This week on The Marvel Rundown we’re taking a break from our traditional format for a piece all about one of Marvel’s most important releases of the coming months. It’s no secret that recent X-Men reboots haven’t had a lot of staying power as of late, and our resident X-Men X-Pert Alexander Jones takes a look at why Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, R.B. Silva, and Marte Gracia’s upcoming pair of mini-series, House of X and Powers of X, matter so much for the X-franchise, and for the publisher as a whole. You aren’t going to want to miss The Marvel Rundown!
Marvel has squandered the potential of the X-Men over the past couple years of publishing output. The heyday of the franchise was a few decades ago, stemming from the fabled reboot of Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975 written by Len Wein and illustrated by Dave Cockrum. The new era of the franchise continued when writing duties were passed over to author Chris Claremont and Cockrum in Uncanny X-Men #94. Claremont’s time writing the X-Men spanned decades and several different titles. However, since Claremont’s departure, the title has suffered from a lack of focus. Over the past couple years there have been numerous line-wide reboots of the entire franchise, including Extraordinary X-Men #1 in 2015, X-Men Gold and X-Men Blue #1 in 2017, and the most recent Uncanny X-Men #1 in 2018. Towards the beginning of the 2000s, there was an impressive line-up of X-Men comics with Grant Morrison’s New X-Men in 2001 and Astonishing X-Men in 2004. Brian Michael Bendis’s All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men brought some inspired new ideas to the franchise in 2013. However, the recent string of rushed plot beats has deflated the momentum of the franchise. The two arguably biggest X-Men, Cyclops and Wolverine, were recently brought back from the dead with either little or muted fanfare.
Enter acclaimed Marvel writer Jonathan Hickman. Hickman is a big idea-oriented writer that has carried some incredibly successful runs to the finish line like his beloved Fantastic Four run. The big universe-shaking ideas and plot twists in his previous works are backed by huge emotion. The plot twist and betrayal in New Avengers #6 was a surprising, cathartic moment that paid off towards the end of the run. Hickman captured a profound character beat with the harrowing grin of Doctor Doom adjusting to his new life in Secret Wars #9. Hickman’s level of wide-eyed enthusiasm brought S.H.I.E.L.D. to an unforgettable conclusion. The character death executed in Fantastic Four #587 is one of the deaths in Big Two comics that caught the right amount of emotion out of a big plot beat.
When Marvel first announced that Hickman was taking over the X-Men franchise it almost seemed too good to be true. Hickman has been absent from Marvel since 2016 and there were rumors surrounding the writer resurfacing at DC. In March, the publisher let the proverbial cat out of the bag when Hickman was named as the writer behind yet another X-Men reboot. Marvel’s marketing material for the title featured an incredibly detailed and fascinating promotional image covered head-to-toe with new versions of classic X-Men characters drawn by Mark Brooks. Marvel was bringing a huge writer back to one of their most popular franchises in dire need of a facelift. More recent storylines and relaunches from Marvel strove to bring readers back to a more simple, tried-and-true nature for the X-Men with little success. Brooks’s impressive teaser image appears to show the publisher committing to a truly new status quo.
Marvel appears to have let Hickman retain a strong level of creative control over the property according to a recent interview he conducted at ComicBook.com. The publisher paired the writer with some of the best up-and-coming illustrators in the industry, including line artists Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva and colorist Marte Gracia. Hickman has described his two debut series as dual narratives that will align at the end of both books. The writer described House of X as taking place over “a pivotal month in the history of the X-Men,” while Powers of X is shining the spotlight on the history of mutants. Hickman teased in that very same interview that both titles are going to usher in a new X-Universe. The promotional material has been teasing another new entry point once both of the July-debuting mini-series conclude. It seems clear that there is a huge plan for the franchise. Getting such a distinct status quo shake-up and new roster of talent is nothing to scoff at. Lately, Marvel’s publishing output has arguably lacked some of the ambition and big ideas that Hickman’s brand new roster of characters and artistic talent are promising. Recent debuts for big characters like Spider-Man and the Avengers have brought the initial characters back to their most basic status quos for storylines that feel too familiar.
The House of X and Powers of X reboot is promising huge ideas right from page one with a litany of ambitious characters and content in the books themselves. There are so many disparate X-Men threads lying throughout The Marvel Universe, and it finally feels like Hickman is intent on weaving them together. I personally have been dying of anticipation to see X, the resurrected Charles Xavier from the recent Astonishing X-Men series, return to the franchise. Pivotal X-Men characters like Cyclops were dead for years, and Marvel doesn’t seem like they had a solid reason for bringing Scott Summers back based on some of the content from recent Uncanny X-Men issues. Following the Return of Wolverine miniseries, Logan has been hardly more than a ghost since his sudden return to the land of the living. After observing the dissolution of X-Men Red, it is even difficult to see where Jean Grey fits into the shared X-universe. Marvel has needed to publish an ambitious new storyline tying the large number of resurrections together in order to make some of the huge recent changes to the property feel truly earned. With so many big changes over the past couple of months and no direct hook to tie them together, Hickman is going to have his work cut out for him in trying to make sense of it all.
The content and teasers surrounding House of X resemble a title willing to push the franchise forward while including an interesting story. Even though continuity is an asset to the X-Men franchise as a whole, Hickman and Marvel need to take great care in not getting too caught up on what came before and avoiding the continuity traps that so many X-Men writers fall into. The debut of the history-oriented Powers of X #1 would be a red flag if not for the cover. The cover introduces tons of new ideas and concepts while carrying a creatively-arranged piece of art. The announcement that readers are finally going to see the new X-Men line in full at San Diego Comic-Con further shows Marvel treating the revival like a big-budget, ambitious new approach to a franchise out of ideas. To say there’s a lot riding on the debut mini-series would be a massive understatement. Thankfully Hickman has been paired with the excellent Avengers: No Surrender artist Pepe Larraz for House of X and underappreciated X-Men artist R.B. Silva in Powers of X. The colors from Marte Gracia on both books already appear to be impressive based on the teaser art. Marvel’s mutants have been chasing their tails for years, existing on the fringes of the publisher, trying to recapture older moments of glory. Hopefully, House of X and Powers of X #1 are the start of an X-Men universe that is willing to embrace the present instead of lingering in the past.
Next week, we’re back to reviewing as the X-Men train keeps rolling with Ed Piskor’s X-Men: Grand Design – X-Tinction #1!