House of X #1: Beauty and terror
Jonathan Hickman returned to Marvel this week with his hotly anticipated House of X #1. Joined by Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles, and designer Tom Muller, Hickman succeeds (once again) in taking a large Marvel property and making it seem even bigger than it’s ever been before.
A new word for the lexicon of man
The X-Men franchise has always centered around the outcast status of mutant-kind. On one hand, we’ve had Charles Xavier, dedicated to the idea that man could be good, and that mutants must show him that better way; and, on the other, there has almost always been Erik Lehnsherr, Magneto, convinced that Homo sapiens “are all wolves.” Thus, Magneto has often been the villain, but one with a compelling argument, both in-universe and out. Every time a mutant suffers at the hands of men—suffering brought on the sole basis of mutant identity—Magneto’s perspective seems more and more tempting.
In House of X, Charles and Erik are on the same side. We’ve seen this sort of coalition in film and (I presume) in comics, so that’s hardly novel; but, whenever we see the two aligned, questions arise: who changed his mind? who compromised? why are they working together—to what end?
Here in House of X, “the Professor has changed all the old rules,” forming a mutant state, complete with its own citizens, territory, and global economic significance. The pressing goal of this state—Krakoa—at least in this first issue, is that the rest of the world would recognize it as a nation. In exchange, Krakoa offers “gifts” to mankind: drugs synthesized from the “flowers of Krakoa”—drugs that would extend human life, immunize against physiological disease, and prevent psychiatric disorder (so-called “diseases of the mind”).
So, this is Xavier’s show, but the question remains: did the Professor bend, or did Magneto? Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the book, but we quickly learn that it seems to be the Professor who has made concessions. Magneto still sees humanity negatively, though he is willing—at least for a time—to let Krakoa be neighborly. But his interaction with human ambassadors is dripping with disdain, and you get the sense that it’s only a matter of time before he pulls all of the iron out of someone’s blood and sends it bulleting through his brain.
There’s another cause for concern, as well. Several mutants of a criminal bent commit crimes cyber—and physical—at a Damage Control facility, but when the Fantastic Four show up to stop them, they are interrupted by Scott Summers, Cyclops, who reminds them that Krakoa demands amnesty for its citizens. One of the criminals, Sabretooth, has probably just killed several guards, but Summers (initially) insists on amnesty. He eventually relents, no doubt to avoid an incursion with the Four, but it is an unsettling exchange.
Beneath the beauty
And there’s the key word: unsettling. Krakoa is beautifully-rendered by Larraz and Gracia—an island paradise that any of us would feel lucky to inhabit. Xavier’s vision of a haven for his brothers and sisters is admirable and inspiring. We see awe on the face of a new arrival, a smile parting the lips of Jean Grey, and Wolverine playing with children in the grass. Krakoa seems a remarkable place, and what the mutants ask of the world seems reasonable: let us be.
But beneath the beauty, there are old enemies behaving rather like their old selves. Why should Sabretooth be granted amnesty after killing? Why should Magneto, who clearly despises Homo sapiens, be Charles’s ambassador to the world of man? A utopian society is only paradise to its beneficiaries, and to them, it is still fleeting. There is something sick beneath Krakoa’s lush facade. There is something wrong. We can already see threads popping at the seams; how long before the seams burst at the sheer weight of what they hide? How long before mankind takes steps to preserve itself?
That I find myself speaking not of mechanics, but of the deeper parts of this story, is a testament to how well it is conceived—and realized—by Hickman and crew. Krakoa is real. These characters—from the most recognizable mutant to the most insignificant ambassador—are real. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the franchise, or you count yourself among the uninitiated—like me—pick up a copy of House of X #1 and immerse yourself in this world, beautiful and terrible, as it unfolds. I suspect you’ll be glad that you did.