Sometimes you just can't go back. Like any long-time fan, nostalgia is a big part of my affection for the X-Men, and I look with fondness (and sometimes rose-colored glasses) on many of the stories on which I cut my teeth. Unfortunately, "X-Men: Gold" #1 offers neither well-crafted nostalgia nor anything fresh and new.
Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod's "classic tale" kicks things off, with an unimpressive twenty-page story -- especially considering that unlike the other "X-Men: Gold" installments, it has a page count equal to most modern comics. The story packed with too many characters and elements, and relies heavily on nostalgia without bringing anything remotely new to the table. On the whole, Claremont's tale is an awkward re-hash of everything longtime fans already know, which makes for an incredibly dull premise with a dated and tragically unhip sensibility. This "classic tale" lifts from a bunch of concepts, perhaps most notably it feels a bit like a bad episode of the '90s "X-Men" cartoon. Claremont is extremely heavy with narration and naked exposition, resulting in a story with all the nuance of a sledgehammer. Though told initially from Kitty's perspective, Claremont head-hops whenever convenient, which is confusing at best.
McLeod's art is generally rough and pitched too high throughout. There is no room to amp up the emotional impact as the stakes are raised when even the smaller early notes are played with such dramatic over-acting. Kitty feels at least 30 years old, Madelyne Prior is unrecognizable and looks like a 40-year old soccer mom (in a sweater and mom-jeans) that inexplicably got brought along for a dangerous mission. Posing is awkward, action is unclear, acting is inconsistent and Kitty's costume is an absolute nightmare.
Stan Lee, Louise Simonson and Walter Simonson's "The Sorrow Beneath The Sport" is a somewhat-insignificant five page short, but it's at least fun (certainly in comparison to the Claremont/McLeod offering). Walter Simonson's art is the clear star, with a whimsy that's infectious. His style is sharp and aggressive, and it's genuinely fun to see him drawing some X-Men again. The concept isn't particularly original or interesting, but as a short it works and succeeds in part by not reaching beyond itself.
Roy Thomas and Pat Olliffe's utterly bizarre five-page Banshee/Sunfire non-team up is a mess, and one of the strangest, most useless stories I've ever read. Sunfire and Banshee both by coincidence arrive in Memphis to visit Sun Records (in the middle of the night?) and get into a superhero battle thanks to a misunderstanding, only to end up having coffee later to talk about their common interests. Olliffe's art is inconsistent, confusing and inelegant, but he's not given much to work with in the oddball script, so there was never much hope for the visuals.
Len Wein and Jorge Molina's "Options" is probably the standout story in the bunch, with a relatively clever idea and a solid execution. Picking up on the "new" X-Men team (from "Giant Sized X-Men" #1), Wolverine considers how he would take down each of his new teammates if he had to. Wolverine's ideas don't always stand up and the story could benefit generally with more than the five-pages it's given, but Wein keeps a sense of humor about the whole concept and Molina's art is pretty and consistent throughout.
The book ends on a five-page offering from Fabian Nicieza and Salvador Larroca called "Dreams Brighten" which is perhaps the cleverest of all the stories, but whose execution leaves a bit to be desired. Depicting a utopia with Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr at the center, there's something clearly wrong with Eric as he and Charles go about their day. The reveal that we're seeing a glimpse of the future that might have been prior to Charles destroying Eric's brain back in the 1990s "Fatal Attraction" storyline, is a good twist. It's a solid idea of a short, but it's not very emotionally engaging, or particularly fun from a visual perspective.
The X-Men (and their 50 year anniversary) deserve better than "X-Men: Gold" #1, and so do the longtime fans. If you really want to go back and celebrate 50 years of X-Men, take a long lovely afternoon thumbing through long boxes and re-live the greatness, as there is none to be found inside "X-Men: Gold" #1.