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Aug 8

House of X #2 annotations

Posted on Thursday, August 8, 2019 by Paul in x-axis

So this is the huge high-concept retcon.  Spoilers ahead, as if that wasn’t obvious.  (Again, I’m using the page numbers in the digital edition.)

COVER (PAGE 1): There’s quite a lot going on in this set of triangles..  There are six different versions of Moira in the centre, each presumably representing a different one of her lives, though some of the images would fit as well with more than one.  We’ll come to the big idea in detail later on, but the six Moira shown on the cover are (clockwise from top) Moira VII, the Trask hunter; Moira IX, the Apocalypse ally; Moira in a lab coat and glasses, which could be one of several incarnations; Moira X, the current version; Moira in the clothes we see her wearing in the Oxford pub in several of her lives; and a normally-dressed Moira who doesn’t seem to match any of the ones in the issue.  In the background, for some reason, there’s a picture of a fingerprint – perhaps just to emphasise that they’re all the same person.

Surrounding her are Magneto, in his current costume; Cyclops; Emma Frost, Professor X (classic version); Wolverine; and Marvel Girl.  Moira X is adjacent to Xavier, which seems to make sense, but the others seem more random, at least at this point.  In the outer spaces are the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Apocalypse, and what appears to be the face of one of his henchmen.  The two pictures in the top left are obscured by the House of X logo, but the solicitation art shows that it’s Nimrod and a Sentinel.

PAGE 2: A quote from Apocalypse.  This doesn’t come from the issue itself – in fact, Apocalypse only gets two pages in the issue, and no lines of dialogue.  It’s standard Apocalypse fare – he’s offering to reward someone with power for surviving, presumably Moira IX.

PAGE 3: This issue consists of an overview of nine of Moira’s ten lives (the sixth one is skipped over).  A timeline graphic at the end expands on them, so I’ll pick up those points as we go.  We begin with the entirely mundane life of Moira I.  We don’t see enough context to get much of her family background, but the cross on her bedroom wall suggests religion.  Traditionally, Moira is supposed to be the daughter of a nobleman and (ahem) a “clan chieftain”, but Hickman is downplaying that heavily here in favour of giving her a very ordinary life as a schoolteacher.

The timeline graphic confirms that her maiden name is still Kinross.  The present day is shown (in her current life) as year 52, so apparently Moira is born in the late sixties on the current timeline.  This Moira doesn’t go to Oxford, but still meets Xavier anyway at the age of 17.  The most significant point about this scene is that Moira is clearly happier in this timeline than in any of the ones that follow it, though admittedly lives 3, 4 and 5 go reasonably well for her up to the point where she dies.  Life 6 is a mystery at the moment, and lives 7 to 9 go really rather badly for her… and indeed for everyone else.

PAGES 4-9: The life of Moira II, interspersed with the credits (“The Uncanny Life of Moira X”) and two data pages that are really just direct narration to explain the plot.  Unlike the normal data pages, this uses bold and italics for emphasis in the same way as the dialogue scenes.  They’re also the only data pages in this issue apart from the closing timeline (though it’s huge)  The enormous retcon here is that Moira is a mutant, and her only power is that every time she dies, her life starts over again with a complete memory of what went before.  It’s Groundhog Life, basically.  It’s unclear at this stage whether every new life creates a fresh divergent timeline, or whether Moira simply keeps rewriting the same one again and again – the narrator talks about “the path of her life … diverg[ing]” when she chooses to change events that she remembers, but that’s not quite the same thing.

According to the timeline, Moira II enrols in the Edinburgh Academy at the age of eight (the marker seems at first sight to show Moira I as well, but the different colour when it crosses the line is apparently intended to show that it only relates to Moira II).  Given her traditional aristocratic background and the age, the implication seems to be that she was sent to boarding school in response to her childhood protege status.  The Edinburgh Academy is a (real) private school in Edinburgh, which doesn’t have a boarding house any more, but did back in the 70s.  Unfortunately, what it didn’t have until 2008 was girls (not at Moira’s age, anyway).  Oh well.  Interestingly, none of the later Moiras go to Edinburgh Academy, even the ones who stick on the path of going to Oxford.

There’s a suggestion here that Moira was steered towards academia because she was mistaken for a prodigy, but her extra lifetime alone wouldn’t make her a scientific genius, so I think we’re supposed to take it that the aptitude is still genuine.  This Moira is the first to go to Oxford University (an established part of her backstory), and there’s a passing mention of her meeting “some interesting people” there – apparently not including Charles Xavier, whom she only barely remembers later.  Moira is finally inspired to pay attention to mutant affairs when Xavier comes out as a mutant on TV – she immediately tries to join the plot, but dies in a plane crash before managing to do so.

Xavier’s televised announcement is a direct repeat of the equivalent scene in New X-Men #116, complete with the same dialogue (except for the opening words about shadows and angels).   That raises a couple of points.  First, in that issue, it’s actually Cassandra Nova in Xavier’s body, not the real Xavier.  Since the dialogue is word-for-word identical, that presumably applies here too.  Second, it seems that X-Men history has played out in a broadly recognisable fashion up to the start of the Grant Morrison run without Moira having to get involved at all.  Aside from making clear that Moira didn’t bring the X-Men into being – Xavier would have done it anyway – this also seems to fit with the theme that the more active a role Moira takes in a timeline, the worse things seem to go.

The timeline has this Moira founding the Muir Research Institute at the age of 31.  Considering how much we’ve heard about Muir over the years in connection with Moira, it gets remarkably little play in this issue.

PAGES 10-15: The life of Moira III.  Again, she goes to Oxford, but takes against Xavier.  Instead, she finds a cure for being a mutant… and promptly gets herself killed again, since the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants show up on her doorstep.  The team shown on panel are Mystique, Destiny, Pyro and Avalanche – they’d normally include Blob, but while he’s on the cover, he doesn’t seem to be in the scene.  For some reason Pyro calls Destiny “mother”, which isn’t usual for him.

This scene is used to carefully spell out some particularly tricky parts of the plot.  Destiny’s precognitive powers don’t quite work normally on Moira – she can’t see Moira directly, but she can see the ripple effects.  This is why Destiny can’t see Moira – she’s always physically blind, but normally it’s academic because her powers let her “see” a millisecond ahead.  Destiny’s powers apparently tell her that the whole cure thing won’t work out well, so she and Mystique want to force Moira onto a different path the next time round, ideally by terrorising her about the consequences if she gets things wrong.

Destiny was always a character prone to long-term and elliptical schemes, and there’s reason to think she has more in mind here than just stopping the cure.  Destiny claims that Moira can in fact be killed for good, as long as it happens in the first 13 years of her life, before her mutant powers activate.  (Her power, it seems, is the ability to send herself back in time at death – it’s the sending body that needs powers, not the receiving one.)  Presumably, then, Moira can also be killed for good if you turn her powers off.  And this Moira has just developed a cure to do exactly that, which it seems she might even be planning to take of her own accord.  So if Mystique and Destiny wanted to kill Moira for real, they could just… give her the cure.  Instead they seem to take a conscious decision to send her back for a do-over.

There are two other important plot points here.  First, even though Destiny can’t see Moira directly, she claims that she can see Moira’s future lives in some sense, and knows that there will only be ten – or “eleven if you make the right choice at the end.”  (Again, note that this implies that Moira can in fact die at the end of a life.)  Moira’s tenth life, of course, is the one we’re currently on.

Second, Destiny claims that now that she’s confronted Moira, all future versions of Moira’s life will include a version of Destiny who already knows to look out for her.  This is typically headache-inducing time travel stuff, but the idea seems to be that Destiny already exists, and already has powers, at the point where Moira is conceived.  Therefore Moira will be faced with a pre-existing version of Destiny who can see the future in its current form, i.e. including the scene we’re now watching.  It’s kind of head-spinning and paradoxy but you get the general idea.  But note the implications if Destiny is right.  Destiny herself died in Uncanny X-Men #255 way back in 1989 (and on Muir Isle, of all places).  But there was nothing to stop her leaving instructions for someone else – and the obvious candidate would be her life-long partner Mystique.  Not only has Mystique appeared in every issue of this series to date, she was also responsible for killing Moira in X-Men #108.

The infographic describes Moira III as dying in a laboratory fire, which seems an unduly coy way of saying “murdered by Pyro”.

PAGES 16-17.  The life of Moira IV.  This version also goes to Oxford, and becomes the first to fall in love with Charles Xavier.  In this timeline, she seems to be a straightforward ally of the X-Men, and lives through a basically recognisable version of X-Men history that duly end with everyone being wiped out by the Sentinels.  The Sentinels are, of course, a big deal over in Powers of X, not to mention being the traditional apocalyptic end point for the X-Men, so it’s hardly surprising that Moira keeps running into them from here on.  Moiras II and III die before getting a chance to meet the Sentinels, while Moira I lived to a happy old age, so if there were Sentinels in that timeline, they evidently didn’t bring about an apocalypse.

X-Men history is represented by three panels, which the narrator describes as “the gifted years” (the Silver Age), “the time of hate and fear” (an early Claremont line-up) and “the lost decade” (represented by Avengers vs X-Men).  That last term is curious – and note that the infographic on the present day timeline allows a curiously short two years for the entire period from New X-Men #114 to the present day.  Is something screwy here?

PAGE 18.  The life of Moira V.  She meets Xavier early (note her position in the opening panel mirrors the repeated Oxford pub sequence anyway), they build a radicalised mutant city (Faraway), and the Sentinels come anyway.

PAGE 19-20.  The life of Moira VII – not VI, who gets skipped.  Moira VI is also missing from the closing timeline graphic, so there’s clearly a plot there.  This Moira tries to avert the Sentinels by murdering everyone in the Trask family who might build them – only to find that the Sentinels just emerge spontaneously anyway when AI is discovered.  They even look the same.  So apparently we’re doing runaway AI and the singularity and all that.

Moira is shown killing four Trask family members.  Bolivar Trask created the Sentinels in their debut way way back in X-Men #14.  Donald Trask seems to be the bit-part character from New X-Men #114-115 who wasn’t even a villain; his DNA was just by Cassandra Nova in order to control the Wild Sentinels.  Simon Trask was Bolivar’s brother, and the founder of the mid-90s extremist sect Humanity’s Last Stand.  Gwyneth Trask appears to be new.  The timeline graphic calls the Sentinel nest a “wild Master Mold facility”, which seems to be calling back to the “Wild Sentinels” concept from New X-Men.

According to the timeline, Moira VII joined “the BAF”, presumably the British Armed Forces, and “disappeared” seven years before she started killing Trasks.

PAGES 21-22.  The life of Moira VIII, who decides to take her chances with supervillain-mode Magneto.  Telling Magneto about her past-life experiences just leads him to attempt a missile strike on the White House, and predictably he gets squashed by the 80s superheroes.  Magneto’s ornate island base seems to be modelled on the one he was living in circa Uncanny X-Men #150.

The timeline graphic vastly expands on what’s shown here.  It shows that Magneto conquered America and duly ran it for six years, before being killed in the “War of M”.  During his reign, Moira formed something called “the House of M”, which we’ll no doubt learn about in due course.  This Moira is captured in Magneto’s defeat, and dies trying to escape.

PAGES 23-24.  The life of Moira IX, who is desperate enough to try her luck with Apocalypse.  Her choices aren’t getting any better.  War ensues.  This version of Moira seems to be Apocalypse’s partner and wears a version of his costume, complete with blue skin – it seems likely that she’s been given powers.  Apocalypse has a couple of Egyptian-themed henchmen behind him, one of whom makes the front cover, so might be more important than he first appears.  The Egyptian imagery has been associated with Apocalypse for decades by this point.  Apocalypse and Moira are shown fighting together against Nimrod and the Sentinels, so we’re back to the same destination.

The timeline expands on this a lot.  Apocalypse kills both Xavier and Magneto in this timeline, and then he and Moira leave Earth to recruit their first Horseman off-world.  Apocalypse founds a version of the X-Men, presumably inspired by Moira.  Most important of all, Moira IX’s timeline has no defined end point, but stretches off indefinitely into the future.

PAGES 25-27.  The gestation of Moira X – the current Moira – and a repeat of the scene from Powers of X #1 where she meets Xavier.  Now we know what Xavier saw in her mind. The narrator says that Moira X “decided she and Charles Xavier would break all the rules”; Cypher said something rather similar in the previous issue in reference to the new Krakoa-based direction (“The Professor has changed all the old rules”).

The timeline has quite a lot on the life of Moira X.  It acknowledges her marriage to Joseph MacTaggert in year 25 – he was eventually killed by Proteus.  There’s a curious entry which says that Moira and Xavier recruited Magneto in year 43, with a schism in year 47.  This presumably has something to do with Magneto joining the X-Men during the Claremont run and going back to villainy in 1991 with X-Men #1, though it’s not obvious where Moira’s recruitment fits into that.

Jonathan Hickman has confirmed that the text for years 49 and 50 has been swapped by mistake.  Year 50, “Genocide at Genosha”, is clearly New X-Men #114 – as noted above, this allows only a vanishingly short time for everything since then, which surely has to mean something.  Year 49, “Moira fakes death (Shi’ar golem)”, refers to her death in X-Men #108.  Note that Hickman is clear here that we are not living in a reboot timeline following Moira’s death in that issue; we’re still in the established X-Men continuity.  This isn’t the first mention we’ve had of the Shi’ar, either, though they’ve been on the fringes thus far.

Going back over hundreds of issues for dialogue that doesn’t fit with Hickman’s retcon would be a tiresome exercise – though for what it’s worth, I don’t believe there are any stories out there where Moira and Destiny appear together.  Moira’s death in X-Men #108 is worth a look, though.  It was part of the “Dream’s End” crossover, which ran through Uncanny X-Men #388, Cable #87, Bishop: The Last X-Man #16 and X-Men #108.  Since it was one of the last storylines before the Morrison/Casey reboot, it doesn’t get much talked about; its main plot purpose was to set up the cure of the Legacy Virus as a deck-clearing exercise.

So far as Moira is concerned, “Dream’s End” involved Mystique inventing a variant Legacy Virus which only attacked humans.  The Brotherhood attack Muir Isle and blow up the Research Centre, presumably in order to stop Moira from revealing how to cure their Virus.  The X-Men find Moira dying in the wreckage, and she explains  that she’s worked out the cure to both versions of the Legacy Virus.  In an, er, interesting piece of plotting, the X-Men decide that the best way to deal with a dying genius with essential information is to fly her across the Atlantic to the X-Men Mansion, rather than (say) taking her to a Scottish hospital.  Even though Rogue is right there, and offers to use her powers to absorb the memories, Moira insists that Rogue’s powers are too unstable (this was indeed a subplot at the time).  Instead – and this is the bit that doesn’t seem to lend itself to the “golem” explanation – Xavier and Jean use Cerebro to make contact with Moira on the plane, Xavier retrieves the data about the cure, and he and Jean watch Moira’s astral form depart for the afterlife.  It’s… not an easy death scene to explain away.  We’ll see where Hickman is heading with that.

Incidentally, the Brotherhood members who attack Muir Isle in “Dream’s End” are the unusual trio of Mystique, Toad and Sabretooth – the same three who raided Damage Control in House of X #1.

PAGE 28.  Closing quote from “Moira X”, which could mean anything, really.

PAGES 29-31.  The timeline, but we’ve covered that.

PAGES 32-34: The trailer pages read: “NEXT – HELLO OLD FRIEND”, and “THEN – THIS IS WHAT YOU DO”.

 

Bring on the comments

  1. Luis Dantas says:

    I think that it will be revealed that the Moira that we read about in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s is Moira VI. Why? Because Moiras VII-IX led too extreme lives for those memories to be easily reconciled with the previous stories.

  2. Martin Gray says:

    There’s a nice spin on the ‘resurrecting to solve a problem’ bit in Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – a character in an Agatha Christie/Cluedo-style murder mystery keeps reincarnating as different suspects and must use what they learnt on previous days to… well, read the book!

  3. David says:

    “Again, note that this implies that Moira can in fact die at the end of a life.“

    I can’t figure out what this means. Wouldn’t any time that Moira dies be, by definition, the end of her life?

    I’m not sure why everyone thinks the term “lost decade” means those years are being retconned out. They wouldn’t be shown if they didn’t happen. I think it just means that mutants we’re down and out and generally struggling during those years. Plus it’s probably a meta comment on the quality of the X-books during those years (with some exceptions).

  4. K says:

    Since everyone is recommending stories with variations on Moira’s power…

    I highly recommend the Zero Escape series of adventure games for the next closest thing to the audaciousness of Hickman’s scope and retcon.

    Kind of a spoiler to even say that the series is about this, but no other way to recommend it in this context!

  5. Mark coale says:

    I’m still reading it, yet another possibly similar book is the new novel “the first time Lauren pailing died” by Times sportswriter Allyson Rudd.

    And I always say, live when a thread gets to the second page of comments.

  6. Zoomy says:

    Moira’s lives reminded me of Undertale more than anything else.

    I do like the idea that VI worked out just great, but since her sole priority in VII is to stop the Sentinels existing, you’d think they must have been heavily involved in the life before.

    I assume Apocalypse making her ‘eternal’ will play into the future settings of PoX, and her current rule-breaking is a really, really long-term plan… but I’m just hoping that this isn’t going to be one of those stories that sets up a few cool ideas and then doesn’t have any plans to do anything with them afterwards…

    Still, a quarter of the way through, this has quite possibly got me hooked and fascinated more than any other X-Men comic in history, so I can’t complain! 🙂

  7. Luis Dantas says:

    Another story based on a power similar to Moira’s is the Manga “All You Need is Kill”.

    Tom Cruise starred a 2014 movie based on that story, “Edge of Tomorrow”.

  8. Chris V says:

    A really good story based around a similar idea is The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by the occultist Ouspensky.
    It may be the earliest example of the idea of recurrence in fiction, dating to 1915.

  9. FUBAR007 says:

    Voord 99: I think there’s also a tacit winnowing process in which the past is boiled down to a set of iconic events that are active in collective memory, and the rest fades into the background and only exists on the rare occasions when it’s used.

    Personally, I divide the X-Men mythos into three different eras, each of which is for the most part internally consistent in terms of continuity:

    1) The Silver Age – from Lee/Kirby to the end of Roy Thomas’s second run.

    2) The Claremont/Harras era – from Giant-Size X-Men #1 to Lobdell’s “Eve of Destruction” story in 2001. (The 90s were an extension of Claremont’s first run, playing out his and Louise Simonson’s storylines and subplots, and the writers of the period almost uniformly adhered to Claremont’s storytelling formula and style.)

    3) The Extinction era – Morrison’s run through Rosenberg’s run. Or, to put it in storyline terms, “E is for Extinction” (the Genoshan genocide) through “Age of X-Man”/Rosenberg’s Uncanny X-Men arc (the X-Men’s disappearance and Callahan’s genocide campaign).

    Presumably, Hickman’s run marks the beginning of a 4th era.

    The beginning of each era represents a reset and compression of previous continuity. Stuff still happened, just in a shorter period of time and perhaps in a different way than we originally read. The characters are subtly de-aged as well.

  10. Si says:

    Ah the good old comics timeline. Here’s the trick. Time doesn’t ever pass in Marvel comics except retroactively, and only then for story purposes. Time is not a river but an occasionally useful plot device.

    Though there was one delicious early Spider-Man story where Stan Lee obviously couldn’t find the comic issue number where two characters last met, so just had Aunt May say (paraphrasing) “Oh yes. I met you in 1964, remember?”

  11. Paul says:

    The idea of a sliding timeline didn’t really take root at Marvel until the 1970s. The most obvious example of this in the X-Men is that the original team are meant to be school-age in issue #1, but by the late sixties, Scott’s *younger* brother is graduating from university.

  12. Si says:

    Even so, the characters weren’t shown as getting older, they just suddenly were older when the story demanded it.

    Time basically ratchets. Children will stay the same age until they’re suddenly teenagers. Then they will stay teenagers until they’re suddenly adults. Also, these are US media teenagers, who all look suspiciously like adults but are a bit louder.

  13. Mark coale says:

    I’m surprised Franklin Richard’s isnt still 10 year old or whatever when he is traipsing around the end of the universe with Galactus.

    (Remember, he first appeared in 1968.)

  14. Si says:

    Franklin is right now in Fantastic Four suddenly a teenager.

    Except there’s proper in-story reasons, and he’s actually portrayed as a young teen rather than an adult with long hair and a colourful jacket.

  15. Voord 99 says:

    Proper in-story, definitely. Proper out-of-story — not so much of a fan.

    Although it’s mostly aging up Valeria that I’m not so happy with. She was much more interesting as a slightly off-putting supergenius five-year old.

    But Franklin and Valeria’s earlier aging displays the ratchet effect that you’re talking about. Also worth comparing Franklin Richards and Kitty Pryde – she went from 13 to at least 18 and probably older during a period of time in which he hardly aged, if at all.

  16. FUBAR007 says:

    Voord 99: Also worth comparing Franklin Richards and Kitty Pryde – she went from 13 to at least 18 and probably older during a period of time in which he hardly aged, if at all.

    Timeline coherence can make sense for limited periods within a franchise. But, across franchises, it pretty much breaks down completely.

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