Alright, I now bring you the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the end of this review series! We’re finishing off “She Lies with Angels” with Uncanny X-Men #441.
We open with a splash page that makes entirely the wrong kind of sense if you think about it too hard. Paige and Warren, who just worked out their issues in front of the rest of the team and Paige’s mother, are joining the Mile High Club without the aid of an aircraft. A single speech bubble erupts from the lower corner screaming, “Joooshuaaa! NOOOO!”
Maybe I just have a twisted mind, but I read this panel and think, “Warren’s an angel mutant; Josh’s an angel mutant. What if Paige got confused about which angel mutant she just flew into the sky with?” After you let the feeling of ick wear off, just remember that even though this isn’t her brother, it’s still kind of creepy.
Of course, the whole point of this splash page is to establish that Paige and Warren are in the air, so they can conveniently spot the Cabots coming to kill the Guthries (which, alternatively, could have been achieved by Warren just, y’know, flying on patrol seeing as how his team’s still on a mission). In the whole scene’s defense, it does give Austen an excuse to have Paige do an aerial dive bomb as she turns into stone to increase her terminal velocity. As an action set piece, I think it’s fun. I just regret that the setup had to be two of our heroes having sex in the air when there’s imminent danger and all.
Setting aside that faint bit of praise, we have in this issue a whole slew of senseless death and destruction. Ironically, all the victims are human, and with one exception they all belong to the Cabot side of the feud. Generally I don’t mind when a character dies in the course of a story. It can either be meaningful or it can be random and pointless. Both approaches typically tug on the heartstrings of the audience. Of course, I say that with the caveat that it should fit the tone of your story. In something that’s supposed to generally be light and optimistic (like superheroes!) senseless deaths are cheap and smack of audience manipulation. Especially when it’s the deaths of side characters who were clearly only introduced to help score moral victory points for the heroes instead of being filled out into fully realized characters.
You guys remember Ray, right?
If not, I’ll sum up what he does in this story arc. He’s a friend of the Guthries whose son is involved in the fight where Jeb gets shot. He and his son Ray, Jr. stay with the Guthries for support while the X-Men wait for something to happen with the Cabots. Also, Ray is Lucinda’s boyfriend. Then he dies in the fight between the Cabots and the X-Men.
Also, Ray is black.
This may be cynical of me, but I get the impression that Ray was introduced just so that it could be shown that the Guthries are not bigots and then killed off to give Lucinda a little extra pathos (she’s already got a dead husband, why not add a dead boyfriend?) and to avoid the pesky business of keeping up with the continuity of minor characters we’ll rarely, if ever, see again.
Besides Ray, Chester Cabot and Sheriff Pete bite it in the fighting; specifically, Pete has his redemption moment where he turns on Chester and shoots him in the head, then promptly dies when Chester shoots him in the stomach at the same time. His last words are to ask Lucinda out on a date again.
I’m sorry, Pete, but no. When will you learn that shooting people in the face is not how you make women like you?
Predictably, the X-Men prevail and everything’s sunshine and daisies (except for all the dead people).
Meanwhile, Austen doesn’t want us to forget that we still have the unresolved plot of Julia and the apparently dead Josh. At this point, the one thing you need to know in order to understand how this is all going to work out for the worst is this: In the last major story arc before this one, “The Draco,” Chuck Austen introduced the concept of mutant bloodlines, specifically demonic and angelic ones. It was supposed to be an in-universe explanation for why some apparently unrelated mutants had similar powers. If you haven’t guess by now, Warren and Josh have near identical power sets. Warren doesn’t have the super voice, but he does have magical healing properties in his blood. Naturally, so does Josh. Only no one’s told him that might happen (mostly because he never actually interacts with the rest of his family through this whole story, but someone who knows Josh’s mutation might have asked some questions upon seeing Warren).
So Josh is dead and Julia, in her fit of despair that’s supposed to mirror Romeo’s takes Josh’s smoking, perforated body with her into the pond where they first fell in love, intending to drown herself in his arms. The fact that this is more shades of Ophelia rather than Romeo seems lost on Austen.
You can guess how this goes, right?
Julia drowns and Josh’s wounds wait until after she’s dead to start healing, so that when he wakes there’s no chance of saving her. The next logical step in the Stations of the Doomed Lovers is for Josh to kill himself.
That doesn’t work out so well for him, what with the super healing powers, so he pointlessly impales himself multiple times, which is how Warren finds him after the fighting’s over. From there we close with a monologue from the now-dead Julia talking about how Josh will heal with time and move on.
This whole ending setup just baffles me. Every time Austen does something to draw attention to the fact that he based this story on Romeo & Juliet, I cringe because it’s so ham-fisted. Julia died and Josh wants to kill himself, but he can’t because he’s a mutant. What a tragedy.
I don’t buy it.
Yes, it is awful that Julia commits suicide. As much as I dislike the character, I think that’s a poor end for anyone, especially a teenager. Yes, Josh has good reason to grieve. Even if he didn’t know Julia very well, he still cared about her, and he’s going to have to grieve. As far as not being able to kill himself, I’d say that’s a pretty sweet deal. He’s protected from making a very serious mistake.
So no, this is not a great tragedy on par with Romeo & Juliet. If Austen really wanted to go for that, I would have preferred if he’d inflicted more damage to both the Cabots and the Guthries. The essential tragedy of the original play is that these two families literally tear each other apart because they can’t stop fighting. They have no future. The only children of both the Capulets and the Montagues are dead when the curtain draws. Though we don’t see it, this is the end of both houses. “All are punish’d.”
To be truly honest, I think the story would have been better served with Josh staying dead. His healing powers feel like a cop out, and on a meta-level, I can’t help feeling that this story line just served to establish a new Angel clone for the New Mutants series that launched in July 2004, a couple months after “She Lies with Angels” concluded. Josh went over to that book immediately following his introduction here, with all the emotional baggage that having a dead girlfriend grants a character in a series that revolves around high school drama.
To be fair, I thought that Josh was much better written in that series, and I didn’t cringe every time I saw him pining over a picture of the girl he knew for two days. Eventually he was killed off as they wound that series down, and it was kind of a sucky end for him. Maybe in another post I’ll discuss that story someday. But for now, just know that “She Lies with Angels” is over. We can move on with our lives and it can never hurt us again.
Man, it sucked.