The House of Xavier…And The Way We Treat Our Children

This piece was originally written and posted on my tumblr writing blog, timlikescomics.tumblr.com

House of X 4 is a visceral, action packed issue that ends in tragedy as the full strike force of mutants discharged to stop the oncoming artificial intelligence apocalypse are murdered by a group of human zealots intent on wiping out all mutants.

What is profound and heartbreaking about this issue is not the way it ends in so many character deaths. We know that these characters will be back quickly. Most of them are headlining upcoming books. Comic deaths are temporary, always. This status quo is temporary–everyone reading the book knows that.  But like all comic books we deal with what is on the page in front of us as an individual story.

What is profound and heartbreaking about issue 4 of House of X is the way in which the book is salient, relevant, and political in a way X-Men has not been in decades. 

In particular, it is this moment to which I keep returning.

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The temporary nature of the events does not diminish the emotional power of this panel. 

They’ve murdered so many of us, the world has grown used to it. 

In a time when political and racial violence, particularly in America, has escalated, in a time when mass gun murders of young people are a weekly occurrence, it’s so easy to be numb to the numbers. It’s just … how things are for those people

For gay teenagers. For trans people. For school kids. For immigrants and refugees. For women. For the black community. Jewish people. For Muslims. We’ve grown used to the violence and the body count.

Throughout House of X and Powers of X, author Jonathan Hickman has presented us with data pages that have largely read like news clippings or Wikipedia entries outlining fictional future history and important pieces of background information. Designed with the help of graphic designer Tom Muller, these data pages have been vaguely hinted at to be from some kind of diegetic source within the story, though it is still unclear who the author is.

Importantly, the tone of these data pages has been very rigid and matter of fact, a largely dispassionate relaying of facts. 

In House of X issue 4, on the very first page, the reader’s expectations are immediately turned on their head.

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Look at what they’ve done. 

Hickman transforms these very rigid data pages that have opened and peppered the books up until now into the voice of someone begging the reader to recognize the violence and pain inflicted upon this community. 

The matter of fact style of previous data pages is usurped and turned into a steadfast and desperate voice begging us to look at the cold, hard numbers. 

But we, this real world audience, are immune to death tolls. How many names of the dead do we see after each mass murder? Hickman and Muller are borrowing a format we know and our eyes have trained to gloss over–our hearts have calloused after so much violence.

Then, at the end of the issue, these same numbers are thrown back at us at the end of the issue as a nightmare torrent. A barrage of facts falling down upon Xavier’s shoulders and upon us as readers. Hickman is forcing us to feel the reality of it.

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We are being invited to grapple with not just the weight of the in-story violence, but the painful reality it reflects. We feel not just the persecution of a fictional minority, but it borrows the authenticity of textbooks, websites, and newspapers to make us feel the authentic weight.

So yes of course the deaths we were forced to witness in these pages is not permanent. Wolverine, Marvel Girl, Cyclops, and Nightcrawler will return somehow. Probably within the next two issues. But by choosing to depict the murder and sacrifices of these characters, who are fighting for their very survival, killed in such a brutal way by people who want them eradicated, Hickman is making a bold statement about our world at this moment. It is playing against the expectations of readers, for one thing, who expect the X-Men to have survived last week’s cliffhanger through some clever means. 

For another, the world as it is today has seen more than its share of marginalized peoples corralled, targeted, and even murdered by not just the white supremacists marching with torches in the streets, but by agents of local and federal governments.

The X-Men have always been a metaphor for marginalized groups, often in clunky and imperfect ways. But what this latest issue of House of X shows is that this version of the X-Men inhabit a world where people do not just fear those who are different–they want them eradicated. By highlighting the decimation of mutantkind over the years, by having our heroes brutally murdered by zealots, some agents of the US government, we see reflected the stark reality so many today face.

Chris Claremont’s seminal run on X-Men was many things, but it was never so stark as this. It was never so clear that humanity wanted to see mutants not just marginalized, but exterminated. Violence is inevitable when humanity feels threatened by those they see as replacing them.

Hickman has subtly been building to what seems to be this central thesis of his relaunch. It is perhaps still too early still to say for sure what the House of X/Powers of X series is about, but certainly this issue makes it seem to be, at least in part, about answering this question: What do a group of people do when they finally say with one voice: “No more”?

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The last several years of American life have exposed some dark truths that many thought had been left behind…the great bigotry that has defined this nation has exploded into violence. The corruption has prized profits over the lives of our children, gunned down in their own schools, in shopping malls, in movie theaters.

In House of X issue 1, Cyclops lays out what is increasingly seeming to be a central thesis for this version of X-Men.

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The X-Men are tired of taking it. The world has exposed  itself as inhospitable, violent, and unforgiving to their difference.

Which leads me to this ‘data’ code at the bottom of this week’s title page, which has basically acted as a kind of subtitle for each week’s issue.

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The House 

of Xavier

and the 

way we

treat our

children

What made this issue so heartbreaking, for me, was not just about individual acts of violence or the dark nature of groups of human bigots. It’s about the world we leave for the next generation. And the one after that. 

What is left for them to inherit? A society where we accept that we can be murdered in any public space, where our children practice avoiding bullets at school. A society where we accept that sometimes white men will march to intimidate people of latinx descent, and Muslims, and people of Jewish faith. A society that says it’s ok for people who are gay to be tortured until they turn back to “normal.” Where trans people are murdered in silence.

These acts of violence radiate across time, impacting those who come after us. 

We see that, textually, over and over with Moira’s cyclical life. It is not just one lifetime corrupted and scarred–it is multiple, over and over and over. In Powers of X we see  desolate and broken futures–worlds thrown into turmoil because of the violence. 

The X-Men are confronting in stark and graphic ways the culture of violence and the way our world has grown numb to that violence. We adapt to it. We scar and heal and scar again. But there are moments the weight falls upon us. We must confront the world as it is, and not grow numb to the zealots who murder and persecute those who are different. It goes beyond an often faulty metaphor for minorities–there is a generation now decimated by two endless wars abroad and traumatized by random and senseless violence at home, perpetrated by individuals who feel they do not have what they deserve.

House of X 4 begs us, shouts at us, to confront the violence and the pain–the cold, hard numbers and consider the world that is being left for those to come. 

Look at what they’ve done. 

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They’ve murdered so many of us, the world has grown used to it. 

It is not enough to hope for acceptance.

We have to say…

No more.

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