Writers Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard
Artist: Pepe Larraz
Marvel Comics, November 2020
One of the more formidable characters in Marvel Comics’ cast of mutant villains is a hulking figure called Apocalypse. As the name suggests, this apparently immortal being does not have an especially sunny disposition. This series appears to be concerned with events arising in Apocalypse’s very distant past. And it would not be an X-Men comic if new characters were not in some way related to one of the protagonists.
We have previously reviewed House of X / Powers of X https://www.worldcomicbookreview.com/2019/10/02/powers-of-x-1-3-and-house-of-x-1-4-review-a-tale-of-civilisational-evolution/ which establishes the new paradigm laid out by co-writer Jonathan Hickman. Almost all of the major players, allies, and enemies of the mutant superhero team called The X-Men now sit around a table in a council of twelve located on an living island called Krakoa. (The council is thirteen if you count Krakoa, too.) Each mutant or group of mutants represents a faction, or just look after their own particular interests. They are not a natural gathering – they plainly do not like each other much. (Quite amazingly, no one has yet started a fight resulting in a typical superhero fisticuffs conclusion to the forum.)
What they each do have in common is a desire to avoid the fate spelled out repeatedly in the many reincarnations of Moira McTaggart, a long standing supporting character but recently revealed mutant with an interesting mutant power. In her many lives, a manifestation of the ability to be in essence re-booted, Moira seen mutant-kind subordinated to artificial intelligences. Those artificial intelligences have as their common ancestor the mutant-hunting Sentinels, first seen in The X-Men #14 (1965).
This particular story has nothing to do with Moira nor Sentinels. Indeed, we see a siege of an extra dimensional realm called the Otherworld. Mr Hickman returns to his infographics to explain how the Earth and the Otherworld fit together. There are various parts to the jigsaw, dark realms and ethereal kingdoms, all revolving around the Starlight Citadel. The Earth is at one end, and a place called Amenth is its opposite. The Starlight Citadel is the headquarters of the ruler of the Otherworld, Opal Luna Saturnyne, a snooty omnipotent sorceress. Pitted against her are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (FSA).
Long-standing readers of X-Men comics would sigh at this point. Yes, it is yet another incarnation of Apocalypse’s blood-thirsty henchmen. These four however have a decidedly Egyptian theme to them. The art, by Pepe Larraz, is as ever spectacular. Opal Luna Saturnyne is divine, beautiful and detached from reality: Mr Larraz draws her as an unattainable Aphrodite who only Monet (an X-man of French-Algerian descent with very formidable powers) can barely resist. Apocalypse is a heavy presence, his dark bulk occupying panels and pages. The FSA’s Plague is an extremely striking figure. Armed with a bow, helmeted head bound in dank rags, she spreads disease with an uncanny aim.
Mr Hickman and Ms Howard seem to be heading towards an old-fashioned battle of champions, vaguely reminiscent of the original Secret Wars (published by Marvel Comics in 1984-5). The role of the omniscient Beyonder is taken by Saturnyne, who manipulates the players in various ways, culminating in a set-up to an arena duel. It seems likely that the powerful and ruthless FSA will fight a team of X-Men.
Mr Hickman does not solely rely upon his engaging infographics and explanatory text to propel the plot in this issue. Mr Hickman also turns to tarot. The title of the story is a reference to the Ten of Swords tarot card. We are not especially familiar with tarot, and so we turn to Wikipedia for a more fulsome meaning than that provided in the comic:
In the upright or positive light, the ten of swords represents destruction, being pinned down by a multitude of things or situations. The person lying on the ground, defeated and bleeding, may also represent a feeling of hopelessness and being trapped by emotions or mental anguish, since swords represent strife and the mind.
Dark clouds hovering above the person signify despair and a bleak situation. However, upon closer examination of the images in the Rider-Waite card, any death or destruction, like all things, may not be permanent. There is hope in spite of the situation; the golden sky in the distance suggests that the current situation is bad, and things will improve.
In the reversed state, the card indicates a troubling situation that will continue for a significant amount of time. The card suggests that the subject should not despair in difficult times, to avoid ruining future prospects for success.
None of this bodes well. But for who?
For the purposes of our friends at Comic Book Round-up, we give this issue a 7/10. Mr Hickman’s rules-based infrastructure of plotting his stories, first seen (as far as we know) in the excellent Black Monday Murders (see https://www.worldcomicbookreview.com/2016/12/11/the-black-money-murders-1-2-review/ ) is unlike anything else in the genre, and is a thoroughly effective method of storytelling.