With the comics industry slowly returning from the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are taking the opportunity to introduce each other to comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week we visit a recent line-wide relaunch of one of comics’ most popular franchises!
Almost exactly a year ago, House of X #1 launched with perhaps the most ominous quotes in comics- “While you slept, the world changed.” For the X-Men, Jonathan Hickman’s words rang true. Alongside rising star artists Pepe Larraz and RB Silva, inker Adriano DiBenedetto, color artists Marte Gracia and David Curiel, letterer Clayton Cowles and designer Tom Muller, Hickman proceeded to give the X-Men line a fresh new status quo as well as a relaunch unlike any the line had ever received.
House of X/Power of X is the story of the nation of Krakoa, the new home of the mutant race. However it’s also the story of the ultimate fate of mutant kind, and the desperate race to save their world. And it all hinges on one of the biggest revelations in the history of mutantkind.
Tony Thornley: So we when started this column with Astonishing X-Men, I mentioned that’s a pretty decent starting point with the X-Men. However, There are about five really great points to start reading the franchise, and this maxi-series is one of them.
So my three main “fandoms” in comics have always been Spider-Man, Superman, and the X-Men. I had a LOT of high expectations for this series, especially because at the time this launched, the X-Men line had kind of been languishing in mediocrity for a long time. You on the other hand came into this fresh outside of my gushing about it. So what did you think?
Brendan Allen: First off, this is the longest book we’ve done to date. 386 pages of story and some like 50 pages of extras. Took me a few minutes to get through it. As in, most of the day. It’s also a LOT to digest. This thing bangs around from past to present and future, and across multiple timelines. And then the settings, too. Earth, space, void. Lots going on.
TT: There really is. It basically takes everything X-Men from the last… thirty years, repackages it, remixes and and gives it a new paint job.
BA: I think one of the biggest shockers for me is Professor Xavier. Seems like there’s a lot of Magneto in the Professor’s thought processes. I get where that comes from, later in the book. Almost at the end, in fact, it all becomes clear, but it’s a little off putting initially, when all we’ve ever seen is him fighting this exact mentality among mutants toward humans.
TT: Yeah, this story really does a lot to make the characters more complex and much more grey morally speaking. Charles gets an edge, Magneto feels a bit nobler, and Moira… I mean everything changes with Moira.
One of the biggest things I was nervous about when this series was announced is that Hickman isn’t much of a “character” writer. He’s a plot guy. However, I think one of the biggest strengths of this series is in its character work. Moira Kinross-MacTaggert transforms over the course of a single issue from a cool supporting character that few non-X-Men fans would know to a pillar of the X-Men as well as a breakout character. And the suicide missions halfway through each series- both the one set in the future and the one in the main timeline- are just gut punches.
However, he does other great things. Nimrod, the nano-tech Sentinel, transforms from a killing machine from Chris Claremont’s X-Men to… well, a killing machine with an engaging personality. Apocalypse transforms from the ultimate mutant bad guy to something more. Even the Orchis scientists, who appear for the first time in this series, feel like fully realized people. What did you think?
BA: Like I said regarding Xavier, it’s a whole new light for many of these characters. Given the context, the eventual goal, it all makes sense, but you don’t really get a sense of exactly why everything is happening the way it is, until the very end. That’s actually a pretty cool way to tell a story, having everything seemingly going sideways, right until the end, and then wrapping it up reasonably well and making all the WTF moments suddenly click.
TT: Oh I agree. As the story was coming out, X-Men fans were questioning Xavier and Magneto’s motives week after week until the end. I’m glad that came through to you reading it fresh as well.
BA: Of course they were. This is comics fandom.
TT: Hah! Too true. I have to ask specifically what you thought of the Moira X issue. As a longtime reader, this was positively a nuclear bomb. Moira had always been that cool supporting character that was fun to see pop up, but not much else. This transformed her into something more, something very important to all of the X-Men. As someone who’s just passingly familiar with the X-Men, what did you think of that issue?
BA: I thought it was cool. Kinda reminded me of The Butterfly Effect, where the guy from That 70’s Show kept going back through different periods of his life, correcting mistakes and righting wrongs. Same kind of vibe with a different device. Her incarnations achieving different goals and pointing people in different directions throughout the story. Going back and trying things differently. Sometimes it worked out. Other times, not so much. I dug it.
You said she was a relatively minor character until this book? They did the same thing with Goldballs, yeah? Took a minor character, and one with a laughable “power,” and developed him into a massive chunk of the whole story. Without his contribution, this whole thing plays out way differently.
TT: Oh definitely, that’s one of the greatest things about this story. It keeps recontextualizing elements of X-Men lore and making new things out of it. That’s another thing I loved- the world building, which Hickman, Larraz, Silva and Gracia ALL get credit for. This is really a synthesis of the entire creative team. Hickman created the background lore for the entire thing. In HOX, Larraz takes that and crafts this massive sci-fi biomechanical nation, redesigns virtually every major character, and does it while telling this massive story.
Silva I think had a bigger task, as he designs multiple time periods, alternate universes, and creates multiple new characters wholesale. Then you look at Gracia, whose colors bring it all to vibrant life. It’s such a great synthesis of the entire creative team.
BA: I dug the art, and I don’t usually get into the Marvel aesthetic so much. I understand why so much of it is so homogenized, with so many different teams working on so many stories in the same universe over such a long period of time. Need that continuity. But this one, while it had all the hallmarks of an X-Men book, also incorporated some really cool tech and biological elements into the standard fare.
TT: Yeah, Marvel and DC both have a House Style, but both have certain artists that are just exceptionally good within the House Style. I think at Marvel, Larraz and Silva are top of the list, especially when they’re paired with a color artist as good as Gracia. What they did as an art team here was just exceptional.
TT: So what’s your verdict?
BA: It is long. If I had realized exactly how long, I would have given myself more than a day to take it in. I usually kind of sit on a 4-6 chapter mini for about an hour. This thing is not only massive, it’s complex. Took multiple sittings to make sure I was tracking.
That aside, it was worth the investment. There are obvious parallels between the X-Men mythos and historical events, and those come through, but there’s also a very clean, fresh take in this one. Familiar, but very new and innovative.
TT: What’s next?
BA: Ooh! I know this one! Coyotes Volume 1, by Sean Lewis and Caitlyn Yarksy. It’s got Southwestern werewolves and a badass teen female assassin. Creepy dolls and corrupt cops. Ultra-violent, and smart as hell. It’s a good ‘un.
TT: Sounds like fun!
House of X/Powers of X is available in single issues and a collected edition now from Marvel Comics.
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