X-Men Comics

Long Live the House of X: Marvel's X-Men creators discuss the Krakoa era

Jonathan Hickman and other writers (plus artist Pepe Larraz) look back at two years of a new status quo for Marvel's mutants.

It's been two years since Marvel's mutants changed forever. In late summer 2019, writer Jonathan Hickman teamed up with artists Pepe Larraz and R.B. Silva for House of X and Powers of X, a 12-issue comic saga that rewrote the status quo of the X-Men by establishing a new mutant nation-state. After years of unimpressive X-comics (perhaps due to a corporate de-emphasis of the franchise while Fox retained the film rights), this creative invigoration brought readers back in and re-established the X-Men as must-read superhero comics.

Hickman had already proved his bona fides with impressive runs writing Fantastic Four and Avengers, but these new X-Men comics were more than just him. Hickman brought in a whole team of writers to tackle various X-related comics, and the result has been a new golden age for mutant stories.

As EW reported earlier today, Hickman will be departing the X-line after this fall's Inferno to focus on other Marvel work for the foreseeable future, but the architecture he helped build remains, as do the other writers. As it happens, EW has been interviewing Hickman and these collaborators — writers Vita Ayala, Gerry Duggan, Al Ewing, Tini Howard, Benjamin Percy, Si Spurrier, Zeb Wells, Leah Williams, and artist Pepe Larraz — about the past two years of radical new X-Men comics. Check that out below; hopefully it will assuage some of the sadness from Hickman's coming departure.

Mutant society

For much of their history, the X-Men had a very specific mission statement: Though many humans hated them for the superpowers that made them different, Professor Charles Xavier's students would use those very powers to protect the public that feared them and promote peaceful coexistence between the species. That all changed with House of X and Powers of X, when Xavier finally changed his dream. He, Magneto, and Moira MacTaggert founded an independent mutant nation-state on the living island of Krakoa, putting all mutants (superhero or supervillain, Hellfire Club dandy or Morlock sewer-dweller) on the same side against the rest of the world. The X-Men stopped being superheroes, and became nation-builders. 

X-Men Comics
The nation of Krakoa makes itself known to the world in 'House of X' by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
The nation of Krakoa makes itself known to the world in 'House of X' by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics

JONATHAN HICKMAN (writer, House of X, Powers of X, X-Men): I had to pitch what I was doing to the entire editorial staff, and later on, to the larger room at a creative retreat. There were lots of questions, some were about stylistic tics, but most were certainly in the vein of, "does this work," or "should we be doing this?" And I, frankly, love it when people ask questions like that, because you get to find out very quickly if the answers you're giving to the room are being accepted or not. In this case the answer was, for the most part, yes, which was good. 

GERRY DUGGAN (writer, Marauders, Cable, X-Men): I got to be the first big fan of House of X and Powers of X, just from being in the room and listening. I knew it was gonna be great, but I didn't know what Jonathan was gonna present. He absolutely blew me away. But what I didn't realize going into it was how much of an opportunity it was going to present for everyone. I thought maybe I'd hear a story that would be great, but no it was a really big spread with really generous parameters. I felt like I was following Jordan and Jonathan around New York going "what if this? What if that?" 

BENJAMIN PERCY (writer, X-Force, Wolverine): Speculative stories often channel cultural unease. Look at the way Frankenstein is born out of the Industrial Revolution, look at how Invasion of the Body Snatchers is born out of the Red Scare. If you look at what's happening in the world right now the last few years, you have (in Black Lives Matter and #MeToo) movements in which the marginalized have stood up, raised a fist, and said that's enough. You see a similar shift in the way we're handling the mutants in this Dawn of X and now Reign of X. They have stood up and said, that's enough, and changed the rules for everyone as a result in a visionary way. 

ZEB WELLS (writer, Hellions): What I love about Hickman's whole thing here is that there are no easy answers; he's taken the rug and pulled it out from under us. Reading X-Men comics for years and years, they were these super-powerful characters but their goal was to protect the humans who feared and hated them. What a noble goal. It's still simple heroism. But as soon as you take that and say, "Okay, well now they have a different goal, their goal is to make a society," then easy answers disappear. Good and evil disappear, and as a human reader you lose that safety net of knowing these characters have your best interests at heart. There's something dangerous about the entire enterprise that I love as a writer, that I would not have had the guts to do myself, but as soon as Jonathan did it, I knew I needed to get in there and play. I knew it would challenge me and my own preconceived notions.

The elixir of life

X-Men characters never stay dead. Perhaps due to its central mashup of superhero comics and soap opera — two genres that love a dramatic resurrection — the X-Men franchise has become well-known for how often its champions bounce back from the grave. But that trope was officially literalized in House of X, when Xavier unveiled a new mutant team called the Five, who by combining their powers can resurrect any mutant, efficiently and endlessly. These new resurrection protocols have become a central pillar of Krakoan strength, as well as the island's most closely-guarded secret. But they have also had unintended consequences for this new mutant society, as seen in Way of X (where Nightcrawler is trying to build a new mutant spirituality to account for the reality of resurrection) and X-Factor (about a detective team tasked with untangling complicated mutant deaths). 

X-Men Comics
Professor X resurrects Cyclops with the help of the Five in 'House of X' by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz.
| Credit: Marvel Comics

AL EWING (writer, S.W.O.R.D.): What Jonathan did with House of X/Powers of X is he took off so many breaks and restraints and limitations, and he just opened up the box. He just took the lid off the box, took all the sides of the box, took the bottom off the box. There are so many places to go right now thanks to him starting that, and taking off those first restrictions and limitations. Like, you know, the restriction of death.

SI SPURRIER (writer, Way of X): One of the big questions Nightcrawler is grappling with is we now seem to live in a society where there is no death, or at least its sting has been taken away. The kids are adopting this idea and they've already gotten to a point where death might be a bit of a thrill. If you're Nightcrawler, coming from his cultural and faith background, you're gonna raise an eyebrow at that. You shouldn't die just for the hell of it because you know you're gonna come back. And the kids will say, well why not? What's so bad about that? There doesn't really seem to be a good answer. 

LEAH WILLIAMS (writer, X-Factor, The Trial of Magneto): In writing X-Factor, one of the things I always wanted to be cognizant of was striking the right balance between death and rebirth, healing and catharsis from trauma in the story. I never wanted it to be gloomy or drag people down emotionally, because X-fans have been through a lot. There's been a lot of death! A couple mutant genocides, even. 

VITA AYALA (writer, New Mutants, Children of the Atom): Anyone that dies during this era, the point is not the death. Maybe particular characters might be put into the hole or whatever, or stay in the queue for a while, but the whole point of the resurrection machine is that we are telling different stories. Death is not the shocking be-all, end-all. If people die and we linger on that, there's a reason for that death, and it's not the death itself. It's another conversation that we're having.

Searching for forgiveness

The X-Men have always had a talent for converting their adversaries. Magneto, originally introduced as the team's premiere villain, spent years as headmaster of Xavier's school. This is another element of mutant mythology that has been heightened to a new level during the Krakoa era. Now it's gone even beyond Magneto; supervillains like Apocalypse and Mr. Sinister, once counted among the X-Men's greatest enemies, now have seats on the island's government. Hellions, written by Zeb Wells with art by Stephen Segovia, is an attempt to integrate a group of misfits and murderers into the Krakoan project, while Way of X is trying to figure out what justice should look like on the new island. 

X-Men Comics
Apocalypse and other former villains arrive on Krakoa to accept amnesty in 'House of X' by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Apocalypse and Professor X set aside old differences in 'House of X' by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Apocalypse reveals his true motivation in 'X of Swords: Creation' by Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, and Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics

HICKMAN: I think one of the interesting things about taking all the mutants and making a culture out of it is that a lot of the pre-culture roles that were defined by external forces have to be revisited when the whole thing gets rejected, or replaced, by new ones. Some people who the world called monsters would reveal themselves not to be, and some who were angels would turn out to eventually do the devil's bidding.

Apocalypse was especially interesting because, in addition to that, he always presented as an agent of evolutionary change, and it really worked that he finally got what he wanted. "You have finally become what I intended you to be," seemed to be a pretty solid coda for him. Of course, it turns out that wasn't the end for him at all, but that's drama for you.

TINI HOWARD (writer, Excalibur, X-Corp, X of Swords): We've seen Apocalypse in this whole new way as a guy with a family, a priest figure, a teacher, and a mentor. I think it was just the very simple idea of, if he gets what he always wanted, who is he now? The story we told in X of Swords is he doesn't actually have everything he wants yet; he wants something more, he wants something else. That was one of the first things where Jonathan and I realized we are on the same wavelength, when we realized we both love Apocalypse.

X-Men Comics
The Shadow King has changed his ways on Krakoa...or has he? From 'New Mutants' by Vita Ayala and Rod Reis
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Krakoa finds a place even for the haters and losers in 'Hellions' by Zeb Wells and Stephen Segovia
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Krakoa finds a place even for the haters and losers in 'Hellions' by Zeb Wells and Carmen Carnero
| Credit: Marvel Comics

AYALA: These kinds of villains, like Shadow King or Apocalypse, you're just like, "How do I even wrap my head around that?" Coming off of what Tini and Jonathan were doing with Apocalypse, where they took this character that is mostly a concept, and then asked, "But who is it? Why? Why are they this way?"

I thought to myself, "Well, one of the things that has a little bit bothered me about Shadow King is that he seems very cartoonish." It's not just him being a mustache-twirling villain, there was also just a lot of Orientalism going on, but nothing pinned down. So, looking at him and his origins as a person and as the Shadow King, I thought, "to survive, sometimes you do certain things and then you think that that's the only way to survive, because it worked for you." That's what I was interested in exploring with him. He's here on the island because he actually believes in the island, but he's messed up. You shake him and you hear broken glass.

WELLS: Can people change? If they can't change, can they be forced to change? Is there something better to do with them than throw them into a prison or a cage, and punish them in ways that most certainly won't make them better/more compassionate? Paradise has to know what to do with these people, it has to have love for these people, or in my opinion it's not a paradise.

Solving the Psylocke paradox

One of the most popular X-Men characters from recent decades is also one of the most complicated. The mutant telepath Psylocke, a.k.a. Betsy Braddock, started out as the English sister of Brian Braddock, a.k.a Captain Britain. But in 1989, Betsy's mind was transplanted into the body of a Japanese ninja assassin, later established to be a mutant named Kwannon. Despite the complicated situation of a white woman's mind in an Asian woman's body, the resulting character became immensely popular. Psylocke starred not just in X-Men comics, but also video games and even 2016's big-screen blockbuster X-Men: Apocalypse, where she was played by Olivia Munn. Finally, in 2018's Mystery in Madripoor comic by Jim Zub and Thony Silas, both Betsy and Kwannon were returned to their original bodies. But it fell to the new X-writers to reckon with all that baggage, as Betsy took up the mantle of Captain Britain in Excalibur and Kwannon (now taking the name Psylocke in her own right) became the field leader of the Hellions. 

X-Men Comics
Betsy Braddock and Kwannon come to terms with their body crisis in 'Excalibur' by Tini Howard and Marcus To
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Betsy Braddock and Kwannon come to terms with their body crisis in 'Excalibur' by Tini Howard and Marcus To
| Credit: Marvel Comics

HOWARD: That's something that we talked about from the very first X-meeting I was in. Even before we started forming our own stories, we talked about, 'what are some things that are really important to us, some things we want to set up the way they deserve'? One of them was a resolution to that Psylocke situation that wasn't just these two characters fighting until they got along. It was important not just to us creators but to fans, especially Asian fans and all female fans, who felt bothered or hurt by some of the ways that had been handled over its 30 years. Here's this problem that's really tangled and had also become important to people in various ways, so it was really necessary to resolve. This was something I took really seriously, and had my nerves about. But Zeb is incredible as a collaborator, he does such incredible work with Kwannon.

WELLS: I thought a way I could build off what Tini was doing and honor the character, was to make Kwannon the most compelling character apart from all of that as possible. To show that there was a super interesting tragic character under all of that this whole time.

She gets put into this situation where she has to lead this team and keep an eye on them and become a leader. The goal was to make that as interesting as possible and to make her as defined a character as possible. The Fallen Angels miniseries had taken a great first step, digging into the tragedy of her assassin background. With the brave new world of Krakoa, I thought we had the chance to take all of that together and make a very compelling character. 

X-Men Comics
Betsy Braddock and Kwannon come to terms with their body crisis in 'Excalibur' by Tini Howard and Marcus To
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Kwannon works through her issues via unconventional telepathic therapy in 'Hellions' by Zeb Wells and Stephen Segovia
| Credit: Marvel Comics

HOWARD: We just kind of developed these women having these separate fears and thoughts about each other until they could come together. It ends up being extra fun and satisfying because one thing we can do in these books, because we have so many different books going, we can have conversations feel different or look different or include different details. If you read Hellions, you know Kwannon basically had a psychic therapy session where she killed Betsy Braddock a bunch in her mind. I don't think Betsy knows that, I don't think she's supposed to know that. It's not important to her to know that, that was Kwannon's therapy, that was her working through stuff. 

Betsy working through stuff was completely different, and she needed Kwannon to help her out of it. It was based on guilt and complicated stuff. Some of that was scary to write, because a lot of it is my own experience being a bumbling white lady. That's an experience I can write about. It's not even like she was being thoughtful about it like 'i'm trying to get out of this,' sometimes you get emotional and you're nervous and you're gonna do something that doesn't make any sense because it brings you some kind of catharsis. No, white lady; get in your portal! 

The kids are not all right

The X-Men have always been about the children. The superhero team started as the paramilitary wing of Xavier's mutant school, and filled its ranks with top-notch students. In addition to the main X-Men unit, classes of students were also organized into field teams over the years: First the New Mutants, then Generation X, and later Academy X. The original New Mutants team has been highlighted in the new comic of the same name, originally written by Hickman and Ed Brisson. When Ayala took over in 2020, the New Mutants carved out a new role for themselves as mentors to the younger children of Krakoa. The Academy X kids have been heavily featured in X-Factor, where they have attempted to find some catharsis after all their years of trauma. And though Charles Xavier sees himself as a father figure to all mutantkind, he has a troubled relationship with his own biological son, David Haller, a.k.a. Legion, who has taken a starring role in Way of X.

X-Men Comics
The youth of Krakoa are reckoning with new ideas in 'Way of X' by Si Spurrier and Bob Quinn
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
The original New Mutants have become mentors to the new kids of Krakoa in 'New Mutants' by Vita Ayala and Rod Reis
| Credit: Marvel Comics

AYALA: When I was given the opportunity to write about Krakoa from a youth-focused perspective, I was super excited because even in that you're going to get very, very different stories. So I wanted to know if the kids were all right. Who's driving this thing? We're used to the X-Men essentially training kids to be child soldiers, but that's not the case anymore. They're on paradise. What would kids do on paradise? They would get into trouble, I think.

WILLIAMS: The Academy X kids in particular have always stuck out in my head. I think they're so fun, but they are also the single most traumatized generation of students. From day one, Wind Dancer in particular was pivotal to our story in how she brought us into this world via her friendship with Prodigy. She brought us into the healing process of these kids getting to find safety and catharsis with each other in this new place.  

AYALA: The New Mutants are young adults at this point. They're no longer children, they have full autonomy. Everyone wants to contribute to making this place as good as possible, so how do the New Mutants specifically do that? So I thought that would make sense for them to become mentor characters because they're in-between the grown-ups and the kids. 

SPURRIER: Kids are very good at changing culture. New ideas will always be adopted by young people before they're adopted by adults. Generally speaking that's exciting and wonderful, but we're coming to a point in Way of X where we interrogate this idea that maybe there's a way to adopt new ideas a little bit too fast, a bit too hard.

The dark mirror of Orchis

With so many former X-Men villains now fighting on the same side as heroes, who is left to struggle against? Well, there is that whole human world. Within pages of the declaration of Krakoan independence in House of X #1, readers came face-to-face with a new organization called Orchis, which combines human scientists and thinkers from across disciplines to fight back against what they see as the mutant menace. Though at first it seemed like Orchis was just building deadlier models of mutant-hunting Sentinel robots, as time goes on we've learned that the organization is also fighting mutants on cultural and political battlefields.

X-Men Comics
Orchis, the human answer to Krakoa, was unveiled early in 'House of X' by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Orchis, the human answer to Krakoa, was unveiled early in 'House of X' by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics

HICKMAN: From time to time, I have been accused of enjoying writing the bad guys in superhero comics more than I like writing the good guys. This is a terrible accusation to make, as it implies that I'm taking the wrong lessons from the books or that I'm asking uncomfortable questions about heroism in general. Honestly, it stings a little bit. It's also not a lie.

DUGGAN: They're the heroes of their story! In another universe there's a team book called Orchis. There was a side convo about Orchis between Si and Al, those two jammed on something that really blew my mind. You'll get to see it play out!

X-Men Comics
Orchis is also fighting a culture war in 'Way of X' by Si Spurrier and Bob Quinn
| Credit: Marvel Comics

SPURRIER: Al and I sat down for a long time to come up with that organizational structure diagram that we're now all using as our cheat sheet. There's a few sneakily coded things in there if people want to go hunting for anagrams. It struck us that if we're going to run with this big bad organization that we can slowly reveal bits of it and what it's really all about and what's behind it and what can do, it's not just the baddie in my book, it's THE baddie in all of our books. For that to work it has to be sprawling, it has to at least be as clever as the cleverest writer. They would be holistic, they would have a holistic approach. It's not just a bunch of scientists coming up with mutant weapons; it's propaganda, it's sociology, it's a few things we haven't even mentioned yet that are really sneaky and clever. 

Each of us is telling a story or series of stories which come to satisfying modular conclusions, and always pick up again for the next season. But none of them will be, this is the story where the X-Men fight and beat Orchis. There will be bits of that along the way, but it's always much bigger than just the stuff that goes on in one book. The goal is to make each book feel really satisfying on a human character level, while making sure they each perpetuate this beautiful tapestry. It's like fighting a war. You don't just see planes flying over there, fighting, and coming back. It's just one piece in the theater of operations. That's the thing about being in the X-office: it's the nicest war I've ever fought.  

The great game of nations

And so, mutants have enemies right now. Not in the way superheroes do, but in the way nations do. X-Force has followed the creation of a self-described "mutant CIA," a black-ops and secret intelligence division that can ferret out and defeat threats to Krakoa as they emerge — but is having a CIA entirely a good thing? Nation-building isn't even limited to Earth, because thanks to the S.W.O.R.D. space program, mutants have begun asserting themselves in intergalactic politics as well. Meanwhile, Way of X has documented the beginnings of a culture war, as Krakoa deals with external manipulation by Orchis while also reckoning with the island's inherent problems.

X-Men Comics
Krakoan leadership discusses the formation of a mutant CIA in 'X-Force' by Ben Percy and Joshua Cassara
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Krakoan leadership discusses the formation of a mutant CIA in 'X-Force' by Ben Percy and Joshua Cassara
| Credit: Marvel Comics

PERCY: Krakoa is a nation, and X-Force is the mutant CIA. When it was conceived, it was split into a head and a fist: Intelligence unit and field unit. Beast is the head, Wolverine is the fist. One of the things you've seen in Beast, over the course of the past few years, he's become literally bloated with hubris. He's been corrupted by the power bestowed upon him. Xavier gave him carte blanche, allowed him to do whatever needs to be done to protect mutantkind. They're treating this like their last stand. Beast views himself as a necessary bastard. You have to have a bastard, you have to have somebody willing to do the dark deeds behind the scenes in order for a nation to prosper. We've certainly seen that in our own country. What I'm doing is playing with morality, right and wrong. What's appropriate, what crosses the line?

EWING: With the space stuff, I wanted to make space more coherent. I wanted to make space a setting with all of these different factions, all these different empires bouncing off each other and connecting with each other and doing all of this stuff. And projects like Empyre allowed me to really reinforce that. And S.W.O.R.D. was the next stage of that, which was to treat the solar system as a political entity rather than just this weird rogue arena which superhumans would occasionally come from and wreck stuff.

SPURRIER: Funnily enough the way the X-line has propagated from the House of X/Powers of X beginning, it runs in parallel to how a new state has to set itself up in the real world. Which is, you start from a position of "we are new, we are perfect, nothing is wrong with us." Then, over time, it becomes quite clear that actually it's not perfect, and probably they knew it wasn't perfect from the beginning. The entropy of increasingly complicated systems and rules and patches you put over the cracks as they form, that's constantly going on and getting bigger and harder. That's where we're at now. We're not at a point where Krakoa is falling apart, we're at a point where people are going, you know what? This needs a little bit of work. That's Way of X, and the books I write that will follow it: The heart and soul that tries to hold it all together while everything outside and everything inside is in constant quake.

The magic and technology of teamwork

The X-Men have always been a team. Aside from a few star breakouts like Wolverine, their stories have always been about working together to use their powers for the benefit of others. But since the founding of Krakoa, mutants have taken these further with new formations called "circuits." Alternately described as a form of magic or technology, circuits allow multiple mutants with complementary powers to synthesize achievements previously thought impossible. The Five can resurrect any fallen mutant, while the Six in S.W.O.R.D. can travel to the highest dimensions and steal cosmic fire from heaven. 

Similarly, superhero comics are a very collaborative medium. Not only does each individual comic feature teamwork between writers, artists, colorists, letterers, and editors, but a cohesive line like Marvel features multiple books and multiple teams working together. Even so, this kind of collaboration has also leveled up on the Krakoa X-books. The various writers collaborate intensely (in physical rooms before the COVID-19 pandemic, on Slack ever since), chiming in on each other's ideas and building off what their collaborators have done. All of them describe it as an extremely positive experience.

X-Men Comics
A new kind of mutant circuit was unveiled in 'SWORD' by Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
A new kind of mutant circuit was unveiled in 'SWORD' by Al Ewing and Valerio Schiti
| Credit: Marvel Comics

HICKMAN: We wanted to do a very cohesive line, but I think that because of everything that happened in the world this last year, it kind of supercharged that dynamic. I mean, the world was shit. We had a group of people who got together all the time to make escapist work for the fans, but that also turned out to be therapeutic for creators who were locked down in their houses and needed to escape themselves. Jordan White deserves a lot of credit here because he's super empathetic and genuinely cares about the people who work for him, but everyone came to the table trying to be a good teammate. This even included non-feeling monsters like myself and Ben Percy. 

PERCY: Collaborating with [X-Force artist] Joshua Cassara has been a treat. We text or call every day. Early on, when we were brainstorming ideas, he said "Krakoa needs a watering hole. Let's figure this out." I riffed off that and together we created the Green Lagoon, which made its first appearance in X-Force. That delightful bar is the place where people whisper secrets, it's the place where people hook up, it's the place where people unwind. 

He has an incredible artistic talent, but he also has a great storytelling mind. We just whip ideas around. We're very much co-creators. I ask him, what do you want to draw? And he'll give me, "what about this? What about that?" And we'll make that happen. 

WILLIAMS: There's no ego with this group of X-writers, it's all support and wanting to help each other out and tell the best stories we can. It is a community. Having this space allows us to collaborate more closely, make sure we're all on the same page with our work, and our books interact with each other constantly in large and small ways. Also we hang out there for fun. There's nobody more feral than Hickman, but I say that as a high form of praise. I'm a millennial, so that means he has earned my deepest respect.  

HOWARD: Gerry and Al will be vibing about space stuff and how to terraform Mars, and then Si and I are talking about cultural mythology, while Leah and Vita are building these incredible healing situations within Krakoa. But that's also not prescriptive at all. If I say 'hey I have an idea about Mars,' they'll bring it in. But we all do have the things we love. If someone needs to do something with tarot it'll be "hey Tini! Tini!"

EWING: I wanted to do something with mutant circuits, with an idea like The Five. What's an example of a mission S.W.O.R.D. could do that's not just defending against alien attack? Well, I've got all this stuff left over on the side from my other Marvel projects about cosmic powers and the Mystery, which is this zone I keep going back to that's outside of space and time, but also at the heart of it. So, okay, they can bring something back from that. Okay, what do we do with it? It's a power source. They could offer it to people. They could use it as a currency. 

There's a line in a recent issue: "We have always been a school." In-world, the mutants are constantly learning from each other. Out of world, in the real life of the X-Office, we're constantly learning from each other, just by talking to each other. You know, the X-Slack is a circuit of writers. 

When is a swordfight not a swordfight?

Crossovers have been a regular occurrence in X-Men comics ever since 1986's "Mutant Massacre." When the time finally came for the first crossover of the Krakoa era, the X-writers came up with something unique: The emergence of Arakko, another mutant island split off from Krakoa and sent to a hell dimension millennia ago. Rather than all-out war, each side selected a crew of sword-wielding champions to duke it out and decide which island should reign supreme. But the contest ended up taking place in the fairyland of Otherworld, so the contests involved more puzzles, races, and even marriage ceremonies than actual battles. X of Swords also introduced a bunch of new characters from Arakko (designed by artists like Larraz and Mahmud Asrar), several of whom look like they're here to stay. 

As with so many 2020 comics, X of Swords was hit by big pandemic delays. The fact that the creative team was stretched across the globe meant they were all affected by COVID-19 in different ways. But the end result, a collaboration between more than 28 creators, is an incredibly cohesive and engaging story, now available in hardcover and paperback.

X-Men Comics
Cypher expected to die fighting in 'X of Swords,' but instead found himself marrying Arakkii champion Bei the Blood Moon. Written by Tini Howard, art by Phil Noto
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Cypher expected to die fighting in 'X of Swords,' but instead found himself marrying Arakkii champion Bei the Blood Moon. Written by Tini Howard, art by Phil Noto
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Cypher expected to die fighting in 'X of Swords,' but instead found himself marrying Arakkii champion Bei the Blood Moon. Written by Tini Howard, art by Phil Noto
| Credit: Marvel Comics

HOWARD: The pandemic was obviously a huge part of it, but it's like when you look at something after the fact and you know that wasn't how it was planned, and the thing that caused the change was not a good thing, but now in retrospect, you can't imagine it any other way. I don't know if it would have been the same book on the original schedule because tinkering with the schedule caused problems, but also enabled us to do certain things. Everything about that book is very much a product of the situation and people functioning under specific conditions probably more than any other comic I've been a part of. When I look at those issues, I feel like every panel has hands on it. We were all working together on it so much, partially because we didn't have anywhere else to go in lockdown. So we were kind of losing our minds together and making this book. In a way I think it saved my year.

DUGGAN: That was occurring at a really hard time, obviously. Matteo [Lolli] and Stefano [Caselli] are both Italian artists, that country was in the throes of the worst lockdowns at that point. There was a lot of life happening. For different reasons we borrowed Phil Noto from Cable to come in, so he did an Excalibur issue in there. It did feel like our prog rock album; we were all playing different positions, and working on a symphony. I think X of Swords is a hell of a read in collection. I'm proud of that collaboration. It's my favorite Apocalypse story. 

HOWARD: Working with Phil Noto was insane for me. He's one of the great artists of comics. Like Gerry said, we had a lot of situations where artists changed, and at one point someone was like "we'll have Phil Noto for this issue, is that okay?" And I lost my mind. Phil draws the s--t out of a wedding. That scene where Doug sees Bei for the first time and does his vows and has no idea what's going on, is just relieved he's not gonna die, and discovers this beautiful woman who's also mysterious to him, Phil drew that moment so well. It's a whole page of people looking at each other, but it's Phil Noto, so it's beautiful. 

X-Men Comics
The swordbearers of Arakko starred on the cover of 'X of Swords: Stasis' by Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
The swordbearers of Arakko arrived in 'X of Swords: Stasis' by Jonathan Hickman, Tini Howard, and Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics

PEPE LARRAZ (artist, House of X, X-Men, X of Swords: Creation/Stasis/Destruction): I have this unwritten rule in my designs: Only draw something you really want to draw. So in my designs I put all the things that interest me. With the Arakko designs, I wanted them to look primitive, but also I wanted to give the idea there's a society, and I want them to look savage and dangerous and ancient. And then you look for the references, so I looked at Egyptian and African art. 

For the swordbearers, I got like one line each from the writers. For Isca the Unbeaten, it was just, "she can't lose." For Pogg Ur-Pogg, it was, "a monster." When they give you all the freedom in the world, it can be hard because you have too many ideas. I really like Pogg because I love to draw giant animals. Every chance I have, I draw giant animals. "Draw whatever you want." Okay, then I'll draw giant animals. Here I went with a giant crocodile because of the Nile and Egypt, so it made sense. 

I feel really proud of the cover of the X of Swords: Stasis issue. It's not very common that in a Marvel comic you have a cover with all the villains. Usually they ask us for major characters, like this is an X-Men book so you have to show Cyclops and Wolverine. But this is all new characters! 

DUGGAN: If you're looking to follow the spine of our beast, that's where Pepe is. Where he goes, the direction of the whole monster goes. 

A new way forward

The X-Men's new golden age doesn't just stop with Krakoa. In this summer's Planet-Size X-Men one-shot by Duggan and Larraz, Magneto unveiled the most powerful mutant circuit yet. Composed entirely of Omega-level mutants like the master of magnetism himself, this group successfully terraformed Mars, making it suitable as the new home for the mutants of Arakko. And just as mutants are asserting themselves on the cosmic stage, they are also returning to the superhero arena, with a new X-Men team (also created by Duggan and Larraz) building a beacon in Central Park.

X-Men Comics
Magneto led a circuit of powerful mutants in terraforming Mars in 'Planet-Size X-Men' by Gerry Duggan and Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics
X-Men Comics
Magneto led a circuit of powerful mutants in terraforming Mars in 'Planet-Size X-Men' by Gerry Duggan and Pepe Larraz
| Credit: Marvel Comics

DUGGAN: The Hellfire Gala was camouflage for Planet-Size X-Men. Everyone was just looking at the designs and arguing over which ones they loved, cosplaying this or that (the cosplay's incredible, we were hoping that would hit like that) and sure enough, no one asked us what Planet-Size was. It was like a heist. Obviously Pepe's a special artist. We wanted him to be able to flex like that. Really the whole month of June was a flex for those artists.

LARRAZ: The thing is, it's about time. If I have enough time to do what has to be done. I love the script from top to bottom, because it was weird and unusual. It was an issue without a villain, without a fight, it was just beautiful. When people ask me about the book, I say it's a landscapes book. It's like a travel guide to Mars. 

X-Men Comics
The X-Men unveil their new eco-friendly headquarters in 'X-Men' by Gerry Duggan, Pepe Larraz, and Marte Garcia
| Credit: Marvel Comics

DUGGAN: We have a treehouse in New York now that is Krakoan technology that is, I'm gonna guess, the greenest building in the Marvel Universe. I think that it is important to lead by example there. 

We've seen terraforming in various ways, but it actually comes from my conviction that we will have to geo-engineer the Earth. Scientists have always said they're terrified of that, I think with good reason, but the truth of the matter is I'm terrified at the prospect of not trying to geo-engineer. When I'm not with my family or writing comic books, I'm sort of reading Scientific American and reading about chalking the atmosphere. Those thoughts do turn into fiction in your head. That's sort of where Planet-Size X-Men came from. Even if you go back to earlier Marauders issues, we see Iceman bolstering the Arctic. We didn't make a big deal of it, but it was obviously something that he'd been doing. Climate change (which may not even be the appropriate term anymore, we're living in a climate emergency) is at the front of my mind. The treehouse is a nice way to visualize what could be possible, another way to live. 

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