The “M” is for “Mediocre”

House of M #1

Marvel Comics – Brian Michael Bendis (w); Olivier Coipel (p); Tim Townsend (i)

Well, I guess this means summer is officially here.

DC started its tent-pole summer event about a month ago, when Countdown to Infinite Crisis began. Overall, that crossover has gone pretty well; I haven’t reviewed any of the titles, but I think they’re quite solid for the most part, with Villains United and Day of Vengeance standing out as the respective top and bottom of the four-title heap. However, if the first issue of House of M is any indication of how Marvel’s counterpart blockbuster is going to go, put me down in the “Unimpressed” column.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’re well aware of Marvel’s two top-selling titles, Astonishing X-Men and New Avengers. Astonishing X-Men spun out of X-Men Reload, an “event” that promised to revitalize the X-Franchise in the wake of Grant Morrison’s departure. Of course, in standard Marvel fashion, it amounted to hiring a Vertigo writer, a Hollywood writer, and bringing back Chris Claremont; essentially the same play they ran the last time the X-Books needed a sales spike. New Avengers, on the other hand, arose from the cataclysmic events of Avengers Disassembled, a crossover that technically spanned all the Avengers books but really just took place in the core title, and saw the Scarlet Witch lose her damned mind and cause the deaths of Vision, Ant-Man, and Hawkeye (who couldn’t sustain his own book, but suddenly became everyone’s all-time favorite Avenger the second he shuffled off the mortal coil). At the end of the story, however, the recently (and poorly) resurrected Magneto swooped in and snatched his daughter out of the Avengers’ collective hands and took her back to the relative safety of Genosha, where he and Professor Xavier began to attempt to repair her shattered mind. House of M, then, deals with the inevitable confrontation/meeting of the minds between the Avengers and the X-Men (though really it’s about the Scarlet Witch cutting loose with her reality-altering powers and creating a handful of spin-off minis for the duration of the summer). Now that you’re up to date, we’ll move on to the issue.

House of M opens fairly memorably, with Wanda (Scarlet Witch) Maximoff enduring the pains of birth and the reader experiencing it via a series of extreme close-ups of her tormented face. She is, however, not pregnant, nor has she ever been, as the “camera” pulls back to reveal Wanda in yet another counseling session with Professor X, her mind still delusional and her powers as yet uncontrolled. Psychically “suggesting” that she sleep, the Professor admits to Magneto that he remains at a loss regarding how to repair the damage to Wanda’s mind.

Meanwhile, the Avengers, both old and new, meet with the X-Men at Stark Tower, headquarters of the New Avengers. Unsure of how to deal with the threat that Wanda continues to pose not only to the assembled heroes, but to the entire world, the room quickly divides into two camps: one that sees Wanda as a threat that can only be ended with a merciful execution and the other that sees said execution as murder, favoring a continued study and treatment of the Scarlet Witch. In the end, however, all parties agree to fly to Genosha to see Wanda in person before arriving at any final judgment.

Back in Genosha, Wanda’s twin brother, Quicksilver pleads with Magneto for help. The mutant speedster is sure that the two teams are going to seek his sister’s death, but finds his father unwilling to help. Magneto is simply unsure of what humane solution can be reached regarding the fate of his daughter.

Upon arriving in Genosha, however, the Avengers and X-Men find Wanda missing and assume the worst: Magneto has taken a side against them and spirited his daughter away. Giving chase, the teams track Wanda to a ruined abbey. While they ascend the stairs, the great double doors fly open and a flash of light blinds both the characters and the reader (in a manner of speaking; it’s a big white panel). When the light fades, things are not as they were prior to the flash. Wanda has altered reality once more. This time, however, it’s on a much grander scale.

Visually speaking, House of M is quite stunning. Coipel’s art is far from perfect, given to a jarring tendency: he often alternates between extreme facial close-ups and distant, wide-angle shots. However, that could be what Bendis’ script calls for, so the blame can’t all be placed at Coipel’s feet. That having been said, again, it’s pretty striking stuff. The panels showing the X-Men and Avengers flying into Genosha are particularly noteworthy, as they’re rather high on detail, depicting the ruins of a once-bustling metropolis. As well, Coipel shifts gears rather nicely when Bendis’ script calls for talking heads and his close-ups are reasonably expressive.

All that aside, the story is a mess.

To begin with, I’ve never quite been sure why the Avengers are so worked up over the deaths of their teammates. Let me just say this: if I lived in a world where my colleagues died reasonably frequently, but always (again: ALWAYS) came back to life eventually, I’m not so certain that death would hold much meaning for me anymore. Seriously, what are they so torn up about? We all know that they’re coming back at some point and you’d think the Avengers would know it too, being as it’s happened before. I mean, for goodness’ sake, doesn’t Wonder Man’s origin involve him being resurrected? He of all people should be fairly casual about the whole thing.

Putting that aside, my first major gripe is with the fact that, once again, we have Captain America the hand-wringing pussy. I know I always say this, but Cap is a soldier and, as such, a killer. For him to say that there is always a way to avoid violence is simply insane. Anyone with any amount of sense knows that while it’s probably preferable to only use violence as a last resort, there does come a time when it’s really the only solution and you’d think a man who fought Nazi Germany would know that better than most. I’m not saying that I expect to see Cap dismiss Wanda out of hand and callously call for her head, but I do think it’s reasonable to expect him to see the point-of-view that says there’s nothing for it but to kill her for the common good, even if he’d prefer it never come to that.

Then there’s Quicksilver. He comes to Magneto and says that he was just at Stark Tower, that the two teams are coming to kill Wanda. Really? Where was he? I sure as hell didn’t see him. It’s not that his presence at the conference wouldn’t make sense: he’s a former Avenger and he’s certainly got a stake in the fate of Wanda Maximoff, but he simply was not there. The problem is that it reads as poorly edited rather than poorly written, like there was supposed to be a scene involving Quicksilver, but that it was cut due to time constraints. To be fair, I suppose he could have been there and moved so quickly that no one could see him (including the reader), but that’s just a cop-out, frankly.

And then the ending. Much has been made online in interviews about how the ways in which Wanda alters reality gives each hero what he or she really wants, which is a relatively interesting set-up for a story. The problem with that, however, is that it makes House of M little more than an extended “What If” story. I am willing to go on record right now as saying that very, very little (if anything at all) will change as a result of House of M, no matter what Marvel says beforehand. If anything is changed and kept that way, it will be the elements of the characters that don’t mesh well with the movies (i.e., Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane) that can’t be undone neatly.

In the end, I think House of M is disturbingly similar to another reality-altering event that carried hollow promises of lasting change: Age of Apocalypse. It’s not that there’s anything wrong, per se, with events like these. It’s just that I’m a little tired of comic book companies trying to convince me that they’re about to enact sweeping and lasting changes to what are, at the end of the day, corporate properties. We should all be intelligent enough to realize that neither of the Big Two is about to do anything really drastic to any of their marquee characters. And honestly, I can’t fault that stance; those characters are worth a lot of money and a large portion of that is based on their static nature. But don’t piss on me and tell me that it’s rain.


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