Okay, so yesterday I wrote about my bizarre childhood dream to catch up on X-Men continuity, and how that drove me to endure some truly awful periods in the franchise’s publishing history. The one that sticks out in my mind as the most mind numbingly awful, for the primary series at least, was Chuck Austen’s stint from 2002 to 2004 on Uncanny X-Men.
Though Austen didn’t create the character Stacy X (yes, she is a mutant stripper with pheromone powers that, among other things, can induce people to have sex), he didn’t shy away from using her to add tension to the relationship drama that he brought up constantly throughout his run. Michael Aronson, in reviewing the first arc of Austen’s run, pointed out that Austen wasn’t above depicting an argument between Stacy X and Husk where romantic feelings are reduced to pure chemical lust and Stacy derogates Husk’s appearance, which the younger girl takes as the ultimate in insults, storming away crying because she’s just been slut-shamed by a character who should know better than to do that! The guy that the women are fighting over (because every instance of a love triangle that we get from Austen involves two women fighting over a man who’s completely innocent of the conflict) is the X-Men mainstay, Angel.
Y’know, the guy with bird wings who’s been around since the ’60s?
Yeah, at first it’s just a more or less harmless crush that Husk, a 19-year-old at this point in continuity, has on Angel, who is probably in his early 30s. When it gets reciprocated (in the pages of “She Lies with Angels” where the couple fly off to have sex in the air right in front of Husk’s mother) it becomes skeevy. It breaks the dating someone younger rule, which is universally understood to be:
(Your age/2) + 7
That’s the minimum. If Angel is even just 30, then that means he shouldn’t be dating anyone younger than 22. It’s creepy.
But I’m ranting about generalities when I need to be ranting about specifics.
The first issue of “She Lies with Angels,” Uncanny X-Men #437 opens with what I’m guessing is a reference to the opening scene of Romeo & Juliet where members of the rival houses are figuring out how to start a fight without getting blamed for being the ones who started it. Except here it’s a bunch of middle school kids acting pretty much the way middle school kids act. None of them really know why there’s a feud going on, but they have no problem contributing to it. I’ll give Chuck Austen credit for this opening, because I think it’s believable.
Until the sheriff intervenes and shoots a kid in the face.
Let me back up and say that the kid in question is a mutant, and he’s just caused a rather large explosion (by accident!), so there’s probably a reasonable expectation that he could be dangerous.
But the cop shoots him in the face.
See, the way I recall Romeo & Juliet working, you have a fight, but no one gets seriously hurt so much as the public order’s being disturbed, and the Prince steps in to keep things from escalating. Shooting a kid is not a de-escalation technique.
From there, we cut to Westchester, New York, where Husk, better known as Paige Guthrie, catches up with Angel, or Warren to his friends, to define their relationship after he finally reciprocated in a previous issue. I don’t remember the details; don’t ask me to relive more of this than I have to. Warren’s been pushing her away, and Paige wants to know what’s up with that. She lays it out there, and Warren shoots her down pretty directly. The only irksome thing is that at first it seems like Paige is going to handle this like an adult, since she asks him rather straightforwardly if she just needs to move on. When Warren says that, yes, she should give up on him, Paige nearly breaks down crying right in the hallway until Jubilee comes along with the phone saying that Paige’s brother has been shot.
I don’t have a problem with someone having to deal with heartache, especially when the person they’re pining for has just flat out told them to move on. But this scene starts with Paige composed and ready to discuss the problem that Warren created between them, and it ends with her going to pieces. It didn’t have to. Paige could have maintained her composure until she got somewhere in private, but no, the waterworks start the moment Warren walks away. Why?! She was prepared to have this conversation, knowing it might not go the way she wanted!
Poorly written characters frustrate me.
We cut to the Guthrie family home where we learn that the kid who got shot in the first half of the issue was actually just shot in the shoulder. So we have sloppy art on top of a cop who is clearly unfit to carry a sidearm. Anyway, the kid’s fine, just bandaged up and bedridden at home (except I’m pretty sure that gunshot wounds would generally require at least staying overnight in a hospital) where the entire Guthrie clan is gathered, along with their black friend Ray and his son Ray, Jr.
It’s very important that we know the Guthries are not racists, in order to contrast with the Cabots, who are unrepentant bigots of every shape and kind. Otherwise we wouldn’t know who the villains are in this Romeo & Juliet “tribute.” Forgive me, but I thought it was pretty clear at the end of that play that both the Capulets and Montagues are at fault for what’s going on. The Guthries are squeaky clean, upstanding folks who never do anything wrong for the rest of this arc. Their only crime is having a twelve-year-old boy who acts exactly like a twelve-year-old boy.
Anyway, we learn that the Guthrie boy, Jeb, intentionally provoked the Cabot kids, so the cop, in a move that tips the hat that he isn’t a neutral party at all, says that the entire Guthrie clan is banned from town. You know, because guilt by association is established in the American Constitution.
Anyway, after the cop makes this unimpeachable legal decision, the Guthrie matriarch Lucinda takes it in stride, acting like it’s perfectly rational that the entire family’s been banned from town for the idiotic actions of her adolescent son.
Before the issue ends (there’s four more of these, you know), we finally cut to a cafe where Paige’s brother Josh, who’s a year her junior, is singing with his band. It’s revealed that Josh, like most of his siblings, is a mutant. His mutation apparently granted him red bird wings (this speaks to a whole subplot that never really got off the ground during Austen’s run that I’ll address later) and the ability to modulate his voice so that he can sing complex harmonies with himself.
We’re introduced to this character through the eyes of Julia Cabot, our Juliet stand-in. Austen makes a valiant attempt at giving her inner monologue some poetic flourishes, but it sounds labored and overwrought; teenagers do not spout off this kind of flowery language extemporaneously. Also, directly comparing a guy who has wings and a self-harmonizing voice to an angel is the epitome of lazy symbolic writing. Warren typically gets a pass because he’s a character who was conceived in the Silver Age when that kind of stuff was de rigeur, but Josh is a character who was updated and fleshed out specifically for this plot line.
Make sure to come back next time for Part 3 when we discover the absurd explanation for why Josh and Julia are meant for each other and their families just don’t understand them.