Jonathan Hickman’s return to Marvel and the X-Men is turning out to be the summer event series everyone is talking about. The ideas he’s instilled in the first three issues inspire conjecture, debate, and even arguments among fans. Tini Howard (who will be writing Excalibur in October) said it best when she tweeted yesterday:
The weirdest monkey's paw of my whole life is how much I love everyone's HoXPoX shitposts because the books are so good they wrecked my life but I can't really contribute because I can't trust myself to keep things straight in my head and accidentally spoil stuff for you guys.
— en sabah nerd (@TiniHoward) August 13, 2019
The excitement is buzzing and everyone is dying to know what happens next. Can comic book storytelling get any better than this? More importantly, can comic book reviewing get any harder than this? The hype is real but it’s also easy to fall into the trap of not looking at these books with a honest eye. Let’s try, shall we?
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
As Xavier sows the seeds of the past, the X-Men’s future blossoms into trouble for all mutantdom. Superstar writer Jonathan Hickman (NEW AVENGERS, INFINITY, FF) continues reshaping the X-Men’s past, present, and future with breakout artist R.B. Silva (UNCANNY X-MEN)!
Why does this matter?
Ritesh Babu has loved Powers of X #1 and House of X #1, and I gave House of X #2 a 10/10. This is high-quality storytelling, and a thought-provoking and even philosophical look at mutants, humanity, and history itself. It’s a mix of hard and soft sci-fi as it jumps between year 1, year 100, and year 1,000. It’s complex in its approach and thus begs to be analyzed and ruminated on. It’s good storytelling.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
They say the devil is in the details and I think Hickman is fully aware of that. It’s clear from the structure of the story and the incredibly well thought out graphics by Tom Muller. Case in point, the issue opens with a quote by Magneto and then closes with a quote by Xavier. Read back to back there’s a purpose to what is being said that further complicates what you’re reading in between (i.e. the comic pages themselves). Part of the beauty of this title, in particular, is how it jumps between the three timelines of year 1, 100, and 1,000. It’s playing the slow game and slowly unveiling what each era is about, forcing the reader to make sense of each while also trying to make heads or tails of how they connect. From the graphic design to the structure of the plot this is good, complex storytelling.
Nimrod continues to be an interesting villain since he’s somewhat crazy but also filled with personality. You’ll actually laugh when he commits some murders. Then you have a guy like Apocalypse who shows up looking as much a supervillain as ever, but he appears to be on the side of good. Hickman never loses sight of some good character humor which will bring a laugh or two. That’s important in a series that is so complex while also so dark. The future is quite bleak and a little levity goes a long way.
What might have folks scratching their heads the most but also expanding their minds is the last few pages. Hickman delivers an explanation of a hive-mind structure that is filled with rules and levels. The concepts are explained well but also require a bit of logic and following along to truly get it. If that’s even possible. Hickman is dealing with large concepts involving the mind, consciousness, and purpose in the universe. The graphics by Muller help in conveying the relation to these layered notions and it’ll be interesting to see how such a huge concept connects to the lives of the characters we’re currently following.
The art by R.B. Silva, colors by Marte Gracia, and inks by Silva and Adriano Di Benedetto does a wonderful job of telling a story for every character on the page. Magneto, for instance, is first cast in dark shadow behind his helmet making him seem the supervillain we all know and love. After a revelation of sorts he’s clearly seen and looks young and almost hopeful in his demeanor. Xavier meanwhile, with his mask that covers his eyes, is somewhat forceful in his body language and in one scene is almost telling Cyclops what to do rather than asking. A new alien threat is revealed near the end that’s hauntingly realized and yet is reduced to black with grey blobs and only a silhouette and the shine of light to realize its danger. Sharp stuff.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
Reading this book is like being in the last place of an ongoing marathon and you’re close enough to win the race, but you have no idea what the terrain is ahead of you. There’s doubt, confusion, and a whole lot of guess work in play here. I found myself growing a bit tired of the mystery of it all and wanted more answers even though we do get some, but knowing each of these titles is only running six issues there’s hope yet for understanding.
This might be a nitpick, but the placement of Wolverine in the Apocalypse scene is a bit odd. You never actually see Wolverine with Apocalypse which confused me. You see him with two other mutants when we first see him, but he’s alone for the rest. For a book that’s making you question everything and make sense of some rather complicated concepts, I was literally pondering if Wolverine was even really there.
Is it good?
New questions arise, but we also get answers which lead to general understanding, but not a whole lot of clarity either. I’m enjoying the hell out of this mystery box of comic book storytelling, but if you’re an impatient person you may whispering, “Skip to the end” while you read this one.