Mutants being unfairly persecuted? The return of a classic foe? “No powers” baseball games that totally use powers? Yep, it’s the first issue of an X-Men series, alright.
X-Men Gold #1 (Marvel Comics)
Coming out of X-Men Prime, the X-Universe has a new status quo – albeit a fairly familiar one. Kitty Pride is back on the mutant side of the Marvel Universe and she’s once again leading the X-Men, both as a field leader and as the de facto Professor Xavier. This issue – which sees Kitty’s new team of Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, Old Man Logan and Rachel Summers (renamed Prestige which….eh, not great, but they explain it well) face off against galactic baddy Terrax and sets up the return of one of the X-Men’s most iconic villains – is a real shoutout to the Claremont era of X-books.
Under Claremont, the X-books became a sort of familial unit as well as a strike team. It was all about these fantastic superheroes with the power to control the weather or punch a hole in a mountain being real people interacting with one another in unique and interesting ways. Appropriately enough for a book with this title, the character interactions are highly evocative of that golden age of the X-Men. From Logan slipping back into his familiar paternalistic role with Kitty, to Kitty and Colossus having awkward romantic tension, Marc Guggenheim writes these characters like a true child of the ’80s. I don’t think we needed so many scenes of “dour introspective character gets reassured by stoically optimistic friend,” but we’re just laying the path for the rest of the series, so I won’t dwell on bits that felt superfluous (cough::PHOENIXINTHEDANGERROOM::Cough).
In addition to its reverence for the writers work of the ‘80s, the book also follows a lot of Claremont’s less enjoyable conventions from the ‘00s. Rachel Summers’ costume, for example, is evocative of the worst throwaway designs of the X-treme days, and the whole “let’s just throw a duster on the team badass” trope has now claimed Old Man Logan. Similarly, Claremont had a habit of undercutting what should be emotional moments by having the characters joke their way out of serious situations, which often sank that whole “feel like real people” thing. Kitty getting a bill for relocating the mansion to Central Park, an endeavor AIPT’s own Chris Hassan referred to as “their dumbest move to date,” is funny, but Logan being reduced to a constantly quipping grumpy old man belies the struggle that we’ve seen that character go through over the years. It’s only a few steps from making him a rapping granny. Another instance of downplaying the relative craziness surrounding the book is Kitty literally phasing an entire collapsing building into the ground. There’s only the briefest of attention paid to a feat that, historically, is wildly out of her power scale. Also, what happened to the building? Did it just rematerialize in the ground? Wouldn’t that cause crazy amounts of damage to the foundation?
While we’re speaking of throwbacks, the pencils of Ardian Syaf are clearly influenced by long-time X-artist Andy Kubert. Admittedly, Syaf’s action sequences can be more dynamically posed (that panel of Logan slicing through Terrax’s axe is dope), but considering the ambiguity of the next panel (which, I guess, is Prestige cracking a boulder over Terrax’s head?) it’s sort of a toss up on who has better choreography between the two. Another sequence that doesn’t speak well to the artistic pacing of the book is the aforementioned bill collector informing Kitty the costs of her unconventional real estate choices. Kitty reads the $18 million tab but has no facial reaction, then two panels later her eyes are bugging out of her skull. I don’t know if that’s on the scripting Syaf received or not, but it feels off visually.
A bigger issue I have with the art is what I call SASS – or Spiderman: the Animated Series Syndrome. I loved that show as a kid, but rewatching it again a few years back I noticed that almost all of the characters used the same body models. Watch it again, virtually every male character is the same level of ridiculously jacked that Peter Parker or Flash Thompson are. Even like computer scientists and lawyers have the sculpted chest and muscley arms of a professional boxer. It’s really distracting. Now, in animation, I’m assuming it’s an easier way to keep consistency from frame to frame, but in comics it just leads to weird sights – like a crowd of angry bystanders on protein supplements or Eye Boy and Greymalkin being built like Finn Balor.
Is It Good?
Despite its flaws, X-Men Gold is still a fun read. As a huge X-Men fan I feel like I may be more harsh on the book because I want it to be great. There’s potential here, but I feel like the creative team would do better trying to create something new, rather than relying on familiarity to tell their story. It feels like a book built on safe choices (particularly that last panel “surprise return”) rather than a series built on a good idea for the future, but hopefully with some space to breathe Guggenheim can bring something unique and different to X-Men Gold.