People’s longstanding fear of swarming insects like cicadas is enshrined in our pop culture. For years we’ve reimagined bugs as everything from larger-than-life creatures poised to take over the planet to hyper-intelligent mimics hellbent on supplanting humanity. Now, with millions of the United States’ Brood X cicadas digging their way out of the ground, it’s a perfect time to revisit the X-Men’s most recent encounter with the Brood.
The real-life screaming bugs are once again on people’s minds the way they become every 17 years when their maturation cycle reminds people of their constant existence beneath the ground. That idea of hordes of bugs lying in wait to descend upon an unsuspecting population’s something that made Marvel Comics’ latest Brood (galaxy-conquering parasitic aliens) story especially memorable in X-Men #8 and #9 from writer Jonathan Hickman, and artists Mahmud Asrar, Leinil Francis Yu, and Sunny Gho. Though the X-Men have had a number of encounters with the Brood in the past, X-Men #9 introduced an interesting new complication into the way the predator species operates that’s worth keeping in mind even as Earth’s mutants get wrapped up in the Hellfire Gala.
As one of the oldest living species of intergalactic predator, the Brood are well-known as one of the universe’s most prominent threats which other intelligent races like the Kree have attempted to weaponize for their own purposes. Left to their own devices, Brood naturally multiply at exponential rates thanks to the efforts of Brood Queens who exert total control over drones who tend to their Queens’ every desires, chief among them: the need to consume and murder other living creatures. Unleashed upon a star system, a Brood swarm could very easily wipe out all extant life, and the only real drawback to trying to wield the aliens is the fact that Brood Queens and the Brood Empresses who control them are notoriously not suited for any sort of domestication or corralling once set loose.
X-Men #8 opens with an example of how, no matter how prepared superheroes with common sense might be, there are few ways to account for other people’s universe-threatening foolishness, try as one might. Experienced though the X-Men were in dealing with the Brood, most of the New Mutants had no way of knowing that the strange egg Rahne Sinclair brought back to Krakoa would have been better left out in space where she found it. It isn’t until Broo, a “mutant” member of the Brood—welcomed into the X-Men because of his uncharacteristic pacifism and ability to think independent of Queens’ influence—catches sight of the egg that everyone begins to understand what deep shit they’re in. Aggressive as they typically act, Broo explains, the presence of a King Egg can cause the entire species to go to indiscriminate war as it threatens the mechanics of the Brood’s normal mating cycle.
Catastrophic as Brood invasions are, their appearance in X-Men #8 was far from their first on Earth, and at first, there didn’t seem to be all that much aside from the egg that made this encounter noteworthy. But X-Men #9 provides an interesting bit of insight into what motivates the Brood once they become aware of the King Egg’s presence and how the egg was part of a larger, older story about war. Like many of the dangerous mistakes wandering around Marvel’s comics universe, the King Egg’s origins lie with the Kree, a race keen on genetic tinkering as part of its goal of intergalactic conquest. More than simply interrupting the Brood’s methods of reproduction, the Kree’s plan for the King Egg was to wholly take control of the race, a prospect that came to terrify the Queens and Empress.
As the X-Men try to wrap their minds around what to do about the Brood, Jean Grey provides some important insight about how Queens see the world that makes them more compelling characters, even though the issue didn’t actually spend much time with them. To the Queens, the King Egg represented an upending of their entire existence at the top of the food chain, but also a dissolution of their identities, which were tied to the drones’ unshakable dedication to them. X-Men #9’s characterization of their hive-mind spelled out clearly what existing in a constant state of unchallengeable power can do to a singular being with almost infinite control and reach. There was a kind of poetry in Jean of all people expressing how the Empress’ hunger for power and dominance made her a force to be reckoned with—one born from the chaos of nature and responding to a decidedly unnatural twist of fate.
Unsettling as it was to see the Brood tearing people limb from limb, that was in their nature, and a big part of what made them formidable. The same can be said of cicada swarms as they overtake cities and fill the air with their incessant screams as they seek to fulfill their lifelong purpose of procreating before their imminent deaths. Typically, Brood swarms are merely driven away with Marvel’s heroes knowing that they’re bound to resurface sooner than later, but X-Men #9 closes out this chapter of the alien bugs’ story in a way that’s left many questions about the Brood’s future unanswered. There no telling when they are going to show up next, but when they do, they could end up being one of the more fascinating aspects of the X-Men’s next planet-sized adventure.
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