Their maiden voyage may be over, but the mutant pirates of Krakoa are already setting off on another journey in this week’s Marauders Annual #1.
As one of the more popular titles in the Krakoa era of X-Men comics, it’s no surprise that Marauders is continuing into its third year. Casting Kate Pryde as the new Red Queen of Krakoa’s Hellfire Trading Company was an inspired creative choice that allowed for a new spin on the established mutant metaphor, while outgoing writer Gerry Duggan’s touch made the proceedings light and fun, with great visuals from a crew of rotating artists led by Matteo Lolli. The specificity of the premise from the onset meant it didn’t struggle hooking readers like some of its sister titles have in the same span of time. But as is customary with comics, even great ideas need a little refresh every now and then.
Incoming writer Steve Orlando (formerly of Midnighter, one of my favorite superhero titles from the last decade) begins his run in earnest with the Marauders Annual, setting up plot threads and establishing a new cast of characters ahead of its official launch in March. With Kate and Bishop as the last remaining crewmates of the inaugural lineup, they task themselves with recruitment. Their search brings them to Psylocke, Tempo, Somnus, Aurora, and Daken— the latter of which just so happens to be missing after an X-Factor investigation, which comprises the main plot thrust of this issue. (And that’s not mentioning the return of the dreaded Cassandra Nova, who will also join the team as the token evil one when the series resumes.)
Marauders Annual interestingly combines the concept of its parent title with some of the recent X-Factor run, importing two of their members (Aurora and Daken) into missing persons cases in lieu of a seafaring pirate plot. It definitely makes me wonder if that vibe will carry over to the title’s relaunch or if it’s just a one-off for this bridge installment. X-Factor was one of my favorite books of the Krakoa era, so I wouldn’t mind that at all. I’m also looking forward to the inclusion of Somnus, a new character Orlando created in last year’s Marvel’s Voices: Pride anthology who shares an interesting romantic backstory with Daken. (Daken working with not one but two of his exes on the same team? Wouldn’t expect less from my disaster bisexual king.)
While I am once again questioning Marvel’s business practices with their choice to sell this as an annual and not a new #1 for the series it’s setting up anyway, it is a nice sampler for what Orlando will bring to the table when he returns with ongoing artist Eleonora Carlini in a few months. His writing is—as ever—action-oriented and a little pulpy, but he also really leans into the mutant metaphor in regards to queer acceptance with the chosen villain of the piece, and I’m hoping we’ll see more of it in the book proper. For how popular X-Men are among LGBTQIA people, it still doesn’t feel like the allegory is as engaged as it should be in 2022; the revelatory fact that half of this team is queer (Kate, Daken, Somnus, Tempo) shouldn’t be overlooked. Artist Creees Lee also does good work here and it’s a shame they won’t be back for the series, but at least it gives them an opportunity to be utilized elsewhere.