A new artist and co-scripted storyline produced the first issue of Gold I actually liked…I think?
The law of averages suggests that it was only a matter of time before Marc Guggenheim and his revolving door of artists would craft an issue of X-Men: Gold that I actually enjoyed — and hey, it only took them 7 months, 14 issues and a story (at least partly) co-scripted by X-Men: Blue scribe Cullen Bunn to get there. Issue #14 is the third part of the Blue/Gold Mojo crossover and while this book does a bit to lower the stakes of what already felt like a throwaway event, it’s still a good middle chapter with a ton of action, great artwork and a minimal amount of Gugg’s particular brand of self referential/fourth-wall-breaking/cringeworthy dialogue.
This week, the various X-squads trapped in Mojo World continue their battles against the ghost of crossovers past. Having just lost Blood Storm, Team Mullet (Kitty, Scott, Rachel and Longshot) faces off with Magneto in, what I assume, is a nod to Fatal Attractions before standing toe-to-toe with their cinematic universe rivals in Avengers Vs. X-Men. Meanwhile, Team Flaxen (Old Man Logan, Storm, Angel and Iceman) seem to wrap up their battle with the frost giants of Jotunheim, representing the oft forgotten Asgardian Wars, only to take on the Magistrates of Genosha in the X-Tinction Agenda. Team “Clever names are hard, I’m sorry” (Jean, Jimmy, Beast, Colossus and Nightcrawler), on the other hand, manages to wrap their fracas in Inferno just in time square up with the most frightening thing this creative team has ever attempted: original ideas! I mean, they’re kind of derivative ideas that are really just amalgamations of existing characters/concepts (Phoenix Sentinel, Apocalypse as Stryfe, Brood versions of Wolverine and Cyclops, etc.), but “new” challenges all the same!
Before I get into what I liked, I’ve got to address the big issue with this week’s book: the death of consequence. In the second part of the crossover (X-Men: Blue #13) Team Mullet lost Blood Storm to an errant spear. Given the character’s pretty brief run with the team and extra-dimensional heritage, killing her off seemed like a fine, if transparent, effort to add stakes to a crossover no one really expected much from. Midway through this issue, however, the entirety of Team Flaxen bites it when confronted with the Press Gang (really? Those scrubs?) who kills them all one by one. Mojo immediately comes on panel to reassure readers that what they just saw was legitimate and won’t be just swept under the rug, but come on. You’re going to kill young Iceman? You’re going to kill Storm? You’re going to kill young Ang…well I guess he doesn’t really matter, but you’re going to kill Old Man Logan? Dude just launched a new book. I don’t think friggin Mojo is the one that gets to put down that cash cow. Knowing that, this crossover instantly loses all stakes. We know all the deceased characters are going to pop up fine and dandy by the end of this storyline, so what does any of this matter? Since Mojo’s whole thing is being a TV producer, they actually air both the X-Murders AND Mojo’s fourth-wall breaking assurance that “they’re like totes ded u guyz,” before a captive audience of X-kids, and even they look like they’re not buying it. Seriously, the scene (which features a gross mischaracterization of the Nature Girl we meet in Generation X, by the way) sees nominal wuss Eye Boy eating popcorn and claiming it’s hard to watch his friends dying but then saying he refuses to believe that what they’re watching is legitimate. Not too surprising that he’s the most perceptive one I guess. Quick side note: Who is he considering a friend there? He’s had no interaction with any of those characters except Storm, who is more teacher than friend.
I also have to knock a lot of the dialogue, which is often clunky and reflects a poor understanding of who these characters actually are. I already mentioned the bit about Nature Girl, who doesn’t seem the type to be driven to action in this sort of scenario, but there’s a really unearned emotional response from Cyclops early in the book. While preparing to attack Rachel, who is dressed in her mother’s Jim Lee-era costume, the faux Magneto says that Rach reminds him of Jean, which makes Scott flip his s--t and straight murder the would-be master of magnetism. He spends the next several panels saying that the Blue team’s dealings with Magnus are a bad idea and talking about how evil he is, but like…why? This Magneto — who hasn’t really done anything might I add — had merely mentioned Rachel’s resemblance to her mother and this sets off Cyke? The real 616 Magneto has also been nothing but helpful toward the Blue Team since they came to the future so like…where is any of this coming from? There’s also the issue of Guggs busting out the thesaurus to try and remind us that Beast is smart by turning Hank into an unnecessarily obtuse mountain of exposition. Now it’s not entirely out of character for Beast to be chatty and spout witticisms meant to reflect his academic background, but WOOF. There’s a difference between intelligent banter and insufferable nonsense, and judging by this and the dialogue on Arrow, Guggenheim doesn’t really get the distinction.
What did work in this book? The artwork from Marc Laming. Yes some sections struggle a bit (Inferno was always a very animated crossover, but these pages feel a bit underdeveloped) and some of the on-panel action doesn’t work (when the race-swapped version of Punchout snaps Angel’s neck, she goes from kneeling to standing mid move in a way that makes no sense), but overall this is miles ahead of what we’ve typically seen in the Gold series. His figures are all great, especially his versions of Cyclops (though admittedly he looks more like the Scott of old rather than his younger counterpart) and Rachel, and the brief segments of action mostly work…I mean, there were little things like the onomatopoeia of Logan getting stabbed obscuring the actual injury, making it hard to tell what happened at first glance, but still I enjoyed this issue.
Didn’t I? The more I think about it, the more issues I have here. Going back to Wolverine getting impaled, the position of Hawkshaw’s sword makes no sense given the placement of the injury and the villain’s hands — not to mention that Logan’s adamantium sternum should have prevented the blade from popping through the center of his chest. The last panel also creates a weird anatomy for Beast, who may be barrel-chested, sure, but has a chest and waist that are just as broad as his shoulders. Also Iceman being felled by bullets feels stupid, but I don’t know if I blame that on the art or the scripting.
X-Men: Gold #14 is a healthy mix of ups and downs, but the quality of Marc Laming’s pencils helps save this book. The action is fun, if flawed, and I like the character models, even if they’re a touch off from where they should be. Before I talk myself into not liking this book, I’m going to give it a C grade and keep moving.