X-Men Gold #1
To say that Marvel has had a difficult month is an understatement. Due to the surrounding drama of the issue, this is a difficult review to write. I actually was hoping to write the review shortly before the news of Syaf’s hidden messages dropped, but had to rethink how to address the topic once it did. It’s a shame, too, because X-Men Gold is the most promising X-Men title since both X-Men Legacy and Wolverine and the X-Men ended in 2014.
Guggenheim splits the issue into three parts: the first involves Kitty leading the team on their first mission, against the previously dead Terrax, the former herald to Galactus. The second section is an inter-squad game of baseball and the final part sets up the story moving forward, introducing readers to the central villains of the first arc: the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Fan favorite Kitty Pryde has been an off-again-on-again member of the X-Men for nearly 40 years. This is, however, her first time leading the X-Men. Guggenheim builds the team for X-Men gold carefully around Kitty – as the other members of the group are fellow Excalibur members Rachel Summers and Nightcrawler, her former lover Colossus, her close friend, and former leader of the X-Men, Storm, and her mentor, Wolverine (albeit the Old Man version).
After a brief interview with Heritage Initiative Director Lydia Nance on “The Fact Channel” (a parody of Fox News) about the dangers of mutants, the issue begins with a two-page splash involving the entire team in which Kitty gets to, for the first time in her career, say the catch phrase, “to me, my X-Men…” This, and the following banter between her and Wolverine, sets up the tone of the issue while also allowing Kitty to fully embrace the role of leader.
Indeed, Kitty proves herself in battle by phasing an entire falling building to save the buildings next to it, stating, “I’ve got this.” It is after the battle, however, that Kitty truly proves herself as a leader, during one of the most important monologues by an X-Man in quite some time.
Not surprisingly, despite the fact that she saved the new, the crowd’s reaction to the X-Men is tepid at best. A mother in the crowd chastises her daughter for telling Kitty that she is okay saying, “don’t talk to it dear.” A younger Kitty Pryde would have blown up at the woman and stormed off, but this Kitty is older and wiser.
Instead, she replies, “I think the word you’re searching for is ‘person.’ ‘Human being,’ even. If you’re feeling charitable. But I see that you’re not. And surprisingly… I understand. I know it’s a long way back. You’ve never exactly trusted us, and I know things are different after our war with the inhumans. I know that. And I know that to the extent you ever trusted us, we have a long way to go to rebuild that trust. But we’re starting today.”
This statement is true of the X-Men, but it could also be true of a variety of different groups, which is one of the things that made the controversy surrounding the art so frustrating. This issue is not only about the people in the Marvel Universe rebuilding trust in the X-Men, but it is also a clear acknowledgment that the writers of the X-Men need to rebuild trust in readers after a difficult few years. It’s also an important statement regarding Marvel and comic book readers as a whole, and this could have been the opportunity to begin to rebuild that trust overall. Hell, it could easily be a metaphor for America’s need to rebuild trust with the world at large, or one for moderate members of the Muslim community to do the same. Here was the chance for a variety of dialogues to begin, or at least be renewed/reset, but all of that got overshadowed by the fallout of the controversy.
As for the rest of the issue, the X-Men have moved to Central Park with the blessing of NY City. The baseball game, which are always moments of levity for the X-Men, feels cathartic after Kitty’s speech, although this one gets interrupted by a lawyer for the city who informs them about just how pricey their stay in New York will be.
The other important part of the issue is a conversation between Storm and Nightcrawler about a favorite quote of Magneto’s and from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “The past is prologue.” Storm tells Nightcrawler her hope “that perhaps, we’re returning to our roots, our history. Perhaps, after all the trials and tragedies, we are returning to what we were” not as “outcasts”, as Nightcrawler supposes, instead as “heroes.”
This is what has been lost from the X-Men for quite some time as the team has been bogged down in various internal heroic wars with themselves, with the Avengers and, most recently, with the Inhumans. Guggenheim punctuates this return to the team’s roots when he introduces the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the original team’s first enemies, at the end of the issue.
I’ve long been a proponent of, as a viewer, being willing to separate a person’s art from their politics when necessary. As such, I’m going to give Aridan Syaf’s art as fair a critique as possible here.
Syaf’s art, along with Jay Leisten’s always stellar inking, and Frank Martin’s color palate, gives the issue an updated 90s’ artistic feel. In particular, I’m impressed by the rich details that the three artists give to the characters’ faces, which, although angular and strong jawed, show a range of emotions.
In particular, one touching scene stands out for the art, between Kitty Pryde and Colossus regarding the past and future of their relationship. There is a fantastic panel of Colossus looking down at Kitty, against the shadow of a twelve paneled window, which shows both the strength and fragility of each character.
My hope is that people read the issue, and got the message, regardless of what happened, but my fear is that, after the controversy, fewer people picked the issue up with the intent of actually reading it. If you are one of the readers who was considering jumping back on to the X-Men, but got scared off by the events surrounding Syaf’s art, I recommend reading it anyways.