When I say House of X – Powers of X is a game changer for the X-Men, I really mean it. Jonathan Hickman has done the impossible, taking one of the most tired, overwrought and frankly boringly convoluted series Marvel has and making it not only exciting but groundbreaking. He isn’t just reinventing the wheel for the sake of it (as has been done so many times in Marvel history that the concept of a reboot or a refresh for these titles is just utterly meaningless) he’s approaching the concept of mutants in a way that is responsive to the times, attentive to the history of the books, and ultimately meaningful.
Here, Hickman poses the question: what if the mutants changed the rules, succeeded from society, and got their own damn nation? Then, he fully executes this concept: he invents a language with new letters, he has his artists create organic architecture (clearly shouting out to the works of Zaha Hadid), he creates laws and structures, groups and societies, and in every issue there’s at least 2 full page briefs or reports about this. Every X-title has been graphically reinvented, with the same font, style and presentational methods to hammer home the idea that this is all one narrative. It’s beautiful. The sheer scope and almost anthropologic approach to creating a mutant society is fascinating and engaging.
I stopped reading X-Men comic books a long time ago. I grew up on the Fox animated series, got into the comics at 10, when I was the only little girl in a basement comic book shop and would see men pour out as soon as I arrived, and eventually found the Generation X series which spoke more to my age and affinity than the mainstream books. I stopped reading the X-Men because, frankly, the art wasn’t worth the price and the stories were mundane. I couldn’t keep up with who was Decimated, Depowered and Ultimate, and with so many of my favorite characters seemingly killed off in a move to traumatize Marvel’s Merry Mutants, I just didn’t care anymore. I grew up on Claremont, Jim Lee’s art, and the epic Age of Apocalypse storylines, and once the movies came out it just seemed like Marvel decided that they didn’t need to put the effort into these titles anymore. I was especially offended when the heinous work of the now disgraced Warren Ellis crapped all over Generation X, leading to the end of the title and the death of a character who was the heart of the team. Who wants to read a comic series where characters you love are murdered on a regular basis? Who wants to read a series where heroes you love lose their powers for no reason? So much of what I read when I picked up an X-title for the last 15 years just seemed dramatic for the sake of being dramatic.
Hickman has even solved that problem by having the mutants defeat death. You read that right- death doesn’t matter and even long-gone characters are back. All the mutants can be reborn anytime they die- even the ones depowered and slaughtered in the genocide. So imagine my delight when Synch turned up, a character I haven’t seen in 15 years. Imagine my delight when, in a separate series, I learned that Nightcrawler would be dealing with the religious implications of this concept. This is what I mean when I say Hickman follows through on his concepts: he opens the can of worms and looks at every worm. We’re about a year and a half into this now, and there’s enough content to say he’s doing it well.
As for this trade, it’s a delight, splitting back and forth between the two starter titles, House of X and Powers of X, to tell the story of how Xavier, Magneto and Moira MacTaggart reconceptualized how mutants should exist in a world that fears and hates them. There is, of course, a big mission into space (because all the best X-stories involve space, as Claremont proved) and more than a few game-changing rewrites of previously known characters. What strikes me so much about this book is how grounded in good sci-fi it is. Hickman has more ambition than any Marvel writer in a generation, and he mostly sticks the landing. The gorgeous artwork of R.B. Silva and Pepe Laraz is beautifully and meticulously coloured by Marte Gracia and David Curiel, so that the entire thing feels real, current and lived in. There are splash pages where you just wonder how long that took the artists- a feeling I haven’t had looking at an X-title in years. The overall graphic layout with the red and black X cover page in each issue makes the book feel cohesive and well planned. This is a coherent approach to comics that recognizes that the modern audience doesn’t just want a comic; we want world building.
Complaints? Hickman isn’t so great at writing women, and almost none of the characters of colour are featured very much in this first addition, except for Storm. Apparently the women missing from action issue is being addressed in the X-Factor titles with Kitty Pryde, at least. I do find myself constantly wondering where certain long standing characters are too- where’s Rogue? Gambit? Forge? Bishop? I only hope Hickman has held off on sharing these characters because he’s got something good in store for them.
I honestly don’t know what Marvel is going to do with this going forward. Hickman is still writing the main X-Men title and New Mutants, and mostly hitting it out of the park. I can’t help but wonder if the timing of this total rethink has something to do with Disney’s acquisition of the X-Men movie rights, and if it’s a preview of what Marvel Studios might need to do to integrate the mutants into that cinematic universe, but I genuinely hope some of this makes it on screen someday.