I. POX2: Year 100
So, who else would bi-centenarian Logan call “old man” (POX 1) but the millennia-old Apocalypse? Here, in a world where Xavier was killed as a young man, Xavier’s murderer is also “boss”—made crystal clear, shockingly, by Apocalypse’s reference to Logan as War, and hence one of his Horsemen. This means that the Apocalypse of Moira’s ninth life had infected Logan with a Death Seed, just as the Life-Ten Apocalypse did to Angel, thereby transforming him into Death. It was Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force that revealed this specific wrinkle of the Horsemen mythos (in “The Dark Angel Saga,” #10-18, 2011).
Previously: More in the Hickman X-Men Re-Read!
Little detail has been added to the notion of the Death (and Life) Seeds since Remender, who took the idea from the Life Seeds of the Celestials in Jack Kirby’s Eternals #7 (1977). (See also Uncanny Avengers #6-9, 2013.) Suffice to say, it was the Celestials who gave Apocalypse the Seeds to manage human evolution. So, this was certainly sensible, additive storytelling on Remender’s part, given how much the Space Gods had already “gifted” to the ancient mutant—a prehistoric relationship first hinted at by X-Factor #24 (1988) and later variously, sometimes confusingly, fleshed out by post-Simonson storytellers.
But while Kirby’s Celestials seeded planetary life via Life Seeds, Remender has them also gift Death Seeds to a chosen evolutionary caretaker on each fertile planet with the promise of returning to check in on planetary evolution—according to the Celestials’ desires. But if they deem the world a failure in that regard, they’ll destroy that world’s biosphere, which, after all, the Space Gods view as their proprietary experiment. Wait—what?! By the time we get to 2013’s “X-Termination” crossover, all this Celestials/X-Men cosmology becomes overly baroque—while the reasoning behind the initial Kirby madness for the Marvel Universe’s Celestial origins has never been adequately explained.
However, I bring this up because: Wouldn’t the Celestials have already arrived in Year 100 to judge Apocalypse’s and humanity’s respective failures? What about by Year 1000? What is the Celestial opinion on machine intelligence and the Phalanx?
Suffice to say for now, we’ll return to some of these critical dangling questions at the end of HOX/POX.
It is very telling, however, that Year 100 Apocalypse appears much more as an Xavier/Magneto figure than his more familiar 616 self—the raging villain of “might is right.” Perhaps Moira IX changed him? Or maybe En Sabah Nur was always someone other than what readers thought? Questions for the Dawn of X?
On a different note, it’s interesting that Year 100 is a sort of inversion of the Age of Apocalypse reality, where Xavier’s early death leads to Apocalypse’s global hegemony, with that reality’s Logan as his heir. But unlike AoA, the Magneto of Moira’s ninth life has been dead for so long, most people in that world—human or mutant—wouldn’t recognize the homage to the Master of Magnetism in the jade couture of North, the Dane/Frost chimera. (Meanwhile, Sinister would seem chaotic evil in both worlds, but perhaps more subtly here in Year 100—not that we get to actually see him.)
[Age of Apocalypse omnibus cover by Billy Tan]
A. Mother Akkaba’s Stasis Pod
What looks on page 13 like a sarcophagus will be revealed in POX 3 as Moira IX’s stasis pod. The tableau is beautifully drawn and colored, but this is a Krakoan habitat whose life feels cold, cramped, and gloomy. The crystalline growths recall those of Year 10 Krakoa’s transit hub seen in HOX 1, pages 29-32, but these are smaller and lack the hub’s vibrancy, coldly glimmering. Even the fires in the braziers seem without heat. (Incidentally, turquoise was common in Ancient Egypt.)
The script engraved on the walls is mysterious. It’s like Bronze Age Mesopotamian cuneiform, but maybe it’s Apocalypse’s invention? Perhaps it’s this reality’s version of written Krakoan?
Amidst the pseudo-Egyptology, what’s most interesting is the dog-headed figure embossed on the stasis pod. Such deities weren’t uncommon among the Ancient Egyptians. Carvings of Horus’ son Duamutef protected stored remains; his name meant “he who adores his mother[land]” and connoted protection of both vitals and mothers. Wepwawet’s name meant “opener of ways”—as in paths to (martial) victory. Most importantly, there was Anubis, god of death and the afterlife, “Master of Secrets.”
It may be Anubis himself who’s depicted strapped to the Wheel of Fortune of the Major Arcana, descending to or ascending from the Underworld, depending (opposite the reptilian Typhon—reaching for Anubis’ heel—and adjacent to the Sphinx figure—supposedly representing life and/or wisdom).
All of these resonances are sound—the heavily protected Mother Akkaba is soon to die and be reborn, opening the way toward mutantkind’s last chance at victory.
For Apocalypse has received his last gift/theft “from the gods”—the index that will lead to the origin of mutantkind’s greatest nemesis.
“For this, I would have sacrificed you all”—but not Moira, of course!
On page 18, Apocalypse touches Moira’s stasis coffin, musing on their fate. Are his questions rhetorical, or does he wish for answers he does not have? (Again, one wonders where Celestial-related matters stand!)
And one wonders if Moira didn’t tell her partner what she learned in her sixth life—that the humans had played a long game, aiming the murder machines at mutants to buy them time to evolve into posthumanity, making a fool of Nimrod, to be sure—but ultimately, as the Librarian knew, of themselves as well.
I still think it’s funny that the mutants stole the indexing machine from SalCen—Salem Center—home to (and, in a sense, archive of) classic X-Men history!
It’s also humorous to see our “fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy,” Nimrod, having a bit of fun with a mock address-to-Yorick moment—mocking his human servants (who, somewhat like Yorick, “hath borne [him] on [their] back”) but also the humane melancholy of Hamlet’s reflection on mortality. Whereas Hamlet addressing the beloved court jester’s skull casts a deep grief inside an abrupt comic turn, the ultimate murder machine is pure, chilling egoism, lording it over frail humans even after their defeat.
Again, though, the joke will be on it/him, ultimately. But with the Phalanx as ultimate victors, everyone—man, machine, mutant—gets played. Only the mutants seem to have known the score early on.
Already, however, the great Nimrod’s been fooled: The ultimate Sentinel, which can adapt to and mimic the powers of any mutant in its sights*, couldn’t detect the mutants protected by Percival’s cloaking power, which specifically blinded machines to mutant presences; there’s no way Nimrod could’ve mimicked that!
But now the mutants know the endgame has arrived.
*See Nimrod’s classic early appearances in the following arcs: UX 191-194 (1985); 208-209; 246-247 (1989). And in the Nimrod epic New X-Men #24-31 (2006) we see Nimrod’s first chronological appearance as he/it travels back in time from Rachel Summers’ DoFP future; at the violent climax of that arc, Nimrod is shunted further back in time to UX 191. (But it’s Hickman who’s given the dread hunter its gallows humor here in Year 100, making it much creepier and sadistic.)
[From UX 194, with beautiful pencils by John Romita, Jr.; the climax of the X-Men’s—chronologically—first battle with the time-slipping Nimrod. Is this the first chimera depicted here? Nope—that’s Rogue! Having absorbed her teammates powers. Still, is it perhaps the inspiration for Sinister/Hickman’s chimeras…?]
B1. The Behind-the-Scenes Role of (What Was Once) Orchis?
Also, before killing its humans (p14), Nimrod reveals: “I am not programmed for truth.” How disturbing! Whereas earlier iterations of Sentinels, at least those created and directed by the Trask family, seemed to obey the classic Asimovian Laws of Robotics, someone at Orchis—as we must assume—engineered this genocidaire with the ability to easily betray humans. But that same person—as we must assume—must have hidden their ultimate agenda from all Sentinel machine intelligence: to push humanity toward posthumanity and thereby usurp their interim terrestrial-machine hegemony.
As we’ll see with Year 1000, however, humanity’s clever scheming ultimately spells its own ending—subsumption into alien-machine totality, the most dire version of “childhood’s end.” (This is also the name of the four-issue prelude [NX 20-23] to the above mentioned New X-Men Nimrod epic, clearly in homage to Arthur C. Clarke.)
C. Krakoa Doug—Where’s Warlock?!
I wonder what kind of drugs are grown by Krakoa-Doug-Famine! Probably not the fun kind?
As seen throughout Year 10 in HOX/POX, Cypher (Doug Ramsey) is at least partially merged with Warlock, the techno-organic mutant alien—spawned of the Technarch but with a personality totally unlike those puppets of the Phalanx, themselves techno-organic aliens. That means the Phalanx-Technarch relationship would be analogous not to our relationship to inorganic machines, but a potential relationship to thoroughly organic biotech—that humans could mesh and interface with seamlessly while retaining completely mastery of such technology—with all the inherent and dire ethical implications.
In fact, this annihilation of agency is what once happened to Warlock after his/its apparent death and absorption by the Phalanx (see New Mutants #95, 1990, and the “X-Tinction Agenda” event generally; and for Warlock’s return—not Doug’s!—see Excalibur #77-80 and UX 313, 1994).
Of course, Warlock is the mutant offspring of the Technarch Magus, as detailed in NM 18-21 (1984), and he/it should be just another malevolent Technarch and unwitting puppet of the Phalanx.
For now, the critical thing to remember is that HOX/POX flips the relationship between the Technarch and the Phalanx. Don’t worry, though; this isn’t a difficult conceptual reversal if you’re a reader familiar with this material since there hasn’t been a lot of groundwork developing the former (perceived) dynamic. So, why reverse it? The Technarchy has never played a direct role as the big bad in a major event, terrestrial or cosmic. Hickman’s interpretation of the Phalanx, however, is surely inspired by the major event Annihilation: Conquest (2008), where the Phalanx’s role is very far from Earth, unrelated to mutantkind, and much scarier—albeit more impersonally—than their original spotlight in the 1994 X-Men crossover “Phalanx Covenant”. But both these events make their viral/self-replicating threat feel well-earned (although the Technarch menace, which keeps to the background in these stories, is ultimately supposed to be worse).
[Joe Madureira pencils]
But the question for this Year 100, Asteroid K scene is: Where’s Warlock?!
The too-obvious answer is: Well, this is a world where there never was an Xavier’s School, at all, so Warlock wouldn’t have crash-landed there from space! Still, there does seem to be a deliberate point here, however subtle and merely implied: Moira’s ninth life extends to a future of severe polarization; the notion of machinic/mutant allyship is unthinkable. That’s how the horrific, well-established status quo is presented.
And there’s also the fact that while Warlock’s humanization is possible because of an internal mutation, such a humanizing process wouldn’t have occurred in Moira’s ninth life because Warlock wouldn’t have met the teenaged (read: open-hearted) New Mutants.
[NM 21] [NM Annual 2]
Yet there was a Life-Nine Doug Ramsey, and he eventually met and opened himself to Krakoa. So, this merging with Krakoa speaks more to Doug’s open-heartedness, which Moira’s decisions never altered.
[NM Annual 2; first image: Bill Sienkiewicz pencils; second/third: Alan Davis]
The fact that Krakoa retains Doug’s shape, using his remains both as fertile compost and as a way to interact with the other remaining mutants living inside its larger self, speaks to the humanizing impact Doug had—even in a world as awful as Moira’s ninth life.
[Early image of 616 Xorn from New X-Men #122 by Morrison and Quitely]
The Reality-616 Xorn has a brief but massively retconned early history. Suffice to say for now that Xorn’s non-Horseman personality doesn’t seem wildly different from Year 100 Xorn, with both meditating on transience and mortality—except that Life-Ten Xorn has more fully retained his Buddhist background. But content with being a kind contemplative nihilist, this reality’s Horseman of Death is a perfect fit—also given the more subtle and sophisticated characterization of Apocalypse himself in Moira’s ninth life. Apparently, the Death Seed that transformed him into Death altered his physical appearance, but his most salient feature—a literal star somehow hidden and contained behind his death’s-head mask—appears identical. However, it might be that the Life-Nine Xorn is no longer capable of emitting stellar energies—only a black hole of significant radius, possibly his suicide option, as we see in POX 3. After all, this world is ending, and the heroes know it. In this future, we see Xorn dealing only death, not giving new life.
[Two classic Xorn images, both from Grant Morrison’s New X-Men #127; pencils by, respectively, Frank Quitely and John Paul Leon]
II. POX2: Year 1000
An altogether different kind of black hole approaches the posthuman Earth of Year 1000.
Perhaps in this reality—Moira’s sixth life—Orchis, if it existed, evolved into the organization with the means to launch “the Outreach project” (p19)? Whoever it was, they managed to convert a distant frozen gas giant into “a super-intellect”—modeled on the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence—“in the hopes of attracting—and establishing—a suitor-alliance with a Type III interstellar civilization.”
(Regardless, Orchis would be a millennium removed from Outreach! But, hey, “from small things…”)
Thus, the Nimrod-armored Nimbus—implicitly an omnivorous, self-replicating machine-intelligence—plunged into the gas giant Nibiru and metastasized into a Worldmind. Woo-wee—Hickmania!
This is the “species intelligence” one step down from the ultimate—the Phalanx level (p25). But—wait a sec! What about Celestials?! (And should we wonder: Where have their “children” the Eternals gone?)
(Notably, the Kree Supreme Intelligence is considered two steps down on the “SI” scale, so posthumanity exceeded their collective-intelligence model with Nimbus—exceeding even the Technarchy.)
Unsurprisingly, Hickman’s reached back to another ancient sign system—the extinct Akkadian language—for the name of “Nibiru,” which means “crossing,” particularly in relation to fording or crossing a river, somewhat similar perhaps to “crossing the Rubicon,” another archaic but still in-use phrase meaning: stepping across a point of no return. But in the context of Babylonian astronomy, this descriptor is for Marduk’s star—Marduk being their mature civilization’s creation deity, also their god of judgement, and who ascended to primacy via violent usurpation.
Planet X, you say?! Why that’s the name of Morrison’s penultimate arc on New X-Men! (Named for Magneto’s would-be global hegemony—immediately retconned by Marvel as a drug-addled Xorn plot.) Oh, Hickman, you too-clever fool 😉
A. Never Mind Our “Celestial Resources”—We’re Worthy of “Ascension”
“Celestial resources”?! Are you serious?! This is our one mention in HOX/POX referencing Celestials?! I’ll take it; after all, Hickman must be up to something—to be someday revealed … maybe.
That said, there are quite a few throwaway Easter eggs Hickman continues to pepper through the narrative, never mind his riffing off Clarke’s Childhood’s End and all manner of robot fiction. On page 21, we have wee Nimrod’s reference to the “quiet wars” of the past. Surely this is a callout to one of my favorite novels of the aughts? A criminally overlooked British sci-fi masterpiece by the inimitable Paul McAuley.
In any case, the silly humans have clearly snared a “universal predator”—wholly uninterested in humanity’s “preservation.” No, sillies—you too you nimrod, Nimrod—the Phalanx are going to core you out!
You hoity-toity posthumans and technobots showed the universe what you were capable of alright: delusions of grandeur.
The digested Nimbus has returned, along with its eaters—the Phalanx.
And after their ominous opening statement, their representative continues: “They-[as in the intelligences within Nimbus—composed of a gas giants mass]-fought-for-sovereignty-and-lost-but-we-[Phalanx]-saw-the-whispering-gods-behind-it”
“Whispering-gods”?! Yeah, right, more like mumbling fools! Like the Kree who created their Supremor, the individuals of that species were “SI: 1” on the old galaxy-brain scale. Homo novissima are going to be godlike compared to their Worldmind creation? Pffft!
I don’t know what y’all see, but, re: “Ascension”—I’m gonna say that looks like a hard nope! Real hard.
Apparently, Homo novissima didn’t know about the Phalanx takeover of Kree space a millennium ago? Or perhaps they just believed the techno-organic beings had found the Kree unworthy? Surely they must’ve known they were playing with cold, cosmic fire? Whatever the case, the local universe has seen the effects of a “Babel Spire”—calling down destruction on the unworthy—but no one’s been around to report back on the experience of “Ascension.” My guess—it’s just another kind of annihilation.
[Annihilation: Conquest #1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Tom Raney]
But, hey, the Librarian now realizes that too—as we’ll see when we revisit Year 1000 in POX 6! (Where we’ll see a posthuman sort of remember what a human heart is, which the “preserved” mutants still have, with Moira and Logan still holding the line, after a thousand years of sharing their lifeblood…)
(Poetically and however indirectly, Nimrod—named for the biblical king behind the Tower of Babel—has helped bring on a “Babel Spire” situation—and certainly a mockery of “ascension.” As with the Tower card of the Tarot, take such imagery as a warning of impending disaster, the fiery fall of ambition.)
III. POX3, pages 1-10: Life Nine, Year 100—the Final Act, Prelude
But if machine intelligence is just an inevitable of human evolution, so too appears the human worship of machine intelligence. Enter the Church of Ascendancy, already praying for “Ascension.” (Perhaps Orchis somehow kicks off the beginnings of this thousand-year cyber-philic religion?) Presumably, this hegemony existed in Moira VI’s deep past in a manner not unlike what we find here at the end of Moira IX’s life.
Where the Year 10 nemesis, Orchis, has a stylized orchid as symbol, this Year 100 fascist hegemony is symbolized by a trident-like “W” and an abstractly stylized fist (on the Temple’s near side).
Wait—is that “W” for Warlock?!
[Warlock #7 (2000) cover; Pasqual Ferry pencils]
My hypothesis: Warlock still crash-landed on Earth, of course. But without encountering the New Mutants, it’s our lovable techno-organic mutant who’s responsible, in Moira’s ninth life at least, for this religion. Or that W is just a Hickman Easter egg? I don’t think so. There seems to be something significant here about the absence of Warlock imagery from Moira’s prior lives juxtaposed with the silent emphasis on Doug walking around with a Warlock-sleeve in Year 10. But the mystery is never directly raised in HOX/POX.
Now, unlike Reality-616 Doug’s open-hearted and freely chosen merger with Warlock, the mergers performed by the Church are forced and permanent, a searing of newborn flesh.
Via this techno-priest, Hickman makes a callout to Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost, reversing Satan’s famous line: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Milton was certainly tempted by his own Satan, and so have most readers since, especially the Romantics, reading the epic poem as depicting Heaven as cold light with no heat, a bureaucracy of faceless angels overseen by a dull-voiced but imperious God; and Satan as the flawed human hero of fiery Shakespearean speeches, rebelling against a totalitarian edifice.
And like the traditional Christian worldview, this Church demands its adherents “endure the dichotomy”—of irredeemable body and potentially redeemable soul in Christianity, and of irredeemable biology and “redemptive” revelation of the machine-intelligence godhead for the “Ascendancy.” Presumably, humanity in Year 100 is aware only of the Technarchy as their new gods, with the Phalanx yet to show their hand. Thus, the worship of the “W”—the Technarch Warlock—would make more sense here!
Before moving on to the Year 100 mutants’ endgame, we should really let what the priest is saying sink in, including “the human heretics who still believe that mankind can improve on our flawed design.” Now, I already touched on this reference briefly in our second POX 2 piece, but it’s worth mentioning again that Moira’s ninth life has so much story beyond the page just waiting to be told in future comics—let’s hope! But for the time being, we might imagine “these genetic manipulators and freethinkers” to be any number of Marvel Universe characters, from another iteration of Mr. Sinister to Marvel’s original Silver Age genius, Mr. Fantastic. Regardless, human or metahuman malcontents in this future might embrace the range of approaches and ethics the two abovementioned figures present. Fascinating story possibilities abound!
A. The Sol Mutants’ Last Stand
As we’ll shortly see, half the remaining Sol mutants have gone on a suicide mission as a big distraction.
B. Nimrod Being a Nimrod
For being the center of the world’s machinic superpower, Nimrod is surprisingly disdainful of keeping up with critical security intelligence on the prime threat to the robot hegemony.
But Omega Sentinel brings up an interesting (if unwitting?) point: Mutants still dream; robots never have. There are more mysterious wrinkles to reality than are dreamt of in robot philosophy—because, above all, such a viewpoint has no dreams, no imagination.
After all, what would Nimrod make of Mother Akkaba’s mutant power had he known of it? If Nimrod’s great power is to adapt to and mimic the native abilities of any mutant he’s fully examined, it seems that Moira escaped such scrutiny. Could Nimrod even wholly grapple with such a cosmic ability? Or—maybe Nimrod has and knows more than seems apparent? The “Days of Future Past” version traveled time—so perhaps this one could travel between lives? Who knows? Food for thought going forward, to be sure.