THE COMIC COMPENDIUM: New X-Men: “Academy X” & “Childhood’s End” (2004-2008)

We’re not done with our X-Men coverage just yet! Ed takes at look at some key titles from the source material, beginning with the difficulty of following Grant Morrison. 

Who made it?: Writers: Nunzio DeFillipis & Christina Weir (#1-19), Chris Yost & Craig Kyle (#20-46). Artists: Randy Green (#1-2), Staz Johnson (#3-4) & Michael Ryan (#5-8, #12-13), Carlos Pagulayan (#9), Paco Medina (#10-11, #14-15, #24-28, #30-31, #33-37), George Jeanty (New X-Men Yearbook Special), Aaron Lopresti (#16-19), Mark Brooks (#20-23), Duncan Rouleau (#29), Mike Norton (#32), Skottie Young (#38-43), Humberto Ramos (#44-46).

Who’s in it?: Emma Frost, Dani Moonstar, New Mutants, Hellions.

Original run: New X-Men #1-46.

Published: July 2004 – March 2008.

As a title, New X-Men has become synonymous with Grant Morrison, what with his early-2000’s series composing of the core team of Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine and Emma Frost, and blowing every other comic then out of the water with its style and pure quality. At the time, sister titles Uncanny… and Xtreme X-Men paled in comparison to this re-imagining of the team. Not only did they forego the colourful costumes, instead wearing leather jackets reminiscent of the then-recent films, but New X-Men had original storylines and intriguing concepts, refusing to conform to the same “action and relationship with a moral” formula that had been the comic’s forte ever since Chris Claremont’s original run on the series. This was in spite of its increasing lack of originality and obsolescence. This, however, is not that series. We’re talking about a series that merely borrows that title, adds a subtitle, and hopes to cash-in on some of the goodwill created by Morrison’s brilliance.

Originally titled New X-Men: Academy X (it dropped the subtitle after the House of M incident), we centre our focus mainly on the new students at Xavier Academy, of which there is a greatly increased intake thanks to actions taken by the professor in the previously-mentioned New X-Men run. Due to the large influx of students, every X-Men title since seems to provide a much greater focus on being a school than the preceding one. Despite the amount of pupils (almost two hundred), we focus crucially upon twelve students split into two teams, Dani Moonstar’s “New Mutants” and Emma Frost’s “Hellions.”

As you’d expect from a series aimed at young teens, it sticks to the trusty old routine of having a rivalry emerge between the factions which, depending upon the players involved, ranges from extremely friendly with the potential for romance to downright hostile, and this causes a lot of friction inside the teams themselves. The mentors naturally have their own grievances, too, partly down to Frost and Moonstar having been adversaries in the past, yet they each default to a type, with Emma being the cool, bitchy one who gets her way and is dating the hot alpha male, while Dani’s the nerdy type, complaining when things are unfair. Her initial reaction is to doubt herself before coming out stronger for it. The teams’ personalities also fall into these two social brackets, with the New Mutants being whiny buggers whilst the Hellions are generally hot-headed and reactionary.

It’s important to point-out that for a series based in a school there’s actually very little teaching, which seems pretty gosh-darn strange. I’m not asking for an entire lesson in a six-issue arc, but instead it’s all very interested in the teacher-student relationships whether they be romantic, friendly or antagonistic, although many of these do occasionally blur into one, something that the series as a whole has in common. There’s flat, boring characterisations and clichéd plotlines, which more scenes in the classroom could have broken up. Debates over mutant culture or views on Magneto, homo-sapiens or their increasing ignorance could have been thought-provoking and intriguing. This annoyting fixation on personal gubbins does lessen slightly during the House of M crossover, though, with a bit of action thrown into the mix. It’s a complete shame that there’s absolutely no suspense here as you know everything will go back to “normal” after this, but it at least shows a small amount of potential for the series.

This potential is realised when, after the House of M event causes most of the students to lose their powers, the title loses the Academy X moniker and we get a very different series as it becomes much darker and, in some cases, quite violent. Although it does retain the feeling of a run aimed at teens whilst increasing the tension and, strangely for a series aimed at the young, it treats the audience with a certain amount of respect. It’s also good to see a storyline that has genuine repercussions across the wider X-universe rather than the bland offerings given to us in Academy X.

Nunzio DeFilipis and Christina Weir are a husband and wife writing team. I refuse to use the term “creative” team because that would be lying. It would be like saying Margaret Thatcher once had a thing for Arthur Scargill. They just appear to rehash every cliché and over-used stereotype throughout their run, with absolutely no originality present throughout. While you do end up caring about some of the characters, it’s not because you learn to like them but instead because you pray for them all to die horrible, horrible deaths. As it happens, Craig Kyle and Chris Yost deliver just that. There is action and suspense which indeed causes a death toll, but you also end up genuinely caring about and even liking certain heroes. While some were just unlikeable turds from the start, they did the best they could with what they were given and they ended up turning the New X-Men into a proper team, rather than a hodgepodge of pointless characters.

While the series goes through a large amount of artists they all look pretty similar, but it’s Paco Medina’s style which certainly stands out the most, moving away from the vague realism present throughout the rest and instead including more exaggerated features. I’m still not certain whether its better or worse than the rest of the artwork, but it is at least slightly different.

The improvement in the series is certainly down to a change in the creative staff, with Yost and regular partner Kyle having become regular writers in Marvel’s Animated Universe, having written for X-Men Evolution, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and even a writing credit on Thor: The Dark World, which isn’t too shabby. It’s also the reason I included both series in this review, as even though I wouldn’t wish Academy X on even my worst enemies, it would be a shame for people to have never read its follow-up, Childhood’s End, which also leads wonderfully into the third volume of X-Force, an important read for anyone interested in any post-House of M or otherwise X-Men titles. Thankfully, Marvel seem to have noticed the difference in the quality of the writers, too, as while Yost and Kyle have gone from strength to strength within the company, DeFillipis and Weir haven’t written anything for Marvel since.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • New X-Men: Academy X followed on from New Mutants (Volume 2), written by the same team of  Nunzio DeFilipis and Christina Weir which introduced most of the “new mutants” involved. The series was initially re-titled due to the X-Men ReLoad event in the mid-2000s. Only the first six issues of this series have been collected into their own book.
  • In the aftermath of the Decimation event known as M-Day, the mutant student body in the academy dropped from 182 to 27. At least 45 depowered students were killed and, of the remaining students, Emma Frost picked a select group to train as New X-Men. These were Dust, Elixir, Hellion, Mercury, Rockslide, Surge (appointed leader) and X-23. As time progressed, several members were added and/or earned the right to be on the team, such as Anole, Armor, Gentle, Pixie and Prodigy. The rest of the students were instructed to remain on school grounds, some providing assistance to the current X-Men teams and trainees. Some M-day survivors and depowered students either left the mansion or were killed off during villainous attacks by William Stryker and his men, or various other enemies.

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