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May 7

X-Men: Gold #1-3 – “Back to the Basics”

Posted on Sunday, May 7, 2017 by Paul in x-axis

You can’t accuse “Back to the Basics” of false advertising.  After years of the X-Men hiding out in Limbo, or mutants  facing annihilation (twice), not to mention even more years of the X-Men being more of a community than a team, Marc Guggenheim is indeed writing a book with a format and cast that look like the 1980s.

The school still has a decent number of students, so in that sense there’s still a potentially large cast.  But the X-Men – the actual X-Men – are back to being a small, defined team, made up entirely of characters who are over thirty years old.

There are times when I would have decried this sort of thing as backward looking.  And sure, to some degree this is Marvel imitating the DC Universe’s recent back-to-basics approach.  But the X-Men are also a special case, because they’ve spent so long being dragged away from their classic formula, and to largely counterproductive effect.  There’s a lot to be said in 2017 for retrenchment, and for restating what the book is about.  From time to time, the basic formula needs to be re-established.

And boy, this is squarely in the formula.  We have an X-Men team of Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, Logan and Rachel Grey.  (Yes, it’s the Old Man Logan version of Logan, but that’s still a Logan.)  Reactionary types are saying nasty things about mutants on TV.  A new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants attacks the United Nations.  This will be bad news for mutants.  The X-Men defeat the new Brotherhood, and it turns out that most of the group are actually being manipulated by Mesmero.  He is working for the real baddie, who wants to stir up anti-mutant sentiment.  She, naturally, escapes to fight another day because the X-Men have no evidence to take her down.

Now, there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before, but hey, that’s kind of the point.  Guggenheim hits the beats well enough.  He has the voices of the characters, and more to the point, he hits a suitably traditional tone for the book.  Adrian Syaf’s art… well, we’ll have to come back to Adrian Syaf, but let’s talk about the art first.  It’s entirely solid superhero work – he’s maybe not great on Logan’s trenchcoat, and there’s the odd sketchy background, but the big moments are sold nicely, and his characters have decent emotion.  It’s not exactly an art style from the X-Men’s heyday, but it reminds me somewhat of Brandon Peterson’s run in the early 90s.

But Syaf won’t be sticking around, because he took it into his head to add easter eggs referring, for example, to a Koran verse counselling against allying with Jews and Christians.  Even if you’re charitable enough to accept Syaf’s rather implausible protests of good intentions, it’s still an act of spectacular idiocy – this was never going to go unnoticed, and it was never going to go well for Syaf.  He wasn’t due back until issue #10 anyway, so we’ll see how that shakes out.

Anyway.  The broad strokes of all this are familiar.  What’s new?

Well, Kitty Pryde is in charge, which hasn’t been done before.  That’s a sensible case of putting the established pieces in a new order, not least because it’s no longer credible to put Kitty back in her traditional role of the team baby.  Having her graduate to the leadership role is a good way of creating a sense that this is a development of the past rather than an outright retread.  And she’s a good fit for it anyway, since over the years she’s drifted towards being the most level-headed character in the room.

The mansion is now in New York, and there’s a subplot set up about a feud with the local government about the rent.  I like this too, partly because I approve of getting the X-Men back into the real world.  Having the X-Men show up in Central Park as a fait accompli is a dubious move in story terms – if you’re trying to send a message of positivity to the world then annexing a much-loved public space is a funny way of going about it, but I can kind of live with it in terms of the X-Men’s naivety in dealing with normal people.  Once you’ve gone down that line, I quite like the idea that the local authority respond not by parking tanks on the X-Men’s lawn but by trying to convince them that they simply can’t afford to stay.

Rachel Grey is now calling herself Prestige.  I don’t get it.  I can see that you want to brand her in a way that distances her from all the hellishly complicated continuity baggage that she drags around with her in a collection of shipping crates, and put the focus more on what she is now, but that only works if you find something else to centre her on.  As it stands, she’s kind of bland.

Magma shows up as part of the new Brotherhood, so apparently she’s rejoining the cast.  (She’s mind-controlled, so nothing much she does in this arc counts for anything.)  The rest of the group are an odd bunch – one new character conspicuously unidentified, two other new guys pretending to be Pyro and Avalanche, and what seems to be the real Masque.

And our actual villain, who is basically trying to just spoil the public image of mutants, is Lydia Nance, director of the “Heritage Initiative”, which is officially a “think tank”.  This is not subtle stuff – they’re a blatant stand-in for the Heritage Foundation, an established Republican think tank, and the one most closely aligned with Donald Trump.  This is interesting; the classic X-Men formula tended to just treat anti-mutant prejudice as universal, rather than divisive, and to downplay any direct identification with real-world political alignments.

To some extent that continues here, because there’s very little sign of any substantial counter-movement arguing the opposite view.  But from Marvel’s point of view, the nice thing about treating bigotry as universal was that you didn’t have to take political sides and you could treat it principally as a lament about the human condition.  Identifying anti-mutant hate so obviously with the Republican right is, if nothing else, uncharacteristically direct.  At the very least it seems to be a re-tooling of anti-mutant rhetoric to the language of 2017: instead of wiping out mutants, Nance apparently wants to deport them all to a new Genosha.

So we have a few variations on the formula, and we have at the very least a polish on the way anti-mutant sentiment is being presented.  But the main message being sent by these three issues is that X-Men: Gold is a traditional X-Men comic, the sort they haven’t been doing in a while.  On those terms, it’s a decent start.

Bring on the comments

  1. IainC says:

    I’d argue that in at least one famous case in the ’80s (God Loves, Man Kills) anti-mutant bigotry was clearly associated with the US right, albeit by way of the religious right.

  2. Paul says:

    I did wonder about GLMK, but as you say, it does steer clear of a party political stance.

  3. Si says:

    But seriously, the only difference between the original Wolverine and Old Man Logan is the latter complains about his knees while killing a thousand ninjas in 16 simultaneous titles.

  4. wwk5d says:

    Kitty is now over 30? Dang.

  5. Chris V says:

    There was always a major problem with the “universal” hatred of mutants by all of humanity.
    It was pretty extreme.
    Maybe at first, under Lee and Kirby, it might have worked, since mutants were just beginning to reveal themselves, and there was a distinct fear of this “great unknown”.

    There were always going to be people out there who didn’t agree with the anti-mutant prejudice though, and would stand up for mutant rights (well, outside of just Moira anyway).

    Grant Morrison’s run did a great deal to skew the old ideology, however.
    By marketing themselves, mutants had begun to become “hip” with a wider segment of the population, especially amongst the youth.
    The idea that “everyone just plain hates mutants!” became outdated by that point.

    I liked the idea under Claremont that it was sort of a nebulous “government” that was the major enemy of mutants.
    It didn’t need to be one political persuasion or another, just that the enemy was the government.

    By the way, that reveal was really obvious. I knew that the anti-mutant woman was going to end up being the real mastermind behind the Brotherhood.

  6. Nick says:

    There would be a lot of prejudice on the left as well as the right. Surely the unions would be opposed to mutants in the workforce. A single mutant like Magneto could replace 1000s of workers in steel mills or other plants. A teleporter could replace the entirety of a city’s taxi industry.

    Other than Genosha’s use of the Mutates for labour, I can’t remember the comics addressing much about mutants working.

    In a British context you could imagine a CMD campaign against Excalibur.

  7. Art says:

    I was surprised how short this story was. I was also surprised half the Brotherhood is still unidentified — no clue who the new Avalanche and Pyro are supposed to be (random Morlocks with similar powers?), and then there’s the alien looking “new guy”. Points for using Mesmero though. May he’ll be more than a z-list villain.

    And point of correction: it’s Ardian Syaf, not Adrian. “R” before “d”.

  8. Chris V says:

    Well, there’s the idea of Magneto’s vision being the one that mutants in society would eventually move towards.
    That the wealth and power would naturally accrue towards mutants, in an equal environment.
    Mutants would make human labour superfluous. Humans could never compete with mutants.
    The governments would have to establish a guaranteed living wage for humans.

  9. Taibak says:

    So do we ever find out why Rachel is calling herself Prestige? Granted, I haven’t been keeping up with the character, but it doesn’t really seem to fit her.

  10. SanityOrMadness says:

    How did Mesmero get his powers back? Wasn’t he M-Day’d, and none of the depowerees got their powers back after AvX, did they?

  11. mark coale says:

    “So do we ever find out why Rachel is calling herself Prestige? Granted, I haven’t been keeping up with the character, but it doesn’t really seem to fit her.”

    Are there secretly 2 of her?

    #spoilers

  12. Xercies says:

    I found this surprisingly funny actually and quite good despite it being very traditional. It seems clear to me that maybe this time they are using the metaphor for immigration/immigrants instead which I kind of like and definitely relevant.

  13. Voord 99 says:

    “Prestige” is indeed a terrible name. Possibly the worst renaming ever. I’m not fond of “Marvel Girl” for obvious reasons of 1963 sexism.

    But the character was created as “Rachel.” “Rachel” is fine. Her mother got away with being known by her actual name for years.

    “So, why do you want to be called ‘Prestige’?”

    “I’m tired of people liking me so much, and wanted a name that sent the message ‘I’m a loathsome snob.'”

    “Really? You want people to think that you’re a horrible person that they don’t want to talk to?”

    “It stops them asking me to explain my origin story.”

  14. Niall says:

    So far the book is fun but largely forgettable. Which is fine! This is not dreadful, completely illogical, boring, written by Brian Bendis or drawn by Greg Land and that’s an improvement!

    The party political aspect of the issue re American politics is something I had not picked up on. It’s somewhat awkward for Marvel and their writers to appear to be non-partisan when it comes to mutants because while there are many tolerant conservatives and Republicans, there are not that many people who are intolerant of minorities who would claim to be on the Left within the US. The rhetoric of intolerance to Muslims, gays etc. does not appear in liberal and left publications but in right wing groups and in the right wing media.

    As Nick points out, you could look at a leftish opposition​ to the employment of mutants etc. but Marvel has historically avoided any implications that mutant powers or Stark/Richards inventions actually have impacts on the MU that would make it significantly different from our own. It’s a world where people can communicate across lightyears but still have crappy mobile phone coverage.

  15. mark coale says:

    Didn’t Parker industries make some cool new phone in recent times when Pete was Faux Tony Stark?

  16. Sol says:

    The problem with using “a blatant stand-in for the Heritage Foundation” as the shadowy forces behind the anti-mutant mutant attack on New York is … well, you tell me the Heritage Foundation is writing long, biased think-tank pieces against terrorists and immigrants, I believe you. You tell me they are (by analogy) hiring terrorists to make a false flag terrorist attack, I think you’re a loony conspiracy theorist.

    And honestly, wouldn’t an anti-mutant group that focused on think-tank pieces be a refreshing change for the X-line? You can’t just beat them up…

    Overall, I’m seeing this issue as frustratingly mediocre. I LOVE this line-up of X-men. They are MY X-men, the ones I grew up with. But if this book was following almost any other group of characters, I’d have given up on it already, not because it was bad, but just because there is absolutely nothing special about it.

    One question for y’all: both this book and X-men Blue seem to think that “To me, my X-men!” is something people who want to be leader of the X-men have been dreaming of saying for years. But… that’s something Professor X says, not the X-men leader. Right? Might be the fading memory of an old man, but I can’t remember Cyclops or Storm ever saying it. (Or it might be in one of the 100s of post-80s issues I didn’t read because I thought they sucked?)

  17. AJT says:

    Scott says it in Astonishing no 23 of Whedon’s run, I recall; it’s used as a bad-ass “Avengers, assemble!” call to arms that works great in context, despite how daft a phrase it is.

    Dawn Greenwood starts calling the Surfer’s board “Toomy” after hearing his similarly incongruous phrase, but my favourite variation on an antiquated Marvel phrase was Superior Spider-Man intoning “The die has been cast!” on a few outings.

  18. Niall says:

    Fair point Sol. Though I guess that’s something of a genre problem. Most think tanks and media mouthpieces have a much more mundane way of blaming minorities for attacks and problems.

    It’s not as though there have not been possible false-flag attacks carried out by groups associated by some within the intelligence/military community (e.g attacks on mosques in Iran), and chances are some of those may have links to political think tanks, but it is a little bit on the nose given the similarity of names. A more plausible scenario would be similar to the US anthrax attacks where White House officials (who were associated with various think tanks) pressured the FBI to link the attacks to All Queda and Iraq and then briefed the media to that effect.

  19. LiamKav says:

    “made up entirely of characters who are over thirty years old.”

    Do you mean the characters were created more than 30 years ago, or the fictional age of them is above 30? I can see Kitty and Rachel still being mid to late 20s fairly easily. Possibly Colossus too.

  20. Mat says:

    It’s Ardian Syaf, not Adrian.

  21. I know it’s almost heretical to say so in X-Men fandom, but I don’t really like Kitty Pryde as a character. It’s probably a consequence of starting as an X-Man reader from the 90s cartoon, where she was entirely absent. So I basically know her from the late 90s return of her, Nightcrawler, and Colossus when Excalibur wrapped up; the “rebel-Kitty” from Claremont’s ill-fated Neo run; Joss Whedon’s run; and her period as Professor Pryde, which ended when she abandoned her students to run off with Peter Quill.

    The runs varied in quality–I’m not a fan of Bendis or the New X-Men, I liked the 90s stuff at the time, but my palate was.. unrefined, let’s say, I didn’t care for the Claremont stuff, and Whedon’s run was really good. But in all of the above, it always felt that Kitty was being used more for what she represented than as an actual character. And what she represented (and still does, from this review) is basically a time in the series that I have no connection to.

  22. Karen says:

    Person of Con: I’m with you on Kitty Pryde. I was also introduced to X-Men via the cartoon, and my first exposure to Kitty was Uncanny 303, which featured Jubilee meeting Kitty and remaining unimpressed. Jubilee doesn’t actually say to Kitty, “Oh hi, teenager I’ve made redundant!” but it’s implied.

    Also, Kitty is just too annoyingly perfect for me: she’s a genius with an IQ of like 200 or something, she has an awesome defensive superpower, oh, and by the way, yeah she’s a NINJA who can spar with Wolverine. Add that to writers like Whedon who are in love with her and want the whole world to know that they’re in love with her, repeatedly, and it gets really hard to take.

    I mean…I hesitate to use the word “Mary Sue,” because that tends to derail into a discussion of whether or not the whole idea of a Mary Sue character is misogynistic, and that’s a whole quagmire I’d rather avoid. But, let’s just say I’m a little tempted to give that label to Kitty even though I almost never use it anymore. There’s something just grating about how great she is at everything.

  23. Karen says:

    Oh yeah, and I should also clarify: I think Kitty was a great character when Claremont first introduced her, and the whole team dynamic at that time was great. I was too young to read it at the time, but I’ve read it all now via the Essentials and I can see why there’s such nostalgia for that time in the comics.

    So I have nothing against “Classic Kitty,” but based on everything that’s happened to her since leaving the team the first time, I think she’s a character who would have been better served by going off to college and leaving the X-Men forever sometime around issue #200. That way, she’d be remembered as a beloved, sympathetic character, instead of every writer’s shorthand for “I love Classic X-Men, look here is KITTY she is Classic X-Men PERSONIFIED, can you feel the good times coming back yet?”

  24. Voord 99 says:

    Person of Con: That is heretical. The Guardians of Truth will be along shortly to take you into custody.

    I was there for the later part of original model Kitty in the ’80s, but she was never a particularly big deal for me back then. But I’ve taken to her Professor Kitty “only sane adult in the room” persona, if I’m allowed to say that I actually liked something that Bendis did in his X-Men period. (GotG Kitty has about as much point as GotG Ben Grimm, which is to say, not much.)

    That Professor Kitty persona has the downside that it’s pretty clear that she’s not the adult version of the brilliant, gifted teenager she was supposed to be in the ’80s – it’s a role that requires her to be smart, but smart on a normal level. Which does smack a little of dialing down a woman’s intelligence.

  25. ASV says:

    “I think she’s a character who would have been better served by going off to college and leaving the X-Men forever sometime around issue #200”

    That’s not too far from what actually happened, but it was mostly undone by 1993 and totally undone by 1998.

  26. Daibhid Ceannaideach says:

    Rachel Grey’s new power set includes glossiness and having card covers.

  27. errant says:

    I liked when some version or another of Rachel turned up going by the name “Revenant.” It alluded to the baggage, but only a little and was new. But then didn’t a movie by the same name come out since then?

  28. Suzene says:

    Was it addressed why the X-Men didn’t just have Rachel prompt this lady to confess on video or something where it would have done some good? I know there’s a lot of aspects of superhero vigilantism where you just have to not think about the story or it falls apart, but having the team be OK with B&E and assault in order to coerce a confession, but drawing the line at telepathic prompting just seems a bit odd.

  29. Billy says:

    @Sol
    Thinking about it, the book might have been better served if Guggenheim hadn’t made the Heritage Initiative typical comic book villains, but rather just made them pot-stirrers.

    That would put the Initiative into a more real-world position, and also one that the X-Men could never really fight (at least not in any above-board fashion.) They’d just be in the background, turning a section of the population against the X-Men and mutants. You could even have the X-Men’s early attempts to discredit the Initiative backfire, simply because the Initiative isn’t directly involved in any of the big events. The Initiative is just goading hatred, and perhaps triggering actions by other groups, just by the anti-mutant things they say.

  30. Paul says:

    I feel like that’s why Claremont created the Purity group as pundits, people Kitty had to argue with on stage rather than punch. I think Purity was a few years too early, before we knew an opinionated website pushing an extreme right-wing agenda might have real influence…

  31. Chris says:

    Didn’t John Byrne and John Ostrander do that first when they disguised Glorious Godfrey as G. Gordon Godfrey?

  32. Luis Dantas says:

    The bigotry goes back to the 1980s at least and it was very noticeable back then. It just can’t reasonably be glossed over these days.

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