Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men swan song burns brightly

Two and a half years after he set the comic book world on fire with his re-creation of the X-Men line and the cannon in House X and Powers of X, Jonathan Hickman makes his exit Hell # 4. Even after writing 21 issues of X-Men, Hell turns out to be primarily a direct successor to House and Powers, which only incorporates beats from a few parts of the ongoing series that ran in the meantime. The point is driven home by the secret title hidden at the turning point of Hell # 4. As such, it is no surprise Hell # 4 closes the loop on the cornerstone of Hickman’s X-Men vision, which these series planted while leaving certain other pieces of shadow for his colleagues to revisit.

Picks up from previous issue, Hell # 4 sees Moira MacTaggert’s secret, which Magneto and Professor X justly guarded, revealed to a few rightfully outraged others. Hickman divides the structure of the problem into two separate narratives according to two different sets of consequences. The first sees Magneto and Professor X lured into an Orchis trap and forced to face their greatest fear, a completely online Nimrod with the Omega Sentinel by his side. The other sees Mystique and Destiny finally get their fingers in Moira MacTaggert and, flipping the tables, decide what should become of Moira X.

Valerio Schiti and Stefano Casselli share the artwork on the subject, but it still manages to feel cohesive with the help of colorist David Curiel. The fight with Nimrod should have a familiar cadence for fans who are gradually following this X-Men era, with plenty of half-spray to bring a sense of scale without filling up too much. The scenes with Mystique and Destiny are more intimate, structured in the same way as their first faceoff in House X, by using a 9-panel grid and being careful to keep the conversation scene tense and fast-paced. Both endeavors are successful and achieve the desired result, though it is the last splash page in the question that lingers on an ominous tone that steals the show.

Throughout Hell, especially this question, there has been the persistent feeling that a narrative piece is missing. It’s not hard to understand why Emma Frost is angry that Professor X and Magneto kept Moira secret, and it’s clear why Mystique and Destiny would be furious at Moira’s attempts to keep them separate. And this personal grudge and the unpacking of true motivations turns out to be more than enough to lead this issue to its conclusion, where Hickman and the company set the pace with the kind of clockwork precision fans that have come to expect.

Yet the broader implications are not well established. Given what Krakoa means to mutantism, it seems that everyone involved in its creation and control would not have behaved differently if they had known Moira than they did without that knowledge. The conclusion on the issue – which means that the Council provides this information and those responsible for keeping it secret is re-supported – supports this view. The threat disappeared somewhere along with the reasons for keeping these secrets in the first place.

And that may be the point. As Hell when its conclusion, it sets in on the idea that when they founded Krakoa, by building this supposed mutant reserve, they also forged the bars in a prison. Mutants are virtually immortal now, and they have created a nation that should survive the apocalypse. Yet Hell ends with the feeling that the Silence Council has trapped itself in a burning building that will forever be engulfed in flames without ever burning down.

That excitement has been the signature of Hickman’s race on the X-Men and most of his Marvel Comics work. What happens when great men commit to great deeds? It’s complicated. In this case, it does not take long before a nation built on progress and change begins to stagnate under the weight of its fundamental doctrine, unable to escape the shadow of its flawed founders. Judging whether Krakoa’s existence marks the mutants as heroes or villains has become a sort of Rorschach test for X-Men fans. Hickman offers no easy answers when he leaves, only new threats and a complex web of broken trust and state secrets. It’s a fascinating and compelling way to end this era, though it may not quite match the brilliance of how it all began.

Published by Marvel comics

On January 5, 2022

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art of Valerio Schiti and Stefano Caselli

Colors of David curiel

Letters of Joe Sabino

Cover Jerome Opeña and Frank Martin

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