By Steve Morris
Whereas House of X #1 sent us straight into the new normal for the X-Men, Powers of X is more concerned with setting a wide timeframe for where that normal takes the characters over the very long term, racing right into the far distant future to take things to whatever Jonathan Hickman thinks could be the natural conclusion for centuries of mutant life. It also minimises the present-day experience of the X-Men to instead focus on encompassing everything which will absolutely happen to mutantkind as a whole over the course of 1000 years. The stakes get raised to such an extent that they become absolutely irrelevant, and it completely changes the way that you view Xavier’s dream.
By constantly zooming out the timeframe as the issue goes on, the series takes a different approach to the theme of prejudice and threat which has been a constant throughout the X-Men’s publishing history. Rather than zooming in to see individual incidents of marginalisation (which typically sees cisgender white characters dealing with prejudice because the X-Men’s metaphor is still rooted in their 1960s WASP roster) we see a much larger picture. And, essentially, how pointless all of it was.
Here we see that humanity don’t get any more tolerant of mutantkind just because the mutants have retreated, and in fact it turns out that they’ve actively formed a human-machine coalition in order to make sure they can track down the mutants and persecute them on a galactic level. We find out that the mutants attempted to expand into space so they could quietly diversify, only to be pursued and reduced both from within and by their human-machine aggressors. The much-vaunted dream of Charles Xavier expands out over centuries without ever seeming to truly coalesce. The more that we see the future, the more we realise how small-scale things look from the outside.
At the start of the issue, though, everything is relatively peaceful. Then we come to the present day, where there are clear tensions and ambitions pulsing through each one of the characters as they nervously scope out their new domain. Jumping into the future, everything is at war, with humans and robots and mutants all fighting one another, scrapping out for survival – whether because they perceive that they’re being run out of existence, or because they actually are being run out of existence. Incidentally, here is where you first get a sense of the comic grabbing some contemporary thoughts about race/sexuality/gender, with the idea that both sides are acting like they’re being stamped out: it reminds very clearly of all those gamers who happily scream “white genocide” and act like a black woman in Overwatch is going to lead to the end times. But then the issue jumps even further out of the timeline, into the distant future where everything is peaceful once more, as at the start.
When you look at the whole of this timeline, that’s where all the centuries of fighting and abuse have gotten everybody: nowhere. Mutantkind is reduced to a failing library; mankind are a zoo exhibit. The comic constantly takes the time to point out to readers that the centuries of conflict provided in the scenes we see (and spelt out in the data files which are again peppered through the issue) were absolutely pointless. This happens constantly, whether referring to the human-machine-mutant war in the third quarter of the issue as ultimately being “useless”; or explaining in careful detail how Krakoa (which we’ve only just seen established!) is absolutely going to collapse and, with it, precipitate the death of most of the X-Men we know and recognise. Prejudice and hatred is obviously stupid – that’s the bedrock of the X-Men franchise – but here we’re seeing just how pointlessly stupid it is. There’s no beneficial purpose to hate; only forward momentum.
And that’s reflected in the characters we get throughout the four time periods. Clearly we have to start the issue with the characters we know, because the X-Men were founded by Moira and Xavier. As time goes on we then see familiar X-Men characters like Magneto and Mystique show up a bit… but then the future comes into play and we lose track of those recognisable characters in favour of “best of” compilations: characters who are made up of parts of characters we know, but are something different and new. These new mutants in the far future seem to have bits of Magik; Nightcrawler; Quentin Quire in them, and they are visibly influenced by the established characters we all know so well. But the characters are pulling away from what we recognise, and it leads to a final jump forward in time which brings the comic back to a small conversation between two people.
One of them is “the Librarian” and the other is Nimrod, now a floating drone and seemingly quite pleasant. We have this vague, ringing sensation that there’s something familiar here; that the characters from way back in the past still resonate on some level in the future. However, that ever-expanding reach through time renders everything smaller for the reader – we have a presumable mutant, a robot, and then two human captives here, but all signs of conflict are finally removed. All those centuries of fighting and battling have apparently led to a very small and quiet future where only bare remnants of Xavier’s present day venture into Krakoa really matter anymore. The past is the past, and that history is barely even remembered by the ascendants.
If House of X #1 gave us barely any context for what was going on, uninterested in identifying characters or establishing the actualities of living in Krakoa, then Powers of X #1 is even less concerned in hand-holding. Half the characters aren’t even named here, and the reader is left to try and make as many connections as possible from both R. B. Silva’s character designs and Tom Muller’s pages of design work as and when they arrive to break up the narrative.
The first scene is meant to be the simplest: Xavier talks to Moira MacTaggert after she tracks him down across a crowded festival scene. However, we don’t actually get her name within the scene itself – we’re asked to make that assumption because the first page of the issue, before we even see her, starts off by quoting her. Because we have Moira quoted upfront, when we see a woman who looks like Moira, our assumption is that she is Moira. It’s an early, reflected ripple for how we’ll later see the future X-Men, compiled from our understanding of more established characters. As this first conversation progresses it becomes more and more clear that something is being withheld from us all, as Moira seems more aware than she should be — and ultimately reveals that she already knows exactly who Charles is; what he wants from the world; and that she has something in her mind which she wants him to read.
As readers, we’ve spent this whole time thinking Moira is Moira: the somewhat plucky young scientist who classically helps Xavier’s dream become a reality. But we’re relying on the context clues for this rather than what’s actually in the comic itself. There’s no telling who this Moira actually is, at this moment in time. In a sense, disconnected from time as this comic leaves us, she now could be anything. For that matter, when you jump right to the end of time, there’s no telling who the Librarian is, or Nimrod, or what they’re doing; how they’re aligned. There’s a lot left for readers to assume on their first impact, and it leaves the issue feeling more paranoid and tense than might have been expected to begin with. What are we actually being shown here, and why?
We have those small connective through-lines. Magneto shows up in the present day and the future; Nimrod seems to show up both one hundred and one thousand years into the future. But without getting that immediate context for what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, it serves to completely reinforce the point of the issue: all this prejudice is getting us absolutely nowhere. Magneto, Mystique and Xavier’s tense conversation in the present day – where each has their own agenda they’re barely able to restrain themselves from blurting out before the scene cuts away – has inferred context for the longtime reader because we think we know who each of these characters are. By contrast, as we head into the future and those familiarise are stripped away, so the meaning and context blurs into abstract confusion: what is going on with the machines? What is going on with humanity? What happened within the blossoming mutant world of Krakoa?
We get only pieces – and as this long-term, stretched out timeline makes clear, if you can’t see the whole of a thing then you’re not yet understanding it at all.
Powers of X #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciller: R. B. Silva
Inkers: R. B. Silva & Adriano Di Benedetto
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.