Off The Shelf: Sam Reviews Inferno #4

This time for Off The Shelf, Sam reviews Jonathan Hickman’s final (probably, maybe) X-Men comic, Inferno #4. Is it turnt up or burnt down?

Hello and welcome to Off The Shelf, our ongoing series reviewing recent comics, where today I’ll be reviewing Inferno #4, written by Jonathan Hickman, art by Valerio Schiti and Stefano Caselli, and colors by David Curiel.

It’s hard not to compare Hickman’s run on X-Men to the legendary Grant Morrison run from May 2001 to March 2004. Morrison changed things up by revamping major characters, amping up the emotional drama and angst, and letting his fertile imagination run loose. Hickman’s work will also go down as a touchstone in the series, and the fallout from Inferno will likely impact the title for years to come. However while Morrison tried to streamline and demystify the X-Men, Hickman sought to re-mystify them and expand them far beyond the confines of their usual world. His work is often multi-layered and dense, written with the long view in mind. Which brings us to the concluding chapter of his Inferno limited series, which serves to basically end his run as the writer for X-Men and other titles.

Inferno serves as a bookend to the HoX/PoX series, which earns a close re-read after getting through Inferno. HoX/PoX set the stage and named the stakes for all that followed, and Inferno serves to answer some of the lingering questions and problems that were left open when the former series ended.

Inferno #4 serves as a bit of a head-fake for readers who have been anticipating what was assumed to be the collapse of Krakoan government. After all, this was prefaced by threats to “burn it all down” for some time now. However what is “burned down” is not Krakoa but the trust it had in its leaders: Magneto and Professor X. It’s clear by the end of the issue and the series that their leadership has diminished considerably. Emma Frost, who revealed the truth about Moira, Charles and Eric to the quiet council between their deaths at the hands of Nimrod and their resurrection, has now risen to be perhaps the only truly trustworthy member of the council. We see her more than once towering over the helpless newly-made bodies of them both, striking Xavier’s pose and saying, “to me, my X-Men”. After their last resurrection, she tells Eric and Charles that there will be no more secrets kept from the council. Xavier is singled out though, as Emma rightfully expresses the sentiments of all those gathered that he is “our leader of mutants-the most guilty of all of us”.

This will represent a significant turn in the lives of the mutants of Krakoa. One theme we’ve seen throughout this series has been the painful power of secrets and how they eventually come to light. How long will it be before the cracks in the quiet council (excellently artistically foreshadowed, by the way, in issue #1) allow those secrets to seep out into the general population? What will the response be of those who held Krakoan leadership in high regard as well as those who lacked trust and faith in the first place? And what lengths will Xavier, and especially Magneto, go to in order to preserve the dream?

Another big revelation is that Nimrod and Omega Sentinel are not servants of Orchis but are instead its creators – and destroyers. All along Moira has been concerned about humanity, either alone or with machines as their instruments, eventually destroying the mutant race. In all of her lives, the mutants have lost. However we now see that the machines are now the main enemy to not only mutants but humans as well, as Omega Sentinel declares war on both. Her proclamation of “did you honestly thing we were going to sit around forever and just take it?” to Magneto is a call back to his own pronouncement to humanity. It’s also clear that the ease of which Nimrod and Omega dispatch Professor X and Magneto shows that they are not the gods they were at the beginning of Hickman’s story.

With all of the twists and turns of Inferno, probably the biggest surprise involves Doug Ramsey. It’s revealed that Warlock and Krakoa have a bio-technological connection, meaning that Doug has been privy to the secrets of the island since its founding. Doug’s cleverness and downright “awe-shucks” goodness serves as a stark counterpoint to Mystique’s own cunning and ruthlessness, as he confronts her and Destiny regarding Moira’s fate. Making Doug Ramsey arguably one of the most powerful mutants on the island would be truly Hickman-esque if it wasn’t written by Hickman in the first place.

All in all, Inferno doesn’t really feel like a conclusion. Very few things have been wrapped up – in fact things seem to have only unraveled more. Moira has now become a de-powered free variable with unknown motives and allegiances. Krakoan government rests on a precipice. The mutant attempt to eliminate the threat of AI ascendancy only seemed to make that path more inevitable. Perhaps most important is something that was advertised in the lead up to Inferno, that mutants can trust no one – not their leaders, not their allies, and certainly not their enemies.

So the Krakoan age is far from over. New titles are spinning out from this new reality, which they are calling Destiny of X, and should be out on shelves come Spring. Maybe.

What did I think of Inferno? Well, in some ways it didn’t quite live up to the hype that came before it. If this was supposed to be part of a trilogy of major events, following in the footsteps of HoX/PoX and X of Swords, a quick four issue run didn’t do it justice. Things felt disjointed and rushed at times, and the lack of a common artist through the series didn’t help things for me. The story though is compelling, and compelling enough to warrant going back to re-read those issues and titles that got us all here in the first place. And for comics that’s a pretty significant accomplishment.

But let’s go back to Doug for a minute. Inferno was pretty bleak, and while the run-up to it was punctuated with significant highs for mutantdom (conquering Mars for example) the X-Men have definitely been hurt by their inability to measure up to their own standards. In Doug’s final confrontation with Mystique at the end of the issue, he defends his choice to spare Moira’s life by citing the law of Krakoa to “kill no man”. Because Moira is now human and no longer a mutant, it’s unlawful for Mystique to kill her. He affirms that Moira, and by implication Magneto and Xavier, have been derelict in their duties of protecting the island as well as what it stands for. While he certainly doesn’t defend Moira or her actions, he sees a greater value in honoring mutant law. After all, most of their problems have been the result of secrets, lies and hypocrisy.

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