Best Shots Review: HOUSE OF X #1 'a Towering Achievement'

House of X #1
Credit: Pepe Larraz/Marte Gracia/Clayton Cowles (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Pepe Larraz/Marte Gracia/Tom Muller (Marvel Comics)

House of X #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

In the beginning, there was nothing. And then, there was man.

And then… there was mutantkind.

Credit: Pepe Larraz/Marte Gracia/Clayton Cowles (Marvel Comics)

If this all sounds a little biblical, you wouldn’t be wrong. But despite all the talk of evolution and hard science that is baked into the franchise’s core concept, there’s something almost religious about writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Pepe Larraz’s House of X - but whether that turn proves to be messianic or apocalyptic remains to be seen. Yet after 15 years of X-Men reboots, leadership changes, deaths and rebirths, there’s something vital and engaging - and perhaps just a little bit dangerous - about this new debut, which not only propels the Children of the Atom into its next mutation, but drags the rest of the Marvel Universe along with them.

“To me, my X-Men.” From the jump, Hickman portrays Charles Xavier not as a scholar or an ordinary man, but as almost a divine figure, wielding the island of Krakoa as both a Garden of Eden for mutantkind, as well as a sort of Tree of Life for Scott and Jean, his prodigal Adam and Eve. But Hickman also keeps us off-balance in a way that I think is very smart, given the X-Men’s original high concept — when we see Charles smiling from the confines of his ominous Cerebro helmet, are we feeling suspicious because of genre conventions, or are we simply proving the point that mutant cultures and mutant nations would inherently, instinctively feel alien and imposing to the rest of mankind?

Credit: Pepe Larraz/Marte Gracia/Clayton Cowles (Marvel Comics)

Because it’s so unclear where the X-Men’s allegiances truly lie — whether they’re taking bold steps towards establishing themselves as a world power, or if they’re actually in telepathic servitude to a more sinister puppet master — it makes House of X feel that much more exciting. Hickman is already doing away with the divisions of yesteryear, channeling Grant Morrison and Kieron Gillen by having mutantkind assemble under one semi-militant banner, and in one of the more intriguing elements of the series, establishing their own economy, homeland and technologies thanks to the mutant island of Krakoa. Right now, much of Hickman’s first issue is about worldbuilding, but there are also some great character moments in the mix — for example, if you felt like poor Scott Summers has been kicked around since the days of Avengers vs. X-Men, you’re going to love the way he politely tells off one of Marvel’s premiere super-teams.

Yet Hickman realizes that with every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction — and so you can’t tell a story about the rise of a mutant nation without showing how the rest of the world chooses to react. Using his standard graphs, charts and write-ups, Hickman’s backmatter really fleshes out the X-Men’s world nicely, but it’s the scenes where we get to see the lengths humans will go to protect their supremacy that are downright chilling. It’s a far cry from the high-octane fisticuffs you might expect from an X-book — instead, there’s a lot of layers, a lot of intrigue, and a whole lot of deliberateness to this brave new world that I think readers will really enjoy digging into.

Credit: Pepe Larraz/Marte Gracia/Clayton Cowles (Marvel Comics)

That said, with the writing veering into such experimental waters, the artwork on House of X veers a bit more traditional. Of course, when you say that artist Pepe Larraz’s style evokes that of Stuart Immonen, you could do a whole lot worse in comparison — but his style is definitely beautiful and superheroic, rather than a more challenging style like a Frank Quitely, Ramon Villalobos or Chris Bachalo, who might make the X-Men look as conflicted as they’re written. But that doesn’t mean Larraz is a slouch, either. His sense of worldbuilding in particular I think is easy to overlook — the way that the X-Men have built their own living fortress, while the human forces of Orchis utilize their intellects to build something robotic and cold, is a great touch, one that symbolizes the X-Men’s inherent conflict of biological evolution versus status quo-driven nationalism and conservatism. His acting also has some strong points — while his take on Magneto feels a little stoic for my tastes, his scenes featuring Orchis are incredibly dynamic, and the swagger he gives Cyclops is for sure the highlight of the issue.

If the strength of any structure rests upon its foundation, then House of X stands to be a towering achievement just based on this debut alone. For years, the future of the X-Men has been in turmoil, with new writers, new leaders and new status quos muddying the waters between forward-thinking storytelling and fan-service nostalgia. But that’s the advantage of having a writer like Jonathan Hickman at the helm — he feels just as much scientist as storyteller, forgoing fruitless sentimentality and focusing instead on innovation and experimentation in both content and style. Whether the Children of the Atom prove to be angels or devils, there’s something exciting and strange about trying to make sense of Jonathan Hickman’s new scripture — it’s a brave new world for the House of X, and it’s one X-fans will absolutely love exploring.

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