When Mutants Rule The Earth
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its eleventh choice, House Of M by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel, reviewed by contributing writer Laurence Boyce, recently rereleased as an Ultimate Edition …
House Of M
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Colours: Frank D’Armata
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
As one of the big ‘Marvel Event’ stories of the past 15 years, House of M remains one of the highpoints of Brian Michael Bendis’ time at Marvel – which is pretty remarkable given his superlative track record. On the surface it’s a simple story of an altered reality (and those who remember things as how they used to be), the nature of which has become a staple of genre stories over the years. Yet Bendis and artist Olivier Coipel elevate this premise with some truly clever ideas, a story that manages to balance action with compelling character moments and an overall arc that – unusually for a comic book – promises long lasting and significant consequences.
Wanda Maximoff – AKA as Scarlet Witch, AKA Magneto’s daughter – has suffered a nervous breakdown which results in the deaths of Hawkeye, The Vision and Antman. With her powers being able to warp reality, it’s clear that Scarlet Witch poses a danger to the entire world. With The Avengers and X-Men engaging in a debate as to what to do with her, things become increasingly fraught as Magneto and Wanda’s brother Pietro (AKA Quicksilver) become concerned that she will be ‘put down’ to save the rest of the world.
And in a flash of light everything changes. Mutantkind now rules the Earth, with ordinary humans – ‘Sapians’ – being the minority. The X-Men and Avengers no longer exist. The entire history of the Marvel universe as we know it has been altered with no-one any the wiser.
Apart from Wolverine. With his memories intact Wolverine, along with mysterious young girl Layla Miller, who seems to have the power to restore memories, embarks on a quest to put everything back as it was. But with the likes of Hawkeye – now resurrected and aware of the nature of his death in the original timeline – and a whole raft of heroes who need their memory restoring, Logan’s task will be more complicated than he first thought.
While House of M trades on the world shattering moments that comic book ‘event’ stories have become renowned for, it backs everything up by also exploring some weighty and complex ideas. The first issue boils down to a debate about the pros and cons of euthanasia while other concepts – such as racism and the nature of free wheel – are all touched upon through the story. It does certainly feel like it’s playing with the central tenets of any comic book which usually demand all the problems are solved with fists rather than debate. “You get your super powers. You fight some bad guys. …this wasn’t in the brochure,” laments Peter Parker at some point.
Certainly, while the narrative shifts the Marvel Universe as we know it, it also shifts the moral compass which is usually rigidly set within the world of comics. Wanda Maximoff is not presented as evil – just someone who is unable to control her devastating powers. Magneto and Quicksilver may often be villains but they are also bound by familial ties. The narrative constantly plays with these issues, providing pleasure not only in subverting traditional roles but in the moments when the status quo is quietly pieced back together. While Marvel – and particularly the X-Men universe – had always touched upon these ‘shades of grey’, these moments are more overtly dealt with. Near the end, with readers conditioned to expect that everything will be back to ‘normal’ when the story concludes, a prophetic three words sees the Marvel world was changed irrevocably (or at least for a few years, an eternity in comic book time).
But while House of M continually deals with weighty ideas it never feels bogged down or too wordy. There’s always a sense of tension with Coipel often filling the frame with characters, giving everything a claustrophobic air. And when the set-pieces do arrive they feel somewhat as a release, an escape from the complexity of ideas. Again, the book slightly plays with this. While these moments are fun – and Coipel does provide with a sense of the grandiose – there’s also a sense of the inadequacy of simply hitting someone when faced with a situation that is almost too enormous to comprehend.
House of M is a remarkable example of how good comic book narratives can be both cerebral and action packed with the two working in tandem. While the series was known for its far-reaching consequences (and this ‘Ultimate Edition’ does come with a précis of subsequent events which does provide some useful info) it also works in and of itself as a piece of work which, in dealing with the idea of mutants, is has moments that are – ironically – very human indeed.
House Of M is out now from Marvel.
Here’s a link to the first ten of our 100 GNs too