Sunday, January 18, 2009

Civil War: House of M

Civil War: House of M
Writer: Christos N Gage
Artist: Andrea Divito
Colourists: Laura Villari, Nathan Fairbairn and Bruno Hang
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Editor: Bill Rosemann

Why? Why? For god's sake, why?

These are the questions that sprang to mind when Civil War: House of M was first solicited. They were still in mind when I finished issue #1, and they're still in mind now that the series is complete. Okay, technically they're only one question. But, to steal a line from Red Dwarf, it's such a good question that it's worth asking three times.

Even explaining the concept of this series will take a while. Back in 2005, Marvel published the summer crossover House of M. The high concept was that the Scarlet Witch, who had gone mad, used her reality-warping powers to change the world so that mutants were in charge and Magneto was the ruler. The story, such as it was (and for the most part it wasn't), involved a bunch of heroes regaining their real memories and going after Magneto, all of which led to Wanda just changing things back and trying to remove mutants altogether - a conclusion to which the preceding seven issues had singularly omitted to build.

God, it was rubbish.

That said, the basic concept had some promise, and some of the tie-ins weren't bad at all. Apparently the collected editions also did surprisingly well, which is why we got House of M: Avengers, a belated miniseries filling in the back story of Luke Cage's group. And here, in Civil War: House of M, we've got the back story explaining how Magneto took over the world.

You might be wondering what the 2006 crossover Civil War has to do with any of this. And the answer is "nothing whatsoever." It's shameless false advertising, something that unfortunately seems to be on the increase at both Marvel and DC. But that's another story.

What we get, then, is the back story of how Magneto ended up ruling the world... in a timeline that never happened anyway, because it was only ever a reality warp created by Wanda. Hence the central plot point of House of M, which was characters recovering their true memories. So this is, apparently, five issues of stuff that didn't happen.

Except occasionally, on the fringes of the story, Wanda shows up to object to the way minor characters are acting, and mess about with them. She plays no apparent role in the main plot, though, so these moments only serve to emphasise the convoluted and vaguely incomprehensible set-up.

The story is choppy, and seems uncertain quite what point it's trying to make. Broadly speaking, Magneto is clearly in the right: the humans really are out to get him, and the US government (under Nixon, of all people) is really sending out Sentinels to kill mutants. Magneto deposes Apocalypse as the leader of the mutant forces and then goes on to be a basically enlightened despot, conquering Genosha, which becomes the obligatory mutant Israel, and overthrowing the US government in obvious self-defence. There's a subplot where Xavier encourages him to work by diplomacy rather than warfare, and Magneto lacks the patience to go that way - but since Xavier's arguments are pragmatic rather than moral, and Magneto ultimately wins anyway, it's hard to see the point being made.

The story ends with a seemingly tacked-on sequence where Magneto reveals to his three kids that he was their father all along, thus alienating Pietro and Lorna (but not Wanda, who of course knows everything in this world). This doesn't work at all, because it has nothing to do with the main story. The family subplot is foreshadowed only by a brief scene in issue #2 - and besides, Magneto openly called Wanda his daughter just a few pages earlier. And if he hasn't acknowledged her as his daughter then, um, what's the official explanation for having her around at all?

This doesn't work. Christos Gage is a good writer, and he's managed to get unexpectedly good stories out of some weak franchises in the past. But here, he seems unsure what he's trying to do. If it's a morality play where Magneto wins but learns that it's a hollow victory, then the story doesn't get that point across. If the idea is that Magneto keeps making the wrong decisions but that Wanda is lurking in the background to stop him from suffering the consequences - which might have been an interesting approach - then we never really see that either.

Andrea diVito's art is perfectly fine and tells the story more than adequately, but it's not the sort of thing that can save a weak script. In general I enjoy Gage's writing, and I'd like to see more of him, but with the best will in the world, this is a mess.

(Oh, and yes, the book is officially called Civil War: House of M, not House of M: Civil War - whatever the logo may say.)

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