Since the earliest days of Chris Claremont’s legendary run, X-Men has often looked something like a Russian nesting doll. Take out the school hi-jinks, dimension-hopping, and resurrection, and what you’ll find more closely resembles a romance comic than a standard superhero book.
No matter the creator or era, the X-Men haven’t stopped falling in and out of love with each other. (There’s a reason it’s called “comic’s greatest superhero soap opera.”) Since taking over the X-Men, writer Jonathan Hickman has not exactly foregrounded this reading of the book, but for his swan song on Inferno, the last series before he departs the X-Office, Hickman is rectifying that omission.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Inferno #2!
That’s because — finally! — Destiny is back and with her long-suffering (and scheming) wife Mystique is ready to upend Krakoa’s ruling establishment.
Hickman has been laying the groundwork for this move since House of X, which revealed Moira MacTaggert’s fear of pre-cognitive mutants like Destiny, and the payoff is sweet. In just four panels, Hickman and artist Stefano Caselli show Destiny’s mutant abilities returning as Mystique catches her up on the new status quo.
The scene portends disaster for Krakoa’s ruling trio, but what I like most about it is how none of that other stuff matters in the moment. Mystique and Destiny have their own plan — it’s a Hickman comic…everyone has plans! — but in this moment, they’re only concerned with understanding each other and renewing their love.
Mystique, we’re told:
thought that the years had made her hard—immune to weakness—so she was surprised when Destiny asked, ‘What has happened to you? What have you done? What have you become?’
And she was even more surprised that it broke her.”
Hickman has returned constantly to this idea of time radically shifting one partner while sparing another. Perhaps the best example of it came in X-Men #19, where Synch recalls his centuries-long romance with Laura Kinney, but she does not.
There’s some goofy time dilation and resurrection nonsense underpinning it all, but that central idea of growing apart from your partner and being accepted by them despite those changes is emotional realism at its best.
So far Inferno has been a sprawling, somewhat more ambitious story than I had imagined for a four-issue series, but Hickman is smartly mooring its emotional core to Destiny and Mystique. When they are on the page, the normal work of a Hickman comic — recalling all the Chekhov’s guns, keeping track of the various subplots, noticing clues — ceases to matter and the importance of their perspective, their love, and their rage gives everything else meaning.
No, this issue is not a traditional romance comic by any means, but it would not work without us believing in and understanding Mystique and Destiny’s central romance.
For as fascinating as they are in this issue, Mystique and Destiny are not the only characters here or even on the cover. That honor belongs to Emma Frost, who enters the Inferno spotlight in a big way when the Unholy Trio fills her in on Krakoa’s origin and the secret nature of Moira’s powers. She responds…predictably!
This scene calls back to Powers of X #6 and foreshadows what appears to be Emma assuming some version of Xavier’s role on the island. (That is at least my early guess!) How she responds to the news of Moira’s role — and what that means for the new, latest member of the Quiet Council — is anyone’s guess.
With all of that to sift through and Orchis waiting in the wings, where it appears Nimrod and Omega Sentinel have come to some kind of understanding, I’m already wondering how Hickman will be able to wrap this up (and why Marvel did not extend this series by a few issues).
Some other, scattered thoughts on Inferno #2:
- When I reviewed issue #1, I was critical of Hickman and artist Valerio Schiti devoting so many pages to a (nearly-identical) redux of a scene from House of X #2, but as several X-fans smartly pointed out on Twitter, these differences could be due to some meaningful shift in perspective. I’m hopeful that they’re right — otherwise, I’m not sure why the creative team needed to revisit that scene.
- I was also initially skeptical of Marvel’s plan to switch artists for the first three issues of Inferno, but Caselli’s pencils cohere seamlessly with Schiti’s from issue #1. The transition is no doubt eased by having colorist David Curiel work on each issue, but this is a gorgeous issue with several standout sequences, particularly Emma’s vision of Moira’s ten lives.
- Mystique’s scheme to resurrect Destiny was a bit too predictable, even if it makes sense for a shapeshifter to, well, shapeshift. What I don’t understand is why Mystique impersonated Sage and what her designs are on X-Force’s business.
- Another nitpick: if Destiny had been alive on the island for four weeks, how did Xavier not notice her? Certainly her presence would have registered on Cerebro, right? (Did Mystique-as-Sage block her from being on Cerebro?)
- The final-page teaser reads “NIMROD.” Well that should be fun.
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