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Slugfest Special - House of M #8

Posted: Tuesday, November 8, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Olivier Coipel (p), John Dell, Scott Hanna, Tim Townsend (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics





Average Rating:

Kelvin Green:
Shawn Hill:
Paul T. Semones:
Dave Wallace:






Kelvin Green

That was it? We sat through all that interminable bilge to see Spider-Man and Doctor Strange needlessly “made more complex,” Wolverine get his memories back, Hawkeye turn rogue, and Bendis half-inch whole chunks of script from The Authority #13?

Whoop-dee-doo.

Six extra story pages this issue, and only one double page spread (this time actually used to good dramatic effect) but Bendis doesn’t actually use this space to resolve anything. Oh no. There’s no actual conclusion here, just yet another springboard into yet another event, which I hope to Galactus isn’t being masterminded by Bendis, as we must have had enough of his idea of event driven storytelling by now. And oh look! This thing was billed as a New Avengers/Astonishing X-Men story, the first major plotline for both new teams, and oh look, they didn’t actually get to do anything for the entirety of the eight issues apart from wander about being confused. Brilliant.

My gosh, this thing has been a waste of time and effort. Marvel have apparently responded to the outcry about their shocking advertising policy, so we can but hope that they’ll similarly respond to the outcry about Bendis’s shocking storytelling policy. Enough now. Please.

Still, it does look nice. If you bought some of Coipel’s original art from this series, you’d get the benefit of some wonderful drawings, without any of those awful words polluting the pages. Well worth the extra money, I’d say.




Shawn Hill

Plot: Everyone wakes up. To some it was all just a dream. To others the nightmare has only begun.

Comments: This is another of the almost good issues of House of M, mostly down to (as usual) the lack of appearance by Wanda. Bendis’s writing ability splatters against a brick wall when it comes to her; she’s his opposite number as a character. This series has been better in every issue where she didn’t show up, because he’s much better with Luke, Clint, Logan and (surprisingly) Emma. More on why below.

The Witch, however, gets all of one page, where she shops and even speaks, happily doing her Little Red Riding Hood act amongst her fellow babushkas in some isolated mountain village. Lucky girl. I guess she’s back where she always belonged. How arrogant to imagine she could actually use her cursed powers for good, huh?

The horror of what has occurred is powerfully explored, and that and the art earn this book an average rating. Mostly through the urgency captured by the actual focal character of this series, Emma Frost. However he feels about heroes and witches, Bendis seems to connect to her arch and arrogant brand of anti-heroinism, and she’s been the de facto leader of the fight against the House of M since Layla and Wolverine woke her up. She instantly adapted to the horrifying news then, and she’s quick on the uptake now that it’s over. Charles is still missing, and Emma’s first thoughts are of her students (and, by extension, her people). She rushes to Cerebro, as a senior officer at Charles’s school would, only to have her worst fears confirmed.

Less interesting: There are several more open-ended developments. Ice Man is
powerless. As is Magneto. Quicksilver is missing. Hawkeye is still fixated on the memorial site at Avengers Manor. Carol ineffectively voices the reader’s concerns: “What does this mean? What does it mean?” Find out in the sequel, Warbird. No answers here.

Hank Pym, consulted by reporters for insight on the “no more mutants” crisis, ponders a puzzling bit of non-science: if all those mutants were mini-power-stations (they weren’t), where’d their energy go? I guess I’ll tackle this one, as it’s the least of my problems with this whole series: mutants aren’t little walking power packs. They have access to energy. They control and channel energy (Storm and weather patterns; Jean and solar flares; Alex and the Living Monolith, linked somehow to the same energy source). If they lost their powers, that energy would still be where it always was, just not being accessed by them. That flare we see coming around the globe at the end isn’t the answer, people. It’s just the sun. Why does Bendis insist on posing non-questions? Oh, right. Because we’re about to get a bunch of non-answers, again.

Forever.

Visual flair: There’s a brilliant sequence where Nightcrawler (looking extra cuddly under Coipel’s pencils) bamfs throughout the complex searching for Logan. Coipel does a really great tough but human (and in this case haunted) Logan.




Paul T. Semones

I had nearly forgotten.

I love the X-Men.

I mean the characters, the family history, the angst-ridden, convoluted history of Sinister and Apocalypse and Cable. I love Magneto. If I were ever tempted to join the dark side and use my powers for evil, it would be because the mad grandeur and twisted nobility of Magneto inspired me to do so. I care about these people. Their lives, deaths, resurrections and future destinies are important to me.

How dearly I would love to sit quietly next to Professor X and Magneto and listen to them ominously duel each other over a game of chess. “Charles.” “Erik.” Their very names are leaden with drama.

I’m serious about all this. And I had nearly forgotten.

Between Morrison crapping out on the coolest run in X-Men history by resolving things with some faux-Magneto turning into a pedophilic druggie, Claremont introducing seventy-three never-to-be-seen-again dangling plot threads in the space of a couple dozen pointless action issues (AGAIN!), Chuck Austen using his X-writing as a platform for putrid Christian-hating, and Milligan boring me with mind-rotting storylines that wouldn’t even make the cut for an MST3K marathon … the X-titles have stripped me of all passion for these characters. Whedon showed promise, but, well… Who was it that coined the phrase “Action-Grip Porno Ultron”? Give the man a gold star.

Then came House of M. A fun little romp through an Elseworld, it seemed. It had a clunky lead-in, what with all the Internet-bisecting trauma of “Avengers Disassembled” and a shoehorned set-up in the stillborn Not-Yet-New-Excalibur. “Give me Infinite Crisis!” was my first thought.

And then, after a few surprisingly engaging issues and mostly forgettable tie-ins, it ended. And I was shocked. Yeah, I knew what was going to happen going in. “No more mutants!” she says. “Decimation” to follow, after these (voluminous) commercial messages. A bunch of mutants will lose their powers, and the House of Xavier will be a lot smaller. Okay.

But sweet mercy … the execution of that idea in this finale/prelude … I’ m floored. It was beyond my expectations.

Say what you will about Bendesian decompression. Gripe all you want about pages and pages of art devoted to a couple of moments and three lines of dialogue that Stan and Jack could have fit into one ninth of a Silver Age page.

This is the age of the cinema, boys and girls. Wide-screen high definition. Our stories should be big, and they should breathe like the majestic expanse of a snow-capped mountain range. And when a big emotional impact comes? Well, right here, Bendis has shown the world how to make the yawning abyss of unthinkable turns in drama hit you, and hit hard.

Look at that page of Emma Frost, seeing the empty, mutant-less void that is our planet now.

Look at that anguish in James Howlett’s countenance as his unending quest … ends. Look at poor Bobby Drake, and remember the cute little kid, now lost forever, delighting in the innocent joy of pretending he’s the Abominable Snowman.

Look at Erik Lensherr, stripped of his beautiful, malignant glory.

And look at Peter Parker. What can possibly come next for this tortured hero?

I loved House of M #8. It’s like one of those post-apocalyptic movies where everyone dies, and my heart is in my throat at journey’s end.

There will be plenty of fanboys and critics who will write lists of all the things that make Bendis a pale imitation of a pretender of an imposter of a true comic genius, because his dialogue had too much stuttering non-linearity or his page assignments wasted too much splash on too little content.

But not this fanboy critic.

When my faith in the X-Men mythos was at its lowest ebb, Bendis has made me care again. I can’t wait to read what happens next. My heart is full.




Dave Wallace

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

Pretentious? Moi? Maybe, but this quote was the first thing to spring to mind after closing the last page of this much-hyped miniseries. Truth be told, anyone looking for any real sense of closure on the storyline which reached a climax at the end of last issue might as well have finished reading there and then, because this final installment falls completely flat as it attempts to explore the fallout from Wanda’s universe-altering decree of “No More Mutants.”

Anyone with an ounce of sense would have realised that Marvel, as a commercial entity, was never going to wipe out an entire line of successful - and profitable - characters just for the sake of a big twist ending. Canny fans would probably have been able to reason out which characters would be likely to escape Wanda’s blighting of the mutant minority (whether because of their huge popularity, involvement in current ongoing storylines, or their prominence in the X–Men movie adaptations). But that doesn’t mean that this last issue had do be the completely uneventful. Sadly, the direction of this issue is as predictable as Wolverine appearing as a sales-boosting guest-star in a Marvel book, and it’s about as fun to read.

A workmanlike progression through the characters involved in House of M ensues, with a seemingly arbitrary decision made as to whether each individual character can remember what went on. Whilst we get a glimpse of some of the flashes of emotion that some heroes experience as a result, it’s all completely superficial (Peter Parker hits a table – that means he’s angry; Wolverine remembers his past – he looks surprised) and Bendis never takes the time to dig below the surface, instead preferring to haemorrhage page after page on some (admittedly pretty) big visuals from Oliver Coipel. The trouble is, the issue is so low-key that each full-page splash seems like an attempt to imbue a scene with grandeur and meaning, rather than a reflection of the importance which is already inherent to the sequence. The issue therefore proves an annoying waste of a talented artist and a well-below-par outing from a writer who feels shackled by the editorial mandates which prevent him from delving into any territory which is already earmarked for follow-up series and storylines in future Marvel books. What frustrates me most is that I think the thinning-out of the mutant population is a really good idea with a lot of story promise – you just wouldn’t know it from reading this book.

All of this would have been borderline forgivable for an average comic book with the unenviable task of tying up all the loose ends of a big crossover series, but Bendis doesn’t even do that. Any furthering of the Magneto/Quicksilver relationship after last issue’s epic clash is left for another series to handle (although the Master of Magnetism does pop up in a worthless and hollow cameo at the end of the issue, which shows him being unable to pick up a fork - exciting stuff). The Scarlet Witch – the lynchpin of the entire series – gets a couple of virtually dialogue-free panels towards the issue’s close, showing her as depowered and apparently fulfilling her dream of outrunning the Big Bad Wolf. And two mysteries which have been key to the progression of the series’ plot are left frustratingly unresolved, without any indication of the significance of Professor X’s presence in flashback a few issues ago, or what secrets the strange new character Layla might hold for the Marvel Universe’s mutant population - although I'll stick my neck out and say that Xavier = Layla Miller. I'm surprised this wasn't revealed in this final issue, but maybe Bendis is leaving it for another creator to tackle... Just like just about every other dangling plot strand that this final issue failed to resolve in any meaningful way.

Hank Pym’s statement at the end of the book purports to be a portentous rumination on how Wanda’s actions may have upset the balance of the Marvel Universe, but actually only serves to throw up vague questions about what the implications of this series might be in the future. Whilst this is presumably intended to lead us into the many spin-off stories and series which will follow in Marvel’s “Decimation” event (a flyer for which is stapled squarely through the double-splash centre pages, dulling the effect of an otherwise well-rendered and satisfyingly symmetrical visual), it only really underlines just how inconclusive this mini has been as a story in its own right. House of M makes a useful change in the Marvel Universe but fails to provide any decent payoff on its own terms, with the only exploration of its much-mooted Big Event being the dry ticking-off of a list of which mutants are still active and which have been de-powered. To be honest, it’s about as much fun reading a rundown of what events occurred in this issue as it is to actually read the issue itself – and you can do the former for free on any internet messageboard. A damp squib of an ending to a series which simply never provided enough story to justify being a tentpole title for Marvel this summer. Disappointing.



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