Warning: Spoilers below!
Jonathan Hickman’s tour of Marvel mutantkind continues in this week’s Powers of X #1 (read as “Powers of Ten”), following up the last week’s excellent House of X #1. If House of X dealt with the immediate and vital present of the mutants, Powers of X tackles their entire long history, from the beginning of the X-Men to their far, far future that is inevitably coming.
Joined by R.B Silva, Adriano Di Benedetto on pencils and inks, with colorist Marte Gracia and letterer Clayton Cowles onboard once more, Hickman’s vision just explodes off the pages. Much has been said of the new characters teased for this title, especially given the lovely designs by Silva, and the issue delivers all the answers one could hope for. But more on that in a moment.
Right from the very first page, the distinction between House and Powers is made explicit. If House began with Xavier bringing forth mutants to life in an Eden-esque garden while looking divine and messianic, indicating a very literal birth of sorts for the moment, Powers begins with a page that jumps in time by the power of ten per each panel, with the final one showcasing us X-Men a thousand years into the future. The creative team lays out a long, clear timeline and progression for the Marvel universe in these four simple panels. We have, as follows:
X0– Year One. The Dream.
X1 – Year Ten. The World.
X2– Year Hundred. The War.
X3– Year Thousand. Ascension.
With this clear roadmap, the team gives the readers a sense of what to expect and what’s to come, as each displays a clear, distinct progression in the history of this world. And as is evident, the choices here tie into the reason the book has the title it does. If nothing else, it’s an ambitious display of possibility, letting the reader we’re currently in the X2 period. The world is on the brink of true chance and as that begins, war awaits. And then after centuries of this tiresome conflict, resolution exists. The ‘Ascension’ period, set a thousand years ahead, is so clearly dripping with influences from Legion of Super-Heroes that it’s incredibly amusing. Hickman’s love for them is well-known and the influence of that title on his work is evident, as even Krakoan and the alphabet is him essentially making a modern mutant version of Interlac from Legion, in the vein of Levitz and Giffen. Even the blue figure walking about evokes the character of Brainiac 5 and even Nimrod the Greater, his ally, is very much the embodiment of the terrifying technological threat of today leading to an evolved successor that is far more benevolent. But those amusing parallels and clear influences aside, what’s truly notable is this is a future where evolution has finally happened. Humans, Homo Sapiens, are no more. They’re to the future inhabitants what dinosaurs are to us. They’re the Cro-Magnons and they were wiped out. Their only remains now held in a museum of sorts which resembles an Eden-esque garden, allowing the people of tomorrow to gaze upon these beings of the past that once were.
So hey, there’s suffering, there’s a struggle that lasts centuries, but guess what? It works out. The mutants and technological beings live on, while humans are a tale of the past.
But make no mistake, that future is earned with blood and sacrifice. It isn’t an easy one. And that’s what The War period of X3 shows us, where in the desperate few mutants rage against the Man-Machine Supremacy. And it is in this tumultuous and terrifying time for mutants that we’re introduced to the new heroes we’ve been teased. We have Rasputin IV, Cylobel, Cardinal and Percival, all who bear some level of similarities to characters we know in present day and that’s a very intentional choice. Contrasting the iconic ‘Hounds’ and the Hounds Program, we have, in the distant future, the ‘Chimeras’ and the Chimera Program. They’re all artificially bred mutants, designed with the genetic imprints and abilities of iconic X-Men. There are numerous ‘generations,’ with each posing different limits, problems or outliers. So for instance, Rasputin has telepathic abilities of Quentin Quire, the intangibility powers of Kitty Pryde, the healing factor of Laura Kinney, amongst many others. Cardinal is a special class of ‘outliers’ or ‘failure’ mutants, who, while bred for war, crave nothing more than peace and are unable to fight due to their love of pacifism. Cylobel, however, is unlike the Chimeras and is the last Hound, who’s turned to the side of The X-Men.
How do we get here though, to Chimeras and mutant soldiers bred for war? And that’s one mystery the series definitely teases out here. The classic Hickman infographics and data pages of text are still here, giving the book a unique flow and they contextualize a lot of the story. We’re given parts of the long mutant history, where in X-Men leadership was suddenly gone, replaced with leadership that remains a mystery to the history books. Whoever it was, they did a good job scrubbing away any details about them. And it’s this leadership that handed Mister Sinister the keys to the kingdom, who, you guessed it, created the entire genetic program. With the obvious detail that Sinister eventually betrayed the mutants, having always served his own agenda, the story sets up a key idea here: the inevitable fall of Krakoa. We know the mutant nation lasts, we know a number of things work, but we now also know how they don’t and where they go wrong and how much strife that brings. And this is part of why these two books are structured the way they are. You’re shown the present in this book that so lovingly embraces the naturalistic, warm Eden-esque imagery of organic life and then you cut to the book all about the future, which puts the emphasis on the cold, machine supremacy and you let the contrasts play with one another, as they tie together nicely. The past and the future equally inform the present and there’s a sense of impending horror and dread that accompanies the decisions the book makes via its structure.
These ideas, of course, are nothing new for Hickman. He’s touched on them prior in some of his earliest works, most explicitly in Transhuman, detailing the two paths of evolution that lie ahead, biological evolution and technological upgrades and you sort of get to see the two battle it out. It’s stagnate and fall or evolve and ascend. In Transhuman, humanity chooses to stagnate by opting for safe technological upgrades, while biologically advanced apes represent a huge paradigm shift, set to replace humanity and take their place, as is the nature of evolution. Evolve or die. And those ideas are prominent here, as humanity’s obsession with technology and sentinels may help them stave off the inevitable a bit longer, but in the end, they become fossils and relics, replaced with a new species, in a new world. (If you’d like to be amused, take a look at the X-insignia in Transhuman and compare it to the current X-logo by Tom Muller, one’s bound to chuckle at the parallels).
Overall, what is genuinely surprising about Powers of X #1 is just how utterly dense it is, even more so than House of X #1, which says a lot given House was pretty dense. There’s a lot at play here as the book jumps about the past, present, the future and the far future. It does pick up on threads from House, with some scenes immediately following up the events there, so in a way, it’s an #2, but at the same time, it’s very much its own book. This is a book loaded with information that recontextualizes the story you’re reading with every issue, as you get new perspective and understanding of the Marvel Universe and its progression, as well the place of mutants in it. While House very much reads almost like a Marvel Universe #1 focusing heavily on the mutants, being very accessible, this is a bit more of a challenge. It’s written less for the average joe just picking up X-Men and more the diehard fans who have a response upon seeing Nimrod and Omega in a comic. The book requires you to make certain leaps and piece things together a bit more and is way more like East of West than anyone might’ve expected from this. It’s genuinely surprising how much this reads like an indie Hickman work, more than anything else and it’s pleasing to know Marvel was alright with it.
R.B Silva does terrific worldbuilding here in this issue and is generally also very good with tone. He can move between deadly battles for survival and have torture scenes with a supervillain that makes you chuckle. Part of that is on Gracia’s colors, who lands certain beats with clever color choices, while the other is on Cowles’ lettering, which is impeccable. But really, Silva grants the book a level of weight and energy that feels fitting. His sci-fi designs and aesthetic really stick out, balancing clever detail with effortless simplicity to walk a careful line. And Gracia’s palette, which throws in everything from oozing lime green to energetic blues really sells it as a sci-fi title more than anything else. Cowles continues to use the telepathy balloons he’s established in the series thus far, which is a nice touch and it’s the little things like these that act as glue to hold together the entire epic as one.
Only time will tell if the creative team really goes in on the title and decides to go up to X10 , but regardless, this is a ride that’s sure to be engaging. There’s sinister threats, genuine mysteries to solve and a whole lot of potential upheaval on the horizon.
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