Let’s talk about Generation X. No, not the actual generation X. Those slackers ain’t worth my time. Millennials 4 Life. No, I want to talk about the comic book, Generation X by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo. I’ve written in the past about how Generation X was one of my favorite books growing up, but it has only been in recent months that I’ve given any sort of thought as to WHY it was one of my favorite books.
And, trust me when I say this: as a 14-year-old, I adored this book. I had almost the entire run, collected the sweet action figures, and even recorded the original broadcast of that made-for-TV movie that Fox did. I didn’t just record it; by God, I actually liked it.
See, in 1996, I was 14 years old. I was a shy, awkward video game geek, who was bullied on a regular basis. Girls never liked me, and I wouldn’t have known it if they did. I was as disenfranchised as anyone could get, and I was the perfect audience for Generation X. Unlike the original X-Men, which attempted to address major civil issues, and Claremont’s X-Men, which further explored concepts of alienation within society, Generation X focused on teenagers struggling with just being teenagers in a world that feared and hated them. Every teenager struggles with his or her place in this world, and Generation X spoke to that struggle, using the allegory of mutant powers to do so.
I loved Claremont’s X-Men. Still do. But, when I started reading those comics, the X-Men were adults and dealing with getting married and having kids. While they still had to deal with alienation, it was a different kind of alienation that I couldn’t really understand. They felt distant and old, and while I could appreciate and enjoy the stories, I found it hard to find myself inside of them. Generation X, however, was different. The students in Generation X had fun and developed crushes and tried to learn more about each other and themselves. They were dealing with growing up and all of the hormonal changes that happen during that time. When I was struggling to find myself and fit in, Generation X showed me characters dealing with the same issues.
In a period of life when many teenagers hate what they look like, Generation X gave us Chamber, Penance and Skin, all characters with physical deformities. While none of us had diamond skin or were missing the bottom half of our faces, we did have to deal with things like acne and gangly growth spurts. While I can’t speak for every comic fan from my generation, it felt real — like Lobdell was creating a comic book that spoke directly to me and the stuff that seemed so important when I was a teen.
In ways, I guess, we could consider Generation X to be the comic equivalent of Catcher in the Rye: a voice that speaks to disenfranchised youth and says “life sometimes sucks, but that’s okay. You got this.”
I’m certainly not the first to equate the mutant powers of the X-Men to puberty, and I won’t be the last, but I’m not sure anyone ever handled it quite as well as Generation X did. At least, I think that’s true. I’m not absolutely sure, and I’m not entirely sure I want to find out. Because, I think the Catcher in the Rye comparison is pretty apt, and when I went back years later and re-read that book, I hated it. While I understand its importance to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s, I can also read the book now and see it for what it is: a collection of passive-aggressive whining written from the perspective of a teenager who thinks he understands the way the world works.
During its original run, I loved Generation X, but looking back, I often wonder if I would have loved it as much if I were older when I originally read it. It was certainly well-received critically, and I think, on the whole, the comics themselves were well-written. Lobdell did a great job with the early stories. And, if memory serves me correctly, the later teams wrote some good stories as well. The art was bright and vibrant, and the comics were always a visual feast for the eyes. On a technical level, they were good, well-constructed comic books, and I believe a 32-year-old Christopher would be able to see that and appreciate it. On the whole, a 32-year-old Christopher would like it.
But, I don’t know that he would love it.
And that thought terrifies me. See, nostalgia is a funny thing. It’s a powerful thing. It shapes and defines truth and reality in ways quite unlike anything else. It can make a bad thing good, and a good thing great. But, it’s a double-edged sword. When it disappoints, and it often does, it cuts with a fury that leaves you broken and tattered.
I don’t know if my memories of Generation X can survive that.
Then again, if the goodness of Generation X only exists in my mind, is that a good thing?
I don’t really have an answer for any of this. As I said, I have only just started to explore why Generation X meant so much to me growing up. There’s a real part of me that wants to just grab my old issues and read them all straight through just to find out what I think about it. That part of me is impetuous and slow-witted. The other part of me, the part of me that cares about the stuff I grew up with, tells me it’s not a good idea right now. I’ll probably end up listening to the second guy. I am older, and logic usually wins out.
That first guy, though. That first guy is loud.