Going into the series, I didn’t really expect to be so enamored of the Generation X relaunch, but I’ll be damned if Christina Strain’s ensemble of mutant misfits hasn’t charmed its way into being one of my favorite books each month. The series has done a lot to flesh out some ill-defined and somewhat obscure characters, and (in hindsight) created an interesting new character that — though a bit pompous and annoying — has become maybe my second favorite in the series (#KidOmega4Eva). This most recent arc, which sees my man Quentin teaming up with Ben Deeds and Hindsight to stage a heist at a supervillain deathray auction, is a home run and I give all the credit to Strain’s plotting and dialogue. I don’t want to be too negative on the pencils of Eric Koda, but I do look forward to a new artist being on the book and bringing a better developed aesthetic to the series.
So last issue, our boys learned that the villainous Strucker twins (who shouldn’t be confused with the good Struckers in Fox’s Gifted series) have purchased a vial of the newest mutant-hunting nano Sentinels and have what we can assume to be a fairly negative agenda for their newest acquisition. So our fellas set out to snag the microscopic killer robots and do actually succeed in subduing Andreas von Strucker in the favorite trope of spy movies and the Hitman series of games: the bathroom ambush. The problem? Kade Kilgore, the murderous moppet who is running the auction, faked the whole Sentinel swarm thing in an attempt to out Quentin as a freshly minted X-Man, rather than the punk rock arbiter of chaos he professes to be. Now while the evil Alfred E. Neuman seems content to prove that Kid Omega’s actually a good guy, feeling that Quire’s nihilistic views and deeply ingrained self loathing will lead him to unwittingly sabotage the team’s goal of a better future for mutantkind, it’s actually Benji who manages to save the day by causing the one thing we all really wanted out of a supervillain weapons auction: the inevitable riot.
While that’s the main action, the real story of this issue is about our boy Ben Deeds and his own crippling feelings of inadequacy. Calling back to a great moment in the post-AVX run of Uncanny X-Men, Deeds is a nervous wreck at everything he does, and it’s largely due to a botched attempt at inspiration from the late Scott Summers. With the words “You Mr. Deeds are not ready.” constantly running through his head, Benji has always been afraid of seemingly everything. From field missions that place him in a more literal danger to the social awkwardness of addressing his latent feelings for his schoolmate (and heist co-conspirator) Nathaniel Carver, Mr. Deeds struggles with pretty much any conflict that finds its way into his path. Even as the issue ends, and he’s proven himself a valuable member of the team by saving the day, he drags his feet and is unable to muster the courage to actually ask Nate out. I rather like that element of the story. Just because Ben was able to cowboy up and save his friends (and as far as he knew, all of mutantkind), doesn’t necessarily assuage all of his other neuroses in the process. It’s a real human moment that shows realistic, nuanced growth for the character, as opposed to “TV/movie growth” where one solved problem magically erases all the others.
Another human moment that I enjoyed (albeit a smaller, more open to interpretation one) was the sequence involving Jubilee and Jono. So after their recent stroll through Central Park produced some cathartic bad guy beatings, Jubes and Chamber are taking a moment to relax and reconnect on the craziness of their recent lives. The act of beating up bad guys, something that doesn’t happen a ton in this book, is the first bit of normalcy that Jubilee has had in a long time — what with her being a new mom, a vampire, her old friend being a sewer-dwelling monster, teaching the special class and all the other weirdness that comes along with the X-Man lifestyle. For his part, Jono is a very supportive friend, though their interactions do hint at the potential for more than that — and surprisingly I’m into it. I don’t typically go in for shipping that doesn’t really suit a narrative, but Jubilee and Chamber now make sense. In the first Generation X series, the gap in maturity between the two characters was wide and they felt like they would barely be friends if it weren’t for their status as a persecuted minority with giant killer robots after them because of their genetic makeup. Now, though, given all of their experiences and their developments into that weird stage of early adulthood, I really enjoy their pairing — and it’s not just because pairing a goth dude with a vampire makes all the sense in the world.
So…about the pencils. They’re…uh….they’re not good. I’m sorry, I want to like the art in this book, but Eric Koda’s figures, storyboards and action just leave a lot to be desired. While there are some strong moments during the riot at the weapon auction, I can’t help but feel like another artist would do better work with this assignment. Thinking of what (OG Gen X artist) Chris Bachalo could do with this recipe for insanity leaves the rather mild madness of what we do get wanting. I recognize that it could be part of Benji’s power, but why does he look precisely like Kade Kilgore for much of the latter half of the book? Why does Kade’s face lose almost all definition and shape any time they zoom in on him? What is up with the fake beard that Kilgore’s bodyguard appears to be rocking? It’s like it’s not even attached to his face. There are tons of issues in the smaller moments too. I know she’s a vampire (and there is admittedly a pretty funny bit about her biting her lip) but why does it look like Jubilee can’t fit her teeth in her mouth? I also have to comment on his poor depiction of Jubilee’s son Shogo, who goes from looking like Shin Chan in one panel to disgraced NBA announcer/sexual deviant Marv Albert in the next.
This issue features a lot of strong storytelling and great character development. Everyone feels like a more complete person after this issue, even notable curmudgeon Quentin Quire! If the art were stronger this would be a 10, but the story element is so good that it has developed its own sort of appeal. From the quieter elements to the supervillain weapons auction, this is an excellently scripted book.