Friday, August 10, 2012

Graphic Novel Review – House of M: Spider-man

When I reviewed Avengers vs. X-Men: It’s Coming, I said that one scene in the House of M comic that was included in that collection had me intrigued – Spider-man having a complete melt-down over something that happened during House of M, but the reader never finds out what it was. While I didn’t really care to seek out the main House of M story, I did decide to follow up on this Spider-man plot and while I’m not sure I’ve entirely figured out the scene that piqued my interest, I’ve got some thoughts about it all that I’ll pass along.

But first, I’ll talk a bit about the story. Let’s be clear, I’m not going to hold back on spoilers – this story is a number of years old at this point, and if you really don’t want to know how it all comes out, just move on to some other review. Think of House of M as a “What if?” story, an alternate universe where some event went differently than the main Marvel universe, and we’re now exploring what’s different about it. In this case, Mutants rule the earth; they are celebrities, they enforce laws over humans, they make the money and hold all the cards. They are an elite class, and Spider-man as a mutant is one of those privileged few.

Wait, wait, Spider-man is a mutant? Well, now that I think about it, he’s been treated that way in the comics before – Professor X wanted to train him to use his powers as I recall, and it was generally accepted that his powers were a form of mutation – so, ok, I can go along with this. Peter Parker’s status in the House of M world means that he’s one of the biggest celebrities ever, he’s starring in his own movies (and does all his own stunts), has huge amounts of money, takes care of his family – which of course includes his Uncle Ben, Aunt May, wife Gwen, son and father-in-law, employs numerous people and is generally seen as a great guy. Except by J. Jonah Jameson, who is Peter’s Public Relations manager – though in reality he’s really his whipping boy. Peter debases and verbally abuses Jameson at every opportunity, treating him as less than human, but paying him ungodly amounts of money in order to keep him around for more humiliation.

Because, hey, that seems just like something Peter Parker would do as retribution for the years Jameson spent slandering Spider-man. When I say it makes Peter look like a complete dick, I’m not using forceful enough language and let’s leave it at that – and that’s who we’re rooting for! And what would an alternate universe be without Uncle Ben being alive again? Somehow Peter still became the hero Spider-man and was still being harassed by the Daily Bugle, despite the fact that he was never driven to superheroics by the death of his uncle. I can actually handle Gwen’s presence, frankly this might be the first time this idea has been explored in an alternate universe (where Peter and Gwen get married) and it was probably the strongest of the plotlines, not to mention Mary Jane’s flirting with Peter (she co-stars in his movies, playing as Gwen) at a time when Peter was still married to Mary Jane in the main Marvel universe. That all made for an interesting dynamic.

Unfortunately, not a whole lot of time is spent on that. Peter starts realizing that people actually do think he’s a bit of a dick, as they speak about him behind his back – and his old foe the Green Goblin has returned and given Jameson the power to take down Peter once and for all, a journal that reveals that Peter got his powers from a spider-bite and not from a mutation.

Wait, what? So now he’s not really a mutant? Ok and apparently all of that is enough to have his whole life come crashing down around him, but not before it’s revealed that Peter did this to himself – he is the one behind the mask of the Green Goblin. Don’t ask why, why are you even asking for sense out of this story at this point. There’s another interesting point where it’s revealed that this journal is all about Pete’s life in the main Marvel universe, where Gwen had died and so had Ben, but even after Gwen discovers these things (and must realize that her husband is completely out of his mind) at least she still wants to be with him and wants to help him get better. That’s better than good old Uncle Ben, who when the going gets rough and things continue to spiral out of control and the base-line humans turn against Peter, his advice to Peter is to commit suicide.

Yes folks, suicide is the solution to Peter Parker’s problems. So Spider-man hangs himself, and the picture makes the front page of the paper – somehow resolving all the mutant/human relations. Except that Peter actually isn’t dead (because hey, suicide is ok as long as it’s faked) and he warns Magneto that he’ll only stay dead if the humans are treated better by the mutants. Of course, because that’s what this whole story was about – actually no, no it wasn’t. But at least Peter and his family get to live happily ever after in some backwoods part of the country where no one can find them for the rest of their lives. Until House of M ends and suddenly Peter is having his meltdown over – what – the loss of his wife Gwen and son, that other world where things were so much better for him, where his psyche was a broken mess. Or perhaps, as I like to think, he was having a meltdown over the character assassination he had just suffered at the hands of Mark Waid. I actually had to go back and look at who wrote this mess, and was surprised to see Waid – he’s done some great work for DC. Perhaps thats where he needs to stay.

Stay far, far away from House of M: Spider-Man. I’m a big fan of the old “What if?” comic, and even I had trouble swallowing this one. I suppose the art looked really great, so it’s got that in its favor. Otherwise, I can’t recommend it at all.


PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

These comic book plots can get so confusing. I just read Waid's "Kingdom Come" for DC the other night and that was really good. But in some ways I suppose Marvel's more of a mess than DC because they don't "reboot" their continuity every decade or so, which if anyone ever really thought about it wouldn't make any logical sense since by now Spider-Man would be like 70 or something. Argh.

Maurice Mitchell said...

JIm, this sounds like a horrid issue, but the whole "House of M" storyline was dicey. People need to learn to stop messing with things in comic books just to boost sales. It's funny that they used the "brokeback pose" for Spider-Man LOL.