COMIC DISCUSSION: House of X and Powers of X
Buckle up. This is a long one.
This week saw the close of Marvel’s thrilling House of X and Powers of X books, spanning 12 issues of action, anticipation, and Apocalypse, created by writer Jonathan Hickman and artists Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, and Marte Gracia.
The series was a complete relaunch of the X-Men comics and characters, changing everything we thought we knew about mutantkind. We saw every single character change, shift, and grow under a pressure unlike anything we’ve seen before in the X-Men comics. Jonathan Hickman tackled issues of universal proportion and wrestled with concepts as vague as fate, human nature, epistemology, and even the nature of physics itself.
So what exactly happened in the epic story?
Throughout the 12 issues, we saw Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr creating a safe-haven and sovereign nation for all mutants on the massively powerful island of Krakoa. They amassed a wealth and independence by selling miracle drugs produced by Krakoa that extended the lives of regular humans, and greatly enhanced the powers of mutants. Not only that, but through the collaborative effort of some lesser known mutants, and an ingenious in not dangerous plan, mutantkind gained immortality.
All this planning and ingenious collaboration moved towards one goal: the survival of mutants. Be it through coexistence or dominance, mutants only hope to survive, and now, nothing is off limits. In a way, their ultimate goal of survival is the only thing that can save humanity as well.
Just as Magneto would hope, each character in HOX/POX evolved both in their strength as a mutant and as a survivor. Hickman’s portrayal of these characters digs at their very core, and uncovers their truest selves. Let’s track how they changed and discover who they became.
What He Was:
Charles Xavier was a mild-mannered, wheelchair-bound scientist with a secret: extraordinary powers of telepathy, and an even greater sense of compassion. He has always been driven not by his mind but by his heart. This has been his greatest strength, but ultimately his greatest mistake.
Professor X‘s compassion has gotten in the way of his success more than once. He strived for a coexistence with humans, and he even formed the X-Men to protect humans from all manner of threat and danger in the world. He walked a fine line between diplomacy and action, and chose peace over progress constantly.
In fact, it is his compassion for humans that caused such a great rift between him and his dear friend Magneto. In a way, his compassion inadvertently separated the mutant population, and with the population ever-dwindling, survival was difficult.
What He Became:
Professor X and Magneto agree to work together. Charles can no longer hold back his power, nor is any method of battle or tactic off the table. Max cannot act out irrationally. They both agree not to meet in the middle, but to push further than either of them have before in any timeline. This is their ultimate and possibly final effort to save mutantkind.
By the end of the series, Professor X lost himself in the mission. He was convinced that his idealism was simply ineffective, and he saw the truth. The truth that, while his ideals are charming and fundamentally based on the successful non-violent philosophies of Martin Luther King Jr., when it comes to Marvel’s Universe, his version of peace is simply unattainable.
In House of X, Professor X becomes ruthless, unhinged, and methodical. We’ve seen him be manipulative, from interactions with Matthew Malloy to Jean Grey, but they pale in comparison to his grand manipulation of the world and even the laws of nature. Using alien technology and his powerful telepathic mutation, he is able to store multiple versions of each living mutant’s memories and their very consciousness in Cerebro, so he can bring them back to life when they die.
Interestingly, Professor X covers his face for the majority of this series, usually wearing Cerebro to observe all mutant life around him at all times, accounting for every possible variable. But without his moral compass, what will stop him from going too far? Has he already?
What She Was:
For a long time in the comics, until HOX/POX, Moira MacTaggert was simply one of the world’s leading geneticists. She had been a love interest of Charles, and always a reliable friend.
And that’s all she was.
What She Became:
House of X and Powers of X revealed Moira to be something more. She is the very key to the survival of the mutants.
Moira, now called Moira X, has the mutant ability of reincarnation. When she dies, she is born again with a full and perfect memory of her past lives. Throughout most of her lives, she has fought for the survival of mutants- though in a few, she betrayed them. She has helped Professor X, she has helped Magneto, she has helped the humans find compassion for mutants, each time trying to find the best possible future for mutantkind. She has even served Apocalypse and worked to ‘cure’ the X-Gene.
In every life, the humans oppress and kill mutantkind ruthlessly. HOX/POX shows her greatest attempt to bring Charles and Erik together– something that’s never been done before. Together, with all of her knowledge and with all of her planning, she plans to save mutantkind. And yet, based on her journal at the end of Powers of X #6, things still aren’t quite right. She has all but given up, and even chooses to remove herself from this world, putting the great plan at risk.
Is Moira proof that the X-Men cannot escape fate? Her encounter with the mutant Destiny would certainly suggest so. Moira X has limited reincarnations left. Is she herself more powerful than she knows, collapsing each of her lives into the inevitable end of mutantkind? And how is it that, despite living nine previous lifetimes, she cannot unravel this human fear of mutants? She has learned more than nearly any mutant, having living over a thousand years in one of her lives. And yet, human nature eludes her. What mysterious does she still hold?
What He Was:
En Sabah Nur was once a great foe to the X-Men as the immortal Apocalypse, able to enhance mutants to reach their full potential. He was the very first mutant in all of history. He believes in survival of the fittest, and specifically in mutantkind taking over the world.
Naturally, this clashed with Professor X‘s peaceful approach and hopes for coexistence. And so he was a natural enemy to X-Men. His powers and his approach were a threat to all of humanity.
What He Became:
Apocalypse, one of the most powerful villains of all time, joined the other mutants in perfect harmony. He is thrilled with their plan. He explains that their ruthless, unapologetic effort to truly survive is all he has ever wanted. He is thrilled with how powerful they have become, and how forcefully they fight the good fight.
Apocalypse is even a member of the Quiet Council of Krakoa, next to Magneto and Professor X. In Moira MacTaggert’s ninth life, Apocalypse leads the X-Men, showing that in many ways he has fought for the survival of all mutants. He put his life on the line, not for himself, and not for mutants, but for information alone.
Since Moira worked with Apocalypse, were her powers enhanced too? Will En Sabah Nur continue to live in harmony with humans if that is their greatest chance for survival? Or will his die-hard belief for survival of the fittest leave him fighting for power within the Quiet Council?
What She Was:
Emma Frost has always been a powerful telepath, arguably more powerful than Charles Xavier. Not only that, but her secondary mutation offers her near-perfect crystalline skin that makes her truly invulnerable, and immune to psychic attacks. She has fought for the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil. She has joined the Hellfire Club and served as its White Queen. She has loved and lived a life with Cyclops. She has learned from and learned to hate Sebastian Shaw, the Black King of the Hellfire Club.
Through it all, her ruthless coldheartedness has given her a great advantage. While she believes that mutants are greater being than humans, due to the hate she received for her powers, she fights more for mutants more than she fights against humans.
What She Became:
Everything changed when Professor X and Magneto brought Emma into the fold. They brought her to Krakoa, and asked her that she join their cause. Two of the most powerful mutants in the world worked side by side because Emma’s business sense and diplomatic abilities would aid them in their quest for Krakoa’s sovereignty. And with her help, they were able to return renegade mutant Sabretooth to Krakoa, and enforce their nation’s laws.
Ultimately, she wants to help mutantkind and while she may have seemed skeptical at first, Emma is all in. She and the Stepford Cuckoos work together for the future of all mutants.
Why is it that she requested an additional seat on the Quiet Council of Krakoa? The Red King is still a mysterious figure, and Hickman has yet to reveal who it is. (Though the upcoming Marauders book solicitation suggests Kate Pryde will take on the role of Red Queen under Emma’s guidance.)
Emma Frost clearly has plans for her future, and yet we are not privy to them. When Mr. Sinister mentions a betrayal, is it in fact her betrayal with her secret plan? Or does she truly hope to find balance and justice for the mutants?
What He Was:
Sabretooth has been Wolverine’s enemy for as long as he’s been around. He suffered through the same Weapon X program, and grew to hate Wolverine for his success in the program. And in most of his stories, Sabretooth is completely ruthless. He is a murderous and bloodthirsty killer who is effective over everything else. He refuses to be controlled, and he refuses to submit to the will of the humans and mutants that he loathes.
What He Became:
Sabretooth becomes an example. And yet, despite the fact that the monstrous Sabretooth kills many, there is something particularly terrifying about his fate. And it’s not simply that he was practically eaten by the living island of Krakoa. Yes, when he was sent on a mission, he went too far. But there is some grey area in the morality of Krakoa’s politics. Emma saved him from human judgement, but there were no rules in place on Krakoa when he committed those crimes.
He sat before the Quiet Council of Krakoa as they unanimously agreed that killing humans was the greatest sin of mutantkind. And so, Sabretooth sat there watching his freedom slip out from beneath his feet. He sat there as new rules were invented specifically to punish him. That in and of itself is terrifying and morally complicated. No matter his evil, it has been made perfectly clear that this Professor X is willing to change the rules of the game on the fly.
Will Professor X change his agreement with humans? Will he commit the very sin that he punishes Sabretooth for? Was Sabretooth’s punishment death? Or is he somehow still alive inside Krakoa?
What He Was:
Wolverine is a powerful, near-immortal, animalistic hero who fights for truth. Having had his memories erased more than once, he believes that truth is all that sets one free. For all his flaws and all his gruff conversation, he a passionate and caring man. He has always been a key member of the X-Men, and has respected Charles Xavier through the worst of it all. He has fallen ill to the poison of adamantium more than once.
More than anything, Wolverine is loyal to those that he cares about. Just as he won’t turn a blind eye to the truth, he will never turn away from a friend or a person in need. He has no grudge against humans, only assholes.
What He Became:
Wolverine was integral to the slow process of gaining knowledge and information for Moira MacTaggert. He has played pivotal roles in missions to defend humans more times than anyone can count. And yet interestingly, in the House of X #4, he makes pause. It is rather unlike Logan to pause before diving into battle. He has always been a man of action. And yet, before diving into the Sun and destroying the Master Mold, he does. He talks with Nightcrawler ever so briefly about the Afterlife. This is a death he chooses, unlike any death before. And he wonders, just for a moment, if there is something more.
Nightcrawler tells him, “When you wake from this earthly slumber, my friend, look for me. I will be there, waiting for you.” Is this Nightcrawler foreshadowing their rebirth on Krakoa? Or is there something more here? Are they truly dying, with their souls and all, never to come back? We see Wolverine truly considering the worth of his life as he hears the call of duty. Destroying the Master Mold is essential for the survival of mutants, and he knows he must act, and he will. But his fear means something.
Does he not know that Xavier can bring them back? Does Xavier not tell them? And more interestingly, is it not really Logan, or Logan’s soul or essence, or whatever you’d like to call it, that enters the form? Yes, Storm talks with each of them to prove that their new bodies hold their memories, but how do we know that the original Wolverine and his soul do not pass on?
So then the question becomes this- If Xavier has lost himself in the mission, does every sacrificed and revived mutant lose their soul along with it?
What He Was:
Magneto has fought for the survival of mutantkind since his very conception. He has battled against oppression since he and his family were kept in concentration camps in World War II. He has already made an unfortunately failed nation for mutantkind, Genosha. And yet none of his efforts have worked, whether it is Professor X that stops him, or the humans all working together, or even M Day when Scarlet Witch kills the majority of the mutant populace.
He has lost more than most in this world, and he vowed to protect what he still has left no matter the method or cost. He is considered a nuclear level threat, and is one of the most powerful Omega level mutants in the world. He always uses his power to protect mutants, and has often teamed up with Professor X when an extreme threat puts the entire world in danger. In the eyes of many, he is not a villain at all, but simply a mutant willing to do what Professor X wouldn’t.
What He Became:
Magneto agreed to work with Charles. He remained an advocate for the cause throughout the entirety of the series, pushing for the success of mutantkind, and enforcing the secret plan with Moira. He believed in their mission, and he believed that they truly had something different this time around. And as far as we understood, Magneto kept Charles to a standard, and they both agreed on their future. And yet, Moira wrote this in her journals in Powers of X #6:
“We have lost Magneto. I had hoped — given the opportuinity — to help make him a better man. Instead all we have made is an enemy.”
Is this the betrayal Mr. Sinister referenced? What was the line that was crossed? Why has he become an enemy to all of mutantkind? There are more questions than any possible answers, especially because this happened at the end of the last issue. Will he be a villain in Dawn of X? Will he find a way to truly save mutantkind? Or is this all a part of some bigger plan?
House of X and Powers of X explore a variety of things, but the main focus really is Moira and the revelation of her incredible abilities. And while we may speculate what it all means for the future of the X-Men, I think it comes down to one question: in this world, who determines what is truly good and what is truly evil?
We may not know what the future holds but we will certainly see Magneto there, determined to do what he believes is good. And that is the core of the X-Men that Hickman truly reveals to us. This mutant struggle is a human struggle. It is the struggle to decide what is good, and how to be good. Hickman shows us that it is our duty and our obligation to collaboratively work towards the future that we hope for. To defend the people. To show compassion. Because Moira had a plan, but she needed Charles’ idealism, and she needed Max’s conviction.
There are also lots of loose ends that we’ve yet to follow up on. For example, the mutants were never able to get Franklin Richards, the most powerful mutant of all, to join their team. We may see more of that story and that struggle to come in future X-Men or Fantastic Four comics, since Hickman has had a hand in both.
What was your favorite HOX/POX moment? What books are you reading from the Dawn of X launch this fall? We really want to hear from you! Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!