Bendis’ Avengers: House of M

As a kid, when I first heard about House of M, I was confused out of my mind. I thought to myself, “is this an X-Men event, or an Avengers event? What’s the ‘M’ in House of M stand for? Who is this ‘M’ guy?” There was no obvious title like Civil War or Secret Invasion that told me what kind of story this was. When I finally sat down to read the event, however, I found House of M to be a very fun event. An altered reality where all of Marvel’s heroes get to live out their hearts’ desires gave a unique perspective on these characters. For example, I got to see what Spider-Man’s ideal life would be, if not for the tragedy and sacrifice so often thrown his way. The most significant thing I remember about House of M is its ending: the decimation of the mutant population. This new, extinction status quo for the X-Men lasted for years after the event, informing all of the X-Men stories I would read for the foreseeable future.

An Avengers and X-Men event?

Despite House of M‘s significance towards the X-Men titles, the event is primarily Avengers-focused. House of M spends a great deal of time on the Scarlet Witch, after her mental breakdown in the pages of Avengers Disassembled. Even after forming the New Avengers and trying to rebuild their lives, the Avengers have yet to address the potential danger of Wanda’s mental state. Within the context of Bendis’ larger Avengers run, House of M continues Wanda Maximoff’s fall from grace. Additionally, House of M comes at a time when the New Avengers are still growing, developing connections between teammates such as Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Wolverine. Specifically, House of M comes at a time when many former Avengers are still skeptical about having a killer like Wolverine on the team. Despite the primary focus on the Avengers, House of M is also the event in which Bendis first connects the team to the larger Marvel Universe, including the X-Men. Considering that the Scarlet Witch is a mutant, not to mention Magneto’s daughter, the danger of Wanda’s destructive spiral poses a significant threat to human/mutant relations. Following the catastrophe of Avengers Disassembled, Bendis highlights the central threat of the Scarlet Witch to both Avengers and X-Men alike.

This certainly doesn’t look like a superhero tea party

Taking this threat into account, the story begins as the Avengers and the X-Men meet to decide Wanda Maximoff’s fate. The Scarlet Witch, at this point, has already killed several Avengers, and endangered the world with her reality altering powers. Since Wanda’s mental state continues to deteriorate rapidly, both the Avengers and the X-Men are running out of time and options with which to deal with her. Right as both teams arrive on Genosha to confront Wanda, she alters reality, wiping everyone’s memory of their real lives. In their new lives, the heroes get everything that they’ve ever wanted, in a world where mutants are now the dominant species on the planet. Wolverine, an X-Man and an Avenger, is the only one who remembers reality as it was. The Canadian mutant then ventures to restore the memories of the Avengers and the X-Men, in order to take down the Scarlet Witch and return the world to its original state.

New world order

The plot of House of M is straightforward enough so that Bendis can focus more on character work. In House of M, the reader gains more insight into Wanda Maximoff’s character than in Disassembled, when she first broke down. The first few pages show the reader a fantasy which the Scarlet Witch has constructed for herself, in which her children are alive, and Wanda is reunited with her family. Including this mere four pages goes quite far in establishing how deluded Wanda has become, and how much being an Avenger has cost her. At the same time, the opening discussion between the Avengers and the X-Men establishes Wanda’s importance to both teams. While the Scarlet Witch is like family to the Avengers, she is also one of their biggest threats. Simultaneously, while Wanda is a mutant, she is also a highly dangerous mutant who could set back human-mutant relations by decades. The pressure of the danger which Wanda poses to both the Avengers and the X-Men overwhelms her, turning the Scarlet Witch into a cornered animal. Under the strain of her previous crimes and the weight of the danger accompanying her powers, Wanda chooses to create a new reality. This new world is a fantasy, showing the painless joy that Wanda desires for herself and her loved ones. After writing a very rushed mental breakdown in Disassembled, Bendis finally gives a proper emotional backdrop for the Scarlet Witch’s character arc.

Sadly, true

House of M feels like a nice bridge between Bendis’ work on Disassembled and his more recent title, New Avengers. No character exemplifies this point more than Wolverine. While the classic Avenger the Scarlet Witch chooses to escape into a fantasy land, New Avenger Wolverine is never fooled by this altered reality for even one second. In getting everything he ever wanted, Wolverine received his lost memories from years of mental manipulation. Funnily enough, restoring all of Wolverine’s memories included memories of reality before it was altered. Bendis’ Wolverine draws a stark contrast to the Scarlet Witch. While Wanda has broken down and deluded herself, due to tragic life circumstances, Wolverine stays clear headed. Despite countless tragedies in his life, Wolverine continues to fight for reality as it was, rather than the world of his dreams. There is a pragmatic nature to Wolverine, which often includes killing when he believes there is no other way. This approach to heroism is off-putting to many of his fellow X-Men and Avengers. Yet it is this same pragmatism which allows Wolverine to see this new reality for its superficial nature. Wolverine’s pragmatism ultimately makes him the right hero to reassemble the Avengers and the X-Men. Bendis also uses Wolverine’s status as both an X-Man and an Avenger to exemplify the heroism of both teams. Although Wolverine is certainly the roughest around the edges, it is his gruff exterior which proves the impact of both teams on its members. Even though Wolverine isn’t a traditional hero, he recognizes the necessity and importance of those he has fought beside, in both the Avengers and the X-Men, to save reality. Bendis uses Wolverine as a model for accepting and making the best of reality, within both the Avengers and the X-Men.

A few adjustment issues…

Bendis also takes the opportunity to build upon character arcs built up back in Disassembled. Even after his death in Disassembled, Hawkeye has an important role in House of M. Resurrecting Hawkeye in this altered reality says much about Wanda Maximoff as a character. Wanda deeply regrets the actions she took during Disassembled, and in her perfect world, close friends such as Hawkeye would still be alive. Yet resurrecting Hawkeye ultimately backfires, traumatizing the avenging archer. When the heroes each recover their memories, Hawkeye is forced to remember his own death, suffering more than anyone. Not only does Hawkeye have to re-experience the trauma of dying, but he must also cope with the fact that, when reality is restored, he will no longer be a part of the world. While many heroes must remember the sacrifices and tragedies of their own lives, Hawkeye is forced to re-live his own death, and worse, his betrayal at the hands of the Scarlet Witch. Understandably, there is a great deal of anger from this betrayal. Bendis, more so than in Disassembled, excellently conveys the feelings of betrayal and resentment towards Wanda’s breakdown. It feels as if Bendis has slowed down and allowed for more character reaction to the Scarlet Witch’s betrayal, benefiting Disassembled retroactively. Hawkeye’s anger and trauma will also carry over into the next few years for his character arc. Out of House of M, Hawkeye gains more of an edge, later becoming Ronin and going down a darker path.

Clearly some unresolved issues…

I would be a fool, however, if I did not mention Spider-Man’s character arc in House of M. More than any other New Avenger, it feels as if Bendis has a profound understanding of Spider-Man. Underneath all of the quips and one-liners, Spider-Man is a regular man who suffers like anyone else. More than almost any other hero, Spider-Man has experienced a great deal of loss, from Uncle Ben to Gwen Stacy. At the end of the day, the web-slinger wants to live a normal life. Seeing Spider-Man happy, with everyone he loves alive, is truly heartwarming. Bendis provides a lot of pathos to House of M, specifically when Spider-Man gets his memories back. There is a sense of denial yet understanding which makes the reader connect with Peter Parker. After living his perfect life, Peter can’t go back to a life of tragedy and suffering. This internal struggle to face reality is representative of all of the heroes in this story, making the reader feel the difficulty of the situation. Yet, in choosing to join the heroes and restore reality, Spider-Man reminds the reader of what heroism truly is. Unlike the Scarlet Witch, heroes like Spider-Man and Wolverine move forward, facing the sacrifices and tragedies of their lives. Indeed, including heroes such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Luke Cage in the group to restore reality illustrates Bendis’ affinity for his New Avengers team. They’re all grounded heroes who persevere in the face of everyday hardships.

Poor guy deserves this life

There is certainly a lot to be said about heroism in House of M. Sacrifice is probably the most important theme in House of M. In the Marvel Universe, being a hero entails much sacrifice. Heroes such as Spider-Man, Daredevil, Captain America, and many others forego normal lives for the sake of saving lives. This sacrifice is the very burden which the Scarlet Witch can no longer bear, relieving this weight from both herself and others. Creating a world of everyone’s greatest desires shows how much all of these heroes sacrifice in their lives. In the new world, Captain America gets to live a long, successful life as an army veteran and astronaut, Colossus gets to live back on his family farm in Russia, and Kitty Pryde gets to be a regular teacher. Yet Bendis also emphasizes the importance of facing and accepting reality. In choosing to return reality to the way it was, the heroes choose to accept all of the hardships and sacrifices of heroism. True heroism comes from making the most of what we have, rather than escaping into a superficial world of lies. Characters such as Spider-Man and Wolverine, who have endured much tragedy, understand this, fighting for a world in which they have made the best out of their situations. The Scarlet Witch, on the other hand, cannot bear the weight of her own reality, spiraling into madness and taking others with her. In trying to create the perfect world, however, the Scarlet Witch reveals that there is no such thing. Indeed, a power imbalance exists in this new world, with humans as a minority in a mutant-dominated world. The underground heroes, fighting human oppression, indicate the continuing imbalance of power in the world. I wish that Bendis had explored this idea a little bit further. Greater exploration of the X-Men’s lives, and their reaction when their memories returned, would further develop the idea of a mutant-dominated reality. As it is, Bendis tends to focus more on the messages of sacrifice and tragedy than on the implications of this new power dynamic.

Ready to risk it all

The plotline of House of M is very well paced, considering the eight issues of space in which Bendis wrote the event. This space is a great opportunity to expand on the descent of the Scarlet Witch into madness. Disassembled, by contrast, was only four issues, rushing a lot of character motivation and action. House of M gets the opportunity to show more about Wanda’s thoughts and emotions, providing much more insight into her character. Additionally, the space which Bendis receives is perfect for showing the reader what each hero’s perfect life would be. Bendis slows down, taking the time to give the reader fragments from this new reality. This not only allows the reader significant character insight, it also provides a sufficient exploration of this new reality. Additionally, seeing how the world is not quite as perfect as it seems shows the reader why the Avengers and the X-Men are needed. Heroes must be willing to fight for what’s right, no matter what the cost. Bendis illustrates this quite well with the underground heroes, who essentially stand in for the Avengers and the X-Men. This group fights for social justice, much like the X-Men, while uniting to face common threats, like the Avengers. When the heroes’ memories are restored, they continue to fight for what’s right: reality itself. Despite their sacrifices, both the Avengers and the X-Men are needed to right the wrongs of the world, rather than live in complacency. While I enjoy what Bendis does explore with the space provided, I feel that much of the focus is on the Avengers side of the story rather than the X-Men. As stated earlier, there are many social implications of a mutant-majority world. Focusing on the reactions of X-Men such as Beast, Colossus, or Kitty Pryde when their memories were restored would have been great for the individual characters and the X-Men as a whole. What do the mutants think about going back to a world where they’re persecuted and discriminated against? How did the X-Men feel about living in a mutant utopia? Even in the final fight, there are very few X-Men on the heroes’ side, compared to Avengers. While Wolverine plays a significant role, he essentially acts for both teams. Cyclops and Emma Frost are the only other X-Men with key roles in the final battle, but even then, Bendis does not provide much about their thoughts on returning to the real world.

More of this, please

Overall, House of M is an enjoyable read, both in the context of Bendis’ world and as a stand-alone story. Bendis is given a great opportunity to change the landscape of the Marvel Universe for a while, simultaneously exploring the inner workings of many of its heroes. The eight issue length of the event is very helpful for Bendis’ character work, greatly expanding upon points made in Disassembled. Additionally, House of M progresses Bendis’ overall Avengers narrative quite well. Creating a world without Avengers shows exactly why the world needs the Avengers, establishing the centrality of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to the Marvel Universe. Remarkable insight is provided into New Avengers characters such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, and even Luke Cage to a lesser extent. Bendis’ character work also continues the downfall of the Scarlet Witch within the framework of his larger narrative. The Avengers’ connection to other teams such as the X-Men also further integrates them into the greater Marvel Universe. Still, the ending to House of M leaves the X-Men at a storytelling dead end, decimating the mutant population down to 198 mutants. Perhaps Bendis coordinated with the X-Men editorial at Marvel on this decision, but it feels odd that such a crippling event would be written by an Avengers writer. Especially considering how little attention the X-Men received compared to the Avengers, it’s odd that House of M would leave the X-Men in such a tight corner.

The X-Men just boarded the pain train…

As a consequence, House of M is going to result in years of suffering for the X-Men. Events such as Messiah Complex, Second Coming, and Avengers vs. X-Men all highlight how miserable and doomed the X-Men became after House of M. While I personally believe all of these events were well written, the status quo did grow tiresome. Additionally, after the bright future for mutants promised in titles such as New X-Men and Astonishing X-Men, this shift felt like a big step backwards. While the mutant population eventually recovered, it took years of storytelling to reverse the extinction status quo. House of M also continued the ongoing character arc for the Scarlet Witch that ran from Avengers Disassembled through Avengers vs. X-Men. After decimating the mutant population, Wanda is seen as more of a criminal than ever. Not only did she destroy the Avengers, but the Scarlet Witch now essentially committed genocide of the mutant race. Many fans were quite unhappy with what became of the Scarlet Witch’s character, and to this day, she still has not fully recovered. Finally, House of M established a growing tension between the Avengers and the X-Men which lasted until its culmination in Avengers vs. X-Men. While the ending to House of M is largely a victory for the Avengers, the X-Men were severely crippled. Yet the Avengers pay little attention to the suffering of the mutant community, only rarely making cameo appearances in X-Men comics. Considering that House of M was such an Avengers-heavy event, one would think that Bendis might address its consequences in his Avengers saga. Yet there is barely even a mention of the mutant decimation in titles such as New Avengers. Within the comics, this indifference to the mutant population will come back to haunt the Avengers during Avengers vs. X-Men, a sort of meta-commentary on the years of segregation between the two teams.

This universe ain’t big enough for two super-teams…

That’s all for today. What are your thoughts on House of M? How did you feel about the X-Men’s part in things? Let me know on Twitter, @book_column, and be sure to share the blog with your friends! Thanks for reading! Tomorrow I return to Bendis’ New Avengers, covering issues 11-20!

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