Gillen Lights the Way for "Generation Hope"

For the past several years, the mutants of the Marvel Universe have felt like they've been stumbling around in the dark trying to find a way towards the future. Thanks to the Scarlet Witch's losing her sanity combined with her reality altering powers during the event known as "The House of M," the mutant population was drastically reduced, and to make matters worse, since that time only one new mutant has been born. While she was still a baby, the new mutant was sent into the future with her protector, the X-Man known as Cable. Recently, Hope literally and metaphorically arrived for mutants as Cable and his charge returned to the present. Cable had raised the girl, who was now a teenager, as his own, giving her the name Hope.

Unfortunately, their return inadvertently caused the X-Men to confront a massive conspiracy that wanted to wipe out mutants for good. In the final battle of this bloody and costly conflict, Hope lost her father, but gained a new mission. In the aftermath, five lights flared to life on the X-Men's mutant tracking computer, Cerebro, indicating that five new mutants had suddenly become active.

In "Uncanny X-Men's" recently concluded "Five Lights" story arc, Hope helped find four of these new mutants. The five mutants then graduated to their own series, "Generation Hope," written by Kieron Gillen with Salvador Espin handling art. In the series current arc, "The Future is a Four Letter Word" Hope, the four "Lights," and some X-Men traveled to Tokyo to track down the fifth new mutant. They found him, but they also found a gigantic amount of trouble because the fifth mutant, Kenji Uedo, has a power that has made him dangerously unstable. His body is now a chaotic mass of techno organic flesh he's able to transform into a seemingly unlimited amount of nasty and dangerous forms.

"Some readers have commented that Kenji is behaving like the character Tetsuo in the anime adaptation of 'Akira.' That resemblance is deliberate and highly stated. I mean, the first line in the whole comic is, "I am becoming art." What I'm trying to do with Kenji is [show] that he's an artist, and I wanted to talk about the idea of creation. He consumes culture, and now his body starts acting in a certain way. He could have created anything, but he hasn't. He's acting like he's in 'Akira' because he's watched 'Akira.' It's how he thinks he should act, it's the only way he can process the horror of his body starting to warp. It brings to mind that wonderful scene in 'Preacher' where Cassidy takes the piss out of another vampire who's doing the whole gothic thing. He's like, 'Why the hell are you acting like that?' That's what's going on with Kenji. He's somebody who's consumed all this art, and now, because of that, how he instinctively chose to apply his power is kind of derivative," Gillen told CBR News. "Of course, what's interesting about him is that he makes his living doing high art, but underneath it all is this stuff from the pulp tradition. And as we progress, he becomes more his own thing. It's the concept of what inspires you when you're trying something new out. 'Akira' is the main homage everybody has picked up on, and Godzilla is definitely in there. One that was definitely on my mind was 'Tetsuo the Iron Man.' It was something that me and Matt Fraction spent way too much time talking about, back in the day. That imagery of a semi-mechanical, semi-biological body horror thing. These are the images that inform all these sorts of fantasies."

Kenji's instability has been exacerbated by his nihilistic belief that a better future is unattainable. "Kenji believes that we're stuck with what's come before and no one can make things better, while Hope believes a better future is possible if you fight for it. So Kenji is the avatar of post modern nihilism, and at the end of #2, he took the form of a giant monster," Gillen explained. "In issue #3, we'll have some good old-fashioned giant monsters attacking Tokyo style action. If we can't have enormous, cancerous bio-titans fighting in Tokyo, I really don't see the point of the genre. These are the things we must not be ashamed about and they are the things that make me cackle. So we've got a big, fun monster battle in Tokyo, but it's fundamentally about Hope versus this nihilism idea."

Kenji's bleak outlook has struck a chord with Hope who spent her childhood growing up in a dismal post apocalyptic possible future. "Hope wants to prevent the future she was raised in from occurring. With the exception of the complete death of the town she was born in, she's not someone whose experienced a large amount of anti-mutant prejudice. She didn't grow up with it. So she's aware she's a mutant, but her actual experience of what it means to be a mutant is different from any other mutant whose grown up in this world," Gillen said. "She doesn't have the basic assumption of, 'This is how it has to be.' She may be naive, but on the other hand she's also got this ability to imagine things different from how they are. She has a tempestuous relationship with the X-Men's leader Cyclops, but they both share the idea that they have to work to make the future a better place for mutants."

Hope's experiences growing up in a devastated future and the tragedies she's endured since returning to the present will continue to be a big part of what drives her thoughts and actions in "Generation Hope." "There's a bit in issue 3 where Hope says something inspiring and Kenji responds with, 'Stop this Captain America stuff before we all start crying.' Hope replies, 'Who's Captain America?' She doesn't necessarily know all of the big names in the Marvel Universe. And there's that wonderfully cute bit in 'Second Coming' where she's looking at children's hair clips. So she's aware she's a woman out of time, but it's reversed," Gillen remarked. "Instead of being this girl from the past thrust into the present, she's this girl from the future. She's quite lonely. She's lost her father, and that's one of the reasons why she throws herself into everything. She has to believe what she's doing is all for something. That's why she believes in the future so much. She doesn't want to live in a world where her father's sacrifice had no meaning. She has to believe in something. She's a complicated young woman, our Hope."

"Generation Hope" #3 won't just be about resolving the threat of Kenji -- the issue will also find the cast finally confronting the reality of their new situation. "When people read the first five issues, it's almost like the reverse of the traditional team book structure. We start with the mission and we end things with the team getting together. They're kind of forced into being a team and they work out together who they are and why they are doing this after the fact. In #1 they're very much thrust into a situation where they're not sure they'll get through it. Issue two is full of conflict and where they start to prove themselves. They rescue Hope and do some other heroic things, but really let the X-men take the lead. They haven't had the time to step back yet and ask themselves things like why the hell are we here? Issue three, though, is very much, 'Why the hell are we here?' So the heart of whatever 'Generation Hope' is will be found there in the rubble."

Confronting the reality of who they are means the cast of "Generation Hope" will also be forced to examine the nature of their relationships with the title character. During "The Five Lights" arc of "Uncanny X-Men," the young mutant from the future used her powers to help four very different teenagers gain control of their malfunctioning powers: Laurie, a Canadian girl with the ability to fly; Gabriel, a Mexican mutant with the power of super speed; Idie, a Nigerian girl with the ability to channel temperature; and Teon, a Ukranian whose mutant power transformed into a physically powerful, feral being. Because of the way she helped them, the four Lights are extremely devoted to Hope; some in ways that might not exactly be healthy.

"That's the nagging worry. Everyone has been sort of imprinted on her for a variety of reasons. I think different members of the team are able to ignore it, more or less. We see that devotion start to be actually questioned in issue three. Laurie is by far the most analytically minded of the Lights. She's the one who feels like there's something iffy here. So she immediately starts digging into that. She's unable to leave it alone. It's easy for someone like Gabriel, because he's basically crushing on Hope. It's easy for him to deal with the fact that he's obsessed with her because he's crazy for the girl. Teon, of course, has quite a different psychology. And Idie is doing it essentially through a religious filter," Gillen explained. "So Laurie is the person who's most acting against her normal nature. She's not the type of person to go flying around and save people. She'd be much happier at home with a book, but she's doing this anyway. So she's kind of like the key to the questions of whether this right or wrong? And what does this mean anyway?

"When I was a kid, I went to Catholic school and we did a lot of Bible study. When you got to the initial calling of the Apostles, it was like, 'All right fisherman. You should come with me.' And they go, 'Okay. That's good.' And they go and join him and become his apostles. I remember, even as a kid, reading that and wondering, what would their friends say? What would their families say? What did they think? There was this idea that something big is happening here and they somehow felt compelled to do it," Gillen continued. "So that's kind of where the cast of 'Generation Hope' is coming from. There's this idea that there is this connection between them that they can't deny. The actual nature of the link and how that works interests me, though. What would it be like to be 'called' in a real, life-changing way? That's kind of what's at the heart of all of this."

In "Generation Hope" #4, Gillen puts the spotlight squarely on Teon by having the young, feral mutant go toe-to-toe with Wolverine in a battle for alpha-mutant supremacy. "Teon is interesting because, of all the Five Lights, he's the one who's the most surface, because you haven't gotten any insight into what really makes him tick. He's a little bit more complicated than he appears, because at the moment he basically appears to be about as complicated as soup. He's got quite an unusual mind. That's what I find interesting about him," Gillen remarked. "Teon is a primal character who's all about aggression and instinct. I'm interested in the idea of instincts; what they actually mean and how we use instinct. How much of our conscious thought is actual instinct that we assign meaning to after the fact? There's an interesting paradox of consciousness in that the signal in the brain which raises my arm happens before the signal of the conscious thought. So there's one theory that the thought signal is a side effect of the action, in which case everything we do is instinct. That's an incredibly scary thing to think about. Teon is an exploration of that. How much can you get by on instinct? And how can you adapt to your current situation in a highly proficient manner? That's what Teon ends up doing

"Also, in some ways he's a controversial figure in that he's somebody who's mind is gone. He's not a mutant whose grown wings or suddenly has big feet. He's somebody who isn't there anymore," Gillen continued. "In a real way, the person who he was before this change doesn't appear to be around. Lately, we've been playing that quite light with Teon, but it is quite tragic. So I want to look at that and the idea of human intelligence. I want to examine the idea that there may be a different form of intelligence with Teon. Plus, yes, there's lots of rooms for comedy."

Gillen will continue to show more of Teon's character in "Generation Hope" #5, an issue that will firmly establish the relationship between the kids of "Generation Hope" and the X-Men leadership. "It's about Hope really nailing down and solidifying what she wants from this and what she's not going to compromise on. It leads to sort of a climax of the conflict that's been going on between her and Cyclops," Gillen said. "It's a special one-off issue drawn by Jamie McKelvie, my old 'Phonogram' partner. I'm really excited because it's always fun to work with Jamie and this is an issue that really plays to his strengths. I really think it's going to be quite special."

For Gillen, the end of 2010 was all about getting the cast of "Generation Hope" together and setting them into motion. Now that 2011 is in full swing, the writer plans on giving his cast a definite direction that will hopefully take them towards the brighter future they're fighting for. "By issue five, we'll have a very strong impression of who this team is and what they're about," the writer said. "From then on, it's about Hope and the various characters. It's about the relationships between various generations of characters. It's about who they can save and who they can't save. They've gone through a lot in this initial story. Now they have to deal with what being a 'Light' actually means. That's where things are headed."

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