You Humans Love Your Symbolism, Chapter 9:

Resurrection in House of X #5

Chapter 9: Resurrection in House of X #5 – Society

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Pepe Larraz
Color Artist: Marte Gracia
Cover Art: Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
Where, O grave, is your destruction?”
-Hosea 13:14

Although only the ninth of twelve chapters, House of X #5 brings the entire House of X / Powers of X series to its thematic and symbolic climax. How fitting then, that the new, life-changing revelation for mutantkind introduced and explored in this issue so obviously and meaningfully mirrors the central message of Christianity and the history-changing climax of Jesus’ story: Resurrection.

Hickman approaches this subject through the perspective of another theme; one which he has touched upon throughout this series: Unity. Previously, this topic found prominence in Chapter 4: Powers of X #2, which Hickman tellingly titled “We are together now, you and I”. In that issue, Prof. X and Moira seek reconciliation with Magneto, arguing that “apart, we always lose. We believe it’s only together that you and I – that all our people – can survive.” Hickman just as significantly titles the current issue “Society”, referring to Magneto’s quote on the first page: “And that’s the one good thing humans taught us: Society”. Hickman ends this issue with Apocalypse, speaking for a large company of familiar X-Men villains, finishing his pledge of allegiance to Krakoa with a decisive declaration of unity: “One people. From this day forward.”

In the last two chapters, the creative team included this key theme by exploring how evil, sin and death destroy perfect unity. In Chapter 7: House of X #4, while securing a decisive victory against the new anti-mutant organization, Orchis, every member of Cyclops’ X-Men team died, seemingly lost forever to their mutant community and family on Krakoa. Then, in the previous issue, Chapter 8: Powers of X #4, the origin story of Krakoa told of demons tearing apart Okkara, the one land, into two parts. As mentioned in the previous essay, Krakoa’s origin symbolically alludes to the Judeo-Christian notion that sin and evil break humanity’s relationship with God, as stated in Isaiah 59:2: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God.”

This idea originates in the original sin. Famously, the consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience is death, as God commanded: “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). While this most obviously refers to physical mortality, Judeo-Christian theologians also give a deeper, spiritual and more eternal meaning to the death which results from sin. Spiritual death describes the separation from God already mentioned above. And just as living in sin separates us from a relationship with God during our time on Earth, dying in sin results in eternal separation from God. And since, according to the Bible, God is in his very being the source of all love, goodness, joy, mercy, etc., eternal separation from God means eternity removed from everything that one would consider loving or good. Nothing better describes what we refer to as Hell or eternal damnation, symbolically described in Revelation 21:8 as a “fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

And so this issue begins with the heavy atmosphere of death and disharmony. Polaris has the first line; rhetorically asking, “Humans. Is there any good in them?” The answer found in the Bible at first seems ungracious (and would also include all mutants), but if we are honest with ourselves, it rings true: “there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3); or as the apostle Paul put it, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In this sense, everyone is separated from a perfect relationship with God and in danger of both mortal and eternal death.

But then we are introduced to The Five and the process by which any mutant can be resurrected, in a scene foreshadowed all the way back in the very first two pages of Chapter 1: House of X #1. In this well scripted and dynamically drawn scene, Magneto explains to his daughter, Polaris (and to us readers), the individual part each member of The Five plays in bringing about the rebirth of a dead mutant as a fully mature person. Although later called “the mutant resurrection machine”, the process is described and depicted as something almost artistic or spiritual: “We’ve learned that creating life is delicate, almost impossible, work…” Magneto calls it “the intricate dance necessary to pull off these Promethean feats,” Hickman once again referencing the creation story of ancient Greek mythology. As will be further seen, the act of resurrection or rebirth has other fundamental ties to creation myths.

At the end of his exposition, Magneto emphasizes how The Five only work in perfect unity. With the pun fully intentioned, he says: “but Hope is a great unifier. Her powers enable theirs to operate at both their peak and in unison.” Hope Summers, the unifying member of The Five, originally entered the X-Men mythology as “The Mutant Messiah” in two X-Men crossovers, “Messiah Complex” and “Second Coming”, which also relied heavily on religious symbolism. Here, Hickman seemingly brings this prophetic title to fulfillment, giving her a central role in saving mutantkind from death. But, he also brings about the climax of his central theme, having Magneto describe how resurrection both results out of and also restores unity: “Separate, yes, they are great mutants – but only significant, not transcendent. Together, however…together, these five mutants have made us…whole.”

The restoration of humanity’s union with God, making us whole, is the expressed purpose of Jesus’ life, as he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). According to Christianity, Jesus ultimately fulfills his messianic purpose through his death on a cross and his resurrection three days later. Although the four books on Jesus’ life found in the Bible – called the four Gospels – at times differ concerning which stories or teachings are recorded, all four lead up to and give a detailed retelling of Jesus’ death by crucifixion (see Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19), followed by an account of his resurrection and appearances thereafter (see Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21). The apostle Paul calls these events “of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Paul then writes at length explaining just how important the resurrection of Jesus is to Christianity:  “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17,19). Prof. X stresses that resurrection holds similar importance for mutants by simply stating: “It’s foundational—everything.”

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the miracle of central importance to Christianity, celebrated on Easter Sunday with praises reminiscent of Storm’s words in reintroducing the resurrected X-Men: “A great thing has happened today. A miracle made possible by mutant hands…” Her next words might as well be a direct quote from the Bible, “…for they have righted the wrongs of man and defeated our great enemy death.” In further discussing resurrection, Paul’s words parallel Storm’s, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26); and later, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). As mentioned above, spiritual death describes the separation of humankind from God, the consequence of sin. Dying in sin results in eternal separation from God, the second death. But in his resurrection, Jesus Christ has defeated our great enemy, death, restoring our relationship with God and granting us access to eternal life in the paradise of Heaven, an eternity in fellowship with God: “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘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 21:3-4).

The imagery found in the book of Revelation describing Heaven, discussed in Chapter 1: House of X #1, strongly references that of the Garden of Eden, clearly suggesting that resurrection into eternal life restores us to the state of innocence that we had before Adam and Eve’s original sin. This return to innocence, to our original state in the Garden of Eden, is quite stunningly (some would say shockingly) visualized in this issue. The eight resurrected X-Men hatch out of their pod-like eggs completely naked. And they remain this way throughout the religious-like ceremony (which will be discussed later) in which Storm reintroduces them in front of the congregated peoples of Krakoa, their symbolic Garden of Eden (again: see Chapter 1: House of X #1). And no one seems to mind one bit that these eight people are completely nude the whole time, not even the eight resurrected mutants themselves. This obviously alludes to the innocent state of Adam and Eve before the original sin: “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25).

But, this is not the only imagery from this issue which finds direct parallels in the Bible. As just mentioned, the resurrected mutants are quite literally reborn, hatching out of eggs. Before this, Larraz draws a fetus being brought to life within the egg. Evangelicals often refer to conversion to Christianity as being “born again”, stemming from the words of Jesus: “Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again’” (John 3:3). But Jesus then clarifies that he does not mean a second physical birth, but rather the process of inner, spiritual rebirth: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6).

The apostle Paul also speaks of a spiritual rebirth in describing the resurrected body one will receive after death, emphasizing its perfection compared to our current flawed nature: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Polaris also muses about the near perfection of the resurrected mutants’ bodies: “Temporally evolved to their desired age – perhaps even to their optimal and perfected form.

And one cannot ignore the fact that mutants have only now achieved this resurrection on Krakoa, the mutant paradise symbolic of both the Garden of Eden and Heaven (see, once again, Chapter 1: House of X #1). This too mirrors the biblical scriptures: “The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47).

Directly after The Five finish their work in resurrecting the dead X-Men, Polaris asks a very important question: “Isn’t it just their bodies?… It’s not them, is it? It’s just a shell.” Here, she wisely points out that true resurrection requires not only the return of the body but also the soul. To answer this question, in another retcon from Hickman, Magneto reveals the true purpose of Cerebro: “The first [function] was copying the mind – the essence, the anima – of any mutant Xavier found. So he could one day put a soul back into its mutant shell.” The symbolism in Larraz’s depiction of Xavier, wearing the Cerebro helmet, returning Cyclops’ soul to his newly reborn body, clearly alludes to the creation of Adam found in Genesis 2:7, “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Since “breath of life” and “living being” could also be translated as “spirit of life” and “living soul”, this verse is often interpreted as God breathing the soul into the newly formed man, just as Xavier uses Cerebro to put the soul back into a reborn mutant body.

In this scene, Hickman finally reveals the importance of the recurring idea that the soul is nothing but the mind, which can be copied and stored as informational data. We now know why the Librarian of the X3 era wore a Cerebro-like helmet in Chapter 2: Powers of X #1. As he explained, “There’s too much machinery floating around inside there – and not enough soul to save, let alone copy.” We can now better understand why and how the Elder of the X3 era copied his mind (his soul, his essence) into an empty vessel, albeit a machine and not an organic body, in the previous chapter: Powers of X #4. In a data page in the current issue, Hickman directly states, “These backups are the essence of each mutant. How they think, how they feel, their memories – their very being.” He calls the backup of a mutant’s mind “WHO THEY ARE”. But the question still remains: Is the soul nothing but the mind or is it more than that? And if it is just the mind, can it be copied and backed up like information in a computer? These questions will be discussed again, as they take central focus in the next issue, Chapter 10: Powers of X #5.

Hickman concludes this issue by symbolically returning to the theme of inner, spiritual resurrection in a way that has already been briefly discussed above. In resurrection, Jesus Christ grants us rebirth, saving us from the consequences of sin, restoring our union with God and returning us to a state of complete innocence. Still, if we are honest with ourselves, many of us often think the same thing that Wolverine says out loud, “Some people are beyond saving.” Magneto immediately, but self-reflectively, rebukes him: “If that were true, would you be here? Would I?”

That someone could be beyond saving is also rebuked in the Bible. Paul, also self-reflectively, writes in 1 Timothy 1:15-16, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” Through inner, spiritual resurrection, Jesus offers even the worst of sinners the chance to be reborn, washed clean and to start anew: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5).

In this scene, we see these Christian beliefs symbolically translated into the context of X-Men mythology, as the worst of the X-Men villains, led by Apocalypse, arrive on Krakoa. As mentioned briefly in Chapter 1: House of X #1, Prof. X (Krakoa’s God-figure) has invited all mutants, even the X-Men’s greatest enemies, to join the mutant paradise on Krakoa. Symbolically, the X-Men’s villains undergo a transformation from sinner to saint in taking up Prof. X’s offer of unity. Xavier’s comment to Wolverine at the beginning of this scene could literally be a quote from Jesus: “An opportunity to change is exactly what I’m offering.”

One significant difference, though, between Prof. X’s invitation to Krakoa and Jesus’ invitation to resurrection (also discussed in Chapter 1: House of X #1) lies in the exclusivity of Krakoa. Although even the worst of enemies can become allies on Krakoa, paradise is only open to mutants; humans are not allowed. In stark contrast to this, as just mentioned, Jesus’ offer of salvation is truly open to everyone, even the worst of sinners.

And yet, although open to all people, Jesus makes clear that his invitation to eternal life depends upon specific guidelines on how that invitation must be accepted: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). His terms are gracious, even merciful, but uncompromising, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14).

Ironically, the invitation to Krakoa provides a good analogy. In this scene, the former villains who want to join Krakoa must first “submit to the laws of this land, be what they may, and acknowledge that from this day forward, we all serve a higher purpose than want or need.” Accordingly, one could imagine there being mutants unwilling to give up their right to govern themselves. Better to be one’s own master in a flawed world than to enter paradise only by submission. Of course, the submission itself is actually advantageous, leading to a renewed, seemingly perfect life; but pride is a hard habit to break. Similarly, the invitation of Jesus to eternal life is open to all; but not all are willing to submit to the God of the Bible (which is understandable, considering the very poor behavior of many of his followers).

Unfortunately, the symbolic treatment of the Christian gospel found in this issue diverges further from Christian theology in one very important aspect: resurrection represents only half of the central Christian message. For Christians, the crucifixion of Jesus is just as fundamental. In his death, Jesus offers his own sin-free (according to the Bible) life as an atoning sacrifice, taking upon himself the punishment that our sins deserve, so that we can be forgiven: “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24).

Two lines in this issue suggest that Hickman may consider the martyrdom of Cyclops’ team in Chapter 7: House of X #4 as the symbolic analogy for the death of Christ. First, after Prof. X puts Cyclops’ soul back into his body, Cyclops asks if their mission was successful. Prof X. replies: “You succeeded, and your sacrifice was not in vain…It was a gift, and in the giving, you saved us all.” This seems to echo the Christian belief that Jesus’ death gives us salvation: “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28). Later, Storm praises the eight resurrected mutants, “And it was through their deaths that a great victory was won for our people…the first victory of many.” This also appears to parallel the Christian gospel, which often speaks of Jesus’ death and resurrection as the first and decisive victory over sin and death: “But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Still, despite the parallels between these two quotes and multiple biblical verses, Hickman and the creative team never indicate elsewhere that the deaths of the X-Men in Chapter 7: House of X #4 were in any way an atoning sacrifice for the misdeeds of other mutants. Instead, as discussed in the essay on that issue, they died as martyred soldiers, winning a decisive military victory over anti-mutant humans. Even though the creative team explores the resurrection so thoroughly in this issue, the absence of substitutionary death leaves the central Christian message incomplete.

Sadly, as has occurred often in this series, too many elements in this issue hint at a darker, more cult-like nature to the new mutant community on Krakoa. As briefly mentioned before, Storm, acting as pastor or reverend, reintroduces the newly resurrected mutants to the gathered congregation of Krakoan citizens in a very religious-like ceremony, at first reminiscent of evangelical revivals (but with more nudity). She leads the gathered fellowship through a liturgical ritual, including repeated phrases and sections of call and response. At the appropriate moments, the members of the impassioned congregation throw their fists in the air and chant in unison, “Mutant!” To the reader, observing from the outside, this creates an uneasy feeling. What started as a kind of religious celebration soon becomes something more foreboding, as Storm drives the mutants into an emotional fury, now reminiscent of the indoctrinated church services of the most fundamentalist Christian sects.

Throughout this scene, Storm refers to her fellow mutants as “brothers and sisters”, a common practice of the first Christian churches and still standard in many conservative denominations, regrettably including fundamentalist sects. The apostle Paul almost always referred to fellow believers in his letters as “brothers and sisters”; writing in Romans 8:14, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” Consequently, all believers are siblings. Unfortunately, religious cults often use this practice as a means of control, using the bond of family to emotionally manipulate the decisions and actions of their members; an abhorrent technique more thoroughly examined in Chapter 6: House of X #3.

In this mutant family, Xavier takes on the role of father-figure, most obviously by referring to Cyclops as “my boy.” Symbolically, this places him once again in the role of God. But this also suggests that Krakoa is possibly more akin to a cult. Xavier’s behavior, speech and mannerisms throughout the series have ranged from creepy to shady to downright manipulative. For example, in the short interlude in the middle of this issue, he praises Emma for telepathically manipulating the U.N. vote to recognize the sovereignty of Krakoa. Already discussed too often in this series, the creative team’s depiction of Xavier sways too far from benevolent head of state into the territory of disturbing cult-leader; a charismatic, seemingly good-natured, but secretly manipulative person, who holds absolute, unquestioned authority over his followers, worshiped by them as a god-figure.

Perhaps this is just the way Hickman views Christianity; as a theology based on hopeful and miraculous promises, including the salvation of the soul through spiritual resurrection, that is ultimately a cultish religion filled with indoctrinated followers led by manipulative, hypocritical leaders. Still, it seems puzzling that Hickman would turn the protagonists of his story, the super-heroes we should be rooting for, into something as detestable as a religious cult.

One last troubling aspect of mutant resurrection must be covered. The preserved DNA, the “biological building blocks of each specific mutant” necessary to regenerate the body of the deceased, comes from none other than Mister Sinister. This was the purpose behind Prof. X and Magneto’s pact with Sinister in the last issue, Powers of X #4, symbolically interpreted as a deal with the devil. And while many might believe that conquering death represents a greater good worth this compromise, one must wonder and fear along with Xavier, “what it will one day cost,” especially considering the indispensable part Sinister’s DNA has in resurrection: “Without this, we have nothing.”

Finally, as already mentioned in the essay on Chapter 7: House of X #4, in which the currently resurrected X-Men died, resurrection has become somewhat of an expected occurrence in super-hero comic books. It happens too often. It has already happened at least once to almost all of the X-Men resurrected in this issue. So, why is this new addition to X-Men canon so ground-breaking and significant? After all, super-heroes are resurrected all the time.

The process of resurrection performed by The Five seems different, exactly because it is an integral part of the X-Men story going forward. Whereas most comic book resurrections occur somewhat randomly or spontaneously, in that each resurrection has its own plot device and method, the work of The Five is systematic, repeatable and reliable; referred to as “the mutant resurrection machine”. Mutants now have a resurrection that they can not only hope for, but also be assured of.

How would your life change, if you had guaranteed victory over death? If you knew for sure that you will be resurrected? When we know that we will rise again, what have we to fear? This is the confidence which Christians profess in faith. It turned the disciples of Jesus into fearless followers, who were all at some point martyred for their beliefs. For the apostle Paul, the assurance of resurrection gave him the hope to “face death every day…If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained?” (1 Corinthians 15:31-32). He later enthusiastically quotes Hosea 13:14: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Compared to the promised eternal life, every suffering, tragedy or even inconvenience we may face appears small and insignificant. With this eternal perspective, every day can be filled with abundant hope. The disciple Peter’s words in 1 Peter 1:3 powerfully illustrate the impact of the resurrection in the lives of Christians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

And now, in resurrection, the X-Men also possess this living hope. What more do the X-Men have to fear from a world that hates and fears them; that has aggressively attempted to oppress or eliminate them at every turn? What evil could occur, that doesn’t pale in the light of new life? The final victory over death has already been won. They have been delivered from the power of the grave. With confidence all mutants can share Xavier’s sentiment, “Today I am filled with nothing but hope.”

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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