House of X #4 picks up immediately where #3 left off, with the X-Men in a spaceship on the exterior of Project Orchis after an explosion caused by the project’s security team. This issue marks the beginning of the second half of House of X and Powers of X, as the plot threads and themes set up from the first issue begin to come to a head. The entire issue is a single sequence following the field team attacking Project Orchis, with a few pages from the perspective of Xavier, Magneto, and the rest of the intelligence team back on Krakoa. The dedication of the entire issue to one sequence allows Hickman to properly dig into the core of each character he writes in a way that makes this issue the most emotional of the series so far.
The first two pages of the issue show Xavier, Magneto, and the rest of the X-Men’s intelligence team getting into contact with the field team, only to see a scene of destruction directly following Erasmus’s suicide bombing. As Jean reveals that the team has already lost two members, the X-Men decide that the mission has to be completed regardless, to ensure their losses did not die in vain. As the mission continues, more and more X-Men die as the forces of Project Orchis begin to fight back. As the X-Men lose their third and fourth members, the rest of the team quickly realizes that they will likely suffer the same fate. Yet they know, more than anything else, they have to do whatever it takes to make the plan succeed. The issue ends on a scene of pyrrhic victory: The mission was successful but the X-Men have lost a catastrophic amount.
House of X #3 was Hickman’s first time writing the X-Men proper, but one wouldn’t be able to tell based on the character writing and emotional core of House of X #4. Just as in the previous issue, Hickman manages to display his mastery of characters’ voices with single lines of dialogue. Monet’s final words to Jean in the issue are a perfect encapsulation of Monet as a character, and Beast’s one line of repartee with Xavier is a delightful showing of his personality. This continues into the far heavier elements of the issues, where Logan and Kurt’s final conversation — a scene reminiscent of yet clearly more developed than their exchange during the Brood Saga — is tear-jerking and emotional, as the readers and the characters know what is about to happen and the significance of their conversation. Cyclops’s struggles as leader when he knows he is sending his comrades — his friends — to their deaths is palpable, and at the end of the issue Xavier’s grief at losing his children is incredibly powerful. Hickman’s love of these characters is just as evident as his mastery of their voices and characterizations, which makes this issue feel incredibly powerful and emotional from the start.
As usual, Larraz and Gracia are a fantastic combination on House of X. The contrast between the scenes on Krakoa, bathed in a calm blue, and the scenes on Project Orchis, covered in red and orange hues, is incredibly stark and keeps the tone of the Orchis scenes high-stakes and dire. Larraz’s art captures the emotional moments incredibly well, showing the characters’ mental states and carrying a lot of the quiet moments. At the same time his depiction of the carnage and gore throughout the issue is incredible, providing a real sense of stakes to the entire thing. Nightcrawler and Wolverine’s deaths are incredibly gruesome, and immediately following one of the strongest showings of their relationship, the scene is painful and tragic.
The data pages drive home the same message as the issue itself. There is only one data page this issue, and it focuses on the massive losses of mutant life that have occurred at the hands of non-mutants. The page gives exact numbers to contextualize how House of M and the Genoshan massacre during E is for Extinction, and enumerates the fairly large number of individuals who have committed “Major Mutant Crimes.” While the genocides and losses of mutant lives have always been horrific, seeing the events from decades ago turned into numbers and statistics really drives home how horribly mutants have had it for the last nearly two decades of X-Men comics. This data page is used to stunning effect to end the issue as well, with every table and information block scattered throughout the final four or five pages as Xavier’s words cover the page: “No more.”
House of X #4 is possibly the strongest issue of Hickman’s work on the X-line so far. It is incredibly emotional and hard-hitting from the very beginning, and by the end its purpose and message are clear. It’s also a stunning display of the potential of Hickman’s proper X-Men ongoing once House of X and Powers of X wrap up. Based on the last two issues, Hickman’s X-Men will be incredibly well-written and enjoyable, with both plot and character writing to outshine near every writer on the line prior. While the future for the X-Men has never looked darker, the future for the X-line has never looked brighter.