Monday, July 22, 2013

Review # 23: "Generation X Classic Volume One" and "The Origin of Generation X: Tales of the Phalanx Covenant"

This double-shot is due to my completionist side getting the best of me. Originally purchasing "Generation X Classic" expecting it to collect the entirety of the Phalanx Covenant, it only covered the new team of teens' side of the story, leaving several gaps. "The Origin of Generation X: Tales of the Phalanx Covenant" fills those gaps, but omits a transition issue and Gen X numbers two through four.

In my "Young Avengers" review I referred to "Generation X" as a whole as a debacle. After re-reading the "Classic" set I may be a little kinder, but not much. Formed in the 1990's, it's like "X-Men" meets "90210" or "Party of Five" or whatever (apt 90's phrase.) For the time, it's a novel concept as those shows certainly were popular and - as prime time soap operas - had more in common with comics than one would think.

However, it's the trappings of those shows that hurt the series. In my opinion, the characters of "Generation X" struggle because they're in the mold of all the 90's teen crap that was permeating TV and movie screens. You have M, the bitch; Synch, the overachiever; Husk, the country girl; Chamber, the artist; Skin, the cynic; Penance, the outcast; Jubilee, the kid. Their mentors? Emma Frost - who's clearly being remodeled as a Heather Locklear-type - and Banshee who's comparable to... hell, I don't know. The old guy in "Saved by the Bell: The College Years?"

Now I admit that early in the series Scott Lobdell doesn't completely fall into these trappings. Indeed - with Husk especially - he tries to show that there's more than meets the eye. However, as time went on, each character became confined by their own typecast. Sure, there were some twists and turns (especially with M and Penance,) but because the show... er... team needs a bitch, M stayed as a bitch. I contrast that with X-Factor where Monet has been a bitch the entire time, but not because the team needs one. Monet is a bitch in X-Factor because... she's a bitch! I can't quite explain it, but to me there's a big difference between those two motivations.

That said, it's unfair to knock on this because of what it became instead of what it actually was at the time. The arc depicted in "Generation X: Classic" - despite its omissions - is actually pretty darn good. The opening issue with Banshee discovering something amiss at the X-Mansion (without previous explanation of what was happening) is great. With the help of Frost and another unlikely ally - Sabretooth - they set out to save the "next generation of X-Men" (a point that is presented repeatedly in a way that it becomes hammy.) They beat the bad guy, someone dies and there's a touching issue of Uncanny X-Men where Jubilee leaves the mansion. Another example of Lobdell's excellent "taking a break" stories.

From there we delve into the first arc of "Generation X," drawn beautifully by Chris Bachalo. His art is gorgeous and a perfect fit for the series. By issue four, he's starting to push the boundaries with his style, which would eventually become a signature. He draws the debut of psychic vampire Emplate, the jaw-free Chamber and the razor-skinned Penance. These designs are really cool. We get some funny moments with Banshee and M, an excellent game of Scrabble between Skin and Husk and a well-done Christmas issue with a great twist ending. The writing - for the most part - is solid, playing to Lobdell's strengths by moving slowly and without a lot of fighting. My big gripe: Jubilee's dialogue. This early work - for some reason - was praised for its realism. I would argue that point to begin with, but Jubilee makes it too easy. It's as cringe-inducing as it ever was. Still, there's a fair amount of momentum building here. Unfortunately, it was tossed out the window for the "Age of Apocalypse" arc. The four-issue run of "Generation Next" was great, but since I don't have the issues directly after its conclusion, I'm curious to see whether it killed this series' momentum.

As an aside with Jubilee, there's a point of contention I'd like to bring up: she's referred to in the first issue as being "13 and a half." To me, that just seems impossible. How old was she when she sneaked into the portal that took her to the X-Men base in Australia? 10? Ridiculous. In the same insert, I also find it a little telling about the shelf-life of these characters when M and Husk are both referred to "a combination of Jean Grey and _______" Really? That's the best you can do for comparisons? I'm about to review Peter David's run of X-Factor Investigations, and in the first issue he refers to M as "a combination of Supergirl and Veronica Lodge." That absolutely NAILS her. He had a better idea of what M was than her creator right out of the gate.

I'm clearly heading into negative territory again so I think it's a perfect time to switch over to "Tales of the Phalanx Covenant." While the young mutants were being rescued, there were two concurrent arcs dealing with eradicating the Phalanx menace from earth. One involves Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Cable teaming up to rescue the REAL X-Men from the clutches of Steven Lang and Cameron Hodge. For a relatively simple narrative, the later parts somehow manage to become hard to follow. Also, Larry Hama's writing for the Summers family is kind of strange, and at this stage of the game it's irritating. Y'see, Cyclops and Jean had been sent into avatars in the future where they raised young Cable, who is Scott's biological son. When they get back, Jean starts eluding to what has happened and Nathan acts mystified. Of course, the fact that they look almost identical to their avatars seems to have no effect when it comes to cluing him in. This is complicated only a few scant months later when Cable tells Scott and Jean that he knew they were "Slym" and "Redd" from the first time he saw them. Um... WHAT?! Thanks for stringing that along, Cable.

The third arc has X-Factor, X-Force and Excalibur teaming up to take down a Phalanx transmitter. From Forge acting through compulsion for reasons that are never truly defined, to Douglock's erratic behaviour, to Nightcrawler's inconsistent haircut, this is a mess.

Early "Generation X," though... it's worth a look.

Rating(s): 7/10 ("Generation X Classic"), 4.5/10 ("Tales of the Phalanx Covenant")

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