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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

X-amining Generation X Ashcan / Opening Volley / Collector's Preview


"Opening Volley"
1994

In a Nutshell
A trio of promotional books hyping Generation X.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Chris Bachalo
Inker: Mark Buckingham
Lettering: Comicraft
Colorist: Steve Bucellato & Electric Crayon

Plot
Banshee ruminates on his new charges and co-headmaster as he takes up the reins of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. After a game of volleyball, Jubilee writes Wolverine a letter sharing her thoughts about her new classmates. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Opening Volley is a special promotional issue given away at the 1994 San Diego ComiCon to promote the upcoming series. It is the most like an actual comic, with an actual plot and sequential art (albeit still very exposition heavy). The Ashcan issue was, I believe, something distributed to retailers just before the launch of the regular book, and sold for $0.75. It is basically a sketchbook (with some narrative captions written from Banshee's perspective) combined with a few preview pages of issue #1's pencil art.


The Collector's Preview is more like a magazine (in fact, the way it is presented, it is very reminiscent of the kind of special issues being put out by Wizard magazine around this time), featuring a mixture of in-universe information pieces, creator interviews, and behind-the-scenes articles on stuff like the latest line of Toy Biz action figures and the next season of the animated series. Marvel would return to the format (and the Wizard aping) a few more times over the next few years, including the "Age of Apocalypse" Collectors Preview that will be published just a few short months after this one.

Technically, these issues represent the first appearances of Chamber, Mondo and the villainous Emplate, though the Ashcan is considered more or less out-of-continuity, while Opening Volley is said to take place between issues #11 and #12 of the regular series, presumably to account for the presence of Mondo (who won't join the team until the Generation X '95 annual), and to give Jubilee some time to develop the opinions on her classmates that she shares with Wolverine.


Parts of the Collectors Preview are presented in places like in-universe material given to students or potential students, which would quickly put to low Xavier’s attempts to keep his mutantcy a secret, as it speaks openly about his telepathy (as well as his leadership of the X-Men).

The Biosphere, which will be Generation X’s Danger Room with an additional organic component, is introduced in the Collector’s Preview.

Amongst the various seminars listed in the Collector's Preview available to students at the new Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is a business class taught by Archangel (“Lesson 1: don’t appoint your secretly-bigoted best friend to run your company while super-heroing”) and Emma (“What’s good for the bedroom is good for the boardroom.”), and a Fine Arts class taught by Beast & Stevie Hunter.


The Salem Centurion, an alumni letter for the X-Men, lists past and present students along with their majors (as though Xavier's school functions like a normal one, and not as a front for his secret paramilitary force of mutant revolutionaries). Of note: Bird-Brain, who apparently decided to major in Aeronautics during his brief stay at the mansion, Gambit's major is physical education (*wink*), Bishop's is history (cuz he's from the future!) and Changeling having an acting major despite just posing as Professor X the whole time he was there ("acting" seems to be the major of choice for characters without a clear link to a specific field of study).


Creator Central
The credits listed above are specifically to the Opening Volley oneshot, and are taken from UncannyXMen.net's write-up of the issue (the actual issue just lists a writer/artist credit).

A Work in Progress
In the Ashcan issue, Emma is said to be from Boston, which I think is the first time that is established.

Banshee describes Chamber as a born leader, but we won’t really see that play out in the series (presumably, Lobdell was thinking of going for a natural leader/uncontrollable power Cyclops pastiche).

A power struggle between Synch & Chamber for leadership is teased, which, again, never really comes to fruition.

Penance is listed as Yugoslavian, though there’s no way Banshee could know that (and it won’t turn out to be true).

M’s bouts of silence/autism aren’t mentioned, instead described as child-like temper tantrums.

Apparently, there were plans at one point for Chamber to use a device created by Forge that would enable him to use his power to fly.

Per Opening Volley, Jubilee's favorite new teammate is Synch, and she is suspicious of Emma.


Banshee makes a note to talk to Nightcrawler about Chamber.


Scott Lobdell on Creating Generation X

"In the last few years, we've seen on comic book company after the next doing their versions of the X-Men...we didn't want to set out to do another version of the X-Men. If you at the characters [in Generation X], there's no team Wolverine or Nightcrawler. They look different. What [Chris Bachalo and I] want to do is create the new team that would be ripped off for the next 10 years."

Martin, Anya. "Scott Lobdell and the Genesis of Generation X." Generation X Collector's Preview October 1994: p7.

Chris Bachalo on Creating the Generation X Characters

"Chamber was [Lobdell's]. He started telling me about Chamber and I thought he as completely crazy. Chamber is this guiy with a chest that explodes with energy and half his face is blown off. Once I started doing the cincept drawings, I began to think he was a really cool character. Scott also created Husk...I thought he was working for the wrong company. He should be over at Vertigo, land of the really strange characters. I came up with M. And Skin was my idea."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p214.

Austin's Analysis
While there's not a lot of plot to these issues (one is essentially a sketchbook, another features the tried-and-true "letter to home" format to comment on its characters, and the third is Marvel trying to do it's own take on Wizard), it is worth pointing out just how much of a pre-release push Marvel gave Generation X. Despite the fact that, as the latest addition to its (still) best-selling X-line, Generation X was almost guaranteed to be a sales-success, Marvel gave it a huge promotional push, laying the groundwork for the series in assorted books months before its release, then turning the annual X-crossover into, essentially, a commercial for the series, while also releasing these three issues.

Certainly, I doubt any of the diehard X-fans at the time complained about the attention and extra material (I certainly didn't), but given that we're just a few years removed from Marvel's controversial (and ultimately failed) decision to farm out the core of its Marvel Universe titles to expats Jim Lee & Rob Liefeld in an attempt to goose sales and reinvigorate what were relatively poor-performing titles via "Heroes Reborn", one has to wonder if perhaps the marketing resources (and dollars) put into ensuring that the latest X-book would be even more of a smash hit than it was already guaranteed to be couldn't have been used to generate buzz and shore up some of those lagging but venerable series that didn't feature Spider-Man or the X-Men. If they had, maybe "Heroes Reborn" wouldn't have been necessary.

The other thing interesting thing about these kinds of pre-release but still-technically canonical stories is how they differ from what later appears in the "official" debut of the characters. Lobdell & Bachalo clearly put a lot of thought into these characters and the initial setup of the series, and as a result, most of this material lines up pretty closely with what follows. With one notable exception, most of the differences are minor, stuff like Chamber never really developing the ability to fly or vying for a leadership position, or not having the full mystery of Penance and her ultimate relationship to Monet fleshed out. The big difference is Mondo, a character presented here as being as much a part of the main cast as anyone else, but who won't actually appear until issue #3, won't join the regular cast until their first annual about a year later, and will ultimately turn out to be a clone of a villain with no interest in joining the school, so clearly, whatever Lobdell & Bachalo had in mind for the character initially changed on the fly pretty quickly.

Next Issue
Next week: X-Men (vol. 2) Annual #3, X-Force Annual #3, and Cable #16!

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11 comments:

  1. The treatment of Mondo in the actual comic book vs. the supporting material (including apparently this preview stuff I didn't read as well as, notably, the 1995 X-Men trading cards) is so different. Has the full story behind the discrepancy ever been revealed? The cast of Generation X, even without Mondo, is huge, so was it just a matter of there being too many characters? His power set also seems somewhat duplicative of Husks, so I wonder if that also played a role in him being shuffled off to the side. I really like the original Lobdell/Bachalo run on Gen X, but the Mondo subplot is the one long-term subplot that did not seem to have a worthy pay-off. (Also, he was established to be a clone years later, not in Gen X 25, right? Having a sleeper agent for the bad guy at the school is a good idea and all, but even that seemed half-baked since we hardly ever saw him interact with the other students and the villain for whom he was working had not previously appeared in the series.)

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    1. Yeah, the whole clone thing came out circa issues #60-61 (during Hama's run, I think? Not Lobdell, at any rate). Issue #25 was just the reveal that he was in cahoots with Black Tom.

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  2. I almost skipped Gen X because of Marvel's near lawsuit against Wildstorm for Gen 13 which had a different name to start. They changed it to Gen 13 which worked out better for being the 13th batch and the kids of the 7th batch of test subjects.

    Gen 13 had a huge hype train including a preview in an issue of Wizard with Beavis and Butthead on the cover (33 maybe?) while none of these hype books for Gen X were available at my local store in TN. While both books released around the same time, Wizard gave huge press to Gen 13, the art was amazing, lots of action and it shot up in value while Gen X never got above cover price and you can find most of it in the quarter bins still.

    I bought this series but it never caught on with me. I was about 13 and while I liked the art, it wasn't as exciting as Wildstorm books or other X Books. I stayed on until around issue 10 while I made it until around issue 15 with Gen 13 but that was after a mini series and relaunch.

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    1. I finally tracked down these preview books in my 30's but never actually looked at them and they were sold as part of my comics purge a few years back.

      I think why this book never took off is that it never really felt like it was going anywhere. There wasn't a major villains team, it needed a Hellions or MLF or some sort of rival. I alwasy enjoy the villains more than the hero's because they have some sort of motive that made them more interesting while the hero team just wasn't as interesting. I still find this with GI Joe, Transformers, etc. I wish there had been a series that was in the life of the MLF, how they trained, what they did during the day when not on a mission, why they did what they did and what made them into crazy bad guys. Maybe that's why I like shows like Mindhunter.

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    2. To be fair, you can find most of GEN 13 in quarter bins now, too. ;)

      Good point on the lack of a solid villain team. Gen X, which was able embrace the "they're students, not superheroes" approach moreso than the New Mutants could, would have been the perfect place to create a new batch of Hellions setup at another school that functioned more like rivals than super-villain antagonists (which was certainly the subtext in the old New Mutants/Hellions fights; with Gen X, the subtext could have been made text).

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  3. Not gonna lie, this preview got me psyched for the book back in the day. Well, more psyched. But when I was younger, I enjoyed any peek behind the scenes that we got. Looking back now, I wonder if that's what led me to realize that I ultimately DIDN'T want to work in comics like lil me thought, though...

    "...one has to wonder if perhaps the marketing resources (and dollars) put into ensuring that the latest X-book would be even more of a smash hit than it was already guaranteed to be couldn't have been used to generate buzz and shore up some of those lagging but venerable series that didn't feature Spider-Man or the X-Men."

    That's something I never really thought of, but in hindsight, it's very true - Marvel could have easily boosted Avengers/FF/etc instead of boosting stuff that was already destined to sell well. Now I'm curious what a world where Marvel didn't make "Heroes Reborn" would look like compared to now.

    "I almost skipped Gen X because of Marvel's near lawsuit against Wildstorm for Gen 13 which had a different name to start."

    That lawsuit was one of the things (along with the great Waid/Wieringo Flash run) that broke my Marvel Zombie period. That phrase was so ubiquitous then in news & fiction that I wondered if they'd be suing all of them next. Well, at least it put Gen13 on my radar, and I enjoyed both titles.

    "I think why this book never took off is that it never really felt like it was going anywhere. There wasn't a major villains team, it needed a Hellions or MLF or some sort of rival."

    True. They tried to do a "new Hellions" down the line, but (a) it was a couple years into the title, which had been pretty lackadaisical until that point, and (b) they weren't that interesting, character or power-wise, since a bunch of them shared Emplate's powers. It was just a strangely "mellow" book most of the time, in my experience.

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  4. Meant to post this three days ago, but for some reason I can't post comments on my iPad anymore:


    "Apparently, there were plans at one point for Chamber to use a device created by Forge that would enable him to use his power to fly."

    If memory serves, that device popped up in the first Generation X novel? I *think* I remember that.

    Mondo's always kind of amazed me, how he appeared in all the early promotional posters and stuff, was in Generation Next, and then... what happened to him? It's not like the creative team flipped or anything; I really wonder what the original plans for him were, and what changed. Has Lobdell ever commented on it?

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    1. "Mondo's always kind of amazed me, how he appeared in all the early promotional posters and stuff, was in Generation Next, and then... what happened to him? It's not like the creative team flipped or anything; I really wonder what the original plans for him were, and what changed. Has Lobdell ever commented on it?"

      I don't think he ever has, but he has a reputation as being a writer who likes to change things on the fly even when he's been foreshadowing and/or hyping them for years. It might be as simple as deciding that "chill dude" wasn't as much of a character hook as he wanted. That's just conjecture, though.

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  5. I think I had the Collector's Preview -- I remember those class descriptions, at least -- but not eithe of these other specials.

    I really liked GENERATION X. Personally, I found it a nice change of pace every month from the core X-books. GEN X was just so weird and out there sometimes, in ways I don't think the regular X-Men could've managed. Anyway, there was room for both in my monthly schedule, and I liked them each in their own ways. Also, GEN X was the first non-core X-title I read monthly, so it has a special place with me for that reason as well. The next few years, with regards to the x-franchise, I was reading only X-MEN, UNCANNY, and GENERATION X on a regular basis (though I did add EXCALIBUR for a while too, but only lasted a little more than a year.)

    Good point about the Mighty Marvel Marketing department hyping what was sure to be a top-seller instead of some of their more storied and floudering franchises. Personally, though, I was happy that "Heroes Reborn" happened. Not for the four books that resulted, but for the side-effects and after-effects. THUNDERBOLTS' major hook relied heavily on the "deaths" of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Plus, in general I liked the idea of an Avengers-less/FF-less Marvel Universe for a year or so. Plus, who's to say we would've gotten the Busiek/Perez AVENGERS if "Reborn" hadn't taken place? And that run is, in my opinion. the crown jewel of late 90s Marvel -- so I'm pretty pleased with what came out of "Onslaught" and "Heroes Rebon" even if the events themselves didn't impress me.

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    1. I agree that Heroes Reborn was a sort of accidental good thing - the stories/books themselves were pretty wretched, but they led to some great stuff - like THUNDERBOLTS. And it's doubtful we would have ever gotten the neo-classic Heroes Return books without it, which were all pretty good (with AVENGERS rising above the rest).

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  6. "In the Ashcan issue, Emma is said to be from Boston, which I think is the first time that is established."

    In the White Queen's entry in THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE DELUXE EDITION #14 (published in 1986), her place of birth is listed as Boston, MA. This factoid had, previously, been revealed.

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