Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Familiar Youth Revival: Generation X #1

The following is my review of Generation X #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Adolescence, in some respects, is a fitting metaphor for mutation. Bodies change, mentality changes, and strange new abilities develop that are downright scary for those experiencing them, as well as those around them. Anyone who goes to high school or spends any significant amount of time around teenagers understands this. In that respect, the themes in X-men are both relevant and personal for many. Some call it puberty. Some call it an omega-level hormone surge.

This also makes the stories about the younger, less experienced generation of mutants more salient to the themes of the X-men comics as a whole. These aren't characters who have received extensive Danger Room training. These aren't characters who have they proven themselves by surviving no less than a fifty Sentinel attacks either. They're still teenagers trying to find their place in the world while going through a traumatic change in their bodies and minds. It's hard enough just making it through high school. Adding real superpowers to the mix is like giving the Hulk a migraine.

Given the recent trends in extinction plots and mass sterilization, there haven't been many opportunities to explore the youthful side of the X-men. That finally changes with Generation X, a series where mutant teenagers can just be mutant teenagers without having to worry about poison clouds or the Scarlet Witch's mental health. Christina Strain and Amilcar Pinna bring the X-men's young guns back into the mix with a fresh foundation devoid of sterilization or extinction.

In Generation X #1, that foundation emerges through the perspective of familiar and not-so-familiar faces. The Xavier Institute is open once more. It's back to using its old title, no longer acting as a testament to Wolverine's creepy obsession with Jean Grey. It's not just a school anymore either. The Xavier Institute's mission is bolder and broader. After facing issues like cosmic forces, toxic gas clouds, and time travelers, it sort of has to be.

Teenagers have a hard enough time with school and hormones, but Generation X dares to add even higher stakes. The world after Inhumans vs. X-men is still taking shape in the sense that both teams are still finding their place in a new status quo. That's where Jubilee's familiar perspective helps give context. Beyond being a character closely associated with the classic 90s series, she brings her own story into the narrative.

It's a story that fell to the wayside during the conflict with the Inhumans. She's still a mutant vampire. She still has an adopted son named Shogo. She's still trying to navigate a world where her mentor, Logan, is dead. Her taking on a leadership role for a team of young, inexperienced mutants almost seems like overkill. However, Strain and Pinna make it easy to root for her. True to the spirit of the classic X-men cartoon from the 90s, she carries herself with an infectious spirit that sets the mood for the story and her supporting cast.


By contrast, a less familiar perspective offers more traditional adolescent angst. Nathanial Cavier, also known as Hindsight, is the other character that Strain and Pinna utilize to set the tone for Generation X. His is one that anyone who felt anxious on their first day of high school can relate to. He spends most of the story just in his surroundings, coming across the rest of the cast and learning about their quirks. It's like orientation with destructive mutant powers and nosy telepaths. From a teenage perspective, it's like boot camp and brain surgery all rolled into one.

Having both a familiar and unfamiliar character lead the narrative helps create a balanced perspective as the cast takes shape. While the main cast for the series includes Jubilee, Bling, Kid Omega, Nature Girl, Morph, Hindsight, and Eye-Boy, there are other major X-men characters that help tie Generation X into the larger narrative of the X-men comics. Kitty Pryde, being the new headmaster and leader, is the most notable. She's also the one who gives Jubilee her blessing to lead a new generation of students who are still learning how to fight Sentinels.

In terms of bringing the main cast together, Generation X #1 succeeds in that it navigates the X-men's unofficial bureaucracy. They don't get distinct uniforms or anything, but Strain and Pinna craft a narrative that establishes a new team with Jubilee acting as the catalyst. Beyond that success, though, the story doesn't check quite as many boxes.


Even as the team takes shape, the diverse and quirky class of young mutants don't get a chance to do much. While a new host of challenges and conflicts are set up towards the end, there's not really a major clash that helps bring the team together. In fact, the greatest source of action in the story involves Kid Omega throwing a temper tantrum over losing an expensive pair of shoes.

Granted, Kid Omega has thrown tantrums over far less and with far greater destructive power, but it doesn't exactly harden the cast of Generation X against other prospective threats. At the very least, though, it sets the tone for the kind of volatile dynamics they'll be dealing with. Being a team of superpowered teenagers, that should be the first and most important lesson of any mutant team.

Beyond Kid Omega's tantrum, only a handful of other characters get a chance to interact or participate. Other than Jubilee, Hindsight, and Kid Omega, the rest of the cast just puts themselves in a position to participate in Generation X. In that sense, Generation X #1 works as a successful orientation for an incoming freshman class. Between new and familiar faces, as well as the inherent volatility that comes with adolescence, Strain and Pinna set the stage for a new generation of X-men. Whether they survive the experience, or even wish they did, remains to be seen.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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