Thursday, August 22, 2019
X-amining Gambit & the X-Ternals #4
In a Nutshell
Upon their return to Earth, Strong Guy betrays his teammates and turns both the M'Kraan Crystal and Magneto's son over to Apocalypse.
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Salvador Larroca
Inker: Al Milgrom
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colorist: Marie Javins
Editor: Bob Harras
The Mouse: Tom DeFalco
In the Morlock Tunnels, Dazzler & Exodus discover the remains of Nanny, but no sign of Magneto's son, Charles. Later, Apocalypse interrogates Rictor, who tells him of how he chased Gambit & Lila through the Morlock Tunnels upon their return to Earth, hoping to destroy the X-Ternals in Apocalypse's name. Unknownst to him, however, Gambit was leading Rictor away from Jubilee, who possessed both the M'Kraan crystal shard and Charles. But when she runs into Strong Guy, he reveals that he's working for Apocalypse, and takes both from her. Later, Gambit & Lila run into Strong Guy, and Gambit realizes Strong Guy is running in the wrong direction. Just then, Rictor catches up to them, and reveals that Strong Guy is working for him, During the ensuing fight, the tunnel collapses, and Gambit is forced to choose between saving Lila, and taking Charles & the shard from Strong Guy, who is supporting one of the columns. At Strong Guy's urging, Gambit saves Lila, trusting that Strong Guy will be able protect Charles from the collapsing tunnel. Rictor finishes his story, believing Gambit died in the collapse, and expecting a reward from Apocalypse. Instead, Apocalypse kills him for failing to realize the importance of the shard & Charles, both of which Apocalypse now possesses, thanks to Strong Guy. Back in the tunnels, Dazzler & Exodus discover Gambit & Lila, and proceed to take them back to the X-Mansion as Gambit hopes his choice hasn't come at the cost of the entire universe.
Firsts and Other Notables
Though he's technically already written his last issue of a series titled X-Force, if you consider Gambit and the X-Ternals an extension of that book, then this represents Fabian Nicieza's last issue of X-Force, as Jeph Loeb will take over as the writer of that series when it returns from the "Age of Apocalypse" next month.
This issue reveals that Strong Guy is the traitor on the X-Ternals, as he was caught by Apocalypse's forces in the not-to-distant past and agreed to work with them in order to capture Gambit, on the condition that Lila and the rest of his team went unharmed. He was then equipped with the tracking device that enabled Rictor to keep track of him over the last few issues.
Rictor is killed by Apocalypse for being too focused on catching Gambit, ultimately, in Apocalypse's estimation, a relatively petty thief, while failing to recognize the importance of Charles.
A Work in Progress
Apocalypse notes that the shard of crystal the X-Ternals brought back is rapidly expanding.
It’s said here that Exodus & Dazzler are lovers, something I don’t think had been previously established elsewhere.
Gambit, forced to choose between saving Lila and taking Charles and the M'Kraan Crystal from Strong Guy, chooses Lila, finally able to reciprocate her feelings for him.
Though Nicieza, for the most part, lands the emotional beats, structurally this issue is kind of a confusing mess. It's told both via flashback, with Apocalypse interrogating Rictor (in a manner suggesting Rictor doesn't know Apocalypse is the one who is interrogating him, even though the reader does, which is an...interesting choice), and in media res (with Rictor's tale picking up at some point shortly after he and the X-Ternals emerge from Lila's portal back on Earth, and after the X-Ternals encounter Nanny & Charles and Gambit gives the crystal & Charles to Jubilee then leaves with Lila to draw out Rictor, meaning all of that happens off-panel and is detailed only via later dialogue). The end result creates the sensation that pages are missing from the story, or out of order (or, given that last issue concluded with the team plunging into Lila's portal, and now they're running through the Morlock Tunnels, that an issue was missed), which is never a good feeling for any issue to generate, let alone the last of a series.
Thankfully, Nicieza does make most of the emotional beats land. Gambit choosing to save Lila is far more effective than it has any right to be, considering Lila's only real notable characterization is "wants to be loved by Gambit" (then again, maybe that's why it works, as she finally gets what she wants, twinged with a bit of bittersweetness as we know from last issue that this universe is doomed no matter what), whereas both Guido's anguish over having to betray the rest of the team, particularly Jubilee, and his hatred of Gambit, is palpable; it also comes across like he's mad at himself for loving Lila in the first place, and allowing that desire to drive him to these ends. All in all, there's enough emotional weight to to this issue to give this bizarre little series in which Gambit and a random assortment of characters get dropped into a version of the original "Phoenix Saga" a satisfying conclusion, even as, structurally, this final issue is more complicated than it needs to be.
Tomorrow, X-Calibre #4. Next week, another trip to the AoA past in X-Men Chronicles #2!
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