By Steve Morris
After an issue which permanently establishes the X-Men’s home of Krakoa as a safe haven for all mutants, no matter their past, Powers of X#6 concludes by offering a look at the unnatural cage which surrounds mutants at all times and seeks to keep them trapped. In many ways, that idea of a cage has always been with the characters, but here it’s put to the forefront and made essential. We learn that once more we’ve been seeing one of Moira’s past lives, as the “Librarian” sections in the far far future are the culmination of her sixth life’s journey – and seems to be the one which, ultimately, broke her.
In this sixth life, mutants end up in a zoo – a deliberately dark echo of Krakoa itself, as both Moira and Wolverine turn out to be living in a pen (or cage) created by the Librarian so they can study the pair. Whereas Krakoa is a wonderful, abundant world where mutants can be whatever they want, this zoo is a wild forest which acts to hold the mutants back, unable and unaware to dream of anything brighter. It’s an outright cage to hold them in, and one which Moira never saw coming. It’s one thing to see mutants as a natural step in evolution – but it’s another thing to see natural evolution as something which holds actual importance in a world of science and technology. Humans have learned how to extend their lives through medicine; how to travel across seas by transport; they’ve been to space and back. Why would they allow natural evolution to take place when they can use science and technology to hold it back, sidestep it, or jump over it altogether?
Wolverine, with his enhanced skeleton, is a natural example, and you can see why the creative team decided he should be one of the two mutants living at the end of time. He’s a mutant, sure, but he’s also been enhanced via human science. He has metal claws and a metal skeleton, which enhances his natural ability. Take that same approach with a human and you get someone like Captain America. It’s been a given in X-Men comics – and stamped with authority in Grant Morrison’s run, which is a dominant influence here – that mutants are an evolutionary step upwards, and that humans will eventually die out in favour of the superior evolutionary species. But with the focus on machinery that we’ve seen in both HoX and PoX to this point, the natural end point isn’t for humans to accept that and die out generationally: it’s for them to try and cheat and create a man-made version of evolution.
That’s why we’ve seen so much of the machines in this series, even as their threat has been stamped out repeatedly. The Nimrod of the future was defeated; the Nimrod of the present day was wiped out before it could even exist. They are just a distraction away from the real threat – which is that evolution won’t be allowed to happen. The logical combination of humans and machines isn’t to create two distinct races to be the superior species, which runs the world. Instead, the goal is to combine into a singular being: a man-made evolutionary chain which renders mutants defunct as an evolutionary line and keeps the human archive alive.
Wiping out the Librarian’s future before they can play with the Phalanx any further does two things. Firstly, it removes the sense of inevitability from the series. Many of Jonathan Hickman’s stories head to a fixed point: in his Avengers, it was the point where no worlds were left. In East of West, it’s the final choice for Babylon. Here, we’ve moved away from that idea, and unfixing readers from a set course creates a real sense of unpredictability back into things. Quite simply: we have absolutely no idea what X-Men #1 is going to be about.
Secondly, it ends that whole storyline for the time being, thank god. The whole thing didn’t seem to really serve any purpose other than to radicalise Moira – note that her seventh life is where she first steps away from Xavier and tries Magneto’s future; before then moving to Apocalypse. Really, that’s the whole point of this whole side-storyline, and I’m glad we’ve now reached a point where I won’t need to learn about ascension anymore, boring as it was.
The radicalised Moira is by far the most interesting thing in all of the X-Men right now. Having realised that the cage which hangs over her head isn’t a natural one, she’s left with no choice but to also break the rules if she’s going to make anything of her tenth life. It’s not good enough to follow Xavier’s well-intentioned path; Magneto’s domineering route; or Apocalypse’s brutal pragmatism. What is needed is something different, which uses their ideas but cross-engineers them together. Just as humans will ultimately cheat evolution through scientific discovery, so Moira will use her advanced knowledge to strip ideas from each great mutant leader and pull them together into an enhanced, evolved form. Having tested several possible lifetimes, her realisation as a scientist is that nature will not win without some significant help.
That means breaking Xavier’s dream of coexistence with humans. He’s the first image we see here: happy, smiling, wandering through the woods with no idea of what the future is meant to bring for him. The tragedy in the character is right there on the page from the first issue, and Moira’s blunt-force approach means that he will have to lose that innocence forever. Instead, he’s going to learn the hard way that humans will never accept mutants; will never accept the natural way forward. The only step they can make is to choose a new dream, which in turn leapfrogs over humanity to find a different step forward. By cutting themselves off from humans, they can insulate themselves and maintain the evolutionary superiority. The trick for the future will lie in how successfully Moira was able to break Xavier and rebuild him: will he hold true to the new world he’s created with Moira and Magneto, or will he return to his youthful dreams?
The mutant metaphor returns once more, it seems. As marginalised people try to build their cultures back up from the crushing blows dealt to them, the question for all of them is the same. Do they work in isolation, rebuilding strength by cutting themselves off from the rest of the world and establishing safe spaces for their culture to develop and progress in future – or do they have to compromise with the very people who oppressed them to begin with? That cage is always there for marginalised people, hanging right over their heads, and liable to fall back down and trap them at any moment should they take one wrong step. And so it seems, Powers of X finishes with both a reminder of all that mutantkind have achieved and could be – and that cage which could stop them at any moment.
Powers of X #6
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Pencillers: R. B. Silva & Pepe Larraz
Colourists: Marte Gracia & David Curiel
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.
This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!