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).
As Professor X watches from Krakoa, the X-Men dive head first into their battle with ORCHIS. One by one they fight, one by one they fall. While Mother Mold is sent careening into the sun, Xavier is met with the realization that none of his X-Men are coming home. This is how it always ends. This is just how things are for those people… for mutants. As he sits broken, his mind is enveloped by one thought. “No more.”
Chris Eddleman: Rob, I’m a bit nervous to open the page on this one. We have the biggest cliffhanger thus far to resolve, and it isn’t looking great for our mutant heroes after the massive explosion that rocked their ship. The humans are as do-or-die as our heroes and I have a feeling we aren’t getting out of this issue unscathed.
Robert Secundus: PoX #3, the other Away Mission, was a high adrenaline, action-packed issue, but it still devoted substantial space to developing the themes and images of the series so far. I expect both of those things will be true of this issue too. Let’s get started.
CE: The epigraph in this issue is ominous. After last week’s weirdly culty beginning, this epigraph makes the Professor seem less like his paternalistic self, especially less like the calm and collected Xavier that we’ve seen throughout the rest of House of X. I’m rather afraid of what this indicates. Also, it’s important to note that “No More” is likely a reference to Scarlet Witch’s famous line of “No More Mutants” from House of M, which she uttered before depowering all but 198 of the remaining mutants in the world. The 2000s have not been kind to the X-Men. [Ed. note: Interestingly enough, the House of X & House of M are locations on Krakoa.]
CE: The issue title harkens back to the already classic Cyclops line of “Does it need doing? Then it will be done.” Given the content of this issue, it’s a jackhammer of a title to be sure. We also get the code at the bottom referring to “the way we treat our children.” This could be in reference to Professor Xavier’s treatment of his children — i.e., making them join a paramilitary group and all that has followed. But I think it’s in reference to how humankind (the parents) treat their children (mutantkind), which as we will see on the following page is pretty awful.
RS: And as you mentioned in our annotations of PoX #1, Chris, “It will be done” sounds extremely reminiscent of Matthew 6:10, aka the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.”
Look at what they’ve done.
CE: Uh yeah, yikes. This is a graph indicating all of the terrible things that humankind has done to mutants and the associated bodycounts. It’s a real doozy to say the least. We’ll get into the nitty gritty.
Genosha — As we’ve talked about in many of these earlier installments, the deployment of the Trask Wild Sentinels by Cassandra Nova killed 16.5 million mutants (the entire country of Genosha) in a matter of moments back in New X-Men #114. Cassandra Nova here is referred to as a Mummudrai, which is a Shi’ar word referring to “the anti-self.” Mummudrai are spectral beings that are the equal and opposite of a person. Because Charles is a real special guy, his Mummudrai became a person, that he fought in the womb. She eventually gained a real body, and there you go.
RS: We last saw Cassandra Nova in X-Men Red, where Jean Grey gave her the power of love. [Ed. note: She was name dropped in the most recent run of Uncanny X-Men but never shown on panel.]
CE: Decimation — This refers to the event during House of M in which the Scarlet Witch used her reality warping powers to strip all but 198 mutants of their abilities. [Ed. note: In Wanda’s defence, she was manipulated separately by her brother and Doctor Doom into doing this, so blame all around on that one.]
Of note here is that Wanda is called a Pretender. If you haven’t read X-Men in a bit, that might seem odd. In a somewhat recent story from Uncanny Avengers Vol 2. #4, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were retconned to not, in fact, be mutants. They were instead actual Maximoff children stolen by the being known as the High Evolutionary for some experimentation. This took place suspiciously in proximity to their entrance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe but, would explain why she is referred to as a “pretender.”
RS: What really strikes me here is the phrasing, “Mutant Erasure.” X-Stuff often borrows ideas and terminology from real-world oppression. “Erasure” ordinarily means something far less violent — the exclusion of oppressed groups from both depictions in media and from dialogue in our culture. On this page, some may think it odd that Decimation is placed in parallel with the Genoshan genocide, and that depowered mutants are counted, without qualification, alongside murdered mutants in the following graphic. Remember though that “depowered” in this case means “removed from a species and a culture.” “Cultural genocide,” the forced removal of individuals from their culture and/or the attempted elimination of a culture, is considered one form/aspect of genocide, and has been declared such in the United Nations Declaraiton on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
CE: Alright, time for some quick hits on these humans who have committed atrocities. [Ed. note: Speed run tactics boys!]
Steven Lang was the leader of Project: Armageddon, which reverse engineered Sentinel technology in order to fight mutants. He was defeated by the X-Men way back in the ’70s, before being brought back for the Phalanx Covenant storyline.
Mister Clean was a member of the Church of Humanity, which was a Christian-based hate group that targeted mutants as a sort of racial purity thing.
RS: Whoo boy. The Church of Humanity are, depending on the writer, either a neo-pagan transhuman cult founded to take revenge on an alternate reality Hank McCoy, or a mutant-hating splinter cell of the Catholic church which attempted to install Nightcrawler as an anti-Christ pope before faking a rapture with exploding communion wafers. One time they crucified a bunch of students on the front lawn of the Xavier school; it would be wild if they were ever used again. [Ed. note: The fact that Hickman referenced Poptopia and Holy War before The Dark Phoenix Saga is incredible.]
CE: Graydon Creed is the son of Sabretooth and Mystique, a human who also hated mutants and led the Friends of Humanity. He has been more than two kinds of zombie!
CE: Cameron Hodge was Warren [Ed. note: Kenneth] Worthington III’s college roommate, who also developed a mutant hate-on. He formed a hate group called The Right [Ed. note: Subtly] using Warren’s money, which employed some hi-tech soldiers who had smiley faces pointed on their helmets. He made a deal with the demon N’astirh for immortality, became a creepy non-humanoid cyborg and ran [Ed. note: the aparthid version of] Genosha, joined the Phalanx and has since faded into relative obscurity.
RS: Sometimes he’s a horrifying roiling robotic monstrosity that carries around a cardboard cutout of a business suit! He’s great!
CE: The Leper Queen formed the Sapien League because her mutant daughter burnt down their house when she was a little toddler.
Donald Pierce is a cyborg, who was a member of the Hellfire Club now and again. His group the Reavers are also cyborgs and they’ve menaced the X-Men since the ’80s.
William Stryker is another religious leader, with his own paramilitary death squad known as the Purifiers. Stryker has the unique distinction of being the first time the religious angle was really played for X-Men stories, and he debuted in the classic God Loves, Man Kills graphic novel. [Ed. note: He also looks an awful lot like a certain Vice President.]
RS: Because we live in a fallen world, he continued to appear in X-Stuff after that story, most recently selling his soul to the devil, in the recent series Weapon X, even though his entire deal is Jesus Stuff. [Ed. note: And by “the devil,” we do mean Nightcrawler’s dad.]
CE: Hey look it’s Trinary! She first and last appeared in the great X-Men: Red series. She has power over technology.
RS: One of the most frustrating things in X-Men is when a new team comes in and abandons all the new characters of the previous set. It’s really good to see that Trinary is carrying over into the new era, especially because she aids in diversifying the lineup.
CE: The assets mentioned here are the Arecibo radio telescope, which is located in the real world in Puerto Rico, as well as SETI [Ed. note: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence]. As far as I’m aware there is not a Dyson Solar Observatory, but it would be named after the solar scientist Frank Watson Dyson (who is oddly not the sphere guy) due to his work on observing eclipses. But hey, maybe it is the sphere guy, a theoretical physicist named Freeman Dyson.
Also, the eight light-minutes refers to the amount of time it takes light (and any electromagnetic signal) to reach Earth.
We also see Storm and Beast for the first time in this miniseries! Great to have them even if this doesn’t go so hot.
RS: Is that … a Cerebro scrying pool? What a wonderful weird thing — a device mutants can manipulate, but also a natural pond, with living flora and fauna in it. It’s a nice little microcosm of the sort of technology and society he’s building.
CE: It was a really cool use of Storm’s powers, since she’s effectively making a very controlled waterspout. Outside of the text though, this panel with watery Jean’s face is a giant flex by Larraz and Gracia.
Communion, my dear.
RS: “Holy communion” is a sacrament in most Christian denominations. Depending on the denomination it can signify anything from a commemoration of Jesus’ last meal to the literal consumption of Jesus Christ’s body and blood, guts and gristle, soul and divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine. In all variants, as the name implies, it’s also a sign of community, of the unification of those who partake in it, either in a shared tradition or in union with the divine. That Xavier is using this kind of divine language to describe himself and his powers is, once again, extremely troubling, but the weirdest detail to me is the “my dear.” That doesn’t sound like Xavier, to me.
CE: See, paternalistic Xavier definitely sounds like a “my dear” sort to me. This is very much a father figure Xavier for better or for worse. However, Cerebro blocking his face makes all his dialogue in this issue ring as somewhat emotionless to me, except towards the end as we’ll see. Also, that symbol Cerebro’s making seems specific. [Ed. note: Looks like what The Librarian has on their face in X3]
RS: We’re to understand that this is Professor X talking, but when the page cuts back to Krakoa, Professor X and Magneto are framed so that the thought bubble could coming from either or both of them. Last issue, the lines between them had begun to blur, and this panel extends that subtly.
CE: Definitely! They were practically team-teaching a course in suicide missions. This merging of two mentalities seems to really color where this story is going as a whole. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen Magneto and Xavier this “on the same page.”
Also, Husk and Archangel died right off the bat? I really felt like Husk being on the team was for some specific reason so it was really upsetting to see her die quickly. Also, to metagame a little bit, neither character has been seen in solicits for the upcoming X-Men books. These initial deaths definitely set the base tone for this issue going forward. Not everyone is coming home.
CE: This section of the plan made me really consider if the spaceship really needed to dock at all considering how easily Nightcrawler shuffles everyone around. I love the distinct looks of the areas that everyone moves around to. Also it’s very Cyclops to tell everyone to “Be Safe” on a suicide mission.
RS: The characters on the station so far have all been named for famous scientists, but Moore is such a common last name that it’s impossible to narrow this one down.
CE: Yeah even when I searched for geneticists or biologists (like Dr. Gregor, who I called Dr. Mendel on accident last week), there are frankly too many to count. [Ed. note: There is no Moore we could settle on … get it? No Moore?]
RS: Last time we talked about how the scientists aboard this station, who, again, are building genocidal grey goo to retaliate against a people daring to form their own nation, took on the clichés of action movie protagonists. Even if the Omega Sentinel has retained none of her humanity, she at least still understands this aspect of human psychology, that people are radicalized in part by the temptation to see themselves as Big Damn Heroes. She uses that understanding here to manipulate the doctor.
CE: Omega Sentinel simply being an observer with no authority is interesting. Was she sent by some greater authority? I can’t imagine the head of Project Orchis is on their giant space station, but, who knows, I suppose?
CE: “Kra-Gung” is the most memorable sound of this issue, and a fantastic way to advance a story in the comic book medium using only some SFX. It indicates both miniature successes for the mutants, but reads as sinister to the humans. I know it’s a small thing but, I found it fantastic.
RS: If you want to know how fully immersed I was at this point, this scene was instantly burned into my brain — but I couldn’t remember the SFX on the page, just the extremely specific sound I heard in my head. We haven’t mentioned Clayton Cowles before, but he really is killing it in concert with the artists on these series.
RS: I really appreciate how this issue takes the time to give Wolverine and Nightcrawler small details, small moments that emphasize their own individual characters. Take the two last panels on this page: a bulky Wolverine lumbers towards us, to the right, on an orange background, and Nightcrawler lightly springs away from us, to the left, on a blue background. Before we process the content of these panels, the art has already established a pretty heavy opposition between the two (and this distinction contrasts with their final scene together; it makes that last scene far more powerful).
And then we see the bodies: in the one panel, a pile of greyed out, indistinguishable corpses behind Wolverine, and a pair of subdued, living, individual scientists, drawn and colored to stand out as identifiably distinct people, behind Nightcrawler. So the art doesn’t just tell us that there’s a divide between the two, or that that divide involves how they take action, but also how that that divide involves how they see those people. I think Marte Gracia has been pretty loudly praised for his X-Work these past few weeks, but most of what I’ve seen focuses on the epic setpieces. Here he demonstrates just how much a colorist can add to the small moments, the small details of a scene.
CE: On a more silly note, Nightcrawler clearly carries that sword less for stabbing, and more for looking very cool, if he’s just tying people up. It could be though, that Kurt sees scientists in the same way Jean did, rather than simply as another form of soldier in the fight against mutantkind.
RS: Jean reads really oddly to me here. She doesn’t sound like the commanding force that made demands of the United Nations, that took on leadership of the mutant world. It might just be her costuming coloring her dialogue, but she reads to me here as extremely young, or at least younger and less confident than Monet.
CE: Yeah this was completely strange to me, post X-Men: Red. In that comic, Jean was able to do incredible things and always stay fairly calm and collected. In this issue, she is very much emotionally on edge. I suppose telepathically staying in communication with people an astronomical unit away heightens your emotional state.
CE: So on this page, Monet seems to turn into a state similar to Penance, which means a bit of a long story. When, Monet was introduced, she was actually two kids in a trenchcoat, kind of. She was being portrayed by her younger siblings, who could combine together to look like her while actual Monet had been turned into a mute shell that her holder brother called Penance. Penance, however, seemed even more animalistic than this version Monet is embodying on the page. I think the purpose here is to give Monet a very cool visual distinction, as well as a “power up” moment. [Ed. note: It does look very cool.]
RS: It’s a bit odd that Mystique was specifically sent here because she could blend in, but she’s not walking around in disguise. Regardless, what I think she notices too late here is that the area has been completely emptied of personnel, so that it can be vented into space.
CE: I think I still would have just been “random AIM guy” just in case.
RS: Karima is worried about the Heller-Faust line, mentioned last issue, She’s worried that the Mother Mold has neither dreamed nor learned enough to be safely brought online. An insane AI might destroy mutants, but there’s no guarantee that it wouldn’t turn on its creators too.
A small detail throughout the issue: Because Dr. Gregor has been crying, she has smudged makeup. Larraz takes such care with the details that’s it’s incredibly easy to just fall into his world. But it’s not just a detail for its own sake — the smudged makeup helps communicate the raw emotion in the previous scene, but here, in the final panel, it heightens her gleeful, sinister smile.
CE: The “point-to-point translocator” along with Dr. Gregor’s sadistic smile, makes me think she was going to find a way to teleport some amount of forces to fight mutants on Krakoa. Karima here seems like the sane one, a cold rational machine, while Dr. Gregor is fighting with high emotions. The clear distinction between machine and human.
CE: Xavier is doubling down on his rhetoric, and isn’t hesitating in throwing his students into harm’s way for the greater good. He’s still cold here, and it harkens back to the beginning “the way we treat our children.”
CE: Unlike Xavier, Cyclops is emotional when he condemns Nightcrawler and Wolverine to die, and it seems more of their choice. Cyclops is the kind of leader who “leads from the front” and it shows here.
RS: Before they were divided in the art, but here Nightcrawler and Wolverine are together, facing the same way, drawn in the same bright light, until the light becomes so overwhelming that, all in shadow, there are no lines between them. In their conversation, you can see the great respect Wolverine has for Nightcrawler, and the love Nightcrawler has for his friend, as Wolverine asks the sometimes-priest about the afterlife, and Nightcrawler assures him that they’ll always be together. As someone whose favorite panel of X-Men is Nightcrawler and Wolverine drunkenly professing their friendship for each other as they stumble home from the bar, this page, uh, it got me.
CE: Rob, this relationship is one of my favorites, especially given how old it is. Nightcrawler and Wolverine are one of the earliest one-on-one friendships in X-Men and it’s really heartwarming to see them go out together. [Ed. note: The emotional resonance was only dampened by the fact that I couldn’t help but picture Nightcrawler singing Creed’s seminal 2000 classic “With Arms Wide Open” as he jumped into the sun.]
RS: That said, this conversation is also a little bit weird, because these are the two X-Characters who should, beyond all doubt, be certain of an afterlife. Yes, lots of characters have died and returned, but Wolverine has specifically died and gone to Hell and Nightcrawler has died and gone to Heaven, before getting bored and fighting Hell pirates in Purgatory. [Ed. note: In the current run of Marvel Comics Presents, Wolverine is, in fact, in hell at the moment for unrelated reasons.]
CE: You never know in superhero comics where you’re going to, as there are often many kinds of Underworlds, Hells, and Heavens. I think Wolverine is maybe just confused about where he’s going this time.
RS: It seems pretty clear that the Mother Mold did not in fact wake up sane. Another detail that I love: its attack emerges from its mouth.
CE: “Spouting off about mythology” is definitely not a sane way to wake up. Mother Mold sounds like an exhausted graduate student.
Seeing Nightcrawler disintegrate was...rough, Rob. I love that fuzzy elf.
RS: He is probably my favorite character in comics. Maybe in genre fiction. Maybe in fiction. So, to distract myself from another emotional breakdown, let’s talk about mythology!
The Mother Mold is comparing the human/mutant conflict to the mythic conflict known as the Titanomachy. The titans of Greek myth were the first generation of gods born on Earth, whereas the beings we’d consider the Standard Greek Gods the All-New, All-Different Gods. You’ve probably seen Goya’s depiction of the inciting incident of this conflict, Saturn Devouring His Son. Zeus and the new gods win the day and work to ensure that the following generation will not in turn usurp them.
The details of the Mother Mold’s analogy are a bit off; she seems to be comparing humanity to the gods and mutants to the titans, when humanity should be titans and mutants gods, but every line sounds pretty badass, so let’s let all of that slide.
RS: Here Mother Mold alludes to the Promethean legend, which is a fairly common allusion in stories about humans creating life, AI or otherwise. The titan Prometheus stole fire and gave it to humanity, allowing them to survive. In the most famous iteration of this story, Aeschylus’ Prometheus Unbound, Prometheus is traitor to both the titans (having fought for Zeus) and the gods (giving humanity not only fire but also civilization). He’s often also portrayed as the creator of humanity itself.
CE: Mother Mold definitely embraces the monologuing villain roll, still spouting off rhetoric as she drifts into the sun.
CE: Cyclops briefly eulogizing Wolverine reminds me of their somewhat complicated relationship. They are very often at odds but, over the years have definitely grown a respect and perhaps even a love for one another. There is a panel in Whedon/Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men in which Cyclops blasts a Sentinel to bits and Wolverine proclaims that he remembers “why you’re in charge.” Cyclops returns the remark here as Wolverine drifts away.
Cyclops immediately thinking of a new plan, a dire one, where he and Jean drift back to Earth, is also peak Scott Summers, even if it doesn’t come to fruition.
CE: Gregor is purely on the vengeance train in this issue. She clearly can’t be thinking of the consequences of her actions. She and the X-Men are on the same beat in this issue, a brutal fight for survival where no action is off of the table. However, the X-Men didn’t start with a genocide plan right off of the bat. [Ed. note: That’s how you know they are the good guys.]
CE: Last issue I loved these Sentinels. They looked like Go-Bots and it was great. Now, not so much. Jean’s death here uses space as a clear hazard, as she is trapped in a can being crushed by killer robots with no other options. It’s frankly horrifying.
CE: The stillness of the pool is a really great metaphor for the stillness of death, as our Krakoa mutants mourn their comrades. And finally, after many issues of Cerebro clad emotionless Xavier, we get one single tear of grief. His final line harkens back to the epigraph.
CE: The graphics here are combinations of newspaper clippings describing atrocities against mutants, along with the deaths of all of the X-Team. The “Look At What They’ve Done” takes on an even more accusing tone, as Xavier’s grief rips across the graphics with NO MORE repeated over and over again. This culminates on his single tear face again, with the words as large as possible. Given what this references (No More Mutants), I have a feeling that Xavier is going to do something completely terrible to humankind. [Ed. note: Also, Hank McCoy’s ex, Trish Tilby, wrote those articles.]
RS: This was the strongest moment for me thus far in either series, and it really justified the charts throughout so far. As the words grew bigger, it felt like a massive, overwhelming weight pressing on my brain. [Ed. note: Much like Xavier himself, the events of this issue broke the data pages.]
Rereading, I love two things about the shift here. That increasing accusing tone you mention that lets this transform a moment of grief into a moment of righteous resolve, and the way it takes the very weapon that was used against mutants, that almost destroyed the species, and reclaims it for their own purposes.
CE: Important to note, next issue is highlighted red. Something big is going to happen.
CE: Our preview for Powers of X #4 is the Krakoan: Something Sinister. I wonder what that means after this issue. We still have pod people from issue #1 that are unaccounted for.
CE: House of X #5’s Krakoan text preview reads “Society,” as in a thing that we live in. The cover image features Apocalypse. The fact that the next issues seem to feature some big time villains bodes poorly.
RS: Chris, I get why this issue was divisive, but between the final confrontation between Nightcrawler, Wolverine, and the Mother Mold, and the moment when the charts get intense, I do think this is the most emotionally impactful issue of HoX/PoX so far. It also continues to develop both the dialogue with religion/godhood and the relationship between Xavier/Magneto and the students they lead to the slaughter.
CE: I completely agree with you, Rob. Even if the consequences of this issue are going to be reversed in some way, almost certainly from the solicits for Dawn of X, I think in the moment lthese beats hit hard. The creative team absolutely nailed those emotional beats with Gregor’s disheveled rage, Jean’s final desperation, and Xavier’s single tear. While the end data pages didn’t give us the usual information dump, the medium was used incredibly effectively to convey the rage of Professor Xavier at the death of his children. I think of all the issues we’ve read, this is the one that makes me want to read the next installment the most.
Robert Secundus is an amateur-angelologist-for-hire