R. B. Silva’s stunningly beautiful cover to Powers of X #1 sets a high bar for things to come. Like Pepe Larraz, Silva is a master of deep textural designs and dynamic perspectives, ideal for the cinematic quality of the storytelling and Hickman’s penchant for cryptic symbols and motifs. But where Larraz’s line is more smoothly fluid, Silva’s is a bit more angular—a nice contrast for the interweaving titles. (Similar contrasts could be drawn between Alan Davis and Stuart Immonen—and that comparison to past masters is justified by the level these younger artists are working at.)
Previously: More in the Hickman X-Men Re-Read!
I. Cover Design
The reader’s eye is immediately drawn to the dazzling brightness of that towering broadsword—with Xavier on one side of its blade and Moira on the other. The pale blue light on their faces and their ordinary attire in contrast with the other figures suggests a look into the past—further suggested by the fact that Xavier looks younger (having gone bald at an early age) and isn’t wearing Cerebro and a black leotard; and of course, Moira has been dead since 2001’s X-Men #108—right? And their expressions are pensive and vulnerable, also suggestive of youth, certainly in contrast to what we’ve seen of their present state in HOX/POX. Significantly, they’re facing in opposite directions; this seems like more than a convenient design element. (Also, another visual cue, the upturned lapels of her trench-coat was one of Moira’s classic looks.)
The starburst brilliance of what appears to be Magik’s Soulsword keeps catching the eye. Significance? It’s easily the most recognizable sword of the X franchise, and swordsmanship will be critical to future stories. The mysterious swordswoman was first teased in the much-discussed Mark Brooks teaser gallery that Marvel released in early 2019. In that image, her right hand is very clearly Colossus-like—and her left arm is armored while her hair looks similar to Dani Moonstar’s. Fans made much of the fact that none of those classic X-Men were present. Similarly, on POX 1’s cover, the figure crouching behind this amalgam looks like Nightcrawler but with red skin and eyes (rather than blue skin and yellow eyes); and like Kurt Wagner in his Errol Flynn mode, he’s wielding a rapier. The mystery of who these figures are is exciting.
As we discover in this issue, the swordswoman is Rasputin IV, from the last generation of chimeras, which their creator Mister Sinister sabotaged. Interestingly, Rasputin wears red slippers, echoing one of Sinister’s most discussed secrets from POX 4. And like Dorothy of Oz wearing her ruby slippers, Illyana Rasputin (sans the slippers) could skip between dimensions. We’ll certainly revisit this.
But we do discover in POX 1 that Rasputin IV is a genetic amalgam or chimera composed of X-genes from Quentin Quire, Colossus, Unus the Untouchable (Gunther Bain), and Kitty Pryde—so, she doesn’t have Illyana’s mutant ability to teleport. However, the sword remains mysterious—Did each chimeric Rasputin have one? Or being the last of the Rasputins, has this one simply inherited it? In battle against machines, what use its unique mystical properties or connection to the Limbo realm? None of these questions are answered in HOX/POX.
Immediately recognizable to longtime fans is the Nimrod Sentinel on the right side and Omega Sentinel, already seen in HOX 1, on the bottom left. The bald, glaring figure behind her is suggestive of Xavier, while the pair standing behind “Nightcrawler” aren’t immediately recognizable. We’ll find out this issue that, like Rachel Summers in her own native timeline (Days of Future Past), the woman—Cylobel—is a Hound. But while the Hounds of Rachel’s dystopian future all seemed to have been kidnapped and then made subservient, those of the Man-Machine Supremacy have been artificially bred—perversely analogous to Sinister’s chimeras.
The Internet has already endlessly reiterated Hickman’s mission statement about additive storytelling, but he’s also emphasized in numerous interviews that there’s nothing new about his take on Marvel’s mutants. This rings true insofar as what he’s doing is remixing preexisting elements (most obviously with chimeras) and encouraging all the current X writers to remain true to all the pre-established characters by working out their inner logic and interpersonal dynamics, but rigorously and with a sense of freshness. That’s what’s so exciting: the mix of the best in contemporary comics art and storytelling with the immediately recognizable—promising to push the envelope without twisting the elements out of character or breaking the toys. Mutatis mutandis—while always anchored to those beloved recognizable elements, HOX/POX delivers radical takes on mutantdom’s past, present, and future…
II. Analyzing Page Two Through the Lens of the Entire Powers of X Narrative
… As on the second page, where the modern and future mutant histories we’ll be reacquainted with are presented as stacked timelines. Immediately, we see three distinct characters: Xavier, Nimrod, and whoever the blue guy is. But maybe we should be wondering if there aren’t four characters, which would make for clearer symmetry—How different is the past Xavier (of “The Dream”) from the present (of “The World”)? On one hand, this is a clear presentation of each timeline’s focal point for the duration of HOX/POX. But even after reading and rereading all 12 issues, a mystery here remains regarding the interrelationship of these figures. There’s almost certainly a nonverbal/iconographic grammar at work here, but because much remains unanswered, making decipherable—which makes sense! This is Hickman, after all.
Still, I’m tempted to call this first page a pictographic chiasmus. This would be awesome, because this figure of rhetoric can be mapped as an “X”—the word itself is Greek for “crossing,” as in “to shape like an X,” which has four-fold symmetry. In language, it’s an inversion of grammar, so it’s still mirrorlike, with elements A and B reversed in the subsequent clause—B, then A:
Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure. – Don Juan, Lord Byron
By day the frolic, and the dance by night. – The Vanity of Human Wishes, Samuel Johnson
But since before written literature in the West, the chiastic pattern in language has always had an implicit coercive logic: with that neat linguistic echo effect, the poet or orator’s clear, simple logic would feel compelling, indelible, memorable.
Hickman, however, is not giving us anything so clear or obvious. And what we’re talking about here is conceptual chiasmus, not linguistic. In fact, I will go on to argue throughout this reread that Hickman has structured the entire HOX/POX narrative in a complex, chiastic “ring composition”—but this is a journey we’ll be taking together, readers; I’m certain of the overall strategy but not the exact shape of it. Very likely most of it will remain mysterious well into 2021’s Reign of X. But let’s start working out the pieces we have.
So, taking HOX/POX as a whole, nothing more, the following is the chiasmus I find at work on page 2, though I’m happy to have anyone who’s interested pitch theories, too!
First, consider that: Page 2’s stacked timelines display a cryptic chiasmus, which on our first read is hidden by a temporal anagram—meaning these timelines as shown are out of order:
The Xavier of Year One, the Dream, is element A. There’s always an Xavier, Year One.
Nimrod the Lesser of Year 100 is element B. (This Year 100 is seen only in Moira’s Ninth Life.)
With Nimrod no longer top dog in the Year of the Ascension, element B-modified is the Librarian. (Year 1000 is seen only in Moira’s Sixth Life, not revealed until the end of Powers of X.)
The Xavier of Year 10, the World, is element A-modified.
The crux of this chiastic pattern occurs when Moira gives the (last) Dreaming Xavier the vision of Nimrod and the War of Year 100, the long final war for mutant survival—of which readers have seen many versions going back to 1981’s “Days of Futures Past.” Continuing on to Year 1000, the future’s focal point shifts to the Librarian, who’s presented as the rather sterile fruit of the victorious posthumans, Homo novissima. Meanwhile, likely as an outcome from the Human-Machine-Mutant War, whose resolution we never see, Nimrod has been downsized in terms of size, power, and—quirkiness? This version of past future events is, of course, an assumption: We don’t know if the Year 1000 of Moira’s Sixth Life has in its past a Year 100 similar to that of her Ninth Life.
The Xavier who comes to be identified with the World has experienced this memory of future histories, and it’s turned him into who he is today, in Year 10.
Xavier’s original dream has shattered in the face of Moira’s vision of multiple realities, all with one dire end for the mutant race. There can be no more innocent dreams of harmony.
But who knows, with page 2 it could be that there’s just some simple analogizing going on, but I can’t see it. To be sure, this isn’t just a pretty picture, though it is very striking and mysterious.
(Consider as well the possible mirrorings at play on the cover: the pairings and oppositions in its layout. Hickman and company’s funhouse distortions and remiX blenders will be in full effect for the duration.)
Note that the older Xavier has a few more lines on his chin—and of course his eyes are veiled, though he can see your eyes. Maybe the younger man’s lips show a degree more pensiveness, but in his focused gaze you can also see a hint of the old tenderness that fans once connected with. That man appears to be gone (and many fans had already felt deeply disappointed by the old Xavier’s mental manipulations; however well-meaning, editing others’ memories and behavior is cruel without consent—unless done in self-defense where lives are at stake, though that is still fraught). The Xavier of the World is inscrutable, his expression masked behind chrome.
Does the Cerebro prosthesis—inarguably an extension of Xavier himself—make him a cyborg?
While we have an exponential skipping through time, is there any other progression in these images expressing itself exponentially? No. The simple sequential story here is: the future just gets stranger and more inhospitable, unless you’re a machine or the dialectical resolution of man-machine—posthumanity. (And even then, as seen in POX 6, the Librarian is—crucially—extremely skeptical about being “uplifted” into “the great hive of the Phalanx.”)
Or, in the words of the poet Wallace Stevens (in Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction):
From this the poem springs: that we live in a place
That is not our own and, much more, not ourselves
And hard it is in spite of blazoned days.
III. Breakdown by Scene, pages 1-13
Epigraph (p1): “Here’s the thing, Charles… It’s not a dream if it’s real.” – Moira MacTaggart
Note that in the campus fair scene, Moira wouldn’t have been married to Kevin MacTaggart yet; she’d still be Moira Kinross. (For a deeper look at Xavier and Moira’s early days together see Uncanny X-men #389.)
In HOX 1, we opened with Xavier’s “alpha” and closed with Magneto’s “omega.” This time, we open with “M_X_theta” (found at the bottom of page 1), and close with “Sinister_05.” “Theta” is a middle term, though closer to alpha than omega. “X” with “theta” is usually some kind of geometric expression. A pun? Well, Hickman’s a dork, and I’m a sucker for a puzzle.
In any case, it’s the first clue here that Moira might be a mutant. Moira is now Moira X, and we’re going to see her telling Xavier like it is, and how it’s going to be now.
Which is to say, Moira’s epigraph in POX 1 begets Xavier’s in HOX 1.
Tonally, what’s interesting here is that Moira is taking center stage, even though she was never an A-lister and her role as Xavier’s former love interest and a human researching mutant genetics tended to vacillate between vaguely auxiliary and occasionally important but never really a star. But the new revelation of Moira’s absolutely critical nature means she’ll have to remain hidden.
Following HOX/POX, it’s not at all clear what she’s going to do next.
Scene 1 (pp3-8): Year One—a fair, probably on the Oxford campus in England
The fairgoers look like they’re in a comfortable, bucolic corner of the world, like Oxford, maybe ten, twenty years ago—it’s worth reiterating that the timeline markers shouldn’t be taken literal; measuring by powers of ten is a neat narrative convenience. Just as Marvel will no longer specify a character’s age, Year 10 can’t be meant to be exactly ten years on from Year One, which itself is a marker for an indefinite span (publication-wise meaning the very earliest days of the Silver Age). Better to take Years 10, 100, and 1000 as approximations that are close enough.
Visually, the lack of deep shadows and the cool summery feel of the scene give us the sense of the past, especially compared to the edginess of Year 10 that we’ve already seen in HOX 1. The strongman, clown, fortuneteller, all emphasize the scene’s summer dreaminess. Some of the fashions look dated, but nothing seems glaringly anachronistic; there’s a mix of styles, all fairly subdued, like pastels, warm but not bright.
Xavier seems to contemplate a small circling flock of—doves? And Moira appears standing over him, looking a bit uncertain, making us think this is their first meeting. Her attire certainly feels ’60s, but again, there’s nothing super-dated about it. (But I’m no fashion expert!)
Their initial banter feels like it continues the mirroring motif, in a totally normal way, unremarkable but for the way the panels emphasize the back-and-forth with doublings and contrasts. It’s a subtle scene, remarkably paced. Silva’s expressions, especially for Moira, are various and exquisitely organic.
The way panels of Moira surround Xavier on page 7 is almost dizzying when you take it in as a whole.
Knowing now that this is Moira’s tenth life, you really have to wonder if she’s struggling to contain impatience. This is Moira’s tenth life!
Everyone should read Hickman’s inspiration here: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North is an extraordinary feat. We’ll come back to it a bit more when looking at HOX 2, but if you’ve read it, you’ll have experienced the first-person narrative of someone with this same “Groundhog Day” power, going insane in his second life, then going on to quest for some answer to the inexplicable, through religion, then science. But when there’s an existential threat to himself, others of his kind, and the whole world, every time he’s reborn, the sense of urgency to get on with the mission is all consuming. Yet his true nature must remain hidden, like all of his kind (the “Ouroborans,” after ouroboros), and every life the long game gets longer—the machinations of shell companies and identities become more deeply embedded, but all this is possible because at least dozens of people with this curse-like ability are born each generation.
So to imagine just one woman with this power, living through ten lifetimes—it’s terrifying. The loneliness would be dehumanizing.
In North’s novel, some of these immortals begin to treat ordinary humans as playthings, but their society has developed an ethos that frowns on such behavior. They’ll eliminate anyone who’s clearly irredeemable—mostly because 1) an Ouroboran with delusions of grandeur will likely develop an addiction to power and scheming that could destroy the world; and 2) their condition must remain hidden—imagine how excited the CIA would be. However, unlike Marvel’s mutants, these people have no choice but to be outwardly assimilationist, and their abilities might never help them achieve any satisfactory understanding of the true nature of their condition or even existence itself. The more you think about such a strange reality, the more it feels like an endless curse—a kind of hell. Damned to the cycle of reincarnation as a mortal and re-experiencing variations of the same moments, endlessly (though there are some pleasurable silver linings).
Granted, very few of the Ouroborans have eidetic memories. But each always knows to keep the specifics of their birth absolutely secret from everyone. For Moira, alone with this ability in the Marvel universe, experiencing that unremitting loneliness in keeping her true nature a secret would be taxing enough; unimaginable would be encountering a malevolent entity like the Shadow King, secretly knowing that if it discovered her power and could exploit her, the devastation could be apocalyptic. Moira’s ability is a curse with what silver lining? She gets to have the lonely burden of a Sisyphus whose eternal labors might end with the assurance of the survival of her species—though it looks hopeless so far. Either way, almost no one will ever even know she endured this hell.
And we’ll return to this, but as we find out in POX 6, Moira does have an eidetic memory. After all, that is what hits Xavier so hard—which, again, we don’t see fully until that last issue. It’s not just her many lives—it’s that unbearably granular tsunami of Moira’s eidetically imprinted memories. So of course she should be worried about breaking Xavier!
But anyone who survives the experience of Moira’s unbearable mind-blast will forget almost everything—because having an eidetic memory is impossible (unless it’s a superpower!).
So, knowing what we know now about Moira, I’m going to argue that if we ever get more of her interiority, we’ll see it confirmed that her tenth life has been an inhuman task in maintaining a perfect façade while being inwardly seething with desperation to finally, finally, finally get everything, everything, everything just right. That is insane.
Sitting with this, you’ve got to acknowledge Moira is the strongest one there is in the Marvel universe.
Xavier is right, he isn’t the strongman (page 7), but he has no idea the power he’s just met.
Now really look at page 8 for a moment: another page of stacked panels, the climax of this truncated scene (until we get the rest in POX 6). Just like page 2, it packs in the entire story to come. Which is remarkable! Reading this initially, we might’ve figured Moira had some secret about meeting Xavier a few years earlier, but whatever our initial assumptions and theories, surely anyone who hadn’t had the surprise spoiled would’ve been staggered by how small their expectations had been! Even in a story-world where we’ve already accepted telepathy and various forms of mind manipulation as commonplace—the idea of universes reiterating with the death and rebirth of a single mutant is nuts. It is properly vertiginous.
Before leaving this scene, let’s consider the Tarot cards on page 6. I don’t know if the black captions are Moira speaking or not. Perhaps she’s just recalling what the fortuneteller said. It could be the cards there were the usual ones, and what we see is Moira mapping her own memories onto them.
If she were speaking the captions aloud to Xavier, she’d be needlessly giving away that she’s not normal ahead of her silent reveal via Xavier’s telepathy.
Tenth-life Moira isn’t giving away a thing. And when she blasts Xavier with her memories, that is not a gift. That is Moira’s weapon in her relentless, unforgiving quest to bring her people through the dire straits of the Man-Machine Supremacy.
But what are we to make of the Magician, the Tower, and the Devil? The Soulsword recalls Magik—and wonderfully nostalgic, Rasputin IV’s pose half out of a wall is classic Shadowcat! And we see her elfin ears, recalling Nightcrawler—though we find out his DNA is not a part of her (page 24). Like the Tarot Magician, given first place in the major arcana, Rasputin is willful, in contrast to the Cardinal—but that’s all I got.
The Tower is clearly the Man-Machine Monolith (page 26). In the Tarot, it’s the sixteenth card and sometimes associated with the classic ivory tower education and success, and also insularity. Equally, it could symbolize materialistic success empty of real value, pairing it more strongly with the fifteenth card—the Devil.
But calling it here “the pillar of collapse and rebirth,” the fortuneteller is nodding to interpretations that embrace both positive and negative readings. Most often these days, it’s read as a warning of catastrophe—which could strike, horrifically, at any time; the bread and butter of X-Men drama!
It looks like there’s a coronal shape above the tower but hidden by the caption. Is it the Phalanx? Nimrod, Homo novissima, Phalanx, Technarch—fourfold catastrophe!
And “pinnacles” of sentience on Earth—self-engineered human evolution’s materialistic dead-end.
No wonder the Librarian fears his future—humanity’s hubris has ended in apocalyptic nihilism.
What of the Cardinal as the Devil? When this card is dealt upside-down, it can symbolize weakness, which Rasputin would agree with regarding the Cardinal. But it’s the kind of weakness related to petty egoism, not committed pacifism—which requires extraordinary restraint. Dealt upright, however, this card can symbolize not just violence and forcefulness but also strenuous labor or effort. But the Cardinal remains a mystery. Certainly he visually recalls Nightcrawler, himself a Christian and the most admirably upright of the X-Men.
Title Page: The Last Dream of Xavier
We’ll come back to this over the course of HOX/POX, because thus far in the story, we don’t know why this story would spell the end of Xavier’s dream. We saw in HOX 1 how Xavier and Magneto seemed to be converging ideologically. In the hype for POX 2, Hickman said it would depict the most important moment in Xavier’s life—and it does; but it’s truncated, until POX 6. With HOX 2, though, we’ll understand how everything’s changed.
Or, equally, it could be that mutant sovereignty on Krakoa is Xavier’s last dream, which would make sense as the only futures we see beyond Year 10 are terrifying.
Scene 2 (pp10-13): Krakoa, House of M, directly following the events of HOX 1
Mystique and Toad return through a gate to Krakoa. Neither seems distressed about Sabretooth’s fate. Good riddance!
That one image of Toad smiling—Have we ever seen him so genuinely happy?! Slowly evolving, very much in the background, from homicidal mania during the Silver Age to quietly sad neglect in Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men, Mortimer Toynbee at last seems to be in a happy place. So I’ll take the absence of creepiness at face value—Salud, Morty!
I’d love to more about the six mutants in the background. Given X-Men history, the three redheads inevitably recall Jean, and they have Nature Girl horns! One wonders: Are we already seeing Sinister’s chimeras??? Who exactly is keeping track of Sinister on Krakoa? Who keeps track of who’s who?
We’ve already had strong hints that Xavier is secretly molding the general mood on Krakoa. As Magneto asks Mystique—who is notably immune to telepathic influence, “have you noticed the effect this place is having?” The dream—maybe not Xavier’s dream—is alive in a way it’s never been. Magneto certainly seems content with his own dream. With its ability to feed off the energy of anyone standing on its soil, could Krakoa itself be influencing (almost) everyone’s sense of the new nation being “a wellspring of hope”?
We’ll come back to what Mystique wants, which will no doubt prove a slowly rising discordant note that could wreck the Krakoan symphony of joy, but next time we’ll fly through the rest of POX 2 😉
Closing out for now, note that Xavier, still presumably in Fantomex’s body, manages to telekinetically snatch the thumb drive from Mystique. Maybe Cerebro is helping him augment his powers? Xavier has exhibited small-scale TK only rarely—so it’s an interesting flourish to include. Maybe it adds to the troubling question over what exactly Xavier is up to.
Also, Magneto’s gorgeously designed House of M has some killer biotech courtesy of Krakoa. I wonder, given the revelations of Krakoa’s intelligence, how much input it has in the design of its mutant habitats.