With the madness of Secret Empire drawing certain members of the team away, the mansion is besieged by the newest incarnation of the X-Cutioner. Can Kitty keep her mutant charges safe from the serial killer stalking the halls?
With the opening chapter of X-Men: Gold’s third Arc, it’s clear that Guggenheim and company’s book is going to be treatise on the issue of prejudice and race relations. Huge departure for an X-book, right? Anyway, while the first two arcs have shown the machinations of man creating the central threat facing the team (the Brotherhood put together by Lydia Nance in the first, the Sentinel swarm in the second) given this issue’s focus on the new X-Cutioner as a survivor of Magneto’s genocidal attacks during Morrison’s Planet X storyline, this story will see the mutants’ own actions come back to bite them. It’s a nice touch that could make for an interesting close to this first narrative trilogy – if Guggenheim can stop himself from falling into the storytelling pitfalls he keeps creating.
Indeed, though I did enjoy this issue, it always feels like a case of two steps forward, one step back with this series. I for one, was not initially a fan of this new X-Cutioner, but seeing his backstory tie in to a canonical event that most writers have liked to pretend never happened has caught my interest. Based on narrative devices and issue pacing, it’s clear they’re trying to juxtapose his troubled backstory with that of Nightcrawler – which is actually a pretty solid idea. Both men have been wronged by the other’s species, with one choosing a peaceful path to deal with his troubles while the other becomes a sort of racist serial killer. These efforts, however, are completely bobbled by the scripting of the issue, which throw a flashback to Nightcrawler’s past pretty much out of nowhere. Yes, Wolverine is fighting some kind of demon (that’s our segue) and that would work fine, but there’s no payoff. There’s the Nightcrawler sequence, and then we’re right back to the X-Cutioner. It really drops the ball on what I think is one of the best attempts by the writing team to tell a story creatively.
Elsewhere, I like the way this issue interacts with the madness of Secret Empire without creating another needless tie-in. It makes sense that Kitty would send her more seasoned/powerful X-Men to deal with the overwhelming threat that is the DarkForce Dimension bubble Cap dropped on Manhattan, leaving a relative skeleton crew to protect the mansion. Storm and Wolverine being out there without psychic support (which always seems like a stupid idea when your team has 4 to choose from) feels like plot convenience more than logical storytelling, but given that Rachel went through a relatively traumatic experience (I guess?) when she felled the Sentinel swarm, I guess it’s fine for her to hang back at the mansion. When she confronts the X-Cutioner alongside Kitty and a (somewhat temporarily) depowered Colossus (another well writers seem to like to go with for the Russian powerhouse), she attacks him with physical blows. They make the point that he has psy-shielding, so she can’t attack his mind, but last I checked, Rachel is also one of the most powerful telekinetics in all of Marvel. Surely those attacks would be more powerful than her fists.
Oh, and what would this book be without some unintended cultural insensitivity? So the X-Men know there’s a killer loose in the mansion so they’re on lockdown, with more senior members roaming the halls to protect the rest of the students. One such duo is Rockslide and his New X-Men teammate (and Afghan national) Dust, who happen across a bomb laid by the X-Cutioner. Now it looks like a bomb, so I don’t have issue with them identifying it as such upon first sight – it’s the extent to which Dust is able to identify the particulars of this explosive on sight alone that troubles me. To be fair, this is as much a military strike team as it is a school, and Sooraya has been in the field plenty of times before. That being said, having your one niqab-wearing Afghan character know everything about bombs in a series that already has some controversy built around it’s occasionally insensitive depictions of religious differences is problematic at best. I love Dust, and am glad to see her get any screen time at all, but this was an easily avoidable issue.
But hey, they named the weird green lizard guy from the first arc…unfortunately they named him Creepy New Guy…so, you know. Not great. We do see that he appears to speak the same language as the demons coming out of the DarkForce Dimension, which is interesting, but that’s all we really learn here. He’s set free (I guess), but we are no closer to understanding what this guy is or what he wants to do. Balls. Dropped balls.
There’s also the ridiculous romantic “subplot” involving Rachel and Nightcrawler. Not to say these to could never get together (they shouldn’t, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make) I just have an issue with writers not knowing how to handle Rachel and just giving her a paramour in lieu of character development. This could apply to Psylocke as well, but I’m a little bored of plots featuring Rachel to just be her falling in love with whatever guy on the team strikes the writer’s fancy. Whether it’s meaningful like her alternate reality marriage with Franklin Richards or worthless like her tryst with Korvus (the Shiar guy, not the Thanos henchman), it’s just tired and should be avoided.
Still, despite my complaints, there’s promise here. I mostly enjoy Ken Lashley’s artwork, and the creative team managed to get me interested in a boring 90’s legacy villain with a bad pun for a name (even if it’s not the same guy in the suit). The series is heading in the right direction, it’s just not all the way there yet.