Powers of X #1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by R.B. Silva, Adriano Di Benedetto and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
Yet what is evolution — if not history itself — if not the longest and cruelest of arcs, with nature and circumstance pitting species against species, punctuated by quiet moments of irrevocable extinction? Do the fallen ever really get their justice, or do their bones simply serve as the foundation stones for their replacements? Or does the cycle of evolution guarantee that, in this life or the next, the conquerors are always one step away from becoming the conquered?
As Marvel’s champions of evolution, the X-Men are no strangers to dystopian futures, having saved time and space itself in epic storylines ranging from “Days of Future Past” to “Here Comes Tomorrow.” But their destiny never felt as hopeless, as bleak, or as inexorable as writer Jonathan Hickman and artist R.B. Silva’s Powers of X, not just because of their frighteningly well-realized new world, but also because their incredibly ambitious narrative scale. While House of X showed Xavier’s dream becoming a reality, Powers of X is an epic, thousand-year journey that shows that not only can dreams be fleeting, but can easily be transformed into a never-ending nightmare.
Whereas many time-travel stories deal with two timelines, Hickman starts off his storyline with a massive flex — his “Powers of X” splits the narrative across four distinctive time periods, taking us from Year One, Year Ten, Year One Hundred, to Year One Thousand from the dawn of Charles Xavier’s dream. It’s a level of deliberateness and forward-thinking that’s almost dizzying to think about, but Hickman brings a confidence to it all as he puts his own twist on the work of seminal X-scribes like Chris Claremont and Grant Morrison.
It also doesn’t hurt that Hickman is able to employ some choice narrative sleight-of-hand, teasing certain elements of certain timelines while still allowing himself to prioritize the more daring sections of his story. For example, his flashback with Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggert is ominous but still yields no answers, while his cut to Xavier’s Krakoan nation in the present is more of a bookend to his previous chapter in House of X. The past is prologue, but Hickman is more interested in looking forward.
And with that in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that Hickman’s future epics are the real showstoppers here — not just in showing what kinds of desperate measures the X-Men have had to endure to stave off total extinction, but to demonstrate the sheer hopelessness of a cause that is ground into the dirt not just 100, but even 1,000 years from now. Armed with his trademark text pages detailing the fall of the House of X, you can see just how much thought Hickman has put into his world stretching hundreds of years, and it’s that kind of Lost-style Mystery Box apocrypha that is a sure-fire way to get X-Men fans’ continuity senses tingling — for example, fans will likely fall in love with Hickman’s new heroine Rasputin, but reading about the genetic innovations and horrible tragedies that led to her creation is a whole new level of mind-blowing. (And without giving too much away, Hickman's new twist on Asteroid M? Perfection.) Meanwhile, the total alienness of Hickman’s One Thousand era adds to the level of unease he established in House of X, in part because of the lack of catharsis he offers — we’ve seen mutant freedom fighters who sacrificed themselves for a cause in the past, but what happens when that sacrifice seems like it’s all for nothing?
I’ve spoken at length about Hickman’s writing, but artist R.B. Silva does stellar work in realizing these heady ambitions. Similar to his House of X counterpart Pepe Larraz, Silva isn’t the flashiest artist in the world, instead grounding Hickman’s over-the-top ambitions and channeling them through a familiar visual lens. Yet given Powers of X’s sister series, Silva also serves as a great bridge between the two books, as his style fits so well with Larraz’s that readers won’t have to deal with a harsh artistic divide. Colorist Marte Gracia also deserves a ton of praise for his work, as he lends further depth and consistency between the two titles.
Silva’s execution with the character designs are what help sell Powers of X so well. Rasputin and Cardinal — each evoking shades of Magik, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Azazel — feel like worthy descendents of the heroes of yesteryear, while the last X-Men of the Year One Hundred are the kind of motley crew that made Morrison and Marc Silvestri’s “Here Comes Tomorrow” finale stand the test of time. Yet Silva and Hickman also bring little tweaks to old staples — in particular, there’s an ancillary X-villain that comes back in a big way this issue, yet the way that Silva portrays their body language gives them a whole new level of humanity.
But to me, Silva’s greatest strength is probably his most overlooked — namely, the way he is able to lend a sense of place to these various timelines. While Year One feels spartan, clean and uncomplicated, Year Ten is already littered with the vines and growth of not just Krakoa, but seemingly X-Men continuity itself. Year One Hundred, meanwhile, is scattered with the wreckage of Sentinels and X-Men stories gone by, while One Thousand feels like the remix of the future, scary and alien and antiseptic, a future we won’t recognize but our kids will consider home.
And that’s perhaps the most haunting parable of Powers of X: It’s not just that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it — but that those who forget the past may never be able to avenge it. X-Men fans have seen dystopian futures, the sort of end-of-the-world stakes that are solved only with a Hail Mary play at the eleventh hour — but what happens if the world doesn’t end? What if life just goes on, changing and growing into something unrecognizable over the corpses of fallen heroes? In the X-Men’s world of unchecked evolution, is there even such a thing as justice or a happy ending? That’s the mind-bending mystery at the heart of Powers of X — but if the answers he delivers are even half as satisfying as his questions he’s posing, Jonathan Hickman and company stand to usher in a bold new era of X-Men storytelling.