HOX 1: The House That Xavier Built—the second half
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)
Scene 4 (pp18-22): Orchis on the Forge, or: The Enemy Is Established
A spacecraft is on approach for the Sun—or rather, the huge space station that looks insubstantial before that stellar inferno. This is the Orchis Forge, base of operations and haven for Orchis, human supremacists covertly running a highly organized and well-funded program of imminent genocide against mutantkind. With their tech and uniform design, they look just like SHIELD agents—the only visible difference being the orchid symbol on their shoulders, in place of SHIELD’s eagle. With satisfactory inevitability, Hickman has forged this elite, genocidal cabal—so unlike the ragtag hate groups and death squads of yore—by fusing the shattered fragments of all the secret organizations, both governmental and terroristic, that have been severely damaged in the past decade plus of Marvel event upheavals: SHIELD, STRIKE, SWORD, ARMOR, AIM, Alpha Flight, Hydra, and even HAMMER (a briefly lived outgrowth of SHIELD under Norman Osborn, his very own fascist police-state shock troops during Osborn’s brief tenure as Director of SHIELD/HAMMER following the Secret Invasion event, 2008).
(For a bit more context on the lesser-known STRIKE, SWORD, and ARMOR, see note 1 below.)
Fans of the Hickman era of Avengers are also given the chance to guess at the origin of the Forge before it’s later made clear that Orchis built this station from the remains of Sol’s Hammer, which appeared first in its early stages of construction in New Avengers #4 (2013). A wild feat of Tony Stark engineering—the Hammer was a sort of vast lens designed to harness and weaponize solar energy. And it was ultimately used to annihilate almost an entire Shi’ar fleet intent on destroying Earth at the end of the Hickman’s run (Avengers #44, 2015). In the process, the platform self-destructed, the so-called “Dyson Sphere” shattering into ragged fragments, presumably left to drift in orbit around the Sun.
(A real Dyson Sphere by definition would need to be a sphere around the Sun; I’m not sure if that was ever the intent, but Stark was nowhere close. It would make for a great bit of comic-book super-science, though.)
So, the Forge looks to be a small fragment—the habitable portion—of the original structure, and it feels like more of a callback, cool as it is, than having any deeper in-story significance—other than: Thanks, Tony! Once again, you’ve helped make the world a safe place 😉
It does give Orchis a safe space for their evil scheming, where they can harness considerable resources toward running a genocidal weapons factory, or forge. However, production has yet to begin. After all, according to Orchis’s Science Commander Dr. Alia Gregor, Orchis and its mission were only “activated” on the heels of intelligence gathering on Xavier’s covert financial activities and the subsequent founding of the mutant nation of Krakoa. We find out here that the station’s “automated refit” took six months to achieve habitability. So, looking at the timeline on the interstitial data pages that follow, we can assume that Krakoan sovereignty was established eight months before the present moment of the HOX/POX narrative. That’s the average time it takes to renovate a house, or even just a kitchen. These people have funding—from where? Who knows. We don’t even know who came up with the idea for Orchis or its protocols.
The mystery of the dark money involved doesn’t necessarily need to be answered. For along with the fact that this organization is relatively faceless, we’re left with the disturbing sense that this bureaucracy built to engineer species genocide is a plausibly real-world response from a vast array of state and nonstate actors who perceive in mutantkind an existential threat to Homo sapiens. Orchis, very refreshingly, is not full of cackling mad scientists. This is an endeavor that’s been massively funded and ingeniously designed by highly competent, technocratic professionals.
As the first wave of Orchis agents arrive, the refit machines have already been “retasked for mining duty” on Mercury—extracting the metals necessary for: making an endless supply of Sentinels. This level of production would simply not be possible if limited to the resources of Earth. It certainly wouldn’t be secret.
But we quickly find out that these will not be the classic Sentinels of yore, as first established back in 1965, in Uncanny X-Men #14-15, a formative story that also introduced the Master Mold as instrumental in Sentinel production. Instead, Orchis has created—out of what looks like the original Master Mold’s head— “Mothermold,” which they’ve designed to produce many Master Molds, which will in turn create Nimrod Sentinels. Presumably, the raw materials will come out of Mercury as its mined by robots. This set up is right out of classic sci-fi horror: self-replicating machines using the very stuff of our solar system’s planets and asteroids, slipping from the control of their human masters to create an unending nightmare that will end all biological life.
The original Nimrod had a complex history following its/his first appearance in UX191 (1985). A robot from the Days of Future Past alternate future (UX141-142), Nimrod traveled alone to the past, and it seems that in that particular future reality there’s only ever one iteration. While we don’t see multiple Nimrods in the present 616 universe or timeline, there are many possible futures (like Bishop’s) where they—or Sentinels of equal sophistication—are legion. (Earth-616 is the primary storyworld in the Marvel universe; any possible future or parallel/alternate cosmos has a different designation.) But Nimrods are the ultimate in Sentinel evolution, not only far more resilient and powerful than the originals, but able to disguise themselves as humans, self-repair indefinitely, and teleport.
So, if Mothermold goes online—it will be an extinction event, which will eventually include all humanity. The enemy is established.
The only recognizable face here is Karima Shapandar, aka Omega Sentinel—really an observer with inscrutable motives rather than a member of Orchis; instead, she’s acting in the interests of, well, machines. After all, on the second Orchis data page we see she’s been given the title of “Machine Liaison,” although her affiliation is “Unknown.” Karima first appeared as an ordinary human, a police officer, in X-Men Unlimited #27 (2000), who is captured by Bastion and turned, alongside other hapless victims, into a cyborg Sentinel. (Bastion is the original Nimrod given a more powerful upgrade—only minimally more humanlike—in X-Men #52, 1996.) But thereafter, Karima largely strikes out on her own—neither human nor robot—and is not interested in mutant genocide, at least when she isn’t enthralled to someone else’s programming. During Mike Carey’s fascinating run on X-Men: Legacy, she had an important support role as Xavier’s ally. Subsequent writers may not have known how to effectively write Karima into X-Men stories, and so—unfortunately in my view—she bowed out in early 2014.
It seems clear that Karima’s machine-intelligence aspect has become dominant again, while her humanity has receded. But we don’t really know. As an uncomplaining bystander, Karima must be complicit in Orchis’s genocidal plans, yet she appears relatively detached to the outcome of events—except insofar as Orchis might be exploiting machine intelligence for their own ends at the expense of the autonomy of potentially self-aware machines.
Interstitial data entry on Orchis (pp23-24):
We see here that AIM agents make up the bulk of Orchis, which makes sense. After all, these are the folks in beekeeping hats who in the 1960s SHIELD/Captain America stories invented: the Cosmic Cube (stolen from them more than once by the Red Skull); the Super-Adaptoid, and—best of all—MODOK. Also, they’ve always seemed extremely well funded given that they’re a very high-tech criminal enterprise operating on the scale of a small nation with international clout but no publicly disclosed means of funding. It makes sense that the high-tech, super-science Orchis is made up of almost as many ex-SHIELD agents, but regarding what must be their near bottomless coffers, we still only know that “funding [comes] from black budgets and other human-centric financial considerations.” (See note 2 below for more.)
Scene 5 (pp25-27): A contested Damage Control storage facility in Manhattan
From a scene out of space opera to a black ops raid on a Manhattan DAMCON facility.
At first, we don’t know that Mystique, Sabretooth, and the Toad are working on behalf of Krakoa. Historically, we’d expect this odd trio to be working against X-Men/Xavier interests. In fact, what’s fun here is that each of these antagonists originally answered to a different master—Toad to Magneto, Sabretooth to Mr. Sinister, and Mystique to, well, just herself and, when she was alive, her wife Destiny. However, Mystique and Sabretooth (Victor Creed) do share a fraught personal history, including a brief dalliance decades ago that resulted in a nonmutant son, Graydon (quickly given up for adoption). The last time—and the longest—these two were on the same team was Uncanny X-Men #1-19, 2016-2017; not that there was much trust for either of them.
Also, Victor is shown wearing his original costume, which he’s worn only rarely in the past twenty years. Victor’s reestablishment as a murderous brute had already taken place at the end of Greg Pak’s Weapon X in early 2018. In 2014, Sabretooth, along with a number of other major Marvel characters, were caught inadvertently in the radius of the Scarlet Witch’s “inversion” spell against the Red Skull; this resulted in flipping the “moral compass” of anyone who was affected. Over the next several years, it was interesting to see Victor develop something of a conscience and become a more nuanced and sympathetic character. But he’d already been killed at least a few times in the year preceding HOX/POX, so we can assume here that he’s definitively back-to-basics as a stone cold killer.
When the action here concludes in Scene 7, we know for certain that this raid was directed from Krakoa, but we haven’t yet received any information on Krakoan laws—leaving us to wonder how Xavier could not have foreseen Victor at least negligently killing some of these DAMCON guards. And if he did predict that such a bloody outcome was likely, was the intent to show the world that Krakoans aren’t messing around and make an example of Sabretooth at home? The choice seems to be: sloppy or devious, Professor.
Lastly, what a left-field surprise to have the Human Torch and the Thing falling out of the sky to ambush the Krakoan raiders. The choice of the Fantastic Four as guest-stars will make perfect sense by the end of Scene 7.
Interstitial data entry on Damage Control (p28)
Now, the choice of having Damage Control in possession of the listed proprietary pieces of tech engineered by Tony Stark and Reed Richards is interesting. Yes, these two were MIA for a couple of years, which would have been disastrous for keeping track of their creations, but traditionally top-secret storage of such “metahuman machinery” would have fallen to the likes of SHIELD. But given SHIELD’s defunct status, Hickman has chosen to play up DAMCON’s importance here. Historically, the agency has been brought in for satirical effect, as the superhuman world’s clean-up crew (first appearance: Damage Control #1-4, 1989).
Here we also have confirmation that the Forge must be built from the remains of Sol’s Hammer. Now, how DAMCON has possession of the station’s ruins in orbit around the Sun is not explained. Is it just that they’re keeping track of that space junk? If the Krakoans had to get this data from DAMCON, could it be that Orchis is linked in some way to DAMCON—or did Orchis’ ex-SHIELD agents have that information? None of this is answered in HOX/POX, and it may not be important … But you’d think it might be?
(Except for the iterations of Iron Man and Rescue armors, each item listed is an Easter egg from Hickman’s time on Avengers/New Avengers and Fantastic Four.)
Scene 6 (pp29-32): Exiting Jerusalem Habitat through a Krakoan gate; continuation of Scene 2
At last, we return to Magneto and one of Stepford Cuckoos (we don’t know which one!), who have escorted the gawping ambassadors through a Krakoan gate into the “hub,” a cavernous realm walled with great slabs of glowing crystals. It’s a kind of Grand Central Station of gateways, but it’s never made clear what kind of space this is, or where it exists in the world—if it’s not just some sort of porous pocket dimension. Presumably, it’s part of Krakoa itself … somehow.
The ambassadors are helpless, out of their element and unable to parse the startlingly alien-looking script stamped over each gate’s threshold. In fact, with the example we’re given here—neither can we!
The cypher for the Krakoan script is readily available online, but we had to wait sometime to figure out what this first full word in the new “language” might mean. Well, when you decipher it and get either “Galm” or “Halm” (the figures for G and H were mistakenly transposed in the first publication of HOX1), you’re no better off than the ambassadors. Nobody has any idea what either of these words might mean.
While Krakoan is a distinct language that each mutant has “telepathically imprinted in their cerebral cortex the day they arrive,” this is true only in the storyworld. With cool superiority, Magneto reasons here that “One cannot create a distinct culture without [a distinct language].” Now, this is true, but Krakoan here is proprietary and exclusive to Krakoan citizens—a linguistic isolate; whereas arguably human cultures tend to be more dynamic the more open and fluid their languages are. (In fact, the more a language is amalgamated from other languages, the more adaptable and durable it is.) Obviously, Hickman hasn’t gone full Tolkien and actually created a new language—nor should anyone expect that! For us readers, Krakoan is a cypher, not a language, so we can decode the inhuman script with relative ease.
What irony! We real-world humans are thus much more privileged than those in the storyworld (Earth-616) since we get to feel included as if we, too, were Krakoans.
Lastly, we also get a beautiful Pepe Larraz montage of the Krakoan tour through various exotic lands, including the Australian outback, the Himalayas, a subaquatic ocean habitat, and a garden/cemetery, probably in Japan. But the ambassadors overall seem to be brooding rather than enjoying themselves—especially the Westerners worrying about the “military” applications of these myriad gateways. Stunningly, Magneto defends the tools of Krakoan sovereignty as purely defensive, for securing mutantkind’s “unassailable refuge.” He goes on to argue that mutants have “never conquered a people, stolen their land or made slaves of the vanquished.” The last part is true, which is important—but as to the rest, see note 3.
Scene 7 (pp33-37): On the streets outside the Damage Control facility; conclusion of Scene 5
Toad and Mystique flee through a gate framed within the world-famous Washington Square Arch, which is awesome—if typically pretty damn crowded with pesky humans. Victor is caught in an invisible box of force, however, courtesy the Invisible Woman.
And then Cyclops steps through from Krakoa. He’s never less than friendly, congratulating the Thing (Ben Grimm) on his recent marriage, asking after the Richards family, and making his request to take Victor back a polite question. But like Xavier, there’s cold, steely edge behind Scott’s faint smile.
At first, Reed isn’t having it. But they know—as we the readers don’t at this point—the Krakoan rule on amnesty for all mutants, considered Krakoan before they even reach Krakoa’s soil. There’s a moment of silent tension, everyone prepared to fight. At last, however, Scott relents, surprisingly, and concedes to Victor’s arrest—for the time being.
A concerned Sue Richards tries to appeal to Scott’s emotions, to try to understand what this craziness with mutants declaring sovereignty on Krakoa is all about. In response, Scott appeals to her as a mother—literally and figuratively (given her symbolic role in the FF). He speaks of his own family, meaning all mutantkind, and their perpetual persecution. She can’t argue with that. She doesn’t even try.
A family needs its own home.
As Scott leaves without Victor, he reminds them that Franklin, Reed and Sue’s son, “has family on Krakoa waiting for him.”
Interstitial data entry on Omega Level Mutants (p38)
This brings us to a crucial problem. The infographic on Omega-level mutants reminds us that the world’s most powerful mutant is a preteen boy who’s had relatively minimal interaction with his own kind (especially beyond children around his own age). Hence, Franklin’s alliance is listed as “human.”
Nine other Omega mutants are listed as Krakoan. The remainder are either unallied (Jamie Braddock and Exodus) or of unknown fealty (Legion and Mister M). For a few brief remarks, see note 4.
This entry makes clear that these Omega-level mutants are Krakoa’s most precious assets. Obviously, they’re going to want Franklin. Also, this data page offers perhaps the clearest definition of the Omega class.
Scene 8 (pp39-43): Return to Jerusalem Habitat; conclusion of Scenes 2 and 6
At last, the ambassadors have been returned to the Jerusalem Habitat, at sunset. And now, Magneto and our Stepford Cuckoo reveal the true intent of the guided tour. It wasn’t for the humans. The purpose was for Emma Frost’s clone (the Cuckoos are all clones of Emma—not by her choice) to telepathically ascertain who these people really are. The delegation is aghast. They’d each been “trained to withstand telepathy—just not trained well enough. They’re all plants.” However, the only ones that are a real threat are the Russian and American—who is “an ex-SHIELD and SWORD black ops agent.” We should immediately wonder: This guy is Orchis, too? How deeply corrupted are the world’s powers with Orchis’ organizational tendrils—spreading hydra-like …
After all, Sophie (just picking a Cuckoo name at random here), probing the Reilly’s mind, tells Magneto, “There’s some other affiliation, but he’s fighting me …” And the man is armed; Mags takes care of that, in usual spectacular fashion. No one else brought a gun, but the American argues it was purely defensive.
This moment of drama offers Magneto the perfect opening for his speech—telling these representatives of worldly human power just what the new status quo is—“You have new gods now”—and the obvious reason it needs to be this way—“You are all wolves.”
Now, let’s return a final time to the somewhat fraught symbology at play here. Magneto looks out at the city spread beneath the setting sun—Jerusalem in twilight. And he’s very direct: “I know how you humans love your symbolism, almost as much as you love your religion. And I wanted you—I needed you—to understand … You have new gods now.” Ethnically Jewish, Max Eisenhardt is no believer in the old religion; his religion is the supremacy of mutantkind.
This is the central statement of House of X #1. Xavier would seem to be, at least rhetorically, perhaps philosophically, even ethically, in the backseat—with Magneto at the wheel. Or rather, Xavier seems to have come around to Magneto’s way of thinking, up to a point. After all, we’ll see that Krakoan ambitions are restrained by a few cardinal laws. Still—it is Magneto, however dressed in white, who is the obvious star of this inaugural chapter.
End epigraph (p44):
And it is an epigraph from Magneto that closes out the issue:
I have a new word for the lexicon of man: KRAKOA. And in the future, when you speak it, make sure you do so softly and with proper deference. For we will be listening.
II. Further notes and questions raised
1. Beginning with the least known intelligence organization ex-agents now playing an active role in Orchis, let’s take a quick look first at STRIKE: a British agency that appeared in Captain Britain in the late ’70s and has not really been seen since; however, it did employ Betsy Braddock for a brief time, as a psi operative. (She barely escaped its criminal management with her life—but they did take her eyes, the incident that kicked off all the weirdness of Betsy’s subsequent history. The agency’s acronym stands for: Special Tactical Reserve for International Key Emergencies—no less a word salad than the other names here!)
ARMOR first appeared in Marvel Zombies 3 #1 (2008) but has seldom been seen since then. This makes some sense as it was a SHIELD subsidiary focused on monitoring threats from other dimensions, specifically zombie-infested, alternate Earths that might threaten our prime Earth-616 with infection. But surely there’s a broader range of stories that could be told featuring the Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operational Response Agency?
SWORD, or the Sentient World Observation and Response Department, has enjoyed the most success among Marvel’s 21st-century intelligence organizations. It had a five-issue limited series in 2009-2010, starring Commander Abigail Brand, love interest of Dr. Henry McCoy (Beast) and SWORD’s boss again for the new ongoing S.W.O.R.D. title starting in 2020. Brand’s personality, like that of ex-SHIELD director Maria Hill, was not very likable in the early years. But for both, despite sometimes—or even often—feeling flat-out intolerant, these women’s hard-edged, no-nonsense attitudes did eventually win them many fans.
First appearing in Astonishing X-Men #3 (2004), SWORD played a major role in Joss Whedon’s run and was instrumental in fighting the Skrulls in Secret Invasion (2008), despite damaging Skrull infiltration. But it seemed to fall off everyone’s radar in the months before Hickman’s Secret Wars, the fallout of which reshuffled reality. At that point, Alpha Flight (under Captain Marvel’s directorship) had taken its place—until 2020’s Empyre event dealt a crippling blow to Alpha Flight’s credibility as the first line of defense against alien invasions. Now, SWORD is back.
2. After a very brief timeline covering Orchis’s activation, we have a kind of internal intelligence report confirming that the number of mutants is rising—reassuring to fans who’ve been waiting for mutantkind to retake the spotlight after many editorial disasters of the past 15 years. The Genoshan genocide mentioned here—despite being an unspeakable tragedy to imagine mutants going through—wasn’t an editorial disaster; not even any X-Men were killed. What was disastrous story-wise was the 2006 Decimation event, following the spectacular breakdown of Wanda Maximoff and her use of her reality-bending powers to turn off mutant X-genes worldwide, with a single utterance. While only a handful from the wider X-Men cast were affected, all other mutants, except for a lucky 200, were depowered—not a few killed while doing things like flying. Since then, there have been very few new mutants, major exceptions including Hope Summers and her Five Lights. For Marvel to introduce so few mutants over a 15-year period is still something of a shock compared to mutant history of the mid-’70s through the early 2000s. That drought—both for mutants and for creative teams working with Marvel’s mutants—is definitively over. Hickman’s 2019 relaunch is implicitly telling longtime fans: This is a new day.
Still, going forward, it will become increasingly difficult to give sufficient story-time to any newer character because there are so many X-Men already and not a few really interesting mutants who first appeared between ten and twenty years ago but never got the spotlight they clearly deserve.
3. In fact, Magneto himself seized control of the country Santo Marco way back in Uncanny X-Men #4 (1964), albeit for only the one issue. But much later, he and his Acolytes took over Genosha (Magneto Rex #1-3, 1999), which he ruled for two years before the Genoshan genocide courtesy the Sentinels unleashed by Cassandra Nova (Xavier’s evil twin). Just before that disaster, he’d planned to use the island as a base for his plans of mutant world domination (a dream that would come true, as an alternate reality, in House of M, 2005). Granted, Magneto’s takeover did put a swift end to the civil war that had dragged the country down ever since the X-Men exposed to the wider world the secret enslavement of mutants by the island’s humans (whose downfall is chronicled in the 1990 X-Tinction Agenda crossover event).
If Krakoa is a kind of mutant-ruled Genosha 2.0, then it makes sense that humans are not welcome. Still, while there turn out to be two widely separated Krakoan archipelagos (with the one in the Atlantic serving more in an auxiliary capacity), this is all remains something of a serious problem—putting all their eggs in one basket.
4. Jamie Braddock is an extremely dangerous narcissist—and currently dead, before the Dawn of X—while Exodus, a former Acolyte of Magneto, would likely return to zealous fealty toward Magneto before allying with anyone or anything else. (But Magneto symbolizes the precious potential of mutantkind fully realized, at least according to his Acolytes—who broke up the band in 2009.)
Legion has always been a wild card, but he’s certainly not going to have allegiances to an abstract notion like humanity, and perhaps not to mutantkind, either—at least not in the way of Xavier—his father—or even, say, Cyclops or Storm. His fight has always been with his own unstable mind.
Mister M (M for Mercator) is the most obscure figure on this list. He appeared in two now obscure series, District X (2004) and X-Men: The 198 (2006), which was one of the titles dealing with the fallout from Scarlet Witch’s curse against mutantkind at the end of House of M. Somewhat like Molecule Man, he could manipulate matter at a whim and really was much too godlike to keep around. Many among the 198 treated him a messiah figure as he sought to create something of a personal cult. Another obscure mutant killed him, and for all that the five-issue mini was focused on a wildly powerful Omega, the events therein had virtually no impact on X-Men stories moving forward.
What’s really surprising about this list is seeing Proteus (Kevin MacTaggart, initially killed in 1979) and Vulcan (Gabriel Summers, seemingly killed in 2009) marked down as Krakoan. In other words, they’re alive!
And lastly, what’s a glaring omission is Mad Jim Jaspers, an Omega with crazy reality warping abilities and really too powerful to keep on the gameboard for long. Created in Alan Moore and Alan Davis’ classic run of Captain Britain comics (in the Marvel UK titles Daredevils and Mighty World of Marvel, 1983-1984), Prime Minister Sir James Jaspers was slain at the end of their psychedelic dystopian epic. But the thing that proved his end was the Fury, one of his own insane creations, a kind of super-Sentinel. It had to take him outside reality itself—into a blank emptiness he couldn’t manipulate—in order to kill Jaspers. (Yes, I’m simplifying things somewhat here, for the sake of unfamiliar readers!) So: too dangerous to resurrect?