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The X-Men can die again, but in the weirdest way possible

OK, so you know Otherworld, right?

Professor X screams as feedback from Otherworld blazes through the Cerebro network in X-Factor #4, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Leah Williams, Carlos Gomez/Marvel Comics
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

The defining event of the new mutant reality at Marvel Comics is that they cannot die. No longer can writers pin X-Men story arcs around a character’s demise, nor can they hold the threat of demise over the audience to get them to tune in.

Which would make one wonder how the X-Men writing team would raise the stakes for their first big crossover event of the new era, X of Swords. With this week’s X-Factor #4, we know: The X-Men can die again, in an extremely weird way.

A way that might make it possible for even more of them to come back.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for X-Factor #4, the second issue of the X of Swords crossover.]

The body of the stony mutant Rockslide, lying on a stretcher, bisected from shoulder to hip, in X-Factor #4, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Leah Williams, Carlos Gomez/Marvel Comics

For months, all we’ve known about X of Swords (pronounced “Ten of Swords”) is that it was going to be about the X-Men ... and swords. Since the event kicked off with X of Swords: Creation, we know that it’s about ten chosen X-Men champions entering a tournament against ten champions from an ancient race of mutant conquerors from another dimension. Both sides are on an epic quest to collect ten swords, before they meet up in Otherworld to throw down.

X-Factor #4, the second installment of the story, largely deals with the aftermath of the first clash between the X-Men and their foes, in the extra-dimensional realm of Otherworld. Otherworld is home to the Starlight Citadel, a nexus location that offers access to every world in the Marvel multiverse. And it is that connection to the multiverse that appears to be mucking with the mutant resurrection process.

If you die in Otherworld you die in real life

In case you missed House of X/Powers of X, here’s how mutant resurrection works: Using his new and improved portable Cerebro helmet, Professor X makes weekly backups of the consciousness of every mutant in the world. When one of them dies, a group of mutants known as “The Five” combine their powers to create a genetic copy of a dead mutant. Then, Professor X uses his telepathic abilities to pop the most recent backup of the mutant’s psyche into this “husk.” Bingo, bango, the mutant is back.

But if a mutant dies in Otherworld, the very multidimensional and magical nature of the place corrupts their Cerebro backup. In X-Factor #4, Professor X and the Five discover this after attempting to resurrect Santo Vaccarro, the mutant known as Rockslide.

The Five explain that if a mutant dies in Otherworld, their Cerebro backup will be rewritten with information from other realities, “removing the possibility of a true resurrection ever again,” in X-Factor #4, Marvel Comics (2020). Image: Leah Williams, Carlos Gomez/Marvel Comics

Otherworld is what it says on the tin: something Other than a World. It’s the nexus of all possibility in the Marvel multiverse, and on top of that it’s hella magic (this is a technical term). Those factors combine into an unpredictable outcome: When a mutant dies in Otherworld, the very nature of the place reaches out through the ether and changes their Cerebro backup.

When Professor X attempted to put Rockslide’s psyche into his new husk, Otherworld’s energies instantly corrupted it with an amalgamation of all Rockslides “from across the various universes.” It’s Rockslide, but it’s an entirely new Rockslide — he even looks different. And because the corruption overwrote all of Rockslide’s backups, there’s no way to get the old Rockslide back.

Swords and sorcerery

No problem, right? All mutants can just stay out of Otherworld. Except the tournament that ten of them need to fight in has to take place there, in order to stop an extra dimensional monster army from overrunning Krakoa.

And with that, X of Swords has found its high stakes. The ten mutant gladiators include Wolverine, Storm, Cable, and Magik, so there are definitely some fan favorites to get worried about. And there’s not just the specter of death, but the possibility of a character getting replaced with an unknown version of themselves. Marvel seems unlikely to do that to Wolverine or Storm, sure. But Gorgon? Betsy Braddock? Maybe even New Mutants mainstay, Doug Ramsey?

The possibilities are open, in more ways than one.