X-MEN: GOLD #1/ Written by CHRIS CLAREMONT, STAN LEE, LOUISE SIMONSON, LEN WEIN, ROY THOMAS, & FABIAN NICIEZA/ Art by BOB MCLEOD, WALTER SIMONSON, PAT OLLIFFE, JORGE MOLINA, & SALVADOR LARROCA/ Letters by TOM ORZECHOWSKI/ Colors by VARIOUS/ Published by MARVEL COMICS
X-Men: GOLD is more like X-Men: ZINC. This “special” issue marking the X-Men’s 50th anniversary is an inconsequential and ultimately sad celebration for what was once the most dynamic and dominant book in comics.
There’s an all-star bullpen of writers assembled for X-Men: GOLD, including Chris Claremont, Stan Lee, and Len Wein, but few of the X-Men’s marque artists show up to the party. It’s understandable that DC honcho Jim Lee wouldn’t be available for a comeback and John Byrne seems to be done with the Big Two altogether, but what about Paul Smith or Marc Silvestri? JRJR? Joe Madureira? It’s tough to believe that of all the phenomenal artists who launched their careers with the X-Men so few could be enticed to return for one lousy anniversary issue. Lacking in the visual energy department, X-Men: GOLD feels less like a blockbuster celebration and more like a hastily put together collection of tone poems.
The centerpiece story is by Chris Claremont and New Mutants artist Bob McLeod. Set just after Rogue joined the team in the early 80s, Claremont fills the stage with the soap opera drama and team dynamics that his Uncanny X-Men run is famous for. The core of the piece is a by-the-numbers X-Men versus Sentinel fight, but Claremont’s real focus is on the characters. He shows that he still knows the inner workings of Kitty Pryde, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Rogue better than almost anyone. McLeod’s art isn’t a bad match for Claremont’s throwback script, however his renderings of supporting cast members like the Starjammers are off to the point of detraction. The look ends up being a wash somewhere between classic and stodgy. The tale follows suit, plugging along without any real tension–clearly, these X-Men survive– but some bonus points are gained in the closing panels as Claremont brings the feels. He remains the best at what he does, even though we’ve seen what he does many times before. The nostalgia is nice, but at the end feels like a wasted opportunity.
Even more inconsequential is the Stan Lee scripted follow-up featuring the original teenage team. Walt Simonson’s tremendous talents are squandered on a story that has the X-Men running down a hall and bantering. As with the previous story, we’re introduced to the characters and not much else.
Roy Thomas and Pat Olliffe turn in the next chapter, in which Banshee and Sunfire take a buddy cop trip to Nashville. Yup, the X-Men are turning 50 and this is happening. The idea itself has some latent quirky potential, but the execution simply doesn’t bring it to fruition. What’s worse, there’s nothing in the X-Men legacy suggesting that a meeting like this would ever take place between these two characters. Incredibly odd entry.
The issue’s downward spiral halts briefly with a brilliant Len Wein’s story that’s illustrated by Jorge Molina. Unquestionably the most entertaining segment of the book, Wein delivers a Wolverine POV narrative that involves an imaginary takedown of the Giant-Size X-Men squad. Tightly constructed and surprisingly satisfying, Wein and Molina actually add a worthwhile new perspective to the classic era. It’s the only part of X-Men: GOLD that feels exciting. Wein co-created Wolverine and the way he writes the character is fresh and compelling. The “bubs” and over-the-top swagger that often pepper Wolverine’s speech are gone, replaced with a cool calculation that’s more Batman than Lobo. Len Wein should return to his creation more often.
The final original piece in X-Men: GOLD is by Fabian Nicieza and Salvador Larroca. The scope attempted by Nicieza is admirable, but at just five pages there’s not enough runway for the story to get up to speed. Magneto’s sole appearance stands out in the otherwise nemesis-less collection, but the length here really limits the impact.
The entire back section of the book consists of pages chopped from issues of X-Men books currently on the racks. Considering the reprint options available to Marvel, something from Jack Kirby or Dave Cockrum would have made more sense than spammy preview inserts. Not for nothing, both artists can lay claim to co-creating the X-Men at various points and neither have any work featured in this collection. That doesn’t seem right.
X-Men: GOLD has some nice moments that hardcore readers will enjoy, but it fails to fully capture the essence of why Marvel’s mutant characters have had such an enduring appeal. As far as anniversary issues go, this one is a dud. The $5.99 cover price is better applied to one of the dozens of classic X-Men collections available. With 50 years of X-Men comics to choose from, it’s not worth paying cash for this gold.