GEN V: “X-Men” for adults [REVIEW of premiere episodes]
Gen V is the spin-off series of The Boys, telling the story of a superhero school from which most characters in the main universe originate. The new series is well-grounded in the established world but adds its own spices to the deliciously prepared, bloody dish. I am evaluating the premiere episodes.
Gen V begins with a gripping scene introducing the main character, Marie, when she is still young. Marie is a teenager who has just gotten her first period and has no idea what to do. The situation becomes even more complicated when her menstrual blood starts to levitate around her. Terrified, her frightened mother barges into the bathroom upon hearing screams, and nobody expects how the situation unfolds. It develops dramatically as Marie, using the levitating liquid, literally pierces her mother’s body, causing her to bleed to death before her eyes. A similar fate befalls her father shortly afterward. The only survivor is her younger sister, who immediately labels Marie a monster and never wants to see her again.
I describe the opening scene in such detail because it holds great significance for the premiere episodes, setting the path for the protagonist and the style of the new production. The opening scenes of Gen V are compelling, surprising, and straightforwardly convey the emotions of the main character and the burden of guilt she will carry. While the first minutes of the new series may not be as shocking as the opening scene of The Boys, they adeptly set the framework for the presented story. The diminished shock factor is only because the main series set an exceptionally high bar, and similar techniques have been witnessed multiple times in the “main series.”
The main plotline begins a few years later when teenage Marie (played well by Jaz Sinclair) receives an acceptance letter from Godolkin University, a higher education institution for superheroes. The institution proudly advertises itself as a place where students can “discover the full extent of their potential” and make the best use of it. However, as known, grand slogans are just a beautiful cover for the dubious dealings behind closed doors and the particularly ugly practices taking place on campus. The script skillfully, albeit simply, builds mystery around the university representatives and their clandestine activities, and the stories of individual characters are engaging.
Gen V has a particularly interesting starting point – students with supernatural abilities, following the events of The Boys and the revelation to the world about Compound V and the fact that adults deliberately injected their children with a dangerous substance. These students are well aware that they are not “gifts from fate” but “artificially bred experiments, resulting from their parents’ desire to profit from them.” This level of awareness significantly changes the characters’ perception of the world and allows for the development of intriguing parent-child relationships, or in Marie’s case: adoptive parent-child relationships. Armed with knowledge from The Boys that no one ever has good intentions, the manipulative traps and schemes that parents set for their children are fascinating to watch, along with the process of them growing up to free themselves from negative influences. The first episodes already present scenes that evoke sympathy for the characters, only to later rejoice when they see through the manipulation and realize how they have been exploited.
Gen V strongly echoes the spirit of the early X-Men movies and animated series set in that world (especially X-Men: Evolution, set in high school), and the recent, not entirely successful sequel, The New Mutants. The similarities are quite evident: a school for “specially gifted” kids who must cope with new abilities, a prison for “dangerous specimens,” or even the powers of the heroes themselves. Of course, as is typical in The Boys universe, everything is a bit more irreverent, bloody, and geared towards “dark humor.” Suffice it to say that corpses pile up, curses are a full-fledged part of the language, and you’ll see the first penis in great detail in the first episode. Gen V follows The Boys‘ path and is unafraid to show the human body in all its forms – even in shreds. In the new series, it is intense and graphic, but these techniques serve the storytelling and have their narrative justifications.
The characters are also well-developed – each has their own burdens and problems to bear, and the way they are presented on screen encourages rooting for them. The diversity of characters and the diversity of their personalities, seemingly following stereotypical archetypes, are satisfying. Particularly enjoyable are the scenes involving Jordan Li, a character played by the duo of actors Derek Luh and London Thor, whose power, in addition to excessive strength, is the ability to change from a woman to a man and vice versa. Jordan’s power allows the creators to tell the story of gender transition in a unique and modern way. Considering that superpowers were once said to be a metaphor for queerness, the fact that Gen V takes it a step further by making transgenderism one of the hero’s powers is a particularly interesting starting point for diverse considerations about identity. I am very curious about how this story and Jordan’s relationship with their parents will unfold.
The storyline of Emmy (played well by Lizzie Broadway) is also well-executed – a girl whose power to shrink her body is strongly linked to eating. “I get small when I throw up, and big when I eat,” she says on screen. “Just like Alice in Wonderland,” we hear in response. This is another interesting twist on comparing supernatural phenomena to real-life problems and a new variation on the well-known motif: are superpowers a gift or a curse? The creators of Gen V use familiar and largely played-out motifs and successfully try to play them out in a new, engaging way.
Gen V is a good, engaging production that, in the first three episodes, adeptly positioned the pieces on the chessboard, making the viewer anticipate the next moves of the characters. The premiere episodes have definitely sharpened my appetite for more. They allowed me to better understand the characters, like their story arcs, and savor the interesting stylistic blend that will govern this series. “God U,” “First Day,” and “#ThinkBrink” serve as the perfect appetizer before the main course, which – I hope – will come in the following episodes. If the quality continues to rise as it has so far, we are in for a beautifully bloody adventure.