If You Like Comics, You Should Read Marvel's House of X and Powers of X

For the past 11 weeks, I have eagerly awaited Wednesday mornings in a way I haven’t in a very long time. I’m a longtime comic book reader, and since Wednesdays are when new comics come out, I’m always a little excited—but this has been different. There’s something special going on in the world of X-Men comics, and I need to tell you about it.

House of X and Powers of X are two intertwining miniseries written by Jonathan Hickman, with art by Pepe Larraz and R.B Silva, respectively. Over the last eleven weeks, the two series have taken turns telling complimentary stories establishing a brand-new status quo for the X-Men, each issue complicating the others and hinting at audacious new developments. House of X just ended this week with its sixth issue, and Powers of X No. 6 will end this whole prelude, kicking off a new line of X-Men books under a banner called Dawn of X. Describing it logistically like that makes it sound like any old comics event, and in some ways, it is—only the story being told here is incredible and feels relevant in a way the X-Men haven’t felt in ages.

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(Light spoilers only.)

In House of X/Powers of X (often abbreviated HoX/PoX), Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men, realizes his dream of human/mutant coexistence just hasn’t been working out. Mankind has not accepted mutants, no matter how much mutants work to save them. So he tries something new. Working with his best frenemy Magneto, Xavier unites all mutants around the world, inviting them to the living island of Krakoa and declaring it a sovereign nation where mutants can find sanctuary and amnesty. That includes villains, like Apocalypse.

The actual mechanics of how this is all pulled off are dazzling, with some of the most audacious retcons and twists I’ve read in a superhero comic. They’re best discovered as you read, and I won’t spoil them here. I’m more interested in talking about how the HoX/PoX comics make the X-Men feel vital again.

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One of the most important things about X-Men, and X-Men stories, is the mutant metaphor. Initially understood to be a stand-in for the Civil Rights struggle in America, mutants were hated and feared, constantly oppressed for being born different even as they fought for humanity. Over time, mutantkind has been a comic book stand-in for all sorts of marginalized people—stories have both implicitly and explicitly drawn connections to queer experiences (consider Iceman “coming out” as a mutant in the film X2, or literally coming out as queer in recent comics), or Jewish ones (Like this Brian Michael Bendis-written speech from Kitty Pryde).

Sometimes, the malleability of this metaphor is a weakness. If you take it seriously as a text on race, for example, it starts to fall apart, ill-equipped to engage with ideas like institutional discrimination because it needs to be a superhero story first. In a lot of ways, most X-Men stories just let you decide who the X-Men stand for, and that’s worked pretty well in broad strokes even if it fails when you dig deep.

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HoX/PoX both sidesteps and amplifies the metaphor by fundamentally shifting the fantasy of the X-Men: What if marginalized people—queer people, people of color, Jewish people—didn’t have to appeal to those in power? What if they could, overnight, declare themselves a power in their own right and demand the respect they should’ve gotten from the start? What if they were free to build a culture without the meddling of colonists, the rich, the powerful?

To the marginalized, it would be incredible. To the rest of the world, it would be uncomfortable. Terrifying, even. And that’s my favorite trick in HoX/PoX—the books make you complicit in that unease. It is not comfortable to watch mutants declare themselves sovereign and build a society. Something about it feels wrong. Dangerous. Radical.

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Perhaps that discomfort stems from living in a world that labors so hard to keep power where it is, and the marginalized in line. Perhaps it’s because this world has decided that its rules are not supposed to be written by queer leaders or people of color.

It’s apt that the central metaphor of the X-Men, mutation, is something that’s driven by evolution. It is inevitable. You cannot stop it. For decades, the X-Men were heroes to readers who felt different, or cast out, for a multitude of reasons. X-Men comics, while not perfect, strove to represent those people in their stories: It was a team with a roster from all over the world, with people who looked “normal” and people who did not.

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HoX/PoX takes that metaphor and refuses to make it palatable. It is bold and uncompromising. It looks at the marginalized people its characters have long stood in for and says they are inevitable. That they cannot be stopped.

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