Welcome to “Trade Waiting,” where we wait till comic book arcs are collected in trade format so that we can study and analyze the story on a whole. We will focus on character arcs, plot points, thematic content and things along those lines. We will only look at the material collected in a trade and not take overall continuity into consideration.
Title: House of M
Story: Brian Bendis
Pencils: Oliver Coipel
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Plot Summary (spoilers here and throughout the whole column):
Wanda, The Red Witch, has gone crazy and has destroyed the Avengers, the world’s most famous super-hero team. She is a mutant gone mad, and the newly formed New Avengers and X-Men must decide what to do with her. Things go crazy when Wanda uses her powers to re-create the world to be one where mutants are the majority and humans are the minority.
Wanda also grants the world’s heroes their most desired wishes or something close to them. Wolverine, whose wish includes being able to remember his past, is only one of two people alive who remember the world before it was re-created. Wolverine comes across Layla Miller, a being who has the ability to restore the memory of the world’s heroes.
The two, with the help of others, recruit other major heroes and go to confront Wanda in hopes of restoring the world to how it should be. In the middle of the confrontation, Wanda loses her patience and her mind. She speaks the words “no more mutants.” The world returns to normal except the mutant population, which was pushing a million or more, drops down to only several hundred.
The traditional three act structure is used to tell “HoM.” Act I consist of the heroes banding together and confronting Wanda. The plot point separating this from Act II is Wanda using her powers to recreate the world.
Act II takes us on a tour of the new world. It does so with little vignettes and then telling the story through Logan’s perspective. This act is made up of Logan figuring out what is going on and then re-banding the heroes together.
Act III has the final confrontation with Wanda and her family and the aftermath of the world after Wanda says “no more mutants.”
One of the things that makes “HoM” stand out from the generic crossover event is that it is character driven versus being plot driven. If the major characters were taken out of the story’s structure, it would not hold up.
“I wasn’t pitching the series as an event,” writer Brian Bendis said in an interview with Comic Book Resources. “I don’t think in event terminology. I think in story. The story just begat itself into this bigger thing.”
Obviously this story is an assemble piece, but there are five characters that stand out above the rest. The first of which is Wanda, the Red Witch, whose mental state and powers form the major catalyst of the story. The second lead figure is her brother Pietro, Quicksilver, who is later to be revealed as the villain of the story.
The next major players include Logan, “James” / Wolverine, who serves as the readers point of view character for the second act of the story and Peter Parker, Spider-Man, who, next to Wanda, is the most tragic character. The final major player is a new character by the name of Layla who some have criticized as being nothing more than Bendis’s dues ex machina.
Going into more depth with each of the main characters, it is clear that Wanda is by far the most important. The interesting thing about her is that she is not handled like the traditional villain. She does not want world domination or the destruction of heroes. Even in her poor mental state, her character-driven goal is simple: to be a mother.
The story starts with Wanda giving a fake birth and even after the world is recreated she shuts it out and isolates herself with a fake child. A large part of this motivation seems to stem from the resentment she holds against her own father.
At the climax of the story, Wanda accuses her father of, “You ruined us before we even had a chance. Why would you treat your own children this way?” It seems her obsession with having children and being a good mother was a way to make up for how her father failed in raising her and her brother.
Pietro, her brother, is the true villain of the story but not in the traditional sense of the word. His ultimate character motivation was to protect his sister. The reason for terming him “villain” stems from the fact that he was willing to do nearly anything to protect her. Since, in comics ‘the end justifies the means’ philosophy is traditionally given to villains, it makes sense why he is thusly dubbed.
Logan makes an interesting point of view for the story’s second act, but he really does not experience much growth as a character. The changes he goes through at the end of the story happen more because of plot than because of any kind of true character arc.
Because of Logan’s healing factor he has a shattered history. His healing powers heal not only his body but erase his memory so that he does not suffer emotional damage. This means that for the majority of his life he has no memory and this is why when the heroes are granted their wishes he is able to remember his full life.
One of the major impacts of the overall story is that when the world is returned to normal, Logan is able to remember his full past. Although it’s a cool twist for “HoM” the emotional impact is something that is not fully explored here, most likely because Marvel wishes to do so more in-depth in other series.
“With something like that [Logan remembering his past],” Bendis said in an interview with Newsarama, “you have to ask if this will make the character more interesting or less interesting, and I feel it makes him more interesting. Now, there aren’t just one or two stories that can be told about Wolverine – one or two eras that he remembers and can be written about – now, there’s a whole lifetime worth of stories that can be told with him.”
Next we come to Peter Parker. Generally speaking, Peter is one of Marvel’s most popular heroes but he is also one of the most relatable. He is a man granted great powers that has a dysfunctional normal life with which readers are able to identify.
His function in “HoM” seems to be nearly the same. He is there so readers have someone to sympathize with. The other heroes talk about being upset or angry about the change in the world, but Peter is the only one whose emotions really come through in not one but several scenes.
Peter is granted his dream and it is a marriage to his lost love that was killed years ago. Also alive is his uncle Ben whose death first motivated Peter to become a superhero. When Peter finds out the truth and is given back his memories of the real world he literally breaks down in tears.
“Right. Life was good,” Bendis said in an interview with Newsarama. “And I think it’s interesting that Gwen was still the focus of his desire and central to what he thought would be a perfect life. Part of that has to do with her being in his recent memory with all the Sins Past stuff, but still – he wakes up the next morning, and wonders why his world was like that. Yeah, but also, and not to take away the tragedy of having Uncle Ben taken away again, but losing the child that he had was haunting as well. So that does seed a lot of stuff that’s coming up.”
Once the world is restored to a semi-normal status quo at the end of the story, Peter destroys a table out of anger and nearly hits Dr. Strange. He also serves as a good comparison to Logan. Logan has wanted to have all his memories revealed to him and is granted that. Peter has his heart broken and requests that his memories be taken away so that he will not suffer.
“To me, Spider-Man is the heart of the Marvel Universe, and Wolverine represents a different mindset of the Marvel Universe,” Bendis said in an interview with Newsarama. “Not the soul, but there’s a certain mentality that he represents that was very specific. Those two characters represent an ideal of the Marvel Universe, and to follow them is the most important story to tell, the viewpoint that sums up much of what the other heroes are going through.”
One thing that was disappointing was that there was no confrontation between Peter and his real wife about the events that happened. I guess that is another thing Marvel is keeping for other storylines.
The final major player we need to look at in-depth is Layla. She seemingly pops out of nowhere and is quite literally the magical way for the heroes to solve the problem of the world being re-created. By itself, this seems to be an extremely weak plot device. It’s an easy answer. But I’d like to give more credit to Bendis as a writer.
There are several points in the story where it is hinted that Layla is not human but something more. This is clearly evident after Rogue touches the child and flat out exclaims so. In addition, toward the end of the story when Dr. Strange confronts Wanda, he accuses her of creating Layla.
Since it is never officially stated, we cannot know for sure if Layla is in fact the creation of Wanda, but since, for the sake of this column, we are only judging the material presented in this collection, we will assume Dr. Strange is right and that Layla is in fact the creation of Wanda.
At this point then it is almost hard to say whether we should count Layla as a separate character or if she should be considered merely a different part of Wanda’s own mental status. Layla was Wanda’s way of still trying to do the right thing. It’s clear from her fake children that Wanda has some sort of multiple personality disorder going on. So, it’s safe to say that a part of Wanda knew changing the world was wrong, so she created Layla in an attempt to make things right.
The creation of Layla speaks toward several ongoing themes throughout the story. One of which is “What is a hero?” Technically speaking, the true villains of the story have been heroes in the Marvel Universe. One has lost control of herself and is unaware of what she is doing, the other is simply trying to protect his sister and make the world a better place.
Mirroring this even more is that when things have changed, the other heroes come forward and openly say they will kill those responsible for what has happened. Sure it may not be a big deal hearing Logan say something like that, but when Peter Parker does so or when Scott Summers, Cyclops, gives a speech about not holding back and doing whatever it takes, something is screwy because the heroes have just taken the philosophy that the end justifies the means.
The heroes believe that if they restore the world, it’s fine as long as they do so. While the “villains” have gone and fixed the world and to them what they have done is fine because they ultimately did good. It’s a very, very thin line.
In the so-called villains’ attempt to fix the world they did something unique. They gave the heroes their deepest wishes or at least something close to them. This turns the world completely upside down. Instead of a world dominated by humans, mutants become the predominant race.
The species reversal touches directly on racism. Humans are mocked, looked down on, and basically live their lives in fear or persecution. It’s interesting that, in this new utopian world, mutants and humans didn’t exist as equals. Wanda obviously had the power to do so. So why did she create a world where humans were persecuted?
I’m sure part of the reason has to do with idea of what a utopian society is. It is supposed to be one where things appear or seem perfect, but really aren’t. Having an imperfect world allows the writer a stage where there is natural conflict. How interesting would the story have been if, in the new world, literally everything and everyone was perfect and happy? Any conflict derived in that world would feel forced whereas what was done in “HoM” feels organic.
“There was this thing going on where people were just creating mutants for a lack of creativity and it was becoming unspecial,” Bendis said in an interview with Comic Book Resources. “Mutants were supposed to be the minority minority.”
Such an action can be seen as nothing more than a gimmick by Marvel, but looking at Wanda’s journey throughout the story, it’s a move that seems character driven. Wanda tried to make a happy peaceful world and failed. She’s hurt, angry and crazy. She blames her father for much of what has gone on, specifically his quest to make mutants the dominant race. So, it makes sense that she’d lash out and reduce the mutant population as a way to be spiteful against her father.
“In my view, Wanda was punishing him [Magneto],” Bendis said in an interview with Newsarma. “It was a good old fashioned tantrum.”