Marvel had a mutant problem and Brian Michael Bendis had the solution: eight issues of alternate universe, Wolverine in a panic, melodramatic Maximoffs and three infamous words later, the mutant race were down to 198 members.
Welcome to House of M, where Bendis and Olivier Coipel set up a whole world and then destroyed it, in a bonfire of the X-Gene which heralded the arrival of The Avengers: Marvel’s Most Marketed Characters.
House of M #1
Publishing Date: June 2005
Estimated Sales: 233,000
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Olivier Coipel, Tim Townsend, Rick Magyar, Scott Hanna, John Dell
Colourist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Things kick off with an incedibly sweaty page of Wanda Maximoff – the Scarlet Witch – giving birth to her twins. Olivier Coipel draws as many globs of sweat and drool as possible =, making this perhaps the grossest scene in the entire series. People start dying towards the end of this one, but nothing will quite capture the quintessential feeling of repulsion caused by seeing Stephen Strange’s oddly pale arms delivering children.
If there was anyone I’d want offering me care during pregnancy, it’s not Stephen Strange. He’s a psychiatrist, and not capable of delivering medical attention! Plus you don’t know where those hands have been, do you?
Wanda seems pretty chuffed, though, as we get a look at her maternity suite. As becomes a recurring theme through the rest of this storyline, she has, if nothing else, completely remarkable taste in living spaces. It’s a lovely big room with billowy curtains sweeping through. What she’s saved in medical bills (unless you suspect that Stephen Strange is even now planning his costs) she’s spent on the bed. She’s surrounded by her closest friends, of course, who are… er… Elektra and Cyclops? No sign of Wasp or She-Hulk anywhere, which must be a bit of a magical slap in the face for them both. Polaris is also missing, which I’d chalk down to her being worried it might give Havok ideas. At least Magneto and Quicksilver bothered to show up.
This beautiful scene – even Vision manages to stop crying for one goddamn second to seem happy – is interrupted by Charles Xavier, though. He’s having none of this, and tells Wanda to shut down this magical simulation she’s created. Because ha! This isn’t actually real! It’s all something that Wanda created using her reality-warping powers, and in real life she’s unable to have children and her husband is dead! Xavier keeps yelling until eventually Wanda dissolves the entire room, in the process watching as her two children melt through her hands into nothingness.
She’s left lying on the floor, a complete wreck, as she remembers the reality of her last few months. It’s sad, but I couldn’t help but notice that for some reason she’s still wearing the maternity dress she had on a page ago, which is an odd choice. That can’t have been the most appropriate outfit to give her, Charles? Want to hang a signed Scott Lang poster on the wall for good measure?
Magneto, sensing the presence of Women Problems nearby, has chosen to keep out the way whilst Xavier psychically drugs Wanda and sends her back to sleep. For what it’s worth, he also appears to be wearing a maternity dress. The pair discuss the current situation, with Wanda altering reality every opportunity she gets, and going a little more insane each time. She’s one of the most powerful mutants in the world, and something has to be done. Xavier, veering dangerously out of character, says: “We can’t keep drugging her and psychically putting her to sleep,. It’s inhumane.”
He adds “and it’s hardly foolproof”, which sounds a bit more like the Evil Bastard we all know and love.
Then, after a pause, the real Xavier comes out and says “and it’s hardly working”. There we go! A four-sentence crash course in Xavier pretending to care before revealing his true nature. Bendis can be very good at summing up a character like that. Magneto then, competing, decides to sum up HIS deal to Xavier as well, and how his war against humanity failed. This is a bit like when my granddads meet up at Christmas and have a scotch on the patio, only my grandpa’s war against the humans continues to this day.
Magneto ends the conversation by randomly walking through the air (that’s something he can do now??), which seems like a harsh thing to do in front of the man you put in a wheelchair.
Over in New York, the B-List Avengers are heading across to the tower, for a secret meeting. This is such a secret meeting that Falcon has been banned from flying in, and they’ve all been told to go incognito. Carol Danvers follows that to the letter, of course, being a scout and a trooper, but Wonder Man just wears his uniform under a coat. Wonder Man, as ever, sucks, The three have a bit of a natter and catch-up as they secretly go to the secret meeting incognito.
The Astonishing X-Men then fly onto the roof of the building in their Blackbird.
Beast, Kitty, Cyclops, Emma Frost and Colossus walk into the building with Logan, who apparently invited them over for the big debate. Curiously, there’s an inset panel of Jarvis telling the Avengers that the X-Men have just arrived, which he appears to be doing without any evidence. Is Jarvis psychic? Something to keep an eye on, that. It might have been an idea to just cut that panel, however, as Coipel clearly can’t find space on the page for the last panel of the page. It looks absolutely terrible, with the characters’ faces cut in half just under the nose.
They walk into the room to find the Avengers sat round a table, Xavier in the middle. Captain America and Iron Man are obviously both there, along with Spider-Man, She-Hulk, a wizened Sentry, Luke Cage wearing a chinese takeaway carton on his head, Wasp sitting on the table, Hank Pym off to the side and Stephen Strange at the back. Kitty, the heart of the X-Men, runs over immediately to give the Professor a hug, whilst Jarvis brings in a tray of shots. The X-Men have a few formalities with Xavier – by which I mean Cyclops has a grump at him – before he announces today’s meeting of the NYC debate club: superhero division. The title will be ”we need to decide the fate of Wanda Maximoff”.
We cut back to Wanda, sleeping fitfully in her maternity dress (DAMMIT Charles) whilst her brother Quicksilver lies at her feet, despairing. Magneto decides to brave the room and speak to him. It turns out that Pietro was also in the room just a second ago with the Avengers and X-Men, and has decided the result of their debate will be ‘kill Wanda’. He demands that something be done, and it’s a somewhat effective page until a weird panel where Pietro starts yelling so fast that Magneto can’t hear him anymore. A reminder, perhaps, that Pietro may be right to be worried, but he’s also just the worst. Magneto barely manages to contain his disappoint in his son throughout this issue, and looks as though he’s trying to resist the urge to put a maternity dress over his head.
Everything is getting very tense, as the family try and work out if there’s any solution to this problem which doesn’t end with Wolverine popping the claws. Now, just personally I can think of at least four solutions to this problem, all of which could save the day without any bloodshed or overwhelming decimation of a minority race on Earth – let’s keep an eye out and see if anybody suggests any of them during the upcoming debate sessions.
We go back to that scene, as we see the aftermath of what appears to have been a heavy round of shots for everyone round the table. Tony Stark’s got ay least five shot glasses by his chair, whilst Hank Pym’s saved the washing and just taken a whole bottle for himself. Dr Strange is the best though, because it looks as though he’s disgraced himself so thoroughly that the Avengers have told him to go stand in the naughty corner and face the wall.
Emma Frost, bless, jumps straight to “put her down”, which Captain America dismisses outright. Usually that would be the end of things, because the Avengers never dare question anything that Cap says – but he’s dealing with X-Men now, and so they continue to call him out. Wolverine – who is chilled out to the max, feet up on the table, eating some pizza – is pretty much in favour of getting to kill another woman, which has started to become a recurring thing for him. Cap says there is “always” another way to do things, and Wolverine doesn’t agree.
Emma, the best debater in the room, makes a point of going round everybody and asking if they have any solutions. She even lets Dr Strange out of his time-out to see if he has any solutions, but of course he doesn’t because magic never solves anything in the Marvel Universe. With no solutions offered, Emma says it should be put to a vote. Captain America, clearly incensed that a woman has been allowed to have an opinion in Avengers Tower for the first time in recorded history, shuts this down as well. Why did you even invite the X-Men round if you weren’t going to pay any attention to their suggestion of light murder?
One thing that Brian Michael Bendis likes to do a lot in his superhero works is turn things towards a “realistic” angle, so Emma then describes what would happen were the public to find out about a mutant wiping out half the Avengers during ‘Disassembled’. Kitty gives her side-eye, which at this point is basically a good third of her job description. The Avengers continue to not listen to the muties, though, leading Wolverine to snap at them “how many more of you does she have to kill before you snap out of it?” – which is a fair point. She-Hulk, interestingly, says absolutely nothing at any point in the scene, despite being one of the people Wanda directly manipulated during Disassembled. If only Hawkeye weren’t dead, I bet he’d jump at the chance for a bit of murder. RIP Hawkeye.
Spider-Man is upset by the idea of murder, as he should be, whilst Cyclops tries to talk Xavier down. Xavier, however, just looks hopelessly at him and says “I don’t know what to do.”
That’s clearly not the case, as Xavier has a tremendously long history of finding threats to mutants and wiping their memory, removing them from existence, or enslaving them, amongst his other accomplishments. This is a man who can remove your memories – or selected ones – whenever he wants, and yet he can’t do that for Wanda? Highly suspicious, Prof.
The Avengers ask if they can bob along to Genosha to see Wanda, and see what she wants to happen. “Hiya Wanda, just wondering if you’re in favour of being murdered or not, chum?” seems to be Wasp’s approach towards the whole thing. They all get in their planes and fly out – inconspicuously, one hopes.
So let’s just talk about some of the solutions that the characters would’ve come up with, were it not for the need to put out seven more issues. The most obvious one is “the mutant cure”, which had just come up as a plot point in Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men. I can’t remember if we ever actually saw proof that the cure worked, but in theory it would mean one quick injection and her mutant gene would be gone. Problem solved! There’s obviously the mind-wipe, which had already been used by Xavier on most of the people present at that meeting. The idea of mind-wiping a hero to forget something traumatic later played a big role in Identity Crisis, where I believe it went just swimmingly.
Another option might’ve been to just, y’know, let Wanda resurrect her dead husband and children? The Fantastic Four’s kids were also partly created through dubious magic, and they seemed to be just fine. Is it really a big deal if Wanda brings her children to life asexually? I mean, her husband is a robot, and you’ve got to imagine he can’t get her pregnant. Why not just let her have her way for a bit? The Avengers have a long history of sexual hangups – they were fine with Carol Danvers giving birth to a man she then married, so is it really so weird if Wanda impregnates herself?
The Avengers and the X-Men all head off to Genosha, anyway, which is where the storytelling starts to get really jumbled. Wanda’s room is empty, and Magneto/Quicksilver are missing as well. Charles Xavier then abruptly disappears between panels, before Emma finds a lead towards where Wanda is now. The flying members of the Avengers – carrying Emma and Scott, everybody else an just ruddy well walk – stop at some kind of giant abandoned church building, where Spider-Man tells them that his spider-sense is picking up nothing. Dr Strange is also baffled as to why Emma thinks this is the right place.
This is rather good storytelling, here, as they’re both forewarning the fact that this is a trap – oh, by the way, this is a trap – but who would ever listen to either of them? By now it’s been heavily established that everyone on the Avengers zones out whenever Spider-Man starts talking, and Dr Strange has been useless for years. They might both be right, but who would bother paying any attention to those losers when Emma Frost, clearly the most capable mind in the room, is saying otherwise?
The next few panels are really confusing, but I think what they’re trying to suggest is that everybody suddenly pauses and stops talking apart from Spider-Man, who starts walking around by himself. He enters the building, sees a big shiny white ball of… something, and the page blasts to white.
Next thing we know, Peter Parker is lying in bed, waking up to the sound of a baby crying. Somebody tells him that it’s “his turn” to sort things out, so he groggily gets up and walks off. In doing so, we see who it is that he’s lying next to – it’s Gwen Stacy, his wife.
Uh-oh! On that note – which probably looked great in the script but is a little bland on the final page – the issue ends.
To be continued!