The conclusion of the “Dark X-Men” miniseries makes one point perfectly clear: the titular characters are little more than the supporting cast in their own series. Whether that was the point it intended to make is a little less obvious. With the focus on a newly-resurrected Nate Grey and his attempt to bring down Norman Osborn, it’s been an “X-Man” series in all but name. Great for some, not quite so interesting for others.
Luckily, where a lesser writer would have struggled badly with such a premise, Paul Cornell is on hand to bring it to life. Although not quite up to the standards of his “Captain Britain” work, there’s a refreshingly cliche-free feel to his plotting, and dialogue that rolls off the page. Teamed with frequent artistic partner, Leonard Kirk, it’s a superhero (or, perhaps, supervillain) comic that knows what it’s doing and does it well. The only flaws are with the dull characters in play (chosen prior to Cornell’s involvement) and the central premise of using the story to bring back Nate Grey, rather than make it about the Dark X-Men, something that was probably an editorial mandate.
If I sound forgiving, it’s because I’m well aware that my own tastes are working against me here, and technically there’s little worth criticizing. Indeed, despite the massive fatigue I feel at reading yet another Norman Osborn storyline, Cornell actually gets to play a bit with the Green Goblin persona, who has been sorely missed since the start of Dark Reign and the adoption of the Iron Patriot identity. The psychological interplay between Osborn and the “Goblin” personality is a highlight of the issue, and shows that even a character as ubiquitous as he has become can still carry a memorable scene in the right circumstances.
The series’ only real nod to its “stars” is the conclusion, where (without giving too much away) Nate gets the same fate as many a supervillain has had before. Structurally, this positions the Dark X-Men as the “heroes,” but it’s not something that’s especially well-supported by the text.
It’s tough not to enjoy the rather downbeat conclusion as something a miniseries would have trouble doing with more traditional heroes, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like it says much about the characters — except that they failed to escape the shadows of either Norman Osborn or Nate Grey. And when that’s a problem in their own title, it’s hard not to wonder whether the series can support another story about the characters, whose purpose died at the conclusion of the Utopia crossover.