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House of M
Brian Michael Bendis, Olivier Coipel
March 22, 2006
The Gentleman (exclusive
to Shaking Through)
House of M, Marvel Comics' big 2005 summer tent-pole event, isn't
exactly based on a fresh idea. Stories in which reality (insofar as that concept
can be said to apply to superhero comics) is overwritten, with the protagonists
caught up in and unaware of the change, are a staple of the superhero genre.
Heck, there were no less than two of them in the Kurt Busiek/George Perez
run on Avengers, to say nothing of the 1990s mega-crossover Age of
Apocalypse or, in its own way,
Neil Gaiman's 1602.
But House of M differs from its brethren in the alternate-reality
subgenre (and from most company-wide crossover events) in two significant ways:
For one thing, it changes the status quo of the Marvel Universe in a very real
way. And for another, it comes as close as a superhero mega-event can to some
kind of poignancy; it actually makes us care about at least one of the
characters caught up in it.
The override comes courtesy of the Scarlet Witch, who after
the mother of all meltdowns in
Avengers Disassembled is regarded as such a troubling threat, what with her
reality-warping abilities and unstable condition, that the world's greatest
heroes convene in an attempt to figure out what to do about her, with some
advocating nothing less than murdering her for the sake of the greater good. But
before they can even begin to figure out a plan of action, the world is changed
in a bright white flash.
The new world closely resembles the mainstream Marvel U. -- at least America is
still more or less intact -- although Magneto apparently resides, somewhat
benignly, over the whole ball of wax as the leader of mutantkind, which has long
superceded humanity as the dominant species, a la White Man's Burden.
What's more, the protagonists have been given the lives that, apparently,
they've always secretly wanted: Carol Danvers, in the role of Captain Marvel, is
the world's most famous hero; Steve Rogers is an elderly man who's long given up
the mantle of Captain America, if he ever held it at all. And Peter Parker --
Spider-Man -- is happily married not to the redheaded fireball Mary Jane Watson
but the long-dead (in "our" world) love of his life, Gwen Stacy.
Wolverine, now an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., is alone among his super-powered
cronies in remembering the world that was; soon enough, with the help of a young
girl named Layla who also remembers, he sets about convincing his comrades,
setting the stage for a bloody showdown at Magneto's compound on the island of
Genosha, one with far-reaching effects for the Marvel Universe as it exists at
the end of the storyline -- especially in regards to the now-decimated ranks of
That would be remarkable enough, in this era of "Things will never be the same!"
events that never live up to their hype. But surprisingly, writer Brian Michael
Bendis employs one of his overused tics -- halting, unfocused speech meant to
sound "realistic" -- to poignant effect in making us believe the rage, hurt and
pathos felt by Spider-Man, who all but comes apart at the seams at the
realization that he must once again mourn what might have been with his beloved
Gwen. For once, all that stuttering and chopping off sentences in mid-thought
feels genuine, and works to enhance, rather than distract from, the drama of the
The same can't consistently be said of Olivier Coipel's artwork, which is
occasionally cluttered and poorly laid out to the point of
near-incomprehensibility (especially during that key battle on Genosha). But
it's not a serious enough problem to derail House of M. Despite grave
indicators to the contrary (an alternate reality; that aforementioned "things
will be changed forever! hype), it delivers that rare enjoyable adventure
that actually radically alters the status quo and leaves its characters to deal
with real, long-lasting consequences.
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