Tentacled zombie vampire serial killer mutants! Murderous mystically powered mafiosos! A blonde demon sorceress in booty shorts swinging an enormous sword that would be physically impossible to wield in the real world! No it’s not the newest anime on Crunchy Roll…I mean, it might be…well, let’s say it’s not JUST the newest anime on Crunchy Roll, it’s X-Men Gold!
Last month, Guggenheim and squad gave us a book built around the surreally resurgent relationship between Kitty and Peter, with the resurrection of ’90s “badass trope” dumping ground Omega Red relegated to a passing vignette. This month, they flipped them and (while I still hate the character of Omega Red) the issue is so much the better for it. Don’t get me wrong, there are still problems with the flimsy premises at play here, but Guggenheim’s writing is better when he’s not being asked to focus on emotional connections between characters. Yes, Guggenheim is still trying to work in some clumsy comedy around the awkwardness between Kitty and Colossus, but the plot around Piotr’s long lost uncle’s sudden reappearance means we don’t have to linger on the writer’s desire to create a mutant-centric episode of Friends.
So yeah, the X-Men are enjoying some leisure time, playing a baffling (and as a former online player, infuriating) game of poker when old uncle Anatoly comes a calling for Piotr and Illyana. Turns out uncle An’s criminal past had made him a black sheep in his family – and that’s why we’ve never heard of him before. Colossus’ father was so ashamed about his brother’s involvement in the Solntsevskaya Bratva (which I think is the same criminal organization that Oliver Queen joined in that last season of Arrow, hence the shame) that he forsook his own brother and never mentioned him to his children. I mean, you would assume that the evil wizard Rasputin would’ve known about him in that Colossus Bloodline story, but that book was trash so lets move along. The duke here is that Anatoly’s criminal past, is also his criminal present, and with his Bratva comrades having brought the red scare back from the dead, he’s concerned about his criminal future.
So the X-Men hop in the Blackbird and head on down to mother Russia where we learn that even low-level Bratva goons have obtained some level of magic power – including somehow just appearing out of nowhere despite surveillance from several X-Men (including superhuman tracker Wolverine and actual demon sorcerer Illyana). After a brief skirmish, we learn that the mafiosos’ goal was to abscond with Illyana, and present her before Omega Red. See, Red’s resurrection comes at a cost and he has to keep sucking people dry to stay on this side of the soil. Presumably, sucking the life force of an evil wizard may help him keep breathing for a bit longer.
Maybe it’s the sliding scale of my already low expectations talking, but I actually kind of enjoyed this month’s outing with the Gold squad. Yeah the mafioso fight was both abrupt and unsatisfying, but the story of uncle Anatoly works for me. Also, given my antipathy toward Omega Red, I won’t be too sad when he’s shuffled off the book in (presumably) the next issue. I also can appreciate the art from Lan Medina for the most part. It’s not exactly revolutionary or particularly beautiful, per se, and his depiction of Nightcrawler is troublingly inconsistent (early in the book he looks normal but while fighting the Bratva he suddenly has those weird markings on his skin from the X2 movie and nothing else), but the rest of the book is competently rendered and he does a good job of displaying emotion in the character moments, particularly the phone call between Anatoly and Piotr.