View Full Version : Marvel’s radical rethinking of X-Men is the galaxy-brain sci-fi that comics deserve

October 13th, 2019, 18:44
In the world of superhero comics, line-wide reboots are a dime a dozen. And it’s for precisely those reasons that House of Xand Powers of X — “TWO SERIES THAT ARE ONE,” as the back of every issue proclaimed — hit the comics community so hard.
X-Men fans were hopeful, of course, and those familiar with Jonathan Hickman’s previous work knew enough to expect something galaxy brain. But I think it’s safe to say that no one expected literal galaxy brains (https://www.polygon.com/comics/2019/8/14/20805366/powers-of-x-2-spoilers-phalanx-magneto-apocalypse-marvel-universe).
X-Men experts can attest to the series’ deep and specific roots in X-Men lore (https://www.polygon.com/2019/9/13/20864264/powers-of-x-4-recap-sinister-secrets-easter-eggs-references-marvel-comics-x-men). But Hickman, and artists Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva (with Tom Muller on graphics), have continued the legacy of Marvel’s Merry Mutants in at least one other way: They challenged our ideas of what science fiction could look like in a superhero setting.
Krakoa, the island that walks like a manScience fiction in superhero comics is a messy, blended affair, and it has been for decades. It’s hard not to be, in one of the few modern genres that preserves the idea of the “mad scientist.”
There are solid reasons for this, of course. Modern superhero writers are continuing a tradition — often directly continuing a story — that began before man landed on the Moon, before the invention of television, before black holes were more than a theoretical object predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Before, indeed, the classification of the Hard Science Fiction (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_science_fiction) genre.
The X-Men themselves have always been their own microcosm of this principle within the wider Marvel Universe. While the movies have (mostly) restricted themselves to the basic mutant metaphor, if you dip even your smallest toe into X-Men comics continuity, you might encounter time travel, vampires, alternate universes, secret societies, pocket dimensions, magic, alien empires, a literal Judeo-Christian Hell, omnipotent embodiments of fundamental cosmic forces, and concepts like a “techno-organic virus.” And this list is neither complete nor exhaustive.
<aside id="NguW77"><q>Superhero comics resist hard science fiction</q></aside>
Superhero comics resist hard science fiction. This a particular understatement in a setting with concepts that range from “organic steel” to “beams of pure force.” And it’s not necessarily a weakness. There is an undeniable joy in a setting where malevolent artificial intelligences regularly come into contact with things like “All-Black, the Necrosword.”
But it means that superhero comics have missed out on a lot of modern hard science-fiction trends. Hickman’s X-Men, by rooting itself in transhumanist themes, does not.
The X-Men vs. the SingularityIn retrospect, it seems obvious to bring the science-fictional framework of transhumanism into the X-Men. Many of the great works of scifi, the X-Men among them, imagine what the next leap in human evolution might be — whether it be biological, societal, or technological.
Transhumanist science fiction proposes that humanity’s next Great Leap Forward will be when we transcend our own biology through technological means, with human achievement accelerating on a rapid scale from that point. As Hickman describes in Powers of X #6, the series finale, “A machine leap makes a post-human leap possible, and a post-human leap makes a machine leap possible, on and on until one of these two eventually reaches an end state.”