With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Salvador Espin, Ibraim Roberson
Issues: Generation Hope #1-17
Hope Summers, AKA the Mutant Messiah, had been the focal point of the X-Men saga for years. The first new mutant born since M-Day was first shown in X-Men: Messiah Complex. She was then raised by Cable by jumping through time in Cable (2008), and finally returned to our world in X-Men: Second Coming.
You don’t necessarily need to read all that to understand Generation Hope, but it certainly helps. After Second Coming, Hope officially joins the X-Men. Well, sort of. She’s a badass future-soldier in her own right, and her fellow mutants both love and fear her. She’s also a young woman who had just lost her the only person she cared about.
So Cyclops lets her build her own team after they discover her purpose – saving and recruiting newly awakened mutants. These new teenage mutants, the first five of which are dubbed “the Five Lights,” manifest their mutations in violent, dangerous ways.
Hope’s touch works as a magical cure that calms them. She is both the spark for mutation and its salve.
Hope is sent to save and recruit them during Uncanny X-Men #526-529, which should definitely be required reading for Generation Hope (for that matter, the following story in Uncanny X-Men with Emma Frost and Sebastian Shaw is also referenced heavily in a later story in Generation Hope).
So Generation Hope is all about this new team of teenage mutants, which has really been done to death by now. While most superhero teams are delightfully dysfunctional, Hope’s is downright violent and unstable. Their actions sow the seeds for the X-Men’s eventual schism in 2011, and in 2012’s epic Marvel event Avengers vs X-Men.
The first volume, “The Future is a Four-Letter Word” has Hope and her team tracking down, battling, and recruiting the soon-to-be sixth member of their team. Hope leads Laurie (AKA Transonic, blue-skin, super-sonic flight), Gabriel (AKA Velocidad, personal time-travel that basically translates to super-speed that also causes him to age), Téon (AKA Primal, hyper-efficient processing, which basically translates to acting like a neanderthal), and Idie (AKA Oya, temperature manipulation – fire and ice powers).
Although it’s still not quite explained, Hope appears to have every mutant power at her disposal. That would make her pretty darn powerful but she’s also understandably reluctant to use them. Instead she fights like her surrogate father Cable, by barking orders and wielding a giant big-ass laser gun.
The latest mutant awakening is a young man in Japan, Kenji. Kenji’s mutant transformation is both disgusting and fascinating, as his entire body becomes an organic mess that he can manipulate into various forms, or even detach pieces of himself. He can also grow to gigantic proportions, and it takes all the Lights plus Cyclops and Wolverine to take him down long enough for Hope to subdue him.
Kenji remains an interesting problem for the team. He’s a brooding, nihilistic artist who hates himself but harbors a deep resentment for Hope even more. Kenji’s painfully obvious descent into villainy is the long arc that’s played throughout Generation Hope.
First they have a few more missions to get to. Yet another mutant awakening is found at the beginning of Volume 2, “Schism.” They arrive at a hospital in Berlin to a pretty messed up situation: the mutant is an unborn fetus, manifesting its fears about birth through telepathy and mental domination.
Essentially its turning the people around it into deranged zombies, creating a nifty Horror-like scenario as our heroes infiltrate the hospital by linking up with Kenji. Each of our Lights gets a chance to convince the unborn child that life should be welcomed, not feared. It’s Téon that wins the day by using his simple but effective brain.
Téon’s parents then come calling and we’re treated to a one-issue trial where out team fights with words instead of powers. It’s here that Téon reveals that his brain isn’t just a neanderthal – he can speak and think perfectly clearly when the situation arises, making his powers all the more confusing.
The Seventh Light is found in the U.S. and it’s here I was worried that the whole series would simply be running around finding new mutants. This one immediately ends badly however – our team arrives just after the poor college kid commits suicide.
The team is shaken up. Writer Kieron Gillen does a great job exploring teenage issues, of which suicide is a very real thing many teens have to deal with, whether first or second-hand. Still, despite my preference to everything mutant, I found Generation Hope‘s teenage drama to be much less interesting and compelling than Avengers Academy.
The actual X-Men: Schism tie-ins round out the last two issues of the volume. They focus on youngest team member Idie and her murderous revenge on the attacking terrorist group at the museum.
It does a great job further delving into her character and the situations surrounding Schism. Idie is very much that young teen on a knife edge of morality, and becomes the linchpin for Wolverine’s ultimate defection of Utopia.
The final Volume, “The End of a Generation” gives us two final stories. The first one brings back Sebastian Shaw, who was mentally lobotomized by Emma Frost in Uncanny X-Men. He shows up as a new mutant by Cerebra, so our team goes to retrieve him – not knowing who he is.
Turns out Shaw’s amnesia is being taken advantage of by what I can only tell is a JRPG teenage villain group. Our heroes, with the new addition of Pixie, save Shaw and defeat the villains. Bringing Shaw back to Utopia of course causes Cyclops to flip the fuck out, and creates a big division between he and Hope.
Hope is written as both a hard-headed leader and a petulant teenager. It’s a difficult task to make such a character likable, and I’d say she comes off pretty borderline. She does break down at times, and she’s also well-aware of her responsibilities. Overall I enjoyed her characterization, including the high-road way she handled ex-flame Gabriel cheating on her with Pixie. Oh, those horny teens.
The art goes through a dramatic change in the final volume. Up until then Salvador Epsin provided a very cartoony, youthful style that I didn’t really care for, but which did kind of fit the theme. Ibraim Roberson took over (as did a writer change with James Asmus, as Gillen went to Uncanny) and created a more painted, mature look that I enjoyed a hell of a lot more, aside from the very washed out colors.
The series ends with Kenji finally revealing his grand plan – subtly implanting parts of himself in the mutants on Utopia. He essentially brainwashes everyone into hating Hope. Her only defense are the rest of the Lights – they have a special connection to her and race to her side.
Ultimately Kenji is defeated by No-Girl, a telepathic floating brain that I’d honestly never heard of before this comic. Kenji sort-of falls in love with her, and that proves his undoing once she discovers his betrayal. It wasn’t the best overarching story but it was nice that series did have one, and that it was resolved in a way that both brought the team together, and tore them apart.
So far being the mutant messiah means leading a young group of X-Men and trying to help other mutants. It’s a story we’ve had countless times before. I enjoyed the characters and plot flow, even when nothing of substance really happens outside of Idie and Schism (and half of that is told in X-Men: Schism). Generation Hope is a decent read but also easily skippable if you’ve had enough of super-powered teens.