The Hickman X-Men (Re)Read: House of X #5, Pt.2 – The Mutant Renaissance

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III. Renaissance & Celebration (pgs6-19)

And we’re back—at the start of HOX/POX. With so many mutants having died before the Hickman era and not a few of the same being teased in HOX/POX previews and the mystery of “the pod people” in HOX 1, we knew that mutant resurrection was going to be key to the start of Hickman’s run.


Hickman X-Men Reading Order

Krakin’ Krakoa!

More in this series!

Previously: More in the Hickman X-Men Re-Read!

Many readers might’ve wondered, though: What could the stakes be now if death is just a blip? Well, we found out that the greater mysteries were how this whole new world operates—culminating in HOX 4 with the imminent suspense of how our beloved X-Men would return from annihilation.

With HOX 4, readers could’ve guessed easily enough that the X-Men who died there would be resurrected by miniseries’ end, maybe even that we’d loop back to HOX 1’s opening scene given the overall narrative’s nonlinearity—and this is what’s happened! But the resolution to this particular thread is still satisfying because it answers one of two mysteries that have become more compelling than the mere fact of death and resurrection: We’ve been given an amazing revelation of mutants acting in concert (as a “power circuit”) as the mechanism of rebirth. This is much cooler than just (Shi’ar) tech (which is still critical with Cerebro).

And we’ll keep coming back to this wonderful new addition to the X-Men mythos post-HOX/POX: Renewal of the franchise is now buoyed by constant fan speculation about how favorite mutants might combine and recombine in further powerful dynamics that might open up greater potential in other areas—mutant magic, space exploration/colonization, and any field of cultural production you’d care to name, fashion, sports, art/music, religion, etc.

(Two smaller questions remain about resurrection mechanics: How does Logan regain the adamantium sheathing his bones? And if Scott’s need for ruby quartz to control his blasts is the result of brain damage sustained in childhood, why does he still need them here? This is probably analogous to Xavier having trouble walking even after he was “reborn” in a Shi’ar-engineered clone body following his original body’s destruction as it gave birth to a Brood spawn—lifelong disability has had a profound psychological effect.)

A. Shells: Hollow or Ensouled?

Speaking of religious matters, our HOX 5 resurrection and celebration scenes are still at the core suffused with mystery—and for not a few keen readers, an air of barely suppressed dread. To paraphrase Polaris here: Are these people we love just “shells” now?

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We’ll return to how Cerebro got so powerful, but for now, we really have to wonder about what Erik is describing here when he says this piece of technology copies “the essence, the anima,” or the “soul.” Now, from POX 5, Year 10, we know Forge designed Cerebro 7.0 using Shi’ar resources, which may very well be capable of copying and storing essences or souls, but when dealing with transcendent or ethereal matters, not scientifically verifiable phenomena, even fantasy stories, including those at Marvel, don’t typically make scientific devices integral to questions of spirit. What’s really unusual here, though, is the marked contrast between high-tech worldbuilding and the lack of any visual depictions of astral or spiritual forms—considering the X-Men mythos’ occasional but vital preoccupation with the incorporeal and the afterlife.

Sci-fi stories involving personality duplication and transfer and memory storage and editing are legion, but straight science-fiction categorically excludes depictions of spirit or “anima.” Obviously, we live in a time that’s increasingly seen the blurring of genre distinctions—which is great; it really opens up new possibilities. But what we’re seeing Hickman do is unusual!

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And much of how HOX 5’s first two scenes play out, from resurrection to celebration, seems to make clear, albeit only implicitly, that the question of what Krakoan resurrection is doing to our mutant heroes remains unanswered—a mystery that will continue to be part of the narrative suspense of the Krakoa era. After all, if the threat of death is no longer high stakes, something else must be.

I’m arguing that the high stakes of the Krakoa era are, when it comes to resurrection, existential and spiritual, and when it comes to colonizing Krakoa and establishing mutant society there as sovereign, ethical. HOX/POX introduces all the problems, but it’s not meant to answer any of them.

This is a major evolution for mainstream superhero narratives! (Albeit a more spectacular version of what’s been going on at Marvel for the past twenty years—an increased and matured focus on ulterior forms of doing the right thing, instead of just punching bad guys.) Hickman’s taking an unusual risk here by not immediately answering the ethical quandaries he’s introduced.

There’s also the mystery (as we’ve noted repeatedly!) of how everyone on Krakoa has suddenly come to trust Xavier now. That is weirdtotally unexplained.

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What isn’t a mystery is that this fundamental feature of mutant society’s renaissance will one day sour. But that doesn’t mean we won’t get a few years of compelling and surprising resurrection-centric stories (stretched out a bit by the COVID delays!). Even so, the death of death will inevitably become a privilege abused—if not by Marvel creators themselves (which in the long run might be wishful thinking!), then certainly by the Krakoans.

After all, in very short order, who wouldn’t take their own immortality for granted? Of course, immortals in fiction abound, but beyond a handful of usual suspects, very few carry a fanbase. From our mortal viewpoint, they’re either insufferably cold and remote or unhinged.

Fans could easily speculate how each mutant might take up their immortality. Older mutants, especially those in positions of authority (Magneto, Xavier, Exodus, Selene, etc.) might prefer to avoid death and resurrection unless deemed absolutely necessary for their long-term goals. At the very least, why give up control ever? In the resurrection process, there is a gap of a petit mort, a period of nonbeing, of missing out and surrender of control. And what’s keeping those with access to the Cradles from editing personalities, or, um, revising “essences” or “souls” (if that’s indeed what Cerebro captures)?

Now imagine yourself as a young, carefree mutant living in paradise. Why not flirt with death? Why not make it a sport? Why not take it for granted? (And let’s say someone really wanted a cosmetic change or put in a case for why they should get to be reborn with greater powers—or someone else’s. The path from the present to a world like Moira’s Life Nine Sinister-engineered chimeras might be very short and direct.)

So, no, Professor X—we will do this again, and again, and again, until the mutant technology for it breaks.

B. Just Celebrate for Now (Or, Why We Don’t See Anyone Grinding Their Teeth in Dread)

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Don’t forget: The Krakoan Resurrection process has already been in practice for some time now since before the X-Men’s mission to the Forge, so Storm as MC here isn’t going to be expressing trepidation, or at least not openly at this point. Hickman and Larraz set this scene up as one of pure celebration, and Storm’s questions of identity come across as performative rhetoric, not actual doubt or interrogation.

But doubts are certainly implied for the reader.

That said, there are some lovely moments here: Like Scott’s heartfelt expression of respect for Storm, calling back to their rivalry for X-Men leadership in the pre-X-Factor era, especially as it culminated in Uncanny X-Men #201 (1986), titled “Duel,” an absolute classic—in which a depowered Storm defeated Cyclops in Danger Room combat, as everyone at Xavier’s watched in awe (excepting Maddie Pryor, who was elsewhere in the mansion hoping for her hubby’s defeat—a fulfilled hope that backfired big time!).

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And when Storm turns to the newly hatched Jean, Jean’s persuasive answer to Storm’s searching question is a surprising and direct callback to her reunion with Storm in another classic, Uncanny X-Men #242 (1989), the “giant-sized” build to the double climax of Inferno—with the Maddie Pryor of it all being relevant here.

This was a period in X-Men history when the X-Men were thought dead following the Fall of the Mutants event, 1987/88, and Jean was meanwhile discovered by the Avengers alive in a cocoon in the sea—in Avengers #263 (1986)—released the very same month as the classic Uncanny X-Men #201 discussed above. (Hence, the reason Maddie’s hopes backfired! This also marked the start of Claremont’s loss of control over his Marvel-owned creations: The editor-in-chief had decided the Phoenix had never possessed Jean, but rather merely took on her form, in its infatuation with the powerful mutant. Not great.)

So Jean’s first words to her old friend after being hatched from a pod have twice been exactly the same! 😊

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[UX 242 by Chris Claremont, Marc Silvestri, Dan Green, Glynis Oliver, Tom Orzechowski, 1989]

This neat callback could work both as Jean’s reassurance to Storm—remembering something so specific from their shared past—and as Hickman’s assurance that readers should take the newly resurrected woman in HOX 5 as Jean and no one else. But either way, this is a little strange.

Since Claremont just had to end up writing Jean Grey again, despite his strong resentment about her return after he thought he’d told her grand story—in her rise and fall as the Phoenix—he made clear in Inferno that he was conceding that this original Jean was the one and only.

But in the first climax of Inferno—focused on Maddie the Goblin Queen’s threat (the second being centered on Sinister and his Marauders)—Jean via the Phoenix absorbed her clone’s personality and memories. This happened immediately after UX 242 in Louise Simonson’s X-Factor #38. Thereafter, could anyone say Jean was “the only ‘her’ that ever was”? After all, over the next full year of X-Factor, Simonson had the two personalities now inhabiting Jean’s body wage a fierce internal struggle for possession.

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[X-Factor #38 cover art by Walt Simonson, Al Milgrom, Tom Vincent, 1989]

Of course, since that time Jean has played host to the Phoenix force again and died (the Morrison era), and she and the rest of the O5 team each absorbed the memories of their time-displaced younger selves after these youths were returned to their Silver Age past, so that their experiences would be remembered while their personalities were reset to what they’d been as of X-Men #8 (1964), which had been the point at which the modern-age Beast appeared before them to take the teens back to his present day (see Extermination #5, 2018).

Maybe the woman’s just saying: All these aspects are part of me, the only me there is or was, and that’s why I’m marvelous. Her closest of friends couldn’t argue with that (though Storm’s much more fabulous! 😉).

Still, this neat callback clearly has dubious undercurrents—though what it all portends is hard to say!

Characteristically indubitable is the newly hatched Monet’s reaction to Storm’s intimate gregariousness:

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A Hickman favorite, Monet does have a long and tortured history of familial trauma. This is Hickman telling us he understands and that this typically mishandled aspect of the character will be important—when we finally get a Monet-centric story post-HOX/POX (and we’re still looking forward to it! But look out for X-Corp #1).

So we have some nice moments in this celebration, but questions will loom large for longtime readers, and alongside lingering mysteries, the resurrection process will likely become more mundane than celebratory, at least as we see it here—where establishing the new status quo is what matters.

As with any new status quo, not everyone will be happy—that’s just life.

C. The Bigger Game

Now that Xavier and Erik are worldly sovereigns, they’ll inevitably inextricably involve themselves in geopolitical Great Games—with Sinister joyfully riding their coattails in the background, don’t you doubt it. And you gotta admit, Xavier’s very slight smile on hearing the threat against humanity clearly implicit in Erik’s words is a little creepy.

What’s also more than a little creepy is Magneto instrumentalizing the memory of the Genoshan genocide. The history of that extreme atrocity will be revised “as a crucible,” no longer the “grave” Marvel at the time meant it to be. After all, realpolitik requires that all aspects of society be viewed as potential instruments in furthering material political goals. These two are kings now. (How long will that last?)

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(Also, can anyone look at the masked Xavier here while Magneto calls back to Genosha and not get at least a flash of creepy Cassandra Nova vibes???)

IV. A Nation Among Nations (pgs20-23)

But it’s only the next day that the UN officially recognizes Krakoan sovereignty. It’s another scene of celebration, albeit relatively subdued—and on elite human territory, where not all the humans are happy about the new status quo. (Déjà vu! 😉)

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It’s clear that Emma, of her own accord, telepathically swayed the Russian ambassador Natalia Vollock (seen first in HOX 1) to withhold her Security Council vote on the Krakoan resolution. All other permanent SC member states voted in favor. The ambassador’s death stare clearly implies this conflict is only going to escalate.

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Xavier and Emma’s telepathic exchange on the following page is full of portent for the future:

Compulsion leaves an indelible mark on the victim, Emma. It also affects the one perpetrating the act—dominating the will of another, you see, often comes with a cost.” In the meantime, she might get to rule some small corner of the world, but Xavier has much bigger plans—and we’ve already seen plenty of clues that Xavier’s ambitions will eventually come with a high price for everyone involved (see especially POX 4’s epigraphs).

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(And Hickman’s choice of prime geopolitical adversary here is interesting. Sure, Orchis is primarily composed of scientists and technocrats from various state and extrajudicial organizations originating in Western and primarily anglophone global power—but anyone who knows their world history understands that when US imperial hegemony begins to slip in our own real world, Russia will be ready and waiting, which is just the Russian state’s MO in relation to all rival states and empires going back centuries.)

Also obvious here is that the humans outnumber the mutants in this little post-recognition reception. Doctor McCoy (the Beast) is the only other Krakoan we see present—and his history of self-loathing and earnest respectability has been well-detailed elsewhere (this article contains recent X-Force spoilers!).

Of course, the only mutant capable of speaking for Krakoa itself, Doug Ramsey, is necessarily absent from these festivities. He’s too integral to the functioning of the nation to just hop over to an international soiree that’s ultimately mere power-politics posturing.

Regarding Krakoa’s own “voice” in all this political maneuvering, so far it seems like the living island’s fine with its resources, its body, being used by its new colonists to establish and buoy up their nation and to garden its fertile soil for spectacularly profitable drugs, apparently with exclusively voluntary Krakoan labor—in return for the fruits of paradise. It seems Krakoa itself is paid in kind by the low-level siphoning of mutant colonist vitality, so the more colonists the better from Krakoa’s perspective!

I’m bringing up these absent elements here because surely it will in time matter that what Moira, Xavier, Magneto, and Emma are doing is clearly undemocratic and doesn’t involve speaking for constituents beyond the basic fact of species survival and success.

Already, there’s a stark contrast this issue between the Krakoan scene of celebration—where Xavier and Erik hang back and watch from above—and this UN reception—where there’s not a single representative of Krakoa from outside its state apparatus. That might be normal at such global functions generally (which certainly doesn’t mean it’s okay!), but does it seem strikingly odd at the official inception of a new nation in the 21st century? It certainly feels like it should raise red flags if world governments were still largely hopeful about the continued spread of liberal democracy.

But in Krakoa’s case, really, who cares? They got the drugs we all want. And anyway, democracy isn’t so hot nowadays—until ordinary people start to notice the cracks and catch a glimpse of how the gears turn, especially the places where their own lives are caught in the grind.

And who will those faceless masses turn to then? It shouldn’t be too hard to guess—at least if we’re talking X-Men.

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Still, who knows—they might also look elsewhere, in a time of confusion.

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Ha-ha! Now that the questions of the Krakoan nation’s basic functioning have been answered, this is what everyone is really excited about: All our favorite baddies coming home to roost.

Next time… “We see them. But do we know them?

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