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Nov 26

Generation X #3-9

Posted on Sunday, November 26, 2017 by Paul in x-axis

We are distressingly far behind on Generation X, so you’ll forgive me if I crash through a bunch of issues in one go in order to catch up.  These aren’t a single storyline – in fact, it’s pretty much four stories.  But at the same time, Generation X is settling into a teen soap mode, with different characters taking turns in the driving seat.  So maybe it’s for the best to look at them in the round, since of this batch, only issue #4 really operates like a team book.

In fact, despite the title, and the continuing appearance of characters from the original Generation X (Husk shows up in these issues, to join Chamber and Jubilee), there’s no actual Generation X team here.  What there is is Jubilee’s school class, who have been singled out as the kids who probably aren’t going to make it as X-Men and will have to be gently channelled into some other sort of productive life, if only anyone could think of what that might be.  They don’t even get costumes, just school uniforms.

How much sense that makes varies from character to character.  Benjamin Deeds, who comes from Brian Bendis’s run on Uncanny X-Men, changes shape to look like people nearby; Nathaniel Carver senses the history of an object when he touches it; Eye-Boy, from Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men, has superhuman perception and is covered in extra eyes.  These guys are not obviously suited to being superheroes and don’t particularly want to be either; they’re at the school to learn how to control their powers and to take refuge from the world in the meantime.  Nature Girl, a background character from Wolverine and the X-Men who never even spoke before this series, has more obviously useful powers to talk to animals and plants, but mainly just wants to commune with nature and ignore everyone else’s agenda.  Bling!, a Peter Milligan creation who got a bit of page time in Mike Carey’s X-Men Legacy, has never previously wanted to be a superhero but suddenly gets a lot more agitated about it after being assigned to this group – more because she’s terrified of being sent back to the real world than because she wants to be in this one.

And then there’s Quentin Quire, easily the marquee character of this bunch, who has top-tier powers and is meant to be a future host for the Phoenix.  Ostensibly he’s here because he doesn’t have the attitude to be an X-Man, but the fact remains that he’s wildly out of kilter with the rest of the team.  Of course, that can be a feature rather than a bug; and there’s a nagging suspicion that he’s meant to be here in order to knock some humility into him, rather than because the X-Men serious expect him to drop out.

These characters come from a range of different books, and by 2017 standards the series is surprisingly keen to pick up on earlier continuity.  It’s not that surprising to get a reference to Bling!’s previous run-in with Emplate in X-Men Legacy, when the book is already following up on M / Emplate storyline from the last Uncanny X-Men run.  It’s slightly more unusual to bother picking up on the fact that Quentin was hanging around with Krakoa when he was last seen over in Mighty Thor.  It’s less common to dust off a largely forgotten character like Face from the previous New Mutants run.  But a scene discussing Wolverine: Saudade, a decade-old one-shot originally published in French?

Considering the weight of continuity – and the number of its own plot threads being juggled – Christina Strain does well to avoid getting bogged down.  It’s probably a smart move to keep each story focussed on a few characters and not try to shoehorn everyone into every plot, even if it does make the series slightly bitty.

So these issues have four main threads.  There’s a building friendship between Nature Girl and Eye-Boy, as the two outcasts – which is probably the least interesting of the bunch, since even though Nature Girl has more of a personality now, it’s a rather heavy handed one that largely consists of her sardonically lamenting the awfulness of humans.  Still, she makes a decent foil for Trevor.  There’s Bling! off on her own trying to decide what she wants to do with her life.  There’s Jubilee and Chamber trying to track down M/Emplate, who escapes a run in with the whole group in issue #4 (not a hugely challenging exercise, it must be said) and is now living in the tunnels under Central Park trying to prey on the mutants.  And there’s a sort of romantic / friendship triangle between Quentin, Nathaniel and Benjamin, which has some decent ideas for all three characters; it’s maybe a bit obvious to make Quentin quietly desperate to have someone to hang out with, but you’ve got to moderate him to some extent or he’s going to be intolerable to have around on a monthly basis.

The book is on stronger territory with character work than with superhero plotting.  It’s fair enough to set up the idea that M is lurking in the tunnels under Central Park, but to follow it immediately in issue #5 with another villain living in the tunnels under the park seems repetitive.  Issues #6-7, where Quentin, Ben and Nathaniel try to stage a heist on Kade Killgore, is stronger, even though the hoax pay-off is a bit underwhelming.  And issues #8-9, which involve a rescue mission after Krakoa shows up looking for Quentin and causes all sorts of collateral damage, feel a bit directionless; the centrepiece is meant to be Jubilee trapped underground and getting more and more desperate for blood, but putting her with Bling! undermines the scene because even if she lost control, she surely couldn’t bite through Bling!’s skin anyway.  But there are still good ideas in here, like Shogo being terrified by seeing Jubilee in vampire mode.

There’s a lot of artists here.  Amilcar Pinna draws issues #3-4 and #8-9; compared with the first couple of issues, he’s growing on me.  The character work is strong, which is the most important thing here; the sense of place feels a bit flat on the early issues but gets much better towards the end.  Eric Koda, on issues #6-7, has a slightly lighter touch and a more cartoony quality, which I generally prefer.  What’s consistent throughout is that this stuff is dense, with a lot of content on each page.

It does feel at times like an anthology series cutting between several unrelated storylines, but this book is growing on me.  Hopefully the threads will start to come together in the end, but I’m happy for them to take their time.

Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    The title must detract from potential sales. Hey hep cats, here’s comics about your dad’s generation!

  2. Brendan says:

    @Si, Millennials are buying X-Men comics?

  3. Mikey says:

    This is a fun, weird little book. I do find myself in a Stepford Cuckoos situation with Quentin, Benjamin, and Nathaniel. They all have different hair, but I constantly mix them up. I wish they were drawn to be more distinct from one another.

    This was a huge issue during Bendis’ run when the Cuckoos, Emma Frost, and Magik were all drawn with the same face and hair.

    It’s generally one of the ways the New X-Men team was so visually successful, because their mutations were all visible and unique.

  4. Joseph says:

    It’s probably for the best that they’ve walked back Ey-Boy a bit but it’s a too much to portray him as completely green and incompetent. He kicked ass with Wolverine in the Savage Land, got upgrades from Mojo and a mystical trinket from Dr. Strange. His powers lend themselves to combat, especially if trained in the use of a weapon, rather like a character such as Prodigy. Benjamin Deeds and Nathaniel could certainly be useful in non-combat situations, but Eye-Boy doesn’t feel like he’s of the same class as those types.

    It’s been a bit uneven but overall a decently enjoyable take and has juggled the cast decently.

  5. cwolfe says:

    Agree that it’s a little odd to see Eye-Boy being dialed back after the work done to establish him as someone with real potential as an X-Man.

  6. Si says:

    Millennials probably aren’t buying X-Men comics, but they’d be the presumed audience for a highschool misfits book. And they are reading Marvel comics, if the letters page of Squirrel Girl are anything to go by.

    I don’t know if the title would keep kids away, but I’m pretty sure when I was a kid I wouldn’t want to read … well Baby Boomer is a pretty exciting name actually, but you get what I mean.

  7. Brian says:

    Ever since the days of Cypher in New Mutants. I’ve always been confused about how the Xavier School seems to use mutants with non-combat powers, training them in the same isolated environment as the folks with laser nipples. Nathaniel Carver shouldn’t be in an X-Men school; with his powers, he should be training in museum work and taking after-school training in controlling his powers. A book of non-Xavier Institute mutants meeting up on weekends and breaks might actually be a more interesting book, as it could delve into different environments than another failed school book (which needs those “enemies attack the school” stories for plot’s sake).

  8. Joseph says:

    @Brian That was kind of the promise of NYX, which unfortunately never got off the ground due to terrible delays. But yeah, a book focusing on mutant teens with no connection to the Xavier school, ideally somewhere other than NYC would be a welcome change. But it’d need to be character driven somehow, or have some grand concept, and those seem few and far between at the Big Two these days. I suppose a book like They’re Not Like Us is a bit like that.

  9. Moo says:

    I’ve never been keen on New Mutants and its successor books. In theory, they’re not supposed to be jumping through the same hoops as the X-Men. In practice, that’s precisely what they usually end up doing. They go off and have adventures and fight bad guys just as the X-Men do. It makes Xavier and the X-Men look like hopelessly incompetent supervisors for not being able to keep the kids in class.

    I can appreciate that “mutant kids just going to school” is a tough sell, but if they’re going to be “same as the X-Men, but younger” then you’re just doing X-Men.

  10. Thom H. says:

    @Moo: Yeah, there were only so many times Prof. X could scold the New Mutants for going off on some adventure before it became obvious that maybe they weren’t the ones at fault.

    It made more sense when the X-Men weren’t around (e.g., in space) because *someone* had to do the super-heroing while they were gone. And there were always those graduation costumes in the attic tempting the young students to take on more responsibility than they could handle.

    But that’s back when there were only like 2 dozen or so mutants milling around. Now when something needs doing, Marrow and Lifeguard can take care of it or whatever.

  11. Si says:

    To be fair, New Mutants didn’t do a lot of active superheroing per se until fairly late in the run. They just kept finding themselves in situations where they had to superhero.

    So basically there was no brooding on rooftops or tracking down whatever Trask was building sentinels this time, but lots of realising the consequences of having a demon from hell on the team, or not sitting down for five minutes to figure out if that demon bear Dani had been seeing since like issue 3 might be a problem. They didn’t even really get involved much with Supervillians Attacking The Mansion.

    So Xavier never had a reason to scold them (because a lot of it was his fault), and they still got their Phoo Action on. It was kind of clever how Claremont made it work.

  12. Taibak says:

    Si: To be fair, it’s not like Claremont’s X-Men did a lot of active superheroing either. A lot of his typical plots involved the team minding their own business and randomly being attacked.

  13. Voord 99 says:

    Hey! The New Mutants did a *lot* of brooding. Just not on rooftops. 🙂

    But I can say that when I was young, none of this bothered me at all. It would be like complaining that the parents or other adults in Enid Blyton books were delinquent, because the little xenophobes in their care kept being endangered by evil foreigners with beards in old smuggler’s caves.

    So I think one has to accept as a price of entry this convention of adventure stories with protagonists who are minors, that adults are negligent in real-world terms and yet still regarded within the world of the story as responsible adults.

    Although not “realistic,” I think this does capture something real about being a child or teenager: that sense that you inhabit your own secret social world with its own rules, a world that adults do not understand well enough to be of much use in dealing with your problems.

    Or did capture something real, anyway. There’s been a certain shift in how children are brought up. The expectation nowadays is that children and teenagers will be under closer adult supervision than was normal (or in the absence of cellphones, possible) in the 1980s. (How many New Mutants stories would have been shut down if it had been possible for Sam Guthrie to say “Jes’ let me call the Professor so Ah kin tell him what y’all’re plannin’ to do”?) I’ve read a number of observations about how parents also have more intimate and familiar emotional relationships with their children than used to be the case (manifesting in helicopter parenting, the phenomenon of female college students describing their mother as their best friend, etc.)

    Not sure how well all that would hold up to a sustained sociological study — it’s basically journalism and anecdotal personal observations that I’ve read or (gulp) made. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the sense of separateness, of the world of the child and the world of the teenager and the world of the adult as being each in their own sphere, is a lot weaker nowadays, and the convention that in this type of story the children/teenagers go off and do their own thing is less powerful nowadays. Although the success of Harry Potter argues for clanky old school story tropes like that still having a remarkably degree of purchase on young people’s imaginations.

  14. Nu-D says:

    “It would be like complaining that the parents or other adults in Enid Blyton books were delinquent, because the little xenophobes in their care kept being endangered by evil foreigners with beards in old smuggler’s caves.”

    Well there’s a comparison that failed to deliver, to this reader, anyhow.

    Regardless, I agree with the first point that the NMU adventures do resonate with a particular adolescent and pre-adolescent experience. We used to be out of sight from our supervising adult for hours on end, and we got ourselves into our fair share of trouble. From smoking at the gravel pit to looking at stolen playboy magazines to a little light vandalism. The only difference is in NMU the adventures are grander because it’s a fantasy magazine. It takes a common experience and elaborates it into a grand fantasy instead of the banal teenage hijinks we were all up to.

    I have no opinion whether things have changed in the *gulp* 30-years since I was of that age. But I suspect there are still lots of kids still imagining their first experiences of freedom are grand adventures.

  15. Moo says:

    It wasn’t an issue of plausibility or realism with me so much as the fact that the New Mutants series was basically the same book as Uncanny X-Men but with less interesting characters (to me). Had it been more like the series Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson (then Jones) were saying it was going to be in interviews prior to launch, maybe I might have liked it more.

    I mean, they fast-tracked it just to prevent Mark Gruenwald from doing an “X-Men West” book that he’d already pitched to Shooter. But New Mutants, as delivered, may as well have been an X-Men West. It just wasn’t strikingly different from what Uncanny was doing.

  16. Michael says:

    Back in the early-to-mid ’90s, I wrote a fanfic series that was all about a third school for mutants, which was neutral instead of “good” like Xavier’s or “bad” like the Massachusetts Academy. While they did have uniforms and codenames and training squads, they also aimed for preparing students for the real world, and not just “go fight evil.”

    One of my favorite storylines involved a mutant job fair, where all the major factions could come and set up a booth and sell you on their ideas. 🙂

    Sadly, it’s all lost to time, since it was posted to the now-defunct GEnie, way before -everything- was saved on the Internet. But hey, I got to work with Keith “King of All Media Tie-Ins” DeCandido and Jeremy “Go West” Bottroff.

  17. Voord 99 says:

    @Moo: I think there are a couple of things that relate to that. First, it was still a Marvel superhero comic — nowadays (thanks largely to manga, I suspect), I think we take for granted that a children and YA comic about school can be about “normal” school.

    But in the context of a 1980’s superhero comic, there seemed to be a lot of “school for superheroes” to New Mutants: relationship with an adult mentor (Magneto was more interesting to me than Xavier, and still is), doing the classic superhero evil-doppelganger thing as a rival school, coming-of-age narrative stuff, and so on. This was about translating school story tropes into superhero-genre terms.

    So (in context) that did make it feel different from UXM. For the first time since the ‘60s, the “school story” aspect was back.* New Mutants was basically the original Lee/Kirby X-Men concept updated for the exciting modern world of the ‘80s.

    By the same token, though, compared to something that isn’t a superhero book, this is going to seem a lot like UXM, because it’s about doing a school story as an X-book. But you could also say, when you get down to it, there’s not that much that makes UXM different from Fantastic Four or Justice League of America if you compare them to something outside superheroes altogether. In every case, it’s “a superhero comic, but in this one the superheroes are….”

    Obviously NM has more in common with UXM, because it’s got those same Claremont qualities: soap-opera plotting, interest in characterization, hellishly awful attempts to represent accents, etc. I would compare his later run on Fantastic Four (better than it’s given credit for – it’s a shame he didn’t do it much earlier in his career, before his style had dated so much): just as NM is “Claremont does school,” his FF is “Claremont does family.”

    Which brings me to my second point. NM *was* an X-book, and to like it I think you have to want more X-bookiness. (Plenty of people did, obviously.). In fact, my frustration with it was that it didn’t tie into UXM enough – these people didn’t run into another anything like as often as I would have liked — or as often as people who all lived in the same mansion should have! (I assume that this was so that each book could stand on its own without requiring one to buy the other one.)

    As for the characters, YMMV (and does, obviously). I’m the reverse. The traditional classic X-Men line-up never had the purchase on my imagination that the original classic New Mutants did. This probably has a lot to do with the age that I was when I was reading the books.

    But, in defense of Young Me’s preferences, I do think that the New Mutants as characters benefit from the following. Claremont was able to design them to fit the concept**, while with the classic X-Men he was adapting the line-up that Len Wein and Dave Cockrum partially created, partially pulled from pre-existing characters — and which they put together with the somewhat different purpose in mind of creating a “superheroes, but they’re international” book.

    The original classic New Mutants have been put together with Claremont soap-opera as the goal: note, for instance, how Dani’s power is basically designed to create emotional plot points far more than it’s designed for action stories. And they were all designed to bounce off one another. I think this might be why they don’t revive so well, at least in that original line-up, despite the nostalgia button that they so easily press for so many people: they’re all designed to be teenagers in a coming-of-age narrative, and once they’ve actually come of age, they never feel quite right.

    *With the partial exception of Kitty Pryde, obviously, but a central aspect of a school story is that it’s about interactions between school-aged people. Kitty’s situation is weird, and only intelligible in the context of the tradition of figures like Johnny Storm. It had much less purchase on the life of an actual young person than the New Mutants’ situation did.

    **I’m not 100% sure about Karma, who Claremont created, but for Marvel Team-Up – I don’t know if he could have already had her in mind for New Mutants at that point. But Karma is relatively soon effectively written out of the book for a large portion of Claremont’s run.

  18. Moo says:

    Okay, that’s good and all but I still didn’t care for it.

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