By Zack Quaintance — Last July at San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski announced the company was bringing back its beloved Uncanny X-Men title. The news was vague, with just a glimpse of a familiar Uncanny X-Men logo on a projector screen (eliciting ravenous howls). Cebulski, however, was announcing more than just a comic revival. To me, what happened in that room was an announcement that after roughly a decade-plus of corporate isolation, the company was bringing the X-Men back into the creative fold.
See, the X-Men had fallen out of favor because during dark financial (pre-Disney) times, Marvel Comics sold their movie rights to Fox. It was a different world back then. Comic book movies weren’t worth much. Fox made a successful X-Men film in 2003, and I’m sure at the time Marvel was thrilled—it seemed like a miracle. Then, Marvel figured out how to make its own movies, wanted the rights back, and couldn’t get them. So, into the wilderness the X-Men went, no way Marvel would be investing any resources into generating new IP for a rival (and uncooperative) movie studio. But within the past year, Disney went out and got those rights back. So not only is the publisher reviving the X-Men as a good comic, but its doing so under the leadership of what is for my money the best sci-fi writer working today...in any medium: Jonathan Hickman.
Today, the start of Hickman’s multi-year, three-segment X-Men plan got under way with House of X #1, and my verdict is in: this is a landmark comic, a sample of what is to come, and a mission statement about how thoughtful, complex, and fascinating one can be while at the same time honoring what is beloved about long-running corporate characters. The fact that Marvel hasn’t invested all that many resources—be it in terms of marketing, scope of projects, or just editorial freedom—in the property as of late actually plays to Hickman’s advantage in a couple of ways.
First he is able to easily paper over recent continuity, taking the bits he wants and ignoring the stories that have been inconvenient. I expect an in-story rationale to be given for this, but that’s almost always the case when a creator decides to go a new direction. It’s just that Hickman will be given more leeway and patience. Second, the X-Men have long been a franchise that have thrived when used as a concept to comment on or satirize the real world. And holy hell has the world changed in the 10-years or so where the X-Men have not been prioritized as an important business vertical at Marvel. This all gives Hickman quite a bit to work with, and he has clearly realized how great this opportunity is and given it the thought, care, and hard work it demands to make it special.
What emerges in House of X #1 is a piece of graphic storytelling that is so dense and complex it evokes a compelling new fictional world. Hickman’s choices here dole out just enough information to both tease and orient his readers, caching it all in the organized visionary sci-fi he’s perfected in his decade or so in comics. It’s a confident and dense debut issue that also at the same time manages to feel accessible for most readers. There are classic nods to X-Fans, great use of familiar characters, and yet still a prevailing sense of newness, as if this is finally important again.
While the bulk of the conversation is sure to revolve around the mad genius elements of Hickman’s writing (the glyph language, the global political touches, the plot setups so perfectly crafted to yield narrative fruit for years), he’s also a fantastic writer of individual scenes. Here there’s an exchange between the Fantastic Four in Cyclops that Hickman essentially plays for a metaphor as to how mutants and the wider stable of Marvel superheroes have always interacted. There is a cordial familiarity—these characters have gone into battle together...many times—but there is still something between them. And that something is that vast injustice and persecution have befallen Cyclops and his people. While the Fantastic Four have not been responsible for it, they have perhaps been complacent. It’s a small exchange, but it’s so compellingly layered. Picking the FF was also a really smart choice, given that Sue and Reed’s son, Franklin, is a mutant, which yields one of the best lines in the entire issue.
Phew, I could go on and on about the reasons I liked this issue. Pepe Larraz has grown into an absolute superstar of an artist and is basically colored to perfection here by Marte Garcia. There’s a lot being asked of the art team in this comic, from grappling with complex and wordy ideas to conveying literal new worlds. Larraz and Garcia put forth work that is immersive and as complex as the scripting. It’s also a visually versatile comic, and I’m looking forward to how the work evolves with the story, which is pretty clearly set to unfurl in an increasingly illustrative way.
The last thing I’d like to note here is how expertly the launch of these titles is structured. What we’re getting from this new X-Men is a 12-part weekly series, split among two complementary titles. The function of both books isn’t yet clear, with Hickman having noted previously that each new issue will re-contextualize the one that came before it. In the past, Hickman has often favored a structure in which he has two comics, each following a group of people tackling the same problem in a way that from the outside seems right. Just butting up against each other on which is better. That’s not what’s going on here. Quite simply, we don’t fully know yet what is going on here, but I can’t wait to find out.
Overall: A landmark comic and a mission statement about how thoughtful, complex, and fascinating graphic sequential writing can be while also honoring core concepts of beloved long-running characters.10/10
House of X #1
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Pepe Larraz
Colorist: Marte Garcia
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Marvel Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.