Arts Books

REVIEW: Jonathan Hickman forges a brave new world for the X-Men with ‘House of X’ and ‘Powers of X’

Under Hickman's pen, we are living in a mutated world.

In the Marvel universe, Mutants have always had it rough: They’ve been hunted down by Mutant-hating Sentinels, they’ve been bombed and burned and lynched by Homo Sapien supremacists, they’ve been pitted against the Avengers and other superteams; and in real-life, suffered through six horribly-made film adaptations, and had their books cancelled at various points in time. 

Jonathan Hickman’s two new miniseries, House of X and Powers of X, aims to change all of that.

The covers for House of X #1 (left) and Powers of X #1 (right) | IMAGES via MARVEL COMICS

Planned as a way to “relaunch” the iconic franchise without rebooting its decades-spanning history, the two new intertwined titles revolve around Professor Charles Xavier’s new plans for the future of Homo Superior, with one title dealing with the present (House of X) and the other — though set in the distant future — focused on new revelations about mutants in the past (Powers of X). It’s an ambitious project, and Hickman, best known perhaps for his critically-acclaimed Infinity and Secret Wars crossover series on Marvel as well as his original creation East of West, looks to be more than well-equipped to take on the task.

Straightforward in its narrative, House of X #1 sees the newly-resurrected Professor Xavier establishing a new world order of sorts for Mutantkind: the mutant island Krakoa is now a peaceful Eden-esque stronghold for the resurgent Mutant population, its flowers the basis for three new superdrugs Xavier is marketing to governments willing to recognize its status as a new sovereign state. 

A panel from House of X #1 | IMAGE via MARVEL COMICS
A panel from House of X #1 | IMAGE via MARVEL COMICS

The main part of the first issue of Powers of X meanwhile, starts with four new mutants at the mercy of Sentinels. As Hickman weaves its narrative through flashbacks to different points in X-Men history, we learn four key things: that Krakoa eventually fell; that mutant supervillain and master geneticist Mister Sinister started breeding mutant chimeras; that the villainous Man-Machine Supremacy led by Nimrod and Omega Sentinel eventually took over the Earth; and that the remaining members of Homo Superior live on in outposts founded by the intergalactic Shi’Ar Empire in the depths of space.

A panel from Powers of X #1 | IMAGE via MARVEL COMICS

Unlike most superhero comic titles which often jump straight into the whole boom-boom-pow at the get go, there is little to no bombastic action in Hickman’s new books. As per their pilot issues, the titles are seen to be predominantly character-driven, with emphasis put on their lead characters’ interactions not just with one another but also with the rest of the world: in House of X we see the Mutants assert themselves as proud inheritors of the Earth; in Powers of X we see their descendants engaging in what looks to be the comic book counterpart of a protracted revolutionary people’s war.

A panel from House of X #1 | IMAGE via MARVEL COMICS

This renewed focus on the series’ characters will come as good news to most readers, given the relatively sorry way the Mutants have been treated in the books’ editorial department for the past 15 years. Here, key characters such as Cyclops, Jean Grey, Magneto, the (complete, re-united) Stepford Cuckoos, and Professor X are given new leases at life, while fan-favorite characters such as Cypher and Sage are thrust into major roles.

It goes without saying though that stellar writing isn’t the only box that needs to get ticked off for a comic book to be considered “good” and thankfully, the artists for the two new titles aren’t slouches when it comes to their respective tasks: Pepe Larraz’s art for House of X is gorgeous and every bit superheroic, and his worldbuilding nothing short of impressive. R.B. Silva’s art for Powers of X, on the other hand, is minimalist and yet emotionally dynamic, with his sci-fi driven style tonally in-sync with Hickman’s more out-there writing for the series. Case in point: Silva manages to make a robot incredibly expressive in a series of stacked panels. 

A panel from Powers of X #1 | IMAGE via MARVEL COMICS

Interspersed with scientific dossiers and logs explaining the state of Mutant affairs, Hickman’s writing on the new series — much like Grant Morrison’s iconic New X-Men run — doesn’t hold back, and is firm in its exploration of topics such as equality, the dangers of othering, a community’s right to self-determination, and the deadly effects of bigotry and fascism, i.e. a large chunk of the themes and subjects largely considered to be integral parts of every X-Men song-and-dance number ever since Claremont, Wein, Cockrum, and company first relaunched the pilot series back in 1975.

Suffice it to say that at this point, detractors will be tempted to dismiss Hickman’s arc as nothing more than a repetition of the beats developed by Claremont and Morrison et al. After all, you can only tell the struggle between humans and mutants for so many times before it gets a bit repetitive.  Hickman, however, avoids all of that. Yes, there are plenty of references and deep cuts pulled from X-Men history and canon which give his storylines a sense of familiarity but he does it in such a way that his layered, innovative storylines don’t feel like a rehash of anything from the X-Men’s weird and wonderful past.

The past few years haven’t been really kind to Marvel’s merry band of Mutants, with the titles and characters all seen to have suffered from creative mishandling and poorly-written storylines and the like so it’s really good to see Hickman and company laying out what looks to be a solid concept for the X-franchise with both House and Powers. And while it’s too early to see if Hickman will indeed, lead the X-Men back to greatness — Hickman and Marvel have been promoting the new titles as a return to form for the superhero team — it’s undeniable that what he’s doing at the moment has a ton of potential.

I’m excited to see what happens in the long run.

***

Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X are available at your local comic book shops.

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