By Don Alsafi. In the wake of 2016’s Inhumans vs. X-Men crossover event, Marvel relaunched several of their X-books. Flagship titles Uncanny X-Men and Extraordinary X-Men were cancelled (which, incidentally, is the first time Uncanny hasn’t been on the stands since 1970). Taking their place was a new title called X-Men: Gold, which purported to be more of a traditional X-Men book – whatever that means in today’s comics world.
One year later, and X-Men: Gold is already up to issue #26. This will happen when your comic comes out twice a month, every month! And at that quick pace, it’s never too soon to start trying to attract new readers. The die-hard fans may already be picking up the comic, but others might have been wary of yet another relaunch, or were put off by the insular nature of X-Men comics for the past two decades – or, heck, simply balked at the combination of a $3.99 cover price and 24 issues a year. (By contrast, DC has to date wisely kept all of their twice-monthly titles at $2.99.)
So how, then, to catch the eye of lapsed and casual fans alike? How about a wedding between longtime X-Men cast members Kitty Pryde and Piotr Rasputin (a.k.a. Colossus)!
Written by Marc Guggenheim.
Art by Michele Bandini and David Marquez.
Colors by Arif Prianto and Matthew Wilson.
Letters by VC’s Cory Petit.
Starting in the past. Marc Guggenheim first briefly flirted with the comics world in the early 1990s interning at Marvel and doing a couple of random coloring jobs before eventually writing comics starting in the mid-2000s. His career in television, however, is the work for which he’s far more well-known – given that he’s one of the creators, and showrunner, of the CW’s Arrow. Artist Michele Bandini is more of a newcomer, having started out illustrating for Zenescope in 2015 before taking on the art chores of Captain Marvel last year.
Strangely enough, though, X-Men: Gold #26 opens with a single page by artist David Marquez and colorist Matthew Wilson, flashing back to when the X-Men – and Colossus – first met a then-teenaged Kitty Pryde in the opening chapter of the classic “Dark Phoenix Saga”. The different art style for this one page does make it stand out from the rest of the comic, but it’s nevertheless an odd choice on multiple levels, as the retelling doesn’t add anything new for those who have read the most famous X-Men story of all time. (It’s possible that every issue of this story arc will feature a similar one-page flashback, perhaps showing other quick snippets from Kitty & Piotr’s evolving relationship over the years.)
Many subplots, little story. Back in the present day, the tale begins proper with the X-Men in South America, hoping to apprehend classic villain Mesmero. Subsequent scenes portray the leader of an anti-mutant think tank colluding with a nanite-based Sentinel; Kitty, now the leader of the X-Men, grilling Iceman on his recruiting a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants onto their team; and Nightcrawler taking Colossus, and several other X-Men, out to Las Vegas for Piotr’s bachelor party.
Unfortunately, while many of the scenes are effective enough on their own, the upshot is that the issue in toto ends up without any sort of driving through-line, consisting almost wholly of running subplots and narrative setup. And yet, despite the forthcoming nuptials being so heavily promoted by Marvel’s marketing department, only a handful of pages concern themselves with Kitty & Piotr’s relationship. The overall effect is of a comic that’s not particularly focused – and, worse, a story that takes a far too languorous pace in getting started.
A comic that requires homework. Regrettably, there are countless other elements that are equally mystifying – especially to a first-time reader. To begin with: Just who, exactly, is even on this team? The recap page lists but five X-Men, and you might thus expect that to comprise the current roster: Kitty Pryde, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Prestige. But the story within also features Gambit, Rogue, Iceman and more, in roles which seem to indicate they’re also active members. Is X-Men: Gold just the latest iteration of a flagship X-book where X-Men past and present can randomly show up on a whim, with the expectation that the hardcore fans will remember and keep track of them all?
And then there’s the problem with Pyro, the former Brotherhood villain who Iceman let onto the team. Later on in the issue, the X-Men in Vegas are joined by a young man named Simon, but whose relationship to the others is left unexplained. There’s nothing to indicate that this is the aforementioned Pyro, and older readers will recall that the character – first introduced in the X-Men’s second most classic storyline, “Days of Future Past” – was not only a fully mature adult, but also Australian. It honestly takes going to Wikipedia to discover that this is a brand-new character, using the same codename, and also affiliated with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. (Once upon a time, details like this would have been explained via quick, in-panel footnotes. Sadly, those appear to have fallen out of favor.)
Oh, and when Storm shows up? She’s wearing Asgardian-looking raiments and wielding a Thor hammer. It’s an effectively startling entrance, but aside from a “Love the new look” quip from Rogue, this noteworthy change goes entirely without comment. This was apparently set up in the previous issue, and seems to possibly tie in to an upcoming storyline in Thor… but again, the reader has to do internet research to find this out. Which, for the first issue of a highly-promoted story arc, is less than ideal.
A missed opportunity. Comics didn’t used to be this way. The X-Men have always been part action and part soap opera, but classic Uncanny writer Chris Claremont excelled at this formula by having continuing subplots bubble up in the background, while the main story took center stage. Creators understood that every comic has the potential to be somebody’s first, and so took pains to ensure that every issue could be picked up and understood completely on its own merits.
But the storytelling choices in X-Men: Gold seem to be made with the assumption that the audience has already been reading the title, and needs no explanations – which is a sure way to stop any new readers from joining the fold. A few recent gems from Marvel show that this approach is no longer as endemic as it used to be, and even The Mighty Thor #700 and Daredevil #600 were able to present exciting climaxes to running stories while also being accessible to first-time readers. Which is pretty smart, given that big-number anniversary issues are always going to be a draw for the casual browser to pick up and sample!
The impending wedding of Piotr and Kitty should have been an opportunity for the same – and especially under that utterly gorgeous cover by Phil Noto, “Will You Marry Me?” boldly emblazoned upon it. Unfortunately, with the way the story is constructed and told, there’s not really much to engage the excitement of a casual fan, or impel them to come back for more.
But hey, who knows? If you’re an X-fan currently reading the X-books, this might be perfectly fine. (And there may be genuine danger and emotional stakes by tale’s end; if nothing else, the title of the current arc – “‘Til Death Do Us Part” – hints that the story might culminate not with a wedding, but with someone’s demise.)
And yet for those of us who have loved the X-Men – either through reading the classic comics of the past, or knowing them only through the cartoons and the movies – and who have been wanting a fun, accessible, reader -friendly comic to start in on? Sadly, this isn’t that book.
We may just have to keep on waiting for the X-office to get it right.
5.5 out of 10