Last October, Marvel debuted two new titles as part of the X-Men line: Uncanny X-Force and Generation Hope. I’ve been an X-Men fan for a long time and I’m still a regular reader of the line so, naturally, I decided to give both of these new titles a try.
However, I entered these two titles with different expectations. Based on previous experience, I planned to give one title a short leash; it had to win me over quickly or I wouldn’t stick around for future issues. Conversely, I was prepared to give the other title a fairly lengthy trial period. To my surprise, the titles have, so far, defied my expectations. The one I expected to appeal to me has left me cold. The one I expected to drive me away has instead pulled me in.
I had high hopes for Generation Hope. These hopes were partially based on my long history with the X-Men family. I’ve often enjoyed their teen titles and I’ve appreciated the shift from one class to another every decade or so.
New Mutants debuted in 1983, introducing a new team of teenaged mutants. I enjoyed their adventures, the sense of growth and discovery. Cannonball and Moonstar remain some of my favorite characters. Generation X debuted in 1994, bringing another generation of mutants to the school. It was one of my favorite titles of the time, combining Chris Bachalo’s excellent artwork with Scott Lobdell’s sense of whimsy. The next class started in 2003. They went through more permutations than the others, starring in New Mutants, New X-Men: Academy X, New X-Men and Young X-Men. Yet, despite the many changes, the New/Young X-Men introduced interesting characters like Dust and Anole and experienced some classic adventures. Every decade, I’ve enjoyed the stories of the current class at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Even though it was a little early, I was looking forward to the stories of the teens of the ‘teens (Generation Hope was cover-dated January 2011).
My expectation wasn’t entirely based on my love for older titles, either. I thought that the writers and editors had done a very good job of laying the groundwork for the current title too. The roots of Generation Hope began in the excellent crossover, Second Coming. At the end of that story, Hope’s powers somehow activated the first new mutants since M-Day. The appearance of these new mutants, referred to as the Five Lights, lifted a dark despair off of the current teams. They were not destined to be the last generation of mutants. The story of these new mutants continued in an arc in Uncanny X-Men called “The Five Lights.” Hope and Rogue raced around the globe, trying to find the newly activated mutants before anyone else. Hope also used her powers to somehow stabilize the newer mutants. The story followed the standard formula for collecting new heroes but was well told.
With that history and that groundwork, I was predisposed to like Generation Hope. I wanted to embrace these new characters. I wanted to enjoy their stories. Unfortunately, the early issues of Generation Hope have been a disappointment. I accept that I may share some of the blame. It’s not fair to compare these new characters to M or Chamber right away. But a greater share of the blame falls at the feet of writer Kieron Gillen. It’s not that I don’t like the new characters as much as that he doesn’t believe in them.
In the first story, the kids of Generation Hope have traveled to Japan to collect the last of the Five Lights. Since they’re only teenagers, they have been accompanied by X-Men veterans Cyclops, Rogue and Wolverine. I understand that these classic characters are involved in the story in order to attract readers. However, their presence comes at the expense of the new characters. The four new kids pretty much stand around while the X-Men and Hope do all the work. They’re passive. They’re uninteresting. Their powers aren’t original enough to help them stand out (one has super-speed, the other heat and cold powers). And they don’t speak enough or do enough to develop personalities. Gillen should have trusted the arc in Uncanny X-Men to entice readers to try this title, rather than allowing the supposed stars to become supporting characters in their own book.
That’s not the only problem with this title. I’ve also been confused by the lack of clarity as to Kenji’s powers. He’s the fifth light that they’re trying to rescue and recruit. Like the others, his powers are out of control. But they seem to do several different things making it difficult to determine the exact nature of the threat. Is he psychic? Does he tap into a dark dimension (like DC’s Shade)? The confusing threat plus uninspiring heroes makes for a particularly troublesome combination. That’s why, despite my initial expectation, Generation Hope has failed to deliver.
On the other hand, I had low expectations for Uncanny X-Force. Once again, my expectations were based in part on past experience. That’s not to say I’ve always disliked X-Force. Yet I haven’t always liked the title either.
I’m a fan of the first 100 issues. I liked the way the title juggled multiple threats, the constant energy in both story and art and interesting developments such as Cannonball’s apparent immortality. I enjoyed the series as it transitioned through other creative teams and other concepts: Cable’s strike-force, the team on the run, the junior X-Men, hitchhiking across America, and so on. After that, the team and the title have struggled to find their footing. Warren Ellis’ European industrial approach was quickly abandoned. Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s completely new team was interesting but sufficiently different that it was eventually spun off as X-Statix. Most recently, there was the ultra-violent black ops team led by Wolverine.
The black ops version did well enough on the sales charts. But it wasn’t the right kind of title for me. I wasn’t interested in the over-the-top violence. I was dismayed at the gray, muddy art. I abandoned the title after only one issue. I would occasionally check in on the title when there was a highly publicized story like Messiah War or Necrosha. But I noticed the same tone and immediately put it back on the shelf.
So why would I even give this new Uncanny X-Force a chance in the first place? Well, there are a number of reasons. One, it’s new. I’m generally interested in something new. In this case, the newness also included a completely new creative team. Two, I’m not going to hold the mistakes of earlier incarnations against this one if it’s good. They may inform my decision to stick around or to give up quickly but there are plenty of concepts that have righted themselves after a rough period. Three, people whose opinions I respect read the book before I did and had good things to say about it. And, four, the new creative team already showed a bit of promise. Rick Remender is a respected writer. Jerome Opena’s figures had more form than the amorphous characters of the previous series. And Dean White actually mixed a bit of red, green and even pink into the palette instead of multiple shades of gray.
Even then, I had low expectations going in. The new title would continue the black ops angle that I had found unappealing the last time around. The new team would feature Deadpool and Fantomex, who I wouldn’t count among my favorite characters at this point. So, while I was willing to give it a chance, I wasn’t willing to give it much of a chance.
To my surprise, Uncanny X-Force has been well-worth reading. Remender has approached both Fantomex and Deadpool in ways that have made them interesting to me for the first time in years. Deadpool is actually funny, though with a cynical bite. There’s also heart to the series, as Remender has Angel and Psylocke deal with their difficult relationship. They each have dark sides that are needed for this kind of operation and it’s a struggle to maintain their love in the midst of it. Yet it’s their love for one another that helps them overcome obstacles. Amazingly, Wolverine has been the least interesting character so far. He’s the glue that holds the team together, but it’s the interaction among the others that has been most appealing
Uncanny X-Force has also played against my expectations. One issue opened with a particular violent scene in which Psylocke dispatched her allies. However, that scene was quickly revealed to be a psychic trap that Psylocke rejected. It’s almost as if the series hinted at the darkness before telling us that it wouldn’t go there.
Finally, in contrast to Generation Hope, Uncanny X-Force has given sufficient screen time to all of its characters to make each of them interesting- including the villains. I appreciated the back-stories for Apocalypse’s current set of Horsemen. It gave depth to those characters and to the conflict. I still fear that Uncanny X-Force will fall to my low expectations. Yet, so far, it’s risen to the occasion with wonderfully rich characters and interesting stories.