“And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you,
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it’s a very, very
Mad world, mad world”
(“Mad World”, Gary Jules)
Say what? Two big reviews in a row? It’s crazy town! And there is only one person responsible for that…
Let’s talk about House of M!
In 2005, when the first issue of this event hit the shelves, events meant something. Or at least I think they did. More than they do nowadays, anyway. It feels like the only thing Marvel did in the last couple of years was releasing event after event after event. And every single one of them was supposed to change the Marvel universe forever. To be honest, I like events – as long as they are self-contained, in the sense that they don’t take up every single series for months. And most importantly: They have consequences! Remember Battleworld? Is that a thing now? I lost track, to be honest, and did not read it. But we will talk about comic events in another article. For now, we want to focus on House of M.
What is House of M? As we discussed in our last in-depth review, Wanda has reality altering abilities. They are also called chaos magic abilities. As the Avengers and the X-Men are coming together to decide her fate, she saves herself by recreating the world.
The reality Wanda created is different. We don’t know it. I think it is good that there are several limited series, one-shots, and tie-ins alongside the main event. And yes, I know this is contradicting something I said before, but if you create a whole new world, you need to be able to understand it. According to Marvel Unlimited, the whole storyline includes 51 issues. The main storyline consists of eight issues, and this review will be focused on those. I am going to read some of the tie-ins, and mention them if necessary.
Road to Nowhere
The covers of these main issues are just beautiful. At first glance they seem simple, just the rough shapes of the characters but the closer you look, the more details they reveal. My favorite might be the cover of #4. To see Hawkeye on the cover, though he died in Avengers Disassemble, shooting arrow after arrow into Wolverine, while Wolverine lies on the ground – intriguing.
The first thing we get to see in the first issue is a dream or alternate reality Wanda wants to live in. Her brother Quicksilver aka Pietro Maximoff, her husband The Vision, and her fellow X-Men by her side. She is giving birth to her kids. It is a happy moment, and one can understand that she wants to live in this dream. Hold on to it as tight as she can. But then Xavier talks to her. Tells her that this is a lie. She has no kids. This is not a happy place. This is Genosha. Erik, Charles, and Wanda have chosen this place as their sanctuary. To hide from the world and try to make Wanda better. But does she want to get better? She is one of the most powerful mutants and magicians in the universe. I wonder if she is aware of this or just going with her fantasy?
As Erik and Charles are talking about Wanda, we see Erik without his Magneto outfit. This might be a first since we started our journey. It highlights the importance of the conversation. At this moment he is not Magneto or a villain. He is a father concerned for his daughter’s life. He makes himself responsible for what happened to her. Also: The fight against humankind, the battles against the X-Men, Avengers, and others have taken a toll on him. He looks tired. Weary even.
Jumping to the new Avengers headquarters. After the team broke up, Cap has formed a new one: Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Captain America, Wolverine, and Luke Cage are the New Avengers and already had their first missions, as Charles Xavier summons them, some X-Men and former members of the Avengers are also there. He summoned them, because he needs help in making a decision: Whether or not to kill Wanda Maximoff.
Who do you think agrees to take her down? Erik, who stayed with Wanda on Genosha is having the same conversation with his son, Pietro. Surprisingly, he kind of agrees. Killing her might be the only solution in stopping her. Emma Frost (who looks exactly like she does in the Astonishing X-Men run is the one who argues for killing Wanda. Wolverine agrees with her and asks Cap, how many more have to die until they put an end to her?
It is a discussion as old as comics themselves. Should the heroes kill villains if they keep coming back or if they are a major threat to the whole population? Should Batman kill Joker? When have enough people died to justify one more deliberate death? The discussion in Stark’s apartment is one of the most intense arguments I have read in comics. Not just because of the excellent writing, but also because of the artwork. It is a vast topic. Some of the panels seem to be too small for what is put into them. This style creates a dense atmosphere. One could get claustrophobic, because of it.
Cap considers Wanda an Avenger, so it should be for them to decide, and besides Wolverine, everyone is against killing her. The way Cap rebukes Wolverine is one of the best moments of the series. In the panel we see Wolverine and Cap casting a big shadow over him. It looks intimidating. You don’t want to f* with Cap. In the end, they decide to visit her on Genosha. So that they can see her and get a better picture of what is going on.
Jump to Genosha: We experience the following scene from Spider-Man’s point of view. Wanda is gone, as well as Erik. The others are suddenly gone now, also. No one is there. He is alone. He sees the light. The world goes white. And he and wakes up in his bed. A baby is crying in another room. Peter gets up and looks after her, while Gwen Stacy, his wife, stays in bed.
Brave new world?
Wanda did it. She created a whole new reality. Steve Rogers is not Captain America, Ms. Marvel is one of the last Superheroes who are not a mutant (and kills people?), Luke Cage is some underground boss, Sam Wilson a detective, Strange not the Sorcerer Supreme, Colossus still in Russia, and so on and so forth. The only one who seems to know what is going on is Wolverine. The last, two-page spread of the second issue shows a Helicarrier, surrounded by planes and Sentinel-like robots. All of them with the M-Logo. For Magneto? Or Mutant?
Usually, mutants are the minority on the planet. Hated. Feared. Hunted. Not anymore. Homo Superior is the dominating race. Homo Sapiens are the minority, and they will be extinct in a few more years. Wiped from the face of the earth.
Laws forbid to extract the mutant gene. Schools teach the history of mutants (Though I don’t think Namor is the first one!) It is a haven for mutants. Is it, though? It should be a better version of the world, but you can feel something is wrong. Just hints here and there. For example, as Ororo is trying on a dress, she nearly destroys the shop, to test, if it would withstand her powers. Mutants are free, are the dominating species and thrive, but now they are the oppressors. Hank says in another scene to Pym:
“When it happened to the dinosaurs- – they didn’t see it coming. They didn’t have the intellect or capacity to understand it. But you do. You’re watching it happen and it stings like a bitch. […] It’s not fair that you have to sit here, with full awareness and watch it slowly happen.”
In a newspaper called “The Pulse,” we get to know a bit more of this world and what happened to it. One article tells the story of Eric Magnus (Magneto) who is responsible for exposing the government’s secret attacks on the mutants, a few years ago. Since then he has rebuilt the world and set Homo Superior free. You get the feeling that governments do not matter anymore. It is House of Magnus which rules this side of the globe. The royal family of mutants. House of M is like an organization which keeps everyone in line. Remember the Sentinels? They have been reprogrammed, so they terminate Sapien lifeforms if they are not following the rules. Rules like: no gatherings or to always wear their GPS chip cards. Superheroes who are not a mutant are forbidden. Hunted, even. In the Spider-Man tie-in storyline, for example, J. Jonah Jameson exposes Spider-Man as not being a mutant – he was just bitten by a spider.
Some of those storylines also deal with vague memories or ideas, that this is not the world as it should be. It is a pretty scary thing, being aware that everything feels wrong. What if you would “remember” your old life? Not knowingly, but subconsciously. What would you do? If you are more aware of the situation there are two ways to behave in a new world you don’t know: try to blend in, figure out what is going on and then try to reverse it. Or you do it like Wolvie and do whatever the f* you want until you figure out a way to unscrew things up.
As we have established, Wolverine seems to be the only one who is aware of the changes. He jumps off a Helicarrier to get away from SHIELD and a blue mutant, who, I assume, is Mystique. He does not know what is going on, steals a bike, and tries to find Charles Xavier. No one has heard from him. Has Eric removed him from history or is he not a part of Wanda’s new world. I mean, mutants are everywhere, so there is no need for a school for gifted youngsters, right? It also seems like Wolverine is the boss of a team within SHIELD and because of his little stunt earlier, they hunt him down. But an underground group is helping him. Luke Cage “invites” him and Hawkeye (!) shows up as well.
Logan tells Luke Cage and his friends everything. But not before Hawkeye shoots him in the head – with one of his arrows. But, being Wolverine, he stands up a few seconds later. Those seconds would have been an excellent time to escape because Wolverine has a tracker in his neck and now his former team has arrived. Cloak teleports everyone away (Cloak is one of my favorite characters in this storyline, although this is the first time I read something with him). As Logan tells them everything that happened, they surprisingly believe him. Before Logan, a girl came to them, looking for Daredevil. Instead, she found Cage. Somehow she is aware of this alternate reality and told them what she knows. As she talks with Wolverine, she discovers to be a mutant herself – with mental abilities. Her name is Layla.
I am not sure if we are supposed to know her, but she makes a great addition to the team. Especially, as they go to Emma Frost’s apartment. Layla can “unlock” people. Show them the real world. As Emma is unlocked, she quickly gets a hold of herself and takes on the mantle of the leader. It is the beginning of resistance. But they need a team. First, they unlock Scott Summers as well, because he shows up in the apartment (Emma and Scott seem to be married). We also find out, that the Avengers and the X-Men never existed in this world. And it’s time someone fixes this error.
Escape my mind
They unlock Peter Parker, Kitty Pride, Stephen Strange, Carol Danvers, Tony Stark, Matt Murdock, and Jennifer Walters. They leave Captain America alone since he is about one hundred years old. As I first read these pages, I had the feeling he is coming back and plays a vital role in the finale – unfortunately, that is not the case. Still, it was an exciting idea. Last but not least, they unlock Logan’s “new” team: Kurt Wagner, Rogue, Raven, and Doc Ock (?). In the finale of this issue, we get to see what happened to Charles Xavier, as Magneto stands in front of a tombstone.
Before we move on, I want to talk about Peter Parker. The reality Wanda created should give everyone what they ever wanted. Make dreams come true. Wolverine subconsciously wants to be Nick Fury, Captain America not being Captain America, and so on. Peter wants his uncle back and be married to Gwen Stacy. Understandable. He lives a happy life, made Spider-Man an icon – a role he plays. Not a hero. But as they unlock him, he is aware of all of the tragedy. All the pain. After the first shock, he wants to be alone. Wolverine is the one walking up to him – talking to him. What follows is one of the best scenes of this event. With everything that is going on around them, they have this intimate moment. Just those two characters.
Later, the Unlocked discuss the plan of how to attack House of M and put the world back together. And the question is: Should they put the world back together? As Jessica says:
“When something of this magnitude happens… you have to step back for a second and say: maybe this was time for this to happen. Who are we to decide how the world’s supposed to be? […] Maybe this is how mutants become the next dominant species. […] You don’t know if I’m right or wrong and it scares the crap out of you. And it should.”
They take hit after hit after hit. Not physically but psychologically. For Peter, it means losing Gwen and Ben again. And he says he might not be able to hold back. He might kill Magneto for this. And the scary thought is: everyone agrees. This world is wrong. No matter what, they have put the world back. Everything depends on them, and they cannot hold back. So the final battle begins.
Since I read Astonishing X-Men Emma Frost is one of my favorite X-Men characters. She is devoted to the task at hand and is very capable of using her powers. She is the reason the team can infiltrate a Helicarrier, steal it and let the men and women commanding it fly to Genosha. There, the House of Magnus has some guests. King T’Challa, Victor Von Doom, Princess Ororo, King Namor, and Genis-Vell of the Kree Empire. It is a very impressive list of guests, and one can just hope they don’t all fight in the name of Magnus.
In the meantime, while the others make a deception by attacking the party, Emma, Layla, and Cloak are searching for Xavier. As they find the tombstone, Emma cannot take it anymore. As she is falling to her knees, the only thing she wants to do is give up. Again: a powerful, intimate moment. But as Cloak checks out the grave, he finds nothing. No coffin, no body, nothing. What happened?
In a third setting, we follow Doctor Strange as he finds Wanda playing with her kids. She is not aware what is happening, and she does not care. But not in an angry way. She just wanted the world to be better. Manipulated by the one who pretended to love her, she created this new world. But it was not her father. It was her brother, Pietro. He wanted to save her from the Avengers and the X-Men. But as Magneto walked away from them, giving up, letting the Avengers and X-Men kill her (or not), Pietro talked Wanda into this. And she gave everyone what they ever wanted.
As the fight reaches its climax, Layla unlocks Magneto. And as he realizes what his children did, what Pietro did in Magneto’s name, he loses it completely. First, he restrains everyone with his powers (using every metal around them). Then, he kills his son. It is violent. Brutal. And not fun to watch. As Wanda follows the scene, she asks herself, why should they rule? What puts mutants above Homo Sapiens than mere luck? And she decides:
“No more mutants.”
So this is how it ends? Well, nearly. As Wanda resets the earth to its original state, she takes away the mutant gene. Not killing all the mutants, but taking their powers away. However, Emma can shield some of her fellow mutants with her abilities. Still, before there were thousands of mutants, now there are a few hundred left. Decimated.
But, as Hank explains in the closing lines of the last issue: One does not destroy energy. And he is wondering, where all the power, all the energy, went. The last panel shows a red and yellow glowing force approaching earth.
House of M is a great event. Brian Michael Bendis did an excellent job by creating something with magnitude, with consequences, but also something personal and intimate. We will take a break from this time of the X-Men, but we will come back to see what the future holds for our heroes.