Comic Book Review – House of X/Powers of X

House of X/Powers of X
Reprints House of X #1-6 & Powers of X #1-6
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva

Forty-four years ago, writer Chris Claremont was tasked with reviving the middling X-Men title for Marvel. Compared to books like Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and Captain America, X-Men was never a marquee hit for the company. Its characters were often operating in their own mutant pocket within the larger universe, occasionally being a part of the larger world. Claremont embraced the marginalization of mutants and expanded the mythos farther than it ever had been. At the end of his sixteen-year run on Uncanny X-Men, spinning off titles like Excalibur and New Mutants, Claremont left the book due to clashes with a new editorial staff. What remained was the template for what X-Men could be that every writer has clung to tightly since. The adherence to Claremont’s characterizations and plots have been so rigid that X-Men was a moribund franchise within Marvel for the last five years. Characters died only to be resurrected months later, and there never seemed to be real growth & change save for a small handful of heroes & villains. Then came Jonathan Hickman.

House of X and Powers of X serve as a new paradigm for X-Men. This is the unique moment where the entire franchise is getting overhauled and reinterpreted. Old love triangles have been replaced by polyamorous progressive viewpoints. Villains that were fought and defeated endlessly have been embraced as tentative allies. Professor Charles Xavier’s dream of a world where man & mutant could love together has folded, the Professor admitting that the vision is not possible. That doesn’t mean hope is out of reach. Instead, using an invention of Claremont’s, the living mutant island of Krakoa, the Professor has established a nation for mutants in the Pacific Ocean. Krakoa has numerous properties that the mutants are just now uncovering and has allowed them to sustain their community with profits from pharmaceuticals.

This is a radically different version of X-Men since last glimpsed in Matthew Rosenberg’s fantastic final run on Uncanny. It’s the injection of life this franchise needed to remain relevant and freshen the creative well. The X-Men aren’t going to battle Apocalypse, Magneto, or Mr. Sinister in perpetuity any longer. All mutants have been united under this common banner and are attempting to iron out their personal conflicts in favor of the need for solidarity.

The first issue opens with the Professor, wearing a newly designed Cerebro helmet and summoning his X-Men from cocoons in the catacombs beneath Krakoa. This startling image signals that what we knew is no longer the status quo, big things have happened, and these characters changed. Hickman continues in the first issue of Powers by exploring the scope of mutantkind from the first steps of the Professor to create the X-Men to a 1,000 years in the future where the species of mutants appears to be extinct. Hickman plays with this even further when he takes formerly C-tier character Moira MacTaggert and makes her arguably the most critical person in the entire mutant world.

I read this series first as it came out weekly, but found it is such a better read when consumed in a sitting or two. The plot is complex in its structure using multiple points in time, and eventually, parallel realities and the nuance can be lost when issues stand alone. The connections are immediately clear between seemingly unrelated events and really get across how radically this has changed the X-Men. Hickman uses prose throughout to represent a character’s dossiers on mutants or encyclopedic entries on aspects of Krakoa or the structure of this new mutant society. At one point, he even plays off of celebrity gossip blind items by sharing rumors that Mr. Sinister is spreading about his new allies.

I would argue that this is something huge not just for X-Men or just Marvel, but for comics in general. Hickman has always been unafraid to push the superhero genre beyond where nostalgia fixated fanboys will go. He acknowledges what has been but understands that these ideas need to go further, be challenged, and expanded upon. There are some profoundly post-human ideas floated in these pages, revealing the irrelevance of humanity. The species obsession with mutants led them to create artificial intelligence that outpaced them, and so by the time we reach the terminus point of the universe, machine life is the dominant form. Hickman provides an out to this, though, hinting that the future we see may not be the future that must be.

Right now, the Dawn of X line consists of X-Men, New Mutants, Excalibur, X-Force, Marauders, and Fallen Angels. These series vary in degree of quality so far, but none of them are terrible, and all of them are embracing the groundwork Hickman has laid. Announcements for Wolverine, Hellions, and X-Corp have been made with the titles set to drop in early 2020. I’m not sure where Hickman plans to go with the mutants, but I am very excited that it will be unlike anything these characters have encountered before.

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