By Steve Morris
To kick off a big new revamp of the X-Men and their comics, writer Jonathan Hickman is pairing with artists Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva – as well as designer Tom Muller – to do a sort-of weekly comics series, split into two comics series. The first is House of X, which started yesterday, and the second is Powers of X, which starts next week. They’ll alternate every week for the next few months, apart from times when they won’t, and basically the big concept here is that all the X-Men are on the same page, living within the sentient island of Krakoa. And, Krakoa also is now able to produce miracle drugs, which reclaimed leader Charles Xavier is using to buy off human civilisation so they’ll leave his new island nation alone and mutantkind can thrive until such a time as all the humans have killed each other or died off.
House of X #1 very deliberately harkens back to New X-Men with Morrison and Quitely, setting up the clear angle that humanity are the future. Whereas Morrison/Quitely’s team were actively integrating into society and largely accepted, here Hickman and Larraz’s team have spent a long time being on the very edge of survival, 198 mutants away from being wiped out. And it shows in the way they come across on the page. Previously the X-Men assimilated, but here they are stepping away from the rest of mankind, and are simply waiting. Both runs with the characters established that humanity would eventually become extinct and mutantkind would take over – the difference is that this time the X-Men are smart enough to just keep out the way until that happens.
The main feeling in the comic is of calm. Everybody is far more composed and calm than has been the case in the past, the pace slowed right down in order to change the entire feel of the X-Men line. More comics will be coming down the line, but for the immediate moment these are the only comics that we’re getting from the X-Men office, and it’s very much a coded message that we’re getting on with a new status quo which is much quieter than before. There’s hints of a grander scale, but for the most part the X-Men are settled into whatever their new roles are, there’s no soap opera elements to be found, and the Big Ideas are very slowly establishing themselves. As such, this issue isn’t much about the character of the X-Men themselves, but about the character of the X-Men as a concept. This is fifty pages of Jonathan Hickman slowly and steadily underlining his key concept, so everybody can jump onboard.
There is a little room for the characters to establish their new position within the status quo, however. Depending on who you speak to, 2019 finds Cyclops as either an unambiguous villain or the one true leader of the X-Men. As a counter to either of those positions, this issue very clearly puts him in a secondary position once more, with no clear power. This is “good boy” Cyclops following the rules which Charles Xavier has given him, rather than going off as the reckless militia leader he’s been in the past. This is shown within his scene in which he has to try and claim amnesty for Sabretooth, who only a few panels before was shown attacking – and probably killing – a group of guards. The Fantastic Four, who have captured Sabretooth, aren’t looking to back down against Cyclops when he tries to reclaim the mutant, however, and this leads to a quick staredown which Cyclops then steps back from. Cyclops has spent the best part of a decade being the de-factor militant leader of mutantkind, so to see him taking orders from Xavier, following the rules, and backing down from a potential fight with the Fantastic Four marks three unexpected shifts in his character’s direction.
With Cyclops being persona non grata for many readers now, the issue seems to be taking active steps to keep a little edge in his character. His position here is perhaps as negotiator, but clearly as enforcer as well. He’s completely by himself as he steps out of the teleport and faces down the Fantastic Four, and yet he still seems to have the edge in their confrontation – Larraz gives him a calm sense of confidence that leads you to believe he’d very happily take out the entirety of the Fantastic Four if it means he gets his way.
He also speaks out most of the more memorable dialogue here, pointing out clearly to Sue Storm that mutantkind are confident in their new approach, and that this was an inevitable ultimate approach for them to take. He says “we’d been made to believe we were less when we knew that we were more”, which fits into the mutable metaphor and allows his story to be read through the lens of race, sexuality, gender, ability: it lets anybody from a marginalized position read into his cause and position themselves behind him. In turn, it gives him more power, without having to fire an optic blast. Although he backs down from the fight, there’s no doubt that he has the dominant ground against one of Marvel’s most classic superhero teams. Again, it’s that feeling that Hickman is slowly underlining his key thoughts about the character, before we get more stuff later on.
Curiously, Cyclops is perhaps the only one of the “classic” X-Men who really gets anything to say. Wolverine sits in the background, Jean has a brief chat with a student, and characters like Beast, Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus have wordless cameos in the opening sequence which establishes the foundation of Krakoa. Instead it’s Magneto who gets the main role here, speaking on behalf of this new Charles Xavier. For his part, the Professor seems to float through this issue on a wave of warm-feeling nostalgia, which only gets creepier through Larraz’s design. The character seems to be permanently fused to Cerebro now, a trait which recurs through much of Hickman’s work. When Hickman asks for a character to have a machine helmet fused to their head which blocks their eyes, it’s a sign that the character doesn’t know how to view the world. Here, Xavier exists as ambient background music for the other mutants, politely reassuring Jean that she is safe, that she belongs, and everything is alright. The calmer he gets, the scarier he gets. There’s no personality here, just a regurgitation of past pleasant catchphrases. Something feels off.
And, as noted, Magneto does all the talking for him. For all that we’re told about Xavier’s big new plan to change the face of society and remove mutants away from the lifespan of humans – we don’t really see any of it, or get any exposition from him. Rather, Magneto and the other “diplomats” do it on his behalf. There’s again this power imbalance, with Xavier’s absolute benevolent authority assumed by everyone. Magneto’s trust in Xavier is usually fairly unassailable in recent years, though, with the characters at this point having spent more time as friends than as adversaries. It’s fitting therefore for Magneto to be the one who delivers Xavier’s message to humanity, which is presented to us as Magneto getting to have one last entertainment before he shifts away from the human/mutant dynamic which has always dominated his character. He gets to be the one to kiss of humanity before moving across into his mutant utopia, as he always wanted to. Accordingly, just like Cyclops, he seems to be having an absolute ball in his new role.
The choice to set Jerusalem as the location for the summit is a pointed one, of course, but with just one issue out it’s hard to tell which direction the creative team are headed in. The X-Men are building their own society, complete with a new language which only they can know – it’s perhaps then easy to see that as comparable to Hebrew. I spoke to Israeli comics critic Tom Shapira and we had a chat about this, and basically the thought is that if there are comparisons to be made here with Israel, then for starters there’s no group already set up in Krakoa for the mutants to displace. Are we therefore looking at a group of mutants setting up their own world in order to then find that they’ll fall to their own claimed power, as they use it to find ways to persecute internally? If you kick the rest of the world to one side and say that you’ll be doing whatever you want from now on, then there are no checks or registers in place to make sure that “whatever you want” doesn’t become an opportunity to spread new prejudices. One issue isn’t enough to explore this idea, so I’m not going to try and get into it yet. It exists, and right now that’s the point.
It seems that one aspect of Professor X’s plan is that literally everybody is back alive again and working together. We see Sabretooth, Mystique and Toad are a splinter team presumably helping Xavier, and Magneto’s residence in Krakoa allows for a potential reunion of the Brotherhood within the X-Men’s walls. The issue leans into that quite heavily, showing prominently that several villains have come back to life without explanation – say hello to the Xorn brothers – and that other enemies are now aligned with Krakoa. Proteus? Vulcan? There will need to be quite a few explanations to cover some of these quickly-discovered shifts in allegiances. We also see, in another reference to New X-Men, that both Sophie and Esme Cuckoo are now alive. They were both prominently killed off in that prior run, which is all most readers remember them for. Hickman only names those two Cuckoos here, rather than the other three, which is clearly a deliberate decision aimed at returning readers. How is everybody back?
The flipside of almost every mutant jumping to Xavier’s cause is that it leaves the villains distinctly lacking, really. The potential enemies here include a bunch of random humans who are working alongside Karima Shapandar – the Omega Sentinel – on some new kind of mutant genocide device, this time in space. Karima’s presence speaks to a secondary influence in the series, which is the Mike Carey/Chris Bachalo/Humberto Ramos X-Men run. Hickman has mentioned Carey as an underappreciated writer for the characters, and Karima was perhaps the most obscure character whom Carey brought back during his tenure. It’s unclear what her role in all this is, primarily because the non-mutant sections of the comic are fairly boring. She is the most prominent person to speak who isn’t a white person, however, so maybe we should keep an eye on her.
Humans are never in the right in an X-Men comic, but that doesn’t mean the X-Men are the good guys. It’s one thing for Magneto to coldly let humanity know that mutantkind are now done with them forever and there’s nothing they can do to change that – but it’s another thing to proclaim “you have new Gods now”. It’s a deliberate provocation when the rest of the comic is more about closing off the connections between the two groups. Previously we could see that Xavier’s group wanted to cut themselves off from the rest of the world, so why is Magneto now provoking them? Is it his own choice, is it part of Xavier’s plan, or? When you couple Magneto’s final words with Mystique and co stealing something from the humans; and with Cyclops backing down from his own prior provoking of the Fantastic Four, it’s obvious that something else is going on within the comic.
For now, we have no idea what it is. We have no idea what forms the foundations of the House of X.
House of X #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciller: Pepe Larraz
Colourist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Designed by Tom Muller
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.