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).
Powers Of X #4 opens in X⁰ as Professor Xavier and Magneto enlist Mister Sinister as a sleeper agent to procure samples of all mutant DNA. Little do they know that Sinister has secrets and lies of his own to share. In X¹ we learn the origin of Krakoa, their missing half Arakko, and Apocalypse’s ancient sacrifice to save the world. And in the far future of X³, the Librarian and others unveil their plan to ascend.
Chris Eddleman: Rob, I’m pretty excited about this issue. I’m really interested to see if we’re going to see the fallout of last issue, as Powers tends to touch slightly on current events. Even if it doesn’t, however, we were promised something. Something Sinister. I can’t wait to see Mister Sinister, especially considering how much he’s been alluded to in previous issues, and also especially because Jonathan Hickman writes an amazing Sinister. It’s also been quite some time since we’ve seen our blue friend the Librarian, so it would be great to check in with them as well.
Robert Secundus: Mister Sinister is probably my favorite villain in X-Men, and I have loved the previous few times previously that Hickman has written him. From the first issue I’ve been hoping for him to show up, and now that he’s finally here — well, let’s just jump in and see what delights the fashionable, charming, delectable Sinister has in store for us!
CE: Another Professor X epigraph. He seems to be getting quite a few in this story. The Professor here is alluding to difficult times in mutantkind, and to me seems to be emphasizing the surviving versus thriving nature of mutantkind’s history in the world. Mutants will always have pressing needs in a world that hates and fears them, and as he says — hard choices are ahead. Maybe even in this issue!
RS: The phrasing here is a bit weird. It sounds to me like it’s playing with stock sentiment — beware ambition outweighing ability — but I’m not sure what it’s actually saying. Surviving precedes thriving, but here they coincide before surviving might succeed thriving. It’s odd.
CE: We get our title, which as we know from our cracker-jack Krakoan translation skills, is “Something Sinister.” The code also references Sinister With the Cape, which alludes to something later in this issue. It’s also amazing.
RS: It would be really odd given the series so far — but entirely appropriate for this particular issue — for the code to just reflect a silly goof.
CE: We’re back at X⁰, which does not literally mean taking place in the first year of X-Men. Otherwise I might tear my hair out, because this Xavier suddenly has his X-Men Vol. 2 era hoverchair, while in his previous Powers of X appearance, he was in the classic variety.
Bar Sinister first appeared in Hickman’s Secret Wars (2015) as the domain of Mister Sinister on the patchwork dimension known as Battleworld. This is the first appearance of Bar Sinister in the main Marvel Universe, and it looks like the ruby version of the Emerald City.
RS: Let’s talk about recurring motifs, because that first panel recalls quite a bit of what we’ve seen so far. First of all, this is the third [Ed. note: dope-ass] island we’ve encountered, after Krakoa and Island M, and it’s framed very similarly to our introduction to the latter. Second of all, this is our latest in a long line of towers — from the Tarot card (which warns of doom), to the House of M on Krakoa, to the citadels of Nimrod the Lesser and Nimrod the Greater. All of these are visually extremely similar in design. Finally, we encountered a land of red crystal in HoX #1, in the Jerusalem Habitat.
RS: A minor note: I love how all Sinisters are sassy, but they are divided as to whether sassily praise or condemn capes as a fashion choice.
CE: This Sinister calling Xavier a square and getting wrecked by Magneto is pretty great. I like this duo dynamic between Charles and Erik.
CE: So big reminder, Sinister has a ton of bodies all with some amount of autonomy. This was first established in Kieron Gillen and Co.’s Uncanny X-Men run, and provides for a lot of opportunity in this issue for R.B. Silva to design an absolute mountain of Mister Sinisters. It’s pretty great. Also, Sinister’s love for the cape harkens back to our code in the title page. Sinister here is very into fashion — but that’s pretty much always true. He’s theoretically from Victorian England, but our boy will always be an ’80s glam rocker.
RS: Sinister isn’t just a man. He’s a system.
CE: And you can’t trust the system, Rob.
RS: I really love the last few panels of the previous page, and their conclusion here. It’s grotesque humor/horror; Sinister operates on gloriously, bafflingly Looney Tunes impulses. Throughout this issue he’s hilarious. But we’re only really able to laugh because slapstick violence is contained to this specific isle and these interchangeable copies. When Sinister reappears, it promises to be tense, because these scenes have already established for us how capricious and how brutal he can be.
CE: “Oh we have our ways.”
Those ways of course, being Moira MacTaggert.
CE: To me, library as a term in HoxPox immediately brings me back to X³, which is where our blue pal the Librarian lives. It makes me wonder if this Sinister library is connected in any way. However, Sinister building libraries of genetic material is really classic Sinister, and has happened in tons of stories. It’s interesting to see his disdain for the mutant gene here, considering how obsessed Sinister becomes with the Summers-Grey bloodline for the purpose of making Cable. [Ed. note: Historically, Sinister has not possessed an X-Gene. Even here, the X-Gene isn’t really his.]
RS: Building on your first point: the Mutant Library of X² was its strongest connection to X³, and we know that Sinister had access to a genetic databank before he betrayed Mutantkind. I think it extremely likely (though not yet confirmed) that the far-future Librarian and his library are both the result of what we see here. On your second: Most recently, in The Hunt for Wolverine: The Adamantium Agenda, Sinister was revealed to have catalogued the DNA sequences of all homo sapiens on Earth. The absence of mutant genomes in the digital data was explicitly noted as odd.
CE: Ah! There’s our favorite incarnation of Sinister — with the cape! This is apparently the mutant version of Sinister, aka something we never knew before. Given the nature of Mister Sinister, it’s unclear if this is the version that has been seen throughout most of Marvel history but, I would assume so. Also, Xavier’s plan here is very sneaky but allows for a pretty easy retcon.
RS: He’s certainly coded as the version we’ve primarily seen, as the ribbon-cape and diamond-halo match his standard 616 costume. Now, we’re assuming that X⁰ as we see it is unfolding in Moira X’s lifetime, right? With respect to Xavier’s plan, it is interesting that, given Moira IX’s knowledge of Sinister’s treachery, they’re proceeding with his assistance anyway.
CE: I’m guessing they’re really banking on the brainwashing plan.
RS: Oh, and the comedic pacing of these pages is delightful, as is the third panel here, which almost seems to break the fourth wall.
CE: Okay, this is going to be time for wild, and I must repeat — WILD speculation, much like Sinister is likely doing in his gossip column. Before we address these secrets, it’s important to note the code says “Lies” so it might all be completely wrong!
Sinister Secret 1
CE: This one is completely baffling. Red shoes could be a reference to Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz but honestly, this one is escaping me.
RS: “The Red Shoes” is the name of a fairy tale that I think Sinister would adore; it concerns a woman who refuses to take off her excellent heels and so is cursed by an angel to endlessly cut a rug. What relevance that could have to this issue, other than its relevance to Sinister’s own flare, I do not know.
Sinister Secret 2
CE: This is a reference to Jumbo Carnation, the mutant fashion designer who appeared New X-Men #134, tragically dying from a Kick overdose while being attacked by humans. His “return” could be in the form of mutant fashion taking off but, given how many dead mutants are popping back up, could be literal.
RS: Keep in mind too that “mutant fashion” has been discussed a decent bit by Hickman in interviews.
Sinister Secret 3
CE: This is referencing Madelyne Pryor, the clone of Jean Grey who did make a deal with the demon N’asthirh back in the 80s. As for what she left behind, I suppose we’ll find out. However, she did leave behind her son Cable, who is, in fact, much more than a secret. Or even a pile of them.
RS: There are a couple of versions of her currently running around the 616. We last saw the original, resurrected Pryor swearing to create a Sisterhood of Evil Mutants in X-Men Vol. 4 #12. More recently, a Madelyne Pryor from Battleword briefly mentored the time-displaced Hank McCoy in the art of black magic, in X-Men: Blue. [Ed. note: This was Inferno era Goblin Queen Maddie.]
Sinister Secret 4
CE: This seems to imply something washing up on either Bar Sinister or Krakoa. It’s awfully vague. [Ed. note: I think it’s our X² friends ending up in the main timeline but I have little to no evidence to support that.]
Sinister Secrets Revealed
CE: It’s revealed here that Mutant Sinister got his mutant gene from deceased X-Man John Proudstar, also known as Thunderbird. He first appeared in Giant-Size X-Men #1, and died two issues later (Uncanny X-Men #95). He honestly never got very much to do, and it’s curious when or why Sinister snagged his DNA. His mutant powers were kind of vague, with enhanced strength, senses, and stamina.
Sinister Secret 5
CE: This has got to be the love quadrangle that is Wolverine-Jean-Cyclops-Emma Frost. The hint there is “best there is at what he does.” “Married with a kid” is funny though, considering the only kids Jean has are Cable and Rachel Grey, who are both not really your traditional child situation.
Sinister Secret 6
CE: Progerian is a word used to describe people with a condition of premature aging. That would strongly point to Ernst, a mutant child who resembles an elderly lady. In Spider-Man and the X-Men, Ernst briefly betrayed the X-Men to Sinister to get her friend Martha a new body. [Ed. note: Relevant to note here that Martha is a telepathic brain in a jar.]
RS: If you’ve seen that panel where a pterodactyl tells Spider-Man, “I don’t want to cure cancer. I want to turn people into dinosaurs,” this is that series! It’s only one trade, and worth a read. Just to add a bit to the arc you mention, Chris, Ernst stole and gave Sinister DNA samples of residents of the X-Mansion, which would have massively added to his library.
Sinister Secret 7
CE: The two brothers here are Scott and Alex, the two original summers brothers. Their third brother is Vulcan, who was introduced in X-Men: Deadly Genesis. [Ed. note: The first story to do a major retcon of Krakoa.] However, Mister Sinister himself suggested there was a third Summers Brother in the 90s, and boy was there a lot of speculation. Guesses ranged from Gambit, Mister Sinister, Apocalypse, and the greatest of them all — Adam-X the X-Treme. It’s looking like maybe more brothers are on the way, or Sinister is toying with us again. [Ed. note: For what it’s worth, writer Fabian Nicieza intended Adam-X the X-Treme to be the third Summers brother when he introduced the mystery. While that didn’t fully pan out, several elements from Adam-X the X-Treme’s story were used for Vulcan.]
Sinister Secret 8
CE: This is another reference to Apocalypse and his First Horsemen, seen in these miniseries and Marvel Comics #1000. This seems to imply that these Horsemen are somewhat of a first love for ol’ En Sabah Nur, and that anyone else would get dumped.
Sinister Secret 9
CE: This could mean a bunch of people. Cypher and Warlock have a tight friendship that isn’t a couple. Fireworks definitely seems like a Jubilee thing, and she was rather tight with Synch back in the ’90s. Anyway, this one is a bit vague.
RS: Frankly, this one could go in a ton of directions.
Sinister Secrets Revealed
CE: Inferno is the storyline in the ’80s which involved the X-Men mixing it up with demons from Limbo, along with the Goblyn Queen herself, Madelyne Pryor. Squaring the circle refers to doing the impossible, which makes me think of this whole plan that Moira/Charles/Magneto have been putting together. [Ed. note: Specifically, the demons in Inferno were mixed with the Techno-Organic Virus, similar to the Phalanx.]
RS: Inferno built on YEARS of continuity, and its ramifications were felt for years following. It involved far more than we can cover here. Most importantly for our purposes, it culminated with the revelation of Sinister as the unseen hand which had been manipulating Pryor, the Summers family and, by extension, the X-Men. Also Daredevil fought an evil vacuum cleaner and it was rad.
Sinister Secret 10
CE: This secret seems to imply that the mindwiped mutant version of Sinister was swapped with another version at some point, which means that the plan is likely completely upended. I’m sure this one will come to a conclusion sooner rather than later.
RS: Before we move on, look at the diamond — it’s not quite entirely filled in. It looks to me like a loading bar in a video game, and it’s almost, but not quite done.
CE: “Months ago” definitely seems like an interestingly vague way of talking about this length of time. It’s been six months of time skip for Krakoa to be established as a nation, according to House of X #1 but, this seems to be way before that. It’s great to see Doug here. That poor guy never seems to get to do anything interesting, given that his power is pretty non-combat oriented.
Interestingly, “the Krakoa situation” was referenced in this week’s Invaders #9. If there was any question that Moira’s tenth life wasn’t the Marvel Universe we all know and love, this should put it to rest.
RS: I was a little disappointed to see Doug’s most recent plotline dropped; at the conclusion of the previous volume of Daredevil, he had joined Daredevil’s task force to take down Mayor Kingpin. That kind of story of political and legal intrigue would have given him far more space to shine than most stories about punching evil purple robots. That said, it looks like HoXPoX might actually catapult Doug into being one of the most important X-Men, which to me makes the sacrifice worth it.
Two details are interesting here: Doug already has his transmode arm and Xavier has not yet begun to wear Cerebro. This means that there’s still a LOT we don’t know about recent events both immediately before and immediately after this scene.
CE: Really don’t love Xavier wearing a pith helmet for many reasons. To be more X-Men-specific, his evil pseudosister Cassandra Nova wore one back in the first issue of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, prior to committing genocide. Also, Doug is very much in the right here. Krakoa has killed its fair share of mutants, and Xavier is definitely to blame for a lot of that, as we saw in X-Men: Deadly Genesis. But this is the nice Krakoa, apparently. Reminder that the original Krakoa was launched into space, and one of its clone children was the Jean Grey School’s lawn in Wolverine and the X-Men. I think we’re supposed to think of this island as the original though, which is kind of odd to me.
RS: I guess it didn’t have a stable orbit? And somehow fell back to Earth both without breaking up and without causing an extinction level event upon impact.
CE: I mean, it is comics.
CE: Cool shots of Doug’s Warlock arm (which still hasn’t been explained really), and also on this very Ent (or Great Deku Tree) looking incarnation of Krakoa. Also, it appears that when Doug’s Warlock arm touches plants, they become techno-organic looking. Very cool detail.
RS: Another interesting parallel, Cassandra Nova took Donald Trask to talk to a big robot in the jungle while Professor X takes Doug to talk to the Great Deku Tree.
Left: PoX #4 Right: New X-Men #114 (2001) Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely
CE: Doug talking about fricatives, which are consonant sounds in languages created by squeezing air through spaces in your mouth. An example in English is the “th” sound. I enjoy Doug’s talk about truly communicating. Comics tend to like to make telepathy seem deeper than language at times, so it was cool to see the language guy get to trump psychic powers for once.
RS: I think both that that tendency and the tendency to downplay Doug’s powers come from the nature of comics, a predominantly visual medium. Comics can connect directly with a reader by just showing the image they hope to convey rather than describing it. And I think one thing HoXPoX has done more effectively than any of Hickman’s previous Marvel work is demonstrate just how powerful words can be within that visual medium. In the infographics generally, but particularly in the final sequence of HoX #4, we’ve seen just how a careful use of text can be immensely powerful, particularly if that text is treated as an image.
CE: We see the true Krakoa origin story, which would be a small retcon of his original origin as “mutation caused by radioactivity” that was presented long ago. There seem to be quite a few demons on this page, which reminds us of Inferno. The Twilight Sword here definitely makes me think of the sword created by Surtur, one of the Fire Giants from Thor comics but, I don’t think we can be sure. [Ed. note: For those of you about to say “ummm, actually Surtur didn’t forge Twilight until he destroyed the Burning Galaxy in Thor #337”, I posit this question: “What if Surtur calls all his swords Twilight?”]
RS: Krakoa’s original origin was revisited most recently in Journey Into Mystery: The Birth of Krakoa #1, which revealed that Nick Fury Sr. and Krakoa, like, hung out.
Now, I can think of two possible parallels for this origin in the material we’ve seen so far: one Hellenic, one Gnostic. The former is most famously found in Plato’s Symposium. Last time, we mentioned the Promethean creation myth. In this version, instead, humanity began as a primordial race powerful enough to rival the gods. This power was due to its dual nature: Humans originally were creatures with two heads, four arms, etc etc. Zeus destroyed their might by slicing all humans in two, creating both love and, in a way, despair. Each individual person always longs for true unity with their counterpart, just as Krakoa here mourns the loss of their other half.
Now, if Krakoa’s emotions are most reminiscent of the Greek legend, the strife and chaos depicted, to me, seems far more reminiscent of the Gnostic. This is a bit reductive, but Gnosticism says the evils of this world — vice, chaos, violence, suffering, death — all result from the sundered nature of our world and ourselves. The evil Demiurge created the material world apart from the spiritual world, in which, originally, all was One; we are spiritual beings now separated from the original unity by being trapped in these rough bodies.
CE: The “man who was not a man” is Apocalypse [Ed. note: If the Giant A on his belt didn’t give it away.] The phrase “he stood in the gap” is also a reference to Hickman and Weaver’s SHIELD miniseries, as that phrase is used to describe people who joined the organization, such as Apocalypse himself. [Ed. note: Oh yeah, Apocalypse was one of the original agents of SHIELD.]
Also, this references his original “First Horsemen.” If it isn’t glaringly clear yet, they are going to be important. They’ve been brought up on page or in the Muller charts and text more times than plenty of very popular X-Men characters so please be on the lookout for these folks. Importantly, now we know where they went, and why. Krakoa also not being whole seems like a big foreshadow.
RS: We’ve talked before about the possibility that the X² X-Men may have traveled through Xorn’s black hole to another realm. The language here concerning collapsing portals to other realms feels very familiar. I’m not saying that this confirms North, Cardinal, and Rasputin are alive on Arakko — I’m just saying that we now have an instance of characters in the text clearly traveling through a portal to another realm, a realm that we know must be accessible given the timeline of Moira IX (as Apocalypse did bring back those First Horseman).
RS: “It’s better if I show you” mirrors Prof X and Moira’s conversation in PoX #1.
CE: The Professor seems to be very busy, what with leaving Doug seemingly very soon after they arrived. Given the diagram on the next page, Doug didn’t just make a language, he seems to have almost built a complete system.
RS: I think, if we accept Magneto’s ideas in HoX #1, that this infographic argues that language is such a system. Language is the foundation of culture; Krakoan is a language which arises from the land; these are the societal roles which spring out of and protect that land and that culture. Language, culture, land, societal roles, the individuals that fill them — they’re all part of the same unified organism.
CE: As we can see, Doug’s creation of the Krakoan language and interface eventually spawned many subsystems, crewed by some very familiar mutants. Black Tom Cassidy (also a guy who is not unlike a tree) is another bad guy that likely needed amnesty, and we’ve seen Sage, Beast, and Trinary doing work in previous issues. The symbol in red (and we careful readers remember red means important) is L for Laboratory. Forge has the power to create amazing machines, so he would work fantastically in an R&D capacity. Of note, it says that it’s possible that Forge is making biological machines, which is not usually something he’s capable of doing.
[Ed. note: A quick aside on skunkworks. It is an innovation strategy where a small group is isolated from the larger team to break routine organizational procedures. The most famous project developed this way was Lockheed Martin’s SR-71 Blackbird. X-Fans might recognize this as the jet the X-Men claim to have modified despite that fact that that statement is more wild than a man with knives in his hands.]
CE: We’re back to X³, where we last left our blue friends and their little buddy Nimrod. These folks have an odd attitude to me. Ascending because it just so happens to be the next step to them, instead of some deep-seated need. But that’s what they want to do, so I suppose we’ll go with it. The Seer-Self of the Elder looks a lot like that Orb back in Powers of X #3, that turned that baby in a Cable lookalike with its techno-organic baptism.
RS: I’m a bit confused here. The way that orb works (and the general relationship between organic and machine life in this issue) seems to be opposed to what we saw in #3. The Bapto-Orb seemed to transform organic life into machine life. It goes in the opposite direction here; organic brain patterns are imposed on blank slate machines. It’s unclear whether the Blue Folks are unwilling or unable to become machines themselves.
RS: One thing I really appreciate though: This seems to be depicting a far more feasible, far more standard conception of uplifting an intelligence into a machine than is usual in Marvel stories, and it depicts the one great limitation of such an uplift: Your own consciousness is not transferred. It is merely duplicated, and so even if your mental twin has been made immortal, you still will perish.
CE: These Phalanx are either very good at taking the bait, or got the idea behind this whole plan.
CE: The code sequence has interesting phrasing. To put it plainly, the phrase seems to imply a “too much of a good thing” scenario. I wonder if this is supposed to allude to the Krakoa, or just the ideas that Xavier and co are putting forth.
RS: I think you’re right. The way the Sun is described here sounds a lot like a grey goo scenario — endless consumption and expansion. But it also sounds quite a lot like a very common image in discussions of Christian societies, just taken to a monstrous extreme — the Shining City on the Hill. The Hill has become a mountain, and the Shine didn’t just light the whole world, but annihilated it.
CE: “AWAIT-RESPONSE. AWAIT-ANSWER”
The Phalanx are leaving this message “Seen.” That’s cold.
CE: As I alluded to a bit earlier, the blue folks have bamboozled the Phalanx into accepting their intelligence, now in seer self form. The choice to zoom in on Nimrod for several panels is interesting, and makes me wonder if he’s not done with his plans.
CE: Nimrod again seems intrigued, somewhat taunting the blue people that in their biological selves, they are still not good enough for the Phalanx. This continues the theme of Powers of X of transhumanism by mutation versus transhumanism by machine, two diverging paths from the ancestor that is humanity. We’re left wondering if their offer is accepted, but the Phalanx sphere looks awfully — intense.
RS: The thing is, the veiled Blue Person suggests that it’s not possible for the Phalanx to assimilate biological entities. This is a bit odd, given that we see a biological entity partially assimilated by the transmode virus earlier in this very issue.
CE: We’re starting to really see references to prices that Xavier has had to pay to ensure the survival of mankind, in this case working with a chaotic entity like Sinister. [Ed. note: Much like the opening data page, this is also Xavier discussing what he fears may come from what he has done.]
CE: Usually we don’t comment much on these reading orders but, it’s important to note that next week’s issue, House of X #5, is highlighted in red. The last time we had one of those issues, we found out about the Moira retcon. So expect some big stuff.
CE: The Krakoan reads “Society” as we said last week.
CE: The Krakoan reads “For the Children” which seems to imply that Sinister is much like the Wu-Tang Clan.
CE: This issue was a very interesting beast, as the forward momentum that we experienced last issue seems to have come to a screeching halt in favor of hints and backstory. It seems as though a lot of the back and forth between House of X and Powers of X is used to contextualize an idea that is going to come up, such as House of X #2 giving us the Moira retcon to show the long term planning happening in Powers of X. This seems to be another case of that. This catalogue of mutant DNA is definitely going to be a part of Xavier’s plan post “Battle at the Sun” and may even lead somehow to those pod people we saw way back in the opening pages of this dual miniseries. Next week is a red issue, and I’m itching to read it, Rob.
RS: The one thing that both intrigues and worries me — we are well past the halfway point and we’re still getting seeds, not fruits. I’m wondering now just how complete a story HoXPoX will be by its end. Is this its own first chapter in an ongoing story, or is it a prologue that can’t stand on its own? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Robert Secundus is an amateur-angelologist-for-hire