Young X-Men, a retrospective

Come along, Sherman, we’re taking the Wayback Machine to learn about some history in honor of this week’s launch of Young X-Men.

What, you don’t get that reference? Way to make me feel old.

The “next generation of X-Men” has been (more often than not) a staple of the X-Franchise since Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod introduced the New Mutants in Marvel Graphic Novel #4 back in 1982. That team consisted of Cannonball, Mirage, Karma, Sunspot and Wolfsbane – who, along with other well-known members Magik, Cypher, Warlock and Magma – are the usual guide to the genre. If a “young team” debuts, usually it will at some point reference this group – and if the solicitations are a guide, Young X-Men will be no different.

The X-Men was launched as five teenagers learning at a school for mutants, though as produced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (no offense intended) they hardly acted like students or even teenagers, save for needing Professor X to bail them out of situations. It wasn’t long before the group “graduated” and later writers used them specifically as a super-hero team. When Len Wein and Dave Cockrum relaunched the team in 1975, the new X-Men were all adults, several of them heroes in their own right. Chris Claremont’s run focused on the team’s interactions with one another rather than learning in the school environment.

So it was no real surprise when the second book was launched, in part carried by the mass popularity of Uncanny X-Men. But the New Mutants weren’t just different faces going through the motions – the stories were more light hearted (in some cases) and the characters were likable in their own respect – not simply because they wore an X on their belts.

But through the late 80s and into the start of the 90s, the New Mutants got swept up by the grittier times, signalled by creator Rob Liefeld’s introduction of Cable to the book. Before long, most of the core cast was gone (save for Cannonball and latecomer Boom Boom) and in their places were a team of the era – X-Force. With that, the younger class book was gone, though X-Force would never quite be able to shake that label.

Three years later, in 1994, the Phalanx Covenant kicked off leading directly to the launching of Generation X – the next “next generation of X-Men”. This title moved the official Xavier school out of the X-Mansion to Emma Frost’s Massachusetts Academy, formerly the school of her Hellions (arch-nemeses of the original New Mutants). The title took X-Men mainstays Jubilee, Banshee and the no-longer-evil Emma Frost and added a sprinkle of new characters such as Skin, M, Chamber, Synch and Husk (sister of Cannonball) as well as some others. The title never really caught on and changed its identity several times as it floundered in the X-World before being quietly put down just before Grant Morrison started his heralded New X-Men run.

With the end of Generation X, Morrison moved the proper school back to Professor Xavier’s mansion and made the mutant student body substantially larger than had ever been attempted in an X-Men title (Generation X had opened the school to human students at one point). With this came an opportunity to focus on some of the students, so Nunzio DeFillipis and Christina Weir launched New Mutants under Marvel’s ill-fated Tsunami line. In this new title, the students learned from the faculty of X-Men characters – focused mainly on original New Mutant Mirage. However, the book seemed to be pushed awkwardly away from its original aim (Magma and Wolfsbane were originally hinted to be important members of the cast, but never really joined) and the book was retitled after 13 issues to New X-Men: Academy X.

It was here that DeFillipis and Weir hit their stride. In an effort to take the X-Men back into the superhero realm, New X-Men split the students into squads, each advised by a member of the faculty. The title focused on two teams – the New Mutants (Wind Dancer, Wallflower, Prodigy, Elixir, Surge and Icarus) and the Hellions (Hellion, Dust, Wither, Rockslide, Mercury and Tag) with background characters filling out a part of the student body. Like New Mutants, though, this book was more into the interactions of the characters rather than fighting bad guys. But that was fine. The book had a lot of strong characters, and when the Hellions got their own mini-series, it was a great read.

During Decimation in which the X-Line was shaken up, New X-Men was pulled from DeFillipis and Weir and given to the duo of Chris Yost and Craig Kyle. As evidenced by my thoughts on X-Force, these two are hit and miss with me. They took the happiness completely out of the book, and made it a sludge through pure misery. Five members of the two main teams were written out, with three of them getting killed. Almost the entire supporting cast was killed off in a single issue. The book literally became about the characters wondering when they were going to get killed. With that in mind, you can see why X-Force is a much better device for them. To their credit, I did like their characterization of some of these kids, and they made X-23 into an enjoyable character, which is something I never would have imagined when she was a personality-lacking wild child in Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men.

After Messiah CompleX, New X-Men stopped being solicited, with no explanation as to why the book was seemingly getting the axe. Like me, many fans greatly loved the characters (they seemed to have more of a following than the Generation X kids at the time) and wanted more of them. So we get a new issue #1 with Young X-Men and a title that, according to solicitations, looks to be a child army of mutants. I’m not quite sure about that, but I’ll look into that on Friday after people have had a chance to look over the book.

To me, the younger team has not really worked too well lately. It’s possible – it was none with New Mutants in the 80s – but no one has really managed to recapture the magic and hit the balance between teenage interaction and superhero stories. As of late, it’s been specifically one or the other, and it doesn’t look like Young X-Men will change this. But of course, in four years they’ll revamp the theme and try again.

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