House of X and Powers of X have been, without question, the biggest event in X-Men comic books for years.
Just the fact alone of Johnathon Hickman taking the reins for a wholesale reinvention of the X-Men world was enough to elicit justifiable excitement. And House of X and Powers of X are about as earth-shattering and paradigm-shifting as what you’d expect a Hickman reimagining of the X-Men would be.
I still think Hickman’s Avengers and Secret Wars run was one of the best long-form runs of storytelling in comic-book history: whether House of X and whatever follows will be held in the same esteem remains to be seen.
I’ve waited until we got House of X #6 and Powers of X #6 before I tried putting my thoughts into order.
Because trying to talk about each individual chapter was just too difficult – given that this is a very confusing, complex work of comic-book storytelling that Johnathon Hickman has been giving us these passed few months.
Indeed, the fact that the story and the ideas are so complex and confusing could be taken as either a positive or a negative.
Lots of people I’ve seen reacting to it seem to be over-the-moon at what Hickman has been doing and celebrating the convoluted and enigmatic nature of the books.
Others – though seemingly fewer in number – have been less positive.
Both perspectives are valid and understandable. On the one hand, Hickman’s complex, multi-faceted story and his piece-by-piece building of the bigger picture can be highly absorbing.
On the other hand, it can also be frustratingly confusing and difficult to keep up with.
The bulk of House of X and Powers of X is a mixture of both: at times utterly fascinating, and at other times very difficult to process.
Even at its eventual ‘conclusion’, it’s still quite difficult to process – it isn’t wrapped up neatly and we’re not given a comprehensive explanation for everything. Which is fine: because these 12 books are not a self-contained event, but rather a new start-point paving the way for much more storytelling.
The fact that we’re dealing with multiple time-periods and crossing back and forth between those time-periods is clearly part of the problem (or part of the awesomeness, depending on your viewpoint).
House of X and Powers of X are a monumental achievement in terms of vision and scope. You wouldn’t expect anything less from Johnathon Hickman. But they aren’t a comfortable read: and it can be difficult to orientate yourself within the spiralling context of all this radical ‘newness’ and drastic redirection.
I’ve been trying to work out what it is about House of X and Powers of X that makes me uncomfortable or that doesn’t sit right with me. And I think it’s a mixture of things.
First is that I’m not entirely comfortable with a wholesale rebooting or reinvention of the X-Men world or X-Men mythology. I acknowledge that reboots happen all the time with big comic-book brands – but this one in particular seems so enormous and total.
As well as ambiguous.
What do the events of House of X and Powers of X MEAN for preexisting X-Men comic-book history? Where does it leave all the continuity and storytelling for the last several years (or even decades)?
Are we in a situation where everything I’ve been reading for years is now null and void?
Is this an entirely new continuity, somehow displacing the old continuity?
I’m not sure yet: but the idea of erasing or nullifying years of storytelling and character development and just dumping a whole new world in its place does not sit well with me.
The continuity is confusing. What exactly happened, for example, after the conclusion of the Age of X-Man event? How does that fit with what we’re reading now in House of X and Powers of X?
Where was the transition?
And while many fans have said the X-Men books of recent years have been of poor quality (and that Hickman’s radical realignment of the X-Men books are far better than what we’ve been seeing for years), I’m not sure that’s fair.
While I agree that some of the X-books in recent years have been very below-par (not helped by the fact that they seemed to be rebooted or re-launched every flipping year), other offerings have been of very high quality. The recent-ish X-Men: Red title (reviewed in its entirety here) was superb, for example, and there’s a lot to be said for the Age of X-Man event (and for the accompanying Uncanny X-Men run, which was some of the best storytelling we’ve seen in X-Men books for years: see review here).
It’s strange to jump into this confusing, complex new world of Hickman’s when there were things happening in the X-books recently that barely had any time to be explored or developed. Examples: we just got the classic Jean Grey back (after The Phoenix Resurrection), we just got
Scott Summers back (in Uncanny X-Men #11), Kitty and Colossus just got married, etc, and we just came out of the Age of X-Man.
So, what becomes of all those things? Are they null and void? Could they ever be revisited?
Or does Hickman’s re-imagining of the X-Men world now take permanent precedence? I don’t have the answers.
Are the events of House of X and Powers of X the beginning of a permanent new status quo – or, like Age of X-Man, is it a temporary diversion…?
Is this a different timeline from the one we were previously reading? And will the timelines ever converge?
With lots of such questions, my experience with House of X and Powers of X (as well as my anticipation of the coming X-Men books spinning off from these events) has been an uncomfortable mixture of nervousness and uncertainty with guarded interest and excitement.
There’s plenty of great potential here – but, at the same time, I can’t be entirely comfortable with such a wholesale moving away from what I’ve been reading in the last couple of years (or even just the last few months).
But don’t get the impression that I’m entirely unhappy with what Hickman has been doing with the X-Men. House of X and Powers of X have been a compelling experience. The storytelling is so ambitious and so engagingly complex. The concepts are stunning. And the visual presentation has been superb throughout.
The problem for now is that it’s very difficult to figure out how this is going to play out in the long run and how we’ll feel about it in the future.
There are other questionable things here too, and things that may cause discomfort for long-time X-Men loyalists.
For one thing, for much of House of X and Powers of X, I just don’t feel like I recognise the characters I should otherwise be familiar with. Professor X doesn’t feel like Professor X. The likes of Jean, Scott, Nightcrawler, Storm, etc, also feel short-changed, reduced to minor players, and not really feeling like the real versions of themselves.
Is this really Charles Xavier or are we looking at something/someone else?
I get that much of this is deliberate: and there are a lot of things probably to be explained or elaborated on down the line. But, even knowing that, it’s tricky to read this stuff while constantly thinking “That’s not Charles”. I imagine that Hickman wants it that way – for us to feel uncomfortable with this version of Xavier and indeed for this entire story (and it’s new world) to keep us unsettled and anxious.
Most of what I’m uncomfortable with isn’t a matter of creative errors or writing missteps – but rather part of the storytelling choices that Hickman has deliberately chosen. Which makes it difficult to really judge. Because that nervousness and uncertainty does actually make for a more compelling reading experience.
Giant-sized concepts and dynamics aside, these books also draw from all over the X-Men tapestry: every major player from the past seems to be brought in to the equation, from Apocalypse to the likes of Exodus (with even such obscure characters as Goldballs being brought in to play significant parts).
Some of the characterisation and interplay between the likes of Charles and Magneto, and Emma Frost, etc, is wonderful. And, across the books, various important characters in the X-world really get high quality spotlights or moments – including Mystique, Sabretooth and Emma.
The one character, more than any other, who I found utterly compelling through these books is Moira Mactaggart – which is something I never thought I would say. But this version of Moira’s story is epic and utterly compelling: the concept of her multiple lives and incarnations and her successive attempts to fix the world, each life presenting another chance and another approach.
Hickman has given Moira the best storytelling the character has ever had: her story is entirely central to everything, and most of the best and most intriguing material is the stuff dealing with Moira.
Her encounter with Mystique and Destiny in House of X #2 is possibly an absolute highlight – but, really, everything involving Moira in these books is superb.
It’s fascinating to see how all these different story-threads and time-periods connect to form the bigger picture: and all the more so for the fact that we don’t get that bigger picture handed to us on a plate, but we have to wait patiently and receive the puzzle pieces a bit at a time, until eventually we get to step back and see the full equation. And, even then, we’re not entirely sure what we’re seeing.
The themes and ideas here are rich and engaging: from Moira’s multiple lives and the different narratives in the different time-periods, to the involvement of the Phalanx and the merging of man and machine in the dreaded AI/transhuman singularity, to the notions of societies’ collective consciousness being absorbed into machine brains at the centres of black holes… it’s all mind-blowing, insanely fascinating stuff.
Sometimes it almost feels too big and too much – but it’s hard to argue against it being absorbing.
If nothing else, Hickman came to the X-Men with massive ideas and concepts in mind.
And again, it’s obvious that these stories are meant to make us uncomfortable – both with the course and scale of events, and with how our familiar characters are behaving.
Charles is a fanatic and arguably an extremist. The whole presentation of the mutant nation (Krakoa) is one that is meant to be ideologically questionable: making us uncomfortable. This reaches its height with the trial of Sabretooth and his rather extraordinary punishment. But I think we’re meant to be increasingly uncomfortable with Charles’s behaviour and the direction that Krakoa is going in. It’s clear we’re not *supposed* to be seeing Krakoa as an idyllic mutant utopia – but as something both good and potentially very bad.
This whole thing is also highly political from the very beginning; dealing, as it does, with nationhood, sovereignty and international political dynamics.
In fact, one of the things I found inescapable from the very beginning was how much Krakoa felt like a metaphor for Israel, its establishment and its purpose. This is reinforced by how prominently Jerusalem actually features in the early books. How much of that is deliberate on Hickman’s part is unclear.
Ultimately, House of X and Powers of X are going to be difficult to form a definitive opinion of for some time. We really need to see where this all goes – and what it all means a year from now or years from now.
In the meantime, it has certainly been a fascinating, absorbing change of direction – and executed in extraordinary style.
There’s no question that Hickman came to this with a scope of ambition unmatched in recent years of X-Men storytelling. For that alone, House of X and Powers of X warrant high praise.
And where we go from here is going to be interesting to see.