Powerless: Reed & McCann on "What If? House of M"

In the 2005's "House of M," the mutant Scarlet Witch used her reality-warping powers to create a world where mutants were the dominant species. At the end of the story, when the former Avenger also known as Wanda Maximoff discovered she'd been manipulated into creating that world, she used her mutant abilities to put reality back in place, but with one caveat: "No more mutants!"

This now famous three words lead to a drastic re-shaping of the Marvel Universe, where hundreds if not thousands of mutants lost their powers forever.

But what if things had gone differently? What if instead of just focusing on mutants, the Scarlet Witch decided to cast a wider net and declare, "No more powers!" This December, writers Brian Reed & Jim McCann and artist Paolo Pantalena examine such a possible world in the one-shot "What if? House of M." CBR News spoke with Reed and McCann about the book.

In the reality of "What If? House of M," the Scarlet Witch erased super powers from the face of the world, but heroes and villains are still locked in an eternal struggle. The difference is that in this world, they've turned to technology to help them fight their battles. "Wanda says, 'No more powers.' From that moment on, there are no powers whatsoever; that means no mutations, no irradiated blood, no gamma bomb induced transformations, and even no magic. It's like all access to these things has been cut off" Jim McCann told CBR News. "So we took a look at things and decided that the one thing which would be left is technology; because as a species mankind has used technology to help themselves out, and sometimes it's been used for nefarious purposes as well."

"What If? House of M" opens the morning after the Scarlet Witch removed super powers from the Marvel Universe. "We see the instant fallout around the globe. In the first few pages, we get a sense of what's happened to the whole planet," Brian Reed explained. "Then we really start to narrow it down and focus on a certain set of characters for the story."

Many of Marvel's villains already derive their "powers" from technology. As such, heroes are in much greater demand in the world of "What If? House of M." "We still have our own form of 'Decimation,' the event that came after 'House of M,' except ours is a bit more literal in that we kill a lot of people," McCann remarked. "We kind of decimate the Marvel Universe and it really comes down to power and responsibility. Is it the power that makes you the hero or is it what's inside?"

To help answer those questions, Reed and McCann chose to focus their story on two primary characters, Iron Man and Spider-Man. "Iron Man takes on this burden of responsibility," McCann said. "There are other heroes in little pockets around the world but because of the technological nature of his powers, Iron Man is one of the few heroes left in the world. He's pretty much doing things all on his own. Since he's one of the only ones left with it, Iron Man represents power and we thought who better for responsibility than Peter Parker? And as Peter knows, 'With great power comes great responsibility,' but in this new world, does no power mean no responsibility?"

"We're really seeing the different sides of the world from them," Reed said. "Peter suddenly can't put on the tights and go swing around anymore. So what does he does he do with his life? Versus Tony, who realizes, 'Oh my god! Everyone I've ever leaned on is gone! I'm the only one left!' So he does what he does and takes that thought to the extreme."

In "What if? House of M," Tony Stark has an even bigger reason to be worried because as the cover of the one-shot shows, he's up against the Red Skull, and the villain is armed with something that gives him ultimate power in a super-powerless world. "At that point in time, the Red Skull had the Cosmic Cube," McCann revealed. "So why not make a power play and fill the vacuum left by the other villains that were taken out by 'House of M?'"

Readers have no doubt noticed that on the cover of "What If? House of M," the Red Skull is clad mysteriously in the armor of Doctor Doom. Reed explained, "We started with Doom and I think it was because we had one of those fanboy-style moments. I hadn't written Doom yet, so it was like 'Hey! I know! I'm going to write Doctor Doom!' and Jim was of course suffering from the diseases that all first-time Marvel writers get, which makes them want to touch every toy in the toy box. So [editor] Tom Brevoort rightfully pointed out to us that Doom was in Hell at that point [following the now classic 'Unthinkable' storyline in 'Fantastic Four' by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo].

"So we could either use a cockamamie way to bring Doom back or use the Red Skull, who was there and had the Cosmic Cube. And as soon as we agreed to use the Red Skull everything clicked. We realized he was better than what we were trying to do. So it was a nice moment of being told no and realizing it's better this way."

"It was kind of cool to be told no because it challenged us," McCann agreed. "And like a child with a toy I said, 'Well Doom's body is in hell but I went back and read the Waid-'Ringo stuff! I know where his armor is! So that leads to a really fun/sick moment in our story."

Reed and McCann's one-shot is an action packed tale, which moves along at a brisk pace. "We had 27 pages to play with a story that could have been six issues, easily," Reed said. "So we get right down to the bone rather quickly."

Because "What If? House of M" examines a world where many of the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe suddenly find themselves powerless, it's a darkly toned story. "We stay true to the Marvel roots," McCann remarked. "Marvel has always been gritty and real world. So we take a real honest look at what would happen. That said, though, it's not like we end things on a sour note."

Brian Reed and Jim McCann have been amazed by the way their story has been brought to life by Paolo Pantalena, who was discovered in C.B. Cebulski's Chester-Quest talent search for Marvel Comics. "[Paolo's artwork is] really hyper-kinetic and reminds me of an amalgam of J. Scot Campbell, Joe Madureira, and Harvey Tolibao," McCann said.

The two writers are also very pleased with the artwork that adorns the exterior of "What If? House of M," courtesy of Jimmy Cheung and Marko Djurdjevic . "It's so great. It really pops and stands out. Like the rest of the big boy writers, I love having a cover to use as my MySpace avatar!" McCann laughed."

Brian Reed agreed, "It never gets old, even after a year of the 'Illuminati' miniseries and seeing Jimmy's sketches and pages. When the first sketch of the Red Skull showed up I was like, 'That's going to be so cool.'"

While the two writers enjoyed collaborating together on "What If? House of M," the duo were surprised at the amount of continuity-specific work involved in crafting their one-issue tale. "Your initial impression of a 'What If?' story is that you can go, 'I'll write whatever the hell I want.' But no, there's a logic to it," Reed explained. "A 'What If?' story is harder to write than a mainstream Marvel book because you really have to be beholden to the continuity. I joked that this went through more editors and more notes just about continuity than anything we wrote in the 'Illuminati' miniseries. With that series we went, 'Okay, Here's our story.' Then Tom Brevoort would give us a couple of continuity notes so we'd fit in things in. With this project, we got notes from every corner of the Marvel offices!"

Brian Reed is of course an established solo writer, but he's also known for his previous collaborations with veteran comics writer Brian Michael Bendis on "The Illuminati" and "Spider-Woman: Origin." Jim McCann works mainly as part of Marvel's marketing and publicity team. Reed and McCann outlined "What If? House of M" together, but McCann wrote the first draft of the story on his own.

"Because this was Jim's first full script, I threw him into the deep end of the pool and said, 'Go write the first draft,'" Reed said. "I did that because that's what [Brian Michael] Bendis did to me when we started 'Spider-Woman: Origin.' We hashed out the outline and he said, 'Okay go write the script.' And there's nothing quite as scary as sitting there that first time and going, 'Um . . . page 1."

"Brian is being very truthful, there's nothing quite like seeing that blank page and the little cursor that never stops blinking, but it helped me immensely," McCann said. "So thank you, Brian. I had done two eight-page stories prior to this but a full issue is really daunting. It did help to know, though, that I had a safety net in the form of someone who could swoop in and say, 'Okay, this is where it went wrong."

"The germ of the idea for this story was entirely Jim's," Reed confirmed. "And there's an energy you get when two people write something that you don't get with one. It's always fun to collaborate with someone because you've got your own thought process and everybody else has their own, and when the two collide you sometimes get some really cool things; stuff that I didn't think of and never would have thought of. There's stuff that Jim brought in where I went, 'Oh that's genius!"

McCann also enjoyed the collaborative process with Reed because of how much he learned about writing. "Brian's experience really shined through and taught me so much," McCann said. "His first six pages of the story are amazing and completely changed mine. It was like, 'Oh my god! This is such a better way of getting this story across.'"

Now that he's completed work on "What If? House of M," Jim McCann is enjoying the feeling of having finished his first full length Marvel comic book. "It feels amazing," he confessed. "It's really exciting and it helps me feel more confident on my next project. It's a four issue miniseries that I can't talk about yet, but I'm more confident tackling that now then I was prior to 'What If? House of M.'

"Also I really want to thank Brian, Marvel, and the fans. This has been an amazing experience and I look forward to seeing everybody's reaction to the book."

"What If? House of M" goes on sale in December from Marvel Comics.

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