Are we x-mice or are we X-Men? - getting into the X-Men (part one)

By Joe Menjivar

It’s been a while since I’ve cracked open an X-Men comic, several years probably. The last run I remember reading all the way through was Matt Fraction’s Uncanny X-Men run, which had it's moments but was also plagued by Greg Land art for half of it. Great Terry Dodson art on the other half though.

That was almost a decade ago now, I’ve dipped into some of the other stuff since, Jason Aaron’s stuff was OK but I hated the art, and at the time I was also getting more into independent comics, a lot of non-superhero stuff.

I read the first bit of the Bendis stuff from a few years ago, this time with an artist I love, Stuart Immonen. But I just couldn’t find myself caring about it. Bendis brought back the original team, but like, brought them back from the past. I dunno, I thought it was pretty dumb, I have little interest in those characters as they were. After decades of character growth and changes this felt like a big step backwards.

 

Where am i now?

2015’s Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman served as a good jumping off point for me, it was an ambitious and in my opinion beautiful way to bookend the Marvel Universe as it was. Since then my comic book consumption had dropped off significantly sticking to a few books, mostly from Image comics. Work, and later, school kept me too busy to make my weekly trips to the comic books store, so my lifetime enjoyment of Marvel comics had cooled off, and I was pretty OK with it.

 

What changed?

Comixology has made it super convenient and comparatively cheap to read comics regularly again. It is really unreasonable to charge what Marvel does for one of their collections. (Piracy makes it even cheaper, but I can’t condone that publicly in case any cops are reading this)

Convenience and having a whole lot of time on my hands these days has pulled me back into superhero comics, not in a huge way, but I’ve been dipping my toes in. Now I’m diving into the deep end, the X-Men.

Is there any series more impenetrable and less new reader friendly than the X-Men? In short, no.

We’ll see how I do though, I’ll be starting with the first volumes of X-Men Gold, X-Men Blue, X-Men Red, Astonishing X-Men, and Generation X .

 


X-Men Gold Review, kinda

 

 X-Men Gold volume one (Marvel Comics)

X-Men Gold volume one (Marvel Comics)

X-Men Gold volume one: Back To The Basics (2017) by Marc Guggenheim, with Ardian Syaf, and R.B. Silva

The X-Men have long been used as a thinly veiled metaphor for various forms of injustice against marginalized people, such as the LGBT+ community, and the African-American community in the past.

This trend continues in X-Men Gold: Back To The Basics.

I’m a little bit familiar with Guggenheim’s comics work, having read Halcyon (Image Comics) a series that I don’t believe was ever really wrapped up, much to my annoyance. Mainstream audiences may be more familiar with his screen work, having written the Green Lantern movie that nobody really liked, and several TV series, such as Arrow for which he served as co-showrunner, Legends of Tomorrow, Eli Stone (all of which he had a hand in developing) and an assortment of episodes on various long running shows like The Practice, and CSI: Miami.

This first collection contains two short stories, the first —Back to Basics— serves to re-establish the X-Men, and is something of an introduction to a team that might seem very unfamiliar if you haven’t read X-Men in like 7 years (hi). The team in X-Men Gold is made up of old favourites Kitty Pryde, Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. They are joined by two people you may have never heard of before in your life: Prestige and (likely confusing to some) an old man version of Wolverine who wears a full length duster.

Prestige is the newest name of Rachel Grey, a character I honestly don’t have a super solid grasp on, I think the condensed version is that she is Jean Grey’s daughter from a future, which I guess is actually pretty standard X-Men stuff. I don’t know that much about her, I’m sure she has her fans though. Her new name and costume don’t do a whole lot for me, she looks a lot less like a member of the X-Men and more like someone you’d see in a creator-owned series that has cussing.

“Old Man Logan” is one of the worst comics I have ever read in my life, but people love that garbage. Mark Millar seems like a decent enough person, contributing and donating to various charities, but the man can’t write a decent comic to save his life. Old Man Logan was eight issues of edgelord nonsense that caught on and became incredibly popular. Popular enough to be partial inspiration to the very popular film Logan, and popular enough that they brought the character back for his own series and I guess now he’s done some time travel and he’s in the current day(?) I dunno, like I said I haven’t been reading X-Men.

I’m just not going to read the Wikipedia entries at this point, but they are there if you really want.

Anyways, the story of Back to Basics is a pretty basic story about mutant terrorists conducting various acts of terrorism in New York, culminating in kidnapping the mayor. The villains of the story are a revived Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, there is a line in the comic about how dumb and on the nose the name is,  but really if we both know it’s dumb just don’t include it.

 😬yikes (Marvel Comics)

😬yikes (Marvel Comics)

The actual villain of the story (besides I guess ignorance), and probably the series going forward is a, lets say, “conservative” talking head on a cable news network named Lydia Nance. 

 Lydia Nance don't like mutants. (Marvel Comics)

Lydia Nance don't like mutants. (Marvel Comics)

Nance seems hell-bent on deporting mutants, it couldn’t be more accidentally timely though, as deportation and ICE have been in the news this week.

I think Guggenheim, and the editorial team at Marvel means well with this comic, but it falls flat.

Deportation, and the threat of deportation is something that is actively happening in the United States. Hell, it’s been in the news a lot this month, we had New Yorker Aaron Schlossberg’s rant at a restaurant employee where he threatened to call ICE because employees dared to speak Spanish in public, and more recently we were given the horrifying news that ICE has lost over 1400 children after separating them from their families.

This isn’t Guggenheim’s fault completely, superhero comics at large have a diversity problem, most beloved heroes are traditionally white men, and were created by white men, some nearly a century ago. But Guggenheim also had his pick of characters to choose from, maybe he could have added a little more colour. 

The X-Men as they are constructed in this particular book are overwhelmingly white, the exceptions being Storm, and one of the students, a young Japanese woman named Hisako Ichiki (aka Armor), I suppose there are student's with green skin or purple skin, but they are more of a background element.

I believe this is a well meaning comic, but in 2018 we have to be able to do a little better than “well meaning.” 

I’ve whipped myself up into a frenzy and forgotten to write about the second half, “Techno Superior.”

This short arc introduces fan favourite and maybe one day Channing Tatum, Gambit. I swear they are never going to actually make that movie.

Gambit is such a dumb character, but he was definitely a favourite of mine growing up. He continues being dumb as a post in this comic. The worst thing about this arc is probably the Aston Kutcher style hat that penciller R.B. Silva has drawn on him. It’s the absolute worst.

 You got Punk'd mon ami (Marvel Comics)

You got Punk'd mon ami (Marvel Comics)

Speaking of Silva, both of the stories in the book are drawn by different pencillers, and inkers.

Syaf is inked by Jay Leisten, with Craig Young helping out in issue three, it is an effective style, not really my cup of tea. The crosshatch heavy inking doesn’t do a lot for me, but that might just be personal taste, I’ve tend to favour thicker, juicier, brush work to excessive crosshatching with pens. 

NOTE: Syaf was dismissed from the book for inserting a religious reference into the book on the DL, you can read more about it here. This was not, however, in the digital version and has been removed from further printings of the book.

The Silva portion is inked by Adriano Di Benedetto, it’s a heavier style that can often resemble Rachel Dodson’s inks on Terry Dodson or even Wade von Grawbadger over Stuart Immonen’s work in places. Silva’s weakness seems to be in his faces, particularly Gambit, who often looks horrific.

 NOPE (Marvel Comics)

NOPE (Marvel Comics)

I am completely unfamiliar with these artist’s previous works, they are completely fine but I don’t think I would put either in the must-read category but neither is completely unpleasant to me, like a John Romita Jr, or a Rob Liefeld.

If this story is meant for long-time readers, it's not a particularly interesting or fresh story part of this is Guggenheim wanting to write a throwback style comic, and political pundits and cable tv talking heads have been done in a dozens of other comics at this point, maybe you could have done this in 2007.

I can't recommend this comic to a new reader unless they are willing to invest in some Wikipedia research, the collection does include a partially illustrated timeline at the end of issue one. I didn't find it particularly helpful. It seems to go all the way back to the first Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics and honestly, I didn't really want to read all that.

It seemed like a whole lot of information presented kinda poorly, but if you are coming in completely blind it might be something worth checking out.

I don’t know yet if I will continue reading this book. I guess we’ll see how the others go. Despite my concerns about how the political stuff in the book is handled, I don't hate it and would consider reading more if I'm not totally burned out by the end of this experiment. I just don't know who this comic is really for.

 

Joe Menjivar is a Calgary-based writer, follow him on twitter, he's very lonely