When I reviewed the final volume of “X-Men: Blue” I wrote that I felt confident in saying that it was the better of the two flagship “X-Men” color titles. I also wrote that I didn’t think this last volume of “X-Men: Gold” was going to be good enough to change my opinion. After finally reading “Godwar” I can say that it feels good to be right! As has been the case with most of “Gold’s” run, it does a good job of reminding me about the form of “X-Men” stories of years past without providing actual quality to back it up.
Take the first story which begins by addressing the fallout from the wedding in the previous volume. We see a hungover Rachel looking forward to a nice morning with Nightcrawler, only to find a supervillain waiting in their hotel suite. Then we get a couple pages between Kitty and Colossus as they try to part on good terms before the story abruptly jumps to a “Days of Future Past” scenario where mutants have been imprisoned under the watch of Sentinels, and their powers controlled by collars.
Why are we suddenly in this future? The reveal is saved for an admittedly effective end-of-issue cliffhanger in the story’s first half which also draws upon Rachel’s history as a mutant-hunting “hound” from her future. Unfortunately the story quickly loses steam after this reveal as it becomes another standard mind-control scenario where the victim eventually finds the strength to shake it off, thanks to the help of her friends, before the end. Said ending is meant to conjure a feeling of uncertainty, but ultimately feels like writer Marc Guggenheim reached the page count limit for the issue and decided to call it a wrap.
To be fair, Guggenheim does address lingering concerns about Rachel’s mental state and her relationship with Nightcrawler in the following issue. Seeing one story bleed into the next like this has been one of the things I’ve liked seeing with “Gold” as it’s something “X-Men” (and comics in general) used to do a lot more back in the day. The catch here is that the stories here aren’t really all that good.
That goes for the three-parter involving Storm heading back to her home village in Africa to deal with a sinister new religion that has sprung up there. It’s led by an individual who goes by the name of Uovu, which we learn in short order is Swahili for “evil.” No, the story doesn’t get any less obvious after this. It has an unimaginative twist-free structure where nothing in the story will surprise you or that it has anything to offer besides basic competence. In fact, the story is set in the kind of rural African village that has basically been the go-to for nearly every non-urban setting on the continent in Marvel Comics. I’m not saying there aren’t villages like this in Africa, but the use of one here just reinforces the lazy storytelling of the arc as a whole.
It’s not completely without merit. Uovu’s powers include bringing the dead back to life, and under his control. So his first move when Storm shows up isn’t to take her out, but to provide her with a chance to meet her long-dead parents. Even if it’s obvious this isn’t going to last it’s still nice to see Storm have a chance to reconnect with them, and later the woman who raised her. We also finally get an explanation as to how Storm wound up with an Asgardian hammer. I wouldn’t go so far to say that it was satisfying, but at least it’s there. Stormcaster also gets decent enough sendoff by helping put Uovu in the ground. None of this is enough to make me recommend this arc overall, though it does help make it a generally painless reading experience.
At least the final issue of “Gold” helps send the series off on a stronger note. I wouldn’t say it’s a great “X-Men” story but it’s easily the best one in the volume. It involves the team getting word that an omega-level mutant’s powers have awoken and he’s lost control of them. Though the kid and his powers are nothing more than a plot device and Kitty’s speech to calm him down is right out of the team playbook, the story takes an interesting turn when she finally gets the kid to power down. That’s when he’s shot by a bystander.
Now, Kitty is rightly furious at him for this and his initial stammering response makes it look like the shooter just gave into his fear. It isn’t until she finishes with, “He wasn’t hurting anybody!” that the shooter is able to call Kitty out by telling her to look around, and we’re given a full-page shot of the destruction he caused.
That this is an “X-Men” story that stops to consider the rational of such an individual is unusual in itself. Things get even more complicated when Kitty has Nightcrawler teleport him to the local hospital and, after an initial examination, one of the doctors tells her that he won’t operate on the kid. Since the new mutant can’t control his powers there’s a chance they might re-manifest and kill everyone in the hospital. A valid point, to be sure. It’s here that Kitty tells Rachel to use her psychic powers to change the doctor’s mind and force him to perform the operation.
I’d have liked to have seen how Kitty’s order was dealt with and the fallout from it, but we’re saved from that after another doctor shows up. This doctor actually has some history with the team from earlier in Guggenheim’s run and her presence has the effect of bringing things full circle, which I appreciated. The same goes for the note of uncertainty that the issue ends on which feels more satisfying than finding out whether the mutant lived or died.
Suggesting that the man who shot a mutant whose powers were out of control may have been right. Showing us a Kitty Pryde who was willing to order a team member to cross a specific ethical line. These are some interesting moral quandaries that would’ve benefited from being examined over another issue or two. Guggenheim cramming them into the final issue in his run does have the effect of making it more interesting and engaging. Yet, the issues that preceded it, as well as the majority of his run, suggest that the writer wouldn’t have been able to dig into them in a satisfying fashion.
Which is a good summation of Guggenheim’s run overall. There were some good ideas but a lack of decent follow-through. This is probably best seen through how the writer set up a storyline like “The Negative Zone War” over the course of the first two volumes only for the actual war to come off as a dumb and confusing mess. Sure, the first volume offered some comforting nostalgia, the wedding issue offered some welcome surprises and genuine emotion, and the final issue had interesting ideas. In between them were a lot of stories that, at best, could only manage a shrug from me.
Guggenheim included a dedication of “Gold” as a whole to legendary X-scribe Chris Claremont in the final issue, and an afterword which essentially gushes over Claremont’s run. It’s a nice gesture, but one that only serves to remind you how much better those old stories were.
This would be a great stopping point, but there’s still more to this volume. Not much more as the Annual collected here, and co-written by Guggenheim and Leah Williams, is pretty much there to remind you of “Excalibur’s” glory days. It has former members Kitty, Kurt, and Rachel paying a visit to Captain Britain and Meggan who have just welcomed their first daughter into the world. Thanks to her superhero parentage, the kid is already super-smart (and it’s admittedly fun to see her debate philosophy with Kurt) and winds up saving the day when an old adversary comes knocking.
I was never all that into “Excalibur” back in the day so the nostalgia this series was peddling didn’t do much for me. In fact, the Annual’s placement at the end of the volume does a disservice to the volume as a whole as it weakens the impression left by “Gold’s” final issue. There’s another story after it, “Why I Love the X-Men,” where a tween X-Men fangirl and her aunt try to meet the team in New York. It’s cute fluff and nothing more.
This volume also has a wide variety of artists working the issues collected here. Pere Perez, Michele Bandini, Simone Buonfantion, and Giovanni Valletta handle the main issues while Alitha Martinez and Djibril Morissette-Phan do the Annual. All of them deliver perfectly serviceable work that fails to inspire much excitement in the reader or elevate the stories that they’re illustrating. It’s the kind of work that leaves me feeling that the X-Men deserve better than this, so maybe we’ll get it with the “Disassembled” relaunch.