House of X writer Jonathan Hickman explains the thinking behind those data pages
Warning: Spoilers for House of X #2 below. Proceed at your own risk.
The release of House of X #2 this week means that we are now three issues in to the 12-part weekly X-Men comic story being told by writer Jonathan Hickman and artists Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva. Fans knew that this project (split between the alternating weekly miniseries House of X and Powers of X) was going to be big, since it’s leading to a line-wide relaunch of all Marvel’s X-comics this fall. But even so, it’s safe to say that each subsequent issue has surpassed even the high expectations fans set for this saga.
House of X #1 kicked things off last month with mutants founding their own independent nation-state on the living island of Krakoa; the week after, Powers of X #1 showed the far-reaching implications of that decision 10 years into the future, 100 years into the future, and 1000 years into the future. This week, House of X #2 shook things up even more by showing how Moira MacTaggert, a mutant-friendly scientist and long-time ally of the X-Men, is actually a mutant herself, born with the power of reincarnation.
If that all sounds like a heady brew…well, it is. But Hickman employs several methods to make his complex story digestible for readers. For one thing, he’s extremely fluent in X-Men history. As Hickman told EW ahead of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, he’s been a fan of the X-Men since he was a child, and has been brainstorming story ideas with them for almost as long.
But on top of that long-time investment, Hickman is also bringing to bear a technique he’s honed in some of his recent creator-owned comics: Data pages. The story of last month’s House of X #1 is occasionally interrupted by dynamic displays of relevant data (courtesy of graphic designer Tom Muller) that explained such things as the medical uses of different flowers from Krakoa and what exactly it means to be an “Omega-level” mutant.
This builds on similar data pages Hickman used in his Image series The Black Monday Murders, illustrated by Tomm Coker. In that comic, which told the story of a mysterious occult power behind Wall Street’s biggest investment banks, Hickman used data pages to break down the intricate systems at work and what roles each of his characters played in this system of mystical capitalism. This information overlays the rest of the story, so that readers can read dramatic conversations between characters and understand the intricate world-building beneath.
“Even in my first work, I’ve always played with the idea of what is narrative and what isn’t? If narrative is all art and words, then graphic design is a part of it as well,” Hickman tells EW. “What I’ve played with in Black Monday Murders was a different way to tell the story.”
Even in a pop culture zeitgeist already so inundated by superhero stories, House of X and Powers of X stand out. So far the release of each new issue has ignited a firestorm of debates and theories among comic fans and professionals on Twitter, and they continue to top Comixology’s digital-comics sales charts.
The data pages are a big reason for this. Hickman intentionally conceived of them as a way to break away from the never-ending flow of news and culture that everyone is subjected to these days.
“The reason why I like it is because it changes the way you read the book, just in terms of how long it takes you to read a page,” Hickman says. “Even if it’s a super wordy page or a dense book, there’s a certain amount of time you allocate to each page, and you know how long it’ll take to read an average comic. When you start interlacing that stuff with things that take longer to read or things you digest in a different matter from a standard comic page, if you change the mechanics of the way people read the books, you’re exerting more finite control on their experience reading a comic. That’s super important because people consume so much pop culture nowadays. It’s not like it was when I was a kid, where’d you save up your money to buy comics, or spend a whole week waiting for the next episode of Knight Rider. All of that’s changed. Everything is hyper-compressed and super dense.”
Hickman continues, “In adjusting to that, because we need to maintain a certain velocity in the comic industry, we’ve become more homogenized in the product that we’re producing. So what you have is a book that’s 20 pages, and it’s produced in the same manner, so you get the same type of cadences throughout the book. You’re teaching people ‘this is how you read in time, this is how a comic book functions.’ Any time you can disrupt the mechanism by which people read the books by engaging a different part of their brains, they have to work harder and it makes the reading experience more effective just by being different. If you can also make it really good and engaging, you’re winning not just the battle but the war of, ‘Are our books cool?’ That’s my thinking behind it. It allows me to cheat narratively. I can do a more cinematic book if i’m not robbing the reader of information in the interim pages. I don’t want somebody to spend $4 and be done with the book in five minutes.”
House of X #2 has the series’ most ambitious data pages yet. As mentioned above, the issue’s story explores the many lives of Moira MacTaggert, a.k.a Moira X. The version of Moira we’re meeting in this comic is now on her 10th reincarnation cycle, and she’s using the lessons she’s learned from multiple past lifetimes to help Professor Charles Xavier build a new kind of future for mutants. Most of the issue is spent showing important moments from those various lives, and then it ends with a grand timeline showing how it all fits together. Once again, there is important story information contained in the data pages. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that there’s no timeline for Moira’s sixth life. What happened in that lifetime, and what role might it play in things to come…?
Check those grand data pages out below. House of X #2 is on sale now; the story continues with Powers of X #2 next week.