“House of X” is a bold new start for Marvel’s mutants

Craig Odenwald, Staff Writer

Professor Charles Xavier looks around at his newly formed council of mutants. Seated among him are friends, such as his student Jean Grey; enemies, like Magneto; and those who are in between, like the crafty Mystique.

“Is what we have perfect?” asks Professor X. “No. What is? But it’s a start — and a good one.”

Professor X’s words encapsulate a bold new beginning for the X-Men, the Marvel Universe’s strangest band of superheroes. In May 2019, Marvel Comics canceled their entire line of X-Men comics to start a new 12-issue limited series, alternating between two titles, “House of X” and “Powers of X.” Jonathan Hickman, former writer for both “Avengers” and “Fantastic Four,” decided it was time to do something different with Marvel’s mighty mutants.

When you think of the X-Men, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A final battle with Magneto, who can’t decide which side he’s on? A large group of heroes with too many names to remember (except Wolverine, of course)? The X-Men film franchise repeatedly recycles these story beats, but Hickman casts these tropes aside for a fresh start.

In “House of X”/”Powers of X,” Charles Xavier learns from old friend Moira McTaggert that if mutants do not come together as a species, humanity will one day wipe them out. In a risky move, Xavier and Moira invite all mutants — good and bad — to join them on an island in the middle of the Atlantic, where they can thrive as the world’s first mutant civilization.

As Xavier and Moira’s numbers grow, a separate cabal forms: Orchis, an organization made up of agents from S.H.I.E.L.D. to Hydra. Orchis’ scientists calculate that, should Xavier’s civilization be allowed to develop, mutants will overtake humans as Earth’s dominant species. So in an effort to prevent the rise of homo superior, Orchis’ masterminds get to work. It’s a race against time to save our species.

So who are the heroes and who are the villains? Hickman lets the audience decide. His story weaves together past comics history and themes of cultural division to form something truly original. When Xavier and Magneto clasp hands in friendship, the audience believes it, because Hickman acknowledges what has come before.

Of course, there’s also no shortage of superhero action. Pepe Larraz’s artwork and Marte Gracia’s colors capture the X-Men’s iconic look while maintaining a crisp, flowing style that pops off of the pages. You’ll find old favorites like Nightcrawler and Storm fighting deadly robots against a reddened sky, silhouetted in shadowy dystopias, and deep in debate amidst wild island flora. To use an old phrase from the X-Men’s creator, the late Stan Lee, it’s a stylish book. “’Nuff said.”

The X-Men’s future on the pages may indicate where they’ll go on the big screen, too. Marvel Studios acquired 20th Century Fox in late March 2019, meaning the X-Men are home with Marvel at last. MCU mastermind Kevin Feige now has the means and the mutants to reboot the “X-Men” film series.

Feige could very well tell the same story as movies past: the formation of the team, a constant fight for acceptance, and a final battle with Magneto. But now that multiple new “X-Men” series are launching, starting with Hickman’s “X-Men” No. 1 in early October, they could serve as inspiration for Feige’s forthcoming films. In one summer of comics, Hickman’s “House of X”/”Powers of X” showed that long-standing heroes still have stories to be told. All you have to do is change things up.

“We’ve failed countless times before,” says Xavier to his allies. “But this time will be different.”

Magneto stands beside him. “For we are different.”