Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Pencilled by Oliver Coipel. Inked by Tim Townsend, John Dell, and Scott Hanna. Coloured by Frank D’Armata. Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos. Published by Marvel Comics.
SPOILER WARNING: I will be discussing House of M in broad terms, but there are particular beats which will be more spoiler heavy. That being said, the comic came out in 2005 and elements of it are common knowledge. If you want to approach the story clean, go read it first and then come back here.
Based on what little we know about WandaVision, it appears that processing grief through escapism will be a big part of the story. While this is used in a very different context than in the comics, it appears that the Disney+ series will be inspired by the 2005 comic book event House of M.
With this renewed interest, it has never been a better time to revisit it. Read on to find out all about it, including what makes it tick and what can be done better.
In Avengers: Disassembled, Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff, had a super-powered nervous breakdown after the realisation that her children where magical constructs. During that time, the Avengers team was torn apart and a few members lost their life.
House of M picks up on this six months later when Wanda’s “treatment” is considered a failure and her reality warping powers are seemingly out of control. Both the Avengers and the X-Men arrive to confront her, but before they can, she changes reality. The regular Marvel Universe is gone and in its place is a world where the societal status of humans and mutants have been flipped.
Mutants have always been a marginalised group, so it’s interesting to explore a world that’s flipped. Now, they have societal power. At the top is Magneto and his family, who act as regal leaders, and cascades downwards. Unlike the most famous X-Men alternate world Age of Apocalypse, this world is painted with utopian strokes. Or at least it is for mutants.
It’s also a way for Wanda to escape from her grief, while also trying to find a middle ground for everyone else. The problem is, it’s hard to find that compromise when you drastically change reality without others realising it.
Oliver Coipel shows readers an early glimpse of this world with mutants of all kinds going about their day. He shows them buzzing along the skylines on their way to work, mutant children using their powers in the street, and a variety of physical manifestations of powers. In the regular Marvel Universe, they would be harassed by humans, but in this world, they’re free to live out their lives. Later on, we get to see some more familiar faces. For the X-Men characters, this often means that they’re in positions of power or even living regular lives.
His clean widescreen style gives weight to the world. Panels offer wide establishing shots, which set scenes. But at the same time he is quite good at the smaller moments, which require denser layouts. These accommodate Bendis’ talkier scripts well, focusing on the character’s expressions and mixes up the framing and angles to keep it engaging.
If you want to explore the world of House of M through the Avengers, check out the tie-in comics. They show what it’s like for these characters to be part of the marginalised group, but are also an excuse to roll out the classic what-if situations.
For Spider-Man, it’s “what-if Gwen Stacy and Uncle Ben were still alive?” For Captain America, it’s “what-if Steve Rogers was never frozen in ice?” And for the Fantastic Four, “what-if the team was led for Doctor Doom?” While they don’t tie into specific events of the core series, they do make the world of House of M larger and more robust.
House of M doesn’t do a great job at approaching mental health. (Although, a bit better than Heroes In Crisis) The methods that are used to treat Wanda only focus on making sure her reality warping powers get out of hand. Professor X takes a psychic approach, while Doctor Strange takes a magical one. There’s no emotional response. Nor is there traditional therapy or attempts to sympathise with her. I understand that a lot of the shown response is about emphasising how her powers are volatile, but the most obvious options are not attempted. What makes it worse is when the heroes debate whether she should be killed before she causes serious harm to reality.
For X-Men fans, the ramifications of House of M can be summed up in three words – “No more mutants.” With them, reality is changed once more. At a glance, everything seems to be normal except for one major thing – almost all of the world’s mutants have lost their powers.
House of M’s conclusion really shook-up the X-Men franchise and set the tone for many years to come. This period would start off a little shaky with a few stories that were not well-received, such as Deadly Genesis, but would pave the way for Mike Carey’s run on X-Men/X-Men: Legacy, Keiron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men, and the various X-Books by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. It’s a compelling period of X-Men comics that’s contextualised by the survival of the diminished mutant population.
As for ramifications on the Avengers side, there wasn’t a whole lot. It would be business as usual until Civil War the following year. It would also be another five years until Scarlet Witch would get a redemption arc in Avengers: Children’s Crusade.
Overall, House of M is an interesting, if flawed, comic book event. It offers readers an alternate world that flips the status quo on its head and explores it from different perspectives. It also opened the door to plenty of new storytelling possibilities and we got a lot of great comics out of it. Where it loses points is in its approach to mental health.