Reading Powers of X #6

I suspect, having just re-read the last issue of HoX/PoX, that I will need to re-read the entire series now that all of the paradigms have been shifted, and all the cards are on the table (at least, the ones for this round of the larger story Hickman seems set on telling). It’s been a gloriously baroque prologue, and with the final piece we at last understand the context for the various eras in which parts of Powers of X have been set. The extent of Moira’s commitment to her cause is significantly clearer, although there are still some mysteries to be uncovered. Given the complexity of the story, it’s only fair to go back and revisit it now that that last shoe has dropped.

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Moira surveys the devastation of all her lives. (Cover by R B Silva & Marte Gracia)

In the mean time, there is this fifty page behemoth to consider. From the first issue, Powers of X has been primarily about exploring Moira’s perspective on the problem of mutant failure. We now know that the Year One Hundred and Year One Thousand eras were actually events in Moira’s two longest lives, key incidents that specifically shape her ideology and methodology going into the present era of the X-Men. In the Apocalypse future, Moira learned the importance of stalling the advent of Nimrod to give mutants a fighting chance; in the Ascension future, she learned what the apparently inevitable outcome of the arms race among humans, mutants, and machines is (it’s no wonder now that Moira’s seventh life was essentially an extended rage against the Trasks for inventing Sentinels in the first place). Moira’s seen nine different permutations on mutant ascension, which is not a very big data set given the scope of the multiverse, and her personal trauma has given her a breathtakingly dour perspective on what can happen. The issue’s midpoint gives us a glimpse at Moira’s private journal where she documents her progress with each of the major players she’s manipulating to enact her grand vision for mutant dominance, and it’s clear that she cannot fathom the optimism with which Xavier and Magneto go about their own machinations. They lack Moira’s vast life experience (over two thirds of which is contained in nearly a millennium of captivity), so she sees them as being foolhardy or headstrong when it seems to me that they are simply not caught up in the same extreme hypervigilance that has been instilled in Moira.

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I need to know about Ruth right now, because I will burn this whole mutant nation down if they don’t have a place for that very good girl. (Artwork by R B Silva, colors by Marte Gracia & David Curiel, letters by Clayton Cowles)

I think where the divide between Moira and her co-conspirators becomes most clear is in their decision not only to recruit Sinister to the cause, but also in their resolution to allow Destiny to eventually be revived (clearly Destiny’s return is going to be a big deal at some point in the future of Hickman’s run on the X-books). Xavier and Magneto have seen Moira’s memories at least once, so they’re aware of her experiences, but despite those they also seem committed to working towards full transparency in their methods of governance. At the very least, they make a strong showing of appearing to value not lying to all the other mutants about the knowledge they’re working with indefinitely. It seems like a clear point of tension that will spawn some interesting stories, particularly as the pragmatic backdrop for a de facto ban on precognitive mutants in Krakoa. I can’t tell at this point if the way Hickman draws attention to this specific demand of Moira’s is meant only to underline her adversarial relationship with Destiny, or if it’s also going to be used for more socially minded stories. Precogs aren’t extremely common within the X-Universe, but Destiny is by no means unique. I read “no precogs” and immediately wonder what that means for Ruth Aldine, who is essentially Destiny, Jr. but also very much not dead or depowered [Update: Oops, she is dead. I just haven’t read that story yet.]. Did Hickman just forget about her (seems unlikely), or will this turn into a really compelling seed for a story about inter-mutant discrimination? Either way, it has echoes of the earlier X-Men story “Age of X” where Legion made a pocket universe that was run by one of his personalities who manifested as Moira who banned the existence of telepaths specifically because they would have been able to seen through the illusion.

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Based on nine data points. (Artwork by R B Silva, colors by Marte Gracia & David Curiel, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Thinking more broadly about the themes in play, there’s something especially interesting going on with Moira’s precog ban as a way of controlling access to the threads of fate. Other folks have noted that Moira’s name literally means Fate, and there’s a specific sense of rivalry with Destiny due to the problem of competing visions of the future. Destiny, being an actual precognitive with the ability to see the myriad potential timelines of the multiverse, is a serious threat to the hegemony that Moira has established for herself based on her perfect recall of her nine previous lives. Moira’s predictive abilities are based on knowing and processing all of the disparate data points she’s experienced, which are superior to everyone else’s except a powerful precognitive like Destiny. What if there are multiple potential pathways to mutant thriving that Moira simply hasn’t considered because she doesn’t have the available data? She can’t have it because she doesn’t see forward; she can only look backward and project based on patterns she recognizes. Destiny is a threat because she killed Moira that one time and predicted that she’d not live past her eleventh life; she’s also just a way better resource to the Krakoa project than Moira could ever be.

Reading House of X #6

There is definitely a rant to be had regarding the way Charles Xavier chooses to treat the first Krakoan criminal, and there are lots of weird things going on with the Quiet Council that will likely bear out in the ongoing series that are following the end of HoX/PoX, but for now it’s probably best to enjoy the celebration that ends House of X.  Krakoa has become a sovereign nation, and mutants have a safe place to call their home.  The party pages are the end of the issue are excellent fun and do some lovely character beats in a very small amount of space.

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Has anyone ever thought to have Siryn and Dazzler team up to do a light show before? (Artwork by Pepe Larraz, colors by Marte Gracia & David Curiel)

Okay, now that we’ve reveled, it’s time to discuss the stuff going on that’s really messed up.

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Yeah, these characters are definitely in this issue! (Cover by Pepe Larraz & Marte Gracia)

The big one in all the discussion that the council has is the judgment passed on Sabretooth for the murders he committed while participating in the theft of the information that clued the X-Men in to the Mother Mold’s creation and imminent activation.  That plot thread’s been dangling out there for a while with no real clear hint at resolution other than the fact that there would need to be one, so I’m glad it comes back here.  Like a lot of folks, I am concerned about the method of punishment that Xavier and the rest of the council settle on.  Barring comic book universe shenanigans, Sabretooth is a character whose core identity is founded on an unrepentant bloodthirstiness; he is meant to be fundamentally irredeemable, and giving him endless second chances would be irresponsible.  Indefinite containment or elimination are the only really feasible options for dealing with someone like him.

I do like that the need for judgment clashes with the introduction of mutant resurrection as a concept.  Let’s set aside my complaints about this not being genuine resurrection and focus on the fact that Xavier has made the preservation of all mutant genomic data in living form such a priority that he will not consider capital punishment.  This doesn’t seem to be based in any anti-capital punishment sentiment so much as a practicality of the resurrection system which is apparently so automated that killing Sabretooth would only put him in line to be resurrected again.  There is no way to create an exception in the system, perhaps because Xavier fears the potential abuse that could arise from giving any set of individuals control over mutant immortality.  I can see the wisdom in this up to a point; despite the creepiness of the system, Xavier’s intentions appear to be offering every mutant immortality as an inalienable birthright.  Capital punishment is inadequate for dealing with Sabretooth in these specific circumstances.

That leaves containment as the only viable option, which presents its own challenges.  Sabretooth has been held in captivity in the past, and he’s always proven to be an extremely dangerous ward.  Furthermore, Xavier makes a rather principled statement about Krakoa being a nation that will not tolerate prisons.  This bit of rhetoric falls extremely flat given the way that the council ultimately chooses to dispose of Sabretooth, although I suspect its motivations are founded in the enlightened understanding that prisons easily turn into modern modes of enslavement.  Attempting to avoid that outcome is admirable, but it seems to lead to a very simplistic formulation of what consequences are actually just when considering what to do with Sabretooth.  The solution that Xavier offers in place of traditional prison and execution is an unhappy medium between them.  Sabretooth won’t be killed because he’ll just come back to life, and he won’t be released because he’s a danger to the rest of the world.  Instead he’ll be buried deep inside Krakoa where he’ll continue to be alive, but he’ll also be immersed in total sensory deprivation without any anullment of his consciousness.

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Yeah, it is a good start. I still don’t trust you, Charlie. (Artwork by Pepe Larraz, colors by Marte Gracia & David Curiel, letters by Clayton Cowles)

In effect, the council’s punishment is still prison, but to such an extreme extent that it’s effectively worse than permanent death.  Xavier calls it exile, which I guess is technically true, although only technically.  In effect, it’s the worst kind of prison, which is why Xavier’s rhetoric feels so cheap on this particular societal point.  I’d perhaps be able to stomach it more without that one flourish, because the larger implications about Krakoan justice are way more interesting.  When you build a society where death is irrelevant, you need a new ultimate punishment for immoral action, and the suggestion that mutants, by adopting this new version of existence, are now bound to an even more terrible fate if they transgress in their new society creates opportunities for a variety of interesting stories.  On the more optimistic side there’s explorations the moral obligation that comes with existing as ascended beings in the world, and then to turn things a little darker there are stories of the potential abuses of this new penal system.  At the center of it all is still Xavier, whose ultimate ambitions remain relatively cloudy.

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I still get a bad vibe from this guy. Also, taking bets now that this is a teaser for a new Exiles book. (Artwork by Pepe Larraz, colors by Marte Gracie & David Curiel, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Reading Powers of X #5

I have to admit something: I am not super into the far future plot line.  There was some potential for cool intrigues early on with the questions of how we got from evil clown Nimrod to helpful Clippy Nimrod and what the ultimate resolution of the three-way war among humans, mutants, and machines would be, but since the reveal that Apocalypse’s X-Men of the future are from Moira’s ninth life, the sense of connection between this era and everything else in the series has felt extremely tenuous outside of broad thematic parallels.  Conceptually, I like the idea of exploring a far future where the ascendant species on Earth is grappling with how to ensure its survival on a cosmic scale when there are AI collectives massive enough to become black holes that are de facto rulers of everything because they’re simply bigger and smarter than every other sentient organism in the universe by near uncountable orders of magnitude.  That’s a cool idea!

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I’m kind of over the PoX covers being more about what’s going on in the series overall rather than anything specifically happening in the issue itself. Sinister standing triumphant over the eggs has absolutely nothing to do with the contents of PoX #5. (Cover by R B Silva & Marte Gracia)

The problem that I run into feels like it’s directly related to the very scale issue that Hickman wants to grapple with in all this speculation.  When you’re talking about entities that are indistinguishable from any modern conception of the Divine for all intents and purposes, there’s an automatic distance that gets created for the reader.  I think that pondering the concept of God’s vastness is fun and interesting conceptually, but I don’t experience a really visceral connection to it.  We have always wanted to personify our gods because there’s a deep desire to be able to relate to them.  The omniscient, the infinite are alien things to us; at worst they inspire abject terror and at best confusion and awe.  These Dominions that Hickman throws at us at the end of the issue are the stuff of cosmic and eldritch horror, which is great if you just want to tell a story about how much the universe does not care about any of us, but it’s emotionally flat.  Combined with the fact of Year One Thousand’s cast being composed entirely of characters we’ve just met in this series with no distinguishing features beyond wanting to figure out how to survive an AI takeover, I find myself having no emotional investment in what’s happening.

It’s a great thought experiment, and it resonates as a counterpoint to what Xavier is doing in the present with his slow methodical construction of an organic mutant collective (what else can you call the construction of a massive redundant database designed specifically to preserve in perpetuity every mutant person on Earth and recreate them endlessly like bits of information?).  Xavier’s plan is breathtaking in its ambition, but the implications, like I said last week, are terrifying when considered on a personal level.  A lot of X-Men died, probably multiple times, and Xavier has decided the solution to slow motion genocide is to cheapen death asymptotically until the only thing lost is a copy in an infinitely long series of identical copies.  Never mind that the individual identities of each copy are quashed irretrievably, and this obsession with perfect cloning will eventually stamp out the concept of natural mutation altogether.  If Xavier’s plan proceeds in the way he seems to be envisioning it, he’ll save the mutant species by rendering its identity completely meaningless.  He will stop the machine apocalypse by simply making mutants the new machines.

That doesn’t mean I can bring myself to care about the blue people in the future though.

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This one panel makes the entire issue. Yes, let’s do the thing that the X-Men have done multiple times before which always ended horribly. Maybe this time it won’t. (Artwork by R B Silva, colors by Marte Gracia, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Turning from the big ideas of the issue, the character work in Powers of X #5 is far more solid.  It’s apparent at this point that the Year One and Year Ten periods have been designed to serve as distinct character vignettes highlighting how familiar characters in the X-Universe rationalize to themselves playing a part in Xavier’s particular scheme.  Hickman excels at framing these moments so that they hinge on each character being tempted by the chance to do something that appeals to their higher ambitions (occasionally even moral ones) at the cost of contributing to a scheme that Xavier hasn’t fully explained to anyone.  This issue’s two feature characters are Forge and Emma Frost, and they go pretty much exactly as one would expect.  Forge quickly gets caught up in the intricacies of how he could solve Xavier’s technological needs without stopping to really consider whether he should (Forge was a tech-bro before we had conceived of such a thing), while Emma agrees to do a lot of really shady stuff under the auspices of working towards a better future “for the children.”  I’ve grown to appreciate the complexity of Emma’s character; you don’t usually see consummate educators portrayed as also being extremely ambitious in fiction.  It leads to some fascinating paradoxes, not the least of which here is that Emma finds herself preparing to do some extremely unscrupulous things for a better future that Xavier continues to keep relatively vague.  The promise of being able to make the wrongs of the Genoshan genocide right is a big one for Emma, seeing as she is one of a handful of survivors, but it feels like it’s coming at a significant cost.

We’ll see where all this ends up soon, I suppose.

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As always, here’s the link to the weekly HoX PoX ToX (which I really need to read; I’m running behind.)

Reading House of X #5

So it seems there are three major developments in this issue relating to the state of Krakoa: we’re shown the mode by which Xavier preserves his human (erm, mutant) resources; the UN formally recognizes Krakoa as a sovereign nation thanks to some very mild meddling from Emma Frost; and the mutant amnesty that was discussed back in House of X #1 goes into effect with many of the major players in the X-Men’s rogue’s gallery taking Xavier up on the offer, including Apocalypse.

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Apocalypse is coming out of the weeds. (Cover by Pepe Larraz & Marte Gracia)

Most of the conversations I’ve seen since the issue dropped have revolved around the unease that readers have about Xavier partnering with all of these unreformed mutant criminals and terrorists or with the generally creeped out vibe they get from the ritual of the resurrection ceremony.  I get where those attitudes are coming from, but I don’t really get how anyone could be shocked that Apocalypse gets a do-over in Krakoa when we’ve been learning from House of X #2 that there was a radical re-imagining of mutant liberation requiring the cooperation of every major pro-mutant ideologue in the works thanks to Moira’s intervention.  It’s momentous that Xavier and Apocalypse are meeting as collaborators, although they’re clearly not equals here; the one stipulation of mutant amnesty is an agreement to abide by all the rules set out by Krakoan society.  Apocalypse is effectively swearing to be a vassal in Xavier’s kingdom (Xavier is, after all, sole possessor of the keys to resurrection regardless of what egalitarian rhetoric he may espouse).  It’s fair to wonder how long this sort of relationship will be sustainable, but I don’t think it conveys any sort of moral compromise on Xavier and the X-Men’s part that readers weren’t already considering since the macro-series’s beginning.  Regardless, there are more interesting (and harrowing) things from this issue that are worthy of discussion.

On Twitter, Robert Secundus posted a thread where he pointed out that the creepiness readers are feeling from the ceremony where Storm greets the resurrected mutants and tests them to ensure their identities are intact before presenting them as returned members of the mutant community is based more in the experiences and biases that we’re bringing to the text than anything inherent in what Hickman is trying to communicate.  You can go read the thread if you haven’t seen it already, but the gist is that because we live in a society that’s growing more secular and less comfortable with communal religious practice, we feel weird seeing those rituals mirrored in fiction in a way that’s not inherently negative.  There’s nothing specifically sinister (no, not that one either) about a community having rituals for establishing shared identity, particularly when the identity in question is one tied to common experience.  Read the scene as a celebration where everyone is happy to see that the X-Men who attacked Mother Mold haven’t been permanently lost, and it feels warm and joyous.  The mutants are asserting their right to exist and thrive in a world that’s denied them those basic dignities for years.  It’s great!

The unease, and here I’m speaking primarily from my own experience, is that these same rituals of connection and celebration, because they are so powerful in building bonds, get used by oppressive communities as well.  White Evangelical Christians in America use a lot of these same techniques in their worship services, and that stuff gets deep in you if you’re exposed to it long enough.  Having separated myself from that community, I still get itchy if I find myself in a position where I’m exposed to the rituals common to that community because they serve as these deep reminders of the rules and restrictions that clashed with my own sense of morality.  On a larger, more societal level, we Americans have spent the last four years seeing this stuff boil out into the public as expressions of white resentment.  White nationalists do the public chanting and the performance of grievance in ways that we see are threatening, but it’s important to recognize that their goal in adopting these common communal practices is to develop a false equivalence.  The visceral reaction to the rituals rather than their content serves to neutralize people who could otherwise see the value and need in supporting communities who are genuinely threatened.  Mutants are not white nationalists.

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Copy paste is not the same as cut paste. (Artwork by Pepe Larraz, colors by Marte Gracia, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Setting aside all of that, there is a thing in this issue that still worries and irritates me.  I suspect part of this arises from my own personal anxieties about mortality and the nature of existence, but this is the issue where we learn what our own biases do to the way we read this story, so I guess I’ll get to it.  Xavier’s mutant resurrection isn’t resurrection.  It’s recreation.  While there’s space for comic book logic in the process of rebuilding dead mutants’ bodies, when Magneto explains how Xavier ensouls the husks, he explicitly says that their minds are uploaded from a backup that Xavier maintains in the Cerebro cloud.  If we’re talking about nonsentient data, like a file you transfer from one computer to another, then that’s pretty cool.  Information’s duplicability is part of what makes it useful and valuable.  When you’re talking about sentience, about beings who are aware of their own being, then it becomes worrisome.

A problem often discussed in science fiction when you get into questions of transhumanism is the problem of consciousness.  The popular idea that humanity might one day achieve immortality through conversion to data in a synthetic medium that’s more durable than the human body and infinitely reparable works as long as you look at it externally.  As soon as you consider yourself as the person going through the conversion, you have to ask about the method.  Regardless of your personal view of the soul, there are questions around the transference of consciousness that we don’t have a satisfactory way of answering without resorting to metaphysics.  If your body dies when you get uploaded, for example, and your consciousness isn’t uninterrupted during the transfer, how do you know that the you in the mainframe is the same you that was in the flesh bag?  Memories are just bits of data, right?  There’s no real guarantee that digital you isn’t just a very good copy of fleshy you.  To someone who knows you, it’s probably an imperceptible, even insignificant difference.  To you, the person being uploaded, it’s kind of an important question because what is the point of an immortal self if that self isn’t your self?

This brings me back to Xavier’s mutant backup data plan.  Given the fact that he’s making copies of all mutants’ minds on a weekly basis, we know explicitly that he’s not doing some metaphysical transference of consciousness where he goes and catches the dead mutants’ minds on the astral plane (if Hickman had thrown in the phrase “astral plane” anywhere in this issue, I probably would have absolutely no qualms about this whole resurrection thing); he’s uploading week-old copies of their minds into new bodies.  Krakoa even has protocols in place to avoid conducting resurrection on mutants who are not confirmed dead presumably in order to prevent the accidental creation of a simultaneously extant duplicate person.  While to the community at large, Scott and Jean and Logan and Kurt and the others appear to be back from the dead, and going forward they will function as though they never died in space, to the Scott and Jean and Logan and Kurt and others who died destroying the Mother Mold, they are done.  There will always be a Jean Grey who, having separated herself from the Phoenix in order to try to live her own life for a change, ending up being crushed to death alone in the void of space.  The 1.6 million mutants who died on Genosha will always be dead; they just have doppelgangers who will go on and live as though that didn’t happen.  Magneto describes the genocide as one day being called a “crucible,” but it’s always going to be a genocide.  Nothing done is undone here, it’s only papered over with a variation on the human rush to turn ourselves into bits of data in a larger collective.  We just haven’t realized yet that we’re not doing this for ourselves, because ourselves won’t be ourselves anymore.

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As always, here’s a link to the weekly HoX PoX ToX, which gets into other, different questions about what Hickman is doing with the X-Men.

Reading Powers of X #4

I think the best way to sum up this issue is that the first two thirds are fun and intriguing, and the last third has to do a lot of work to remind readers about the stakes of the One Thousand Year time period.  We get in the opening scene with Sinister a lot of camp; Hickman adores making Sinister an over the top, larger than life character with lots of ambition and swagger, and it’s all terribly fun until you stop to remind yourself that Sinister is a manipulator, and it would probably be best to assume every move he makes on his island is some kind of misdirection.  Does Sinister enjoy being a chaotic mishmash of infighting clones loosely ordered into some kind of feudal hierarchy?  Yes, absolutely.  Is he also screwing around with Xavier and Magneto?  Almost certainly.

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I know this is a callback to Marvel’s old corner boxes, but heads without necks creep me out. (Cover by R B Silva & Marte Gracia)

It’s fair, especially in a series of this length, for creators to take a breath from driving hard on plot (which was pretty much what the middle third of the series did) to engage in some character work.  The endless jokes about Magneto’s cape help establish what version of Sinister we’re looking at here, but they’re also silly fun following a lot of character deaths.  My feeling with this whole scene is that it feels like an interlude that offers very little in the way of pertinent information to the reader.  We already know Sinister is involved in the Krakoa project somehow because he was recruited in the Moira-Apocalypse timeline.  The interesting question that arises from there is how, knowing what Sinister intends to do with Krakoa, Xavier figures he can contain and subvert the inevitable betrayal.  The Sinister gossip pages suggest that whatever safety measures have been put in place, Sinister’s already figured out a way around them, because of course he has.

The middle section’s a nice little character sketch showing us more of this version of Doug Ramsey, who it’s becoming more and more clear is a lynchpin in the whole Krakoa plan.  We still don’t have any explanation about how he got his Technarch arm, but we do see it doing what Technarchy does: spread the techno-organic virus.  What I’m curious about at this point is whether Doug is aware of what he’s doing or if his arm has a mind of its own; either way could lead to some fun story beats, all of which have major potential to totally undermine the new mutant paradigm of purely organic technology.  We also see that months before everything went online on Krakoa and Xavier started wearing the Cerebro helmet he was playing at colonialism like a certain evil twin with a pith helmet that conveniently covers his forehead.  The associations of that costume appearing in a remote tropical locale are not good ones; the Krakoa project is ostensibly about stopping the evolution of the Sentinels, but now, who knows?  Other interesting bits in this sequence include the tease of Apocalypse’s original Four Horsemen who were apparently sealed in an alternate dimension or something to stand guard over Krakoa’s evil… twin.

Arakko’s going to end up being a Mummudrai, isn’t it?  And it’s connected to Krakoa via the black seeds?  Fun times.

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I never thought I’d find myself thinking about Doug Ramsey as an analogue to Larry Trask, but here we are. (Artwork by R B Silva, colors by Marte Gracia, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The issue’s last third is the most disorienting primarily because we haven’t revisited the Year One Thousand time period in about a month of real time, and the last thing we saw was the Phalanx descending to absorb the ascended humans’ society into their cloud.  It was all very harrowing.  This issue shows us that there’s a little bit more to what happened before that whole cloud of darkness thing.  My big complaint with this scene is that it involves a lot of talking heads among characters that we haven’t really spent any time with yet.  The Librarian, our perspective character from previous visits to this era, is just a silent observer here while a couple of other blue people talk in circles around their plan to persuade the Phalanx to incorporate organic life into their assimilation schema.  It all sort of makes sense as an extension of the thematic arc of the series revolving around the tension between synthetic and organic life and the acceleration towards grey goo, but the whole sequence left me mostly indifferent to what was happening.  There’s certainly potential for that plot line to pick back up and become interesting, but right now it feels like this weird appendix to the superhero stuff going on in the present day timeline.

Reading House of X #4

I think the weirdest part of reading X-Men comics is that I have a relatively low emotional investment in them at this point in my life.  One of the major trends I’ve seen in the aspects of the fan community that I frequent is a sort of universal assumption that part of belonging to X-Men fandom is professing extreme affinity to at least one, if not more, specific characters as the reason you are here.  I engage in this element of fandom mildly in the form of a general preference to see stories about a few characters from New Mutants (I show my affection by spending time analyzing characters; both Illyana Rasputin and David Haller have gotten significant numbers of words out of me over the years), but compacting nearly fifty years’ worth of comics into accelerated reading over the course of a decade has left me with a relatively sanguine attitude about ongoing serialized comics in general and the X-Men in particular.  It’s great to read good stories about characters I love, but that’s just not always going to happen, and different writers will take different tacks when they get their turns to play in this shared universe.  Sometimes there will be narrative beats that we don’t like, but it doesn’t invalidate the ones that we do, and the status quo tends to be robust enough that changes to characters’ core concepts happen at a glacial pace.

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Everyone on this cover dies. Now you don’t have to read the issue. (Cover by Pepe Larraz & Marte Gracia)

All this preamble is to say that I try not to react angrily to stories, especially ones where it’s painfully obvious that extreme misdirection is going on and things will turn out likely very different from how they look in the moment.  Given that, I find myself grappling with some mixed emotions about Hickman’s House of X #4.  The big thing that I find myself puzzling over is the absurd death count of the issue.  It’s not surprising that everyone on the team dies on the suicide mission (that’s why they call them suicide missions); it’s surprising that in a franchise like X-Men, where death is never permanent, particularly for the headliners of the core team, Hickman went to such lengths to give the male heroes (apart from Warren) these big, dramatic character moments coupled with their deaths while the women were mostly just, well, there.  We can argue all day about whether Jean Grey’s weird characterization in this series is due to authorial dissonance or pointing towards something more complicated about what’s going on within the larger narrative, but the fact remains that Hickman has made the choice in this series to reintroduce Jean to the core team with all the trappings of her timid Silver Age characterization and then put her in a position of helplessness as the rest of her team violently dies before she gets snuffed out in a tin can floating through space.  The rest of the female members of the away team don’t fare any better (except for Monet, which still seems like an odd way to express affection for a character) with Paige Guthrie, an esoteric enough character that her inclusion on the team should have pointed towards some intricate plot involving her specific powers, dying off panel, and Mystique, a shape shifter, doing absolutely no shape shifting.  The sheer imbalance in styles of death between these characters and the men feels uncomfortable in ways that are actually pretty easy to identify.

The grand purpose of all this character death (little, if any, of which will likely stick beyond the end of the HoXPoX series) is to up the narrative stakes with the possibility that the Mother Mold has been brought online and precipitated something potentially worse to take form (nanites are a nasty thing, and very narratively convenient when your big bad is a homicidal AI) and also to give Charles Xavier his veritable Blue Screen of Death moment, which will undoubtedly lead to some catastrophic things in the future.  Before this issue I was thinking there was a strong possibility that we were looking at a team of cloned X-Men, but given the way it ends I’m now more inclined to think that we’re pushing towards the abuse of some of the reality warping mutants that were highlighted back in House of X #1.  Given the series’s obsession with echoing and remixing X-Men history, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re moving towards a rehash of House of M with Xavier acting in place of Wanda Maximoff.

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In the unlikely event anyone reads this but hasn’t yet read the essential HoXPoXToX for the week, it can be found here.

*In the even more unlikely event that you want to read more of my thoughts about Illyana and David, here are a few more posts that center those specific characters.

Illyana

David

Reading House of X #3

When Xavier says to Cyclops before an obvious suicide mission, “You’re not going to die.  I won’t allow it,” I had some weird feelings.  We’re halfway through the macro series at this point, and every appearance of Scott and Xavier have felt off in various ways.  Scott was weirdly antagonistic about Franklin Richards in House of X #1, he seemed almost slavishly devoted to Xavier and Magneto’s plans in Powers of X #2, and here in this issue he’s expressing some major misgivings that the premier mutant power couple assuage with assurances that he’s not going to die.  Xavier, meanwhile has been… well, Xavier.

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Things are going to get bad. (Cover by Pepe Larraz & Marte Gracia)

In this scene Erik follows up Xavier’s bombast with a rhetorical flourish that points towards the memorialization that great heroes of worthy causes enjoy after they die.  It’s a very metaphysical appeal, suggesting that Scott’s death on this mission will ensure the continued survival of the Krakoa project, and so he’ll live on as a treasured memory.  This stuff tracks with Erik’s revolutionary bent and the general need in dire circumstances to give the people making the greatest sacrifice some kind of incentive they can hang on to through impending doom.  What feels off, as usual, is Xavier.  That god complex that we’ve seen on display since the first issue when he was playing Messiah in the Garden with his Krakoa pod babies is in full effect here; there’s a significant distance between making assertions of what must happen as a form of encouragement and declaring what will or will not happen as though one controls the fate of everyone involved.  Xavier seems to be speaking literally when he says emphatically “I won’t allow it.”

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Because they’re clones! (Artwork by Pepe Larraz, colors by Marte Gracia, letters by Clayton Cowles)

The matter of how he can achieve that end is up in the air, but my preferred hypothesis is that we’re looking at a variation on the Marauders, Sinister’s pet team of cloned supervillains that he deploys indiscriminately with the assurance that he can just decant a new set whenever the old ones get killed.  It’s not been revisited since House of X #1, but Krakoa has a place where mutants emerge from pods fully grown, and at least two of those mutants appeared to be Scott and Jean.  I think the team that’s being sent to destroy Mother Mold is composed of copies of the original mutants, probably with implanted memories so they don’t realize they’re clones.  It would explain pretty neatly the personality discrepancies we’ve seen up to this point, particularly with Scott and Jean, but also in the small glimpses of the others.  Kurt’s almost flirty with Mystique before he jumps to the Orchis Forge, which is, well, not how Kurt would interact with Mystique even under the best circumstances.  Logan has been shown joyfully playing with children despite lots of evidence that he doesn’t enjoy being around kids.  Paige Guthrie, Husk, is on this team and seems to have reverted to all the markers of a period in her life when she was at her most vulnerable.  These characters are acting in ways that are strange beyond the normal realignment of character voice that happens when a new writer takes over an extant series, and I think it’s because they’re clones that have been grown from Krakoa.

Aside from that relatively wild speculation, I think this issue’s most interesting narrative development comes from the time spent with Karima Shapandar and Dr. Erasmus aboard the Orchis Forge.  Their conversations depict an organization that doesn’t recognize its own bigotry towards mutants; aside from the faceless goons who wander the space station’s hallways, Erasmus and her team are obviously the “civilian scientists” that Jean mentions when the team is discussing the mission’s acceptable losses.  Hydra remnants excepted, most of Orchis’s members don’t see themselves as acting in a way that’s morally unjustified (which is a distinct attitude from being indifferent to moral justification).  It complicates the conflict in ways that are sort of uncomfortable because they highlight how ideological and systemic struggles eat up individuals whose isolated actions feel inconsequential.  It opens up an ongoing debate about the culpability of a cause’s rank-and-file in comparison to their leaders, asking us to consider where we draw the line in terms of overall impact.  How much do we need to care about the human stories that sit in the middle of these conflicts?

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Logan always coming in with the simplified bottom line. (Artwork by Pepe Larraz, colors by Marte Gracia, letters by Clayton Cowles)

Update: The essential HoXPoXToX for this issue is up now, so definitely go there to learn about stuff that Hickman is probably trying to make us think about.