…Did I leave the iron on?
David Curiel (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), VC’s Joe Sabino (letterer), Valerio Schiti (artist)
Sept. 28, 2021
“Yes, we are all monsters.” So says Destiny in the burning laboratory strewn with dead bodies, addressing the restrained woman who is about to die at her command. As terrifying as Destiny is in this moment, with her masked face as unyielding and incapable of mercy as a marble bust, she, at least, knows what she is. Moira, the object of her ire, is a monster who thinks she’s a saint. In the last few moments of Moira’s (third) life, Destiny directly and violently disabuses her of that idea. Having created a “cure” for the x-gene in a spell of naivete and self-hatred, Moira must now reckon with herself and do better.
“Change or die” is Destiny’s command, one that has reverberated throughout the entirety of Jonathan Hickman’s tenure on the X-Men. The most resilient monsters are not skulking in the fiery wreckage of a mad scientist’s lair; they’re coiled in the shadows of the human heart.
Inferno #1 is the final match strike for Hickman and the X-Men. Having covered most of his run since House of X #1 in 2019, I had hoped that this issue wouldn’t come so soon. Still, even if Hickman’s X-Men run feels abbreviated (by his own hand, it must be said), he and artist Valerio Schiti imbue this first issue with an intensity that has been years in the making. This comic is one that will make the reader think with absolute clarity: “Ah, so it has all come down to this.”
And not just because Inferno loops back to the beginning and the enigmatic first pages of House of X #1. Of course, this time, events unfold a little differently. Professor X is no longer the proud parent presiding over the rebirth of his children; here, he is the child, freshly hatched from an egg in Krakoa’s Cradle at the feet of a smirking Emma Frost. Proudly wearing the Cerebro helmet, it is now Emma’s turn to say the line: “To me, my X-Men.” (This is not the only scene signaling a change in the old guard, but more on that below.)
Thankfully, this comic isn’t just Hickman and Schiti recontextualizing previous scenes. It builds on the foundation of past issues, with surprising, even hilarious results: King Broo and his Brood army have a cameo, as do Hordeculture and, in all callback to the funniest joke in X-Men #1, the Orchis apes with PhDs.
Still, there is an aura of grim finality to the story, with the X-Men caught in a feedback loop of death and resurrection. Despite their increasingly creative attacks on the Orchis Forge, the Krakoan forces fail to destroy Nimrod, and worse, the hiccup in the Resurrection Protocols that doesn’t restore their memories after their last backup means none of them can learn from their losses. (In a wonderfully macabre bit of set dressing from Schiti, Omega Sentinel and the Orchis scientists gather around vats preserving adamantium skeletons left behind by various vaporized Wolverines.) “Change or die” was Destiny’s warning, and so far, there has been too much dying.
Magneto, the Master of Magnetism, suggests something that has never been tried before: befriending the machines. Moira, now thoroughly burrowed in her tenth life, says they might as well “trust cancer,” which is an interesting choice of words given that she once described mutation as a “disease.” Accusations fly amongst the three founders of Krakoa as they assess their failures. I have seen the usual “Professor Xavier is a jerk!” reactions online regarding his paternalism. I’m sure a reckoning is coming on that point (something happens to put him in that egg, after all), but Moira also loses any claim on being the voice of reason. In HoXPoX, we see Moira, with thousands of years behind her, intentionally seeking out the young Xavier so that she could break his idealism and mold him to suit her purposes. Considering the long, twisted arc of that relationship, if Xavier is a monster, he is – like that Omega Level Mutant son who Moira never talks about, hmm – a monster of her own making.
Which is all to say – oh god this is the good shit.
More change is brewing on Krakoa, including the Quiet Council’s appointment of Bishop and Psylocke as the nation’s newest Captains. In a book called Inferno, this is the warmest scene. Colorist Daniel Curiel gives the ceremony the glow of a sunset, with the characters bathed in ruby reds and golden rays, with an added splash of aquamarine. Valerio Schiti’s art is similarly warm and inviting, conveying years of unity and friendship in Storm and Bishop’s smiles as she lays a laurel wreath on his brow. One could view this ceremony as Hickman’s big meta moment – Cyclops steps down as Captain, welcoming Bishop into the role with an arm around his shoulder and promises of drinks in Madripoor. Hickman is no longer Head of X, but the characters and their stories are in the trusted hands of writers and artists who have already ushered in a new era of creative synergy for the X-books. X-Men, after all, has always been a team book.
Oh, there is someone very important I haven’t mentioned yet, have I? If I’m writing about this miniseries recontextualizing the X-Men’s past and invoking the word “meta,” I should note that Hickman and Schiti’s Inferno has nothing to do with the 80s event about a demonically-possessed New York City. Except that both Infernos happen to be about pissed-off redheaded women who have loved and lost very badly. To say more about Mystique would intrude on a final scene that readers should experience for themselves, but her plan to burn Krakoa to the ground takes a deliciously wicked turn.
Inferno #1 is the beginning of the end of Hickman’s X-Men. If Krakoa survives, what secrets – about Moira, Destiny, or Orchis – will come to light? And what will remain in the shadows?
They say it isn’t the fire that kills you – it’s the smoke.