Last summer the mutants of Krakoa and Arakko forever altered the intergalactic landscape of Marvel Comics when they terraformed Mars from a lifeless rock into a new planet brimming with life in the pages of Planet-Size X-Men #1. It was the sort of ambitious event readers have come to expect from the current era of X-Men comics and has echoed across many series with the renamed planet of Arakko subsequently becoming the capital planet of Earth's solar system. Now Arakko takes centerstage in X-Men: Red, the new, ongoing series from writer Al Ewing and artist Stefano Caselli, featuring intergalactic political struggles, fearsome Arakki culture, and a new team of mutants preparing to handle this brave, new world.
Given the immense scale at play, X-Men: Red #1 provides readers with an extended 34-page introduction and doesn't waste an ounce of space. That's significant because it allows the series to define itself as being more than a single thing. Arakki culture and politics are a constant backdrop in which the wartorn people's traditions define a new set of rules; the complexities of Marvel's cosmic empires, including struggles with Earth and the Shi'ar set the stage for big conflicts to come; familiar fan-favorite characters like Storm, Magneto, and Sunspot all provide significant reflection and nuanced character work, too. Any one of these elements would be capable of delivering a satisfying debut on their own, when well executed, but X-Men: Red delivers on every front, and does so with a superb sense of style.
What's more is how all of these distinct aspects are woven together. Each member of the emerging team on Arakko serves to highlight a distinct element of the culture. Storm serves as Regent of Arakko and holds the Seat of All-Around-Us, placing her in the center of both literal and political storms. Not only does this position introduce readers to the high stakes and intrigue, but it reflects on Storm's long history of titles like goddess and queen. Her own consideration of identity invests the deeply personal into star-spanning events. Magneto's role as a tired revolutionary ready to find some final peace and Sunspot's as an entreprenuer seeking opportunity in a new frontier provide similar parallels. Each cast member is selected because both the personal and political elements they bring are essential to the saga ahead.
Ewing and Caselli also introduce a new character to the mix of this evolving group: The Fisher King, an Arakki native without any mutant gifts. His conversations with Magneto provide some of the softest moments in this issue as two old men reflect on their pasts, but they also focus themes of identity and place that this new vision of Mars evokes in grand philosophical terms without being bound to ill-fitting historical parallels.
It would be easy to get bound up in the various ramifications of this tide shift in Marvel storytelling as Ewing continues a thread of cosmic storytelling that has run through Guardians of the Galaxy, Empyre, S.W.O.R.D., and more, but the most significant character introduced in X-Men: Red #1 is Arakko itself. Each new sequence is utilized to highlight a key setting and they inform readers about the shape of this new planet and its culture. The Red Lagoon offers an urban environment that contrasts heavily with the verdant fields, sprawling seas, wide mountain ranges, and looming red skies of the planet. It captures a key phrase from the Krakoa era of X-Men as readers can perceive "this sacred land" in Caselli's artwork. They understand a sense of space is essential, both literally and metaphorically. Federico Blee's colors ensure that these detailed backdrops radiate with color and utilize red to bind the many different aspects of the planet together.
X-Men: Red #1 strikes me as the most ambitious X-Men debut since House of X and Powers of X revitalized the entire line. It not only recognizes the great potential found in its concept—detailed character work, immersive settings, intergalactic political intrigue, examinations of identity and place—but binds these elements together into a cohesive whole that promises a profound saga ahead. Even on a planet removed from the focus of Marvel stories, this issue reads as something essential because everything matters on the page. Whether it's the individual past of long-running characters like Magneto and Storm or the expansive opportunities created by planetary governance, it's all connected here at the start. What follows feels as though it's filled with all the potential of a great sci-fi saga, and so it seems X-Men: Red is prepared to deliver a transcendent X-Men epic. Bring it on.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Published by Marvel Comics
On April 6, 2022
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Stefano Caselli
Colors by Federico Blee
Letters by Ariana Maher
Cover by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson