Since it debuted in 1963, the various X-Men titles have tackled topics like social issues, romance, time travel, and saving the world. But at its heart, the franchise has always been about students trying to learn how to control their superpowers. New X-Men: Childhood’s End The Complete Collection collects New X-Men #16-32. How does it stand up almost two decades later?
Hope you love alternate universe stories
The early parts of the of Childhood’s End take place during the “House of M” storyline. In a nutshell, the plot involves the Scarlet Witch suffering a mental breakdown and changing reality. Mutants control the world while humans are seen as second class citizens. It is a complete reversal of how the “normal” Marvel universe works. It is a shock to the system — if you know nothing about comic books.
Alternate reality tales are hit and miss. There are some great Elseworld books but there are also some boring What If..? stories. Childhood’s End falls solidly in the middle. While it takes place during the “House of M”, everything happens on the fringes. In other words, there is obviously something greater going on. This leaves it up to the characters to save the book, which leads to the next point.
Who is this?
The main characters in Childhood’s End are the students of the Higher Institute of Learning. There are appearances from Emma Frost, Carol Danvers, and Iron Man, but the majority of the book is focused on the young team. This leaves the book in the hands of names like Surge, Dust, and Mercury. Does it work? Much like its alternate universe storytelling, the trade has its ups and downs.
The newer mutants are not very interesting. Their powers are run of the mill and none of the team do anything that makes them stand out. One of the most important parts of making a good young superhero team is getting the reader engaged in what they can do. This is seen most obviously in Chris Claremont’s initial New Mutants run.
The other part of generating reader interest is developing interesting characters. This is where Childhood’s End thrives. The book is very character driven. It is clear that the writers were trying to create characters that readers cared about. Much care was put into giving each character distinct personalities and motivations. There certainly is not anyone who would be considered “generic” — there just is not a character who reaches out and grabs you.
Good art, if you can remember it
There certainly is a theme to Childhood’s End. It is a constant mix of good, bad, and indifferent. The art is no different. There are some pages that are eye catching, while others will not register with the reader at all. (At no point does it look bad.) Whether the art is good or not, nothing ever leaves an impression. The best way to describe the look of Childhood’s End would be “perfectly acceptable”.
One thing it does do very well is mirror the story being told. The issues set during the “House of M” have a more mature look to them. The rest of the book is brighter and seems almost aimed at a younger audience. As the stories get darker, the settings and colors also lose their brightness. It is a smart and good looking choice that improves the book.