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'X-Men' #20 is a thrilling reintroduction to Nimrod
Marvel Comics

Comic Books

‘X-Men’ #20 is a thrilling reintroduction to Nimrod

Mystique leaves Krakoa on a mission that could determine the fate of mutantkind — and her lost love.

There is a line at the end of every X-Men comic on the page that previews what books are coming next. It reads: “Krakoa is for all mutants.”

That line, first spoken by Charles Xavier in House of X #5, is as signature a statement for this new X-Men era as anything else. It is also a bold-faced lie.

Krakoa is not for all mutants, be they a clone like Madelyne Pryor or a pre-cog — someone capable of seeing the future and knowing how this Krakoa experiment might end.

Keeping Krakoa a paradise for most mutants requires shuffling some of the board, including Destiny, the precognitive mutant who foresaw Krakoa’s rise before her death.

Back in X-Men #6, writer Jonathan Hickman showed Destiny urging her wife Mystique to “burn” the island to the ground if Xavier and Magneto do not resurrect her.

The warning was a narrative convenience, but also one of several Chekhov’s guns that Hickman has inserted into this new X-Men status quo since its 2019 relaunch. When will Mystique piece together that Xavier and Magneto have no intention of bringing Destiny back? How will she respond?

X-Men #20

Marvel Comics

In X-Men #20, the penultimate issue of Hickman’s run before he hands it off to Gerry Duggan in July, we get a few startling answers. (Some spoilers follow.)

Mystique, fresh off of her first visit to the Orchis Forge, is tasked by Xavier and Magneto with a mission to blow up the station before Nimrod, the mutant-killing robot, can come online. Succeed and Destiny will be resurrected—so they tell her. On board Orchis, team leader Alia Gregor has her own mission: bring back her husband Erasmus in the form of Nimrod.

If this all sounds like comic book mumbo jumbo, that’s because it is. Hickman dutifully explains how Erasmus can be resurrected—involving “holographic memories” and the “extrapolation” of “saved data” — but the pseudoscience isn’t really the point.

Hickman’s larger concern is how Alia’s conflict is not so different from Mystique’s. Both of them want their spouse back and will defy nature to do just that.

Mystique, drawn with the right amount of righteous ferocity by Francesco Mobili, is the engine of this story and, like Moira MacTaggert and Synch, one of Hickman’s storytelling triumphs. This Mystique is light years away from the one-note character of the movies. Her struggle is not for mutants or even necessarily for herself, but for Destiny. Gregor, mutant-hater that she may be, is motivated by no less simple a concern.

Like Mystique, she is denied the satisfaction of seeing Erasmus when—by some convoluted science nonsense—he is forced to sacrifice his sentience to save the ship from Mystique’s attack.

Boy, does Mobili draw the hell out of this scene. The Nimrod of Powers of X was haunting, but also had some campy energy not unlike Mister Sinister. This Nimrod is all vengeance and wrath. “You were here at my beginning,” he tells a defeated Mystique. “I swear…I will see to your end.”

X-Men #20

Marvel Comics

The result is Xavier’s worst nightmare: a fully-powered Nimrod intent on destroying mutants and a pissed-off Mystique, still without her wife.

The tension crackles through the final pages of this story, which all but conclude Hickman’s run on the flagship book. Next month’s Hellfire Gala tie-in is the final issue before X-Men relaunches with a new cast and creative team in July.

For most of its 20 issues, Hickman’s X-Men has been spellbinding if not occasionally frustrating. For every issue about the macabre Crucible or a journey through time in the Vault, Hickman has wandered down paths that seem silly or unnecessary. (What was up with that Brood egg, again?)

That is partially a byproduct of the structure of the series itself, which unusually let each issue be a de facto one-shot, absent a few multipart stories. This issue was a sequel of sorts to X-Men #1, which ended with Gregor devising a plan to resurrect her husband, and X-Men #6, a close look at Mystique’s effort to resurrect Destiny.

Hickman’s stories tend to be about smart people in cavernous rooms deciding the fate of the world. The chatter about “holographic memories” comes with the territory. But his stories are almost always about something much simpler and more universal: family.

Before he took over the X-Men line, Hickman ascended to superstardom writing Avengers and New Avengers and, ultimately, Secret Wars. These stories are Hickman at his big-brained best: expanding the horizons of what is possible in superhero comics and playing with ideas about selfhood and technology. These ideas are littered through Krakoa in concepts like the Five and mutant resurrection.

The Hickman X-Men era is no doubt building to the kind of wild, show-stopping conclusion that made Secret Wars so memorable. But in thinking about this issue, and the looming end of his first ongoing X-series, I couldn’t help but think of something he wrote about the end of a much different series: his original run on Fantastic Four.

The secret sauce of Marvel’s First Family, Hickman wrote, was love — “Boundless, unconditional, to the end of time and back, lift you up from death itself, LOVE.” What a statement from perhaps the most left-brained writer in mainstream comics!

But he is exactly right. The Fantastic Four are about family. And family, however cheesy and saccharine that concept sounds in this context, is what has defined his otherwise undefinable X-Men series.

It’s the reason Hickman starts this issue with an otherwise unremarkable scene where Mystique acquires a weapon from Forge. These characters have a romantic history, of course, but also a history intertwined with Destiny. It was Destiny who told Mystique that she would fall in love one day with Forge. Their conversation in this issue is both a practical one that advances the plot toward Mystique’s mission, but also simmering with emotion.

These are the moments I love in Hickman’s writing, where the emotion is what matters even if witty dialogue and technobabble fill the foreground.

Hickman got away with calling a book “X-Men” despite having no actual X-Men team, but he couldn’t help but tell stories about family — Cyclops and Jean Grey’s family, Apocalypse’s family, the family you make in a Vault divorced from standard time, and, crucially, the family you fight for even when it makes no logical sense.

Mystique will burn down Krakoa to bring back Destiny. Gregor will do anything to bring back her husband, even if in so doing she brought back something else.

The Krakoa era will not last forever and more than perhaps any other issue, this one felt like an act break. We hopefully have plenty of road to travel before Hickman wraps this all up, but an end is coming and, if Nimrod is to be believed, it won’t be pretty.

'X-Men' #20 is a thrilling reintroduction to Nimrod
‘X-Men’ #20 is a thrilling reintroduction to Nimrod
X-Men #20
The penultimate issue of Jonathan Hickman's "X-Men" series is a tour-de-force about family, grief, and killer robots.
Reader Rating7 Votes
Mystique's desire to bring Destiny back to life is one of the more moving (and heartbreaking) threads in the Krakoa era.
Francesco Mobili draws a killer Nimrod and makes the mutant-hating robot as threatening as ever.
Hickman never shies away from the flaws (or moral costs) of Krakoan paradise.
All superhero comics need a bit of science mumbo-jumbo, but it occasionally gets to be too much.

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