In our last segment, I ranted about the problem with a pair of ten-year-olds staying in love for eight years without ever seeing or interacting with each other again until that fateful night when they just happen to run into each other at a cafe and the one with the angel wings starts singing exactly about that one summer all those years ago.
At the risk of repeating myself, a hiatus that long just doesn’t strike me as realistic, and it irritates me continuously to think about it being a plot point that Chuck Austen expected his readers to buy into for the sake of this story. He also expected his readers to be happy with an issue in which everyone sits around and talks about their relationships.
We are now three issues into this five issue arc, and the only superhero action we’ve gotten to see has been a kid with lightning eyes accidentally blowing up a house before a cop shoots him in the face-shoulder in the first issue and a three page fight between Angel, Husk, and a bunch of rednecks in the second. If you were hoping that Uncanny X-Men #439 was going to be the one that finally got to the action, then you will be disappointed.
The two plotlines that we cut between in this issue relate to our dear Julia pining away over Josh as she explains the depths of her love to her grandmother and Chester Cabot unveiling his diabolical plan to kill the X-Men using some high tech power armor that he found in an abandoned base that used to belong a different, more interesting set of supervillains. We also get a scene of the X-Men sitting around in a barn arguing with each other about how Angel used to be a jerk, especially to Wolverine, but he’s better now.
Because sitting in a barn airing your grievances with one another in the middle of a mission is a wonderful way to spend your time (if anyone was wondering, this two page interlude is all the X-Men do in this issue; the rest of it’s just evil scheming and poorly written teenage romance).
So the majority of this issue deals with Josh flying to Julia’s house to woo her and then whisk her off to a romantic evening by the pond where they spent that one summer together. As best I can tell, it’s intended to be playing on Romeo & Juliet‘s famous balcony scene.
Julia’s weeping about her only love sprung from her family’s only hate (yes, she says this; no, I don’t think Austen was being ironic when he stuck it in there; yes, in the original play Juliet owns up to participating in the feud like everyone in her family while here, not so much because we can’t have pettiness and bigotry sullying such a perfectly sweet character) while her grandmother tries to explain that this is foolishness, and her father will never allow her to be with Josh. Julia’s reply is rather marvelous in its eloquence:
GRANDMA: Julia. They’re all mutants…
JULIA: That’s not a reason. That’s an excuse. An excuse to turn inner pain into anger and focus it on someone other than yourself. An excuse for those whose own inadequacies are so immense–that they can only feel less deficient by dominating and controlling others who must be categorized as “beneath” them.
As an aside, I love the way comics speech bubbles add emphasis with boldface. The words writers choose to emphasize just don’t always sound right.
Now, here’s my issue with this bit of dialogue. I don’t actually disagree with the point that Austen’s trying to make. I honestly think he’s saying something of worth here. The problem is that he’s the one saying it. This doesn’t read like something that an eighteen-year-old girl from rural Kentucky would say in a fit of passion as she’s trying to explain why the family feud is so stupid. It’s the author soapboxing about a moral point he really wants to drive home instead of trying to make his characters sound real. This is a major problem, especially since storytelling in comics is driven by two things: art and dialogue. It’s not fashionable anymore to have mounds of narrative text boxes explaining what’s happening on a panel; readers generally expect their comics to behave like a television show where you can tell what’s going on based on what you see the characters doing and what they talk about. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with the printed page you don’t have the luxury of an actor interpreting what the writer has written to make it compelling. If the dialogue’s flat, or in this case just poorly written for the character who’s saying it, then there’s no intermediary between the audience and the writer.
That’s one of the reasons that dialogue in comics includes boldface to indicate what parts of lines should be emphasized, by the way.
When Josh shows up and makes his oh-so-corny comparison between Julia and the sun (Romeo was thinking that, not saying it, probably because he knew she’d laugh in his face at something so cheesy), everyone gapes in horror at his creepy stalker smile, and he and Julia say a bunch of sweet nonsense at each other.
I’ll give Austen credit here for characterization and dialogue; I hate most of what these two lovers say to each other, but I at least understand that Josh, who’s a young songwriter, probably spends a lot of time practicing lines like what he spits out here (“Hate is a choice. Love is a gift. An edict. A command. Love doesn’t understand names or labels.”) so I can at least believe that he’d say this drivel when he’s trying to impress a girl.
So they make googly eyes and Julia’s grandmother faints because apparently people still do that at the sound of pretty words. Julia is completely unconcerned that her grandmother may have just had a stroke because Josh is right in front of her being beautiful. Then the grandmother wakes up and tells Julia that she should run off with Josh right now or else she’s going to go after him herself.
So Julia does just that. She drives out to the pond where they spent that magical summer of magicalness and finds Josh patiently waiting for her.
Then they have sex.
And as a prelude to the awkwardness that comes in the next issue, we end with Julia’s father and brothers riding in crazy power armor as they stumble across the lovers, because nothing says funny/terrifying like being caught in the act by your dad when he’s literally on a murderous rampage.