You Humans Love Your Symbolism, Chapter 11:

Commandments in House of X #6

Chapter 11: Commandments in House of X #6 – House of X

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

Who decides right and wrong?

What Prof. X and Magneto have created on Krakoa (with Moira working in the shadows) has developed quickly along the path of progress. The new society of the now officially recognized nation has welcomed mutants in astounding numbers from all over the world. But where people come to live together, rules of proper behavior, based on a moral foundation, must be agreed upon. As Magneto says, “This is the establishment of a nation. Ours…and I would have it be one of laws.”

But, Krakoa is supposed to be a mutant paradise, a perfect society as first introduced in Chapter 1: House of X #1. Does a perfect society need laws? If everyone behaved with absolute moral righteousness, then theoretically the need for rules and commandments would disappear.  But alas, as stated in the Bible, “there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3). We are all flawed and fallen beings (another recurring theme in this series), morally lacking and in need of guidelines.

Consequently, even on Krakoa commandments and laws must be made. However, Magneto firmly declares, “But not the old laws of man – the new ones of mutants.” Xavier shared this same sentiment earlier, telling the whole world telepathically, “From this day forward, mutants will be judged by mutant law, not man’s.”

Accordingly, to decide right and wrong for mutants, they form the so-called Quiet Council of Krakoa as the “recognized ruling authority” of their new nation. A group of 12 mutant leaders, the moral integrity of its membership is more than a little suspect, considering seven of them have spent as much or more time as X-Men villains than as heroes or allies. Prof. X basically thinks the same: “I cannot say that everyone here best represents the ideals of what any society should be based on, but – be that as it may – it falls on us to establish the laws of this land.”

A political committee meeting follows. The creative team wisely uses four pages of nine-panel grid, in which almost every panel frames the speaking character, giving the reader a feel for the procedural discourse. Still, Larraz well captures the individual body-language and facial expressions of the various personalities. Hickman’s dialogue keeps the scene moving at a steady pace, as this group agrees upon the first three laws of mutantdom.

But, even though the council makes these laws in committee, Prof. X dominates the process as the obvious leader. He dictates when the discussion of a particular law ends and has final say on its acceptance. Of course, he holds this authority in his role as head of state, but it also lends credence to the suspicions that he also holds the role of cult leader, a theory that will be explored below.

Religiously, commandments are not normally decided upon by a group of people, but usually come directly from God; brought to the people through his prophets. Or at least, this is how they are presented. Whether one believes that these rules truly come from God or simply from humans is a matter of faith. And sadly, many leaders of false religions and cults have abused this faith, claiming to receive the direct word of God in order to lead their followers astray.

The council of 12 members directly alludes to religious imagery. In Judeo-Christian numerology, the number 12 is often associated with groups of leadership or government. The nation of Israel was comprised of 12 tribes, mostly along family lines, which developed into something similar to 12 governing states. Jesus chose 12 disciples as his closest companions and the future leaders of the first Christian communities. Adding to their authority, he once told them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

Even more parallels are found between biblical commandments and the first three laws of Krakoa, discussed here in the order they appear on a data page.

MAKE MORE MUTANTS: The first law listed is actually the last law decided upon by the Quiet Council, when Mystique suggests hearing from “the mutant who has faith in one greater than you, Charles”. Nightcrawler, famous for his Catholic beliefs, quotes God’s commandment to Adam and Eve directly after their creation in the Garden of Eden: “And God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28 from the King James Version).

MURDER NO MAN: Although obviously found in the Ten Commandments in its most well-known form, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), it is not the first time that God told humankind not to murder (see Genesis 4:1-16 and Genesis 9:1-17). Furthermore, Jean, generally a model of upstanding morality among the X-Men, uses lofty language in suggesting this law: “if we’re arguing about the highest of ideals – if the goal is greatness of purpose – and if our undertaking is to have worth…then I think the opposite would be true. The highest crime would be killing someone who cannot come back – it would be a mutant killing a human.” In light of the fact that Krakoa was established in order to give mutants a safe haven from the violence and oppression of humans, this statement reminds one of the Christian ethical standard found in Romans 12:17 & 21: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

RESPECT THIS SACRED LAND: After an interruption by Cypher on behalf of Krakoa, reminding everyone that “Krakoa is alive,” the former villain, aptly named Exodus, finally references the biblical creation story in suggesting that Krakoa is not just a paradise, but holy land: “This place…is an Eden to us. Life-giving. Nurturing… If there is mutant ground that is sacrosanct… this is it.” This recalls God’s first appearance to Moses in the burning bush, also on Mount Sinai, but many years before giving the Ten Commandments, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).

The first meeting of the Quiet Council then moves on to the figure standing in their middle, Sabretooth. As a reminder, Sabretooth ruthlessly killed a number of humans on a mission in Chapter 1: House of X #1, only to be captured by the Fantastic Four. Emma Frost and the Cuckoo Sisters later freed him from human imprisonment on the condition of amnesty in Chapter 6: House of X #3. And now he stands here, because, as Nightcrawler noted earlier in the issue, “Ah. So it appears our first bit of business is the oldest kind on this planet… judgment.” As mentioned before, laws are not created for the righteous, but for the fallen and sinful, to judge their immoral actions. And Sabretooth, as he does in this series, has often embodied complete moral deficiency, one who takes pleasure in the evil and suffering he causes.

The verdict is unanimous, but the sentence is horrific. As Prof X. explains in an authoritative monologue, “we cannot send you back into the world,” supposedly to prevent him from committing more crimes; but “as we tolerate no prisons here on Krakoa, that leaves us with very few choices.” The death penalty will not do, because as revealed in Chapter 9: House of X #5, mutants have perfected resurrection. And so, Sabretooth’s punishment is “Stasis…deep inside Krakoa. Alive but immobile…aware but unable to act on it… And for how long? Forever, Creed.” Exiled from paradise in what could be called a form of eternal living death.  Long, almost converging panels, nearly completely black, which stretch beyond the edges of the page, heighten the feeling of Sabretooth falling into an endless abyss.

Interestingly, one finds in this punishment strong similarities to some Christian interpretations of Hell; for example, Jesus’ figurative description of Hell in one of his parables, “throw him outside [exiled from paradise], into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13). As first discussed in Chapter 9: House of X #5, many theologians view Hell as eternal separation from God and all that He provides. Therefore, it is an eternal separation from love, goodness, joy, peace or anything that makes life worth living. Sabretooth’s punishment, eternally alive and aware, yet separated from any personal contact, immobile and unable to act; this seems a fitting comparison to this idea of Hell. Or maybe a better comparison is to the Catholic idea of Limbo, as Prof. X suggests, “Perhaps…one day, a time might come when you have an opportunity to redeem yourself…”

This scene adds to the sense that Prof. X symbolizes more of a cult-leader than a political leader. Here he acts as the absolute authority. He condemns (even though the judgment was voted on by the council). He explains and oversees the punishment, as if the method were his decision alone. At the end of the scene, he almost matter-of-factly says, “It’s distasteful, I know…” although nothing would suggest him feeling any sort of distaste.

Especially in this scene, but also elsewhere in this issue, as well as in almost all of his other appearances in this X1 era of the series, Xavier comes off disquieting, a cult-leader playing the role of god-figure to mutantkind. Although his posture in this issue suggests a more confident leader than the creepy fairy God-Father of Chapter 1: House of X #1 and Chapter 9: House of X #5, Larraz still makes his appearance unsettling. We never see his eyes or complete face. These features remain almost constantly hidden under his Cerebro helmet. Even in the few panels in which he doesn’t wear the helmet, his eyes are conspicuously never shown, while Magneto looks directly at the reader in neighboring panels. Most likely, Hickman and the creative team purposefully obscure Xavier’s eyes in this era to symbolize his disillusionment with his famous dream; in this issue he telepathically tells the world, “That was my dream – harmony – but you have taught me a harsh lesson: That dream was a lie.” But, by keeping us from seeing his eyes, the creative team also withholds an important personal connection from the reader, creating a sense of unease and apprehension.

In fact, Prof. X’s whole telepathic speech to the world, the “proverbial leap of faith” in which he reveals his, Moira’s, and Magneto’s plans to all humankind, clearly places him in the role of god-figure. The very act of speaking telepathically into the minds of everyone on the planet must, to the common person, feel like hearing the voice of God in one’s head. Near the beginning of the speech, Larraz draws Xavier bold, above and outside the boundaries of two panels at the top of the page, symbolically placing him above and outside the limits of space. Larraz uses this technique again, during Xavier’s monologue explaining Sabretooth’s punishment.

The speech itself includes many examples of religious language and terminology. Xavier starts by telling all humans, “I bring you a message of hope.” He promises to cure diseases: “we will provide the means to have a better life. One without pain or suffering and full of hope – and it will cost you so little.” In speaking about his disillusioned dream, Xavier confesses a desire that has long been seen as a fundamental aspect of God’s character: “All I ever wanted was to love you and for you to love us.”

This speech, coupled with his speech at the end of this issue, in which he places himself, once again, into the role of father-figure for all mutantkind, may at first come off as endearing, but also creates a foreboding feeling. Prof. X seems to see himself as the sole, unquestioned, authority for mutantkind, their father and god. Establishing Krakoa has solidified this role. Krakoa is, as the title of this issue calls it, the House of X. But this is exactly the most glaring warning sign of a religious cult.

In any case, the creative team places Xavier’s final speech in this issue in caption-boxes, while the reader views scenes of a huge victory celebration on Krakoa. Gracia and Curiel add beautiful colors to the bonfires and fireworks (courtesy of Dazzler). It appears that everyone on Krakoa is attending this giant party, enjoying themselves with dancing and drinking.

In this final scene, we find a return to the theme of Krakoa as the mutant’s symbolic heavenly paradise, the topic of Chapter 1: House of X #1. Meaningfully, Hickman smoothly transitions to this scene directly from the symbolic Hell of Sabretooth’s punishment, a clear use of juxtaposition. The Bible often refers to Heaven as the biggest kind of party known to the Jewish culture of the time, a wedding feast. For example, while similarly juxtaposing Heaven and Hell, Jesus says, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all of the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28-29). In the book of Revelation, at the end of a vision of Heaven, an angel says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9).

The vignettes we see during the great celebration on Krakoa also place an emphasis on decidedly Christian themes. Most obvious, a few long dead characters have apparently already received resurrection and The Five (the resurrecting mutants) are shown dancing together. Otherwise, we see a focus on relationships and family; Banshee with his daughter, Siryn; Cyclops with his brother, Havok.

Even more prominent, the creative team uses a six-pack of beer to visualize the theme of reconciliation with former rivals. Wolverine, famously Cyclops’s rival for Jean’s affections, brings the six-pack to Cyclops and Jean, throwing his arms around them both. He then takes a can and offers it to one of his bitterest enemies, Gorgon. Jean, meanwhile, takes a can and offers it to her rival for Cyclops’ affections, Emma Frost. This theme of forgiveness and reconciliation holds a central place in Christianity, especially in connection with spiritual resurrection: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10).

And so the mutants of Krakoa party. For once, the oppressed have found not only safety and peace, but a reason for rejoicing. Those, who have fought so long without any lasting victory, can finally celebrate their triumph. The long suffering can relax and find healing and contentment. Although they know that things will not continue without conflict, and the burden of the coming labor will be heavy indeed, in this moment they have taken the first steps toward establishing righteousness and justice for all mutantkind. Now is the time to celebrate the great feast in their kingdom paradise of Krakoa.

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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