Sunday, January 9, 2011
Generation Hope #3 - A New Generation of Awesome
Whenever a story about a new generation emerges, it's only natural for the previous generation to bitch about it. Generation Hope marks a new generation of mutants, the first since M-day. As such the Generation Hope series is being scrutinized by X-men fans the same way anyone born before the year 1950 scrutinizes how devious and decadent today's youth is. Those old-timer traditionalists get their panties and adult diapers in a bunch when they see such bizarre things like rap music, the internet, pants cut so low you can tell whether or not someone has gotten the Brazilian treatment at a waxing spa. By the same token, X-men fans are inherently skeptical about a new generation of mutants to make up for what was lost on M-Day. In their whiny cerebral cotex, nothing short of giving every mutant their powers back will do. To hell with trying something new! They want to live continuously in the one year of comics where they first got interested in it. Back then everything was exciting and new. It's sort of like your first hit of crack. Now that hit doesn't get you as high anymore and you think smoking more crack will do it. Well any comic fan or drug user knows that it doesn't work that way.
Generation Hope has taken the events of Second Coming and used it to tell a new story surrounding Jean Gre-I mean Hope Summers (sorry, for some reason I still can't tell those two apart). It bears a lot of the same elements from the very early X-men comics. Jean-I mean Hope travels around the world finding new mutants who are struggling to understand their new powers. Using her messiah touch (which involves a little something called the Phoenix Force that Jean Grey fans know all too well), she not only helps stabilize their powers. She makes them believers in a cultish sort of way. Now four teenage mutants follow her like the apostles follow Christ, except they do a lot more than your typical sermon on the mount.
The past two issues have had Jea-I mean Hope and her four new mutants (the lights as they're now called) struggle to stop the fifth new light. Kenji, a Japanese artist who saw Akira one too many times, has developed powers that turn him into the kind of monster you only see in tentacle rape porn. Je-Hope has been trying to stabilize him and hasn't been too successful to this point. Even with help from Cyclops and Wolverine, Kenji managed to go Godzilla on them and throw a hissy fit on Tokyo. The other lights aren't exactly getting their heads in the game. Remember, they're teenagers. A few days ago their sole concern was updating their Facebook page, going to school, and finding creative and secretive ways to masterbate. So they're certainly not X-men and they'll have to be if they're to stop Kenji from doing to Tokyo what tentacle monsters do to underaged Japanese school girls.
Now as some of you have noticed, I've documented my inability and frustration with distinguishing Hope Summers from Jean Grey-Summers. They look alike, they dress alike, they act alike (particular when comparing Hope to Grant Morrison's take on Jean in New X-men), and they wield the Phoenix Force. Even Rachel had some shit to set her apart. Hope/Jean is really pushing it and the first pages of Generation Hope #3 push it even further. It starts off with the Phoenix again. This cosmic plot point that Marvel can't resist milking has been associated with Jean Grey for years and now she's guiding Hope. She says she's "her child", which is not unlike what the Phoenix told Jean. She also calls the lights "our children" so it appears the Phoenix has a larger hand in this new generation than was already blatantly indicated. Yet writers like Gillen and Marvel's new Editor-in-Chief, Axel Alonso, are allergic to clearing this up. Is there a Hope/Jean connection? If so what is it? Nobody is saying anything, but the imagery couldn't be more obvious if Gillen walked door-to-door to every X-men fan and hit them upside the head with a lead pipe.
This ominous (and blatant) hint lasts for only one page. The Phoenix wakes Jea-I mean Hope up like a double-shot espresso from Starbucks. Her four lights/disciples explain to her that Kenji is about to tentacle rape Tokyo. In response she channels her inner Cable and rallies these recently mutated and completely untrained teenagers to help her stop him. She blames herself for not getting to Kenji sooner. It is a somewhat ominous sign that if she hadn't stabilized the powers of the others, they could have ended up like him. So even though she's still young enough to qualify as jailbait in most states, she has balls that even Ron Jeremy would admire.
That's not to say the lights follow her blindly. Remember, these are teenagers who have had about as much X-men training as Andy Dick. They're still new to this world. They're following Jean-I mean Hope, but they're not all up for what she's asking of them. Laurie, the blue-skinned yet surprisingly doable flying mutant, expresses this reservation. She's probably the most mature of the group so of course she overthinks. Kieron Gillen offers some great insight into how these new mutants are reacting to this new life of theirs. It's still sinking in and they're still a long ways away from being X-men, which means Je-I mean Hope has to be a bit harsh with them.
While some of the lights are busy whining, the real X-men are trying to stop Kenji and doing a piss poor job of it. It's also worth noting they're not trying to save Kenji. They're trying to save him in the same way Jack Kavorkian tried to save his patients. As far as Cyclops has concerned, Kenji has become too big a threat. He's still in war-time mode, which was actually brought up back on Uncanny. Anti-Cyclops fans will have plenty of ways to scream "See! Cyclops is a dick now!" But to be fair, Wolverine doesn't even try to argue with him. So for once he and Cyclops are on the same page and that's saying something.
Jean Gr-I mean Hope (sorry, it's taking longer this time) doesn't see it that way. She still wants to save Kenji so that means taking her untrained and shell shocked lights and leading them into battle. It would be like pee-wee football team trying to beat the 2007 New England Patriots. But this is the Mutant Messiah we're talking about here. She can always pull an Eli Manning.
It starts with Teon tackling Wolverine before he can give Kenji the adamantium special. Then Idie, the African girl with fire and ice powers who doesn't really talk much, uses some fire to to slow Kenji down. She makes a case for her being separated at birth from Storm and allows Gabriel to run J-Hope (so close!) up Kenji's Akira-style body so she can go in for another Phoenix treatment. It's nicely coordinated, considering the manpower she's working with. It puts Je-I mean Hope in a position to make Kenji a little less annoying and the Akira producers a little less inclined to sue.
Gabriel can't take his messiah the whole way. Remember, this kid is no Quicksilver. He ends up falling, but lucky for him Laurie grew a pair and flew in to save him. Oddly enough, she's naked. She's not wearing the pink dress she wore earlier. If she can only fly naked then that may very well make her one of the strangest (or most awesome) mutant girls in the X-books. Wherever that dress went, it's besides the point because now the onus is on Hope-Jean (damn it, it's still too hard!) to take on Kenji. She uses some of her mimic powers to beat Kenji at his own game. In the process she throws a little twist into her attack.
While she's holding off Kenji, she sends a little message to Cyclops and by message I don't mean she texted the guy. She uses a similar trick Kenji played on her in the previous issue, taking him to a surreal mind-scape of the Golden Gate Bridge that some have reported experiencing when they smoke the pot sold in San Francisco pot dispensaries. It's not one of those meeting of the mind type deals where characters have a psychic conversation, or a psychic romp as Emma Frost has been known to indulge in. Jean Grey-or Hope because the line really gets blurry here, essentially urges Cyclops to stop protecting her like the battle against Bastion is still going on. Her message is simple. Let her be the messiah she's supposed to be.
Cyclops gets the message and starts making up for his dickish behavior earlier. He, Wolverine, and the rest of the X-men start backing Je-I mean Hope (sorry, it's really hard this time) up while she battles Kenji. Her tactic is simple. What's the best way to destroy a giant city-crushing monster? Become a monster yourself! While she's battling Kenji, she's also confronting him in his mind. It's an interesting way to show their struggle, but Kieron Gillen organizes it wonderfully so it's not as confusing as it sounds.
Kenji is still wacked out like an escaped mental patient who just spent a weekend at Gary Busey's house. J-Hope (getting closer!) essentially gives Kenji the silent treatment and lets her knack for ass-kicking honed by an upbringing with Cable do the talking. It does the trick as Jope-I mean Hope's monster beats out Kenji's. It's like those old battles between the Power Rangers and giant monsters, except instead of exploding Kenji withers when he takes one too many punches. He's a Japanese artists, remember? He's not exactly trained ninjitsu expert.
When he falls, Hope (there, I finally got it!) moves in for the finishing blow. That means after three full issues, she finally gives Kenji her special touch to stabilize his powers. Compared to the other four, this kid was about as cooperative as Axel Rose when he's hung over. But the mutant messiah lived up to her name. She reached the last of the five lights.
Seems like a solid ending. All is well. The five lights have come together and everything should be fine and dandy. Anyone who has been following comic books for more than three days knows that bullshit doesn't fly. However, this time it ends with something that should leave many readers scratching their heads. When Kenji is subdued and Hope emerges, she confronts Cyclops. She gives him the expected I-told-you-so. Just like Alfred in the Dark Knight, she seems to love saying that. Then she faints. There's no warning, no flash, no nothing. She just faints. There isn't even a hint at what caused this. The issue just ends.
Now I'm all for ominous endings and cliff-hangers, but this definitely crosses the line into WTF territory. Isn't this how the last issue ended? Hope went unconsciousness and that got everybody worried? I know recycling old ideas is necessary sometimes, but after one issue? I know Axel Alonso isn't the X-editor anymore, but someone should have picked up on that or at least told Gillen "give it a few more issues before you start using that old trick again." It's a less than dramatic ending to a book that was otherwise solid on all fronts.
Regardless of the Hope/Jean mess that Marvel is trying desperately to ignore and a weak ending, it's hard to get around just how awesome this issue was. Kieron Gillen has taken Generation Hope and turned it into a strong, viable series in a mere three issues. I admit the first issue left me somewhat skeptical, but this one along with issue 2 sent a clear message. Hope Summers and the Five Lights can deliver a solid shot of awesome directly into the awesomeness receptors of your brain. Kieron Gillen really has captured the deepest essence of X-men in this book. It takes young teenagers and gives them mutant powers they didn't ask for and don't understand. It's up to characters like Hope and Cyclops to show these young mutants how to use those powers and how to be X-men. The whole young mutants trying to digest everything that's happening to them really has been captured here. This along with the solid characterization, dialog, and art make Generation Hope one of the strongest X-books on the shelves.
Generation Hope #3 was by far the strongest issue thus far, but the two noteworthy flaws I mentioned prevent me from giving it a perfect score. While Gillen has done a good job with the finer details of this issue and this series thus far, the 900 pound meth-addicted gorilla with a massive hard-on in the room remains. In this issue more than any other, Hope carries herself as Jean Grey. It's been teased so much that it's getting OLD. There were times in this issue, especially with the first page, where Hope might as well have been Jean Grey. The Phoenix calling Hope "her child" and her reaching out to Cyclops are the kind of ploys that made Jean Grey famous. Hope in this issue could have easily been replaced with Grant Morrison's Jean Grey from New X-men and she would be the same character. I know I keep pounding the drum hard enough for my arms to fall off, but it's an issue that has been going on since Messiah Complex. The Hope/Jean connection remains ambiguous and purposefully so it seems. The more Hope carries herself like Jean, the more eye-rolling these stories are going to induce. If 2011 passes without at least some clarification, then the creative forces at Marvel will cross the line between being and ambiguous and just being douche-bags.
The Hope/Jean issue looks to plague Generation Hope for the foreseeable future. Never-the-less, Kieron Gillen's strong writing in every other field help make this series as awesome as it can be. This issue suffered from a weak ending, but otherwise it was the strongest issue to date. So as a final score I give Generation Hope #3 a 4.5 out of 5. It would be great if I could one day read this series without constantly confusing Hope and Jean Grey. Since Marvel insists on keeping Jean out of the picture while putting her in so many others (she's now in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in case you fell of the planet for a few days) I'm stuck getting lightly mind-fucked by this series with every issue. Never-the-less, it's still pretty damn awesome so if a good mind-fucking is necessary to enjoy it then so be it! Nuff said!