Hanging with the HiX-Men, Part 1 — House of X #1 Review

Hanging with the HiX-Men is a series of reviews of Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men comics, spotlighting a standout moment at times (obviously, spoilers), followed by an eventual analysis of each overall arc. It’s what happens when a longtime X-Men fan has his love for the franchise reinvigorated by a beloved writer who has written some of his favourite comics. With that in mind… Welcome to Hanging with the HiX-Men, hope you survive the experience.

House of X #1771684._SX1280_QL80_TTD_

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Pencils by Pepe Larraz
Colours by Marte Gracia
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Cover price: $5.99 USD

The X-Men in the last few years have been in a precarious place. Both relevant due to their place in pop culture and underutilised due to their lack of visibility in Marvel media, the franchise has been content with spinning its wheels and wallowing in nostalgia for the most part. The last time anyone has had any potentially interesting ideas with the franchise was Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the franchise, with the All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men ongoings. Since then, very few writers have been able to leave a positive mark on the franchise. Returning Marvel scribe Jonathan Hickman is the next writer to try and shake-up the Merry Mutants and his first issue establishes a genuinely interesting status quo, and intriguing plot and strong characterisation, all bolstered by Pepe Larraz’s amazing art.

The new status quo of mutants is expertly crafted and fully realised. House of X #1 is largely devoted to setting up the new status quo for mutantkind. However, unlike lesser writers, Hickman remembers to plant the seeds of a narrative — one that is intrinsically tied to the greater world-building. The new world of the X-Men is one that is brimming with organic life that sets it apart from the rest of society, with its own culture, a unique method of travel and even a primary export that gives it a presence on the world stage. Unlike the previous attempt at a mutant sanctuary with Utopia, the habitats of Krakoa feel more fully realised. And of course, with the rise of a new mutant nation in the world comes the response, in the form of Orchis, a mysterious alliance of various secretive factions such as SHIELD, SWORD, STRIKE, AIM, Hydra, etc. The escalation feels entirely organic as a response to Charles Xavier’s new mutant world and doesn’t feel disconnected from the world Hickman has obviously spent a long time devising — in fact, the connection of three difference plots feels entirely seamless.

1
Also, exactly what Hickman is doing.

The same can’t be said (as strongly, at least) about the various graphics that break up the issue, which serve to throw off the pacing just enough given the sheer amount of information on those pages. They can at times work really well with the regular sequential art, such as a scene explaining Omega level mutants after Cyclops brings up Franklin Richards, but they can be a bit distracting on the first read through, although they do provide crucial information and context. This is all to say that Hickman has clearly planned out this new status quo that truly feels unique, fresh yet still implemented within the Marvel Universe and, going to great lengths to establish it this issue, I am excited to see it explored.

Pepe Larraz does an excellent job rendering Hickman’s new world. Everything on Krakoa has this lush life to it all, as mutants have truly gained their own aesthetic in embracing nature. Characters are expressive and Larraz’s pencils truly invoke a sense of optimism in this new era of the X-Men, his characters having a depth to their expressions and body language that brings them to life. At the same time, he does an excellent job with the high concept sci-fi that Hickman is famous for, with one truly stand out image in the Orchis subplot that is both awe-inspiring and foreboding. Of course, the lush colours of Marte Garcia are half the reason for this and he does an excellent job all around, using the exact right colours for every scene. The art in this issue is blockbuster, but it has depth to how it portrays Hickman’s world that makes it complex.

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When dialogue punctuates the art.

Jonathan Hickman is the latest writer to try and reinvigorate the X-Men franchise and, if this first issue is any indication, he’s going to do just that. Establishing an interesting world, genuine intrigue and evolving characters rather than regressing them as is all too common in superhero comics, House of X #1 moves the franchise forward. Where it’s going, I can’t wait to see.

4.5/5 – Terrific


Scene Spotlight: The Culmination of Cyclops’ Character Arcs

Of all the great scenes and moments in this comic, the one that truly stood out for me was the three-and-a-bit pages of Hickman’s Cyclops. Cyclops has been in a bad place for the last few years — first he was a mutant general who we were told was wrong because of… reasons, then he became a terrorist, then he was compared to Hitler postmortem after doing something that in no way warranted that, then he was brought back to life and weirdly admitted to being wrong before being reset to his 90s self… before not being reset to his 90s self… then losing an eye for no apparent reason… yeah, it’s been a weird few years for Scott.

Hickman, after establishing in the first few pages of the issue that Cyclops has that lost eye back because it was stupid that he lost it, later has Cyclops arrive to deal with Sabretooth’s capture by the Fantastic Four, who also ask about the state of mutants in the world and Xavier’s new Krakoa.

s1

That greeting between Scott and Ben is important — Cyclops isn’t hated anymore. He isn’t “the guy who killed Xavier”. He isn’t “the guy we compare to Hitler”. He’s Scott Summers, cyclops, the first X-Man and superhero. And he’s optimistic, he’s smiling! It’s so rare for Cyclops to smile anymore that this feels good to just look at. Of course, there is a wrinkle, thanks to our old pal Victor…

s2

This moment, despite being relatively short, just has great tension. The layouts and blocking of Scott and Reed paint the picture of a conflict about to begin, with the two characters in opposition to each other. We get two wide panels of the opposing sides, establishing the F4’s superior numbers compared to Cyclops and a captured Sabretooth, and then a panel of Cyclops… talking. And a little red glimmer that betrays a bit of playfulness, though some might interpret it as him about to start a fight. And then…

s3

Scott decides it isn’t worth it and walks away, a far cry from the more extremist Cyclops of more recent comics, who would never let a captured mutant be imprisoned. But before he can leave, Sue tries to get anything out of him on all this… and we see that he’s still the same Cyclops. this isn’t a reset; he’s still lived through all the pain and tragedy and he’s still the same guy who led mutants against extinction and who fought the best way he knew how. This isn’t a rest — it’s the next step. And to punctuate the scene and all of that… Cyke takes a dig at the Richards family over the family that Franklin Richards has on Krakoa, and the blocking just perfectly conveys that Cyclops… is a pimp and walks away, leaving them seething.

Hickman has managed to deftly blend all the best parts of Cyclops together, in a way that feels like a natural step forward in his life. Cyclops is once again respected by the world and friendly, but he’s also diplomatic — certainly enough to know not to fight the Fantastic Four for Sabretooth — and more mellowed out… yet still retains that edge from his General and Rebel days. This is a Cyclops I can get behind and I can’t wait to see what Hickman does with him in X-Men (2019).


That wraps up this entry of Hanging with the HiX-Men. Honestly, I have never experienced this: a comic is hyped by the publisher, I’m genuinely excited for it and Marvel reveals what comes after… and still been excited for it. In the last few years, the comics that truly stay with me are never quite all of that — more often than not, they’re sleeper hits. I’m glad to have this feeling, to be genuinely excited for the X-Men again. With the Dawn of X reveal, I’m even more excited for the future of the franchise and what ideas Hickman’s new status quo will give other creators. Anyway, see you all neXt time (sorry) for Powers of X #1!

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