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Sep 27

X-Men Gold #10-11 – “En’Kane”

Posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 by Paul in x-axis

My initial optimism for this relaunch is starting to fade.  It’s not the direction.  That still feels like a sensible back-to-basics retrenching with enough changes to avoid outright retread.  It’s the stories that are being told within that framework, which feel lacklustre.  The “En’Kane” two-parter is a case in point.

It goes like this.  Colossus gets a phone call – apparently you can just phone up the X-Men and ask to speak to them, and I guess if they’re running a school there ought to be a public phone number, so okay – from somebody claiming to be his previously unmentioned uncle Anatoly.  Peter has never heard of him, but Anatoly basically says that’s because he was the black sheep of the family.  This is all established in some fairly terrible dialogue – the whole thing is in italics, which seems to be intended to indicate “speaking in Russian”, but Anatoly is still saying things like “In Russia, I am criminal.”  He’s holding a copy of Pravda, depicted as some sort of magazine; it’s actually a broadsheet newspaper.  So we’re off to a good start.

Anyhow, Anatoly says that he’s in Solntsevskaya Bratva, which is basically the Russian mob, and that his boss Viktor Komolov has brought Omega Red back to life, which is a very bad thing.  The X-Men go to find out more, and Colossus gets to tell us that on reflection he does remember his father mentioning a brother once.  Peter and Illyana meet up with Anatoly, who explains that Komolov is into black magic, but he isn’t especially good at it, so Omega Red’s resurrection hasn’t entirely worked.  He’s using his vampire powers to keep himself alive, but that’s eventually going to fail him too.

Anatoly is actually trying to lure in Magik so that the mobsters can capture her and get her to complete the job of bringing Omega Red back to life.  There’s a nice enough trick of doing the same scene between the X-Men and Anatoly twice, once with them apparently falling for his “trust me” line, and the other time with their telepathic conversation going on over the top.  All this builds to Colossus – who lost his powers for a couple of issues due to nanites – finding the willpower to turn to steel again so that he can rescue Magik and punch out the baddie, while Logan beats Omega Red, which is presented as if there was some sort of parallel involved between the scenes.  Everyone goes home.

So.  That was two issues.

What we have here is a mixture of two potentially decent ideas being rushed, and some other stuff that seems to have been nailed on for the sake of familiarity but just causes clutter.

The emotional heart of this story is meant to be the idea of Peter being caught between his common sense scepticism, and his wish to be reconciled with a surviving member of his family.  You could do something with that, but not when the plot is basically “Peter sees through him immediately and is a bit sad about that”.  We’ve got no real reason to be invested in Anatoly, and the story never sells us on the idea that we should want him to stick around.  It’s an idea that needs more.  Maybe Anatoly needs to be torn as well, and you play up the tragedy that he’s ultimately too weak to break from his boss, preventing the reconciliation.  Maybe he’s an impostor and you use him to set up the idea that the real Anatoly is out there somewhere.  I don’t know.  But something more than this.

The central gimmick of the story, on the other hand, is the Russian mob, but with magic.  That feels like it should be a fun genre-blending thing, but it’s just not, because it boils down in practice to mobsters who fire energy bolts.  It wants to be wackier.  It wants to cut loose a bit, and it just doesn’t.  Lan Medina’s art doesn’t help much either; it’s competent but unexciting, and everything feels rather ordinary.

Then we’ve got the problem that these are two concepts that have nothing much to do with one another beyond plot mechanics.  If you want to do “long lost Rasputin” and “magic Russian mobsters”, surely that’s an Illyana story, not a Peter one.  Or at least it ought to give equal billing to both siblings.  Illyana’s here, but largely to serve the plot; it’s emphatically Peter’s story.

And what’s more, neither of these ideas has anything much to do with Omega Red.  The story doesn’t need him and doesn’t want him.  He feels like he’s been nailed on to provide a familiar name, when the better idea would have been to go to town on the magic mobsters.  What exactly is Komolov planning to do with Omega Red, anyway?  The story wants us to accept that he’s a terrifying threat who could bring down the country – Anatoly tells us that “Komolov believes Rossovich will be beholden to him, that with Omega Red’s strength, he can seize control over all of Russia”.  But how?

Logan gets a speech in part one which tries to sell us on this but only ends up lampshading the problem.  “Rossovich was a serial killer who the government tried to execute for his crimes.  Some Soviets had other ideas so they put him in their super-soldier program.  He’s got a healing factor and a mutant power that lets him vampire out people’s life forces…  Bottom line… Omega Red is a one-man global terrorist / crime organization.  With everything facing Russia these days, Rossovich’s return just might push ’em over the brink.”


Seriously, what?

He’s got a healing factor and he’s an energy vampire.  His main motivations are random murder and hunting for macguffins to keep himself alive.  He got killed by Wolverine once before and he gets beaten by Logan again in this story.  He’s a mid-range X-Men villain at a generous push.  In no way is he a “one-man global terrorist / crime organisation”.  He’s not even especially interested in politics or power, he’s just a glorified spree killer.  And this guy is going to put Russia “over the brink”?  Come off it.  This is handwaving to disguise the fact that the plot has no concrete idea of what Omega Red is actually going to do, and fair enough, because it doesn’t really matter – but it’s pitched the Generic Threat at an absurdly wrong level for the character.


“En’Kane” has a couple of decent ideas which it doesn’t develop very well, and largely fails to knit them into a satisfying story.  It’s a bit of a dud.

Bring on the comments

  1. Adam Farrar says:

    Is “En’Kane” supposed to mean something?

  2. Moo says:

    The En’Kane X-Men

  3. mark coale says:

    I pretty much skimmed these in the store, but wasn’t there also advancement in the peter/kitty story or was that somewhere else?

  4. Joseph says:

    Can anyone recommend something Guggenheim’s done that’s actually better than mediocre?

  5. Mikey says:

    Whedon did the fake-out flashback-with-telepathy scene back in Astonishing.

    Also, Guggenheim seems to be repurposing all of the Bratva stuff we saw on his show Arrow.

  6. Paul says:

    I have no idea why it’s called “En’Kane”.

    The Peter/Kitty subplot isn’t really advanced, so much as acknowledged and kept ticking over.

  7. Niall says:

    Yeah, it’s funny but while it’s a nice setup, the stories are meh. Not terrible, just meh. It feels like a second tier Claremont book from a decade back. It’s basically X-treme Men when I wanted New or Astonishing.

  8. Bob says:


    The Eli Stone tv show and the Singularity video game are the only things Gugg’s written that are very good.

    The height of his comics is probably Young X-Men, but that’s mostly made better by the art.

  9. Kian says:

    Didn’t Guggenheim write some decent Spider-Man stories in the Brand New Day era??

  10. Zoomy says:

    Remind me, someone – wasn’t it an important plot point a few years ago that the entire Rasputin family had been tracked down and killed?

  11. Brian says:

    Zoomy, I recall the same thing. It strikes me that they could have accomplished the same thing with the character being perhaps a cousin on their mothers side or something — someone distant enough to be honestly missed, but still close enough to be sought out as a connection once discovered.

    Mikey, I wonder how much this is a case of a writer reusing research for one project on another!

  12. Joseph says:

    Thanks, Bob. Didn’t realized he was involved with Eli Stone, and don’t follow video games. But that makes sense, lawyering and all. It also makes sense because regardless of which writer gets credited on an episode, Tv series are written by committee and everyone in the writers’ room has the chance to contribute. Perhaps Guggenheim can come up with the big ideas but the plot beats and dialogue get hashed out in the writers room.

    I checked out Young X-Men when it first came out but it failed to grab my attention. I went back and read it on Marvel Unlimited last year and found it to be mildly entertaining but nothing special. His arc on Adjectiveless X-Men a couple years ago was a mess. Not sure why they gave him this book, tbh.

  13. Voord 99 says:

    – I must admit, if Young X-Men is the “height” of Guggenheim’s writing in superhero comics…

    That comic took what had, despite a certain tendency towards excessive misery, been developed as a strong sub-franchise of young X-characters in a school setting and damaged it significantly. Not that YXM has sole responsibility, but it played a role, and that strand of the X-books didn’t ever quite recover, at least not until Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men.

    The basic idea of giving the younger characters a boost by rebranding their title after the then-popular Young Avengers was a good one. (And Young X-Men is a much better name than New X-Men: Academy X.) And Guggenheim clearly had plans for what was going to happen after his opening arc, and they might have been good plans. But there are problems with that opening arc, and it’s all we got.

    – On a different and more general note, we’re on two relaunches in a row that people have generally found lackluster, I think?

    And (although I no longer read the sales figure columns, now that one of our hosts is no longer doing them), my impression is that – aside from the fact that sales are down across the board – the X-books have cratered relative to other Marvel titles in a manner that would have been hard to imagine as recently as about five years ago?

    What are people’s thoughts about why this is? I’m wondering if it’s more than just how the books have been handled, creatively and marketing-wise.

    Maybe there’s something that’s just “off” about the X-Men as a concept at our current cultural moment? They seem like they should be as relevant as ever. Or is it that the story moves that would engage effectively with the current moment have all been done better so many times before – so that the X-Men are trapped by the long memories of superhero comics readers?

    I’m really curious about why the X-Men seem so uninteresting at the moment. There’s a lot to criticize about Secret Empire, I realize, but I do think that the basic concept behind that story speaks to the feelings of disorientation that Americans with moderate-to-liberal politics had after the most recent election – I remember that a friend said that he didn’t know the country that he was living in.

  14. FUBAR007 says:

    @Voord99: Maybe there’s something that’s just “off” about the X-Men as a concept at our current cultural moment? They seem like they should be as relevant as ever.

    That’s not it.

    I think it’s a combination of three factors:

    1) Lack of editorial direction for the X-franchise since AvX. No one’s been playing the plotmaster/grand architect role that Chris Claremont, Bob Harras, and Grant Morrison used to. As a consequence, the X-Men line doesn’t seem to be about anything anymore. There’s no overarching grand narrative at work, just episodic, middle-of-the-road superhero stories ticking over. (IMO, this is at least partially related to Perlmutter’s directive to downplay the X-Men franchise due to the film rights issue with Fox.)

    2) Continued “boiling off” of long-time readers, particularly those invested in continuity, consistent characterization, and the idea of the entire X-Men mythos as one long story about the lives of the core cast. Since 2001–and arguably since 1991–Marvel has relied more and more on style and spectacle, rather than mythos-extension and world-building, to attract and retain readers. Continuity, consistent characterization, and long-term payoff have taken a backseat. Over time, the long-time readers I’ve described get fed up and abandon ship as their favorite characters stop behaving like themselves and once essential elements of the mythos are discarded. This has left Marvel with a more fickle, less emotionally invested audience that may be easier to attract, but is harder to retain. They don’t care about continuity or world-building as much; they just want clever, fun, and entertaining stories. But, they don’t get emotionally attached to the characters or the mythos so they’re less reliable as customers.

    3) Excessive deconstruction of the X-Men’s core cast and concept. Bluntly, the X-Men don’t make sense in-universe anymore.

    If one were a mutant in the Marvel Universe and learned about the X-Men’s history, particularly the actions of their leaders, one would have to be an idiot or at least naive to the point of delusion to join them. By essentially retconning Xavier into being a villain–e.g. his treatment of Danger, the Deadly Genesis retcon–Marvel destroyed not just his credibility, but by extension the credibility of the institutions he founded i.e. the school and the X-Men. Evolving Cyclops, Xavier’s protege and self-appointed public successor, into an authoritarian Magneto 2.0–who eventually murdered Xavier–only compounded the damage. These people are supposed to be the good guys?

    On top of that, there have been the various mutant extinction events going back to “No more mutants” at the end of House of M or even Morrison’s Genoshan genocide before that. For mutants to work as a minority allegory (and for Xavier’s dream and the X-Men’s mission to work as a civil rights allegory), there have to be enough of them around to constitute a significant minority.

  15. FUBAR007 says:

    Addendum: all of the above is, of course, in addition to the various issues that plague the contemporary comics industry as a whole.

  16. Chris V says:

    I think Marvel’s plan to back away from the X-Men as a top priority book, most likely due to the film rights, was pretty successful.
    Marvel spent a number of years trying to convince everyone that the X-Men “suck”, and that the Inhumans are so much “cooler”.
    Well, I’d say half of that formula worked. Fans still saw that the Inhumans “suck”, but they realized that the X-Men “suck” too.

    Now, Marvel turns around and basically admits that they were wrong. They go about trying to recapture what fans loved about the X-Men, but it’s too little and too late.

    Marc Guggenheim isn’t a huge name creator who is going to get people rushing back to check out the new direction.
    Marvel make a lot of grand promises, but then their reveals end up feeling very flat, and I’d say “Resurrexion” falls in to the same repeated flaws.

  17. Brian says:

    “On a different and more general note, we’re on two relaunches in a row that people have generally found lackluster, I think?”

    The X-Men can’t support dueling flagship books, the way they could in the 90s and the Avengers could last decade. It worked a bit better post-schism because Wolverine and Cyclops were big enough figureheads, but the Blue and Gold teams can’t support the line like this. There needs to be a single proper UNCANNY X-MEN book that acts like that titl should (not as the quasi-X-Force that the last volume did).

  18. Joseph says:

    I can’t be the only one who blames Yost/Craig for ruining the younger characters. The DeFellipis/Weir run on New Mutants/New X-Men was totally destroyed by the excessive murder. Yost & Craig’s X-Force was much better and suited to that tone but the younger class never really recovered. I agree that Aaron’s WatX did a lot to repair that but of course the momentum was lost by future writers. After Morrison left I felt the line needed a book like Unlimited that had roaring creators telling stories with various younger characters, the kind of anthology titles that pop up now and again during events. Rockslide and Anole superheroing in San Francisco and that kind of thing. Keep these characters in circulation without wearing them out since they can’t carry a book on their own. And especially stop throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. How many times can they change the status quo with no repercussions? “Anole’s an exec now. No, he’s aged and powered up in the future. Oh no, he’s a regular student again. …” No wonder New readers have no emotional attachment. Being a slabs to continuity is one thing, but Marvel either lets characters vanish for many years or disregards character development entirely.

    I think Fubar is right that the line has lacked a strong editorial vision for decades now. Especially in this market place. There are so many great, tight, smart creator owned comics doing self contained stories, why get bogged down in all this over priced nonsense that never pays off? And you’ve got great books edited by the likes of Wil Moss and Sana Amanat at Marvel, the benefit of these series being they are relatively self contained and creator driven. Hawkeye, Silver Surfer, Ms Marvel, She Hulk, Captain Marvel, Vision, Howard the Duck, Squirrel Girl, Hellcat, Mockingbird, etc, these are all third tier properties that have produced great books. This should account in some way for the decline of the X books as well.

  19. ASV says:

    So far this book reads like somebody decided to make an entire twice-monthly series out of inventory stories, which is kind of impressive.

  20. mastermahan says:

    The Omega Red problem, at least, could be solved by leaning into the Rasputin family theme and making it Mikhail instead, since he’s always had high-level, ludicrously vague abilities.

    Then, of course, you have the cliched idea of Colossus using his Heroic Willpower to regain his powers to protect his sister. How much more interesting would it be for Magik to be protecting her reckless, depowered brother? How about Piotr coming to terms with the fact that his Little Snowflake is a demon sorceress powerful enough to teleport buildings around, and thus no longer needs protection?

    But, it probably still wouldn’t work. Guggenheim had an entire season-long arc in Arrow to try and convince me that the Bratva are interesting, and he did not. It even had some Bratva attempting to conquer Russia, and it didn’t work there either.

  21. Daibhid Ceannaideach says:

    Regarding the Arrow comparisons; wasn’t the main Bratva character in that also called Anatoly, on account of being a loose reworking of the KGBeast?

  22. Nu_D says:

    In Claremont’s first three X-Men stories, they fought Count Nefaria and the Ani-Men, a N’gari demon cairn and Eric the Red with mind-controlled Havok & Polaris. It was pretty prosaic stuff.

    If fans want another golden age of X-Men, they need to have some patience while the writer and the characters establish a rapport. Maybe Guggenheim can’t do it, but three stories is too soon to say.

  23. Rich Larson says:

    The Kitty/Peter subplot goes pretty far. She does say she’s decided to get back together with him. It’s a storyline that’s not working for me at all, and is detracting from the overall book for me.

  24. Daibhid Ceannaideach says:

    @Nu_D: On the other hand, all that took Claremont four issues. I’m more prepared to wait and see if a TV series picks up in its fourth episode than I am with a series of movies.

  25. Zoomy says:

    Four bi-monthly issues, so it’s been about the same length of time. Costs the readers about a hundred times as much nowadays, of course… 🙂

  26. Neil Kapit says:

    I’d like to think that the whole subplot about Peter losing his powers was a psychosomatic manifestation of his underlying death wish, the impulse for gratuitous self-sacrifice that led Kitty to break up with him in the first place. That he couldn’t turn to steel because he didn’t want to be protected. That’s probably reading too much into it, though.

  27. Rich Larson says:

    I think that’s actually a fair read of how Peter’s consistently behaved for a really long time. And dealing with it would be a story worth reading. But I don’t think that’s where this story is going.

  28. Leo says:

    @FUBAR007 and @Voord99
    For me the X-Men’s downfall started at the “No More Mutants” moment. At first we thought they had a plan, a story to tell. But eventually we realised that the Decimation was just an ill thought framework that didn’t really offer any interesting stories.

    In retrospect, I see that they probably wanted to make the X-Men world smaller and make the Avengers their flagship because of the movie rights situation. But it worked too well, it effectivelly killed the X-men for me.

    When they announced Messiah Complex I thought it finally meant a return to a workable status quo. That didn’t work out but it hinted that it eventually would happen. And then AvX happened. I thought finally, the return of mutants! But no, it got mostly ignored and then ruined by the terrigen cloud.

    By that point I couldn’t read any X-books any more. They had been directionless, running from one crossover to the next, without offering anything substantial.

    In my opinion, what kept the X-men alive and fresh for decades was the focus to the characters. Yes, they changed, yes there were earth shattering events but those were infrequent and didn’t completelly change everything. Nowadays Marvel’s train of thought is to constantly change everything for shock value, rather than for any story reasons and that people will buy the comics out of curiocity. However they have allienated their more loyal readers by performing character assassination to our beloved heroes.

    Obviously all of the above are my opinions and somebody else may think the exact opposite. All I know is that at this point I have lost faith on ever going back to what I loved about them.

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