Wednesday, February 23, 2011

GENERATION X #40 - July 1998

Pride & Penance!

Credits: Larry Hama (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Felix Serrano (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: At the hospital, a comatose Synch subconsciously mimics the powers of Emma and the St. Croix twins. The revived Synch refuses to implicate Dorian and Weasel in his beating, and insists that the St. Croix twins reveal their family’s secret when they get home. Later, the twins reveal that their brother Emplate transformed Monet into the mute Penance in a fit of anger. The twins used their powers to banish him to another dimension, unaware that Penance would actually follow him. To cover Monet’s disappearance, they merged bodies and imitated her form. Later, “Monet” would become Generation X’s M. The twins decide to return Monet to her true body, but in the process are merged into Penance’s form. Meanwhile, Bianca Laneige transforms seven aliens into obedient dwarves and sets course for Snow Valley.

Continuity Notes: Bianca Laneige is a white-skinned super-powered being who’s escaped from another dimension. She blames her exile on her former Hellfire Club compatriot, Emma Frost. When Synch mimics Emma’s powers, he suddenly becomes telekinetic. Fans complained, but Larry Hama’s defense was that Emma has done things in the past that could only be explained by telekinesis. (I’m not sure which scenes he’s referring to, but I don’t pretend to have every Emma Frost appearance ever, either.) At the issue’s end, Husk speculates that the autistic twin, Claudette, is controlling Penance, which is apparently the new explanation for why she doesn’t speak.

Creative Differences: So, what was Scott Lobdell’s original plan for these characters? Via the interview at

M - “Well, it unfolded pretty much the way I wanted it too up until the moment that M split. From BEFORE her first appearance, the plan was to have her split after that wall fell on her . . . they would go through the wreckage and find the TWINS! After that, EMMA and SEAN were going to be forced to make a truly difficult decision: Do you allow the TWINS to stay together as the supper powered M--thereby putting their lives in constant danger--or do you force them to stay apart and live relatively normal lives (except that would mean the autistic one would never know the freedom she enjoyed as M! Ahhhh, the tragedy.) As you can see, they strayed as FAR away from the original idea as possible.”

Emplate -“ It was short for TEMPLATE--the idea was going to be, as we saw in his first appearance, that he was going to be something of a tabula rasa . . . so that as he feasted on the genetic marrow of mutants, he would eventually take their powers from them as well. Imagine a vampire who could become the person he bit, so to speak.”

Penance - “Penny was short for PENANCE -- the only word GATEWAY spoke when he dropped her off after kidnaping her from EMPLATE. But it wasn't her name, it was GATEWAY explaining this was his penance for his part in the murder of the Hellions. It would ultimately have been revealed that her name was YVETTE, and that she was a sixteen-year-old survivor of the warring in Yugoslavia. She was deaf since birth, which explained her childlike naivete as well as he inability to communicate with others. She was supposed to be the first deaf mutant . . . I think it is kind of sad that she was never allowed to be who she is.”

Review: Well, what can you say about this one? People hated it, the snide comments carried on for years, and Larry Hama was tarred with a “Worst Writer” label that he didn’t really deserve (considering all of his previous work, and his assertion that he revealed M’s origin as it was explained to him by editorial), but that’s the way online fandom goes. I’m surprised this story hasn’t been retconned over the years, but that’s likely because the two writers who’ve penned most of the subsequent M stories (Jay Faerber and Peter David) had a “just move on” attitude regarding the mess.

It’s a silly explanation that’s needlessly confusing, and requires the twins to suddenly develop whichever superpowers might be necessary in order for the idea to work. Even if you take the story at face value, some elements still make little sense. Most notably would be the beginning of the flashback, which has the twins reiterating the conversation between Monet and Emplate that took place in her bedroom. They weren’t there, so how do they know what happened? They weren’t telepathically eavesdropping, since they didn’t know a few seconds later that Monet was now Penance, so that can’t be the explanation. I could buy the merged twins learning the details later from Penance after she joined Gen X, but I think it’s been fairly well established that Penance’s mind is a virtual blank that can’t be penetrated.

Another continuity problem is the fact that the M that exists from Generation X #40 on isn’t the same M from the previous thirty-nine issues of the book. She’s not going to have the memories or emotional connection that go along with all of her previous adventures in this series, or the original “Phalanx Covenant” crossover that introduced the character. All of those feelings are now inside the new Penance, who’s still mute, and isn’t the same Penance from the past thirty-nine issues, either.

While Lobdell’s original idea had more potential, I’m not entirely sold on it either. His initial idea was that the St. Croixs’ father was obsessed with the number two after the loss of his twins. If his twins were really Monet, then where did Monet come from? Mr. St. Croix treats Monet as his daughter, but are we to believe that he’s raised her from birth? If so, what happened to the original Monet after the twins merged and took on her identity? Perhaps this was all a part of a plotline he’d already worked out, but I wonder just how long it would’ve taken him to spell out all of the details.

This is comics, folks. You can’t just introduce a “mean girl” with superpowers and let her agitate her fellow teammates as a part of an entertaining group dynamic. You have to add mystery, and you have to drop vague hints for years, hints that will later be misinterpreted by future creators, leading to the mess you see above. That’s how comics should be done, and you know you’re doing it right when you’ve lost around a quarter of your audience along the way.


wwk5d said...

I kind of like some of Lobdell's ideas, but yeah, you did point out something I wondered as well...what about the original Monet? I remember in her first appearance during the Phalanx story, the nanny/bodyguard made a cryptic comment about a sister or something.

However, wasn't Lobdell the one who made Emplate M's brother? For the most past, it seems Hama made it complicated once he decided Penance was the real M and the twins who were M were now Penance...ouch, my head hurts.

I do wonder how Lobdell planned to address who the real M was, and why the twins would impersonate her...

wwk5d said...

"but Larry Hama’s defense was that Emma has done things in the past that could only be explained by telekinesis."

A couple of things that come to my mind were
1) During the Dark Phoenix Saga where Emma and Jean/The Phoenix are battling, and Emma is getting the shit kicked out of her. Knowing she is going to lose, she throws everything into one last psi-bolt which blows up the building...
2) During the early Portacio run on Uncanny, Jean avoids death by placing her mind in Emma's, who everyone things is dead at that point. She then uses telekinetic powers to defend herself...
3) During the post-Onslaught issues with Nightmare, there is a scene where Emma is asleep at a table in the kitchen, and when she wakes up, all of this stuff around her is floating and crashes once she wakes up...

I know comic book science is spotty and most of this stuff can be discredited (ie, it was done by Jean/Phoenix, Nightmare, etc), but I guess you could argue that Hama could be justified in thinking Emma had latent, rarely used teke abilities...

2badguys said...

Well said.

I dropped the book after this revelation. It's a shame because thirteen year old me thought Pennance was the coolest.


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