Empyre: X-Men #4 is here to wrap up the zombies vs. plants vs. mutants crossover event. It’s the conclusion to the four-part tie-in, and a giant zombie plant creature is about to stomp all over Angel, Nightcrawler, Multiple Man, and a whole slew of other mutants. Just another Wednesday, I guess. But wait, Jonathan Hickman is writing this issue solo, so you know there will be some big twist. Since this book started with Scarlet Witch attempting to reverse the House of M, surely there’s more to her story?
This issue opens with Scarlet Witch living with the mistake she just unleashed on Genosha by raising the dead mutants into horrible zombies. You’ll instantly note the book is gorgeously rendered by Jorge Molina and Lucas Werneck, which gives Wanda’s scenes a clean look that suits the sorcerer story that unfolds. The first chunk of this book is about Doctor Strange helping Wanda reverse what she did to Genosha. The creative team does well to call back to the first issue and build towards a somewhat comical idea when it comes to the heroes who have been battling for three issues.
This book has two key scenes that elevate it from the loud blockbuster-style action of past issues had, and they come in the way of quieter moments. The first is with Beast, who has been leaning towards lawful evil for a stretch and nearly confirms as such here. He’s a man of science, and he does things for the greater good, or so he seems to think even when it’s likely not. Hickman is laying the seeds for more not-so-good guy beast doing terrible things in the name of science.
The second involves Explodey Boy, who is one of the more vocal zombies to be resurrected. Hickman looks at a clever idea — what if you lived in a world where you were always resurrected, but then a zombie corpse of yourself came back too? The book spends a lot of time with these two characters talking casually in a very ’90s-style back and forth that takes its time. In these scenes, there’s a quiet contemplation about death, the fairness of rebirth, and coming to the realization that sometimes the end is the end for you. Hickman also cleverly throws in a nod to how outrageous House of X and Powers of X are at their cores, but also how smart they are too.
Spending so much time with Explodey Boy takes the focus away from the rather cheap rush to resolution by the end (and also the fact that Wanda told nobody the zombie problem was taken care of), and brings the book back to the central workings of X-Men and resurrections.
These scenes are fun, quirky, and feel very human thanks to the details in character reactions and well-written dialogue. Unfortunately, it can’t cover up a rather oddly plotted book that reads like a series of scenes that happen to go together. One could argue there’s a series of conversations here, but they don’t necessarily gel together. It’s like a bunch of napkin ideas were thrown into the book with one pass on the script. Considering this is a tie-in to a major event I don’t think it’s that surprising though, since X-Men has tended to do its own thing, making this serve as a rejection of the event itself in some respects.
I liked Empyre: X-Men #4 thanks to some clever ideas and some well-written dialogue in a quieter scene we don’t get enough of in superhero comics. I can’t say this tie-in series needed to be made, but there’s plenty of glimmers and shine throughout to make it a fun read.