X-Men goes gold

One of the things I’ve noticed about the whole aging process is that noteworthy anniversaries and celebrations seem to come with far more frequency than they did in the past.  Take, for example, Marvel celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the X-Men with this week’s release of X-Men: Gold.  My first reaction was that it couldn’t possibly be 50 years, as it seems like we were just writing up special commentaries on the 40th anniversary on the now-defunct X-Men site Mutatis Mutandis, of which I was a staff writer for.

And then I realized that 2003 was 10 years ago.  WOW.

But enough about me getting old.  We’re talking about an anniversary celebration here!

Coincidentally, half of these characters play little to no role in this book.

Marvel celebrates its longtime cash cow by wheeling out five new stories from some of the biggest creators of the book.  The first is the biggest story, bring Chris Claremont back to the early 80’s team, sitting them right after the aborted wedding of Wolverine, but before that of Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor.  That gives him his most popular lineup, along with the recently recruited Rogue, and basically lets Claremont go through the motions of all the Claremont-isms you know.  And believe me, he hits them all.

The result?  Well, it’s not very good.  Don’t get me wrong – I understand and appreciate what he’s going for and it’s novel getting some new material from a long, long lost era.  But the whole thing is far too serious for an anniversary issue (having Wolverine literally set himself on fire to defeat the enemy Sentinels with everyone else marveling at his suffering) and while it tries to hit all the Claremont notes for the fans like me to go “hey, neat”, it’s just too much to put into 20 issues.

Bob McLeod as choice of artist was also a bit odd.  While McLeod did do co-create the New Mutants (who do not appear in the story, despite being relevant in the period), he was never an artist on the big book.  (EDIT: Bob McLeod himself left a comment to correct me that he did indeed do art on Uncanny X-Men #151 and #152.  That will teach me not to fact check better!  Thanks, Bob!)  I know Dave Cockrum has passed away and John Byrne is simply not going to happen, but I feel like a Paul Smith or John Romita, Jr. would have worked better here.

The second story goes Silver Age with a plot from Louise Simonson and a script from Stan the Man himself, and man does it feel like it.  I really can’t even remember the plot of the story, but it does have art from Walt Simonson, and that’s pretty neat.  With the Simonsons handling X-Factor for a lengthy period, it was really a novel team to put together for the anniversary.  And who doesn’t love Stan Lee?

Roy Thomas and Pat Olliffe have the team-up you never asked for when Banshee and Sunfire have a chance encounter in Nashville and go on about their love of country music.  No, I’m serious.  That’s what the story is about.  It’s pretty awful, makes no sense in any kind of character perspective, and reduces Banshee to the worst bit of Irish stereotype since the time we learned that leprechauns were living in Cassidy Keep.  And to waste an entire story on someone like Sunfire seems like a huge waste here.  Surely some other X-Men character could have shown up.  Time travelling Bishop?  A young, wandering Cannonball?  Maggott, even?

Len Wein and Jorge Mollina also take us back to the Giant-Size #1 cast by putting the reader into Wolverine’s head in the first gathering of the new team and show us how he would take each of his new teammates out.  It’s not really new, even in the context of showing that Wolverine’s presence on the team at this point is more than initially presented.  But it does toss in a joke at Thunderbird’s expense, and its by the guy who wrote Giant Size, so it’s not bad.

Finally, the book wraps with a small story by Fabian Nicieza and Salvador Larrocca, which shows Magneto have a flash thought about a world in which he and Charles Xavier worked together to achieve mutant harmony, just before we realize that he’s having his brain wiped by Xavier during the climactic moment of X-Men #25 during Fatal Attractions.  It’s fine enough, and it calls back to Nicieza’s biggest story of his adjective-less run.  I love Salvador Larrocca as much as any X-artist not named Cockrum or Byrne, but his depiction of Wolverine post-adamantium ripping is flat out horrible.  The original image in X-Men #25 chilled me to the bone when I was a kid, with all the metal basically hanging out of Wolverine’s body.  Larrocca depicts Wolverine laying in a shiny pool of something with some scratches on him.  Surely, Larrocca could have found the source image.  Google does exist after all.

So in the sense that this book has some new material that might make you grin, X-Men Gold is fun enough, but if you really want a good nostalgic jaunt down memory lane, you might as well go read the original stories and celebrate history that way.

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