Marvel’s House of X/Powers of X event is complicated, full of references to the X-Men past and hints at the X-Men future. Jonathan Hickman, R. B Silva, and Pepe Larraz are delivering a beautifully rendered and textually dense reinvention of one of the biggest franchises in comics history.
That’s too much for just one comics editor to dig into, so we reached out to the folks at the Xavier Files, whose in-depth annotations of House of X and Powers of X impressed us, educated us, and entertained us. Now you can enjoy the Xavier Files’ Hox Pox Tox right here on Polygon — so crack open your copy of House of X #4, and read along! (You can find the first three annotations here).
In Powers Of X #5, by Johnathan Hickman, R.B. Silva, and Marte Gracia, we learn even more about Professor Xavier’s long gestating plan for Krakoa. In X⁰ we see him enlist Forge, the mutant Maker, in his attempts to enhance Cerebro. In X¹ Xavier brings Emma Frost into the fold, and with her, the establishment of the Hellfire Trading Company. He summons more and more mutants to Krakoa, though the Atlantean King Namor, a mutant himself, declines. In the far future of X³, we see that the Phalanx’s true goal is not just assimilation, but annihilation, and they may have more lofty goals still.
Robert Secundus: Chris, I am extremely pumped for this. In the last issue, we finally got to see bits of the history of Krakoa, and we got to learn a bit more about the language and culture of this place. And since this is PoX, we’re not only going to get to build on that, but we’ll finally get to see just what that Great Pokeball in the Sky has in store for our blue librarian buddies.
Chris Eddleman: I’ve been waiting for this Phalanx answer for what seems like ages now, so I’ll be excited to see where that goes. As the present plot moves its way forward, it seems like the X³ plot seems to be slowing down piece by piece and I’m honestly very curious as to what it all means. Plus, we’ll likely get more setup courtesy of some X⁰ scenes, which always provide a bit more context to our present events (not to mention some juicy charts and graphs). Let’s see what we’ve got.
CE: Professor X’s quote here is particularly interesting after last issue, especially since at the end of House of X #5, it seemed like we had almost the entire situation figured out. We’re getting worked here, it seems.
RS: We’ve talked about paradigm shifts before, and that’s the problem: We still don’t know through what paradigm the events on the page are best viewed.
CE: “Once more…I need three” in the code references Emma’s lines later in the issue.
CE: Oh hey we finally see Forge! In Powers of X #4, there was the Krakoan network graphic, in which it was strongly suggested that Forge was hard at work on some secret projects. And, of course, we’re about to find out what at least one of them is. Also, Xavier here is in his classic wheelchair, so I suspect this is prior to Erik and Xavier meeting Sinister (but honestly who knows?).
Xavier’s talk of “hypothetical” access to a fusion reactor is so “money is no object” and I kind of love it.
RS: Having been to it, I can assure you that this is not the Dallas Aquarium, that that fine institution doesn’t have a tank of whales and grouper and turtles and jellyfish. We’re in Forge’s holographic home, most famously seen in Uncanny X-Men #186, “Lifedeath.”
CE: Forge just having a sweet pad is such a quintessential Forge thing. Glad we’re seeing that here. [Ed. note: This page is lacking one quintessential Forge thing, Nair-length short shorts.]
CE: Forge and Xavier talk about the different generations of Cerebro. I wonder if this includes the prototype “Cyberno” as seen in X-Men #40. The earliest Cerebro didn’t require telepathy and ran on punch cards. However, I think that version might be excluded from this list. Forge also is giving us the classic computer builder guy spiel, which I enjoy. [Ed. note: Punch cards were pieces of paper with holes in it that represented programs.]
CE: As any good computer user knows, you got to have backups to all of your data. Xavier needs five, which is frankly more than I’ve ever made. The one for “unforeseen consequences” definitely seems like another Chekhov’s gun in Hickman’s incredibly large arsenal.
RS: The number five keeps recurring. Five Original X-Men. The Five on Krakoa. Five backups.
CE: I love Forge taking a big swig before explaining to Charles he needs fantasy equipment to run his psychic cloud storage system.
RS: I know this is going on nothing, but Chris, I gotta ask: Did Xavier’s eyebrows seem… well, did they seem EVIL to you throughout this scene??
CE: He has delightful schemer’s eyebrows! I think he’s just reminding everyone that (likely at this point) he has an alien girlfriend, Lilandra Neramani, Majestrix of the Shi’ar Empire, who gives him all sorts of excellent gifts, like this cloaked antimatter engine. So to bring a little science into it, atomic bomb reactions convert about 3% of their mass into energy, which, while powerful, is not as effective as theoretical antimatter-matter reactors, which would convert 100% of the mass of matter into energy. So Charles has some powerful toys.
Also, crystal storage is a big sci-fi trope as previously mentioned. These just have “logic”, which probably means way better than normal crystals. Also, I love that they’re diamonds… Which makes them a souped up solid state hard drive. [Ed. note: Does this mean Emma Frost can turn into a hard drive? Must investigate later…]
RS: “The Cradle” was previously listed, in HoX #1, on the Krakoan map. It’s not clear which of these Cradles that map refers to. “Pointe” is a ballet term for the tippy-toe position, so it could refer to a peninsula or hilltop.
CE: Island M is the real name of what we like to call Octopusheim, Magneto’s fun island base. I’m not sure what Summer House means in this case, other than just literally a Summer House. Or, perhaps the house of the Summer part of the Council, as we learn more about later.
I lost my mind about a few things on this page. The move from antimatter engine to Krakoan No-Place vent is awesome. The No-Places were Krakoan tumor areas we first saw mentioned back in House of X #1, as they are spots outside of the Krakoan Network. No idea how they power the biggest computer on the planet. Also, Moira has one somewhere! As I feel like I keep reminding everyone, we still don’t know where Moira is in the present but this seems to hint a bit.
RS: And let’s keep in mind that the word “Utopia” can be translated as “no-place” and that a singularity, lacking extension in place, is a “no-place.”
CE: Definitely important for later in this issue, Rob. Xavier reloading legacy versions of his own brain makes me think he had to do something to make himself forget something, or possibly remember something. I’m sure this will come up again.
RS: Even if it doesn’t, it’s a nice way to handwave away the “Don’t call me Prof Xavier… my new name is… X” stuff from Astonishing X-Men Vol. 4 #1-12. That would explain the one upload, but not the other.
[Ed. note: For those of you not in the know, Professor X consensually took over the body of a guy named Fantomex. He then started acting very aggressive and odd. It probably won’t be relevant moving forward.]
CE: I have a weird feeling you’re right on this one. I was never the most fond of that choice anyway, and it basically went away without being addressed, so, best case scenario for me.
RS: One thing more. The framing of Forge’s work here on “biological machines” continues the conflation of organic life and technology we’ve seen since HoX #1. We can’t draw straight lines anymore between the natural and the artificial. On Krakoa, they are blurred.
RS: This statue is the Nike of Samothrace, depicting the goddess of Victory. The shoe was named for the legend concerning that word, “Nike.” As Plutarch would have it, after the Battle of Marathon, and after he ran 26 miles and change to Athens, Pheidippides collapsed dead, shouting “VICTORY!” A declaration of victory which concludes in death? Sounds like foreshadowing for the end of this issue. [Ed. note: A very good way to die.]
CE: What an excellent catch, Rob. I think Emma experiences some big wins herself in this issue, and I love how the writers/artists are able to convey this through symbolism. It’s just really nice when comic professionals are inspired outside of comic books.
CE: Emma seems pretty rightfully concerned about Xavier and Magneto together. I feel like when they combine their goals, bad stuff tends to happen. Remember House of M?
RS: The “Canova” to which she refers is probably Psyche Revived By Cupid’s Kiss and, yeah, same, I would not want to chat with Charles Xavier in the midst of such powerfully raw eroticism.
CE: Emma being the head of the Hellfire Club happened in the fantastic X-Men: Black as she became the Black King so this is a rare moment of continuity to something rather recent. I’m thrilled, because that Emma Frost issue is one of my favorites. Xavier leading his pitch with “we’re making another nation-state and it’s also the one that killed some students” is maybe not his best work. I understand Emma’s shock. [Ed. note: Emma was teaching on Genosha during the genocide. This was the second time her students were brutally murdered and it would not be the last.]
CE: Emma refers here to putting all the mutants on an island, a thing that has happened twice — first in the case of Genosha, and second in the case of Utopia. Neither of these ended particularly well. Magneto is referencing the Five, I suspect, which means they started their work of resurrection quite early in Krakoan history. [Ed. note: Emma also ran the mutant territory of California, called New Tian, during the Hydra takeover of the United States in Secret Empire. It also ended poorly.]
RS: And it’s important to remember that Emma was there when the entire population of Genosha was massacred, that Emma held a student as she died in her arms. She has good reason to react with fury.
CE: Emma has been at ground zero of several of the worst anti-mutant atrocities committed by mankind.
CE: Rob, I just now noticed that the little spheres that contain the Krakoan gateway flowers look an awful lot like the X³ elder’s seer-sphere, and likewise the baptism ball from the machine cult in X². I’m not sure if it means anything other than artistic motif but, it’s some interesting visual continuity.
CE: “One more time, then, for the children.”
What a fantastic Emma Frost line. Emma seems very cold-hearted at times, ruthless as well. But at the core of her character, Emma Frost is a nurturing teacher. Throughout most of X-Men history, she has had to deal with her students undergoing tragedy, often quite brutal. Her Hellions, members of Generation X, and her students in Genosha met with various degrees of terrible fates — but the White Queen would still work for mutant children after all the awfulness. It’s wonderful.
RS: In these early days of Krakoa, the tower of the House of M, that tower which looks very much like so many other towers we’ve seen in this series (the Tarot card, Sinister’s spire, the residences of both Nimrod the Lesser and Greater) is already rising over the landscape. We still don’t know why towers are such a motif or why they’re all drawn to appear so similar (or if they are all indeed the same tower), but let’s keep in mind two things we’ve discussed before: The significance of the Tarot tower (a horrible doom) and the Biblical tower (Babel, Nimrod’s folly, the destruction of great works through language).
CE: I’m guessing Emma liking the taste of “East India trading company for mutantdom” refers more to her trade monopoly rather than all of the really terrible stuff the East India Company did.
Also, I’m not sure why Magneto is lowballing her with twenty and then fifty years — who else is going to distribute Krakoan pharmaceuticals?
RS: I love this page because it returns to the other side of Frost you mention. Sometimes I feel that when stories finally do recognize the warmer side of Emma, her love for her students, her devotion to their survival, that this comes at the exclusion of the other side, the White Queen. We’re getting all of Emma here.
CE: Hickman has said Emma is one of his top favorites, and it’s incredibly clear. Emma has gotten quite a bit of character focus in this series, while I feel like other characters such as Jean Grey have maybe not been so heavily featured in a way I would like. Honestly though, this Emma is so good it’s very hard to complain.
CE: Magneto saying Inferno made alarm bells go off in my head, especially considering this phrasing was used it the lead up to that story. Lots of references to that crossover in this series, including direct quotes. I’m also curious to see, Rob, how Sebastian Shaw will figure in — but, honestly, these pages feel so much like a set-up for the upcoming Marauders that I’m sure we’ll have all of our questions answered. Important to note that Shaw and Emma were in a relationship once upon a time, one in which Shaw was abusive.
RS: “Inferno” could just be a reference to Hellfire … But after Sinister’s Secrets, I doubt it. [Ed. note: If I have learned anything doing this, it’s that nothing is a coincidence.]
CE: In case we have readers who aren’t up-to-date, Emma got rid of Sebastian Shaw by poisoning him with a paralytic while convincing the X-Men to take care of other members of his Inner Circle. It was a big power move that again, took place in X-Men: Black.
RS: I lost it at those panels, because of the comedic timing of the beat, but also because Emma is speaking for each and every one of us that cheered for her triumph in Black. [Ed. note: Seriously go read it, Leah Williams and Chris Bachalo delivered one of the best comics last year.]
CE: So Shaw is going to be a black market kind of figure. I wonder how much he’ll play ball vs. how much he’ll be in it for himself. He’s a very pragmatic man. Also, I suppose we’ll be seeing a lot of those fictional Marvel countries that weren’t ready to play ball with Krakoa in Marauders. The fact that they’re smuggling in miracle drugs and smuggling out mutants is an absolutely incredible premise. I can’t wait to read.
So Rob, who is the third seat on the council? Scott? … Maybe another Marauders member?
RS: A Marauders character seems likely. The big question is, who does Emma still trust? Scott broke her trust at the conclusion of Uncanny X-Men Vol 5. Banshee? She has a history of running institutions with him. Kitty? I think we can say they’ve developed some degree of mutual respect. [Ed. note: Emma was once quoted as being “Astonished” by Ms. Pryde.]
CE: So this page being redacted means we don’t learn a whole heck of a lot. The divisions by seasons is interesting, but we don’t really have any clue what it indicates other than the established grouping of Xavier and Magneto on one triplicate and Shaw and Emma on another. I guess Doug and Krakoa get some kind of vote as well, possibly? Characters have raised the question of whether or not this government is permanent several times this issue, so I’m certain that will be of note later.
RS: Three things pop out at me. The first: The Seasons. Unlike the Hellfire club, which names members by chess pieces, the positions here are labeled as something natural. But just like the ostensibly autocthonic language of Krakoa, there’s nothing natural about this. It’s an artificial order imposed on the land and the populace. [Ed. note: The most famous family in X-Men is named Summers…]
The second: The number of councilmen. 12 is an important number in Hebrew numerology; there are 12 sons of Jacob, 12 tribes of Israel, and, most importantly, 12 judges that ruled before the age of kings. Things didn’t always go great under the judges [Ed. note: See, well, the Book of Judges in the Bible.]
The final thing is the total number. Whenever I see the number 14 my lit major senses start tingling; when I see 14 things set in careful lines they start to blare; when I see 14 lines conclude with a separate set of 2 lines, they become deafening. This looks extremely like a sonnet, like poetry. In most English sonnets, the poem builds across 12 lines (of various constructions) to one climactic punch in a final couplet. By organizing this so that it looks like a sonnet, Dougkoa don’t seem like an afterthought or something ancillary. They seem like the most important figures on the page.
CE: Look, you can’t govern Krakoa without Krakoa’s input. It’s an odd effect of living on a sentient being.
CE: I thought at first that this diagram indicated in black entities we know and in shaded white entities we don’t. However, Doug is in black while Krakoa is shaded. I’m not certain what that means, to be honest.
RS: This calls to mind the Round Table of Arthur, but also the symbol used in PoX #2 for a Machine intelligence.
RS: So now we know Professor X gave two speeches to the world, one to mutants and one to humans. We still don’t have the full text of the latter, but this appears to be the full text of the former.
CE: Specifically we have villains featured over the next couple of pages. On this page, we have Exodus and mutant Sinister, both of whom show up for Xavier’s invitation as we saw last issue. These are honestly some heavy hitters for villains and I’m excited to see how they integrate (or don’t) into Krakoan society.
RS: Some very odd choices on who to focus on here. We’ve got Gorgon, a sometimes-Wolverine-foe who featured prominently in Hickman’s Secret Warriors series; and the Omega Family. Not even Omega Red mind you, the Omega Family.
[Ed. note: The Omega Family were designer assassin clones based on Omega Red, who was dead at the time. They included their own younger, hotter version of Omega Red. The original flavor Omega Red was later resurrected in an occult ceremony by Colossus’ Russian mob uncle. This is why we feel the need to do these articles.]
CE: It is shocking how recently Omega Red has been featured. He was an octopus angel priest and it was incredible.
RS: Once again we’re undersea, but there are no beautiful whales or jellyfish here. Only sharks.
Silva is so good at eyebrows! Compare Namor’s to Xavier’s and Emma’s. All extreme. All expressive. All very different. Also, comparing this to his Octopusheim, he is very good at drawing cephalopodic monolithic structures.
CE: Rob, that had to have been a requirement for this series, right? Especially Powers of X? Okay, I need to talk about Namor. He’s perfect. He’s completely the face of arrogant rulership as he tells Charles, a man who has everyone’s brain on a backup drive, that he simply isn’t trying hard enough yet and that Namor might come to Krakoa when he does. We readers have been (by and large) astonished by the big status quo changes that have been wrought by mostly Charles Xavier, and it simply isn’t good enough for Namor. Imperius Rex indeed, Rob.
RS: Namor has been going through a lot recently. In Avengers, he decided that Atlantis would take protection of the environment into its own hands, putting him at odds with pretty much everyone on the surface. Over in Invaders we learned that Xavier and Namor once searched the world for other mutants, but had a falling out.
CE: We have an awful lot of machine related body horror in this series. We’ve moved from the creepy infant techno-organic baptism in Powers of X #3 into machine eating in this book. It gives me the creeps. [Ed. note: Robot vore should give you the creeps.]
RS: We’ve already talked about Titans before, in HoX #4. The Titans of Greek mythology were the progenitors of the Olympian pantheon.
CE: From what I could find, this Titan theory is not an established concept as such. But black holes as computational devices is a discussed theoretical framework for a computer, so Hickman is working with some really cool theoretical physics concepts. Granted, the idea of data so dense that it becomes a black hole is pretty awesome, as data itself can have such little mass. These civilizations, Rob, are smart cookies.
It might be important here to differentiate between singularities in the cosmological sense — meaning the centers of black holes — from the technological singularity, which is the point in which technological advancement becomes rapid and uncontrollable. X³ seems to be dealing with both sets of these in a way, as machines became the masters of man in X² and now man seems to be trying to get in good with black hole dwellers.
The idea of the vast intelligences that are made not of machinery but simply particles is an odd one to me, since machines themselves are, of course, made up of subatomic particles when you get down to it. I’m guessing Hickman is trying to suggest that these intelligences are simply made up of particles, no more and no less. That’s a hard one to wrap my brain around.
It’s not hard to wrap my brain around the phrasing of “electrons, protons, leptons, and possibly even primordial kirbons,” though. Electrons are a type of lepton, so to me that’s like naming shapes and picking squares and rectangles. Granted, other particles can be thought of as leptons as well. Also, kirbons are completely fictional, and likely named after Jack Kirby, the King of Comics. I love it!
RS: Hey, it’s the second half of the powers of ten video! This is the first time we’ve started to zoom in rather than out of things in this series.
CE: So to be a buzzkill for a second, it’s very possible that black holes don’t actually lead anywhere — they maybe just crunch on matter rather than actually taking them anywhere. But this idea of a vast network of black hole computers in a massive network, existing somewhat beyond the scope of actual reality is a really incredible sci fi concept. I think Hickman is a really great fit for these grand scope science epics.
RS: This horror calls to mind two things we’ve discussed before. The first is Faust. This is very much a Faustian bargain. They’ve achieved their hearts’ desire, but at a monstrous cost. The second is Gnosticism. Here the culture and the “consciousness of this planet will live on forever,” but this can only be achieved by the destruction of the physical, of the planet and every material body on that planet.
HoX #5 was very gnostic in the way it portrayed the soul and body. Mutants’ real souls, their essences, their anima, could be preserved. Bodies are just husks. Looking at this page, at that panel, do we still buy it? Do we still buy that, in this destruction, only something disposable is lost? That the real essence is saved?
CE: It certainly seems like life itself it maybe supposed to be considered precious by the somewhat ominous way that Lil’ Nimrod phrases the last sentence on this page. I’ll be curious to see if X³ leads even further into the future, as the knowledge of everyone on Earth lives on to the end of the universe. We’ll see!
RS: The first thing I noticed about this page is the subjective voice. Just like the infographics in HoX, this page is appearing more personal. The person writing this doesn’t know if machines have religion.
CE: I’m not sure if Type O is actually a designation on the Kardashev Scale? On the classic scale, Type III is kind of the biggest but, a Type IV would be considered a civilization capable of harnessing all of the energy in the universe. The closest I could find to Type O, was a Type Omega Minus, which is a civilization that can harness the infinitesimal — spacetime itself. Also, boy oh boy, we have a mention of the Phoenix as something that even the massively powerful godlike Dominions fear. That’s either some interesting information, or yet another possible thread for later.
RS: Both the mention of the Phoenix and Galactus are really interesting given the focus on Moira throughout HoXPoX. If Moira’s data/DNA/consciousness has been uploaded, then the Phalanx now have a power that can rival those beings. Galactus was the only being to survive the destruction of his own universe, but (depending on how Moira’s power functions), she too might be able to reboot into a new universe. At the very least, like the Phoenix, when she dies she rises again.
RS: AIs in general are very comparable to traditionally conceived angels in Christianity; they are bodiless intelligences. The Titans here are even more comparable; if they are “partially atemporal,” they have a similar relationship to spacetime as the aeviternal angels. Christian traditions also often organize angels into a hierarchy of choirs, and though those hierarchies differ, in the most common system (a set of 3 groups of 3 choirs) the choirs of Virtues (alternatively named Strongholds) and Dominations (also often named Dominions) appear in the first and second spots of the second set of 3 choirs, which is exactly where Strongholds and Dominions appear in this diagram. Their typically described roles: Strongholds (more often called “Virtues”) interact with the natural world on a massive scale, while Dominions oversee lower orders of angels.
CE: Namor gets the final word here, with coding proclaiming him “Prince of All.” I’m not going to argue with him. This seems like some foreshadowing. Maybe Xavier and crew aren’t done yet with mutant superiority.
CE: The Krakoan reads “I Am Not Ashamed of What I Am”
CE: The Krakoan for our final issue preview reads “House of X.” I’m calling this one now. The X is Ten, and it refers to Moira.
RS: I’m going to lose it if the final twist of the series is “um, actually it’s pronounced House of Ten.”
CE: We can’t rule it out, Rob!
RS: And that’s our Penultimate PoX! I really can’t believe we’re so close to the end. Given the pace of these last couple issues, it feels like things aren’t going to wrap up cleanly. HoXPoX might turn out to be more of a prologue than a first arc. Still, it’s a prologue that’s setting up all kinds of stories that we just haven’t seen before, not only in X-Men, but in superhero comics generally. We’re going to get stories about entire cultures, nations, and languages! Even all these weeks later, I remain just as excited as when I read HoX #1.
CE: This issue, along with most of the Powers of X fare we’ve gotten, isn’t earth-shattering, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I’m always a mark for good Emma Frost content, and getting deeper into the far-future, bleeding-edge scifi is such a treat. Getting to dig into the logarithmic scales of size and time in this story is a lot of fun, and it’ll be interesting to see how the future ends. We’re in the endgame now, and while I doubt it’ll end neatly, some kind of conclusion is imminent.