In which the blogger concludes his discussion of "Better", a well-worth-the-buying superhero protest story, the first part of which is here. Please do be aware that this piece is spoiler-full. Why not invest in the issue - which you most probably will not regret - and come back afterwards if you have a moment or two of downtime to fill?
3. The Absence Of An Easy Solution Ought Not To Be Matched With The Absence Of Hope
But what it does do is raise and settle the question of what the appropriate response to Better and the endless crises of homophobia should be. To those who associate any form of moral stand not linked to the rejection of authority as a bore from the pulpit, if not the censor's office, it may seem terribly quaint and even insulting for a comic book to take a position on what the response to a social problem such as this should be. Yet, having ensured that Generation Hope 9 has successfully made the reader angry, it'd surely be irresponsible for Mr Gillen and Mr McKelvie to avoid discussing what use that anger should, or rather should not be, put to. And casting Wolverine as the X-Man who convinces Uedo that murder is very much not the right option here is a clever stroke on Mr Gillen's part, since restraint preached by Logan never feels like a bourgeois nicety. The audience knows that he's slaughtered an intimidatingly substantial number of people, and they can be sure that if he's advocating Luke's right to live, and that if he's explaining how the burden of murder is a terrible thing, then what Uedo's hearing from his aged colleague is anything but Sunday school cant. (After all, Logan hasn't suddenly and
unconvincingly converted to the liberal left. He's happy to agree with Uedo that some folks really do deserve to die.) But in reaching out to Uedo and setting the hideously uncool business of a good example, Wolverine stands as a symbol of the straight-forward and yet so-often ignored business of taking responsibility. Wolverine, so often presented as the ultimate individual and lover of revenge, stands ironically and powerfully for what once might have been described quite simply as 'decency'. All that anger and despair, Generation Hope # 9 suggests, aren't an end in themselves; the response to Zee's suicide shouldn't be one of making the "thugs" involved pay with their lives. What matters now beyond respect for those that've been lost is what gets created, not what gets destroyed. After all, stab Luke through the head and what changes? The gawpers on the other end of the Net, the gutless witnesses, the absent adults who're supposed to give something considerably more than a passing half-a-damn? Of course not, the sickness is buried right down there in the bone marrow of society, and loping off a joint of a digit won't affect that a whit. As such, Uedo's reluctant and unenthusiastic decision not to kill Luke serves a double function; it both gives us a gently hopeful ending while perpetuating the dissatisfaction of Luke's apparent escape from the consequences of his actions. The very fact that Wolverine's final act in the story is the simple and fundamentally inclusive business of taking Uedo off for a drink, of involving him in and binding him to a wider world beyond his own atomised existence, elegantly makes the point without ever seeming in the slightest bit worthy. After all, what could possibly be deeply caring and all public information announcement about Wolverine dragging a teenage team-mate off for a beer? (*1)
*1:- Mr Gillen's work has of course been characterised by these themes ever since Phonogram. The cost to both society and the individual of selfish action undertaken without reference to the good of the polity reappears over and over again in his work, as does the vital importance of making the most of the worst of situations without capitulating to revenge.
Yet it really ought to be said that optimism is carefully wired throughout Generation Hope # 9, despite the fact that the narrative itself is designed to seem in its urgency to be one of pain and failure and loss. Throughout the issue, Zee's isolation is constantly counterpointed with the community of Utopia and the co-operation which its citizens work to achieve despite their differences. It's a business which is programmed subliminally into the storytelling, and its progress and purpose can be noted in the first two scenes of the book. In the first, Hope, Gabriel and Phoebe are seen together working as we'd hope citizens of a community would; "We thought we'd keep you company. We figured it'd be lonely. (And there's nothing else to do.)" says Gabriel to Phoebe, whose lack of golly-gee-whiz enthusiasm ensures that the scene stays free of Walton-esque sentimentality. They're a trio of folks who, to a lesser or greater degree, share a dream and a function and the sense of belonging that that brings. It's not that they're shown as moral automatons and social bores, unable to enjoy life in its own terms; Gabriel is keen, shall we say, to "make out" with Hope while Phoebe shown is telepathically enjoying 'Glee'. But there's a community here instead of an
gathering of largely rootless individuals. And in the book's second scene, Zee, Luke and an unnamed friend are clearly killing time in the absence of purpose, passive rather than active, and bound only by boredom and dares and confessions. A harmless business in itself, of course, and the source of endless entertainment in most everyone's lives. And yet Better suggests that this is all that the culture as understood by Luke offers, and that that's clearly a profoundly anti-social and dangerous business. And that comparison with belonging and not, between community and rootlessness, between a considered morality and an unreasoning selfishness, is one which is kept up throughout the comic. So, as Luke and Zee debate the mutant situation as perceived through the filters of pornography and the sensationalist press, Hope is shown focusing on a far far less solipsistic set of concerns. As Zee is shown isolated from his fellow students and terrified by the sudden onset of his mutation, Hope's team are presented racing to the Blackbird in order to lend whatever help they can. And in the wake of the tragedy of Zee's death, the mutants are shown clustered around each other, concerned for their friends and comrades as they cope with the failure of their mission and the loss of the friend they never got to meet. On the one hand, a community of individuals with a purpose and a willingness to cooperate and sacrifice. On the other, an atomised and deindividualised non-community of moral morons and vulnerable young people binding themselves unhelpfully together with the distractions offered by a fascination with gossip and the callous wounding of others. Implicit in Better, therefore, is a promise that more decent and caring cultures certainly can and do exist, and that individuals such as Uedo, and by implication poor Zee, can find support and guidance within them if the effort is only made to reach out to them.
“This world is not right. Why would we live in it?” asks Kenji Udeo of Wolverine, and the answer to his question isn't so much in Logan's words as in his presence, in the fact of his kindness and concern. For there really is a conspicuous lack of adults taking responsibility in the world of Luke and the internet voyeurs who logged on to reveal in Zee's suffering. Mr McKelvie's panels are quietly empty of anyone who isn't young and apparently rootless, with the exception of a single-frame appearance of two ambulancemen, tellingly appearing only when the very worst has already occurred.Yet at the tale's end, the qualified hopes of the story lie to a considerable degree in Logan's willingness to note the loathing and nihilism that's poisoning Uedo, and in his determination to advise the lad to reject the business of revenge. It's not that Wolverine offers Uedo any manifesto for a better world beyond the fact that "It gets better, kid.", which for most of us it thankfully does, although at times it doesn't seem as if it ever gets all that much better at all. But what he does offer him is a world to belong to, and principles to live by. By which I mean, in the terms of a well-crafted 20 page superhero comic book, he offers him pretty much everything.
Well, who better to understand the importance of belonging than a man who so very often hasn't? And though there's no suggestion that his presence and actions at the end of Better have tipped the world as a whole towards some absolute good, his taking of responsibility quite obviously does matter a great deal. As a result of it, Uedo's future is still his to own, and Luke's is too. Things may even turn out for the better in the long run because of the lessons learned, although the terrible things which have occurred can't ever be reversed, can't ever be seen as necessary sacrifices. But without Logan's intervention, without his taking responsibility, Udeo would be a murderer, Luke's life would've been over and marked by little except Zee's death, and Better would be bleaker, unhelpful, and, quite frankly, exploitative.
A significant and realistic measure of hope, a clenched-fist's worth of anger, a conviction that the 'X-Metaphor' can be put to use to discuss the whole wretched business of homophobia; I don't know about you, but that sounds to me like the kind of comic book which I want to be investing my time and money in. In doing all of the above, and in producing what's after all a splendid comic too, Mr Gillen and Mr McKelvie's Generation Hope # 9 certainly makes a lie of the line that the mainstream superhero book cannot deal with real-world issues in a way that's both responsible and entertaining.