Welcome to “The Pope’s Comics,” our regular column by award-winning novelist, poet, and Comic Watch contributor Bethany Pope! Bethany brings a wealth of knowledge on literature, LGBTQIA+ issues history, gender, comics, and so much more. We sincerely hope you enjoy!
This week I’m going to do an ekphrastic analysis of Mark Brooks teaser art for the upcoming Immortal X-Men series. This image is based on Da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ and each character in that piece corresponds with one of the members of the Krakoan Quiet Council. I’ll be examining the places where the stories of the saints, sinners, and mutants overlap and hopefully, by doing so, I’ll shed some light on the upcoming series.
I’m going to be honest with you, this is my little geeky wheelhouse. Any time I get the chance to cross compare art history, mythology, and comics, I’m a very happy little non-binary person. But since I’m also a very busy parent, a teacher, and a professional writer (and since I’m certain that you all have other things to do besides reading a five thousand word dissertation) I’m reining myself in and only examining the characters featured in this piece. I’m leaving my analysis of the gates, cloaked guys, and creepy slug monsters for a future date.
I’ll tackle each character from the Da Vinci piece one at a time, alongside their X-Man counterpart. I’m working from left to right, and I’ve found a restored, labeled image of Da Vinci’s masterpiece so that people who were lucky enough not to have to memorize this stuff can keep up.
Bartholomew was believed to have been martyred (by being flayed alive) for converting the king of Armenia to Christianity. Colossus is currently possessed by his brother, the ruler of Russia, who is therefore walking around in his metal skin. Perhaps this choice of analogy is indicative of the eventual end of his story. When the mask is peeled away, the truth will be revealed.
2 James The Lesser/Storm
James the Lesser was believed to be the brother of Christ. Storm often describes Jean Grey (avatar of the Phoenix, whose symbol occupies the image’s central seat) as her ‘sister’. Her shocked expression mirrors that belonging to her painted counterpart.
The apostle Andrew is often referred to as the ‘first called’. Nightcrawler was the first member of the Giant Sized team that Xavier recruited. Andrew was the brother of Saint Peter, and although they were both disciples of Christ, their faith manifested in different ways. Andrew, for example, was less violent than Peter. He was also more consistent in his faith, never denying Christ. Like Exodus (who occupies the position of Peter) Nightcrawler is a devout Catholic, but his expression of faith manifests very differently from that of his more violent ecumenical brother.
4 Judas Iscariot/Sinister
This one should be fairly clear. The one important difference in positioning here is that Sinister is whispering in the ear of Death rather than protesting his innocence to Christ. This is very interesting, to say the least, and it might indicate something of the nature of Sinister’s eventual betrayal. Sinister, after all, certainly has reason to believe that he could escape if he sold the others (and the nation) out to Death.
Saint Peter is a paradox. He’s both the strongest disciple (Petros, after all, means Rocky. The rock upon which Christ built his church) and yet, unlike his brother Andrew, his faith fails him often. He failed to remain awake with Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. He failed to believe Jesus, when he said to stand back and allow the soldiers to take him to Pilate. He allowed his temper, his inherent violence, to overcome him, resulting in the incident wherein he severed an innocent slave’s ear. Then, in his biggest failure, he denied knowing Christ three times in the span of hours, to save his own skin. Exodus is a fascinating character. He’s a devout Catholic, like Nightcrawler, but his catholicism is couched in dogma and violence. Carl Jung often said that fanaticism is overcompensation for doubt. I think that it’s pretty clear that Exodus is going to have an important, and complex, role in the coming series.
Saint John was known as ‘the beloved of Christ’. He’s often depicted as the youngest of the apostles (though he lived the longest after the crucifixion) and he had a personal, intimate (arguably in the passionate manner of St Teresa of Avila) relationship with Christ. Since, as we see below, the position of Christ is occupied by the symbol of the Phoenix — an entity involving both death and rebirth — it makes sense that Death would occupy this role. It’s also important to note that the immortality fostered by the Krakoan Mutants requires death. They all die. They are all reborn — albeit, as Way of X indicated, with pieces missing. It makes sense that Death would be interested in negotiating (with Judas) to make this permanent.
Both Christ and Phoenix are examples of the mythic ‘Dying God’s archetype. Like Mithras, Osiris, and Bacchus, they eternally die and are eternally reborn. Unlike most dying gods, Christ spreads his rebirth around. His followers also believe that they are granted eternal life. The Phoenix shares this trait. She gives her gifts to her hosts. Now that all mutants are capable of being reborn, it makes sense that she would have opinions about it.
7 Thomas/ Shaw
Thomas is the pragmatist, the doubter. He’s concerned with physical realities and therefore he requires proof for every miracle. That sounds like Shaw. Few people are as materialistic (in the philosophical sense) as hard-nosed capitalists. Their raised fingers foreshadow the instance in which they are granted a proof that they may not want…Thomas, after all, was made to insert that digit into the bleeding wounds on Christ’s side, an intimacy that was greater than he might have wished.
8 James The Greater/ Emma Frost
James the elder was the first apostle to be martyred. Let’s hope that Emma doesn’t meet a similar fate. There was also a moment when he said that he wasn’t worthy of drinking from the same cup as Christ, but I don’t think that the Frost fans would like that, especially considering that the ‘Christ’ in question might be Jean Grey…
9 Philip/Kate Pryde
Philip was chosen to care for the poor of the community in Jerusalem. This reflects Kate’s work bringing Krakoan medicine to people who otherwise cannot access it, as well as her work rescuing mutant refugees. Both Philip’s and Kate’s positioning indicate that they are wondering if they could be the betrayer. This could have something to do with Kate’s recent, slightly traitorous association with Mr. Fantastic, as well as her inability to pass through the Krakoan gates.
Like Matthew, Xavier is looking elsewhere (away from Christ) for an explanation about what is happening. Xavier is staring at Destiny, for whom this new era is named. Matthew originally worked as a Tax Collector (a position that was as odious then as it is now) and after his conversion he wrote the first Gospel. This could refer to the original ‘Dream’ that the X-Men were fighting for, and which Xavier seems to have abandoned.
Mystique is also looking towards Destiny for an explanation, but it’s clear that her motives are slightly different, Destiny being her wife and all. It’s interesting that Mystique is in Jude’s position, as he wrote letters warning about Blasphemy. But blasphemy is interesting, isn’t it. It’s a very slippery, changeable word. And she’s a very changeable woman.
In the painting, Simon seems to be saying ‘I have no idea, why are you asking me?’ This is the exact opposite of Destiny’s usual response. Indeed, Destiny’s body language is very different, indicating that, as usual, she knows more than she’s saying. Simon was known as the Zealot, and that’s an applicable term for someone who died in the way that Destiny did.
Let me be honest, it’s unclear what, if anything, this comparison will reveal about the plot of the upcoming book, but it’s absolutely fascinating how much thought, knowledge and planning Mark Brooks put into his work. I personally can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.
Poet, novelist, fencer, pirate, Za-Za, and Comic Watch regular contributor Bethany Pope lives in China. They also hold an MA and PhD in creative writing. Their latest novel, The Hungry and the Lost, was released December 1, 2021 from Parthian Books. You can follow them on Twitter at @theMasqueWriter.
The Pope’s Comics: Examining The Mutant Last Supper
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