Jonathan Hickman will be taking on the X-Men in July with two miniseries: House of X and Powers of X. There is rampant speculation on what these two series will entail, in no small part due to the ominous tone of the House of X promotional image and the mish-mash, different character designs present on the Powers of X image. But whatever they are, it’s clear that Marvel are putting their eggs into the HiX-Men basket.
This comes hot off the heels of Marvel’s relatively recent relaunch of Uncanny X-Men that came in the form of “X-Men Disassembled”, a story that I dissected due to how much I loathed it. That storyline led into the currently ongoing Age of X-Man event, which is better than “X-Men Disassembled” based on the few issues of it I read. Then Marvel streamlined the creative team of Uncanny X-Men to Matthew Rosenberg and Salvador Larocca, in a run that’s largely been a rehash of the 2000s with some superficial 90s nostalgia for good measure.
So all of that seems like it’s not going to be too relevant in a few months as Hickman does what Hickman does and reinvents the X-Men. Marvel are even promoting it as a shakeup on the level of Giant-Size X-Men or New X-Men, which is certainly a brave comparison to welcome. And… I am okay with this. Really. Hickman is just what the X-Men need, and read on below so I can explain why.
“We Have to Get Bigger”
One of Jonathan Hickman’s greatest strengths as a writer is the scope of his stories. They frequently encompass entire planets, at the very least, while still being grounded in human emotion. “Solve Everything” is a story about the multiversal Council of Reeds uniting to stave off annihilation at the hands of the Celestials, but at its core is a story about Reed Richards’ affirmation of his humanity, and his choice between logic and emotion; his work and his family. The scope lends itself to giving grandeur to Reed’s decisions and personal journey, giving it an almost mythical quality, while also just giving the story an epic scope in and of itself that makes it feel important.
This is what the X-Men sorely need. The X-Men, for the longest time, have lacked that scope. Even when they were staving off toxic death clouds and waging war with the Inhumans, the scope was lacking. It all felt like just another scuffle, just another fight. It truly feels like no writer, not since the conclusion of the rightfully maligned Avengers vs. X-Men, knew how to tell big mutant stories anymore. Sometimes it was the writer not knowing how to write these stories, other times it was the prose, and sometimes it was even the art just not having that blockbuster quality. Regardless, it never seemed to take. While Marvel’s Merry Mutants have told some amazing stories that are smaller in scope, the weight that superhero comics can carry through how larger than life they are is sorely lacking. It’s time the X-Men left that little corner and went big again, truly providing an epic that the superhero genre allows.
“There Was an Idea…”
Something that so many X-Men stories have lacked in the past few years is a theme. While some can be boiled down to “survival” or “prejudice”, none of the X-Men comics of recent memory can say they had anything to say beyond the obvious. It was always some unsubtle jab at bigotry that felt like surface level storytelling. In contrast, Jonathan Hickman was able to seamlessly incorporate themes of parenting, hope and revenge into his Marvel work, in ways that were almost never explicit but nonetheless resonant with readers. Each of these was present throughout at least two of his Marvel works, and the grand tapestry of it all made it all the better when he actually did give pay off to it all.
The X-Men, in steep contrast, are currently in a run that seems to think opening every issue with black and a single quote is enough. It’s lazy and means nothing. It makes the story appear like it has a deeper meaning. Looking back on the X-Men runs of the last few years, what strong thematic underpinning can you actually see and was it well executed? I don’t think so. Hickman can do this. It’s one of the strengths that, although sometimes causing some very purple prose, makes these stories feel like cohesive narratives that have a point.
“All Men Are Transformed over Time”
When it comes to character development, mainstream superhero comics tend to be very stagnant or cyclical. Johnny Storm has learned to be mature more times than I can remember, to the point that it’s his go-to character arc. While Jonathan Hickman also played into that, and it didn’t stick because no one knows what else to do with Johnny, his work with Reed has had lasting effects on the character. Reed’s reaffirmation of his humanity has never been undone; he’s never become as detached as at times he used to be. Nick Fury, until it was undone in order to basically kill the character in Jason Aaron’s Original Sin, questioned his life in Hickman’s Secret Warriors before finding peace with himself by retiring for good and letting the world move on. While some of Hickman’s work was undone by subsequent writers, Hickman himself has a keen eye for potential character development, telling intricate stories grounded in human emotion.
When you think of the X-Men, you think of the popular character dynamics. Wolverine and Cyclops are at each other’s throats, Iceman is immature, Angel has his constant battle with Archangel, etc. While there’s something to be said for the enduring nature of the characters, it’s all old hat — and some of it was even brought back recently, in the case of Archangel. Big events barely change X-Men characters anymore; Wolverine coming back from the dead should’ve meant something to him, but he’s just the same old Logan. If given a long run, I can see Hickman actually going something with these characters, allowing them to grow beyond the roles they’ve been stuck in for what feels like decades.
“Because It’s What’s Next”
Connected with the above, something the X-Men need is a new status quo. Beyond just characters, mutants need to be… something else. We’ve had the X-Men as teachers, the X-Men as a company, the X-Men as rebels, the X-Men as celebrities, and it feels like we’re now just cycling through them all. Say what you want about Jonathan Hickman, but the man can reinvent status quos. When he came onto Fantastic Four, nobody could’ve dreamed of how he’d emphasise the “fantastic” so much and create a think tank in the Future Foundation. When Hickman began his Avengers run, he turned the superhero team into a space faring army and mechanism. The Illuminati went from a group of powerful men going on generic superhero adventures to a group that traversed the multiverse and fought off parallel Earths.
The X-Men have enjoyed some popular status quos. I hold a special place in my heart for the X-Men as teachers, since that’s what was emphasised during New X-Men: Academy X. I think Bendis’ rebellious, underground take on the X-Men could’ve been better explored. But it’s time to move on, to really give the X-Men something new. The endless cycle of extinction, the flip flop of persecution, it’s played out. It’s old hat and anything new that Hickman does, I’ll embrace with open arms. Whether that be high concept sci-fi, multiverse nonsense or something else, House of X and Powers of X has something going for them already — they feel different from what we’ve been getting for the last decade. The X-Men have so much potential, let’s allow Hickman to explore it.