Kieron Gillen is doing in “Generation Hope” what I’ve been waiting for someone to do with a mutant book for a long time now, which is to find the reality of what it would be like to be a mutant, especially as a teenager. It’s certainly been addressed before (Kitty Pryde) here and there, over the years, and some books have tackled it well, but in a different way than what Gillen is doing. (“Generation X” springs to mind.) But what Gillen did in this single issue of “Generation Hope” is inspired and a long time coming for this current generation.
In this issue, Hope, with dutiful Gabriel at her side, tries to bond with one of the Cuckoos (Phoebe) as they await the activation of a new "light." A large portion of the book is actually spent with that new light, Zee, as he talks to friends in a dorm room, and in the process, manifests his mutant powers which are uncontrollable and none too pretty. Hope and her team arrive too late and Zee has killed himself, horrified by the sudden change in his life, and driven to it in part by his friend’s reactions to the change. It’s a moving and emotional issue, sad in its intensity and powerful for how true it rings.
Gillen has guided this book beautifully so far, and quite frankly, every issue has offered a new surprise in ways that comics rarely do these days. The fact that I was spellbound for the entire issue, despite not knowing three of the characters that we spend eight pages with, tells you just a fraction of what Gillen can do as a writer. He works this story on multiple levels: instantly creating a new character that you like and hope you’re going to learn more about; showing a glimpse at how closely “the lights” and Hope are connected; making a statement about our narcissistic 24 hour “news cycle”/reality programming and the damage it inflicts; and does a surprisingly effective shout out to the “it gets better project”; all while telling a completely engrossing and satisfying story. That is impressive.
In particular, reading a scene where Zee talks about how hard it must be to be a mutant, via his knowledge of the famous mutant Cyclops, you know as a reader that you’re getting something special. Because not only does Gillen manage to expand the world of the X-Men powerfully to being something that is gossiped about, and known about intimately on dorm room floors the world over, but it adds its own meta commentary to everything that creates an entirely new layer that we so rarely get to see in comics. So frequently our superhero comics are insulated and full of navel gazing, but Gillen wipes all of that away, making the world feel big and broad and constantly changing, as it so truly is.
Jamie McKelvie and Jium Charalampidis’ art is perfect for this issue, down to the line. It’s the exact style and feel this book should have; it doesn’t hurt that it’s just flat out beautiful. McKelvie’s clean lines and perfectly paced storytelling are ideal for Gillen’s writing style. And his grasp of the characters is stunning. McKelvie handles the epic and the personal with equal grace, and he hits every emotional note here perfectly. This is especially important given the emotional gravity of this issue, and the fact that Gillen wisely opts to tell much of it in silence – four full pages with almost no dialogue of any kind. It takes an artist of the highest caliber to deliver pages like that successfully, and McKelvie rises to the challenge and then surpasses it.
Kieron Gillen is hitting it out of the park on “Generation Hope,” and though all the artists on the title thus far have been excellent, with McKelvie as his right hand, this is a nearly perfect book. If you’re not reading this book, you’re missing out on some great comics.