Jonathan Hickman has been delivering Marvel’s best comics in years with his work on Powers of X and House of X. Every issue has been absolutely amazing. I am confident that Hickman will deliver another excellent read with Powers of X #4. Let’s go ahead and hit this review!
Words: Jonathan Hickman
Pencils: R.B. Silva
Inks: R.B. Silva and Adriano Di Benedetto
Colors: Marte Gracia
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin in X0: The X-Men. Year One. We see Magneto and Professor X arriving at Bar Sinister. They are greeted by a clone of Mr. Sinister who is guarding the entrance. The guard comments how fancy Magneto’s cape looks. However, the guard thinks that Professor X is dressed shabbily like a peasant. Professor X says that he does not have an appointment but that he wants to talk to Nathaniel Essex. The guard replies that there are so many of us. The guard asks which Mr. Sinister they want to talk to. Magneto replies that they want to talk to the Mr. Sinister in charge.
We cut to the guard presenting Magneto and Professor X to Mr. Sinister who is sitting on a throne and surrounded by his court. Mr. Sinister acts very sassy and comments about how he loves Magneto’s cape. Mr. Sinister asks his clone manservant why he does not have a cape. The clone manservant replies that he thinks Mr. Sinister should wear a cape. Mr. Sinister asks why the clone manservant never said anything about it before. The clone manservant replies that it slipped his mind. Mr. Sinister orders his clone guards to kill the clone manservant. They clone guards stab the clone manservant to death. (I like humor and camp, but this missed the intended mark.)
Mr. Sinister then asks how he can help Professor X and Magneto. Professor X says that he knows Mr. Sinister is talented in his work with genetics and that he is attempting to catalog the word’s DNA. Professor X wants Mr. Sinister to make a comprehensive database of all mutant DNA that is safe, secure, and redundant.
Mr. Sinister says that he played around with the mutant gene and inserted it into his own genetic structure. Mr. Sinister says that he did not like the results. Mr. Sinister says that he will not do what Professor X is asking of him. Suddenly, another Mr. Sinister shoots the Mr. Sinister on the throne in the head and kills him. The murderous Mr. Sinister has a cape. Mr. Sinister sits on the throne and says that he will do what Professor X asks. Mr. Sinister says that his mutant power is “overthrowing tyrants and being absolutely fabulous.” (Mr. Sinister is basically like an evil version of Tim Gunn.)
Professor X tells Mr. Sinister that he needs to do two things. Professor X then uses his powers and tells Mr. Sinister needs to begin the good work. The second is that Mr. Sinister needs to forget why he is doing this work and to forget that Professor X and Magneto were even here until the day that Professor X wants Mr. Sinister to remember this day.
We then get a two-page informational insert from the Red Diamond which has the best news and gossip from Bar Sinister. It lists ten Sinister Secrets and then reveals two Sinister Secrets. I am not about to list the ten Sinister Secrets. Just click on the pics later on in the review when I discuss what each secret must mean.
The two Sinister Secrets that were revealed? The first Sinister Secret revealed was that the mutant DNA that Mr. Sinister mixed with his genetics was from John Proudstar aka Thunderbird!! The second Sinister Secret revealed was the word “Inferno” and that it is a word not often spoken. But, when the word is spoken you should aware because what took so long to build can come down quickly.
We then shift to X1: The X-Men. Months ago. We see Professor X and Doug Ramsey landing in Krakoa. Professor X says that Krakoa is no longer their adversary. Professor X was able to telepathically make a connection with Krakoa. Professor X says that from that connection the relationship between mutant island and mutant man will grow.
We see Professor X and Doug arriving at a giant tree with a face on it. Krakoa then talks to Doug. Professor X says that Krakoa is sad. Doug says that Krakoa is unhappy, but Professor X’s telepathic connection to Krakoa is a basic connection that lacks the complexity and nuances of an actual discussion using language.
Doug says that Krakoa said that it used to be one island named Okkara. That Okkara was ancient. That the twilight sword of the enemy tore the world asunder and split Okkara into two pieces: Arakko and Krakoa. From the depths of that split cam demonic warriors. Apocalypse and his original Four Horsemen then defeated the demons. Apocalypse then sealed the rift shut. But, Krakoa remains half for all of eternity.
Professor X telepathically reveals his plans for a Krakoan bio-computer network and his plans for mutants living on Krakoa to Doug. Professor X asks Doug how long it will take him to create this. Doug says it might take as long as a year. Professor X tells Doug to get to work.
We get a one-page informational insert on the current Krakoan systems. Doug built an interface for mutants to interact with Krakoa without needing Doug’s help as a go-between. Sage is the Head of Transit/Monitoring. Black Tom Cassidy is the Head of Defense/Observation. Trinary is the Head of Secondary/External Systems. Beast is the Head of Overwatch/Data Analysis. There are rumors of Forge in a subterranean lab creating biological machines that could be used to manage a mutant expansion on Krakoa.
We zip forward to X3: The X-Men. Year One Thousand. We see the oldest of the Elders the Phalanx that the Elder is ready for conversion and hope for ascension. The Phalanx then absorbs the Elder’s machine.
One of the Elders says that the Phalanx have the ability to integrate any machine intelligence into their collective. If that intelligence is found worthy then it will eventually ascend and be part of the greater collective. One of the Elders says that the Phalanx have found them to be useful.
The other Elders point out that this method does not work with biological entities. It is explained that the oldest Elder made a host machine and copied himself into it before the Phalanx absorbed the machine. The Elders confirm that the oldest Elder is somewhere inside of the Phalanx.
Nimrod says that it is foreboding that the Phalanx want the machines and not the biological beings like the Librarian. Therefore, the Elders have successfully found a way around that problem. Now they just have to wait and see if it is acceptable. We see the Phalanx transforming into a large sphere. End of issue.
The Good: Powers of X #4 was another well-written issue. Jonathan Hickman continues to do a stellar job with the plotting of this story. The story continues to move forward with a clear destination in mind. The issue is packed full of small details. It is obvious that Hickman sweats the tiniest details when he painstakingly crafts this intricate story. As always, the setting is rich and immersive. The story is dense enough that the reader must read Powers of X #4 multiple times in order to glean all of the information that is tucked into this story.
The pacing for Powers of X #4 is quite measured. However, the pacing is not slow. Further, the story never wanders or loses focus. Hickman employs a steady pace that never loses sight on his goals.
Powers of X #4 focuses on backstory with the Sinister Bar scene and the Krakoa scene. The only scene that advances a current plotline is the Year One Thousand scene. It can be a bit annoying to still be getting backstory in the eighth issue of a story, but the backstory is so rich and fascinating that I will not complain that much.
The scene at Bar Sinister was quite entertaining. This was easily the most humorous and silly scene that we have gotten in either House of X or Powers of X. That can be a positive or a negative. Let’s stick with the positive. Despite a few quibbles here and there I did find Hickman’s Mr. Sinister to be rather entertaining. Some of Mr. Sinister’s lines were flat out hilarious. Hickman’s approach to writing Mr. Sinister may not appeal to some readers. But, I have to admit that I really enjoyed a sassy Mr. Sinister. Hickman was able to give some uniqueness and style to a villain in Mr. Sinister who is often a miss with me.
The running joke about Mr. Sinister loving Magneto’s cape and wanting one for himself was the humor that I enjoyed the most. Plus, Hickman paid it off in a subtle manner when the Mr. Sinister who took control at the end of the scene is shown wearing a cape. It was as if the fact that this Mr. Sinister had a cape lent him more clout and power.
I also liked how Hickman wrote Professor X in this scene. We have already seen how present-day Professor X is being written like a creepy cult leader. Well, in X0: X-Men Year One, Hickman is showing the reader a Professor X who is willing to deal with unsavory characters in order to achieve his objectives. Hickman also shows the reader a version of Professor X who will readily use his powers to tamper with other people’s minds. Historically, Professor X has been loath to do so.
Of course, what I found most interesting about the Mr. Sinister scene was the two-page insert with all of the Sinister Secrets. You can click on the pics above and below to read them for yourselves. Now, let’s have some fun trying to guess what are the meanings behind these various secrets.
Before we address the ten Sinister Secrets, let’s discuss the two Sinister Secrets Revealed. The first Sinister Secret Revealed deals with the identity of the mutant DNA that Mr. Sinister mixed with his own genetics. I loved that Hickman chose John Proudstar’s DNA to be the mutant DNA that Mr. Sinister chose to mix with his genetics. I know I am probably the only person on the planet who really liked Thunderbird. I always thought he was such a cool character that had so much potential. I have always felt that Chris Claremont and Len Wein wasted a good character by writing him off so quickly and never bringing him back to play a role in the X-Men. I am glad Hickman chose Thunderbird instead of one of your usual high profile X-Men. Choosing a high profile X-Man would have been boring and creatively lazy.
The second Sinister Secret Reveals talks about a word that is rarely spoken and how what takes a long time to build can come crumbling down quickly. The reveal is that the word this Sinister Secret is talking about is “Inferno.” Inferno was a huge X-Men even that ran from 1988-1989. Mr. Sinister and Madelyne Pryor were the big bads in that story. I absolute loved Inferno when I was a kid. I am thrilled to see any reference to Inferno and cannot wait to see what Hickman has in store for us.
All right, now let’s talk about the ten Sinister Secrets. Sinister Secret #1 talks about a Mr. Sinister who wears red shoes. I don’t have anything for you with this one.
Sinister Secret #2 talks about a trendsetting mutant who was cut down in his prime. Then it says that the mutant would stop wearing human clothes and join the stampede across Krakoa to the flower that is the fullest. This is a tough one. Plenty of mutants have been killed in their prime. However, I am going to go with Thunderbird. After all, Sinister picked Thunderbird for the mutant DNA to mix with his genetics. So, it would make sense for Sinister to view Thunderbird as a “trendsetter” since that is how Sinister views himself.
Sinister Secret #3 refers to a deceased redheaded pretender who made a deal with the devil. That has to be referring to Madelyne Pryor who was a Jean Grey clone and was created by Mr. Sinister. Madelyne also made a demonic deal that turned her into the Goblin Queen. I know I am probably in the minority, but I have always loved Madelyne’s character. I would be cool with her making a return in Hickman’s X-Men.
Sinister Secret #4 talks about how none of the Sinister clones have noticed what has washed up ashore. And that if the Sinister clones don’t take notice then they won’t have anything to celebrate about. This is a tough one. Since this secret references something coming from the water that immediately makes me think of Namor. He is the one Marvel character most associated with water. Plus, Namor is technically Marvel’s first mutant.
Sinister Secret #5 talks about a man who is the best at what he does and a woman who is married with a kid. That the husband knows what is going on. But, the husband is up to something much the same. The first person is obviously Wolverine. The married woman with a kid? That could be Jean Grey. The husband could be Scott Summers. The Wolverine/Phoenix/Cyclops love triangle is well established in X-Men lore. Maybe Hickman is looking to revisit this dynamic?
Sinister Secret #6 talks about a progerian mutant who had ties with Mr. Sinister and is believed to be defeated. Well, Stryfe is a mutant who was artificially aged. And Stryfe worked with Sinister. So the mutant could be Stryfe. And the samples the secret references could be samples of the Legacy Virus.
Sinister Secret #7 talks about two brothers who jumped out of a plane and then discovered a third brother. The secret says that there may be more brothers out there. Scott and Alex Summers are the brothers who jumped out of a plane. Vulcan is the third brother. And we know that Marvel is going to be publishing a title centered on the Summers brothers. So, it looks like we may be getting another Summers brother or two in the future!
Sinister Secret #8 talks about the fittest-of-all mutant who has a particular-numbered entourage who are eventually replaced with newer versions. This must be talking about Apocalypse and his Four Horseman. This secret indicates that Apocalypse’s original Four Horsemen may be returning. These are the Four Horsemen that we saw in the flashback scene fighting the demons after Okkara was split into Krakoa and Arakko.
Sinister Secret #9 talks about a non-couple couple who have been apart for a long time. This could be referencing the new pairing of Apocalypse and Moira that Hickman revealed in House of X #2. Prior to Hickman taking over the X-Men, these two characters were never a couple.
Sinister Secret #10 discusses a brainwashed mutant Sinister that was replaced long ago and has been in on the game for almost as long as the game was being played. This secret is talking about how the Mr. Sinister clone that Professor X brainwashes in this issue is later killed by another Mr. Sinister clone who was not brainwashed. And Professor X never found out. Damn! That is one hell of a plot twist!
All ten of these Sinister Secrets are absolute gems! And so are the two Sinister Secrets revealed. This is brilliant long-range plotting. The level of detail that Hickman packs into these two pages is just insane. Hickman is demonstrating the vision and plotting abilities far past most comic book writers. And to get so much detail crammed into a couple of pages? These Sinister Secrets succeed in getting me excited for the upcoming events in the pages of the various X-Men titles. Hickman is signaling to the reader that he has grand plans in store for the reader. And Hickman’s plans involve every corner of the X-Men’s continuity, too. Seriously, Hickman is attempting to weave in as much of the X-Men’s continuity as is possible.
While I found the Krakoa scene to be a bit too long and boring, I did enjoy the two-page story about Krakoa’s origin. Hickman does a fantastic job weaving Krakoa even deeper into the X-Men’s continuity. I like the concept of Krakoa originally being one half of a single land called Okkara. And now since we know that there is another mutant island out there named Arakko I am interested to see if Hickman folds Arakko into the story at some point. Hickman really does a phenomenal job taking Krakoa and continuing to grow the character and make Krakoa more complex and compelling than ever before.
The demonic attack that split Okkara in two was quite interesting. Hickman did not tell us which character led this attack. But, Hickman did mention that the character used the Twilight Sword to split Krakoa in half. Therefore, this mysterious character must have been Surtur. The Twilight Sword is Surtur’s weapon of choice. I love how Hickman folds a little bit of Thor’s continuity into the story. Even though Hickman has been focusing on X-Men continuity with his story on House of X and Powers of X, it is important that he still grounds the X-Men franchise in the 616 Universe at large. This was a nice subtle touch. Plus, talk about your impressive research skills and continuity knowledge. Hickman just revels in the minutia of Marvel’s continuity.
Of course, the inclusion of Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen into the story of Okarra makes sense, too. Hickman making Apocalypse the ancient and eternal mutant who defeats Surtur helps further mesh Apocalypse into another aspect of X-Men continuity. Hickman really manages to pull off impressive continuity work in just two pages.
R.B. Silva does another fine job with the artwork. Powers of X #4 is an attractive issue from cover-to-cover. I particularly enjoyed how Silva drew the giant Krakoa tree. Silva seems equally adept and comfortable drawing small scale scenes full of talking heads as he is drawing the grand cosmic scene in the Year One Thousand scene.
The Bad: I enjoyed Powers of X #4 much more on my second read than I did on my first read. This is an issue that gets better with each subsequent read. Having said that, readers who get tired of a lot of backstory may not enjoy Powers of X #4 nearly as much as I did. We are now in the eighth issue of Hickman’s story and he is still giving us backstory. That might be a deal-breaker for some readers who prefer that writers keep the backstory to a minimum and focus on driving the present-day story forward.
As much as I loved how much additional detail that Hickman gave to Krakoa’s origin, I will admit that the scene with Doug and Professor X felt like it had some filler in it. This scene could have been delivered in a fewer amount of pages.
Also, as much as I did enjoy the scene at Bar Sinister I had a few quibbles with it. I certainly did enjoy Mr. Sinister and I did find him entertaining for the most part. However, there were a few moments where Hickman does go overboard with Mr. Sinister’s sass and he becomes a bit too goofy and over-the-top. I like my fair share of camp in a story, but Hickman’s story is not campy. So, when Mr. Sinister begins to veer too far into camp it simply serves to make the scene seem discordant with the rest of Hickman’s story. The level of camp does not mesh stylistically with the mood of every other plotline and character in Hickman’s story. Less is more is a Golden Rule that all writers should follow. Hickman probably should have followed that rule with the Bar Sinister scene.
I have been interested in the Year One Thousand plot line up to this issue. However, what we get in Powers of X #3 was not what I was hoping for. Up to this point, Hickman has finally been able to take all of the disparate plotlines from the various time periods and connect them together in an intelligent fashion. Well, we are still waiting for that with the Year One Thousand plotline. This is the last remaining plotline that does not fit into anything else in Hickman’s story. And, I am okay with a long-range mystery. But, it feels like Hickman is being too coy with the reader. This Year One Thousand plotline has stayed too vague for too long.
Overall: Jonathan Hickman delivers another well-crafted read in Powers of X #4. Powers of X and House of X continue to be the gold standard of Marvel at the moment. There are no Marvel comics currently on the market that can even come close to touching the level of writing that Hickman is delivering on these two titles. If you are a lapsed X-Men fan or a new reader who has thought the X-Men were impenetrable then I would highly urge you to start reading Powers of X and House of X.
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