At last! A two-issue run of Year 10 action! (Well, HOX 3 is actually mostly just suspense.)
And the Pepe Larraz cover of HOX 3, a blockbuster sci-fi action movie poster, kicks it off. We’ve got five senior X-Men—the revived trio of Cyke, Logan, and Jean; Kurt wielding a very large sword, much larger than his usual rapier or cutlass; and Warren as Archangel—and “Gen Xers” Monet and Paige Guthrie, or Husk. Their target is clear: The Mother Mold in orbit around the Sun.
Previously: More in the Hickman X-Men Re-Read!
“You make me so proud,” indeed.
So, this is compared to the other HOX/POX chapters so far, a straightforward team action issue—or rather, the build to the high-octane climax in HOX 4. “Once More Unto the Breach,” a classic phrase originally from Shakespeare’s Henry V—which is another neat allusion in a series chock-full of such gravitas.
In the bottom right indices on the title page we have a kind of subtitle: “The Eternal War of Man.”
Significantly, Henry V is focused on the Battle of Agincourt, which saw the vastly outnumbered English defeat the once much greater power of France—on French soil. While this was before the mass rise of nationalism, “Once More Unto the Breach” is evocative of a small “band of brothers” taking on a Goliath, or in the Krakoans’ case, the globalized super-science resources of man.
Of course, the only person we don’t see on the cover who will be with this field team is Mystique. This might speak to the fact that she’s never really been a team player and always has her own mysterious agenda.
I. Mission Preamble—It’s a Little Strange! (pages 3-8)
A. A Backward Step for Cyclops? (The Inexplicable Xavier/Scott Subtext)
Much more mysterious in this moment is, again, Scott’s inexplicably renewed deference toward Charles. The man we see here on page three seeking validation from Xavier and Magneto is not the same person who murdered the Professor while possessed by the Phoenix. I’m not saying this isn’t the “real” Cyclops, but there’s still so much that happened in the time gap between Uncanny X-Men #22 and House of X #1 that needs to be answered with more than just—as we’ll see in POX 4—Xavier’s initial trip with Doug to Krakoa.
For now, we haven’t seen Scott without his headgear yet—and we won’t until he’s reborn, as seen in HOX 1 and 5—so we can only assume he’s still missing an eye (lost in Uncanny X-Men #15). But, really, who knows?
More importantly, Scott is knowingly going on a suicide mission at Xavier and Magneto’s behest—and so are those other X-Men he’s gathered. Significantly, this is the sixth of twelve chapters in HOX/POX, and we’re just now going to see a team that at least resembles the X-Men. But in fact, there are no X-Men as such throughout this series. And beyond this opening narrative? Don’t hold your breath!
Writer Matthew Rosenberg ended his Uncanny X-Men run with the X-Men battered but back together, unified as they hadn’t been in years—though that unity was immediately fraught. But the Professor was nowhere to be seen. Six months later in-universe—will we ever find out what exactly happened …?
Cyclops is deferentially answering to the Professor at his most remote—his face hidden behind Cerebro—and condescending: “Such a brave face you’re wearing for me,” Xavier his most loyal student, as if Scott is some frightened little boy. And sure, who wouldn’t be afraid of this mission—its stakes and likely sacrifice? But sending their field captain to his certain death, both Charles and Erik come across as nothing but cold.
Their argument encouraging Scott to “overcome” his fear is pure political ideology, which Erik speaks to better than Xavier: “For the righteous can never truly die. They live on. Transformed into something immortal by their mighty works”—which recalls Apocalypse’s epigraph opening HOX 2—“For you to die, you would have to be forgotten … and no one forgets a founder of a nation.” No hugs, no genuine smiles, no body language from these two elders to convey their inner feelings toward Cyclops, much less any sense of convincingly expressed gratitude or indebtedness.
So when Xavier assures Scott, “You make me so proud,” it just feels condescending, and it certainly seems to foreshadow this particular team’s mortal sacrifice. And we don’t know yet how much other Krakoans have seen of the resurrections at this point in the narrative. While the Professor may have the utmost faith in the Resurrection Protocols, Cerebro’s backup capabilities, and the Five—who can say how everyone else feels?
The cold tone of this scene is strange, and the following pages increase the sense of grim, impending doom, without an ounce of the easy camaraderie or even soap-opera melodrama that’s been an X-Men hallmark going back to Claremont’s start on the title.
B. Mission Is Go—No Flowers Allowed
But hey, it’s “time to go.” On page four, we see the team Scott’s assembled—and the addition of Mystique might be surprising! Not only was she not on the cover, but when Scott said he’d chosen “good mutants all,” Raven Darkhölme wouldn’t have been at the top of any reader’s mind. Further, the way he informs Charles and Erik doesn’t make it clear whether they know she’s going on the mission.
In any case, laconic Scott lays out the mission’s context with admirable conciseness, but readers are introduced here to an added wrinkle: The team is not to take “any Krakoan fauna” on the mission, so “there’s not going to be a gateway home—we have to get in, get out and get home the old-fashioned way.” Now, in hindsight, that old-fashioned method turns out to be kicking the bucket, not a spacecraft!
Warren looks baffled and shocked, but Monet gets it right off, and she looks like she just swallowed something rotten. (Also, her insight that Orchis’ scientists could discover something about Krakoa that theirs haven’t discovered yet seems dreadfully portentous, like a Chekhov’s gun quietly waiting to go off.) Scott is glowering, firm. And hey, “Are you listening, Mystique?”
Of course, she is! And she clearly isn’t fazed. She will not be following Scott’s orders, which already seems quite clear—even though we won’t have any clarity on what exactly Mystique got up to on the Orchis Forge before her death there in HOX 4.
However, it certainly makes sense why they wouldn’t want any piece of Krakoa aboard the Forge, which is chock-full of mad scientists, some of them brilliant—most of them frightened into pursuing what they believe to be the lesser evil, jumping from “sticks to bombs”—or in this case, a runaway technological singularity initiated by a self-replicating robot programmed for genocide.
But let’s take a look at this odd team. It’s a really strange group! Beyond the enigma of Mystique’s presence, here are some questions: Why isn’t Magik going instead of Kurt? She’s a much more powerful teleporter, to say nothing of Lila Cheney! Also, why isn’t an Omega in the energy-blasting department going? That would make destroying Mother Mold’s “ejection collars” much quicker and easier!
Well, I don’t have any clear answers. But one reason sending Magik on a certain suicide mission would be verboten is that she’s the Queen of Limbo and possibly the most important sorcerer after Dr. Strange, maybe more so. Killing and resurrecting her via the Five and Cerebro/Xavier might be dicey.
As to why no energy-projection Omegas? I don’t know. It seems really dumb.
Maybe—and this is really dark—Xavier and Magneto want the team to martyr themselves. To make a point. Nothing we’ve seen so far in HOX/POX would make me doubt such a morally bankrupt motivation.
Perhaps most importantly, this brings us to the existential question of souls, which have long since been established as an important feature of the Marvel Universe. Going forward, we should definitely continue wondering about this conundrum because Cerebro is not a mystical device harboring souls. It harbors memory banks, albeit detailed enough to create convincing simulacra. What’s really impressive is that there aren’t glitches that might mix and match different individuals—the data equivalent of a chimera! Gee whiz, pseudo-science really can work wonders.
Seriously, though, let’s hope Hickman has an answer to all this. I believe, in time, he will tell that story.
In any case!
[Husk w/ Gen X on the cover of Generation X #1; pencils by Chris Bachalo, inks by Mark Buckingham]
We also have Monet and Husk, both originally Generation X students from the early ’90s. Hickman has long made clear his love for that group of young mutants—but is their inclusion pragmatic? Again, it’s weird. Monet’s power set is sort of like Captain Marvel’s but without the energy blasts; Husk, however, is really strange: She can shuck the top layer of her skin to reveal a new epidermis made of—whatever she chooses. But she’s achieved such control through long practice and concentration. Yet how much mastery does she have at this point? Is she a good choice for this critical mission? I’d say probably not. Last time we saw anything of Husk’s (psychological) interiority, she was a complete wreck, in Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men—six years before HOX/POX!
Okay, let’s get this A-Team started!
It does make sense for the team to launch from the Summer House on the Moon—no atmosphere, negligible gravity, and presumably unseen by satellites over Earth. They’ve just got 93 million miles to go!
The page-seven data page makes clear the “Sentinel to Nimrod Progression”—but we’ll return to this below. The next page further details the timeline from Year 100, Life Nine to Year 10, Life Ten. However, there’s apparently a new wrinkle to these events: The Nimrod origin files Moira absorbed before her ninth death were incomplete.
This is a detail that’s perhaps easy to miss but think about what we know by the end of HOX 4: The team has destroyed the Mother Mold, but the Orchis Forge remains intact and habitable. Dr. Gregor is still alive, as are numerous other Orchis scientists and engineers, including Orchis Director Devo. There’s no reason to believe the Nimrod threat has been wiped from the board.
II. Project Achilles (pages 9-15)
Interestingly, we now pivot from “good mutants” to the “worst of the worst”—from Krakoa’s cosmic mission to Sabretooth’s carceral narrative, beginning at the State Department’s Project Achilles “supermax” facility (where human authority has him very much under its thumb). Here it’s confirmed that Sabretooth did kill two Damage Control guards—though it results in a charge of mere manslaughter. Which is strange, because it’s not as if they seemed interested in softening the blow for Krakoa’s sake.
And is it strange that it’s under the aegis of the State Department? It makes sense only if both noncitizens are held there and foreign diplomats want to visit. Which does happen to be the case here!
Enter Emma, looking a million bucks, and her Cuckoo entourage. Hilariously, the judge pulls a gun on her, which she doesn’t faze her in the least. The judge’s invitation for her to speak—“Enlighten me”—puts him and all the heavily armed humans present immediately into a subservient position, as the White Queen acknowledges: “Well, that’s certainly the correct position to assume.”
(A lot of blonde on display for this “minority” nation. To be honest, Marvel needs better optics on this. But Emma is an international financial powerhouse, so she’s a good choice as diplomat—to schmooze with those that she would otherwise pass among as just another elitist. Even so, it’s strangely funny for her to insist that her mutant name is the White Queen. I suppose that since she was the first mutant White Queen, she’s taking ownership of the Hellfire title for mutantkind? Anyway, it’s a fun moment.)
Significantly, though, Krakoa hasn’t even been declared a sovereign nation yet, but the US government is certainly aware the declaration is imminent. So, maybe the Project Achilles court was hesitant to charge Sabretooth with murder in the first? (Recall, too, that Victor is a citizen only of Canada and Krakoa.)
But then again, the judge and this Agent Tolliver (first and only appearance so far here) are quite eager to open fire on Emma, who’s really just a bearer of bad news for the humans.
And for any readers who balk at the notion of mutants standing trial only in Krakoa, well, look for precedence from the US government, which hates other governments trying its citizens—especially if they’re highly placed, i.e., important to elite internal interests. It’s only just the world’s superpower get a bitter taste of its own medicine—in fiction, no less.
Furthermore, through Emma, Hickman is restating the new status quo HOX/POX is establishing. It is not about a mutant takeover, mutant fascism, or mutant terrorism. Presumably some readers just don’t like politics in their comics—but then, why were they ever reading X-Men to begin with? The Krakoa era is clearly about “equalizing power dynamics” (page 15). What X-Men fan wouldn’t want that for the mutants? ’Nuff said, right?
As a brief aside, I’m not sure what the judge was talking about with this “twelve-strike rule.” It sounds better than the “three-strikes law” (making the already broken US criminal justice system so much more unjust)! But maybe it’s a bowling metaphor?
Here’s a real easter egg, though. The Achilles insignia looks somewhat like S.H.I.E.L.D.’s; so, maybe these government agents used to be part of that defunct global spy organization. (Also makes you wonder if there’s any overlap with Orchis personnel!) Add to this the name “Project Achilles,” which has apparently appeared previously only in She-Hulk #16-18 (2007) by Dan Slott, where S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Tony Stark had established the taskforce as a way to take down “Hulk-level” threats.
Again, what is it with Tony Stark and his lack of foresight on how his big toys will inevitably be used by others for nefarious purposes …?
One more easter egg here: Brave New World. For readers who were following recent X-Men stories before HOX/POX, they might be familiar with that classic novel’s major themes as filtered through Age of X-Man, a 2019 event set in an apparent utopia for mutants (in an alternate universe created by Nate Grey). However, true to the utopia/dystopia literary tradition, someone’s utopian paradise is always someone else’s dystopian hell. So, anyone coming from AoX to the Krakoa era is going to be wondering: Is this Eden hiding some hellish secrets? Worse, is it an Eden founded on some scheme or even atrocity that would be unbearable to its citizens if discovered? Is potential dissidence being covertly suppressed through drugs or other means? Is there something narcotic/enthralling about Krakoa itself? Some of these insights have been well described elsewhere. (Don’t worry; this link won’t spoil anything about the Dawn of X unless you go digging through further links!)
Lastly here, a dynamic similar to Charles and Scott this issue is echoed here—albeit subtly: The Cuckoos have all developed distinct personalities since their debut almost twenty years ago. Yet both in HOX 1 and here, they’re presented anonymously and as very demure toward first Magneto and now Emma. And although Emma’s relationship to them has grown maternal, it hasn’t been without conflict, both serious and trivial. So, following their muted presence here with a reference to Brave New World—it’s interesting.
III. Omega, Omega (page-16 data page; X-Men Unlimited #27; HOX 1 Omega mutant data page)
[X-Men Unlimited #27: Karima activated as an Omega Sentinel—but not yet in “union” with the invasive programming; flashback pencils by Ron Lim]
Before returning to the Orchis Forge, we have a data page (p16) on the “Omega Sentinel Process,” whose most well-known subject is Karima Shapandar, transformed in her first appearance in a series of flashbacks in X-Men Unlimited #27 (by Joe Pruett, Chris Claremont, Brett Booth, et al., 2000). The flashback portion of this story is set before 1997’s Operation: Zero Tolerance X-crossover event, where the Prime Sentinels were introduced as having once been humans infected by Bastion’s nanotech. Recall: Bastion is a melding (by way of the Siege Perilous) of a Master Mold and the Nimrod that traveled back through time from DoFP/E-811—on the trail of an Omega mutant, Rachel Summers (who per HOX 1’s Omega mutant entry is no longer considered Omega); Nimrod Sentinels were created to take down Omega-level mutants. And according to this page-16 data entry, it seems like even Karima has not reached Stage 8 that would make her fully Omega; at least she hasn’t for any sustained period of time. Even now, she doesn’t seem as inhuman as her Life Nine/Year 100 version. (It doesn’t seem like there have been any Prime Sentinels before or since O:ZT that have reached Stage 8; perhaps they made it to Stage 7 before being destroyed or deactivated.)
But the technical details of her origin have never been so clearly laid out as here. Beneath the dry language, we have some insight into what a protracted and painful process this would be. Still, we don’t actually see any of that in Karima’s first appearance and transformation. She doesn’t seem to undergo dormancy there—Bastion merely blasts her unconscious and kidnaps her, to study her and her boyfriend Neal, post-infection; maybe Hickman is retconning this apparently brief period into something more profound? After she wakes in captivity, her new Sentinel nature is quickly activated by her proximity to her boyfriend—a mutant unbeknownst to everyone until that moment. Somehow, the replication period was ongoing up until her and Neal’s ambushed date, and neither gave any indication that their insides were being transformed into biotech. Those are some sneaky nanites!!
Recalling that HOX 1 Omega mutant data page, we might wonder if Stage 8 Omega Sentinels are a match for any Omega mutant, while the Nimrod class is beyond Omega power levels. (After all, placing Omegas in what appears an otherwise linear “Sentinel to Nimrod Progression” [page 7] doesn’t entirely make sense.)
Now, let’s look at Prime Sentinels fighting their programming—against those who haven’t. In the pic below, Neal’s brother Sanjit was already at Stage 6, to use Hickman’s language retroactively. But he was struggling with it until the end, especially once he saw his brother captured.
But doesn’t the whole production process seem inefficient compared to a Nimrod? It’s hard to say since Bastion—who was Nimrod from an alternate future—invented the nanotech that created these Sentinels, and we still don’t know exactly how Nimrods get made!
Looking back at the page-7 data entry, why are Omegas even placed in what looks like a linear progression? While it’s convincing enough that a Mother Mold would become capable of producing Nimrods, Omegas seem like outliers—which is already the case temporally. (Was there a Bastion experimenting on poor folk of Calcutta in Life Nine? That would be strange! Maybe Karima got caught up in the Omega process elsewise? Maybe that wasn’t originally Karima in Year 100?) In any case, Omegas lead only to further Omegas—not Nimrods. But I guess Nimrods can make Omegas. (Maybe they’re just meant to be minions of Nimrod? Maybe? Maybe! I’m sure Hickman would just say: It sounds like a story waiting to be told.😊) Whatever the case, this process wouldn’t be a happy one for any biological entity.
[from HOX 3, p7]
Oddly enough, we’ll see Karima herself express such concerns herself in the following pages. Is it vestigial emotion from the ghost in the machine, or is there enough of her personality left to quietly fight against further conversion to the total machine state we saw in Life Nine? If she is hiding a traumatic condition from the outside world, she’s doing frighteningly well in masking it.
Despite her initial appearance as an Omega Sentinel in 2000, Karima has until now successfully fought against her full conversion—often with mutant help, as in Claremont’s early 2000s Excalibur series. However, in Life Nine, she had no such help from Xavier and Magneto, who were long since dead. There, the Omega Sentinel had become “total machine” (the Church’s version of godhood) well before Year 100.
IV. Once More Unto the Forge (p17)
Cut to Karima herself, coolly judging Orchis’ immaculate lab coats (and chic beekeepers) as a panicky herd. After all, as she points out to Gregor, this elite cabal could easily lose control of the reproduction process, destroying what they’re supposedly so gung-ho about protecting. (While killer robots can’t take out the Sun, they could wipe away the human stain on planet Earth easily enough.)
But Gregor says they’re ready to drop Mother Mold into the Sun “if things go south.” (It’s amazing they’re not all being baked alive right now with how close they are!) She then mentions the “Heller-Faust line,” which is an unexplained Hickman invention; presumably, it has something to do with a Faustian bargain, which is always a catch-22—And hey Catch-22 was written by Joseph Heller. Clever, Hickman! Essentially, the problem Orchis has with mutants can be solved only by genocidal robots, which will eventuate humanity’s own total destruction.
We’ll look more at Karima’s slide toward total nemesis; it is ambiguous. And so is Kurt’s perception of her. Even Hickman’s depiction of Erasmus Mendel and Alia Gregor is fraught with ambiguities—just like everything we’ve seen of Xavier and Magneto, and Moira.
Besides all the high-octane action—which should mostly just be enjoyed on the page for what it is—we’ll also look at: possible parallels between the HOX/POX timelines in terms of the Tower of Babel; what ‘secrets’ about the ultimate nature of Krakoan society we might discern from considering Doug’s linguistic creation; and other cultish activities…