Warning: This article contains spoilers for House of X #1
Has Marvel Comics faked out fans with their latest X-Men relaunch? There was a time when the X-Men were Marvel's flagship franchise, when X-Men #1 became the best-selling comic of all time, and when everybody knew that iconic theme tune. The X-Men books aren't doing anywhere near so well nowadays, though, and as a result Marvel's been struggling to find a way to catch comic book readers' eyes once again.
Their latest approach is a high-profile relaunch featuring Jonathan Hickman (Fantastic Four, New Avengers, Secret Avengers). He's put together a years-long story that kicks off with House of X #1, which is intended to reinvigorate the entire X-Men range. Marvel's been keeping Hickman's plans under wraps, not even giving away many details at San Diego Comic-Con, and anticipation is at fever-pitch.
The story in House of X #1 seems to kick off roughly six months after the current X-Men run, and it reveals that the resurrected Charles Xavier has apparently established a mutant nation. This is centered on a living island in the Pacific named Krakoa, and he's planted embassies all over the world - and even a couple offworld. Humanity has been persuaded to accept this because of the offer of Krakoan plants that have helpful health effects on humans, including miracle drugs. But is everything what it seems to be?
House of X Opens In The Strangest Possible Way
House of X #1 opens with one of the strangest sequences in X-Men comics to date. The first two pages see a mysterious figure standing in a Krakoan growth. Pods open, and mutants emerge - including one who's recognizable as Cyclops, because of the crimson energy shimmering from his eyes. The mutants are all naked, and they crawl across the ground towards the black-clad, helmeted figure, who's clearly pleased with his work. "To me, my X-Men," the man says, a line famously associated with Charles Xavier.
The scene is absolutely inexplicable, not least because it appears completely disconnected from the rest of the book. The color of the Krakoan growths in this area is black, in contrast with the usual green, suggesting this isn't a normal part of the Pacific island. Later in House of X #1, Hickman refers to "No-Place," which he defines as "a habitat that exists outside the collective consciousness of Krakoa. A place within the island ecosystem that Krakoa doesn't know exists. A Krakoan tumor." It's reasonable to assume this first scene is set in No-Place.
The X-Men Seem Strangely Out Of Character
Throughout House of X #1, the X-Men feel strangely out-of-character. Only three are really given a spotlight, and there's something a little off about each of them. The first is Jean Grey, who has resumed her classic "Marvel Girl" codename and costume. She's leading young mutants through the Krakoan Gateways to the mutant nation, and oddly seems to respond to the name "Mrs. Grey." She takes the kids to an area near a lagoon, where the black-suited and helmeted figure is identified as Professor Xavier. For a moment, Jean appears uncomfortable, as though she senses something isn't right; but Xavier sends her a telepathic message, reassuring her that she's safe.
The second major character, and the most well-developed in this issue, is Magneto. Surprisingly, Xavier sends Magneto out to act as his ambassador to the world, and Magneto's message is stark. He demonstrates the power of the mutant race by having his telepaths effortlessly pluck truths from the minds of human ambassadors, and ends his diplomatic affairs by telling said ambassadors that they have new gods now - the mutants. This is the classic, old-school Magneto, the villain who represents mutant supremacy. And yet he's Charles Xavier's chosen ambassador.
Finally, there's Cyclops, who is sent to retrieve three mutants who've been caught breaking the law and are attempting to escape through a Gateway. Mystique, Sabretooth, and Toad are stealing technological secrets from Damage Control - the comic identifies plans for potential world-breakers. They're pursued by the Fantastic Four, but Cyclops intervenes, attempting to force the FF to release the evil mutants. He insists that the world has agreed to a mutant amnesty - and it's apparently a rolling one. Any crime committed by a mutant is subject to immediate amnesty.
Looked at through a critical eye, it's clear that there is something badly wrong with the X-Men. They appear to have embraced the isolationist ways of Magneto rather than the integrationist dream of Charles Xavier. The scenes with Jean Grey feel strange, not least because she sees Wolverine playing with the kids. This is reminiscent of one moment in Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men run, where Wolverine's mind was being manipulated. What's really going on?
Is This The X-Men - Or Is This Krakoa?
The key appears to be Krakoa itself. The island of Krakoa was introduced in the classic Giant-Size X-Men #1, where it was revealed to be situated near to atomic tests. Somehow the radiation created a new, hive entity, with every part of the island's biosphere merging into a terrifying, dangerous threat. Krakoa became a parasitic entity, feeding on life energy - especially mutant energy. It captured the original X-Men, and allowed Cyclops to escape in order to bring others into its realm. In the end, Charles Xavier assembled the Second Genesis team - which included the likes of Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Colossus - and they succeeded in saving the day. Krakoa was blasted into space, but seeds of it remained on Earth, and have created different biomes in the Pacific Ocean and North America.
In Excalibur #31, Nightcrawler found himself stranded on another Krakoan island. There, he learned that the first Krakoa had absorbed the genetic codes of every being it encountered. The Krakoa encountered by Nightcrawler had fashioned pods in which it created exact duplicates of the X-Men as servants. These pods are identical to the ones shown in House of X's introductory sequence, strongly suggesting that the world isn't dealing with the X-Men at all. That would explain why Cyclops has both eyes, why Jean Grey is in the Marvel Girl costume she wore when she first crossed paths with Krakoa, and why a number of characters are back from the dead. They're all mutants who've encountered a Krakoa before. Meanwhile, notice that "Professor Xavier" never takes off his helmet, suggesting he has something to hide.
It's looks as though Jonathan Hickman's X-Men reboot is a fake-out; that this isn't an X-Men relaunch at all, but an invasion by Krakoa. After all, the establishment of this so-called mutant nation means that there are Krakoan seeds all over the world, even in places like the Savage Land, where there's no need for an embassy. What's more, the X-Men are bargaining with Krakoan flowers that have helpful effects on humans - and would presumably be used by almost every human on the planet. While all this is presented as benign, the moment you begin to become suspicious, it looks like preparation for an invasion, with Krakoan flowers spread across the entire globe.
If this is the case, how will humanity protect itself? There are two possible solutions. The first is the Orchis Protocol, an anti-mutant policy that has kicked in now the mutant race is sufficiently organized to pose an extinction-level threat to humanity. This has brought together all anti-mutant factions across the world. The second, of course, is the X-Men themselves. If these are Krakoan clones, then where are the real X-Men? No doubt Hickman will reveal the truth over the course of the series.