While 2019’s Dawn of X ended on a middling, muddled note, 2020 is off to an improved start, beginning with the energizing X-Men #4 by Jonathan Hickman and Lionel Francis Yu.
My Notes From the Review!
The issue features Professor X, Magneto, Apocalypse and their security detail of Cyclops and Gorgon heading to a global economics summit to discuss Krakoa’s newfound place in the world. The issue is full of Hickman’s riveting political tete a tete perfected in East of West, as well as the ethos of financial influence so elegantly explored in The Black Monday Murders. Honestly, in many ways X-Men #4 would have made a very sensible first issue, and I’m curious to explore why that is.
Today I’ll answer:
+ What makes X-Men #4 the best Hickman/Yu issue to date
+ The state of the Krakoa X-Men era heading into 2020!
Certainly there’s a surface level analysis of X-Men #4 that could reduce the issue to “people sitting around talking,” but there’s so much more happening here that addresses much of what I’ve been looking for in the Dawn of X. Whereas X-Men #3 was a wild curveball in the dirt (although I’m sure it’s not the last we’ll see of Hordeculture), issue #4 cuts directly to issues of Krakoa’s place in the world. We hear Magneto eloquently share mutantkind’s new plan for peaceful takeover, we see Professor X take Cerebro off for the first time (his X-Force #1 assassination not withstanding), and we learn of Krakoa’s ability to adapt to human hostility in the form of Gorgon’s security.
Hickman’s first three issues of X-Men are an intriguing blend of offbeat humor, seed planting (yes, sometimes literally, but mostly I’m thinking here of Arrako and the Summoners), and defying expectations. I’ve been torn between just enjoying the breath between HoX/PoX and what Mister Sinister calls in Incoming #1 “The great crossover in the sky,” and wanting to see the Dawn of X more directly proceed from the big ideas in HoX/PoX. This is less specific to just the X-Men comic book, but my biggest sense of disatification with Dawn of X has come from a feeling of untapped potential in the era’s launch: The Powers of X and Moira X timelines were the biggest hook of the opening event, and have been lost to way more familiar ground.
What X-Men can do instead, though, is answer the practicality of Krakoa in the Marvel Universe, and this is where X-Men #4 excels.
More specifically, though, what makes X-Men #4 the best Hickman/Yu issue to date?
A huge part is that Hickman revels in writing villains, especially villains that like to wax poetic over 9 panels. Prominent examples that come to mind are Archibald Chamberlain from East of West, or Doctor Doom from Fantastic Four / New Avengers / Secret Wars.
In X-Men Hickman has found a perfect new star with Magneto, who digs into his steak with relish, and unsurprisingly takes the lead explaining mutantkind’s promise to subsume political, financial, and institutional power in the world in order to effectively “take it over.”
This is another of Hickman’s wins, deflating long-running X-Men comic book tropes and replacing them with new ideas. The human politicians and leaders ask the mutant trinity if there will be war, if that’s what they want, and Magneto – of all people – assures them “there will be no war.” If for no other reason than to set the stage for his speech, explaining that war is an outdate form of mutant takeover, once he’s tried and failed at too many times. The new takeover is more insidious, more natural, and significantly harder to prevent.
Lionel Franics Yu has come under fire for his X-Men work, with the most consistent criticism that his detailed grim and serious work does not match the tone of what has frankly been a more comedic opening salvo from writer Jonathan Hickman. I don’t have much doubt that Yu’s one of the better artists working consistently at Marvel, but his role on this specific title has absolutely felt miscast. A case of creative collaboration based on pedigree rather than fit.
To Yu’s credit, his grim seriousness plays wonderfully throughout this tense conversation, particularly with Apocalypse unveiling arguably the greatest flex of all time, and certainly the best of 2020. I won’t spoil the joke beyond what’s shown here on the Youtube video, but suffice to say it pays to have a centuries old Celestial-powered mutant wearing a business suit in your meetings.
I also very much appreciate leaders of humankind questioning the mutant drugs that have allowed their rapid ascent to power on the global stage.
The very premise of House of X relies heavily on the idea that mankind would believe Krakoan drugs are as effective and safe as mutantkind claims. I am not necessarily looking for the FDA’s memos on testing (although that does feel like a possible data page) but it does feel noteworthy that the likes of Wakanda has denied a need for these drugs whereas other nations have accepted. Now, at first glance I’d imagine T’Challa, Shuri and company simply do not want to be held at the whims of Krakoa, but it could also be that their science doubts the efficacy of these drugs, or has found more Sinister – pun intended – intent.
The biggest moment of the issue, though, is one honestly months in the making, with Professor X both addressing his successful* assassination and outright discussing his perceived change of heart regarding his dream for peace between humans and mutants. Throughout the Hickman era in 2019 the Professor’s motivations have come under the most scrutiny with many long time X-Men fans labeling him an outright villain following his shift in demeanor and behavior.
I don’t know if it’s as simple as the removal of Cerebra, but Professor X sharing his belief in his dream feels more like the character of old, and less like the final House of X version with his mind broken by Moira X. It’s a huge moment, with Professor X revealing himself, and sharing that even with the attempt on his life, he still wants to believe in his original dream.
He can’t though, and not just because of what he’s seen via Moira. No, it’s been one month since humans tried to kill him on Krakoa, and here representatives of humanity are planning to murder them all yet again, but for the intervention of Cyclops and Gorgon.
I suppose it’s partially because I’m trained to root for the X-Men, but the moments where the Krakoan nation comes out on top and displays the extent of their power are inherently thrilling. Professor X, Magneto, Apocalypse, Cyclops and Gorgon all leave this meeting having fully revealed their plans to shape the world, and with Gorgon dismembering entire swaths of armed forces.
So what does it all mean for the state of the Krakoa X-Men era heading into 2020?
First off, hopefully more of Hickman writing on the international mutant relations scale. While episodic in nature, the throughline of the first four issues is Scott Summer’s role as Captain Commander of the X-Men. I enjoy these stories, but they do not capture the state of mutant affairs as effectively as everything to do with Professor X, Magneto, and Apocalypse. Ben Percy, Joshua Cassara and the X-Force team have done a good job owning some of this responsibility throughout the Dawn of X, but I’m eager for Hickman to lay claim to substantially more of it as he does here.
The focus on Gorgon here, and the data page explaining his role as security for the Quiet Council, also has me hopeful for a run focusing on these stories – or perhaps specifically arcs alternating between Krakoa’s captains.
This framing – especially Gorgon with the Quiet council – promises to keep X-Men at the heart of Krakoan developments, rather than the off the beaten path adventures that have shaped the book’s early stories.