House Of X #4
The X-Men have attacked the Mother Mold… but the Orchis Initiative is ready for them in House Of X #4, by writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Pepe Larraz, colorist Marte Gracia, and letterer Clayton Cowles. This one is a shocker from start to finish.
After the suicide attack on their ship, the surviving X-Men regroup and go after the control collars for the Mother Mold. Wolverine, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler disengage theirs, but Mystique fails. Orchis security forces storm the X-Men's ship. M forces Marvel Girl into an escape pod and holds them off. Cyclops orders Wolverine and Nightcrawler to take out the last control collar, and they do so at a high cost. From there, things get worse for the X-Men.
Saying that a lot of shocking things happen in this issue is an understatement. Hickman plays it all perfectly, though. It never seems gratuitous or done just for shock value; the team definitely knew what kind of mission they had signed up for and pull off that mission regardless of the cost. Saying any more would completely ruin the issue. It's the unexpectedness of the whole affair that makes this issue so powerful.
Honestly, it's hard to really talk much about this issue without spoiling everything. Readers have seen the X-Men go on this type of mission in the past, but never with this outcome. Hickman has been subverting expectations a lot in this book and in Power Of X, this is another example. It opens a whole new can of worms for human/mutant relations. The issue begins and ends with Hickman's patented infographics talking about all the times' humans have killed massive numbers of mutants. The beginning infographic just seems like any other one readers have seen in this book so far. The ending one juxtaposes the cold statistics with scenes from the book and some of the events described by the statistics, and suddenly, it makes sense why the book opened with them. It's wonderfully done.
Pepe Larraz's art captures the feeling of the script entirely. He really captures the resolve of the characters, both human and mutant. Readers can feel Cyclops agonizing over the order he gives Wolverine and Nightcrawler, just like they can feel Xavier's sadness and resolve at the end of the issue. Marte Gracia deserves a lot of credit as well. There are several incredible scenes. The most powerful of which is Wolverine and Nightcrawler talking about the afterlife next to a viewpoint overlooking the sun that works so much better because of the way he saturates the whole thing with light. His colors capture the moods of the scenes perfectly.
House Of X #4 is a book where the shocks keep mounting. Each one takes the wind out of the reader but works to sell the stakes of the mission. Hickman makes sure that none of it seems unearned or gratuitous. These moments also open up a whole lot more questions about the future of the book and where it goes next that are so very tantalizing. Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia's art give the script the imagery it needs to be effective. Just like every issue so far, this one will leave readers breathless to find out what happens next.