Anthony Cabrera / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The X-Men are a different breed of superhero in more ways than one. On the outside they look like any superpowered team, but there’s so much politics surrounding them, from how they’re seen to how they’ve been treated . The X-Men are supposed to represent any marginalized group and their efforts to fight for their basic rights, from civil rights activists to refugees. The dynamic between good and evil is best seen through major X-Men characters Charles Xavier and Magneto, battling with their strength, as well as with their intellect, on how best to deal with the rest of humanity. The X-Men fight for their survival, but just when they think they’ve secured a major step towards their ultimate goal of stable human/mutant relations, they suffer some kind of catastrophic defeat and are brought back down to do the whole thing over again.
Big events like House of M and Inhumans vs. X-Men have driven mutants to near extinction while others have driven a huge wedge between the X-Men and the larger superhero community such as the Avengers vs. X-Men event and a huge period where Cyclops, the archetypal hero and leader of the group, became radicalized and antagonistic to almost everyone who didn’t agree with him, before dying. The X-Men have been going through a rough patch and Marvel themselves haven’t done much to fix that. Time has displaced certain characters, their role in the larger Marvel universe has seemingly been downplayed by instead holding up the Inhumans as a good substitute because of the film rights, which is another can of worms entirely. The X-Men have never been broken so thoroughly, but now, things have changed and there’s a new status quo, one that promises to be something never before seen for the group.
Enter Jonathan Hickman, a man whose done his fair share of shaking up the Marvel canon. He has written for staples like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers to critical success. Also, he’s written the event that promised to end both the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe in 2015’s Secret Wars. Granted, this didn’t end either universe per say but more streamlined the two into one solid continuity. The X-Men was the other pillar that Hickman hadn’t touched until now and was hyped to be one of the most important runs in the X-Men’s history, all starting with the mini-series House of X and Powers of X (pronounced House of Ten and Powers of Ten).
It’s been a long time since anything as fascinating as what’s appeared in House of X/Powers of X has been done in mainstream superhero comics. Hickman is going full throttle in setting up the X-Men as major players on a global scale and establishing a real culture for mutants. Charles Xavier and Magneto have joined forces and created their own nation on a living island called Krakoa (a call back to Giant Size X-Men #1) that can only be resided on by mutants. No humans allowed. On top of that, the X-Men have created portals all over the world that will allow any mutant to travel through and find a safe haven from the rest of the world. But all that is only the beginning.
Not only do Xavier and Magneto create their own mutant nation, but they also demand the rest of the world to formally recognize them as their own sovereign nation. Amnesty is given to all mutants, including mutant criminals, Krakoan citizenship to all mutants, and they’re included into the United Nations. Their way of leveraging the rest of the world to comply is by offering special drugs only grown on Krakoa that can extend the human lifespan. Emma Frost has been made into a mutant ambassador. Magneto and other heavy hitters have formed their own government with laws, or more accurately commandments. Mutants have their own language. And then there’s Xavier, who has been turned into something else entirely. For starters, he can walk now, which is nothing all that special, he always wears a special helmet that connects him to Cerebro at all times, and is now referred to simply as X. He acts differently from how he’s acted before. He’s now more enigmatic and almost arrogant, instead of his usual brand of stoicism and pragmatism. In effect, his outlook more in line with Magneto’s view on humans, which is creepy, but also unique, strange—and uncanny.
Uncanny’s the best way to sum this whole new status quo. Uncanny in how all the usual members of the X-Men: Storm, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Jean Grey, even Wolverine, are acting compared to their usual personalities. It’s still them but their actions and how they speak to one another is different; we do learn a reason why later in the story but it’s nothing concrete. What we do get are major revelations that affect not just the whole X-Men history but also the future of mutants and humanity themselves.
Despite looking like two separate mini-series, House of X and Powers of X function as one complete story, only different in that each examines a different perspective. House of X focuses on the current actions of the X-Men and mutant politics while Powers of X focuses on a central timeline for mutants, examining events by powers of 10 (10^0=Year One, 10^1=Year 10, etc.). We go from the foundations of the X-Men to a possible far off future where humanity has evolved, but into something different from mutants. The past and the future informs the present and all this is thanks to the retooling of longtime X-Men supporting character, Moira Mactaggert.
I won’t contain any spoilers, but Moira is by far the biggest change for X-Men continuity by far as she’s more or less responsible for what’s happening to mutants right now, for better or worse. What I can say is Moira has been manipulating events and characters in ways so massive, it’s downright ridiculous and convoluted. But, it’s executed so well you can accept it.
The art done by Pepe Larraz in House of X and R.B. Silva in Powers of X is gorgeous. I might give it to Larraz as my favorite of the two but both do spectacular pencil work and inking. As far as the highlights are the expressions for all the characters, each one is distinct and captures a wide range of emotions that makes everyone come alive. There’s not that much action in the series barring a few notable moments, but when it happens, the art does its job. Even without punches getting thrown, the art is engaging when characters are just talking to one another, or when the story is being told through narration.
The book also includes supplemental material in the form of charts, observational notes, journal entries, and anything else that elaborates more on a certain subject or topic introduced in the story. It’s information that isn’t necessarily crucial to understand, but it helps clear up details and better fleshes out this new world that the X-Men are trying to create for themselves. It does affect the pacing for the story whenever they do pop up, but it’s not a major issue.
House of X and Powers of X are one of the few times when a book advertises itself as being the most important thing to happen for a set of characters and actually delivers on the promise. It’s a bold new direction for a group that already has a wild and in-depth history and breathes new life into it. The ideas and themes about mutants taking control of their own destiny despite everything going against them are fascinating. The building tension between mutants and the rest of the world is gripping and will be very exciting to see get paid off when the story continues in the following runs. It’s such a new take on the X-Men that as a reader I’m cautious to when and how all this is going to fall apart because it’s almost too good to be true. By the end of the book, I know things won’t end well, but it doesn’t matter, what matters is how it goes down. It’s the beginning of something special for the X-Men. While I can’t say it’s a perfect jumping on point considering how it plays with history, there’s no better place to jump on than right now if you’re looking for a captivating comic that leaves the reader, above all else, thinking. And that’s the best thing a book can do.