Krakoan Era X-Men Fail to do Better
“Professor Xavier swears there will be no prisons on Krakoa.”- Doug Ramsey aka Cypher
I am a firm believer that comics can amplify the point of real world issues. Case in point, the X-Men have always been my favorite group for that very reason. This band of characters known as mutants that are shunned by society and fighting from the bottom? That's all I needed to hear. Nothing gets me engaged like an underdog story or a story of people in the minority rising up to disrupt the stat quo.
At the heart of the X-Men are a group of mutants dealing with issues of oppression, discrimination, and people just trying to be accepted by a society that fears and hates them. Being a Black man in America, how could I not ride for them? So much so, that I got the X-Men insignia tatted on my chest. Yes, I got that hard for the fandom, fam. Their entire existence serves as an analogy for people being discriminated against by race, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the X-Men, but it was Chris Claremont’s sixteen-year run as a writer alongside artist John Byrne and inker Terry Austin that put them on the map. Claremont, Byrne, and Austin’s work on X-Men put political issues and art imitating life at the forefront of the book to give us the defining traits of the X-Men characters we know to this day. However, In 2019, Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, and Marte Gracia the X-Men have entered a new era where they are putting themselves first. This era is called The Krakoan era.
The Krakoan era of X-Men has been an incredible example of mutants attempting to build a culture of their own from the ground up through their own language, ethics, norms, and morals. We witness everything that goes into building a nation from the ground up. Mutants that were once enemies of the X-Men have been given a fresh start on the island or even a position on the council that governs Krakoa. Each citizen of Krakoa adheres to the only three laws that exist. Make more mutants; kill no man; And respect this land. This sounds easy enough to abide by, right?
Those who break this law are judged by the 12 members of the Quiet Council and then thrown into the Pit of Exile. The pit is located at the bottom of the island of Krakoa. The prisoner is placed in a hibernation of sorts but is fully conscious of what's happening around them. I know this all sounds very drastic but so is the United States criminal legal system. Just stay with me. The very first prisoner of the pit is Victor Creed, better known as Sabretooth (Wolverine’s mortal enemy). He was given a fresh start but on a mission for Krakoa, he fatally injured a human, and was then sentenced to the pit. Simple enough, right?
Initially seeing Sabretooth being literally dragged beneath the island into a pit, I thought he brought it upon himself. Then I thought, if mutants are given a chance to create their own society separate and better than the one humans have, then shouldn’t the idea of a prison be restructured as well? The Pit of Exile is isolation without rehabilitation. We the reader see the council taking Sabretooth out of sight and out of mind so that he no longer has to be a problem. This gets explored in the limited series Sabretooth by Victor Lavelle and Leonard Kirk. We the audience/reader see Victor Creed given a deal by Cypher. A mutant that can understand any language, thereby making him the communicator and translator of the sentient island, Krakoa (where all the mutants live). Cypher and Krakoa feel that Victor was given an unfair sentencing. They offer him an opportunity where his body remains in jail but his mind is allowed to wander. He would no longer be entirely immobile. I think this is important to state because we see someone recognizing a flaw with how the punishment towards the law is handled.
Cypher then tells Sabretooth, “Professor Xavier swears there will be no prisons on Krakoa. At the very least nothing like this will happen again” *stares at the camera like Mr. Eddie from Abbott Elementary*. You know damn well they’re using that pit again, fam. We then see five more prisoners join Sabretooth. Nekra, Madison Jeffries, Oya, Melter, and Third Eye. Cypher who attends the sentencing (as he and Krakoa are essentially the Warden and jail) calls out Xavier’s hypocrisy in saying there wouldn’t be more prisons and that not all of the council is present for the sentencing.
Xavier speaks upon wishing paradise didn’t require a prison, Magneto speaks upon how frustrating it is that not everyone can follow these laws and that most courts proceed with one judge. Again, I think to myself, if they are to be better than humans then what an odd notion to cherry pick from a broken system what you choose to use to justify your actions. Magneto and Charles are only seeing that a law was broken instead of asking why it was broken
Oya and Nekra, (two Black women mutants), defended Krakoa from human pirates trying to raid the island. They killed the invading men in self defense and to protect the nation. X-Force is a team on Krakoa that has done the exact same thing. So not being on a team while protecting the island brands them lawbreakers?
Melter thought he was respecting the land by practicing to control his powers away from others. By melting a boulder, he caused the island of Krakoa to react to that damage. Xavier knew Melter deep down wanted to get his attention. Melter wanted to do more. Instead, he was warned, then he was sentenced on his next offense.
Maddison Jeffries is a mutant that can reshape inorganic matter and communicate with technology. He is in a relationship with Danger, a physical manifestation of software. He tried to build an inorganic home for her on Krakoa but it was rejected “like trying to stick an artificial knee in a healthy body and it rejects the implant.” It’s deemed that he broke the third law and he gets thrown in the pit.
Third Eye was sentenced for breaking the first law “Make more mutants.” The mutants procreating on the Krakoa have been leaving their babies at a nursery to be taken care of and raised. Third Eye used his power to show a possible future of what these children could turn into growing up having been cast aside. Something he had experienced first hand.. Mans told the truth and the birthrate dropped a quarter on Krakoa. He was then charged with breaking the law. He got thrown in the pit cause he said condoms might be a good idea…
Third eye then states that everyone is thrown in this pit because they did not know their place. Sabretooth even says himself, the first test of Krakoa to truly be a different nation is how they handled someone like him. Krakoa failed because they treated Sabretooth exactly how human society’s judicial and prison system would. What’s more is that Cypher’s deal to let Sabretooth’s mind wander free allowed Sabretooth to shape the mental landscape of the pit into a hell he reigned over. Imagine the shock of the new prisoners that weren’t sent there not knowing that it was nothing like what Xavier had described because Xavier along with the rest of the council is unaware of what the environment of the prison has been transformed into.
What is amazing about this Krakoa era of X-Men is what goes into building not only a culture but a nation. The flaws of that nation become more present and glaring. We know Charles Xavier as an idealist and for him to state that there would be no prisons in Krakoa. We’re inclined to believe him, hence the hurt of seeing him go back on his word. He damn near victim-blames the citizens of Krakoa as he states, “I thought living in paradise would do away with such a need (for prisons). I believed that every mutant would cherish this dream as I do.” That feels like shifting the blame to me, as well as someone that isn’t doing the work to step-by-step facilitate and go through what’s required to do more than expecting a law to be so easy and simple that those that break it are instantly guilty. There are flaws within the laws because they are so broad that liberties can be taken to sentence those to serve time. Sound familiar?
Victor Lavelle does an incredible job in the Sabretooth comic of tackling themes of mass incarceration, the prison industrial complex, rehabilitation, as well as how as a whole Krakoa’s ideals start off with such good intentions then fall back into perpetuating the same mistakes as oppressive systems that have come before. I started this piece by stating that comics amplify real world issues. When people speak of why prisons need to be abolished, the last place I expected that argument to be given the space to take shape was in an X-Men book focusing on one of their villains. I am incredibly glad, however, that the prison system is being examined by a writer like Victor Lavelle through a comic book story on such a large platform via Marvel Comics. Even if it is wrapped in metaphor and analogy through comic book characters, this is an important way for readers to be given an alternative look at how systems like prisons exist and why they are allowed to continue to do so.
To me, art that highlights a broken aspect in society is an important step towards change. As a reader, I want to be persuaded to think differently in regards to what I'm reading as well as how I am living. Lavelle’s work doesn’t offer a solution, however, those solutions come from more people being made aware that if we are to make a better society without prisons. Then it’s important to take all steps in doing all the work to ensure that the broken system doesn’t become a crutch to be dependent on.