House of X #3
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design)
August 28, 2019
Ah, at last—House of X #3, the halfway point in Hickman, Larraz, and Silva’s twelve-part saga, is a pure evocation of a classic X-Men adventure story. It’s surprisingly straightforward, pressing pause on the flash forwards that, as we learned in last week’s jolting cliffhanger, were really flashbacks. Booted feet firmly in the present, we follow Cyclops’ voyage to Sol’s Hammer to destroy the Mothermold before she can give birth to her mutant-hunting son Nimrod. We’ve been anticipating this confrontation since Mothermold’s introduction in House of X #1; if I’ve had an itch at the back of my brain wondering, “When are they gonna get to the Sentinel factory?!?” it’s only because I know it’ll be so damn good.
We begin with Cyclops’ departure, and a goodbye to two men who have, in very different ways, been as important as fathers to him. It feels like the fruition, years later, of Hickman’s Avengers vs. X-Men #6, in which Magneto speaks to Professor X about the X-Men: “It doesn’t seem so long ago that it was impossible not to think of them as just children…and ours at that.” But on Krakoa their words have an eerier, godlike cadence. (“For the righteous can never truly die…”) If they don’t sound quite human anymore, well, they never were. Both helmeted, clad in black and white, Xavier and Magneto have never looked more like two kings on a chessboard.
Is a game being played? I hope this isn’t another “Evil Xavier” story, and that Hickman is playing with our expectations. What’s uncanny isn’t necessarily sinister—that’s another guy’s name, after all. But what are we to make of Charles and Scott’s familial relationship here, when the last time they met (again, all the way back in Avengers vs. X-Men) Scott murdered him? I don’t think Cyclops’ return to the role of the Good Soldier is mind control, but check back in six weeks to see if I’m wearing clown shoes. Instead, I think Hickman is shedding the carapace of more recent continuity (Is Xavier still in Fantomex’s body? Wasn’t Emma calling herself the Black King? Etc.) to reveal the characters’ most essential selves.
And the X-Men haven’t felt this essential since Marvel was publishing Essential X-Men. Consider Emma Frost’s arrival at Sabretooth’s trial. Spectacularly drawn by Pepe Larraz (Those boots! That cape! Those sunglasses!), Emma enters the courtroom the only way she can—dramatically. It’s a scene that screams Emma! just like that, with the italics and the exclamation point, and would be equally effective without dialogue balloons. Emma Frost is the White Queen, Cyclops is the Good Soldier, Sabretooth is, ah, Sabretooth, and we’re all meat to him.
Larraz’s work in House of X #3 offers us striking portraits of superhero spectacle. There are visuals that are pure science fiction: Mothermold’s head, an ominous shadow on the surface of the sun, or Cyclops and the X-Men–an interesting batch including Marvel Girl, Wolverine, Mystique, and Husk–blasting away from a space station that’s a giant lotus flower on the moon (vividly colored by Marte Gracia, the lotus is a splash of living pink in lifeless space). It is also a book of subtle and observant detail. In a wide shot of the courtroom at Project Achilles, we can see Emma handing off her designer shades to one of her attending Cuckoos, and in the next panel, we see the Cuckoo trying them on. Like mutant mother, like cloned daughter.
And here’s where I realize something interesting about House of X and Powers of X, that these stories about creation and evolution, and young generations replacing the old to create a “brave new world,” is in a way a story about mothers. Read back, and see what I mean. There’s Mothermold, which needs no explanation, and Destiny, symbolically called “Mother” by Pyro before he toasts Moira at her order. The Cuckoo’s oh-so-teenage response to Emma’s “I insist you call me the White Queen”? “Yes, Mum.” One climatic conversation at the end of this issue hinges on a character’s regret that he and his wife never had children.
Then there’s the mysterious, missing Moira X, known as Mother Akkaba in her previous life, who has been restored to her rightful place as the “Mother” of The Dream alongside its father, Charles Xavier. (And, if I can be depressingly literal for just a second, what about her biological son Proteus, the reality-warping villain who’s also aligned with Krakoa? What future horror story is lurking in the margins there?) It’s an intriguing theme because superhero comics are usually hostile to mothers and mother figures—they’re killed or imperiled for the sake of a hero’s motivation or, if they’re heroes themselves, lose their children via death or retcon; throw in a clone or two, and mothers are often shut out from the reproductive conversation entirely. Here, mothers are unequivocally part of the story, and it’s refreshingly free of the “mommy issues” that have burdened the genre.
And when the X-Men finally get to the Sentinel factory? Fireworks. You probably don’t need me to tell you that Nightcrawler plays the dashing swashbuckler, or that there’s a “Choosing sides, are we?” confrontation between two former teammates, or that it ends with a cliffhanger as classically explosive as the best X-Men comics. This is a smart book, sharply created by its writer and artist, delving into fantastical and emotional territories many of its contemporaries won’t touch. It’s also a damn good adventure.
House of X is why we read superhero comics.