As I write this, the future of “Generation Hope” has been all but announced as its absence from the most recent issue of “Previews” has led many to conclude that new writer James Asmus’ first arc will also be his last. Sales for the series started out mediocre and only got worse from there, save for the “Schism” tie-ins collected here, so all that’s left is to consider why this well-written series didn’t connect with readers. Much like Joe Casey’s “Wildcats,” I think the reason is that the series departed from-- or rather, didn’t embrace the superhero paradigm enough.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but if you’re going to do a series at Marvel or DC that doesn’t involve superpowered individuals fighting crime and recurring villains on a regular basis it can’t be just “good” in order to survive. It has to be transcendant, like Garth Ennis’ run on “Punisher MAX” which not only managed remarkably consistent sales throughout its run, but also provided a template for other creators to work off of after he left. Kieron Gillen’s work here is consistently “good” and has more than a few moments of real cleverness. Are any of them transcendant? Nope.
Take the story which kicks off this volume. It’s a three-parter entitled “The Ward,” which is really a two-parter with another story included in the arc for no discernable reason. As Hope and her team continue to acclimate to life and training on Utopia, they’re assigned a new “liason” in the form of Kitty Pryde who accompanies them to Germany after a new mutant birth is discovered. This results in some reasonably engaging zombie-movie-esque mayhem when they find out that the “mutant birth” is actually a fetus who doesn’t want to be born and is mind-controlling the people around him to make sure that happens. The best part of the story comes in seeing the various entreaties Hope, Laurie, Idie, and Kenji use to try and coax the kid out. They all fail for obvious (but amusing) reasons, which leaves it up to Teon to save the day.
Teon is also at the center of what is probably the most... distinctive part of the book as the third part of “The Ward” focuses on the court case waged by his parents in order to have their son returned to them. His parents aren’t bad people, just concerned about the welfare of their son, and things are going bad for the mutants until Teon takes the stand and proceeds to “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer” the entire courtroom into submission. Gillen tries to justify the character’s sudden eloquence after his primary vocabulary up to this point has consisted of the words “fight,” “flight,” “mate,” and “eat” but it’s really a lost cause. Even so, he wrote himself into a corner with this particular plot and I have to admire the fact that the writer simply didn’t cross the line into implausibility, but decided to nuke it from orbit instead. That doesn’t necessarily make this a good story, but at least it was memorable.
The fourth story, “Better,” re-teams Gillen with his frequent collaborator Jamie McKelvie for a tale about what happens when Hope’s team gets to an emerging mutant too late. Disgusted at his fate, and surrounded by people who treat him as a freakshow, one teen decides to end it all rather than continue living as a mutant. It’s an affecting metaphor for gay teen suicide (Gillen’s quoted description) that shows the dark side to Hope’s mission. We also get some insight into Kenji’s life and see that there may be more to him than being a supervillain-in-training.
Even though “Schism” was rightly hyped as a big X-event, the two issues of “Generation Hope” collected here represent the only tie-in issues connected to it. There was no getting around it, though, as Idie plays an integral role in the event and the first issue shows us the events at the museum from her perspective. One minor issue I had with “Schism” that I felt would be better addressed here is that Idie comes across as a very one-note character in that story, almost a caricature of religious miserabalism and self-hatred. It’s also not too far off from how she’s portrayed here, but this issue actually does a really good job of showing how her motivations were shaped prior to massacring the Hellfire Club’s enforcers. Idie’s actions come across as a believable outcome of her worldview rather than the necessity of the plot. The second issue isn’t nearly as distinctive as the team sorts out their issues prior to the giant Sentinel’s assault on Utopia.
The final issue deals with the fallout from the attack as Gillen wraps up his run and sends Idie off to Westchester with Logan and welcomes Pixie to the team. It certainly feels like an ending, and as such I don’t feel a particular need to pick up the next collection to see what happens next. I’m sure we’ll be seeing Hope and company again in the pages of the Gillen-scripted “Uncanny.” Even so, the twelve issues of this series that he wrote were involving character-driven stories where they didn’t try to save the world, just each other. Would it still be going if the likes of Omega Red, Emplate, or even Mr. Sinister dropped by to throw down with the team? It’s certainly possible, but even in this market the answer would likely be “no.” Even if it didn’t last, Gillen and all of the artists involved should still be commended for doing good work on this series.