X-Factor #4 can’t possibly be discussed without spoilers for X of Swords: Creation. There’s no way around it, so consider this your fair warning from now on.
The issue picks up immediately after Creation ends, with the unfortunate survivors of the team that went into Otherworld to rescue the mutants of Arakko slinking their way back to Krakoa, heavily injured. Rictor and Apocalypse have been poisoned by the Horseman Pestilence, while Rockslide has been sliced in two by the Summoner. The issue covers the efforts from the Five to do exactly what makes Krakoa special: cure death. And, in the background, Polaris attempts to find what exactly are the swords needed by the Krakoans.
In a sense, Krakoa’s annihilation of death has only actually made death more important. Sure, most deaths don’t count, now. But this is comics; they’ve never really counted. No one went into Fear Itself thinking that this was it for Thor. No one walked away from Civil War II thinking that there was never going to be another issue of Iron Man staring Tony Stark again. It’s no different with the X-Men — I really doubt that anyone really believed that Cyclops was dead forever in Death of X.
So, what Krakoa has done is just make textual in-universe what was long true from the reader’s perspective: most deaths won’t matter.
But then Leah Williams – and Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard, presumably – breaks the rules. Rockslide is dead, and the version of Rockslide that we knew and loved is dead for real. He isn’t coming back; the death of Rockslide in Otherworld, according to the issue, means that he died permanently, and all of the Cerebro backups of him are gone.
(It’s probably worthwhile to note that this is the first appearance of Doctor Moira Mactaggart in a while, too.)
And guess what? I believe them. The fact that death is so unimportant elsewhere, and the X-Men die and come back so casually, makes a real death, a permanent death, seem important. When Polaris talks about how Rockslide’s sacrifice will be remembered forever, I can easily picture that happening.
There are so many interesting little tidbits of worldbuilding. That mutants sign their name with their mutant name; that Krakoan time is measured in KMT, not GMT; Magneto being fantastically mean to -]A[-; it’s all really interesting, and creates the underlying impression of a real place, even as fantastical as a comic book world is.
Carlos Gomez’s art isn’t a perfect fit for the issue. X of Swords demands a real Tolkien-esque, high fantasy tone and Gomez’s art is just a bit too cartoony and stylized. But the book is still good, and X of Swords remains an event to watch.
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