I guess I’ll keep following this since it’s a light weekly read that will continue for three months, even though I don’t know if I’ll have something to write here every week, or care to.

This second issue (or rather, second leg of this one-two jog) cemented my general dislike of the premises, and the quality of the writing. A moment before started reading I heard this issues would be going back and forth across time, so I thought it might be at least interesting. But instead it confirms my wild guesses about where the whole thing is going (the silly war plant-mutant-hivemind VS machine-human-AI), and simply rewrites the universe by wiping all that was good in it.

That’s the reason for the title: this is not an X-Men storyline, this is a semi-clean state very similar to what happened to the Ultimate Marvel universe. This issue throws in a bunch of other superficial layers. It was obvious already from the promotional material, but I was expecting that all these new actors were going to be gradually introduced while the story shapes up. Instead Hickman throws everything in at once. From Sinister to Nimrod, to the Shi-Ar Empire. For this reason we aren’t reading a story, we’re facing a total, radical universe wipe and rebuild. Hickman new playing field.

More correctly, this looks like an Age of Apocalypse kind of deal, but with the ominous problem of more long lasting effects.

The problem is again it feels nothing like mutants, nothing like X-Men, nothing like the 616 universe… nothing like Marvel. Hickman could have as well gone and do his thing without recycling established characters, especially when there’s really nothing left of those characters besides (and not always) some general outlines of their costumes.

So again, this isn’t X-Men. It’s not one of their story, it’s been clumsily plugged in the official continuity but I do not recognize anything that I can accept as canon. It just read as pure hubris.

But that’s fine too. Once I readjust expectation I still can enjoy a story even if that story has nothing to do with its intended legacy. The problem is: is this story worthwhile on its own and strong enough to justify throwing everything else away? And my answer is simply no.

When judged in its autonomy this story (currently, these are opinions as they weekly develop) not only fails to stand up against what came before, but it’s actually a pretty low quality within comics, in general. It’s just quite bad.

I can justify some of this. Hickman is shaping up a big scenario, and despite the higher than normal number of pages there’s very little story on these pages. It’s just text infodumps mixed with some pin-ups to present these new and old characters and their new styles. I can understand why he does it, but it’s also not working. The “strategy” of the Ultimate universe was to create a number of titles that, together, built that sense of greater worldbuilding, but also leaving each single title to explore more intimately some specific characters, and build a story there, right away. Here instead we have this “anthology” of fragments of situations that lack the time and space necessary to build a story. So what’s left? Pure shock value and some splash pages to awe through art.

The Ultimate universe was a number of titles, each with their own specific story and intimate bubble, that when joined contributed to this idea and feel of greater universe. Here instead we have two anthological titles that cycle very rapidly through different groups, space and time, to show all the faces of this greater universe, but without any trace of story (yet).

It feels shallow despite the onslaught of superficial detail.

The first few pages we have an odd meeting between classic Xavier and Moira MacTaggert. It’s very cryptic and reads just like foreshadowing meant to awe the reader through intense stares.

Then four pages of Mystica, Xavier and Magneto, but nothing of value is being said as it’s just extension of what was written in the previous issue. Just “motions” through the same acts & rhetoric.

Then we have some new characters in a sci-fi setting, lots of info, some action to let the artist stretch a bit. But story-wise this section only emphasizes a two-faction future war and meant to subtly introduce a brand new taxonomy of mutant types and powers… that is then directly infodumped in text, in the section that follows. This is all brand new to rewrite the concepts of the mutants. So we have now “generations”/breeds of mutants, each with its fancy label and characteristics. It’s all merely what you see when a guy is tasked to reinvent a super-hero universe as he pleases. There’s nothing tangible, it’s all preparation and exploiting curiosity by seeing how some seemingly classic and known characters plug into this brand new setting.

A few pages about the human-machine faction follow, to make a show of how this “man-machine Ascendancy” is unscrupulous and really like the stereotypical cruel tyranny you’d expect, emphasized by the theme of AI and machine being cold and inhuman, of course, and humans losing their nature as they let machines take over. Then more characters’ presentation within the new setting (oh look, Magneto and Wolverine have beards, and there’s a plant guy). What follows, if I interpret things correctly since this section confused me, is another text infodump detailing the wider context of the 100 years in the future scenario. It explains how after losing the war to evil machinic empire mutants left planet Earth to scatter across the galaxy and inhabit some planets close to Shi-Ar’s empire (simplifying). The core idea here is that, at this point in time, the machine-human-AI tyranny actually won and “only” 10.000 mutants are left in the universe. Of which, only eight (8) are active in the Solar system to annoy the machinic empire ruling there. Seven of those eight that we see directly or indirectly. The confusing part is that we see Nimrod working for the human-machinic empire…

Then a jump 1000 years in the future for a quick final scene, and we see Nimrod, or what’s left of it, apparently with a blue skinned Xavier-like, with labels clearly defining we are within the mutant faction, and the reveal that the human-machinic empire eventually collapsed on its own, to the point that weird-Xavier is doing his best to preserve what could be salvaged of humanity… within an aquarium.

Schematically, we have these four timelines:
X0 is the generic “past” with Xavier seemingly being his classic self.
X1 being the present current time with Xavier and Magneto trying to build the mutant nation at Krakoa.
X2 being 100 years in the future (the main focus of this issue and probably of the title itself), with the human-machine faction having mostly defeated mutants, although humans seem more like enslaved than co-ruling. With the remaining mutants scattered in space and back into their more typical role of partisans/terrorist trying to disrupt the machinic empire.
X3 being 1.000 years in the future, with the human-machinic empire having self-collapsed, somehow, and its human side being preserved within an aquarium under the eyes of blue-skinned Xavier… and Nimrod.

As I said it’s an onslaught on info. Not only we have a brand new world done from scratch, but it also spans different times. It’s as if the Marvel universe was re-created, and curiously even more separated from its conspicuously missing block: what about all other non-mutant super heroes? Right now this is a brand new mutant universe where everything non-mutant has been scrapped. Maybe deliberately so, as this seems more like a “virtual reality” playing field, that will be kept in isolation from all the other comics set in the familiar continuity.

This is a reboot of the Marvel Universe, within a mutant bubble. An “Ultimate” mutant-centered what-if world. It’s not just a soft reboot to start a new storyline that is easy to follow for a potential new reader.

I think ultimately this reveals the intention: these two titles, “House of X” and “Power of X”, aren’t telling a “story”. They are intended instead as very extensive promotional material to propel all the titles that will be spawned in three months, that would then carry the story for the longer term. We are only watching the presentation of this brand new universe and a glimpse of how the old characters fit in it. So again it’s as if Age of Apocalypse was preceded by this major introduction of its various facets, with the intention of making it a lot bigger and long-lasting compared to the classic type of crossover.

I just happen to find very little actual substance in it, right now. But I do at least appreciate the grand scope and ambition. I only wish it wasn’t this flat and shallow. There’s no real meaningful theme, no insight, no inspiration. A collection of new names and labels, and not a single one worth of attention.

EDIT: a quick note that I’m writing before publishing this post. I might have misinterpreted the last scene. It’s not the mutant “faction”, it’s Nimrod’s mutant archive. The blue skinned guy might be Shi-Ar? I don’t know, but it reads like it’s the whole human-mutant front that collapsed entirely, not just the human side. Maybe we are seeing a brand new “product”, as a new “species” that eventually came out of that war and its mysterious outcome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *