X-Men #21 ends the first ongoing X-Men series of the Krakoan era. As the issue itself alludes to, this is hardly the end for the X-Men but a new beginning as the first official X-Men team to emerge from this brave new world debuts. That introduction highlights how odd a 21-issue X-Men comic is without any X-Men. Yet, the issue also puts writer Jonathan Hickman’s thoughts about the X-Men into more explicit focus. It’s a story of dichotomies, where democracies and empires, dreams and realities sit side-by-side, making for an intriguing turning point in the larger mutant saga and a suitable punctuation mark that makes the often episodic series that preceded it more thematically coherent.
In this finale, Hickman collaborates with four artistic teams, each depicting a different scene. Nick Dragotta, Hickman’s collaborator on the sci-fi series East of West, kicks things off with a conversation between Namor, Professor X, and Magneto. Dragotta’s sharp lines and slightly exaggerated faces against colorist Frank Martin’s fiery red sky infuses the scene with a powerful sense of dramatic tension. It’s an ominous backdrop befitting Charles and Erik’s discussion of empire-building even as Namor makes pointed moves towards “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”
Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson depict the glamour of the gala in full swing as only they could, with Dauterman’s eye for fashion and bold colors making it a dazzling affair. Lucas Werneck and Sonny Gho follow, offering a more muted take on the reverie as the focus turns to side conversations. Sara Pichelli and Nolan Woodard close the issue with a dreamier aesthetic—looser linework, more surreal colors—as the mutants turn their attention to something bigger. Each, in turn, does their best to handle the presence of several celebrity cameos gracefully. Even so, these real-world intrusions stick out as much for their pedestrian dress as their on-model renderings.
In the first issue of this series, Hickman had Cyclops explaining to Polaris how Krakoa’s founding feels like the realization of a dream, one that he’d on the precipice of surrendering to reality. Here, monologuing to a very different listener, Cyclops again draws that line between dreams, specifically Xavier’s, and the waking world. As he sees it, to be an X-Man is to be a dreamer living in a reality that loves nothing more than to tear dreams apart.
It’s a loaded sequence. At once, it reflects on the rest of the series revealing mutant heroes exist even without the rarefied team name: Cyclops the superhero, Magneto the living legend, Mystique the righteous iconoclast. It encourages consideration of the democratic means of electing the new X-Men squad that immediately follows Xavier and Magneto’s unflinching admission to building an empire. And it also invites metatextual interpretations that consider the imperfect mutant metaphor, which so often fails to encompass the reality of life as a minority. It’s a flawed fiction struggling to speak to a harsh reality. That dichotomy is itself on display in a splash page introducing the new X-Men. It’s a beautiful page drawn by Dauterman, a gay man, awash in rainbow colors, coming after the pointed use of the term “pride” in an issue released during Pride month that fails to contain any LGBTQ+ representation.
As a single issue, X-Men #21 feels like a coda to the intense stories that preceded it. It’s a series of interludes allowing Hickman to reflect on why he wanted to write the X-Men in the first place and why readers continue to be fascinated with these characters despite the concept’s narrative imperfections. At the same time, it tidies up this chapter in a larger saga neatly and poses the question of whether the idea of Krakoa is still worth dreaming.
Published by Marvel Comics
On June 9, 2021
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta, Russell Dauterman, Lucas Werneck, and Sara Pichelli
Colors by Frank Martin, Matthew Wilson, Sonny Gho, and Nolan Woodard
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Leinil Francis Yu