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 #3, and read along! (You can find the first three annotations here).
In House Of X #3 by Johnathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, and Marte Gracia, Cyclops leads a team of X-Men on a suicide mission to stop the activation of Mothermold. The ORCHIS scientists respond by blowing up the X-Men’s spaceship. Meanwhile, Emma Frost comes to Sabretooth’s defence during his tribunal.
Chris Eddleman: It’s time for our double dose of House of X, starting with House of X #3. Two issues ago, we were about ready to join Cyclops on a mission to the sun, which is what I assume we’re going to find in this issue. It’s interesting; in some ways we’re going to be picking up on a story that was really last talked about in House of X #1, given that #2 was our earth-shattering Moira reveal. I said in last week’s installment that I miss our usual X-Men, so let’s get into it right now. I hope they all … survive the experience.
Robert Secundas: I know that this is going to be an action-oriented issue, but my one hope for it, given that skip in #2 you mentioned, is that we get some progress on the nation-building stuff we saw in #1, and maybe start so see some strong connections drawn between the unification of mutants under the Nation of Krakoa in HoX and the transhuman ascension stuff in PoX.
[Ed. note: I continue to be excited to make goofs while these two do the hard work.]
CE: This epigraph “You make me so proud” sounds like (and you all may pelt tomatoes) an epitaph. I felt ill-at-ease right from this moment in the text. It’s quite creepy.
RS: Before HoXPoX, the last time we saw Professor X and Cyclops together, Dark Cyclops Phoenix murdered the man. The last time we saw X he manipulated the living original X-Men into killing an enemy of his and then wiped their minds. The radical shift here is just — it’s not right. [Ed. note: Matthew Rosenberg, the writer of that series, has said the plotline involving X was dropped, but something uncomfortable is totally going on here.]
RS: The title here is a quotation from Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1, as the titular king urges his troops on:
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
CE: We get in the codes in the bottom right corner “The House of Xavier and the Eternal War of Man.” This of course harkens to the nature of the mutant conflict with man as neverending, or possibly even the nature of Moira’s very long set of lives.
RS: I’m going to take a stab at what the title’s doing here. Henry V is probably the foundational war story written in Modern English, largely for the titular King’s martial speeches. Even if you’ve never read or scene the play, you’ve probably heard portions of it if you’ve been exposed at all to pop culture. Everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Blackadder has used it; Band of Brothers takes its title from Henry’s most famous speech, the St. Crispin’s Day speech. It’s a bit odd that the title of the issue didn’t also pull from St. Crispin’s; in that speech Henry urges his troops on to a suicide mission by claiming that they will achieve a kind of immortality, just like Magneto in the previous scene. So then, why use this particular quotation?
I think what’s lacking in St. Crispin’s, or in most other famous martial speeches, but present here is the “once more” — the notion of recurrence. This is a conflict Moira has faced before. She may face it again.
RS: Chris, I don’t know about you, but I was intensely creeped out by this scene. Cyclops doesn’t sound like a loyal soldier in that opening panel — he sounds like he’s a member of a death cult. Prof X calling him “my son” bothers me almost as much as his smile, as his stance in the second panel, which are both just a smidge fey, just a smidge… Sinister. What I’m saying is we don’t know if there’s a diamond under that helmet. We know Mr. Sinister is important to at least one version of the nation of Krakoa, in Moira IX’s timeline, and he hasn’t yet appeared in HoX.
CE: This is very culty language. I don’t know if I necessarily buy that he is Sinister but this seems paternalistic even for Charles Xavier. Not to mention we have the somewhat fundamentalist sounding language of Magneto, proclaiming the eternal life of Cyclops by his deeds. This also echoes back to Cyclops’s last death, and the facade that Emma Frost put on. When she explained herself she said “ideas never die.”
RS: Over on Twitter, Jonathan Olson caught something neat: Magneto’s ideas here mirror Achilles’ musings on mortality in Book IX of the Iliad (and we’ll be seeing Achilles again shortly):
My mother-queen, fam’d for her silver feet,
Told me two fates about my death in my direction meet:
The one, that, if I here remain t’ assist our victory,
My safe return shall never live, my fame shall never die;
If my return obtain success, much of my fame decays,
But death shall linger his approach, and I live many days.
[Ed. note: From Chapman, IX.396-401]
RS: This would be the second time Cyclops was a nation’s founder; in the Matt Fraction Era of X-Men, Scott established the mutant nation of Utopia on the fallen Asteroid M, off the coast of San Francisco. Of course, that was an exponentially smaller endeavor; closer to the Principality of Sealand than it was to Krakoa.
CE: This could also harken back to the somewhat discarded idea of Nation X that Hickman barely touched on in the lead up to Secret Wars (2015).
RS: This is an interesting (but odd) strikeforce. Remember, Cyclops just described them as “Good mutants” who “embrace” the fact that they might here die for Krakoa, and the last time we saw Mystique, she wasn’t exactly a true believer. Also, what is Angel going to do, awkwardly flap through tight corridors? [Ed. note: Warren Kenneth Worthington III is doing his best!]
CE: Hey, at least he’s in Archangel form. If he was simply Angel, he’d have to pack his bazooka to space. In case anyone isn’t aware of the full team (since they aren’t all mentioned by name), we have: Cyclops, Wolverine, Husk, Archangel, M, Marvel Girl, Nightcrawler, and Mystique. M and Husk are slightly lesser known, so I’m going to give a quick rundown.
Husk is Paige Guthrie, a founding member of Generation X with the incredibly gross ability to change the composition of her next layer of skin, which means she’s often shedding skin. We haven’t seen her for the most part since Wolverine and the X-Men with the exception of some time in Generation X from a couple years ago. She hasn’t had the best time recently, so I’m glad to see her on a team. [Ed. note: She joined SHIELD for a hot second too.]
M is Monet St. Croix, another Generation X member. Monet is cool and capable, and also has so many mutant powers it’s incredible. She’s basically like Superman in a lot of ways. She’s a really good pick to go fight robots near the sun. [Ed. note: The Monet we originally met in Generation X was actually her twin sisters merged together pretending to be Monet.]
This page also sets up the conceit that they won’t be able to take a Krakoa gateway home, and will thus need to use their cool spaceship. That will be interesting later.
CE: The dialogue here talks a lot about the ethics of performing a covert military-style operation while there are possible lives at stake. The X-Men aren’t really killers per say, but Wolverine is, as usual, not quite as hung up on it. He has a point though, scientists can and are just as complicit in moral failings as the idea makers. It’s hard to argue that you’re just scared, and also engineering a giant AI death weapon.
RS: Some foreshadowing here — I highly doubt Monet would talk like this unless later on Mutants discovered that there was something more to Krakoa.
CE: Wolverine completes my thoughts. Science is not always morally correct or a simple solution to everything. Every vaccine discovery can be followed up with a terrible painkiller, and even climate change was caused by new technologies. Simply put: Wolverine was right … this time. [Ed. note: To be clear, the writers of this article do support vaccination and hate that we have to point that out.]
We get the cool visual of blasting off from the moon. As you remember, the X-Men planted a gateway on the moon back in House of X #1. Realistically, it’s way easier to launch a ship from the moon compared to Earth due to the low gravity and thin atmosphere, so good job team.
RS: That gateway is specifically on “The Blue Area of the Moon,” a weird corner of the Marvel universe. It features an artificial atmosphere created by the Skrulls aeons ago and an abandoned city built by Kree. This area is most strongly associated with the Inhumans, who set up shop there for a while, and the Watcher, who witnessed all of Earth’s Significant Moments from the area. [Ed. note: It’s also where the climax of The Dark Phoenix Saga takes place.]
CE: We get a neat infographic showing the progression of Sentinels all the way up to Nimrod. Of note, the Alpha Sentinels are said to be Mark I- Mark VIII. We have seen higher numbered Sentinel numbers in the past but I doubt actually means anything here. We get to see how Omega Sentinel’s creation in some ways leads to the creation of Nimrod. Nano Sentinels were also used back in Grant Morrison’s run as an incredibly adaptive flu by villain Cassandra Nova. [Ed. note: One important note, the Nimrod that appeared in X-Books before this series was sent back in time from The Days Of Future Past universe. There has not been a Nimrod created in Earth-616.]
RS: HoX #1 placed heavy emphasis on Omega Mutants in its charts, and this issue places heavy emphasis on Omega Sentinels. I think we’re supposed to see them in parallel, which makes Nimrod especially scary, because he is one move beyond Omega.
RS: Alright, well I think it’s safe to say that my theory last time, that the infographics so far were Moira IX processing the stolen information, has been disproven by this page. There’s no new information here — it just makes explicit a lot that we’ve been left to put together ourselves; for example, that the Dyson Sphere that we saw on the page was the Dyson Sphere we saw in Avengers, and that info on that facility was specifically why the X-Men broke into Damage Control.
CE: I think a lot of people are going to have some theories crushed learning that the object stolen from Damage Control was Sol’s Hammer but it honestly made the most story sense. Anything else would have possibly been superfluous. Of interest to me though, Rob, is that while this mentions Moira in the context of having been around recently, since Secret Wars (2015) but prior to now, she is still nowhere to be seen in X1. I suspect we’ll find out why sooner rather than later.
RS: Other things to note: the arrows pointing down each time are diamonds, the symbol associated with Mr. Sinister previously in the infographics Also, Mutants are closely associated with technology here — Moira and Xavier are working with “several mutant technopaths” to create a program which, given its requirements, may very well rely on Artificial Intelligence. Keep in mind HoX #1’s most striking image, which recurs in this issue: Charles Xavier masked by a machine.
RS: It is tempting fate to name your prison after Achilles, the Homeric hero most known today for having one weak spot. Note the code at the bottom of the page: Three mutant guests at the facility.
CE: Ooh what a good catch. We also see the incoming one mutant. That either means our inmate or, well, we’ll see. I liked that unlike all the indefinite detention facilities with no judiciary oversight that we seem to get in most superhero media, these folks get a trial!
CE: At first I thought there were some slightly more sinister connotations regarding the defense attorney’s motion to dismiss but it’s honestly just a hail mary play. [Ed. note: The Attorney General in this case is named Tolliver, which is the same last name Cable’s son assumed when pretending to be a gangster. It is the name he used to hire Deadpool in his first appearance. This seems to be a coincidence.]
CE: Hey Rob do you remember how we seem to constantly be talking about lots of characters getting an iconic moment in HoXPoX? I feel like this is Sabretooth’s. Unpleasant, towering, and unafraid.
RS: I do not care for Sabretooth, but I can see, in this panel, his appeal as a villain.
RS: I guess Project Achilles’ heel was … international diplomacy?
CE: The Lethal Weapon 2 problem. I also wanted to point out that this is a fantastic setup for the entrance of Sabretooth’s savior- Emma Frost. [Ed. note: Hail to the Queen, baby!]
RS: And this opening panel is another iconic moment. That panel, even without the dialogue, tells you everything you need to know about Emma. The sheer power, disdain, grace, etc etc. Also, it finally looks like we’re getting a Frost wardrobe that’s actually fashionable.
RS: “White Queen” being Emma’s “mutant name” is real, real weird for two reasons. First of all, in X-Men Black: Emma Frost she became the Black King. Second of all, and more importantly, “White Queen” is the name of a position. It’d be like Iceman insisting that his mutant name was “Accountant” or Havok that his mutant name was “Grad Student.” [Ed. note: Oddly enough the mutant Lifeguard was, in fact, a lifeguard.]
CE: Emma is either White Queen or Emma Frost in basically all of her appearances so it’s really one or the other, right? The Cuckoos accompanying Emma could honestly be any of the five. The Cuckoos, for those who don’t know, are specifically cloned from Emma, and usually don’t call her “Mum.” [Ed. note: It’s actually interesting to note that they often have a fraught relationship with Emma. Like most teens, they don’t always get along with their mom.]
CE: So we learn that absolutely for certain, the US State Department is completely complying with Krakoa’s wishes. I suppose those miracle pharmaceuticals were enough to sway the government. Emma adding a lot of salt to the wound is very Emma, and I think this bit of dialogue is great. It’s interesting to see all of the mutants in agreement. The theme of transcending human judgement and authority abounds in House of X.
CE: Emma’s cool and collected attitude continues. At first, I thought it was odd to pick her to be a lawyer surrogate in this scene but, then I really thought about it. Emma’s role was simply to dominate, and in this case without even using her powers (or so we assume if she’s telling the truth, and she has no reason not to).
Emma’s reference to Brave New World, with its hierarchical system and miracle drugs, is a pretty apt one. In Huxley’s book, society is stratified even prior to birth, with high ranking people being called “Alphas” and the lowest of the low being “Epsilons.” Emma seems to be using it slightly as a taunt, implying humans are low-class. As far as miracle drugs, Huxley’s society keeps people placated with varieties of hallucinogens and other drugs, not unlike the gifts that Krakoa provides. [Ed. note: Huxley’s work was extremely influential on Age of X-Man, which is now (mostly) out in trade, and which everyone should read!]
RS: With respect to Emma’s role here, I love her for it, because she’s probably the single character in X-Men with the most experience with ordinary, human institutions, both working with them and bending them to her will. She’s a member of a wealthy Billionare’s Club, and she runs a school. This is just an exponential escalation of that part of her life.
CE: A few things with this chart. First of all, this cycle looks like the symbol Omega, which is rad. Also, the fact that it’s a cycle makes me quite concerned. That seems to imply that after the Total Machine State, the cycle somehow gets restarted. This reminds me strongly of parasitic or viral cycles, which makes me wonder if the Nano-Sentinels are infectious by a fully Omega’d person. Obviously we don’t know this for sure, but it’s a possibility.
RS: That would mean that the “machine state” of an Omega Sentinel leads eventually to the very different kind of machine “state” that we see in X2.
CE: We should probably talk a little bit about Prime and Omega Sentinels, which debuted back in the crossover Operation: Zero Tolerance. In this story, Bastion created them by filling unsuspecting people with nanotech implants, making ordinary people into sleeper agents. Karima was one of these individuals, but she was eventually able to fight her programming and even have it apparently deactivated (until now I suppose). Given this cycle, I suspect during Operation: Zero Tolerance she was in the Union stage, while now she is either Adaptation or Omega stage. [Ed. note: Fun fact about Bastion, he is actually the combination of the original Master Mold and the Nimrod from Days Of Future Past after they got thrown into a magic mirror called the Siege Perilous.]
“...it’s hard not to see this entire planetary system covered in cold, emotionless gray — with not a single pink fleshy bit in sight. After all, they know where mutants come from.”
CE: This line echoes a couple of things. First of all, we’re back on our “grey goo” stuff, with the distinct possibility of nanotech gone wild. See two articles ago for more talk on that terrifying apocalyptic scenario. Also, while Omega Sentinel is implying that machines would kill humans, as mutants are born from them, this line also echoes an old story. Back in the Roy Thomas and Neal Adams days, there was a Sentinel story where Cyclops convinced Sentinels that the source of mutation was radiation, specifically from the sun. This caused the Sentinels to attempt to fight the sun itself. Orchis’s fail safe is reminiscent.
RS: That’s X-Men #59, and between the protocols and the dialogue, there is no way Hickman isn’t winking at that old story, which I love, because that story is delightful. [Ed. note: This is Claremont’s first X-Men credit. He helped Roy resolve the story by suggesting the Sentinels go fight the sun.]
RS: The “Heller-Faust line” isn’t a term (that I’m aware of) in the study of Artificial Intelligence today; given the context, I think it’s named for Joseph Heller and the tragic character Faust[us]. Joseph Heller wrote the World War II comedy Catch 22, in which a great deal of the jokes concern characters caught in situations that are, well, what we’d call Catch 22s. Faust sold his soul to the devil so he could see a pretty lady and pray pranks on the pope. In most versions (though not Goethe’s) of the story, his life ends when Mephistopheles drags him to Hell.
The idea here is that there’s a certain point at which an AI so transcends humanity that it becomes a danger to it. Creating an AI to solve your problems then may be a Catch 22, because it will stop whatever is coming to kill humanity, and then kill humanity itself. It may be a Faustian Bargain, because humanity will accomplish what it wants for a little while, but then will be damned anyway.
CE: Yeah in the context of this story, I think it specifically means “the point to which we start to risk Nimrods.” Because do you want Nimrods? Crossing this line is how we get Nimrods.
RS: I just want to note that I love that the AIM guys still insist on wearing their old beekeeper uniforms, even though AIM-the-supervillain-organization is very dead.
CE: You know, having a common uniform can really make people feel like part of a team, Rob.
RS: The language throughout these scenes is also extremely creepy. “Protect the Mother.” These folks are also in a death cult. And the story doesn’t just invite us to draw parallels between the factions in this conflict, but between this story and that we saw in PoX #3. Remember, Moira IX was Mother Akkaba, was also lying dormant, and was learning information; the X-Men of X2 were, just like the X-Men of X1, infiltrating the Human-Machine alliance on a suicide mission.
CE: What struck me in this page, and the rest of the story that follows, was how completely taken by surprise the humans are. Usually it seems like the opponents to the X-Men are always incredibly prepared and several steps ahead of our mutant heroes. With the added knowledge of Moira’s ninth life, along with the Sleeping Giant protocol, the X-Men have turned the tables. They have the jump on their opponents, who are completely terrified.
RS: “It’s just a little fight for the survival of our species.” That could be a line from any of the X-Men. Of course, that’s often how the ideology and rhetoric of genocidal bigots works; people frame themselves as the oppressed, as the victims, even as they ready themselves to commit atrocities. And then their followers die for them.
CE: I completely agree, Rob. However, I need to gush about how fantastic the drone robots working on Mercury are. Larraz and Gracia have outdone themselves. These motley construction-looking Sentinels remind me so heavily of a Transformers Combiner team that I nearly had to look up for myself if it was modeled after anything in particular. I mean, one of them has one arm and a drill for a head. Phenomenal.
“And don’t be so itchy Fräulein, I’ll be right back.”
CE: Love Kurt’s line here. He gets a fun opportunity to be the devil-may-care swashbuckler that we love, as he teleports into a space station he’s never been to through the depths of space.
RS: The chilling thing to me in this scene is that I have no idea how far gone Karima is. I don’t know if what we’re seeing here is a former X-Man that chose to become monstrously evil because her feelings were hurt by not being welcomed into mutant society — or if the sentinels really have taken over, and these flashes are human personality are just ghosts in her machines.
CE: I think she’s pretty far gone, but not necessarily by her own choice. It’s interesting here, the “picking sides” line. Xavier’s dream has been traditionally assimilationist, or possibly more apt to say a dream of co-existence. This new paradigm has laid the battle lines. Karima’s rhetoric also reminds me of the archetypal moderate in issues of oppression. Always saying that they haven’t picked a side, but all too willing to back up the status quo when the fighting starts.
RS: We talked about “Erasmus” waaay back in the first HoXPoXToX! All the Orchis folks seem to be named for famous scientists.
CE: Karima reminding Mendel of Nightcrawler’s name really makes me start to reconsider my note from the last page but, I’m not truly convinced.
RS: Kurt, at least, seems to have made up his mind about Karima. She’s not Karima Shapandar to him anymore — she’s “an Omega Sentinel.”
CE: This contrasts her assertion of his name. Really interesting writing. Also, we get some truly space opera style X-Men here, complete with a boarding action!
RS: This scene is a cliche — the Big Damn Heroes moment, the heroic sacrifice, the manly man tellin’ his lady that he loves her, even bringing up kids. Erasmus is playing a certain role, because, again, this is how these kinds of monstrous ideologies work. They tell people a story, they let people, even while committing horrible evil, see themselves as epic heroes.
CE: Hickman made me pretty mad here. How dare he make me sympathize with this monstrous racist. It harkens back to Jean’s dialogue from earlier in the issue about how the humans are only terrified of their own end.
CE: If I had a nickel for every time the X-Men’s vehicle exploded, I could afford all these extra-sized issues. It will be interesting to see how they make it out of this one, with the important caveat that if they do — they no longer have a ride home. This could possibly be a time to reintroduce our pod people from way back in House of X #1 as expendable crew but, we’ll have to see.
CE: Magneto gets the coda, with his line from before Cyclops left Krakoa. This definitely seems to strongly hint that this is not the last of our crew.
RS: First of all, “autocthonous” is a fancy of saying “indigenous language.” I really like this word though, because of its etymology; taken literally, an “autocthonous language” is a language that rises up itself out of the Earth. I’ve also seen “cthonic,” when applied to language, used to describe the kind of language without words, really, the pre-language that we all have, that uses our voice to directly convey emotions via wailing, laughter, sighs, etc. This mutant language is also “manufactured” and not indigenous to the land of Krakoa, so by its nature fails at what it set out to accomplish.
CE: I think it’s trying to imply a language that isn’t foisted upon mutants by the oppressive people around them. Mutants are odd sociologically, since they are a unique built-in diaspora that has to come together, rather than a diaspora that was once together and now apart.
RS: Ah, I see. That makes a lot of sense! Now let’s talk about Cypher, Doug Ramsay, for a moment, because he seems to be increasingly framed as vital to this story. HoXPoX so far has emphasized two aspects of Doug’s nature and history. First of all, let’s think about his powerset. This page positions him as unique among not only all mutants but all humans on Earth. Even Reed Richards can not comprehend Krakoa. Only Cypher is capable. The language used here is comparable to that in the Omega Mutant infographic in HoX #1. In a story about the importance of culture, and in a story that continually plays with the Babel legend, Cypher’s linguopathy becomes a key tool for both moving narrative and thematic threads forward.
Further, Cypher has a history of merging with things. He and Warlock [Ed. note: A Technarch, mind you.], would routinely merge in New Mutants. Later, Warlock adopted the amalgamated character of Douglock. Cypher may be the first humanoid on Earth to experience the technological uplifting we’ve seen in the later timelines of PoX.
In HoX #1, we saw that Doug’s arm was again infected with the techno-organic virus. But Doug has experienced a different sort of ascension as well. In X2, he merged not with technology but with the organic island of Krakoa. If we can take Wolverine’s comments to Dougkoa seriously, they imply that this being has retained not only Cypher’s powers, but also some measure of his personhood. There may be a connection between these two threads, but to establish it we’ll have to wait to see more of what HoXPoX makes of the nature of language.
CE: I love the details of a language so secret and strange that it has to be jammed into your brain. Also, the fact that only Doug can speak to the island Krakoa gives them an incredibly unique bond as you allude to above. I also feel like by the end of this, we’ll all just be fully able to read and understand Krakoan. [Ed. note: Props to Hickman for taking a character whose “uselessness” was the butt of a joke on Archer and making him essential.]
RS: Krakoan reads: It will be done.
RS: Krakoan reads: Something sinister. Hmmm. Wonder what that could mean.
CE: This would be for Powers of X, which has maybe mentioned a certain mad biologist (not me!) who has a name like that. I guess we’ll have to see. [Ed. note: The last time Hickman wrote Mister Sinister he was glam and sassy and incredible, so this should excite everyone.]
CE: Rob, this issue is probably the most decompressed. That being said, I’m still having a great deal of fun with it. We get some really great character moments from Emma, Sabretooth, and Nightcrawler that made this a really excellent read. I would have liked to have seen more meat in this particular issue, but it’s hard to complain when Larraz and Gracia are giving us gorgeous pictures all the way through. I was distressed by, but liked, the way Hickman made us empathize with the genocidal humans, if even for a moment. I don’t know about you, but this issue makes me glad we’re here for weekly installments because I don’t know if I could wait much longer to see the fate of my beloved mutants.
RS: Absolutely. Even though it’s a far more mundane cliffhanger than usual (as you noted before, the Blackbird explodes a lot), if I had to wait for a month for the next installment, my anxious pacing would carve a line through the Earth. I have to say, it is very, very weird that the two issues which gave the plot room to breathe were the action sequences. Still, it did find time to build on HoX #1 in the way I wanted; we saw not only a bit more about Krakoa’s place in the world, but also about how the humans in this plot have been radicalized.