House of X #1
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design)
July 24, 2019
House of X #1 has been touted as a new beginning for the X-Men, that once indomitable franchise that was knocked off its pedestal in recent years for reasons that are, like Marvel’s canceled Inhumans TV series (to give a, ah, completely unrelated example), better off forgotten. And as a new beginning, it’s incredibly fitting that the miniseries by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz begins with a scene straight out of (Second) Genesis. Behold Krakoa, the mutated garden of Eden inhabited by Charles Xavier. Head encased in a silver Cerebro helmet, Xavier watches with godlike approval as a man and woman are seemingly born from Krakoa’s pods, looking for all the world like Scott Summers and Jean Grey—the X-Men’s original atomic Adam and Eve. “To me, my X-Men,” Xavier says, and if this the dawning of a new age, it certainly fucking feels like it.
According to the book’s promo materials, House of X will “return the X-Men to their rightful prominent position in the Marvel universe,” and the paradigm shift is instantly apparent. Xavier has established Krakoa as an island nation for mutants, with organic habitats and gateways growing in various locations on Earth and in the solar system. Krakoa looks like a mutant paradise: dead X-Men are alive again, Krakoan flowers produce miracle drugs (for those who recognize the young nation’s sovereignty, of course), and there’s even a new mutant language! For the first time since Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, mutants aren’t just surviving, they’re thriving. And the humans are scared shitless.
This comic is challenging and audacious, and the X-Men feel dangerous in a way they never quite have before. They’re the next stage in human evolution, and they’re done apologizing for it. Intriguingly, the first issue keeps the audience at a distance, like the puny flatscans we are. The story is cut into tantalizing slices. Early pages show the unmistakable hands of Colossus and Nightcrawler planting the flowers of Krakoa, but we don’t see their faces; even the usually omnipresent Wolverine is seen from afar, wrestling with mutant children. We’re as clueless as the human ambassadors Magneto deigns to greet, and we follow them from habitat to habitat as he explains that the world has changed, humans might as well accept their irrelevancy, and anyway, we’re so far beyond you now. Much of House of X #1 is table-setting, delivered by Magneto-ian monologues and Tom Muller’s keenly-designed info pages, but when it’s for a 12-course banquet, who can complain?
The X-Men have striven for Utopia before, but Krakoa is a fascinating new stage because it takes mutants back to their (forgive me) roots. This is a series about evolution, and nature is giving the future to the mutants. (The Children of the Atom are now flower children.) Pepe Larraz’s art is alternately lush, fleshy, and crystalline, depicting lotus-shaped buildings and tree limbs twisted into portals, all amplified by Marte Gracia’s verdant colors. But Krakoa is simultaneously earthly and unearthly, making the X-Men seem cosmic or alien to our human eyes. It’s Eden, yes, but also Europa, the distant moon that Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey mythos transformed into a home for new, evolving life. Hell, Magneto’s speech to the ambassadors could be summed up as: “ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS—EXCEPT KRAKOA, ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE.” (Hickman’s script, available in the Director’s Cut edition of the comic, even likens the tall, lanky, black-clad Xavier to 2001’s Monolith.) Now, the X-Men are something more than superheroes; they’re truly uncanny.
If some of the best X-Men comics have reflected the anxieties of their era, we see that dark mirror now in Orchis, a network of potential antagonists floating in a space station called the Forge. Combining the assets of several human organizations—including SHIELD and HYDRA—it strikes me as the sci-fi equivalent of a billionaire’s doomsday bunker in New Zealand. We see a system in power fearing the population growth of a community they’ve oppressed and building a bastion to maintain their way of life far away from that dreaded, unwanted other—as far as Mercury, in fact. Unlike Krakoa, the Forge is cold, mechanical, and unnatural, built around the head of that enormous symbol of mutant genocide, the Sentinel.
So, there’s something radical in House of X’s new status quo, something meant to unsettle the reader and then make them question why. The X-Men have always defended a world that hates and fears them—if we’re threatened by a mutant homeland, mutant culture, mutants finally stepping out of the shadows into the sunlight, we should interrogate why it hits that nerve. (Is it the creepy pods? Totally fair if it’s the creepy pods.) After all, even “good” humans like the Fantastic Four are concerned about the scope of Xavier’s plan. Cyclops’s words to them hit with the force of one of his concussive beams: “The world always told me I was less when I knew I was more. Did you honestly think that we were going to sit around forever and just take it?” House of X is already a litmus test for readers: when Cyclops confronts the Fantastic Four, are we hearing the words of a blossoming supervillain, or an empowering slam on Sue and Reed for the way they’ve ignored the mutant cause, even when it affects their family personally?
Oh yeah, and since this is a superhero comic—how is the action? Pretty damn cool, actually. Larraz draws a classic mutant heist starring Mystique, Toad, and Sabretooth that hints that not everything is angelic in Eden.
House of X #1 is the jolt shocking the X-Men franchise out of its coma. Dense and elusive, this debut issue has enough dramatic fodder to elate and frustrate Comics Twitter for years, and there are eleven parts still to come. Next up is Powers of X, a companion miniseries by Hickman and R.B. Silva; the two comics are meant to coil around each other like strands of mutated DNA. So, X-Men fans: find it, read it, savor it. But not too fast. Stop and smell the flowers.