Waiting for the Trade – Masters of Evil

House of M: Masters of Evil

written by Christos N. Gage, illustrated by Mannuel Garcia

collects House of M: Masters of Evil #1-4

Why I Bought This: I like villain-centric titles and this was sitting in a 75% off discount bin at the local comic store.

The Plot: We see what life is like in the House of M reality for the super villains who usually fight the Avengers. (House of M was a crossover in which Scarlet Witch created a timeline wherein Magneto conquered the world allowing mutants to flourish at the expense of humans.)

(spoilers below)

Chapter 1 – The Hood assembles the Masters of Evil, whose members include: Sandman, Crossbones, Madame Masque, Absorbing Man, Titania, The Wrecking Crew, Batroc, Cobra, Mr. Hyde, Wizard, Blizzard, Chemistro, Nitro and Bushwhacker. He proposes banding together to use their powers to succeed in this pro-mutant system. (Despite their super powers none of these characters are mutants). Bushwhacker doesn’t think Hood should be in charge so Hood offs him while demonstrating his teleport cape thus promising any villain who gets arrested that he can free them from jail. We then get a recap of Hood’s origin: small time crook finds a magic cape in warehouse that allows him to channel demonic energy, and Hood makes his (non-powered) brother promise to watch over his ex-wife and kid should this plan go south. The next night the Masters trash a factory that builds Sentinels (Magneto’s police force in this reality) and take down a few of the robots in the process. This allows them to steal gold stored in the factory too, but the attack causes a groundswell of support for the group from the oppressed human minority. This inspires Hood to plan an even more public heist for their next outing.

Chapter 2 – In his secret identity Hood becomes the leader of civil rights movement for humans. As they hold a big rally which ties up police resources, his fellow crooks rob Wall Street. Hood then tells a story about how the mob used an Italian-American rights group for the same effect in history. Hood and Madame Masque begin a love affair. SHIELD tasks its Red Guard to arrest the Masters; the Red Guard members are Sebastian (Black King) Shaw, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Mystique, Jessica (Spider Woman) Drew, Toad & Wolverine. The Red Guard catches up with Cobra, Batroc, Blizzard, Mr. Hyde, Absorbing Man and Titania. Rogue’s power absorption touch causes a feedback that KO’s Absorbing Man. With him down the Guard overruns everyone who isn’t Titania with ease and then by sheer numbers manage to take her down in the end too. We learn the captured villains are immune to telepathy thanks to Hood’s magic, so the Guard is resorting to torture to try and get information from them. Hood leads the rest of his team into the Carrier and they overrun the Guard with ease and free their comrades. Hood then decides they need to form their own country for protection.

Chapter 3 – The Masters choose Santa Rico, an island nation south of Mexico that is rich in gold for the villains to plunder. It is ruled by the Jeffries Bros (of Alpha Flight in the 80s) whom have been subjecting their human prisoners to terrible mutations giving the Masters political cover for their actions. A couple members of the Wrecking Crew die in the fight, but ultimately the Masters prevail and kill the Jeffries. Hood then declares Santa Rico, a homeland for humans and uses Magneto’s own precedent with Genosha for the media. Masque encourages Hood to accept the love of the ordinary people in this nation and give up the con. He walks the city and agrees to go all in. In the cliffhanger we see Magneto is not pleased with Santo Rico’s existence.

Chapter 4 – Hood turns over the gold to his colleagues. He says those who were in it for the money can take it and go, but he intends to stay and fight for the political cause. Meanwhile, SHIELD kidnaps Nitro then mind controls him into blowing up a mutant war memorial surrounded by civilians to give Magneto pretense to invade. Batroc and Blizzard choose to stay behind, the rest of the villains leave. Hood tells Masque to leave so that she doesn’t die with him. Later Absorbing Man, Titania, Sandman, Wrecker and Constrictor agree to stay with Hood as well. The assault on the island is led by the Red Guard with reserve members Marrow, Sasquatch, Sabra, Micromax, and Diamond Lil pulled in and also includes a ton of Sentinels, the Hellicarrier and rank and file SHIELD agents. We get an epic fight with casualties on both sides, though the Masters get the worst of it. Masque returns at the last minute and she and Hood die back to back. Ultimately only Absorbing Man and Titania are left, so he picks his wife up and throws her off the island to safety. He then fights on, until the mutants bring in telepaths to shut his brain down and kill him. In the epilogue we see Titania becomes the new leader of the human civil rights movement, which has grown with the martyrdom of the other Masters.

Critical Thoughts: Damn, I liked this book a lot; which is somewhat surprising because I usually have no use for alternate reality tales. What I like best is despite being an alternate reality; the use of prior continuity is really good. All of the villains who stay behind to fight for the island are characters who have been shown to have some heroic traits or honor in prior appearances in the main Marvel Universe. (For example Batroc once helped Cap stop Mr. Hyde when Hyde wanted to detonate a bomb in NYC, Absorbing Man similarly stopped Crossbones from detonating a bomb in NYC and also once tried to give up crime when he first married Titania, Blizzard tried to reform by joining the Thunderbolts, etc.)  Wrecker may be the one exception to the prior good deeds motif but he is given the clear motivation in this story that he wants to avenge his Wrecking Crew teammates who died in chapter 3.

Our main characters in this story, too characters I usually don’t care much for. (Hood in particular has been severely overexposed in Bendis’ Avengers run). Yet they make fine protagonists for this story. Hood has been shown to be an ambitious organizer of lesser villains in Bendis’ work with him, while the family motivation allows his gradual progression of the plot from a con in the beginning to a true political movement feel natural. Hood and Masque’s romantic relationship is also strongly written with plenty of quiet scenes between the two in-between the action scenes.

Speaking of super villain romances, I’ve always really liked Absorbing Man and Titania and they are given a lot of moments to shine here. We also get some fun fight scenes between unusual opponents as these are generally Avengers villains fighting a mix of X-men and X-foes. The art also serves the story well, showing several impressive uses of Absorbing Man’s powers throughout the book, and then delivering emotional beats in the framing of the final doomed battle.

Grade A. This book really delivers on all fronts, especially by being a much stronger character piece than I expected going into it.