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Sep 13

Powers of X #4 annotations

Posted on Friday, September 13, 2019 by Paul in HoXPoX, x-axis

As always, there will be spoilers, and page numbers are going by the digital edition.

PAGE 1 (COVER): Professor X, wearing Cerebro, surrounded by the floating heads of various X-Men from the present and “Year 100” timelines. Most of them are recognisable, and perhaps the others are more of the “Sinister line” mutants from Year 100 (Rasputin and North are both there, for example). The solicitation version of this cover shows that the guy partly obscured by the logo is orange and has a fin on his head, so I’m drawing a blank there. None of this has anything much to do with the story inside.

PAGE 2: The opening epigraph is another Professor X quote, not taken from anything in the issue. The significance isn’t clear, beyond the obvious point about making difficult choices driven by need.

PAGE 3: The credits. The story title is “Something Sinister”, which is self-explanatory. The small print in the bottom right reads “Sinister with the cape”, referring to the (familiar) version of Mr Sinister who replaces his predecessor in the course of the issue.

PAGES 4-9: “Year One.” Professor X and Magneto visit Bar Sinister – an entire island community of Mr Sinisters – and try to get him to focus his efforts on mutant DNA. A “Sinister with the mutant gene” kills the previous Prime Sinister, takes control, and agrees to a partnership.

Year One: We’re back – more or less – to the format of the earlier issues, which went through the “Year 1”, “Year 10”, “Year 100″ and Year 1000” time frames. But there’s no Year 100 section in this issue, presumably because the X-Men of Year 100 died last issue.

Mister Sinister: Right, deep breath. Mister Sinister is one of the A-list X-Men villains, and is generally portrayed as an amoral scientist obsessed with genetics in general, mutants in particular, and the Summers family most of all. His name and costume are, obviously, wildly over the top. By all accounts, Chris Claremont’s original idea was that Sinister was an eternal child (both physically and mentally) and that “Mr Sinister” was the body through which he interacted with the outside world. In other words, he was meant to look a bit wrong. But writers in the 90s took him at face value, and eventually the Further Adventures of Cyclops & Phoenix miniseries (1996) gave him a proper origin story as Victorian scientist Nathaniel Essex, who becomes obsessed with evolution and gets powers from Apocalypse.

Hickman’s version of the character, however, draws primarily on Kieron Gillen’s stories in the Utopia-era Uncanny X-Men (2011-12) where Sinister became interested in creating multiple Sinisters and creating an entire hive-mind species that was basically just versions of him. This was presented in Gillen’s stories as a new direction for Sinister, but Hickman appears to have Sinister doing something essentially similar much, much earlier. A key plot point of Gillen’s stories was that creating all these extra fully-powered Sinisters required a vast power source – as in, a Celestial or Phoenix – so if Sinister is producing an entire community at this stage, he must presumably have access to a pretty impressive power source. Hickman used this version of Sinister in his Secret Wars series, and of course it also fits with the hive-mind theme of his story.

Gillen’s Sinister was notably more eccentric and flamboyant than other takes on the character (or at least, he was eccentric and flamboyant in a less conventionally supervillain-ish way), and Sinister’s behaviour here follows in that line.

Bar Sinister: Sinister’s island – one of an awful lot of islands in this series. A version of the island, looking much like this, appeared in Secret Wars. It seems to be made of red crystal – presumably the ruby quartz that (per retcons) a disguised Sinister supplies to Cyclops to help him control his powers.

“Bar sinister” is a faux-heraldic term supposedly coined by Sir Walter Scott and intended to imply illegitimacy – it’s a play on “bastard” and “bend sinister” (which is a real heraldic term).

Xavier’s wheelchair: For some reason, Xavier is in the floating wheelchair that he didn’t start using until 1991.

Sinister’s library: Sinister’s obsession with cataloguing the world’s DNA comes up from time to time. Most recently, Hunt for Wolverine: Adamantium Agenda (2018) claimed that he had actually completed it somehow. Xavier seems mainly concerned to have a comprehensive database of mutant DNA from which (presumably) to clone new mutants when needed. We’ve seen mutants emerging from pods in the start of House of X #1.

“I have seen the future and this cause – mutantdom – is yours”: Magneto is referring to the role that Sinister played in cloning mutants during Moira’s ninth life – although the data pages have strongly implied that far from making mutantdom his cause, he betrayed the mutants. Although Xavier and Magneto probably have a better plan than just relying on this obvious flake to co-operate, Sinister is likely to complete the database simply for his own obsessional reasons. But trusting the entire database to him seems, er, bold.

“I’ve played around with introducing that aberrant gene into my superior genetic structure… and let me tell you – I didn’t like the results.” We’ll come back to this when we get to the data page. We don’t find out precisely what the undesirable “results” were, though – is it something to do with Sinister’s mental state?

“The Sinister with the mutant gene.” This Sinister is dressed in the original, 80s/90s Mr Sinister supervillain costume. He’s Sinister Classic, in look if not in personality.

“I need you to forget why you’re doing it … until the day I tell you to remember”: This sounds a lot like a device to explain why the massive retcon isn’t reflected in people’s’ thought balloons.

PAGES 10-12: Two data pages (plus more of the wisdom of Stan Lee) in the form of a gossip column from Mister Sinister. The “Red Diamond” title refers to the symbol on Sinister’s forehead, and the Krakoa letter at the top is just an S. Most of these, I suspect, are foreshadowing for points much later in the Hickman run. But the small print does read “lies”, so maybe we shouldn’t take it entirely at face value.

“Sinister Secret #1”: This looks like it’s just gibberish, but who knows?

“Sinister Secret #2”: Probably a reference to Jumbo Carnation, the mutant fashion designer who was seemingly killed by muggers in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men #134 (2003). He was a bit part character, but he’d be one of a number of characters to inexplicably return from the dead in this series. He was also an early example of a character presented as creating a specifically mutant culture, which would fit with Magneto’s stated aims for Krakoa (and probably Professor X’s too).

“Sinister Secret #3”: The “deceased redheaded pretender” who “made a pact with the devil” is Madelyne Pryor, Sinister’s clone of Jean Grey. Her deal with the devil – or more accurately the demon N’Astirh – was the plot of 1989’s crossover “Inferno”, in which they led a demon invasion of earth. Madelyne did die at the end of that story, but she was later restored by Nate Grey in X-Man #5 (1995). I’m not quite sure why Sinister thinks she’s dead – perhaps he doesn’t regard the revived Madelyne as real. So far as I can tell, the “real” Madelyne Pryor – as opposed to a counterpart from another timeline – was last seen in X-Men #12 (2014), a Brian Wood story where a bunch of other villains raised her from the dead again, and she promptly wandered off to become a dropped plot.

Interestingly, House of X #4 also used the very specific term “pretender” in reference to another redhead, the Scarlet Witch.

“Sinister Secret #4”: Foreshadowing. Something washed ashore on Bar Sinister and we should look out for it.

“Sinister secrets revealed!” Sinister says that where he got his mutant gene isn’t interesting (though do we believe him?), but that the identity of the mutant is: John Proudstar, the original Thunderbird. Thunderbird joined the X-Men as part of the big shake-up in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1 only to get killed off in the X-Men’s next mission, although his younger brother Warpath did go on to be a major character. Thunderbird isn’t an obvious choice for Sinister, given his mundane powers. Depending on when these Year One segments are happening, though, is the implication that Sinister had done something with Thunderbird before he even joined the X-Men?

For completeness: there’s already a story which shows Sinister getting additional powers after acquiring a sample of mutant DNA. It’s Gambit #14 (2000), in which Gambit and Courier go back in time and meet an early Sinister, who keeps a sample from Courier and apparently uses it to get his shape-changing powers.

“Sinister Secret #5”: “He’s the best there is at what he does” is obviously Wolverine, who’s had that tag line attached for years. Wolverine is apparently having an affair with a married woman, who has a child, and whose husband is having an affair too. Way too early to guess who those might be, if it’s anything more than a red herring.

“Sinister Secret #6”: The “progerian” (i.e., prematurely aged) mutant is the X-Men’s student Ernst, who made a secret deal with Sinister in exchange for his promise to clone a new body for No-Girl, as seen in the 2015 miniseries Spider-Man & The X-Men. Through Ernst, Sinister acquired “a DNA sample from every student and faculty member of the Jean Grey school… a nearly complete genetic catalogue of the next generation of the mutant race”, or so he claimed. Apparently he still has it.

“Sinister Secret #7”: The “two brothers [who] jumped out of a plane” are Scott and Alex Summers, the future Cyclops and Havok, who parachuted together from their parents’ plane to escape the attacking Shi’ar. See e.g. the flashback in Uncanny X-Men #144 (1981). Sinister himself first hinted at the existence of a third Summers brother in X-Men #23 (1993), and X-Men: Deadly Genesis (2006) finally established that a third Summers brother, Gabriel, had indeed been born after their parents’ abduction. Gabriel became Vulcan and went on to appear mainly in the Marvel cosmic titles, though chances are we’ll be seeing him again. Sinister hints here that there could be even more siblings.

“Sinister Secret #8”: Completely straightforward: Apocalypse has routinely surrounded himself with Four Horsemen, and he’d happily go back to the originals given the chance.

“Sinister Secret #9”: Something about a “non-couple couple” who’ve been “apart so long” that “friends are expecting … fireworks.” No idea who he’s referring to there, given that Rogue and Gambit are now married.

“Sinister Secrets Revealed”: Another mention of the Inferno crossover.

“Sinister Secret #10”: Sinister is claiming to have replaced somebody with a pawn at an early stage. This looks like another massive retcon in the offing.

PAGES 13-20: Year 10, and “months ago” Professor X brings Cypher to Krakoa to introduce them. Cypher uses his language powers to talk to the island, which tells its origin story. This is the set-up to House of X, but there’s a lot to unpack here.

Professor X is not wearing the Cerebro helmet here, the first time we’ve seen him unmasked in the modern time frame. This does indeed seem to be him – though that in itself raises questions, since he was in a different body when he returned from the dead in Astonishing X-Men #6 (2017). His safari outfit here is worryingly reminiscent of Cassandra Nova’s outfit in her first appearance, New X-Men #114 (2001). How he got back in touch with the X-Men, or at least Cypher, remains a mystery. Cypher was most recently seen hanging around in the supporting cast of Daredevil during the Charles Soule run.

Krakoa: We’ve seen plenty of Krakoa already in this series, but there are some points here worth noting – again, there are discrepancies here with established history. Cypher calls Krakoa “the secret island where mutants come to die”, which was indeed its role in Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975) – but that story ended with the X-Men firing Krakoa into space. Other Krakoas showed up later, presented as having grown from seeds or cuttings or so forth, but this Krakoa seems to be positioned as the original. Perhaps Hickman is relegating the Giant-Size Krakoa into an offshoot, like some of the others we’ve seen. The X-Men had a pet Krakoa on their grounds in Wolverine and the X-Men, for example.

Note that on page 15, the plants Cypher is touching are infected with the techno-organic virus in the following panel. But we know from the Year 100 scenes – if it’s the same timeline – that Krakoa ends up absorbing him.

Krakoa can “speak”, but only at a very broad and general level. X-Men: Deadly Genesis retconned Krakoa into being a dumb monster, and Wolverine and the X-Men made it more like a pet; Krakoa’s intelligence level here is broadly in line with that take.

The origin of Krakoa: And now, Hickman goes completely off the reservation, continuity-wise, giving us a story in which Krakoa is one half of the primeval land Okkara, which was torn into two – Arakko and Krakoa – by some sort of demonic/magical invaders. Those invaders then get repelled by Apocalypse and the first Horsemen. Okkara, Arakko and Krakoa are all anagrams of each other, and none of the names seem to have any inherent significance. (“Krakoa” was presumably meant to evoke the Indonesian island Krakatau. “Okkara” is a craft brewery in the Faroe Islands, but I’m pretty sure Hickman’s not thinking of that…)

This is not Krakoa’s established origin story, which has usually involved hinting that it was mutated by radiation from nuclear tests – see most recently Journey into Mystery: The Birth of Krakoa (2018). But those stories can be read – with a bit of squinting – as involving Krakoa being altered or awoken by the bomb. This also seems to fit with various references in earlier issues that implied Apocalypse was older than previously suggested – though we’ve yet to find out how that would square with stories depicting his childhood in ancient Egypt.

PAGE 21: A data page on “Current Krakoan systems.” We’ve already seen the involvement of Cypher, Sage, Trinary and Beast. Black Tom Cassidy is normally a villain, but a low-level one – he has a part-wooden body, which probably explains why he’s been selected for a role interfacing with Krakoa.

PAGES 22-27: The Year 1000 time frame. The mutants – who can’t be assimilated directly into the Phalanx – have come up with the idea of downloading themselves into machines so that at least a copy of them can become immortalised in the great collective. After establishing that it works, they wait to find out whether the Phalanx will accept it.

There’s an obvious question of why it has to be a machine intelligence to be uploaded, and what’s wrong with the techno-organic virus – which Hickman made a point of showing us with Cypher earlier in the issue.

The sequence: Apparently just a string of words used to test whether the mutant persona has been successfully uploaded. But presumably it has more significance than that: “There was a city on the mountain, and behind it the sun shone brightly as it expanded to consume the city, the mountain, the world.” This seems like it might have something to do with the Mother Mold being dumped into the sun in House of X.

The Phalanx: These far-future Phalanx are said to be the “forerunners” (whatever that means) of a galactic empire that is “believe[d]” to dominate the known universe. The speaker acknowledges that this is all very vague and metaphorical, and so it must be if there’s some doubt about the very existence of an all-encompassing empire. The implication seems to be that the Phalanx are all-pervasive and that the lower species are “free” of their empire simply by being beneath their notice.

PAGE 28: Another quote from Xavier, similar to the opening one.

PAGES 29-31: The reading order, and the trailers: “NEXT: SOCIETY” and “THEN: FOR THE CHILDREN”.

Bring on the comments

  1. JFM says:

    I’m slightly bemused by the ‘fan fiction’ criticisms.

    It’s pretty clear it doesn’t end well – and there are virtually no mutants in the future, as per usual.

    I had thought the earlier references to Sinister fouling up the gene pool was possibly how it all goes wrong.

  2. Chris V says:

    There are also not really any humans either.
    That sort od goes against what people wanted to enjoy about Hickman’s version of the X-Men.
    That is was moving away from the “doom and gloom” and genocide/extinction plots.

    Still, that’s Moira’s whole goal, to change events so that the bad future for both mutants and humans does not occur.
    That there is some way to break this cycle.

    That was the interesting promise of Hickman’s run. To take off from where Morrison left things.
    That mutants really are the “next stage in human evolution”.

    Not to see a bunch of creepy things about how “inhuman” mutants are, or hints of an “evil plan” afoot.

    I mean, there is plenty of justification given for mutants finally forming their own actual nation, especially after the just ended depressing Rosenberg run.

  3. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    And I’d be more on board with that if it was something more connected to recent continuity – Jean Grey just had a plan for a UN-recognized mutant nation in X-Men Red, only for that to get canned, and a year later (less than that?) repurposed into Xavier’s mutant homeland, with Jean suddenly being reverted to her teenage self. Or at least her teenage costume, codename and being sort of useless on a mission.

    (And given that the resurrection was a planned part of the mission, why didn’t they send Magneto or Polaris to take care of the huge metal thing orbiting the sun?)

    (Also for somebody claiming to be a fan of Generation X, Hickman has some weird ideas about Monet. And I’m not a fan of invulnerable character being killed off-panel by random guys with guns, because… how?)

    Sorry for the tangents.

  4. CJ says:

    @Krzysiek Ceran
    I share that concern. Even though HoXPoX is a launching point for a new set of series, I do want at least some of the plots introduced in it to be resolved. One of those things is how connected this is to recent continuity.

    (I also have a big question mark over my head about M / the twins / Penance.)

    @Chris V
    I’ve been thinking that Moira’s absence from present-day events so far is either evidence of a split between her and Magneto / Xavier and is some bomb waiting to drop–we’ve seen her disapprove of Xavier in the past.
    The “functional immortality” that the mutants have is pretty much the opposite of doom and gloom–although there’s no way that will last indefinitely. I too am waiting for the “cycle to be broken”, as I miss the “things-are-bad-they’re-getting-better” quality of Morrison’s run.

  5. Chris V says:

    There are some creepy aspects to the “immortality” too.
    That whole scene seemed to hint at some sort of mind-control.
    Storm was acting as if everything was great, and everyone was the same, but you got hints that there was something very wrong with the clones.
    That whole scene was very reminiscent of a cult.

    Plus, the fact that Xavier claimed that he could update the clones so that their memories would leave off exactly from the point when they died.
    Except, we saw that Jean had the skills and abilities of her Silver Age character.

  6. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    That’s the beauty – and the trap – of writing a mystery box. The reader is encouraged to assume everything could be a clue, whilst a lot of these ‘clues’ could very well turn out to just be clumsy writing. Except we’ll only know in about three years time. Because until then they may be clues!

    But I’d wager quite a lot of them aren’t. But I can’t be sure, can I?

  7. Nathan Adler says:

    Sinister secret #8: If Arakko fell into Limbo and they along with it, surely we’d have seen beings with ancient Egyptian-motifed costumes wandering around in previous depictions of the realm!? This would seem to suggest Arakko ended up somewhere other than Limbo.

    Significance of Okkara: Hickman would seem to be a fan of New Teen Titans, specifically #13 and as this was the name of the Vegan homeworld.

    Sinister Secret #9: “The Kids Are All Right” is the name of a dreamedy movie about same-sex parents. Is “non-couple couple” referring to Destine being restored to life and reunited with Mystique? How might that mean “fireworks ensue”? Something to do with Pyro? And does this Does secret #9 tie into something even more odd? That is, the whole name “Cassandra Nova”. Why did she call herself that and not at least maintain the surname Xavier? Cassandra in comics is generally used to refer to a “prophetess”, after King Priam’s daughter in Homer’s ‘The Iliad’. While that role has generally been held by Destiny/Irene Adler in the X-verse, Moira seems to be the new prophetess in this storyline. Nova means “new”, so in an effort to escape her fate in Life 11, or being killed at Destiny’s behest, will Moira somehow attempt to be reborn in Sharon Xavier’s womb alongside Charles? Recall the concept of the Mummudrai, which Cassandra Nova was revealed to be, originated in Shi’ar folklore. Near the end of HoX #2, the previously dead Moira was suggested to have been a Shi’ar Golem.

  8. Omar Karindu says:

    Job’s not on board.

    More seriously, though, I tend to side with those who think Hickman comes up with very elaborate frameworks, plots, and theme, but that he also tends to write characters whose main traits is that they are invested in the logic of those systems to the point that the themes and systems drive their actions.

    HoX/PoX has so far been almost all about that, partly because of the mystery structure, and partly because of the massive cast. The characters so far have politics,, but they don’t have much of anything else (other than Sinister, who’s been played for laughs to some extent).

    Of course, that’s probably also indicative of the speculative fiction bent of the series, and of Hickman himself: in that genre, it’s often the case that the effects of the “world-building” drive most of the characterization, and not the other way around.

    In the end, for each reader, the story’s going to live or die on how interested they are in Hickman’s speculations, the extent to which they wanted to see the X-Men as science fiction franchise in the first place, and on whether they think those speculations have any meaningful applicability.

    That noted, the price of modern comics does mean that a slow-burn mystery like this can be criticized simply on price: a television series or a book can cover the same sort of ground at a much lower price on he consumer end.

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