Sunday, February 20, 2011
Generation Hope #4 - Settling Into Awesome
Of all the new X-books to spin out of Second Coming, none has left me more excited and conflicted than Generation Hope. This isn't like Uncanny X-Force or X-23, which only follow the direction of characters who were involved in Second Coming. This is the book that continues the story of the sole purpose for Second Coming. She has red hair, green eyes, a bad temper, the Phoenix Force, and people can't stop confusing her with Jean Grey. She actually goes by Hope Summers and I know I've been joking around about how I can't tell them apart. Well it's not a full joke. Marvel has been dropping hints about Hope being connected to Jean Grey since Messiah Complex began. None of those hints have been cleared up yet and books like Generation Hope have been dragging it out like the second season of Lost. For many fans, that can be as annoying as a bug bite in the space between your balls and your ass. However, the Hope/Jean issue hasn't stopped this series from being awesome.
Kieron Gillen hit the ground running with this. The first three issues had Je-I mean Hope (I'll get it sooner this time) going after the last of the five lights that emerged after Second Coming. Uncanny X-men brought the first four together so that this series had a team to work with. The first three issues demonstrated how this team is a lot like an expansion team in baseball. It's sorely lacking on talent and experience despite having a strong leader. Jea-I mean Hope has somewhat of a cultish bond with these new mutants. It's not quite cultish in the same capacity as Justin Bieber fans, but it's right up there. It's somewhere between Jesus and Twilight.
Gillen did a damn good job showing the four teenage mutants who barely knew their powers from a bad itch ban together and stop the fifth light, a charismatic Japanese artist who saw Akiria one too many times (if that's even possible because that movie is awesome). Now the new light, Kenji, is stable. Jean-Hope burned herself out stopping him as well, much in the same way the obsession with Ted Williams burned out. This issue picks up with Cyclops and Wolverine having to pick up the pieces. Again, the inexperience of the Five Lights show. They don't understand the larger implications of destroying downtown Tokyo. I'm sure even Godzilla had a lawyer on speed-dial. Their immaturity is charming. It's easy to forget that these characters are teenagers. They're humanity is still developing and as Gabriel demonstrates, they haven't quite learned to think with the right head.
Four issues in and the characters are starting to develop their own personalities. Gabriel can't seem to resist flirting with the girls. He says Laurie is pretty and is going out of his way to impress Jea-Hope in the same way Kanye West goes out of his way nourish his inner douche-bag. The lights are still a little shell-shocked. Idie says the least while there's a debate over just how dangerous Kenji is.
To get these answers, the Five Lights are flown back to Utopia. Keep in mind the events in Generation Hope have been unfolding since Uncanny X-men #526. This is the first time they've ever been to Utopia. To them it's like visiting Disneyland if it was in the middle of Baghdad. They meet up with Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde, which is a bit confusing because it's not clear if this happens after the Quarantine arc. Since the five lights made an appearance in an earlier Uncanny issue, that seems to imply that this takes place before that. I could be reading too much into it or that hit of acid I took was watered down, but it usually takes something a lot more potent to make sense of the timeline in these comics.
The first order of business is to deal with Kenji. This guy almost destroyed Tokyo and he's an overworked Japanese teenager. That's like a pyromaniac working in a fireworks factory. It's a bad mix. Now that he's had his close encounter with the mutant messiah, he's in control again. He also looks pretty badass. He's not too much an Akira knock-off anymore than he is a boss battle from the Resident Evil video games.
He also demonstrates some rather disturbing fantasies and I'm not talking about the typical Japanese fantasies that involve school girls, tentacle monsters, and old men with an extensive collection of panties. He actually fantasizes about killing people. Then again who hasn't? Even the best of us have seen Dick Cheney give a speech and fantasize about his heart exploding. The difference with Kenji is that he channels it into his art so he's a productive member of society. Now his powers involve him becoming art. So that's a problem the same way lying naked in a tub of ice with your kidney missing is a problem.
This is a problem for Cyclops and Emma because they can't have a homicidal mutant on Utopia. They already have Magneto and he's more than enough. Emma's hair started turning gray in Uncanny. She and Cyclops will go bald if Kenji's fantasies become too vivid. So Emma scans his mind and wouldn't you know it? It's not normal. Just as going to work with no pants and a baby alligator hanging from your scrotum isn't normal. However, just because's he's not normal doesn't mean he's not honest either. Emma says he's being honest. That's enough for Cyclops to give him the Good Will Hunting treatment and say it wasn't his fault.
Beyond Kenji, Teon is also getting a tour of Utopia. However, when you have the brain capacity of a Chihuahua that's a little tricky. For reasons that aren't entirely detailed, Teon and Wolverine start fighting as soon as they land. Maybe it's just because they're both animals or Wolverine wouldn't let Teon sniff his ass. Either way, they start going at it and it provides a nice touch of action in the midst of all this group therapy. Besides, it's a comic book. I'm sure Kieron Gillen was contractually obligated to have someone get their ass kicked in every issue.
The fight ends with Wolverine giving Teon the equivalent of doggy potty training. Gillen has made it clear that Teon isn't going to be the most articulate character in the series. He's a bit like Christopher Walken, hard to read and creepy as hell.
Once Teon is done with his time-out, Hope (sweet! I got it right this time!) and the rest of the lights meet up with Dr. Nemesis so he can shed a little light on their powers. There haven't been many specifics about these new mutants since the end of Second Coming. This is the first time a little clarity has been added to the mix. Gillen doesn't employ too much Star Trek lingo. In simplest terms the Five Lights were broken and when Hope touched them they were fixed. Now I'm not geneticists, but I do see some crazy shit on weed. That makes about as much sense as anything to the average comic book demographic. The other explanations for the lights are pretty simple. Laurie is blue and can fly. Teon is big and strong, but his mind has sacrificed his higher functions in favor of sharpening his survival instincts. Idie (who still isn't saying much) controls temperature. Hope's powers are still left vague, no doubt because everyone is resisting the urge to tell her more about the Phoenix Force. It's another case of drawing out a plot that's been drawn out more than the last three seasons of 24. Hope/Jean/Phoenix fans will roll their eyes at this, but if this surprises them in any way then they need to call up their old friend reality to kiss and make up.
Nemesis gets a little creative (in a very douche-bag sort of way) when he explains Gabriel's power. He tries to have him run over water the way the Flash and Quicksilver do on a regular basis. It doesn't work for him and Gabriel gets an up close and personal taste of the San Francisco Bay. This is because he's not actually super fast. He's a time manipulator. Remember in Uncanny X-men when his powers went nuts and he aged a few years? He ended up with a beard that would make Brett Kiesel of the Pittsburgh Steelers envious. So that helps make sense of things although it's hard to imagine why Nemesis would favor a demonstration. He could have easily just told him, but the asshole in him just wasn't satisfied.
Nemesis is a douche-bag here. There's no doubt about it. But Gabriel does show some balls and a touch of teenage arrogance by kicking the shit out of Nemesis. It's immature and a bit elaborate, but it's almost as satisfying as the battle against Kenji. Maybe I'm weird, but when a douche-bag gets punished for being a douche-bag I believe an angel gets it's wings and a nerd gets a blow-job from a porn star.
The lights finally meet up with Cyclops as a group. Now that they're mutants he basically tells them that they're welcome on Utopia. They don't have to stay. Some of them like Gabriel and Laurie do have families (although they were never mentioned). However, that cultish dedication to Hope seems to trump any family responsibilities. Somewhere I'm sure the Family Research Council is looking to sue Marvel for sending the wrong message to kids. Then again people stopped giving a damn about the Family Research Council when they claimed homosexuals were as dangerous to the world as the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal. The Five Lights choose to stay so they're the unofficial freshman of the X-men. I have extremely painful memories of being a freshman so I weep for the Five Lights.
Once the decision is made, Hope pulls Gabriel aside to talk to him. In the past three issues Gabriel did more than any of the other lights to help her. That may just be because he's a teenage guy and teenage guys would wrestle a polar bear naked in the arctic if it meant they had a chance at getting laid. Earlier in the issue Gabriel asked Laurie if Hope noticed how he saved her twice. Hope answered that question in a very provocative way. She kissed him. Again, I'm reminded of how Jean Grey often thanked Wolverine for helping her. Kissing was her version of a hug. Could that be another hint for Hope/Jean? If it is it's actually subtle this time. It also shows that Gabriel is now the ladies man of the Five Lights. He's flirted with Laurie. He's flirted with Hope. In other words, he's a teenage boy. That's all there is to it.
On the other side of that teenage boy coin is Kenji. He's new to the group and hasn't really endeared himself to the others yet. He's like the creepy football player on the team who spends no fewer than ten minutes sniffing his jock strap at the end of each practice. While Laurie and Idie (who still hasn't said much) go off to do their own thing, Kenji stays behind and takes a shower. Apparently destroying Tokyo is dirty business. Now keep in mind Hope fixed this guy in the last issue as Nemesis described. Yet he still seems as unstable as Charlie Sheen in an porn convention. He sees himself as living art with dark fantasies of killing people. That leads him to inscribe a message on the shower that is going to be a bitch to clean up. "No Hope. No Lights No Future." Does this mean Kenji will be the bad apple of the five lights? Could he become a foe rather than ally? No clear enemy for the five lights has really shown up yet. The possibilities here are pretty open. So the biggest threat could be a crazy Japanese teenager and for once it doesn't involve a giant robot.
Now for every issue of Generation Hope thus far, I've taken some time out of my review to discuss the Hope/Jean issue that has me grinding my teeth down to my gums. Maybe it's because Jean Grey is an original X-men and I have a lot of love for the original X-men. Or maybe it's because I don't like it when writers beat around the bush so much that it becomes as bear as a Brazilian hooker's snatch. For this issue, there weren't too many blatant hints other than Hope being affectionate with her friends in the same way Jean was. That's a matter of interpretation. However, it still is an issue every time I pick up this series. I look at Hope and I still see Jean Grey. Marvel has many redheads with green eyes. Only one is associated with the Phoenix Force. So I take issue with that shit. However, I try not to let it stop me from enjoying an awesome comic.
This issue was definitely top notch. Generation Hope has shown more consistent quality than Uncanny X-men. I would be just as satisfied if these last four issues were all issues of Uncanny X-men because they tell an important story in the X-books and they tell it well. Kieron Gillen's writing seems a lot more genuine here whereas Uncanny still feels like Fraction is pushing the story. This book has the feel of old school X-men books with teenagers discovering their powers and struggling on how to use them. This issue specifically wasn't as exciting or action-packed as the last three. That's actually a good thing because this issue takes time to really fill in the blanks that have been lingering since the Five Lights story began. Those details add some much needed depth to the series and the characters. I still felt as though Idie was somewhat ignored, but overall this was a solid book that really helped to move the story of Hope/Jean Summers along.
If I had to choose between Generation Hope and Uncanny, Generation Hope would win every time. Uncanny is still hit or miss these days. Generation Hope is a solid, strong series so far. Kieron Gillen is doing great work here. While the Hope/Jean issue is still lingering and some details like Idie were underdeveloped, the book was still solid. That's why I give Generation Hope #4 a 4.5 out of 5. This is a solid book and one X-men fans should definitely follow. This book holds so many possibilities beyond the prospect of Jean Grey showing up. Kieron Gillen was left with a daunting task and so far he's handled it better than expected. That makes him a worthy herald of awesome in the eyes of X-fans. Nuff said!