If you haven’t been reading Jonathan Hickman’s House of X/Powers of X for Marvel Comics, you’re missing out on some truly revelatory comic book storytelling.
It’s no easy feat to inject freshness and vitality in a long-running and wildly dense mythology like the X-Men, but Hickman and his creative partners Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva are doing it so far. Expansive concepts, spectacularly detailed artwork and infographics galore have turned these new X-Men books into the first true watercooler comics in years. I can’t remember a new comic that’s launched as many Twitter threads and blog posts debating various theories, literary references and Easter eggs as HoX/PoX, and it’s a wonderful thing to see comics spark so much discussion online. Most every classic X-Men story took place before the social media age, so the conversations they sparked took place at comic shops and conventions. This time it’s different, and it’s almost as if Hickman took that into account.
The writer essentially said as much in a recent interview during which he talked about the difference in how today’s audience digests an X-Men comic versus the fan experience from the title’s halcyon days. Hickman wants you to read it over and over again. He doesn’t want people to plunk down $4.99 and be done with the story in five minutes. Well, there’s no need to worry about that happening.
[DANGER! DANGER! SPOILERS FOR HOUSE OF X/POWERS OF X AHEAD!]
For those who haven’t been reading, in House of X, Hickman pulls off a stellar retcon of longtime supporting character Moira MacTaggart. She’s now positioned as an Omega-level mutant with the power of reincarnation. The twist is that she’s able to retain her memories from previous lives, and she’s been using that information to try to improve the plight of mutants over her various lifetimes.
Over in Powers of X, we’re exploring the mutant mission in the future, specifically Year 10, Year 100, Year 1000 (a clever mathematical play on ‘powers of x’). The density of information in each issue practically demands repeat readings. Then there are the date pages and charts (by graphic designer Tom Muller) threaded throughout each issue. Hickman’s done this before in his creator-owned books, but I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest these charts are a potentially game-changing move for mainstream comics. It’s not a parlor trick, like foil covers. The graphics complement the traditional narrative in comics and provide context. Be it a breakdown of Damage Control’s archival inventory or a listing of the properties of the Flowers of Krakoa, Hickman is trying to alter the way fans read comics to fit the modern method via which we absorb information from many different sources. A bit unwieldy? Absolutely. But it makes for a richer experience.
There are a number of places online where you can discuss/dissect/debate things (Xavier Files is one X-cellent source for analysis). While you certainly don’t need to get every Shakespearean allusion made to follow along, it certainly adds texture. And you know what? It makes it more fun.
A great example is the reveal in House of X #1, where we learned that Orchis, made up of former members of A.I.M., S.H.I.E.L.D. and other nefarious Marvel acronyms, has built a secret Sentinel-making factory near the sun. That image of a Mother Mold in space is stunning on its own. But if you’re a veteran X-Men fan, you know it’s also a tip of the cap to the Silver Age. In X-Men #59, Cyclops figured out the way to defeat the Sentinels was to appeal to the machines’ logic-based programming. He told them mutants came from the sun, so the Sentinels, seeking to destroy the source of said radiation, shot themselves toward the sun. This is the kind of detail Hickman has woven through HoX/PoX.
This new era positions mutants as a major political and cultural power in society, here on Earth and beyond. It’s invigorating to see a different perspective on mutant life in the Marvel Universe. And I’m especially interested in seeing how some of the more uncomfortable ideas from HoX – like Magneto declaring, “you have new gods now” – are explored. Most of all, it’s just great to have reason to talk about the X-Men again.
My main concern with HoX/PoX is its accessibility. I’m not entirely sure how these comics are going to bring in and hook readers beyond the diehard X-crowd. A storyline loaded with high-concept sci-fi elements such as time travel and alternate timelines may not be the perfect jumping-on point for a lapsed fan. For someone who’s never read a comic, I can see this being absolutely impenetrable.
I’ve been a devoted reader of X-Men comics going back to the Claremont/Byrne/Austin days, but a few years ago even I had to tap out because it was just too much. Keeping up with the happenings at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters felt like homework, and comics should never feel like that. I hope Hickman has a plan to avoid falling victim to the same trap that has befallen so many other creators before him.
I have a spinner rack full of comics at home, because I’m a giant geek. Friends often bring their kids over after watching the latest MCU movie to ask about the Children of Thanos and who the hell was Annette Bening portraying in Captain Marvel. As the Elder Nerd of the Neighborhood, I dutifully answer the questions and then I gift them carefully-curated comics to read. It’s my way of Paying It Forward. I’ll be doing this with my House of X/Powers of X issues when they wrap up. And I’ll encourage them to talk about it.
Because isn’t it awesome to talk comics?
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