On Leaving Generation Hope

I’ve had the PDF for Generation Hope 13 a few days, and yet to be able to do anything other than swiftly nose at it. Partially because since nu-house internet is having a little sleep means I haven’t had a chance to get it on the ipad yet, but partially because of the disconnect of seeing — say — Kenji say something and finding myself thinking “wait — how did Kenji say that? I didn’t write that. What’s going on?”.

I always suspected I’d leave Generation Hope at the end of the first year, and so planned it as a coherent statement that would establish the book. I saw it as my job to properly delineate the lights and define Hope’s post-Cable existence as a somewhat desperate Messiah. Like all work, I’ve got some things I regret and some things I’m enormously pleased with. I think to start with I was a note too overconfident and obtuse , and immediately following that went too far the other way into being a little nervous and crass before swiftly (and thankfully) finding its balance. Taken as a whole, I can only view it as a success. I’d taken six kids, shown how each one ticks, and took them from meeting, to bonding, to an initial success, to heartbreak and then near destruction, and both showed who they were and how the experience changed them, while setting the stage for whatever comes next. Obviously being deep in the X-Office, with Hope on my team, means that I’ve got more than a few fingers in the assorted mutant-pie (which is a disturbing, Disir-esque quasi-cannibalistic metaphor I’m going to abandon immediately), but it’s still more than a little sad saying goodbye to the kids.

Laurie was my favourite. She’s the one whose core I barely tweaked from Matt’s initial conception. The stressed out, hard working girl who learns to fly. The simple superpower as ironic commentary, and the challenge that always face her. As in, CAN SHE LOOSEN THE HELL UP. She was the moral voice of the series — when she was right, she was clearly right… and then had a lovely tendency to undermine it all by just trying too hard. Her slapping down Kenji at the museum by explaining exactly what the point of turning the other cheek is and then entirely blowing it by flying off into one-upmanship trivia spouting is pure Laurie. She’s the one who I always thought could end up a leader. She’s also the one who I suspected may have ended up dying. I liked that she was smart, but certainly not a comic-book genius. I liked that she was a coward, except around Hope. I especially liked that she was the one who finally pushed the gun in Hope’s face, and I like that she knew when to drop it. I’ll miss her intensely.

Kenji was my favourite, if only because he was the one who was almost all mine. In the vaguely school of Gillen-y archetypes, you can file her next to Laura from Phonogram. As in, someone using someone else’s creations as a proxy to discover their own creativity. He’s the one who was initially misunderstood, and I kinda regret that I had to go as far out of the way to explain him as I did. I suspect if I could make one change to the series, I’d have had an AKIRA or TETSUO poster in his room or something. I thought I was being unsubtle with the I AM BECOMING ART as a first caption, but the response was one of the experiences which taught me that, generally speaking, it’s a genre where you should stress communication over fear of coarseness. But still — he was great. Vaguely meta, nihilistic, quick with the gags, always one to add black humour to a situation and beneath it all, a bunch of genuine fears. A widely hailed new creator who — through a fluke of fate – has his derivativeness that he knows only all too well made entirely obvious to the whole world. All the Hope kids were autobiographic in the fears they embodied, but Kenji is particularly fucking obvious (and in my experience, there’s not a working artist in the world who doesn’t feels the same). I liked him as a bio-horror commentary on Kyle-esque Green Lantern (the fetishistiation of willpower in the GL mythos always bemused me, because it always struck me as the ring’s actually about Imagination, thus a metaphor for artistic growth. Of course, I’ve never read any GL comics, so what would I know, eh?). I liked that he embodied the pulpy childhood influence beneath mature art, and how no-one actually asked why he was influenced by such retro Manga and Anime (The answer, of course, being it’s what his dead Dad dug). I especially liked that despite all the nihilistic posturing, the failed attempt to rescue the kid in issue 9 wakes up his social consistence in a way which is visible beneath his bluster in every issue from then. He grew, and not just spikey-horror-stabby tentacles. I’ll miss him intensely.

Gabriel was my favourite because he was most useful. Even more than handy-with-the-sneaksie-exposition Laurie. He was the irritant that drove the team’s conversations. When everyone was quiet, Gabriel would say something stupid and everyone else would react in frustration with the bimbo in their midst. When you’ve got characters who lean silent like Idie, this is a boon that’s almost impossible to overstate. His low-key flirtation with Hope was one of the few venues for humanising her outside of her all-encompassing passion for her mission, and thus essential. He’s also the character who I feel like I was the worst parent of. That, as a character, his core values were conveyed relatively easily — speedster-power-set that’s killing him, motor-mouth flirt and irritant, go! – meant that I didn’t have to do the painstaking work to get the point across like I did with Teon, Idie and Kenji… which meant that he probably got the least development. I threw him the hardest curve-ball in issue twelve to make up for it, and look forward to seeing what Mr Asmus is going to do with that. The mixture of weakness, compassion and tragedy was always going to become more prominent and key as time went by — because time is one thing the speedster doesn’t really have enough of. I liked that he was the one character who’d always try and comfort someone else, even if he knew he was entirely out of the depth. I liked that he took Hope on a date to see the Captain America Bio-pic, which is a joke I suspect only I find funny. I especially like how be broke Doctor Nemesis’ pen. I’ll miss him intensely.

Teon was basically Kid-with-knife from Phonogram as a superhero, and as such, clearly was my favourite. He’s a character who is simultaneously the comic relief and the most disturbing member of the team, and it pleases me enormously that neither role undermines the other. I talked about being a little nervous after the start… but I’m pleased I was cool headed enough to keep the twist of his card in hand until issue eight, as tempting as it was to play it earlier. I liked that he’s a simple character, the most radical idea for a superhero on the team and (especially) that he’s an utter enigma. I’ll miss him intensely.

Idie was my favourite because she hurt the most. She’s the one I’m glad is gone, because writing her just upsets and scares me. I wish Jason the best with her, because she’s a heartbreaker. The week I spent writing issue 10, where I drag her around a museum full of death and genocide, taking her to a state where she thinks slaughtering some people may be the best thing to do and leaving her in a disassociated traumatic-stress state… well, that’s really not fun. It’s also my favourite issue of the series. Even aside from that, she was hard work to write, because she required a great degree of prodding before she’d express herself verbally in any way. I started the series with her monologue, because I knew that she wouldn’t be speaking extensively for a while. I didn’t know then that it’d be the horror of issue 10, but would have bet it’d have been something tragic. And when she actually spoke… well, what came out just distured. I found myself laughing uncomfortably when I found myself staring at a line like “I can’t burn in this world. I’ll burn in the next”. Where did that come from? I liked that with her I had a chance to use the Witch Child information that I’d wanted to write about since I discovered and been horrified by it. I liked that she finally gave me a good excuse to research Nigeria, a country I knew worryingly little about before, and now feel considerably more comfortable with. I especially liked that she — whisper it — kinda became a star.

And then Hope, the child who I had no hand in the creation with, and got to safeguard for a year. Or the opposite of safeguard, really. I talked about keeping Teon’s real nature as a palm-card a long time being a risk. Keeping Hope’s real motivation hidden until issue twelve was even more of one. I wanted the mystery of whether Hope is actively a bad Messiah to drive the series… which meant having to keep Hope at arm’s distance in a way that none of the other kids were (Hope’s the only character who never narrates, though every private conversation she has shows her real motivation in a way that’s hopefully readily apparent in retrospect). Having it entirely open from the start that she was having an Uncle Ben moment — as in, I have to be a Messiah, because that’s what my dad died for — would have made her much more likeable. But it’d have killed the series in ways I’d take essays to explain. I liked that my twelve issues on Generation Hope were driven by an underlying psychological portrait which, I hope, is a head-slappingly-obvious in retrospect. I’d urge people to re-read the run, if only to see all those little meticulous nods towards Cable (the bridge where he died being the psychic projection where she tells Scott she’s going to to be his messiah is my fave). It half worries me that no-one guessed it — I think it speaks to something of the superhero readership’s jaded response to the concept of death that a character who’s just lost her father not mentioning it throughout a run that follows within days of the death isn’t something that raised a communal eyebrow. But still — it was a mystery which worked, for me, and what I most liked about Hope in the series. You always try and write the unstated motivation for characters, and with Hope I had a consistent magnetic North. I like that especially. I’d miss her intensely, but I’m still writing her in Uncanny X-men, so it’s not like that she’s gone. Though I’ll miss writing her with her small group. Hope’s in a different place in Uncanny, and the place she was in Gen Hope is… well, intensely missworthy.

I’d like to thank all the artists on the series — Salva whose cartooning totally made some pretty vile body-horror ideas incredibly friendly and pop, Tim who brought real emotional intensity to the difficult Schism issues, Steve who added all manner of hilarious and telling details to the final issues and even McKelvie who managed to just about do an acceptable job, considering his obvious failings. And my lovely editors. Obv.

And, finally, I’d thank the readers who got it and thank the readers who didn’t. The former made it all worthwhile and the latter always made me write harder.