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Powers of X #4
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
We’re on the precipice of another “red issue” in the HoX/PoX reading order, and Jonathan Hickman takes Powers of X #4 to flesh out our understanding of the foundation he’s laying while still giving us some good character moments. But this Mister Sinister-centric issue is the least consistent that he’s been in terms of tone and approach, even when it does round certain elements of this world into shape. This feels like where the different threads of the story are starting to have a little bit of their own identity. R.B. Silva and Marta Gracia turn in another great outing, though. Silva’s expression work in particular is a great fit for Hickman’s Sinister, and Gracia is able to maintain consistency across somewhat disparate plot threads. But there’s a lack of immediacy here that’s typical of table-setting issues.
The issue is split between X^0, X^1 and X^3 in that order, beginning with Magneto and Professor X traveling to the very clearly named Bar Sinister to meet with the man in charge. Mister Sinister is a character who can be a ton of fun in the right hands, but Hickman opts for a high camp cartoon of the villain that leaves something to be desired. Some of the bits are fun, but they’re so oddly placed within the world-changing narrative structure that Hickman has built, plus the scene feels somewhat extraneous given that the big reveal is given in an info dump that comes immediately after.
The second scene fares better. Hickman expands the mythology of Krakoa by likening its beginning in a lot of ways to Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s Symposium. (Though, I suppose a more modern touchpoint would be the 2014 Pixar short “Lava” that played before Inside Out.) It’s a good bit of backstory for the embattled mutant island and then we start to understand how the systems that make the Krakoan nation a possibility come to fruition as Doug Ramsey begin to decipher an effective means of communication with it. The character work here rings a lot more true, and the graphic at the end helps us understand the roles that different mutants are playing. And that’s what makes this a stronger entry despite the fact that just dropping the detail a few issues ago that Doug figured this out is probably enough for most X-fans to get the gist.
And the final scene is Hickman at his most Hickman. He’s spent a lot of time explaining to us the different levels of species intelligence. He’s brought back the idea of the Externals. He’s explained Nibiru and Nimbus. And now we see the Librarian’s plan come to fruition as the Phalanx come into contact with the Nimbus Worldmind, begging the question: does the next stage of evolution for mankind sees them become one with the Phalanx, or is this the birth of an even bigger threat to the X-Men’s existence? Honestly, it’s hard to tell. And I think that takes a little bit away from an otherwise solid set-up. The Year 1000 stuff is the hardest to wrap your head around, and I had to go back and open up past issues just to fill in the details I’d forgotten. It’s kind of fun if you’re really into that, but it doesn’t make for an extremely smooth reading experience.
Thankfully, the art doesn’t suffer from the same seismic shifts that the writing does. With this book, R.B. Silva has really established himself as a superstar artist capable of handling whatever is thrown his way. As mentioned earlier, his expression work really sings across this issue. With Hickman writing Sinister as a hot mess who lives for drama, Silva needs to give the facial expression and body language to match, and he does so exceptionally well. Silva’s vision for Krakoa’s flashback scene is dramatic and sets itself apart from the main narrative with dramatic inking. I really like his character rendering in the first two scenes as well.The multiple iterations of Sinister are a fun touch that keeps the scene from looking too monotonous. I love Krakoa appearing to Professor X and Doug Ramsey as a riff on the Great Deku Tree. And Doug Ramsey has literally never looked cooler than he does in this issue. (Seriously, Marvel, let him keep this look. It’s a good one.) The Year 1000 scene suffers only because the details of that scene simply aren’t the most visually interesting, but Silva makes the best of it. Gracia’s coloring does an excellent job of tying the issue together. The red motifs of Bar Sinister flow nicely into the greens and yellows of Krakoa, while Gracia is able to make a callback to that red with the flashback scene. From there, the prominence of Doug Ramsey is so many panels and his technorganic arm flows well visually into the final scene with the Phalanx. While the narrative itself feels very separate across the different eras, Silva and Gracia maintain a consistent visual approach that manages to bring them closer together.
After a couple of more straightforward, action-heavy issues, this one might seem slight but Hickman continues to up the ante. And he continues to keep building up his vision for this world. However, this might be the first time that it’s felt like he was writing three completely different books and mashing them together. The art team holds it down, bringing a great sense of continuity to the storytelling while doing the most to serve each individual scene but Hickman’s writing is a little bit more scattershot. Attentive, obsessive fans will find a lot to dig their teeth into, but more casual readers may find a lot less to latch on to. This might be a “down” issue for the series, but HoX/PoX remains one of the most exciting events in comic books if you know where to look.