Age of X-Man: NextGen #4 // Review
When orchestrated illusions fade, people don’t always change. Beliefs remain. Things get sticky. Things get volatile. It’s a situation that students at the Sommers Institute are beginning to understand as things heat-up in the fourth issue of Age of X-Man: NextGen. Writer Ed Brisson drives the super-powered mutant students at the institute directly against government agents including Blob and Psylocke in an issue drawn by Marcus To with color by Jason Keith. The power of mystery in a world of conspiracy serves as a background for a character-driven ensemble drama that isn’t quite living up to its potential.
Little green mutant student Anole has fallen-in with revolutionaries who are understandably opposed to a world that has outlawed things like love, sex, and natural childbirth. He's not alone. Big, bouldery student Rockslide has been made painfully aware of inconsistencies in the established history of the world around them. Glob's trying to help him avoid the periodic mind-wipes that help maintain the illusionary world. When fellow students become aware that illicit drugs are involved in conspiratorial notions of another world, the government is called in to investigate. Psylocke and Blob investigate Rockslide, Glob, and others. Things get all the more dangerous as opposing elements collide.
The plot is fixed on the superhuman drama between characters rather than the mystery of the conspiracy. The focus on the friction between students and authority makes sense. Historically, the X-titles have arguably been more successful where they've focussed on interpersonal drama. It would have been a bit more compelling to contrast the interpersonal drama against a more sophisticated look at the socio-cultural conflict of authority against the students who are subject to it. A more balanced approach in the individual-versus-individual-versus-society dynamic would have been a lot more interesting.
Marcus To brings the drama to the page in a style that contrasts meticulous detail against the darkness of heavy shadow. There's the complexity of emotion playing across everyone's faces, with a particularly impressive accomplishment in To's rendering of Glob. His face is a skull encased in pink translucent globbiness with a pair of eyes on optic nerves shooting back into the scalp. It's not exactly the most emotional situation, but To manages a remarkable range of sentiment for the character as he tries to deliver the full reality of the world that's being hidden to a group of people who aren't exactly receptive. To heartbreakingly renders the dramatic complexity of this in his rendering of Glob.
Though it doesn't quite manage to hit the true potential of its premise, NextGen is making a simple drama fit remarkably well onto the comic book page. Like so much of the rest of the best of the Age of X-Man event, the fourth issue of NextGen is bringing a distinctively moody kind of mutant drama to a mainstream comics page much more accustomed to far more aggressive physical action. It's been a fascinating experiment thus far. NextGen continues to find some success with the venture.