The final indelible image of House of X #1 features Magneto in Jerusalem, resplendent in white, the sun glinting off his helmet. His words provide not only a stunning cliffhanger, but a statement of purpose for the entire X-line going forward: “You have new gods now.” X-Men #4, by Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu,
The final indelible image of House of X #1 features Magneto in Jerusalem, resplendent in white, the sun glinting off his helmet. His words provide not only a stunning cliffhanger, but a statement of purpose for the entire X-line going forward: “You have new gods now.” X-Men #4, by Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu, is the spiritual sequel to that issue, and vibrates with all the status-quo shattering urgency of House of X at its best. This is all the more notable because X-Men #4 takes place entirely during a dinner at the World Economic Forum. Try the watermelon gazpacho, I hear it’s delicious.
Gerry Alanguilan (inker), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sonny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), Leinil Francis Yu (artist)
January 1, 2020
We begin with the Autumn Council—Magneto, Professor X, and Apocalypse–arriving in Davos, Switzerland to meet with international guests and representatives. The mutant nation of Krakoa is only a month old, but its birthing cries have been heard all over the world, and the mood is tense. At dinner, the Council makes clear its plans for the future. But like gritted teeth hiding behind a strained smile, two weapons teams are lurking behind the seemingly placid meal, waiting to strike if the meeting doesn’t go the way the human leaders want. Fortunately, the Autumn Council has brought protection in the form of Cyclops and the sword-wielding Gorgon. Two mutants against dozens of soldiers? You almost feel sorry for the humans.
In X-Men #4, Hickman and Yu have created the rare comic book that can make a bunch of talking heads discussing trade routes and drug regimens interesting. It is world-building in the sense that they’re literally building a new world. Hickman’s writing is, as always, sharp and incisive, jabbing at the absurdity of world events; try not to smirk at the ambassadors greeting the mutant named “Apocalypse” right before giving the obligatory toast “to peace.” The issue is detail-oriented and tactile, including an inspired use of one of Tom Muller’s data pages as a menu. When so many superhero comics feel like Post-it notes, Hickman and Yu give us the whole canvas.
Leinil Francis Yu employs the nine-panel grid format throughout the issue, cutting the story into neat, precise bites like Magneto cutting his steak. By framing the faces of Magneto, Xavier, and the other dinner guests in tight boxes (they truly are talking heads), every gesture feels significant: a raised glass, a hand touching an ear piece, a knife slicing meat. Yu’s masklike facial expressions are well-suited to the characters here, as the human representatives struggle to maintain their diplomatic facades while discussing war and probing the Krakoan councilmembers for their true intentions. (Only the envoy from Wakanda, Krakoa’s fellow fictional, futuristic nation, understands what’s really going on.) I also love the imagery of the Council and their bodyguards (even, and especially, Apocalypse!) neatly attired in suits—if the X-Men costumes are, as Hickman explains, “mutant clothes,” does wearing a normal human suit mean they are actually in costume?
Though Cyclops plays a smaller role here than in previous issues, his appearance counts; the nine-panel grid opens up whenever it cuts to Cyclops fighting the human soldiers, the panels literally bursting with power. Sonny Gho’s colors are critical for setting the issue’s mood. They contrast the sterile whiteness of the forum’s futurist architecture with the dark, almost subterranean hallways where the soldiers lurk—right until the panels explode with ruby red energy.
What’s engrossing about X-Men #4 is seeing how Hickman reveals the two levels of the story, the dinner and the battle, because to paraphrase the House of X and Powers of X ad copy, the two are one. Though all three Krakoan council members have important things to say, it is Magneto, again dressed in white, who is truly quotable here, his words are calm, but fueled by a cold, articulate fury. Much of his dialogue in X-Men #4 can be connected by a red thread to House of X #1 (“I believe in adaptation. You might even say it’s my religion.”) and I realized that it was that justified anger, that primal scream of “No More” in the face of humanity’s violence, that has been missing from even the best of the previous issues.
I have heard the refrain from certain fans that the new status quo has made the X-Men seem too scary, too cultish, too powerful, and no longer a sympathetic metaphor minority. And, yes, when Apocalypse towers like an obelisk over the human ambassadors and mentions that he, personally, ended the Bronze Age, I can see why people think that, though I stridently disagree. Call it adaptation or evolution, but the X-Men, Children of the Atom, are also children of change, and that gift is now empowering them to break the cycle of oppression and genocide that’s plagued them for hundreds of years and entire lifetimes. As Professor X reminds the table and the readers, it took only one month for humans to try to assassinate him as the founder of Krakoa. And they try again that very day.
Change can be an engine of hope. “In the past, I would have seized your country’s weapons of war and turned them on you,” says Magneto, and indeed, that was what he did in his very first appearance. But there will be no war, he insists, because mutants have learned other methods of influence and power to smother human oppression “like a fire with no oxygen.” Change can also be bloody. See Gorgon, blade in hand, standing over a broken pile of soldiers (and think again of the knife cutting into meat). Once he would have taken their heads, but in his new enlightened state, other limbs will do. I have to say, after the assassination in X-Force #1 and the octogenarian onslaught in X-Men #3, it’s thrilling to see such a sharp, definitive win for the X-Men.
But, of course, not everything has changed. Charles Xavier willingly removes his Cerebro helmet for the first time since House of X #1, looking humanity directly in the eye to say that even after his radicalization, his assassination, and his resurrection, part of him still believes in his original dream, that humanity and mutantkind can co-exist peacefully. The Pollyanna wistfulness is gone, however; this is the steely gaze of a father who loves you, is disappointed in you, and demands you be better. Better than betrayal, and fear, and murder.
Is humanity up for the challenge? I’m reminded of something else Magneto once said, though now I think of it in a different light: “Mankind no longer deserves dominion over the planet Earth! The day of the mutants is upon us!” That’s from another first issue, fifty-seven years ago: X-Men #1.