Saturday, October 15, 2005

House of M 7: You Gotta Bring Your Own Knobs

There's such a thing as character assassination. Then there's character beating with a sack full of doorknobs. Such is the fate of Wanda Maximoff.

Briefly recapping the deal with House of M: Wanda's probability-altering powers went out of control in Avengers Disassembled, which caused much badness. The Avengers and X-Men met to decide what to do with her, but before they could, she rewrote reality so that Magneto ruled most of the world, mutants were dominant over humans in numbers as well as political power, and everybody got their fondest wish (Uncle Ben's alive, Wolverine remembers who he is, puny humans actually do leave Hulk alone, etc.). Except there's this little girl Layla Miller running around who has the plot device power to make people remember the way reality used to be, and she's hooked up with the obligatory human resistance, most of the heroes have had their memories restored, and they've gone to Magneto's capital on Genosha to have a fight scene.

As is de riguer for the series, writer Brian Bendis escehews the fight to focus on conversation, specifically one between Wanda and Dr. Strange. It's here that we see who inspired Wanda to mess up reality (Quicksilver, in one of the most telegraphed "shocks" of the year), and the issue ends with Wanda flipping out and rewriting reality yet again, this time with the mission statement "No more mutants."

There's two ramifications of this story that I want to discuss. The first is what's been done
to Wanda. As my good friend Mr. Horse would say, "No, sir, I don't like it." I admit, I'm
biased; "my" Wanda is the one from Kurt Busiek's run on Avengers, the strong, capable
deputy leader who was driven to understand her powers in order to better understand
herself, who wasn't afraid to call Captain America on letting his responsibilities slide,
who was faced with numerous challenges and met them all head-on, who was very much
the emotional center of the team. That Wanda is emphatically not this Wanda. As Bendis
would have us believe, that Wanda never really existed, but was just a projection to hide the real Wanda, who was obsessed with her dead children, couldn't control her powers, killed Agatha Harkness and animated her corpse to cover it up, and talks like a third-rate version of Buffy from Drusilla. In essence, Wanda has gone, with little rationale, from heroine to waif. 20 years of development wiped out because, well, it doesn't fit. The combination of lack of respect for others' work and apparent contempt for the character does not sit well with me at all. Adding insult to injury, there's pretty much no way to salvage Wanda from this. Bendis has definitely outdone himself in terms of impact and permanence for this storyline; the way he's crafted the narrative, there's no undoing any of it, and no way to heal the damage done to Wanda's psyche. Scarlet Witch is done, and I can't help but feel a sense of loss. The old Avengers have pretty much been wrapped up and put away, and while change is a constant, the new paradigm, to me, is not interesting enough to completely justify severing ties with the old. Especially since Bendis will eventually get bored with the Avengers, and move on to something else, leaving the next team floundering for what to do in his wake.

But enough about that. The other ramification is, as you might expect, the "No More Mutants" thing. Obviously, Marvel's not going to completely eliminate its greatest cash cow, but the practical applications do mean that there will be a drastic reduction in the number of mutant characters in the Marvel Universe, somewhere on the order of 96%. Joe Quesada has gone on and on about how this is a genie that needed to be put back into the bottle, how it dilutes the concept of the X-Men as a minority to have so many of them running around, and so on and so forth. There's just one minor problem: He's completely full of shit.

Speculation running around was that the number of mutants would be reduced to a set 198. While Quesada has neither confirmed nor denied this, and it seems unlikely, running with it does permit an interesting thought experiment. Quesada has stated definitively that, with about half a dozen exceptions, there will be no new mutant characters introduced for as long as he is EIC. What this means is that almost all of the 198 would have to be pre-established characters. Can anyone name 198 living mutant characters in the Marvel Universe?

I tried to here: I got as far as 85 before I stopped, because I was dredging into obscurity. I've had a handful of other characters I missed pointed out to me (including, embarrassingly, Professor X), so we'll increase that number to 90. Leaving a little over 100 characters to go. I'm certain that someone with the entire MU handbook in their brain could fill that number out. But how many of those characters would be on the level of, say, Razorback?

It seems to me that Quesada was confusing a large mutant presence in the books with a large number of mutant characters. Well, the former is much easier to clear up than the latter, and doesn't require some silly reality rewrite: Put out fewer mutant books. Maybe if you didn't greenlight every series with a mutant protagonist that came across your desk, that presence would go down enough so that it didn't look ridiculous.

As a final aside, the "No More Mutants" agenda does something else: It removes one half of the X-Men's rationale for existence. If so many mutants go away, and no new mutants replace them, Xavier is going to run out of students for that school of his pretty darn quick. Eventually, we'll be back to the 90s days of the "Xavier Institute," where they were just another team of superheroes who happen to live in a mansion. And with so few mutants, helping the good ones and protecting the world from the bad ones won't take up too much of their time either. This reset (and that's what it is, essentially removing every element introduced into the concept by Grant Morrison so that the safe and familiar status quo can be maintained) severely curtails story potential, and that's the last thing Marvel should be doing with any of its properties.

How sickeningly ironic is it that a series with evolution as its core theme is being made impervious to change?

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