For the first time in Hickman’s run, “House of X” #3 gives readers traditional X-Men adventure but makes us empathize with the X-Men’s enemies. Warning: spoilers ahead.
Written by Johnathan Hickman
Illustrated by Pepe Larraz
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Design by Tom Muller
Superstar writer Jonathan Hickman (AVENGERS, SECRET WARS, FANTASTIC FOUR) continues reshaping the X-Men’s world with Marvel Young Gun artist Pepe Larraz (EXTERMINATION, AVENGERS)!
“House of X” #3 sees the X-Men headed off into a mission to prevent their imminent destruction by those who hate and fear them. The classic X-Men premise in a way we have not really seen it before. Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, Clayton Cowles, and Tom Mueller follow Hickman into the breach as the X-Men make their way to The Orchis Forge.
With “House of X” #3 being a little lighter on the high concept sci-fi that has defined the two-in-one series, we have been treated to a number of great character moments. Early in the issue Hickman gets a chance to look at Scott Summers and touch on what has made him a really interesting character over the last decade with the encouragement of him being remembered as a founder of a nation which really gets at the martyrdom and radicalization that Cyclops has been through in the Extinction and Mutant Revolutionary eras in previous years. Hickman understands that Scott is not only the X-Men’s top soldier but one of the mutants most dedicated to the future of his people.
While Hickman gets Scott’s characterization, he GETS Emma Frost, the White Queen. Larraz, Gracia, and Hickman absolutely nail Emma’s introduction into this series. The five panels of Sabertooth smelling the wealth in the air and telling his counselor he’s fired to Emma and her Cuckoos bursting in on the next page just radiates such a powerful energy that if a new reader didn’t know who Emma was before this panel, they do now.
Emma’s flex on the American judicial system is also indicative of a shift in dynamics of mutants and humans that Hickman has threaded throughout “House of X” so far. From the beginning of these two series, mutants under the nation of Krakoa have shown that they will simply not be governed by humans or their laws. Emma’s confrontation with Tolliver (which is a familiar name in the X-Canon) illustrates the fact that humans really cannot do much to stop mutants, and mutants know this and are using it in the service of their self-determination as a group of people. Emma’s line, “It’s a brave new world, darlings…best get used to it.” echoes Magneto’s proclamation that humans have new gods now. Mutants have always had powers, but Hickman makes them powerful within the Marvel Universe
To support this power shift, Hickman places humans on the backfoot in “House of X” #3. A line from Marvel Girl gets at the humans at the Orchis Forge’s mentality, “They’re just scientists scared of their own future.” Hickman goes out of his way to build empathy for the scientists who are effectively working on weapons for genocide. The Orchis Forge is on the backfoot. The X-Men, their boogeyman, know about what they are up to before it’s online, and are at the door to stop it. The doctor’s Gregor and Mendel (heh) are written as afraid and without hope and as readers, it is odd to empathize with them. The focus on their fear is incredibly intentional by Hickman, Larraz, Gracia, and Cowles which is evident in a small panel with one of the doctor’s quietly remarking “dammit,” mourning of their fate.
Only being halfway through the series, we can only speculate the purpose of this dynamic. There is a corner of fans who see the X-Men as becoming something more sinister (not that one but he’s coming) but mutandom is just not taking it anymore and even in history oppressed groups directly challenging the structures that oppress them creates a lot of fearful reactionary responses. Real-world responses just need to look at how Black Lives Matter protests are depicted as riots by news media or the Black Panthers arming themselves against police brutality put their leaders on the FBI’s hit list. Hickman’s exploration of this fear that people in power feel at their power slipping away avoids a feeling of “good people on both sides” primarily because of our knowledge of the X-Men and that Sentinels lead to genocide. “House of X” #3 benefits from the “Mutant Metaphor” to explore the “other side’s” emotional investment in the believed survival of their way of life in a way that would be a hard sell outside of the context of the X universe.Continued below
Larraz and Gracia are a true force on “House of X” #3. Both Larraz and “Powers of X” artist, R.B. Silva are both visually inspired by Stuart Immonen and they wear that inspiration on their sleeves but Larraz’s use of screen tones to create depth and incredibly detailed linework in creating scenery sets him apart. Marte Gracia’s colors are spectacular in creating tone and atmosphere in this issue. Scenes on the Orchis Forge always feel drenched in sunlight and Gracia accomplishes this by taking Larraz’s linework and creating reflections of the light on characters. Clayton Cowles lettering is excellent in this issue and has the most room to shine in Sabertooth’s courtroom scene. It wouldn’t be a “HoXPoX” without Tom Muller’s design work that sets this series apart from anything else on the stands. While “House of X” #3 does not feature any graphics just as memorable as Muller’s life charts in “House of X” #2 and “Powers of X” #4, there is a great chart that recaps the events in the latter issue in addition to a number of excellently designed pages detailing the Omega Sentinel process.
Overall “House of X” #3 finally gets the X-Men into the action but in ways that feel very different because of Hickman’s shift of the human/mutant power dynamic. Hickman uses this issue to do some needed character work which is the highlight of the issue. Gracia, Larraz, Cowles, and Hickman pull off the set up for the attack on the Orchis Forge in a way that grips readers and hopefully will lead us directly into next week’s “House of X” #4.
Final Verdict: 8.9 – A great issue of the X-Men in action that twists where our sympathies lie as readers to create a new twist on a classic mutant scenario.