Easily among the most monetarily worthwhile of all Marvel’s reprint lines, the Epic Collections are still going strong. This week, they expand into yet another new niche with the release of Generation X Epic Collection: Back to School. Given how little of the series has been reprinted to date, this development sparks hope that further installments might finally fill in giant gaps. For now, though, Back to School contains the first nine issues of Gen X as well as the Phalanx Covenant event issues that led into it, introducing most of the series’ principal cast. So, how do these stories hold up?
The Phalanx Covenant portion of the book makes interesting choices in terms of how it introduces Generation X’s characters and core concepts. By tying the kids intrinsically to an event within the X-line’s core books, the creators make them feel actually relevant and like they inhabit the actual X-Men’s world (as opposed to solely confining them to a low-stakes spin-off ala some future generations of mutant students). We also get an immediate taste of how these kids cope and interact with one another when placed in life-or-death situations. Welcome to being even so much as affiliated with the X-Men, hope you survive the experience. These early issues are particularly notable in their setup of Banshee, Emma Frost, Skin, and Jubilee, all of whom emerge quickly and clearly as the Gen X versions of themselves. The plot isn’t stellar, but it makes for a serviceable start.
On the down-side, these issues could be more exciting to look at. They’re never outright ugly, but they’re nothing to write home about either. It’s a lot of dull, melodramatic ’90s house style that just doesn’t convey the characters’ struggles in ways that are particularly emotionally resonant or creatively laid out. The biggest disappointment is the Phalanx themselves, who have so much potential inherent to their designs and general shtick but are more or less just boring yellow blocks in execution.
Fortunately, the art doesn’t just get better once you get to the actual Generation X issues— it stands out as some of the best work in X-franchise history. Chris Bachalo’s line-art is so full of energy, with amazing skill shown in every possible aspect. Page and panel compositions? Not just functional, but actively creative and working to enhance the mood. Character designs? Few X-Men have ever looked cooler than Chamber does here. Backgrounds? Hella busy and full of patterns and details, but in a way that feels pleasantly chaotic. It may be excess but it’s fun excess, never at the expense of visual clarity. The rendering of characters’ powers also deserves a shout out, particularly with regards to Jubilee, Synch, and Chamber. Inker Mark Buckingham and colorist Steve Buccellato also contribute a lot to the series’ quality with work that complements Bachalo’s perfectly.
The writing in Gen X proper is also a lot of fun. The series doesn’t even reach the double digits here, but there’s already a clear sense of exactly who each character is and what sort of role they’re going to play within the group at large. With that said, there are still fun surprises as well, such as in the development of Husk and Chamber’s relationship. The Christmas issue (#4) specifically deserves mention on any list of the greatest X-Men issues of all time.
As far as cons go, Scott Lobdell’s writing can definitely veer into unrealistic dialogue-as-exposition territory, with characters declaring information for the reader’s benefit in an unnatural way. There are also some pacing problems in the later issues which already suffer from Bachalo’s departure from the art.
All in all, Generation X Epic Collection: Back to School is a fun read and definite recommendation to anyone who’s never read these stories. The real gold of the issue is the Lobdell/Bachalo period in the middle while the lead-up and wind-down both have their flaws, but none of these comics are bad. That high point is just really high, and worth the cost in and of itself.
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