Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Olivier Coipel (p), various inkers, Frank D’Armata (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
If you’ve been following House of M for the previous five issues, then you may be noticing a trend by now, as - yet again - this issue sees the plot of this miniseries advance by about half as much as you’d like it to, admittedly handing out a few interesting tidbits along the way, but ultimately feeling like it’s dragging its heels. Whilst a decompressive approach might play to some of Bendis’ strengths as a writer, it also limits the amount of space he has to provide a fitting finale to five-and-a-half issues of build-up, and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that this miniseries will carry as much emotional and intellectual weight as Marvel originally suggested.
As the heroes gather to prepare an attack on Magneto and his family, they take time out to consider whether their course of action is the right one. Bendis uses this exchange as a chance to assert just how high the stakes are for our heroes, as Cyclops essentially tells everyone that the gloves are off, and Jessica Drew voices her own ambiguous feelings about whether they all really want to give up the idyllic lives that they have been provided with in the House of M reality. Under normal circumstances, this scene would be a worthy diversion (and the writer still gets some good mileage out of it) with an interesting rebuttal of Wolverine’s simple take on events which questions the overly simplistic take on events which is so often typical of moral debate in superhero books. However, after so much build-up (including a similar scene last issue, in which the heroes also sat around discussing the gravity of their situation and a possible solution) it just feels like more time wasted. The final scenes of this issue are the first time any real meaningful conflict is presented in the series, and it’s not a moment too soon – but the reader may well be left frustrated that 75% of the series has already been spent in merely moving the characters into place.
Maybe I’m a little nostalgic for the days in which crossover events managed to pack issue after issue full of excitement, capitalising on the potential of so many exciting characters in the same place at the same time (I admit it: I love the original Secret Wars, which had a similar high-concept and layers of intrigue, but also found space for loads of fun action) but there simply hasn’t been enough excitement generated for this to feel like a genuine climax; it still feels like we’re just warming up. What’s more, Bendis hasn’t really been able to capture the epic sense of gravitas that it seems like he’s aiming for here, and no matter how many times he has his characters say just how important this all is and how much hangs in the balance, they somehow feel like empty statements. Ultimately, the emotional weight that Bendis intends to generate through the events of House of M counts for nothing if he can’t make the reader really feel it.
Thankfully, House of M is carried by an art team which manages to elevate a plodding story above the norm, and which can be credited for much of my enjoyment of this issue. Olivier Coipel proves himself to be a very strong visual storyteller this issue, with a number of scenes carrying a cinematic quality that is reminiscent of some of the best design work with which movies have gifted the fantasy genre: Coipel’s towering Genosha recalls the White City of Minas Tirith from the Lord of the Rings films, whilst a sequence which shows Dr. Doom arriving by shuttle to meet with Magneto owes more than a little in its framing and sleek, angular design to similar sequences from the Star Wars movies. Coipel also handles a lot of group scenes here, and it’s to his credit that almost all of the characters are distinct and recognisable, and are able to convey a lot of character information through body language and facial expressions, even if their physicality does sometimes seem a little on the chunky side. There’s a fairly even-handed balance between realism and four-colour superheroics in Coipel’s style, even if some characters (Layla in particular) have a tendency to slide into a more cartoony appearance.
Standout moments for the artist include an awesome few panels which show a Sentinel falling to earth - only to be stopped by Magneto in a cool wide-shot which is reminiscent of X2 – as well as the eventual attack of the Marvel heroes in all their glory. When a habitually verbose writer like Bendis is happy to sit back and let the visuals carry a lot of these important story moments, you can be fairly sure that the art is in a safe pair of hands. However, Coipel often shows that his skills as an artist extend beyond such big-impact moments, as some of the smaller scenes (such as Cloak’s atmospheric descent into Xavier’s grave at the issue’s end) are equally competent, handled with a quiet attention to detail and a consistent craftsmanship which is always in service of the story.
Finally, Esad Ribic’s cover art also continues to impress, as the colouring techniques used on this issue’s cover image turn an otherwise generic villain shot into quite a subtle, layered image.
All in all, it’s a mixed issue, and one which has not gone to any great lengths to win me over on the whole House of M event. Whilst I admire the way Marvel has handled such a large crossover (I admire the way the core title subtly references events from tie-in issues without ever making them feel like essential reads), my simple reaction is that the House of M concept just isn’t enough to justify such a huge ballyhoo. What might have made for a neat Avengers or X-Men story has been ill-served by the amount of hype and marketing which has gone into its creation, and perhaps this has made a certain degree of disappointment in the series inevitable.
Still, I like the art.
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