The other day I floated the idea to David that maybe the best way to decide if a character (or team, or book) needs to be revitalized is if the most recent definitive work with the property has been done within the last twenty years. It’s an imperfect idea, sure, but we were spit-balling.
This theoretical model has been stuck in my head since, and it only makes more and more sense. For one, it allows for each new generation to find their own new precise moment that defines a character—Jason Aaron’s Thor over Walt Simonson’s. My Life as a Weapon over West Coast Avengers. Present-day Captain Marvel. . . well, Carol’s moment was really many more decades coming. The prime moments for each Ghost Rider are almost exactly twenty years apart from one another—Johnny in the ’70s, Danny in the ’90s, and Robbie’s slowly starting to come together (though, for my money, the real definitive work on that mythology came, again, from Jason Aaron). Secondly, comics are an ever-growing medium, and each new voice added to the mix demands growth and reimagining.
Nothing makes you face your rapidly approaching mortality with the sudden realization that a beloved work of art—Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight, The Royal Tenenbaums, the cooing nightmare fuel that was Furby—approaches or surpasses its twentieth anniversary. As a thirty-something, the Bendis Era of Marvel Comics was one of those important landmarks, and it hurts my heart to say that House of M—a huge, early landmark of the era—is sixteen years old this year.
I kept these thoughts—definitive events, representative portrayals, my own inevitable and quickly approaching mortality—in mind as I sat down to read the recent reprinting of the book. While it hasn’t been a full decade and a half since I read the series—I almost surely read it when sharing it with my partner, or some friend getting into modern comics for the first time, or simply just because the mood struck me—it has been long enough that I felt like I might be misremembering it in the way that I misremember some of the comics from my childhood. Perhaps it wasn’t the momentous story I remembered, or perhaps it had aged very poorly (as some books do, creatively and politically).
The truth of the matter is that I hadn’t. The book, with all its clever reveals, sober character moments, and incredible interpersonal chemistry, is still buried in my head, beat for beat, like the influential rhythms of a well-worn and beloved novel. For all of that—for every hard-hitting moment being telegraphed panels or even pages in advance—it still had the ability to make my skin crawl with excitement and anticipation.
But is it still a definitive story? Does it still hold up? The answer to the second question is yes—it’s still an incredible read, with none of the clumsy dating that some classics have, in part due to Bendis’ dialogue-first, narrative blocks never mode of writing. The voices may be a bit too clever for your general people, but these characters are superhuman fiction people, so maybe that’s a secret benefit of the Weapon X program or what have you.
The answer to the first question is a little less clear, as I’m not sure I ever felt it was a definitive story for any of the major characters even at the time of my first reading; I didn’t want this to be the Wanda story, and for years following I kept waiting for a shoe to drop that never really did—I still think Wanda hasn’t been resolved. As for the other characters, none of them have the singular narrative of the book, and so their moments aren’t exactly defining so much as minutely insightful: we all sort of knew that Peter Parker would have been happier with Gwen alive, Wolverine having his memories back doesn’t happen until the story resolves (as much as one can say that it resolves at all), and Clint wouldn’t get a truly definitive moment until My Life As a Weapon almost a decade later.
House of M was, at the time, maybe the definitive ‘event’ book of its time—neither Disassembled before it nor Secret Invasion after it feels quite as timeless, as free from the shackles of tie-ins and prologues, but like most events, very few of its effects have lingered in any pressing way.
All of this is to say, of course, that the time has come for these concepts to get a facelift. WandaVision has assuredly taken up a lot of culture’s thinking for the character, while the Krakoan Age has all but firebombed any preconception concerning mutants, erasing any lingering Decimation vibes for the X-Men. All of this deserves a facelift.
House of M is still a classic, but academically rather than presently. It’s essential reading for people made curious about the character from her Disney+ show, most certainly; it’s not exactly pressing for Marvel Comics as it is in its current state.
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