Sunday, November 04, 2007

House of M

I just finished reading Brian Bendis’s House of M, a storyline that had a major impact on the universe of the X-Men, but also managed to be one of the most poorly structured, logically unsound and outright boring crossovers in comics history. This I so misguided on many levels, it’s hard to even consider.

My major issue with the story is that it’s inherently pointless, because we know that the world is going to get reset by the end of it. Now, it’s true that the characters remember what happened, and there’s a couple of major lasting consequences, but really, the whole crossover winds up being about one moment. There’s six issues of messing around, then about ten pages of stuff that’s actually interesting, with Wanda and Pietro, then the story just ends.

Bendis must be a pagan because we’ve got so many gods in the machine in the story. The biggest, and most interesting, is Wanda. I think they could have done a fantastic story about Wanda’s reality warping powers going out of whack, forcing the heroes to question what they’re doing. The best scene in the book is the opening, where Wanda invents fictional children for herself and Xavier has to remind her they’re not real. In the beginning, she seems totally on the verge of losing it, and there’s a lot of potential in exploring how you deal with someone who’s so incredibly powerful, and completely out of control.

That’s what we get in the first issue, and that stuff’s not bad. However, it quickly is replaced by yet another alternate reality. Claremont’s original Days of Future Past was brilliant, but it’s opened a lot of awful doors for later writers. At this point, ten years after Age of Apocalypse, did we really need another extended trip to an alternate reality? I don’t think so, certainly not one as boring as this. While it’s admirable that we don’t have yet another fascist dystopia that ends with all our heroes dying, making a relatively ordinary world doesn’t produce the most interesting stories. We basically spend five issues following Wolverine around as central deus ex machina Layla resets peoples’ memories. The problem with this is I have no reason to care that people are being reset, I know what’s ‘real’ to them, and after seeing one person reset, we don’t gain anything from the rest of those scenes.

The big issue for me with the story as is is the fact that Wolverine so vehemently shoots down the idea that maybe they should leave things as they are. What’s so wrong with a world where everyone has what they want? In most stories like this, we get the implication that to continue to live this way would be a lie, a betrayal of some innate idea of reality. However, if Wanda can give everyone the world that they want, wouldn’t be it a betrayal to deprive them of that? A mutant powerful enough could make everyone happy, wouldn’t that be enough?

Of course, that would mean no more interesting stories. However, you could make a pretty interesting story if there was a real conflict between people who wanted to preserve the House of M world versus those who need to get back to reality.

As it is, the story is so devoid of moral or thematic complexity, it’s hard to believe. The most interesting character, the focus of the entire thing, is Wanda. She’s got a lot of issues to deal with, how does she live in this perfect world she’s created, the only one, other than Pietro, who’s aware that it’s a lie? It would be more interesting to have her knowledge of reality conflict with everyone else’s happiness, that she could make the perfect world for everyone else, but never herself.

That’s not what we get. Instead, Wanda doesn’t appear in the House of M world until issue 7, and we get very little insight into her motivations or psychosis. I think the most interesting story you could spin out of this would be to make the House of M universe a completely irrational, unsteady universe. I’m not clear on how her powers work, but is she mentally supporting the entire rewritten universe. I think it’d be more interesting if her changes were eroding, and the heroes found themselves struggling to save the universe from imploding on itself.

Of course, this crossover isn’t particularly interested in that sort of cosmic stuff. Great crossovers have been made out of character stuff, Mutant Massacre for one. However, if you want to explore characters, rewriting the entire universe to remove the central issue of the crossover isn’t the best way to do it. I guess the point was to show people what they could have been, but that’s only dealt with in Spiderman’s story. And, maybe it’s just a bias of my own reading, but it’s very weird to have Spiderman hanging out with the X-Men. I think the X-Men make a lot more sense in a world without other superheroes, it’s not good to have the other corners of the Marvel Universe intrude on them.

The reason I’d call this the worst of the major X events is primarily because it’s boring. Say what you will about X-Tinction Agenda or X-Cutioner’s Song, they were brimming with ideas, characters and craziness. You’re overwhelmed with characters and storylines, it may be hard to follow, but it’s trying for something big. Here, everything happens in a linear way, and there’s no real conflict anywhere in the story. There’s no particular urgency either, because if you could remake the world once, you can remake it again. Is it a better story than some of those early 90s crossovers? Yes, but it’s less entertaining.

And, I’m confused about why everyone thinks Magneto made this reality. They just assumed, but I always figured it was Wanda herself. The major twist seems to be that Pietro was the one who told her to, but I just kind of assumed he did, in light of what we saw in issue one. Admittedly, I knew about no more mutants before hand, but your story shouldn’t have just one twist. Really, this entire book was about that one page.

As for “No more mutants,” I think it’s pretty foolish to do this story as a result of an alternate reality. With each alternate reality, the credibility of your characters declines, and having such a major plot point come out of this one raises the question of why you couldn’t just alter reality again to change things back. Alternate realities remove characters’ agency, in this story, no one makes any choices, they just go along doing stuff. And, the no more mutants thing is undermined by the fact that so many of the characters we know still have their powers. That was an appalling plot point, and I need discuss it no further.

I did enjoy a couple of things. Dr. Strange was pretty awesome, and I’d love to read some more stories with him. The scenes with him and Wanda are easily the best part of the book. However, it really bothers me that Wanda’s entire arc is motivated by desire to have children, a bit clichĂ© for a female character.

Bendis, how much did Marvel pay for your soul? I hope it was worth it. His work on Jinx and Goldfish was amazing, his early Marvel work was pretty good, but why are you jobbing to Joe Quesada’s editorial whims? Do some creator owned work again, and stay away from big crossovers like this. This isn’t the worst X-Men story out there, but it’s bad in a different way than most.

Compared to its DC counterpart, Infinite Crisis, there’s no contest. Crisis was full of crazy ideas, fun concepts and real world changing stuff. This, just another pointless alternate reality exercise in the service of an editorial mandate.

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