Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Olivier Coipel (p), various inkers, Frank D’Armata (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
House of M’s seventh and penultimate issue promised a lot. After six issues of build-up (or even more if you count "Avengers Disassembled") and the beginnings of a Battle Royale on Magneto’s lawn last issue, we could be forgiven for expecting this issue to carry on where that instalment left off and provide us with some top quality superhero thrills - as well as some hint of resolution to the whole Scarlet Witch fiasco. Unfortunately, something has gone badly wrong here, because this issue loses a lot of that momentum, instead providing some muddily-rendered stop-start action between the Marvel heroes and House of M villains, which is interspersed with a flat exchange between Dr. Strange and Wanda which attempts to explain just how everyone got into this mess.
Olivier Coipel’s art has taken a real dive here, as his group battle scenes come off as rushed and scratchy compared to the superior linework which has made the slower issues of this series so bearable. Perhaps the cadre of inkers which finished Coipel’s pencils is also to blame, but there are times when I genuinely couldn’t work out what was happening to whom (with Rogue’s rampant power-stealing being a particular source of visual confusion – and I still couldn’t say for certain what’s going on in some of those early pages), and that’s pretty unforgivable in such a climactic confrontation. The only places where the artwork does live up to the epic nature of the story is in the scenes which reprise old story idea which only cropped up a few issues ago: the grief of Quicksilver at Wanda’s bedside, the dramatic appearance (and disappearance) of Hawkeye and Layla’s awakening of a key character are all well-rendered visuals, but their impact is so lessened by the fact that we’ve seen these scenes before in this series – often more than once – that very little really makes this issue stand out visually. The restrained colour palette also doesn’t help matters, with a muddy blue-gray overall tone which doesn’t enable any of the colourful figures to really stand out in the course of the unclear action.
Admittedly, Bendis has a lot on his plate here as a writer. His battle aims for a certain grandness in scale, but has to struggle with the simple fact that the plot has moved on so little since issue #2 that there’s a lot of catching up to do outside of the action here here, and it compromises what could have been a great all-out slugfest issue. However, these diversions are necessary if we’re to get any sense of meaningfulness out of this series, and to his credit, Bendis does slip in some interesting (if not wholly unpredictable) twists and turns along the way. I particularly enjoyed the flashback to the beginning of the series which showed just who was responsible for Wanda’s reality-warping breakdown and how they coerced her into it. Bendis also ends the issue on an explosive note which has the potential to have a huge impact on the Marvel universe as we know it today, and even if it does carry a certain sense of editorial mandate, the actual execution of the idea and the final few pages’ build-up are probably the issue’s high point.
Yes, finally something significant has happened in House of M, but it has somehow produced one of the series’ weakest issues. It only goes to show that big twist endings and “universe altering” cliffhangers are no substitute for a decent, well-paced and well-written story, or for an artist who can gel with his material well enough that we can follow the densely-populated narrative without having to repeatedly study certain panels for clarification of what exactly is happening. It’s no coincidence that all the buzz around House of M is now focused on how this cliffhanger is going to affect other titles and properties in the Marvel Universe, rather than how the story Bendis is telling is eventually going to resolve itself..., and that alone should clue you in as to the worthiness of the tale which is being spun here. For once, the writing seems stronger than the visuals in House of M, and Coipel couldn’t have picked a worse time to have an off-day. A missed opportunity art-wise, and an improvement in storytelling which has come so late in the day that it’s doubtful whether Bendis will be able to salvage a respectable conclusion from the overly drawn-out build-up of a story which has let the reader down on many levels thus far. I’ll be interested to see how House of M winds up, but this is hardly a classic crossover in the making.
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