Marvel’s House of X/Powers of X event is complicated, full of references to the X-Men past and hints at the X-Men future. Jonathan Hickman, R. B Silva, and Pepe Larraz are delivering a beautifully rendered and textually dense reinvention of one of the biggest franchises in comics history.
That’s too much for just one comics editor to dig into, so we reached out to the folks at the Xavier Files, whose in-depth annotations of House of X and Powers of X impressed us, educated us, and entertained us. Now you can enjoy the Xavier Files’ Hox Pox Tox right here on Polygon — so crack open your copy of House of X #4, and read along! (You can find the first three annotations here).
After the massacre in the last issue, Xavier reveals exactly what he meant by “no more”. Using the combined might of five mutants, as well as Cerebro, Xavier brings his X-Men back from the grave. No more death. Continuing his new, radical bent, Xavier welcomes all mutants to Krakoa. As villians from the past step foot on the mutant nation, one towers over them. And Xavier welcomes Apocalypse home.
Robert Secundus: “SOCIETY.” Chris, this is the issue I’ve been waiting for since House Of X #1. Do I love far flung speculative futures?
Do I love emotional action scenes involving the punching of giant purple robots?
But above all else, what I’ve wanted from HoXPoX is more of that taste we got in that first issue. I’ve wanted a story that’s not so much about punches and Sentinels as it is about the creation of nations, as it is about mutantkind no longer reactively fighting against whatever plot their oppressors have hatched, but about mutantkind planting their flag in a plot of Earth and declaring it theirs.
Chris Eddleman: Yes, it’s wild that it’s been weeks and weeks since we’ve finally followed up on that promise but, there was lots of pesky (also awesome) timelines stuff that we had to cover as well. This is, as we said last issue, another of the “red highlighted” issues of HoXPoX, which means we’re in for some real stuff. Will we see what Xavier meant by “No More”? Will it be violent retribution? I suppose we should dig in and find out.
RS: While Lorna is not a character with whom I’m thoroughly familiar, something seems off about her from the start, here. Has she ever been this, well, radicalized, that Magneto would need to be the one to temper her opinions? [Ed. note: She was on the show The Gifted and it was the most enjoyable take on Polaris in a long time]
CE: In some ways I think Magneto is not tempering her opinion but instead belittling humankind as good for only one thing. I particularly like the shot of Krakoa from the sky, as if we really needed a reminder of where we are. I think it’s specifically reminding us of mutant home, for good reason as we see later.
RS: I love the juxtaposition between the image in the last panel and Magneto’s speech. We’ve returned to the place that we’re about to discover is quite literally a Tree of Life. We’ve returned to Mutant Eden.
When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, there were two punishments: The pains of childbirth and the toil of agriculture.They must procreate, form families and communities, and work the land to feed those communities. They’re punished with society.
Magneto sees human history inversely: Society is not associated with the Fall, but with the moment when we transcended our base nature.
CE: The fact that Magneto considers the one good thing from humans to be the thing that separates the Paleolithic and Neolithic is kind of interesting as it implies everything after was somewhat unnecessary or a mistake. However, hunter/gatherer societies still exist so Magneto is being kind of a jerk. Considering Krakoa is cultivated rather than technologically created, to him farming may be the pinnacle of society.
RS: The Five are Tempus, a time manipulating rebel from Cyclops’ Revolution; Proteus, the reality warping son of Moira McTaggart; Hope, the power-copying mutant messiah; Elixir, the X-Student who holds life and death in his hands; and Goldballs, who shoots gold balls. [Ed. note: Whom I deeply love.]
Given the mutants who are prominent in both this and the prior issue, I think we can take Magneto’s words here as a mission statement for the X-Books going forward. Because the ongoing story concerns the founding and progression of a society, not just Superhero Fight Scenes, there’s room for mutants like Cypher or Goldballs to rise in prominence.
CE: Considering Cypher was originally killed off because people did not like him, and people did not like him because his power wasn’t visually exciting — I love this. Hickman is specifically using mutants who have incredible non-punchy powers to make a big difference in the mutant society.
RS: Magneto’s language here, that Goldballs’ balls have “no upper limit,” implies that Goldballs is an Omega Level Mutant. Wild. [Ed. note: No joke, I literally gasped with joy when I realized this.]
CE: Rob, he’s an Omega Level Egg Mutant. This is the greatest.
This process reminds me very much of cloning, somatic cell nuclear transfer method, in which a nucleus from an adult cell is injected into an egg cell or blastocyst cell that have had their nucleii removed. This is how Dolly the sheep was made, and now we’re making X-Men!
RS: Something that’s been percolating in my head for a bit is Hickman’s interest in Martin Buber’s political philosophy. Buber’s work focuses on human relationships. In I and Thou he revises Genesis: “In the beginning is relation,” and throughout he emphasizes the importance of honest mutual relation as the foundation of a virtuous society.
Here in our mutant genesis, no single mutant, not even Proteus, is capable of creating new life or resurrecting the dead. Instead, this community is built on the relationship between the Five. Only together can they accomplish this miracle.
For Buber, a good, honest relationship is one where individuals treat each other as thous, that is, as real people, rather than its, that is, as tools to be used, and the ideal society is one that embraces “Fraternity,” which strikes a balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community, which ensures society treats its members as thous. The Five seem to have struck that balance; through Hope’s power, they work not as a hive-mind, but as closely linked individuals.
Now, it’s possible, given the oddness of several voices in this issue, that something sinister is at work in this society, that it is not Fraternal but an example of what Buber would call a merely Equal society, in which the citizens are used as tools, are controlled as tools, in order to achieve some measure of equality for all.
[Ed. note: Special thanks to Chris Jensen & Zach Rabiroff for help on this connection.]
CE: Fantastic, Rob. Here you are saying some excellent stuff, and I just wanted to make a goof about Mutant Voltron. But also, the X-Men have always worked best in combat when they’re able to utilize teamwork, so why not here, in a fun resurrection scenario?
CE: We’re back to the first pages of House of X #1, which meant we started this entire series in media res. Kind of a cool reveal.
RS: Because we’ve seen this page, quite a lot of readers guessed the central twist of this issue, that Xavier had conquered death with Pod Person Technology™. I think, though, that this was a case where a twist being guessable lead to it being more satisfying. Since we all knew the X-Men were coming back, the previous issues could not rely on the death of X-Men being inherently shocking, nor could this issue rely on their resurrection being inherently shocking. That meant that the previous issue had to work really hard to get us emotionally invested, and this issue had to make the method of the resurrection itself really interesting, so that we’re still surprised by the details. And, for me, at least, both worked.
CE: I guess the big reveal for me was going to be if the pod people were still our X-Men, or merely some kind of facsimile, but that is revealed a bit later as we see. Also, we initially gave some credence to this red-eye lad not being Cyclops, when we should have just used Occam’s Razor. Of course it was Cyclops. [Ed. note: I told you so.]
RS: Magneto is using three words here with substantially distinct connotations that have all been used to denote the soul. The Greek word for mind, psyche, could just as well be translated as soul. In Latin, it is translated as anima. When we use the word “soul” today, we normally think of some sort of supernatural-ghosty-thing that we can use to barter for goods and services; this kind of language instead gets at a more traditional conception of what a “soul” is.
One way to put it might be a thing’s animating principle or whatness, the form that makes some chunk of matter actually something (in this case, a mutant) rather than just a blob of stuff. Now, one’s particular memory has often been associated with one’s soul, though I don’t think this conception plays nicely with either traditional definitions or depictions of the soul in X-Men canon.
CE: So it’s pretty clear from all the dead mutants that have returned back to life from earlier that this is not the first one of these resurrections to have occured and yet Polaris acts as the reader’s point of view, asking all the right questions and being summarily confused. I also want to talk a little about the retcon here. It’s pretty huge that Cerebro is able to, for lack of a better phrase, “store brains in the cloud” for later usage. This seems wildly invasive to me and I think people are giving Xavier a lot of leeway that he frankly hasn’t earned. [Ed. note: Xavier has long been known to be a jerk, so it’s a little odd that everyone is OK with his Soul Dropbox Hat.]
RS: I hadn’t thought of all the ethical issues that it would raise. I mean, he must not have received permission to duplicate individual’s souls. Now that the technology is out there, do mutants have living wills? The ability to enforce Do Not Resurrect orders? Or has Charles Xavier decided that no mutants are allowed to die?
Quick practical question about this scene — Cyclop’s reliance on the visor is due to head trauma, right? It’s not inherent to his mutation? So why with a healthy new body does he still require it?
CE: Perhaps when he gets the memories back, it becomes psychosomatic.
RS: That would make sense. [Ed. note: One read on this might be the difference between the mutants and machine church from Powers of X. Xavier wants mutants to be as they are. There is no transhumanistic idea of improving mutants.]
RS: I find Storm odd here and throughout the rest of the issue. Later, the oddness of her voice might be ascribed to her role in the Resurrection Ritual. Here she’s already formal, already playing the role, even when she’s alone with her resurrected friends. It’s a bit creepy. [Ed. note: Storm has never been one to shy away from a dramatic entrance.]
CE: Storm has never been particularly a “joiner,” to me, so she must be really convinced by this new paradigm that Charles and Co. have accomplished. She has an incredibly regal presence here though, which fits her to a T.
CE: Finally, a title page. What a long introduction.
The code proclaims “here they come” which likely means both our dead mutants, but also mutantkind as a whole. The “coming up” of mutants has been such a huge theme in this series, and looks like it’ll set up the X-Men going forward. I don’t know how much resolution HoXPoX will give us, rather than possibly just more plots and questions to be brought up later. We’re setting a tone and a status quo.
RS: The language here is very much like that applied to Christ. Consider 1 Corinthians 15:55 “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Christ is often framed as the one who conquers all, even death. [Ed. note: We’re not comparing Goldballs to Jesus but we’re also not not comparing Goldballs to Jesus.]
CE: The verbiage Storm uses regarding our resurrection crew — ”The Five” harkens back to the last mutant set of five we had, the Phoenix Five. No real relation other than name but, this new crew seems to also be “life incarnate” in a very real way. Also, the way the crowd of mutants treat the five is somewhat between religious figure and celebrity. Everyone seems to want to put hands on them. They are quite literally miracle workers, so they’re getting a very Christ-esque welcome.
RS: I love that everyone has to stand there naked. That said, this whole ritual continues to up the creep factor several times over.
CE: Lots of “Birth of Venus” hair going on in this scene. I think this page is supposed to be evocative of Renaissance era art.
RS: One thing I like about the ritual is you can see how it can have a practical function. Someone who knows these mutants has to confirm their identities before they can re-enter Krakoa because, well, the resurrection system otherwise would rely on the telepath telling the truth about what mind they put into a particular body. This is a nice redundancy that could prevent, say, Sinister implanting himself in all of the X-Men.
CE: Scott talking to Storm harkens back to when she took over as leader of the X-Men from him, a long long time ago back in Uncanny X-Men #139. Jean’s response to Storm is in reference to Jean having a lot of odd identity issues, and the actual verbiage is from the X-Men storyline Inferno. She was replaced by the Phoenix impersonating her for quite some time, only to have a clone made of her who married the love of her life. But I love her response. It’s a great Jean line.
[Ed. note: This line is also nonsense as a year ago we had Jean, teenage Jean, a clone of Jean, and an alternate reality clone of Jean running around.]
CE: We’ve mentioned a lot about how Hickman nails characters in little bits, and Monet (no longer M, she is now known as Penance) telling Storm “no touching” is a great example of Monet’s haughtiness.
CE: The nature of community and identity is really present in their celebration. It is not just who returned to them, but the fact that they are all mutants, and have essentially conquered death.
CE: “They should have killed us all while they had the chance”
Magneto’s line [Ed. note: similar to on from the movie X2: X-Men United], especially after mentioning the tragedy of Genosha, leaves me thinking that the master of magnetism has retribution on his mind.
CE: Also, before we get away from the resurrection scene, it’s important to keep in mind a couple of things. First of all, we still haven’t seen Moira MacTaggert in the present, which screams important to me. This entire sequence is still effectively Moira’s doing, as she had all of the prior knowledge to make this resurrection and storage of mutant minds and DNA possible. This is her “breaking all of the rules” that was alluded to in House of X #2. Why try to stop them from annihilating mutantkind, when instead you can make mutant kind immortal? Effectively, Moira has given her power of resurrection (albeit in a different form) to all of mutantkind.
RS: This last shot is so beautiful, but also disturbing. A faceless mob crowds around our heroes desperate to touch them. A new sun blinds us to those heroes faces as well.
CE: This seems to contrast the setting sun that we saw when Magneto was in Jerusalem. That was the sun setting on humans, while this is the sun rising on mutants.
[Ed. note: Most importantly, Glob Herman, a sweet mutant skeleton covered in pink Jell-O, is here.]
RS: The language of “Husk” here for “body” is a bit Gnostic. We talked about Gnosticism last time; Gnostic anthropology would hold that your soul is the real you, would say with the great poet, “I am not this body that imprisons me.” [Ed. note: It’s also the mutant name of Paige Guthrie, who was just resurrected.]
CE: My mind honed in on “holographic sequencing,” which I guess means Sinister has pictures of everyone’s DNA. For those that don’t remember from Bio class, DNA is made up of four bases, which can just be represented by 1 letter. It is completely extra to make holograms of it, and I think that’s great.
RS: Here the infographic builds on Magneto’s discussion of the soul further. A soul is “the very essence” of someone, including personality, “how they think, how they feel, their memories,” and finally “their very being.” Again, this is drawing from both classical philosophy and comic book metaphysics, but that last one is problematic. At least, Thomas Aquinas might take some issue with it as a bit blasphemous; only God’s essence is His very being. Then again, we do have new gods now…
CE: Synch and Mimic are mentioned here, both of whom were dead, and have likely been brought back to life. Their powers are very similar to Hope’s in that they can copy other powers. Mimic’s status as a mutant has been kind of off-and-on throughout the years, but I suppose we’ve got full confirmation now. Also, Proteus goes through roughly ONE Charles Xavier every week, which makes for so many Charles bodies needing to be made. I suspect the fact that these bodies are all from Xavier will come up as a plot point at some point. The designer gene and body swap details seem ripe for exploration, even if we saw designer mutants in the X2 future.
RS: We start to get more hints about the nature of these graphics here, as they’re in the voice of someone who has interviewed (or has access to interviews) of the Five. But it raises more questions; if this was being written by Charles or some part of the Krakoan hierarchy, they wouldn’t need to test if the Five were acting under duress. But who else would have access to them, so that they could perform such tests?
Given how personal, how individual the infographics became in HoX #4, how much can we trust? We know they’re subjective, not objective, now, no matter how objectively they frame themselves. The one thing that especially strikes me as manipulative is the distinction made between “celebrity” and “cultural paragons.” They’re framed as opposed, but there’s no necessary opposition between the two definitions. It’s just a manipulative, rhetorical reframing.
CE: It seems to emphasize that whether you are “a mutant” is possibly more important than what you do, at least in the framing of this note.
The mention of mutant missing persons investigation followed by FORCE conventions makes me think that this will likely be the mandate followed by the group in the upcoming book X-Force. Also, we get some extreme foreshadowing regarding possible duplicates in the future.
RS: You would think that the UN, just given the dangers of existing in the Marvel universe, would invest in telepathic defenses of some kind, or power dampeners. Just recently in X-Men: Red, Jean was framed for the murder of a UN official after a meeting. It’s also wild to me that Professor X is allowed to walk around in his Ultra-Power-Enhancing hat. How does anyone in the world believe that Professor X didn’t influence the outcome?
CE: I wonder how much Charles uses his powers to sort of “set a mood” around suspicion, etc. I love Emma’s subtlety with regards to using her powers. She didn’t make everyone vote “yes”, or even make people switch their votes. She made someone who was likely going to vote “no” simply abstain. That’s fantastic character work.
RS: Prof X’s phrasing here is odd. “Indelible” just means “unremovable,” but the phrase “indelible mark” is almost exclusively used to refer to the effects of religious sacraments on an individual’s soul. Also, the combination of Charles’ goofy hat with his ultra-fancy suit is incredible.
CE: I like seeing Beast in this role, as he often plays the somewhat likeable academic. Also, I’m not sure if Charles is referring to anything in particular as far as Emma’s sacrifice, other than possibly a sense of wrong-doing. However, his last statement regarding “much bolder things” seems to set up Emma’s upcoming role in Marauders, if not just something further in this story.
RS: I think we’re supposed to see a visual parallel between this graphic and the one in HoX #1 of the Omega level mutants; once again we have a chart of allegiances with a single space marked in red against black. It’s still not clear what that means, if it means absolutely anything other than “this thing is being given emphasis.”
CE: I don’t feel like it’s something sinister [Ed. note: We gotta start avoiding that word]. Wakanda has been friendly to mutants quite often. However, we do get the phrasing of the rejectors being “naturally adversarial” so we shall see. I’m curious if we’re going to get any specific reasons regarding why these countries decided to reject. Ideological and political seem distinct but can often be very intertwined.
So we also have to bring up these fictional countries. Madripoor is an island located southwest of Singapore, and it tends to be Marvel’s place for unbridled crime mixed with business deals. Wolverine spends a ton of time there. I suspect they don’t want to deal with Krakoa because mutantkind is giving these drugs for free. Latveria is the Eastern European country ruled by Victor Von Doom, also known as Dr. Doom, the classic Marvel villain. Given his proud nature, I’m not shocked that he doesn’t want to deal with Krakoa.
Santo Marco has had a long history with the X-Men, as several of their presidents have had anti-mutant policies. Terra Verde is a country that was briefly taken over by the Fantastic Four villain known as Diablo.
Canaan is a country bordering Wakanda who had a corrupt leader known as Moses Magnum. It was freed however, and I guess seems pretty good now with Wakanda as a protector. Azania is another nation bordering Wakanda that was a metephor for apartheid. They had a superhero team called the Supremacists, in case you needed subtlety. Glad to know things are better there now with the help of Wakanda.
CE: Logan acting as the constable here is a pretty great character moment, as we seem to bring up often in this miniseries. When Magneto talks about people being “beyond saving,” he is referring to himself, who has done good and also bad things pretty definitively. Some X-Men villains have really only kind of done bad things so, I suppose we’re really counting on some improvements.
CE: Tons of villains! We in the first panel from left to right — Wildside, Random, Mister Sinister, Lady Mastermind, Mesmero, Super Sabre, and Animax.
In the second panel we have — Sebastian Shaw, Selene, Emplate, Exodus, The Gorgon, and Calisto.
Then of course, En Sabah Nur himself — Apocalypse.
RS: A flock of doves descends upon Apocalypse. Visually, I’m reminded of depictions of Heaven, particularly Gustave Doré’s depiction of Dante’s vision of Heaven, where Paradise becomes a swirl of wings and light. Thematically, the dove is associated in Christianity with the Holy Ghost. A dove descending on Jesus after his baptism is seen as the beginning of his ministry.
Krakoa loves Apocalypse and that is the takeaway here.
CE: Apocalypse speaks of his history with the island, which of course we got a little hint of last issue in Powers of X #4. I’m glad at least Magneto and Wolverine give Apocalypse the business, a little bit. Can’t let him think they approve of everything he’s done in the past.
CE: Apocalypse’s explanation of why Krakoa works for him is very good and believable. They’ve finally proved, through the synthesis of his, Xavier’s, and Magneto’s dream that mutants are the strongest. The pledge that they has to recite ends with “One people. From this day forward,” which really hammers home our theme of mutant unity. We’ll not be fighting against other mutants anymore, as we’re all family. Let’s see how long this lasts.
Also in the fifth panel we see from left to right — Azazel, Masque, Black Tom Cassidy, Lady Mastermind, Frenzy, and Marrow.
CE: More sunrise motif as Apocalypse and Xavier shake hands. If it’s really not clear at this point that this is a new dawn for mutants — here’s more visual metaphor.
CE: Magneto gets the coda, echoing what we’ve heard for the last several pages. Hickman really wants us to get the “one family” notion.
CE: The Krakoan reads: “For the Children” for Powers of X #5.
CE: The Krakoan reads: “I am not ashamed of what I am.” I suspect our last issue of House of X is going to set the stage going forward, with the above as its mission statement. [Ed. note: Mutant and proud!]
CE: Well, I went into this issue wondering what would make it worthy of the HoXPoX red highlight and boy could I have never guessed. The events of this issue are going to color X-Men narratives going forward but, in a way that I feel like won’t be exploited for bad stories. I like that the revolving door of comic book death has been drawn out to its final conclusion, and I enjoyed the way that was devised to explain it. This gives non-combat mutants a chance to shine in a story, which is a perennial problem in superhero comics. Also, on a sillier note, this is the comic that made it canon that Goldballs shoots eggs, and no one can take that away from me.
RS: Already we’re seeing the changes that the shifts in this issue are having on the X-Line. The kinds of stories the line can tell are shifting; now that individual survival itself is not the central problem these characters have to face, X-Stories are finally going to engage with the political, social, and cultural issues which Grant Morrison primed the X-Men to tackle over 15 years ago. The characters at the center of those stories are shifting too. We have a line where anyone from Cypher to Goldballs can become the most important character in the mythos. This issue leaves me with two things: 1. A general excitement for not just HoXPoX but everything we’re getting after, and 2. A lingering question: if those are all the villains, where is our favorite TS Eliot-lovin’ mustache-growin’ Blob??
Robert Secundus is an amateur-angelologist-for-hire
Zachary Jenkins runs the Xavier Files Media Empire and is a co-host on the podcast Battle of the Atom. Shocking everyone, he has a full and vibrant life outside of X-Men.