House of X #5: Oh, The Humanities

Logan stands in the shadows

House of X #5

VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Marte Gracia (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Pepe Larraz (artist), Tom Muller (design)
Marvel Comics
September 18, 2019

I’ve developed a preferred method of reading these series; I read each issue three times or so, with a day at least in between to chew on the implications. This isn’t a new technique, critically. Multiple rereads are a good thing, a thing that allows a person to glean context that might have been obscured (or in Hickman’s case, deliberately hidden) in the first go round. My choice to do it here though is significant, because I read each time with a specific focus.

It goes like this: The first time I have to just get my feelings out of the way. I’m a die-hard X-Men fan (shocking, I know), and the sheer giddiness I feel during each issue to be reading something that actually pushes the franchise somewhere is overwhelming. The second is with an eye for interactions: I pay attention to who says what to whom, why, and in what context. The third is to pay attention to the metanarrative; what is this doing for the world? In what way does this affect the state of the X-Men’s place in the Marvel pantheon as a whole? This usually means a specific focus on Hickman and Mueller’s data pages; they’re doing a lot of worldbuilding, and that’s going to make things very different coming out of this event.

We’ve worked hard here at WWAC to keep our HoX/PoX reviews reasonably spoiler-free, but it’s become increasingly difficult to tell you why you should read a book without telling you any of the details that might entice you. That continues here, but I want to say this: With House of X #5, Hickman has laid out his grand plan to fix not just M-Day and the Decimation, but all large scale mutant disasters, the destruction of Genosha included. Whether it will be successful has yet to be determined, but to say it’s ambitious is to undersell it. Get ready for a whole lot of mutants, folks.

There are some other major concepts in here that I find fascinating, but in particular is the idea that a team of mutants using their powers in unison become stronger, both individually and as a unit. There is an elegance to this idea that I enjoy; because these powers are inborn and not granted, they are an inherent part of each mutant, and here the idea is that using them is like flexing or training a muscle. It’s significant to me, because once upon a time in X-canon, the idea was floated that mutants are different from humans in more than just having powers; they are stronger and faster, physically, even when their gifts would not lend to such things.

Uncanny X-Men #95 (Marvel Comics, October 1975)

Concepts like this have been revisited since, but to poor effect; the most notable being Chuck Austen’s declaration that mutants are immune to HIV/AIDS. What’s interesting though, as Jay Edidin points out way back in the first episode of X-Plain The X-Men, is the fact that mutants are able to interbreed with humans. This (among other things) means that they are actually not a separate species, but a subspecies of humanity. Here in the real world, our relationship with scientific literacy on a societal level has changed with the advent of the internet; there were certainly those among us who were easily able to discredit the science of Silver Age comics, but the internet has enhanced the way that we’re able to proliferate that information. As a result, things like Magneto’s questionable applications of magnetism in early years seem far more ludicrous to the world today than they might have then.

What I’m trying to say here is that as a subspecies, the idea that the genetic variation that differentiates mutants from humans would naturally create certain differences does hold some water, it’s just that it’s usually more the kind of thing that creates predominant eye or hair colors in a particular region than, you know, weirdly eugenicist theory. I’m not an actual scientist, so I’m not going to try and delve into the specifics beyond this–in fact, the opposite! The idea that “flexing the mutant muscle,” as it were, makes mutants stronger and happier is a clever one. It doesn’t just address the power creep of specific mutants over time, but it’s also both basic enough to appeal to the layman with a simple analogy, and embracing of a more humanities-focused (ironic, I know) approach to the idea of mutants as fiction than we’ve seen with examples like Austen’s run in the past. Mutants should embrace and celebrate who they are, and they will be stronger for it! That said, no one reads the X-Men because we want to see the mutants be happy. We’re cruel, that way.

The narrative here also has me thinking about sovereignty; it’s something brought up explicitly in the text, both throughout the series, and in this issue as one character comments on it when arriving to Krakoa. The X-Men have founded unto themselves a nation apart, a land that is itself a mutant, with borders that are enforced by the very nature of that mutant’s existence. This is bolstered elsewhere in the issue with discussions built around “us” and “them,” charged, exclusionary language that shows the mutant population deliberately setting itself apart from humanity on a societal and identity-based level as well as on a physical one. I’m always fascinated by the intersection of mutants as a superheroic concept and the idea of their genetics affecting the way they live and interact with the world, so I’m curious about the ideas floated here in House of X.

This is all to say that as much as the mutant population of the Marvel universe would like to distance themselves from humanity, socially, politically, and physically, they have far more in common than they would like to admit. When I read these panels, built with this kind of language, I see a deliberate ideological rift being created. I see this too in discussions of which countries have or have not chosen to accept the new nation’s offers; pages here explicitly label the refusal itself as a non-neutral and adversarial act. To that, there is only one thing to say, in classic X-Men style:

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.