REVIEW: X-Men #20 – Burning Hearts

x-men #20

The future looms as Nimrod awakens! Unfortunately for Orchis, Mystique has annihilation on her mind in the penultimate issue of Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men.

X-Men #20

VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Sunny Gho (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Francesco Mobii (artist), Tom Muller (design)
Marvel Comics
May 26, 2021

x-men #20

The tables are set, the champagne is flowing, but before we can raise our glasses and toast the newly elected X-Men at the Hellfire Gala, X-Men #20 has some unfinished business. We return to the threat posed on the final panels of X-Men #1, with Dr. Alia Gregor bringing Nimrod online in an attempt to “resurrect” her late husband’s consciousness inside the Sentinel.

Mystique is on a different but no less desperate quest. She smuggles a microscopic singularity generator onto the Orchis Forge to wipe out Nimrod with a black hole. Why carry out this suicide mission? Xavier and Magneto have promised to return her wife to her via the Resurrection Protocols. And if they deny her again, revenge won’t be sweet. It will be scorching.

X-Men #20 is a powerful issue, though its inevitability dulls its impact. You don’t have to look at the bright pink death machine on the cover to know that Nimrod’s awakening wasn’t an if but a when despite the mutants’ best attempts to defy fate. The sequel to X-Men #6, which featured Mystique’s first Orchis mission, this comic plays many of the same notes. I can almost hear “Previously, on X-Men…” right before the kick-ass ‘90s theme song rolls. Mystique infiltrates Orchis, Mystique learns they haven’t stopped Nimrod, Mystique dies and returns, Mystique seethes as Magneto and Xavier refuse to resurrect Destiny, the story ends with Destiny’s ominous words about Krakoa’s future…x-men #20What was it I was saying about setting tables? I don’t mean to sound disappointed or frustrated because this comic is engaging, finely crafted, and fast-paced, even if we don’t move very far. The fact that Omega Sentinel and Killian Devo are pretty much standing in the same spot they were in X-Men #1 doesn’t alleviate that sense of inertia. Hickman is gathering the players and assembling the sets, but the main act is still months away.

Still, Hickman delivers a sharp script that is well-matched with Mobii’s art. Together, they create a Nimrod who is fascinatingly alive even without a human consciousness or a face capable of expressing emotion. (Not even a loving embrace with his wife can distract Nimrod from identifying the mutant in the room.) A giant mutant death robot capable of feeling loss and regret is far more terrifying than one that just atomizes you with its heat vision.

Francesco Mobii illustrates a compelling Mystique espionage story, showing slick ease of motion as she shifts from one shape to another—including the form of her late wife. But Mystique doesn’t need to shapeshift to meet her doppelganger, Alia Gregor. The issue may have debunked my suspicion that Mystique had killed and replaced Gregor off-panel to use Nimrod as a weapon against the Quiet Council, but they are driven by the same all-consuming desire. X-Men #20 is titled “Lost Love,” and both women are willing to shatter the laws of science and nature to resurrect their loved ones.

“My only concern…is love.” A beautiful sentiment, Alia! Except, oh yes, you put the memories and consciousness of your dead husband inside a walking, talking engine of genocide. Alia Gregor’s grief isn’t profound. It annihilates everything in its path and, with Nimrod now online, threatens to devour the very future itself. Speaking of dark futures: Mystique intends to keep her promise to Destiny and burn Krakoa to the ground. That is another kind of annihilation born from grief. And there is no way of knowing who else, guilty or innocent, will be caught in the blaze.

Still, our sympathy lies with Mystique as the resurrection of her wife dangles out of her reach on the orders of a woman Mystique thought she killed. (Oh hi, Moira. Read any good books lately?) Ruthless people dealing with ruthless people—as Forge tells Mystique when she visits him to acquire the singularity generator, the worst weapon he made was “a gun that turned us into them.” Embedded in the promise of Krakoa is freedom from the old, human ways of thinking—to become something else, something more. Krakoa must evolve beyond cruelty, deceit, hatred, and fear if it is to survive. Anything less, and the inevitability of mutantkind may become obsolescence.

Nimrod is here. The end is near. The penultimate issue to an era-defining X-Men run, X-Men #20 is the slow burn that leads to an inferno.

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.

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