Monday, December 6, 2010
Generation Hope #2 - A Work of Awesome
Every so often comic companies try to be fancy and reinvent the wheel. They refuse to call it what it is, a cheap gimmick. They'll throw around fancy words like 'jumping on point' or 'exciting' or 'never-before-seen.' It's the same shit dishonest car salesmen use and the same tactics Michael Bay can't resist. If that were really all it took to make something awesome, then Transforms 2: Revenge of the Fallen would have won no fewer than 10 Oscars and the Clone Saga in Spider-Man would have been hailed as the greatest piece of literature since Shakespeare.
For once, a new title has come along that doesn't try to forcibly re-wire the brains of readers. Generation Hope, for better or for worse, is familiar territory for X-fans. It's the exact same drug, but from a different dealer and the high is of a similar potency. Generation Hope essentially acts as an Uncanny X-men 2.0. It literally stems from an arc of Uncanny, following Jean Gre-I mean Hope Summers (sorry, most X-fans know by now how hard it is telling those two apart) as she finds her place in the X-men. The task has fallen onto her to locate a new generation of mutants that have emerged in wake of Second Coming. She managed to form her own little team/cult with a bunch of mutants, sort of in the tradition of Generation X or the Original Five. Writer Kieron Gillen doesn't break new ground nor does he try to. He takes a familiar style and works with it and while he's no Chris Claremont, he did a respectable job setting up this series with the first issue.
The second issue is where the whole novelty factor can no longer be used as a crutch. Some readers are willing to overlook certain shortcomings because the book has that nice shiney #1 on it. It's like aluminum foil to stoners. It'll amuse them for a moment, but they'll lose interest and go for the Doritos unless there's something awesome to be seen in that foil. The first issue of Generation Hope had Jean-I mean Hope seeking the last of the five lights in a disturbed Japanese artist named Kenji. It may have been slightly less damaging if he had just been a Final Fantasy fan, but this kid set himself apart as the equivalent of a young Wolverine. He's arrogant, rebellious, and acts foolishly around pretty redheads. In the ends of the first issue when Je-Hope (I'll get it sooner this time, I promise) confronts Kenji, he doesn't cooperate nearly as much as the other four. He essentially rips off Akira and gives Tokyo the Godzilla treatment.
The story picks up with Hope (there now, happy?) confronts Kenji in the ruins. She tries to give her the Catholic Nun treatment, calling him out on this fucked up sense of art he has that would make Van Goah question his sanity. Kenji tries to play the sympathy card, describing how he's in a butt-load of pain. Seeing as how he's talking to a girl who grew up in an apocalyptic future and was raised by Cable, he'll get about as much sympathy as suspected terrorist by the TSA.
Hope figures out she's not going to get through to this kid. She has a better chance at convincing Pat Robertson to become an atheist. She also figures out this whole Akira style apocalypse isn't exactly as graphic as it seems. It's essentially a trailer at a Harry Potter movie. Kenji has Hope in his grasp and is using his powers to basically make her part of his artwork and for once that's not a plot to a bad softcore porno on Cinemax.
Hope is still trapped, but the rest of the lights along with Cyclops and Wolverine are still free to attack. Keep in mind this takes place before Uncanny X-men #530 so I'm not going to let it affect my review of this book. They emerge to find out there have been some casualties, but barely enough to fill your standard Friday the 13th movie. It could be a lot worse should Kenji choose to reenact Akira on a larger scale. So Cyclops takes on the leadership role in Hope's absence. It's a role he's always played well and given how fucked up he was in the latest issue of Uncanny (still comes off as a dumb ass for that scene with Emma Frost's whole shopping excuse) this is a refreshing batch of characterization on Gillen's part.
It's also an interesting moment in that it further reminds the reader that the new lights like Laurie and Gabriel are still young. They are essentially newly recruited X-men who haven't been trained and are still looking around all starey eyed as if they just got voted onto American Idol despite having less-than-developed performing skills. They come off as a little goofy playing the part of X-men, but that actually works nicely here. Since there have been so few new mutants in wake of M-Day, it's a classic moment involving mutants learning to use their powers to kick ass.
Goofy they may be, the lights do go to work. Cyclops has Rogue absorb Laurie's and Wolverine's abilities so she has some extra firepower. They're tasked with finding Hope and pulling her away from Kenji. This isn't without protest. These lights are loyal to Hope, not Cyclops. They're essentially catering to Paula Abdule while ignoring Simon Cowell. They begin their attack, but then Kenji launches his as well. So they don't even have a chance to look awesome. It shows them just how ridiculously overpowered Japanese teenage boys who happen to be deranged artists can be. Even Magneto himself at this point would consider that excessive.
However, the team soon learns that this attack isn't exactly from Kenji. The team gets another reminder that Hope's powers don't just involve activating new mutants. They involve tapping the mutant abilities around her. She hasn't done that since the end of Second Coming when she made Bastion her prison bitch. For a while it seemed like that power was forgotten, but Hope puts it to use again albeit in an overly destructive way. But seriously, would you expect anything less? It does make their job easier. It allows the lights to get Hope free of Kenji's grasp and with only slightly catastrophic property damage.
Hope is free, but unconscious and out of the fight. Kenji is still going strong though. The fact he no longer has a pretty teenage girl in his grasp has upset him (as losing possession of an unconscious pretty girl tends to do) and he lashes out. He seems intent on making more of this artwork of his. Now it's still not entirely clear what Kenji's angle is here. His his method of artwork simply recreating the old Rampage games without the giant lizards? Yeah, he's crazy and overpowered. A lot of comic characters are, but there still hasn't been much method behind the madness. He's essentially playing crazy rifts on a guitar with no lyrics to his music.
This is where the lights show some of their X-men potential. Gabriel already saved Hope and Laurie already contributed her powers. Now Idie gets her turn, using ice to put out some of the fires Kenji is starting and using fire to dab a little white wash on Kenji's artwork. It's the first time he shows that he can be injured. He's not as unstoppable as Akira even if he is ripping the whole damn movie off. Cyclops, Wolverine, and Rogue use this as an opportunity to go after him while ordering the lights to stay with Hope. Again, they're newbies. This isn't the kind of fight they need to be rushed into in the same way pornstars don't get into bigger productions before getting their appropriate boob-jobs/penis extensions.
Cyclops, Wolverine, and Rogue meet up with Kenji in a park where he puts himself out in a pond. They launch their attack and Rogue tries to absorb him. She immediately regrets this, getting a brief taste of Kenji's madness. It's here where she sheds at least some light on what's making Kenji tick. She says his body and his mind are like Israel and Palestine. They aren't getting along. So it isn't his fault. Like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, it's not his fault and Robin Williams isn't present to hold him while he cries like a baby.
Now this still doesn't explain much. I get that Gillen is trying to offer some insight here, but I'm still scratching my head. So his mind isn't his mind and his body is his mind? That sounds like guru talk from that shitty Michael Meyers movie, The Love Guru. How does that explain his powers? Just what the fuck are his powers and what the fuck is spewing all these batshit comments about needing a canvas for his art? It's an attempt at insight. It just isn't very successful.
The fight doesn't unfold with many details. After only exchanging a few blows, Kenji changes shape again. He goes into some cocoon-like stage and takes on a new form. This one isn't necessarily another Akira ripoff as much as it is an old monster from the Power Rangers TV shows. It's big, it's ugly, it's strong, but it's still pretty damn awesome. I think it counts as Kenji throwing a temper tantrum over being set on fire earlier. Not sure if it's justified, but it is understandable.
This new form begins a fresh round of rampaging and the X-men are pretty much left scratching their heads. Cyclops at this point is getting frustrated. He's already throwing around the Old Yeller method in that he's open to putting Kenji down before he destroys all of Tokyo. It's an extreme tactic, but considering the destruction of a city is looming he can't be blamed for resorting to that. It worked for Bastion, didn't it?
In addition, Hope Summers is still out cold. The rest of the lights seem to sense the danger Kenji's putting himself in, further hinting at a deeper connection between these new mutants. It's not the kind of connection that would prompt a Disney style sing-along, but it does show that they're not going to be able to stay on the sidelines. They're still newbies to the mutant world and they can't sit this one out. They need Hope to pull this one out of the fire or their X-men career will be about as short lived as Brett Favre's acting career.
The issue ends feeling as though it went on longer than it really did. That's not a bad thing though. Given the price of comics these days, it's nice to feel like you're wallet isn't being raped when you pick up a new issue. A lot happens in this comic. There's action, mystery, drama, and an overall continuation of the plot. Kieron Gillen didn't fall into similar traps with the last issue in that he eased up on the Akira rip-offs. Kenji did do a few things to set himself apart this time and the story with Hope and lights continues to unfold in an intriguing way. It really does feel like a classic story of new mutants trying to become X-men the hard way. Generation X fans, New Mutant fans, or just old school X-men fans will find a lot to like here.Two issues in and the story is already exciting, much more so now that it's actually setting itself apart while still feeling connected to the other X-books without it feeling so messy.
There were still some shortcomings though. Kieron Gillen tries to add more details about Kenji and how his powers work. Yet nothing is really answered. Rogue's insight really doesn't address much and Hope's brief interface only revealed that Kenji is in a lot of pain. That's about it. We still have no idea what's motivating Kenji or what's driving him. We don't even know the full nature of his powers. So we're left wondering WTF? It's like Gillen is being mysterious without really addressing the mystery. He may reveal more in the next issue, but the lack of coherent details really prevent this issue from being special.
Generation Hope is a series on the rise. It has so many classic and novel elements that there's no reason why it shouldn't be right up there with the likes of Uncanny X-men or X-men Legacy. It's still a work-in-progress though. Two issues in and it's rising faster than a thirteen-year-old boy's dick during a Skinemax marathon. For Generation Hope #2, I give it a strong 4 out of 5. It's on it's way to being special. It just has to take a few more steps to get there. Nuff said!