Welcome, dear readers, to X-Men: Bland Design, the weekly multi-part recap column that strives to answer the question: “What if Ed Piskor had no art skills, a juvenile sense of humor, and less classic material to work with?”
Things have changed in the X-Men comics (and superhero comics in general) since the glory days recapped in Piskor’s magnum opus. Gone are all of the thought bubbles, most of the narration boxes, most of the references to past issues, and perhaps most importantly, any trace of the idea that any comic could be some reader’s first. Casting aside many of the properties that set comics apart as a medium, the modern superhero-industrial complex has instead chosen to treat comics as glorified storyboards, decompressed and written for the trade.
But for X-Men fans, it doesn’t matter. We’ll obsessively buy and read all of these X-Men comics until the day we die, no matter how bad they get! And if we’re going to do that anyway, we might as well document the experience for you, our dear readers, brothers and sisters and non-binary siblings in suffering.
This week there are five regular-priced X-Books on the stands, which will cost you 20 bucks to buy, and, thanks to the aforementioned decompression, roughly 10 minutes to read: X-Men Red #2, X-Men Gold #23, Venom #163 (a crossover with X-Men Blue), Iceman #11 (the final issue), and Rogue & Gambit #3. Let’s see what’s happening in…
X-MEN GOLD #23
MARC GUGGENHEIM (W)
Thony Silas (A)
Cover by David Nakayama
NEW MUTANTS VARIANT COVER BY JASON PEARSON
CRUEL AND UNUSUAL Part 1
• KITTY AND HER X-MEN GOLD TEAM ARE IN JAIL.
• WHILE THEY’RE AWAY, WHO WILL PROTECT THE PEOPLE OF NYC?
• READ ON, TRUE BELIEVER, TO MEET THE NEW X-MEN GOLD!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
Kitty and her team of X-Men are in jail thanks to the treachery of Mesmero in the previous story arc, which is poor timing, because as this issue opens, we see Scythian, the evil alien god from a few story arcs ago, ripping open a portal into this dimension. He’s pissed because the X-Men left him in the Negative Zone with no ride home.
Back at the Robert Kelly Correctional Facility, otherwise known as the mutant prison The Box, prison guards are escorting Kitty Pryde to her cell, and they take the opportunity to make a reference to a classic X-Men cover line. This page is a great example of the wasted space and lack of imagination in modern comics that we keep complaining about, so let’s take a minute to talk about that.
First of all, three quarters of the page are taken up by a useless and frankly lazily-drawn giant image of two guards escorting Kitty. What is the reason for this almost-splash page? It’s not an exciting moment, there’s nothing happening here except three people walking in a hallway making a self-referential joke that isn’t even essential to the story. If you’re going to use up nearly the whole page with this shot of Kitty walking through the corridor, you could at least show the other X-Men and some other prisoners in the cells and on the catwalks with some dialog that gives the reader some insight into what the prison is like and who’s in there.
X-Men Gold is a prime example of the primary failure of modern comics: they are ashamed of being comics. X-Men Gold is obsessed with controlling every detail of the way the reader takes in this short scene, forgetting that the entire goddamn beauty of comics is that most of the story takes place in the reader’s imagination, which should be guided by the panels to see what happens in-between them. Instead of a reader spending five minutes exploring the art and imagining a living scene inside the prison, they get to glance briefly at what could have taken place in a single tiny panel (or three panels in a nine-panel grid for the whole page) stretched out for absolutely no reason to this boring monstrosity, reading dialog that takes about 10 seconds to get through, and then turning the page. What a freaking waste. Comics aren’t storyboards. Stop writing the TV show you want to make and write comics instead. Points for the caption box referencing a previous issue though. More of that, please. Not everyone reads every single comic, and the context provided by back issue referencing can help new readers get into the story.
The guards tell Kitty not to cause any trouble and lock her in her cell, where her roommate is Callisto, the sometimes-leader of the underground band of mutants known as the Morlocks, that is when they aren’t all currently dead as expendable victims of whatever the big X-event of the year is. Not sure what their current status is. Callisto once tried to force Kitty to marry the mutant Caliban when she was 13 years old, after having kidnapped her, dooming her to live underground with the Morlocks forever, amidst various other offenses she’s committed against all of the X-Men over the years. Kitty asks for a new room, but unfortunately, the accommodations at this hotel really suck. Callisto tells Kitty that she has bigger problems than Callisto, because the prison is filled with mutants who hate the X-Men.
Spealing of which, Ororo Munroe (Storm) and Rachel Grey/Summers/Presitge/Whatever are eating in the prison cafeteria, we learn from another egregious half-page splash with one speech bubble and nothing happening in it. They notice the other prisoners are none too pleased with them. Rachel is either the victim of a psychic attack or she stops herself from sneezing.
Turns out to be an attack. We learn that every time Rachel fights Mesmero, she’s later afflicted by psychic flashbacks to her time as a hound in a post-apocalyptic future. Rachel is keeping this a secret from Storm, however. They go off to find Kitty.
Meanwhile, at the Xavier Institute in Central Park, Bobby Drake (Iceman) spoils the ending of his own comic (recap coming later), revealing that he’s decided to stay in New York and take Kitty up on her offer of giving him a team of X-Men to lead. He rings the doorbell and rogue answers. Rogue manages to give readers some backstory on where she’s been, which is leading the Avengers Unity Squad, a hybrid team of mutants and regular superheroes that spawned from like six X-events ago but somehow kept being published. Now, they’re both back to fill in while Kitty’s team is in prison (and maybe feel out their own spinoff title). They meet the rest of the team: Hisako Ichiki (Armor), Eric Gitter (Ink), Amara Aquilla (Magma), and Illyana Rasputin (Magik). Proving that comics can be both good and bad, this issue continues to do well with things like introducing characters and explaining references to past storylines. Bobby orders everyone to a Danger Room session.
Back at the prison, in the male wing, Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler) and Piotr Rasputin (Colossus) are in the middle of a prison brawl. Even without their powers, Kurt is pretty agile and Piotr is pretty strong, so they’re holding their own against an entire prison of bad guys. They scare off any more opponents.
In Bobby’s Danger Room session, the X-Men are fighting a simulation of Magneto, even though he’s sort of a good guy now. Fake Magneto kicks their asses. As they lament how much they suck, Anole interrupts to say there’s someone at the door. Rogue answers to find Simon Lasker, the guy who in previous story arcs had taken up the role of Pyro on Mesmero’s new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. He tells them how Mesmero tricked him into joining and wants to make amends for his actions by helping the X-Men. Bobby says no. Rogue says yes. Naturally, she has some experience with that having defected to the X-Men from the Brotherhood herself back in the ’80s. Bobby agrees.
We see a brief interlude showing Ivan Guerrero (The Shredded Man), a mutant with botanpathy powers (he controls plants), lurking in the sewer. Always nice to get a brief tease of future storylines.
Back at the women’s prison, Kitty has been reunited with Storm and Rachel. They run into Callisto, with whom Storm also has a history. Callisto showed up to watch because a prisoner Callisto describes as “the alpha around her” is coming to beef with the X-Women. The green-haired woman introduces herself as Crazy Maisie and calls the X-Women “slags.” Them’s fighin’ words! But not until next issue, because this will be continued.
Ah, X-Men Gold. With the Kitty Pryde/Piotr Rasputin romance the focus of X-advertising for the Summer, this should be the X-book with the most momentum, but it continues to suffer more than any other book from modern pacing and decompression. At the same time, there’s sparks of greatness there, things the comic does right, like making sure to introduce characters when they appear and making references to past storylines and where to read them. We’d say maybe it will get better once it finds its groove, but the book has seen 23 issues already. That’s like a Claremont-length run for a modern comic (even though it contains about the same amount of story as two issues from back then).