The Fight Is Rigged in Death of X #4

Death of X is a cage match between one side that has the unconditional backing of Disney's lawyers and another that remains under the boot of a rival company.

Aaron Kuder

Death of X

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Jeff Lemire and Charles Soule
Publication date: 2016-11-23

If a fight is rigged and rigged well, then it's usually hard to tell which side has the advantage. Those fights can be quite entertaining, as the success of WWE wrestling routinely demonstrates. When the rigging is too obvious, though, the entertainment value suffers. It's just not very fun or interesting when it's easy to tell who's getting an extra shot of Hulk blood on the side.

This is the biggest flaw in the Death of X narrative. It isn't a passionate disagreement between Iron Man and Captain America over methods for administering justice. It's a cage match between one side that has the unconditional backing of Disney's lawyers and another that remains under the boot of a rival company. The X-men and the Inhumans are not on a level playing field and haven't been since Marvel Studios began churning out billion-dollar blockbusters on a regular basis.

This means there's little to no suspense in the outcome of Death of X #4. It's a foregone conclusion that the X-men will lose, the Inhumans will come out on top, and the lawyers negotiating movie rights will keep getting billed by the hour. It gives Charles Soule and Jeff Lemire a poor foundation to build on, but it's a foundation that can still fill in some unresolved issues. They just have to build carefully because they don't want to give the X-men more reasons to resort to clones and time travel.

There's a genuine effort to extract every ounce of drama from this final issue, but there's not much worth extracting here. There's a distinct absence of detail and polish to the overall story. It doesn't complete the narrative that began in the first issue, nor does it fill in the blanks left by the various X-men titles that spun out of Secret Wars. There is some intrigue. There are some heated, passionate moments. It doesn't fall flat, but it does feel distinctly incomplete.

If there is a defining moment in Death of X #4, it manifests during the confrontation between Cyclops and the Inhumans royal family. This moment feels very much like a trailer of sorts, complete with ominous warnings and angry pleas. The trailer may lack the star power of Hugh Jackman or Sir Patrick Stewart, but it effectively ensures that there will be a war between the Inhumans and the X-men. It's not just inevitable at this point. It's overdue.

While this moment is vital in giving Death of X #4 the necessary impact, it's pretty much the only moment that's memorable or impactful in any way. Every other moment throughout the narrative is either lacking in substance or devoid of style. There's little else in terms of drama. None of that drama feels like an emotional gut punch either. For a comic where a major character dies, that's pretty telling.

It's also the most frustrating aspect about Death of X #4 and the X-men comics as a whole since Secret Wars. The lack of drama and the lack of details ensures this story adds little context to the overall narrative surrounding the X-men. Much of that narrative is crafted around this idea that Cyclops did something so horrific and so despicable that it would make James Marsden violently ill if someone said it out loud. That idea, however, becomes exceedingly complicated here.

It's not just because Soule and Lemire try to throw in a twist at the end that effectively ensures that Cyclops can die with some credibility intact. It's also because the sequence of events that unfold throughout Death of X do little to warrant such an idea. There's no overt atrocity here. Cyclops doesn't suddenly become Thanos, Victor Von Doom, or whoever canceled the last X-men cartoon. He does what he and the X-men always do and tries to protect innocent mutants.

This draws the ire of the Inhuman royal family for reasons that are understandable, albeit petty. However, it's worth emphasizing here that what Cyclops does, be it overt or indirect, can't qualify as an atrocity. He doesn't kill anyone. He doesn't destroy anything. He doesn't even make a joke about Medusa's hair. There really is nothing here that warrants the hatred and disdain that is so prominent in the current X-men comics.

If there are any unforeseen consequences to Cyclops' actions, they aren't revealed. They aren't even hinted at. What Cyclops does simply prevents a cloud of Terrigen Mist from descending upon a populated area and killing every innocent mutant in its path. No human or Inhuman dies as a result. In fact, only one other person dies and that person dies willingly in a heroic sacrifice that the Inhuman royal family tried to prevent.

In terms of a balanced, albeit rigged, conflict, the entertainment value really suffers here. Death of X does little to create even the illusion of balance between mutants and Inhumans. If anything, it only shows that the Inhuman royal family is disturbingly comfortable with letting an entire minority suffer horribly so that their own race can propagate. While Cyclops made it clear to them that he was just as comfortable letting the Inhumans stagnate, there's little effort to have a passionate, balanced discussion.

In terms of the bigger picture surrounding the X-men/Inhuman conflict, Death of X #4 has too many blanks to fill and not nearly enough ink to make a concerted effort. It does what it can, but not much else. There's a sense of rhythm and flow to the narrative. It never becomes too chaotic and it avoids completely denigrating certain characters, although there will likely be a certain segment of fans that will passionately disagree on message boards. There's a sense that this story is part of a much larger narrative that has yet to unfold.

Death of X #4 doesn't read like the end of an event so it's not going to check every box before the final page. While it manages to be coherent and revealing in some respects, it still comes off as woefully incomplete. If it were a school project, it couldn't be adequately graded because it doesn't present a finished product. This may be okay for a movie trailer, but for a complete story that kills off one of the most iconic X-men in history, it's not even close to being enough.

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