Enduring Events: Marvel’s House of M

Posted November 4, 2013 by Stuart Kirkham in Comic Books

Whether you love them or hate them, Events and Crossovers are mainstays of the comics medium. Every year a big name creator is given the task of uniting characters from various franchises and telling a compelling story, and they achieve this with varying degrees of success.

A good event does wonders for the industry; the big plot-points can make the national news, so new readers are driven into stores. Worthwhile tie-in stories can grow the readership of an overlooked series and the aftermath can create interesting story opportunities for other titles. These are the benefits of telling stories within a shared universe.

Unfortunately the knife cuts both ways, and a poor event can do more harm than good. Readers become fatigued with prolonged and uninteresting stories, series that were previously enjoyed get derailed for months at a time so people jump off the book, and the aftermath can make the main series feel like a means to an end.

Some events stand the test of time and hold up to multiple re-reads even though they’re no longer relevant, others are just something to be suffered through. This feature will focus on a specific event, discussing the build-up, tie-in stories, and aftermath to determine whether the series holds-up, or falls flat.

Last time we discussed Avengers Disassembled, and determined that even though it was a good story in it’s own right, the tie-ins didn’t do it any favours. This time we’ll be looking at what is almost a direct sequel to that storyline:HoMLogo

The Build-Up

Avengers Disassembled told the story of Wanda Maximoff’s mental breakdown, and establishes the scope of her reality-altering powers. House of M is almost a direct sequel to Disassembled in that it picks up where Wanda was left off, now in the care of her father Magneto and Charles Xavier in the ruins of Genosha. This is shown in a brief prelude story in the pages of Excalibur.

Whedon & Cassadays fantastic series

Whedon & Cassadays fantastic series

House of M is actually a crossover between two team books: Brian Bendis’ New Avengers and Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. By the time HoM was released both books had completed their first two story lines, though neither of them are necessary to the plot other than to establish who the main players are.

The New Avengers are a new team with a new dynamic, working out of Avengers Tower and remaining separate to S.H.I.E.L.D, they choose their own missions and try to prevent situations like Wanda’s breakdown before they happen. This is made clear in the second storyline when they recruit The Sentry, a mentally unstable hero of unparalleled power.

Astonishing X-Men was the flagship X-Men book at the time, though it remained fairly separate from continuity concerns so that Whedon could tell his own story and John Cassaday could draw it at his own (slow) pace. Again, it isn’t essential to understanding the plot, but it is essential to anyone who considers themselves a fan of the X-Men, or comic books in general.

The Storyline

Facing the possibility of her death, Wanda Maximoff is coerced into creating a new reality where her friends are given their hearts desires. The story takes place within this new reality and comes with an inherent freedom that only alternate-universes can provide; situations that wouldn’t normally arise can be explored without fear of consequence, as things inevitably revert back to their original state at the end. Unfortunately that same lack of consequence can make a story feel pointless, so the writer has to make sure the journey is worthwhile and has some lasting effect.

This unique opportunity is used to reveal the true desires of well-known characters, some of which are obvious to readers if not to the characters themselves, but somehow Bendis still finds a way to turn this potential gift into a terrible curse. Our favourite characters are blissfully ignorant that anything is out of place as they go about their lives in this new universe. Peter Parker wakes in the new world to find himself in bed with his wife, but it’s not the person we might think. Gwen Stacey is alive and well in this new world, and she is the mother of Peter’s child. Uncle Ben is still alive and Spider-Man is actually popular in this version of New York.

When his memories of the real-world are returned Peters reaction is one of the most powerful moments in the book; as he realises his life is a lie and he’s inevitably going to have to fight to return the world to the way it was, losing two of the people he loves the most all over again in the process. This is one example of the great character moments that make the story worthwhile, as well as the moral conundrum of whether or not the world should be returned to it’s original state, given that the new reality is arguably more favourable.

When the world is returned to normal Peter doesn't take it very well

When the world is returned to normal Peter doesn’t take it very well

This limited series was released in eight parts, which is quite large as event stories go and a long time to wait for a conclusion. House of M is certainly decompressed and could arguably have been over two issues earlier without too much loss of content. Marvel’s understandable decision to use top-grade artists on their event books inevitably means they sometimes suffer delays; Olivier Coipel is not the fastest artist but he is one of the best, and the book just wouldn’t have been the same without him. It’s fair to say that by the time the story was completed the readers were more than ready for it to be over, but not using fill-in artists and giving it the extra breathing room makes the collected format read so much better.

The Tie-In’s

As with most event books, House of M’s tie-ins are numourous and for the most part entirely forgettable. The majority of books that had associated stories were X-Men related and told alternate-universe tales that had little to no consequence on the ongoing direction of their respective series. Some of these stories were given their own mini-series whereas others were told in the pages of the regular book.

Most of these stories can be ignored, but there are a couple worthy of attention. Ed Brubaker takes a single issue out of his Captain America run to explore what Steve Roger’s life would have been like if he hadn’t spent several decades on-ice. The fear and resentment people feel towards mutants as their population increases mirrors Nazi-Germany’s reaction to Jewish people and immigrants, so Steve provides an interesting lens to witness these fictional moments in history through.

The other storyline worth mentioning is HoM: Spider-Man, written by Mark Waid with art by Salvador Larocca. This mini-series explores what it’s like when Peter Parker’s life is going well for a change, then starts bringing down the building on his head, as the secret he’s been trying to keep about the less-than-natural origin of his superpowers is exposed. One important side note is that this series actually contradicts the main House of M story, it’s almost a “What if?” storyline within the House of M universe.

Captain America #10

Captain America #10

The full list of House of M tie-in volumes

  • HoM: Incredible Hulk
  • HoM: Fantastic Four/Iron Man
  • HoM: Uncanny X-Men
  • HoM: Mutopia X
  • HoM: New X-Men
  • HoM: Spider-Man
  • HoM: World of M

Oddly enough, well after the House of M event was concluded Marvel produced several further mini-series set within that universe. HoM: Avengers acts as something of a prologue to the main series, showing the formation of Luke Cage’s Human Resistance. Civil War: House of M documents Magneto’s rise to power, and HoM: Masters of Evil follows on by showing the formation of a ‘Sapien’ super-villain team lead by The Hood.

The Aftermath

In the final moments of House of M, as the heroes battles for their reality, the Scarlet Witch whispers those now infamous words; “No More Mutants”. Aside from those X-Men lucky enough to be protected by Doctor Strange’s spells and Emma Frosts psychic powers (as well as anyone popular enough for Marvel to concoct half-hearted McGuffins), mutants all over the world were de-powered, leaving approximately 198 surviving members of the mutant race. On top of that, no new mutant genes would be activated, so that number would only go down for several years to follow.

Decimation: Son of M

Decimation: Son of M

The aftermath of House of M could be found across the X-Men books as teams were reduced and mutants struggled to come to terms with their new situation; a race on the verge of extinction. More specifically there were five books that focused on specific aspects of this fallout, under the banner ‘Decimation’:

  • Decimation: 198
  • Decimation: Sentinal Squad O*N*E
  • Decimation: One Day After
  • Decimation: Generation M
  • Decimation: Son of M

Out of all these books, arguably the most interesting was Son of M, which focused on Quiksilvers efforts to restore his own powers, eventually turning to the Terrigen Crystals in the Inhuman city of Attilan. This volume would have interesting repercussions, sparking off a conflict that would play out in the mini-series Silent War, which would in-turn lead into the cosmic event War of Kings.

After the initial fallout, the X-Men books would continue to struggle against extinction for several years. A couple of years later the X-Men Crossover Messiah Complex would hit shelves, which featured the birth of the first new mutant since M-Day, this was a particularly well written crossover that spawned two yearly sequels which were also very successful; Messiah War and Second Coming.

One of the other lasting effects of House of M was that after the world was put right, Wolverine’s memories were retained and the mysteries of his long and complex history were revealed. Unfortunately they proved to be less than spectacular in the mini-series Wolverine: Origin written by Paul Jenkins, and the follow up ongoing series Origins by Daniel Way. A sequel is now in the works by Kieren Gillen, appropriately titled Wolverine: Origins II, which will hopefully finally make this plot development worthwhile even if it’s several years too late.

The Verdict

This is one of those events that reads better collected, the main story is really strong and very character driven, with lots of emotionally charged moments and interesting moral dilemmas. Unfortunately the length and extended shipping schedule did frustrate readers at the time of release, as well as the tie-in’s being mostly forgettable. The benefit was that most of them were told in mini-series so didn’t derail too many ongoing stories. The fallout was possibly the most long-standing and significant change Marvel’s events have ever lead to, spawning several crossovers and events and only recently being resolved in Avengers vs X-Men nearly seven years later. Overall when read in isolation House of M stands the test of time, but when considering the other elements it probably failed as much as it succeeded.

Enduring Events Articles

Avengers: Disassembled
House of M
Civil War
World War Hulk Coming Soon

About the Author

Stuart Kirkham

Stuart is a comic book collector, film and TV enthusiast, and video game crackerjack. Unfortunately these pursuits are occasionally interrupted by having to go to work and do real-life things.