REVIEW: X-Factor #4: X of Swords Part 2: Chekhov’s Rockslide

Banner for X-Factor 4 (2020) showing Polaris standing triumphantly

X-Factor #4 doubles as X of Swords part 2, with regular writer Leah Williams returning alongside guest artist Carlos Gomez. I was equally excited for the next installment of X of Swords and frustrated that this wasn’t a regular issue of X-Factor, but the creative team delivered on both counts. This issue features an emotional action-packed chapter of X of Swords, while still reflecting the ongoing themes of X-Factor.

X-Factor #4

Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Carlos Gomez (Art), Ivan Shavrin (Cover Art) Israel Silva (Colors) Tom Muller (Design), Leah Williams (Writer)
Marvel Comics
September 30, 2020

X-Factor looks on scared and confused as a resurrected mutant struggles back to life. Cover to X-Factor 4 (2020) by Williams, Gomez, Shavrin, Muller, Silva, and Caramagna

This chapter ramps up the stakes for X of Swords and foreshadows future plot points. We see the immediate aftermath of last chapter’s failed investigation, with Rockslide, Rictor, and Apocalypse all fatally wounded. As they each struggle with dying, Krakoa struggles to successfully resurrect them. With Rachel Summers, Polaris, and the Five all heavily featured, it’s understandable why this chapter takes place in X-Factor, even if I wish X of Swords wasn’t quite such an intrusive crossover.

Polaris struggles to deliver prophecies and save Rockslide in page 35 of X-Factor 4 (2020) by Williams, Gomez, Shavrin, Muller, Silva, and Caramagna
Polaris delivers Saturnyne’s prophecies and struggles to save Rockslide, while Xavier and Magneto look on horrified. Page 35 of X-Factor 4 (2020) by Williams, Gomez, Shavrin, Muller, Silva, and Caramagna

Both this issue and the crossover as a whole feature a strange mix of mutants, but the creators succeeded in making me care. We feel Rockslide’s sadness and confusion as the Five fails to revive him. I’ve only encountered him in passing before, but I genuinely felt sad and upset at his failed resurrection and death. It’s tough though to not just view him as a plot device. He is a lesser-known expendable mutant, and his death establishes the unreliability of resurrections in the crossover. This likely foreshadows a bigger more famous mutant who will die in a more dramatic fashion later on, and possibly be revived as a different version of themself. Williams and Gomez succeeded in making me care, despite recognizing this as a necessary moment of foreshadowing and establishing the stakes.

Conversely, I know Apocalypse well, both as a villain and more recently as an antihero. He is a tragic figure, not because he won’t come back (he likely will), but because of the betrayal he suffers. Williams and Gomez convey both his immense frustration, surprise, and disappointment towards his former Horsemen, and his genuine care for Rictor and the mutants on his team. His sunlit death here only furthers his journey into proper good-guy territory.

Polaris builds a shrine using former pieces of Rockslide, while Magneto watches Apocalypse die. Page 38 of X-Factor 4 (2020) by Williams, Gomez, Shavrin, Muller, Silva, and Caramagna
Polaris builds a shrine using former pieces of Rockslide, while Magneto watches Apocalypse die in page 38 of X-Factor 4 (2020) by Williams, Gomez, Shavrin, Muller, Silva, and Caramagna

In contrast, his death gives Magneto an opportunity to act like a proper bastard, saying “I doubt anyone shall grieve your absence.” This shouldn’t be surprising though, he’s a condescending git all issue to Polaris. Meanwhile she does the actual work of bringing Saturnyne’s prophecy to Krakoa and setting things up for the next proper Otherworld confrontation.

After the failure and repair of the resurrection protocols and Cerebro, the Council can’t guarantee what will happen to future mutants injured in and around Otherworld. This warning (bookended with four exclamation points) tells all mutants that ‘final death’ is a real possibility. In the final scenes, we see Polaris mourning Rockslide, Doug Ramsey decoding the titular ten swords, and Magik stepping up to the plate. I have to wonder which of those mutants will be the one who succumbs to a final death over the course of this story. I can’t imagine they all make it, and the mix of warnings and mourning placed right next to a list of prominent mutants telegraphs pretty hard that someone’s days are numbered. With all the talk of Champions and otherworldly battles, I realized how much this is just a dressed up mutant version of Contest of Champions or Secret Wars or half of Marvel’s events. And honestly, it doesn’t bother me one bit because it’s well done.

Info page showing Cypher's decoding of the prophecy of the X of Swords in X-Factor 4 (2020) by Williams, Gomez, Shavrin, Muller, Silva, and Caramagna
Cypher decodes the prophecy of the X of Swords in this text page from the end of X-Factor 4 (2020) by Williams, Gomez, Shavrin, Muller, Silva, and Caramagna

It’s a testament to the success of this issue that I had fun reading it and left with little frustration or annoyance. That sounds like faint praise, but it really isn’t. This is issue four in an ongoing series, issue two in a twenty-two part crossover event, and reflects storylines from both the past year and decades past. Sure, that’s just the nature of cape comics; but it’s a part of superhero comics that usually frustrates and annoys me, and the kind of thing I actively avoid. Yet somehow Jonathan Hickman and his band of merry Marvel creators have succeeded in getting me to buy in (literally and emotionally). Hell, next week I plan on happily buying an issue of Wolverine.

Sasha Fraze

Sasha Fraze

Sasha Fraze is a professional comic book gremlin. You can find her on Twitter at @schlocking where she's probably sharing random thoughts about comics new and old or retweeting trans news and memes.

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