With an extensive focus that strides across generations and into the far-flung future, Powers of X has featured such a vast viewpoint that it’s rendered the individual stories of the X-Men, the first generation of interconnected mutants, as irrelevant in context. As that wider perspective closes in a little, House of X now takes the opportunity to showcase how important it was that the X-Men were people, were characters, and were family. Issue #3 is the start of a return to the characters who classically make up the X-Men, as Cyclops gathers together a strike-team to take on the Mother Mold facility floating out in space, in order to stop Nimrod from ever being created.

As the cover suggests, the issue wants you to get some of that classical feel as you read the story: you’ve spent so long with alternate-timeline characters and deliberately ‘off’ depictions of Xavier and Moira, but now here’s some of the characters you know and love. The strike-team has mostly original-cast members of the X-Men (Cyclops, Jean, Angel) and throws a few unexpected choices like Husk and Monet in there (because otherwise there would only be white people), and they’re wearing a mixed choice of ‘classic’ costumes. This is all meant to evoke the classic idea of the X-Men, and give you reassurance that things are still relatively normal – even when things clearly aren’t normal at all, and they’re all headed out on what clearly seems to be a suicide mission which neither Xavier nor Magneto are that upset about. By this point we have to think that something is clearly very wrong with the leadership of mutant kind, with Xavier creepily reassuring a fairly ignorant-sounding Cyclops that he’ll be absolutely fine… even as Magneto makes it almost completely clear that this team are all almost certainly being set up to die. The two characters are shown from a distance by Pepe Larraz, showing how disconnected they are from the rest of the mutants. They’re the only characters on Krakoa who we know have seen Moira’s vision – and they stand themselves apart from everyone else, even whilst droning on about their unity.

A message, perhaps, starts to emerge here: unity is for everyone else. Xavier and Magneto are not on the same level as Cyclops, even though they profess to be working as part of the team. Magneto would have made a great member of this attack team, but he chooses to avoid it. There’s a greater good which outweighs the practical day-to-day of living the dream. Playing into the theme of family which rides throughout the issue, Xavier and Magneto are clearly playing a parental role to the X-Men strike team, even though their ambitions in doing so are unclear and worrying at best. Curiously enough, this is also the issue where Emma Frost makes her return, showing up here for the first time and flanked by her Cuckoos. Notably, again, the Cuckoos have not only returned to their uniform style – after previously having dyed their hair, rebelled against Emma, and assisted in genocides, alternately – but are now wholly supporting and respecting her. They even call her “mum”, which is a crazy change of events for them.

There’s again a suggestion that something is seriously off here, with the individual growth of the Cuckoos shunted to one side in order to make them a single unit, working alongside the woman they’d mostly shrugged off and moved forwards from. Again, unity is for the kids to follow, whilst the rules possibly don’t apply so strongly to the parental figure. Emma’s role is a dominant one here, ordering them around and telling them not to use human names whilst on their diplomatic mission. When she makes that same mistake, however, they quickly correct her and she accepts that. Emma is setting herself up as a maternal figure for the girls, but this time round she’s far more willing to accept and take on criticism if it helps her form that united front against the mutants. Emma is clearly in charge, but she’s not the central leadership figure here, and she exists in a hierarchy which keeps Xavier right at the top of the pyramid. It’s an immensely complicated balance, where everybody is towing a line but you can still see intersectionality play out: just because they’re all mutants and ostensibly have the same cause, that doesn’t mean they’re all going to work without their own internalised prejudices and belief systems.

One thing required by the issue is that the reader put aside the character voices, to some extent, as Hickman’s script is just slightly off for most of the familiar faces who appear properly in this part of the story. From Emma Frost to Cyclops; Magneto to Monet; most of the characters here feel just a little bit off, which could either be intentional or – slightly more likely – are a writing tic of Hickman’s which he’s still not been able to shake off, whereby all his characters speak in the same tone within the same series. Whichever option is the case here, what is brings out in the comic is a uniformity to the X-Men which is unnerving as all hell. When you have characters as wild in intent as Mystique, Husk, Xavier, Archangel, Magneto and Sabretooth all still working as part of the same cause, you’d expect there to be fractures and disunity: instead everybody seems mainly able to set aside their personal causes in favour of this new dream they’re all aspiring towards.

The all-or-nothing mentality plays out at the end, twisting itself into the theme of family. On one side of the attack are the X-Men, who are planning to take over the Mother Mold factory and destroy it. On the other side are the humans, and again the issue takes pain to make them into characters rather than part of a generic whole. Powers of X would have you see humans as basically being a monolith, but here we see the humans have more autonomy – they have family, they make their own choices, they make mistakes – and that leads explicitly to the explosion on the final page which seemingly wipes everyone out. The individualised humans and the classic X-Men we know are gone, and so Xavier and Magneto are apparently closer to smoothing out the rough edges in their “mutantkind forms a solid and generic whole” tactic. This is the actual cost of playing into the wider stakes of the previous issues: the individuals have to be wiped out. It absolutely feels like this is part of the plan for Xavier and Magneto, especially as we have yet to see where Moira is at this point in time – or where Sinister, Apocalypse, or any of the other ‘leader’ figures have gone.

Of course, these X-Men won’t be gone forever, but the new form they take will be a huge part in understanding what the long-term plan for the franchise is. We’ve previously seen the idea of unity being key for Xavier in forming whatever his dream is to be, but what this issue suggests is that part of that unity is going to be conformity. Whether that means hatching new X-Men out of those creepy Krakoa pods, or getting Sinister to do some gene-splicing, Xavier is not interested in seeing the X-Men thrive: in seeing Husk have a good life, or in seeing Monet realise her potential. Those individual lives aren’t what matter to him: the dream matters to him, and as he grows more and more ‘pure’ and obsessed with perfection, he becomes more and more like the machines who are apparently fated to become the enemy. He becomes an uncaring automaton, ignoring the human cost in favour of achieving the result he’s been programmed to work towards.

House of X #3
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciller: Pepe Larraz
Colourist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Designed by Tom Muller