Review: “Counter-X: Revolution”

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Counter-X: Revolution

Written by Warren Ellis, artwork by just about everyone.

Here’s something that is becoming well-known about Warren Ellis: he doesn’t like superheroes. Well, that’s not completely true. He probably doesn’t like a big part of the superhero mold right now, as it mires itself in its own past instead of moving forward and changing. So it’s surprising that Ellis has been turning in some of the best superhero stories and concepts (The Authority, Planetary, StormWatch…) for the last few years. The trick, I believe, has to do with the fact that since Ellis has no love for any certain type of character or convention, he can pick, remove, and replace what doesn’t work to him and make it new and better — something a writer who loves the superhero mold couldn’t do, because of his attachments to the trappings of the characters.

Marvel apparently realized this (either that or saw an occasion to reap profits due to Ellis’ increased popularity) and asked him to revamp the satellite books of the X-Men titles family: Generation X, X-Man, and X-Force. Ellis revamped the books and hand-picked the creative teams for them. He plotted three four-issue arcs for all the titles, then left room for the creative team to grow. The first of the three story arcs have finished now, so lets see what has been changed, and if it was for the better…

Generation X Issues 63-66: “Correction”
Written by Warren Ellis and Brian Wood
Penciled by Steve Pugh
Inked by Sandu Florea

INITIAL PREMISE: X-Men: The Next Generation. A group of teen mutants from across the globe attend the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. Are they an independent group or merely a cattlecall line heading to be the next X-Men?

REVAMPED PREMISE: Not terribly different from the original, save one exception. The team’s not training to be superheroes or X-Men replacements. They’re being taught by two covert-ops specialists to learn how to use their powers to survive in a world that fears and hates them. Now, they want to involve themselves in that world and change it. In the first story arc, he team uncovers something fishy. All over America, kids are disappearing, kids who wrote or talked about violent acts at school. Soon, kids who didn’t do anything are brought to a mysterious place called the House of Correction. The teens of Gen X must discover the secret behind it.

ANALYSIS: Generation X turns out to be my favorite of the bunch, simply because of the direction it takes. Ellis and Wood make the concept of the “super-teen team” much more interesting and different from any other, similar storylines. The characters go out and investigate something that is better suited to them than it would be for any other characters. Also, the kids are much more fun and enjoyable than they were before. They read like teens, they have many interests, different personalities, styles, they want to sleep with the hot limo driver, etc. They feel real without being annoying. The story is told in a format similar to a TV show, so each issue feels like an act of an hour-long drama. Art-wise, Steve Pugh does a good job, giving the characters different looks, styles and body language, in particular imbuing the team with varied facial characteristics. I particularly like the looks of the characters’ costumes, which seem part superhero, part street clothing. It’s a very nice mix he designs here. The only thing needed here is a better inker, as I believe Pugh’s pencils would look better with cleaner inks. The coloring is also flat at times.

VERDICT: Pretty good. Generation X is the prime example of a teen team book in comics, featuring fully developed characters facing evils and menaces suited to them.

X-Man Issues 63-66: “No Direction Home”
Written by Warren Ellis and Steven Grant
Pencilled by Ariel Olivetti

INITIAL PREMISE: Nate Grey comes from an alternate universe that was destroyed by a war between man and mutant. He arrived in our universe as the world’s most powerful psychic, a power that was to kill him at age (and issue) 21. He was to be the mutant bad ass without a cause, kicking Magneto’s ass and throwing Juggernaut into space. Instead, he was kept around as a wanderer, not doing anything in particular except being fairly uninteresting and looking like he escaped an Eighties rock video.

REVAMP PREMISE: Nate Grey is now the telepathic mutant shaman of the 21st century. Yup. A shaman is a lonely figure, who lives outside his tribe to protect it against threats that comes from beyond our existence. His tribe? Humanity. In the first story arc, Nate Grey is settling in his role as a shaman while he looks into grisly murders of several businessmen (one explodes in an elevator) who are all mutants connected to a mysterious organization that finds it origin in an alternate dimension.

ANALYSIS: This is probably the most radically revamped character of all the Counter X books. Nate Grey who was one of the more confusing and uninteresting characters in the X-Universe, has a different look (black trenchcoat and pants with an “X” tattoo) which fits his outsider nature from humanity. Oh, and, uh, he doesn’t wear shoes. The pacing, like Generation X, is rather slow, but we do get interesting ideas along the way of the nature of Nate’s new job and just how he uses his powers. I get the feeling that Ellis enjoys the title, due to the fact that it has room for wider concepts and madder ideas. On the art front, Ariel Olivetti does a nice job, though it takes him a while to get comfortable. His penciling is solid, but another inker might help him approach the quality of the covers he’s producing for the book. Granted, they’re fully painted, but this is what makes the book impossible to mistake for any other Marvel book on the stands. And maybe I’ve been spoiled by the coloring in Wildstorm’s books, but I found X-man’s coloring alternately muted and even poorly chosen.

VERDICT: The book is at least interesting now, and I suspect that the current creative theme will get into the feel of it more as it continues.

X-Force Issues 102-105; “No Direction Home”

Written by Warren Ellis and Ian Edgington
Penciled by Whilce Portacio
Inked by Gerry Alanguilan

INITIAL PREMISE: X-Force is the flip side to The X-Men and Xavier’s dream of peaceful mutant/human integration. They question that ideal, and they are ready to fight for the survival of their species.

REVAMP PREMISE: Like Ellis said in his notes for the series, “Give it some scrotum, son.” It is a very similar premise made harder and faster. The team has a new leader — Pete Wisdom, Ellis’ creation from his time on Excalibur (the UK X-Men). Wisdom is pissed at members of the World Intelligence Community, who are committing crimes against mutantkind with impunity. And he’s decided to keep a watch on them, using his team. In the first story arc, we’re treated to X-Force showing off their powers against “meatspore stormtroopers,” which are, basically, robots made of meat and blood. You know, like N’Sync. The team soon learns of their link to an American agency named “Cuckoo” and heads back to San Francisco, where mutants have been randomly going mad and killing people.

ANALYSIS: The new X-Force is miles away from its original concept. But many of the things we see here, such as the depiction of the destructive capacity of mutant powers, is something I’ve seen from Ellis before — in StormWatch. The same thing goes with the “bad American agencies doing bad things.” While the storyline is fun, longtime Ellis readers may not enjoy this. It’s Ellis-lite. As for Whilce Portacio’s art… you either love it or hate it. I’m not sure how to take it — he obviously puts a lot of energy into it and it does show on the page. He likes drawing the book, and there is spontaneity to his work. But I’m not a fan of the constant blacked out backgrounds or the liberties he takes with anatomy. Style should not get in the way of substance. However, I would like to note that I like his designs for the new costumes — they’re all Matrix-ed up and are a nice fit to the characters and their new activities.

VERDICT: Average. The style of writing will probably change as the book goes on, leaving Edgington to do things that might not be Ellis’s old ground, so the book may get better. The art is too muddy for my tastes.

In the end, I think that Ellis succeeded in making better X-books. The first arcs are now over and the new ones that comprise Counter X: Shockwave, will tell the story of how the old teams and characters changed into their current incarnations. It also marks the beginning of the chosen creators doing what they want to do with the book, which should prove to be very interesting.

Generation X, X-Man, and X-Force, published by Marvel Comics, are available through comic retailers and newsstands.


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