Hanging with the HiX-Men is a series of reviews of Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men comics, followed by a spotlight of a specific scene and an eventual analysis of each overall arc once it is concluded. It’s what happens when a longtime X-Men fan has his love for the franchise reinvigorated by a beloved writer who has written some of his favourite comics. With that in mind… Welcome to the HiX-Men, hope you survive the experience.
House of X #4
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Pencils by Pepe Larraz
Colours by Marte Gracia
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Cover price: $4.99 USD
After the complex set-up of previous issues of House of X and Powers of X, House of X #4 is a simple action comic where the stakes are clear. However, Jonathan Hickman’s usual excellent dialogue lend it a gravitas while the setup of previous issues (and future ones) allows him to play with expectations. House of X #4 is just an excellent blockbuster comic.
Knowing that Orchis activating their Mother Mold will result in the dystopian future scene in Powers of X, Xavier orders the X-Men to destroy it by any means necessary. With Orchis stationed near Earth’s sun, this means the X-Men need to take a trip through space, destroy the Mother Mold and make it back. However, after last issue’s hiccup in the form of a bomb going off underneath the Blackbird, the X-Men are left scrambling to complete their mission.
With the stakes clearly established, Hickman is able to write another great linear issue where he delivers some hefty emotional scenes. The comic is written like anyone can die, even though the X-Men have knowledge of the future and we as readers have knowledge of, well, future issues. However, the conviction with which Hickman writes this, and the daring execution that plays off of readers’ meta-knowledge does wonders for presenting an action comics starring characters we like that actually has some risk to it while not feeling frustrating in how it handles certain moments. It also means that his ending is one that hits hard, closing the issue on a big bang.
While it would be easy to lose sight of characters in this type of fast-paced action comic, Hickman’s deft handling of them is what makes this comic stand out. Despite the intense moments and brisk pace of the issue, characters are still given moments where they stand out. Small touches, like Mystique’s defiance towards Cyclops or big moments like Wolverine and Nightcrawler’s talk about the afterlife, it all does an excellent job making these feel like characters we should care about during this conflict. But despite all this, Hickman doesn’t forget about the moral ambiguity he’s spent several issues developing, presenting very human villains that, although committing some terrible deeds, still feel relatable on some level to not make this a good vs. evil conflict for the most part. In addition, Xavier is still remarkably creepy and his cult-like, militant nature is all the more present in this issue.
Once again, Pepe Larraz’s pencils shine. With almost the entirety of the issue taking place on a space station, Larraz is able to let loose with some great backgrounds complimented beautifully by Marte Gracia’s always excellent colours. Larraz’s lush sci-fi imagery is genuinely beautiful and attention-grabbing. The depiction of Krakoa as almost purely organic is taken up a notch with this issue. The depiction of a telepathic communication pool as it were is beautiful sci-fi imagery and only adds to this world that Hickman is building, one that heels new and fresh.
Characters are remarkably expressive. While this issue does not lend itself well to much subtlety given its bombastic nature, characters react in big ways to the events around them. There are moments of subtlety, however, such as Wolverine and Nightcrawler’s conversation, which is beautifully bathed in an almost heavenly light by Gracia to further the imminence of their deaths.
House of X #4 delivers some excellent payoff to elements of Hickman’s run. However, its escalation and the smaller characters moments elevate it beyond just a good sci-fi action comic. Now that we have moved passed the halfway point of Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X storyline, things are moving into high gear, and I cannot wait to see how Hickman ends these series.
4/5 – Great
Scene Spotlight: Falling Towards the Light
The scene that stood out the most and I think was brilliantly executed would definitely be Wolverine and Nightcrawler’s heroic sacrifice.
While I’m spotlighting the entire scene, really, it’s this page that deserves the most credit. Hickman does an excellent job writing Wolverine and Nightcrawler here, with beautiful dialogue that feels right for the characters that also feels poignant yet brief.
The smaller panels at the top of the page create a great sense of intimacy between Wolverine and Nightcrawler as they share their final words. Nightcrawler is more forthcoming, with his more expressive face and looking directly at the reader. Wolverine, in contrast, is more stoic and reserved, never wavering from looking at his goal.
Nightcrawler and Wolverine are centred in the wide panel. as we see them in silhouette, facing each other as Nightcrawler reassures Wolverine that he’ll make it to Heaven. The light from the window almost seems like a doorway to the afterlife they discussed. And then Nightcrawler teleports them outside.
This page is mostly just action things happening, but Larraz and Gracia do some excellent work all things considered. The visceral but understated way that Nightcrawler’s flesh is burned from his body, the lack of reaction as Wolverine, knowing that this was going to happen and having already made peace with it, just gets to work, it’s all excellent. And before the page is done, we get a hint at what could have caused the dystopian future seen in Powers of X, with the Mother Mold’s dialogue.
The huge head of the Mother Mold is drenched in shadow creating a sense of foreboding. Then, finally, our scene closes in a beautiful way, as Wolverine succeeds and sends the Mother Mold, and himself, plummeting into the sun. The son’s light begins to engulf them both and the light encompasses the entire panel as the X-Men have succeeded in averting their dark future.
I think this entire scene is very well done, but the first page in particular is just wonderful. It’s a great moment for Wolverine and Nightcrawler, even if you don’t know their history, and the dialogue, art and colours all work together to deliver it. While there’s no way all of the X-Men who died in this issue will stay dead — they already implied Xavier can regenerate his X-Men in the first scene of Hickman’s run with Cyclops’ restored right eye — for a final mission, this issue was great, and Wolverine and Nightcrawler’s last act was the best part of it.
Damn you, solicited covers with text! Seriously, I like to use the solicited covers just because they look nice and don’t have text, but if you’re going to add text, Marvel, then it defeats the purpose! Except that one time the solicited cover showed Nightcrawler and Magik and the release cover showed Cardinal and Rasputin, which was a bait-and-switch that did not feel necessary at all.
Powers of X is up next week and, with the dystopian future averted, I’m curious what it will be about. Probably what Xavier, Moira and Magneto got up to in the past, maybe some stuff with Mystique and Destiny given Mystique dies this issue, so… huh. Maybe Xavier won’t be keen to bring her back with some prodding from Moira. Or maybe it was part of the plan to get rid of her. Regardless, I’m curious what’s going to happen next… even though I’m sure Xavier, Moira and Magneto either die or are left in a weird place, seeing as none of them are slated to appear in a Dawn of X title. That and it just seems to make sense for them to sacrifice everything to ensure that the X-Men have a proper chance to make things work.
Next week is going to be a bit weird for this blog. My last assignment for the year — well, mostly — is going to be creeping up and I need to get a head start on it. Absolute Carnage was pretty light this week and I’m not sure if I’m going to keep reviewing everything and not just issue 1 of new series. Next week is a bit bigger, especially with the Ghost Rider tie-in that is weirdly enough written by Ed Brisson… the writer of the upcoming Ghost Rider ongoing, so it’s weird that we got a short story in Marvel Comics Presents and then a tie-in to a Venom event of all things before the ongoing proper starts.
Anyway, see you next time for Powers of X #4!