The X-Men are in troubbbblee! Following the events of X-Men Gold #22, the Gold squad finds themselves behind bars. Despite what X-Men Gold Annual #1 would lead you to believe (which took place in between #22 and #23), the X-Men are still incarcerated in X-Men Gold #23 as Colossus, Prestige, Kitty, Storm, and Nightcrawler adjust to the harsh realities of prison life. It’s a refreshingly grounded story for a series recently plagued by back-to-back convoluted storylines filled with transdimensional warfare on far away worlds. That being said, this new arc doesn’t have much direction yet and just meanders through a generic plot while forcing teases for future threats down the readers throat.
Even though X-Men Gold Annual #1 showed Kitty and the gang in Europe between issues 22 and 23, I can assure you the Gold team is very much still in prison in #23- de-powered and surrounded by the enemies they locked up in the first place. After the nostalgia-driven chaos of “Mojo Worldwide” and the messy interdimensional civil war meddling of “The Negative Zone War,” it’s a weird breath of fresh air just to see the X-Men stay on Earth for more than two issues. It’s an indictment of the last few months of X-Men Gold that an arc about the X-Men being locked up and stripped of their abilities could be called “refreshing,” but here we are.
The insight into the day-to-day lives of the imprisoned X-Men plays out as expected. There are no surprises as Piotr and Kurt must survive brawl after brawl while Ororo, Kitty, and Rachel navigate the social intricacies of a populace who resents them. It’s ironic that this issue kicks off the “Cruel and Unusual” arc because there is nothing cruel or unusual about life in prison for the X-Men. It’s a generic “good guys are in prison and no one likes them!” story that feels more like a missed opportunity than anything compelling.
The scenes outside prison range from okay to downright forced. With the X-Men imprisoned, somebody needs to step up and lead a replacement team to defend mutant-kind, a responsibility that falls to Iceman and Rogue. It’s exciting to see these long-standing, big X-Men make an appearance in the series, even if they’re leading an uninspiring X-Men team consisting of Armor, Magma, Ink, and Magik.
Readers only get a quick glimpse of the team together and it’s not good — they’re dispatched effortlessly in the Danger Room and lack any chemistry, which doesn’t exactly instill excitement for this team’s future appearances in the reader. Who would want to read a book about a team that neither entertains or wins?
There are two downright unnecessary sequences that have no place in this issue, yet are here anyway. Remember the ancient, fascist deity from the Negative Zone War? He’s shown traveling through space because he’s so super pissed at the X-Men — all of which readers already knew by the end of issue 22. Then there’s the completely random interlude that teases the coming of the Shredded Man to do…something to New York. I am aware that you need to foreshadow incoming threats to retain readers, but both of these instances were such sloppy, randomly interjected moments rather than nuanced transitions. Both felt like unnecessary page fillers interrupting the story.
In typical Gold fashion, the most interesting moments are rushed or glossed over in favor of more meaningless teases of what’s to come. The most intriguing plot within X-Men Gold lately has been Rachel Grey’s psychic flashbacks to her Hound days coupled with her new Hound-esque look, yet it is only touched on for a brief panel in this issue. Rachel’s full transformation into her Hound ego has been teased for far too long without any real progress. At this point, you can’t blame readers for being impatient or apathetic.
Despite how irritated I’ve been with X-Men Gold’s plots lately, I was thoroughly enjoying the art from Diego Bernard in recent issues, so I was pretty disheartened to see a new name on this cover. While Thony Silas’s illustrations aren’t bad by any means, they lack the polish and crispness I’d grown accustomed to with Bernard. It’s a classic case of the art simply being different, not worse.
This new X-Men Gold arc needs a shot in the arm if it’s going to be remembered as anything more than forgetful, volume-filling issues. While it is nice to see the X-Men back on Earth, there’s no real direction to this story yet and the imprisoned X-Men angle was nothing but predictable. Even the teases of looming threats are completely forced moments that interrupt an already poor story. X-Men Gold #23 continues this series’s slide into one of Marvel’s worst ongoing series.