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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

X-amining Generation X #1

"Third Genesis"
November 1994

In a Nutshell
Generation X rescues new member Chamber from an attack by Emplate.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Chris Bachalo
Inker: Mark Buckingham
Letterer: Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Steve Buccellato & Electric Crayon
Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Dawn at the new Xavier's School for Gifted Youngers finds Paige, Jubilee & Monet preparing for class, while Jonothan Starsmore is flying to the school via the red eye from London. At the school, Synch trains with Skin, ending with the two tangled together. Banshee admonishes them for using their powers against each other before fully controlling them, but Emma tells him it was her idea. Meanwhile, the villainous Emplate waits at the airport for Jonothan's arrival. After Banshee, Jubilee & Synch leave to pick him up, Gateway suddenly appears at the school, and Monet realizes Emplate has returned. At the airport, Emplate attacks Jonothan, attempting to feed on his genetic material, but is interrupted by Banshee, Jubilee & Synch. He soon overpowers them, until the rest of the team, along with Emma, arrives via Gateway. Together, they drive off the villain, after which, Jubilee welcomes Jonothan to Generation X. Elsewhere, Emplate returns home to discover someone he's been holding prisoner is gone, At the school, Banshee confronts the mysterious Gateway, who speaks a single word - penance - before revealing he's left an unconscious young woman with red, diamond-hard skin on the lawn.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the first official appearance of Generation X, the third group of young mutants, after the original X-Men and the New Mutants, to join Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters to learn how to use their powers (and, to some extent, how to use those powers in defense of humanity/against various evil forces), though the majority of the characters made their initial character debuts in previous issues. It is also the debut the newly retooled Massachusetts Academy, former home of the Hellions, which, as Uncanny X-Men #318 revealed, has been re-branded as Xavier's School for Gifted Youngers (after he acquired control of it following Emma Frost's near-death in Uncanny X-Men #281).

The launch of this series makes it the eighth monthly X-Men book (along with the quarterly X-Men Unlimited. And the annuals. And semi-regular limited series. And one-shots. And promotional issues...).

Whereas it was made explicit at the launch of New Mutants that Professor X wasn't training those students to become new X-Men (even though he still gave them codenames and they all eventually came to operate more or less like superheroes), the goal of heads-of-school Banshee & Emma Frost with these kids is less clear. There's certainly talk of training them for combat, they all have codenames (and combat-friendly school uniforms). and the group pretty clearly fights a bad guy in this issue (though notably in defense of one of their own). Paige, for one, clearly sees the school as a stepping stone to the X-Men (and, correctly or not, views the group explicitly as a team, of which she wants to be the leader), while Jubilee notably left the X-Men to come to the school in order to learn about her powers without the added pressure of  also fighting for her life. In general, the series mostly walks the line that combat training is more for self-defense than overt super-heroing, and that if, after "graduating", the students want to join the X-Men, so be it (while also, of course, dropping the kids into plenty of action-orientated adventures, because this is still a superhero comic book series), but that push-and-pull between being students vs. superheroes, while not as explicit as in early New Mutants, is something to watch for as the series goes on.

Incidentally, "Generation X", while a great name for an X-Men-related book about a group of teenagers being published in the 90s, is a terrible name for a team of superheroes, and I cringe a little bit whenever I'm forced to refer to them collectively as such in an in-universe context.

Two new members of the book's cast do debut in this issue. The first is Jonothan "Jono" Starsmore aka Chamber, who gets the "Jean Grey in X-Men #1" role of coming to the team after the rest of it has already formed. Like Paige, he possesses one of the more Morrisonian powers of the group (in that it looks & sounds cool, but makes no sense once you think it through at all), in that he has the ability to generate massive amounts of psionic energy which, when first manifesting, blew up the top of his chest and bottom half of his head (hence, he has a "chamber" of energy in his body). Presumably, that same mutant ability also keeps him alive despite his inability to eat (or breath regularly), and it's never entirely clear how the energy works (in that it's referred to as being psionic, and it allows him to communicate telepathically - since he lacks a mouth/vocal chords - but also clearly has a visual presence in the physical world; whereas, for example, the little pink blobs that often accompany Jean Grey using her telekinesis are meant to be seen by the readers but not the characters in the story, here the other characters can clearly see the seething cauldron of energy beneath Chamber's head, not unlike the Phoenix bird effect, I suppose).

The second new team member to debut is Penance, who makes a cameo debut on the last page of the issue. It will shortly be established that she possess diamond-hard, razor sharp skin, and also to be mute, serving as the book's initial "mysterious figure" character, and eventually, she'll get tied in to Monet's mysterious & convoluted backstory (with this Penance the actual Monet, while the Monet appearing elsewhere in this issue will turn out to be a merged version of Monet's younger twin sisters).

The villainous Emplate also makes his first appearance in this issue (along with his toady/body man D.O.A), and he will serve as, more or less, the central antagonist of the series throughout it's run (and has since popped up a few times). He requires the consumption of mutant bone marrow to survive, something he does via the tiny hands in the palms of his hands. After eating said marrow, he briefly possesses the powers of the mutant on whom he feasted. He also the ability to sense mutants (specifically by reading auras surrounding them), which aids in his quest for sustenance, and can travel through dimensions (he normally resides in an alternate dimension, leaving it to feed his hunger), an ability which allows to him to control his density and visibility while in the "main" dimension. Like a vampire, he can transform other people into creatures like himself, needing to feed on mutant bone marrow. If you're wondering which of those various abilities is his mutant power, which a secondary mutation, and which a skill or skills he acquired, I have no idea (and if you're reading all that thinking it's the result of power creep brought on by a character who's been around for a long time appearing in a lot of stories, everything except the "transforms people like a vampire" is on display in this issue alone).

Like Penance, Emplate will be linked to Monet (eventually, he'll turn out to be her evil older brother, whose actions brought about the whole "Penance is M, M is actually twin girls" change), and their relationship, which is teased already here (as they are shown to clearly have a history together/knowledge of one another throughout the issue), will be one of the series' central mysteries for the first few years of the series' existence.

Emplates extradimensional lighthouse base appears in this issue, and while it's only hinted at here, it will shortly be revealed that, prior to her appearance on the school's lawn, Penance had been Emplate's captive in that lighthouse, where her durability allowed him to feed on her indefinitely.

Penance is rescued by Gateway, the Aboriginal teleporter who worked with the X-Men during their days operating out of the Australian outback, appearing for the first time since Uncanny X-Men #281. He speaks his first on-panel word in this issue (penance), after delivering Penance to the school (with the group taking the word to be her name). He will appear sporadically in the series over the next few years, usually in conjunction with revelations regarding the M/Penance/Emplate mystery, and while he'll eventually be revealed as a teacher/mentor figure to the young St. Croix twins/Penance, his exact relationship/history with the St. Croix family (and his sudden reappearance here) never really gets explained all that satisfactorily.

The new red/gold/blue Gen X training uniforms debut this issue, as does Emma’s new more reserved (for her) look that will be her standard for the rest of the series.

Generation X' training facility (dubbed the Danger Grotto by Jubilee) debuts this issue.

The title of the story in this issue follows on from Giant Size X-Men #1’s “Second Genesis”.

Being a new #1 issue in 1994, this issue comes with an extended chromium-enhanced cover (which means it's shiny and kind of prismatic, but also a little plastic-y). The issue is rounded out with a few more sketchbook pages, but nothing notably different from what has already appeared in the various promotional issues.

A quick note on character nomenclature as a new series launches: as anyone reading my reviews for any length of time has likely noticed, there are certain characters I almost exclusively refer to, in both plot summaries and observations, by their code-name (like Wolverine), whereas other characters I refer to almost exclusively by their real name (e.g Kitty), and some I switch between the two (Cyclops/Scott). This is all entirely arbitrary on my part, based on how those characters have been imprinted in my head, and is often influenced by stories I may have read but not reviewed yet (Madrox in X-Factor is Madrox - not Multiple Man - mostly because of the later Madrox miniseries and Peter David's second X-Factor run, where the codename was rarely used). All of which is to say, expect more of the same with the Generation X characters, where using Paige, Monet, & Emma feels more natural to me than Husk, M & White Queen (the latter in part because "White Queen" was always more of a title than a codename, and it no longer really applies), while Jubilee, Synch, Skin, & Banshee feel more right than Jubilation, Everett, Angelo & Sean. Chamber is the rare Gen X twofer, where I think of the character as both "Chamber" and "Jono" pretty interchangeably.

Creator Central
Chris Bachalo, whom we saw penciling the inaugural issue of X-Men Unlimited and got his start on DC's Vertigo imprint, is the inaugural regular artist of the series, and is credited as a co-creator of the book's original characters alongside Scott Lobdell. This begins a long (if occasionally) irregular relationship between Bachalo and the X-Office, one which will eventually lead him to be the regular artist on several different X-books (including a few different stints on Uncanny X-Men) through the years.

A Work in Progress
Paige continues to try and bury her drawl (though she apparently thinks phonetically as well). She also has designs on becoming the leader of the team.

Jubilee’s power is described as pyrokinetic, aligning her with the likes of Pyro or Rusty Collins.

Paige’s power continues to be inexplicable, as she sheds her skin in lieu of taking a shower. Like, did she just tear off her face skin? Did she pull her skin off from under her clothes (this appears to happen later in the issue, when Jubilee husks her whole body after she's injured fighting Emplate, but her uniform remains in place)?

Paige complains about Jubilee constantly telling stories about being with the X-Men, something we haven’t really seen but seems totally believable as something Jubilee would do.

Jubilee chides M for climbing trees, saying it’s a little immature, which is probably meant to be a hint at her true nature.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Banshee, Jubilee & Synch are able to go through airport security to meet Chamber as he gets off his plane.

Scott Lobdell on Chamber
"The first sign that Chris [Bachalo] and I were going to work well together - he told me the basic concept was impossible to draw. I laughed and told him he was more talented than he realized. The character's ultimate design proved me right."

Martin, Anya. "Scott Lobdell and the Genesis of Generation X." Generation X Collector's Preview October 1994: p8

Scott Lobdell on choosing Chris Bachalo as the series artist
"After it was decided we were going to do a new book, the search was on for an artist. We were also working on X-Men Unlimited #1 and the artist who was drawing it flaked. Chris had done an issue of Hulk & an issue of Ghost Rider, both of which looked pretty good, so Bob [Harras] gave him Unlimited #1. I got the first six pages of Chris' pencils and immediately went in to Bob and said 'this is the guy for Generation X'. He agreed completely, but Chris wasn't sure he could do the book and turned it down. I really didn't pursue anybody else after that because I was sure that he was the guy. A few days later he calls me back and says he changed his mind after talking to his wife. She essentially told him that he would be drawing Generation X."

DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p197.

Austin's Analysis
A loose homage to X-Men #1 in structure, this issue is an almost by-the-numbers "first issue": establish the main cast via character interactions & training sequences, introduce a new villain to serve as the central antagonist of the series and a new character to serve as a point-of-entry character relative to the rest of the cast (who, despite this being the first issue, are already somewhat formed), and toss in a handful of mysterious subplots to lay the seeds for future stories. Which isn't to say this is perfunctory or boring: the level of craft involved certainly rises to the expectations placed on the series by the extreme promotional push of months of advertisements, special issues and an entire crossover functioning as a commercial for the book.

Lobdell, having co-created the majority of these characters (and already written them together at least a few times), has a strong hand for the interpersonal interactions that will drive a series less focused on big action-adventure superhero battles (though there will still be plenty of those), while Bachalo, who also had a hand in creating the characters, turns in some exciting art, hitting that sweet spot where his work is both fun & inventive in terms of layouts and composition, but still clean and easy to follow from a visual narrative perspective (which isn't always true in his later art).

If anything, familiarity, thanks to that extreme marketing push, is the biggest flaw of this issue, as new arrivals Chamber, Emplate and Penance are the most exciting things in it, since the rest of the core cast is familiar to readers having already experienced them in an adventure together (the return of Gateway is probably the most exciting thing for old X-Men wonks like me, of course). That's the one place where the marketing push works against the series, because even someone like Chamber, making his first appearance, still feels a little old hat considering he's popped up in promotional material in the months before this issue's release.

But "comforting familiarity" is hardly the worst sin the first issue of a series can commit, and it's not enough to significantly tarnish what is otherwise a confidentially crafted launch of a new series and a return to the X-narrative of a series devoted to the concept of young mutants learning to hone their powers and find their place in a world which fears and hates them.

Next Issue
Next week, Unstacking the Deck looks at the third series of Marvel Masterpieces.

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  1. The hype for this was ridiculous. Heck, I first recall Marvel hinting at this book's existence during the letter columns of the Nicieza/Kubert Omega Red arc in X-MEN.

    I've read before Bob Harras delayed this book for nearly a year, waiting for Bachalo to finish his Vertigo commitments. I'm still convinced "Child's Play" was meant to be the intro to this series, but something happened behind the scenes.

    My friends who got into the X-Men through the show couldn't wait for this one. I guess it was the first #1 comic they could get on the ground floor on. This might be my favorite Bachalo comic. It's crazy to think about how his style will evolve in the next four years.

  2. I was in the same boat as G. Kendall's friends who got into X-Men via the show were: I was PSYCHED for this series, and I had to hunt to find a copy thanks to the cover gimmick (I ultimately found one at a Rite-Aid going out of business).

    Emplate feels like a melange of all of the traits of 90s villains that we look at now with different degrees of embarrassment. And I don't think he ever gets much more development than being a generic, fully evil monster. Looking back, he feels like a template for the similar "all design, no personality" baddies that keep appearing in Lobdell's recent DC stuff.

    I like Bachalo's art quite a bit due to its stylization, but upon re-reading it, there were several panels where Paige & Emma looked identical. Heck, you have one posted (the "used my powers to shower" one). He's one of those artists who has a lot of great traits but unique facial design isn't one of them.

  3. I don't think I've read this issue all that many times in my life -- certainly no more than four times tops, and the last time would have been close to twenty years ago. Yet when I read it last night, everything seemed so familiar to me, as if I'd just read it the day before. I guess it made a big impression on me! I don't think I recall the subsequent issues nearly as well as this one, though I guess we'll find out for sure soon enough.

    Anyway, I really like this one. It's a great #1. Nice introductions to the characters for those who didn't already know them (which, realistically as you noted above, seems unlikely thanks to marketing and "Generation Next"). Emplate is super creepy. Jubilee calling him "Snuffleupagus" is a genuine laugh-out-loud moment. Everybody gets a chance to do their thing, even the teachers -- aside from Skin, who's pretty much useless, but that's sort of his point.

    And Chris Bachalo's artwork is so much better here than it would be by the time he left the series (in his bizarre "draw every character, from teenagers to adults, to look like a five-year-old" phase). As I said with Terry Dodson when you looked at EXCALIBUR last week, there are certain artists who I just find more appealing in their earliest work. Bachalo is another of these, and it's not owed to nostalgia -- Bachalo's work later in his career remained pretty consistently dark, muddled, and hard to follow, even after he moved away from that phase I mentioned above.

    In a nutshell, I loved GENERATION X when I was a teenager. At least through to the end of Lobdell's run, it was pretty consistently a favorite read every month. I can't wait to re-read it again in its entirety for the first time since... well, forever I guess. Though I reread the earlier issues a few times when I was in high school and college, I've only ever read most of the run one single time.

    1. Ugh, I forgot about his "chibi" phase. I think I couldn't afford the subscription by that point & my local newsstand had dropped all but the 2 main X-titles. That look has its place, but it wasn't in a main-line X-book.

  4. There is no better 90s super power that makes no sense, but just seems COOL as Chamber's. None. Even Morrison at his most Morrison would say "hang on a minute" about that power.

    The only issues of Gen X I ever owned were the Age of Apocalypse ones...where they all died. So this is likely my sole comment on this book.

  5. I'm sorry but the Third Genesis was in X-FACTOR #1. You do not retcon Geneseis.

    Did she pull her skin off from under her clothes (this appears to happen later in the issue, when Jubilee husks her whole body after she's injured fighting Emplate, but her uniform remains in place)?

    Unstable molecules.

    I got to read this back in the day from our X-publication (and the Phalanx prelude to it), but that's pretty much what I ever got of the Generation X. There was one more story I guess.

  6. Been waiting for you to get to this!

    This became my new favorite X-book the instant it came out. I liked the "jumping-on point" of it, spiced with just a dash of history. It wasn't hidebound to the Canon, which was reinforced by Bachalo's unique art style. The character dynamics and feelings really shine in the way the best X-Men books did, though.

  7. "Penance is rescued by Gateway, the Aboriginal teleporter who worked with the X-Men during their days operating out of the Australian outback, appearing for the first time since Uncanny X-Men #281. He speaks his first on-panel word in this issue (penance), after delivering Penance to the school (with the group taking the word to be her name)."

    Actually, that's not Gateway's first on-panel dialogue. You forgot about the back-up story from the 1989 annual, which took place after issue #244, detailing Jubilee's arrival in Australia. After Jubilee follows the X-Women through Gateway's gate, he greets her with the words "Welcome, child".

  8. I've been looking forward to this X-amination milestone for a long time now. As I've said before, this was about the time my fandom was rocketing to peak geekdom and -- as others have said -- the hype for this was INTENSE. Those things combined have always set Generation X #1 apart from all other #1s in my mind.

    Its promotion was so huge that -- along the lines of Teebore's note in Uncanny 318 that Banshee is named co-headmaster of the new Xavier's School off panel (something I'd never really thought of before, but just seemed to always know because of the promotional materials) -- I recall knowing and recognizing a lot about this book even the first time I read it.

    In rereading it now, it's hard not to get excited all over again for it. It hits me hard in the nostalgia and Lobdell is near the peak of his powers here, but Matt touches on something that's occurred to me in the weeks leading up to this review: For all the hype, for all the nostalgia, for all the classic Lobdell soap operatics ... I've rarely revisited this book since my teenage years. I think I know why that is, and Teebore gets to part of my thinking here:

    Whereas it was made explicit at the launch of New Mutants that Professor X wasn't training those students to become new X-Men (even though he still gave them codenames and they all eventually came to operate more or less like superheroes), the goal of heads-of-school Banshee & Emma Frost with these kids is less clear.

    The book lacks both a clear mission, and that comes through in all sorts of ways. Maybe most importantly, it doesn't allow for a strong antagonist to emerge. Emplate manages to somehow be both too generic and too weird at the same time, and -- other than the M connection -- there's nothing about him that sets him up as a Generation X villain and not an X-Force or X-Men villain.

    This is what sets New Mutants apart from other X-school books. The mission -- they're students, not superheroes -- is clear from day one, and that allows for an interesting and unique set of antagonists to emerge in the Hellions. Superhero villains that are school rivals. It's kind of brilliant.


  9. Is every lighthouse in the Marvel Universe extradimensional?

    // Banshee confronts the mysterious Gateway, who speaks a single word //

    Emma says, “I don’t think he meant [‘penance’] as a verb, Sean,” which is odd since it’s never a verb. Maybe he used it as a proper (rather than common) noun, unexpectedly, but that’s different.

    // The title of the story in this issue follows on from Giant Size X-Men #1’s “Second Genesis”. //

    As Teemu pointed out, “Third Genesis” had already been used, but really to me it would’ve been most appropriate for New Mutants. There, Xavier himself drew up a new international class/team at a time when, as in Giant-Size #1, the X-Men were feared or believed dead. Generation X is more adjunct than redo.

    // an extended chromium-enhanced cover //

    It was interesting to see the colors on the “cover” of the digital version in contrast to the chromium cover on the original print edition.

    // Chris Bachalo … is the inaugural regular artist of the series //

    The art is definitely what intrigued me most about the series when it launched, although the whole package is what led me to pick it up for a while. I’m not familiar with anything Bachalo has done since The Witching Hour, and even that was almost 20 years ago.

    Speaking of the whole package, though, rereading this issue reminded me that it’s where I felt Comicraft was an integral part of the creative team for the first time. While mostly just being real’ purty here, apart from the distractingly ornate rune-like font used for some captions, in fairly short order the lettering becomes quite integrated into Bachalo’s playful design. I’m unsure whether that happens before, during, or after the Age of Apocalypse detour as Generation Next, a couple of decades after having read the issues, but I keep picturing banners with a circus theme.

    // she apparently thinks phonetically as well //

    Yeah, I’m not sure a thought bubble was the most appropriate place to show her to correcting herself.

    // Paige’s power continues to be inexplicable, as she sheds her skin in lieu of taking a shower //

    I’m so glad you called that out. Her abilities are definitely magic, full stop, if tearing off her skin reveals a perfectly intact, healthy body underneath when Emplate had just sliced into her innards.

    // totally believable as something Jubilee would do //

    She refers to Paige’s discarded skin as “tacky cubed” in that panel, after (or I guess, in-universe, before) calling Monet “Forge cubed” smart in her letter to Wolverine in the Collector’s Preview. I don’t know if that’s an unintentional habit of Lobdell’s or even an intentional one that he gave to Jubilee but there you go.

    Danger Grotto is my new band name.

  10. I believe issue 4 is the Christmas issue and that was my favorite with all of Chris's cool elfs and things all around on the issue. It must have really screwed up the flow and what they wanted to do to have this giant crossover only give you 4 issues before the world was changed.

    I believe it's around this time that AOA was announced either in the X-Corner in one of the books or in the ads for someothing like Entertainment Monthly or whatever those were called. It said the X-Men books were all going to cease being made and the world would change with all new books. I sat on the front porch of my house reading it over and over and just shaking my head that my favorite books would all be ending. I didn't realize it would go right back to it when they were done. I was around 14 at this time and it really was earth shattering to me.


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