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Wednesday, September 1, 2021

X-amining Generation X #21

"To Live and Die and Molt in LA"
November 1996

In a Nutshell
Skin visits his own grave while his classmates take a test.

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: Chris Bachalo
Inker: Joe Pimentel
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Editor: Bob Harras

At Xavier's school, Beast administers a mid-term exam in Xenobiology; Penance sneaks into the classroom and tries to take the test as well, while Beast insists that Monet remain in class despite having already completed the test. In Los Angeles, Howard the Duck and Chamber start a bar fight to draw the attention of gang leader Tores. At the school, Monet enters another fugue state, drawing Beast's attention, while Sean and Emma discuss his teaching methods. In LA, Skin's mother arrives at the cemetery where he is supposed to be buried; she is comforted in her grief by an old man. Back at the school, Monet awakens; when Beast asks her if she has these spells often, she says no, but her classmates disagree. In LA, Tores arrives at Skin's grave, cursing him for dying. The old man watches her leave, then Chamber and Howard emerge as the old man removes his disguise. Skin goes to his own grave, and Chamber asks if he's going to tell them what's going on and why he asked them to keep Tores busy; Skin says no. Back at the school, Beast meets with Emma and Sean, and tells them he thinks Monet is autistic. 

Firsts and Other Notables
Beast diagnoses Monet with autism in this issue; I am not well-versed enough in autism to render a verdict as to how accurate that diagnosis is, relative to the "symptoms" she's displayed in the series thus far", nor how accurately it's presented going forward, but I'm fairly comfortable saying it likely falls somewhere between "better than how it was depicted with Legion" and "completely accurate and not problematic at all". 

Of course, this is later complicated by the revelations involving Monet and Penance, and the fact that the "Monet" whom Beast is diagnosing is actually her younger twin sisters in a Monet-shaped trench coat, and that it is Claudette, one of those twins, who is autistic (with "Monet's" spells and fugue occurring when Claudette takes control of the gestalt). 

Skin, Chamber, and Howard the Duck finally reach Los Angeles, but rather than answer (or really, even further) the mystery of Skin's past there, all this issue really does is add some more mysterious elements to it (Skin seems afraid of Tores, but she remains upset by his "death", while his mother doesn't know he's still alive and he wants to keep it that way). 

It does introduce the gang leader Tores, who turns out to be a seemingly-teenaged Bachalo Girl. 

Howard the Duck makes a proper appearance here following his introduction last issue, talking sass in a biker bar and displaying his mastery of "quack fu". 

The credits joke (?) that the creators are on board to help revive US 1, a short-lived licensed Marvel series from the 80s about a trucker who gains cybernetic control of his truck. 

The Statement of Ownership in this issue lists sales at around 250K a month, which is a pretty wild number given A. Marvel is on the verge of bankruptcy as the comic book industry is crashing around it and B. no book comes anywhere close to that number of monthly sales consistently these days. 

A Work in Progress
This issue features one of those things that was promised by the Collectors Preview but which rarely happened in practice: having various X-Men show up as visiting professors. Here, Beast is on hand to administer a biology midterm. 

He also notes that Synch has the potential to be extremely powerful. 

Austin's Analysis
This series has always been a bit light on plot and heavy on character interactions, but of late, it's been operating especially like the heavily-deconstructed stories of the early 00s. In large part, it's gotten away with it in a way those later stories don't because even if the plot is moving incrementally, the bits of characterization in each issue are still rewarding. It also helps that Lobdell isn't afraid to cutaway to ongoing subplots and seed future narrative strands even while a given A-plot in an issue is being glacially-advanced, something those 00s stories rarely did, while Bachalo is on hand to make it seem like a lot is happening, artistically, packing the panels with tons of background and character details (and often the panel borders, as with the little doodles in the margins of this issue's pages). 

Yet this issue stretches that approach perhaps to its breaking point, as despite the fact that Chamber and Skin have finally reached LA and the story has introduced the mysterious Tores who looms large in Angelo's backstory, it still doesn't reveal much of anything about what the big mystery in his background is all about. The duo have been on the road, heading to this point, since issue #16, and now that they've gotten there, whatever answers the story implicitly suggested it would offer are simply being punted further down the road. Critics often point to subplots like the Legacy Virus as examples of the flaws of the X-office at this time, the way plot threads would be introduced and teased and strung out until they've nearly lost all meaning, and while "the mystery of Skin's past" isn't quite on the level of something like that, this issue is perhaps the most concise example of the worst excesses of that approach, where it's not just that it takes six issues to get somewhere, but that when the story gets there, it turns out it was never really going anywhere at all. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, fun(?) in the Mojoverse in X-Force #60. Next week, Excalibur #103!

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  1. "Marvel is on the verge of bankruptcy as the comic book industry is crashing around it"

    Yes though what people often forget is that it was the parent Marvel Entertainment Group (or whatever it was called at the time) which had generated the problems rather than Marvel Comics itself. That's not to say Marvel Comics were doing brilliantly though IIRC the comics were reportedly still turning a profit with the X-Men and Spider-Man books doing best (and to borrow the Finance-Editorial-Print-Distribution division of publishing it was more Finance and attempted self-Distribution that were creating problems than Editorial - see below), but the MEG had a huge debt that came from a lot of bad acquisitions and appalling licensing deals that went for quick upfront cash at the expense on long-term royalties and sometimes actually terminated other income streams. Through in the odd financial practices of ramping up the company's value and lots of stuff only understandable to those versed in the financial markets and they wound up in a mess that the comics income couldn't cover. Also Chapter 11 is a reorganisation bankruptcy aimed at allowing a company time to sort out its debts rather than Chapter 7 which is the liquidation that most people think of when they hear "bankruptcy".

    (I think Marvel Comics may have filed or been included in the filing for Chapter 11 but this would have been part of the overall protection of the whole MEG.)

    And I'll say it straight - contrary to what certain comic creators online would have you believe, Marvel did not wind up filing for bankruptcy protection because said creator lost a few disputes with editors. Nor was any particular editor-in-chief responsible.

    On other matters it's interesting that the cover avoids showing the lower half of Howard whilst inside the duck is wearing trousers. Back in the 1970s Disney complained about his appearance and an agreement with Marvel forced a redesign that included trousers but many comics ignored it.

    1. Tim, it drives me nuts when you see people online blaming Tom DeFalco or Bob Harras or whoever else for Marvel's bankruptcy. Kurt Busiek once said on Twitter something to the effect that the market wasn't flooded with holographic covers because editorial liked them. It was because they were under nonstop pressure to inflate profits, so they did what they had to in order to appease their corporate overlords.

      I remember being on an AOL chat event with Tom Brevoort and Busiek talking about "Heroes Return" in the late 90s, and some folks were bashing Harras. Brevoort rebutted that fans might be surprised at how hard he fought back against corporate and marketing on certain bad ideas.

  2. 'I am not well-versed enough in autism to render a verdict as to how accurate that diagnosis is, relative to the "symptoms" she's displayed in the series thus far", nor how accurately it's presented going forward, but I'm fairly comfortable saying it likely falls somewhere between "better than how it was depicted with Legion" and "completely accurate and not problematic at all".'

    It's not accurate at all. I think that most people, Lobdell included, have a pretty poor grip on what autism actually is.

  3. Monet's display of autism is completely WRONG! There are wide ranges of the spectrum and now aspergers is also part of that. You can have fully functioning people that are on the spectrum to someone that will need full time assistance. Most people on the spectrum like routines. Mark Rober did a great video talking about his son who is autistic and his super powers -

    Lobdell did no one favors with what he was doing with M or her sisters and this whole mess.

  4. Yeah, I've said many times that I generally like Scott Lobdell's work in the 90s, but stuff like this (and his admitted "make it up as I go along" approach to certain large events) are what, I think, give him a bad reputation. I like drawn-out mysteries, but there's no reason to do it on something as mundane as Skin's backstory. Just give us an ending and move on!


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