You know, I have a habit of being negative in my reviews of X-Men Gold. The reason has always been a mixture of poor decisions in both the writing and the revolving collection of artists, and some regrettable choices made by the creative team. The choice to mine the series’ extensive canon for tropes to exploit issue after issue (how many softball games have they had in 16 issues?) and retread storybeats/character motivations from the Claremont era, come to mind. His decision to pose questions but never answer them is equally frustrating, as is the terrible redesign of Rachel Summers as “Prestige.” Then there’s Kologoth, the giant lizard guy who joined the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in the book’s first arc, was thoroughly stomped by the X-Men, and then held captive for a few weeks (in clear violation of the Geneva convention, I might add,) before he was finally able to reach out to his henchmen and arrange a ride home. The last time we saw the K-man, in probably the worst issue of the series so far, Special K was outed as some kind of space Nazi, running a violent religious sect in gestapo uniforms and armbands in an effort to overthrow their local government. Well this week, series scribe Marc Guggenheim has added another adjective to his Giant lizard space Nazi – turns out he’s also gay.

Didn’t see that one coming.

Now I have no issue with anyone, or in this case anything’s sexual leanings, but the reveal of Kologoth’s romantic relationship with his second in command is just so lazily provocative that it feels exploitative. First off, the “reveal” is clearly played for shock, given the measured delivery of “My lord…My love” in the panels above. It doesn’t add anything to the character (or Augor for that matter); it isn’t actually developed beyond its introduction – it’s literally just there to surprise the reader. It’s not that it SHOULD in any way inform our opinion of Kologoth or his crew, it’s pure troll bait. Let’s not brush past how offensive it is that the first openly gay character in the book is a literal alien fascist. I’m not sure if Guggenheim thought he was being clever or was trying to humanize Kologoth to some degree, but I’m afraid that ship sailed the moment the giant green lizard was revealed to be a space nazi. They may have subtly altered the uniform a bit to look more like the First Order than the third reich, but come on. Worse yet, Guggenheim even leans into the persecution allegory that the X-Men are built upon by reviving the Lydia Nance plotline in the introductory chapter. It had to be forefront in his mind when he made the baffling choice to make the chief villain of this Negative Zone arc a gay alien Nazi lizard. Progressive.

The unfortunate juxtaposition of “Resist” and “Unity” in this panel should also be noted.

Speaking of poor choices, we have to talk about the artwork. This month’s book is pencilled by Lan Medina, and I have to admit, it’s the best that X-Men Gold has ever looked.The action sequences in the book are well paced, the character models are all on point (barring some weird de-aging of Old Man Logan in some panels), and there are some interesting design choices when it comes to the alien spacecraft we see. I like Lan Medina’s work and can’t really crap on the actual pencils in this issue…that being said, who the hell is plotting the fashion choices for these characters?  First off, what the shit is this peacock jacket monstrosity that Kitty is wearing in the opening sequence?

She looks like Rachel Maddow if she were in the movie Scarface

Who shot the couch? Seriously, what the hell is she wearing here? Maybe it’s high fashion, I can’t pretend to understand every trend but she wore THAT to appear on a talk show to defend her entire race? I feel like Hindsight and Quentin Quire would never let her live this fashion faux pas down. But even that is nothing compared to this abomination:

LOOK AT THIS! LOOK AT THIS AND DESPAIR!!!

Seriously, Kurt, what the shit? What the hell has Rachel got you wearing? That haircut? That hobo jacket? You can’t really see it in this panel, but he’s also rocking cargo capri pants with this ensemble. I’m literally wearing 4 shades of gray as I write this and even I have have the fashion sense not to leave the house looking like Mr. Wagner up there.

The less said about Armor’s coveralls and turtleneck combination, the better.

The thing is, this could have been one of the better issues of this book, but bad choices sank it. There’s small stuff like the character design (seriously, why is Nightcrawler dressed like an extra from Pearl Jam’s Even Flow video?) and the irresponsible reveal of a character’s sexuality for shock value, but then there are bigger story beats that I have issue with. First off, the dialogue is mostly fine throughout the book but any time the conversation is meant to serve the story, things fall apart. Lydia Nance sounds like an idiot talking to Kitty which – yeah, she’s a racist, so an idiot by definition, but she’s also played as some conniving political mastermind capable of organizing a mutant-led false flag attack on New York in order to pass through her own mutant deportation legislation. Either she’s a nefarious machiavellian politician or someone unable to get a damn soundbite out in a talkshow. Then there’s the relationship between Piotr and Kitty, which is sustained purely on nostalgia and kind of stupid. Obviously the two have a huge history, and have consummated the relationship years ago (most famously in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing run), so why is Kitty acting all secretive about her relationship with him to Rachel? Why is the rest of the team acting like they couldn’t predict that the recently resurgent couple may have spent the night together? Also, while she’s an adult and can handle herself of course, why wouldn’t Kitty call to tell Storm and the gang that she was spending the night in Manhattan? Isn’t she the head of a school? Wouldn’t you tell your job if you couldn’t make it in the following day – especially if you were the boss?

Also, hey Team Leader: Maybe tell your team what the hell you’re doing. You literally have a psychic on the team who can keep everyone up to the moment, why keep Wolverine and Colossus in the dark?

Overall this is an auspicious start to the arc. The art was good, but the design was off. The plot moved swiftly, but the character motivations were hollow. The book tries to say something about persecution and bigotry and then uses a character’s sexuality for shock. It’s just a mess, but – hey, that’s X-Men Gold!

X-Men Gold #16
Is it good?
Par for the course. Guggenheim want's to say something important but can't get it in there. Questionable character designs distract from how good the art is. The story may be an improvement over the dreck with Mojo, but that's a crazy low bar.
The Good
Lan Medina's pencils are pretty good.
The story is a nice departure from that terrible Mojo arc.
The Bad
Playing a character's sexuality for shock is lazy as hell.
What the hell is with the character design in this book?
Still not on board with the Kitty-Peter relationship, but even so, how is it a surprise to any of her teammates?
4
Meh