I mentioned in my issue #3 review how much this current storyline evokes the X-Men: The Animated Series episode “The Final Decision.” As dramatic and weighty as that episode is, at the end of the day it’s still an episode of an all-ages cartoon. There has to be a happy ending at the end of the journey. Hickman and artist Pepe Larraz clearly aren’t playing by that same set of rules. This issue is a direct counterpoint to the hope and optimism of House of X #1. It steers this saga into darker territory and suggests that even Moira’s ambitious approach to her tenth life could all be in vain. The state of the franchise is vastly different at the end of this issue compared to the beginning of issue #3.
It could be argued that Hickman and Larraz are overplaying their hand a little. The new developments in issue #4 are so significant it seems there’s no way of moving forward without hitting a reset button. But rather than deflate the tension of the story and lessen its impact, that sense that “things can’t stick” only adds to the intrigue. The story can only move forward with more big thinking and significant alterations to the status quo. Previous issues offer several clues as to what that might involve.And whether or not a big reset is in store, this issue succeeds because it resonates so strongly. At some point it doesn’t really matter if these events stick. So little in corporate superhero comics truly does. Hickman and Larraz succeed in highlighting the core relationships fueling the X-Men and capitalizing on those relationships as the X-Men confront oblivion. They face this impossible mission with equal parts heroism, fear, resignation and grace.
Visually and emotionally, this issue reaches its peak during a sequence focused on Nightcrawler and Wolverine. Hickman’s writing elegantly convey’s Kurt’s spiritual strength and Logan’s unease at the prospect of an end to his eternal life. Larraz and colorist Marte Gracia beautifully render the two figures against a blazing sun and the wreckage of a disintegrating robot monstrosity. This exploration of their friendship is a welcome reminder that, however much continuity may be affected by Moira’s time meddling, the emotional core of the franchise remains firmly in place.
House of X just keeps getting better, even as the X-Men find their bright new future crumbling into ash. Issue #4 ups the stakes considerably, even as it focuses on the rich emotional core of the conflict. This issue proves that no matter how much the continuity of the franchise may change, the characters and their relationships retain the same appeal they’ve always had.