This month, we’ll be looking at the Top 5 (used as sarcastically as possible) moments from Chuck Austen’s time on the X-Men! Let’s begin!
5) Archangel and Husk get naked in front of Ma Guthrie
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Archangel became a far cry from the millionaire playboy he had been in his early appearances. Blue skin, metal wings, brooding, depressed and a horrid lust for killing had made Warren Worthington something of a dull boy. Already back to his feathered wings, Chuck Austen restored his white skin in his first story arc and then decided to work on getting Warren over the death of his ex-girlfriend Psylocke. The obvious choice: Husk. As in the kid sister of the member of the junior X-Men team brought in after Warren’s team had already been replaced by a newer team. Does that scream creepy to anyone else?
It certainly did to Warren himself, who was torn on getting down and dirty with Husk, who we’ll say for decency sake was just on the legal side of the age of consent. Husk was all about it, despite that Warren’s powers (including his now-forgotten healing blood) mirrored those of her brother Josh’s. Finally, Husk broke through to Warren and the two embraced in front of their teammates and Husk’s mother. Warren flew off, and suddenly down came Husk’s t-shirt, hitting her mother in the face. The two had decided to go ahead and do whatever in clear view of Husk’s mother. You could fairly guess that from that point on, Warren was not quite welcome in the Guthrie household.
I could go on about how awful She Lies with Angels was as a story, but I think that can wait for a spotlight on Austen’s entire run. We’ll save it for after the Top 100 list.
4) Revealing the truth about the Xorns
Grant Morrison had introduced Xorn as a new character to the X-Men – a zen-focused mutant with a star for a head and healing powers. The big reveal near the end of his run was that Xorn was actually Magneto in disguise, infiltrating the team, recruiting some students and decimating the team. At the end of the story, Magneto killed Phoenix then lost his head to Wolverine. It was an excellent story and solid end to the whole story. Until, that is, that Marvel wanted to bring both Magneto and Xorn back.
I’m actually going to be lazy on this one and simply cut and paste what I had written in a feature on Xorn:
Xorn, in theory, would be simple to bring back. As the original had seemingly been a creation of the villain, you could simply twist it to say that the Xorn identity was based on a real Xorn who was still himself locked up in China (where the Magneto one had been found). Then the imposter villain used two identities of actual people to push his goal. Yes, more of a cop out, but it still makes sense and allows you to have the character back in relatively the same state that the original had been in. But I guess that would have made too much sense.
Instead, the Xorn that was found by Havok’s team of X-Men revealed himself to be the brother of the original Xorn that infiltrated the X-Men. In a baffling line of dialogue, Emma Frost mentions that she doesn’t know if the new one shared the old one’s healing powers, but like the original’s ‘star for a head’, this one had a black hole for a head. The writer of this drivel, the universally despised Chuck Austen, obviously didn’t read the original material, or he would have realized that the ‘original Xorn’ was not real. He was a disguise used by someone impersonating Magneto. How this got past the editors truly baffles. So now, instead of having an impersonator disguising himself as both Xorn and Magneto, we have Xorn, disguised as Magneto, disguising himself as Xorn (himself) to infiltrate the X-Men. And that’s what they went with.
The second Xorn ended Austen’s X-Men tenure by sucking all the loose ends of the plot into his black hole of a head and simply walking away. He hasn’t been seen since.
3) Faking the Rapture
It became quite obvious very early on that Chuck Austen has some issues with the Catholic Church. This came to a head in the story “Holy War” in which former villains the ‘Church of Humanity’ was toted back out and drastically changed and Nightcrawler was removed from the priest role that he had taken upon Chris Claremont’s return to the X-Men some four years before. The story had also opened with the crucification of a number of X-Men b-listers including Jubilee and Magma as well as Skin and Jesse Bedlam, who did not survive the experience. To make matters worse, the issue was only 99 cents, as Marvel had hoped to use it as a jumping on point for fans captured with the awesomeness of the recently released X2: X-Men United.
But aside from being offensive to the religious, Holy War featured one of the most ludicrous plots that I, a comic fan for nearly 20 years, can recall. The Church of Humanity’s leader, earlier written as a religious zealot, was transformed into a former nun who had been sexually abused by a priest and was hellbent (get it?) on bringing down Catholicsm. Their plan was to install Nightcrawler as the Pope, then force his image inducer to fail, revealing his devilish natural appearance to horrified Catholics. At that moment, they would trigger the rapture making people fear that the end of times had come. How that was supposed to bring down the church, especially once the people realized the world was NOT ending, was left to speculation. It seemed more like an overly convoluted plot to get Nightcrawler killed. Bastion had a much more effective and straightforward idea – punch him through the chest.
But what made this even MORE ludicrous was the means of faking the rapture. How to make scores of people vanish into thin air? Simple – use tainted communion wafers that, when triggered, disintegrated those who had injested them. That’s right – disintegrating communion wafers. That was the plan in the arc used to bring in new readers to the X-Men. Bloody brilliant.
Oh, and in case you hadn’t caught it already, the Rapture is not a Catholic belief. According to Wikipedia:
The Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox churches, the Anglican Communion, as well as most Protestant Calvinist denominations have no tradition of a preliminary return of Christ and reject the doctrine, in part because they cannot find any reference to it among any of the early Church fathers and find its biblical foundation weak, and because of their rejection of the 19th-century concept of dispensationalism. Some also reject it because they interpret prophetic scriptures in either an amillennial or postmillennial fashion.
You can see the flaws in the plan.
2) The Wedding of Havok and Polaris
Almost since the characters debuted in the 1960’s, Havok and Polaris had been a couple. They were largely defined by their relationship with one another through their entire existenses. So when Havok was chucked into an alternate reality at the close of X-Factor, it left Polaris rather aimless for a while. When Austen took over Uncanny, one of his first acts was to get Havok back into the mainstream, but unfortunately brought with him the rather horrid character of Nurse Annie, who fell in love with Havok for no reason other than he was a cute coma patient. I think there was something about mental manipulation on the part of her far-too-young-to-have-mutant-powers son, too.
But of course with Havok back, it would only be a matter of time before Polaris showed up too, right? But in her spare time, Polaris had been present for the destruction of Genosha, which had driven her ker-aaaaaaazy! But to Chuck Austen, insanity caused by witnessing a horrifically traumatic experience translated into Polaris acting like a horny jerk who didn’t mind if people saw her naked. Now jealous of the nurse who had a crush on Havok, she insisted he marry her and the wedding that was decades in the making came to pass. Until Havok realized that he loved the nurse he barely knew (who just happened to have recently nailed Iceman), that is, and left Polaris at the altar. This caused the horny jerk to become a violent, horny jerk and Polaris attacked all of the X-Men present until Havok eventually talked her down. She was in a miserable story – she’d just have to deal with it.
When Austen handed over writing reins to Peter Milligan, Nurse Annie was one of the first things to go. Havok and Polaris slowly began moving back together until finally, during Ed Brubaker’s run, they finally became a couple again. As for Lorna’s craziness? That vanished with Austen as well. Strangest thing.
1) The Draco (that’s right – all of it)
What was the greatest X-Men story never told? Proteus’s first steps? How Unus the Untouchable came back to life after suffocating in his own force field (before he again suffocated in his own force field)? No, no. It would of course be just who knocked up Mystique with that little fuzzy blue elf Nightcrawler. That was the thought of Chuck Austen when he set out with the Draco, a six part epic (plus prologue) to solve that mystery…and I say epic only in the scale of how much the story sucked. Seriously, it sucked really, really hard. But that’s kind of the point of it being here, so I’ll take you through it.
Nightcrawler’s father turned out to be this demon-ish guy named Azazel (one of the 30 or so Marvel U guys that claim to be what Christians think as the Devil) who lived in the “fire and brimstone” world that Nightcrawler travels through when he teleports (according to some writers). Azazel doesn’t enjoy living in the “fire and brimstone” world, so he hatches a fiendishly clever plan: he’ll breed a stock of mutant teleporters who will eventually all come together and open a big portal which will allow Azazel to come through to Earth. So with plan in hand, he travels to Earth and begins breeding teleporters.
Did you catch the flaw there? TO OPEN A PORTAL TO COME TO EARTH, AZAZEL TRAVELS TO EARTH TO BREED TELEPORTERS. My favorite sum up of this ridiculous pile came from Paul O’Brien’s X-Axis:
I’m reminded of something which, I think, was one of the Baron Munchausen stories. The Baron is going out hiking. He’s fully equipped for the mountains. But alas, he’s so busy looking at the mountains that he doesn’t see where he’s going, and he falls down a well. He tries to get out by throwing his grappling hook up to the top of the well, but the well is too deep and the hook won’t reach. He tries to climb the walls, but they’re too slippery. And he cries for help, but nobody hears. Finally, having exhausted every other option, he goes home and gets a ladder.
But that didn’t come until the V of VI issue in a seven part story. It was equally bad leading up to that. First, we had the reveal that most of the mutant teleporters were all half brothers. This forced a dramatic re-design of the character of Abyss to the point that he was unidentifiable until somebody got around to mentioning his name on panel. Then we had Nightcrawler get his hands mangled in the teleportation ritual, only to be healed by having Archangel bleed on him (yup). Then, most of the X-Men sit around doing nothing, including the recently returned Jubilee who began talking with constant “like” sentences and being a ditzy airhead. Then you have the scene where Iceman gets shattered, so they carry around his head (still alive) until Havok comes up with the idea to pee him a new body. The idea was so horrible (not to mention impossible) that it was thrown out the next issue and Iceman eventually absorbed the water out of another’s body (tossing out the long-held X-Men don’t kill ideal), because he can apparently do that.
In the background, we have the ongoing storyline that Polaris is crazy (for no real reason) but then she gets over it and comes to the rescue, opening a deus-ex portal inside of Abyss and yanking everyone through. That topples Azazel and his fortress into a giant vortex, vanquishing the villain. Except that the vortex presumebly led to Earth, which means Azazel got exactly what he wanted. Oh, and we also had a subplot where Juggernaut went looking for his little fish buddy only to be confronted by a redesigned Alpha Flight. And let me tell you, you haven’t seen awesome until you’ve seen Sasquatch in tech armor.
So what did we get out of the Draco, besides seven wasted months of Uncanny X-Men? Nightcrawler is the son of the “devil” and is the half-brother of Abyss, despite no resemblence before this story. His father has a plan that completely ignores his given ability to already complete it, and Havok thinks that he can pee enough water to constitute a human body. And this, to my knowledge, is the worst story ever published in an X-Men title, making it the Top Chuck Austen Moment Ever!
See you next month.
Want more? Check out the Comicdom Wrecks! feature Chuck Austen’s X-Men!