Moral compromise has always been baked into the concept of Krakoa. For mutants to have a paradise, as in Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” there needs to be a sacrifice.
Or, in the case of Professor Xavier and Magneto, a cascading series of compromises that tear at the fabric of their long-sought mutant utopia.
We have finally made it to the first issue of Inferno, the four-part, oversized finale to Jonathan Hickman’s time writing the X-Men. This issue (complete with at least sixteen variant covers and a movie-style trailer) may be the most highly-anticipated Marvel comic since House of X and Powers of X.
Those interlocking series ushered in Hickman’s relaunch of the X-Men in July 2019 and more than two years later, Inferno is set to be his swan song. Last month, Hickman told EW that his collaborators wanted to maintain the Krakoa status quo longer than he had intended, requiring a change of plans. “I appreciated that House of X resonated with them to the extent that they didn’t want it to end, but the reality was that I knew I would be leaving the line early,” he said.
Inferno is far from a boring or average comic. Like Hickman’s best X-Office work, it positions Xavier and Magneto in ethically gray roles that best suit their — shall we say — complicated histories. Moira MacTaggert, the fulcrum of this entire Krakoa project, takes center stage again and her dialogue is every bit as devilish and exciting as in House of X #2.
There is much to like here and, certainly, it does not take much imagination to picture where this series goes and how satisfying it will be to see the cost of Xavier and Magneto’s choices come due. (Marvel has already spoiled at least one likely resolution.)
But this issue also suffers from poor pacing, artwork that appears incomplete or rushed at times, and an overreliance on flashbacks that occupy valuable page time while repeating scenes—sometimes word for word—from House of X.
Let’s unpack Inferno #1 a little more and get into some spoilers. So be warned…
SPOILERS AHEAD for Inferno #1!
Of all the callbacks to House of X, by far the most successful one is how Hickman chooses to open this issue. Instead of Xavier greeting his newly-resurrected X-Men, Hickman has Emma Frost donning the Cerebro helmet as Xavier emerges from an egg. What is happening here?
Emma does not have much to do for the rest of the issue, so this remains a mystery for now, but it sure works well as a prologue.
Less successful is Hickman’s extended retelling of Moira’s encounter with Mystique and Destiny in her third life. The seven-page encounter plays out nearly identically to the scene from House of X #2, but Hickman adds a few details, including a slightly different Destiny speech before Moira’s death.
He has used this trick before. In the lead-up to X of Swords, Hickman showed two different versions of the history of Arakko — one distorted due to the Summoner’s deceptions. Is something like that happening here? It’s not clear. Some of the changes seem mostly cosmetic. (In one instance, Moira says in Inferno, “If you’re going to kill me, then just kill me and get it over with.” The same sequence in House of X has Moira saying, “So if you’re going to kill me, then just kill me and get it over with.”)
Other changes are much broader and involve Destiny and Mystique rationalizing their decision to kill Moira in a more detailed way. Instead of quickly dispatching with her after a warning to not again develop a mutant cure, Destiny monologues about Moira’s need to erase “doubt” about fighting for mutantkind. “How do we erase doubt? How do we make newfound conviction stick?” Mystique asks. “I think the answer is fear.”
I’m not sure if there is any significance to these scenes being slightly different. But in a series already taxed for space — Hickman has said he had to cut a subplot involving Rogue for that reason — it seems strange to devote so much page time to a scene we’ve already (mostly) seen.
The odd pacing extends to Hickman’s reintroduction to Orchis, which results in two pedestrian plot points — the group’s discovery of Moira’s secret gate and Omega Sentinel’s realization that the mutants must have some reason for mounting continued, fruitless attacks on the Orchis station — occupying a huge chunk of the issue.
The most interesting material concerns Xavier and Magneto’s (extremely bad) attempt to soothe Moira’s concerns about Destiny. Every scene with Moira and the two men she mocks as “the brilliant founders of this great nation” crackles with energy and benefits from some of Valerio Schiti’s best character work of the issue.
Schiti, one of Marvel’s best artists and a revelation on S.W.O.R.D. with Al Ewing, provides more-than-serviceable work here, but other scenes he draws feel rushed. The Moira-Destiny flashback also reads like a misuse of Schiti’s unique skillset as he is forced to essentially retrace Pepe Larraz’s art from House of X #2.
One scene Schiti absolutely kills is the issue’s finale, which introduces a jaw dropper of a twist. As frustrated as I was to see Mystique sidelined for much of this issue, Hickman’s revelation that she has apparently resurrected Destiny herself is a shocking, brilliant cliffhanger. Krakoa is going to burn.
The thrill of a first issue like this is in what it sets up and portends for the rest of the series. By that score, Hickman and Schiti do an admirable job, but as a standalone issue, it suffers from pacing problems and an unshakeable feeling that the execution was rushed.
Some other, scattered thoughts on Inferno #1:
- Xavier and Magneto certainly are not anything resembling the proletariat, but “seize the means of resurrection” is a great line.
- For the first time I can remember in the Krakoa era, this issue has no cast list. The Krakoan at the end, naturally, reads: “DESTINY.”
- Krakoa hiring Technet, the dimension-hopping assassins from classic Captain Britain, to attack Orchis is a great bit.
- Presumably Xavier and Magneto are responsible for Black Tom’s illness as a way to keep Krakoa in the dark about their plan? And Doug Ramsey will be the one to figure it out…?
- So there was a point to those Brood issues of X-Men after all!
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