Writer: Al Ewing
Artist: Madibek Musabekov
Color Artist: Federico Blee
Cover Artists: Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson
Publisher: Marvel Comics
So, A.X.E.: Judgment Day is finally over but the wheels haven’t stopped turning for martian mutants and their enemies. Abigail Brand is on the move putting the finishing touches on her plan, but Cable is not far behind. See what tricks the time-traveling cyborg mutant has got up his sleeve in X-Men Red #8!
Now that A.X.E.: Judgment Day is over, X-Men Red #8 is rushing things into the finish line. This issue is pretty much what this reviewer calls a “cram issue”. What readers get here is less of a story and more of a setup for the series’ final story arc. We finally get to see Abigail Brand start to play her cards as her plans are coming together, but where it’s going and what her goal actually is, leaves much to be desired.
From the get-go, the comic introduces readers to lesser-known characters both new and old, who really don’t matter in the immediate future but are relevant to this story. Essentially, Cable is building his own X-Men team to take down Abigail Brand after he and Wiz-Kid found damning evidence of her working with ORCHIS and manipulating so much more behind the scenes. Al Ewing uses Cable mainly for exposition this issue to bring everyone up to speed to provide recap for readers. This is where the artist Madibek Musabekov comes into their own with the character designs, Sci-Fi locations, and alien lifeforms. Everything has a Sci-Fi feel to it for the most part especially when the team encounters the big “Progenitor” on the cover.
On the flip side, there’s trouble brewing in the Diplomatic Zone on Arakko, aka Mars, as a delegate from the Kree/Skrull Alliance meets with Gladiator, Deathbird, and the young Empress Xandra of the Shi’ar Empire. But they are not there to talk peace as new truths come to light could reignite war between the two alien civilizations. The problem is this “conflict” is so barebones and lacking any real tension that it’s easy to gloss over it. The comic brings up how the galaxy is poised between tipping into either a state of “Total War” or “Total Peace” and gives the vibe that anything can set it off. But it all feels like superficial stakes compared to the true stakes of Brand manipulating cosmic events to her own desires and thus wholly unnecessary.
What happens next doesn’t help and it all feels like Al Ewing is going off a checklist of things he needs to set up to finally wrap up the Abigail Brand storyline. There are more problems but they involve spoilers, which will be touched in the SPOILERS section. Overall, the issue is mainly setup, there’s no real development other than being the first part of X-Men Red’s series finale.
Previously, I mentioned that there were other problems in the issue, and these problems somewhat deflate any tension or anticipation this reviewer could have felt for the next issue. For example, while the talks between the Shi’ar Empress and the Skrull delegate are heating up a newly resurrected Vulcan shows up. That’s right, he’s back and stronger than before now that his “Emperor Vulcan” persona is in full control and Madibek does a good job with his big return, I’ll give him that.
Vulcan is representative of the first problem in this comic: readers need to do homework. When Cable’s team sees the entombed aliens on the World Farm, and you hear their subliminal messaging, that’s a call back to a single issue Jonathan Hickman wrote in the main X-Men series covering Vulcan’s state of mind. Readers new to the character only through this series probably wouldn’t know about that at all. On top of that, since the series has had Vulcan get beaten and humiliated three times in a row in this series, there’s little tension since it’s very likely he’ll get his butt kicked again in the next issue going by the series’ track record.
Then there’s Abigail Brand herself. Admittedly, it’s too soon to fully judge her as a villainess, but this series hasn’t inspired confidence and neither does this issue. Al Ewing uses this issue to show how much of a mastermind Brand is by revealing her plans and goal. The problem is that this X-Men Red series hasn’t really followed through on showing any of that outside of her manipulation of Vulcan. Now, I’ll admit her goal is interesting but there are plenty of holes in it. The biggest hole being that Ewing writes her plan as if she really carries the sway to make the final phase possible when she doesn’t, it’s one of several informed traits about Brand that are never shown in this series or anywhere else. Of course the next issue can change my mind on Brand, but we’ll see.
X-Men Red #8 starts the final story arc for the series. Now that A.X.E.: Judgment Day is over the series can get back to its main story with Abigail Brand as the main villain. However, this issue is mainly setup and feels like it’s cramming a little too much into it before it really gets things going. Madibek does a good job with the art especially when it comes to the Sci-Fi locations and aesthetic. While this issue is mainly setup, it ends off with the action just about to start, so things will get more exciting in the next issue.