X-Men Gold #7: Secret Empire Part 1
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Penciler: Ken Lashley
Colorist: Frank Martin
What You Need to Know: The Gold team has returned home after previous engagements, first with the all new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and soon afterward a new Sentinel version equipped with artificial intelligence. The team attempts to break and reflect on all that has transpired. Respite will be short-lived when the Darkforce dimension pulls the X-Men and School into the Secret Empire.
What You’ll Find Out: Kitty is concerned with Colossus and his recent power loss. Colossus confirms that his x-gene is still active but he cannot access his abilities for some unknown reason. Kitty assures Piotr that this is not the first time his powers have malfunctioned and eventually they returned to normal.
Rachel Grey is changing. Rapidly. The walls that held back her previously reserved emotions are beginning to crumble and her recent telepathic enhancements reveal Nightcrawler’s hidden attraction to her. With a kiss, she appears to reciprocate in kind. Before they can make sense of their feelings, trouble interrupts. Naturally.
Everyone assembles before a projection of Doctor Strange who explains that the Darkforce dimension has enveloped Manhattan and escape by any means is not possible. But the true horror is exposed by Anole who informs “Professor K” that one of the students has not only been murdered, but worse yet, mutilated, sending a clear message of hatred and rage.
The Gold team now has two focuses. Storm and Logan split off and patrol the nearby area and encounter the demons Strange had warned them about. Logan launches an assault on a hellbeast ready to devour and elderly woman and is injured in the process. A lightning bolt saves Logan but is also not strong enough to kill the monster.
Nightcrawler finds his own demons, but these ones are all too familiar. Humans in a panicked state assume he is a part of the demon horde and accost him. Apparently, Kurt is without his ability to teleport even in short distances as the mob closes around him.
Back at the school, the assailant hacks the school’s files and learns that the captive member of the brotherhood referred to as “CNG” (Creepy New Guy,) is not a mutant at all and releases him.
Elsewhere another student is found crucified. Colossus, Kitty, and Prestige are unclear why the intruder cannot be located through conventional employment of telepathy. Rachel’s increased strength does allow her insight that the killer is bent on pure rage. A rage the finds a third victim in Eye Boy as he begins a horrific maiming to the defenseless student.
At the same time, Rockslide and Dust uncover the quick adept work of their new foe as they discover a massive stockpile of tamperproof explosives. Things don’t look good for Eye Boy as he begs for his life. His pleas are answered by Kitty and Rachel. Unable to dispatch him through a telepathic assault the duo is limited to physical combat in which the assailant is every bit their equal. Finding themselves overwhelmed, Colossus returns to find out why he is the new X-Cutioner as he receives a bullet to the forehead.
What Just Happened? Issue #7 brings the X-Men in sync with the larger companywide crossover storyline Secret Empire which details how a cosmic cube has altered historical events and turned Captain America into an agent of Hydra and a despot with near total control of the world. The events here as the Darkforce dimension is introduced puts the timeline roughly at issue #2 of Secret Empire.
As it relates to its introduction here, I am a bit indifferent with this third segment in the overall gold series. Guggenheim crafts the format of the issue as an evident thriller/horror narrative while visuals from Lashley attempt to provide urgency and suspense as they rapidly shift from scene to scene. Overall I found the pacing to be frantic but at the same time lacking any real imagery both scripted or illustratively that evoked emotion. My previous criticism of Lashley’s art has only worsened as I found myself distracted by poorly executed facials in which everyone seems to suffer from some universal neanderthal physical deformity. I kept thinking to myself, If Rob Liefeld is admonished for his lack of skill in drawing feet, Lashley struggles from the similar shortcomings conversely on the opposite end of the body in which the character’s forehead and brow lines leave little room for essential things like eyes, noses, and mouths. Lashley’s art fails to capture the achievement of the primary Secret Empire books with the nefarious obscure tones that produce a real sense of being in a dimension of blackness.
We’ve had two budding romances in two back to back issues now. Both of which seem bizarre in nature and in timing. Gambit and Storm, along with Rachel and Nightcrawler have known one another for years. Especially in this issue, Kurt’s romantic feelings come literally from out of nowhere. You would think having paired both characters as dear friends through Uncanny X-Men, into Excalibur, and throughout numerous other titles and occasions, some subtly would have shown up by now. Attraction in its basic sense is physiological combined with emotional and I have never witnessed any suggestive behavior of romantic undertones for as long as I recall. Some would argue that their long-term closeness is a natural evolution. I’m not sold.
As to the newest version or X-Cutioner 2.0, I have trouble finding the menace or true danger of his portrayal. This new iteration is motivated by the loss of a son at the hands of Magneto during one of his many historical homicidal moments which molds the development of the killer. The designed attire looks like a 90’s hand-me-down failed War Machine prototype. And of course, the X-Cutioner has the issue by issue convenience of blocking a telepath who supposedly just got a major advancement. Granted if each fight was settled by a telepathic K.O. psionic characters would have little reason to be on a team. But my critique lies in the uninspired use of telepathic resistant helmets and other redundant means of defense. All of this gives me significant doubt that the newest X-Cutioner while have any greater longevity over his inconsequential predecessor.
My primary disappointment is that there wasn’t much bravery or boldness from Guggenheim here. Instead of taking note from an approach similar to a Walking Dead or Game of Thrones style portrayal in which mortality has significance and can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere, deaths were casually handed to a girl named Belen and a boy Oscar, who I had to google to gain some insight. Trust me, it’s not worth the keystrokes. Had Eye Boy been a third fatal victim, (Who up until this point only having read the most recent volume of Generation X, I didn’t realize was a boy) I would rate this issue a 10 by default alone as thanks. Sadly, a character who makes Bird-Brain look like a rock star and the most significant of the three, really the tragedy itself, gets a pass. The only potential redeeming quality this issue could offer would be a fundamental loss of Colossus either by grievous injury in which would remove him from the books long enough to have momentous effect, or death itself. It’s not like I want him to die. That couldn’t be further from the truth. But that’s the point. Feeling a genuine sense of loss would give me great respect for the author and define the book as substantial and in line with the great stories of the past. In retrospect, I wish that as a writer, when you take on the responsibility of portraying something so momentous and tragic as mass school shootings, you have the resolve to do it in which a real significance isn’t depreciated by the disposal of a couple characters no one cares about and almost assuredly the survival of a legacy character. If I were Guggenheim, had he not used the school as the staging for the story and what he may not realize is a prominent and sensitive nationwide crisis, my expectation wouldn’t be nearly as high.
Final thought: I feel bad for those who struggle with attention deficit disorder, because this issue is all over the place.