The Tie-Ins That Bind: X-Men: The Jewels of Cyttorak by Dean Wesley Smith

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I’ll be blunt. This entry exists because I crashed against the rocks on another entry. That piece, a take on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, collapsed because I had no point to make beyond that book is a novelization. It is. It’s not even a very interesting adaptation once you hear the radio show. Honestly working on it impressed me a lot less with the book because of how direct a lift it was.

So I threw it out and was left to write a new column. The only problem: I hadn’t read any of the books I was planning for this. Instead I’d read The Batman Murders by Craig Shaw Gardner and X-Men: The Jewels of Cyttorak by Dean Wesley Smith, both extremely good representatives of the median for tie-ins and honestly really fun reads. So I decided to go with the lesser known one–you can find Murders at pretty much every used bookstore–and give my thoughts.

The Jewels of Cyttorak depicts a villain who, after getting his hands on a third of an emerald, becomes a Juggernaut type figure determined to get the other 2/3. It’s a simple story that plays on the lore of the Juggernaut who has to team up with the X-Men. Along the way, they’re forced to delve into the thieving underground of New Orleans which brings Gambit in. There are fight scenes galore.

A book like this is pretty much as perfect an example of why I love the Boulevard/Byron Press Marvel line as it gets. This is a down the middle, not too dense book but it’s a fun read. It mixes the Marvel lore nicely, creating a story that justifies picking up a book for. It’s a brief read but enough of that time is spent on exposition to entertain a newcomer (me in 1999) or a veteran of the comics (me in 2018). It’s a perfect model of an X-Men story in the late 90s.

Of course there’s the issue that the book can’t upset the status quo. We run into this every time and I think Dean Wesley Smith, a tie-in veteran, figured out the best workaround: He doesn’t even try to upset it. He puts most of the focus on a new villain, one who is interesting enough to hold our attention. Service, the “emerald Juggernaut”, is fun to follow as just a terrible person obsessed with power. It’s a blast to live through those eyes just for a bit.

The book is also tightly paced. Smith’s other three entries in the line are all quick, punchy reads. He gets in and out fast. I like that. While in theory it’d be nice to spend a long time in these worlds, most of the lengthy books wind up feeling hopelessly bloated. I like his approach.

However I think that’s maybe why this book is just middle tier. It’s in no way ambitious. It tells a tight but highly minor story. I didn’t remember anything about it in the 20 years between readings except Gambit was in it and Juggernaut was the villain. It’s a blip. There are better and worse reads.

But here’s the thing we ignore about the canon: most of it is blips. We remember the big events but a lot of comics are nothing more than churn. Even the great runs have it. There’s a nice chunk of Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run that goes nowhere. Frank Miller’s Daredevil is mostly filler. Time killing is the essence of the art.

So it is here. This story kills time. But it does so in a fun way. Is it worth $7 on Amazon? Absolutely. I’d recommend it. A fun example of the middle of the road.

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