It’s been a LONG time since I’ve read an X-Men comic book. Well, anyway, it’s been a long time since I’ve read an X-Men comic I ENJOYED. Ashcan Press’s outing last year with the Multiple Man miniseries is about as close as I’ve gotten with an X related book, and not for want of trying. X-Men Red? X-Men Blue? X-Men GOLD? X-23? Uncanny X-Men? Buying an X-Men comic in the past two to three years has felt a lot like buying the right blend of Marlboro’s or Budweiser at the local 7-11. Fortunately, I no longer smoke, but at the same time, I was finding it much easier to quit X-Men. I could quit any time I wanted and so I did, having tried a bit of everything. Nothing, none of it, had sunk its claws, or telepathic probes deep enough to result in a blissful addiction. That is, until House of X.
Up front, I would just like to state that the very best X-Men stories are not necessarily the ones with the most action, nor indeed are they the ones that put the spotlight on my boy Logan—though lets be honest, those do come close. Those can be qualifying factors in an overall greatness rating, but I would argue that the best—the VERY best—X-Men stories are those that focus upon the implications of the rift between homo sapiens and homo sapiens superior. Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s now legendary Days Of Future Past is perhaps the first instance of form, showing us a dystopian landscape in which mutankind had been conquered and relegated to internment camps and death at the hands of Sentinel robots.
Fast forward a few years and we’re given the infinitely more expansive Age Of Apocalypse, which imagined a world where Charles Xavier had died in the seminal moment of realizing his dream and entrusted it to the King of Confirmation Bias himself: Eric Lensherr, aka Magneto. It was an inversion of form that introduced us to new characters, and showed us old characters in new ways, and ultimately showed us that whoever emerged on top, humans or mutants, would ultimately echo the lyrical cynicism of Roger Daltry: “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.” The rift is interesting because, to a fair minded person, it is inherently unsolvable. One cannot express favor for one group or species without diminishing the other. That is, until House Of X.
If one envisions the whole of the X-Men story cycle, all of it, the good and the bad, as a single continuous piece of music, House Of X marks that place in the melodic continuity where a period of relatively brief instrumental discord gives way to a seemingly familiar refrain, albeit one laden with disharmonic insertions of minor and major notes suggestive of some impending sonic crescendo. It isn’t the logical next chapter, DOFP and AOA being alternate endings in and of themselves, but it is, arguably, the next logical progression of the political idealism and notions of equality that X-Men has always embodied mixed with some good old fashioned storytelling. Now: What’s it all about?
I’m always wary of any book or story that starts off by presenting Magneto as a good guy. Apart from his very troubled past, he is—if House Of X is to be believed—an “omega” category mutant, meaning his threat level is global. His capacity to manipulate metal of every sort is exceeded only by his capacity as a caped and sneering hunka-hunka burnin’ damaged goods. And based off his depiction in films such as 2003’s X2: X-Men United (braces yourselves, another Roger Daltry/The Who reference coming up) he sure plays a mean pinball. Bearing that in mind, House Of X doesn’t so much try to sell us on a new idea or perception of Eric Lensherr, so much as it retreads some of the familiar territory long time readers might have seen of him leading up to the death of Charles Xavier at the hands of his own son, Legion, in the now age old Age Of Apocalypse storyline.
Though diplomatic and not overtly violent—at least, not yet—Mad Dog Magneto is very much in evidence as he leads a group of supposed ambassadors through a very hands off tour of Xavier’s island refuge of Krakoa. Krakoa itself, if you’re unfamiliar (as I was) is a sort of miracle island, ostensibly discovered and subsequently populated by Charles Xavier, who, in a startling act of premeditated brevity, started calling himself simply “X.” The island grows a variety of flowers with some dreadfully convenient properties and side effects. One flower, for instance, can cure any mental illness. Yet another can prolong a person’s life for five years. Most perplexing of all, however, are the flowers that can grow into portals that lead the entrant to Krakoa itself. It’s here where the book begins with Jean Grey—who looks ab fab in her vintage year one Marvel Girl threads—is leading a group of young mutants through just such a portal to roll in the Krakoan grass with their Uncle Wolvie.
We see more use of this later on when Sabretooth, Toad and Mystique crop up for some light terrorism and industrial espionage. Fans of the Fantastic Four are in for a treat as Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm show up on scene to handle the terroristic trio in their attempt to escape. Sue Storm and Mr. Fantastic arrive just in time to stop Sabretooth from zipping off the streets of Manhattan onto the soft grass of Krakoa. That is, until House of—Excuse me. That is, until Cyclops shows up.
If there is a single comic out there where Scott Summers, aka Cyclops is not in some way or all ways a complete, insufferable douche…This is not that book. Sorry. He’s not as bad as he’s been done in the past, and his year one threads are similarly awesome to Jean Grey’s in the way they hearken back to the classic era of mutant superheroes, but he still smells a bit of Axe body spray as he unilaterally helps Sabretooth escape the FF’s particular flavor of quadrilateral justice. Amnesty is as amnesty does, apparently, and the am-nasty look the Reed Richards gives Cyclops as he takes Sabretooth back through the portal with him tells me there’s going to be a lot more friction to and from this so called amnesty than either side may be presently aware. Unlike DOFP and AOA, humans and mutants have reached an uneasy ceasefire.
Though, to hear Magneto say it—and if his last line in this book doesn’t give you chills, you’re not paying attention—it isn’t so much a ceasefire as it is an unconditional surrender of humanity to the concession and condescension of the world’s remaining population of mutants who will, we are told, relegate themselves to this single, unreachable island. Like most things that sound too good to be true, you’ll know right away that this is certainly not going to break with that same tradition of subverted expectations and disappointment. However, House Of X is anything BUT disappointing. The stellar line art and colors by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia, respectively, make for some spectacular panel work that will be as welcome to new X-Fans as it will be to the ex-X-Fans. Writer Jonathan Hickman has herein crafted a worthy successor to his 2015 Secret Wars reboot.
Personally, I was perhaps most excited for the re-emergence of Charles Xavier who has, for this book, doffed his usual wheelchair in favor of a more liberating, Cerebro unitard with a sort of Batman Who Laughs flair to it. I joke, but it seriously is a solid opening chapter. The picture of perfection presented by Magneto’s magnanimous ceasefire terms has some Krakoan flower sized holes in it, and it’s going to be very X-citing—not to mention X-spensive—to watch this series X-pand and hopefully X-ceed all X-pectations. In short, House Of X is House of X-cellent.