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Oct 13

X-Men #4 annotations

Posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 by Paul in Annotations

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

X-MEN vol 6 #4
“Fearless, Chapter 4: Nightmare on 86th Street”
by Gerry Duggan, Javier Pina & Erick Arciniega

COVER / PAGE 1. Nightmare rears up on his horse, holding the severed head of Cyclops.

PAGE 2. Data page. Opening quotes about Nightmare from Dr Voodoo (currently in the cast of Strange Academy) and Magik.

Nightmare is a Doctor Strange villain, and the fairly self-explanatory ruler of a magical Nightmare Realm.

“He’s conquered a splinter realm…” This is just referring to the Nightmare Realm. The term “splinter realms” comes from the 2000 Magik miniseries.

“…once succeeded in trapping Eternity.” Doctor Strange vol 2 #13, published in 1976.

PAGE 3. Night at the Treehouse.

The pumpkin with a single eye is a cute touch.

PAGE 4. Scott’s nightmares.

The panels of Scott and Alex falling from the aircraft are part of Scott’s long-established back story, in which they parachute from their parents’ plane before it gets abducted by the Shi’ar. The child he’s giving up in the top right is little Nathan Summers, about to be sent into the far future to become Cable; the “many times” presumably just means it was a recurring dream. The panel with the Sentinel and the Cyclops skeleton is just a generic nightmare.

PAGE 5. Jean’s nightmares.

Jean is dreaming about the annihilation of the D’Bari by Dark Phoenix in X-Men vol 1 #135. I expect you all know this, but: Dark Phoenix was originally meant to be just a cosmic-powered Jean. It was later retconned into being a cosmic entity which was impersonating Jean and had taken a part of her soul as a personality, so that it kind of was Jean, and kind of wasn’t. Basically, it was an attempt to preserve the original story by having Phoenix be Jean, while at the same time absolving Jean from genocide, although she wound up with all the memories again anyway. This story (understandably) glosses over all that.

Nightmare hasn’t really had that many dealings with the X-Men, but they’re so angst-ridden that it’s easy to believe he enjoys them when they come round.

PAGE 6. Recap and credits.

This is billed as part four of “Fearless”, but it certainly looks like a one-off Hallowe’en story spliced into the middle.

“Nightmare on 86th Street” is, of course, a reference to “Miracle on 34th Street.”

PAGES 7-9. Nightmare discovers the Treehouse and watches Cyclops’ dreams.

Evidently out of sequence, and taking place before page 4.

Dr Strange is unavailable to deal with Nightmare because of the current Death of Dr Strange storyline.

Cyclops’ dreams on page 8 are just generic scenes of him feeling guilty and apologising. One shows him and Jean in their All-New X-Men costumes (the Silver Age characters, when they were living in the present day). One shows him and Emma in Morrison-era costumes. The third is obviously the Krakoan-era X-Men, and for some reason Cyclops seems to fear (or know?) bringing down the whole thing. Nightmare’s interpretation is simply that this is the stress Cyclops places himself under.

PAGES 10-11. Jean’s dreams.

Not real flashbacks. The first panel has Jean in her Silver Age costume, but shows 2000s-era characters Nature Girl and Kid Omega as fellow pupils. The rest of the page has her in her late-60s costume, which she’s been fond of throughout the Krakoan era – she did indeed make it, as she says here. Being the girl in a Silver Age comic, she made all the X-Men’s late-60s costumes.

Considering this is meant to be a nightmare, Jean imagines herself getting on rather well with perennial rival Emma Frost, who’s presumably making an oblique comment about the fan-service aspects of the miniskirt outfit. (Which is nothing compared to Emma’s outfits, but maybe that’s why Jean gives that line to Emma – who is dressed very normally here.)

PAGE 12. Wolverine’s dreams.

This refers to the Vault arc from X-Men vol 5. She knows that she spent centuries in the Vault with Synch thanks to time distortion, but because she was resurrected from an earlier backup, she doesn’t remember any of it. Nonetheless, she knows that the memories were lost and she must have picked up on the fact that, at the very least, Synch’s attitude towards her has drastically changed. On Nightmare’s reading, she’s obviously aware that he’s in love with her, but doesn’t want to ask the question.

Nightmare sarcastically suggests that enormous great memory gaps are precisely the sort of thing that legitimises Laura’s claim to the “Wolverine” name, referencing the many memory-gap stories of the 90s and early 2000s.

PAGES 13-19. Jean drives Nightmare away.

All very straightforward. The flashback gives us Jean’s pitch during the “Hellfire Gala” when she was putting herself forward as an X-Man. Jean gets to do a fairly standard power-of-love schtick which makes her more powerful than Nightmare. If you want to be ploddingly literal about it, she’s just more powerful than him in the waking world, but it’s obviously meant to be the power of compassion and positivity. You might well see this as a 2021 iteration of Jean-as-mother.

PAGE 20. Ben Urich visits the grave of Nathan Summers.

Um. Presumably, this is meant to be the grave of the older Cable who died in Extermination. However, that grave was already raided by Deadpool in Cable #3 (another Gerry Duggan story), so either it’s been sitting open for an insanely long time, or Deadpool returned the body before the graveyard staff noticed, and it’s been stolen again. Neither makes a great deal of sense.

PAGE 21. Data page. A memo from Dr Stasis to Orchis staff. He’s working on something called Project Polyphemus. Polyphemus was a cyclops from Greek myth; the story has been through so many iterations that the character really has no well defined traits. The project may be something to do with Feilong powering himself up using the Cyclops-associated ruby quartz in the next scene.

PAGES 22-24. Feilong heads for Mars.

Feilong’s modification of his body to make it suitable for (pre-terraforming) Mars was established in issue #1. Here, he seems to be trying to re-enact the Fantastic Four’s cosmic ray-based origins, but with some sort of role for ruby quartz.

In the real world, nothing has ever made it from Earth to Mars in 39 days, but that figure has been given as an estimate for various proposed alternative engines. Presumably, in the Marvel Universe one of them got made – although if you’re going down that route, can Reed Richards really not go any faster…?

PAGE 25. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: THE DOCTOR IS IN.

Bring on the comments

  1. Chris V says:

    Nightmare showed to trouble Emma with dreams of the future in Generation X #22.

    He showed up in an issue of Excalibur, but it was after Excalibur was a comic worth reading (post-Ellis), so my memory of the exact issue is lacking.

    Those are the only two Nightmare appearances involving members of the X-family which I can recall.

  2. Michael Post says:

    Re: page 4 – Cyclops also gave up Nathan at the end of X-cutioner’s song. and also sort of in Second Coming.

    “Nightmare on 86th Street” is also referencing the Nightmare on Elm Street film franchise.

  3. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    I believe the cover is more generically supposed to be Cyclops as the Headless Horseman, which I assume you guys across the pond don’t have as much of a cultural touchstone.

    This issue doesn’t really work, it’s generic and over in a blink.

    All X-23 had gone through and her nightmare is about that?

    Jean’s is about Emma being mean to her clothes?

    And perfect mommy angelic Jean is such a bummer version of the character.

  4. The Other Michael says:

    Nightmare is such a boring villain where I’m concerned. The “heroes fight their fears/dreams/nightmares” trope has never done much for me.

    (Yeah, I’m not a fan of the Scarecrow, either.)

  5. Chris V says:

    I’m sure people in Britain are familiar with Washington Irving’s story, even if it is much more of a cultural touchstone in the United States.
    Irving’s story was probably influenced by Irish folklore about the dullahan, so the roots of Irving’s story certainly stretch back to Europe.

    I think he’s right about the cover being Nightmare, but it’s also supposed to remind American readers of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
    The Nightmare interpretation makes more sense within the context of the story.
    Many people online did seem to feel that the issue was going to be about the X-Men fighting the Headless Horseman.

  6. CJ says:

    Yeah, that cover looks like Cyclops as the Headless Horseman and Cyclops’s head as the lantern?

    This was harmless, forgettable filler. “Dreams as proxy for characterization” could have been done literally any time in X-Men history, and just feels like 3rd-rate Claremont.

    The one thing I’m interested in is any indication that Jean is “holding back”, manifesting by wearing the go-go costume. When she flexes she has to work hard to not crush someone. We know Phoenix is high up there in Hickman’s hierarchy that even Dominions are afraid of.

  7. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    That’s not Nightmare’s costume either.

    Whether or not it’s Nightmare it’s a cool cover but also an odd choice.

    X-Men vs the Headless Horseman of Apocalypse would have been a much better issue.

    The solicit for this issue-

    “HEADS UP! It’s Halloween and the X-Men have to face a horror born of a neighboring town in Westchester…the Headless HORSEMAN?! And that’s not the only terror targeting them…”

    I wonder why people were confused?

  8. Chris V says:

    There is a Headless Horseman in the Marvel Universe too. A very obscure character introduced in Supernatural Thrillers #6.

    That is a nice cover.

  9. Chris V says:

    CJ-I don’t think that’s the case.
    In House of X, when the team went to stop the Mother Mold coming online, Jean was virtually useless and was killed.
    If she really was holding back, that would have been the time to show her true power and stop Orchis before they became a true threat.

  10. Si says:

    Honestly I’m surprised they don’t do more with Nightmare. With the slightest tweak he looks exactly like Dream from Sandman comics. What they should do is create a Sandman (the Spider-Man villain) limited series where he fights Nightmare, and just stick that guy on every cover with moody oilpaint art. Technically legal!

    But yeah, these one note bad guys that are just manifestations of introspective exposition can be quite dull. Cyclops has fought D’spayre before, it’s essentially the same! But there is a lot of largely untapped potential.

  11. Dave says:

    It the cover’s supposed to be showing Nightmare as the horse rider (I’m in the ‘Cyclops as headless horseman’ camp) then it really should have given him a head.

  12. the new kid says:

    ““…once succeeded in trapping Eternity.” Doctor Strange vol 2 #13, published in 1976”

    That’s a good one. Some of the best trippy 70s stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing.

  13. Chris V says:

    Yes! The entire Steve Englehart run on Dr. Strange is very much worth reading.
    Nothing beats the Sise-Neg story.
    Some of my favourite Marvel comics.

  14. Joseph S. says:

    While the cover recalls a scene in the book in which Nightmare rides a horse, I too would insist the cover depicts Cyclops as the Headless Horsemen. The cemetery that Urich visits is in Sleepy Hollow, in the south west of Westchester County and a long way from Salem Center, so clearly pinging the Halloween theme.

    Interesting that both this book and New Mutants have depicted the fall of Krakoa. I wonder if this relates to Inferno in a loose thematic way.

  15. Mark Coale says:

    Wasnt Nightmare a long rumored villain to be in an MCU movie, I think the 2nd Strange film, before the multiverse stuff took over?

    To tie back into the last pod, he’d fit right into the Ditko Disco Universe.

  16. Moonstar Dynasty says:

    I really continue to be flustered by how underserved Sunfire is in this book. He’s one of two characters of color on an otherwise all-white team, and still has the depth and appeal of skim milk after 4 issues (in spite of his forced speech from issue #2). He’s even billed as a principal cast member in this issue but has one measly panel to himself that features no dialogue. Staggeringly disappointing on an otherwise fun book.

  17. Josie says:

    Has Sunfire ever had any characterization besides “quick to anger”? That’s not any excuse to keep writing him poorly, but if he’s still nothing but angry, then points for consistency.

  18. Michael says:

    I found myself enjoying this and then got to the end and realized that nothing really happened and that it was a total filler issue. 4 issues into Duggan’s run on the flagship X-men title and we’ve already got filler? C’mon!

  19. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Jean’s first dream can work as a flashback – the O5 only received the new, Immonen costumes after breaking away from Logan’s camp and signing up with Scott’s ‘Revolution’, after Battle of the Atom.

    Also Jean Grey was attending the Jean Grey Institute, which is not underlined here but was a source of anxiety at the time. Would work as nightmare fodder, probably.

    I expected more from this issue – Nightmare can shape dreams and give people nightmares, so I thought he’d do something active, not just skim-read…

  20. Uncanny X-Ben says:

    God I always forget the 05 we’re “real” and now the adult versions remember all that stuff.

    It must be awkward for Archangel and X-23.

  21. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    I keep waiting for any writer to acknowledge that. So far in vain.

    But I liked adult Cyclops making appearances in Champions. It’s silly comic book fun for him to be friends with a bunch of kids half his age ‘because time travel’.

    Other than Cyclops in Champions and Iceman in Sina Grace’s final issue(s), I don’t think anybody used the fact that the O5 were the ‘real’ O5…

  22. Daniel T says:

    “Nightmare on 86th Street” is, of course, a reference to “Miracle on 34th Street.”


    I’m super curious why your mind went there instead of Nightmare on Elm Street. Are those movies not a thing in Britain?

  23. Maxwell's Hammer says:

    RE: “Nightmare on 86th Street”

    After his snide remark about Nightmare enjoying being around such angst-ridden sods, I assumed that referring to the Christmas movie instead of the more obvious horror movie was an obvious joke.

  24. Maxwell's Hammer says:

    * an INTENTIONAL joke.

    (bloody lack of edit function)

  25. Chris V I can’t speak for everyone on the island, but I don’t think we’re familiar with the Sleepy Hollow story. People may remember the 1999 (!) Tim Burton film, but very few will know the earlier Disney version, or the original story. It’s just one of those American things that we’re aware of by cultural seepage, but isn’t a part of culture here.

    You may even find people are more familiar with folkloric horsemen like the dullahan than with Irving’s story.

  26. Loz says:

    It’s a shame that when we get a pointless filler issue on an x-title it’s never for them to play baseball any more. I mean, with all the mutants on Krakoa you could have an entire league and everything!

  27. neutrino says:

    “Jean gets to do a fairly standard power-of-love schtick which makes her more powerful than Nightmare. If you want to be ploddingly literal about it, she’s just more powerful than him in the waking world, but it’s obviously meant to be the power of compassion and positivity.”

    Nightmare is supposed to be virtually powerless in the waking world, but if Marvel Girl is written as brushing him off while in dreams, that’s a tacky thing to do to another hero’s enemy. As the data page says, he once took over Eternity. D’Spayre wasn’t jobbed off when he appeared in Dr. Strange.

    When Jean went off on her kindness, Nightmare should have responded with a crack about Terra Verde or the Quiet Council.

    Steve Englehart was rumored to write Doctor Strange while on acid.

  28. Luis Dantas says:

    Nightmare was also one of the very earliest foes of Dazzler in her own solo title.

    Easy to forget, because it was a really odd and inconsequential confrontation. A badly written one too. Essentially Nightmare put a lot of effort into appearing scary to Dazzler, then she fought back by emitting quite a lot of light.

    Yeah. I did not find that very convincing nor memorable either. To their credit, neither character has ever spoken of that again since.

    Taking into account that Magik and Doctor Strange have been seen interacting often as of late, including during Hellfire Gala and a gratuitous scene in “Death of Doctor Strange #1” that nonetheless was highly visible in the promotional video of the series, this issue looks a lot like an attempt at promoting the visibility of Doctor Strange. A little internal publicity among editorial niches that don’t traditionally overlap all that much – and for that very reason have a better than average chance of actually bringing new readers and more sales if the pitched character is presented in a good light and it turns out that its current books are well written too.

    I suppose it also hints at likely future developments – in this case, plots involving Cyclops’ insecurities, Jean’s psychological outlook, X23’s awkwardness towards Synch now that she know at the very least that they have decades of one-sided history. Even Sunfire’s appearance may be a gentle spur for readers to point out how they want the character to be developed.

    But as a X-Men story, it looks like a meld of a breather issue with an ad for Doctor Strange and his surprising many books (despite not currently having a solo ongoing).

  29. Chris V says:

    Doctor Strange is currently appearing (?) in the Death of Dr. Strange mini-series, where it looks like he will be replaced by a new Sorcerer Supreme.
    He is also the leaders of the Defenders in the current excellent Defenders mini-series, written by Al Ewing.

    Englehart wasn’t just rumoured to be tripping on Acid while writing those comics, he admitted as much in an interview. He talked about how he and Jim Starlin would drop acid and walk the streets of New York City at night coming up with farout ideas.

  30. neutrino says:

    Doctor Strange is also a main character in Gerry Duggan’s Savage Avengers. But who needs Doctor Strange if Marvel Girl can deal with his enemies so effectively? Why didn’t she just one-shot Dormammu in the Last Annihilation?

    The whole team seems OP, especially Synch. Why aren’t they attacking Orchis? That plus beloved by the public, no moral dilemmas from dealing with Krakoa’s shady side, or government interference is a far cry from the cracks Hickman was introducing.

  31. Mike Loughlin says:

    Marvel Comic Presents 100 featured Nightmare and Wolverine, as well as Ghost Rider & Dr. Doom, in a story drawn by Sam Kieth. I don’t remember if they interacted, or anything else about it besides the art.

    Why is Jean Grey such a hard character to write? I know she’s OP, but there are plenty of other Omega mutants or God-level super-heroes that can hold my interest. Occasionally, she’s compelling (e.g. Claremont/Byrne, X-Men: Season One). I like her when she displays leadership qualities balanced by the innate goodness Duggan has her go on about in this issue. She seems to work best with a partner to play off of (uptight Cyclops, brash Emma Frost, mentor-mode Prof. X). Is she too defined by relationships to have interesting character traits?

    While I found this issue disappointing I liked the art. Nice job pinch-hitting, Javier Pina.

  32. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    @neutrino ‘beloved by the public, no moral dilemmas from dealing with Krakoa’s shady side, or government interference is a far cry from the cracks Hickman was introducing.’

    The X-Men are supposed to be Krakoa’s shining beacon and ‘soft power’ national export. Could be the book is supposed to reflect that from a line-wide perspective, which isn’t a problem for me as long as there are other books that deal with Krakoa’s shady side. And so far, there are (X-Force, Hellions, Marauders to a point, even New Mutants on the mutant child abandonment and clone issues).

    On the other hand, even if Duggan plans to deal with the shady side here (whether he does should be made clear by how he resolves the Urich investigation), I wouldn’t expect that to start within the first six issues. First you establish the shining beacon, then you look at the shadows it casts. Pretty standard, I think.

    Then again I didn’t expect nightmare filler in issue #4 either, so what do I know?

  33. Thom H. says:

    Grant Morrison’s Jean was fun because she went around breaking things (the U-Men, Emma) with her excessive strength and justified it as “burning through lies.”

    Tom Taylor’s Jean (in X-Men: Red) was fun because she actually worked to accomplish Xavier’s dream instead of just talking about it endlessly like everyone else (including Xavier).

    I think she honestly works best when she goes against the grain a little bit and stirs things up for other characters. She certainly did that as Dark Phoenix and to a lesser extent in the examples above.

    But when writers lean into the “team matriarch” angle or the “love goddess” angle, she immediately becomes super bland. I swear her main superpower in the ’90s was pushing Xavier around in his hoverchair.

  34. neutrino says:

    @Krzysiek Ceran
    “The X-Men are supposed to be Krakoa’s shining beacon and ‘soft power’ national export.”

    Supposed to be, but it shouldn’t be that easy. Some of the X-men are not only aware of the shady stuff, but Jean Grey took part in Terra Verde.

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