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House Of M
posted February 19, 2010
 

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Creators: Brian Bendis, Olivier Coipel
Publishing Information: Marvel, hardcover, 312 pages, January 2008, $29.99
Ordering Numbers: 0785124667(ISBN10) 9780785124665 (ISBN13)

I'm not sure how I ended up with a copy of this. House Of M was one of the initial crossovers in this latest run of Marvel crossover events. Depending on how you count them, I think it was number two or three. This particular volume is the hardcover collecting the main series and a great deal of supplemental material in the form of a fake Marvel news publication purporting to feature articles about the alternate universe in which this story takes place. The story of House of M concerns the Scarlet Witch, the mutant with the power to alter reality and one of the pretty girls of the Marvel class of 1964. She's become so caught up in grief from her actions in a previous event storyline and a general inability to have real-world children that she changes the world. In this new world, mutants are on top of the heap, living fruitful lives as a power elite and evolutionary certainty. In a way you could say House Of M is a key book in Marvel's history because it combines the X-Men and Avengers superheroes as the active agents and the team concepts as organizing principles. The bulk of memorable, major Marvel storylines before this book took place with the X-Men at their center; those since, the Avengers.

imageIt's a handsome series as far as it goes. I far prefer Brian Bendis' ear for dialogue as a default mode for superhero scripting over that offered up by the vast majority of his peers. The emotional quandaries are skillfully established and if anything almost overpower the book. We learn that the main Marvel characters are at their hearts some miserable-ass people. The best moments in House Of M allow for the heroes to confront that fact in some manner. The question of whether or not you should choose to swap out a world where most people are better off gets steamrolled by Wolverine basically calling the hero that asks that question an idiot. I wish it had a longer workout, but I understand the dramatic necessities that shunted one that off to one said. The one impression you're left with is that the Marvel heroes are a pretty insular bunch, and the concerns of everybody else on planet Earth are nowhere near as important as what effects the comes-out-every-Wednesday crowd.

I wasn't very entertained by House Of M. There was a lot of talking, which isn't a bad thing and for those of us who would read the pages between the fight scenes over and over and over again when we were kids, well, it's exactly what we've wanted from superhero comics for a long time. It's just that the talking in House Of M wasn't very focused on much of anything except the characters figuring out the basic plot of the story they're in as if the simple act of reorienting one's self is the same as changing the world. It sort of is! My main memory of House Of M is of a lot of people stuffed into a room, the more aggressive personalities bitching at each other like the ten minutes before somebody's intervention. Occasionally there was an interesting chat, like Wolverine admitting his fantasy life was disarmingly goofy, all thing considered, and Spider-Man and Luke Cage talking about trying to get back to their proper loves even though the world kept that from happening. Ditto the visuals, such as one scene where the heroes look downtown to see Sentinels finishing up their work from an attack they just escaped. But memorable scenes were fair and far between. The world and its denizens felt like an arch creation to facilitate a superhero plot. I wish most of all there had been more action. There were a lot of scuffles but very little in the way of major fights and nothing in the way interesting action set pieces. The fighting seemed like filler on the way to the next scene of costumed characters tossing exposition at one another.

Perhaps my biggest complaint is a problem that I have with most of these events. Doing something completely different with established characters is something I'd suggest is touching only when a) it doesn't happen very frequently, and b) the character in the regular comics is sturdy and interesting and memorable to the extent that a change provides a sharply-delineated character moment. This comic obviously failed that test in a way that say, 1980's "Days Of Future Past" didn't, with its clear break from a lot of pretty good comics and how it depicted the general shift from endearing, hopeful characters marked by the occasional step backwards to exhausted, resigned ones drowning in death. In fact, I thought some of the work in House Of M directly pointed out weaknesses to certain Marvel characters as they tend to be realized in the regular comics. Watching Magneto as a patriarchal figure further exposed the crassness of the character as a shouting, superpower-blasting anti-Holocaust mouthpiece. The guy has kids. Why wouldn't he just want a better world for his kids? For the most part, it's simply hard to become invested in these characters undergoing change because they're changing from one arbitrary set of circumstances to another. They are already their current selves for attentive fans and their old selves for movie producers and casual readers. They can be up to four different versions of themselves in four different comics depending on how closely each writer sticks to the story bible. They may at any point be rebooted in isolated fashion via a deal with a substitute Satan or a quiet cleaning up of some unfavorable recent past into another four different versions of themselves. What's one more hat, anyway? In the end House Of M was a comic about characters trying to change the world so they could reclaim their branding. The Scarlet Witch may have been doing us all a favor.

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