Controlling The Situation: Reviewing ‘Sabretooth And The Exiles’ #2
by Scott Redmond
If one’s enemy is also the enemy to another one of your enemies, does that make them somehow your friend? That’s the question that the exiled mutants from Krakoa must ask themselves as they make an uneasy alliance with Sabretooth in order to deal with the threat that is Doctor Barrington and Orchis.
If I were asked to recommend to someone a title that best represents what the Krakoan era truly means within the X-Line, or that best actually puts the metaphors behind the line into practice, without a doubt I would hand them Sabretooth and then the first two issues of Sabretooth And The Exiles. That’s because not only have these series really dug into the issues that are festering within Krakoa as a society, it examines and pokes at so many of the issues that are affecting us in the real world. Especially those issues that more often than not target members of marginalized groups.
While we get a lot of really good stuff focused on our characters hashing out their leadership/group issues and mounting a rescue of Orphan Maker/Peter, Victor LaValle keeps the eye on the overall issue of imprisonment and what happens to those that fall through the cracks. These were explored within the first volume of the series but through the lens of Krakoa itself, whereas this time we’re seeing what is happening on a wider beyond Krakoa level.
For decades most of the X-Men and mutants they face have been very human looking, able to pass among humans if they wanted to, leaving the more physically mutated to be outcasts like the Morlocks. In the Krakoa era that is still seemingly a huge thing as most of the mutants we see on the island still fit this mold, as well as the fact that not all mutants want to come to live on a giant island out in the ocean (after Genosha and Utopia, not hard to blame them). That means tons have been left behind, and far too many have been caught up within the clutches of Orchis and namely Doctor Barrington and her experiments.
In just a few pages LaValle lays out the motivations and situations of the characters, the overall plot beats, and the ticking clock that they are up against. We learn so much from just those first pages, leaving the rest of the issue wide open to build in even more that enhances this world and these characters. It’s a recap that isn’t a recap, as it sets you right back up without having to dive back into the first issue to recall what went down. Basically, it’s like a well-crafted and plotted CliffNotes that is part of the story & is engaging in a character-depth way which is pretty great.
Speaking of that first issue, we were reintroduced to Doctor Barrington (from the amazing Children of the Atom mini-series) through the view of how evil she is in pursuit of her so-called scientific goals. There is more of that here, but we also get a deeper look into where she is within the pecking order of Orchis, essentially a freelancer working for a general contractor, and how she can use charming manipulation for her goals. Right away my mind went to the series Andor, and how one of the things it did so well was digging into the bureaucratic banality of evil because not all evil is some cackling supervillain. Barrington is evil but is stuck working within the rules of the evil organization that she has chosen to join, accountable to those above her, and ignored by those with power.
One thing that stood out in the previous volume was the use of real history to inform the topics at hand, including the racist and sexist, and often ableist history of policies that have harmed the marginalized time and time again. Here a data page showcases the history of birth control and how it was used to harm before it was approved as a means to help, tying it together with the product that Barrington has created. Within that page, Barrington is comparing the experimentation that was done on Puerto Rican women for the birth control pills to her experimentation on Mutants with her mutation suppressing Barrington Coils as overall good things. In a chilling way, she’s stating that both birth control and her coils are a way to control the population while also dipping into genocide, and there is history to support such uses of contraceptives and sterilization.
Circling back to those opening pages that set the tone and recap, they do so because of the deft way that Leonard Kirk handles the art here. Great paneling not only separates various visuals and sets up where the eyes should travel to follow the action, but it also helps set the tone and frame what we’re supposed to focus on at any given moment.
We get a three-panel page right at the start featuring six of our characters, two to a panel, reacting to something we can’t see yet. In just the way that Kirk sets up the characters and their reactions, we know what they are thinking/feeling and it feels perfectly in character for each one from confusion to excitement to indifference to disgust. Sliding right into a full page with Nekra beating down Sabretooth as our focus informs us of what they were reacting to and puts Nekra, a Black woman with Albinism and a rocky (to say the least) history in comics, in a position of power right away. A more standard nine-panel, but actually eight since the final space is a solo panel, spreads us out again and gives a deeper focus on the situation, their relationship to Krakoa, why Nekra refuses to use the Krakoan seed on Sabretooth and sets the stakes in regard to them not having access to resurrection anymore.
It’s a perfectly paced three pages, giving us so much visually that prepares for what is to come and sets the tone. Throughout the issue this same level is put into every paneling choice, giving us shots that are broad or more standard next to ones that are more precise ones (close-ups or visual representations of events/things) that strike to elicit certain emotions.
This series is one of a darker tone, the first pages start off with a bloody and beaten Sabretooth and lead into the stuff that Barrington is doing, and Kirk finds the way to balance between the lighter and the heavy moments. That brutality is clear and powerful but it never gets to a place of gory or outlandish brutality, because the focus is meant to be on the effects and not so much the minute details of what it all would look like.
Rain Beredo has a great hand in accomplishing that lighter and darker feeling, easily mixing the two color palettes together to create something striking. In the last series, the characters were heavily in darkness because of their time in the pit, but here they are out in the real world sailing the seas and then striking the Orchis base, and all these settings are far brighter with the beaming sun and bright pops of color. Inside Orchis though things take a turn where the color drains to place them in a more brown and gray heavy space, matching the grim horrific tone that emanates from that prison with what they are doing inside.
In this space, it’s the characters and then the other mutants that they find that bring much of the vibrancy, their presence providing a light or more hopeful side compared to the oppressive hopeless prison space and Orchis as a whole.
One thing that I want to point out about the colors in this series, and the prior one, is the skin tones. There have been many cases across books at times where characters that are darker in skin tone have been greatly lightened. That’s not the case with Beredo handling the colors here. We have two much darker-skinned characters amongst our main cast, and another was spotted in the prison set (in fact both prisoners that don’t have physical mutations have skin with brown tones to them). It’s something that is greatly appreciated because it doesn’t erase the fact that there are so many shades of skin tones, and all of them are equal in their need to be represented and respected.
Seeing emotions and personality pop on the page brings so much of this story to life within our minds, and it’s the lettering that ties it all together. Things such as dialogue help to explain things to us and give us the character’s verbalized thoughts/feelings, often to make it clear what the visuals cannot implicitly tell us. Cory Petit always works the lettering side of things so well, helping it to flow through the pages in the most effective way to build upon rather than take away from the rest of the imagery on the page. At the same time, he has a good knack of helping us be able to hear the characters in a manner of speaking.
That is accomplished by letting their voices and personality and emotion bleed from the words so that when we read the words we can just tell how we’re supposed to be hearing it all. The use of font changes or things that emphasize that font like bold sets the volume and tone for the words, so that we know clearly whether they are speaking louder or softer or even in a sarcastic or emotionally heavy sort of way.
Sabretooth And The Exiles #2 is now available from Marvel Comics.
‘Sabretooth And The Exiles’ is arguably the best book being published in the X-Line as it fully explores not just what Krakoa means overall but tackles so many realistic pressing issues through the lens of the X-Men metaphor. It’s a powerful series that resonates because it doesn’t shy away from the darkness of the world, shining a light right in the face of that darkness.