House of M is one of the best Marvel "event" TPBs I've read to date. I sort of wish I'd read the prior main story arcs – Avengers Disassembled and the end of the X-Men run by Bendis – as I felt a little out of the loop at the start of this story, but on scanning their Wikipedia entries, maybe not 😂 It's not that House of M leaves you too confused – it does try quite hard to fill in the blanks – but the beginning lacks some level of gravitas because you don't know where the characters (particularly the Avengers) stand with one another.
Once the story gets going though, it had me hooked. From the moment that Wanda warps reality, the story comes into its own, with some very clever ideas. As with all graphic novels I wish there had been a little more time and space to really sit in that concept, but unlike most big story arcs I felt that pacing and character focus were pretty much spot on. The focus is placed where it matters, and the rest of the (enormous) cast are given just enough narrative time to make their presence clear and consistent.
Best of all, the story keeps you guessing at what's really going on. I thought the way they broke free of Wanda's wish was actually fairly clever: she has created a world where (as much as possible) people get what they truly want. For Wolverine, that means he finally gets his memory back, the opposite of everyone else, whose memories are stripped from them. He is therefore able to break free of Wanda's spell immediately, whilst the new mutant/hero/possibly the part of Wanda's psyche still hanging in there, Layla, becomes a useful foil for breaking some of the others out as well. It's at this point that the story gets particularly clever. They could easily have just had a bunch of fights, as they subdue individual heroes or mutants and unlock their true memories, but instead they really focus on the ramifications to these characters of a world where they get want they actually want.
Peter Parker is still Spider-Man, but he doesn't need to hide his identity, Gwen and Uncle Ben are both still alive, and the former is his wife and mother of his child. So when they snap him out of Wanda's hold, he has to deal with a lot. Not only are his loved ones now alive – but won't be any more if they do the right thing and reset her spell – but when given his ultimate wish, he doesn't choose MJ. In fact, without him, MJ has gone on to be a major Hollywood star, a feat even more impressive in a world where Sapiens (non-mutants) like her are deemed second-class citizens. So Spidey has to reckon with the reality that his perfect world is a lie; his actual wife doesn't even factor into his ideal fantasy; and that, without him, she is much better off. Luke Cage gets a similar deal, no longer being with his long-term partner Jessica Jones in this reality, whilst still finding himself largely locked out of society; Emma Frost and Cyclops are married and seemingly happy, which throws them both through a loop; Mystique is a member of S.H.I.E.L.D; and, possibly most shockingly, Hawkeye is alive and aware that setting the world back to order means that he doesn't make it.
Other heroes are never brought out of the fantasy Wanda has created, either because they were too hard to track down, or because those that had been freed decide it's better to let them be. In a poignant moment, the elderly Steve Rogers is left to get on with his life as a retiree, to continue living out his preferred world where he's never frozen, gets to be with his friends and loved ones as they grow old, and then returns to Brooklyn to see out his days in peace. It's very Endgame and a generally nice touch.
Then, just when you think they've got most of it figured out, they do bring out the big hero vs hero battle, and it's surprisingly entertaining. With the "royalty" of the new world united, the freed heroes must face off against Namor, Doom, Storm, Magneto (and family), and T'Challa at a big celebration. It's fun, although at times the art style is a bit messy, particularly with the placement of text bubbles – a constant criticism actually. I mean, in one panel early on half the text is literally cut off the bottom of the page, which just looks like a printing error!
With the battle underway, though, we finally get some answers, and again the series doesn't disappoint. Far from this being Magneto's doing, he is just as much a pawn as everyone else. Instead, Pietro is the mastermind behind the plan, in a last-ditch attempt to save his sister. It's a nice touch, but the ramifications are enormous. Not only does Magneto turn on his son when he learns the truth, but the resultant damage sends Wanda even further into her madness and utters the infamous words: no more mutants.
So the story of the House of M closes, and with ramifications that feel (even now) quite extraordinary. The mutant population is reduced by 99%, several (more) heroes are dead, others like Cage and Parker are reeling with their own grief over the world they've lost, the people who were missing, and the weight of the knowledge they now possess, whilst the rest are left to be confused, with most unaware of any of what occurred. Even smaller tweaks, like Logan now remembering his whole past, are fairly huge in what they might mean. It's a crossover done right, with compelling story work, interesting character development, consistent plot direction, and a genuine impact on the wider Marvel world.