Generation X: a series fondly remembered by some and utterly unknown by others. The X-Men’s second batch of student non-combatants (who frequently end up in mortal danger anyway) has received an uptick in interest lately, partly due to the recovery and resurgence of Synch as a character. The Epic Collection line is reprinting the series as a result, and volume one showed how much the team’s beginnings have held up over time. Is that high quality level consistent in the second installment, Emplate’s Revenge?
The issues in this volume fall into three main categories: those by both series co-creators Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachelo, those written by Lobdell but featuring other artists, and those without either creator involved. As a rule of thumb the OG creative team is absolutely ideal, though Lobdell manages to keep the book afloat and at least treading water when guest pencilers come on. When both Lobdell and Bachalo depart, however? The quality sinks rapidly.
The opening section of the book belongs to the middle descriptor. Characters are slowly fleshed out and dynamics are reinforced, with Synch and M being of particular importance. The relationship between Chamber and Husk is also a satisfying ongoing plot, and one that effectively highlights their ages. These are characters who make teenage mistakes and social no-nos but who are nonetheless earnest and have grown with even more growth ahead of them. The adult characters also fare well here, with Banshee in particular getting some rare spotlight.
With that said, some awkward pacing and a few flatter characters hold the book back from feeling like a must-read. Mondo in particular suffers as the last cast member to join, and one who as of this point in the series has yet to be delved into beyond a very surface level.
Once Bachalo returns, however, both he and Lobdell quickly resume firing on all cylinders. The breadth of expression in the characters is delightful, the constant willingness to experiment with page composition keeps the action fresh and dynamic, and all in all the book just looks so cool. Chamber’s aesthetic in particular is so perfect that it doesn’t feel dated at all, but rather just as cool now as it was twenty-some years ago.
Most notable of all is the sense of joyous visual chaos throughout. The frequent spamming of patterns between panels keeps each page attention-grabbing; there’s not a single boring white background anywhere in Bachalo’s issues. The commitment to specific visual themes (i.e. circus imagery) also helps tie issues together in ways that make them stand out as complete, stellar works on their own even when they’re only part of larger ongoing arcs.
Unfortunately, once you reach the volume’s last few issues, all joy comes to a swift stop. The collection closes with a pair of annuals on which neither Lobdell nor Bachalo are credited, and these flounder on all fronts. The art loses not just its sense of style but also its sense of substance, a drastic impediment to a series so well-known for its unique vision and aesthetic. The characters, meanwhile, regress to their most one-dimensional elements, casting aside all prior character development. Jubilee and M in particular have very stilted dialogue that displays a lack of understanding for both characters’ nuances, creating disappointment where there should have been ample room for growth.
In conclusion, Generation X Epic Collection: Emplate’s Revenge is a reminder of just how disjointed this series is. The opening issues are solid and showcase some of the characters’ potential, but it’s not until Bachalo returns to the title that Gen X regains its must-read status. It’s these near-perfect issues that make this volume very well worth reading, even if the beginning is only decent and the ending is outright bad. The quality may not be consistent throughout, but the highs are very well worth sticking through the lows for.
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