At the dawn of the 21st century, Grant Morrison (with collaborators like Frank Quitely) reinvented the X-Men franchise for a new age. The boldness of this new era was made clear by a single sequence in the first issue of New X-Men in which Professor X puts a gun to his own head to threaten an invasive psychic presence. The panels almost scream “this isn’t the X-Men you know,” challenging readers to get on board or go home.
House of X is the first issue of Jonathan Hickman’s attempt to again redefine the X-Men for a new era. The issue opens with a two-page sequence that may rival New X-Men’s in terms of boldness and how it challenges the reader. It’s more subtle compared to New X-Men’s audaciousness, but the intent is the same: “We’re doing something different now. Are you in, or are you out?”
Being so bold only pays off if you have the ideas and the craftsmanship to pull it off. Hickman has the ideas, and artist Pepe Larraz has the skill to make them work, especially when teamed with Marte Gracia whose colors elevate the work of every artist he’s paired with. That opening scene works because Larraz is able to draw both imagery and character on the page. Larraz’s Professor X is like an imp tiptoeing through his world, harvesting his mutant fruit. He is both god and serpent in the garden of Eden, and that dichotomy infuses the familiar line—“To me, my X-Men"—with tension, dread, and mystery.
There are other moments like this littered throughout the issue, moments where anticipation and payoff are manipulated with expertise. There’s a perfectly-paced time-lapse that doubles as a countdown, building tension as it ticks away, setting the stage for what’s to come. There’s an imperious splash page of Magneto at his most intimidating, even acting as an agent of peace. There is a scene where Cyclops has a conversation with the Fantastic Four over a delicate subject. It begins casually, then builds as the conversation grows tenser. There’s a glint of red as the reader awaits the expected superhero brawl, but instead, with a page turn, Hickman and Larraz gently diffuse that build. And that’s not even getting into some of the other iconographies at play or the final panel that serves as a kind of thesis statement.
Hickman is making the X-Men big again. This is mutants as a sociological, cultural study. At least that’s how it seems. From those first few pages, Hickman creates the sense that things are not what they seem. At one point a human character mutters to himself, paraphrasing a quote from Sun Tzu about “appearing to be one thing while actually being another,” perhaps as a warning to us that Xavier’s grand plan for human and mutant co-existence isn’t everything it appears to be. That this series will intertwine with Powers of X, a sister series set in the future, only adds to that expectant wariness.
But for now, Hickman is picking up where Morrison left off with the idea of mutants being a culture that, if not for the numerous tragedies that strike at them, would rival or outstrip humanity. But where Morrison looked at them as a subculture influencing human culture, causing it to evolve, Hickman has set them up as something else. Something separate. Something other. Something mythological or even divine. It’s fascinating, and dreadful, and curious in ways that the straightforward superhero takes on the X-Men from the past few years have not been.
What Hickman brings to the X-Men can perhaps be best summarized by one word: intent. He’s going somewhere big with this. Where isn’t clear, but there’s a sense of purpose to House of X #1 that has been lacking from the X-Men line for some time. The era of X-Men has arrived. It’s fascinating, it’s well-drawn and well-colored, it has great character moments, and it has direction. But it is not the X-Men as you’ve ever seen them before. The only thing left to decide is: Are you in, or are you out?
Published by Marvel Comics
On July 24th, 2019
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Pepe Larraz
Colors by Marte Gracia
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Design by Tom Muller
Cover by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia