(w) Chip Zdarsky (a) Terry Dodson (i) Rachel Dodson, Ranson Getty (c) Laura Martin
With Jonathan Hickman building a whole new world (literally) for Marvel’s mutants in the pages of X-Men, Chip Zdarsky and the Dodsons have crafted an enjoyable miniseries that explores how the world sees today’s mutants. The living island of Krakoa has become a sovereign mutant nation, where all mutants are welcome and humanity is not. And while their mission may seem noble, Charles Xavier and Magneto’s mutant amnesty program has seen mutants brought to Krakoa, in some cases ripped away from their families and friends who happen to regular humans. While one would never accuse Marvel’s First Family of being anything close to “normal,” Zdarsky uses their familial bonds and scientific roots as a means to explore the X-Men’s current actions, with their own son caught in the middle. With this concluding chapter, readers are left with several questions of morality with no easy answers.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
As an omega-level mutant and child of the Fantastic Four, Franklin Richards is essentially a child of two worlds. Since his introduction, readers have seen Franklin grow up and come of age, albeit very slowly. Now that he’s a teenager, Zdarsky uses Franklin to discuss a family dynamic that is all too familiar – wanting independence while parents have trouble letting go. This is not a conflict featuring “good guys” and “bad guys,” but one varying degrees of emotional maturity. That is not to say that these characters are free of wrongdoing – Reed Richards develops a method to secretly suppress Franklin’s mutant abilities. But based on decades of comics of character development, Reed’s actions were likely to be temporary until Franklin better understood his powers and therefore could exercise better control over them. It’s not until the X-Men step in that the typical superhero confrontation takes shape. X-Men/Fantastic Four #4 ends this miniseries as most of these capes and tights mix-ups tend to. There’s apologies for misunderstandings, a team-up against a common enemy, and a seemingly happy ending. But the issue’s concluding pages showcase the hypocrisy of the X-Men while causing the reader to reexamine the whole miniseries.
From the first issue, the major issue of this miniseries has been the autonomy one has over their own body. It has been a discussion of X-Men comics dating back to the “Gifted” arc of Astonishing X-Men, and the right for mutants to have control over their own bodies is not too dissimilar from debates about women’s right to choose. In fact, the X-Men have always been a great stand-in for any marginalized group within society. There are often debates in comic shops about how come the world in Marvel comics accepts heroes like the Fantastic Four, but rejects the X-Men when they both are groups of costumed, powered beings? It doesn’t make sense, much like how racism and homophobia don’t make sense, yet those prejudices and injustices sadly persist.
Within the space of X-Men/Fantastic Four, Magneto and Xavier frequently press upon Franklin – and by extension his family – that residency Krakoa is his birthright as a mutant. Reed and Sue Richards counter that Franklin is still a child and belongs with his family. It’s clear that the Richards love Franklin and accept him for who he is, unlike many of the runaway children taken in by the X-Men over the years, and have been trying to figure out the best way to raise him given his abilities. Through years of interactions, Xavier and the X-Men should know this, yet they insist on making sure Franklin “choose” joining the Krakoa commune. While the mysteries of the new X-Men world are still being unpacked in Hickman’s X-Men, from this story it’s clear that Franklin is so desired by the community not because he is a mutant, but because of how powerful a mutant he is. With his parents suppressing him and the X-Men so nakedly desiring his power, he turns to Victor Von Doom for guidance. Unsurprisingly, Doom manipulates Franklin into thinking that he is trying to help him reach his full potential, but really seeks to exploit the teen’s power for his own. Three groups of people, each trying to sell their own version of “choice” while really meaning control.
Where the issue (and overall story) finds its resolution is when Franklin rejects all three options, instead finding a way of his own. The choice he makes allows him to be his own person and be with the mutant community, but also giving him the freedom to lean on his family when needed. While it is a compromise and it does feel a bit like a cop-out, it does feel true to life in that there is no solution that will really make everyone happy. Doctor Doom certainly isn’t fully satisfied with the outcome. But what about the aforementioned hypocrisy? Well, the X-Men’s initial manipulation of Franklin in previous issues is strong evidence. They definitely don’t come across as altruistic. But it’s when Charles manipulates Reed’s mind in the final pages, essentially cutting out a piece of his mind, that is truly sinister. For all their talk of desiring peace and allowing mutants to thrive, they are willing to perform invasive, violating acts on their so-called friends at will. It’s quite a fascinating way to end the miniseries, and it will be interesting to see how such an act by Xavier will play out in the future.
Throughout the issue, the artwork is great. This is unsurprising, as the Dodsons are usually great. There is a bit of a blip towards the end as Ranson Getty inks a couple pages in place of Rachel Dodson. The work isn’t bad, it’s just noticeably different as Getty’s inks using thinner lines that Rachel’s thick, defining lines. On the plus side, Laura Martin colors from start to finish, giving the whole issue a generally united appearance. X-Men/Fantastic Four #4 is a great, thought-provoking conclusion to a great, though-provoking miniseries. The writing and artwork are top-notch as this fun little side-story to both the X-Men and Fantastic Four looks to have greater long-term implications for both teams.