X-Men Gold #5
Written by Marc Guggenheim
Penciler R.B. Silva
Inker: Adriano Di Benedetto
Colorist: Frank Martin
X-Men Gold rides on political discord with parallels to Washington’s current landscape. High drama and buzz words are ripped from primetime news, but does it hit the mark or ring a little hollow? For me it’s a bit too early to call but walks in the grey zone between inspired and a little on the nose.
What you need to know: Gambit made his suave return during issue #4 having been tasked with recovering, (well its Gambit… so swiping,) an undisclosed item. Only when meeting to deliver the goods does he question “What exactly is dis’ chere?” Complete with your typical charming LeBeau repartee do we learn of the malevolent intent behind the nanotech gig. Never good to his word, for better or worse, Gambit does what he does best and goes turncoat. When he hits the skids, Kitty and company come running.
What you’ll find out: Issue #5 launches in full code red with a new Sentinel, fiery explosions, and the X-Men attempting crisis management. Storm gets to save our damsel as Remy plummets to certain death, Logan plays fireman and is mocked for ageism, and Shadowca…Kitty makes us hark back to the gold ole’ days of fast ball specials. You might wonder why the girl who phases through solid objects is the optimal choice to hurl at a Sentinel. Well clearly because phasing decimates tech. Boo-yah. Her words, not mine. Yeah, I don’t get it either but hey I don’t work with molecular matter nearly as regularly as I want to so I have to defer to Kitty’s clear expertise.
After a brief reprieve the X-Men begin to deduce that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill Mark VI but a fully self-aware AI unit. But what does it want? After Gambit gets some no-nonsense reprimanding from Kitty, she decides to solo the sentinel, but realizes after an energy blast to the back, (does it bother anyone that these attacks get no more than a “unn–!”) that she’s not dealing with just the standard drone. Instead this one learns from previous encounters and notably looks like its lost a few pounds. Back up arrives and a firefight ensues. Realizing something’s not right, Kitty tasks Rachel with dealing a telepathic betchslap, (Shoes. Shout-out Kelly,) and the nanotech explodes. It isn’t long before reports from all over NYC reveal the truth. Each time the bot got smaller, (yeah, well turns out it was really multitasking,) in truth it had dispersed throughout multiple locations in the city targeting everyone with some form of genetic mutation. Isn’t male pattern baldness punishment enough? Apparently not.
What just happened?: Issue #5 left me somewhat disappointed and feeling like either Guggenheim bit off more than he could chew or that we are in for an intentional long and painful process of drawn out plots in which the reward in the end wasn’t worth the investment. It was only last issue that we trailed away from the crew trying to determine the extent of mind manipulation on the New Brotherhood in which I am beginning to suffer some fatigue with Magma seemingly being the go to X-Man when forming a plot involving brainwashing. I for one am still waiting (in)patiently on the question of Pyro’s identity and, dare I even hope, the return of Rusty.
Though it’s a given that being an X-Man requires some flexibility, the pace at which we are forced to shift gears is a little frustrating considering that during 5 issues we are introduced to numerous running plotlines.
It’s clear that Guggenheim is striving for his own path but fails to strike upon truly uncharted territory with old themes like mental conditioning, a far too frequent vehicle outside of time travel, or characters playing the same preset models in conjunction to political comparisons between our world and theirs. The analogies between the current political climate in the U.S. involving the presidency, scandal, and fear mongering doesn’t feel inspired but instead convenient and put the X-Men in territory we’ve been before. The Anne Coulter inspired Lydia Nance is an all too easy potshot despite whatever side of the political fence your camp is.
Rachel’s decline as an omega power is painfully evident. We have seen her power levels wax and wane and the writing does her no favors here. In each issue, she is countered in terms of efficiency from the inability to perform even the most basic psi-scans, experiences backlashes from other non-psi entities, and is unable to outright break other influences. Rachel has gone from drawing comparisons to her own mother at the height of her power, able to stand up against major threats even sans Phoenix force, and instead is bested by others with far less skill or ability. I am beginning to recall those unfortunate “Jean Grey is useless” YouTube videos and I’m not liking it!
Storm isn’t just deferring, she’s outright silent. In a clear effort to establish Kitty as a strong leader we are subjected to a barely present Ororo. The newest and youngest leader of the school doesn’t seek her council or have any real interpersonal interaction regarding previous experience. It’s unrealistic considering the last headmaster is standing right next to you. Now I get the “stay in your lane” mentality when relinquishing leadership to someone else, however, Kitty’s leadership is largely untested on this scale when considering she is not just leading a team but a school of both humans and mutants facing adversity and government pressure. If we are to follow Marc Guggenheim’s method of thought, the reader is forced to concede that Kitty is a natural, less all the seemingly normal difficulties or apprehensions for a job that took Cyclops and Storm decades to prepare and master. This little G.I. Jane has all the answers, all the time. Who needs Cypher? Kitty can clearly understand verbal binary. (Wouldn’t Doug also have been helpful last issue when trying to understand the green lizard demon? Does no one have his cell? Come on, cameos make everyone happy.) I get it, she’s a professionally skilled dancer and computer genius. The two naturally lend themselves to one another. Naturally. The point is the focus is so heavily on her and all her assets that she’s like that date that is just coming on too strong. Frankly, it’s a disservice to the Storm fans to see her reduced from a dominant force staring down the nose of an Inhuman Royal Queen forfeiting to Wolverine’s original wide-eyed sidekick. If Guggenheim truly wants to leave his own legacy, his best bet would have been to let Storm take her leave instead of standing in the background and utilize one of the many other sorely absent and underutilized members over the years whose compliance to Kitty would be far more plausible. But I suppose that no one is willing to take that bet in terms of sales figures.
The art fairs no better here. With the departure of Syaf one would think Silva would have been eager to show his full range especially since the announcement months ago that assignments were changing. Despite my personal disdain with the formers actions, Silva’s work looks rushed and does nothing to set himself apart from his peers. The backgrounds are interchangeable and the facial features, or lack thereof, when the characters are shown from a distance are nonexistent. Simply put, Silva’s work in this issue is not up to the standard of what an artist should be capable of when assigned an X-Men title. I kept thinking as I flipped through each page and took in each frame, “At what point is this an attractive angle?” I saw myself looking up through nostrils, sporting duplicate features and aggressively shaped eyebrows, or to the point in which Old Man Logan most times looked like a muskrat because his nose merged into his forehead. Slow your roll Silva. The devil is in the details.
On the plus side, I am always interested in a new Sentinel. Self-aware robots are of course nothing new and but could really set the stage for our favorite murderous metal friends in the years to come.
Because I am a longtime fan I like most readers will stick it out. It is issue #5 so a lot can happen in the coming months to turn this around. It does however need to happen or Blue which is quickly outpacing Gold will face history repeating itself. (See X-Men franchise 1991 through 1993 in which the self-titled X-Men book exceeded Uncanny in nearly all formats and measures.) This incarnation of Gold is feeling a little too familiar in terms of Excalibur line ups anyway, except this time, it’s Kitty and the X-Men. Let’s hope there’s a shift in the coming issues and other characters take some of the focus.
In the end, I am left wanting more in terms of direction and creativity and missing the sense of danger and thrill. And I don’t care what you tell me, I’m still convinced that Northstar took Rachel and Kitty out for a night on the town and had a strong role in the birth of “Prestige.” There is one very sore drag queen out there due some royalties.
Final thought: Nothing really ventured. Nothing really gained.