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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

X-amining Generation X #3

"Dead Silence"
January 1995

In a Nutshell
Generation X battles Penance.

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

Banshee escapes from Penance thanks to the intervention of Husk, but Husk is injured & Penance flees deeper into the woods surrounding the school. Elsewhere, a woman named Cordelia tries to convince Mondo to go back with her to the States. At Xavier's, Jubilee & Synch encounter Penance, with Synch's aura protecting them. Just then, Banshee catches up with them, and asks Jubilee & Synch to get Husk to the infirmary. Synch agrees, but Jubilee continues on after Banshee & Penance. Elsewhere, the Orphan Maker shows Nanny his falling-apart-armor, and she declares that he's growing up. Back at the school, M & Emma confront Penance, but their psychic abilities don't stop her either, and Banshee declares they're just going to have to work to wear her down. But Jubilee is still on her trail, suspecting that Penance doesn't truly mean them any harm since she was brought to them by Gateway, and she watches as Chamber reaches Penance and, drawing on their shared experiences of having paid a price for their mutant abilities, convinces her to stand down. Later, Skin visits a recovering Husk in the infirmary, resuming their game of Scrabble.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the first narrative appearance of Mondo, a character who was billed in the pre-launch promotional material as a member of the team, but appears here chilling on a beach in the wake of a vaguely-alluded-to act of heroism. He is cajoled by his companion Cordelia to go to America and become a superhero; this is Cordelia Frost, youngest sister of Emma, making her first appearance. She will eventually turn Mondo over to the Hellfire Club in a bid for membership, kicking off the overly-complicated saga of Mondo (which involves Black Tom & plant-based Mondo clones).

Penance can be considered to have functionally joined the school by the completion of this issue.

Nanny returns this issue, as she realizes Orphan Maker is outgrowing his armor (we also see that she has abandoned her previous “Humpty-Dumpty” armor as well).

A Work in Progress
A narrative caption suggests that the rock-like form Paige adopts early in the issue is the first time she’s changed her body that extremely, which is forgetting how she turned into a bird during “Child’s Play”.

Synch’s aura is shown to mimic the properties of powers, but not physically change him (ie, when near Penance, he becomes as invulnerable as she is, but his skin doesn’t turn red & diamond-hard.

M stresses the word “imagine” when saying she can only imagine the torture Penance has experienced at Emplate’s hands, a further hint at their shared connection.

Paige theorizes that Skin wanted to stay back out of fear Penance would slice his skin, but he denies it.

Contributing to the more whimsical tone of the book, this issue ends with Monet teasing the next issue directly.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Skin is shown smoking a cigarette as he fills the “guy on a keyboard” role for Generation X.

Austin's Analysis
This is without a doubt the most action-oriented issue of the series yet, as it's basically an issue-long fight against Penance (with a couple one-page interludes and a brief two page denouement breaking up the action). But it's also not really about the action, as Lobdell uses the efforts of the group to corral Penance to highlight the characters via their respective approaches to confronting Penance: from Paige's foolhardy risk-taking to Synch's more measured risk-taking, from Banshee's focus on protecting the kids at all costs to Jubilee bringing her experienced eye to things, from Emma & Monet's shared (and ultimately ineffective) superiority complexes to Chamber ultimately bringing the fight to an end by drawing on his shared experience with Penance of being burdened & warped by their powers, each of the encounters between Penance and Generation X helps highlight a specific aspect of the Penance opponent's personality (only poor Skin gets the shaft, though the idea that he was legit scared of Penance is character-illuminating in its way as well). As with the previous issue, not a lot is happening here yet in terms of plot, but the two-part introduction of Penance does a lot to create a solid foundation of characterization for nearly every member of the cast.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Cable meets Genesis in Cable #19.

Next week, I'm calling an audible on the schedule on account of some sudden work-related travel, and moving a couple of the single-post weeks ahead of the start of the December '94 books. And so, Unstacking the Deck returns with a look at the Fleer Ultra Set for 1995!

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  1. These first Gen X issues seem, in retrospect, like a low-key window into the future look and feel of Marvel comics. Part of it was purely aesthetic: the new use of digital color separations and font-based lettering from Richard Starkings and Comicraft; the new designs for word balloons and footnote boxes, etc. And it helps, of course, that Chris Bachalo is in many ways a defining artist of the modern Marvel era.

    But it goes beyond the surface level, too. Something about the decompressed pacing of the plot and the relative paucity of dialogue and narrative captions feels decidedly contemporary, as does the space given to quirky character moments and conversations. And while the new visual style would come to dominate Marvel's whole line within a couple of years, it would take until the new millennium for this sort of indie-flavored writing to make its way into all of the mainstream titles. In any event, I think these first four or so issues stand out by some margin as the peak of Scott Lobdell's creative energy, and Bachalo's art was probably never better. What might have happened if the series' momentum hadn't been halted in its tracks by the Age of Apocalypse remains a wistful what-if.

    1. Zee, you make excellent points about both the upcoming visual look of Marvel starting here, and the decompressed style of storytelling popping up at this point as well. I hadn't really considered either!

      Speaking specifically to the visual aspect, for the past few years, I've taken to referring to roughly 1995 - 2000 as the "Comicraft Age" at Marvel. When Comicraft took over lettering on pretty much all the books, and basically became Marvel's graphic designers as well (they created the looks of the letter pages, trade paperback trade dress, those inside front-cover recap pages that ran for a while, and so forth), the entire line felt unified in a way I couldn't recall it ever appearing before.

      To some, by the way, that may be a negative -- but in my opinion at the time (and, honestly, still today), it was a positive. I loved that you could grab any Marvel book off the rack and the cover blurbs and interior lettering all had that Comicraft flair. I was disappointed during the Quesada era when Marvel moved away from Comicraft (though apparently they still use them for certain projects and logos).

    2. I had mostly fallen away from Marvel by the Quesada era (Lobdell's departure from the X-titles being probably my last moment of sustained interest in real-time), but I recall really appreciating the look of this early era of digital lettering and coloring in a way that wasn't true of later years. In some ways, I think the limitations of the technology at this point resulted in a great balance between the straightforward simplicity of pre-digital design, and the shiny, flashy, over-realism of more sophisticated techniques. It's comparable in some ways to music recordings in the late '60's and early '70's, when multi-track tapes allowed artists to be more ambitious, but not to sloppily pile on production elements without due thought.

      In any case, the colors here sure look better than the relentlessly muddy browns of the mid-Quesada era. Thank goodness that's one aesthetic area where Marvel has really turned itself around today.

  2. As I read this last night, I couldn't remember if it was Scott Lobdell who revealed Cordelia as Emma's sister, or if a later writer did it. But in either case, I wonder if he had intended her to be related to Emma this early, or if (assuming he did it) he changed his mind later on.


  3. // A narrative caption … is forgetting how [Paige] turned into a bird during “Child’s Play” //

    She also tore off her skin in #1 to reveal a perfectly intact, healthy body underneath after Emplate sliced into her gut (despite that being just about as biologically ridiculous as non-magical powers get), so it’s odd that she responds to Sean that she doesn’t know what’ll happen to her wounds when she sheds to regain her normal human form and that based on the infirmary scene at the end her wounds didn’t entirely heal in doing so.


    1. While it doesn’t change the core point, I should correct my comment: It’s actually Jubilee who rips away Husk’s skin in #1 to reveal “a new bod underneath," as Husk is too incapacitated to do so herself (and/or, if you care to read it that way, doesn't even think to do so).

  4. "kicking off the overly-complicated saga of Mondo"

    Considering how little faux-Mondo ends up doing does once he does join the team, you have to wonder why Lobdell bothered.

    The colors look great with the glossy paper. Once the glossy paper is gone, the colors start looking a bit...dull (the "muddy brown" era starts long before Quesada takes over). And personally, I never cared much for the Comicraft era. The effects for the text within the issues are ok, but they really go unnecessarily overboard on the covers with the funk fonts, and it ends up looking cluttered and occasionally detracting from the artwork on the covers.

    "She also tore off her skin in #1 to reveal a perfectly intact, healthy body underneath after Emplate sliced into her gut (despite that being just about as biologically ridiculous as non-magical powers get), so it’s odd that she responds to Sean that she doesn’t know what’ll happen to her wounds when she sheds to regain her normal human form and that based on the infirmary scene at the end her wounds didn’t entirely heal in doing so."

    Slip up or Lobdell possibly realizing Paige's stunt in #1 would make her very hard to injure, and thus it removes any drama of Paige being in any sort of danger?



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