So here’s something I really didn’t expect to say, X-Men Gold has been kinda good lately. There’s still plenty to complain about, but honestly, the Til Death Do Us Part storyline started in issue #26 has been the best the series has ever been. The art has been in a consistently good place, the story paid off a couple of plots that have been gestating since the series’ second arc and advanced the Kitty/Peter relationship without becoming too much at any given point. I mean, you have to deal with Gambit trying to make “boyo” a new catchphrase, and things maybe moved too quickly to properly develop at points, but overall it’s been actually enjoyable to read this arc, rather than frustrating and maddening to anyone who doesn’t regularly pray to saint Claremont. So how do Guggs and co choose to wrap up their most successful run to date?
It’s mostly alright, I guess, though it wouldn’t be an issue of X-Men Gold without some trademark classic Guggs. So let’s go ahead and employ a traditional feedback technique you may be familiar with: The compliment sandwich. Why don’t we start by saying that Alpha is a fairly interesting villain…I mean the trope of a murderous AI becoming self aware and growing more complex in thought, composition and motive is a bit of a well-worn trope in the world of comics and science fiction, but his potential evolution away from the endemic sentinel programming that makes him hate mutants (even as he embraces the title himself) creates an interesting twist to an otherwise underdeveloped villain. The central conflict of the arc is neatly wrapped up by the end of the issue, sure. It’s done in a rushed, unsatisfying manner that relies on more than one deus ex machina that really undersells the true risk that our heroes face and makes everyone involved look more than a little stupid, but….ok, actually I want to talk about that part a little bit.
So Alpha and series baddy Lydia Nance kidnapped Colossus in order to use his blood to synthesize a virus that can murder mutantkind. It’s a callback to a Claremont storyline, which is a staple of the series, in which Colossus sacrificed himself in order to oxidize a cure for the Legacy virus. Their idea to disseminate that virus among the mutant population of earth is to send out the disease via floating orbs released from a decommissioned Roxxon space station. Why an oil company needs an orbiting space station – let alone enough orbiting space stations that they can decommission one – is not the issue (though…). The issue is how easily the X-Men deal with the threat. Sure Puck and Alpha Flight are there to blow up some of the orbs, and Pyro has to melt a few, but Storm literally uses her newfound godhood to destroy like 90% of these things on her own. Shoot, she gets the bulk of the orbs in space then dips down to the atmosphere to bat cleanup on the rest. Having your Goddess destroy the machines? Does that count as a literal Deus ex machina?
Then there’s Colossus, who is not only drained from having his blood taken in order to create the virus, but who has literally had his DNA (or at least the X-Gene) reset to factory settings, yet still manages to hulk up and lift a ton of wreckage from atop the X-Men’s ride home in the space ship. Now I have questions about what the hell this wreckage is and how the X-Men are still alive if the ship has big enough holes in it for Alpha Flight to sneak up on them in a ship big enough to carry 6 people and one Sasquatch, but the bigger issue is what’s the deal with Piotr’s power? I know his powers had been wonky, but setting him back to his 60s power levels would make him weaker, right? Like, wouldn’t secondary mutations make him stronger or give him better control? Dude manages to steel up and move the debris off the jump ship (where the debris goes is super unclear, but I’ll choose to ignore that), but he is still struggling with 9 seconds left on the space station’s self destruct timer (hey another well worn trope!), manages to stammer out a gritted response to Kitty across 4 separate word bubbles, passes out, gets grabbed by Nightcrawler while Prestige (who was unconscious moments earlier) forcibly moves the knowledge of how to pilot the ship out of Sasquatch’s brain and into Gambits, they power up the ship and get out of their just in the knick of time. Now I myself ran the time on the dialogue from the the 9-second warning and – optimistically – it’s at least 5 seconds before Colossus can even lift that damn debris. Like, you as the writer get to set the timing here – so why not give them a few more seconds? Maybe I’m nitpicking, but unless we’re dealing with Frieza time there’s no reason our heroes shouldn’t have blown the f--k up with the station.
I also have to complain about the way they wrap up the story. So with the orbs destroyed and the world saved, Kitty sends Bobby to look after Lydia Nance at the Triskelion, thinking that Alpha was likely to come rescue his favorite meatbag – and come he does! Only, Iceman is on the scene and manages to freeze the nano man on site…except…what? This guy has been around for a few issues now and Bobby has been a part of nearly all of those fights. So why couldn’t he freeze Alpha before? In the first appearance of the swarm dude was like Mr. Freeze in Arkham City, learning from every attack so that power/weapon/whatever would work on it twice. So why is he now literally Mr. Freeze? After putting the the guy from the News of the World cover on ice, Bobby espouses that “I bet that’s all of him,” but like….why? Dude created a literal army of clones to fend off multiple X-Men (including Bobby) so why would this one be the only copy? Why would he need everyone to save Nance? Why am I the only one who thinks about this sort of thing when reading this book?
Anyway, I should take some time to talk about the art Geraldo Borges, which is pretty good, even if the character models are wonky from time to time. Colossus, for example, is mostly fine, except that when he flips the giant space debris it looks like he’s got little spindly baby arms. Similarly, the handful of shots of Sasquatch are interesting exercises, except for the panel that makes it look like dude’s got a huge gut and thin arms. It may be an issue with barrel-chested individuals, because most of his other characters (barring a face here and there and the costume designs for Gambit, Pyro and Alpha – which aren’t really his fault) look pretty good for the most part. The action, however, can get a bit hard to decipher at points. The biggest offender is all spaceship related, as Puck’s crew destroying some of the virus orbs manages to show none of their actual destruction and Sasquatch’s rescue attempts literally comes from nowhere despite making no effort to explain how a jump ship managed to get onto an exploding space station without our crew even noticing. Props do go out to the opening page flashback by David Marquez, who remembers that Kitty (though admittedly a younger Kitty) is supposed to be cute. I mean the haircut on her doesn’t match at all what we see in X-Men #110, but I appreciate the look all the same.
Overall, this is a fine end to the pre-wedding arc of X-Men Gold. Like most stories where the next chapter has already been announced it feels light on stakes (just saying that “even one of the orbs hitting earth spells doom for all mutantkind” doesn’t make it feel real) and abruptly finished, and there are a few lapses in logic (why would Bobby just assume that Alpha would be out in full force? Why would Kitty think Bobby alone was enough to stop him?), but it manages to avoid some of the appalling gaffes of earlier arcs and turn in something that is inoffensive and, for the most part, fun. Perhaps Gold isn’t the tire fire I once thought it to be. More of a grease fire that really shouldn’t be there but doesn’t entirely detract from the experience.