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Aug 2

X-Men Gold Annual #2: “Into the Woods”

Posted on Thursday, August 2, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Given the volume of X-books that Marvel puts out, it’s not always clear why they do annuals as well.  The X-Men Blue annual this year was really just an extra issue of the regular title.  X-Men Gold takes the more sensible route, with the sort of off-to-the-side story that wouldn’t stretch to a mini, but might once have appeared in X-Men Unlimited.

I think this is the first comics work by Seanan McGuire, a prolific fantasy novelist with some award winning material to her credit.  It’s a solo story for a teenage Kitty Pryde, as she takes a few weeks off from the X-Men to go to summer camp.

Summer camps are not a thing we do in this country, and they sound truly awful.  But in America, the climate is different, the school holidays are longer, and the parents’ holidays are shorter, so you can see the appeal of packing the kids off for a bit and hoping that they come back intact at the end.

Kitty mainly wants to go to camp so that she can see whether she’s still able to be a normal teenager – could she leave now even if she wanted to?  This is the same camp that she’s been going to for years – evidently we’re in her first year as an X-Man – and so she’s reunited with her school friends Madison and Sarah.  Kitty’s never much seemed to care about being separated from her pre-X-Men friends, but then most characters aren’t; their civilian lives aren’t really a concern for the book, once they’ve been whisked away to the hidden community of the school.

Kitty still wants to go out at night and practice, and she discovers that the junior counsellors are stealing from the kids at night.  She steals all the stuff back and returns it to their rightful owners.  And then, in true Claremont-era style, she tries scaring the baddies by pretending to be the ghost of the camp.  But while they do go running, it’s not because they think she’s a ghost; they think she’s a mutant, which is obviously far more terrifying.  Kitty’s panic when she sees how everyone reacts to that only serves to put more attention on her, and she realises that the kids at the camp, including her friends, are really not keen on mutants at all, let alone mutant sympathisers.  At the same time, she stumbles upon the other mutant kid at camp, who she’s been pretty much ignoring for the whole story; from his point of view, she’s just one of the crowd, and therefore must be a bigot too.

Marco Failla’s art is conventional enough, but he has a decent range of character designs, and gives some life to the bit players.  He’s good at the melodrama, and he can handle different ages, which is important when he’s given a flashback montage.  The backgrounds are a touch bland, but heck, it’s a bunch of log cabins in a wood, what do you want?

It’s a straightforward story which could easily have been slight, but it’s done with some subtlety.  Storm gets a nice speech in the opening scene about the value of doubting yourself.  Asher, the other mutant kid, is present throughout the story, enough to be noticeable on a re-read, but not so as to put a neon sign over him.  There’s a cleverly done camp montage sequence where Kitty is talking about how fun it all is, which includes at least one thing that very obviously doesn’t seem fun at all – it’s quite deliberate, because Kitty picks up on it many pages later, but on a first reading she’s either oblivious to it or treating it as All Good Fun.  And more to the point, the story leaves enough space for you to think that maybe McGuire thinks so too.

The theft of Kitty’s phone is a major plot point, but instead of being foregrounded, it’s just something that Kitty starts mentioning has already happened.  That’s a great choice, because it skips an entirely unnecessary scene of plot mechanics and introduces the idea without putting a big sign over it saying “Look!  Plot!”, so that we don’t get too far ahead of Kitty. The dodgy junior counsellors are never really explained, because their own motivations aren’t that important, but it’s striking that they seem to have been stealing and hoarding stuff for six years with no particular goal beyond that.  This is odd behaviour, but instead of seeming forced, it feels like it gestures at some sort of petty sadism which is all the worse for being shared by a whole group.

And while the story does give Kitty one of her “we should all be better” speeches, it stops short of spelling everything out too neatly.  Clearly these kids should be more worried about each other, since they’re responsible for everything that’s actually bad in this camp.  But at the same time, the obvious implication is that Kitty was just like Madison and Sarah once, and there’s no obvious reason why they should be any less redeemable than she is.  The ambiguously optimistic note is that these are the events which will get them moving in the direction that she’s already followed – but at the same time, the story rightly doesn’t seem entirely convinced that this is just a matter of growing up, since the awfulness of kids is just the awfulness of people in microcosm.

This is a good issue – certainly skippable in the sense that it won’t have any impact on anything, but a solid take on some classic X-Men ideas, elevated by some deft touches.

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