WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Powers of X #6, by Jonathan Hickman, R.B. Silva, Pepe Larraz, Marte Gracia, David Curiel, VC's Clayton Cowles and Tom Muller, on sale now.
If there was anything that writer Jonathan Hickman proved over the course of the two intersecting X-Men miniseries House of X and Powers of X, it's that he has a mastery of Marvel's mutant history and a willingness to draw from the entire scope of its continuity.
Nowhere else was his proficiency more apparent than in his use of oft-ignored characters and concepts. Far from simply mentioning mutant minutiae in order to demonstrate his proficiency in it, Hickman puts these smaller details at center stage in the story. The perfect example of that is the overarching yet somehow subtle series villains: the Phalanx.
In spurts of time throughout their history, the Phalanx have taken sudden but soon-forgotten prominence in the intergalactic politics of the Marvel Universe. While primarily serving as X-Men antagonists, their history is far-reaching and varied, depending on where a comic fan wants to look. Given the place of prominence afforded them in the recent series, it's worth reiterating who (and what) exactly the Phalanx are and what they actually want.
Originally, the Phalanx's origins were tied with that of the Technarchy, which itself drew lore from the background of New Mutants member Warlock. Much like the Technarchy, the Phalanx were a race of techno-organic aliens roaming the galaxy, absorbing the life force from organisms to serve as sustenance for further growth and expansion. Unlike the Technarchy, the Phalanx shared a hive mind which absorbed individuality into a collective consciousness.
The Phalanx's modus operandi in conquering worlds was to evaluate a society's worthiness of inclusion in its hive mind. If a society was deemed unworthy, it would be flagged for consumption by the Technarchy, but if it had something valuable to add to the collective consciousness then the Phalanx would set out absorbing them. Over the years, the X-Men, wielding a natural mutant-born resistance to the Phalanx's "transmode virus" that infected target species, upset the techno-organic race's attempts at overtaking Earth.
Beyond that, the Phalanx were pivotal parts in the Shi'ar Massacre that devastated the empire, and served as the army for the Super Adaptoid, under the command of Ultron, during the Annihilation: Conquest event. Both instances proved that the Phalanx, despite their relative obscurity in comics continuity, could be major players in the galaxy.
There are seldom few people who may understand how to use them better than Hickman. Already, Hickman has integrated many of these aspects of the Phalanx's history into the X-Men story that is currently unfolding. In many ways, they are now meant as evolutionary alternatives for humans to avoid acquiescing to the future rule of mutantkind. After all, it was the future humans who called on the Phalanx to incorporate them into the techno-organic collective, not just to bypass mutants but to evolve into the next stage of life: godhood.
The fact that the Sentinels prove to be some kind of predecessor to the Phalanx's ultimate invasion 1000 years in the future only proves appropriate when tying all the lore in together. As such, the machine hive-mind currently sits on a crash course with homo superior, especially given the idea that Hickman seems to be pushing, which is that humans will seek to circumnavigate their own evolutionary destiny by integrating with the living machines of the Phalanx. Such a move would, of course, inevitably lead to the extinction of all mutantkind, but also of humanity.
A scorched-earth policy of defeating your enemies at the cost of yourself is nothing new to mankind, of course -- nor of machines in popular science fiction -- but it would be particularly devastating for mutants within the fictional Marvel Universe. Then again, extinction can often be as natural as evolution, so the question remains: will the X-Men and their fellow mutants be able to adapt, or will the machines truly take over the future?