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Review – X-MEN GOLD #1 – 11 (2017)…

If it wasn’t clear from the costume changes or the reappearance of a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, X-Men Gold really is trying to evoke or recapture the vibe of the early 90s X-Men period.

The art style here, the way the characters are sketched, really does (deliberately) evoke the early 90s X-Men and the Mutant Genesis era. In fact, there are images here that made me feel like I was reading Claremont/Lee in 1991, some of it purely down to even the way the particular texture of the character renderings.

I enjoy Mark Guggenheim’s writing and Ardyan Siaf’s art.  But X-Men Gold #1 inherits, for me anyway, some of the problems from X-Men Prime.

Having Kitty take centre stage in a leadership role is fine, though it seems a little incongruous to have her do so in a team populated entirely be people older and more experienced than her. There’s just something that doesn’t quite translate right about having Kitty in charge when, for example, Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus are right there with her.

That’s the first problem and it’s kind of a big one. Storm’s reasons for giving up leadership make sense; but, even so, it doesn’t quite feel right and feels more like an executive decision by a comic-book staff to shift the dynamics than it does an organic decision by the character.

Another is that I’m struggling with Rachel’s new look and persona as ‘Prestige’, which feels like a needless, gimmicky rebranding. Up to this point, Rachel has been one of my favorite X characters – there was nothing wrong with her, no need for a rebranding. On a similar(ish) note, Storm reverting to her classic 70s outfit/look is something that might delight nostalgists or, equally, might annoy modernists who were perfectly happy with the contemporary Storm look.

This arguably highlights a duality that exists in many of us X-fans, in that we’re usually nostalgic for older eras while also being (to varying extents) engaged by the contemporary landscape too – and therefore it’s sometimes difficult to even know for certain what it is that we want.

I’m sometimes guilty of this too. Example – I like the old, late 80s to early 90s Magneto, and am not so fond of the contemporary Magneto. On the other hand, I really prefer the contemporary Ororo Munroe to the old, ‘classic’ Ororo Munroe, and was rather enjoying the leadership Storm/Ororo of recent years.

These are some of the underlying problems for me with this shaking up of the X-Men dynamics. A few months down the line, it might not matter anymore; but, at this transitional stage, it causes some problems.

All of that being said, the main motivation for X-Men Gold – and indeed for this whole X-Men rebooting – seems to be to play to nostalgia and evoke earlier, ‘classic’ X-Men eras. On that front, X-Men Gold #1 is quite effective and this does at times feel like reading old-school X-Men (I was particularly reminded of the Claremont ‘Mutant Genesis’ era). This underlying theme isn’t even subtle, but explained in dialogue, with “the more things change, the more they stay the same” line being spoken first by Colossus and later by Storm.

Storm in fact talks with Kurt about getting back to their roots. The title for this arc is ‘Back to Basics’ and that’s fairly evident in everything else here. It feels like an old-school X-Men story, with old-school team mission against random villain (albeit Terrax, in this instance), brief Danger Room scene, and a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants cliffhanger.

The problem, going forward, is whether this nostalgic, back-to-basics motif will wear thin very quickly or whether it will grow and develop in interesting, engaging directions.

X-Men Gold #2 succeeds, however, in building some mystery as to what’s really going on. The reappearance of an old face from the mutant world – Magma (Amara) – and the mystery surrounding her current actions also provides a good hook to keep us engaged.

The problem I’m still having – carrying over from X-Men Gold #1 – is that I’m finding it hard to buy Kity Pryde as team leader in a team that is populated by older X-Men. This isn’t ageism on my part – I just struggle to believe that the likes or Ororo and Logan would be being led by Kitty. A younger team – a New Mutants or Generation X style team – being led by Pryde would be fine; but this current set-up feels too much like an executive decision by the creative team to shake up the X-Men dynamics rather than a logical course of events for the characters.

X-Men Gold #3 wraps up this opening arc with a straightforward X-Men team mission, which is pretty well executed (in presentation terms), giving each of the characters a key role to play. Kitty and co also uncover the conspiracy behind the new ‘Brotherhood of Evil Mutants’. Lydia Vance appears to be a new Senator Kelly figure (in keeping with the recreating-the-90s-X-Men motif) and the ending here seems to set that up as a long term dynamic; on the other hand, it’s nice to see the writers touching on the subject of false-flag terrorism.

X-Men Gold #4 reveals more about the new nano-tech-enhanced Sentinels, but does so via a Gambit guest appearance, which is a good touch, though it also plays even more into the title’s nostalgia vibe. X-Men Gold #4 isn’t a standout issue by any measure; but the character dynamics are looking good, in a subtle, day-to-day vibe.

X-Men Gold #6 is split between the action, which concerns the team battling against the weird, AI/Mutant Sentinel thingys, and what’s going on entirely in Rachel Grey’s mind. The two threads of course connect fully at the end; but, by far, what’s going on with Rachel is much more interesting than all the fighting. The fight does draw in an array of guest appearances (Carol Danvers, Hulk, Gambit), but the characters are illustrated in a lacklustre manner that saps the fun from it.

At any rate, the Sentinel-related stuff continues to be not all that interesting.

It is Rachel who saves this chapter from feeling like a chore and makes it a more engaging read.

Rachel has been one of my very favorite x-characters for a long time; I was concerned, judging by the first few issues of X-Men Gold, that her presence in this team was going to see her being drowned out or relegated to a background player. Which is why it pleased me to see her be such a focus here. I’m still not thrilled with the name-change (Prestige), but the sequences here – inside the mind of an unconscious Rachel who we find communing with representations of the original Jean Grey, of Scott Summers, and of herself – are an enticing pleasure for anyone who’s a long-term X-Men fan.

It’s genuinely interesitng how she addresses Jean as ‘mother’ and Scott as father. There seems to be some indication here – possibly – of some thematic link-up between what’s going on with Rachel here and what’s going on with the teen Jean Grey elsewhere. It also isn’t entirely clear whether the figures Rachel is talking to in her experience are representations created by her own mind or are somehow connected with the ‘real’ Jean Grey or Scott Summers in some kind of spirit/clairvoyant fashion.

But that ambiguity actually works okay and, if anything, leaves the whole thing with a mysteriousness.

This is good stuff; and it’s basically the only good thing X-Men Gold #6 offers. It reminds me that what I would like most from this series is strong character work, particularly if we can get a lot more into both Rachel and Nightcrawler.

X-Men Gold #7 continues on positive form; and I start to feel more optimistic that this series might be starting to find a much stronger quality level.

The reasons here are multiple. The character work is particularly strong here, not just with Rachel, but with more or less every character. And the story is more emotionally engaging than what we’ve previously seen. A fascist, mutant-hating killer being on the loose in the mansion and putting down innocent mutants is a story that inevitably prods at our emotional investment – the fact that said killer does unceremoniously execute one young, new mutant puts this book in a dark place.

But what really makes X-Men Gold #7 work is the characters and the attention paid to them.

Rachel continues to be the most intresting of these, with the continued focus on her spiking powers and the creeping spectre of the Phoenix in the background of her consciousness. But also, the early scenes between her and Nightcrawler really brought a smile to my face. I, for one, wouldn’t be opposed to a blooming romance between Rachel and Kurt, as it would seem so well grounded in X-history going back decades. I also have great affection for both characters, and so seeing them come together is something I think could work really well.

It’s not just about Kurt and Rachel though; everyone gets some good moments here. Seeing Ororo and Logan off on a mission, and with all the banter between them, really did evoke the past for me and was a good nostalgia kick.

This is also the first issue that sees this book crossing into the Secret Empire thread. It does so only minorly here, but we do get an ominous appearance from Doctor Strange informing them of New York being enclosed by the Dark Force.

All in all, this is good stuff again. X-Men Gold #6 and #7 have raised my confidence levels in this title and in the possibilities going forward.

X-Men Gold #8 carries on the action from #7 and continues to hold form. It’s good to see Kitty doing some solo arse-kicking here, one on one with the vengeful killer who’s invaded the mansion. There’s less to get our teeth into here than in the previous issue, but still a few sweeteners scattered about.

Colossus gets at least one great line (“I’m not crazy – I’m Russian”), it’s good to see Sooriyah show up (I’d forgotten she even existed), and Nightcrawler being taken for a ‘demon’ and lynched by an angry mob kind of goes back to the very origins of Nightcrawler’s mythology.

X-Men Gold #9 does good fan service and is another enjoyable chapter, building on threads set up in previous issues. If you had to define this issue under one banner, it would ‘romance’. Which could sound like an issue you’d opt to skip over – but actually this is genuinely pleasant material.

And it isn’t just about Rachel and Kurt – Kitty and Peter are at the heart of this too. What the book essentially centers on is two different dinner dates, happening at the same time – one with Rachel and Kurt trying to work out where to go with their blooming relationship, and the other with Kitty and Peter trying to work out whether they even have a relationship of that sort or not.

For anyone grounded in x-history and these characters, this is pretty endearing stuff. The Kitty/Peter stuff feels a little more forced than the Rachel/Kurt stuff, but is nevertheless well-grounded in the X-Men continuity. The way the two scenes unfold parallel to each other is actually very nicely done, particularly when the actual dialogue begins overlapping and mirroring each other’s conversations. There are dialogue overlaps where you don’t know at first whether it’s Rachel or Kurt speaking to each other or Kitty and Peter. I liked how this sequence was presented. It highlights similarities in the two relationshops, even though the two situations are, strictly speaking, different.

As mentioned earlier, I’m happy with the idea of a Kurt/Rachel coupling. Both of them deserve some happiness, for God’s sake. I also would be happy with Kitty and Peter developing back in a romantic direction; though I like the idea of this happening very slowly and gradually.

In general, after what I considered to be a slightly shaky start to this title some months ago, the character work in this book has found a definite quality level and dynamics are getting stronger.

It’s also good here to see Kitty going to the US government in her leadership role and standing up for mutants. I still have doubts about Kitty as leader of the X-Men (for reasons highlighted earlier); but there are points here where I can buy it. It seems pretty clear that the writers are reflecting some more real-world business here, specifically touching on the themes of Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’.

We also get a random showdown with Whiplash, which is fun, if a tad baffling. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen or read Whiplash at all since the Iron Man 2 movie (which was ages ago), so it’s good to see he’s still around. We also get another plot development brewing in the background, with the return of Omega Red.

Which promises to really make this party feel even more like a 90s X-Men retro/nostalgia fest.

X-Men Gold #10 is a top-draw issue in this run. The nostalgia-capturing mechanisms are through the roof here, with the return of Omega Red, as well as appearances by both Rogue and Illyana/Magik.

Rogue’s involvement is only brief; but I really enjoy seeing both her and Illyana (two of my absolute favorite characters) brought into the X-Men Gold mix. Particularly in the early scenes at the mansion, this really felt like a family reunion, harkening back to older days. Kurt’s here, Rogue’s here, Logan and Ororo are here, Rachel’s here, Kitty’s here, even Illyana’s here.

As much as I love seeing Rogue in the Uncanny Avengers set-up – and that’s where I’d keep her for now – this did get me wistful about having Rogue come into the X-Men Gold line-up.

This really does feel like 80s and 90s X-Men; and it’s hard not to succomb to that charm, particularly when we see the whole team working together, off on a mission. Getting to see Illyana and Peter sharing page time is nice too; Illyana ultimately gets captured, as the Omega Red conspiracy goes up a notch.

This is a great installment. Great character work and dynamics, good plotting, and more or less everything you could want out of a monthly title.

Aside from possibly the Jean Grey solo title, X-Men Gold has definitely become the x-book I most look forward to reading.

X-Men Gold #11 wraps up the Omega Red arc reasonably well. Here, we revert to fairly standard comic-book fare; but it’s the characters and interplay that hold all the fun of it. Nothing spectacular, but characters we love – and have spent half our lives with – working as a tight unit to take down bad guys and evil plots. We also gets some apparent resolution to the will-they/won’t-they Kitty/Peter question.

But generally speaking, tracking back through these issues, it is interesting to see the growth of a title I wasn’t enjoying for the first few months, but soon came to start appreciating a lot more.  It has definitely gotten better as it has gone on and is generally a better book than the X-Men Blue title or the very poor Weapon X series.

I still have trouble with Kitty as team leader, when it’s a team that includes older, more experienced figures – it doesn’t quite ring true. But, other than that, X-Men Gold is hitting the spot.


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This post first appeared on The Brooding Blogger Of Bespin, please read the originial post: here

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Review – X-MEN GOLD #1 – 11 (2017)…


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