As usual, Larraz’s cover work is stunning. The choice of figures is interesting but hard to parse: Is there some commonality between Storm, Exodus, and Emma? Exodus’ presence here and throughout this issue is subtly provocative, but to what end—who can say? Otherwise, what we see is presumably another moment of Krakoan celebration, with MC Storm helping shape the celebrating Krakoans’ emotions. There are celebrants high above among the gargantuan trees, in what keeps me thinking of an Ewok village. The sky, though, is eerily red: An ominous portent?
Previously: More in the Hickman X-Men Re-Read!
I. Scene 1—Xavier’s Address: Foundation
Xavier’s epigraph denies any aspiration toward perfectionism, selling himself instead as a pragmatist. And turning to page 2, we’re back in the realm of his clandestine pact with Moira, this time in the present, at last.
The strangely upside-down chamber (defying Earth’s gravity) houses his secret cradle in her No-Space, more Moira’s than Krakoa’s—since Krakoa is unaware of these spaces (per HOX 1).
The action of this scene is one month before the present—which at this point is the day of celebration following the resurrection of the mutants who’d gone on the fatal mission to the Orchis Forge*. However, this scene’s substance is entirely in the Professor’s telepathically broadcast speech to the world. It ends with the quotation set as an epigraph at the opening of the series in HOX 1.
(*It seems clear the first Council meeting, seen this issue, does take place after the Orchis raid. But given all the intriguingly jumbled timelines throughout this maxiseries, it might be easy to forget that Jean and Kurt’s deaths and resurrections would be fresh on the minds of everyone present, above all, Kurt, who seems withdrawn, uncharacteristically absent even. We’ll return to this below.)
The fact that Xavier is finally depicted, briefly, not wearing his Cerebro helmet in the near-present (Year 10) but we never get to his see face highlights how strange it is that we haven’t gotten a good look at him since the strange scene where he introduces Doug to Krakoa—itself an odd and eerie depiction of him, reminiscent of Cassandra Nova.
The montage of images showing Xavier’s temporarily captive audience moves from depicting ordinary folk in a hospital—as Xavier offers a ray of hope in his promise of revolutionary medical wonders—to executives at a board meeting and intelligence analysts at work—as Xavier gestures at the obsolescence of performing humanitarian works gratis and of peace through assimilation, even acculturation. On the next page, we move from iconic Avengers to a bewildered portrait of Marvel’s First Family—as Xavier implicitly accuses both of failing to do anything, even the most trivial act of just offering assistance as 16 million mutants were slain—and then to Dr. Strange looking out his iconic window, as doves, or pigeons, flock westward in the dusk—while the speech turns to a condescending magnanimousness in letting non-mutant humanity “pay for it,” that is, mutantkind’s new medical miracles. (The Sorcerer Supreme has recently learned something clichéd across fantasy fiction: magic has a price; so it’s an interesting juxtaposition.) And then he lays out his terms: recognition of sovereignty; and citizenship and amnesty for all mutants everywhere effective immediately.
Then we switch between the main players at Orchis’ space facilities—Omega Sentinel and Drs. Alia Gregor, Erasmus Mendel, and Killian Devo*—as Xavier establishes the Krakoan manifesto, which can be summed up as declaring mutantkind’s independence from non-mutant humanity and then setting terms that are thoroughly nonnegotiable and transactional for that global recognition of mutant sovereignty (which, intentionally or not, reveals that self-sovereignty is dependent on the world’s goodwill—as has always been necessary for all nations, allowing for ambiguous values of “goodwill.” Do you see the irony, Professor?).
(*This is Devo’s cameo debut, but we don’t get his name until X-Men vol5 #1, where we also discover he’s the Director of Orchis.)
Juxtaposed with Xavier’s implicit threat to humanity, a kind of bold, unambiguous species supremacism is Dr. Killian Devo’s deep frown, cast in a lurid red light from the Sun.
Meanwhile, Devo’s cyborg counterpart, Xavier—both men are wearing tech that obscures their expressions and completely conceals their eyes and brows—smiles, in the bold purplish light of his telepathic power (or maybe it’s just Cerebro’s machine glow).
[Visual speculation: Funny how where the rest of Xavier’s face would be in this layout is Moira’s instead, almost like he’s her mouthpiece.]
Appropriately, this chapter to the House of X is titled “I Am Not Ashamed”—Magneto’s epigraph and closing line in POX 6—but we’re also reminded in the subtitle that this story has been about the design and building of “the House of Xavier,” which may be merely one of two interpretations of the miniseries’ title, and this issue we’ll get “the three laws” of this new world.
I can’t help but wonder, though: What would happen to these three laws if there came a day when Xavier no longer ruled Krakoa or even mutantkind itself?
II. Council’s First Meeting and Xavier’s Second Speech: Condemnation and Consolation (pp8-26):
We then turn then to two data pages, one text, the other graphic, showing the Council’s structure and membership—saving Emma/Spring’s third seat, still a mystery—analogous to Arthur’s Round Table, and fundamentally the human bedrock on which Xavier has set his house (though the still more basic and essential fundament is Krakoa itself). It’s interesting what a contrast the Summer seats make with the rest—and with Cyclops, too. The latter really is more characteristically a field captain, however commanding, than any kind of cultural, social, or political leader; Storm, Jean, and Kurt are much more apt choices.
Also, it’s hard to say which is more unsettling: Winter or Autumn. This is, after all, where we see that Apocalypse has not only a seat at the table, but one right next to Xavier and Magneto. Keep your enemies close?
The only one without knowledge of Moira’s existence who seems like she might really be able to guess at what Charles and Erik up to and know how to act when everything inevitably goes sideways is Emma.
Lastly, it is cool to see the other captains listed. Gorgon could be developed in interesting ways, but frankly, that seems like a hard sell. More interesting is the inclusion of Magik—already uber popular these days—and Bishop—with the signal here that he’ll really start to get the bold and heroic fresh start he deserves.
A. The Gathering
We first see Sinister, flanked by Exodus and Nightcrawler, enter the sort of cathedral-like meeting room—with a view of a high encircling waterfall beyond. Winter’s seats are already occupied, Krakoa’s avatar looming behind them. Then there are longtime X-Men Jean Grey, Storm, and the White Queen, followed by Mystique (who, incidentally, seats herself directly across from her son, Autumn facing Summer).
Now, while it’s clear that Emma is master of Spring, it’s unclear if the seating for each grouping is in any way hierarchical. For example, Exodus certainly doesn’t seem to hold any sway over Sinister or Mystique, and frankly Autumn is the strangest assortment of mutants thrown together (with two masters of chaos—one evil, the other neutral—flanking lawful evil?). Meanwhile, Summer presents as entirely lawful good, and Winter is all lawful, um, ambiguous? 😉
Speaking of ambiguity, if there’s sarcasm or cynicism in calling those on Autumn “allies” and Emma and Shaw “friends” (Emma’s friendship with the X-Men has never been directed at Xavier and very rarely toward Magneto)—is there something insincere in Xavier’s address to Summer as “family”? (At least they’re not being called “summertime friends” or “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots”!)
Regardless, this scene doesn’t buck the overall chilliness that’s been at the heart of this entire narrative!
And on page 11, how do these veteran X-Men appear? Jean looks like she might be about to play a round of poker, no less than Emma; Storm, arms crossed, looks like she’s reserving judgment, with the possibility of being pissed—which is quite sensible considering who else she’s currently sharing space with—and Kurt looks like he might be diffident, and the diminishing perspective helps accentuate that—also, he’s probably averting his gaze from his estranged mother!
However, it seems like his mother is bored, maybe looking at a spot on the floor, perhaps thinking of times when she has been Xavier’s ally—or rather as his secret agent working for him in exchange for her freedom from President Bush’s DHS during her two-year solo series in the early 2000s.
[Emma seated directly across from Xavier, but the layout of the panels here does more to contrast first Summer and Spring with each other, and then Autumn and Winter—Sinister/Apocalypse; Exodus/Magneto; Mystique/Xavier.]
As to the rest of the Council, they’re all unreadable, except Sinister certainly looks intrigued and appears ready to enjoy the proceedings as a source of amusement.
It’s pretty amusing, too, when Xavier calls to Doug as an aside, like a director prompting a stagehand to activate or bring onstage some special effect or prop. And what better pretext for spectacle than a scene of “judgment”—what Kurt aptly calls “the oldest kind [of (dirty) business] on this planet.” (Interesting that he said “this,” not “the.”)
The contrast of colors on page 12, panel 3—between Krakoa’s suddenly more reddish cast and the blue bubble of water—is striking. And then Sabretooth strikes the spot marked “X” in the midst of the Council.
In his classic Bronze Age costume, the prisoner half-rises, acting as if he’s still in the old world—ready to maim and kill without hesitation, consequences be damned (because he never really has to deal with any).
B. A Nation of Laws—and Lies (and Various Other Delusions)
Magneto then announces the reason for this first meeting: Establishing the new laws of mutantkind (and doing so, he removes his helmet, which might be an offering to the telepaths present to read his honesty. Next, Xavier somewhat trash-talks the Council as not representing the best of their kind—but he is, after all, a pragmatist, echoing this issue’s opening epigraph: We just need to get things started, idealistic perfection be damned.
But at what point does dismissing the need to actually be better now turn into throwing out idealism altogether—in favor of ruthless instrumentalism instead? This isn’t trivial; the entire maxiseries has pivoted around this critical question, as have most of the lifetimes of Moira X.
Still, Sinister is the show stealer! Meanwhile, Exodus’ role on Krakoa and his ultimate threat level—toward anyone and for whatever reason—becomes a more fascinating question with his every too-brief appearance.
Apocalypse here speaks to his classic brutalist ethos: “How will anyone—any of you—know that you are fit and worth if you are not tested?” Post-HOX/POX, we’ll see this notion manifest most starkly and nakedly in the Crucible ritual that takes place in the Arena, a central Krakoan location—right next to Arbor Magna, the resurrection chamber (as seen on the map on pg28).
Don’t forget that in HOX 5, Magneto spoke of the Genoshan genocide not as “a grave,” but “as a crucible,” and my gloss on that was that he was in danger of instrumentalizing that atrocity for political ends.
Anyway—Storm gets to be righteously pissed for a second!
Then Jean shifts from Xavier’s grubby pragmatism and Apocalypse’s dour and forceful Darwinism (which, as I’ve written before in this series, does not reflect actual evolutionary processes; it’s a political ideology)—to speaking of “greatness in purpose,” i.e., the noble flavor of idealism, a different kind of worthiness. And so, she establishes Krakoa’s first law: “The highest crime would be killing someone who cannot come back—it would be a mutant killing a human”—which Magneto accepts, with the qualification that this wouldn’t apply when Krakoans kill humans in defense of the nation.
It’s funny, though, that this caveat is no different from any other human nation.
Apocalypse lets this law pass only because he can’t be bothered. Here again, we have the sense that he’s inhabiting a different Krakoa—the one he left as a grievous battlefield long, long ago. His mind is elsewhere and when.
With that, the pathetically snarling Sabretooth is condemned—to what, we’re not sure, till a few pages later. But it’s nice to see first that two powerful women shut his crusty face up and leave him a drooling mess.
Sinister is enjoying the show, but then Shaw throws in a real party-killer: his veneration for the classical era of capitalist economics. But Doug, awesomely, throws an irreverent wet blanket on Shaw’s pompous ideas: Krakoa is a person, and people can’t be owned.
Yet one of the two strongest moral voices present*, Storm complicates Doug’s implicit utopian aspiration: Making Krakoa home, especially as a nation-state, makes it to some degree a possession. (*The other being Kurt, who uncharacteristically has seemed somewhat at a loss throughout this maxiseries—something that will be acknowledged in the 2021 series Way of X.) And anyway, as Emma hints at, the Krakoan economy will be more complicated than Shaw’s classicism would easily accept, reflecting some of the complications of globalization itself.
While Kurt is, as mentioned, at a loss in grappling with the new status quo, Exodus sees his opportunity and gets religious, spicing his crusader mentality with a bit of Gaian mysticism (in replacing Gaia with Krakoa). And so Xavier acknowledges Exodus’ little priestly speech as Krakoa’s second law: “Respect this land.”
On the very next page, Kurt is central. (And it’s interesting to look at who each of these nine-panel pages centers on: Exodus; Apocalypse; Doug/Krakoa; Kurt—all potential figures in a Krakoan religion…) And Mystique, chaotic neutral, aptly calls out her son as “the righteous among us.” Kurt’s silence in central panel is telling, even more so in relation to the layout of the preceding pages.
The reader could almost drown in Kurt’s silence, his figure in shadows, his tail circling overhead, as if enclosing, the sunlight behind his chair blinding. His thoughts are even more obscured from us. But suddenly speaking, quoting the Book of Genesis, and then paraphrasing it into Krakoa’s third law, we should feel unsettled. Yeah, it’s funny because Kurt seems to be intentionally playing it snarky—but, really, he’s extemporizing, because he’s actually at a loss. (Again, see Way of X—eventually! 😉)
And that’s it. “Is what we have perfect?” No, Chuck, I’d say you cut this meeting way too short!
What frigging nation on Earth has just three laws???
C. An Imperfect Instrument Can Still Be Used as a Bludgeon (but you need to be ready for a mess)
I’d be more sympathetic if this were a dynamic anarchist network of makers and shakers, but Xavier is responsible for a complicated and mostly very youthful society—with which he is almost wholly out of touch. What we’ve got here is a good start primarily because of the wonders of Krakoa and the Resurrection Five. The rest of it is still too obscure and vague for a functioning, self-sustaining civilization to work much less thrive.
I’m not blaming Hickman for this. This is all on Xavier and Magneto—and Moira, though her level of involvement in the Krakoa scheme remains uncertain. Hickman’s setup here is really Xavier’s hubris and not a permanent blueprint for mutant society. No, what we have is really cool biotech and geography, but the worldbuilding from Xavier and Magneto’s end is severely limited.
The rest of Krakoan society’s worldbuilding will have to be from the ground up—and that’s what much of the X titles post-HOX/POX will deal with. And it will become clear there that there are multiple Krakoas, just as there are different visions of life.
Page 17 gives us the Three Commandments in infographic form. Note the oddness at the bottom: “Krakoa_1” / “Arakko_0,” which seems like score-keeping notation. And remember we’ve had only one mention of Arakko, in Krakoa’s speech to Doug in POX 4. What does it mean? Clearly, we’ll have to wait.
Just keep in mind that Apocalypse, the one who might understand, clearly doesn’t care about these laws (calling Krakoa “sacred” would even be idiocy to him because while I believe he does respect it, he also understands that it is in a sense fallen—sundered from its former self, no longer the whole that was Okkara).
D. Punishing Krakoa’s First Renegade
For all the utopian wonders of Krakoa, the Krakoan state is born here, beginning on page 18, where Xavier’s helmed face weighs down heavily on the panels depicting the Council’s judgment on this killer (also a rapist, though he’s not at all on trial for that here, just the deaths of the Damage Control agents in HOX 1) and Sabretooth looks like he’s barely bearing the weight of their verdicts—as he continues his facile threats, really indicative of an animal out of its depths and toothlessly lashing out.
Jean’s earlier gesture at establishing this new society with a sense of “higher purpose” is sullied here by Magneto framing Sabretooth’s imminent condemnation as part of the foundation for a Krakoan people, showing its most ethical law in action—by having been broken by a hardened killer and then mended with an inhumane punishment: indefinite solitary confinement and, presumably, complete sensory deprivation.
Everyone’s verdict is characteristic, even Storm’s, especially when you consider her erstwhile leadership of the Morlocks, many of whom Sabretooth savagely massacred (in The Mutant Massacre).
On page 19, it’s hard to tell if Krakoa’s own reaction is furious at Sabretooth or at having to use its body as the prison that it indeed once was, way back in Giant-Size X-Men #1. I’m guessing Krakoa isn’t happy with the Council here.
Xavier saying “we tolerate no prisons here on Krakoa” is utterly disingenuous, an absolute lie. The Pit is carceral, full stop. Krakoans will now walk atop a prison.
It’s painfully obvious everyone—save Apocalypse and perhaps Sinister—is deeply unsettled. It’s not a good end to the first Council!
Cue Xavier’s moralizing speech while the fireworks and festivities are underway: “I pray that we never get used to it. That we never grow cold from it.” I’m afraid it’s too late for Xavier and his cohorts here. And it’s a slippery slope, which in the abstract, he clearly understands. Because the next step down this path is indeed learning to love power, the wielding of it, the application of its blunt, woefully imperfect instruments.
But Xavier, in his chilliness, doesn’t see that he’s already inching and creeping toward that cold, cold love—because being that cold is supposed to mean being rational, in control, detached enough to do the job.
However, learning to love power requires that coldness; it’s how we trick ourselves into human history’s most toxic relationship—the individual’s infatuation with winning and keeping control, especially in a world that’s chaotic and threatening.
And painting oneself as the sleepless parent of a nation isn’t an excuse for anything; it’s usually a symptom. Many a dictator has viewed themselves as fathers of the people. It never ends well for the most vulnerable, especially the children…
Anyway, the road to hell is paved with good intentions—and all that. Xavier views himself as a Great Man. Someone should’ve told him: That is the old way of doing things. You’re a dinosaur, Chuck.
III. Celebration (pp23-26)
What we have in the pages that follow is what the new could really look like: a demos, a people, living life without regard for the tragedy of the Great Man.
And yet the last page returns to three of these Greats. Do these look like people you would trust? This is so stark a contrast with the celebration we just whirled through. Doesn’t it make you want to run deliriously back to the party? Or maybe in terror—as far as you could get from these Great Men?
After all, we all know what happens when a great ship sinks or a mighty tower falls. Any sensible person would want to be safely out of the water, out from under the high shadow, thankful that they knew … But the Krakoans? They are left in ignorance.
(Perhaps Nightcrawler will be a light to them soon enough…)
Six last notes: Making Jean, Logan, and Scott a throuple is awesome; seeing beloved Gen Xers Skin and Synch alive is heartwarming; it’s nice to see Broo; Logan’s offer of beer to his dire enemy Gorgon is endearing; Exodus’ fireside performance for the Krakoan kids looks fascinating (so many questions: is he just storytelling? Sermonizing? Both? This is how religions are born…); things seem good between Emma and Jean, and Scott—and between Scott and Alex. (Though Jean hearkening back to her Silver Age self remains questionable.)
Oh, and page 27 reveals the existence of another Krakoan archipelago, in the Atlantic. How was this done? What’s Krakoa’s own relationship with/understanding of its Atlantic portion/self? Is it separate not just for security reasons but because Xavier wanted the harder, securitized aspects (so distasteful) of this new society cordoned off from public view of the average Krakoan? I’d argue the latter!
Also, it’s interesting that Magneto gets the last two epigraphs, here and in POX 6, virtually the closing lines both times as well. He is the omega to Xavier’s alpha, after all. But don’t forget that his vision of “inferno” might soon be bearing fruit, for better or worse, just a few months from now.