House of X #2 review

Wow. Things just got very interesting in the latest X-Men revamp. Last week’s Powers of X #1 featured a page Marvel have been calling ‘the most important scene in the history of the X-Men’.

Big words, but you know what? Writer Jonathan Hickman really has given us a massive game-changer. While not the full ‘everything you thought you knew was wrong’ bit, it’s certainly an ‘everything you thought you knew about one character wasn’t the whole story’. And yes, retroactive continuity isn’t new, it’s been an accepted comic book device since at least Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron at DC in the Eighties, but usually it’s a bit of fun connective tissue – Phantom Lady and Starman were related, Wolverine, Captain America and Black Widow met during the Second World War… that kind of thing. But what we learn here about Moira MacTaggert really does look set to reshape the X-Men franchise.

When first we met Moira in, it seems, her ninth life, in the early days of the Chris Claremont/Dave Cockrum run, she was your basic feisty housekeeper at Professor Charles Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters. Later she was revealed to be a Nobel Prize-winning geneticist who had, for years, been working to help Xavier achieve his dream of peaceful human/mutant coexistence. I put that down to Claremont deciding that a super-scientist would generate more story ideas than a regular person.

Now we learn that Moira is even more than that.

A mutant, Moira lives, dies and is reborn with knowledge of her previous lives. In each one, after her first, she addresses the problem of the fundamental distrust between humans and mutants. Eradication of the X-gene. A refuge for mutants. Elimination of the bloodline that created the Sentinel killing machines…

And it all fails.

House of X sees Moira in her tenth life, perhaps her final one. And this is where the fateful scene from Powers of X #1 occurs. Then, we didn’t know what Xavier was seeing in Moira’s head. Now we do – her whole history, the divergent timelines they’ve lived, the pasts and the futures.

And that’s where the issue ends. Presumably, this is what leads to the House of X, the sanctuary on Krakoa and Professor X’s suddenly radical, passive aggressive dealings with humankind. Or maybe not, the internet is awash with theories about what Hickman is up to with this mini-series and companion book Powers of X. Time will tell. For now, I’m more interested in an X-Men story than I have been for years. Admittedly, I’m not quite sure of the mechanics of the rebirths of the newly christened Moira X – Moira Ten, geddit? Is she being reborn into parallel realities, or going back to the beginning of a single life each time, becoming the change you want to see in the world, as the saying goes. Given the use of X-Men adversary Destiny in Moira’s third life, it’s likely the latter.

Suddenly it makes sense that Moira’s character has seemed so schizophrenic over the decades – doughty domestic who’s quick to grab a machine gun when trouble comes calling one minute, sex bomb scientist the next… she contains multitudes. And while I’ve never been a big fan of the supporting character who turns out to have powers cliche, Moira’s status as a mutant makes sense in Marvel terms – her lunatic son, Proteus, was one of the most powerful beings in existence, able to bend reality to his will. And who else can do that? Franklin Richards, whose Celestial-level abilities are explained by his being the child of mutated parents

Readers who can count will notice that as we take a dizzying, thrilling ride through the many lives of Moira, there’s one missing – Moira’s sixth existence. I am intrigued.

Jonathan Hickman isn’t a writer with whom I always connect but this time he has me, I’m totally invested in his two-series-that-are-one. Moira’s predicament is, frankly, terrifying, and even when she’s committing horrifying acts, they make sense within her story. I suspect Life Six is one in which simply gives up, because her life/lives seem so surreal as to be unreal, her ever-changing worlds stories that, because they can be so easily erased and restarted, don’t matter. Hickman’s dialogue is measured, but not soulless. I do miss the cheesy phonetic ‘Scottish accent’ Claremont gave Moira, but I can conjure it up in ma daft wee heid, and I must give Hickman massive credit for a Destiny who has never seemed so convincingly scary.

Pepe Larraz surpasses the excellent art he gave us last time, bringing a finely honed storytelling sensibility to Moira’s narrative. The action moments have power, the conversations tension… and toddler Moira is cute as a button. While there’s excellent use of the nine-panel grid, you can see how much fun Larraz has when he gets to break away from it. My favourite page is ‘shoot-‘em-up’ Moira, above – the composition of the panels, the way the gun almost perfectly aligns with the panel border, the determination in Moira’s frame. Marte Gracia’s colours always complement, never distract, while the understated letters of Clayton Cowles make the events they’re describing seem all the more devastating.

For once, I actually got interested in some of the graphics Hickman had Tom Muller work up – so much so that I spotted a typo, but we’ll let that pass.

The kaleidoscopic cover image by Larraz and Gracia is an instant classic – just darned attractive and thematically fitting.

How Hickman and co plan to follow up this gripping issue, I have no idea. But I’ll be here next week to find out.

4 thoughts on “House of X #2 review

  1. I was blown away and I read spoilers yesterday. Wow. Hickman really seems to have licked his plot over character problem, eh? I felt this story and was so into it I was surprised to reach the last page. I’m still lukewarm about Powers but I can’t wait for the next House…

    Oh and I’d call this a revelation, not a retcon. It was just a curtain being pulled back to show us the rest of Moira. I have a very good memory for my comics and I can’t conjure up one story, piece of dialog, or thought balloon that this contradicts. You can’t even argue that she shouldn’t have been surprised about various things through the years. Hickman kept the details sparse on her previous lives so we don’t know what of this life we saw her experience was and wasn’t new to her…

    And as an aside, even if Hickman doesn’t also reveal Moira didn’t die for keeps at the hands of the Farouk, as a comic reader since 1973 I can come up with at least two ways someone could revive Irene and Moira right off the top of my head. Not gonna say out of paranoia someone will t hen not use the ideas. How many can you think up quickly?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve not actually read the deaths of Moira and Irene but yeah, I’m sure I could come up with something.

    Nice point as regards ‘retcon’ vs ‘revelation’. I must take that on board.

    Like

  3. Loved loved loved this issue. I’ve always been a fan of feisty Moira, and I enjoyed how this forces us to re-evaluate her motivations over the years.

    I agree with your point about supporting-character-with-powers… But this is so elegant and game changing it feels worth the trade off, even against Moira as the X-Men’sbiggest human supporter.

    I also liked how truly sinister Destiny was in this! It makes sense, given her power set. I like how Destiny is such a background but vital player in X-Men lore in most major stories. And nicely ties to Moira’s death as we understood it in 616, how Mystique goes mad following Destiny’s revelations.

    Basically, wow. What an issue!

    Liked by 1 person

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