With the mutant race now saved, growing (a little), and still fairly hated and feared writer Matt Fraction kicks off the post-”Second Coming” era by getting back to basics. This is in the sense that the main story in this collection is about doing two things that we haven’t seen in the X-titles for a while: discovering new mutants, and setting up a spinoff title in the pages of the main one. (The spinoff in question being Kieron Gillen and Salva Espin’s “Generation Hope” -- hence the title of this volume -- which I have high hopes for despite its blatant theft of some of “Akira’s” most iconic bits.) It’s a solid enough effort, undermined by the fact that it reads like Fraction is doing this out of a sense of duty and editorially-driven-mandate rather than any real passion about the core story.
Things kick off with the “Uncanny X-Men: Heroic Age” one-shot which sets up some key bits of the new status quo. Cyclops gets some advice on leveraging the goodwill from saving San Francisco towards making mutants less hated and feared from Steve Rogers in the Savage Land. Beast leaves the X-men again and consoles Molly from the Runaways about the still-looming threat of mutankind’s extinction. Hope gets a physical from Mr. Fantastic and makes a decision to find out who her birth parents were. All three do a good job of setting up future stories, and there are some nice character moments between the cast as well, particularly Cyclops and Hope’s heart-to-heart at the end of the issue. Art is split on the three stories by Whilce Portacio, Steven Sanders and Jamie McKelvie who all do excellent work. I also have to admit that Sanders’ commitment to his glaringly off-model Beast is starting to grow on me.
Portacio also illustrates most of the rest of this collection to diminishing returns. As I said above it starts off great, with real energy and dynamic-looking panels and then slowly gets sketchier and more awkward as things go on. The fact that the last few pages in this arc are done by another artist, Harvey Tolibao, ultimately come as no surprise. Greg Land is back on the book after this arc, so if Portacio does return I hope that he’ll be able to keep things more consistent than he does here.
As for the story itself, Hope’s search for her birth parents is accomplished swiftly and paves the way for her to track down the five new mutants detected at the end of “Second Coming.” The four we see here do a good job of running through “usual suspects” of X-gene awakenings. College-student Laurie angsts and rages over her new lot in life before discovering how cool it is, Gabriel almost dies after he loses control of his powers, Idie is threatened by the local militia, and Teon... Teon just wants to have a good time. If you’ve been reading X-men for any length of time (and at this point, I don’t think that anyone still reading it hasn’t been doing that) then all of these scenarios will strike you as VERY familiar. Fraction doesn’t do a whole lot to offer any twists on the formulas and the characters themselves are essentially blank slates. I imagine that’ll give Gillen plenty of room to work in for “Generation Hope” but they don’t come off as particularly memorable in their introductions.
I will say that the very act of seeing these old tricks one more time does have some inherent interest as it’s been -- over five years according to the publication date of “House of M” -- since we’ve seen anything like this. Also, even if Fraction doesn’t seem particularly interested in this kind of thing, I do appreciate his work outside of Hope’s quest. There’s lots of other things going on in this volume, primarily Emma Frost’s dilemma about how to get Sebastian Shaw off of Utopia without anyone noticing. This dovetails nicely with Kitty Pryde’s struggles with being in her “phased” state and while it leads to some nice drama, it doesn’t quite have a payoff.
Still, there’s plenty of other things to keep a reader occupied. Emma dining with Tony Stark and later, Namor, Iceman getting the X-men a PR person (and her reaction to finding out that Magneto is still alive), Longshot and Dazzler fighting crime in San Francisco, and Cyclops getting advice on how to process his grief from Wolverine. I know that last part sounds ridiculous -- but it actually comes off pretty well. You can really feel that Fraction is more invested in these sub-plots as they have real momentum, energy and even wit to them. I also like the fact that with all of these subplots we’re getting a denser kind of storytelling with these elements as that has also been a hallmark of “X-men.” Hopefully Fraction has studied the lessons of the ‘90’s and will actually resolve these at some point.
So this volume is a success in terms of getting the series back to “business as usual” after several years of struggling under a status quo that no one really knew how to take advantage of. This actually is pretty good jumping on point for new readers... At least, as good as a jumping on point gets for “X-men.” I will admit that this volume does a better job of setting up future stories than telling a compelling story in its own right, but I’m cool with that. Especially since Gillen will be joining Fraction on the next arc.
(This volume also has an eight-page story by Allan Heinberg and Oliver Coipel detailing Magneto’s current whereabouts and agenda. It’s not bad, but will be of primary interest to anyone reading “Young Avengers: The Children’s Crusade.”)