House of X #4: A Contextualization of Time and Faces

An action figure of M in her Generation X red costume with yellow gloves and boots

House of X #4

VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design)
Marvel Comics
September 4, 2019

Reading a comic book series in order shouldn’t require a guide, but of late, this has been Marvel’s modus operandi. It’s not a particularly good way to keep new readers up to speed, especially if the hope is to get them into comics through a new (or reinvented) series.

House of X/Powers of X has not been the exception. Two weeks ago, the straightforward House of XPowers of X pattern switched. Though a handy guide inside each issue has kept us apprised of the plans, when your editor-in-chief has to put out a PR tweet reminding of this, maybe consider not actively trying to confuse readers. In other words, #HoXPoX makes for a fun hashtag, but maybe this could have worked just fine as a singularly named series.

Anyway. All that will be remedied for me when I get my hands on the collected edition, which better include the myriad of variant covers that exist for each issue.

Cover for House of X #4 - VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design), Marvel Comics, September 4, 2019 - A team of X-Men fight off soldiers in red
The fourth issue of House of X, seventh in the connected series, is a direct continuation of last week’s events, with Cyclops leading a handpicked team into space to destroy Mothermold in hopes of preventing the birth of Nimrod. As with the previous issue, this one is linear: the X-Men are on a do-or-die mission to save their species from the extinction that has plagued them in every timeline. Humanity does not want mutants to exist, and Our Two Dads, Xavier and Magneto (and Our New Mom Moira) are done with this notion. This is the concept at the forefront of this series, so it’s no surprise that we’ve reached this climax in the present, as we’ve similarly seen in the days of future past in Powers of X #3.

And yet, for all its grandiose action and epic superhero/villain posing, this climactic battle falls short. First and foremost, because I’m suddenly not recognizing these X-Men fighting for the survival of mutantkind, despite initially praising Hickman for depicting the characters so well.

Let’s step back a moment: who exactly is this handpicked team? Cyclops is The Leader, a role he has been raised for and he does it well without question, while, interestingly, wearing a costume very similar to his recent mutant revolutionary characterization. Wolverine, in his second costume, is the soldier who does what’s gotta be done without argument, while Nightcrawler handles transportation and recon duties. The two share a touching but oddly incongruous conversation, before swanning off to be the great heroes they always have been.

Hickman has said that M is a favourite character of his, and she’s joined by her fellow former Generation X-er, Husk. There’s Archangel who is, um, Archangel, I guess. Mystique is also present, a character who, thus far, has had just about as much airtime as Cyclops. Why? Is HoXPoX the key to the mystery of Charles and Raven’s secret marriage?

Finally, rounding out the team is a Jean Grey that I don’t recognize at all, especially after recently reading X-Men: Red, where, after dismissing the cosmic Phoenix entity because it was holding her back, this exceedingly powerful mutant began to carve out a new world for mutantkind. But here, she’s still dressed in her Marvel Girl costume, and she’s very much a girl, who, when faced with trauma, looks to others with doubt and desperation, begging for solutions to their plight.

We also see Storm for the first time since a small part of her appeared in House of X #1. Being a favourite character of mine, her absence is glaring—more so because, as with the X-Men: Red series, Storm is largely silent, in place only for her abilities. Here, in harmony with several other mutants, we see her powers used in a unique telepathic communication method that puts the ground team in touch with the space team through Jean, but Larraz’s gorgeously swirling depictions of water-Jean, as manifested by Storm, don’t remove the fact these tiny drawings are all I’ve gotten of Storm thus far.

Page from House of X #4 - VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design), Marvel Comics, September 4, 2019 - A watery manifestation of Jean Grey’s face
With all this negativity, one might think that I’ve suddenly hit my HoXPoX wall and have turned against Hickman’s unraveling tapestry. But I assure you, I am still fully invested and have sunk my hopes into this X-evolution. My complaints, in fact, are not complaints at all. Instead, they are a realization that I have to once again revisit the mystery Hickman is shaping from an entirely new angle in my attempts to discern what the hell he has up his Spiral-like sleeves.

We’ve now seen two climactic battles for the fate of mutantkind, both with Pyrrhic outcomes — but we’re only half way through the series. Before that, House of X #2 introduced us to the partially complete timelines of Moira X. Powers of X #3 tore apart our assumptions about which future timeline we were seeing. What are we learning about the timeline we are currently reading, within the context of Moira’s lives? What do we actually know about the characters we’re are being presented with? What assumptions have we made of how it all fits within the context of what little we know of what’s to come?

Questions are what Hickman continues to inspire, but he holds true to one answer, opening and closing this issue with the same words: ”NO MORE.”

Whatever the future—or present or past—holds for the X-Men, mutantkind is taking no more of humanity’s shit.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.