Comic Picks By The Glick

X-Men: Blank Generation & Reckless Abandonment

July 31, 2013

When it was announced that Brian Wood would be taking over the “adjectiveless” X-Men title, my reaction was along the lines of, “Now I’ll finally have a reason to read this!”  The whole “Vampires vs. Mutants” storyline that kicked off the title didn’t have any appeal to me at all, while the writer at its helm, Victor Gischler, hadn’t done anything in the past to make me consider giving his run a chance.  That sentiment wound up holding true for each subsequent storyline in the title as well.  Of course, now that Wood was taking over, everything was going to be all better.  Right?  Not quite, or at least not as much as I was expecting it to be.  The stories he wrote in these collections have their merits, but aren’t his best work by a long shot.  Then you’ve got the awkward way these collections are structured, in addition to their overall quality, and you have some “X-Men” stories that will likely be most appreciated only be dedicated X-fans.

Part of the issue here is that Wood didn’t write all of the issues collected in these two volumes.  “Blank Generation” is all him, while he only does the first two for “Reckless Abandonment.”  The remainder of issues there are written by Seth Peck, who I had not heard of before now.  If you guessed that the reason I didn’t pick up either of these before now was because I didn’t want to pay full price for a collecting only two issues that I wanted to read, well... you guessed right.  (Or you just recall what I wrote about the first trade back in January.)  So what happened here?  Comic-Con happened!  I found both of these collections in the half-off bins, so I think I got a good price for the issues that I wanted to read.

As for the issues themselves, they tell a fairly complete story which involves the discovery of the remains of mutants which pre-date all known modern bearers of the X-gene.  Unfortunately for Storm’s team of X-men, which includes Colossus, Psylocke, Pixie and Domino, the person behind their discovery decides to start cloning them with the intent of using these new proto-mutants as biological weapons.  Naturally, Storm and her team see this as something that must be stopped at all costs.

The best part about these issues is the grasp Wood has on the characters.  All of them feel “right” as far as their characterization goes -- except for Colossus, and even he works if you’re willing to accept that he’s dealing with being the current avatar of Cyttorak off-panel.  There’s also some compelling interplay between the cast here as Storm is nominally part of Cyclops’ team (these stories pre-date “Avengers Vs. X-Men,” f.y.i. which I suppose creates another barrier for entry here) but has her own ideas about how things should be run.  This includes keeping the details of the proto-mutants secret from her boss, which does not sit well with some her teammates.  Even though they have each others’ back in battle, it’s still a little uneasy to see them nearly at each others’ throats during their downtime.  I mean that as a compliment, as the tension these scenes generate wouldn’t work if Wood didn’t convince us initially that they normally get along very well and it’s this plot point that’s splitting them apart.

Of course, that plot point also turns out to be a weight on the writer’s overall narrative.  We’re told throughout Wood’s issues that the discovery of these proto-mutants is a VERY BIG DEAL!  That it’s something that’s key to mutant identity and history and should be safegarded at all costs.  Unfortunately we’re constantly told these things rather than shown any concrete examples of why this is the case.  The whole idea of a “mutant culture” isn’t something that I’ve seen touched on since the days of Grant Morrison’s run, when he was dealing with a mutant population that was large enough to sustain such a concept.  I can see the archaeological significance of such a discovery, but Wood fails to sell me on these proto-mutants having any more meaning than that.

At the very least he was trying to do something new here.  His successor, Seth Peck, was apparently told that the series had four issues left before it would be relaunched and to fill time accordingly.  He does this by giving us two two-issue stories, one of which is decent filler and the other one is not so much.  The decent story has Domino and Daredevil infiltrating an underground supervillain casino to find out who’s dispersing supervillain gear throughout the criminal underworld.  It’s a fairly standard team-up bit, but it’s done well as the action moves fast, the heroes banter effectively and the art is pretty sharp.  As for the other one, it involves the appearance of a new mutant and the scramble between Storm’s team and a government-sponsored group of superthugs to recruit him for their side.  It’s played pretty straight -- the teams meet, fight, talk things out, then go their separate ways -- and is all the more dull for it.  Not helping matters is the fact that the mutant’s decision to join the team he does goes against all of the logic in the story.

So the stories here are pretty uneven, and the same is true of the art as well.  David Lopez provides the majority of it between the two volumes and he provides some very nice, clean art that quite appealing to look at and easy to follow.  Paul Azaceta and Matthew Southworth take on the Daredevil/Domino story and while their styles are pretty far off from the superhero norm, they work quite well in the context of the characters involved and the tale being told.  Unfortunately the good news ends here as while I’ve liked Roland Boschi’s work on Jason Aaron’s “Ghost Rider,” his attempts to tweak his style to a more conventional “superhero” mold simply don’t work here.  The end result is that his two issues wind up looking awkward and creepy for all the wrong reasons.  That’s also what happens to Jefte Palo who does the “new mutant” story.  Coincidentally, the last time I saw his work was on an issue of Aaron’s “Wolverine” where the title character was tracking down cannibals in the backwoods.  Palo’s style worked a lot better there than trying to draw superheroes in costume, beating each other up here.

Essentially, these two volumes are recommended mainly for completists of the “Brian Wood” or “X-Men” variety.  Mind you, I’m saying this after getting both of them at a very steep discount.  The good character work Wood does here isn’t enough to offset a story whose central idea isn’t properly executed.  As for Peck’s work... well, I’ve read worse filler.  If you’re looking for a good “X-Men” story from Wood, then you can either check out his work on “Ultimate Comics X-Men” or wait for the first collection of the relaunched version of this series, which I’ve heard captures the spirit of a 90’s team book in a good way.

Jason Glick

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