There was a time when "the X-Men" was a series about "the strangest teens of all" protecting a world that hated and feared them. Over the years, the concept has tightened and relaxed to varying degrees, but it's only recently that the franchise withdrew from it entirely. Casting the X-Men as representatives of an endangered species was a decent enough attempt at redefinition, but was it the X-Men as we wanted to read about them? Often not.
That's why I'm overjoyed to say that "Generation Hope" really, truly, is an X-Men book as I want to read it. Teenagers with superpowers, fighting to save those that hate and fear them even as they deal with the strange new identity they've had thrust upon them. Conceptually, we're back to "Generation X," to "New Mutants," and to the earliest days of "Uncanny X-Men." And as a result, it's the strongest first issue an X-title has had in some time.
That's lucky, really. With the X-Men line already looking like the Blob on a fat day, you could be forgiven for asking whether we really need another X-book. The answer is a definite yes. At the very least, we need this one. It tells a story that the other books simply aren't doing, and haven't even been able to do for some time: what happens when you wake up and discover that you're a mutant, and how would it make you feel? It's the very heart of the X-Men story.
Spinning straight out of "Uncanny X-Men," the opening pages find the current "lights" (along with Hope and Rogue) heading to Tokyo to pick up the final new mutant. It's fair to say that he's in a bad way. Readers of "Uncanny" will immediately recognize the formula: Hope and the gang approach the emergent mutant to bring him under control. This time, though, there's a twist. And by "twist" I mean "massive explosion."
One of the more obvious complaints levelled against the "Uncanny X-Men" arc this title spins out of is that the characters were never really developed. Gillen remedies this in spades. The issue puts each character on display, defining everything from their motivation to their speech patterns. Laurie becomes a Husk-esque bookworm, while Gabriel develops a wise-cracking Iceman-style streak. Within the space of one issue, these kids become more than just their visuals. Of all the characters, it's actually Hope who feels the least well-pitched, her transformation from rebellious survivalist into teenage den mother being perhaps a little too hard to swallow.
Speaking of visuals: Espin's artwork is very strong stuff. His slightly expressive style morphs well between the fractured, dark tone of Kenji's mind, and the ordered, superheroic world of the other kids. The storytelling is emotionally nuanced when it needs to be, and it's big and punchy when it needs to be. If a superhero artist can manage to work on both of those levels, he should be set for life, and Espin nails it out of the gate.
Right now, "Generation Hope"'s biggest problem is that it feels a little hobbled by the need to finish off a plot thread left dangling by "Uncanny X-Men." Once we get into the meat of the story, all the signs suggest that it's going to be great, and it makes me even more excited about the idea of Gillen joining the flagship series, too. Whether you're an X-Men fan or just want the chance to see two of Marvel's best newcomers firing on all cylinders, "Generation Hope" is a book worth picking up. Walk, run, fly, teleport, or bodyslide by one to your nearest retailer immediately.