Age of X-Man: NextGen #1 // Review
The lives of young super-powered mutants coming-of-age in the standard Marvel Universe has been extensively explored for over half a century. The usual stresses the accompany impending adulthood are complicated by strange powers, aliens, parallel timelines and protecting a human race that fears mutants. Writer Ed Brisson, artist Marcus To and colorist Jason Keith shift the usual teenage mutant milieu a bit with his new mini-series NextGen. Set in the “Age of X-Man,” the mini-series follows a group of young mutants studying at The Summers Institute for Higher Learning.
The first issue follows a day in the life of students in their tenth year of a ten-year program. It’s a diverse graduating class studying law enforcement, agriculture, medicine and history. Initial class politics are explored in a lengthy pre-class hangout with tenth year student Glob Herman and his pet chickens Logan, Hope and Scott. Things are further defined in a cafeteria in which it’s revealed that Glob is writing fan fiction that might as well be the account of major events from the perspective of a parallel timeline. With mealtime over, four classes are covered in five pages which give over to the class’ investigation of a house fire not far from the school. In the process of helping out, a couple of them have a mysterious run-in with sinister government agent Frederick “The Blob” Dukes.
Brisson has a lot of work to do in this first issue. The challenge of world-building a dystopian parallel universe for Marvel mutants tends to involve one hell of a lot of exposition. By rooting the world-building in a series of classes, Brisson manages to avoid some of the awkwardness of revealing aspects of the parallel universe. The structure of class life for the mutants is laid out in a way that makes the fantastic feel pleasantly mundane. When the fire sets-in at the end of the issue, it launches the tidy order of the series into something much darker. It’s a smartly-constructed intro to the lives of young mutants in The Age of X-Man.
More than just a team book, Next Gen is a populous ensemble series featuring huge group shots of people with fantastic powers simply...hanging out. It’s a real challenge to show the fantastic in a way that seems perfectly mundane. Artist Marcus To has a knack for putting together big, beautiful group shots that feel vast and spacious even when they’re not even taking up a quarter of the page. The subtle facial expressions of each character make personalities feel distinct even if they’re somewhere in the background of a cafeteria. Movement across the page may not feel perfectly fluid, but that might have a lot to do with the fact that there simply isn’t much aggressive action in this first issue. The physical action doesn’t really have a chance to assert itself and so To isn’t given much room in which to render it. Keith does a gorgeous job with the colors. The blaze of the fire at issue’s end feels suitably luminous, but there’s some clever atmospheric elements added-in. Careful attention has been paid to details in the color that are often overlooked. Colors in the sky outside the school shift subtly based on the time of day. There’s a sheen on the tile floor of classrooms. There are splotches of white chalk clearly visible on a blackboard. (It feels a bit odd to see a blackboard in a modern classroom until a whiteboard appears later-on. Mood is being established here: the blackboard is in an ivy league-looking wood-paneled history classroom. The whiteboard is in the gleamingly modern Civil Management classroom. Careful thought has been put into these details. There’s no explanation as of yet as to why every monitor and video screen on campus is on old CRT model, but it’s difficult to imagine that there isn’t a really specific reason for THAT as well. Brisson and company have clearly done a tremendous amount of work in figuring out the background for this universe.)
The Age of X-Man is now in its third week. One of the big challenges moving forward is going to lie in keeping each of the titles distinct and integral to the overall structure of the event. If anything feels at all like it’s not totally necessary for the development of the world as a whole, the integrity of the whole 32-part event might start to falter. With the first issue of NextGen, Brisson cleverly lays the foundations for a coming-of-age in a world of mutant social integration.