The return of Marvel’s cult hit X-Men series from the ’90s, Generation X, is here! With none of the same creators and only a couple recognizable characters, shunted to the narrative periphery!
Because you demanded it?
Christina Strain, best known as a colorist on Brian K. Vaughan’s renowned Runaways, gets her first real shot at writing in Generation X Vol. 1: Natural Selection. And it kind of shows. The opening six issues of this relaunched ongoing series focus on some of the freakier young mutants at the Xavier School in the heart of Central Park, the ones with oddball powers that might not be all that useful in an X-Men battle. Or so the promotional materials said. It’s kind of vague within the book itself.
Natural Selection is full of half-hearted attempts. Another promise was that each character would be fleshed out individually. You see the beginning of that in every issue, but the whole thrust has petered out within a page or two and we end up learning not much at all. Some of the longer-running plots, like the saga between bratty bad boy Quentin Quire and shy shapeshifter Benjamin Deeds, drag on for so long that it feels like entire issues are skipped before we return back to a state of affairs that really hasn’t developed at all throughout dozens of pages.
It’s hard for an artist to transition into writing, but there’s one technique Strain has definitely picked up on — decompression. The first two issues of Natural Selection easily could have been cut down to one, and the story would have been better off for it. This is a book that goes in multiple directions, with little follow up to any particular plot point, and maybe worst of all, it takes its damn sweet time getting there. Whereas many writers on lower-selling books amp things up to make sure their story gets completely told in a limited time frame, Strain must think she’s playing with house money, introducing the newly reformed M-Plate and then dispensing of her almost immediately, while the characters still TALK about her, as if they’ll get around to truly defeating the villain down the road, after they’ve made sure to start five other adventures first.
Amilcar Pinna handles the art on issues # 1-4, and he’s good at making the freaks look freaky. Problem is, everyone else looks that way, too. Jubilee, Quire and the rest have weird, upturned noses and full, pouting lips like a supermodel that hasn’t put makeup on yet. Give credit to Alberto Alburquerque on issue #5 and Martín Morazzo, who helps out on #4, because they’re able to keep the book’s appearance consistent, for better or worse. Felipe Sobreiro handles most of the colors, with assistance from Jay David Ramos, Chris Sotomayor and Nolan Woodard, and hey, they’re really good at making solid, monochromatic backgrounds. The rest is perfectly fine superhero stuff that neither adds nor subtracts from Natural Selection as a whole.
The final issue actually picks up significantly, in plot as well as dialogue (the jokes are actually funny!), but by then it’s too little, too late. Generation X Vol 1: Natural Selection ends up standing as another example of what can happen when a non-comics writer with a cool idea is given the reins without much supervision — bad comics borne out of good intentions. The book’s premise is solid, but the target audience is not going to wait around for something to happen while the creative team meanders from character to character and drops plots points as soon as they’re introduced. Funnily enough, Strain probably would have been better off doing her own thing and not trying to adhere to the decompressed practices of the old guard. Be more like the kids and let the freak flag fly.