By Steve Morris
The X-Men bring a fight to the unsuspecting human alliance who were secretly constructing a “Mother Mold” genocide machine in the far reaches of space, in an issue which unfolds, tragically, inevitably, after showing off its hand early. Using their advance knowledge of what the humans are up to, the mutants stole a march on the humans last issue, only to then be on the receiving end of a predictable and severe backlash. Progress always brings with it fear and anger, and the humans here are so devoted to their cause that they immediately decide this is now a suicidal mission which they are perfectly happy to sacrifice themselves for. Their cause is more important than anything else – even facts, as the fascinating infographics angled towards us here.
This time round we see the various attacks that have been leveled at mutantkind over the years, from the genocide at Genosha and the House of M’s decimation of mutant numbers right through to the personal killing spree of someone like the Leper Queen, or the collected damage caused by the Purifiers over the years under the holy instruction of William Stryker. It’s stark to see the numbers put on the page in such a simple, factual fashion: it also emphasises just how few mutants are actually around, which in turn emphasises just how devoted humans are to their cruel and bigoted cause. For them to be willing to kill themselves just to ensure their continued right to build genocide robots is such an extreme zealotry – especially when the people they want to wipe out represent 0.000000029% of the Earth’s total population at this point.
You know what minority group that reflects most strongly? Indigenous people. For all that the humans here get some kind of personality or definition from the creative team, it doesn’t do anything to mask over the fact that they’re attacking a group of people who have perfect right to be where they are, and to live their lives without being shaped by outside forces. The West came in and attempted to destroy Indigenous culture in every country invaded, and even now it’s clear that Government has no care for or compassion for the genocides and atrocities of their past. Trump would happily destroy the people in America; Trudeau would merrily arrange another pipeline through their land. Britain gloriously celebrates their Empire as if it wasn’t one of the greatest crimes in World history. And here we see the humans annoyed that they aren’t allowed to secretly build death machines: the lead character here is a female scientist who acts like she’s the scrappy righteous underdog because last issue her husband blew himself up to try and stop the X-Men; murdering a teenager in the process. The comic portrays the humans with humanity, which only adds to the unbalanced strength of the human cause seen here. They’re evil, first and foremost, and everything else is a distraction from that.
The Mother Mold itself wakes up towards the end, as the scientist decides to bring it to life with no regard for if it is ready or what the consequences might be. On awakening, its reaction speaks clearly to the vision of the future we’ve seen throughout Powers of X: it doesn’t care for either humans or mutants. Although it understands that humans created artificial life, the Mother Mold immediately places itself as higher than the humans which created it, and declares itself to be more important than its creators/Gods. Although it falls into the Sun shortly afterwards, it’s a very telling nod to the future: that the humans have created something here which develops hatred for everything as its first concept. Had the Mother Mold continued, it would have clearly followed the path we saw in Moira’s past life, where both humans and mutants would ultimately have been churned up and abandoned in favour of this new, third form of life. Humans are so willing to destroy the mutants as a minority group that they won’t think twice before destroying their whole future in the process.
Note Karima’s reaction: even she is surprised by the irrationality of the humans’ hatred, and at this point she’s clearly programmed to be on their side.
Of course, nobody reading this comic thinks they’ve just seen the last stand of Wolverine, but let’s take this on face value and suggest that this is the story and what we’re seeing won’t have a twist over the next few issues. If this is the end for the characters, then they die in various ways, some of them going down in far more glory than others. Their deaths showcase again the irrational fury of humanity, who attack them even once their cause is lost: every mutant killed is victory enough for them. And… when there are barely a few hundred mutants left, you can see why that would seem a victory for them. Humans are far more disposable than mutants are, after all. Anybody looking for great things from Cyclops, Wolverine and Nightcrawler will find them here, with the characters dying in ways which set them up as lasting martyrs to their cause. Where the humans are separated from one another at all times and united only by their resistance to the attacking X-Men (it’s fitting, really, that the mutants are the invaders to the human colony here: it represents a further hypocritical position for the humans to take); the mutants here are clearly a family, thinking of one another at all times. They’re used to being attacked – it’s the daily life. It’s telling how they react to tragedy against how the humans react to similar.
Mystique drags a blanket over Husk’s body to give her dignity; Nightcrawler and Wolverine embrace one last time as they prepare to throw themselves into the Sun; Monet sacrifices herself to make sure Jean will be safe. The mutants appreciate the worth of each life, much further than the cause they’re a part of. They are the actual persecuted group in the comic, and it’s their lives which matter most. With the early deaths of Archangel and Husk it’s perhaps pretty obvious that no X-Man is coming out of this alive, but the way it plays out within the comic is hugely stirring stuff, if primarily because Larraz and especially Gracia create some breathtaking imagery here. The sequence of Nightcrawler and Wolverine teleporting out into space to destroy the Mother Mold is iconic in image: Nightcrawler burns up immediately, leaving only Wolverine’s silhouette as he valiantly cuts away at the machine and untethers it so it’ll fall into the Sun. Gracia uses bold, bright colour here to make the scene so much more heartbreaking and real: without words, the composition from Larraz conveys everything about Wolverine’s last stand and creates an image which reverberates long after reading the issue.
Jean fans won’t be quite so pleased. The arrangement of the team leaves her as little other than a radio operator, receiving messages from the mutants on Krakoa and showing no capability in her own right: quite the change from X-Men: Red. That could well be intentional – this Jean is wearing her original costume, and we’ve already been shown sequences of Xavier growing mutants on Krakoa – it could well be that all the characters we see here are clones, or new mutants, or something else entirely, which is why they’re all sacrificed so quickly by Hickman’s script. But what makes the issue work is the last panel – that Xavier sheds tears after the mission is complete. Regardless of whatever mysteries we’re currently unaware of or the secrets that’ll be revealed in future weeks: at this precise moment, Xavier cares that the X-Men are dead.
We’ve seen him floating above the ground, ethereal and untouched by the new reality – keen and calm within his new status quo. This is the first sign that there’s more to him and that he does care about the X-Men as individuals rather than as part of his wide mutant cause. That’s a change from what we’ve seen suggested so far, and it’s clearly going to be important as we turn next across to Powers of X, and how this version of Xavier ripples out across the future.
House of X #4
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.
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