If you’ve followed any of my previous X-Men: Gold reviews (Hi, mom!) you know that it’s pretty much been a misfire at every outing. From the revolving list of artists, to the poorly conceived arc structure to the often inept writing of Marc Guggenheim, I have savaged this book from start to finish, with only glimmers of hope to come out of any one issue – and they have deserved all of the vitriol. I’ve actually kind of enjoyed how bad this book has been as it gave me an opportunity to bust out my thesaurus of poor pop culture references to fully elucidate my negative opinions of what may be the worst book that I have read for this long. This week’s issue, however, doesn’t really fit that mold. Indeed, issue #13, the first part of a Mojo-centric crossover with the X-Men: Blue team, falls into a weird middle ground where it manages to be middle-of-the-road enough to be something that only one issue from the second arc managed to be – readable, if forgettable. I’m going to assume that it is the influence of Cullen Bunn, who has (presumably) co-scripted this crossover.
Anyway, the issue starts where the teaser from the end of last month’s regrettable outing left off, with interdimensional TV executive Mojo setting into action his plan to trap the two teams of X-Men we’re supposed to care about in one of his familiar forms of entertainment. Now WHY he thinks that doing basically the same scheme he always does (Step 1: Kidnap some X-folks, Step 2: Make them relive their past battles, Step 3: Profit?) will help him win ratings is beyond me, but then again this book begins with yet ANOTHER X-Men baseball game so maybe it’s unwitting meta commentary. Yes, we get our second mutant softball game in 12 issues, but the wider and more diverse cast does make this outing a lot more enjoyable than last. We get bits like Old Man Logan and Jimmy Hudson bonding over their own mutual gruffness, Kitty apologizing to Jean for letting Belen die on her watch, and Kurt showing that his English fluency isn’t all the way there (Badda badda? Really, Marc?). Naturally, because the X-Men have literally never finished a softball game, three golden obelisks descend on New York and our heroes squad up to investigate. Jean starts to hatch a formation only to be shouted over by Kitty, who picks three teams (conveniently comprised of two Gold members and two Blue members) and basically benches Jean, who just arbitrarily joins #TeamBoyfriend (comprised of Hank, Jimmy, Peter and Kurt).Once the teams reach their destinations Mojo traps them all in his usual gag, with Team Boyfriend treading familiar territory with an Inferno setting, Team Bob Cut (Kitty, Rachel, Cyclops and Bloodstorm) end up in the Days of Future Past, and Team Element (Logan, Bobby, Warren and regular Storm) are traipsing about Jotunheim fighting frost giants for some reason. For most of the X-Men this is just another day at the office, but Rachel is having a hard time being dressed in her mutant hunting hound garb again. Still coasting off the one arc I didn’t hate from this book, it seems that Rachel’s brain is still broken from her efforts to fry the Sentinel Swarm, and her being dressed like a bigoted attack dog for mutantkind’s greatest enemy is not doing her any favors. It’s sort of setting up the whole “psychic unwittingly turns on their friends/saves the day after freaking out” trope the X-books are so fond of, but hey – points for continuity.
That’s about it for story, so all in all, this is one of the strongest outings for the Gold team. That being said, we need to talk about the artwork. Issue #13 welcomes new artist Mike Mayhew to the book and to say his inclusion is a mixed bag would be an understatement. His pencils are so wildly inconsistent it’s hard to say whether I like them or not. In the same sequence he draws what may be the most beautiful version of Kitty I’ve ever seen but reduces Rockslide to an amorphous round-bodied blur.
The poses he chooses for his characters are all over the place as well. At times they mount the familiar heroic action-first movements from the old “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” a surprisingly large number of my nerdy friends received for Christmas when they were young. Other times there’s an unnatural hunch to everyone’s shoulders that makes them look like their forlornly lasering a sentinel in the face or chucking Jimmy into an invisible barrier. Like many artists on this book, for whatever reason, he also struggles with drawing the extended cast from a distance. I may be the only one who still cares about this, but WHAT THE SHIT ARE THEY DOING WITH KID GLADIATOR? WHY IS HE NOW A SCRAWNY PRETEEN?