Best Shots Review: HOUSE OF X #1 'Exhilarating, Frustrating, Often Chilling'

Marvel Comics July 2019 single cover
Credit: 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
Review by Scott Cederlund
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Hated and feared has always been the status quo for the X-Men and Marvel’s mutant race. Every X-Men creator since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby has let that mantra define them and their actions. If they are “hated and feared,” their mission as personified by Charles Xavier has been to be accepted and loved. But when you really look back on it, those goals have gotten them nowhere. They have always suffered the most defeats because of their inferiority complex, believing that acceptance is the true endgame of the mutant race rather than co-existence with mankind.

That changes now.

Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz and Marge Gracia initiate a seismic upheaval in the world power structure in House of X #1. “Humans of the planet Earth. While you slept, the world changed.” Those are the words that any longtime X-Men reader are used to hearing from Magneto, the radical extremist mutant rights fighter but these words are from Professor X. “Humans… the world changed.” These words kick off the next phase of mutant existence, as these god-like beings have realized that the scientific term for mutants, Homo Superior, applies to them - and that humans should take comfort in the fact that our superiors are allowing us to live.

With just this one issue, Larraz establishes himself as the X-Men superstar artist, reshaping the world in the image of Krakoa, the mutant island-being who has a pivotal role in Professor X’s agenda for the mutants inheriting the Earth. Larraz and Gracia are wonderfully cinematic in their approach to storytelling, creating larger than life imagery that introduces us and the world to the new mutant culture. As an introductory issue to this renewed world, Larraz captures the sense of optimism for the mutants that the dreams of Xavier are finally within reach, while dropping enough visual cues (both obvious ones and others hidden beneath the stories’ text) of the snakes living in the Krakoan gardens. One way or another, this isn’t the Eden of Xavier’s old dreams. Larraz does it all in a very modern, superhero style that allows the characters to express their dreams and doubts to the reader.

This is going to be one of those runs where the first three pages define everything that’s going to come after it. A figure stands at the base of a giant tree that blocks out the sky above, except for some rays of light that manage to penetrate the dense branches. As he waits, men and women burst forth from pods, like animals breaking through their shells to feel air for the first time. The figure, in a black body suit and helmet, lifts up one of their chins, gently urging them, “To me, my X-Men.” It’s hard not to feel the chill in your bones at this new dawn for the mutants.

Hickman and Larraz spend the rest of the issue exploring this brand new day, as Marvel Girl gives mutant children a tour of their new family and home, Magneto delivers Xavier’s gifts and ultimatums to the world’s ambassadors, and Cyclops has a stand-off with the Fantastic Four over the capture of one of his mutant brothers. In many ways, it’s almost a typical start for a new creative team on any X-Men book, working to define their take on who and what the X-Men are. But what’s different here is that Hickman is upending the X-Men’s mission of peaceful co-existence. Others before him have tried, but most haven’t had the depth of vision that Hickman displays here to change the mutant race.

In his comics, Hickman is all about exploring power - who has it, who wants it and who needs it. While they have powers, the mutants have never had capital “P”-power, and that’s what has changed here as Magneto declares that the mutant race has woken up (again, see those opening pages) and realized that they’re the inheritors of the world. At this point, the human race still exists based on the good will and peaceful intentions of the mutants, and it’s basically up to them to now concede their continued existence to a benevolent superpower. But as Hickman and Larraz show, the human race has been preparing for this moment, ready to fight against another race that threatens it in any way.

But as this is a Hickman comic book, he tends to get a bit too lost in the details at times throughout this issue, throwing in graphical text pieces that read far more like Powerpoint presentations than comic books. Too much of the background storytelling is told through these Hickman-staple text pages. These pages provide exciting background details and explanations to what we’re reading, but completely throw off the flow of the reading experience. As Hickman, Larraz and Gracia reshape this world, there is a lot to catch the reader up on. Larraz and Gracia do an excellent job dropping in those visual hints about how the world has changed for both mutants and mankind, but Hickman’s info dumps remove the artists from this storytelling.

For all of his reliance on the graphics and text pieces, it’s the moments where Cyclops passive-aggressively reminds the Fantastic Four that their son Franklin is one of his mutant brothers, or where Magneto has gotten what he wants from the world’s ambassadors, that this creative team truly delivers the underlying motivations of the mutants. The text pieces distract from these moment’s impact, telling us how the world has changed rather than showing it.

House of X #1 is a largely exhilarating, sometimes frustrating, and often chilling start to this latest iteration of the mutant story. Hickman, Larraz and Gracia begin the newest cold war between mutants and humans, all without firing one single optic blast or a popping of adamantium claws. This creative team relies on big ideas, skillful execution and the excitement of the new to pull their readers into this new day of X. Welcome to the new age of mutants. Hope you survive the experience.

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