Extraordinary X-Men #19
First of all, though it is part of the Inhumans vs. X-Men crossover, this issue really works as a stand-alone, and it is well worth your time even if you are not reading either the larger crossover or Extraordinary X-Men. It is, quite simply, classic Lemire and brings to mind the mentor/mentee relationship that he built in Sweet Tooth. While, at first glance, this issue appears to be about Illyana’s guilt about abandoning Sapna, it is actually as much about her relationship with her brother, Peter (Colossus), as anything else. To a greater degree, however, it is about the feeling of loneliness that inhabits all people, whether they are completely alone (as Sapna is) or surrounded by those that love and care for them (as Illyana is).
Since I first was introduced to Illyana in the early 90s, during an issue of Excalibur in which Kitty Pryde returned to the States to find her best friend, Illyana, trapped in the body of a child and furious at Shadowcat for abandoning her, I’ve been intrigued by her character. Caught in limbo, both literally and figuratively, Illyana, like many of the X-Men, struggles with being broken. Her sword is aptly named the Soulsword, as it is made up of part of her soul, leaving her fragmented physically and perhaps also psychologically. In trapping Sapna in the sword, Illyana further gave up part of her spirit, as she abandoned someone that she deeply cared for, much like Kitty abandoned her all those years ago. So, naturally, when Sapna calls her into the sword crying of loneliness, the central theme of the issue, Illyana heeds the call.
Surprisingly, Sapna doesn’t appear angry at Illyana; she simply yearns for a friend, or perhaps simply a distraction. Indeed, as time moves much more slowly inside the sword than without, as readers can see based on the movement of the battle in the background, the months that have passed since being trapped have likely felt like decades. This burden is particularly clear to Illyana, who well knows what it is like to be confined physically in a body, and place, separate from her own and from those she cares for. As Illyana explains, “I understand. I do. I know what it’s like to be all alone in the darkness.”
Throughout their time with the X-Men, it has, primarily, been Colossus and Illyana who pull each other out of the darkness. It is particularly poignant, then, that when Illyana finally helps Sapna to escape the sword that she has a multi-leveled conversation with both Colossus and Sapna in which she says, “just being with you helps.” Both characters respond, “Thank you Illyana” thinking she is referring to each individually. And, perhaps, she is. For Illyana, like each of us needs to be both a mentee and mentor, savior and saved.
As strong as Lemire’s story is, it is Koda’s art/coloring that moves the story forward. I’ve always been impressed by how strong Lemire, also an artist, is at finding the correct style for each story. Hollowell and Crossley’s juxtaposition of color to represent the world at large, and black and white lined characters to represent the blue world within the soul sword, is apropos. I truly got the sense, reading the scenes inside the Soulsword, about how much living within it destroys Sapna, and Illyana’s physical forms and how much it leaves each of them feeling emotionally incomplete. Indeed, the lined characters make even more sense after seeing Sapna’s ghost-like astral projection at the end of the issue, as even a ghostlike and intangible version of her feels paradoxically more solid than either character looked within the sword itself.
And, yet, at the same time, the images within the sword are so jarring that they somehow make the world at large, and the battle outside, feel small and insignificant. The colors outside pop, particularly in the few panels and pages that integrate both worlds in one, but the battle that Illyana’s body is experiencing has much less meaning than the war within her guilt riddled mind.
Lemire is nearing the end of this Extraordinary X-Men chapter, which is unfortunate, as it feels to me that he is just beginning to find his voice. Most of the run has been eaten up by either the mediocre Apocalypse Wars and the stronger, but still confining Inhumans Vs. X-Men. This issue, the penultimate episode in the run, just begins to scratch the surface of what Lemire can do with an X-Men title, putting a spin on older characters while integrating newer ones.
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