According to writer Kieron Gillen, Generation Hope #9 is “the one where we’re using the X-metaphor to talk about teenage gay suicide.” It’s not a story where they deal with teenage gay suicide, of course; that would imply some sort of satisfactory resolution, if not an outright happy ending. Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie know better than that, and the result is a deeply affecting story that tackles a modern social issue in a relevant manner.
First, a quick recap: Hope Summers was the first mutant born after the House of M event reduced the planet’s mutant population from millions to a couple hundred. A handful of other mutants, referred to as “Lights,” have surfaced since then, and spend most of their time waiting for the next time a young man or woman’s powers manifest in spectacular, unstable fashion. By GH9, there are six Lights, and despite an absence of gargantuan monsters or calculating super-villains, a young college student named Zee turns out to be in more danger than any of Hope’s other compatriots.
What’s most troubling is how normal Zee’s situation and company will appear to college students and twenty-somethings today. Luke is a familiar type of dick you find around campus. His dismissive attitude toward Zee’s short defense of mutants, loud t-shirt and obnoxious iPhone skin might remind readers of a certain big man on campus or two they’ve known. The unnamed girl says little but might have helped if she ever spoke up. They’re believable, and the believability of their actions is the most chilling thing of all. Spectators gawk and stare when Zee’s mutant gene manifests in a messy manner, not knowing what’s going on or how to react, while Luke does things in a douchebag way that causes more harm than he understands, even as it happens right in front of him.
GH9 hits you in the gut and doesn’t make it feel much better by the end. Not unlike real life, the inevitable climax hits you before you’ve steeled yourself for it. McKelvie’s art is at its best in these pages. Transonic is horrified when she reaches the scene too late. Kitty Pryde’s disgust at the “Liquid Face Boy!” online video almost distracts from her ridiculous fishbowl-head containment suit. And Hope’s look of despair as she says, “We have to be better,” is enough to make any reader crumble.
The X-metaphor in GH9 runs a little thin despite being such a powerful story in its pacing and characters. Replacing “mutant” with “queer” or “homo” makes it only slightly less obvious. Zero, the most brooding Light so far, seeks revenge on a serene sleeping Luke, but Wolverine of all people stops him and plays the big brother. On one hand, his use of platitudes like the “it gets better” anthem feels forced. Still, it’s fitting: his role in Uncanny X-Force gives him the authority on what kind of people truly deserve to die for their actions, and Luke, though dull and ignorant, isn’t one of them. Their conversation provides something resembling an ending without neatly solving the problem or punishing the guilty – we haven’t solved it in real life, and doing so in GH9 would miss the entire point.
There’s no easy way to tackle a current, sensitive issue like teenage gay suicide in a short, 20-page comic book. Gillen and McKelvie pull it off it in a powerful story reminding us that X-Men’s marginalized mutants can talk about our modern-day prejudices in ways few other titles can.