Marvel’s House of X/Powers of X event is complicated, full of references to the X-Men past and hints at the X-Men future. Jonathan Hickman, R. B Silva, and Pepe Larraz are delivering a beautifully rendered and textually dense reinvention of one of the biggest franchises in comics history.
That’s too much for just one comics editor to dig into, so we reached out to the folks at the Xavier Files, whose in-depth annotations of House of X and Powers of X impressed us, educated us, and entertained us. Now you can enjoy the Xavier Files’ Hox Pox Tox right here on Polygon — so crack open your copy of Powers of X #3, and read along! (You can find the first three annotations here).
Powers Of X #3 continues the tale of Rasputin and the X-Men of the X2 timeline, 100 years in the future as they enact a suicidal assault on the Man-Machine Supremacy. They are successful in completing their mission, at great cost. They awaken Moira, transfer all their stolen intelligence on the rise of the Sentinels, and end her ninth life.
Chris Eddleman: Rob, we’re back, but things are not quite as they were. We made a petition using all of our citations, and our jokes, and our observations, and we sent it into deep space. But now, we’ve been accepted into the fold, and we have now ascended to Polygon.
That being said, there’s no time for celebration, as we dive into this next issue of Powers of X (PoX). This is the second half of our double PoX section of these two miniseries, and that likely means we’re going to get something of a miniature conclusion. The last issue ended on three separate cliffhangers, so I’d love to get into it.
Robert Secundus: So far in HoXPoX we’ve witnessed the birth of a new kind of society, we’ve travelled across ten timelines, and we’ve followed a story across a thousand years. In our ToX so far, we’ve looked at everything from the Evangelical Apocalypse to the nature of Hox genes. Every issue has opened not only new narrative questions, but also new thematic avenues to explore. I feel like the doubling of PoX is going to allow us to really focus on diving further into what we’ve seen so far, that finally the elements are starting to cohere, and we can get an idea of what this story really looks like.
[Ed. note: I’m also here to make snarky comments or add reference that these chuckleheads missed.]
CE: The opening quote by Apocalypse here makes me think that he is going to feature in every single one of these timeline points, but I also like the reiterative nature of the full sentence. I know you do religion normally Rob but, this kind of reminds me of the Nicene Creed- “…and his kingdom will have no end.”
RS: That’s a great catch. Overly dramatic, “I am like unto a god” Apocalypse is by far my favorite Apocalypse, far beyond “I don’t really get Darwin” Apocalypse, and slightly beyond “weird sex cult leader” Apocalypse. For the record, what Apocalypse describes here would not be considered eternity, which traditionally applies to things without beginning or end. We’d call this aeviternity.
CE: The Temple of Concordance. Sorry to step on your toes again Rob but, I have to point out that a concordance is an alphabetical list of terms that are searchable within a text (particularly the Bible). Something of an index. Which is what our future X-Men stole back in Powers of X #1. In addition, it’s interesting the interplay of improvement by machine (sacred) vs improvement by genetic manipulation (heretical). It’s an interesting schism of transhumanism, and of course our sci-fi loving author is playing with it.
RS: That schism’s a fun small addition to the concept, and it’s a logical extension of what we’ve seen so far — if your transhuman movement is lead by Sentinels, then of course genetic mutation is going to be seen as evil. Concordance, by the way, can also refer to agreement or harmony — also an appropriate name for a church devoted to the unification of man and machine. “Ascendancy” has two major religious connotations: the ascension of Jesus after his resurrection, and the ascension of the saved during the Rapture. Last issue, “ascension” also referred to the uplift of humanity into the singularity of the Phalanx.
The sermon here also mirrors a few strands of Christianity. The extremely negative framing of human nature calls to mind discussion of Total Depravity, the doctrine held by several Protestant Denominations, that Original Sin has caused man’s fallen nature to be utterly loathsome, disgusting, and totally incapable of acting freely. Compare with the way humanity is portrayed in, for example, Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
The Machine Minister also frames the heretics as Pelagians: “these genetic manipulators and freethinkers would have you believe that fate lies in your own hands”. Pelagius essentially believed in a radically free human will, in the power of individuals, without outside aid, to choose to live a sinless life, and ultimately to achieve salvation in heaven.
RS: This scene seems very clearly meant to be a horrifying version of an infant baptism. HoXPoX has repeatedly used the apocalyptic imagery and ideas of Evangelical Christianity, and here we see again something we noted last issue, a connection between transhumanism and the diabolical. Now, the way the Machine Minister talks about the “dichotomy” reflects Gnostic ideas about humanity. Gnostics generally hold that “something perfect,” the human soul, is “trapped in your flawed human shell,” that is, your body. Finally, the Minister’s concluding remarks invert Satan’s famous declaration in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in hell than serve in Heav’n”.
CE: Rob, I feel like babies really take the brunt of getting techno-organic virus’d. I mean, baby Cable got the techno-organic virus, and now this kid? Just awful baptisms all around. [Ed. note: The wee baby Cable was infected with the techno-organic virus in X-Factor #68.]
RS: Chris, couple a weird details about that baby. We see the moment where the transformation has altered exactly half of the baby’s face, mirroring the Minister’s remarks on duality nicely. But also, look at what’s going on with the Bapto-Orb — that look familiar at all to you?
CE: It really looks like the Phalanx dust from last issue. It made me wonder if somehow the Technarch was here and covertly dealing with a population that wasn’t worthy but that is likely overthinking.
RS: We do know that the Phalanx and Technarcy have visited Earth before, we do know that they tried to create a Babel Spire in Phalanx Covenant, and we have routinely focused on a technological spire/tower in each timeline. We’re probably overthinking things, but not based on nothing here.
RS: We’ve seen a few references to Nietzsche, the philosopher most popularly associated with nihilism [Ed. note: I know he was not a nihilist, don’t @ me] throughout the series before: we’ve seen Magneto embrace Nietzschean ethics, and House of X (HoX) #2 was appropriately named after The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, a novel premised on the Nietzschean doctrine of Eternal Recurrence.
CE: I fixated a little on the reference to apocrypha here, as the biblical motifs abound. Apocrypha meaning extracanonical works to the Bible, which makes me wonder how much this Machine religion evolved from twisted Christianity. The symbolism is honestly all there.
RS: I absolutely agree. And Xorn’s comments concern that twisted Christianity we saw on the previous page: Given Total Depravity, humans can only act freely with grace, and Satan falls in Paradise Lost due to pride.
CE: Xorn could also be using apocrypha to simply mean “not true or valid” which would work as well.
RS: So far, we’ve found that the titles of each issue have likely each referenced a work of literature pertinent to the issue’s content or structure. The title here sounds like a command, but by the issue’s end we’ll see that it’s a reference to Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s Wolverine #1, where Wolverine proclaims for the first time: “I’m the best there is at what I do. And what I do isn’t very nice.”
CE: One of the codes at the bottom refers to END 09. More on this later, folks.
CE: Alright, let’s dig into this cool graphic. The code refers to the 8 surviving Sol mutants, 5 of which are outlined on this page. The Krakoan in the bodies are all “M” on top for mutant, and then each letter corresponds to the word in brackets under each person (P for Pureblood, Ch for Chimera, etc). Of course we get Apocalypse, who is called an External. Externals as a concept have fallen slightly out of favor but they refer to incredibly powerful immortal mutants. This was a big 90s X-Force deal. And Apocalypse can’t be complete without his horseman. [Ed. note: I’m arguably one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on X-Men canon and I couldn’t even explain the Externals to you.]
I was completely wrong in our Powers of X #1 and #2 annotations, this Wolverine is actually Wolverine. The way Apocalypse talked about Wolverine last issue, I would have sworn he was a 1st Gen Chimera. Nice to have Logan with us. Fun fact: Logan was also the Horseman of Death back in the storyline The Twelve. He can just forget about that though. [Ed. note: We all kinda wish we could.]
So it’s now pretty clear our Xorn is the main 616 Xorn with a black hole in his head. [Ed. note: This is the Xorn who pretended to be Magento pretending to be himself from Grant Morrison’s run.]
North is the green armored Magneto look-alike, and it appears from the notes that he has Lorna Dane (Polaris)’s magnetic powers, as well as Emma Frost’s telepathy and maybe diamond skin. This tracks with what we know of 2nd Gen Chimeras, who have two power sets.
Famine is our Doug-Krakoa hybrid, as we found out about last issue.
RS: I am a bit sad that this is likely the last time we’ll see these folks — I love Dougkoa, and Lorna Dane-Emma Frost sounds like an incredibly fascinating character.
CE: The graphic continues, as we see the deceased Cylobel and Percival along with our 3rd Gen Chimeras Rasputin and Cardinal, along with Mother. Nothing new about Rasputin but, Cardinal looks like a combination of powers from Nightcrawler, Jean [Ed. note: Or possibly Rachel … maybe Nate?] Grey.
Freeman is a little confusing. There is a Deadpool villain named Ajax whose real name is Freeman, but he isn’t a mutant. My shot in the dark is Colin Hume, the son of Jacqueline Freeman, who worked for Alpha Flight as Windshear. He had the ability to make air solid. [Ed. note: The guy who financed the X-Statix was also named Spike Freeman, but this probably isn’t him.]
Mother is a mystery at this point, although Akkaba is the clan name for the descendents of Apocalypse.
RS: There’s one little detail in Cardinal’s description that’s odd. He’s listed as “priest,” something Rasputin called him last time. It’s probably not a nickname given where it appears here; is it a formal position? A function? Percival also has something listed in that slot, but it’s a bit more striking: Ghost. Is Percival still hanging out, haunting this issue? Also, given the other “Purebloods” listed, it seems reasonable to assume that Percival is from the generation of mutants we know, which in turn means he might reappear in the 616. Cortez is a fairly common name, but if he has a relation of some kind to current 616 Cortezes, the most likely candidates are longtime X-Villain Fabian Cortez and his whole convoluted family. [Ed. note: There is also Weapon H, Clayton Cortez, a Hulk/Wolverine hybrid.]
CE: Any Hickman comic with the word “incursion” make me jerk my knee immediately, given that in his Avengers/New Avengers run it meant the near impact of different multiversal Earths. As he said last issue, Nimrod can definitely lie, as through this story we’ve gone from him saying humans are equals in their society to angrily killing two of them. And now, he states that it’s high time they’re all dead. What an evil robot.
“…the inevitability of, well…me”
Nimrod channeling Agent Smith from the Matrix. However, what we know from previous issues, the inevitability of AI and Sentinels coming to destroy mutants is the great impediment to mutant flourishing that Moira seems to be trying to prevent as her lives progress.
CE: A lot of talk of the dream here. Doesn’t Nimrod know that it isn’t a dream…if it’s real?
I love the comedic timing on this page. RB Silva makes Omega Sentinel and Nimrod out to be a bickering married couple and it’s fantastic.
RS: The two silent beats! I love it. The dream talk makes me think again of Hamlet, “in the sleep of death, what dreams may come,” etc etc. Though, just like last issue’s Yorick moment, there isn’t enough here to say this passage is intentionally dialoguing with Hamlet, we can say at least that Nimrod is really hamming it up like the Prince.
RS: We talked about the Babel Theme a bit last issue. From before the series began, we knew that language would be important. In HoX #1, Magneto declared that a distinct language can create a distinct culture, and the mutant language became an emblem of the sharp division between mutant and human society. The Omega Sentinel approaches the relationship between language and culture from the opposite direction of Magneto: A distinct culture results in a distinct language. If two people spend too much time apart, if their experiences of the world are too distinct, then even if they have the same words, even if they’ve managed to maintain the same vocabulary, they’ll never be able to truly speak to one another.
CE: Nimrod hits the nail on the head with “some other agenda not yet defined,” as will make more sense later.
CE: Our pacifist hero Cardinal has consumed a “terminal apocalypse seed.” In the past, specifically Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, there have been Death Seeds which were provided by ancient Celestials to Apocalypse. Apocalypse would give these to his Horseman of Death and upon his death the seed bearers would replace him. In this case though, it seems to just allow Cardinal to circumvent his pacifism and cause some real damage, at the cost of his own life. [Ed. note: Rest in peace Cardinal, we will see you when the world is made again.]
RS: I want to say that the antecedent we’re meant to think of here is the personality shift between Angel/Archangel, which extends back to Apocalypse’s original meddling in X-Factor. Also, remember that Cardinal was placed on the Devil tarot card in PoX #1; that card can represent a Faustian bargain, a deal in which some sacrifice is made for power. Here Cardinal has done just that, has taken the death seed and so sacrificed his entire ideology, psychology, and spirituality, for the ability to commit violence before he dies.
CE: Of note, the priest on this page has an “equals” symbol on his shoulder, which we have seen in many data pages. This supports the idea, to me at least, that the data pages are from the Librarian in X3, which to some extent seems to be the ultimate end of the machine cult.
RS: With the brackets and everything! I have a different guess about the data pages and the machine cult, but we’ll talk about that a bit later. For now, I want to point out how the dialogue here concerning the Great Machine is reminiscent of “Rokko’s Basilisk,” a theoretical nigh-omnipotent AI which tortures all of humanity, but particularly those who did not devote themselves to the service of bringing about the AI’s existence.
CE: Omega Sentinel comes down from machine heaven. Her descent is almost angelic here, as the Machine Minister references.
RS: I struggled with the reference to Thebes here, so I called my classicist friend [Ed. note: His name is Paul and he isn’t “online”.], and he reminded me that Thebes was the site of the Valley of the Kings, the Pharaohs’ necropolis. Apocalypse is Eyptian, very into death, and sees himself as a king.
CE: Wolverine calling Dougkoa “kid” in reference to him being a New Mutant honestly warmed my heart. Doug is looking for information on the exact moment Nimrod came online, which will be important later.
CE: Nimrod bringing up the “other agenda” again and boy does he not know the half of it? More later. [Ed. note: Y’all keep promising later but I want it now!]
CE: Man, does science fiction love crystals as a storage device. This really prevalent in shows like Babylon 5, but it’s pretty ubiquitous. [Ed. note: For example, The Kryptonian technology from the Superman films was based around crystals.] Interesting that robots use this instead of something chip based, unless Dougkoa made this himself.
CE: Whatever indeed, Nimrod. I feel like it hasn’t been said enough that making Nimrod a big bad for this comic miniseries was completely out of left field and it’s been absolutely fabulous.
RS: The use of the word “lore” here stands out, especially if we think about Xorn’s previous comments about “apocrypha.” “Lore” isn’t something that the machines we see have any use for. Nimrod shows disdain for human ideas of culture and seems to have perfect recall. Sentinels would not see their own histories become enshrouded in “lore.” This library may then be for (and maintained by) the remaining humans. [Ed. note: But then why would the machines let them?]
RS: I stared so long at this page, wondering what kind of big grand idea about the future and existence was implied by “Do you have any idea what lies at the heart of a real black hole? I’ll give you a hint — it’s where we’re headed … it’s where we’re all headed.” And then I realized that Omega was making a pun — they’re headed for the Singularity.
CE: I thought this was a rather philosophical term for “death” but, there is a theory that instead of a ripping, crushing singularity at the center of each black hole, that there is a portal to another dimension. Considering how much Marvel loves other dimensions anyway, let’s look out for this in the future. [Ed. note: In X-Men #164 a handful of characters jump into Xorn’s black hole, eventually ending up in the Mojoverse of all places.]
CE: Lovely art on Rasputin’s face as she pulls a “say hello to my little friend.” I didn’t notice it at first but, you also get a glimpse of Xorn’s face, and he’s pulling pretty much the same look.
RS: I love Dougkoa’s Cloak power. I guess presumably Doukoa has all of Krakoa’s FlowerPowers — ten year life extension, portals, um, invisibility-to-self, and … possibly giving the human race cancer? [Ed. note: A wild, but oddly believable theory from our first article.]
CE: Apocalypse gets the line here — as soon as he says “…I’ll be right behind you” we know what that means. I like the lack of art signifying Nimrod’s duplication. He simply is … inevitable. As I said earlier, shades of Agent Smith from The Matrix.
RS: A neat detail: just as we saw in PoX #1, when one travels through the Black Flower Portal, one emerges upside down.
CE: This is a fantastic little twist, especially considering it still punched even though we knew exactly what it was. The futility of the mission and urgency of the writing propelled us towards the conclusion, so even though a bunch of us guessed it was coming, it still had a nice impact. In case we didn’t already know, these are some talented creators.
RS: I’m reminded of Lindsey Ellis’ Game of Thrones series analysis, particularly her comments on fulfilled/ subverted expectations and twists. I think a lot of people see twists as good only when they shock, when no one guessed that they were coming, and poor when they’re guessed ahead of time; this reveal demonstrates just how effective a twist can still be even when it’s guessed ahead of time.
RS: If the crystal can plug into Moira, and she can read its data, then Moira IX is possibly part Machine.
CE: Rob, I choose to believe it’s a sugar crystal. Anyway, above, I talk about how this is possibly not machine made. This page talks about how Apocalypse made a way for the information to be force fed into her mind, which makes me wonder about whether or not it’s tech.
RS: And so the title of the issue becomes clear. When the phrase was first decoded, and it when it appeared again as the title, it sounded like a command; instead it’s a kind of reassurance. [Ed. note: Wolverine is the best there is at what he does …]
Something I’ve loved about HoXPoX so far: it seems to be systematically giving each important X-Character a panel or page that is just one badass moment, one iconic celebration of the character; so far Magneto, Moira, Mystique, Destiny, and Cyclops have all had such moments, and now we can add Wolverine to the list.
CE: The last sentence on this page confirms our Moira IX theory fully, and also makes this entire issue, as well as all of X2 take place in between “And Then…” from House of X #2.
CE: We allude back to Apocalypse’s bold statement at the beginning of the book. He is forever…until he isn’t. The code at the bottom reiterates this “long live Apocalypse” mentality.
RS: Before we get to the new details on the timeline, I’d like to point out the coding here is, again, referencing Moira_X. Though, Chris, I really like your theory that the infographics are all from the Far Future Library, this leads me to believe that the infographics we’ve seen so far are part of Moira IX’s Operating System, processing the information she’s received as she dies and then reboots into Moira X. Now, she’ll be born again with no cyborg-parts —but if Apocalypse truly changed her mind when he changed the way she processes information, Moira X might still be, if not physically, mentally part machine.
CE: The wild part of this ending to me is the status of X3. Is it simply the continuation of Timeline IX, or something altogether different? The linker of Cylobel in the femtofluid makes me think that it is simply a continuation of this timeline but, there’s a nagging feeling it’s something else. The mysterious timeline VI perhaps?
RS: The most striking detail here to me was “Avengers World Defeated.” In our discussion of PoX #1, we noted how Avengers Vol 5 #32 featured an Asteroid with a mutant that was nearly identical to Asteroid K. Behind that asteroid, we caught a glimpse of the Avengers World, a world overrun by machines. We know now that the futures in HoXPoX have some relationship to the futures we saw in that arc, though they are not the same futures — that Avengers World would have arisen much later in the timeline. [Ed. note: This could all just be Hickman using a phrase he likes too.]
CE: While this most certainly doesn’t refer to it, Apocalypse War is a title used before (though it was called Apocalypse Wars) in an X-Men event back in 2016. It also involved jaunts in time!
I was interested in the names of the Mutant capital cities. Akkaba is, as I said earlier, the name of the clan of followers and descendents of Apocalypse. Kyr is not a word previously talked about in Marvel but interestingly it means “kiloyear” or a Millennia. Perhaps a statement on how long it would last. [Ed. note: It’s also a power of ten.]
Tian, however, is referred to many times. Tian was the name of a hidden city in China where mutants lived secluded back in Astonishing X-Men Vol 3. It is also the name of Twin Cities founded by Xorn and Zorn from the Ultimate Universe first seen in Ultimate Comics Hawkeye. These were written by Hickman, and boy does he like them. They show up again in an incursion reality in New Avengers also by Jonathan Hickman. Finally, New Tian was a temporary mutant nation in the western US, which was formed as an agreement between Captain America [Ed. note: The Hydra one] and Magneto in Secret Empire.
RS: Also of note: the second Annihilation Wave! HoXPoX ties into an event that hasn’t happened yet! [Ed. note: However Marvel is putting out a new Annihilation event later this year.]
CE: The first Annihilation Wave being the invasion of Annihilus from the Negative Zone with a giant galaxy-threatening army back in the event Annihilation.
CE: The Krakoan reads: “Once more unto the breach.” Looks like we’re finally going to be back to our X-Men.
CE: The Krakoan reads: “It will be done.” Harkening back to the great line from Cyclops in Powers of X #2.
CE: Wow, this issue was not what I expected. While you and I, and many others had talked about the possibility of this big twist, it came on so fast I nearly fell out of my chair reading it. I was honestly surprised that this installment honed in so hard on one particular timeline, but it seems unlikely that we’ll see it again so it did a great job wrapping up. I loved the desperation of our heroes in this issue, and after the twist, we finally saw why they would give anything. The act of giving up your life for the possibility of another better timeline allows for a fascinating and desolate plot point, and we’ll have to see how Moira uses this in the timelines to come (other than Nimrod information, which has already been alluded to).
But while this issue was a great read, and an excellent conclusion to our X2 crew, I really can’t wait to see my X-Men again. We’re basically assured of this in the next two issues, and it’s going to be great to see the crew in action.
RS: I feel the same way. I’ve had a great time with these timelines, ideas, and characters, but I really want to see more of the folks we know in their new nation. I want to see more Cyclops and Magneto, but also Emma Frost, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler, Storm, Bishop, Quire, and most of all, our perfect waxy child Glob, who has been so far devastatingly absent from all materials. [Ed. note: Please return our Glob to us Mr. Hickman, we miss him so.]
Robert Secundus is an amateur angelologist-for-hire.