You Humans Love Your Symbolism, Chapter 8:

Evil Beings in Powers of X #4

Chapter 8: Evil Beings in Powers of X #4 – Something Sinister

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciler: R.B. Silva
Inker: R.B. Silva
Color Artist: Marte Gracia
Cover Art: R.B. Silva and Marte Gracia

At the end of Chapter 8: Powers of X #4 in the hardcover collection of House of X/Powers of X, Hickman includes a data page with a single quote from Professor X: “I’m not afraid of what I’ve done, but I do fear what it will one day cost.” But what has he done? And why would it be costly?

In the opening scene, taking place in the X0 era, Prof. X and Magneto make a deal, not exactly with the devil, but with someone almost as evil, Mister Sinister. Throughout this section, Sinister oozes ego and selfishness. He only cares for his own desires or what will benefit himself; or rather himselves, as he has populated his island kingdom of Bar Sinister completely with clones of himself, most serving as lowly peasants to his royalty. He kills unrepentantly and at convenience. If one thing can be said in his favor, this characterization of Sinister is at least self-reflective, acknowledging his own immoral traits and admitting his actions are sinful; he does, after all, proudly call himself Mister Sinister.

Many works of creative writing, including novels, poems, dramas, and songs, have centered around the Faustian bargain; the protagonist making a deal with the devil or some other evil being in order to gain riches / knowledge / power or sometimes to achieve a supposed greater good. Most end tragically, when the costs of the bargain catch up with the protagonist. The question is a common one: do the ends justify the means? Is there anything so “good” that you would indebt yourself to someone completely “evil” to attain it? Mister Sinister clearly calls the pact with Prof. X and Magneto “our sinful, secret confederacy”. What Prof. X wants Sinister to do – collect and index the DNA of every mutant – he calls “the good work”; but he also apparently fears “what it will one day cost.” What exactly Prof. X plans to do with the DNA, his greater good, is not revealed until the next chapter: House of X #5.

Most religions, including Christianity, usually discourage any such compromises with evil, even in the tiniest of ways. The apostle Paul uses a particularly good metaphor for the pervasive influence of evil: “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough” (1 Corinthians 5:6). Although there are stories in the Bible of people committing small acts normally considered immoral for a noble purpose, for example, telling a lie to hide someone from being captured by enemies (see Joshua 2:1-7), generally, Christians are advised against tolerating any kind of evil within themselves or their fellowship: “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Unfortunately, this deal with Mister Sinister is not the first and won’t be the last morally grey action Prof. X commits in establishing the new mutant paradigm on Krakoa. One must wonder if or when these decisions will, in fact, come back to haunt him.

In the next scene, the X1 section introduces the origin story of Krakoa, told in the style of a creation myth, through the translation of Cypher. While the story does not involve a deal with a devil, evil beings do take a central role.

The story begins with demons splitting up “the one land,” Okkara: “The twilight sword of the enemy tore the world asunder, and what was one became two: Arakko and Krakoa.” The imagery recalls the Babylonian creation myth of the ancient Mesopotamian culture. In this influential myth, the God Marduk battles and then slays the evil goddess Tiamat, visualized as a water monster or sea-serpent, and cuts her up, creating the sky and the earth (the universe) from the pieces. The influence of this story can be found in other Middle Eastern cultures, which sometimes refer to Tiamat, the evil sea-serpent, as “Rahab” or “Leviathan”. This includes Judaism, for example, in Job 26:12-13, also while referring to God creating the universe: “By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces. By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent.”

The origin of Krakoa also alludes to another common theme in religious thought; that evil, and specifically original sin, causes the discord of perfect unity. Krakoa laments that it “remains alone – a half not whole – for now and forever…” It lives now in a flawed state. Judeo-Christian theology also explains that the original sin of Adam and Eve broke humanity’s union with God and they were thusly banished from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23-24). Elsewhere, this consequence of wrong-doing is more directly applied: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2).

The separation of Okkara into Arakko and Krakoa opens up a chasm: “And from the chasm between them – from whatever wicked place they came – the enemy poured into this world.” Silva illustrates this with silhouettes of monstrous demons, some even holding pitchforks, rising from a fiery abyss. Hickman set up this section earlier, in a data page presented as a gossip column from Bar Sinister. Two different pieces of “gossip” directly reference the classic X-Men crossover “Inferno”, in which demons from Marvel’s version of Limbo invade the Earth.  One of the references includes a telling phrase: “Years ago, a deceased redheaded pretender made a pact with the devil.” Hickman tends to directly mention overarching themes of an issue in seemingly unconnected contexts, often in his data pages. In this case, he wants the reader thinking about Faustian bargains, demons, and the “Inferno” crossover as they read the rest of the issue.

The topic of demons, their origins and purposes, has a long and complicated history in many religions, too complicated to discuss in entirety here. In the Bible, the term most often applies to an “unclean” (i.e. evil) spirit, which causes pain, suffering or other wickedness on Earth. Their most common presence in the Bible occurs in the New Testament accounts of demon-possession. Usually, the demons are driven out by Jesus or one of his disciples (see for example, Mark 1:34). Elsewhere, they are described either as the opposite of angels: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons…” (Romans 8:38); or fallen angels, servants of Satan: “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who lead the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:9). Some theologians and branches of Christianity interpret demons as symbolic beings, which don’t truly exist, but many denominations believe in the reality of angels and demons, which act and have influence in our world. However, the image of horned monsters with pitchforks, as seen in this issue, never appears in the Bible. Rather, this visualization comes from later Christian authors and artists, most in Medieval and Renaissance times. Still, this has become the most well-known image of demons; that which permeates most modern illustrations, including in many comic books.

Interestingly, it is Apocalypse and his original four horsemen who push back the demon invasion and save the world. But, this victory comes with a cost: the original Horsemen were sent with Arakko through the chasm to “sentinel that land”. Another bit of “gossip” from the data page / gossip column mentioned before implies that Apocalypse cared for these original Horsemen more than any others. Silva expertly uses empty space to draw a mourning Apocalypse, who now, like Krakoa, stands alone at the end of this creation myth.

The last section of this issue returns to the X3 era, picking up where we last left the post-humans’ encounter with the Phalanx. They long for ascension with a religious-like hope: “Isn’t that what’s next? The idea of your great union existing just beyond our reach is something we cannot tolerate.” Three issues have gone by since we last saw this era, so the reader could be excused for forgetting what exactly ascension is. But, Hickman catches us up with two pages at the end of this issue full of exposition, reminding us: “The Phalanx have the ability to integrate any machine intelligence into their collective, which after a period of time – if that intelligence is found usefulworthy…it will eventually ascend and be part of the greater collective – subsumed into the empire.” In other words, the post-humans long to become one with a godlike intelligence, and in doing so, rule the universe; as more exposition reveals: “The Phalanx are the forerunners of a galactic empire that we believe has dominion over the entirety of the known universe.”

In Chapter 4: Powers of X #2, the last issue in which we saw the X3 era, this religious theme of Ascension was explored in the context of the esoteric idea of individuals becoming one with a communal consciousness.  In this issue, however, Hickman implies that the post-humans are about to enter into a Faustian bargain with the Phalanx. Since integration into the collective “doesn’t work with biological entities,” the post-humans must make a deal. In more exposition, the first half of this scene is explained: “So the Elder made a host machine – an empty vessel – and copied himself over to it before the Phalanx absorbed it.” Here, Hickman returns again to the idea that has recurred often in this series, the theme that will take central focus in Chapter 10: Powers of X #5; that the mind is the soul, that what makes you who you truly are, and can be saved and / or copied like informational data. There exists an interesting parallel back to the X0 era of this issue, where Sinister was tasked with collecting the DNA of mutants, the complete biological informational data of who someone is. In any effect, the elder’s method works: “We just confirmed that he was in there somewhere.”

Unfortunately, as with all deals with the devil, as one post-human says: “Everything always comes down to a question of cost, doesn’t it?” Famously, making a deal with the devil may just cost you your soul. In this issue, Hickman suggests (as he also did in Chapter 5: Powers of X #3) that machines have no soul, based on the fact that they do not hope: “WE-[PHALANX]-CARE-LITTLE-FOR-HOPE”. Furthermore, as already discussed in more detail in Chapter 4: Powers of X #2, all illustrations and descriptions of the Phalanx appear cold and lifeless, possessing nothing which would generally be associated with spirituality or the soul.

In Chapter 4: Powers of X #2, Hickman left us wondering if ascension is really a good thing after all. In this issue, he asks more concretely: Would you give up your organic body and possibly your individuality in order to ascend into an immortal collective intelligence, becoming a part of that which dominates the universe? In other words: Would you lose your soul in order to gain the universe? For his followers, Jesus gave a clear answer: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26).

Alas, when one bargains with the devil, there will be grave costs. The costs for Prof. X, Magneto, and the new mutant paradise on Krakoa in dealing with Sinister have not yet been revealed, not even after this series ends. But, one should expect Hickman and his creative teams to come back to this plotline sometime in the future. For the post-humans of the X3 era, the cost of ascension appears to quite literally be their souls. But, how this plays out will be further explored in Chapters 10 & 12: Powers of X #5 & #6. In any case, as the Librarian points out, there is no cause for celebration. Not one bit.

Note: All biblical quotes are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version NIV, Copyright 2011 by Biblica, Inc.

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David L Canham (@BBelafat) grew up in Arizona watching X-Men: the Animated Series and reading mostly X-Men and Spider-Man comics of the 90s. After a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics with Minors in Math and Religious Studies from the University of Arizona, he received a doctorate in Physics from the University of Bonn in Germany. He now teaches Physics and Math at the junior high and high school level in northern Germany, where he lives with his family. He still loves comics; especially the ones that make him ask deep questions.

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