House of X #1: The House That Xavier Built
Note: Because this is a double-size premier issue, our re-read of it is broken into two segments.
I. Breakdown by Scene (and Page)
Epigraph (p1): “Humans of the planet Earth. While you slept, the world changed.” – Professor X
These two statements are taken from Xavier’s telepathically broadcast speech to the world in HOX 6, pages 3-6. In fact, the first sentence is the opening address on page 3, and the second is the conclusion, which is worth quoting here to clarify the epigraph—to show us what revelation the overall narrative of HOX/POX is moving toward:
We are the future. An evolutionary inevitability. The Earth’s true inheritors.
You closed your eyes last night believing this world would be yours forever. That was your dream. And like mine … it was a lie.
Here is a new truth: While you slept, the world changed.
Xavier declaring to the world that his dream of coexistence with humanity was a lie is profound, completely undoing decades of belief and ideology. He is very much conceding: Magneto was right. But there are wrinkles to this, as we’ll see (one being that he is not advocating terrorism).
Scene 1 (pp2-3): We see several mutants, including Cyclops—now with both eyes again*—tumble from pods nestled in the roots of the Arbor Magna. The reborn X-Men crawl toward a beneficently smiling Xavier.
With the latter half of the limited series, we discover that this is the scene of rebirth for those X-Men who died in the assault on the Orchis Forge in HOX 4; the resurrection is seen in full in HOX 5, wherein the Five first appear as a unit.
In fact, this two-page scene and pages 6-7 of HOX 5 are identical.
(*Cyclops lost his right eye in Uncanny X-Men #15  written by Matthew Rosenberg.)
Montage (pp5-6): This montage of cameos reveals what other historic X-Men characters will be important during the Dawn of X: Colossus; Storm; Nightcrawler; Armor; Beast; Kate Pryde (on the cusp of no longer being Kitty; after all, she is a grown-up now); and—with their stars rising toward the end of DOX Year One—the Stepford Cuckoos.
Colossus picks a Krakoan flower. Other X-Men are shown planting these flowers in other locations: one at Xavier’s now-abandoned school in Westchester; one in the Blue Area of the Moon; one in a terraformed region of Mars, known as the Garden (an area that underwent a verdant transformation in the pages of Hickman’s Avengers #1, 2012); one in the Savage Land, one before the National Monument in DC; and one in Jerusalem. These will quickly blossom into gateways back to Krakoa. All these plantings are strategic, but where they create points of egress between sovereign nations, they will serve a diplomatic purpose (as a subset of strategy, of course).
Scene 2 (pp6-10): At the Jerusalem Habitat, this strategic diplomacy is on full display.
While the building has the legal status of an embassy, it’s also a habitat for the living Krakoan biome, which is protected by the same diplomatic immunity covering all visiting Krakoans and any mutant who wishes to claim Krakoan citizenship.
So, this scene at Krakoa’s newly opened Jerusalem embassy is set at the beginning of our narrative, sometime after the conclusion of Matthew Rosenberg’s 2017-2019 Uncanny X-Men run (which will be referenced only where relevant). Five of the six visiting UN Security Council ambassadors are later revealed by Magneto to be scouting spies for their respective nations. The American ambassador Reilly Marshall is the only one present who came ready to kill a mutant, and he will make a brief, humiliating reappearance later during the Dawn of X. The other openly adversarial representative is Natalia Vollock, from Russia. The nations these two represent will be the ones that Krakoans have to worry about most in the Dawn of X. China, meanwhile, may want to spy, but it doesn’t hesitate to agree to Krakoa’s terms.
The Krakoan deal: to provide for sale—not for free—revolutionary Krakoa-grown pharmaceuticals to those nations that officially recognize Krakoa and its right to exist as a sovereign nation. The ambassadors chatting outside the embassy provide the basic frame for a realpolitik debate around this issue. This kind of subtle infodump-as-fully-realized-scene is a narrative skill Hickman excels at.
Also, we’ll touch on this at the end of HOX1, but there’s a clear if complex symbolic gesture in having an opening scene set in a Krakoan embassy newly opened in Israel, with Magneto (Max Eisenhardt), a Jew and a mutant, receiving the ambassadorial delegation. But we can go ahead and state the obvious here: Krakoa, like its Jewish counterpart, is a nation born out of generations of persecution across the world; both fought tooth and nail for sovereign self-determination; and thoroughly committed to their self-defense, neither will ever take their independence and sovereignty for granted. These basic analogies work well, but let’s not get lost in trying to closely map a fictional political and cultural construct onto potential analogues in the real world.
Interstitial data entries on six of Krakoa’s highly prized flowers (pp11-12)
We get strong hints about the deal that Krakoa’s biome allows for, but it’s not fully spelled out yet. These are brief definitions of six kinds of flowers that only Krakoa can grow; we’re left with clearly large-scale, geopolitical implications.
Here, we can also start to take a crack at deciphering the Krakoan script: the character above each drug corresponds with the Roman letter differentiating each: Drugs L, I, and M—standing for, respectively, (longer) life, immunization, and mind (medicine); and then we have flowers G, H, and N—for gateways, habitats and no-places (of which we see only one instance of fruition, likely both Doctor Moira Mactaggart’s base of operations and residence).
This interstice also confirms the nature of the woody growths and flowers we’ve seen so far: the portal on the cover; what we’ll find out is called the Arbor Magna (or the Hatchery); and the Jerusalem Habitat (which serves here only as a pointed instance of Krakoa’s elevated status; this site does not play a role moving forward). Each habitat is an extension of Krakoa and “part of [its] interconnected consciousness.”
Significantly, a no-place is not a part of Krakoa’s “collective consciousness”—it’s a Krakoan habitat, but it’s undetectable to the island, a blind spot in its perception and awareness. We can assume for now that this hiddenness is a necessity for Dr. MacTaggart to carry on her work with the utmost security and secrecy.
Scene 3a (p13): What was once the most important setting in the X-verse, Xavier’s Westchester school, is now presumably abandoned, here shown as almost entirely overgrown as part of a Krakoan habitat, called Graymalkin (after Xavier’s ancestral family name), serving merely as a secure point of ingress to Krakoa. Here, we have two first appearances as cameos: Sandra Yo (Wrench) and Robert Wynn (Sonos Rex), neither of whom has appeared since this brief appearance. Escorted by Jean Grey in her anachronistic costume, Desmond Ochoa-Diaz (Fauna), a green-skinned tween mutant also appears here for the first time with a few scraps of dialogue—just to ask Jean to explain who can use the gateways and then say “Whoa” at the sight of Krakoa on the other side of the Graymalkin gate. Jean explains that only mutants are automatically permitted through Krakoa’s gates, and humans accompanied by mutants still need permission from Krakoa.
The wordless presence of Banshee is also noteworthy (see note 7 below).
However, the literally golden-skinned youth is unidentified. He looks like Elixir (Josh Foley), but that can’t be right—someone would’ve pointed it out! This is an unexplained oversight. (But don’t worry, fans of Elixir, your favorite conflicted mutant healer will be a part of the Dawn of X.)
Scene 3 intercut (p14): As the mutants at Graymalkin step through the Krakoan gate, Krakoan security—here, Doug Ramsey (Cypher) and Sage—monitors the traffic and identifies each incoming individual.
The one-page view of this monitor room is all too brief, but very intriguing. Also, those thick roots looking like a tripping-hazard seem to have replaced the standard chunky cables powering the usual sci-fi tech that one sees in just about every superhero comic—making this (techno?)organic Krakoan aesthetic very refreshing. More importantly, we do see here the surprising but sensible and inevitable semiotic interface between mutant and island—Doug Ramsey, whose mutant power is linguistic understanding and translation in the broadest sense. By the time he joined the New Mutants (NM 21, 1984) he had shown himself to be an expert coder, hacker, and on-the-spot translator of an alien language—which led to Warlock, an adolescent “techno-organic” alien, joining the student team, as well. The two became fast friends, and within a couple of years the pair begin merging on occasion, calling themselves Douglock, a being that could presumably read and alter its own otherwise incompatible, amalgamated genetics—given Doug’s skills with gene-hacking Warlock’s rapacious father. Both died in separate incidents in the late ’80s, but each was resurrected, also separately, by others’ manipulations of samples of the alien’s techno-organic nature, which infects and converts but also reanimates organic beings. (The history of this “transmode virus” is complex but will remain significant moving forward. It will likely be central to the Hickman era. For more context, see notes 8, 9, and 10 below!)
This is too important to gloss over here: Warlock’s presence in this scene is indicated by Doug’s right arm, which has the classic look of the alien’s techno-organic substance. It is very, very, very strange that Warlock would be present in this (fragmented) manner, merged with Doug, and yet not only get no speaking parts or appearances as himself—but not a single trait or mannerism of his speech is hinted at. When a character is merged with Warlock, that character’s speech bubbles are formatted differently, and the manner of speaking is closer to Warlock’s own—with strange phrases like “selffriend” and references to himself as “self.” So, the question of Warlock’s depiction as having been seemingly completely subsumed into Cypher’s personality should be—at the least—quietly but persistently gnawing at readers…
Significantly for HOX 1, Warlock died—like many other X-Men—toward the end of Rosenberg’s run on Uncanny X-Men, and now, for the first time, since Doug’s own 2010 resurrection, the pair are merged. We do not know how a techno-organic alien—even if he is considered a “mutant” by his own species (merely for not being mindlessly rapacious)—could be brought to life by Xavier’s resurrection protocols. So, we can only assume that Hickman and company will let this mystery linger for some reason and hope that the reason is sound and the payoff satisfying.
Just keep this in mind for now: Warlock’s touch, the touch of any techno-organic being of his nature, can easily and quickly infect any organic entity, converting it into an extension of its own substance. Now, note which hand Doug uses to touch the speaking Krakoan interface. Doug’s linguistic capabilities do not require the use of Warlock or anything techno-organic. (See POX 4, page 13, panel 3, for clear indication that at least some part of Krakoa is already infected with the transmode virus, intentionally or not.)
This scene also seems to clearly highlight the contrast between two different “techno-organic” lifeforms and their respective designs: the Technarch race represented by Warlock appears to be composed of something like a cross between modular self-replicating machines and yellow and black printed circuits gone haywire, whereas Krakoa is interfacing with human technology and software while remaining resolutely vegetal in appearance.
Also clear is that without Doug as the only translator of Krakoa’s language and thus the only liaison Krakoans have with their living island home—without him, Krakoa as a nation would collapse very quickly.
A fleshy wall of big creepy Krakoan eyes looks down on Doug and one alien word resounds from—somewhere? Only Doug can understand this utterance that is not in the mutant made Krakoan script, but rather what must approximate Krakoa’s native language. This, of course, only makes sense insofar as comics require the visual transcription of speech; Krakoa has no written language, so it cannot have an alphabet unique to it. Nevertheless, it’s no great deduction to figure out that Krakoa is answering, “Confirmed,” responding to Sage’s request for confirmation on the identities of those returning to the island.
Doug shares working space with another kind of super-intellect, Sage, whose mutant powers include supercomputer-like computational abilities and multitasking; telepathy; psionic shielding; “genetic sight,” or swift bio-identification of anyone nearby, which includes the ability to identify an individual’s power set. So, she makes for an excellent security monitor, a job that she’s had frequently in the past.
Scene 3b (pp15-16): The new Krakoan mutants stepping through from Graymalkin are wowed by Krakoa and its lush, bucolic terrain.
But what shouldn’t make sense is the image of Logan happily playing with mutant tykes while Xavier looks on, smiling. For those only vaguely familiar with the X-Men or who know the movie franchise but not the comics, this might not seem strange or incongruous, and indeed the scene is successfully depicted as nothing more than a happy, normal moment. BUT: Nothing since Xavier’s recent return has been done to resolve long-simmering tensions the senior X-Men, most especially Scott and Logan, had with Xavier—specifically stemming from his psionic manipulations of their memories and emotions. Such manipulation might very well be ongoing but only implied from before the start of HOX 1.
So, this perfectly innocent scene should simultaneously feel very creepy, at least potentially. Arguably, such ambiguity, the lack of any explicit clues we might have to Xavier’s possible psionic machinations here, make the possibility even more unsettling!
Still, despite Wolverine’s historical bad-boy attitude—which current Wolverine scribe Benjamin Percy doesn’t shy away from—I don’t want to be cynical and think Logan can’t have innocent avuncular moments with the kids. But Xavier’s new unsettling presence in the Dawn of X is going to call into question the authenticity, or at least the autonomy, of the motives and actions of those around him.
Interstitial map of Krakoa in the Pacific (p17)
This is the first mention in HOX1 regarding Krakoa’s specific location—although the format of the map’s title, “Krakoa [Pacific],” might indicate that Krakoa has more than one location. And we do find out in HOX6 that there’s a Krakoa [Atlantic], a small island chain. But we don’t know which is the “original” Krakoa—if that’s even a meaningful distinction—and which was grown from a planting—if that was even part of the process. We simply don’t know yet how these two locations came to be where they are.
But we can see here that it looks like we’re somewhere in the very large Micronesian and Polynesian regions of the South Pacific—in other words, very, very isolated from the rest of the world. And no doubt, happily.
And at least we get a nice little legend here regarding Points of Interest!
From the central elevation outward: (3) Arbor Magna and (4) the Arena; on their west side, downslope: (1) House of X and (9) the Cradle; on the eastern slope, from north to south: (7) the Oracle, (6) Transit, and more isolated toward the slope’s southern flank, (12) the Carousel; beneath these, closer to the shoreline: (2) House of M; also geographically separate are the pair of sites on the northeastern side of the island: (10) the Reservoir and (11) the Wild Hunt; and the neighboring locations separated by western end of a foothill, (5) Akademos Habitat and (8) the Grove. (See note 11 below for further details.)
In our second entry on HOX1, coming next week, we’ll look at the remainder of the first issue!
II. Further notes and questions raised
1. Later, we might wonder how Logan was resurrected with an adamantium skeleton—or if that will turn out to be an embarrassing oversight. Don’t worry; it’s not. But this will get a brief explanation after HOX/POX.
2. Krakoa has been considered since its first appearance in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975) a mutant, although not evolved from humans. Whatever applies to Krakoan citizens, should apply to Krakoa, as well. Will this always be the case as we read? Does Xavier have a sterling ethical record? Hey, don’t worry—let’s just make a note of little crimes against our non-human-based mutant as we go along, if we do indeed find any …
3. Now, it is very satisfying to see the mutants now have a sovereign nation. But it’s not quite a first. Genosha was the first such state, but that was the result of a revolutionary overthrow by mutant slaves of their racist human masters. Significantly, it was ruled by Magneto for two years (in publication time) until the nation’s destruction by Sentinels in the first issue of Grant Morrison’s legendary run, New X-Men #114 (2001).
However, in a long stretch from 2009 to 2017, Utopia was a mutant quasi-state, but it was never recognized as a sovereign nation—until the Hydra-run US government of 2017’s Secret Empire displaced American mutants to California, which the fascists ceded to Utopia, with the island city-state now the capital of the nation of New Tian. The less said about this 2017 period the better.
In any case, we know there’s a deal to be made to legitimize Krakoa legally. And the details on this will matter very much moving forward. The nuts and bolts of the mutant-run Genosha were never delved into; from the start, the writers of that era did not provide believable world-building. But of course, we as readers in the 2020s want as much in the way of potential hooks as is sensible, to carry this epic onward with its own believably realistic momentum.
Still: RIP Genosha—Welcome to Krakoa.
4. When the UN ambassadors are invited inside, we’re hit with a double revelation. The Stepford Cuckoos, “the Five-in-One” clones of Emma Frost introduced during Grant Morrison’s legendary New X-Men run, dwindled down to “the Three-in-One” with the deaths of Sophie and Esme not long after their introduction. But here, before we understand anything about Xavier’s resurrection protocols, these are the first mutants we can identify as definitely having been dead before the start of this story; they are clearly alive and well. Among previously dead X-Men introduced in the past twenty years, this pair is the most well remembered by fans (especially given the handful of times they were resurrected by temporary, usually horrific means).
5. The fact of the Krakoan pharmaceuticals should really have impact beyond the X-titles, registering in other venues, like The Avengers; we’ll see to what degree this happens down the line.
6. We have no notion what any of these “new mutants” are capable of. Will they be stars of a new class? Who knows. Things are already crowded in the Dawn of X, so the likelihood of a student-oriented book with anything like the prestige of New Mutants in the ’80s, Generation X in the ’90s, or New Mutants/New X-Men/Young X-Men in the ’00s seems unlikely anytime soon. (The darling Desmond will have a cameo in HOX 5 and next appears, almost a year later, in Cable #1.)
7. Longtime readers might be more intrigued about Banshee’s wordless presence, which is how he remains in his few brief appearances over the course of HOX/POX. The Banshee that died at the end of Rosenberg’s Uncanny X-Men run had been seldom seen since his resurrection by the Apocalypse Twins in Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers #9 (2013), presumably because he seemed barely human, somewhat zombie-like, still carrying the Death Seed that had resurrected him as the Horseman Death. (This was almost a decade after his murder at the hands of Vulcan, Scott’s long-lost brother—an issue that still has not been resolved!) Sean Cassidy has always been more interesting as a sideline character and loving support to his lover Moira MacTaggart. It will be interesting—and likely devastating—to see his reaction to Moira’s continued existence—no less than the revelation that she and Xavier faked her death. But we’re not there yet …
8. Whatever allows for Doug to merge with Warlock, what has always been a constant danger for anyone making physical contact with the techno-organic alien, including Cypher, is Warlock’s transmode virus. But we have no explanation so far for why that issue is not raised in HOX/POX, nor even in the first story arc of the 2019 New Mutants ongoing series.
As mentioned above, from only one wordless image (POX 4, page 13, panel 3), we have the barest hint that at least some part of Krakoa is already infected—but we are given no indication of whether Cypher or Cypher’s hand intentionally spread its techno-organic nature to those leaves in the Krakoan forest.
9. With his own resurrection in 2010 in Zeb Wells’ New Mutants (#6), Cypher became more powerful, with his translation skills now including an ability to read and analyze everything, all physical processes—whether biological, inorganic, or even technological—as language.
10. Central to the narrative thread of POX in particular, the techno-organic aliens known as the Phalanx engineered the Technarchy as unwitting servants to their ultimate goal of converting all sentient species into the Phalanx’s own collective being, a vast, hive-like AI.
But while Warlock is a Technarch, he is an individual, with his own personality and conscience—although creator Chris Claremont consistently made clear that this was the result of “nurture” as much as of nature, his friendship with and adoption by the New Mutants being vital to his development. No doubt, Warlock’s “deviancy” from the Phalanx’s purpose will play a role in events at some point in the future (assuming that he still lives and is perhaps just temporarily quiescent for some reason that will be made clear.)
Significantly, neither he nor any present-day Earthling, except Moira MacTaggart, Xavier, and Magneto, knows that Warlock’s is a race of puppets in the service of what Hickman has set up as the biggest threat since the Beyonders destroyed almost everything in the build-up to Hickman’s Secret Wars (2015).
(As more of an aside, Warlock is not physically gendered, so it would make more sense to refer to him as “it,” at the least, definitely not “he/him.” But I’m not the one writing these stories, so I can’t change how he’s addressed—even if it makes no sense. Interest in non-gendered pronouns wasn’t big in 1984 comics, and that continues to be the case with Marvel and DC.)
11. Arbor Magna, also known as the Hatchery, is central: it’s the setting of the brief opening scene and is the site of mutant resurrection, Krakoa’s nursery for resurrected mutants as they quicken in a sac.
The Arena we won’t know much about until later in the DOX, and in a big way. For now, just consider: Why would it make sense, whether practically or symbolically, to have these first two sites basically paired?
Is there anything essential about the pairing of the House of X (i.e., Xavier’s house) and the Cradle? The Cradle will actually turn out to be located beneath Xavier’s residence. Also in HOX5, we’ll get more about the Cradle—primary storage for all the mutant mind backups from the most recent Cerebro scans … What goes on in Arbor Magna—with the Five quickening cloned mutant bodies in those gestation sacs—is nothing without those minds stored in the Cradle.
The Oracle is, we find out in the DOX, Mystique’s residence, named in honor of Destiny, her lover—who in HOX/POX remains unresurrected. (Destiny’s death occurred way back in 1989! In UX 255.)
Transit is the hub of island gateway security—which we’ve already seen, where Sage oversees traffic and other sensitive island data, and Doug interfaces with Krakoa. (Might we assume this and any similar facility would play a role in the intelligence analysis and black ops typical of an X-Force title…?)
Interestingly, the residence of mutantdom’s most notorious shapeshifting spy—who answers to no one but herself (or Destiny)—is the nearest site shown to Transit. I don’t know what, if anything, to make of this.
The Carousel is—as we see at the triumphant end of HOX/POX—where all the fun happens on Krakoa. It’s sort of a huge outdoor concert/party arena, with definite Ewok village paradise vibes in its aesthetic (perhaps even the hard to please Chris Claremont—also a fanboy—was tickled by the homage to Lucas).
House of M—Magneto’s house—we’ll get a view of in POX1. It’s interesting that we see his and Xavier’s places in scenes involving tension with Mystique, as if their triangulation is an intense, private matter—and indeed it will prove to be. The only subtext is: persistent mistrust and potential conflict waiting to break out between Raven and the two men—but what also of all that’s been (apparently) buried between these two (friends turned enemies turned allies turned enemies again turned both allies and friends at last)?
What’s clear is that any alliance with Raven is always temporary—except her partnership with Destiny—and Charles and Erik live on opposite sides of the mountain. Also, theirs are the only private residences shown on the map—again, forming a triangle (unless we include Moira’s unnamed but hinted-at No-Space here; so, a skewed diamond!). Beyond pointing all this out, I don’t know what significance there might be.
(Significantly, House of M clearly recalls the House of M event, in which a distressed Scarlet Witch creates an alternate reality where mutants rule the world. Specifically, Magneto, the man she believed to be her father, ran the show from his throne in Genosha. Part of Wanda’s reality warp is that each of the heroes in her presence at that moment will be granted their heart’s desire in this new world. So, whenever we see “House of M”—we should be thinking of a realm shaped to Magneto’s wishes, a place he can call home.)
The Akademos Habitat, aka the Sextant, is a circular collection of six dwellings, each one a cluster of three or four connected, modestly-sized, domed residences. They’re basically dorms for those mutants whom most fans would recognize but who are younger or less senior than those on the Quiet Council. So, this will be a setting seen primarily in a title like New Mutants. The vine-bedecked structures look organic, reflecting their origin as habitats grown from Krakoa’s substance. After all, if we recall the stone temple from Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975), not everything native to Krakoa needs to look woody or vegetal. (But how any of this works as a physical process, I couldn’t say!)
Situated nearby is the Grove, site of the Quiet Council when in session. It makes sense that the crown of Krakoan sovereignty is located at the northern end of the island.
Before moving on, let’s close with an air of mystery. The southwest end of the Pacific Krakoan island appears to be submerged. Now, of course, a normal island is going to be mostly underwater—but! Krakoa is obviously a floating island. Why would some of its upper surface area be below the waves? What must remain out of sight on this tiny island that is itself all but lost in an immense ocean? We know by the end of HOX/POX that this is Moira’s domain. And we know that her very existence is a secret to all but Xavier and Magneto, for the sake of national security and species survival. But beyond that, we know nothing.