Writer: Christos Gage
Artists: Mike Perkins
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Editor’s Note: The first issue of the House of M: Avengers limited series arrives in stores this Wednesday, November 14.
Plot: An alternate origin for Luke Cage and the New Avengers set against the background of The House of M.
Commentary: Ah, the swinging 70’s. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in this era at the “House of Ideas.” Alternate realities come and go and the stories that spin out of them range from banal to some very nice spins on established characters and storylines. That’s the case here. Christos Gage takes just one of the many alternate timeline backdrops from the X-Men’s World and restates the basic origin story of Luke Cage/Power Man within that mutant dominant context. The great thing about a book like this is that it can appeal to readers who don’t even like the X-Men. Gage and Perkins give us a nostalgic retelling of Cage’s origins on the streets of Harlem and in Seagate Prison. Fans like me can enjoy the bullets bouncing off Cage’s chest and his wall busting might all over again. We remember those classic B-list moments which, like the Blaxploitation films of the 70’s, are a guilty pleasure. Cage is back in his silky yellow shirt, wrist bands and heavy chain belt all over again. However, despite the trappings of a bygone era, Gage gives us a strong, street smart and capable hero in the person of Luke Cage.
He realizes that even in a world where the bottom of the food chain (mutants) has made it to the top he still remains at the bottom, and he’s not happy or satisfied to stay there. His interests are not just racial. Realizing that all “Sapiens” (non-mutant powered and non-powered humans of all skin colors) are the minority and targeted for the trash heap of society, he sets out to band those capable of doing something about it under the banner of “The Avengers.” Those strictly-humans-with-some-power are Hawkeye (once again given a criminal origin), Danny Rand/Iron Fist (it’s great to see him and Luke in their old colors on the same page again) and Moon Knight (who invites himself to the party). With Moon Knight we get the deadly ex-CIA agent turned midnight vigilante from Charlie Huston’s re-launched book. It doesn’t look like this character will be watered down as he became over the years after Doug Moench’s defining run. Like Cage this is classic Moon Knight. Gage gives us a lot of story in this one issue making it seem worth the price of admission. That’s a relief in these days of either decompressed (ad nauseum) storytelling or issues with a lot of splash pages where nothing happens.
We get insight into Cage’s past and origins; unfinished street business with an ex-childhood friend; the making of a hero; the development of a team and the set up for the next chapter. On the whole it’s a refreshing package. Things start and finish, and our appetite is whet for what comes next. The reveal at the end is another nod to a 70’s cultural icon. Think Pam Greer while you turn the page.
Final Word: Some nostalgic and tight storytelling by Gage and a good grasp of street level illustrating by Perkins make this an enjoyable read.
So, after two years, Marvel thinks the time is right to revisit the House of M reality. Fans had quite a strong reaction to the main mini-series when it was released with lots of, probably justified, complaints about rather excessive decompression. I skipped the individual issues but picked the series up in trade and thought it was actually rather good. Perhaps not great, but the story was interesting, the dilemmas faced by some of the characters compelling, and it changed things in a big way for Marvel’s merriest mutants, the X-Men, who have always held that special place in my comic geek’s heart reserved for one’s first love. The resultant new status quo may not have been handled in the best of ways in books following on from the event but that shouldn’t affect my opinion of House of M itself.
One of the more compelling aspects of the Scarlet Witch’s reality warp was the repositioning of Homo sapiens at the bottom of the food chain. Luke Cage and his ragtag band of human misfits played an essential part in the series as they formed the core of the anti-Magneto movement. However, the reader never got to see just how this “team” came to be nor how Cage set himself up as the head of an organised crime network. If Marvel were ever going to revisit this mutant-ruled reality, then telling the story of these normal humans surviving in a world where powers are the norm was always going to be good place to start.
Christos Gage pulls writing duties for this foray into what isn’t exactly a What If? universe but for most intents and purposes is. I don’t usually go in for these but the premise and creative team were enough to pique my curiosity. Gage uses, perhaps unsurprisingly, Cage as the central character and all the narrative is from his point of view. The first issue is mostly set-up, as it covers Cage’s back-story with a slightly tweaked origin to his regular 616-verse counterpart. Given the way the narration textboxes persist throughout the issue, I suppose it’s possible that the whole mini will be told this way. I doubt it though, as they don’t make for the most exciting and dynamic of reads.
But that doesn’t matter here. Gage tells Cage’s story of growing up in a world in which he found himself belonging to a dwindling species heading straight for extinction. House of M didn’t really explore what it meant to be Homo sapiens in Magneto’s new world order; some of the tie-ins may have, but I haven’t read any of those. There are no big surprises or reveals here, but extra details are added to the overall tapestry, with Hell’s Kitchen becoming “Human Town” and the daily persecution normal people must face. Throughout the issue, Gage also tosses in pop culture references with a twist, such as a mutant punk proudly sporting an “X-Pistols” jacket or a banner for the film “Apocalypse Now” featuring a shot of Apocalypse’s head.
Cage’s rise to power as an underworld crime lord is explained in this first instalment. Luke fits the role almost uncomfortably well and his choice of career path comes across as a perfectly logical one for a man trying to look after himself and his own. As his fame grows, other humans with extraordinary abilities are added to his crew and, after having had him prance around in a ninja costume in the regular Marvel Universe for the last year, I got a kick out of seeing Clint Barton gripping a bow once again. The ending and next issue plug foreshadow the involvement of yet more familiar faces and the whole thing is very reminiscent of Universe X, the “Age of Apocalypse” tie-in that told the story of the non-mutant Marvel heroes.
Mike Perkins is a great choice for this book. His more realistic pencils and Laura Martin’s darker hues fit this underground world in which brightly coloured spandex is not the norm. Just as with Captain America and Union Jack, the costumed individuals look serious and not stupid when standing next to a bunch of guys in normal threads. Cage, much to my delight, sports his classic yellow silk shirt and tiara and the art team proves, unequivocally, that this costume can work in a modern context and a serious plot. As most of the issue is told as flashback, there are a couple of montage pages. Perkins really pulls these off as the scenes blend and flow into one another easily without ever making things confusing for the reader.
This is a stronger debut issue than I had thought it might be. Both Gage and Perkins take the concept seriously and could be in the process of delivering the Cage series many people have been expecting for the last couple of years. Unfortunately, that series is telling a story set in a world that no longer is and to which, ultimately, we already know the ending. It’s well executed within these constraints though and anyone who enjoys “What If?” tales or wants more House of M material should really give this a try.
Plot: Luke Cage’s path to the “Avengers” takes a similar but alternate route under the House of M: the big difference is the dominance of mutants, but as in the familiar universe, he’s always at odds with The Man, no matter who takes on that position in the power play.
Comments: Is this a story we needed to see? Maybe if it was quirkier. I was really surprised by the art, which is imitation Greg Land. It’s horrid. Poses from whom knows what sources, lifts from classic covers and other artists, a pseudo-realistic hodgepodge with no distinctive character of its own … it’s not a direction I wish more comics artists would pursue.
Getting over the distraction of the lurid, unsubtle visuals, the tale is rather predictable and uninspired. In feeling out how a resistance faction came to be in the House of M reality, Gage hits all the expected notes, mixing Cage’s established origin (which I always thought was one of the more inspired and interesting ones of the 1970s) with a reality where Civil Rights need to be fought for “sapiens” (basically all baseline humans, regardless of race) not for just one minority group. As mutants grow in number (or are purposefully created) under Magneto’s model of rule, humans become increasingly sidelined. They’re the ones with poor access to jobs, filling up slums in ghettoes, and plotting for a better future in a world that doesn’t understand.
That’s an interesting concept to explore, and it may happen as The Man organizes a force to send against Luke and his non-mutant band of heroes, led by a surprising agent. For this story to work, much less expected and odd variations need to develop on this provisional and topsy-turvy earth. We shouldn’t see familiar events just replayed; we should see new and strange outcomes and alliances. And more intriguing art (how about Kelly Jones, Mike Allred, Khari Evans, Charlie Adlard, Paul Gulacy?) would be a huge plus as well. As of now, the basic concepts are present but relatively undeveloped.
Surely Marvel has to be saying the same thing other publishers are about Christos Gage right now: where has this dude been all of our lives?
With each passing mini-series he handles, his mystique grows as a writer. Hell, Wildstorm practically handed him the keys to their universe begging him to save their sales. Marvel has taken a slightly less desperate measure with the television writer’s load. They have brought him along with key mini-series to big events (including the current state of the union for the X-Men) and eventually should give him something big. Who knows which publishing company will secure those services, but I guarantee you this: one of the big two should be making a big play for Mr. Gage during the writer’s strike. At any rate, this will be making big news soon.
With his latest installment, he adds to an event that was panned during its run but is slowly gaining the luster it could have had. This was the addition to House of M we needed. In essence, this is another “What If” for the publishing company, just one that’s in continuity to the series it is named after. I realize the contradiction that holds, but we get to see yet another incarnation of the Avengers in a different world than the 616 we read in all the other titles. In this day and age of countless Avengers series on the stands, it only makes sense to peer into the lives of the world’s greatest heroes from the world Magnus created.
Proving to continue his role as Marvel Everyman, Luke Cage gets a retold origin for himself and the team he helped to create. Sure, it feels a bit contrived at times, but we get to see him wear the tiara again with the puffy shirt. That’s worth the price of admission if you ask me. As Cage’s rag-tag team of renegades grows in number, their scrutiny from the police commissioner is matched.
The big reason this series should improve the flop Bendis created is increased credibility. I’m sure many thought (or just me, who knows) House of M was too extreme of a world for some to live in, that the ideas pitched during the run were too far out for even Marvel to handle. Instead, I think now the mutant-dominated world could have housed (pun intended) many more stories. While there is a considerable amount of depth that needs to be added for this team to have a real lasting quality to it, I have no doubt that Gage can build it as the story goes.
Not having seen very much of Mike Perkins in my past reads, I enjoyed seeing him create the mutant utopia, and how the Saps mingled in it. He chose a classic envision of the Marvel pantheon instead of a complete re-design, which can either be a plus or minus for readers. If you are an old-time fan of the 616, it was neat to have a tip of the cap to the age that is past. Others I’m sure would have taken the chance to give them a look never seen before, almost like professional teams having an “ alternate” jersey. I would have gone with the latter, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the first.
I foresee this series doing quite well for Marvel in the end. As with Son of M and Silent War, we continue to see quality stories coming from a company wide event that nobody seems to care about remembering. A strange dichotomy to be sure, but then again that’s Marvel fans for you.
When I was asked to review this comic, I had to go back and read House of M. I had forgotten most of what happened in it. Oddly, the book did not bother me as much as it did when I first read it. Perhaps I am becoming jaded, or I have seen so much garbage in the last year from the Big Two that my expectations have fallen below House of M. Or maybe, the world presented in House of M taps into something that I loved as a kid: What If? stories.
The House of M universe has all the qualities of a good What If? story. You have familiar characters, portrayed in more or less consistent way with how you knew them in the mainstream universe, but with a few twists and turns in the choices they made.
In this issue of what is now becoming the House of M Saga, we see how differing choices in Luke Cage’s life lead to similar results. For instance, instead of going through his transformation into Power Man coming about due to his father’s death, he is a victim of the unfortunate timing of his prison stay with Magneto’s mutant war. After seeking his revenge on the mutant who set him up to take the fall, he falls into surviving any way he can in a mutant world as a homosapien. He puts together a band of human thugs to work together in a crime syndicate.
I am not positive, but I suspect that Christos Gage may be sneaking in a philosophical discussion about determinism into this comic book. Despite the small differences in the journey, the overall results are pretty close to the same. Even if that is not the case, it was a theme that I felt came through in the book.
Regarding the actual production aspects of the book, this book has good and bad aspects to it. I enjoyed the art. The scenes of the mutant populace actually made you feel like you were in a different world in the 1970s. Little aspects, like the street workers in the background of certain scenes, gave the book an urban feel that made the situations that Luke was moving in and out of believable. The colouring was extremely well done by Laura Martin, with evening nightclub scenes being awash with deep reds, purples and blues. These colours made a return during the explosive scenes. Finally, kudos to Mike Perkins for the presentation of classic characters in their 1970s costumes, with Gage supplementing it with a discussion of how silly they look now.
Overall, I enjoyed the story, and I am interested in the second issue. However, the dialogue was stilted at times. It feels like someone wrote the dialogue that they wanted to be realistic to the time period and the setting, but based on B movies. The usage of slurs, both traditional and new, do not seem to fit in the flow of the dialogue properly, and with the exception of the scene with Stryker and the later scene with Tigra, the interactions with characters feel like they are reading cue cards (which is a very strange comment given the medium we are talking about).
If you are tired of continuity clashing tales of the mainstream Marvel and would like a throw away tale that fleshes out what could be an interesting universe to explore, then I would recommend this book.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!