Credits: Fabian Nicieza (writer), Tony Daniel (penciler), Conrad/Milgrom/Christian (inkers), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Marie Javins & Digital Chameleon (colors)
The X-Ternals appear inside the Shi’ar Imperium, along with Apocalypse’s prelate, Rictor. They’re drawn into a fight with the Imperial Guard, but manage to escape into a nearby forest. Rictor offers to help the Imperial Guard find the team. Inside the forest, the X-Ternals learn that the planet’s vegetation is actually sentient. Lila senses that the entire planet wanted the team to arrive there. They meet a former Shi’ar soldier named Jonath, who was banished to the farming planet after failing to prevent the murder of the previous emperor. He explains that D’Ken and his sister Deathbird took control of the Shi’ar Imperium after killing their father. When D’Ken discovered the M’Kraan Crystal, he used its power to kill Deathbird and their other sister, Lilandra. D’Ken didn’t realize that wielding the crystal’s power caused its energies to radiate out into the universe and to nullify sections of space. The Imperial Guard finally catch up to the X-Ternals, as reality begins to blink out of existence. A crystal wave begins to consume the planet, but the X-Ternals are teleported away by Deathbird and the Starjammers. Onboard their ship, the team watches footage of the planet turning into crystal on the Starjammers’ video screen. Deathbird explains that the M’Kraan Crystal wanted the team to witness the planet’s destruction. According to the Starjammers’ sensors, two lifeforms escaped the plant before it crystallized, but Deathbird isn’t interested in them. Gambit declares that if the task has fallen to them, the X-Ternals will save the universe.
Deathbird apparently didn’t die, despite Jonath’s claims. No one in this story points this out when she shows up, though. Jonath describes himself as half Shi’ar and half Mephisitoid. I have no idea if he’s supposed to be a blood relative of Mephisto, or if “Mephisitoid” is some other alien race that may or may not have a connection to Mephisto. Am I the only one who thinks that connecting Mephisto to the Shi’ar is a terrible idea?
I guess when Marvel brought in the M’Kraan Crystal to justify Legion’s reconstruction of reality, it was inevitable that all of the Claremont/Cockrum space material would show up. I’ve never cared too much for the various outer space characters in the X-canon, so seeing D’Ken, the Imperial Guard, the Starjammers, etc. doesn’t automatically elicit much of a response from me. Nicieza crams them all together in this issue, and it reads like a bit of a mess. Daniel’s art isn’t as muddled and chaotic as the previous issue, but he still has a hard time handling so many characters. (Daniel left for Spawn right after this issue, which was probably a relief to him. Drawing a masked man with a giant cape sitting around a dark alley feeling sorry for himself had to be easier than this).
Aside from reintroducing a glut of characters, there’s also a decent chunk of exposition delivered here. The story Jonath tells isn’t that hard to follow, but really, who is Jonath, and why should we care? Nicieza attempts to give him a character arc that involves embracing the simple life of a farmer and leaving violence behind, but it’s buried underneath the massive amount of characters and story involved. The effort put into developing Jonath feels awkward and rushed, and I don’t see how his personal story really has anything to do with the main narrative involving the M’Kraan Crystal. Nicieza also tries to sell the idea that the X-Ternals are going to evolve from mutant thieves to world saviors, but all of the characters are so underdeveloped it’s hard to buy into their story either. This is definitely turning out to be one of the weak links in the AoA event.