Powers of X #1
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colors), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), R.B. Silva (artist)
July 31, 2019
This review contains spoilers for Powers of X #1
Powers of X #1 begins on a park bench ten years ago and ends in a library a thousand years into the future. This issue reveals the scope of Jonathan Hickman’s vision for the X-Men, presenting nothing less than the history of mutantkind. The beginning of Xavier’s dream, and the end.
In my review of House of X #1, I called the book “challenging and audacious,” and oh ho ho, buddy. If House of X was Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010, then Powers of X is the final scene in 2001, a brain-melting, time-bending phantasmagoria. For those curious as to how Powers of X (pronounced “Powers of Ten”) is rooted to its companion miniseries—House of X tells the present-day saga of Xavier’s world-building on Krakoa, and Powers of X presents that current story (answering one question: who was Mystique working for?) as merely one chapter in the X-Men’s sprawling history. Year Ten, out of One Thousand.
And Year Zero? It begins, seemingly, with the first meeting between Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggert, a sweet and innocuous scene between two people who will mean very much to each other. But is what we’re seeing the truth? Moira has been featured heavily in HoX and PoX covers and promotional materials, but which Moira are we seeing here? The X-Men’s biggest ally, introduced as a gun-toting housekeeper with that accent that can only be described as Claremontian? The brilliant but chilly scientist who experimented on Magneto as a baby and kept her own (dangerous) son a prisoner on Muir Island? Moira may be the missing key to the Xavier Institute, unlocking secrets we can’t imagine.
Time sweeps forward to Year One Hundred, where the Human-Machine-Mutant War has driven mutantkind off the planet and into the stars. These are the densest and most immersive scenes of the issue, introducing the X-Men of the future and hurling Asteroid K-sized chunks of exposition at the reader via Tom Muller’s expertly designed text pages. Krakoa is indeed a land of plenty, because there’s enough history and lore in just one of these pages to fuel X-Men stories for years. Much of it is so enticing that I may burst into tears if we never see, say, the intergalactic mutant colony Benevolence.
These scenes are also the riskiest in Powers of X #1. While dystopian futures, clones, and Sentinels have been among the driving ingredients of the X-Men for decades, overfamiliarity has made the taste stale. The work here by Hickman and artist R.B. Silva is indebted to Claremont and Byrne’s “Days of Future Past” and Morrison and Silvestri’s “Here Comes Tomorrow,” certainly, but in the way a new plant is indebted to the soil it sprouted from. Previous comics have featured the Hounds, mutants that have been bred by human masters to hunt other mutants, but Hickman turns the screw and introduces a black brain telepath, a “natural Judas” who acted so according to her nature that she betrayed humans to fight alongside mutants.
The other new faces in Powers of X are more than they appear too. As soon as we saw the first promotional images of Rasputin (metal skin, intangible, Soul Sword) and Cardinal (three-fingers, pointy tail, priest) it was easy to guess whose kids they were. Hell, the Xavier Institute could have an entire freshman class populated by time-displaced future children with grab bag powers. But Hickman twists our expectations again, and who Rasputin and Cardinal really are is far more intriguing.
Powers of X will likely prove to be a career-defining work for R.B. Silva, who draws both the “art eco” architecture of Krakoa and the sterile, robotic cities of the future with equal fervor. Rasputin and Cardinal are genetic remixes of some of the X-Men’s most recognizable mutants, and Silva’s character designs make them distinct, appealing individuals. Facial expressions and body language convey a lot about these two—not just who they are, but also what they believe in—with just a few pages. (Rasputin catching a giant, crushing Sentinel hand with an “OOOOPHFF!” like it’s a toddler jumping on her back? I would die for her.) Rasputin the fighter and Cardinal the pacifist—one swings the sword, the other sows the seeds.
Seeds. It all comes back to the garden, doesn’t it? Powers of X #1 is bookended by two very different scenes of a man and woman in a green idyll, Hickman again using the X-Men to bridge the gap between the earthly and unearthly, the mundane and the mythic. We see the images of Rasputin and Cardinal printed on tarot cards, and future scenes invoke the biblical Nimrod and the Tower of Babel (fitting, for a comic that’s invented its own alphabet!) The points it raises are philosophical: in this world of mutants and machines, what does it does it mean to have humanity? When humans are monsters, what does it mean to be something else? Rasputin makes her feelings clear: “You’ve forgotten that machines have no soul … and that the humans lost theirs a long time ago.” And yet, what are we to make of scene-stealer Nimrod the Lesser, who acts more like an overexcited teenager than the “SURRENDER, MUTANTS!” kill-bots we’re used to? What will Charles Xavier’s dream mean in the end? I mean the very end, when the Human-Machine-Mutant War is long over and the victors look down on the world they’ve made?
Hickman takes a risk in introducing the mutant paradise of Krakoa and then immediately telling us how it will fall. It remains to be seen if this future will be averted, or if Hickman’s years-long mission plan for the X-Men will march towards it. Perhaps, as we see Mystique and her genetic descendent Cardinal on two retrieval missions a century apart, it’s simply a matter of history repeating itself. Consider our glimpse of Year One Thousand, and the bald, blue-skinned Librarian looking down at the Preserve. Powers of X #1 closes where House of X #1 starts: a godlike being overseeing a strange new Garden of Eden and a new Adam and Eve. To quote the title of a song that has something to do with superheroes, “the end is the beginning is the end.”