Inferno #4 Review: Jonathan Hickman's X-Men Swan Song Burns Bright

Two and a half years after setting the comic book world on fire with his reimagining of the X-Men line and canon in House of X and Powers of X, Jonathan Hickman makes his exit in Inferno #4. Even after writing 21 issues of X-Men, Inferno proves to be primarily a direct sequel to House and Powers, incorporating beats from only a few installments of the ongoing series that ran in the interim. The point is driven home by the secret title hidden at the turning point of Inferno #4. As such, it's no surprise that Inferno #4 closes the loop on the cornerstone of Hickman's X-Men vision that those series planted while leaving certain other bits of foreshadowing for his colleagues to revisit.

Picking up from the previous issue, Inferno #4 sees Moira MacTaggert's secret, which Magneto and Professor X righteously guarded, laid bare to a few rightfully outraged others. Hickman splits the issue's structure into two separate narratives following two different sets of repercussions. The first sees Magneto and Professor X lured into an Orchis trap and forced to face their greatest fear, a fully online Nimrod with the Omega Sentinel at its side. The other sees Mystique and Destiny finally getting their hands on Moira MacTaggert and, reversing the tables, deciding what will become of Moira X.

Valerio Schiti and Stefano Casselli split art duties on the issue, but it still manages to feel cohesive with the help of colorist David Curiel. The battle with Nimrod should have a familiar cadence to fans following this era of X-Men by now, with plenty of half-splashes to bring a sense of scale without taking up too much space. The scenes with Mystique and Destiny are more intimate, structured similarly to their initial faceoff in House of X, making use of a 9-panel grid being careful to keep the conversational scene tense and fast-paced. Both efforts are successful and achieve the desired outcome, though it's the final splash page of the issue, lingering on an ominous note, that steals the show.

Throughout Inferno, especially this issue, there's been the lingering sense that a narrative piece is missing. It isn't hard to understand why Emma Frost is angry that Professor X and Magneto kept Moira a secret, and it's clear why Mystique and Destiny would be enraged with Moira's attempts to keep them apart. And these personal grudges and unpacking of true motivations prove more than sufficient to carry this issue to its conclusion, with Hickman and company pacing out the beats with the kind of clockwork precision fans have come to expect.

Yet,  the broader implications aren't well established. Considering what Krakoa means to mutantdom, it seems like everyone involved in its creation and governance would have behaved no differently had they known about Moira than they did without that knowledge. The conclusion to the issue—which sees Council procuring that information and those responsible for keeping it secret reinstated—supports that notion. The threat got lost somewhere, along with the reasons for keeping these secrets in the first place.

And maybe that's the point. As Inferno reaches its conclusion, it hones in on the idea that, in founding Krakoa, in building this supposed mutant sanctuary, they've also forged the bars of a prison. Mutants are practically immortal now, and they've created a nation meant to outlast the apocalypse. Yet Inferno ends with the sense that the Quiet Council has trapped themselves in a burning building that will forever be engulfed in flames without ever burning down.

That tension has been the signature of Hickman's run on the X-Men and most of his Marvel Comics work. What happens when great men commit to great works? It's complicated. In this case, it doesn't take long for a nation built on progress and change to begin to stagnate under the weight of its founding doctrine, unable to escape the shadow of its flawed founders. Judging whether or not Krakoa's existence marks the mutants as heroes or villains has become a Rorschach test of sorts for X-Men fans. Hickman offers no easy answers in his leaving, only new threats and a complex web of broken trust and state secrets. It's a fascinating and compelling way to end this era, even if it can't quite match the brilliance of how it all began.

Published by Marvel Comics

On January 5, 2022

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Valerio Schiti and Stefano Caselli

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Colors by David Curiel

Letters by Joe Sabino

Cover by Jerome Opeña and Frank Martin