For a series that so far has relied heavily on snappy patter and light-hearted hi-jinks, this issue is something of a surprise, since at it's core it's really rather sad. Having spent an issue demonstrating the Knight's childlike and solipsistic approach to combat, and another issue letting us know just how terrifyingly dangerous that makes them, this issue focusses on the horrible toll that combination has taken on the universe.
Perhaps one can feel some small sympathy for the Knights of Hykon: a martial order so powerful and so dedicated that one day they find they've beaten every villain their dimension has to offer. When you build your life entirely on doing your duty through combat, ultimate victory must be almost as unthinkable as ultimate defeat. Perhaps we should be neither surprised nor disapproving to learn the Knights solution was not to change their definition of duty, but rather their definition of the enemy. Alliances long-forged in wartime quickly became enmities during what the Lifecode calls "the torture of peace".
It's only when the Knights start chucking planets at each other that everything goes wrong, when it becomes clear to everyone but the Knights themselves (along with Lifecode, the summation of Hykon culture and achievement granted sentience) that they were only ever in it out of self-aggrandisement. Their desire for victory was the only motivating factor, and the enemy destroyed or the damage done in the process were matters of supreme irrelevance.
Given all this, the righteous anger of the X-Men, Cyclops and Nightcrawler in particular, is impossible to deny. The sheer rage that boils up within our heroes at the thought of twelve thousand years of collateral damage during a war game that doesn't even have any meaning is truly impressive to behold, and deeply melancholy to consider. When Lifecode tells Xavier that her charges have fought for millennia "with no consequence" I half expected him to Scanners her right there and then. And Nightcrawlers fuck-you to Bone Dancer as he punches the alien out is pitch perfect:
You are not warriors! The men in women in this room -- these soldiers who died trying to save their worlds -- they were warriors!And punished they are, robbed of Lifecode by Lilandra as vengeance for the Shi'ar worlds they have obliterated, and forced to remain on the barren rock of their birth, weaponless and finally, horribly, at peace.
You are vicious children. It's time you were punished.
Like I said, it's a very sad tale, even if the heroes do win out in the end and the trail of destruction has finally come to a halt. Some wounds are just too long, too wide, and too crippling for you to feel much joy at the point when they stop bleeding.
Beyond the horrors unleashed by the Knights of Hykon, there's still more sorrow to be tasted in the unravelling of Jean. Not only is she on the brink of losing/dumping Scott, without any apparent idea as to which of those two options is more likely or preferable, she learns sotto voce from Storm that the Knights are at least partially responsible to turning her into Phoenix. And how does she feel about that? "I have literally no idea." The fact that Scott clearly has no problem knowing how to feel - if his eyebeams stopped working, he'd try to bite through the Knight's armour and suck out their blood - is doubly saddening from our perspective, firstly because of the obvious yawning gap between our heroes', but because we know that this story ends in the conflagration of the Dark Phoenix' callous exterminations, the exact crime for which the Knights' guilt so contemptible.
Minutes later, Jean watches Scott seemingly try to murder Cloud Runner with the power of his own rage. "You destroyed the woman I love!" It's at that point, I think, that it finally clicks for Scott - he's not struggling to stop himself losing Jean. He's already lost her, and he just couldn't accept that because someone who looks just like her and who answers to her name is still walking around the place. After the X-Men return home, and Nightcrawler confesses his surprised delight that the team made it through without casualties, Scott and Jean say goodbye to each other in silence. Of course, where Scott is involved, there was never any real chance of anything so useful as words being involved. And that's a sadness all in itself.
This issue follows on directly from the last one, and takes place over the course of a few hours.
The trees in Boston have regained their leaves, which suggests this story takes place a little later than we're currently assuming. Having said that, we're still bound by Corbeau's description of Phoenix's birth being a few weeks ago, so I think we'll just have to assume an early spring this year.
Saturday 20th of February, 1982.
President Reagan and Pope Jean Paul II clash over the use of sanctions against Poland, currently under martial law to allow the government to crack down on protesters and activists.
"If you start hummin' the Stars n' Stripes, bub, I'm walkin' back to Quebec."