Sunday, March 25, 2012
Generation Hope #17 - A Generation of Awesome
Reviewing comics can a real test of your sanity and sobriety. Sometimes the very premise of a comic requires that you be a little bit high to effectively review it. For most inherently awesome comics, the need for getting wasted is minimal (even if the want is more than sufficient). For comics like Generation Hope, it can be hit or miss. Sometimes you have to have a bag of weed on hand just to make sure you're in the right state of mind for a thorough assessment. I've reviewed pretty much every issue of Generation Hope since it came out. It seems so long go that I was constantly referring to this series as Generation Jean Rip-Off. I still think of it that way, but I try to avoid using it in my reviews so I can make room for more boner jokes. Whatever twisted assessment I use, I've come to look upon this series as an anomaly of sorts. It's one of the most inconsistent yet important X-books in recent memory. So when it gets canceled prematurely, I'm left more conflicted than Rush Limbaugh at a feminist rally.
It was announced only recently. Generation Hope was ending with issue 17. It wasn't by choice (at least that's what Marvel claims). The sales for this book just weren't soaking enough panties and that's not terribly surprising. Books with entirely new characters rarely outshine their established counterparts. Readers just aren't going to give as much of a shit about some fish girl as they are about who Wolverine is boning. It also doesn't help when certain characters are clearly blatant ripoffs of others, Hope being Jean Grey and Kenji being Akira. I've spent nearly every issue of this series struggling to tell Hope and Jean apart. For this review, I've stayed sober enough to make that distinction. It's only proper since this will be the last issue and it will be an important milestone both for this group of mutants and for Hope before she goes nuclear.
The other notable rip-off, Kenji, has been by far the least stable new mutant since the series began. Hell, the guy went on a rampage in downtown Tokyo in the first arc. He's never been all that mentally sound, as eccentric artists tend to be. For crying out loud, the kid got a boner from a brain in a jar! So it's only fitting that Kenji is the one that closes out this series by finally losing his shit and attacking Hope. He's made his resentment very clear over the past few issues. He's among those who really don't like the influence Hope is exerting over the Lights and over mutants in general. He doesn't see her as a messiah and he spent much of last issue setting her up for a very public crucifixion, but not after using that fucked up body of his to rally others to his madness.
Now Hope is in Kenji's deranged and perverse clutches. What about the other Lights that haven't turned on her? Well in the last issue, Gabriel once again started thinking too much with his penis and got frisky with Pixie (who I guess is just thinking with various other parts of her body that don't involve her brain). Teon, never one to be bothered from his never-ending quest to eat, fight, and mate was subdued by the Cuckoos when he couldn't keep it in his pants. Generation Hope #17 starts out with Teon living in this fantasy world that the Cuckoos created for him so that he would stop trying to hump their legs (amongst other things). But while in this fantasy, the usually lovable oaf starts having some coherent thoughts. It's somewhat unusual for him, but he's done it before and it shows that he has more intellect than a horny pit bull. This is especially important because Hope has to use that special leash of hers to call for help and also like a horny pit bull when a female in heat calls, he springs into action.
We then go from every primal male's fantasy to a nightmare only made possible with exotic blends of mushrooms. Except this isn't so much a nightmare as it is a theatrical production where the director is an angry drunk. Kenji reveals he went to elaborate lengths to keep some occupied while using that Akira rip-off form of his to psychically influence others. He doesn't actually call it influence. He calls it simple nudging and with some like Emma Frost, he really didn't need much. So taking a page out of a certain 2000-year-old holy book from the Middle East, Kenji is prepared to crucify Hope. In his artistic mind, she's not the messiah. She's saving those who didn't want to be saved in the first place and her influence on people is too disturbing even for an eccentric Japanese artist. The sad truth is, he's not entirely wrong.
Kenji is fully prepared to destroy the savior who once saved his life. For him, she didn't save him. She corrupted him. And no one seems inclined to help Hope. However, there are a few holdovers. The first few pages showed that Teon in his lovable simple-mindedness is not easily influenced by Kenji's bullshit. He springs into action like any good un-nuetered pet and seeks to help the pretty girl that gives him so many boners. He quickly recruits Sebastian Shaw, who now looks less like a Black King and more like someone's prison bitch. But he doesn't remember who he is and Hope did vouch for him. So he has plenty of reason to repay her. However, the biggest ally that Teon doesn't get help from is the same ally that Kenji clearly went out of his way to bone in the last arc.
Martha Johanssen was once a brain in a jar. No really. She was. In the annuls of Marvel comics, that's hardly the most fucked up premise for a character. She's a powerful telepath that Kenji created a body for using that same Akira rip-off form of his that he's using to fuck with everybody's minds. Except Martha's mind is a bit more coherent. She and Kenji are able to chat because her body is basically his body and not in the traditional Taliban sort of way either. She senses he's up to some crazy shit and even if he did give her a body again, she isn't cool with it.
She's not the only one either. Kenji's flirtation with Sweet Lady Insanity is too much for even Laurie to take anymore. In the previous issue, she and Kenji had a heart-to-heart where they debated the control Hope had on them. It wasn't a debate she won because not long ago during X-men Regenesis, she pulled a fucking gun on Hope. She doesn't like her influence over him either, but she doesn't like Kenji trying to reenact the crucifixion in the Mel Gibson tradition either. Kenji tries to coax her into going along with this gruesome ritual, but she has enough sense to be repulsed by human sacrifice. Kenji doesn't take kindly to that and decides to throw her to the mind-controlled (pardon, subtly nudged) X-men that are just itching to give Hope one more thing in common with Jean Grey.
Laurie may be overmatched, but she ends up getting some backup. Teon was not only able to enlist Shaw's help, he was able to tear Gabriel and Pixie away from one another before they swapped too many bodily fluids. Sharing Laurie's aversion to human sacrifice, they attack Kenji. He's hardly worried though. He's already corrupted a good chunk of the X-men so he has plenty of defenses. The Lights and Shaw are just as overmatched as Laurie, but they're able to at least somewhat fuck Kenji's shit up. At the very least, they stop him from getting too much of a boner for having so many X-men under his control and their mutant messiah ready to slaughter like a deer on Ted Nugant's kitchen table.
Kenji still maintains control over Hope, which is somewhat appropriate given that she's been controlling the Lights in such an uncomfortable manner. He's able to rough her up in ways that would soak Emma Frost's panties if she weren't already satiated by Cyclops's penis. That doesn't stop her from getting her shot at Hope. Now it's not entirely clear here how much of this is Kenji's influence and how much of this is all Emma. In recent issues, Emma hasn't needed any nudging to hate Hope. She never needs any nudging when it comes to hating a redhead with a fiery personality. It's never fully explained, which is disappointing because once again it ensures that Emma will come out of this conflict untainted and uncorrupted. While that's bullshit, she at least gets the shit punched out of her by Sebastian Shaw. Now I'm not a misogynist and I won't make any Rush Limbaugh style remarks here, but given Emma and Shaw's history it's quite fitting if not timely that Shaw comes through to give her the Rick James treatment. Shaw is still a douche even if he doesn't remember how big of a douche he is, but at least there's a bit more balance in such douche-baggery.
But fighting off Emma's attempt at another mind-rape is only the fifth most pressing issue confronting Hope. Kenji is still number one and using the same creative dreamscapes he used in the first arc, he takes Hope to another dreamworld where they debate on the merits of manipulating people and training teenagers like soldiers. It shouldn't come as too great a surprise that Hope loses that argument. For Kenji, not knowing what the fuck you're doing and fucking up along the way isn't an excuse. So he's prepared to end her shit so he can be free of her influence. He's not entirely misguided with his anger. That's the most fucked up part without citing Japanese anime porn.
There's just one problem. Kenji was stupid enough to get a boner for a brain in a jar. Remember Martha? The girl who he created a creepy yet oddly alluring body in the last arc? Well she also has a problem with human sacrifice and creating mind-controlled mobs that aren't sanctioned by Rick Santorum's campaign manager. So using her telepathic talents, she attacks Kenji both in his mind and in the real world. It results in a clash that ends with a hell of a bang. By that I mean Kenji fucking explodes. It's every bit as messy as it sounds. Kenji explodes and all that Akira rip-off shit goes with him. That's right. The final issue of Generation Hope ends with one of the lights suffering a death by explosion. It may be a rough way to go, but as an artist I doubt Kenji can call it inglorious.
Now the death of a character is always a tricky thing to handle. It's almost as tricky as tying up loose ends in a series that's been prematurely canned. Seeing as how Kenji was the one that went crazy in the first arc, I think it's actually fitting that he's the one that dies in this final issue. It gives the series a sense of finality. However, that's the only finality we end up getting. After Kenji blows up, the influence he held on everyone fades. We don't see everyone looking around in confusion. We don't see Emma trying to explain to Cyclops that she knocked him out because of Kenji and not because she just wanted an excuse to fuck up Hope. And Martha is back to being a fucking brain in a jar. That fucked up yet functional body of hers is gone again. And all the Lights really do about it is sit around and listen to Hope apologize for screwing up.
This is by far the best indication that this book was canceled before it's time. All these lingering issues are glossed over. The tension between Cyclops and Emma is once again completely overlooked. Martha is right back where she started. All we're really left with is a scene where Hope tries to save a little face with the mutants she herself helped create. I get the importance of having a nice dramatic moment with Hope and her lights at the end, but it lacks closure because so little of the aftermath from Kenji's attack is addressed. It's underwhelming when it should be emotional. I was ready to get all misty eyed knowing this series would end like Michael Bay's credibility after he announced his retcon for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sadly, it never came. That or I was just too drunk.
In the end, the remaining lights give Hope the old "No hard feelings. You just almost got us killed" speech. It's more than a little lame, but James Asmus does throw in a few cherries on top of what has otherwise been a messy yet tasty cake. Within the Sebastian Shaw file that Hope was looking at in the beginning of the arc is a familiar face. Actually, she's so familiar you might mistake her for Hope or vice versa. It's Jean Grey, or at least a picture of her in her Dark Phoenix glory. If the hint in X-Sanction #4 wasn't blatant enough, here's yet another reminder that Hope is poised to go nuclear on the Marvel universe. I know my memory has been shot to shit by drugs, booze, and Fox News. But seriously, Marvel. I don't need another reminder!
And so my presumably sober friends, Generation Hope has come to an end. Someone had to die, someone had to become a brain in a jar again, Emma had to get smacked around a bit, and someone had to throw in yet another Jean Grey reference. What can we make of this? Do we have to be sufficiently high to assess a series that has clearly been canceled before it's time? Well no, but it certainly helps. As one of the most vocal critics of this series I think I can reasonably draw a few conclusions, at least as reasonably as any admitted drunk.
This issue and this series as a whole was about conflicted youth finding out they were mutants. It harkened back to the very early days of the X-men and that's part of what made it appealing. Like all teenagers going through that incredibly awkward stage where hormones launch tactical nuclear strikes on your senses, there were plenty of mishaps and hiccups along the way. Some were done better than others. Overall, Kieron Gillen and James Asmus did a good job of capturing that struggle. It just wasn't very consistent at times. Some stories just didn't have a good enough impact and some were just poorly organized. The past few arcs have been somewhat stronger, but they only help balance what has otherwise been a pretty unbalanced series.
Generation Hope #17 does a nice job of carrying itself as the final issue. The biggest problem is that it's painfully apparent that this ending is premature. It may be the second worse instance for something to be premature (you know what the first is if you lost your virginity to a drunken prom queen) because certain parts of the issue felt rushed. We never saw what happened with the mutants Kenji influenced. We never saw Emma explain to Cyclops why she knocked him so he missed all the messianic blasphemy. And Kenji's death left Martha right back where she started. So any potential she had in this new body of hers is officially shot to shit. We didn't even get to see Namor's reaction to Shaw being alive (if he even knows). There's so much left dangling that it's like free seniors day at a nude beach. Even if Generation Hope #17 makes itself a solid ending issue, it feels abrupt and incomplete.
I still have mixed feelings about Generation Hope. Overall, I really liked this issue. I thought it was a decent ending, even with so much left unexplored. The series as a whole had a lot of shortcomings, but the intent of the series was pure and Marvel clearly put a great deal of effort into making it work. For that, I commend them. I also commend James Asmus for finishing this series off on a painfully short run. He did a nice job with the characters, the dialog, and the action. I can't help but wonder what else he would have done if he had a few more issues to work with. Sadly, we'll never know. I give Generation Hope #17 a 3 out of 5. So much lost potential and not enough sales to justify realizing it all. It may not even matter since Hope is poised to rub elbows with Dark Phoenix soon enough. We may not know until the end of AvX what the true value of this series has been. For now, it's akin to a lap dance that had all the potential to be hot, but only left you semi-hard in the end. Nuff said!