The third issue of Powers of X – which runs two issues in a row, and will be followed by two issues of House of X – sticks to the one timeline for a change, heading out into the future in order to follow the “chimera” league of mutants, led by Apocalypse. I hadn’t caught last issue that these characters were split out into two groups of four, but the infographics  here patiently explain that four of the characters are Apocalypse’s horsemen, whilst the other four were aligned to an unseen “mother” figure. It’s not hard to guess who that mother is, which robs the issue’s main twist of its weight, but handily the creative team have a second twist hidden away regardless.

Focusing solely on this futuristic battle between the last of the X-Men and the humans/robots, we get understandably more depth than any of the previous issues have allowed. Here is a story which answers the questions which had been steadily stacking on top of one another, revealing what’s going on through this timeline before – possibly – erasing it entirely and moving back to the beginning. There’s a huge feeling of nihilism to the whole enterprise, with characters sacrificing themselves one in turn to a greater cause, destroying the world because there’s no point to continuing it. By continually fighting with one another and reducing their own identity in the process (as is arguably represented by the Chimera: mutants who reflect the past without having much to say about the future), the humans and the mutants have repeatedly left themselves open to complete decimation by the machines, whose only goal is to destroy everything else. When threatened by the last remaining X-Men that they’ll open up a black hole singularity in the midst of the battlefield, Omega Sentinel smirks and says “it’s where we’re all headed”. Xavier’s dream is of peace and tolerance, but robots don’t dream, and they don’t see the merit in either: the troubles of humanity and the troubles of mutantkind are equally irrelevant for them.

You almost can’t blame them for it. The absolute state of humans in this issue is absolutely incredible. Their “church” now suggests for us that they’ve decided to create their own form of mutant-gene within their own bodies, which they’ve ultimately declared are flawed. Their religion worships the perfection of the techno-organic form, but refuses to completely give over their children to it. Instead, they relish a half-human, half techno-organic existence, defined by their religious devotion to “enduring” their incomplete life. It’s more than a little tacky, suggesting that humans have now decided that – after decades of persecuting mutants for being different – they’re now going to assume mutant culture and identity for themselves. That in and of itself is hugely self-serving, but the choice to say that humanity is the weak and flawed aspect of their identity, and the artificial and forced technological aspects of their systems are the perfect and pure forms… blimey, humans are just completely messed up now.

They worship the machines they created in years past as though they are gods, and from birth are taught that humanity is a weakness to be rejected entirely. Given decades and decades of progress, humans have eventually decided they want to be subservient and weak, serving the robots who don’t give anything of a damn about them. As we’ve seen before through the series to date, the mutant metaphor is being explored in different and new ways here, branching out into some current-day ideology in quite subtle ways. The people who are at the height of power today don’t care less about the working people, despite having very successfully taught the working people that they’re loved above anyone else.

In short: the humans here celebrate their own irrelevance and weakness, devoting their lives to miserably championing the power of somebody who will never aid them and will never care less about anything other than the devotion. When the robots note that the church is on fire and has been attacked, they barely blink concern. They find the whole thing to be completely irrelevant until they realise they can use it as a chance to kill off the rest of the mutants – again, you can sense real-world and current-day attitudes seeping into the comic – and suddenly Omega Sentinel (the militant side of the robot leadership) heads off to go kill some people. But not even this gets Nimrod’s attention: he only pays attention once he realises there is a direct threat to him, at which point he races off to go take down Apocalypse, who leads the remaining mutants into their suicide run.

It’s notable that when the mutants are cornered by Nimrod, Apocalypse brushes off Wolverine’s attempt to play martyr. Forgetting survival of the fittest: Apocalypse sacrifices himself for the cause. That’s not what you’d expect from him – but then, the survival is no longer of the fittest person, but of the fittest timeline, and the assumption from all involved is that this timeline is too weak to continue.

For all the talk of church at the start of the issue, if anyone, the closest thing to a God is Moira. She’s not only well into her hundredth year of life here, but she can relive her entire existence endlessly. She has foresight and understanding from her ten lives well-lived which make her able to predict and work through any situation – even when that situation is a nightmare future. The whole plan of this issue is to give Moira one last piece of information before killing her, sending her back into a tenth lifespan. It renders the entire timeline inert and inactive, with everyone – from the dead mutants to the warring Nimrod and Apocalypse – extinct in Moira’s new reality, which she can now look to rewrite in a better and more promising fashion. Xorn’s nihilism increasingly strikes me as the smartest point of view: at some point the decision was made that the entire timeline was no longer worth saving, and all anybody could do is die an interesting death on Moira’s behalf. That’s what makes her godlike.

So for an issue which essentially writes itself away from present importance and into the history books, there’s a lot that’s going to be important throughout the rest of the series. The most lasting impression made here, though, is how the oppressors – over time – essentially push themselves into subservience over time, without ever realising it. It’s a fascinating part of the comic, and one which shows that Hickman and the creative team aren’t ignoring “the mutant metaphor” in favour of their weird science: this is playing into the very core of the X-Men and modernising it to a factor of ten.

Powers of X #3
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciller: R. B. Silva
Colourist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Designed by Tom Muller