Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciller(s) Pepe Larraz
Inker(s) Pepe Larraz
Letterer(s) Clayton Cowles
Colorist(s) Marte Gracia
House of X/Powers of X hit big last year, a splashy, feast for the eyes crossover that reset the entire paradigm for X-Men comics in a way that hadn’t been done since the introduction of the All-New X-men in Giant-Size X-Men #1, a story that arguably kicked off the Bronze Age of comics.
This was definitely a game-changer, executed beautifully and amid much hype. It received a ton of positive reviews. But did it entertain as a coherent story and is it a good jumping-on point for new fans or for fans who stopped reading X-long ago?
The answers are kinda and maybe. Kinda, because comics is an art-focused medium and the art here is truly something to become lost inside. The story is another matter.
On the second question, it’s more of a jumping-on point for comic book X-Men fans or those who want to dig into crunchy worldbuilding.
Yet for something that was a such huge event, it’s about 90 percent set up with about 10 percent payoff.
Let’s dig into it. Be warned, I’m going to spoil everything.
House of X/Powers of X: The Concept of a Homeland.
The mutants, at the direction of Moira MacTaggert, Charles Xavier, and Magneto, have created a new homeland on the living island of Krakoa to prevent the eventual destruction of their kind. It’s a terrific concept. We have three moving parts to this narrative.
Part one is Moira, here reimagined as a mutant with the ability to have multiple lifespans and remember all those lives when she’s born again in the same year to the same family. The explanation for this seemingly impossible thing is hand-waved. As this is comics, I will go for the No-Prize and say that each time she’s born, Moira taps into a different alternative universe due to her powers. For the purposes of the story, it means Moira sees nine future possibilities for the mutants and humanity. Unfortunately, all of them end in tragedy. It’s time to try solution #10.
The latest version of Moira searches for a new way of survival for her people. To do this, she enlists the help of Xavier and Magneto. They’re on board, as they haven’t been in past lives, and that leads to them recruiting all the other mutants, hero and villain alike.
The second moving part is the presence of Krakoa, which offers itself as a living, sentient homeland. The lead trio creates a Krakoan ruling council for a sort of democracy to govern the mutants, while the leaders offer drugs that extend life/cure cancer and other such wonderful things to the outside world’s human countries. But there’s a catch to this offer: only countries who ally with the new state of Krakoa get these life-saving drugs. This cynical maneuver makes the homeland economically viable. Additionally, Krakoa itself can only be reached by teleportation restricted to mutants so humans cannot attack and destroy it, unlike Genosha.
The third moving part is a database developed via a combination of comic book tech, Krakoa worldmind, and Xavier’s tech that stores the memory and soul (maybe souls, it’s unclear) of all mutants. That means that everyone who dies can be resurrected. Because of this, mutants can’t be winnowed down. Are these people copies or originals or an amalgam? It’s unclear but, basically, if you’re in the database, you’re effectively immortal.
At the end of this volume, the mutants are allied (the good and bad), they have a homeland, they’re immortal, and Moira has foreknowledge to head off any threats. There are seeds of problems, given that humanity still distrusts them, and that some of the mutants distrust each other, but it’s a new status quo.
But Is House of X/Powers of X a Good Story?
I cannot imagine reading this in weekly issues and attempting to make sense of it. There are bits and pieces that begin and end much later or don’t end at all, there are disjointed trips to the future and alternative lives, all interspersed with the contemporary event of the forming of the Krakoa homeland. Additionally, there’s nerdy worldbuilding stuff like timelines of all of Moira’s past lives.
It’s the work of an incredible imagination. But, to borrow a comparison from Tolkien, it’s much more like the Simarillion, tales that contain all the backstory told in past-tense form than it is like Lord of the Rings, which is one long narrative that stays in the present of the characters at the heart of the story.
House of X/Powers of X is not so much a story as an unspooling of concepts. There are some stories contained inside the omnibus, namely the assault by the most famous X-Men of a space platform that will give rise to Nimrod, their ultimate nemesis. That’s the most coherent of any section in the book and has the most traditional narrative.
There are also elements that start as stories that just fizzle out. It looks like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four are going to get into it over allowing a villain like Sabretooth sanctuary. But, nope, the X-Men back off, the confrontation goes away, and they later show up to quickly grab Sabretooth to Krakoa.
Another narrative concerns Magneto and several Cuckoo telepaths giving a tour of what Krakoa offers to representatives of various countries. This also serves as an introduction to the new status quo to the readers. It has a payoff, in that the Cuckoos uncover the representatives are spies, not diplomats, but no one is really in any danger.
The most striking pages happen near the end when the X-Men who died to prevent Nimrod from being born are presented to the new Krakoans as heroes post-resurrection. That packs an emotional wallop, especially combined with the red and black coloring, as can be seen in the panels above. In other words, there’s no story catharsis in this omnibus.
As for this reimagined Moira, I wanted so much more of all that’s driving her, emotionally. This is a woman who’s lived multiple lifetimes. That changes a person so much. But instead, we get a montage of each life and its’ choices as a fait accompli. When Moira is shown in the present narrative, the focus is on convincing Xavier and Magneto that her way is correct. It’s far more about them than about her. There is so much one could dig into with Moira. Instead, she’s a concept sketched into a character, not a fully realized person.
House of X/Powers of X is a platform for stories that may or may not take place later. Indeed, there seem to be stories going on right now about the destructive seeds that were sown as part of House of X/Powers of X that are coming to fruition as I type this. There are readers who love this type of thing, especially all the timelines and the glimpses at different futures, and what the X-Men might become, and a glance at nearly all the X-Men characters who ever existed.
It’s an impressive achievement. But it’s not an impressive story.
Is It a Good Place to Begin/Jump Into X-Men Comics?
If you’re looking for a good, solid action story, this isn’t it. If you’re unfamiliar with the X-Men and want a place to start, I doubt this is it as. So many of the plot points revolve around knowing X-Men history. I got it, mostly, but I read X-Men comics for about 20 years. (But not for the last 15 years.)
Characterization in House of X/Powers of X relies on past knowledge of X-Men Comics. This is a weakness if the reader themselves isn’t bringing something to the table. For instance, Moira. She’s reimagined but that retcon also requires the reader to be somewhat familiar with who she was to the X-Men in previous stories. One definitely has to have knowledge that Xavier and Magneto have been friends/enemies/friends/enemies, rehash, rewash, over and over. It’s not in this story why certain people are at the forefront of the mutants. They simply are. It may be if you’ve seen the movies or the animated series featuring the characters, this would make sense.
But a completely new reader? I don’t think so.
If you want to jump back into X-Men comics and have been away for a long time, this is a way, though be prepared with the Google at times. If you like complicated science fiction worldbuilding, this is something you may want to dig into, especially with all the alternative timelines that allow for all kinds of fan speculation but, again, you may want research information handy.
If this was intended to birth a new generation of X-Men fans, I don’t see it. It’s designed to bring comic fans back to X-Men comics.
I mostly enjoyed it as someone who was once intensely invested in the X-Men. As a story, however, it’s decompressed, rather thin, and has no clear ending, save for a promise of more stories in the future, which is kinda the way with most superhero comics these days.
I wanted so much more than this offered.