House of X #1 review

It’s the dawn of a new age for mutants. A new relationship with humankind is on the horizon. And at the centre of it, three new drugs Charles Xavier is offering the world. A drug that extends human life by five years, a super-antibiotic and a protection against dementia. And all that world leaders have to do for them to be made freely available is recognise Xavier’s new nation state, the mutant island that grows the drugs in the form of flowers, Krakoa.

As well as the three proffered drugs, Krakoa has developed a plant that acts as a teleportation device, one that creates habitats for the island’s immigrants… and something that sounds decidedly sinister.

It’s not entirely clear, but I’m guessing the human ambassadors who travel to Krakoa in this first issue of Jonathan Hickman’s game-changing mini-series – one of two linked books, the other being Powers of X – aren’t told of the latter three plants. The focus is on Xavier’s supposed benevolence, but Krakoan ambassador Magneto is clear that non-mutants really don’t have a choice here. The mutants have inherited the earth and they’re anything but meek.

The deal is, the rest of the world gets to continue on its way if it recognises Krakoa as a refuge for mutants. They can visit the habitats grown by Krakoa if accompanied by a mutant, but the original Krakoa – a mutant island – is off-limits.

I enjoyed this comic a lot. Sure, there are the usual Hickman infodump graphics, which bring the story to a screeching halt every time they appear, but overall this a very engaging read. I’m intrigued by how blatantly Hickman and artistic partner Pepe Larraz are about how dodgy this all is, from the eerie prologue to Professor X’s new look to Cyclops skirting the line between kindly uncle and full-on It… and emerging more killer clown than cuddly pal.

Scott Summers endorsing a raid by Mystique and her Brotherhood of Mutants doesn’t look great…

… so regular humans are right to be preparing to fight back, as shown in a sequence that knits together Marvel’s black ops teams. Xavier may present as beneficent but he’s fooling no one. And look at this moment with Jean – it would be kind to call it psychic massage.

I suspect the secret to Krakoa’s sudden ability to grow wonder drugs is the right plant food. Specifically, the corpses of mutants – the healer Elixir begets the cure for dementia, a long-lived Wolverine clone brings extended life, a psychic cuckoo sister prevents Alzheimer’s, the teleporter Gateway results in Gateways, Limbo ruler Magic is the fuel for No-Place… that kind of thing.

The book is full of little moments that bear examination, but I won’t pull the x-wings off this comic book butterfly. I’ll just say that Hickman has my attention with a well-wrought script, while Larraz – working with the excellent colourist Marte Gracia – is producing seriously nice comic book art. Clever little sequences like this convey and enhance Hickman’s story.

Look at that second panel, for instance – the intensity of Magneto’s stare, the fear in his victim, the angle of the horns evoking the pincers of a killer crustacean. The description in the script, which is included as backmatter, simply says ‘Magneto leans down and whispers in his ear’. It’s fine work, and typical of Larraz’s contribution. Wait until you see Mystique’s entrance…

Clayton Cowles letters the chapter, using the upper and lower case style Marvel debuted in their Ultimate line; I’m no fan of the look, but Cowles does a good job.

On the basis of this issue, I’ll be back next time. I just wish Hickman would pack it in with the graphics and get the expository stuff – such as an interesting passage on superhero intellectual rights law – into the actual comic story. Yes, he risks being clunky, but he’s a smart guy, elegant solutions are possible; don’t give up, practice. Because as stylish as the ‘data pages’ designed by Tom Muller are, they’re an impediment to reading flow.

Marvel have been pushing Hickman’s ‘showrunning’ of the X-Men line as the biggest thing since Grant Morrison’s New X-Men book. And while that critically acclaimed and popular run was quickly overturned by Marvel, it was fun while it lasted. I think this will be too.

4 thoughts on “House of X #1 review

  1. I loved this issue two and I bet I have as many qualms about Hickman as you. His usual plot over character method of doing things led to me feeling Avengesr/New Avengers was too cold for me to read on a regular basis. Those text pieces? The issue where he ended the issue’s story by text page was the last Fantastic Four issue by him I ever bought. I often skip text pages because that’s not a comic book. text without art is like television with just sound. Actual books do plain text better and it just isn’t a comic if art isn’t equally telling the story. Here, the text pages worked for me because they were chapter/scene breaks that clarified things a bit without taking over the story. The story also felt like the characters weren’t just advancing plot from point one to point two in Hickman’s eight thousand page story binder. Fauna’s joy, Jean’s benevolence, Magneto’s quiet menace, and the rest all came across very well.

    I haven’t been this excited by the X-men since Bendis took over! Hickman clearly loves him some X-Men and after the killing spree of characters in the dreadful Uncanny X-Men that just was mercy killed, this feels like the start of the X-Men again mattering in the greater MCU again as well as a commitment from editorial towards that goal.

    My guess on how this will play out? I suspect the starting point the new line of X-Books will launch with will be the failure of whatever sinister scheme Magneto and Xavier have cooked up here. Xavier’s been a hypocritical character for years now and Hickman is just the man to give him a definitive heel turn to rival the one Morrison gave Doom Patrol’s Chief! My hope is Magneto and Xavier’s dreams will both be vilified and there’ll be a return to Cyclops’s middle ground being the best course. That last bit is unlikely seeing as how Scott has long been painted by editorial as a rogue when the stories they actually published instead showed just how right he was…

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    1. I suspect, and hope, you’re spot in about where this is all going. I’d far rather Prof X were dead, in space or otherwise off the table than shown to be deeply misguided or, more likely, outright evil. Or choose one, Marvel, the flip-flopping between good and bad, walking and chair-using, is annoying. It is fitting, given the similarities between the X-Men and original Doom Patrol, that both leaders wind up with their characters destroyed.

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  2. So… cards on the table… never been a huge X-fan. But when I choose to read them I’m reading them for the soap opera and the moments between the characters. I’m there for the characters first and the story second. So I’m probably never gonna be the biggest Hickman fan because from what I’ve read of him, it’s always story first and characters come a distant second. But he won me over with the hype surrounding this book and it sounds like he has a ton of enthusiasm for the characters so I thought I’d give it a look.

    You’re very right, that the art is beautiful. And you’re also correct in noting that Hickman is making better use of his pretentious design pages which often take up needless amounts of paper to tell us very little. I like that he’s using them in this case, as both chapter breaks *and* as a way to provide us with some background information. And having said that, he does have an eye for a cool design. I’d just rather see his glyphs and infographics as back matter than something taking away form the story.

    But as for the rest of the book? When the Fantastic Four are getting more panel time than the actual X-men?? That’s not good. I don’t want to read a book about any number of random interchangeable politicians and such. I want to read about book about the X-Men. You know… Storm… Rogue… Colossus… Nightcrawler… Iceman… any of the young guys from the New Mutants… heck I’d even take Wolverine. I know, I know… I’m betraying my age. There are a number of mutants that get a panel or two in the book. I just don’t know who any of them are and I’m not really given a reason to care about them.

    So, for me… it’s kinda meh over all. I’ll check out another couple of issues to see if this was just a necessary set up for all the soap opera and adventure that comes after.

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  3. I can stand the lack of moments with my favourite mutants as this is a set-up series but yes, that’s what I’ve always enjoyed most, the personalities and interaction; when the personalities aren’t recognisable and interaction isn’t there, it’s not the X-Men I once loved.

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