Death of X #4
Written by Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire
Art by Aaron Kuder, Javier Garron, Jay Leisten, Morry Hollowell and Jay David Ramos
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
“You have a story. I have a story. It doesn’t matter which one is true. It matters which one is believed.”
The X-Men and the Inhumans are sprawling, scattered teams, both of which are very much searching for their identities in a post-Marvel movie world. And in that regard, it might seem fitting to bring the two franchises head-to-head, seeing as how in many circles each team seems to be fighting for the same role as the storied comics publisher. But while Death of X has been as chaotic and convoluted as you might expect, the finale issue brings some additional focus to help stick the landing, as Charles Soule, Jeff Lemire, Aaron Kuder, and Javier Garron bring Cyclops’ story to a fitting close.
In many ways, Death of X was already tailored to the diehard X-Men and Inhumans fans only, answering post-Secret Wars continuity questions that were largely glossed over in their respective titles. Were fans really clamoring to know why the Beast joined the Inhumans? Did fans really need to know much more about the X-Men’s ever-shifting roster other than, “it’s eight months, things changed?” But with Death of X #4, Soule and Lemire tackle the one question that fans might actually want to know about - namely, what happened to Scott Summers?
By focusing so much on the X-Men’s prodigal son, the writers wind up jettisoning so much of the alienating aspects of the rest of the series, like the various factions of X-Men or the general nondescriptness of much of the Inhumans cast, and instead deliver some strong character work for the renegade Cyclops. Of course, the drama is undercut by us knowing Scott’s final fate, but the actual specifics behind it are an interesting twist, and more importantly, Soule and Lemire wrap up Cyclops’ life nicely, wrapping together every twist, turn and sometimes even character-assassinating development in a way that feels organic. “I’ve been a student, a warrior, a teacher, a revolutionary, a…killer.” Scott says. “But now… everything’s tainted. Too much has happened. I’m not even a person anymore. I’m gone. All that’s left is the idea of me.”
Of course, while Cyclops gets to go out in a blaze of glory, I’d still argue that the rest of the cast doesn’t get off so lightly. The mutant Alchemy, brought back after years of obscurity, winds up exactly as you might expect, but outside of a fun misdirect by the Stepford Cuckoos, the rest of the cast - both mutant and Inhuman - basically fade into the background of this issue as white noise. You can make the argument that this is the final issue of the series, and that if you haven’t been reading, you shouldn’t start now - but I have been reading, both this series and the main X-Men and Inhumans books, and what could have been a real opportunity to reorient these characters has wound up doubling down on the more fractious elements of both of these franchises. In the case of the X-Men, it’s a similar argument that DC made before "Rebirth": The characters have been shifted so many times they’re basically unrecognizable now. In the case of the Inhumans, it’s the opposite: After years of stoicism on the sidelines, now that these characters have the spotlight, it feels like Marvel has gone out of its way to fracture the team, adding in forgettable nuHumans rather than shoring up the potential the recognizable team would have as a cohesive unit. But with Death of X, most of these characters are skirmishing off-panel, with Storm and Crystal’s squads serving largely as an afterthought, while Medusa and Black Bolt inevitably become the villains to Scott Summers’ last stand.
The narrowing of the narrative focus also helps the artwork, as well. Javier Garron handles the lion’s share of the art duties here, and while occasionally his character designs can be an acquired taste, he does a great job with his storytelling here, with so many panels conveying exactly what we need to know even without the dialogue. (There’s a page where Cyclops convinces an injured Alchemy to step up to the plate that is particularly masterful, showing not just Alchemy’s mettle, but also showing a compassionate but firm Cyclops, something that I think helps make his sacrifice all the more poignant later.) That all said, Garron is limited a bit just in terms of the characters’ costume designs - I’ve said this before with other artists, but the X-Men’s costumes these days are largely awful, and it doesn’t help when the only classic costume in the mix is Sunfire's red-and-white, crab-faced suit. The Inhumans fare a bit better, suffering from just overrendered and forgettable designs, but it’s a compliment to Garron that he can make his scenes look so memorable when the characters themselves are shoehorned into costumes that just don’t work.
With Death of X #4, we see the end of an era - and hopefully, that means we get to close the book on a particularly trying time in both the X-Men and the Inhumans’ history. Whether your mark it at the end of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run or at the beginning of Jason Aaron’s Schism, the X-Men have been floundering for a long time, perhaps too long for such a storied and iconic franchise. Meanwhile, the Inhumans have seemingly squandered their potential since they were given their first ongoing, too focused on internecine conflict and nonstarter side characters, rather than establishing a bold direction and status quo for the Royal Family to unite for. But perhaps even worse is the fact that the two franchises have been pit against one another, cannibalizing narrative territory where such a conflict never should have existed.
And that’s the message we should get out of Death of X: That the world is big enough for both the X-Men and the Inhumans. They don’t have to fight - they can be their own thing, and they can succeed on their own merits, not at the expense of one another. And if Marvel can finally figure that out - if they can finally figure out how to save these two struggling franchises - then maybe Cyclops didn’t die in vain.