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House of X #1 review: brave new world

A whole new age begins here.

Warning: Spoilers Below!

“Humans of the planet Earth. While you slept, the world changed.”

Jonathan Hickman revitalized the Fantastic Four. He wrote the most ambitious Avengers epic ever to be penned. He examined secret Marvel history. He put a new lens on Ultimate ideas. And he ended The Marvel Multiverse, before starting it back up again in one of the most successful events Marvel’s accomplished. He told one macro-story across several titles and shook the House of Ideas. And he’s here to do that again. But this time is going to be different. It’s going to be better. It’s going to be even more ambitious and sprawling. And it’s also going to be much more accessible. It’s going to push the Marvel Mutants forward and put them, once more, at the heart of the House of Ideas, where they deserve to be.

Welcome to House of X, a whole new world awaits. Step through the gateway, for what lies beyond is truly wondrous. Things, for once, cannot be the same, as a realm teeming with possibility becomes visible. Take a deep breath and soak it all in. This is the path to the future. This is the legend of the mutants reborn.

Shells embedded in trees begin to crack. A hand emerges from the inside, followed by a naked body. Numerous follow. All crawl out, with their arms reaching upwards to a man standing above them. The man looks upon the emerging life, proud. Posed with the confidence of a god, a grin coats his lips. The man is Charles Xavier. “To me, my X-Men,” he mutters.

If that opening scene makes you raise an eyebrow and makes you ask half a dozen questions, good. That’s the point. This isn’t quite the X-Men you’re used to, even as the incredibly iconic catchphrase punctuates the scene, giving the phrase a whole new meaning in this mysterious context. It’s new and old. It’s the future, with the past put through a different lens. That’s the entire ethos of this.

Pitched as the next big seismic shift since Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, the book certainly comes with a lot of expectations. Morrison dragged a franchise that had gotten mired in nostalgia into the future of the new millennium. He forcibly pushed it into the new, all the while still making it X-Men at its core. He injected it with a jolt of much-needed conceptual power and re-examined existing ideas through a new, clear science fiction lens rather than a typical superhero one. Morrison understood the mutants’ intrinsic potential and niche within the realm of superhero fiction and set out to make a superhero team unlike any other. But a lot of notions put forth there, have since been in conflict with what’s come since. As nostalgia reared its head again, Morrison’s future of mutants as inheritors of the Earth and focus on mutants as a distinct, unique culture that were growing was not to be as the culling of House of M razed potential and set forth a new direction, once more casting the mutants as a people facing extinction.

But all that changes now, as Hickman’s era, at least with this debut, looks to be the successor flagship to Morrison’s New X-Men. It should come as no surprise to most, given Hickman’s stated Morrison’s run is his favorite and the man is a massive Morrison fan, having called him his chief, inescapable influence and his pick for the best comics writer. Inevitably, the writer’s era was to be the heir to Morrison’s. But that is not to say this is Morrison’s X-Men or it’s anything like that. Hickman isn’t here to write Claremont’s X-Men or Morrison’s. Hickman understands that to do Morrison is not to be Morrison, but to take that ethos and do something completely your own, in your own voice, something inimitable, much like Morrison himself. And that’s what this is. This is Hickman’s X-Men and no one else’s. It’s the most Jonathan Hickman Marvel comic to Jonathan Hickman-about, charts and all.Joined by Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles and Tom Muller, Hickman has an all-star crew of co-creators with him. Larraz is simply one of the best and most dynamic superhero artists in the Marvel roster and Gracia’s range as a colorist is spectacular. Cowles is a whirlwind putting out hit after hit, from your Wicked + The Divines to your Mister Miracles, boasting a keen eye for considered placement and incredibly effective storytelling choices to give the book a great voice and marry all its elements together. Muller is a superb talent whose design sensibilities are a gift, as should be evident to anyone who’s looked at his prior work or his design work for this massive X-venture. Given Hickman himself is an artist and has a remarkable talent for design, with such well defined aesthetics, this is a team that really feels stacked, with every member picked to enhance one another.

And that’s exactly the sort of high caliber team you want if your goal is to stand next to those Claremont and Morrison pillars. But the team aside, the vision at play here is ridiculously exciting. Specificity has been hard to come by in the lead up to this book, so there are a lot of details people are craving, which we’ll get into, because boy does this issue have details, ones many have been foaming at the mouth for and banging their heads against the wall for.

The mutants are, once more, the inheritors of the Earth and they are no longer on the run or dreading extinction. It’s their time now. The sentient isle of Krakoa is now massive, a nation of its own, a nation for mutants and mutants only (Mutant nation may be a classic conceit, but the execution is so fresh and pure Hickman). The flowers of Krakoa are rare, powerful resources utilized for various purposes. Three synthetic drugs produced for humans only and made from the flowers are sold by Xavier. They are the Life Drug, the Illness Drug and the Mind Drug. As names indicate, each has an effect on that which is indicated. L increases life by five years, I eliminates disease and is a super antibiotic and M cures the diseases of the mind. With these world-shaking drugs as leverage, Xavier asks the nations of the world to recognize the sovereignty of his new nation: Krakoa. Whether it be amnesty or more, they get the entire package deal. And the world? Most of it seems to find it very hard to say no, as you can imagine. It’s a shockingly good offer.

But what about the mutants? What do Krakoan flowers have to offer them, you might ask and once more, it’s three things. Three distinct flowers which only operate for Mutants: Gateway, Habitat and No-Place all serve unique functions. The first forms gateways which can only be entered by mutants (humans only if they are accompanied by mutants, but that also requires special permission), to reach Krakoa, while the second forms a habitat that’s connected to Krakoa and the third relates to a secret habitat of Krakoa. With all of these things in their pocket, the mutants are now gathering all of their own under the country of Krakoa, offering unassailable refuge, standing tall as a nation of their own. Xavier is the face. But their ambassador? It’s Magneto. No longer on the run, no longer splintered, the mutants stand as one, set to gain the Earth.

In a lovely theory the book introduces, the team frames the humans as being in the same place as Cro-Magnons, much the same way New X-Men‘s opening once did, on the edge of being blinked away as nature and evolution take their inevitable rightful place. The genocides they committed against mutants merely bought them extra time, but that time is quickly running out. The future is now, the future is here and it is inescapable. But the mutants don’t want to take the Earth, oh no. They’ve got Krakoa planted up all the way even in space, in the desert plains of Mars. All they ask for, pretty reasonably, is their one island and nothing else, while they gift humanity with miracle pills. But apart from that? They have their own language, which can mostly be translated, as Hickman came up with a whole alphabet for Krakoan.

The whole enterprise is such a clear, thorough and effective refocusing of X-Men that it feels fresh while feeling like X-Men. You could hand this to someone who’d never read X-Men before and after this one issue, they could and would come away with a clean, clear idea of what X-Men is, has been and now can be. It’s, like Morrison, a return to the core science fiction ideas of evolution at the heart of X-Men, as well as the idea of “Mutant Culture.” The latter is exemplified in the creation of a language for all mutants, both written and spoken, serving as the bedrock for distinctive cultural building. They are a vast majority, with their own massive nation rather than just an institute now, that live unlike any one else. From shell-births to sentient mutant isle homes and travel, they are something else. They’re not just another super-team or class of heroes in the tapestry of superhero fiction. They’re something unique and different. They’re something strange, something sci-fi.

Even the recontextualization of costumes fits with this notion. Morrison really put forth this idea of mutant culture and to work with that and make it click with all the classics, the team has simply gone “they’re not superhero clothes, they’re special mutant clothes. It’s why they look so different from human clothes and are so superhero-y,” and to justify it, the thinking is essentially “Jack Kirby, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne and all the others are some of the best mutant fashion designers,” which is just genius. From mutant nations, mutant language to mutant fashion, mutant history and mutant architecture and technology to mutant businesses and produce, this is aggressive additive expansion for the X-Men. There’s a point where Sophie Cuckoo even says Sophie is her human name and she wants to take a mutant name. This is primal world-building, this is blowing out every facet. To illustrate that, the book is littered with all sorts of data, from how and when someone may be classified as an Omega Level mutant and when they may not be. If you’ve ever craved a list of Omega Mutants in a proper ongoing, well, your dreams have come true. It’s there. But and some may make this assumption, the data isn’t there just to be there. It’s integral to the book.

Hickman has long talked about the constraints of the monthly 20-page comic and his frustrations with it. No matter how clever you are, no matter what you do, the comic reader is very much acclimated to expect and predict what you’re doing or what’s coming due to the nature of the format. Everyone’s been trained to expect a big last page reveal splash by this point. And the rhythm of a 20-page comic is, for the most part, without too much variation. And that’s what Hickman is here to very clearly mess with. He’s here to cause absolute disruption, much like the way he does in Black Monday Murders, where in the rhythm of any given issue of a comic is so different from the average ongoing that you just cannot expect what’s coming. You might suddenly get a big info-graphic or info-blurb or just a chart full of data on page 2 or page 8 or page 18, there could be profiles or pieces full of information, on characters or ideas, to help dive into things a bit more. There can be design pages which break flow or create it to give you a unique reading experience. And that’s what Hickman wants to create. That as well as work with density. Comics aren’t cheap and you should not feel ripped off for an issue you bought when you could simply wait via Marvel Unlimited. Thus, there’s a lot of density to the work here. This isn’t a comic you can fly through in four minutes and then forget about. This is one you sit with for an hour and re-read over and over. And not just because it’s 47 pages (including 12 classic Hickman aesthetic pages), but because there’s so much information to unpack, that isn’t just doled out to you in storm of caption boxes. There are messages to decode, an alphabet to understand, clues and hints to examine. A whole new world of ideas and directions to consider and contemplate. This is work with maximum value.

And for those wondering about Hickman’s voices for the characters and how he fits, he’s spot on. His Wolverine is seen laughing in a field of grass as he plays with children. Jean is guiding a new generation of mutant children, letting them know of the freedom they have. But really, it’s the chief figures of X-Men that Hickman really knocks it out of the park with here. His Magneto is a revelation, portrayed as regal, fiery and extremely charismatic. This is a man of fierce passion, who feels a great duty to his people and an immense sense of pride for their accomplishments. He can be inspiring, but if you test him, he can be chilling. And Scott Summers? He’s fantastic. He’s utterly fantastic. He’s cool, he’s charming, he has an affable smile, he’ll ask you how your family’s doing and congratulate you on your marriage. He’ll shake your hand and be considerate. He’s the kind of man you believe everyone, X-Man or otherwise, would truly wanna follow. He’s a man you believe could lead, by sheer presence or a single word. He’s a man you believe everyone could look to in their hour of need.

The world told me that I was less when I knew I was more.

But to confront our ascendant heroes, there must also be threats on par and make no mistake, there are. We’re introduced to The Orchis Protocol, a group activated to prep for extreme doomsday plans in order to safeguard humanity, as it now faces extinction, much like in the Morrison era. Except, Orchis is made up of operates gathered from every covert group across the Marvel World, from S.W.O.R.D. and H.A.M.M.E.R. to Alpha Flight and more. This isn’t just a threat, this is the sum total of a number of Marvel things, pushed to the extreme. It feels organic (fitting for this title) and additive, as it should be. In a fun contrast to the mutants and their Krakoa, a place full of nature and greenery, Orchis have the artificial machine home of The Forge, all the way out in space, near the sun. They are the literal embodiment of humans that fly too close to the sun, because they really do. And their answer to Krakoa is a giant Sentinel, of course, as you’d expect. And in case it isn’t clear, Orchis is a type of flower, as indicated by the insignia of the operates and as one will notice, a lot of this run is built on flower imagery, on both the mutant and human ends.

As new seeds of conflict are sown, one thing, however, is clear: This is not something playing out on the sidelines. This is not some isolated X-corner narrative or era. This isn’t X-Men in their own little bubble, sectioned off. No, this is them right at the center. This is them right at the heart of the Marvel Universe, where they should be. They’re about to impact and change the entire Marvel world; this is no small thing. This is central, this is pivotal and they’re more important to this world than they have been in a long, long time. Hickman’s mentioned numerous times how he’s a DC kid and X-Men was his one Marvel book, his Marvel look. While his other projects up until now were assignments, this is his one true love of Marvel. X-Men was his lens into Marvel and it was his way of falling in love with it. And that passion, that sizzling energy and excitement of getting to finally do them? It shows. However, that doesn’t mean Hickman doesn’t touch on elements of his prior work, which should please many. In a fun little moment, Hickman gets to revisit his old pals the Richards Family, while lovely data pages tease Sol’s Anvils and The Bridges, amongst other things. It’s an Easter egg hunt for fans of the creator.

Larraz and Gracia, amongst all the Hickman-focus are, of course, the unsung heroes here, as they infuse the title with such energy, zipping between one big idea to the next, across space, infographics and strange isles and making it all feel seamless. Gracia’s sci-fi color palette, with the popping neon-touches when necessary really give the book a lovely look and Larraz’s Immonen-inspired artwork carries such depth of emotion and skill with dramatic staging and body language, alongside all the big world-building heavy lifting necessary for a title like this, especially given it boasts an armada of characters, that it’s impressive that he manages to pull off all that he does from Hickman’s script. Cowles knits all the efforts together with his own careful placements, guiding the reader gently through the maze of ideas, inviting them into this world of superhero science-fiction.

House of X #1 is a daring, audacious leap forward for all of mutantkind, re-centering them and giving them a clear, concise direction and definition moving forward for the next decade to come. It’s the successor to Morrison and it’s a grand celebration of what it means to be an X-Man, from mutant culture to all the wild world-building and sci-fi notions on evolution. It’s got Hickman charts, his iconic aesthetics and a whole lot more. It’s an incredible roadmap and one you can totally see setting the stage for decades of stories. This is some of the finest, most exciting superhero comics you’ll ever read and it’s an X-Men comic unlike any other, from its unique rhythm to the way it chooses to convey information. It feels definitive, it feels monumental and more than anything, it feels like the future.

House of X #1
Is it good?
A daring, ambitious leap forward for mutantkind that feels like a successor to Morrison while also being utterly unique, building a world truly of the future.
The ambition displayed here is simply staggering and mind-blowing. The world-building is insane.
Mutant culture as displayed here is fascinating and makes total sense in terms of approach
All the characters are spot-on and characterized exactly as well as you'd hope
Larraz and Gracia are a hell of a combo
The rhythm of the issue, as well as how it conveys information is so thrilling and fresh for a big two superhero title
10
Fantastic
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