Graphic Novel Review: X-Men Gold: Back to Basics; X-Men Blue: Strangest

X-Men Blue: Strangest

X-Men Blue: Strangest - Credit: Archant

Is this the beginning of a new golden (and blue) age for the X-Men?

X-Men Gold: Back to Basics

X-Men Gold: Back to Basics - Credit: Archant

(Panini Books)

Now these are the X-Men we’ve been waiting for…

After years of mutant misadventures which saw the once mighty students of Xavier reduced to fighting for their very survival, torn apart by internal disputes and extinction-level threats, these two books are a welcome return to the type of storytelling which once made the X-Men Marvel’s most popular protagonists.

Their primary focus is on protecting a world that fears and hates them, just like it was in the beginning, and to do that they have to be heroes who rise above prejudice and bigotry, the shining ambassadors of the best mutantkind has to offer.

The Gold team are a tweaked version of the classic Claremont/Byrne line-up of the 1980s, albeit with Old Man Logan in the Wolverine role, and Prestige (the latest codename for Rachel Grey) taking the slots her late parents Scott Summers and Jean Grey once occupied.

They are joined by Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm and Kitty Pryde, the latter taking the leadership role after rejoining the team following her sojourn with the Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a welcome evolution for the character, who joined the team as a plucky 13-year-old but has matured both inside and outside the X-Men to the point whereby she seems a natural fit as leader.

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This debut volume in the new series pits the team against a self-aware form of Sentinel nanotech, a new line-up of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and a dangerous new threat in the person of media personality and Heritage Initiative director Lydia Nance – who is stirring up anti-mutant sentiment on her regular TV appearances.

Familiar themes and characters then, but given a contemporaneous spin which plays on current events in the US, particularly the rise of the new far right. Although there are some nice nostalgic asides, the continuity references do not bog down the narrative, and merely come across as nice character touches for a group of people who have worked together for years.

Meanwhile, the time-tossed teenagers of the Blue team have settled on the island state of Madripoor following their recent road trip, and are now operating with the support of former terrorist Magneto, who has apparently become convinced that mutants and humanity must co-exist peacefully in order to survive. Long-term Marvel readers will remember previous changes of heart by the master of magnetism, so whether his motives are genuine remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the original five X-Men also find themselves face-to-face with the Sentinels, albeit a faction of the giant robots which wants to protect mutants instead of exterminating them. They are controlled by the android Bastion, who has rededicated himself to the survival of mutantkind until their population rises to a level where he can destroy them all himself…

And no sooner has this adventure finished than they find themselves on the trail of James Hudson Jr, a refugee from the long-lost Ultimate Universe and the son of that reality’s Wolverine, somehow transplanted to our world in the wake of the recent Secret Wars, and in desperate need to rescue from an alliance of fellow survivors whose motives are less than honourable…

The young X-Men now seem content to remain in the present day rather than returning to their own time (whenever that may be – Cyclops’ talk of barbershops suggests the 1960s, which doesn’t gel with Marvel history anymore!), and they are gradually forging a new destiny free from the historical shackles of their older selves.

Quite where an alliance with Magneto will take them remains to be seen, and having recently shed Wolverine-wannabe Laura Kinney from their ranks, whether she needed to be replaced with another stand-in is questionable.

What is clear from both of these titles is that the new creative direction appears to be celebrating the history of the X-Men in all of their incarnations while also driving forwards to carve them out a proactive role in the Marvel Universe of today. It’s a refreshing new era which will hopefully reassert the mutant misfits at the top of the food chain where they belong.