Sunday, 5 March 2017

Comic Review: Counter-X - Generation X #63-75


Having got the Heroes Reborn monkey off my back I've decided to go for another Marvel event that I loved back in the day, though I don't hate this one so it could be interesting. In the summer of 2000 Marvel decided to do a line-wide revamp for the X-Men titles under the Revolution event, which simply moved everything forwards six months to free the titles of clutter. Sadly, the main prongs of the strategy were the return of Chris Claremont to Uncanny X-Men and X-Men; a year later he was sent off to the purgatory of X-Treme X-Men while Grant Morrison saved the main title. Anyway. Part of the plan was to try and do something with what had become a bloated family of titles and part of it involved giving three of the most stagnant to Warren Ellis.

Sub-branded Counter-X, these titles were X-Force, Generation X and X-Man, which had all seen some glory days but been poor for years. Generation X had been one of the hottest titles in Marvel's arsenal when it launched as a hip and happening MTV generation version of the New Mutants in 1995 but a succession of poor writers had led to falling sales and it rarely got invited to crossovers anymore or even mentioned by anyone in the main book despite having Sean Cassidey, Emma Frost and Jubilee in the cast.

Ellis meanwhile cut his teeth at Marvel a few years earlier with well-received runs on the likes of Excalibur, Hellstorm and the 2099 universe before absconding to Wildstorm and Vertigo, taking over Stormwatch and then creating in startlingly short order Transmetropolitan, The Authority and Planetary. His role on Counter-X was more of a consultant/editor/overseer; each title followed a similar format with a four-part story catching up with the subject at the point of the Revolution event co-written by Ellis and the actual planned monthly writer, then a second four-parter storylined by Ellis detailing what happened in the six month gap and then regular adventures - though in the event the three titles failed to improve their sales and only managed one 'regular' arc and then a wrap-up before being culled in Marvel's 2001 X-Men revamp.

For Generation X the 'regular' writer working alongside Ellis was Brian Wood, who then was largely known for Channel Zero and had otherwise worked outside of comics. Each Counter-X book would be given a radical format overhaul to try and inject some life, and there's more than a little meta involved in the one given to Generation X. The story opens with the Massachusetts academy in ruins, Synch dead of unspecified causes, the human students along with Artie, Leech and Penance gone and the team unsure of their direction. There's a group realisation that after five years they're not really training to be the next X-Men anymore, a tacit admittance of how little attention the parent books were paying, and the remaining students - Jubilee, M, Chamber, Husk and Skin - decide to be a more proactive force, under the tutelage of Banshee and bankrolled by Emma Frost.

The first storyline concerns their attempts to shut down the House of Corrections, a highly secret prison system where wayward children are illegally imprisoned and tortured by one Warden Coffin, a huge bald maniac with a force of similarly hairless and bruising wardens and his special children. It's all very post-Columbine Dubya-era stuff but generally hangs together well as a character-driven adventure. Wood and Ellis get a good handle on most of the characters with the best writing Jubilee especially had received for years (actually remembering she'd been part of the X-Men for years before she was sacrificed to successfully launch Generation X) while Steve Pugh even remembers she's Asian. Emma Frost, while a supporting character, sparkles while everyone gets something to do. The only weakness is that after three and a half solid issues the arc comes to an indecently rapid ending, with Coffin himself quickly defeated.

The second arc is the roll-back "Shockwaves" micro-event filling in what brought on the change; "Come on Die Young" shows the death of Synch and the destruction of the academy. The main cause is Emma's sister Adrienne, already known as a villain from previous appearances and the weak point of the arc. It's so obvious that she's lying to everyone and causing the increased unrest in the school that it just makes Emma and Sean especially look very silly for even entertaining any other options. The rest of the team are well-represented and Synch gets a decent send-off but really far too much hinges on convenience.

The first - and indeed only - four issue arc exclusively by Wood is "Four Days", about the team having a day off in Manhattan, their adventures being split up into four parallel stories - first we see Chamber's day, then Monet & Jubilee's, then Sean & Angelo's, then Paige's. It's not a bad gimmick but the individual stories are variable. Chamber's revolves around him meeting a deaf girl who can hear his speech and is a punk misfit like him; sadly this brings out Jono's emo side a tad too much. Jubes and M going shopping together and getting involved in a hostage situation isn't a bad bit of team bonding however, the same going for Angelo and Sean (rocked by the discovery of Moira MacTaggert's death) in a deal for security software gone wrong. Piage gets an odd little ghost story but again shows well. Aside from a few wobbly bits in the Chamber issue none of it's bad it just seriously lacks substance for a four-issue arc.

By this point the axe was hovering and there's just time to end the team in #75. It's another rather contrived story with the remaining students all coming to the same realisation that there's no real point in hanging around together and to go their separate ways. It's unconvincing and the relief from the fictional characters is strangely palpable, especially that of Banshee, drinking heavily since the death of Moira despite apparently dealing with it on his road trip with Skin. Emma meanwhile arbitrarily turns into a total bitch in belated reaction to her killing of Adrienne months beforehand as she's rather clumsily turned a bit nasty again in order to be in the right place for Grant Morrison's New X-Men; her behaviour gets noticed by her students who decide to simply not say goodbye in response instead of finding out whether she's murdered a policeman after information about Adrienne or what. It's not really a great sign-off for the team, featuring no real action and a couple of plot red herrings which don't come to anything, which makes it a strangely fitting send-off for Generation X.

Overall the two main strengths of Generation X are the characterisation, especially of the students and despite a slight wobble on the part of the staff in the last issue, and the potential. The first arc points to what could have been a fun team-based action title given a bit more space and fair buzzes in places; the flashback arc loses a lot of this momentum and to be honest showed by the title was in such trouble in the first place while "Four Days" is disappointingly pedestrian and showed that perhaps little was lost when the axe fell. It's not a bad read, there's just a feeling it could have been a lot better.

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