Welcome to Week 2 of our new ongoing column answering the question “What if Ed Piskor had no art skills, a juvenile sense of humor, and less classic material to work with?” That’s right, it’s, X-Men: Bland Design! This week there are five X-Books on the stands, which will cost you a total of $20 to read, but deliver about the same story content as a single issue did for 25 cents forty years ago.
Here’s the plan: Just as Ed Piskor is condensing decades of X-Men history into a few issues in X-Men: Grand Design, we’re condensing a week’s worth of X-Men comics into several clickbait articles, in which we’ll likely make the same repetitive complaints about how comics have changed for the worse while getting more expensive. This week, we’ve got X-Men: Gold #20, Weapon X #13, All-New Wolverine #29, Generation X #86, and Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan #4. You can see read every X-Men: Bland Design column going back to the very beginning (which was last week) at this link.
Now let’s get things started with X-Men Gold #20!
X-Men: Gold #20
Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Penciler: Diego Bernard
Inker: JP Mayer
Colorist: Frank Martin
Letterer: Cory Petit
We join the Negative Zone War storyline in progress after the X-Men, in the previous issue, towed angry space god Scythian into the NEgative Zone Vortex, saving the day for the planet Dartayus, but stranding the X-Men on a brand new Negative Zone planet. Well, that’s an unexpected twist for part 5 of a written-for-the-trade story arc. How will the X-Men wrap this one up in just one issue? Let’s find out.
We jump right into the action, with Storm, unable to control this planet’s weather, facing off against an alien Steve Bannon on the planet’s desert-like surface.
Meanwhile, Ink, a mutant who can emulate the powers of other mutants by getting tattoos of their powers (cool), is tending to Nightcrawler in the wreckage of one part of the ship, who can take a lot of abuse now that he’s unable to die because he left heaven and they apparently take snubs really personally there. Old Man Logan and Armor are in yet another crash site, where Logan has just finished slapping Armor awake like an overdose victim. They go off to look for the other X-Men, who include lovers Kitty Pryde and Colossus, also stranded together separately from the others. If only someone could figure out how to get into the underground bunker, they wouldn’t have to worry about the smoke monster or The Others.
Storm stabs Steve Bannon with a spear she had for some reason, and then decides to take a nap. Meanwhile, Ink uses his healing tattoo (cool) to patch up Nightcrawler, who had been impaled on a piece of jagged metal. They meet up with Logan and Armor and go looking for the others. Back in the desert, Colossus is dying and he wants Kitty to leave him and save herself. Has that ever worked? Ever?! As the foursome get distracted scrapping on the ship, Storm finally meets up with Kitty in time to stop her from beating the crap out of Colossus while yelling that he’s not allowed to die.
Back at the ship, Nightcrawler conveniently finds an interdimensional portal, but they don’t have a power source. Equally convenient, Ink is suddenly able to use his telepathy tattoo (cool) to locate the others, and he goes off to find them. He carries Colossus back, and the others walk, but they all arrive just a few panels later, where Storm tells Nightcrawler she can’t be his power source because her powers aren’t working. Luckily, Logan has the solution: a two-panel pep talk.
It works, and Storm powers up the portal as expository dialogue reveals Colossus will be okay. Two days later, back on Earth, Kitty says that Colossus almost dying made her realize she wants to be with him forever, so she asks him to marry her.
At the beginning, we joked that the X-Men would need to resolve this new crisis in just one issue, and they ended up doing just that. But one of the side-effects of modern comic pacing is that, when a lot happens in a single issue, creative teams have forgotten how to make that work. Yes, this much stuff might have gone down in a Claremont comic back in the day, but that would have taken a half hour to read with all of Claremont’s wordiness and smaller panel layouts. Modern comics are designed to stretch out a single story for five or six issues, and so when a full story is squeezed into one issue, it often feels like it was decompressed to six issues, then recompressed back to one, so that it still takes just five minutes to read and everything happens really quickly with no time for dramatic tension.
It’s not a problem unique to this comic. Super-mega-crossover events often suffer from this, containing what seems like an outline of the plot in the main book while tie-in issues explore all the details. So consider it a complaint about modern superhero comics in general, not this one in particular. But Kitty’s explanation that her struggles while trapped on a planet watching her boyfriend almost perish made her realize she wants to spend the rest of her life with him loses a lot of its impact when it feels like the whole struggle took place in about an hour. Ditto Storm overcoming her power block and anything else of consequence that happens.
Oh well! On to the next one…