The greatness of a character is often proportional to the number of connections they make over the course of their history. No character ever becomes great just by hanging out with a handful of people and never really interacting with anyone else. Even The Three Stooges make an effort to connect with others in between slap-stick humor and casual violence. In the Marvel universe, connections are hard to keep up with, but some find ways to create their own elaborate web of friends, enemies, and frenemies over the course of their narrative.
While some, namely Wolverine and Spider-Man, end up sleeping with too large a portion of their connections, others manage to expand their web in a variety of ways. With respect to the X-men, few characters network better than Kitty Pryde. Even though she isn’t among the original five X-men and had a lot of catching up to do after her debut during Chris Claremont’s iconic run, she somehow finds a way to establish herself in every superhero social circle she’s in.
Some of it comes from her natural charisma. Some of it comes from her tough, yet likable attitude. Having a pet dragon probably doesn’t hurt either. Since taking on a leadership role in X-men: Gold, Kitty Pryde is often in a position to reconnect with old friends and forge new friendships. This has already helped her rekindle things with Colossus, a relationship that is still a developing part of the narrative in X-men: Gold. This also gives her more opportunities to reach out to old connections, which she does in X-men: Gold Annual #1.
Marc Guggenheim and Leah Williams work together in an singular, extra-sized story that puts Kitty and her gold team back in touch with the likes of Captain Britain and the Braddock family. It’s a connection that she hasn’t explored in quite some time, but the story makes clear that the connection remains as strong as ever. Like old friends getting together after life gets in the way, the reunion feels real and genuine. The only difference with the X-men is that life getting in the way often takes the form of superhero civil wars.
The circumstances surrounding the reunion aren’t elaborate or contrived. In fact, it adds to the overall realness of the reunion because it involves Brian and Meggan announcing that they’ve had a baby. Even though the circumstances with such major life events take on some twisted quirks, which is all too common with the X-men, it’s still one of those unique moments that feels personal. It only becomes more fanciful when aliens attack.
While that may seem contrived in most other narratives, it’s downright inane in an X-men comic. The only way to make it meaningful is to give an alien attack some context and that’s what Guggenheim and Williams attempt to do in X-men: Gold Annual #1. The attack isn’t entirely random, nor is it impersonal either. It actually involves the D’Bari, an alien race with strong, albeit antagonistic, personal connection with Rachel Grey and the entire Grey bloodline. Those familiar with the events of the original Phoenix Saga don’t need much context as to why that animosity exists.
Even those unfamiliar with such classic moments in X-men lore won’t be too lost because the story makes it a point to establish some emotional stakes, alongside the connections. The angry D’Bari involved, Starhammer, has a valid reason and an understandable motivation for dropping in on Rachel, the X-men, and the Braddock family. That motivation gives the conflict that unfolds some dramatic weight. It’s not overly elaborate, but there are personal undertones, which is critical in making any generic alien attack more interesting.
While the connections and the context are there, the depth is somewhat lacking. There’s more story built into Kitty Pryde, Rachel, and Nightcrawler catching up with Meggan and Brian than there is with the fight against Starhammer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because those moments make for some of the most meaningful interactions in the story. They’re cute, they’re heartfelt, and they’re even pretty funny at times, which is entirely appropriate when adults gush over a new baby.
However, those moments aren’t necessarily balanced or complemented by the conflict that unfolds with Starhammer. If anything, it comes off as detached. It just interrupts Kitty, Rachel, and Nightcrawler’s efforts to catch up with old friends and nothing more than that. Even with the personal connections there, the narrative does little to expand or enhance on them. It doesn’t undermine them either, but that still results in a great deal of untapped potential.
Some of that lost potential is a byproduct of the pace. While there’s plenty of time allotted to exploring the newly-expanded Braddock family, the battle against Starhammer comes off as rushed or condensed. It never gets a chance to be dramatic or epic. For conflict built around a very personal moment that spun out of a very iconic X-men story, it feels like a missed opportunity.
That doesn’t stop the resolution from being appropriate. Rushed or not, the way in which the X-men and the Braddock family resolve the conflict is very much in keeping with the traditions of both the X-men and Excalibur. The story doesn’t try to reinvent or subvert these themes. It just doesn’t provide enough depth to make the resolution more memorable.
Despite this, X-men: Gold Annual #1 never feels like an incomplete or empty story. True to the tradition of annuals, it offers a simple, self-contained narrative that leaves no loose ends or unanswered questions. It doesn’t attempt to be bigger than it needs to be. It just offers a simple narrative built around strong personal connections. The fact that it somehow manages to squeeze in an alien attack is almost secondary.