After reading House of M…

I’ve no objection to the term ‘graphic novel,’ as long as what it is talking about is actually some sort of graphic work that could conceivably be described as a novel. My main objection to the term is that usually it means a collection of six issues…or something that does not have the structure or any of the qualities of a novel, but is perhaps roughly the same size.

-Alan Moore

This quote was on my mind quite a bit after reading House of M.  For those that don’t know, House of M is an HouseofMeight-part limited series and a company-wide Marvel event.  Like Civil War, the limited series forms the backbone of the event that is fleshed out by a number of tie-ins.  My problem with Civil War, but more obvious in House of M, is that the main limited series in these big events often aren’t substantial enough to really impress upon the reader the significance of the events in the story.

House of M follows some turbulent times for the Avengers that have left the Scarlet Witch emotionally unstable.  In her state, her reality-altering powers have become an incredible liability.  Being both a mutant and an Avenger, the two groups meet to decide her fate.  Her brother, Quicksilver, believing that they intend to kill her meets with her before the two teams can meet her and the next thing you know, the world is a very different place.  Mutants dominate and regular humans are second-class citizens and the House of M (for Magnus) is the dominant power.

Wolverine wakes up in this new world with his once hazy past clearly remembered, but not the past that lead him to his current position; an agent of SHIELD and in bed with Mystique.  He remembers the world as it should be, not the House of M.  Wolverine goes off to figure out what happened and eventually runs into Luke Cage and a young girl who can restore  people’s memories of the original timeline.

This resistance recruits more and more heroes by restoring their memories and conclude that whatever happened to change their fates was caused by the Scarlet Witch and resolve to eliminate the House of Magnus, unsure if doing so would restore the timeline but not knowing what else they can do.  They assault Magneto’s stronghold, eventually fighting their way to the Scarlet Witch, who is in complete denial and eventually they learn that it was indeed Scarlet Witch’s doing, under the influence, not of Magneto, who was suspected given his status in the new world but Quicksilver’s.

In her fragile state, the Scarlet Witch had attempted to quell the turbulent conflicts around her by granting everyone their greatest desires; Magneto’s mutant superiority (and his position as their leader), Spider-Man having a family, Cyclops and Emma Frost living happily together.  Unfortunately, it seems even this wasn’t enough to quell the destruction around her as, even in this new world, conflict and violence now threaten to tear away everything the Scarlet Witch holds dear.

Still unstable, she concludes that the cause of all the unrest around her is because of mutants.  Their existence fuels hatred from normal humans and from mutants who hate the humans that hate them.  Eventually she utters those now famous words, “No more mutants” and the world is rearranged again.

I’ll admit that this all sounds like a great outline for a story.  Unfortunately, if you just look at the House of M limited series, without any of the over 2 dozen tie-in books, it ends up feeling like an outline.  This is where my thought train ties into the Alan Moore quote I started with.  House of M and other events like it, don’t really approach their central mini-series as a satisfying, self-contained story.  With dozens of tie-in books I guess that should’ve been obvious.

I’d read DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths not too long before reading House of M and the difference is like night and day.  The length is quite an obvious difference but it’s worth getting out of the way.  Crisis is 12 issues long compared to House  of M’s 8.  The four-issue difference is certainly felt.  Not to say that you can’t tell a satisfying story in 8 issues; many certainly have done it in 6, and single-issue and one-shot stories are some of my favorites, but House of M was attempting to do 2 things that, alone would’ve been difficult in 8 issues.

The first was to create a monumental event that would affect the entire Marvel Universe in a significant way.  Wiping out all (or in actuality just most) mutants is certainly such an event.  The second is to introduce an entirely new world, one where mutants reign supreme.

Crisis had a similar goal in that the events of it’s story would be far reaching.  Granted, Crisis is a fair bit more ambitious in scope, it benefits greatly from the additional issues it has to tell it’s tale.

Crisis’ story ebbs and flows in a way House of M does not.  While the overall goal stays intact, the threat changes, the solution changes, there are bouts of action, but there is plenty of time dedicated to exposition.  House of M is much more focused in that it doesn’t deviate very far from it’s initial point, it’s original danger, it’s original course of action.  Despite being 4 issues shorter, House of M still feels amazingly brief and the story somewhat single-minded where the feeling of Crisis is much more reminiscent of an actual novel.

House of M never really explores this new world it introduces us to.  There are pages here and there dedicated to showing mutants and non-mutants getting by in this world so you get the idea of what’s different but the setting never really comes to life because almost no time is dedicated to showing us how it works, what the House of M’s goals are, what opposition or enemies it has as a state.  With only 8 issues to tell it’s story and introduce the world, I’m assuming that the world of House of M is actually fleshed out in the many, many tie-ins, and that brings me to another point.

I’m not so naïve to not think that one of this book’s purposes is to sell more books.  Not just the next issue, but the tie-in books for pretty much each individual character.  That’s fine to a point.  Crisis had no shortage of tie-ins.  It was built up in about 2 dozen series leading up to the event, another 20 or so series tied into the main event and another half-dozen or so helped wind it down.  My point is that the fact that it needs to sell more comics shouldn’t mean the story at the center of it all should suffer for it

House of M had a few interesting aspects, the tragic state of the Scarlet Witch that lead to the events of the story certainly being one of them.  Also the uncertainty of the protagonists over whether or not they should even be attempting to undo what had been done.  Many people, after all, were now better off than they were in the prior world and their reflection on what they lost by taking their chosen course of action are incredibly interesting subjects, I just think that they’re important enough to consider at length in the main story instead of merely touching on them, or simply asking the question.  Additional issues to allow the story to expand and feel like the major event it’s supposed to be in itself instead of making that point by the number of extra titles with the event branding would also have greatly helped sell the event.  Given the significance of the actions taken by our heroes I think it’s worth expanding such that it feels like we’ve taken a significant journey and not merely stayed up all night.

Civil War a couple years later suffered from similar issues though they seemed far diminished here.  Impressive considering that was even shorter at only 7 issues.  Still, it didn’t have to introduce a whole new world and get us out of it again.  Still, I hope future events, of which I still have several more to read, focus more on delivering a solid core before stuffing it to the gills with tie-ins to make up for the core series’ shortcomings.