As much as I love the X-Men, I’ve often struggled to find a good starting point with the comics (with the exception of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men, which I would recommend to anyone). Despite the number of relaunches that the X-Men have gone through in the last decade, the “Dawn of X” relaunch grabbed my attention, beginning with Jonathan Hickman writing the House of X/Powers of X crossover event that set up the new status quo for mutantdom.
In this relaunch that spawned six initial titles, Hickman writes the main X-Men title, with the eponymous team being seen as heroes who are assigned to ensure the safety and security of the first mutant society: the island-nation of Krakoa. If you know anything about X-Men comics (or superhero comics in general), you know they are built on long-form storytelling, and so there are details here that require some pre-existing knowledge. You would get a better appreciation of what Hickman is doing here if you have read House of X and Powers of X, which provide more insight into the world-building as well as the conflict between mutantdom and humanity, which is ultimately about survival.
The first issue sets the tone for the rest of the volume by beginning with an action sequence in which the X-Men (Cyclops, Storm, Magneto and Polaris) infiltrate a facility belonging to Orchis, a human-led organization dedicated to a response to a “doomsday” scenario involving an extinction-level population of Homo superior. After saving the captured young mutants from the facility, the X-Men return home as the rest of the issue displays the domestic lives of the mutants through the lens of the Summers family. Despite the heavy emphasis on sci-fi, Hickman never skimps on the family soap opera element that has defined the X-Men for years, even if Cyclops is the father of two time-travelling children.
In each of the six issues, the team roster changes, which allows Hickman to show a variety of character dynamics. But if there is one character who is closest to being the main protagonist of the book, it would be Cyclops. In fact, Hickman begins the comic with a young Scott Summers opening his eyes for the first time, wearing his red shades given to him by Charles Xavier. As one of the original five X-Men, Cyclops may have had issues with Xavier’s beliefs over the years, but Hickman allows the Boy Scout leader to follow Xavier’s journey into a creating a brave new world for mutants, despite the possible repercussions of harm towards mutants.
Speaking of a brave new world, specifically in mutantdom’s relationship with humanity, politics become the key focus in issue #4. The X-Men franchise has always been political, something that Hickman understands, with this issue focusing on the Krakoan leaders (Professor X, Magneto and Apocalypse) attending an economic forum to show the humans what real power looks like. Much of the issue is told through the traditional nine-panel grid as Magneto steals the show — not through his skills of magnetism, but his antagonistic words to the human guests, accusing him of negating their own history and thus causing destruction amongst themselves, let alone mutants. Professor X does get the last word as there is still a part of him that believes in mutants and humans coexisting peacefully, despite the attempted assassination on his head (that happened in X-Force). On a side note, Apocalypse looks good with a suit.
Given the seriousness throughout the book, Hickman still manages to sprinkle in humor — for example in issue #3, as Cyclops, Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw battle an all-female octogenarian eco-terrorist group that rarely curses, but does insult the White Queen by calling her a “tart.” Although there are some recurring threads throughout, each issue has its own identity, based on the sci-fi ideas Hickman wants to explore, some of which are heavy thinkers that set up big things in later issues.
Most of the volume shares an artistic consistency with Leinil Francis Yu drawing the first four issues. His art works best in delivering the big superhero/sci-fi spectacle, but does slightly struggle in the character domesticity. Issue #5 marks the brief return of Powers of X artist R.B. Silva, whose breathtaking visuals (colored by Marte Gracia) make me wish he drew more of the surroundings of Krakoa and Ecuador.
However, the standout issue is #6, which works on so many levels thanks to Matteo Buffagni’s expressive artwork, how it ties into the events of House of X, and being a subtle character drama about one of the most iconic characters in X-Men lore. Given her on-and-off participation with said team over the years, Mystique is all about deception and certainly doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with the heroes. Having experienced tragedy in the loss of her wife Destiny, her allegiance with the X-Men is there, just so that Mystique can request the resurrection of her beloved. Although Krakoa is seen to be this utopia for mutants, there is the worry that it would slowly become a dystopia, as depicted through the eyes of Mystique, setting up a new antagonist that the Krakoan leaders do not expect.
Jonathan Hickman continues to rethink the way we see Marvel’s mutants. Their future is unknowable, and I’m very excited to see what unfolds.