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Jan 18

X-Men: Gold #16-20: “The Negative Zone War”

Posted on Thursday, January 18, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Well, this is not very good.

And it’s a shame to be saying that, because “The Negative Zone War” is also the X-Men: Gold storyline which relies least on nostalgia.  That’s not to say that it’s strikingly original – the X-Men visit another world and get caught up in the local civil war, which is not new.  But it’s a world they have no connection with, and it’s a new villain.

In fact, that seems to be a large part of the story.  Kologoth – the alien bad guy who had an origin issue a few months back – is finally rescued when his rebel army open a portal to Earth.  The rescue mission causes a bit of chaos, the X-Men get involved, and Kitty and Kurt wind up stuck on the ship when it goes home.  And so the X-Men go after them.  But while Kologoth is mildly pleased to have the chance to imprison a couple of X-Men in turn, he’s not that bothered.

So when the rest of the team come on their rescue mission, Kologoth pretty much shrugs his shoulders and says, fine, take these guys off my hands.  It’s the X-Men who spend more time worrying about whether they should bother getting involved in the local civil war, which they may or may not fully understand; Kologoth, quite sensibly, just wants them to go home before they get in his way.

This seems mildly interesting, at least as a departure from normal villain behaviour.  And there are a couple of other vaguely promising points here too.  Kologoth’s relationship with his lover and aide Augor has some potential.  And, as foreshadowed in Kologoth’s origin issue, he does indeed turn out to be exploiting his followers’ religion, when what he actually wants to do is raise some sort of elder god – something which he claims to be the genuine, original form of the story.

But the good ideas stay undeveloped.  What we get is a story with a mish-mash of artists, with themes never quite getting developed, and with a couple of downright odd creative choices.

Across five issues, we’ve got three artists – Lan Medina, Ken Lashley, and Diego Bernard.  All are competent enough, none is especially memorable.  Lashley’s weird angular shading on clothes is just odd.  The plot, once we’re on Kologoth’s world, boils down to the X-Men meeting up with Kologoth for a prisoner swap, and Kologoth then deciding to just go ahead and raise his god Scythian.  Soon after that, Kologoth is summarily despatched by Logan, and the X-Men then spend half an issue figuring out how to launch Scythian into space (which does at least have some nice mechanics going on).  And there’s still an issue left, which is devoted to an odd coda of the X-Men crashlanding on another planet, picking themselves up, and going home.  It’s the sort of thing that would have worked better in a traditional ongoing title which didn’t expressly mark the beginning and end of storylines; billing it as part five of “Negative Zone War” feels strange.

More fundamentally, though, the plot doesn’t give space for Kologoth to be anything more than a mad conqueror who wants to raise a demon.  In theory, Kologoth is meant to be an X-Men villain because he’s a highly visible mutant who was an outcast from birth, and who is responding the wrong way by letting his bitterness consume him.  But to develop that theme, more needed to be done with his relationship with Augor, the one character who clearly does love and accept him; in practice, Augor winds up as an expository sounding board.

The religious beliefs of Augor and Kologoth’s other followers are never very clearly set up in the first place – what did they think they were fighting for, and how do they react to Scythian actually showing up and turning out to be a demon Godzilla?  There’s a vague hint in here of a story about religion as a vehicle which dilutes horrific truths into something false but comforting, or (more conventionally) as something which can lead well-intentioned people in the wrong direction.  At any rate, a vague hint is as far as it gets – a gesture in the direction of a difficult but interesting topic.  And the obvious Nazi connotations of Kologoth’s army uniforms hardly set up his men as sympathetic freedom fighters – again, the story seems to back off before it gets to grips with any of this.

There’s an obvious plot problem: in part 2, Kologoth wants to give his prisoners back so that the X-Men will go away, because “Their abilities are formidable.  They could sway the balance.  We can risk nothing at this stage.”  So what does he do in part 3?  He decides to meet the X-Men at precisely the point where Scythian’s statute is going to come to life, thus maximising the chances of them being around to interfere.  In fact, it’s not even terribly clear to me what Kologoth actually did to bring Scythian back to life.

Then there’s the odd choice of characters to use in this story.  Kitty and Kurt are needed as prisoners, and Rachel’s otherwise occupied in a subplot – all fair enough – so we have a rescue squad consisting of Logan, Colossus, Storm, Armor and Ink.  Armor’s barely been used in some time, but she’s been an X-Man before and she’s a somewhat reasonable choice.  Ink, on the other hand, has barely been seen since Young X-Men was cancelled in 2009.

He’s a Marc Guggenheim creation, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with a writer bringing back a concept that he didn’t get to finish properly the last time.  I’m all for cycling in new characters, or underused old ones.  But he feels like a random choice when he’s done so little for so long, and while he gets plenty of panel time in this story, he winds up feeling generic.  The story just doesn’t sell him as an interesting character, beyond his curious gimmicky power.

At the end of all this, we wind up with Kitty deciding to propose to Peter, something which also doesn’t really seem to emerge in any particularly concrete way from the story that went before.  This is a blur of half-formed concepts, some of which showed more promise.  It’s thoroughly underwhelming.

Bring on the comments

  1. Jerry Ray says:

    I haven’t read #20 yet, but if Kitty proposes to Peter, I guess that makes a line from another recent book (maybe the Gold annual) where Wolverine says something about a proposal between Kitty and Peter make more sense. I thought it was just a joke that didn’t quite land, rather than an untimely reference.

    The thing that bugged me was that Nightcrawler materialized inside a solid object, something that’s always been played up as the worst possible thing that could happen with his power, but what ends up happening is that he’s a bit out of sorts but generally OK. I dunno if this is related to the “no soul/can’t die” stuff or what.

  2. Si says:

    I always had the idea that Ink wasn’t used because he was a terrible character with silly and ill-defined powers. Isn’t there an actual mutant somewhere who’s comatose because all his energy is taken up powering Ink via the tattoos? You’d think the X-Men would have feelings about that.

    Armor’s kind of interesting and original at least. She should be used more.

  3. Greg says:

    Isn’t the whole deal with ink that he’s not really a mutant? Instead, his tattoo artist was a mutant and giving him powers? Or is that something else entirely?

    And Kurt does mention that he WOULD be dead if he had a soul, but it’s a one off line that doesn’t land (obviously)

  4. Moo says:

    Is she seriously still going by “Armor?” Her power is ancestry related isn’t it? She should go by “Lineage”

  5. Jerry Ray says:

    I think I did catch the line about “would be dead if he had a soul,” but I was thinking more along the lines of how bad it would be for Kurt physically to materialize inside of an object (like, physically catastrophic, independent of whether or not he’s actually able to die). The whole thing just seemed a little off, which I suppose describes most of the run of this book, actually. I appreciate that the writer appreciates Claremont, but the execution is lacking.

  6. Mikey says:

    Yeah, I’m baffled by Ink acting like he’s a mutant, and the idea that he’s still getting new tattoos? Guggenheim should instead have used Graymalkin, his other Young X-Men creation, who could have been used to illustrate a metaphor for, I dunno, the perils of evangelical beliefs. Maybe a parallel between what his father did to him – burying him alive for being gay – with the aliens worshipping a god that would turn out to be, as you said, Godzilla.

    I’m spitballing here. Regardless, I’m just glad that the current X-writers haven’t entirely forgotten that the X-kids (rather than the dreadful and exhausting Original Five – please go away!) still exist.

    Speaking of Young X-Men, when was the last time we’ve seen Cipher?

  7. Greg says:

    Glad I’m not crazy about ink. It’s also bizarre that there’s no attempt to explain his background or who he is. While we read all the X stuff, the average reader is going to have no memory of ink from previous appearances.

  8. Chris V says:

    I actually thought Ink was Darwin, because I had zero memory of Ink.
    Then, I thought he was the Tattooed Man from DC Comics, and someone forgot they were writing for Marvel…OK, maybe not that last one.

  9. Dazzler says:

    I never understood the assumption that Kurt would die if he teleported into something solid. His teleportation obviously displaces matter, because air is matter and the air doesn’t destroy his insides when he teleports into it. There’s no reason it couldn’t also displace liquid or solid mass.

  10. Daibhid Ceannaideach says:

    When I wave my hand around it displaces the air with no ill effects. Therefore, I can … OW!

  11. wwk5d says:

    Daibhid Ceannaideach for the win.

  12. Voord 99 says:

    You might be able to make “no soul” work as an explanation if you went full Gnostic on it. Matter is Eeevil and the body imprisons the divine soul. You lose your soul, you have better control over matter. 🙂

  13. Dazzler says:

    “When I wave my hand around it displaces the air with no ill effects. Therefore, I can … OW!”

    Right, but your hand is responding to the laws of physics. The laws of teleportation are ill-defined. Your hand can displace solid things within limits. I don’t think the limits of his teleportation have ever been sufficiently defined that I would assume death upon teleporting into a wall. Maybe the wall explodes. Who knows?

  14. Luis Dantas says:

    @Mikey: Cypher was in the last issue of All-New X-Factor (which he was a member of, albeit not being very useful). He may have appeared later, perhaps in Spider-Man 2009, but I don’t think he did.

  15. Michael says:

    @Luis I think Mikey was referring to Cipher, the female mutant with the stealth/invisibility powerset who we’ve barely seen since the end of Young X-Men… not -Cypher-, Doug Ramsey, who indeed was part of All-New X-Factor.

    Yeeah, the X-Men have a Cypher -and- a Cipher.

    Sigh. Fer cryin’ out loud.

  16. alexis says:

    Gold is worth the price for the diologue and the character interactions, which really are excellent. He also has a lot of love and respect for X-continuity, both old and more recent, which is more than can be said for a lot of writers. The actual plot of mostly background noise, but that’s not what I guy the book for. Now if Guggenheim were paired with a stronger plotter like Ed Brubaker, Rick Remender or Zeb Wells then you’d have somthing really special.

  17. Si says:

    Nightcrawler isn’t de- and re-materialising so much as travelling into the “brimstone dimension” and then returning almost instantly at a different location. It shouldn’t be possible to appear inside something else any more than it’s possible for you to step through a doorway and find yourself intersecting a box you didn’t know was on the other side.

  18. Si says:

    I type this knowing that this has been contradicted many times and the comics shouldn’t be expected to make sense.

  19. Chris says:

    Comics should have an internal logic

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