As much as I enjoyed House of M, its aftermath pretty much retconned one of the major reasons I like the Marvel Universe.
Stan Lee proposed what he calls a “lazy” approach to an origin story: mutants. Lee would often get bored or stuck having to write longwinded superpower back stories for characters. His now timeless solution was to invent mutants, using ‘genetics’ as a springboard for new characters.
I would hardly call it a lazy approach – it’s why I prefer Marvel. Mutants are not only a fun concept to play with in terms of their powers, but offer entertaining and uncontrived plots.
Additionally, they allow for some thinly veiled metaphors throughout. You can see it as racial politics, gender equality or gay rights activity. I find this particularly amusing as Sir Ian Mckellan’s portrayal of Magneto tied in quite nicely with movements around the same time and in X2, the ‘coming out’ scene with Iceman really hits the nail on the head.
Most recently, you had the not particularly subtle allusions to the Holocaust present in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Whether intentional or not, it’s a surprisingly effective tool to educate on history that’s both real and not too distant from the present.
Characters fight and debate over mutant related issues all the time (amusingly fighting with the abilities that others seek to eliminate, which I think is a hilarious comparison to the real world). A particular favourite story arc of mine was when the Church of Humanity stepped in as the X-Men’s main villains, throwing in conspiracy, religion and politics into a melting pot of genetics and real world issues!
Following in a similar vein, there is mutant-based escort service (introducing the character of Stacy X), hinting at real world fetishism (even though they missed a golden opportunity for a tentacle-porn joke), or drug rings whose narcotics temporarily grants the user mutant abilities.
Many of these issues of the real world were critical to the X-Men and Marvel’s mutant multiverse in general. Not only discrimination and mutant rights issues thinly veiled as “superpowers”, but much more than that.
Even in the television animations, politics was key. It wouldn’t be nearly as compelling without it. The film franchises also drive mutant politics as mentioned above. If it was just superpowers, it’s doubtful the X-Men would have been as reincarnated as they have been over the years.
Beware spoilers now. In the aftermath of House of M, when Scarlett Witch declares “No More Mutants”, it shakes the very foundation of what I feel the Marvel Universe is based on. I got into Marvel because I thought mutants were a cool concept. After House of M (although I shall try to avoid exact details to prevent spoiling everything), the mutant population dwindles to the point that they compare themselves to Holocaust survivors, some even living on mutant reservations.
The war was fought and the good guys lost. I don’t like the change in the landscape. Although admittedly, it is quite interesting to see that Marvel isn’t following a steady state of returning the universe back to the same continuous ambience, instead pushing and driving change like real world politics.
I still don’t like it, however. I never used to read Avengers, I used to focus solely on X-Men, but this was the turning point for me, as Avengers started to get political, with the Dark Avengers, Siege, Civil War, etc. That’s not to say, however, that everything is terrible in X-Men. I find some aspects of how individual mutants try to cope remarkably fascinating. A depowered Quicksilver is somewhat bizarre, but I like it and Beast and Dark Beast trying to team up to resurrect hope for mutant kind are also worth a read. But everything after that I find betrays the reason I signed up for the Marvel thrill ride, but that could just be me getting nostalgic about Marvel’s good old days.