REVIEW: Empyre: X-Men #4: The End of an Empyre

The end of an empyre! Empyre: X-Men, that is. Can the X-Men survive the onslaught of the undead and the Cotati’s living doomsday weapon? Dani Kinney and Kayleigh Hearn survey the wreckage in Empyre: X-Men #4!

Empyre: X-Men #4

Adriano di Benedetto (artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Jorge Molina (artist), Tom Muller (design), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Lucas Werneck (artist, inker), Nolan Woodard (colorist)
Marvel Comics
August 19, 2020

Writer Jonathan Hickman teams up with Jorge Molina and Lucas Werneck to finish our tale of mutants, zombies, and aliens. To start with, we finally find out what happened to Scarlet Witch! What do we think of Wanda’s role in this series?

Dani Kinney: I had been preparing myself since issue #1 for the reality that this was not going to be a story about Scarlet Witch, but that she was going to be a stepping stone to another plot’s advancement. Overall I left this story somewhat unsatisfied. Most of her page time is mired by Dr. Strange’s hypocritical paternalism, as we watch Strange continuously high-road and patronize Wanda over her self-evident mistake. I also felt like her actions to undo her initial spell felt a little anticlimactic, and had more to do with Strange than with her. This is likely not the last time we will be hearing from Wanda, but I had hope for more. I hoped for a more nuanced dissection of her actions, a more introspective voice from Wanda, to demonstrate so much of the growth from her solo series, but what we got was a loud man in a cape solving her problem for her while chewing the scenery to rub her nose in her mistakes. I think the premise of Wanda’s actions in issue one had way more potential than what we got.

Kayleigh Hearn: Scarlet Witch essentially bookends the miniseries, and in retrospect I shouldn’t have expected more, since a proper reckoning between “The Pretender” and Krakoa is too big for a side-story like this. Hickman imbues Wanda with a mix of remorse and arrogance that I really responded to; even if her spell was done with the best of intentions, it was still a hugely presumptuous thing to do for a community she’s severely harmed. She tried to resurrect people who’d already been resurrected, so imagine the nightmare it would be if she’d succeeded! I don’t mean that to sound too harsh, however, since I do think Hickman’s Wanda is far, far more interesting than Uncanny Avengers‘ “Why was it so important more mutants be born?” Wanda. Strange is absolutely a prick here, though. “Oh well, let’s just hope no one comes to Genosha in thirty days!” You asshole, you couldn’t make one phone call?!

Explodey Boy, meet…Explodey Boy! In a surprisingly touching scene, the zombiefied Explodey Boy has a conversation with the resurrected Explodey Boy who’s been living on Krakoa. Did this affect your thoughts on the Resurrection Protocols in any way?

Dani: I think this scene stands out as some of the most nuanced writing of all four issues. I also think the art really compliments the slowness of this writing, in a good way. Amidst the chaos of the battle, we are treated to a truly surprising and heartwarming scene. It crafts an intimate moment, between differently subjective selves, something that only time travel and resurrection can really afford to characters. I like this scene, because it’s quiet and grounded, and this dialogue felt natural and real. This is the kind of use of the Protocols that I really delight in, the ways that it can present characters with conversations and confrontations that are so unique to the current paradigm. I also think this is a narrative seed, and we’re going to see similar situations play out like this in the future.

Kayleigh: Considering that their mutant powers are blowing shit up real good, I was impressed by how quiet and soft this scene was. It was weird and funny and off-kilter (should I ask what spiders smell like?) but strangely sweet. As much as it comes up on Twitter, none of us actually have the ability to sit down and talk to our past selves, even if they are bile-spewing reanimated husks of our original bodies. Genosha is the big psychic scar on mutantkind, so there’s something so subversively powerful about Explodey Boy sitting and talking about his first kiss, just living the life that is rightfully his and should have never been interrupted. This is why I still cringe when people still refer to the X-Men as a cult, because Krakoa and the Resurrection Protocols are about healing and restoration and giving people their lives back.

Though as a tie-in miniseries, this really didn’t have much to do with the Cotati or Empyre, did it? But hey, favorite X-Men moment?

Dani: Along the way, I have had to go back to be sure I wasn’t missing important tie-in content, convinced that I must have missed something. While I’m not following Empyre in its entirety, I really don’t know that I’ve gotten much more of the Cotati’s story from these issues. I feel like if you’re following other books and bought these issues because of the tie in, you may be disappointed. But X-books do have the tendency to hold their own space, even within larger events. That’s not always the case, but I do appreciate that these four issues didn’t feel like a massive disruption to the ongoing narrative, which events often do. Overall, I don’t know if this is a “favorite moment” but watching the Cuckoos rushing into battle in Krakoa Exo-Suits has really stuck with me.

Kayleigh: The why of this miniseries still escapes me, given that the main Hickman X-Men series also has two Empyre tie-in issues, and the Cotati don’t even feel like they’re the main instigators of the plot next to Wanda’s mutant mayhem. If I have to pick a favorite X-Men moment, and Explodey Boy isn’t technically an X-Man, despite the trainee uniform–I did love Lil Pollen Tom, who was an example of this series at its funniest and most inventive.

Final thoughts on Empyre: X-Men?

Dani: These four issues have felt really inconsistent, and looking back I really feel like the sheer volume of authorial input may have yielded a story that felt disjointed. It feels connected on an abstract narrative level, but issue by issue things feel lacking. I did find things along the way to really make me glad that I stuck with the story. I’m particularly excited because I think this sets up a much more prolonged story for Wanda, which I think will be a very fertile narrative ground to dig into. 

Kayleigh: A strong beginning and ending, but a mushy middle. There was a lot of playfulness and potential here, but as Dani said, the shifting creative teams never fully gelled and the results are inconsistent. Empyre: X-Men #4 is all the stronger because it has one authorial voice tying a big red ribbon around all the gushy, gory chaos; unfortunately, it still doesn’t transcend the inconsequential nature of comic book event tie-in minis. But thanks to Explodey Boy, you can’t say it didn’t go out with a bang.

Kayleigh Hearn

Kayleigh Hearn

Still waiting for her Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters acceptance letter. Bylines also at Deadshirt, Ms-En-Scene, The MNT, PanelxPanel, and Talk Film Society.