Monday, September 22, 2008

Young X-Men #6

All right, then, let's do this properly...

"San Francisco"
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Artist: Ben Oliver
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Colourist: Jose Villarrubia
Editor: Nick Lowe

After five issues of messing about with Donald Pierce, Young X-Men finally makes it to San Francisco and finally gets around to establishing what the series is about. And you won't be surprised to learn that it's about the junior X-Men team.

The idea of the X-Men having a junior team dates back to the launch of New Mutants in 1983, but the last few years have seen Marvel tinkering frantically with the format. When Generation X finally petered out, they replaced it with the boarding school soap of New Mutants, which was quickly relaunched as New X-Men, which in turn was rapidly repackaged as a handwringing slaughterfest, and which has now been replaced by Young X-Men.

But the odd thing is that for all this endless repackaging, nobody really seems to have much of a clue of what this book is about. It's telling that the first five issues serve no real purpose other than as a random device to bring the cast together and giving the X-Men a lacklustre excuse to say "Hmm, we should have a junior team after all." And we're back where we were before, with the minor difference that this time the team will get to go on missions from time to time. But after M-Day, the New X-Men had already been officially repositioned from students to X-Men in training. We're talking minor, fiddly little changes.

Looking back over the last few years of false starts and misguided revamps, it's hard to avoid feeling that Marvel have no real idea of why they're running a comic about the junior X-Men team. It's just something they do, either because they've done it for years, or because it's an established variation on the theme that helps pad out the line, or a bit of both. True, Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir seemed to have a direction in mind, but they never got the chance to pursue it. For the most part, though, reading this book just gives me the sinking feeling that the thought process behind it started with "What shall we do with the junior team?", when it should have started with "Why do we have a junior team?"

It's not that Young X-Men is badly done. Marc Guggenheim and Ben Oliver tell their story quite efficiently, and dutifully set up subplots for some of the individual characters. The execution is fine. But it lacks a raison d'etre. I really don't see what we've achieved by shuffling the cast yet again, relaunching the book yet again, and ending up with a book that isn't much different from the one we had before, only with less interesting characters. Seriously, we wrote out Hellion and Mercury for this?

The book is adequate and inoffensive if you judge it in isolation, but in the context of the line, it's hard not to see it as a severe case of imprint bloat.