WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men #1, on sale now.
When the revival of Astonishing X-Men was teased as pitting Marvel’s mutants — some of them, at least — against an ancient evil “attacking the world’s most powerful minds,” it likely didn’t take longtime fans much time to deduce the culprit.
A powerful psionic entity who has possessed and controlled humans for untold centuries, the Shadow King has menaced the X-Men and the New Mutants periodically since his introduction in 1979. However, his biggest moment in the sun, at least to date, came earlier this year when Amahl Farouk was revealed as the primary antagonist on FX’s Legion. Charles Xavier and his X-Men have seemingly destroyed the Shadow King, or banished him to the astral plane, time and again, only for him to return as strong as ever.
So, no, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Farouk is behind the global attack on psychics in Astonishing X-Men #1, by Charles Soule and Jim Cheung. However, readers may have been caught off-guard by the “secret” the Shadow King brought along with him.
As a means of bringing together a disparate group of X-Men — both current and former — the issue’s setup is clever enough: Psychics are dying around the world in a series on mental attacks that finally makes its way to Betsy Braddock, aka Psylocke, one of the most powerful minds on Earth. But rather than crumple to the ground amid a geometric pattern like so many weaker telepaths, Psylocke puts out a call to any X-Men within her geographic vicinity — Angel, Beast, Bishop, Logan, Rogue and Gambit, plus Fantomex, who won’t allow Remy out of his sight — to stop her assault on London.
No stranger to Amahl Farouk — “I used to keep the Shadow King imprisoned in my mind,” she reminds the X-Men — Betsy doesn’t need to be the world’s greatest detective to solve the mystery. She knows Farouk is behind the attacks, and what’s more, she knows what he wants: “[T]o fill the world with poison and watch us rot from the inside out.” So, y’know, the usual.
She also knows the risks: If Farouk could take control of her mind, then no telepath is safe. “Jean, the Cuckoos, Quentin, Emma Frost. Any one of them is like a psychic nuke, and he’s going after them right now,” Psylocke says. “I saw what he’s planning. If he gets any of them … if he gets out …” However, while Betsy may think she knows the stakes involved, she’s missing a key piece to the puzzle.
As Psylocke sends Beast, Fantomex, Gambit, Logan and Rogue into the astral plane to stop, and preferably kill, the Shadow King, Farouk is revealed in all his smiling, bloated, spider-like glory, delighted that the X-Men are about to wander into his (literal) web. “These poor heroes think they’re ready,” he taunts, speaking to cocooned figures, or perhaps someone else entirely. “What’s another apocalypse to them, more or less?”
But of course he’s not addressing anonymous cocooned people (representations of the psychics he’s killed, most likely). No, Farouk is speaking to what’s contained within his vault of secrets: Charles Xavier, who was (seemingly) killed by Cyclops in 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men #11. Of course, the X-Men founder has been killed, cloned, paralyzed and disappeared so many times, no one expected that death to stick.
Still, the cliffhanger of Astonishing X-Men #1 leaves us with plenty of questions, not the least of which is how the Shadow King managed to imprison the most powerful telepath on the planet. Bigger still may be what he plans to use Xavier for, whether we should draw any conclusions from Professor X’s words — delivered in a black balloon, just like Farouk’s — and why the expression on his face is so creepily out of place for a man who’s chained within a vault.
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