Yesterday, comic book stores around town quickly sold out of what might be the year's mainstream superhero breakout hit: House of X #1. It's the first issue of a reimagining of the X-Men franchise by superstar writer Jonathan Hickman, who previously wrote gigantic franchise reinventions of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.
If you've read a Hickman comic before, you probably know what to expect: a giant cast of characters, a story with a huge scope, and pages that are just beautifully arranged sprays of text. If you haven't read a Hickman comic before, the closest analog I can summon is this: imagine a dense five-volume series of novels about the X-Men by Isaac Asimov, only you can only read it one chapter per week.
The X-Men are a concept that needs to be reinvented every twenty years or so. The last time the series was shaken up was by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. They amped up the book's horny soap-operatics, and they readjusted the mutant metaphor: being a mutant was no longer about race in America: Morrison made it more a statement on what it meant to be gay in America in the early 21st century. Under Morrison, the X-Men were fashionable and cool and more than a little angsty.
I'm not quite sure what Hickman's central mutant metaphor will be, but I suspect that climate change is factoring into it all. House of X immediately sets up a new paradigm that finds the X-Men teleporting all over the planet, bringing weird flowers everywhere they go. They're not based out of a mansion anymore; now they live in paradise, and they want to be themselves. They're negotiating with the nations of the world to be left alone as equals, and they are bargaining from a position of power.
Of course there's a lot more going on here. All the cheesy drama you remember from the classic X-Men run written by Chris Claremont are here in one form or another. Professor Xavier and Magneto have some weird interpersonal relations going on. The world hates and fears the X-Men, and a thousand subplots seem to be unfolding all at once.
The art by Pepe Larraz similarly calls back to classic X-Men comics of the past. Over a few pages, his version of Cyclops resembles the versions drawn by Walt Simonson, John Byrne, and Marc Silvestri. The art never feels retro or overly dense with homages; in fact it kind of shimmers through X-Men history, with each panel practically vibrating with influences and energy.
Of course, it's impossible to tell where all this is going. Hickman's stories tend to be grand and long and intricately planned. I assume there are any number of twists and turns coming over the next three months of weekly comics laying out his new take on the franchise. But as a debut issue, House of X certainly promises something at once new and true to the long history of the X-Men series. It's time to reimagine the X-Men again. But are we getting the X-Men we need, or the X-Men we deserve?