The X-Men have a bit of a reputation for being, well–complicated is probably putting it lightly. Divisive may be a better buzz word. There’s a tendency in fan circles for people to fall into one of two categories: The kind whose eyes light up at the mere mention of a mutant and the kind who instantaneously go gaunt and fearful the moment they realize they’re about to have to engage in an X-Men related conversation. This reputation is certainly well earned–X-Men live-action films pre-date the MCU, their cartoon series is second only to Batman: The Animated Series in terms of Saturday morning nostalgia bombs, and the team’s most famous members are more readily recognized and understood by the general population than most of the Avengers.
It’s just that their comics are also notoriously insurmountable, their stories are the absolute epitome of everything that makes superhero comics seem absurd, and their continuity seems to be in an almost permanent state of flux. Trying to figure out just how and where to engage with X-Men stories can feel like the worst kind of homework, where well-meaning fans will spout off list upon list of classic stories that are required reading, and then follow them up with list upon list of caveats to explain which parts need to be remembered, which parts should be cherry-picked and forgotten, when the dead characters come back, where the time travel kicks in, how Cyclops is the worst, how Cyclops is the best, how Jean Grey’s powers are changed and then changed again–and so on, and so on.
The past several years of Marvel comics publication haven’t really helped the problem. The X-Men status quo has been up in the air, split between multiple color-coded team books with key players like Charles Xavier tabled, time-travel plots bringing duplicate past versions of characters like Jean Grey and Bobby Drake to the present, and mutantkind itself being all but wiped out because of an Inhuman disaster that may or may not have been thanks to some behind-the-scenes movie rights conflicts between Fox and Disney. Thankfully those days are behind us.
It wasn’t that the stories themselves were bad, per se, but trying to find somewhere to start that didn’t leave you feeling like you’d missed a few seasons was all but impossible–especially if you were someone who really just wanted to read a story about your favorite big-screen X-Men without needing to graduate from a college-level course in X-Men history to understand it.
But thankfully, there is a light at the end of that particular tunnel, and it’s coming from an unexpected quarter. Legendary writer Jonathan Hickman, whose work on Avengers provided a ton of the groundwork that went on to inform movies like Avengers: Infinity War, has teamed up with artist Pepe Larraz for an X-Men reboot like no other–one that is intended to completely overhaul the way X-Men stories work for the foreseeable future, and provide the perfect gateway for anyone and everyone to finally start reading X-Men comics.
The plan is relatively simple. Hickman and Larraz are kicking off their effort with two dueling mini-series called House of X and Powers of X with alternate release schedules. House of X #1 hit shelves today while Powers of X #1 will hit shelves next Wednesday, and so on. Then, in the conclusion of each mini-series, a “new era” of X-Men stories will begin in earnest with new ongoing X-Men titles kicking off for monthly consumption, picking up threads laid in HoX and PoX to move the ball forward.
So, in theory, everything you could need to know about the future of mutants in the Marvel universe is contained in these two mini-series, and should you choose to engage, the next twelve weeks will become your one-stop crash course in X-Men.
Senior editor in charge of X-Men comics, Jordan D. White, spoke with GameSpot at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con about what, exactly, HoX and PoX are setting out to do. “House of X is the story of the most eventful month in the history of the X-Men, where the big, huge changes are happening in the present,” White said. “It has to do with Xavier’s master plan–[which] we haven’t heard about until now…Whereas Powers of X is the story of the past, present, and future of mutantkind, all connecting to that master plan. So the two stories really, really are two halves of the same whole. They weave together.”
Though they’re definitely accessible for people who have never picked up an X-Men comic before, White also assured us that they won’t be holding anything back. Anyone who’s read a Hickman comic, or just sat through Infinity War, would know enough about his style to expect a little bit of mind-bending–but don’t let that put you off.
“If you feel overwhelmed, the people who know a lot feel overwhelmed too,” White laughed. “Let me say that. Jonathan likes to throw big ideas out there. If you were reading Avengers for 50 years before he wrote Avengers, you still were going, ‘Whoa!’ And that’s the same with X-Men. So I think everybody is going to be on the same level playing field. You’re going to go in, your mind’s going to be blown, but you’re going to be ready for it.”
White continued, “[The point of these stories is to] reaffirm what is great about the X-Men while making people see them in a new way. It repositions them. I mean, Jonathan’s very big on that. [He understands that] you definitely need to be connected to what came before. You need to give people that feeling that this is all one piece. But at the same time, if you’re not doing something new, you’re not doing your job. Ideally, in a year, you will be reading a completely different kind of X-Men stories than you’ve ever read.”
If you’ve picked up House of X #1 today and are feeling particularly amped–don’t worry. White was also kind enough to give us a list of his favorite classic X-stories for new readers. These aren’t essential to understanding the new stories, of course, but if you’re hungry for some mutants and the week-long wait between issues feels like too much, these are for you.
Astonishing X-Men vol. 1: Gifted
New X-Men vol. 1: E is for Extinction
Days of Future Past
X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga
House of X #2 hits shelves on August 7, while Powers of X #1 arrives next week on July 31.