Marvel Comic's X-Men "ResurrXion" is a breath of fresh air for fans, stepping away from the downbeat arcs that have characterized the franchise for the last decade or so. This week saw this new era in X-Men history continue with the launch of Christina Strain's Generation X. The title and concept are beautiful homages to a dearly-loved comic book from the 1990s, and a major character from the era (Jubilee) takes center-stage. But how does the book balance nostalgia and the need for a new direction?
The X-Men Franchise's Nostalgia Problem
Comic book fans tend to be a nostalgic lot, looking back wistfully at the halcyon days when they first fell in love with the franchises they follow. But that's particularly the case with fans of the X-Men; their eyes are drawn to the days of the legendary Chris Claremont, or the 1990s when X-Men #1 became the best-selling comic of all time. Recent books just haven't resonated with fans in the same way, and the characters have increasingly felt sidelined as the comics focus in on the Avengers. The X-Men's glory days seem to be behind them.
Complicating this, fans have become convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Marvel was essentially sabotaging the X-Men franchise in a wrong-headed attempt to get Fox to relinquish the film rights.
Against this backdrop, Marvel's "ResurrXion" is a solid attempt to appeal to that sense of nostalgia, while hopefully moving the franchise on. Christina Strain's Generation X needs to be seen in this context; it's no coincidence that the book carries the title of the '90s fan-favorite, or that Jubilee — so beloved to fans of the X-Men Animated Series — is in a starring role.
Balancing Nostalgia and Innovation
The core concept of Generation X is a simple one; a class of mutant students, being trained by a seasoned veteran. In the original series, the headteachers were Emma Frost and Banshee; now, we've got Kitty Pryde as headmistress of a far larger school, and Jubilee taking a class of "lovable losers." Right from the outset, Christina Strain blends nostalgia with a more current status quo; she calls back to the '90s classic, with Jubilee teaming up with Chamber, but twists it by adding in Jubilee's adopted son, Shogo.
This is the challenge that Christina Strain embraces; on the one hand, she wants to give fans of the old-school Generation X the nostalgia buzz she knows we long for. On the other, she refuses to simply set the clock back on all the changes that have happened in the last 20 years. I'm reminded of the legendary Blondin, who walked on a tightrope across Niagara Gorge. Success and survival depended on precise balance. In just the same way, Christina Strain has to balance the sense of nostalgia with the contemporary. For Generation X, success and survival depend on this precise balance.
She pulls it off well. While the book is absolutely chock-full of homages, they're mostly done subtly; only once or twice does the script call them out, with Jubilee remembering a key line of dialogue from the first Generation X run. They're there if you want to see them; and, smartly, Marvel re-released the old Generation X #1 recently as part of their 'True Believers' range, meaning you could pick it up for just $1.00.
Meanwhile, Christina Strain's comic focuses in on the new — most notably her original character, Nathaniel Carver. His power is to see the past of anyone or anything he touches, and Christina uses that ability to breathtaking effect; essentially, he allows her to give us a visual info-dump into the backstory of anyone he touches. It's a smart move, allowing her to "show-not-tell" the more complicated histories. The book stands or falls on the quality of Christina's characterization, and I have to say that I'm impressed. While she captures the spirit of the original Generation X run, she also sets it perfectly against the new class's characters.
I confess that I do have concerns about the X-Men franchise; this nostalgic focus doesn't seem especially healthy to me. That said, I feel that Christina Strain's approach is a masterclass in how to get it right; she takes the core of that which was loved so dearly, and refreshes it for a new age. I'm definitely along for the ride.
Are you planning to pick up 'Generation X' #1?
(Poll Image Credit: Marvel Comics)