We see them. But do we know them?
As the House and Powers of X duology has raced toward its conclusion, we’ve seen parallel tales that place mutantkind at its most esoteric and conceptual. In Powers’ far flung future timelines, we’ve seen mutantkind diminished, but yet also distilled to its purest concept: a literal living worldmind of mutant thought and memory, being ushered into a new plane of existence.
In House, we have seen them at the height of their prowess, the dominant and proud founders of their own sovereign nation, but yet still chasing that idea of living memory, and in doing so, becoming as hauntingly alien as they have ever been.
Both these eras of mutantkind are linked by not just their ceaseless desire to endure and survive, but also their distant othering. After years of fighting a losing battle, they are simply so very tired of attempting to get their inferiors to understand them. They have more important ideas to contend with than acceptance, and now simply exist, in all their oblique and incomprehensibly alien reality.
It’s a reality rendered in this week’s House of X #5 — by Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Muller — as being beautiful and horrifying to witness in equal measure.
Still reeling in the wake of the death of the X-Men in the last issue, House of X #5 picks up with a moment that is, paradoxically, completely predictable and utterly, audaciously bold. Mere moments after witnessing the fall of Cyclops, Wolverine, Mystique, Nightcrawler, Marvel Girl, Monet, Archangel and Husk, a moment glimpsed in the very opening pages of House of X’s debut issue is recontextualised. Those pod people Charles Xavier called out to?
They’re his dead X-Men. Because mutantkind has, thanks to the help of Mr. Sinister, hindsight, and the 10 long lives of Moira MacTaggert, learned how to cheat death itself. Combining the powers of four mutants — reality warper Proteus, time manipulator Tempus, lifestarter Elixir and, almost hilariously, the previously seemingly useless Goldballs, whose ability to summon dense, golden balls is revealed to actually summon non-viable golden eggs — through the newly established enhancing abilities of Hope Summers, Krakoa as a nation now has its own living resurrection machine.
Husks are grown from Goldballs’ now-viable eggs, aged to the peak performance age, and granted memory and sentience by Xavier utilising his Cerebro helmet to draw on the complete library and memory scans of every mutant, established in the past through a hidden pact with Mister Sinister. Updated week by week, it essentially renders death moot; in a matter of days, the resurrection group, now known as the Five, can bring any mutant back to life.
The X-Men are dead. Long live the X-Men.
Superheroes die and are resurrected through bullshit means practically every week. In a universe of gods and monsters and retcons, retcons everywhere, death as a tool of storytelling, more often than not, feels hollow.
Why should we care about the momentary trauma of these characters dying when we know on a metatextual level they’ll be back, because that’s what comic books are like? The same could even be said for House of X’s own casual murder: As potent as it was in the moment, you cannot ask a reader to weep for Scott Summers and Jean Grey when we’ve literally seen them alive and well on the cover of a comic book cover due out in a month.
House of X #5 doesn’t care, because in this series’ thesis that everything — everything — matters, regardless of the sea changes and the reboots and the alternate timelines, it takes that metatextual idea of death being meaningless and gives it meaning. It matters that death does not matter to these characters. And how should we feel about that?
We should be petrified. Because with the knowledge that death is but a temporary pain — Charles’ platitude about the grief he felt still meaning something, even as he cradles a newly reborn Cyclops in his arms, rings so entirely hollow it reads as an ignorant platitude to a newborn babe instead of something earnest — makes the already interesting questions House of X has raised about what it means to live and die all the more potent and dangerous.
Because now, with death conquered, the mask mutantkind has placed upon itself for its entire existence can be lifted. They are no longer survivors, but masters of life and death, beyond its petty concerns, and can focus on the good work, the real work — ensuring that mutantkind is remembered forever.
This freedom to be detached from the simple fight for survival is what truly brings home the alien feeling that has perpetuated Hickman and his creative teams’ take on mutants throughout both House and Powers of X, but it’s really in House of X #5 that it reaches its grand apex.
Storm — rendered by Larraz solely as either with her eyes closed or stark, pure white, an indicator of her powers being active but also a small detail that renders her distinctly unreadable, her presence distant and emotionally illegible to us as an audience — ushers the newly-born X-Men out to the mutants of Krakoa for a ceremony that, after they have been brought back into the world physically, almost brings them back into the world spiritually.
The fervour of it all is remarkable to behold — it’s almost a religious experience, as each X-Man is welcomed back into the fold by being questioned if, having seen their forms, if they truly know them, if they remember who they are (and that, as the crowds cry above all, remember that they are mutant).
It’s hard not to draw parallels between the scene and similar ones back in Powers of X #3, when our future chimeric mutant revolutionaries disrupted a ritual in which humanity and its Nimrod-back machine allies ascended newborn children into the Machine-Man supremacy. You would think that the contrast between the two is that we’re meant to see Storm’s ritual as hopeful and beautiful — after decades of persecution and murder at their oppressors hands, mutantkind now has the chance to not just live, but thrive — while we see the Machine-Man supremacy’s process as horrifying and corrupting, absorbing innocents into a sinister, cybernetic hivemind.
We’re clearly not though. We’re invited to consider that these things are the same, that they are alike in their alien, haunting, dissonance. Both celebrations of new life, both displays of blind zeal above all, and yet both distinctly chilling.
Which makes the even further ramifications in the future of merging mutant and machine together in the form of the Phalanx all that more intriguing to comprehend — the bitter irony that, after years of being persecuted by the rise of the Sentinels and eventually Nimrod, the apex of artificial intelligent design, that mutant and machine may one day transcend as one.
But for now in the present, it primarily means that mutantkind has begun a path not of assimilation — as it has openly practiced for years, as an attempt to prove to humankind how alike they all are — but one of dissimilation. In a world where you can cheat death, where your powers can be embraced for a greater good, why even consider the pretense that humans and mutants are alike? The mask has fallen, and this is what mutantkind has always been: different, weird, esoteric, and proud.
And it’s not just Charles Xavier and his X-Men among that number now — because the death is not the only impossibility that has been conquered by the bold ideas of Moira X and her eons of planning.
As the issue concludes, Earth has recognised Krakoa as a sovereign nation state (implied to have been done so thanks to a forceful psychic suggestion to certain key detractors in the UN Security Council by Emma Frost, as if the feeling of everything being Very Wrong was already not deeply enmeshed in every page of this issue already). Back on Krakoa, Wolverine, Magneto, and Xavier meet a new batch of mutant arrivals on their new home, to be accepted in the flock of mutantkind.
Mutants yes, but ones they’ve fought for decades. Among them perhaps even their greatest foe, Apocalypse. But now, with that pretense of assimilation cast aside, the only unity mutantkind is interested in is within its own kind. In House of X’s brave new world, every rule is being broken, from the bonds of death to mortal foes becoming new allies. Now, we truly have seen mutantkind. We know them.
And they are so far beyond us, it’s petrifying to comprehend.