Powers of X #3: The Case For A New Phoenix

Powers of X #3

VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colors), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), R.B. Silva (artist)
Marvel Comics
August 14, 2019

A really great mystery story unlocks in stages. It’s hard to do, but if done well, as in Powers of X #3, you’re left with just enough to work with to sort out part of the puzzle, a bit at a time, until the very end comes along and floors you.

Cover for Powers of X #3 - VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colors), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Tom Muller (design), R.B. Silva (artist), Marvel Comics, August 14, 2019 - Two of the X-Men face off with swords against an unseen enemy
This sort of steady drip of information is what Jonathan Hickman excels at, and it’s the sort of pacing, paired with dramatic contextual reveals, that X-Men as a franchise really has a reputation for. So it’s natural that an X-Men event with both of those things has drawn us in. Powers of X #3 throws these elements into sharp relief, managing to raise even more questions for every one Hickman clears away. That’s definitely the real Wolverine in the future, for instance, but that’s also… the real Kuan-Yin Xorn?! We know that death has historically been more of a nap for him at this point, but this is further confirmation that his lifespan is far outside that of even most mutants.

Actually, the above’s not quite accurate. It’s not just that Hickman can write a mystery—it’s that he can craft one using pieces from other puzzles that still create a new whole. It’s a singular talent, and the parallels abound. A woman caught fire and was reborn.

While the first two issues of PoX have jumped to different eras (specifically, different by powers of… well, ten), issue #3 takes place entirely in the time referred to as “Year One Hundred.” It’s the home of the chatty and boisterous Nimrod the Lesser, who loves to antagonize mutants even as he kills them. Last time we were here, we said goodbye to Cylobel and Percival as they fell in pursuit of the kind of desperate, last-ditch goal that X-Men love to throw their lives against. A woman, armed only with knowledge, left her present to save the past.

These things are iconic moments in X-Men history: the birth of the first Phoenix in Jean Grey, whose arrival would be seconded in her daughter, Rachel Summers. Then both of those women threw themselves into the pyre in order to save those they loved; when they found themselves asking the question of whether the harm was worth the price, they emphatically answered yes. The thing, though, was that the sacrifice was never the end for these women. Though it took time, they would always come back, more realized and more powerful than ever. That’s something that has always set the X-Men apart—as frustratingly mired in the concept of female sacrifice as the franchise remains, there is always an ultimate reward for those who answer the call. Perhaps that’s part of why it inspires us so—that liturgical repetition: Your suffering shall be rewarded. A woman, knowing what must be done, threw herself onto the claws of a man she trusted.

Via infographic, Hickman and designer Muller play with our expectations even more; we’re given an Apocalypse and his four Horsemen—one of whom has even held the role before. In a clever bit of work, Apocalypse’s denoted symbol for these infographics is bracketed in such a way that the final result looks just like the massive belt he loves to wear.

A close-up of the design, which looks like brackets encasing a pattern of dots and lines
Imagine it in blue and silver.

These pages also confirm some information that had been guessed at before, including the aforementioned Wolverine reveal and the nature of some of the other mutants we’ve just met. Overall, though, there’s less of it in this issue, owing to the focus on a consistent narrative throughout the pages of the main story here. This is an information dump, and as much as it seems like it might be less ambitious than the prior issues we’ve seen, remember that the release order of the two series switches with this one. There’ll be a reason for that.

The finale of this issue confirmed several things we’ve all been theorizing about, but it also confirmed one major thing we haven’t really been discussing: Moira X is an avatar of death, rebirth, and salvation. The title Powers of X doesn’t just refer to the different epochs in which Hickman has been laying his bread crumbs, but to the powers of this woman, moving through each life she has in order to gain the knowledge she needs to save the future. Moira carries no cosmic force, however, only a grim resolve: the knowledge that each time she must die, and rise again, one more of her labors is complete. Like a phoenix from the ashes.

Nola Pfau

Nola Pfau

Nola is a bad influence. She can be found on twitter at @nolapfau, where she's usually making bad (really, absolutely terrible) jokes and occasionally sharing adorable pictures of her dog.