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Powers of X #1 writes the X-Men a new history in an absolutely unexpected way

The X-Men go full galaxy brain

The mutant soldier Rasputin, wielding a massive energy sword, front and center on the cover of Powers of X #1, Marvel Comics (2019). R.B. Silva, Marte Gracia/Marvel Comics
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Last week gave comic readers their first look at Professor X’s wild new plan for a mutant homeland in House of X, with the kickoff of Marvel Comics and Jonathan Hickman’s expansive X-Men relaunch. From what we learn in #1, Xavier is building a place for every mutant to live on the sentient island (and former X-Men villain) Krakoa.

This week, we’ve got our first look at Powers of X, House of X’s sister series, and we can tell you two things for sure: First, there’s actually a good explanation for why the book’s title is pronounced “Powers of Ten.”

And second, Powers of X #1 takes the weird ominousness of House of X #1 and dials it up by an order of magnitude. It’s the wildest comic I’ve read in months.

[Ed. note: The rest of this post contains spoilers for Powers of X.]

Nimrod and Omega Sentinel, two advanced Sentinel versions, in the potential future Human-Machine-Mutant War 100 years after our present, in Powers of X #1, Marvel Comics (2019). Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva/Marvel Comics

Marvel billed Powers of X as being about “the secret past, present and future of mutantkind,” and the first page of the first issue of the six-issue miniseries — which intercuts its storyline with House of X, as if the two were a single 12-issue weekly miniseries — shows the four time periods it will touch on, and refers to them exponentiation. Powers of X... is math.

X⁰ is Year Zero, a period in which Professor X was just beginning to conceive of the X-Men. X¹ is Year 10, in the present time of the Marvel Comics Universe. X² is 100 years after that. And finally, X³ is 1,000 years after that.

The year dates increase by a power of ten each time, get it?

But while Powers of X #1 touches on both the X⁰ past and and X¹ present of the X-Men, it’s predominantly about a period one hundred years in the future, in which mutants fight a desperate war against the Man-Machine Supremacy, an alliance between humans and sentient Sentinel robots.

Wrap your brain around that fast, because writer Jonathan Hickman and artist R.B. Silva throw a lot at the wall as they explain the hundred years of mutant history leading up to the human-machine-mutant war. Just like in House of X #1, Powers of X #1 includes text documents that reveal further details on this weird new future, and from those documents and the comic’s pages we can piece together a sequence of events.

A Human-Machine-Mutant War

At some point in the future, according to Powers of X #1, mutants established a foothold on Mars. At some point after that, most of mutantkind’s “senior leaders” died or disappeared. And during that period of leadership vacuum, the remaining mutant leadership endorsed the creation of “breeding pits” run by Mister Sinister on Mars to stave off mutant extinction.

If you’ve read any X-Men comic with Mister Sinister in it, you know that this was a big mistake.

Sinister’s pits were in an arms race with the Sentinels’ Hounds, or, mutants brainwashed into hunting down other mutants. Hounds were first introduced in the legendary X-Men story arc Days of Future Past, in which they were a major tool of humanity’s oppression of mutants in a dark future timeline. But in Powers of X, Hounds aren’t simply brainwashed mutants, but mutants genetically engineered for useful mutations.

The mutant soldier Rasputin, wielding a massive energy sword, front and center on the cover of Powers of X #1, Marvel Comics (2019).
Genetically engineered to have five different X-genes, Rasputin is front and center on the cover of Powers of X #1.
Image:R.B. Silva, Marte Gracia/Marvel Comics

Mister Sinister, a habitual genetic manipulator, started his own production of an eventual four generations of genetically engineered mutant soldiers from Mars. His first copied the X-genes of existing mutants, while the second produced soldiers with two X-genes, and the third generation could have up to five in combination.

But, naturally, Sinister eventually betrayed mutantkind. His fourth generation of mutants ... *checks notes* ... formed a hivemind, destroyed 40 percent of the mutant population, and then “committed mass suicide, collapsing Mars, the Sinister pits and themselves into a self-singularity.”

One hundred years after our present day, mutants are in a bloody war against the Man-Machine Supremacy. The mere ten thousands mutants still living mostly eke out an existence as refugees and soldiers in the interstellar Shi’ar Empire.

The foot soldiers of the war seem to be largely composed of genetically engineered mutants, humans, and advanced Sentinels. Powers of X #1 introduces Rasputin, a woman with the telepathy of Quentin Quire, the metal skin of Colossus, the forcefield shield of Unus the Untouchable, the intangibility of Kitty Pryde, and the healing factor of Laura Kinney.

It seems that a few familiar characters — Magneto, Xorn, Wolverine, and Black Tom Cassidy — are still alive, at least in some incarnation. Meanwhile, advanced Sentinel prototypes like Nimrod and Omega Sentinel Karima Shapandar — a human police officer transformed into an immortal cyborg Sentinel by nanotechnology — run the Man-Machine Supremacy on Earth.

LTR Magneto, Xorn, Wolverine, and Black Tom Cassidy (at least, potentially) in Powers of X #1, Marvel Comics (2019). Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva/Marvel Comics

Days of Future Squared

In a continuity fairly littered with potential future timelines, Hickman and Silva have put an incredibly impressive foot forwards. Powers of X combines old characters with none too few galaxy-brain concepts — exactly the way superhero comics should.

The issue closes with some new characters from the Year 1,000 mark reflecting on the pointlessness of the long-finished Human-Machine-Mutant War — although you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out if those characters are humans, machines, or mutants. I’ll just leave you with one final thought:

Were those mutants Professor Xavier watched crawl out of egg pods in House of X #1 genetic copies of the X-Men?

Update: A previous version of this post mis-identified Black Tom Cassidy as Groot and Xorn as “an ethereal entity that looks kinda like Beta Ray Bill.” In my defense, the X-Men are a lot.