Throughout the years since its inception, the X-Men franchise has had a lot of series revolving around the teenagers. The original five started out as teens, then the ’80s brought the New Mutants, followed by Generation X in the ’90s. The early 2000s brought yet more young mutants, including the cast of New X-Men (2004). The adventures of that generation of students, a new team of New Mutants coached by Dani Moonstar, have been collected in a new volume out this week. New X-Men: Academy X – The Complete Collection collects the entirety of the 2004 New X-Men run, as well as a Hellions miniseries starring the New Mutants’ rival squad taught by Emma Frost. There’s a lot of teenage angst and superpowered mayhem in these issues, but are they good?
One of this volume’s biggest weaknesses is its cast of characters. To be blunt, the vast majority of them are dull. There are reasons the likes of Wind Dancer and Icarus haven’t become popular X-Men. One reason is that they’re boring. The interpersonal dramas between the students largely amount to generic teen angst. I’d say the conflicts are triggered by personality clashes, but the characters’ personalities are one-note to the point of barely being present. Elixir is a jock, Prodigy is the smart and responsible one, and Surge is abrasive with a troubled past. Icarus is a loner to the point of barely getting any page-time. Wallflower and Wind Dancer meanwhile…well, they’re female characters whose character development is primarily tied to their relationships with men. Sigh.
Unfortunately, this volume’s plots aren’t much better than its characters. There are an abundance of narrative choices that result in head scratching at best and character assassination at worst. On the inoffensive but strange side, the series’ final villain is the Blob. Sure, these students can’t feasibly defeat Magneto, but who has ever viewed the Blob as a credible threat? On the blatantly terrible side of things, the series features a romance between a teacher (Elixir) and student (Wolfsbane). Not only is this out of character for Wolfsbane, it taints the character to the point that subsequent writers have had to ignore these events if they wanted her to be likable whatsoever. Even worse than the relationship, however, are the other characters’ reactions to it. While the fallout is deservedly negative at first, it’s more or less brushed under the rug by the end. At one point a character insinuates that Dani being mad at Rahne is equivocal to petty drama between students. While most of the series is just mediocre, moments like this push it into straight-up “Yikes” territory.
This volume is even more jumbled visually than it is story-wise. The fifteen issues of the main series are split up between five different pencilers. Unfortunately, the book’s sense of incongruity doesn’t come just from frequent artist changes. There are consistency problems even within issues, as several of the pencilers struggle when rendering characters’ faces and anatomy. There are several instances where characters’ shifting facial structures make them look like different people in various panels on the same page. The character designs throughout also leave much to be desires. Out of all the Xavier institute uniforms we’ve seen across the years, the New Mutants’ suits are some of the most garish and over-detailed ever.
On the plus side, some parts of this volume are at least solid or show potential. As previously mentioned, the main characters aren’t all that interesting. The Hellions, the New Mutants’ rival team, do show promise. They star in their own limited series at the end of the collection, and it’s easily the best part of the book. While the actual villain of the series is rather bland, he helps set the stage for the Hellions to get some solid character development. Some of the most interesting conflicts take place between the mutant teens and their human parents who sometimes fail to protect their children, and who even show prejudice toward them. It’s a cool situation to see handled on the page, especially since the mutant metaphor doesn’t always stretch that far.
All in all, New X-Men Academy X – The Complete Collection is a disappointing read. If your interest in it is purely archival so that you can read an entire era of stories in one book, then this volume won’t disappoint you. The stories themselves, though, leave a lot to be desired. The bland main characters are overshadowed by the supporting cast, the artwork is consistent in little but its inconsistency, and serious subject matter is handled poorly to the point of outright character assassination. There are some glimmers of potential on occasion, primarily where the Hellions are concerned, but the collection never gets better than decent. Most of this volume, unfortunately, is far worse than that.