Thoughts on X-Men Gold #1 – “Back to the Basics Part 1”

X-Men Gold #1

The X-Men have setup camp in Central Park with the intent of repairing their damaged image in X-Men Gold #1.

X-Men Gold #1

X-Men Gold #1 Cover“Back to the Basics Part 1”
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Penciler: Ardian Syaf
Inker: Jay Leisten
Colorist: Frank Martin

Cover Price: $4.99
Story Pages: 25

Release Date: April 5, 2017

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Collected in: X-Men Gold v1: Back to Basics


Background

After a few years of “No More Mutants, Version 2.0” the X-Men are returning to their roots in a line-wide reboot (again).  This got started last week in X-Men Prime #1 and continues with the first proper issue of the reboot.  X-Men Gold will most likely be the flagship title since next week’s X-Men Blue #1 will feature the teenage version of the original X-Men.  That just leaves Weapon X, which is X-Force crossed with Suicide Squad (again), a Generation X reboot that we know nothing about and a smattering of solo titles destined for short runs and quiet cancellations.   I’m hoping I’m wrong about those solo titles, and I’ll be checking them out as they arrive, but it’s hard to get hyped up by them at the moment.  That leaves a pretty big burden for X-Men Gold to carry, and the first issue has to come out swinging to prove it has the chops.

General Thoughts

What we end up getting in X-Men Gold #1 is a mixed bag, at best. For those seeking a nostalgia trip (like me) there’s a lot to like here, but the throwback mentality can be off-putting if you are not already invested.  We have the obligatory X-Men softball game (although artist Adrian Syaf appears to have never actually seen a softball game before, and didn’t bother to look up references), and the usual rhetoric about trying to live peacefully in a world that hates and fears them, and that is largely the establishment of the concept.  It is strange to say, but with titles like Sam Wilson: Captain America going all out with politics and social justice, going back to the old X-Men standbys actually seems tame these days.  Not that I mind as the heavy handed nature of some of those other books makes them hard to read, even if you agree with their message.  What used to be a more radical approach now seems rather quaint, and that’s oddly heartening.

The book itself spends most of its time tottering from place to place setting up future plots, and seems rather unconcerned with having an actual plot itself until the end.  For better or worse this does have a tendency to feel like a story from the X-Men golden days (pun unintended) under Chris Claremont in the 70s and 80s.  The modern contrivance of setting things up in a neat story arc for the tradepaperbacks is still adhered to, but there’s a sense of fluidity in play here that most modern stories lack.  Some readers will find that off-putting since it likely means that large plot points will jump from trade to trade, rather than staying more self-contained.  Personally I welcome the shift from our current norm, but it won’t be for everyone.

Not everything is roses and sunshine, though.  For one the new character Lydia Nance, the face of the anti-Mutant movement, is about as uninteresting as any of her predecessors.  She doesn’t get much page time, and we’ll presumably learn more about her in future issues, but right now I’m not seeing any compelling reason to care about her.  Another issue is the opening fight against Terrax.  While part of me gets to bask in the additional nostalgia of recalling that the New Warriors had their debut against Terrax, the other part of me is wondering why he is on Earth in the first place, and where does he go once the fight is done?  He apparently gets knocked out by Rachael Grey (using her new codename, Prestige), and then… nothing.  He doesn’t even appear in the art (more on that in a moment), and no one seems concerned by the fact that a former herald of Galactus is tromping around downtown New York.  I realize the X-Men needed to fight someone to help introduce the book, but a cosmic threat like Terrax seems an odd choice.  He’s not even a traditional X-Men villain.

Kitty directs the team in X-Men Gold #1The art in the book is similarly inconsistent.  At times, like one of the opening splash pages, penciler Adrian Syaf can draw some excellent, dynamic shots, and then other times he misses out on important background details.  I’ve already mentioned his odd grasp of American baseball (where are the bases?  Why doesn’t anyone have gloves?  Why are there no outfielders?), but there are other issues.  There’s the case of Rachael’s disappearing mask between panels in the middle of the Terrax fight, and also of characters randomly changing locations relative to each other.  The inconsistencies even occur within single pages, which is very odd indeed.  We’re not quite at Liefeld levels of “where did that sword blade go?”, but it’s noticeable and distracting.  It’s a shame, too, because he can draw some excellent pages when he wants to, but he’s holding himself back with these errors.

Final Thoughts

As a long time X-Men fan there’s a lot to like about X-Men Gold #1, but it is impossible to ignore the mountain of small problems it has.  What happens to the skyscrapper after Kitty phases it through another building?  That is just one question among dozens that left my head twirling after reading this issue.  Some of these questions will be answered in X-Men Gold #2 in a couple weeks, but I suspect most of them will not.  Despite that, though, I find myself enjoying the book quite a bit and I’m looking forward to the rest of the opening arc.  A throwback to the Claremont-era is just the palette cleanser I needed to get past all this nonsense with the terrigen mists of the last few years.

Edit: I wrote this before a controversy started up involving some hidden messages in the artwork of a political nature.  I will not alter my review in light of this, although I will note that it is highly unprofessional and it has tainted the book a bit for me.  I don’t care what the nature of the messages were, and I would say the same about other artists leaving in similar messages even if they were not as polarizing.  The messages will be scrubbed from digital copies of the book, as well as any future reprints.  If you want to know more about this controversy Bleeding Cool has a write-up on it that you can check out.  This post by G. Willow Wilson (writer of Ms. Marvel) is also worth reading (it has since been removed).  You should subscribe to her blog while you’re at it, it’s exceptionally well written.

X-Men Gold #1

$4.99
X-Men Gold #1
7.7

Final Score

8/10

    Pros

    • A nice throwback to classic stories
    • When the art is good it's really good

    Cons

    • Too many inconsistencies...
    • ...including in the art