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Suffering the Consequences

 

House of M

Brian Michael Bendis, Olivier Coipel

Marvel, 2006

Rating: 3.4

 

Posted: March 22, 2006

By 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Magneto apparently resides, somewhat benignly, over the whole ball of wax as the leader of mutantkind, which has long superceded humanity as the dominant species, a la White Man's Burden.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 mutantkind.

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 moment.

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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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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