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  • Hickman’s HoxPox: divertissement on a name

    Hickman’s HoxPox: divertissement on a name
    What is in a name? Semi-serious reflections on Jonathan Hickman's House of X/Power of X and the risks of over-interpretation.

    Disclaimer: what follows is a divertissement and not a critical analysis. I am aware of performing an over-interpretation and the goal is indeed pointing out how even playing around and going through false paths can eventually yield interesting insights.


    HoxPox” is the widespread abbreviation for the double series House of X/Power of X written by Jonathan Hickman: if you consider it a pun, you will find hooks for some reflections on mutants and their perception of and by the non-mutant world.
    Let’s start from the sound: it recalls that of “hocus pocus”, pseudo-magical formula, which, according to the Reverend John Tillotson, should come from from the expression “hic est corpus (“here is the body“) used during the ceremony of the Eucharist to mark the transubstantiation. So it is a reference both to freak magic and to the transmutation from ordinary matter to divinity. The word “HoxPox” gathers allusions to both the evolution process and disease: “Hox” is a very particular type of genes and “pox” is the generic name for exanthematous diseases, but “the pox” is syphilis.

    Hox genes are part of the so-called “homeobox” of animals, the DNA sequence that manages the genes involved in the regulation of developmental processes (morphogenesis). Hox genes regulate the transcription of genes involved in the development of various parts of the body and a mutation of them can lead to phenomena of homeosis, i.e. the development of an element of the body instead of another.
    Two examples, taken from studies on the fruit fly (Drosophila), may help to grasp the point. First: the incorrect expression of the Antp gene (Antennapedia), which causes what should develop as an antenna to develop as a leg instead. Second: a loss of Ubx genes (Ultrabithorax), which regulate the development of the thorax) results in the development of wings in the third thoracic segment, instead of other organs. Could Warren Warthington III’s wings come from homeosis?

    A representative dendrogram illustrating the evolution of Hox clusters“. Lappin TR, Grier DG, Thompson A, Halliday HL. HOX genes: seductive science, mysterious mechanisms. The Ulster Medical Journal. 2006 Jan;75(1): 23-31.

    Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease of bacterial origin (Treponema pallidum), characterised not only by disfiguration of the body in the form of spots or excrescences (see William Hogarth’s A Libertine’s Career), but also by transmission to infants, a very long incubation period and the moral stigma attached to its victims, since it was associated with socially condemned sexual behaviour. To get an idea of this last issue, consider that the production and distribution of Salvarsan, the first drug effective in syphilis treatment, discovered in 1908 by Paul Elrich, was accompanied by protests from associations, which saw the cure as a way of eliminating the divine punishment of libertine behaviour. That is: a violation of God’s justice!

    Finally, let’s put together these facts and cross them with what Hickman’s tale. You can say that the expression “HoxPox”:
    – offers, through it sounds, an ironic undertone (freak magic) and a reference to the deity status of mutants (do you remind what Magneto says at the end of HoxPox #1?);
    – by “Hox” refers to evolution: the genetic roots of mutations, the plasticity of phenotypes, the process of speciation. Point is: the mutants (Homo superior) will constitute a species different from the Sapiens (therefore not hybridisable, separate, autonomous). A situation that occurred in the past among various Homo species: the outcome of that cohabitation is still under investigation and many scenarios have been suggested, from replacement to absorption, via extermination;
    – “Pox” recalls the fact that mutant status is a stigma: mutants are widely despised, perhaps out of fear, by the Sapiens, who see them not only as deformations, but also (see previous point) as a possible rival species due to “inherit the Earth”.

    “Arrangement of Hox genes in the Drosophila and mammalian genomes.” Yasushi Taniguchi, “Hox Transcription Factors: Modulators of Cell-Cell and Cell-Extracellular Matrix Adhesion”, BioMed Research International
    , vol. 2014, Article ID 591374, 12 pages, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/591374. Doesn’t it look just like some Hickman’s infographics?

    Let me repeat and stress the initial caveat: this is not a critical analysis because there is nothing to suggest that the expression “HoxPox” was chosen because it efficaciously merge all the proposed suggestions together. As specified, it is just a divertissment of a passionate reader who, according to the epithet “True Believer”, reads every detail as if it held a truth, heedless of the risks of over-interpretation. Possible lesson is: evocative interpretation is a temptation, so have fun AND handle with care!

    I would like to thank Emilio Cirri and David Padovani, who read this small piece in advance, checking that it made sense; in addition, Emilio prevented it from containing gross errors from a scientific point of view.

    Note: cover image is taken from Gaunt, Stephen (2015). The significance of Hox gene collinearity. The International journal of developmental biology. 52. 10.1387/ijdb.150223sg.

    English translation by Simone Rastelli

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