Marvel’s X-Men Relaunch Explained: What to Look For

What do House of X and Powers of X mean for the future of the X-Men and Marvel?

Jonathan Hickman’s ballyhooed X-Men relaunch has finally arrived! Both House of X and Powers Of X have seen their first issues released into the wild, and as the site that dug through Hickman’s entire body of Marvel work for Secret Wars, we felt it was important to get in on the ground floor of what is so far a 12-issue weekly series that blows out into six different books come October.

So with that in mind, and in the spirit of the books, here are X things we’re watching after issues 1 of House of X and Powers of X (get it, because it’s actually “Powers of Ten”?).

WARNING: This article contains EXTENSIVE spoilers about the first issues of House of X and Powers of X. STOP READING NOW if you haven’t read both comics.

I. The Art

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House of X Comic - Jean Grey

There is no greater sign of the depth of Marvel’s commitment to this relaunch than RB Silva and Pepe Larraz handling art duties on the two books. If this relaunch was meant to be a short term spike for sales and a way to get people talking about the X-Men again without making any substantial changes to the line, there are plenty of monster names that could have handled six issues of art and sold a ton of books. Larraz and Silva, however, are only superstars in the making – staggeringly capable artists who absolutely blew away these first issues and will probably become superstars on the basis of what they’re showing in these books. Putting them on House and Powers of X gives them the space to grow into superstardom with the additional recognition.

Every page of House of X is a home run, and most of the attention is going to the sequence with Jean tearing up at the Professor’s welcome to Krakoa, but while that’s a great strip, it doesn’t capture the breadth of Larraz’s skill. He can go from that small moment, to the grandiose intimidation of Omega Sentinel on the Dyson Mastermold, to the blistering action sequence with Mystique, Sabertooth and Toad in the space of six pages. He’s been extremely good since Uncanny Avengers, but this is him taking his game up a notch.

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Likewise for RB Silva. His art on Powers of X is superb all the way through, but what I found utterly shocking was how much emotion he put into Nimrod’s hands. Think about how ridiculous that sentence is: Nimrod, the pink and white Final Boss Sentinel from the future who just Terminator walks at Rachel Summers for like, 4 issues back in the early ‘80s, and RB Silva made his hands as expressive as Jean Grey’s eyes. As excited as I am to find out where the story goes, I’m just as excited to keep looking at the stupid good pictures.

II. What’s Left From The Old Continuity

House of X/Powers of X has been billed as a relaunch without a reboot, which implies that the old continuity will continue to exist. And in a way, it does – we’ll talk later about how much these books rely on older stories to build off of. But at the same time, it’s a pretty clean sweep from what came before.

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After being reverse decimated post-House of M (if they were actually decimated, one of every ten would have died, instead of one out of every ten keeping their powers), the mutant population has been slowly creeping upward. Old mutants were put back whenever there was a narrative purpose, and mutant births started again in the last few years. But House of X goes full Morrison – humans will be outnumbered by mutants soon and extinct not long after that.

As far as recent continuity goes, there’s not much. Most of the deaths from the past year or so of Uncanny X-Men have been undone or are about to be. Xandra, Charles and Lilandra’s bird child from the delightful Mr. & Mrs. X, is destined to become Empress of the Shi’ar in 100 years. And that’s all we saw so far.

III. The Bad Guy Plan

House of X - Xavier

The story is split across two books. Powers of X is looking at the scope of mutant history, starting with Charles and Moira meeting 10 years in the past (X^0), carrying through today (X^1), 100 years in the future (X^2) and 1000 years down the road (X^3). House of X so far is only focused on the X^1 timeframe, gathering the mutants on Krakoa under the leadership of Professor X and Magneto, and setting up mutant embassies around the world. And…um…I think the Professor is the bad guy.

The central conflict of the X-Men has usually been some variation on the Professor’s students fighting to protect and peacefully integrate with a world that hates and fears them, and Magneto and his followers either trying to completely dominate that world or separate from it entirely. In House of X, there’s no peaceful integration. It’s more like “threatening coexistence.”

The Professor has three speaking scenes across the first two issues: the EXTREMELY creepy scene with the pod people and the only slightly less creepy scene when Jean arrives on Krakoa in House of X; and the scene with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in Powers of X. There he talks about sacrificing for a new future, and I want to reiterate, *with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants*.

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Ignoring the fact that “Charles” never takes his helmet off and looks like The Maker, the minor villain of Secret Wars; and the joy Magneto expresses through both issues (seriously, nobody is happier about this relaunch than him); all of “Charles’” interactions are creepy as hell and hard villain-coded.

IV. The toying with genetics

Breaking news: X-Men comics contain a great deal of genetic engineering science fiction talk! We also have film of the sun rising in the east, and documentary evidence of water being wet. Stay tuned, dear reader.

Seriously, though, these two issues are heavy on the genetics even for an X-Book. There is the obvious example, in Powers of X when we see the combination of mutants that made the Rasputin who has been tearing up the internet since the teaser image was released (for the record, it’s Unus the Untouchable, Kitty Pryde, Quentin Quire, X-23, and “Rasputin” DNA, which explains the metal but not the Soulsword).

And then there are the pod people in House of X, one of whom has very prominent red hair, and one has red energy bubbling out of his eyes. These are probably central to the big mystery of the story, and if you want blatant spoily speculation on what that all means, jump down to number X.

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V. Omega Mutants

House of X - Legion

In yet another example of bad guy coding ruling the day, both books treat Omega Mutants like uranium: a dangerous natural resource to be exploited at all costs.

House of X goes into great detail about the definition of Omega Mutant. The previously commonly accepted definition in the comics was “extremely powerful,” but here it shifts to “primary power has no conceivable upper limit.” This both makes perfect sense – Iceman has been an Omega Mutant for some time now, and he’s basically an ice elemental, reforming himself from ambient moisture (or Havok’s piss that one time) – and is a terrifying new concept when you pair it with the revelation in Powers of X, that at some point in the near future, Mr. Sinister is going to start fiddling with omega powers to create super-chimerae who will collapse Mars in a singularity.

There are a handful of surprising names on HoX’s omega list – Jamie Braddock, Psylocke’s brother who has been off and on dead for 30 years is apparently alive and kicking again. Legion is around but unaffiliated, and Mister M (from the post-Decimation District X Bishop/detective book) is listed as unaffiliated. And Franklin Richards is flagged in red…

VI. References to Hickman’s Old Marvel Work

Avengers was as a concept basically outlined as a powerpoint, so the volume of infographics that Hickman and designer Tom Muller put into the two books is entirely expected. And because they’re very good, we get a lot of info just out of the way these infographics are presented.

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I won’t go through all of them, but the two most important seeming ones at this moment are the list of Omega Mutants, and the reading order. Franklin Richards is the key to a lot of theories of the Marvel Universe (when you finish this article, go google “Franklin Richards + Marvel Time”), so it’s worrisome to see him mentioned so prominently in House of X. At least it should be to the people inside it.

The reading order, which appeared at the back of both books, highlights three issues in red: House of X #2, House of X #5, and Powers of X #6. Those three issues are supposed to be the paradigm shifts, and the first one comes next week!

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And beyond the design elements, there’s a lot from Hickman’s old Marvel work present in these first two issues, and a lot that we can expect to come. Cyclops was notable in Avengers, but underutilized and eventually went out like a chump in Secret Wars. He gets more play in House of X, and it feels a little like Hickman finally getting to do with Scott Summers what he wanted to do with him before. Franklin Richards was a huge part of his Fantastic Four/FF run, and he’s very notably lampshaded in HoX, as are the Imperial Guard in PoX (Hickman introduced the human Superguardian Smasher for his Avengers). Apocalypse is almost certainly coming soon, and he was notable in S.H.I.E.L.D. There should be more throughlines as the story goes on.

VII. References to Old X-Men Comics

All the promotional materials for this relaunch talked about it being the next in a line of universe-shifting X-Men comics, following on Giant Sized X-Men #1, X-Men (vol. 2) #1, Age of Apocalypse, and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s New X-Men #114. The books certainly feel like they belong there, and are self-consciously referential of those four books. Krakoa was the villain of Giant Sized, and Powers of X feels like a bold alternate reality in the spirit of AoA. And House of X is basically an homage to Morrison’s entire run, with mutants developing their own culture and Magneto spending the entire issue with the Stepford Cuckoos walking past various Xorns. But the continuity and thematic debts don’t end there, and there are two key stories that I think are more important to understanding these runs: Days of Future Past and the Utopia era.

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Nimrod and the Hounds are hugely important villains in Powers of X, and they are straight out of Rachel Summers and Kitty Pryde’s futures in DoFP. It is the prototypical dark future, where mutants are all killed off by robot hunters and mutant traitors, and that is the world that is presented to us in this week’s comic.

Meanwhile, Utopia was a little bit different than Krakoa is presented here. Utopia was the floated remains of Asteroid M in San Francisco bay, a refuge for the 200 living mutants to try and survive. It leaned very hard into the paramilitary school subtext that’s always there in X-men stories, but was also political in a very different way that most of its predecessors. It’s my favorite era of X-Men comics because of how cohesive the line was (and because Second Coming was like a perfect X-Men action movie), but because it was a small number of mutants fighting for survival and not acceptance, it wasn’t a great example of the line over its history. There are a lot of strong parallels here, with the biggest difference being it’s no longer mutants struggling to survive, but mutants fighting to dominate.

VIII. Apocalypses

House of X - Apocalypse

Not blue pencil lipped Rocks-Of-The-Eternal-Shore Apocalypse, but the ones where things end.

Hickman is no stranger to the end of the world, having destroyed the Marvel multiverse once already. But his X-catastrophes feel less like Secret Wars and more like another of his comics: East of West.

East of West is a biblical, American end, where Earth’s history diverges at the civil war before technology rushes forward and the Book of Revelation begins in a technological utopia. It is very smart (and incredibly gorgeous thanks to Nick Dragotta’s Sal Buscema-drawing-Akira looking art), but it’s very American and very specifically Christian. That is surprisingly all here, too, starting with the mutant decision to place their embassy in Jerusalem.

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There is a strain of Christian belief that says that the end times begin with Israel’s geography being set in a particular way, and that includes Jerusalem being its recognized capitol. This has real world political implications, but it’s also been the source of a lot of good fiction. Putting Magneto, the arch-villain of the X-Men saga, in a Jerusalem embassy telling people that they have new gods now is essentially casting him as the Antichrist and setting the world up for the end times. Nothing about the war in the future of Powers of X indicates that this read is incorrect.

IX. The Timelines

We don’t just get multiple timelines represented in Powers of X: we get events sequenced across it and House of X, and things happening simultaneously in multiple time streams. Take, for example:

Sabertooth, Mystique, and Toad spend House of X breaking into Damage Control and steal plans for something (looks like Sol’s Hammer, the Dyson Sphere laser that Iron Man used to blow up an invading army in New Avengers, but that could be a fake out). Meanwhile, 100 years in the future, four mutant chimeras are caught stealing from the Man-Machine Alliance’s mainframe, and Percival (the Cypher-looking dead one) is repeating “Charles’” quote from House of X.

Is it possible we’re looking at the X-Men equivalent of “The Best of Both Worlds?” Where the same event is unfolding simultaneously across multiple times?

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X. Our speculation.

Power of X - Sinister

Finally, it wouldn’t be a deep mystery without fanboys speculating wildly about what’s going on. So we’re absolutely going to do that. If you take all of this into account and where do you land?

Charles isn’t actually Charles. He’s Sinister.

Nobody has won more from this relaunch than the master mutant geneticist. He, along with the other brightest minds in mutantdom, couldn’t figure out why mutant births ceased after House of M, and couldn’t figure out how to get them back. Now, he’s got thousands of mutants to choose from and the ability to experiment however he wants. He can exist in off-books literal Black sites on Krakoa, cancerous growths undetectable to the rest of the island. And if he’s posing as Charles, he gets to steer public events to his liking. He gets to direct policy like “protect omega mutants at all costs,” or “Hey Magneto send the old Brotherhood to steal plans from the Fantastic Four please.”

Whether we’re right or not, Charles is almost certainly not Charles. He isn’t telekinetic, so lifting the thumb drive away from Mystique was a flag. And keeping his Cerebro helmet on at all times is a BIG sign that he’s a bad dude and not who we think he is.

Sinister works here. If he gets his hand on reality warper DNA (remember, Mister M, Legion, Jamie Braddock and Franklin Richards are all in the wind as of issues 1), he can do pretty much anything he wants. He could easily be covering up his forehead ruby with “Cerebro.” It makes sense, and we know he’s coming back.

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