Why Is Marvel’s Generation X Back?
Jubilee, who was a founding member of Generation X: 90s Edition now leads a new team of young mutants who must learn about their powers and battle a variety of evils. It’s not quite the same concept as the Gen X of old, which centered on a class of mutants learning about algebra, their powers and the punic wars, but who were also a superhero team on the side. This new group is described as “loveable losers” who aren’t cut out for superheroing. Just teens with powers, otherwise irrelevant to whatever nonsense the X-Men are embroiled in. “Who better than Jubilee to lead them?” asks the cover copy. It wants me to agree that Jubilee is another such loveable loser and that she’s cut out for leading them, despite her lack of a teaching or counselling degree.
The 90s teen comic Generation X spun out of two intertwined X-Men crossovers: the Phalanx Covenant, wherein squishy borg were assimilating mutants and another where Charles and Erik’s psychic lovechild was rounding up and killing mutants. The details are immaterial. What’s relevant is that the origins of the team is in fleeing from this danger and finding solidarity with each other. Not every teen we met during these crossovers survived to enrol in the new Massachusetts Academy under Sean Cassidy and a recently good Emma Frost still recovering from the death of her previous students, the Hellions. That steep survival rate set a precedent for the comic, although we didn’t know it when first opened up the foil wraparound cover to Generation X #1. The comic quickly established that it was as much about classwork and teen rivalry as it was about superheroics, which Sean and Emma both shielded them from. Not all of the kids wanted to be an X-man, but some of them took the academy as a trial run. But as the series continued, well, kids started dying.
Only a handful of Generation X survived the series and their subsequent spinoff appearances. The white boy whose body is 50% plasma, 50% meat (so emo), is still kicking around. In fact Chamber turns up in this issue as Jubilee’s friend — how nice for him. Monet drifts in and out of books, usually a background character, usually whitewashed beyond recognition. Emma and Jubilee of course continue to appear in various X-books, both of them quite different from the characters they once were. Emma had a fake British accent for a while. Jubilee flirted with vampirism and vampire motherhood. Most of the rest of this diverse team of unusual X-characters is dead or missing in action.
Generation X was my first experience with Marvel introducing a diverse team of teen characters, giving them an initial push, and then slowly killing them off one by one. It’s a pattern I’ve seen repeated several times over since, and one that, to be fair, was established with the New Mutants, who have lately experienced a rare renaissance. Marvel’s teen characters are too often a particularly poisonous trap: the vector through which they flirt with a more diverse and expansive Marvel universe; one that can be easily quarantined and eliminated when the needs of the business, as they understand it, requires death, or when they’re bored of the characters.
This new Generation X doesn’t sound much like the old one. Its connections to that comic are tenuous at best. And then, there’s the issue of it being 2017, and Millennials being the whipping girl of all those stressed over the passage of time and their own mortality. Generation X now runs this shit, at Marvel and much of the rest of the world — only ten more years before the last Boomers retire and the Gen Xer’s grip on power is solidified. And Millennials, my crew, are aging quickly. If we’re talking teens it’s Generation Z these days, which has less potential for brand synergy, it’s true, but at least isn’t an appeal to readers thirty and up. It seems obvious that comics about teens should be targeted at teens, an ever-renewing audience of potential new customers, but that doesn’t seem to be what Marvel is hoping for. Who actually read Generation X when it came out or afterwards? Most of the readers I’ve spoken to who are looking forward (or not) to this new YA comic are about that age, thirty or so. If name recognition is what Marvel wants it’s most potent with an age that may read and enjoy this new comic but should not be it’s target audience.
Is it the X? That once important letter shoved forced into every name possible: X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, X-Calibur, X-Cutioner’s Fucking Song. Lately Marvel, in pursuit of yet more brand synergy, has been trying to give the Inhumans pride of place, since they so foolishly bargained away the X-folk screen rights to Fox. Besides which, by now the success of Wolverine, Deadpool, and Cable & Deadpool must have proved that not every X-character needs and X in their name (Wolverixe, Deaxpool, Xable, Xable x Xeaxpoox). When I first heard about the All New All Different Generation X I thought, “Millenniex by this point, surely? Millexxxialls? Millennium X?”
Generation X though, a name that most strongly resonates among people in their late twenties to late fourties. A poorly cut garment that hopes to evoke nostalgia for olds like me (not old by Marvel standards, but firmly uncool now that I’m past thirty, by general pop culture standards), and does nothing whatsoever for younger readers. It’s so Marvel, isn’t it?