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Aug 19

Empyre: X-Men #4 annotations

Posted on Wednesday, August 19, 2020 by Paul in Annotations

As always, this post contains spoilers, and page numbers go by the digital edition.

This is the final issue of Empyre: X-Men, so a proper review will follow. Meanwhile…

by Jonathan Hickman, Jorge Molina, Lucas Werneck & Adriano di Benedetto

Everyone else has had their fun on the middle chapters, but Jonathan Hickman’s back for the (vaguely) serious bit.

COVER / PAGE 1. Magik, Angel, Wolverine and M/Penance being consumed by plants. Wolverine does not appear in this issue. The glowing sword sticking out of the rock is presumably Magik’s Soulsword.

PAGES 2-3. Recap and credits.

PAGES 4-5. Flashback. The Scarlet Witch realises she’s brought back a bunch of zombies and beats a hasty retreat.

PAGES 6-10. Still in flashback. The Scarlet Witch asks Doctor Strange for help.

“I did what you said. I rang a bigger bell.” In the opening scene of issue #1, the Scarlet Witch asked Doctor Strange for advice on how she could alter history so that M-Day never happened. He told her that it was impossible because she was asking how to “unring a bell”. His advice was to atone for what she had done by making a bigger positive contribution instead. Wanda decided that the way to do that was to resurrect the millions of mutants who had been slaughtered on Genosha at the beginning of the Grant Morrison run. As Strange makes clear (and as the story title also spells out), this is just another example of the same error.

“I’d start with the idea that you thought you could resurrect sixteen million dead people… You tried to undo death as if you – or any of us – have any power in that realm.” The unspoken point here, of course, is that this is exactly what the X-Men are doing on Krakoa. They claim to have defeated death. Strange is telling us in no uncertain terms that you can’t do that, or at least not without alarming side effects. Shhh – can you hear the Deafening Klaxon of Foreshadowing?

Vashurrnu is new.

Wong is Dr Strange’s long-running aide, sidekick and sounding board.

Le Coucou is a genuine New York restaurant.

PAGE 11. Flashback. Doctor Strange and the Scarlet Witch gather the ingredients for his spell.

PAGES 12-13. Flashback. Dr Strange does his spell on Genosha.

Basically, the best Strange can do is make it so that the Scarlet Witch’s staff will dissipate in around a month, at which point the dead will go back to rest. In the meantime, he sets a barrier around the island to stop any of the zombies leaving. You’d have thought the sea would do that for most of them, but they are mutants.

Given that we must be in the Krakoa era by this point, you’d think that Dr Strange would let the X-Men know about this, if only to politely suggest that they leave the place along for the next month and for heaven’s sake keep the gates shut. But no.

PAGES 14-16. Everyone gawps at the giant plant zombie.

Aside from Magik, still corrupted and carrying both the Staff and her Soulsword, we have three of the Stepford Cuckoos (a fourth can be seen later), Exodus, Kid Omega, Mr Sinister, Lady Mastermind, Mastermind, the Multiple Man, M, all four of Hordeculture, the Angel and Nightcrawler. Later on we get a glimpse of Selene too.

PAGE 17. Beast quietly swipes Hordeculture’s Krakoan hacking technology.

In character with his behaviour in X-Force, but a pretty sensible thing to do anyway.

PAGES 18-28. Beast lets the resurrected Explodey Boy go through the gate to speak to his zombie counterpart, who then blows up the giant zombie.

Hmm. Let’s be honest, in plot terms, this is all a bit weak. Why does Explodey Boy want to go and see himself as a zombie? Why does Beast know or care about that? Why does he send him through? How big a threat can the giant zombie be if it can be killed in one explosion by a background comedy character?

Still… the point of all this is to confront us directly with the fact that the X-Men were busily resurrecting all these Genoshan mutants, many of whom are already alive and well on Krakoa. But… Wanda has kind-of-sort-of revived the originals, who seem to retain something of their personalities. So… what’s going on here?

It’s played here as if the zombies aren’t quite “real”, but at the same time we’re obviously meant to care about the zombie version being touched to hear that things are going so well in his new life. And of course the whole plot of the series is that resurrecting the dead is a really, really bad idea that fundamentally messes with nature. Given how often the resurrection device has been used at this stage, including for major characters, we can be pretty confident that Marvel are not heading towards “resurrected characters are mere soulless copies” – at least when the original is genuinely dead so that the soul is around to be re-used – but it seems increasingly likely that the Hickman run is going to end with something about the whole resurrection process proving to be horrifyingly disastrous, so that it can’t be used again.

Arachnidor is new, and boy, her power sounds utterly useless. That must be great for your place on the Krakoan pecking order.

PAGES 29-31. Magik remains crazy for a couple of pages until the spell wears off.

Which, come to think of it, means that zombie Explodey Boy’s heroic sacrifice was ultimately pointless because the zombie giant would have keeled over in a couple of minutes anyway. But hey. He didn’t know that.

PAGES 32-34. Epilogue.

A weirdly sober ending to a ridiculous miniseries, reminding us that Genosha is what happened to a previous attempt at a mutant island society, that “There will always be a price”, and suggesting that the cycle will always repeat. Meanwhile, a sorrowful Scarlet Witch evidently remains determined to purge her guilt with some new, no-doubt-disastrous plan.

PAGE 35. Trailer page.

Bring on the comments

  1. Daibhid Ceannaideach says:

    “Given how often the resurrection device has been used at this stage, including for major characters, we can be pretty confident that Marvel are not heading towards “resurrected characters are mere soulless copies” – at least when the original is genuinely dead so that the soul is around to be re-used”

    How about “resurrected characters are mere soulless copies … but conveniently enough, none the main characters ever actually died, because the ones we’ve been following since this started have always been the soulless copies”?

    I’m currently following this purely through these annotations, since I’m waiting for the UK reprint mags (assuming they actually plan on ever starting those up again), so it’s entirely possible this wouldn’t work. And would be a bit “No, this Spider-Man was actually the clone the whole time” anyway.

  2. Chris V says:

    My guess is the reveal that cloning causes the development of a hive mind.
    The more a character is cloned, the less they remain an individual.
    Hickman can sacrifice some lower level mutants to show that they’ve become a collective, which will serve as a warning that they must stop the resurrection process before important characters begin to completely lose their individuality.

  3. Paul says:

    I very much doubt that they’ll do anything that reveals that years worth of stories don’t feature the real X-Men. Obviously there are precedents for doing that kind of thing with supporting characters, but it rarely goes down well when you try it with the lead (just ask Spider-Man). Maybe you get away with it if it’s all part of Hickman’s own story but I’m not convinced the readers would accept it.

  4. Si says:

    Is Explodey Boy the same guy from Worst X-Man Ever?

  5. Luis Dantas says:

    It might work if there is some sort of continuity shift at the end, although I for one feel uncertain of how well that would be received.

  6. Chris V says:

    I would have to assume that it would be received horribly.
    One of the biggest moments in all of X-Men history, meant to revolutionize the X-franchise, and lasting for years is revealed to be just the adventures of a bunch of soulless clones, and then reality gets rebooted.

    Hickman might as well end it by saying, “Then Xavier woke up and realized it was all a bad dream. He was glad that his own dream was still intact and nothing had changed.”

    Marvel has been losing too many years over the past so-many years. They can’t risk alienating so many more readers by pulling a “bait and switch” on the fans.

  7. Joseph S. says:

    @Si: gosh I hope so. That book was so underrated. Best new character since Forget-Me-Not.

    As for the inevitable new status quo… I guess there’s still Moira’s 11th life, right?

  8. Eric G. says:

    @Joseph S.: I’ve been figuring Moira’s 11th life was going to be the reset button since way back in HoXPoX. I can’t see any other reason for framing it like that and I can’t see this being the status quo once Hickman is done.

    Doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying some of the stories as they happen, although not enough to pay full price. I’ve been grabbing them during Comixology sales.

  9. The Other Michael says:

    So of the 16 million dead mutants on Genosha, as well as the many other mutants out there (as well as the big names who keep jumping to the head of the line), they’ve already gotten to an utterly random nobody like “Explodey Boy” even though it’s clear there’s a major bottleneck regarding how many can be resurrected at a time? How convenient. Since they clearly didn’t fast-track his resurrection as a reaction to this event. It’s not like he has ties to anyone influential, or any particular reason to be brought back quickly.

    I wish we’d actually gotten to see some of the more significant Genoshans who presumably died during the attack, who might have actually resonated with us as readers, rather than convenient background new guy.

    And what was the point of calling all available psychics, and then throwing in Mastermind and Farouk if you didn’t intent to actually use them for anything notable?

    Seriously, Wanda is the Fucking Worst, and Dr. Strange isn’t much better some days.

    Honestly, I wonder what Hickman’s endgame towards the X-Men is, and if the payoff will be worth it. (Probably not, but we can hope…)

  10. Luis Dantas says:

    I see your point, and I somewhat agree.

    There are serious flaws in this Hickman master plan, even if it turns out to make complete sense in the end.

    On the other hand, I am not sure that there was a better plan available for the X-Books at this point. Some sort of significant risk probably had to be taken.

  11. NS says:

    The consequences of resurrection could just be for the five. They’re all characters with limited connection to the primary x-men and could all be safely killed off. They are corrupted in some fashion due to all the resurrections, have to be killed, and Hickman gets to retain all the clones already created, but no more can be created.

  12. Peter Singer says:


    I mean, HoXPoX made a big deal about how the linchpin of The Five was Goldballs, without whom the resurrections wouldn’t work…

    An utter nobody, recently introduced, is the only character who has to die in order to wreck the resurrections.

    I’d say Goldballs is doomed.

  13. Ben says:

    There was actually some interesting stuff here, I just wish we didnt have to suffer through a goofy plants vs zombies vs old ladies vs X-Men story to get there.

  14. FUBAR007 says:

    Chris V: One of the biggest moments in all of X-Men history, meant to revolutionize the X-franchise, and lasting for years is revealed to be just the adventures of a bunch of soulless clones, and then reality gets rebooted.

    Except that Hickman deliberately: 1) set up Moira’s 11th life as a Chekhov’s Gun and 2) established the method of resurrection as a convoluted, Rube Goldberg process involving the Five and Cerebro making back-up copies of mutants’ minds instead of straightforward consciousness transfer at the moment of death.

    If resurrection alone was the point, Hickman could’ve established a much simpler process–e.g. Sinister’s cloning banks + consciousness transfer–but he didn’t. That means the nature of the process, particularly the role of the Five and that the clones’ minds come from back-up copies, is a deliberate plot point.

    Personally, I’m beginning to think the cloning/resurrection theme is meta-commentary on the “illusion of change” trope. How it ultimately plays out depends on what point Hickman is trying to make.

  15. Evilgus says:

    On the point about villains being cameo support characters for big group fight scenes (Selene, Farouk, Lady Mastermind etc), it doesn’t play well with me.

    We’re seeing in the other books how the Gillian’s remain, well, villainous (Marauders has Shaw straight up murder Kitty, the whole point of Hellions is they
    demonstrate they can’t be redeemed, the twins are creepy and morally dubious in New Mutants). Powerful villains like Selene and Shadow King? They’d be doing all kinds of shady stuff in the background here!

    Plus it’s yet another hordes of zombies plot. It’s very dull.

  16. Luis Dantas says:

    I think that in this case illusion of change has in fact become too difficult to achieve.

    We as readers have glossed over what should logically be some rather lasting consequences from significant events, including the deaths and ressurrections of various characters and the fate of Genosha. But when I read HoX #1 I found the setup so drastically different that I expected the storyline to be in a continuity of its own.

    Accepting Magneto as the sometimes honorable leader of Genosha and/or Westchester was hard enough for me. Accepting that so many mutants have gone through such a significant change and eventually went back to their previous lives without referencing Krakoa very much is too much for me to expect to be capable of. That is before even factoring in the international relations of Krakoa, the changes in ethical views and personality, and all this weird stuff about living islands, alien detentes and threatening the Fantastic Four.

  17. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    …remember how the whole US population turned into Nazi sympathisers? Remember how a Hydra-collaborating mutant government ruled California as ‘Tian’ or ‘New Tian’ (why is it always Tian?)

    Bouncing back from drastic change to regular status quo is the status quo of the Marvel universe.

  18. Chris V says:

    FUBAR-I’m not saying that this might not get rebooted at some point, I’m saying that Hickman has to make something that does create lasting change in some way out of this direction first.
    It can’t simply be, “Guess what? None of this involved the real X-Men! The past so many years have just been one big fake-out, and we fooled you!”.

    I think that the cloning process will be taken off the board at some point, but there are many ways to do that which won’t require the total reboot of reality.

    Everyone seems to expect that this is all going to be changed pretty soon.
    As I understand it, Hickman signed on with Marvel for three years, so this new direction is going to be continuing for a few years.
    Also, I wonder if Hickman threw out that line about Moira simply for Marvel editorial, as a way out, if/when Marvel decides that the Krakoa status quo needs to change.

  19. Chris V says:

    Part of what Hickman is saying with the resurrection process is that Krakoa uses natural means over technological solutions.
    Sinister’s cloning process is based in mechanical technology.

    (Cerebro being the exception, I suppose.)

    Also, Moira made it apparent that Krakoa can’t trust Sinister. They gave him that power in her past life, and he ruined everything.
    Moira didn’t even want Sinister to be part of Krakoa, but Xavier and Magneto felt he was necessary.
    So, this version of Krakoa couldn’t allow Sinister to control the resurrection process.

    Hickman’s process may be so complicated simply because he wanted to show how cool it is to use mutant powers in crazy complicated ways.
    He seems to want to use Proteus in some important fashion too, instead of just having Proteus as a random background villain in crowdshots.
    Probably because Moira having a son is hard to work in to his retcon of Moira. There had to be a reason she would choose to have a child.

  20. Luis Dantas says:

    @Krzysiek Ceran: I fail to understand what exactly happened during Secret Empire. It had something to do with the Cosmic Cube retroactively changing someone who somehow both is 616 Steve Rogers and somehow also isn’t him?

    In any case, that was explicitly a change of continuity. Apparently there is some degree of lingering memory of that no longer existing continuity, but it was nonetheless a different continuity (unless I am mistaken. It would not be the first time this year).

    Perhaps more to the point, those changes that you mention were not really central to the storyline (by my understanding).

    I feel that Hickman’s Krakoa has much deeper a role and much more encompassing consequences to be conveniently ignored later.

  21. Chris V says:

    I don’t think Secret Empire made any sense, with the two Steve Rogers.
    Basically, Red Skull convinces the Cosmic Cube to rewrite history so that Rogers was a fascist supporter.
    In the end, it’s revealed that the real Steve Rogers is too idealistic to allow his ideology to be changed that greatly.
    So, there ended up being two Steve Rogers.
    Except that makes little sense.
    There was no changing of continuity. The Nazi Cap still exists. He was showing bring out in prison at the end of Secret Empire.
    The continuity of Hydra taking over the US still exists. It’s a huge part of Coates’ Captain America run.
    What was ret-conned was that most Americans supported the Nazi dictatorship.
    In Coates’ Captain America, the people are suspicious of Steve Rogers, because they believe it was him that led Hydra.
    Trump took advantage of this to get elected president, as per Coates’ Cap run. He knows that it was a “fake” Steve Rogers that was leading Hydra, but he is telling the American people it was the real Steve Rogers.
    Sorry. This is really complicated.

    There were things that happened during Secret Empire that are glossed over or ignored though.
    The fact that most Americans supported Nazi Cap’s takeover of the United States.
    The rounding up of Inhumans and putting them in concentration camps.
    The destruction of Las Vegas…which was at least dealt with in a Dr. Strange story-arc, but you’d think such a monumental change would have been a bigger deal.
    The fact that mutants founded a breakaway state and then sided with Hydra…although maybe that was a precursor to Krakoa after all. heh

  22. Chris V says:

    That’s why I believe that a Marvel will be very hesitant to reboot all of continuity with Moira.
    Marvel has had perfect opportunities to reboot their continuity and they have refused.

    Secret Wars was supposed to usher in the birth of a new Marvel Universe, but it made very little changes.

    Secret Empire was the perfect opportunity to reboot some things, at the very least.
    The whole story revolved around the Red Skull using the Cosmic Cube to rewrite history.
    It would have made complete sense to then use the Cosmic Cube to rewrite continuity so that Secret Empire never happened. Except, Marvel refused to do even that.
    I can understand that Marvel felt the need to save Steve Rogers as a character, after Spencer made him a fascist.
    It would have been easy to say that the spirit of the real Captain America from Earth-616 was appearing to stop Hydra’s takeover of America and remind the heroes that the Secret Empire reality was a lie.
    Then, Marvel could have deleted that awful Secret Empire mess from continuity.
    Marvel wouldn’t even do that.

    That’s what makes me wonder if Marvel would even allow for Moira to reboot current reality.
    They seem petrified of copying DC’s continual rebooting of their multiverse.

  23. Ben says:

    Two Caps really felt like a last minute change to appease the people who tore their hair out over Cap being brainwashed into a bad guy.

  24. NS says:

    @Ben: I think it was. There was a section of the story detailing Good Cap’s mind palace or something and it was an insert by an artist other than the regular series artist. Also, the Secret Empire had seriously started to focus on Sam as Cap (he even took back the mantle in the story after giving it up before). It seemed kind of clear that they were going to either kill Cap or keep him evil, replacing him with Sam or maybe just turning him back and having him quit in shame. Their solution to the bad press was to split him.

  25. Loz says:

    I *think* Captain America: Steve established that he really was the genuine Steve Rogers, I think when Marvel decided to run with it and made it a big Event comic they decided the story had to have a definitive end and so changed it quietly in Secret Empire to be that Captain Hydra wasn’t the real Steve after all so that the genuine article could punch some more Nazis. What annoyed me more was all the characters during Secret Empire treating Evil Cap as the genuine article and not a Hydra created clone or a Skrull or something. I’ve liked Ta Nehisi Coates’ run on ‘Captain America’ but have had to put up with the starting premise being ‘no-one trusts the guy who fought for truth, justice and the American way for literally over a decade because they all pretend they’ve never heard of shape-shifters or evil duplicates’.

    Anyway, back to this, this mini-series has been silly and great fun and I enjoyed it a lot, especially Illyana’s ‘I regret nothing!’ momentary evil heelturn at the end of the last issue. The question is, would I have still enjoyed it as much if so many of the other series hadn’t been so awful?

  26. Karl_H says:

    Let’s work backwards from “the entire Krakoa era gets reversed and the X-Universe goes back to some version of the old status quo but polished up a bit, while the rest of the MU is unaffected”.

    What if Moira dies, but all of her memories of this timeline are erased/suppressed until just before HoXPoX? I’m sure Hickman could come up with something. Maybe those memories are in a box hidden in a fold in time that opens when the Krakoa stuff starts or something. Then she sees how badly Krakoa is going to go and has to avert *that* timeline, and in the process loses her powers and dies.

    There’s still the problem of every mention of Krakoa and interaction with this era’s X-people in every other Marvel title, but hey.

  27. Chris V says:

    Moira can only die if she is killed before her mutant powers develop.
    Well, or if she has her mutant powers taken away from her.
    If she just dies again in life eleven, then life twelve will begin. Unless Destiny’s prediction to Moira was a total lie, and Moira really does have more possible lives than simply “ten, or maybe eleven”.

    Plus, there’s the issue of the fact that Moira’s plan was bigger than simply creating a mutant utopia.
    She wants to ensure a future for both mutants and humans, something she has seen was impossible as long as mutants and humans continued their endless rivalry.

    The way that a reboot could work is if Moira was killed as a little girl in life eleven.
    Moira’s impact outside of the X-books is very minimal, so removing her from Marvel history wouldn’t effect most continuity until the time of Krakoa.
    They would just show that without Moira’s influence, everything happened exactly as we remember it.
    Yes, the elements with Krakoa that have effected other Marvel Universe titles would simply have to be ignored.

    The only way this works though is if Moira is revealed to be the villain. If it was somehow her impact on events that were causing the horrible futures she witnessed in past lives.
    Then, the way to fix the deterministic future is that Moira must be removed.

  28. Chris V says:

    That would appease all the fans who are upset that Hickman ruined their memories of past X-Men stories by saying that Moira was plotting with Xavier and Magneto.

    Hickman kept the continuity intact enough (even with his retcons) that it would be easy to say that continuity happened the same, only minus anything involving Moira.

  29. Taibak says:

    Chris V: It wouldn’t even have to be that convoluted. Have Mystique steal Forge’s power neutralizer gun, use it on Moira, then kill her.

    Problem solved.

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