“You see, I know how you humans love your symbolism, almost as much as you love your religion.”
This bold statement of Magneto towards the end of House of X #1 not only serves as a general judgement of the human race, it could just as well be a self-reflective revelation from writer Jonathan Hickman himself. As the so called “Head of X” and writer of the 12-part House of X / Powers of X series (two series that are one), he infuses these stories with a myriad of religious symbols and themes. This 12-part essay series aims to explore and analyze the religious references and symbolism discovered in House of X / Powers of X issue by issue, digging under the surface of the comic storyline and asking deep questions about what truth can be found in these works of fiction. Magneto was right; we do love our symbolism and religion.
Chapter 1: Paradise in House of X #1 – The House that Xavier Built
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Pepe Larraz
Color Artist: Marte Gracia
Cover Art: Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia
House of X #1 introduces us to the recently established mutant nation of Krakoa, and it is an island paradise, a literal Garden of Eden (even symbolically called such in Chapter 11, House of X #6). Larraz’s beautiful artwork captures exotic flowers, wildly growing tree and plant life, lush fields of grass, and cascading waterfalls. Gracia’s colors cannot be underestimated in perfecting this image of paradise. Every color is brilliant, expressive. Rays of sunlight stream in golden yellow and majestic magenta. But there is also something strange and unearthly about these landscapes. Krakoa is, as Doug Ramsey puts it, “a whole new world,” apart from earthly life. Still, one cannot deny how attractive and alluring it all looks. It harkens to the biblical description of Eden, where “the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Genesis 2:9) This depiction of paradise draws upon a deep longing inside of us.
Why do we long for paradise? Why do almost all religions include an attainable paradise, not at the beginning of creation, but rather a heaven or nirvana as a possible destination after the end of life?
We know all too well, from many observations and experiences, that this world is not as it should be. There are disasters. There is disease. Things decay. We all one day will die. What’s more, there is injustice. There is hatred and oppression. This world is broken. This, ironically, is part of the appeal of the mutant metaphor. Mutants are the victims of injustice, those who have experienced suffering simply for being. And all of us relate to the problem of injustice and suffering in the world. Those who are honest with themselves will admit that we also are part of the problem. We are the ones who hate and oppress. We cause injustice. We are broken. Although only indirectly broached upon in this issue, the fallen nature of humanity is another religious theme that we will encounter again and again in this series.
The realization of our own brokenness and that of this world births a longing inside of us for something better, something perfect. We sense that we were meant for something more, what the Bible calls a “better country – a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16), a paradise. The promise of paradise is especially significant for the victims of unjust suffering. It gives one the hope to persevere, as the Bible promises: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2. Corinthians 4:17). Who should long for such a paradise more than the mutants of the Marvel universe, who have suffered for being who they are and whose greatest efforts toward positive change have, as yet, been fruitless.
And now they have Krakoa as their sovereign home, an island paradise, whose depiction in nearly all aspects clearly parallels the religious description of Heaven as found in the Bible. Krakoa lives and grows as a self-sustaining ecosystem, mirroring the hopeful vision of the Apostle Paul: “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
In Krakoa, mutants can live free from the fear of hatred and oppression. Prof. X telepathically reassures Jean Grey, “You’re safe here. We all are,” as she smiles contentedly. Magneto rebukes the human envoy, “Where you see an instrument of war, I see an unassailable refuge.” These words reflect the prophecy of Isaiah: “The Lord has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge” (Isaiah 14:32).
The biblical Heaven also promises the end of suffering and the healing of trauma in the often-quoted passage: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). If there is a character in comics that represents suffering and trauma more than any other, it is Wolverine. So, how do we see him in Krakoa? Playing joyfully with children in a meadow; smiling infectiously. The end of death and the theme of rebirth / resurrection is only foreshadowed in the first two pages of this issue, revealed in its entirety later in the series (see Chapter 9, House of X #5).
A linchpin in establishing the new mutant nation is the production of drugs for humans: “A drug that extends human life five years, another that prevents diseases of the mind and a third that is the most effective, adaptive antibiotic the world has ever seen.” Drugs that can only be produced from the flowers of Krakoa; an idea almost lifted directly from the book of Revelation: “And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:2).
Krakoa is established as the new home and refuge for all mutants of the world. A tour of various Krakoan habitats shows the diversity of nations that are included, echoing the vision of Heaven: “there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). A subplot involving Sabretooth reveals that even those mutants who were once considered enemies of the X-Men have been offered amnesty and an invitation to Krakoa; a peace between former bloody enemies similar to a vision of Isaiah which includes such images as “the wolf will live with the lamb…the calf and the lion and the yearling together” (Isaiah 11:6).
Furthermore, Krakoa as a paradise must be something completely different, something holy – set apart from the imperfections of the past. Hickman has Magneto specifically choose Jerusalem as the meeting place with human ambassadors: “You see, I know how you humans love your symbolism, almost as much as you love your religion.” Jerusalem, a holy site for three major world religions and the symbolic heavenly city of the Bible: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem…” (Revelation 21:1-2).
Magneto and the Cuckoo Sisters introduce Krakoa to the human envoy as a new society developing its own culture, starting with its own language (the heart of any culture). The Cuckoo Sister, Sophie, even mentions: “Actually, Sophie’s my human name. I’m thinking of taking another.” Even this idea finds a parallel in the Heaven of the Bible: “To the one who is victorious…I will give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it” (Revelation 2:17).
But, for paradise to be perfect and holy, it must be created by one who is perfect and holy. For the religious, this demands that Heaven be created by God. And it is with a strong sense of gravity that Magneto ends this issue by declaring, “You have new gods now.” This declaration from Magneto creates a foreboding feeling. The question must be asked: Are the mutants founding Krakoa, specifically Prof. X and Magneto, perfect and holy? Is it right to exalt yourself to the position of godhood (yet another religious theme that will reappear often in this series)? This is just one of a few warning signs found in this issue that the seemingly perfect paradise of Krakoa has a darker side.
Although he only appears in two scenes, it is made abundantly clear that the new mutant paradise is, as the title of this issue expresses, the house that Xavier built. He is the clear charismatic leader. The human ambassadors expect to meet with him. Magneto repeatedly emphasizes, that Charles Xavier is in charge: “…that is exactly what Charles Xavier is doing.” “You have heard Charles Xavier’s offer.” “Charles Xavier has made you an offer.” The mutants of Krakoa seem universally enamored with Xavier and what he has done. This is distressing, because the adored charismatic leader, who has become the unquestioned source of all power and authority, is one of the first and most prominent warning signs of a religious cult.
Furthermore, Prof. X’s depiction in his very brief appearances in this issue can be described as nothing less than creepy. First we find him almost floating over newly hatched pod people (a scene without context, disturbing in and of itself), body language suggesting some sort of spirit or fairy, softly beckoning his new disciples, “To me, my X-Men.” In this and his only other scene, he wears the strange helmet of Cerebro, eyes covered, grinning in an unsettling manner. In the second scene, even with his eyes obscured by this helmet, he seems to be peering straight at the reader. One cannot deny that the artistic depiction of Prof. X in this issue is meant to leave the reader feeling uncomfortable.
And then we find out that Krakoa has a rather unyielding restriction. Paradise is, in fact, isolationist and exclusive. Jean Grey explains to a young mutant: “But anyone and anything that isn’t a mutant must be accompanied by one—and even then we have to ask for permission.” Magneto is less gracious to the human ambassadors, “The island, you see, is ours. And ours alone. Man is not welcome there.” This exclusivity also recalls the practices of religious cults, strictly controlling who is in and who is not, reinforcing an “us vs them” mentality in order to fortify the devotion of its followers.
The morality of creating an exclusive paradise is also questionable. Is it morally right to have access to paradise and not open it to all people?
Although many may argue that the Heaven of Christianity is also an exclusive paradise, available only to those who follow a specific set of religious doctrines, this exclusivity is not found in the Bible. Instead, the apostle Paul writes of “God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1. Timothy 2:3-4). The accounts of Jesus in the Bible repeatedly tell of him inviting men and women of all groups and reputations to follow him; often receiving the ridicule of the religious leaders of the time for associating with “sinners” (see for example Luke 15:2). What Jesus expects from someone who accepts his invitation to eternal paradise (see for example Mark 8:34-35) is a theological topic that finds an incredibly good analogy in Chapter 9: House of X #5, and will accordingly be covered there. The difference between the biblical invitation to Heaven, truly open to all, and Prof. X’s invitation to Krakoa, exclusive to mutants, calls into question the moral foundations of the new mutant paradise.
If one questions whether all of these religious themes and symbols are the purposeful intention of writer Jonathan Hickman or just a gross over-interpretation, Magneto’s speech at the conclusion of House of X #1 serves to make this clear. Hickman fills the monologue with obvious religious references. Magneto calls one human “a wolf presenting as a sheep” (see Matthew 7:15); he calls Xavier’s offer “one full of grace and brotherly love” and yet “one that is also written in stone” comparable to the Ten Commandments inscribed on stone tablets. When asked if he knows what he sounds like, Magneto replies, “I do.” Hickman also knows what this sounds like. To hammer the point home, Hickman tells us readers directly with the already-cited quote: “You see, I know how you humans love your symbolism, almost as much as you love your religion.” But Hickman plans to use these religious symbols and themes in new and different ways, as Magneto ends this chapter: “I wanted you – I needed you – to understand… You have new gods now.”
Note: All biblical quotes are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version NIV, Copyright 2011 by Biblica, Inc.