Let me say this: Jonathan Hickman is going places, and he’s taking the X-Men with him. The 12 collected comics that comprise the graphic novel “House of X/ Powers of X” is a smart, entertaining update of the X-Men’s entire history.
The first X-Men comic was published in 1963. Hickman is trying to make sense of 57 years of the X-Men comics, and he largely succeeds. Even if you have only followed the X-Men peripherally, through the movies, Hickman makes the story accessible.
For newcomers, the X-Men are mutants, gifted with powers due to genetic mutations. Mutants are outcasts, reviled and envied by mankind, for being the apparent next evolutionary leap of mankind. Mutants and mankind struggle to reconcile their existence together. While mutants seem to have the upper hand (due to their powers), in fact all their future paths lead to disaster and extinction for the mutants. Professor X, the X-Men’s leader, struggles to find a new solution to maintain peace and save mutants.
Hickman takes an old character, Moira McTaggart, and updates her history. (Spoiler Alert!) She is revealed to be a mutant with the power of reincarnation, who retains all her memories of previous lives. What she does with that power drives Hickman’s story.
Working together with Professor X and his rival/friend Magneto, Moira attempts to prevent mutant calamity. The story hinges not on superhero action (though there is plenty of that) but in the mystery of how they can solve the X-men’s existential dilemma. How do they survive as a people to find peace and belonging in a broken world?
This is inventive, intelligent fun. Hickman uses pop culture to entertain us with questions of morality, history, science fiction concepts, drama, ethics, accountability and power, and the difficulties of ruling a nation. There’s a particular scene, where a mutant committee sits at a round table, debating a terrible decision, that is such a powerful expression of what comics can do when they combine powerful visual images and words.
The artists who worked on this graphic novel—Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia and R.B. Silva—have done a superb job. Their moody, atmospheric panels provide a science fiction vision to all the amazing concepts Hickman plays with.
In the end, Hickman achieves something extremely difficult. He lands the X-Men in a new and unexpected direction, full of mystery and promise, ready to launch the mutants into many more years of X-Men stories.