Following the somewhat lackluster ending of the X of Swords crossover, hopes were high for the Hellfire Gala to continue the Hickman Era’s momentum for Marvel’s merry mutants. Yet while the Hellfire Gala is good fun, looks great, and reads rather briskly, the collected trade of the X-Men’s most extravagant affair to date just doesn’t quite stick the landing.
Collecting Marauders and X-Men #21, S.W.O.R.D. #6, and the Planet-Size X-Men one-shot, X-Men: Hellfire Gala is a relatively barebones look at mutantkind’s fanciest fete. The storyline has the X-Men inviting the world’s elite to the island of Krakoa for an ostentatious show of mutant might via a Met Gala-style evening of wine, entertainment and a show-stopping flex of power designed to make a statement that announces the island nation as a major player in the world — and interplanetary scene.
Style Over Substance
Let’s start off by talking about the art, as each book in the trade looks great. Every art team does an excellent job of rendering the unique outfits of the attendees, as well as the opulent staging ground for the event itself (even the throwback section that features pencils from John Bolton stands out). Special attention must be paid (as always) to the artwork of Pepe Larraz. When Inferno wraps and we think back to the Hickman era of the X-Men, his artwork will be what we see. He joins the pantheon of iconic X-Men artists, and his work on Planet-Size X-Men is another entry in his already impressive list of X-Event books.
It’s somewhat appropriate that such attention was paid to the aesthetic of the book, of course, but it is also this trade’s biggest detriment. It turns out, the Hellfire Gala is one of those events that’s more memorable as a mosaic of all the stories that orbit around it. This book does include a bit of the lead up and the impact from the S.W.O.R.D., but there’s no shaking that you are only reading a fraction of the story. This is an event that could do with an extended cut release with all the tie-in issues. I know the vogue move is to release all the individual series as their own standalone trades, but this is definitely an event that you’ll want the compendium for.
New Readers Need Not Apply
That really is the only complaint I have of the book, from a fan standpoint. It should be noted, however, that this is not a good place for lapsed fans or newcomers to the X-Men to come onboard with. Hickman’s revival and re-imagining of the line was too great a phase shift for many returning readers to just hop on with, and new readers will be missing a lot of the underlying character beats and motivations that add a lot of subtext to many of the interactions in this book that add gravitas to the scene. Xavier’s interaction with Reed Richards and his son Franklin, for example, would be baffling to those who haven’t been keeping up at least somewhat with the X-Men and their assorted books.
All that said, this is a collection of good to great issues, but an underwhelming trade. It is through no fault of the creative teams, as the books look good, allow big moments to breathe, and flow logically for the most part, but what you get with this trade is only part of the story and the result is just a bit unsatisfying.
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