The JJ Report

X-Men Gold Vol. 1: ‘Back to the Basics’ Review

Written By: Mathew “JJ” Simoes

When Marvel relaunched the X-Men franchise after Secret Wars, I was among those largely disappointed by the line’s output.  Despite having big name creators, the general direction of the line felt stale, with the only stand out title being All-New Wolverine.  Seeing this negative reception to the X-Men line, Marvel set about working on another relaunch, Resurrection.  The goal of this new line of X-books was to go back to basics, rooting new stories in classic X-Men garb.  I have recently finished reading the first three issues of X-Men Gold, and though it does bring the X-Men back to a more traditional status quo, the book also avoids taking any risks.

This first arc in the relaunch’s inaugural title brings the X-Men back to their roots, and, as a big fan of Chris Claremont’s epic run, this made me quite happy.  The X-Men are superheroes again, as well as teachers.  The institute has been moved to central park, putting the new team in the center of the very much New York based Marvel Universe.  The line up used in the title is one very familiar to long time readers, with each character being a heavy hitter from Claremont’s time on Uncanny X-Men.

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X-Men Gold brings back a lot of great concepts back into the franchise, the biggest one being that the X-Men are running a school again.  Despite being central to the team’s origins, and the general theme of battling ignorance in X-Men comics, the institute has slipped in and out of the franchise over the years.  The first arc shows that the X-Men are teachers as well as superheroes, with the students even participating in the final battle of this first arc.  Speaking of superheroes, it’s nice to see the X-Men be superheroes again.  So much of their time has been spent trying to survive and going on covert missions to protect mutant kind.  Now that the latest extinction status quo has ended, the characters focusing their efforts proving that mutants are part of and valuable to humanity. This first arc was filled with call backs to the X-Men comics of old, but one of the series best moments thus far happens in the first issue’s baseball game.  In prior comics, it was a fun pastime that allowed for team bonding and some fun use of powers, but recently mutant kind has suffered one extinction event after another.  This is symbolic of the better place the X-Men are in as team, now that there is no looming extinction event on the horizon.  In short, X-Men comics are becoming fun again.

Marc Guggenheim handles the character relationships well enough, with the opening arc having a few highlights.  Kitty Pryde is an inspired choice to lead the team.  Kitty was the first young recruit in the team’s history since the founding five, and readers have seen her develop from an inexperienced 14-year-old into a competent superhero and teacher.  Having her lead the team shows how far they’ve come, but also grounds the series firmly in it’s roots.  Kitty and Colossus’ relationship is important to the X-Men franchise, but in this arc, Colossus just comes off as creepy.  Their scene in the arc’s first issue really walks that fine line between sweet, and coming on a little too strong.  Hopefully Guggenheim’s characterization of their relationship will improve in future issues.  Old Man Logan is portrayed as an older version of the 616 character, with each character acting like he’s the man they’ve fought side by side with for years.  While this seems odd, as he’s a very different Logan than the one they knew, it’s also the best choice for this series.  Logan was a mentor figure for Kitty early in her X-Men career, so seeing older versions of them discuss the past and future is enjoyable.

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Ardian Syaf’s art is serviceable to the story.  It evokes that 90’s look and feel that the relaunch is going for, but doesn’t stand out as anything special.  It just looks like typical superhero comics art, where the shirts and jackets are so tight you can see the character’s muscles in detail.  The storytelling is clear, and some of the action scenes are rendered in a dynamic fashion.  The character designs leave something to be desired, with many of them feeling incredibly dated in comparison to another superhero looks in the Marvel Universe (Shadowcat and Colossus being the worst of them).  Logan has now been a member of the X-Men in two ongoing comics (soon to be three with Astonishing X-Men), so he really needs an x-themed outfit of some sort.  Marvel could at least put an X on his jacket or something of the sort.  Rachel Grey has been given a costume that looks god-awful and doesn’t quite mesh with the other team uniforms.  I like that Guggenheim is giving Rachel her own superhero identity, but I hope the costume proves to be temporary.

Now while the overall tone of the new series is refreshing, the opening arc’s pitfalls lie in this back-to-basics approach.  The first story focused on the X-Men Gold team battling the latest incarnation of the brotherhood of evil mutants, with the team later learning that it was all a ploy to make mutants look bad.  While this isn’t a bad story, and is very much an X-Men story, but I feel like it’s all been done before.  I would’ve liked to see the series try to bring some new concepts into the franchise’s mythology.  Hopefully the series will bring in new ideas going forward, but based on prior reception, it makes sense that they would play it safe with this first arc.  However as a consequence the story comes off as rather dull, and makes me long for the Claremont years when this story would have been far more original.

While the story is unoriginal and a feels like a retread of past stories, the atmosphere and goals of the new series seem to be heading in the right direction.

Mathew’s Rating – 7.2/10

What are your thoughts on the X-Men’s return to comics? Comment below and on social media and for all things in entertainment and nerd culture, keep it locked on Talkies Network!

 

 

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