Children of the Vault is a new Marvel comic spinning out of the current "Fall of X" storyline. So it's an X-Men book, about a group of characters who are not mutants, and have never headlined their own book. It's also the first Marvel book written by Deniz Camp, whose 20th Century Men was one of my favorite comic books last year. (Illustrator Luca Maresca is also fairly new to Marvel, but has at least worked on recent She-Hulk and Photon minis). In short, the book is a strange gamble — but it's one that absolutely paid off. The first issue — out this week — hits the ground running, doing quick work to establish three feuding factions and catch readers up with everything they need to know.
Camp pulls off a brilliant hat trick here: Children of the Vault is both intrinsically tied to Marvel continuity, and loaded up with canonical deep cuts, but also feels like a fresh continuation of the themes he explored in 20th Century Men. Both comics explore the geopolitical tensions of superheroes existing in a world where the true Big Bad is the avarice of post-colonial capitalism, a villain so big and powerful it can never truly be defeated. A villain so insidious that it may have even found a way to weaponize ideas themselves in order to feed its insatiable hunger. That's both a central component to the plot of this comic, and also a fitting metaphor for, well, *gestures at everything*.
Again, this book feels surprisingly accessible for those with only a passing knowledge of X-Men lore, though it also feels lived in enough to make you want to know more. Take the titular Children of the Vault. Camp and Maresca tell you everything you need to know right up front: this is a group of highly-evolved posthumans who were raised in an artificial environment where time was accelerated, allowing them to evolve at a rapid rate. The rest of the details don't matter (though they've only appeared in a whopping 16 issues before this, so there aren't that many other details to catch up on anyway). They're a powerful inversion of the X-Men, differently evolved but just as eager to save the world—although their authoritarian instincts might not be as selfless as they seem.
But even then gets complicated when Camp checks in with people on the streets, and lets the narrative slow down to focus on the individual humans who are affected by both global capitalism, and by a bunch of scary futuristic savior complex superheroes. This is not just a story about cool fight scenes — it's also about the complicated ways that these huge battles affect the little people, too.
Of course, this is still ultimately an X-Men book. And to balance out the new accessible nature of the Children, Camp and Maresca cleverly recruited two of the most convoluted mutant characters to round out their cast: the mysterious gun-toting badass from the future known as Cable, and the mysterious gun-toting badass from the future known as Bishop. These are characters who are products of their time — both of the timelines that spawned them, and of the Very 90s era in which they debuted. It's not just these real-world origins that link the characters; it's that they also operate as fantastic dramatic foils for one another. Cable is the insurgent, the messianic mutant terrorist; Bishop is a cop, both literally and figuratively. Both have the kind of radical savior complex that would have fit right into place in Camp's 20th Century Men.
As alike as these characters are, though, they do not get along. Once again, Camp and Maresca do tremendous work of quickly illustrating their relationship as a Yin-Yang Buddy Cop Odd Couple, without bogging you down with the details. All you need to know is that Cable and Bishop are both battle-hardened time travel warriors and true believers who fucking hate each other, but who will both do anything for the mutant cause, including work together. It's a great distillation of the characters down into accessible archetypes, with a few impressively deft allusions to their past relationship to color in the edges. That's good comics writing.
(If you'll forgive me a brief deep-cut digression: I've always been a huge Cable fan, and while I like Bishop, I've always felt like he was never really held accountable for the sixteen years he spent committing multiple genocides to try and kill Cable's daughter. This book smooths over that entire thing in just a few lines in a way that I found to be some particular impressive comic writing. Camp even sneaks in an extremely deep cut Morrison reference, and laugh-out-loud worthy meta-joke that has hilariously weeded itself into the X-Men canon; and yet both things still work well on their own, without the need to be "in" on the joke.)
To be fair, 20th Century Men was also the kind of the book that was steeped in lore (in that case, the military history of the 20th century), but threw you in and just let the story carry you. Children of the Vault similarly hits the ground running in a way that ensures that new readers can enjoy the ride, but also maybe make them want to learn more. In this case, the story is simply about three feuding factions of wannabe-saviors, and all of the regular people caught in the middle of it. And I for one can't wait to see what happens next.
Here's a preview: