Perfect 10: Husk by Karen Charm

Perfect 10 is a series of essential recommendations that fully encapsulate a comic character – 10 desert island picks of runs, single issues, arcs, etc – curated by Comfort Food Comics.

(Header artwork also by Karen)

1.Generation X v1 #1-6:

By Scott Lobdell; Chris Bachalo; Mark Buckingham; Steve Buccellato/Electric Crayon; Richard Starkings/Comicraft. If you want to know who Paige Guthrie is, this run remains the definitive Husk story after all these years. She opens the series where, on page one, we meet the eager, overly-ambitious young woman who believes she’ll inherit the world. She’s willing to do whatever it takes*, whether that means suppressing her Kentucky accent or not. These issues perfectly capture Generation X’s core concept of weird 90s kids trying to rise to their potential – Husk embodies that idea almost literally. The artistic collaboration of Bachalo, Buckingham, and Buccellato still astonishes nearly 25 years later, supplying the blueprint for the book’s distinctive identity. It’s also the most together Scott Lobdell’s (admitted creep) writing has ever been. Coherent and genuinely funny, his Paige is authentically human. The first three issues give us great examples of Husk in action taking on the villain Emplate, but the real event is her head-to-head with Penance who is wreaking havoc through the “Danger Grotto.” In issues 4 through 6, Paige inhabits the b-plots, allowing us to dwell more on her character as she begins her ill-fated romance with teammate Chamber. These issues also contain my two favorite moments for Paige – she and Angelo playing Scrabble (priceless), and her self-destructive reaction to the Legacy Virus. The impossibly high expectations she places on herself are established immediately, so we really empathize with the crushing feeling of her falling short. I can’t help but see a lot of myself in Paige, and the seeds are already sprouting from the start.

*Speaking of Degrassi, my fancasting for Husk is Lauren Collins, who played Paige Michalchuk on the Canadian show’s “Next Generation.”

2.Generation Next v1 #1-4:

By Scott Lobdell; Chris Bachalo; Mark Buckingham; Steve Buccellato/Electric Crayon; Richard Starkings/Comicraft

Wedged smack in the middle of the first 6 issues of Generation X is this little detour where we see a very dark alternate take on the team. “America is dead,” and the X-Men have grown up without the cuddly love of Charles Xavier’s tutelage. Technically, the Husk we see in Generation Next is not the same straw-haired country-mouse we’ve just had the pleasure of meeting, but this version provides a striking contrast that fleshes out (no pun intended) our reality’s Paige. Husk, whose mutant power allows her to transform into almost anything she can imagine, is literally mutant potential. In this universe, she’s tougher, she’s dyed her hair darker, and has a mastery over her powers that, to this day, we haven’t seen her pull off in the 616 (writers, take notes!!). This is what happens in the Age of Apocalypse, where everyone has been pushed beyond their limits to survive. Ironically enough, none of the kids survive this series, with Husk receiving the most heart-breaking death scene I’ve ever read (shh shh, she dies forever, don’t talk to me about that other Age of Apocalypse mini-series). Before her untimely demise however, Husk demonstrates her incredible resolve and ingenuity by infiltrating enemy territory almost single-handedly (hat-tip to Vincente, her partner-in-espionage), doing what no child should ever be asked to do. The creative team rivals their career-best with this series, producing a story that has haunted me my whole life. In four issues, Lobdell takes the newly-familiar setup of Generation X and upends it, making us fall in love with these characters all over again for the first time. Even when we return to our happy, normal timeline, the ghost of AoA Husk remains hovering in the shadows, reminding us what the character of Husk could be.

3.Generation X v2 #8-12(LGY#87):

By Christina Strain; Amilcar Pinna; Felipe Sobreiro; Clayton Cowles

Continuity has not been kind to Paige Guthrie. Despite a strong start, Scott Lobdell quickly seemed to lose track of what he was trying to do with Generation X, ultimately leaving the book even after the return of Chris Bachalo. Subsequent writers’ interest in Husk varied from mild to outright hostile, with an occasional bright moment scattered amidst the rough. As the new millennium went on, the Generation X cast was largely sidelined or killed off, with Husk popping up every now and again, mostly in outright offensive situations. All this is to underscore just how healing Christina Stain’s 2017 Generation X series was for the beleaguered character. A new cast of students is the main focus, but this series doubles as a beautiful love letter to the original, surviving members of Gen X who are now the teachers. Paige, having survived a character-assassinating role just prior, enters as the Xavier School’s new guidance counselor and she seems to be doing really well, emotionally. She’s helping Bling! work through the younger mutant’s own trauma and doubts about being an X-Man, something that Husk can relate to. This is a Paige Guthrie who has come to terms with herself and can finally accept that it’s better to live as you are, rather than who you think you should be. It is so refreshing to read someone treat Husk with such respect and compassion in a way that both responds to her meta history as fictional character and as a logical evolution of the young super-hero we see in the first volume of Generation X. I also really love Amilcar Pinna’s work here, which has an angular, fish-eye-lens quirkiness unlike any other artist. If there’s anything a Generation X series needs to be, it’s odd. This story is a triumphant ending to Husk’s first two decades of existence, and is so rewarding to those of us who have been suffering at her side all the while.

4.Uncanny X-Men Annual v1 1995 (#19):

By Scott Lobdell; Bryan Hitch; Bob McLeod; Glynis Oliver; Richard Starkings/Comicraft

This one is a treat to Guthrie fans everywhere, an exemplar of the “Husk goes home” genre. It starts off when Sam snatches Paige away from Gen X duties (ok, they’re playing basketball) because they have just got to do something about their kid sister. Joelle Guthrie’s gotten herself mixed up with a boy having visions of the Age of Apocalypse, and joins him as part of a heavily-armed, anti-mutant cult. It’s just a little teenage rebellion for the human Joelle who doesn’t have any School for Gifted Youngsters to look forward to, but in reality, “Humanity’s Last Stand” is more dangerous than she realizes. Throw in some Nimrod-esque technology plus the Uncanny X-Men joining Paige and Sam’s intervention, and you get a solid piece of candy with this issue. What makes it really special are Bryan Hitch’s Davis-esque pencils, with Glynis Oliver’s legendary color work making them sizzle. The visual acting is top-notch – there’s a great sequence where Husk attempts to do some recon and manages to hold her own pretty well when she’s inevitably caught. Thankfully, the rest of the X-Men are nearby to bail her out the way they do best, with lightning, slashing claws, and energy blasts. I’m sweet on this era since it’s the period when I first started reading X-Men comics, but I also really appreciate the focus this comic pays to the sibling dynamics at play at the Guthrie house. All those kids are bristling to get out and on to better things, and the ones who are stuck in Kentucky can’t help but feel resentful of the ones who’ve moved on. It’s exactly how Paige herself felt when Sam was the only one who’d gotten out, and it feels true. In the end, the Guthries are an amazingly tight-knit, loving family and they of course talk it out. A massive credit to Lucinda Guthrie – she raised some great kids.

5. Generation X v1 #63-66, #74:

By Warren Ellis, Brian Wood; Steve Pugh; Sandu Florea, Bob Wiacek, Scott Elmer, Rodney Ramos, Richard Clark; Kevin Tinsley, Kevin Somers, Marie Javins, VLM; Richard Starkings/Comicraft, Saida Temofonte

I hate that so many of the stories on this list are written by men with numerous, credible allegations of sexual harrassment, misconduct, and grooming. Continuing that trend, the “Counter-X” era of Generation X of the new Millennium was spearheaded by Warren Ellis and written by Brian Wood. I hate thinking how these writers’ comparative talent for writing young female characters might have helped contribute to an air of trust around them. This story is not anything particularly special, yet features Husk in one of her most prominent roles to date. It was the year 2000, so the writing is very arch, very MTV, very post-Columbine, very “society doesn’t want you to ask questions, man.” Fittingly, Paige leans heavily into being the team hacker, surfing the web to root out threats for Gen X to tackle. Husk’s initiative launches an investigation into “edgy” kids being abducted and sent to the “House of Corrections,” guarded by massive, gun-toting Uncle Festers and goth Metal Gear Solid creatures. Artist Steve Pugh supplies most of the appeal of this book – his costume designs are so over-the-top I kind of love them, and he comes up with some truly inspired transformations for Husk. He also consistently draws Paige as distinguishable from Emma Frost, which is not always luxury paid to readers of Generation X. Finally, the penultimate #74 focuses on a day in Husk’s life that ends with her encountering the ghost of a young girl while investigating a haunted school. It’s a moving one-issue story, and really encapsulates who Paige is at this moment in her history. This is a tricky one to recommend, all things considered, but Husk’s portrayal is one of the few unobjectionable aspects.

6.Generation X v1 #23-24:

By Scott Lobdell; Mitch Byrd, Rick Leonardi; Jason Martin, Karl Story, Bud LaRosa; Steve Buccellato; Richard Starkings/Comicraft

This holiday mini-arc is a tender moment buried in the twilight of Lobdell’s run on Generation X. First, Paige invites Jono (aka her emo teammate/crush Chamber) home to Cumberland County for Thanksgiving with the family in issue #23. It turns out to be the final nail in the coffin of whatever burgeoning romance the two have going. Chamber can’t stop moping long enough to accept love and spends the whole trip condescending Paige. She’s emotionally trampled under the weight of his self-pity but isn’t willing to roll over just yet, calling him out as he walks out the door. The issue is drawn by Mitch Byrd, straddling the line between interesting and not-good, but thankfully that doesn’t get in the way of delivering the emotional payload. Byrd returns in the next issue, “Home for the Holidays,” but he plays backup to the stronger draughtsmanship of Rick Leonardi. Paige joins Emma, Jubilee, and Monet on a get-away for Christmas Eve, making it a girls’ night trading origin stories. Husk uses her turn to share the first time she used her powers. The memory builds off her pre-established back story, but adds a depth I enjoy. Most mutants’ first times are traumatic but Paige’s is celebratory, a prayer finally answered. It’s also a metaphor for anyone who has a fundamental longing to be something – like, say, a mutant or a different gender – and to finally come to the realization they have been the whole time. This story is a quiet but necessary beat that gives Paige the space to process her breakup with Jono and move on at last.

7.Generation X v1 #50-54, X-Man v1 #5:

By Jay Faeber, Terry Kavanaugh; Terry Dodson, Luke Ross, Gregg Schigiel; Rachel Dodson, Bud LaRosa, Bob Wiacek, Mei, Al Milgrom, Nelson DeCastro; John Kalisz, Mike Thomas, Felix Serrano, Kevin Tinsley; Richard Starkings/Comicraft, Saida Temofonte

Everything is changing at the Massachusetts Academy! Human students! New costumes for Generation X! These issues take place at the zenith of Generation X’s Dodson era, a time when the writer doesn’t actually hate Husk and seems willing to developing her as a character (Larry Hama had just tried to write her out of the book before handing it over to Jay Faeber). The arc starts out with a Gen X/X-Man crossover pitting the teen mutants against their old foes Gene Nation and Dark Beast. I can’t say that anything amazing really happens story-wise, but it’s a fun read and Husk gets things to do. Back at the school, Gen X is trying to blend in with their new human classmates, even though their neighbors are some kind of super-powered mob family. Part of said family actually goes to school at the Massachusetts Academy and tries to blackmail Paige into a date. I don’t love this plot point but she seems to be ok with it as part of a larger interest in finding other fish not named Starsmore. In the midst of all this, the team also gets involved with some high-octane adventures in Madripoor that make the most of Dodson’s art. My absolute favorite part from this arc is a sequence in #52 where, under the tutelage of Tom Corsi, Husk is able to push her powers past her limits – shedding skin at an unprecedented pace and becoming solid glass for the first time. Not the most amazing run, but a solid direction that thankfully gives Husk something to do.

8.Generation X Annual v1 1998 (#4):

By Joseph Harris; Tomm Coker; Troy Hubbs; Felix Serrano; Comicraft

It had to happen – Generation X vs. Dracula! I usually hate vampire stories in X-Men but this one is well-told and gorgeously drawn by Joseph Harris and Tomm Coker, respectively. Dracula wants to suck Chamber’s blood, so he unleashes a battery of hypnotic mind games designed to draw the English lad into his web of sin. One approach the vampire takes is by using Paige, making her way back to Snow Valley from Kentucky, bombarding her with visions of a full-faced Chamber (he’s even sexier with a mouth). What follows is a solid horror story of Dracula descending on the Massachusetts Academy, including a retroactively foreshadowing encounter with Jubilee. Husk, being a superhero, successfully resists dickmatization and fights back to help save the man she still kind of has feelings for. Her “disgusting” powers keep her one step out of the blood-sucker’s reach, but turning herself into silver and and then wood doesn’t quite win the day (remember: always go for the heart). I do wish Husk was the one to fry Dracula at the end, but overall this is a solid horror story. Harris writes another, more Husk-centered story a few months before this one in X-Men Unlimited #20 featuring trolls from Asgard, but this Halloween story is slightly more interesting and emotionally resonant. Now if only we never had to see Dracula in X-Men comics ever again…

9.Uncanny X-Men v1 #316-318, X-Men v2 #36-37:

By Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza; Joe Madureira, Andy Kubert, Roger Cruz; Terry Austin, Dan Green, Matt Ryan, Mike Sellers, Tim Townsend; Steve Buccellato, Digital Chameleon, Kevin Somers; Chris Eliopoulos, Bill Oakley

“Phalanx Covenant: Generation Next” brings our kids together for the first time, setting the stage for their own on-going series, when they’re targeted for extinction by a techno-organic menace. The teenage mutants are being held hostage, so Banshee, the White Queen, and Sabretooth lead a slap-dash rescue mission since the main X-Men are missing-in-action. Paige, for her part, gets ripped away from her Kentucky home by the Phalanx, exposing her to transmode virus infection in the process. This makes her one of the first mutants susceptible to Phalanx absorption, and is certainly bad news. Thankfully, she has that whole “tear her skin off” power thing, and is able to carry on. When things are at their bleakest in captivity, Paige shares stories of the X-Men with the others, insisting that all is not lost. That shred of hope gives them the strength to fight back. It has the biggest effect on the terrified Blink, whose connection with Paige gives the former’s impending sacrifice emotional heft, even if her death is a bit contrived. Nostalgia rests heavily on this story, and I’m still unable to shake off the love I have for the Joe Madureira and Andy Kubert art here. This is pure blockbuster comics, the X-Men barely scraping their way to survival when the chips are down. “We were born this way… what’s your excuse?”

10.X-Force v1 #32-35, New Warriors v1 #46:

By Fabian Nicieza; Tony Daniel, Darick Robertson, Brandon McKinney; John Holdredge, Larry Mahlstedt, Mark McKenna, Mark Stegbauer, Danny Bulandani, Ian Akin, Harry Candelario, Kevin Conrad, Joe Rubenstein, Keith Champagne, Dan Green; Marie Javins, Ovi Hendru, Joe Rosas, Carlos Lopez, Scott Marshall, Michael Thomas; Chris Eliopoulos, Michael Avon Oeming, Steve Dutro

Don’t let the wiki fool you, this story is the real first appearance of Paige Guthrie. Those issues of ROM and New Mutants just showed a bunch of unnamed, cherubic Guthries, but here we get to know the girl I’ve expended all these words singing the praises of.  “Child’s Play” is a very weird X-Force/New Warriors crossover where the Gamesmaster sends the Upstarts out to round up former New Mutants and Hellions. Why? No one knows with the Gamesmaster. Paige witnesses Sienna Blaze abscond with Cannonball and Boomer (neckin’ in the cr’k), and the precocious youngster tries to leverage her way into joining the rescue efforts. Though it breaks her mama’s heart, Paige gets backup from Cable, who has no problem if kids want to be soldiers. After teasing what they could be throughout X-Force #32, we finally see Husk’s metamorph powers in New Warriors #46 when she turns herself into a tree to escape the Gamesmaster’s detection. The only good mutant left standing, Paige plays the pivotal role in resolving the conflict, though the specifics are still kind of fuzzy. Why should you read this story? Well, it’s worth it just to read Husk’s origin story and the family dynamics between the Guthrie’s never get old. By far the most important development of this whole arc, though, and why it deserves a spot on this list, is when Boomer utters the phrase “Paige the Rage.” I could go on about how amazing that single panel is, but I think it speaks for itself. “Paige the Rage” is worth all the world.

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