X-Men Gold #36
In the wake of the collapse of the relationships of some of the core team members, the X-Men must face the threat of bigotry once more in an attempt to save the life of a newly emerged omega level mutant. Can Kitty save one scared young mutant and at the same time manage to hold the team together? When all else seems lost there is one minor victory in the changing attitude of one single person, who in the past had criticised mutants in general and the X-Men in particular.
Speaking first about the positives, let’s focus on the art. As always a beautifully imagined cover by Phil Noto, that yet again gave insight to the unfolding emotional drama, without giving away a single ounce of plot or simply copying any scene that was to be expressed within. And even with the usual gratuitous flashback scene *rolls eyes* this time a call back to issue #1, the art throughout was stunning. Well done indeed to both Pere Pérez and colorist Jay David Ramos for delivering some much needed drama and gravitas to an otherwise unremarkable finale, with insightful and stark images of both Kitty and Peter so obviously in pain and dealing with the fallout of ‘the breakup’. As well as Kurt and Rachel and the dynamic use of shrinking panels giving a claustrophobic feel as the scene closes on them both, which conveys the initial discomfort of their situation but ends on the intimate contact that conveys that the feelings are still there.
Not to mention the arrival at the end drama and confrontation with the confused Brian Morrison as Kitty effortlessly phases her way towards him, ever the epitome of the poster child that Cyclops and Emma had both denoted for her in the past, unblinking and unmindful of any witnesses. In fact proving that there is another way to deal with the situation other than confrontation and anger.
And the horrific moment he is shot, the anguish and conflicting emotions on the face of the shooter, and also the shock of Kitty, more emotion yet again conveyed, right down to the warzone like aftermath of his power activation, which tells more of a story than the writing was capable of eluding to.
And then the crux of the whole story, with the total contrast from the chaos outside and the sterile professional setting of the confines of the hospital, where the X-Men are clearly shown to be completely out of their comfort zone, as they are helpless to do anything but look on as others decide what to do and then sit down completely lost and surplus to requirements, rendered to be nothing more than people, just as the doctor proclaimed them to be.
Sadly for a title finale writing wise, there isn’t too much to say in praise of the issue itself, except that it seemed to pander to the lowest common denominator. With a story that attempts to tap into the very heart of what the X-Men was always about, it just ends up tapping a rather inferior collapsed and hollow vein instead. Reading like a tick list of everything tailor-made to get the best out of the characters we have a tale that emulates very similar stories in more successful titles such as Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men with the Kitty/Pete dilemma, the tour de force from Bendis that was the dynamic team situation rescuing Eva Bell and co. in Uncanny X-Men volume 4 (also coincidentally 36 issues) and then the plot within the pages of Lobdell’s 1995 X-Men: Prime and the death of Dennis Hogan, which more passionately told a similar tale of an attack against a lone mutant.
Here we have the usual ingredients of some personal drama with Rachel mentioning her family history, a dash of post-breakup emotion from both Kitty and Peter and also Rachel and Kurt, the typical by the numbers plot of an Omega new mutant rescue situation which goes wrong thanks to some enraged bigots, all topped off with a circuitous nod to X-Men Gold #1 and that contentious scene, albeit without the hate scrawl which caused such artistic infamy…and did we NEED to be reminded of that incident and the gratuitous political drama that ensued?
But, yes we had the return of that minor character, the now named Doctor Kosineski, who is converted and tries to help. And while she may have felt that they became real to her, and gained some measure of trust earned by their efforts, I have not had the same emotion I’m sad to say. And you can put that on the Fact Channel.
And so finally to the ‘love letter’ to the X-Men at the back, which in my humble opinion may as well have been a Dear John letter. Not only did he try to rub shoulders with the greats in his “dedication” to Claremont, which was nothing short of name-dropping, but he then went on to attempt to curry favor with the readers as well. While freely admitting he played fast and loose with originality, he then steps further into some transparent fawning by exclaiming he “never reached the stratospheric heights Mr. Claremont reached in even his most mundane of issues” which came off a little needy whilst obviously fishing for comparison, compliments and recognition, especially with his fervent hope that we all felt a “hint of the spark” he felt. Sorry but that’s a hard NO!
For all Guggenheim’s waxing lyrical about the heyday of the X-Men, citing deep backstories, familial interactions, and the passion and excitement he felt upon reading X-Men #139, I had to marvel (pardon the pun) at his sudden eloquence. It is interestingly everything missing from his entire run but suddenly crammed into the final issue as an afterthought. This was the first hint of passion I read from the man in all 36 issues and it came as a half-baked offering a little too late. And so, as this is the end of the whole saga, what better time to give an overview of the entire series? If you’ve read this far, you may permit me the indulgence. Let’s take a fond look back, shall we? Consider this…
My Dear John letter to X-Men Fold
When I was first handed this title to review I was so excited, because not only was it a core title in the x-franchise at the time, but it was also a book that contained some of my all-time favorite X-Men. From the start I wanted to get behind the book and keep that excitement buoyed by the fact that a flagship title had some of my top ten X-Men. With a rolling roster that not only contained Rachel, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Kitty from the start but went on to include Iceman and Magik, it was like my wish list of a team had been granted. Even with ALMOST all of the B Squad.
So with that in mind, for me, the reviewing journey started with issue #15 and it all looked okay really. Yes, the Mojo Worldwide storyline was a little derivative and pandering to nostalgia with the villains and costumes of yesteryear, but this was a crossover and so had more input from outside sources, with it being tied in with X-Men Blue, which was also going through its own problems at the time story wise. Then the title became visibly lackluster under its own spotlight, with Nightcrawler impaled on rocks every five minutes and Rachel, despite moments of burying the past, being put pointlessly put in a coma.
I can describe it for you, Cecilia. A damn tragic waste is what it is. Then the wounded dog that was Old Man Logan limping off into the sunset, ironically only to be written far more fiercely and dramatically in his own book, Armor thrown in for one arc, Magik adding no magic, but reduced to a taxi service and Colossus being of no use whatsoever. If I’m honest I too would have jilted him at the altar. Also, there were some clear attempts to push Ink on us, like some agenda involving nepotism, but nobody was having any of it and he finally disappeared.
I must admit initially some of the issues I liked, but it wasn’t so much to do with the writing, more the art really, but even that came with its own…issues. The title suffered from the rolling roster going in and out a revolving door, which had the look of trying out artists on a work experience day. And this did the title no justice at all and made it difficult for readers to invest in it. Typically the stand out ones was when artists were allowed to do more than one issue. Despite the politics, Ardian Syaf did well on the first three issues, followed by R.B Silva on #4-6. Thony Silas excelled, as he did in Hunt For Wolverine: Mystery in Madripoor and gave Storm some drama with the prison scenario of #23=24, as did Paulo Siqueira and José Luis in #25 and her memorable breakout.
Ken Lashley on the Secret War tie-ins of 7-9 came back again for the main part of Negative Zone War in #17-18. Diego Bernard inexplicably popped up in nonsequential style and made such a mark on #15 in Golds final part of Mojo Worldwide that he came back for #19-22 and bridged the end of Negative Zone War into Brotherhood which included the backstory of Lydia Nance and the reason for her hatred of mutants.
Lan Madina on the Omega Red story of #10-11 also came back for his part of the Negative Zone saga in #16. Then we, of course, had single issue artists with Luke Ross on #12, Mike Mayhew on #13, Mark Laming on #14, who didn’t have much of a chance to shine really. This also included poor Paulo Siqueira who did manage to make a mark with #25, and aside from Storm’s breakout of the Box, also gave us the memorable return of Brian and Meggan Braddock, last seen in the annual.
Then we were finally gifted the amazing David Marquez and what would become comparatively the longest run so far with #26-30 and that wedding. Even though the story was marred by terrible plotting the scenery was flawless. And then he was followed by an equally amazing, though shorter run for Pere Pérez, who was rewarded with #31-32 and finally Michele Bandini on the last arc with Storm, which carried the title as well as could be expected to the bitter end.
How true and portentous those words rang. Because we shall now move on to the writing, I have in the past tried to see the positives, as much as is humanly possible, in terms of plotting and improvements to the style and in use of certain characters, despite any ignorance that has been there from the start of the characters and the lack of consistency shown toward the plot and history. I think I would even go as far as to put forward the suggestion that of all the artistic and character changes made in this title, Marvel neglected to try the one option that could have saved things had they considered it early on. The removal of the writer, at least after the initial few arcs. Although it had seen areas of improvement on occasion, it was always swiftly followed by a downturn in style, individuality or any hint of a connection to the characters. I often felt he was purposefully teasing us all, first dangling a carrot and then offering a stick. Was he perhaps trying to set the bar low on purpose? If so he succeeded. But sadly so many other current X-writers have since leaped over that bar and left him standing. Fans are always divided in opinion on a writers failures and successes because they feel so passionately about the X-Men. Even past writers who have come under fire for some arcs have at least delivered on other counts. Yes, there have admittedly been low points on any writers run, for example, Austen, Morrison, even Claremont himself on very rare occasions. Writers have bad days, we all know this, they aren’t machines who can churn out perfection with every scribble of ink. But they all managed to get some runaway hits in there and on the whole redeem themselves admirably on so many occasions and also manage to get some loyal fan accolades and a true following based on their work. This cannot be said for Marc Guggenheim. Through the characters, plots, and development we have seen a consistent stalling and misfiring of the vehicle that was X-Men Gold. Of course, the biggest travesty was the many u-turns by the writer within the whole run, one in particular.
I freely admit myself that I tried desperately to look deeply for any hope of improvement, while he tore them down even as I built him up. On some reviews, I fed fairly consistent, and now I feel very generous, high 8 scores. Especially in the lead up to the wedding that never was. In retrospect, I think I was hoping that some glimmer of positive feedback would show him a light out of the dark tunnel he was heading down. But it seems he preferred to go his own way and not notice or even care that nobody was following him down the dark path he was on. I honestly don’t think there’s a single run of X-Comics I’ve felt comes lower, at least in its entirety. Maybe Chuck Austen, but even he managed to pull his hash out of the fire on occasion. With some truly contentious stories, Angel/Husk and Nightcrawler’s father to name but a few, he still managed to add some spice in there with the inclusion of Havok into the main X-Men team, something we hadn’t seen for many years and then again until fairly recently in Astonishing. As well as adding Polaris and the new blood of M, Husk, Northstar, and Juggernaut to the main roster. And on the whole, he wrote them well. I hate comparing writers to others in reviews, believing I should be objective, but with every plot copy and paste throughout and in the final issue the shameful name drop by association with other more talented writers, Guggenheim has brought the comparison on himself. There were a few character-driven moments, primarily when the X-Men crash landed post Negative Zone War and again in the prison story and so the heroes individual characterization seemed to improve with some wins for the team, including the lead up to the wedding, finally the capture of Mesmero and the interesting imagery of Rachel back in the dystopian Days of Future Past scenario and her fugue state.
But for those few glimmers of hope, it all fell apart. Aside from the overall travesty of the wedding itself, we had the repetitive battles with the Brotherhood and constant failure to apprehend Mesmero and his final revenge. Then the inability of Storm to deal with any single enemy without Stormcaster, constant lack of personal decision making from Kitty and no sense of Rachel rising to the occasion, despite supposedly having a power up and epiphany. His whole inclusion into X-Men lore has been derided and looked upon with an unnecessary air of scorn from so many since the start. Unnecessary because unlike Austen in some of his worst moments, he didn’t even rise to the occasion of contentious or controversial plots. They simply….existed and trundled on harmlessly. Nothing really important or earth-shattering happened, but also very little positives arose from any quarter. And when they did they were not built upon convincingly. For every moment Storm or Rachel triumphed there came a tragic mischaracterization of either these or another main character. Relationships started inexplicably and then ended the same way, and not just one but two in the same arc, for roughly the same reason. Then there was evidence of mishandling other characters powers and motivation during battle sequences, giving Storm a plot device that didn’t even come to a head. I can’t decide if the writer hates all X-Men, just those who are team leaders, or maybe it’s women in general. Character by individual character, let’s look at the evidence, shall we? I give you Exhibit A…
Storm has been written as consistently weak, no more obvious than the last arc, in the worst way that’s ever been perpetrated since the title ran. Guggenheim almost made me buy that she didn’t want to be leader of the team due to the events of IvX. I even accepted that Kitty would take the role, after all, she did it before with All-New X-Men as the headmistress and that worked well enough. But then Storm gets persuaded into the team anyway? Mmmmmm…not so much. This seemed a bit of a stretch and I agreed with many other fans who said it was demeaning for her. It would have been better for her to leave the team altogether and go and do some soul-searching. After all, it’s what she did in Lifedeath and would have been more logical and believable for the character than staying in a team she didn’t have the heart to lead, as well as giving her some gravitas and impact…and dignity. After forcing Storm into the background he gave us a tiny glimmer of the Windrider we know and love as we finally got one shining moment after the Negative Zone War when the X-Men crash landed and Storm held her own as she single-handedly dealt with an alien menace as she fought the threat alone with no powers.
Then it all went downhill until she again showed her mettle in prison, first against Crazy Maise and then the old specter of claustrophobia. Then he made it so her only moments to shine involved the hammer, which I tried to get behind, I really did. As for Stormcaster, which I already went into on the last review, it became a huge disappointment. And the final nail in the coffin, driven home by the same hammer, was the handling of the last arc with her return to her former childhood home and the fight against a so-called god.
So on to Kitty herself. What can we say about the way she has been handled? Well, let’s start with her leadership style. From the start, it was all about shouting orders and then ducking out to scout around herself looking for the villain in Mojo Worldwide, Negative Zone War etc. She is a strategist of the highest order and a ninja to boot. Was there ever a hint of that? No. Was there the cool pragmatism and analytical nature we have often seen her exhibit in the past? No. Then to top it off we had her indecisiveness over Pete and what I call the Prydzilla Scenario. We have seen Kitty and Pete finally embark on the journey many fans have wanted to see them on for years since the start of their star-crossed if at times inappropriate, relationship. The first inkling we actually get of her committing to the role was her reaction to Lydia Nance kidnapping him on his bachelor party. That was the Kitty I knew, fierce, loyal and a lioness.
But as usual, it was all just brushed over in a general way and ignored for the story he thought needed telling, as her bravado deflated like a badly made soufflé and she wimped out on the big day. So basically, something the girl has dreamed about since meeting him, and she backs out. Really? Let’s remind ourselves this was the girl voted in polls as most beloved X-Man until fairly recently and also not many have the claim to fame of being mentioned in a Weezer song. When that happens, you’ve really made your mark. She grew from a young idealistic girl who is taken under the wing of both Storm and Wolverine in the past, as well as the “poster girl” and the face of mutant kind (Emma Frosts own words) and spokesperson for mutant rights to a teacher in her own right. And as the one person, the O5 looked to the most on arriving in the current timeline, there can be no greater accolade than to gain the trust and admiration of the first ever X-Men after they have been wrenched from the safety of their school and protector back in the past. All of which to me seems like the writer has a personal agenda of hate against her and has made her one of the most defamed X-Men around today.
Rachel herself was promised a clean slate, but the renaming of her as Prestige and the outfit redesign also met with some backlash from many, myself included (yeah, thanks Kitty). This was a beloved character to me and the two changes together seemed like the final insult to her after years of mistreatment by others. But from receiving a so-called boost after first facing the AI in issue #6 and the whole issue being dedicated to her burying her demons and coming out of it all far stronger and more confident at last, she seemed to be going somewhere.
The power-up seemed something new, something that no other writer had attempted since her losing the Phoenix Force and I jumped for joy, seizing on this as a bright hope, but all to no avail. In typical Guggenheim style she instead got put in a coma and then had consistent failure to do anything useful, despite her saying in her own words in issue #21…
And so, predictably she is then easily compromised. Using the old Deus Ex Machina of Mesmero having a “back door” into her mind like all those nonsense plots in movies about technology. A so-called Omega level telepath, taken out by Mesmero. But it’s okay because it’s all down to Cassandra Nova. Another plot device created by another writer in another title. Something that seems to me someone else’s attempt to fix his mess. But then as already mentioned Rachel had already been mishandled for many years by so many others, so lets put a pin in that one and move on shall we? Moving on to her personal development again, she started a relationship with Kurt, that ended almost as soon as it began and in the same damp squib way as Kitty and Pete. How prosaic and mundane to copy a subplot within the same series, just like he copied and pasted it from Kitty over to Rachel, so of course why not have it end the same way too? Are we to take it these girls do everything together?
Which brings us neatly onto the subject of Nightcrawler. Poor Kurt had the latest ‘development’ with him…by which I mean about face and bait and switch tactic that makes no sense, and the snap decision to end things with Rachel. It seems that beginning the romance was purely to court controversy, which it barely managed to do, and then ending it, simply wasting the time and effort put into making it even happen and trying to even convince the naysayers that it was worth doing in the first place. From Kurt’s decision to propose right up to Rachel ending it all, it smacks of sloppy writing to me. And this isn’t a new tactic by the writer, by any means. The underlying dilemma of his immortality and his soul was barely touched on, whilst literally having him stuck between a rock and a hard place, yet with no further development.
And on to Colossus, who had no lines. No, I don’t just mean having any meaningful dialogue…he literally had NO PHYSICAL LINES! While this was not the writer’s fault he had their return explained in a nonrational way that amounted to “it’s just science baby” by Alpha, much like the Mesmero back door into Rachel’s psyche. First having his girlfriend have to come and save him and then to top it all off the poor man was promptly emasculated and dumped, at the altar. I can’t think of one memorable moment the lad had in the whole series, other than his shifting the craft from the space station when he was injured after being kidnapped by Alpha and Nance, which should also not have been necessary, but again this is a plot device used by so many others and is practically a running joke over the years in that Peter is often the first to be either compromised or brainwashed.
And the subject of brainwashing brings us oh so neatly to Magma. We have seen the return of a character who was well loved in the New Mutants and fans went wild for her return, only to see her end up nothing more than school custodian and though I thought her verbal dressing down of the Damage Control rep showed a glimmer of the girl we knew….nothing further came of her.
To top it off she argues with Pyro claiming that her inclusion into the Brotherhood was down to mind control. Yeah, Amara, you have used that one like forever. But if it worked for her then how could that also not be the sustaining reason for Simon? Her logic (and by definition the writers) was a complete misjudgment of the highest order here.
At the same time as Magma’s return we had a new character Pyro, who aside from being screwed up and mistakenly added into Iceman’s solo series by another writer and then explained as the older Allerdyce St John version, this one had fans SCREAMING to make it the returned Rusty Collins. Did he do that? No. And possibly rightly so. Remember when the tv show Lost had fans speculating they were all dead in Limbo, waiting to be judged? Then they spent four seasons explaining how that wasn’t the case? And then (SPOILER ALERT) it WAS! No writer wants to have his reasoning and plot development second-guessed. But then he did nothing but bench him and use his addition as an argument between Iceman and Rogue.
And then needlessly the SAME argument was copied and pasted with Rogue and Kitty. And then as an afterthought, because he couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with yet another character he created, adds insult to injury and throws him at Bobby..what’s that you say? Intrigue and character development? Okay.
And finally Iceman himself. This was a HUGE responsibility for any writer. To be given a gay character not long outed and having the world watch his every move and sideways glance at another man, be it a budding new relationship or a quick fling. And what did he do? Make it a one night stand between a lead character and a new one and have Bobby treat him in an offhand way, much as the writer did himself of a new X-Man. Shame on Bobby and shame on Marc. This was a plot twist that should have been handled more responsibly and had it been developed properly had the potential to be one of the most important character-defining moments of both the newest recruit and also one of the first ever X-Men. Instead, he became the brunt of a sensationalist maneuver to create some flashy drama without any impact or meaning. But that has been the go-to method of writing this whole series. And again, as with Old Man Logan wandering off and being used in a much more agreeable way in his own title the same has now happened with Iceman…TWICE. His own title cut short had been so missed that people demanded a return. Where was this commitment to the character here? Making him a secondary team leader with Rogue while Kitty was otherwise detained and his only decision as leader was then made a backhanded joke by Kitty and Kurt on their return.
Oh, go on then. Let’s talk about Ink….I’d have accepted him if Guggenheim had attempted to even explain properly how he managed to gain new powers, seeing as when he was created by Guggenheim himself he was set up so he could gain no more new powers, because if the tattooist he got them from ever woke up from his coma Eric would lose them. Convoluted much.
But with that insufficiency ignored we instead see his need to force him to be the go-to hero throughout Negative Zone War. No really, go back and read it again. He was EVERYWHERE during the fight with Scythian and also when they crash landed, and so it got too much. The result was that the inclusion of Ink became something nobody wanted and yet he kept being forced on us, making people more resentful of him than was really warranted and in a way that seemed to imply he thought he knew better about what we all wanted than we all did ourselves. Plus he kept coming up with snarky comments when nothing needed saying, just to make him sound smart and remind us all he was even in the room.
We have a saying in the U.K. “all mouth and no trousers” and it basically means not being able to back up the boastful talk with action. And that’s all that has happened throughout this title. Ever since changing Kleevus to Kologoth because “it sounded cooler” Guggenheim has shown little to no respect to the validity of the narrative, or even any thought to either the past or believable character traits, but everything he’s done with them is just playing fast and loose with the characters he is responsible for. And this is the crux of the problem with his writing style. He comes up with big brash ideas and revelations and then there is no payoff. He seems to have changed his mind one issue to the next with no thought of long-term plotting or setting up the story, simply going on a whim as though previous issues bear no relevance, not even in relation to other writers but more so of his own plotting. For instance Lydia Nance, who herself had an interesting past origin set up with her mutant father that was, as with other subplots, totally ignored and forgotten. And this leads us on to the villains, for how do we best measure the success of the heroes in a narrative but by comparison to the opposition? We had some of the most banal and boring cardboard cut out villains we’ve seen since the Golden Age or even the tragic 90’s villain for villain sake rogues gallery. Of them, all, not one had an ounce of intrigue about them, from Alpha, Lydia Nance, Shredded Man, Kleevus/Kologoth, his called god Scythian, and finally the forgettable Uovu, another god of no importance whatsoever. All of whom just made empty sound bytes and useless threats.
And I am still in shock about the dedication to Claremont. Please. Let’s not sully that man’s name with your offering as though he’ll put it on his fridge with a magnet and pat you on the head like it’s some preschool scribbling. On top of the fact that Claremont will be returning to the world of the X-Men with X-Men Black, so this also could be misinterpreted as a thinly veiled dig or attempt at a jinx. I still can’t decide whether that was a backhanded compliment or some attempt to put himself in that league by name dropping, or if it was instead a poison chalice of sour grape juice in repayment for the fact Claremont outshone him in the one story he had in the Wedding Special (as did Kelly) while his own offering was… lackluster to say the least. It had all the hallmarks of some jealous party goer when someone else brings a far superior gift. And aren’t dedications primarily reserved for those that have passed on..?
COMING NEXT: And soon to better things…with X-Men Black. The heroes have had their time in the sun, now it’s time to see how the bad guys do it, as MAGNETO IS BACK…and so is Chris Claremont, joined by artist Dalibor Talajic! For years, Magneto has done everything he can to achieve his goals for mutant domination. But now Magneto has declared that enough is enough. So what revolutionary plan does Magneto have that will change the face of mutantkind? And will anyone be able to stop him? Will anyone want to? PLUS: Includes Part 1 of X-MEN BLACK: APOCALYPSE the backup story by Zac Thompson, Lonnie Nadler, and Geraldo Borge! beginning 3rd October.
10th October X-Men Black: Mojo #1 by Scott Aukerman, Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, art by André Lima Araújo, Geraldo Borges and Nick Bradshaw.
17th October X-Men Black: Mystique #1 by Seanan McGuire, Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, art by Marco Failla
24th October X-Men Black: Juggernaut #1 by Lonnie Nadler, Robbie Thompson and Zac Thompson, art by Shawn Crystal
31st October X-Men Black: Emma Frost #1 by Leah Williams, art by Chris Bachalo
All covers by J. Scott Campbell. Happy Halloween folks!
A tale that includes all the hallmarks of what the X-Men is all about, without any hint of the heart and soul that gave previous incarnations of the team the life and energy we love. For the first time ever I am relieved to see the end of an X-title, which saddens me greatly.
X-Men Gold #36 A Eulogy at a Funeral For a Friend, or My Love Letter to the X-Men.
- Writing - 3/103/10
- Storyline - 2/102/10
- Art - 8/108/10
- Color - 7/107/10
- Cover Art - 8/108/10
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