I. POX3, pages 11-25: “This Is What You Do”
A. Black Hole Sun
At first, it looks like the four diversionary X-Men attacking the Church of Ascendancy are winning. But they’re really just pressing their advantage of surprise while they can, knowing this is a last desperate act. Even Cardinal—“pushed to the brink”—knows this, having eaten “a terminal apocalypse seed” in order to fight till the end.
Previously: More in the Hickman X-Men Re-Read!
It’s still appalling that Homo sapiens has so readily given in to being subsumed by “the Great Machine.” But then again, humanity has always been a quick study in adapting to variously horrific systems and ideologies! And the Omega Sentinel Karima Shapandar of Year 100 has apparently been happy to oblige:
(It makes you wonder what the current Omega Sentinel of Reality-616 Year 10 is planning…)
But Xorn’s own ideological yen for “sweet annihilation” is on the verge of fulfillment. I hadn’t recalled before that this Xorn is in fact modeled on the Ultimate universe version, also created by Hickman back in his Ultimate Comics Ultimates run, 2011-2012 (which, incidentally, also introduced 1610 Reed Richards as the Maker, with his Children of Tomorrow—very much analogous to the Children of the Vault).
[Ultimate Comics Ultimates #5, Brandon Peterson art]
The Ultimate/1610 Zorn was an “Eternal”—not to be confused with the 616 Kirby Eternals—not a mutant! In fact, these Eternals and their “Celestial” counterparts were Earth-made posthumans. But like Y100 Xorn, his signature power was his cephalic singularity—somehow held back by his mask! (The Ultimate Xorn is also a contrast to his Celestial brother Xorn Shen, who hides a sun behind his metal face—which confusingly switches the attributes of the 616 brothers!)
In Ultimate Comics Ultimates #9, Zorn heads his own suicide mission against the Children of Tomorrow, which ends with him unleashing a black hole against the invading Children’s massive vessel. This is exactly what, in issue #8, Zorn’s brother had boastfully predicted of him: “He will feast on these Children.”
[Ultimate Comics Ultimates #9, Esad Ribic art]
This fatalistic but heroic act of self-annihilation is repeated here in Year 100 as Omega Sentinel thinks she’s called the remaining two X-Men on their bluff. But Omega’s wrong on both counts: they do have something to hold on to, and they will unleash mass death for it. After all, the Sol mutants know this timeline is almost done.
Now, if this black hole is like what we see in the Ultimates, it’s not going to eat the Earth—but in our reality, it most certainly would, in time. But then again, the Xorn brothers’ power sets make no sense anyway—ha! Neither does 1610 Zorn’s singularity come with any suggestion that there’s something survivable much less structured beyond its event horizon. But here in Year 100, there’s a strong suggestion that there is something that might be otherwise than an extremely painful death—as will be confirmed in the data entry on page 26 of POX 5.
So—it’s possible that we’re seeing Rasputin, Zorn, and Omega corporeally destroyed and reconstituted—somehow—on the other side of this singularity’s event horizon? Hey, if you can make the pseudo-science work for ya, Jonathan!
For anyone interested in such big sci-fi ideas, you might be interested in checking out novelist Paul McAuley and his Quiet War series (mentioned in the last HOX/POX post). The third and fourth novels are set centuries from now, and as worldbuilding backdrop, there are inscrutable intelligences that have created their own singularities to dwell inside, apparently cut off from the rest of the universe. The hand-wavy logic might be different, but it might’ve been an inspiration to Hickman? (McAuley’s early novel Eternal Light more directly deals with cosmological transcendence in science-fictional terms.)
B. The Smell of Thebes
Presumably, En Sabah Nur is referring here to the large necropolis of the ancient Egyptian city Thebes. These archives, in other words, are a tomb of the dead, or the Earth’s past—stolen from humanity (including mutantkind) for Nimrod’s use—ultimately for the dead-end “man-machine” lineage.
Also, it’s funny that Logan calls Krakoa-Doug “kid.”
But I wonder where this information crystal came from. Did he produce it himself and download the data onto it, or was it already stored like that in the archives? Whatever the case, it’s something that Moira had to be able to absorb into her techno-organic body. (Again, whether it’s in the much anticipated Moira X mini or some other series focused on the “Apocalypse War,” there’s so much to this world that’s crying out to be told—with R. B. Silva on pencils, of course!)
When Nimrod finally—belatedly—arrives, he/it seems genuinely surprised. Everything in this “necropolis” is just “old data and machine lore”—which might include the history of the world’s destruction under Nimrod’s heel? That might be meaningless to the robots, but not to the conquered and devastated.
Here, Apocalypse makes his last stand, sending Logan ahead with the data crystal. Amazingly, Krakoa-Doug opens up a gateway inside himself. It’s very, um, well—Krakoa-Doug’s beard manages to sort of blossom. And that’s so neat! Doug always was the open heart of New Mutants, and here, melded with Krakoa, he’s clearly the innocent soul of what had remained of the Sol mutants.
Now, some readers might wonder why Apocalypse hasn’t figured out how to use the machinic hegemony to his advantage in some way. After all, if he’s all about the “survival of the fittest,” shouldn’t he have ditched his fellow mutants in favor of working with the machines? And don’t forget, for millennia his body has been techno-organic, ever since he found that Celestial tech in a cave in Ancient Egypt.
Well, arguably, Hickman is already beginning to recharacterize Apocalypse here, especially since he will clearly be playing a major role in the Krakoa era. His motivations will undoubtedly be recontextualized and shifted.
But it’s also worth bearing in mind that in the Phalanx’s initial appearance in the 1994 Phalanx Covenant, the primary reason these techno-organic aliens need to eliminate mutants is that they while they grow and propagate by absorbing organic life, they cannot successfully absorb Homo superior. And while the Phalanx haven’t appeared in Year 100, Moira—having clearly revealed her true nature to the Sol mutants—very likely told them, or at least Apocalypse, everything about the Phalanx arriving in Year 1000 of her sixth life.
It’s also likely that Celestial techno-organicism wouldn’t mesh well with the Phalanx, either.
Again—I wonder if the Celestials are aware of how Apocalypse has put their tech to use!
In any case—poor Logan! This is the first time we see him killing Moira—here, a kind of mother figure (which, given 616 Moira’s history as a mother, should certainly be explored in its own essay). In POX 6, though, we see him kill Moira in her sixth life, Year 1000. As Moira tells him: “This is what you do.”
Both instances recall the famous scene in the penultimate arc of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, where Logan and Jean Grey are trapped on Asteroid M and hurtling toward the Sun. Desperate to spare her dying slowly and in excruciating pain, he kills her—unexpectedly awakening, as is revealed two issues later in 150, the Phoenix within her. Under Phoenix Jean’s power, they return to Earth to save the day—human and mutant alike.
[New X-Men #148, pencils by Phil Jimenez]
So, the end of Moira’s sixth life here seems somewhat like an homage. (Still, poor Wolverine!) After all, Moira herself is going to reawaken—with a much bigger plan to save her people.
We’ll go ahead and look below at some burning questions raised by Moira’s many lives. But first, just think about it: All the loss Moira has experienced and left behind. She is a walking necropolis, her stories of death sealed behind her poker face, not unlike the mysterious shell of her sarcophagus.
Where Moira X walks, the dogs of Anubis trot by her side, eternally.
C. Epigraph: “With Blood on My Sword”
Apocalypse with a sword? That’s unusual!
But way back in S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (2010)—written by Hickman—we do see En Sabah Nur holding a sword as he stands with other heroes of the time against a Brood invasion landing in Ancient Egypt. And, really, going back to most of his appearances in his native milieu, as seen primarily in the ’90s, he wields a variety of bladed weapons.
[S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, Dustin Weaver pencils and inks]
In this image, the sword the big guy is holding doesn’t look like those we see in the POX 4 flashback, where Apocalypse has clearly already been transformed by Celestial tech. But they do look like the one held by the man standing in front of him in Ancient Egypt. Who knows!
Regardless, both stories refer to heroes selflessly “standing in the gap” against overwhelming invading forces. Apparently, it’s a theme with Hickman—that and swords, maybe!
II. Taking Stock and Raising Questions
A. Finding Patterns across Moira’s Lifetimes
There’s something to the pattern of Moira’s lives as they’ve been so far depicted—which, really, has been little more than provocative teasing. So, there’s not a lot that can be said at this point, but for now it’s worth looking at the major antagonistic element clearly present in most of her lifetimes: genocidal machines.
Let’s make a rough map of it:
Lives 1-3: No Sentinels depicted (and no other metahumans in Life 1)
Life 4: Sentinels depicted at Year 55, killing Moira
Life 5: Sentinels depicted at Year 43, putting Moira in a terminal coma (making us wonder about the state of her mind during that last year)
Life 6: No information on machine intelligence until Year 1000
Life 7: Sentinels depicted in “wild” (autonomous?) production at Year 49, when Moira’s discovery kills her
Life 8: No Sentinels depicted, only superheroes, including mutants, adversarial to Magneto, Years 27-35
Life 9: No Sentinels depicted before Apocalypse War (beginning Year 42); Nimrod online at Year 50; myriad Sentinels ongoing until Moira’s death in Year 123
Life 10: Presumably, Sentinels first appeared in the current Reality-616 when Moira was in her early 30s; Moira faked her death at Year 48
So, starting with Lives 4, 5, and 10—each of which has some form of X-Men—it looks like Sentinels arrive fairly early. Costumed mutants exist in Life 2, but that’s all we know about metahumans in that lifetime.
Life-Seven Moira has to go looking for them. But it’s then that she discovers the rise of the machines is inevitable no matter what she—or any other individual—does or doesn’t do. However, it doesn’t seem like this discovery in the “wild” would have been the first appearance of Sentinels in Life Seven.
In Life Two, she does not meet Xavier on a park bench, though seeing him on television in her early 40s, she vaguely recalls him as a classmate. This means that, given her eidetic memory, she certainly never interacted with him. She really sees him for the first time as he tells the world he’s a mutant and refers to masked and costumed mutants. Are there Sentinels? Probably? But we can’t say for sure. This would be around the time of the “Brood Saga” in Life Ten, and this current lifetime Xavier’s public announcement doesn’t occur until well after Moira’s faked death—and when it was Cassandra Nova controlling his actions.
The important points, then: If Life-Two Xavier makes this announcement with Moira having no clear effect on his own life trajectory at this point that means he also makes this speech in Life One!
While the quietude of Life One makes sense, it doesn’t reflect the world beyond rural Scotland.
In Life Three, Mystique and Destiny are active clandestine operatives around the same time they first show in Moira’s tenth life as the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, in “Days of Future Past.” So without Moira, something like X-Men and their traditional antagonists still seem to exist in some form.
But it’s interesting that in her eighth and shortest life, we don’t see Sentinels. It’s reasonable to presume that shaping Magneto so early on significantly changed the otherwise ordinary course of things—and accelerated conflict, chaos, and catastrophe.
In Life Nine, she amps it up.
In other words, after Life Seven—upon accepting that the machines of mutant death were inevitable—Moira became an accelerationist.
Until that—inevitably—backfired. And she came up with a more subtle and cautious game plan for her current and probably last life.
In Life Five, Xavier dies among his kind in hiding on Faraway around the same time he openly addresses the world in Life 2. Even there, Moira is accelerating the rate of change in the world.
So far, prior to the present life, Moira has had the biggest outward effect in helping to accelerate the end of both mutantkind (in Lives 3, 4, 5, and probably 7)—and human civilization generally (certainly in Life 9—though thwarted in 8).
In Life Ten, however, Moira has in fact done much better. Something about her relationship with Xavier this time around has prevented their annihilation by Sentinels. We don’t know really what it was, though. Presumably, it had to do with different levels of secrecy—but who knows at this point.
However, this relative success doesn’t mitigate the tragedy of her suffering the abuse of her husband—whom she married to produce an Omega-level mutant. Which she succeeded in doing. But only recently has Proteus’ existence proven crucial to the security and survival of mutantkind.
But one of her major successes exclusive to Life Ten Moira had already actively undermined years before.
Her only great and clearly avoidable blunder was tinkering with Magneto’s mind while he was de-aged and kept at her research facility—a retcon of Uncanny X-Men #104 (1977) introduced in X-Men #1-3 (1991), both by Claremont. It wasn’t successful, per the later story, but he did find out about it! A betrayal of trust! Thus, Magneto’s schism with Xavier and Moira at Year 47 (read 1991!). (And 2019 is Year 52?! Why not! After all, Year 31 is probably sometime in the early 1960s, publication-wise. Makes perfect sense, sure!)
Now, who knows what blunders she’s currently making, right?
B. More Speculative Wonderings
You may be wondering, given Moira’s fourth life, which seems to resemble her present life most closely, shouldn’t she have forewarned Xavier about such catastrophic events as Secret Wars, Infinity Gauntlet, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign, Secret Empire, etc.? Well, taking another cue from Claire North’s novel, sound reasons for “noninterference,” i.e., redacting the timeline, become quickly apparent.
Significantly, the events listed above weren’t instigated or catalyzed by mutant involvement in world affairs. More importantly, as in Harry August and more conventional time-travel tales, a traveler displaced in time could unwittingly cause severe damage through unknowable side-effects.
Let’s eschew the tired example of killing baby Hitler—which would’ve in reality done nothing to prevent or stop the virulent anti-Semitism thoroughly seeded throughout a society that was already proto-fascist before Hitler’s birth and festering in the utter ruination wrought by WWI, the Versailles Treaty, and—a decade later—the Great Depression. Here’s a fresh take instead: How about bringing persuasive knowledge of climate change and renewables back to the 19th century? Okay. That sounds really cool on its face. But—where would the time-traveler go with this revolutionary platform? What nation? What political class? Who first? If it’s nigh impossible to find political will for needed global structural changes now—what luck for well-intentioned fools traveling backward in time? None! Catastrophe!
That’s why in Claire North’s novel, the immortal Ouroborans impose severe proscriptions on themselves when it comes to tampering with the closed loop each one lives confined to. (True hell here would be having an eidetic memory—never forgetting any moment of this endlessly circular existence.)
So I’d argue on these reasons alone for Moira’s focus on very subtly working to prevent the destruction of her people. (There’s also the notion that the X franchise is a more coherent story-world when our attention isn’t drawn away by the wider Marvel universe.)
But here’s the thing—from what we’ve seen of her prior lives, Moira has never hesitated to radically change the reality she keeps reiterating into. But even currently, the likelihood is that Wanda’s Decimation might have been exclusive to this tenth life. But if it did occur during, say, her fourth life, why didn’t she warn Charles in Life Ten? Remember, the penultimate image presenting her fourth life depicts the same mutants possessed by the Phoenix as occurred in 2012’s AvX, and it’s captioned “The Lost Decade”—which is darkly funny and satisfying to longtime readers, but is it anything more than a fourth-wall-breaking address? In-universe, it’s hard to say exactly what it means.
And yet she’s surely met the Phoenix?!
Still, in Life Four, there’s no Proteus, no Legion, no very marital alliance with Xavier. The Phoenix is probably inevitable—not manageable, though!
Would Wanda necessarily become the “Great Pretender”? Impossible to say. If Moira had known that Magneto’s presumably inevitable protégé (I’d like to say his daughter for certain!) was such a huge risk, surely, she would’ve sought her early death in Life Ten???
At the very least, you’d think she’d have warned Xavier about dealing with Apocalypse—but then you recall that she woke the ancient hibernating mutant early in Life Nine; we don’t know if or when he appeared during the span of her previous lives. But it seems in the current lifetime, they were both caught flat-footed: Why would they have allowed the newly formed X-Factor to go up against Apocalypse on their own?—Assuming they’d known it was a serious possibility.
Leaving aside these events that only seem initially to present the HOX/POX narrative with serious difficulty, let’s turn to meatier questions Hickman will have to answer in time. The apparent absence of major events familiar to Reality-616 doesn’t mean they didn’t happen in previous lives, but then, maybe it was a decision in Life Ten that had the unpredictable side-effect of kicking off House of M or the Terrigen Bomb—which latter disaster was a Hickman-authored event!
Go back earlier, though: Did Moira break Life-Ten Xavier’s brain after flooding his mind too many times with the crushing mass of her eidetic memories? Thus would Onslaught be explained. And presumably, she had never experimented on a baby Magneto before, which when he eventually finds out causes Magneto to split from his alliance with Moira and Xavier and to become their bitter enemy (again) in X-Men #1 (1991).
However, it is hard to see how Moira would’ve done anything to cause even the activating circumstances of Dark Phoenix and—almost just as crucially—Inferno.
The biggest risk Hickman has taken is also potentially one of the story’s most satisfying aspects. If he can answer most of these questions in a way that satisfies our need for a holistically sensible way for this retcon to work, it will be stunning. To be clear, I think the setup is impeccable and sensibly reasoned as we have it. What readers can’t predict is how he’ll integrate specific pieces of revisionary continuity. But it is exciting.
Next: Mission to the Sun, Year 10 (and Sabretooth in the Pit)