa, one that Shadow King is astutely aware of. In speaking to Wolfsbane, Shadow King expresses all of the reasons why Krakoa is failing mutants right now, and successfully wins her over in his plan to “help” lost young mutants on the island. And while the concerns that Shadow King raises are valid, it is clear that he has his own sinister plot to rule Krakoa from a clandestine position.
Shadow King’s ability to recruit Wolfsbane to his operation exemplifies how the failings of Krakoa are paving the way for villains to take advantage of the mutants who feel left behind by the island’s rules. Rahne is without a doubt experiencing immense emotional turmoil over her son, and there is nothing on Krakoa that is supporting her at this time, except for Shadow King. This exposes the quintessential failing of Krakoa: while mutants have mastered preserving their bodies through resurrection, they have yet to find a way to do the same for their emotional wellbeing. If anything, this failure could result in the island’s fall, and Shadow King exploits this to his advantage.
The X-Men have established Krakoa as a place for all mutants, but in practice, this has hardly been the case. Shadow King, on the other hand, directly utilizes this rhetoric to appeal to mutants who have been left behind by Krakoa’s policies. In convincing Wolfsbane, he says, “Krakoa is for all mutants, regardless of who we have been and what we have done. I have taken the mission of our new home to heart. I believe that we must now live to fully realize ourselves, and that must be achieved together. We must help each other,” before acknowledging that Rahne is in great emotional pain.
Essentially, Shadow King has now positioned himself as an example of what Krakoa should be, making his ideals all the more attractive to vulnerable mutants. In a sense, this strategy is fitting for this era of X-Men stories, given how mutants have never been safer on Earth. For a danger to come from within, in response to a sense of exclusion created by other mutants, is the natural progression for the next phase of the X-Men’s villains.
Shadow King understands that many mutants feel unseen because of their feelings of alienation and grief, and he’s made this his modus operandi for taking control of Krakoa. In many ways, it is a shame that the X-Men have lost sight of taking care of each other emotionally, given how the mutant community was once united in their shared experience of prejudice. However, an image of hope still rests in Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner) who has remained tuned into the darker aspects of Krakoan life. Still, until meaningful change can happen, it appears that Shadow King’s plan will continue to undermine everything the X-Men have worked towards.
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