House of M marks Marvel’s return to the yearly blockbuster crossover and acts as Marvel’s counterpart to DC Comics’ big crossover Infinite Crisis. The Marvel hype machine has been in high gear, stating that the series would “rip the internet in half”. Well, the series is over and the internet is still in one piece, but the Marvel Universe has been rocked by the changes, some of which may be long lasting. However, the story itself is hampered by the writing trends found in comics today.
Marvel has been a leading employer of the “write for trade” style of writing. This style constructs story arcs and mini-series in a way that plots are extended so they develop slowly over each issue. The reason this is done is so the storylines take up more individual issues so they can be collected into a trade paperback book.
There is a great amount of money to be made from the trade paperback market. Most book stores have a graphic novel section while very few have comic spinner racks. But the “write for the trade” policy creates a catch-22. The comic publishers rely on monthly comic book sales as an important form of revenue. The success of a comic in its initial run determines whether or not the stories are collected into trade paperbacks at all. But more and more comic fans are employing a “wait for the trade” philosophy. Instead of taking a chance on a new series that comes out, they wait until the comic is collected into a trade paperback before they buy it. They get the whole story all at once that way instead of having it parceled out issue by issue. Not only does the consumer now get a more sturdy, bookshelf worthy paperback, but it’s often cheaper as well.
The offshoot of this style of writing is that each individual issue does little if anything to advance the overall plot. When reading all of the issues in one sitting, this structure does not seem that bad. However, if you read each issue as they come out, waiting weeks for the next issue, the story isn’t nearly as satisfying.
House of M employs this protracted writing style and suffers for it. Issue one consists of the Avengers and X-Men getting together to decide the fate of the Scarlet Witch, a former Avenger who had recently gone insane and caused the deaths of several of her teammates. Her father, the super villain Magneto, took the Scarlet Witch into his custody in order to have his friend, Professor Charles Xavier, use his mental powers to try to guide the Scarlet Witch to sanity. However, Xavier’s efforts to cure her have failed and she has become even more volatile.
Most of this first issue consists of various people talking about what to do with the dangerous Scarlet Witch. The suggestion is made that she is too dangerous to let live and must be killed. This does not sit well with many of the collected heroes, who suggest they travel to Genosha, the country where the Scarlet Witch currently resides, to ask her how she wants to be helped. When the heroes arrive, they find the Scarlet Witch is missing. After a fruitless search, they are all enveloped by a blinding light.
The second issue tours the new reality created by the blinding light. Almost everyone has been granted their hearts desire. Dazzler is a mutant version of Oprah, Spider-Man is a famous professional wrestler with both Gwen Stacy and his Uncle Ben back from the dead, and Magneto has become the respected King of Genosha and mutants rule the Earth. Even Wolverine, whose own memories of his life were a muddled mess, wakes up with his fondest wish fulfilled, total recall of his past. Unfortunately, this also means he remembers the world as it was before.
The main plot of the series does not begin in earnest until issue three, when Wolverine begins his search to find out why reality changed. Issue four focuses on his meeting up with a bunch of non-mutant heroes, who have come in contact with a teenage girl named Layla Miller, a mutant who can make everyone remember everything that happened before the white event. Together, Wolverine and the heroes come to the conclusion that Magneto must have forced his daughter to use her reality altering powers to change the world to his liking.
The heroes gather other allies in issue five and in issue six they formulate a plan and travel to Genosha to confront Magneto. Issue seven is the big confrontation ending in yet another white event and issue eight is a coda for the series and gives us a low down on the new reality created.
As you might be able to tell by reading the above, the plot seems unnaturally extended. It’s almost like Bendis stretched four issues of story to fill out eight issues. He devotes entire issues to plot points that could have easily been explained in several panels, and would have if the series had been published ten years ago. But in today’s market, where the more issues a story has means a higher price point for the eventual trade paperback collection, therefore more profit, expediency in storytelling makes way for a higher page count.
The realities of the comic book industry today dictate that respect must be paid to the trade paperback, but a balance must be maintained. Stories should be satisfying to read both as trade paperbacks and as individual issues. House of M would be an example of what not to do. Its story could have as easily been told in four or five issues as it was in eight. The result is a story that is enjoyable when read all at together, but not as satisfying when read one issue at a time.