I take a look at one of Marvel’s most historically significant events and how the stigma of mental illness plays out drastically within the fictitious world and how it draws direct influences from the headlines and institutions dealing with the mentally ill in our society today.
By: Carefree Black Nerd
When I re-introduced myself to the wonderful world of comic books I went straight for the gold standard: X-Men. As soon as I stepped foot into the comic shop I was pulled, almost magnetically, towards the 2005 trade paperback “House of M”
I practically snatched the book from the top shelve and began feverishly flipping through the pages. I admired the beautiful penciling and vivid coloring. All the while I stood there figuratively drooling over the pages, the only question on my mind was: What is House of M?
House of M is Marvel’s 8 issue limited series and crossover event from 2005. Brian Michael Bendis wrote the event while Olivier Coipel illustrated it. Apparently it was a follow-up event to the effects put in place due to Planet X and Avengers Dissembled. (Both stories I know nothing about thanks to my decade long hiatus). The series began with the Avenger, The Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff) having a nervous breakdown. In this meltdown she used her reality altering powers to recreate her lost children.
In creating the new reality warped world Wanda and Charles Xavier combined their powers to give the assembled avengers and X-Men their hearts desire. Although that concept is nothing new can I just fan out at how amazing of an idea that is and how greatly it was executed in this series. Magneto’s greatest desire seemed to be the most dominant one. His shaped the entire world as a whole. He wanted to be acknowledged as the heroic figure and leader of the mutants (Which is why there is no Charles Xavier in this world). His desires also brought about an explosion in the numbers of the world’s mutant population. In House of M mutants outnumbered and outranked homo sapiens substantially.
In the short amount of time between Wanda’s meltdown and the creation of the new world Charles suggest to Magneto that something must be done to address Wanda’s nonexistent control of her extreme power. Charles heads to Avenger’s Tower in New York City and calls a meeting with the Avengers and the X-Men and a few miscellaneous but significant mutants. He calls this meeting to discuss a solution to Wanda and her terrifying instability. While in the meeting Emma Frost (See Generation X post) demands that they murder Wanda.
And here is where the story gets interesting. Now the X-Men (and mutants in the marvel universe) have been a long standing allegory for persecuted minorities (blacks especially) and the poor treatment they have received by society at large. Although the X-Men brand has evolved since the 60’s this has still been a running theme.
With that historic message in mind both in the comics world and the real world, this story shifted from a large event in the Marvel universe to an analogy of the mental health issues in society but especially in the black community (and how society as a whole treats and mistreats blacks with mental health issues—specifically black women). In this instance Wanda is the representation of a black woman experiencing a mental breakdown.
According to minorityhealth.hhs.gov’s CDC 2012 Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: 2010, the percentage of population with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or that everything is an effort all of the time, among women 18 years of age and over (2010) was a 1.3 average among black women (non-Hispanic) compared to white women.
Emma is a sane, able bodied, hetero normative cis-gendered woman who’s first instinct is to kill her cultural sister because of her “harmful” mental state. Yes, it’s extreme and most people aren’t trying to kill the mentally challenged (heck, it’s a superhero comic book). But what this conversation between panels does is shine a light on how we mishandle women and men who are often seen through the lens of their illness as being monolithic one-note characters. Once these caricatures show any indication of what society doesn’t deem normal or acceptable or even too much of a nuisance to deal with (our homeless population) then the authorities lock them in jails or they’re executed on the street in cold blood. Again these are two extremes but they are two extremes in a series of things that actually happen to the mentally ill.
When reading through this series for the first time I was disgusted at the cast. The story was written well and the conversation was more complex than a simple “let’s just kill her” in a single word bubble. And true enough everyone wasn’t happy about that option and a few voiced their concern but that still didn’t change my mind. My attitude towards the cast remained because of the motivation presented to support the killing of Wanda. That being, in the words of Emma herself
“….if the world found out that an out-of-control mutant with reality-altering powers was out there somewhere with a screw loose it would set mutant/human relations back to the stone age. That would be it for us.”
I can accept that in this world that is probably the most viable option but it was just so jarring to read those words in black and white. As I said before Bendis did an amazing job with this script. The very fact that I was torn between the sensible killings that clearly needed to happen and my emotional response to empathize with Wanda speaks volumes of him. Even now, knowing what needed to be done I still feel like the team dropped the ball. Mainly because for the long history of mutants and omega level mutants in the marvel universe it seemed like there should have been a plan set in place for this and several other possible D-Day scenarios by these teams.
This isn’t the first, second, third or even twentieth event in the marvel universe and they all usually have high stakes for everyone involved and the world at large so since its inception back in the 60’s how on earth did we make it to 2005 and the most viable option is to murder Wanda. Hell there are so many alternate timelines and earths in the multiverse, you mean to tell me that no one could employ the help of a time traveling mutant to find a way to help Wanda?
Stay tuned for CBN’s second installment on House of M
Feature | Season 1 | Issue 1