Alright, so when last we left our heroes, there was a feud going on, and with the start of Uncanny X-Men #438 it’s time that Chuck Austen reminds us of this fact.
The Guthries, who’ve been talking with Sheriff Pete about their ban from the town and the imminent arrest of a twelve-year-old as soon as he’s well enough to get out of bed (he was shot in the face-shoulder last issue; why isn’t he in the hospital?), see that the Cabots are coming, armed to the teeth, to peaceably discuss the situation. The matriarch Lucinda Guthrie tells one of her daughters to bring her rifle, because the woman has some common sense about what you should be prepared to do when a truck full of angry men with guns and molotov cocktails arrives on her property. The sheriff, in contrast, says that maybe they shouldn’t get all up in arms yet–of course, this is the sheriff who shot a kid in the face-shoulder, so I doubt his worth as a crisis manager.
This doubt is justified when on the next page we see that Chester, the Cabot family patriarch, has come with the express purpose of taking young Jeb out and beating him senseless. That’s expressed violent intent, and the sheriff doesn’t do anything about it! It’ll be revealed before this issue’s over that he’s in Cabot’s pocket, but it’s still gut-bustingly asinine that he doesn’t even call out the fact that the Cabots are acting aggressive without imminent provocation.
Also on this page, Lucinda finally retrieves her rifle, which looks suspiciously like a double-barrel shotgun. I actually like Lucinda; she’s one of the better drawn characters in this mess, so I’m going to chalk this up to an art mistake. It doesn’t strike me as plausible that Lucinda wouldn’t know what kind of gun she owns otherwise. That mistake aside, Lucinda is now armed, and the first person she turns her gun on is the sheriff.
Let me repeat that. She points her gun at the sheriff.
I understand being suspicious of the fact that Sheriff Pete is not doing his job very well. He did, after all, shoot Lucinda’s son in the face-shoulder and try to brush off the appearance of an angry lynch mob on the Guthries’ front porch as people just come to talk things out. But you don’t point a weapon at a police officer in order to make your point!
Cut back to the cafe where Julia is still fawning over the angelic Josh. She’s utterly smitten with him after listening to him sing one song that Josh’s current kind-of girlfriend Rosalinda (*nudge* just like Rosaline!) unfavorably compares to Enya.
I think this whole scene of Julia falling head over heels for Josh is supposed to be a callback to the Capulet’s party where Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time, but with the reversal that the girl’s crazy wrapped up in the moment. One thing I like about Romeo & Juliet is that even though they’re kids, Juliet is no idiot. There’s very strong evidence that Romeo’s kind of a moron who’s ruled by his emotional whims where Juliet is much more rational in her approach to their relationship. Not so here! Julia’s utterly smitten with Josh, and she hasn’t even spoken to him yet.
Something needs to be said here about the trope of “love at first sight.” I get that it’s really common, and Romeo & Juliet is like the ur-example in English literature, but it’s just not a very satisfying device. See, in the Elizabethan period people had this conception that a person’s eyes worked by sending out invisible beams that bounced back and told them what they were seeing. We now know that it’s actually the reverse of that; your eye takes in light and produces a photographic image that your brain interprets as what you’re seeing. But in the 1500s, it was eyebeams. Here’s a stanza from John Donne’s “The Ecstacy” where he uses the eyebeams as a metaphor for the intertwined fate of lovers:
Our hands were firmly cemented
By a fast balm, which thence did spring ;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string.
And here’s a link to the whole poem if you want to read the rest. The point is that “love at first sight” had a different meaning for Shakespeare’s original audience. It was not just the simple, immediate attraction that we generally understand the term to mean today. If you fell in love at first sight, then you and your beloved’s eyebeams were intertwining and piercing you both physically. Unfortunately there are no eyebeams to speak of in this story (Cyclops wasn’t even featured in Uncanny X-Men during Austen’s run).
I would love to see a modern love story that plays with that kind of interaction between lovers. “She Lies with Angels” is not that love story.
No, instead Julia’s just smitten with Josh because he has a superhuman voice, which she has just discovered is because he’s a mutant when she goes back to his dressing room after his band finishes their set and she finds that his wings are *gasp!* real.
But we don’t dwell on that revelation for more than a splash page before we return to the stand-off in progress at the Guthrie homestead. Sheriff Pete’s getting awfully nervous about having that gun pointed in his face, so he tries to talk Lucinda down by first explaining to her that he had to shoot her son in the face-shoulder in order to calm the situation and then asking her out on a date.
Cop of the year right here, folks.
Chester Cabot, finally sick of all this posturing, shoves Pete out of the way and fires his gun. All of a sudden, we get an action sequence as Austen finally remembered that this is a superhero comic, and readers expect some superheroics! So Angel and Husk beat up the Cabots and send them running with their tails between their legs. Sheriff Pete finally does something right and threatens to arrest Chester. Of course, in another art flub, Chester’s already been arrested by Angel’s fist, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for Pete to order him into the back of his squad car.
The excitement only lasts for a few pages though, because we’re back to Josh and Julia, and they finally have their first conversation where we learn that they’ve actually been secretly pining after one another ever since they were ten years old. This in spite of the fact that they haven’t seen each other in the intervening eight years, and, you know, puberty. Josh makes it seem like Julia was this great idealized love that he never got over, but I find it hard to believe that he preferred his memory of a prepubescent ten-year-old to any teenage girl who would have taken an interest in him as the lead singer/song-writer in a local band who also happens to be stupid handsome.
Nope, I don’t buy it.
We get a reenactment of Romeo and Juliet’s first conversation where Romeo does the whole kissing her hand thing, and it just makes me gag because as hard as Austen’s trying to make this romantic, it just seems saccharine and overwrought. I just can’t believe these two characters are in love and spouting this kind of nonsense to each other (in front of Josh’s friend who apparently has a moment of meta-clarity when we get a close up panel of his bewildered face as he watches the scene unfold before him).
Thankfully the scene gets interrupted by Julia’s grandmother stepping into the dressing room and informing the two lovers that they belong to feuding houses, just like the Nurse does in Romeo & Juliet. These parallels get exhausting to point out, but I want to make it clear that this is not a tribute; this is a rip off that steals the structure of a better told story to try to make the audience care about its characters. Also, am I really supposed to believe that these two kids have remembered and pined over each other for years, and they never crossed paths in all that time in a small Kentucky coal-mining town where their families are supposed to have been feuding for no one remembers how long?
My mind is boggled.
The rest of this issue shows Lucinda calling Pete an insensitive moron for expecting to get a date with her after he shot her son in the face-shoulder, Josh pining over Julia while his friend Manny gags with a spoon, and Pete releasing the Cabots back at their house, where it’s revealed that Pete was supposed to let the Cabots go and kill all the Guthries in one swoop. Also we find out that Chester Cabot poisoned Lucinda’s husband to death, a retcon that boils my blood because the original story was that Paige’s father had died of the black lung after a life as a coal miner, and his family had to scrape by to survive. It was a poignant bit that acknowledged that there are real life tragedies that arise from social injustices and not just costumed villains. I hate that Chuck Austen decided to throw more fuel on the fire of the Cabot/Guthrie feud that he invented by making it so Lucinda’s husband was poisoned to death.
Check out the next installment when the X-Men finally show up, three issues into this five-part story.