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Saturday, 4 October 2014

House of M

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Olivier Coipel
Inker: Tim Townsend
Colourist: Frank D'Armata
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What's it about?
Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch, is a mutant with magical, reality-altering powers.  After a traumatic event wherein she kills some of her fellow Avengers, the X-Men decide that she needs to be reined in.  Her brother Pietro, aka Quicksilver (he's a speedster), and her father Magneto (the X-Men's main enemy), want to save her and so spirit her away.  The Avengers and the X-Men go in search of the missing family but before they find anyone the world turns white and changes.  Suddenly, mutants are in charge.  They are running things and aren't victimised.  Magneto is a sort of benevolent leader and homo sapiens (us normal humans) are the oppressed.

Only Wolverine can remember how things used to be, so he sets out to put things right.

What's good about it?
This story is particularly good for fans of Wolverine and Spider-Man.  It's a really good character study for Marvel's major heroes.  How could their lives be different and how can we use these different events to see what drives them?  

It's pretty emotional.  From the get go we are watching colleagues, friends, lovers and family try to work out how to keep the world safe from Wanda, and how to help her heal.  They are desperate, but know the only solution may be to kill her.  Could you do that to your child?

And then imagine the fury when you find out what's happened to you.

The creative team have a lot of love for these characters.  They get inside their minds and simply and easily show us honest reactions.  If you don't know the characters before you read this, you will afterwards.  For example, upon regaining her memories, Emma Frost's fury and indignation at having been treated like this leaps off the page at you:
In particular, Peter Parker's story is one of the cruelest things I've read, but one of the most affecting.  It's fast paced without being rushed and you get a decent introduction to many Marvel characters.

What's bad about it?
It's possible that you won't get as much out of the story if you don't know the background of all the characters. The pages where we see Wolverine running through his memories probably won't make much sense if you don't know his history, for example:
You can see that he's fighting Captain America and the Hulk, but the significance of it might be lost.

However, even if you've only seen the X-Men, Avengers or Spider-Man movies you will have the gist.  It's not important to know all the details from this particular universe as the general idea is the same - the X-Men are feared and hated by non mutants; Spider-Man loves Mary-Jane; Captain America was frozen for 50 years after WW2; Tony Stark is a successful and rich businessman.

What's the art like?
The panels are composed well and the pencils do a great job of showing us the characters' emotions.  I haven't included many examples in this review because it's best to come across them within the story - they have more impact that way.

On the negative side, Coipel's delicate pencils are somewhat overshadowed by heavy inking and flat colours.  For example, this scene where Wolverine meets the human underground resistance:
It's very moody and serious, but the overemphasis on shading and dark detracts from the feeling of the scene.  The drama is over egged and so we lose some of the power.  The colours are washed out and don't have much depth.  It makes the art very shiny and modern, but it loses subtlety.

This page featuring Cloak and Hawkeye (the archer from the Avengers films) is really nicely arranged.  The composition of the panel and the positioning of Hawkeye's fist, right in the foreground, make it a powerful image but the digital colouring does let it down.  It's just not a great example of what comics can be.

On the other hand, the art does tell the story effectively and there are pages that are more delicate, like this one:
The sentinels have been drawn with a lot of detail and the inker doesn't drown this out.  Pages like these are more attractive and arresting, I feel.  However, this book was never intended to challenge comics' artistic boundaries, so perhaps I'm being too harsh.

More information
The House of M main series and tie-ins have been collected in numerous different editions.  The main story, collecting issues 1-8 of the main series and issue 10 of a comic called The Pulse, is available here.
I'd suggest getting the paperback, not the hardcopy, as it's about £13 not £75.

There were numerous tie-ins to this series but most of them are fairly forgettable.  The five Spider-Man ones were decent though, and if you are a Spidey fan it's well worth checking them out.
Second hand copies look to be fairly cheap: House of M: Spider-Man.

I would also recommend getting the Captain America issue, which is number 10 and has this cover:

Search ebay or comixology for it by entering 'Captain America 10 House of M' into the search box.

The first scene in the first issue of House of M is of a woman giving birth to twins.  It's not particularly graphic, but could be hurtful to some.

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