Sunday, February 8, 2015

Defying Wishes, House Of M Turns The Marvel Universe On Its Side!

The Good: Engaging plot, Good pacing
The Bad: Plot-intensive to the detriment of character work, Artwork is not spectacular
The Basics: Brian Michael Bendis writes the core story of the House Of M Crossover and he makes it (mostly) work!

Not very long ago, I found myself opening a case of 2014 Marvel Universe trading cards and as I sorted them, I caught myself reading many of them. The trading card set focuses on some of the big crossover events that Marvel has created over the last few decades. The one that I found most interesting, based on its 9-card summary of the plot, was House Of M. That inspired me to pick up the graphic novel House Of M, which compiled the eight issues of House Of M. House Of M is most analogous to Flashpoint (reviewed here!) in the DC Universe and kudos to Marvel for beating DC to the punch on this one! Perhaps more surprising is that the trade paperback anthology House Of M manages to do what so few crossover event graphic novels do; it tells the full, essential story of House Of M. In fact, House Of M is so tight in its narrative that it almost boggles the mind to think there are so many spin-off anthologies of stories set in the House Of M universe. They are, in fact, window dressing and a distraction from the main story.

The irony of that is that one can only assume that the various splinter stories set in the House Of M Universe are designed to add layers of depth to the characters as they are altered through House Of M and House Of M is so plot-intensive that there is no genuine character work in it. The book starts with one character in crisis, changes landscape entirely and then becomes a quest in which characters end up on a plot-intensive journey with no real character development (despite two longer monologues by Scott Summers and Jessica Drew.

Following the destruction of the Avengers Mansion by the Scarlet Witch and Charles Xavier and Eric Magnus retreating with her to Genosha, Charles Xavier finds himself unable to keep Wanda Maximoff under control. Wanda’s mental powers allow her to aleads her to keep creating scenarios in which he exists and they have children together . . . illusions which Xavier shatters, pushing her back into grief and mental instability. So, Xavier arrives in New York City and assembles the X-Men and Avengers to try to decide her fate. Unfortunately, Quicksilver hears their plans and leaps to the conclusion (which was being debated, but is not at all decided) that the combined forces of both superhero groups are coming to Genosha to kill Maximoff and he gets her out of potential harm. Some of the Avengers and X-Men do go to Genosha, but their purpose is to communicate with Wanda and find out what she wants. As members of the team suddenly start disappearing, Spider-Man fears the worst until he is alone and suddenly everything goes white.

Peter Parker awakens, mundane, next to Gwen Stacy. Wolverine awakens on a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, where he is with Mystique and appears to be in charge. Wolverine freaks out because he remembers his life and cannot reconcile it with this altered reality in which he finds himself, one where mutants are in charge and homo sapiens are subservient to homo superioris. Leaping off the helicarrier, Wolverine ends up in New York City trying to find anyone who might know what happened. He runs into the Cloak and Luke Cage and, as quite the surprise for him (because he was dead!) Hawkeye. Luke Cage believes his outlandish story largely because a mysterious girl, Layla Miller, told him an identical story the day before. Logan takes Layla to the house of Emma Frost and when the girl unlocks her mind, they assemble a team to go and hunt down Magneto, believing that he has remade the world in his image of how things should be!

House Of M is essentially an alternate universe story and as someone who is a relative newbie to the Marvel Universe, I can see how it would thrill regular readers, but it is a generally unremarkable story on its own. It would be pretty profound for Marvel to allow the effects of House Of M to persist; characters like Captain America and several others do not exist in the world created there. So, the general feeling going into House Of M is that this is an isolated incident, a pocket universe, whose effects will be undone by the end of the story. Despite the last moments of the book (and my not knowing what comes after), that is essentially the case.

The successful element of House Of M is that it tells an engaging story and the altered world is an intriguing one. The idea of everyone on the mutant side of the Marvel Universe getting their fondest desires is neat to see played out, even if it has disastrous effects. The House Of Magnus is not omnipotent, but it is a major player in the world and it’s interesting to see how people like Dr. Doom and Namor have survived in the world.

But House Of M only dabbles in the altered world; the tight focus on Logan and his quest to connect with people who can help him try to restore the world leaves remarkably little time to make the strange setting colorful beyond its initial set-up. The result is a story that almost entirely neglects its motivation: Wanda Maximoff’s crippling sense of loss and guilt are swept to the side, save at the very beginning and the end when it is presented more as plot exposition than a compelling character journey. In fact, there is something witless about the coda to House Of M, where Emma Frost and others begin a search for Xavier once again . . . with no mention of trying to find Wanda! This is roughly akin to having a dream about someone who literally sets the world on fire, waking up and discovering the world has not been burned to ashes and then not going to check in on the pyromaniac whom one dreamt about!

The irony is that, in addition to the trading card motivation, I picked up House Of M because I wanted to learn about the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in advance of this summer’s The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. That task is hardly accomplished by this book. House Of M has inconsistent artwork; some of the panels are crisp, beautiful and clear, others have more blockish lines to them. As well, some of the panel arrangements make for terrible flow in following the dialogue between characters.

That said, House Of M lives up to its promise and is an engaging story of mutant supremacy and the two mutants who want to set the world right!

For other Marvel Universe books, please visit my reviews of:
Civil War
The Avengers: The Search For She-Hulk


For other graphic novel reviews, please visit my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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