Contemporary X-Men stories can be tricky. Most people don't do them right. Chris Claremont is a hard act to follow, and the humanity that writers like Scott Lobdell gave each of the X-character in the mid-'90s already seems like ancient history. Every so often, however, you come across one that's kind of awesome. Such is the case with Childhood's End, a collection of New X-Men comics following the "M-Day" Marvel Comics event that took place a few years ago.
To many regular readers of this book, this collection was probably kind of annoying. It was one of those "we are going new direction" moments for Marvel. One of the early strengths of the New X-Men title was all the amazing supporting characters, mostly mutant students, that you got to meet attending the Xavier Institute. "M-Day" was an attempt at making a mutant over-populated Marvel world less populated. As such, the Institute went from having hundreds and hundreds of mutant students to having less than 40 overnight. Chris Yost makes this an interesting story point; Mercury and Wither, two students in Emma Frost's "Hellions" class, are the mutants who really hate the powers. So, they are two of the few that get to keep them. The "morning after" panels following the initial shock and confusion of the de-powerment of most of the school is one of the best issues of any X-Men comic ever. Some students are ecstatic; other are crying. Some, we don't even know what they're saying. Some students aren't recognizing each other. A student with a "living shadow" power is grief-stricken, continually calling back his shadow that will no longer come. Beast is saving students off the roof who are convinced they can still fly, and Wolverine finds a mutant with water-based powers dead in the school's pool. Kevin Ford, the aforementioned Wither, believes his powers are gone, too. He reaches out to the girl he likes, Laurie, and destroys her right arm with his death-touch. Telepathic Headmistress Emma Frost's nose is shown bleeding as she can't block out the mental panic from the student body.
X-23, who becomes a student at the school in this collection, is kind of a you-either-love-her-or-hate-her character. Her inclusion seems kind of forced; Wolverine gets Cyclops on his side, and Cyclops and Emma are essentially fighting about Laura being in the school every time we see them. With mutants being de-powered everywhere, it should make sense to Emma that the Institute should reach out to as many mutants as possible, but whatever. It also seems a little weird that Wolverine and Cyclops would be on the same page here, especially with their animosity in Whedon's Astonishing X-Men (at least the first issue) which chronologically wasn't that far from this moment. I do like X-23 and Dust being paired together as roommates, sort of the odd couple friendship that Kitty Pryde and Illyana Rasputin shared in the 1980's. The looming threat of William Stryker in the background, culminating in him finally making his opening attack on the school at the end, is well-paced throughout. The ultimate group of seven mutants who become the "team" by the end; X-23, Surge, Elixir, Hellion, Mercury, Dust, and Rockslide were probably the best choices for the group. I like Kevin running off and encountering long-forgotten X-villainous Selene in the subsequent story following this one, but a "What happening with Wither?" more often would have increased the story's value for me. I also kind of wanted Anole on the team, which he more or less joins around the future X-Infernus story anyway.
Ultimately, this line up of the team doesn't really last. The X-Men aren't even at the Xavier Institute anymore. Dust and Rockslide both get drafted into a newer New X-Men team with a lot of original characters who, in my opinion, just aren't that appealing. I wish stories with this group would have continued for a good few years with maybe the roster changing slightly every so often, but not so much that there wasn't stability to the core book. The truth is that Marvel wants the current X-Men titles to have their own version of DC's Blackest Night, and none of the current stories; the "M-Day"s or "Manifest Destiny"s or "X-Infernus"s are measuring up. Yost was clearly trying to have his own version of Clarmont's New Mutants in this post-"M-Day" world. It's sad he couldn't continue with that because I think it would have been great. Still, it's fun to go back and read these stories and imagine all the potential that was there and all the great things that could have been.