Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

House of X/Powers of X: Imaginative Setup But No Landing

House of X Powers of X
A whole new beginning. Image copyright Marvel Comics

House of X/Powers of X

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.

House of X #1
House of X #1

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
There are some jaw-dropping visuals, like this one. image copyright Marvel Comics

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.

House of X Powers of X panels
The heroes are reborn. Images copyright Marvel Comics
House of X Powers of X
Welcome the mutant heroes. These are the most powerful images in the books.  Images copyright Marvel Comics

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.

27 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    Nothing I’ve heard about it has made me want to read it – and thanks for confirming that. 🙂

    I hate the idea of retconning Moira as a mutant. Apart from just being an eye-rolling “Well, of course she is, sigh”, there’s the segregationist idea that only mutants could possibly care about mutants. Hey, that one non-mutant who’s been a friend and ally to our team all these years?
    Yeah, she’s a mutant.

    Not to mention that the whole idea is segregationist; and the resurrection idea takes away all the stakes. Either that, or, is completely unnecessary; this is comics. Don’t worry, nobody dies forever.

    Thanks for taking this bullet for us.

    1. Corrina Lawson

      Given the past year, it’s hard to argue that people care a ton about other people, never mind mutants, but point taken. I guess it’s all driven by the knowledge everyone is wiped out.

      It’s beautiful to look at. But reading it is kinda emotionless.

  2. That was Giant-Size X-Men that debuted the “new” team, not an annual. I’m familiar with the argument it started the Bronze Age but I think that’s way too late. And it ignores the seismic changes around the start of the decade.
    I’ve read a little Hickman, both his Marvel and his indie stuff. He’s now on the list of “don’t bother if he’s writing it” creators.

    1. Le Messor

      I have a similar list. 🙂

      I noticed it was a GS, not an annual, but I figured ‘what the heck, close enough’. Doesn’t the numbering lead straight into annuals anyway? (Giant-Sized #1, GS #2, ann #3?) Or am I wrong?
      I have been known to make mistakes.

      From time to time.

  3. Chris Schillig

    I bought these as monthly books and was intrigued and entertained — at first. The great weakness, it seems to me, is that they are beholden to the rest of Marvel continuity. As you note, the FF/X-Men setup does not pay off, nor could I imagine the rest of the world’s heroes allowing this current scenario to continue with nary a reference in those other titles.

    Similarly, it became apparent there would be no resolution to the story, as the X-Men as a recognizable team and concept had to remain in place, both within the X-titles and as part of larger Marvel Universe. This illusion of change in shared, corporate universes is part of the contract between reader and company, I suppose, but when the premise of an arc is based on a complete resetting, it feels disappointing when the creators start “writing to the middle” instead of resolving plots. As House/Powers begat a new slew of X-titles, it became apparent that the bold storytelling of the two mini-series would not continue in the (many) monthly books.

    I don’t blame the creators for this, nor do I blame Marvel for wanting ongoing, viable concepts. I guess it was a sign to me that, after so many years, I needed to move on to other types of entertainment, with only periodic visits to the Marvel and DC universes.

    But the setup was intriguing, and those first few issues piqued my interest in a way that few mainstream comics have for many years. It just wasn’t enough.

  4. It sounds to me like somebody “writing for the trade,” in other words a plot that’s good for the length of a graphic novel or three before it collapses in on itself and the series has to be rebooted again. The setup fundamentally breaks the story engine and makes the X-Men unsustainable as an ongoing series.

    There is not one thing about this that’s appealing to me, and I really really hope Kevin Feige hates it as much as I do. When the X-Men come to film, I want it to be something I recognize. “School for teenage mutants” is an easy sell; “sentient island occupied by segregationist mutants engaged in a Cold War with the world,” not so much.

  5. One of the things that drives me up the wall is when I read that the writer finishing up their arc “put all the tools back in the toolbox,” meaning they undid whatever changes they’d made to the characters. And not because they’d made changes that couldn’t be sustainable, they simply didn’t want to make any “permanent” changes.

    1. Eric van Schaik

      That’s the reason I don’t read Marvel or DC anymore. Nothing really happens. Only when mr. Burgas can convince me I’ll give it a try . Most of the times he recommends arcs.
      I wonder if it’s even possible for kids to start a DC/Marvel comic without thinking wtf am I reading (plus they cost a fortune nowadays).

      1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

        I will say that the X-Men comics from Morrison through Gillen tell a single, long-form story about Scott Summers outgrowing and surpassing Xavier and Magneto to unite mutantkind, and even establish a detente with the human world, through a period of unimaginable mutant suffering.

        Then Marvel banjaxed it, because there wasn’t enough Poochie…I mean Wolverine. Bendis tried to salvage it, but the damage was done.

        But those 15 years of X-Comics (Mozz-Whedon-Ellis-Fraction-Gillen) are up there with the Miller-Bendis-Brubaker-Waid Daredevil progression, IMO.

        Hickman’s shit only makes sense if Xavier has fucked the resurrected mutants’ minds to make them compliant, because this version of Cyclops hasn’t existed in 30 years…but the whole schtick feels more like Hickman hadn’t read an X-Men comic since Claremont’s run ended in the 90s, and couldn’t be arsed to do any research.

          1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

            I enjoy what I’ve read of Claremont’s run, but I’ll take Morrison’s pretty comfortably.

            I’m unabashedly a big fan of Hickman’s…which makes the batch of warmed-over, latter-day Geoff Johns-esque nostalgia porn with nothing new to say that he calls his X-Men run particularly disappointing.

          2. Le Messor

            I’ve read a bit of Morrison’s run, and I thought it was a good comic, but not a good X-Men comic. He wrote as if he didn’t know the characters, and was playing different games with somebody else’s toys.

          3. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

            Hah. That’s exactly how I feel about Hickman.

            The main difference is that Morrison actually was using all sorts of 90s nonsense that none of us read…while Hickman is doing crappy cover of the Utopia arc, which was fantastic.

      2. Chris Schillig

        Agreed. I don’t disparage anybody who still finds monthly franchise books from DC and Marvel fun or worthwhile (after all, I did for decades), but everything resets at the end of each arc or every couple of years. So with no real payoff, what’s the point?

  6. conrad1970

    Of course it’s been written with trades in mind, it’s Hickman.
    It was the same with hi Fantastic Four run and The Avengers.
    Trying to read it in weekly singles is a no go, I’ve been picking up the Dawn of X trades and have been enjoying them so far.
    I think the X- titles at the moment are the best they have been since the Claremont/Silvestri run ended.
    Hickman’s run is certainly better than the drivel that Bendis severs up in recent years.

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