We start off our 13-part weekly look back at one of the darkest periods in X-Men history with the only possible place: the beginning! It was in the three-issue Hope that we got our first taste of what Chuck Austen would bring to the X-Men and see the groundwork laid for stories to come.
Took Place in
Uncanny X-Men #410 – 412 (3 issues)
Archangel (leader), Nightcrawler, Iceman, Wolverine, Stacy X, M (borrowed)
Black Tom Cassidy…sort of
Others you should be aware of
Professor X, Sammy Pare the Squid Boy, Beast, Nurse Annie, Carter, Havok, Cyclops, Juggernaut
In a nutshell
Juggernaut calls the X-Men to help him deal with the mutating Black Tom Cassidy. Professor X goes to recruit a new student. A creepy nurse is taking care of a catatonic Havok, apparently around since he got blowed up at the close of X-Factor.
Tropes to watch for
Filling space, Nobody’s Favorite, Better the Way it was, My word that’s convenient.
We’ll go into detail after the jump.
When Chuck Austen inherited Uncanny X-Men from outgoing writer Joe Casey, the title wasn’t exactly in a good place. Running backup to Grant Morrison’s landmark New X-Men had given it the quality of B-list and it starred the characters Morrison wasn’t interested in. While that had given him access to the likes of Archangel, Iceman and Nightcrawler (and Wolverine, whether he wanted him or not), Casey had also elected to toss in rather bland Generation X alumni Chamber and new creation Stacy X, whose core character was that she was a mutant prostitute. Austen uses his opening page to sweep Chamber out of the book, as he had been yanked during the X-Men Icons: Chamber mini-series so he could appear in Weapon X to start a series of changes to the character, each one being ignored before the next one could take place.
Austen goes into Uncanny with one big plan in his head – get Juggernaut onto the team. It’s an idea that carries through every story that Austen writes in X-Men and it begins immediately. Juggernaut is a longtime villain of the X-Men – and by longtime, I mean created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby longtime. Juggs was one of those unstoppable villains that always managed to be stopped, losing a bit of the threat each time he was stopped. The character had pretty much given up fighting the X-Men by this point, having last been seen trying to legally seize the X-Mansion from the X-Men in the wake of Operation: Zero Tolerance in a plotline that never got picked up again after it first appeared (or in other words, a post O:ZT plotline).
As legend would have it (though I’m not sure to the accuracy of it), Austen wanted to use Colossus as the team’s “strong guy”, but the Russkie was suffering from a terminal case of death at the time. At the time, Marvel had inacted a “dead is dead” policy and refused to allow Austen to bring Colossus back for his team. Morrison had also been denied Colossus for New X-Men which led to Emma Frost getting her diamond form secondary mutation, but that’s another story. With the X-Men’s only other mega-muscle, Rogue, being utterly ruined over in X-Treme X-Men, Austen decided that Juggernaut would get some redemption and fill the gap in Uncanny.
But there were some issues with bring Juggs over to the good team. Besides being the rampaging step-brother of Professor X, Cain had two defining features: he was the best friend of Black Tom Cassidy, and he was an unrelenting jerk. Austen, to his benefit, actually used the former to deal with the latter. It would be Cain’s friendship with Black Tom to reach out to the X-Men for help. It’s one of the few things Austen would do that I simply cannot insult. How about that?
But that’s not to say this story was all good. The X-Men fly into the situation completely blind as to the circumstances because as they are being briefed on the topic, Professor X suddenly cuts off his telepathic transmission. Keep in mind that the X-Men have to fly from New York to Ireland for this mission, yet in the entire span of a trans-Atlantic flight, Xavier can’t manage to think the sentence “Juggernaut called because Black Tom is a murderous tree.” What’s Professor X doing this entire time, you ask? He and Beast are off to Canada to recruit a new student, Sammy Pare, who would get the unfortunate unoffical moniker of “Squid Boy”. The kid’s powers are two-fold – he looks like a fish and he can breathe underwater. There is an assumed urgency to Xavier getting to Sammy ASAP, with it being hinted that the boy is planning on killing some classmates before he kills himself. But being that Xavier is arriving at dinnertime, it’s safe to assume he could have asked Beast to fly around a bit for him to take five seconds to tell the X-Men what they’re getting themselves into.
Instead, the plane crashes and we get three issues of the X-Men getting captured with only Nightcrawler and Iceman available to save the day. Archangel and M (whose entire purpose in this story is to call Stacy X a whore) vanish immediately, Juggernaut, Stacy X and Wolverine vanish after the plot gets explained, and Nightcrawler and Iceman run around until they stumble into the battle scene and everything gets fixed with a little help of Stacy seducing the mostly-plant Black Tom Cassidy. You see, several years before, someone decided that simply being the wicked energy-wielding cousin on Banshee wasn’t enough for Black Tom Cassidy, so they gave him wood-manipulating powers. And before you go making life-partner-with-Juggernaut jokes, I mean that he was made of wood and could make trees to funny things. Austen apparently decided that this power was the basis of his mutant powers and gave Tom a “secondary mutation” which basically meant “he turned into a plant”. Black Tom would be the first of the questionable secondary mutations that Austen would hand out, but it certainly would not be his last. In fact, two of them kicked off in this story, but we’ll get back to that.
Taking a break from the action, we head over to another cast-building subplot where we meet Annie Ghazikhanian, a nurse in upstate New York with an impossible-to-pronounce last name (not to be confused with the impossibly-hard-to-catch Pokemon Kangaskhan). Annie is a nurse taking care of a catatonic patient whose only features (besides being catatonic) are his blond hair and a scar over his right eye. We quickly learn that Annie’s imagination has led her to fall in love with her patient, despite him only being able to produce a mellow groan when exposed to sunlight, which gets her the jeers of her co-workers. Because it’s creepy. Anyway, we also meet her son Carter who just happens to have a newspaper with an article about the X-Men’s school with a picture of Cyclops and Havok in it, and gosh darn it, wouldn’t you know that the John Doe patient just happens to be Havok.
Now let me stop right there. Havok was written out of the main Marvel U in the final issue of X-Factor (#149) when he tried to prevent a D-list member from using a time machine and the thing exploded. He got blasted into the alternate reality of Mutant X, which is solely remembered for being one of the worst ongoing series ever written. Since that book’s inevitable demise, Havok had not been seen, since in all honesty, he had been a pretty unimportant character for quite some time. But I like him, so I was pleased to see someone at least try to bring him back. But the newspaper clipping? That I’ve got a bit of an issue with.
It makes sense that there would be a newspaper article about the X-Men’s school. After all, Professor X had recently just outed himself publicly as a mutant and revealed the true purpose of his school. What doesn’t make sense is that why the paper would run an image of Cyclops and Havok together. What makes even less sense is how they would even have a picture of both of the Summers brothers, both lacking the headgear that they had with nearly every version of their costumes. Havok only served on the X-Men alongside Cyclops once, and that was back before the Krakoa mission that brought in the likes of Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler to the team. Havok became a public figure as a part of the government-sponsored team of X-Factor, but Cyclops certainly was not around for that. Yet here in the paper, run months after Havok’s apparent demise, is an image of the two, solely placed there to get Havok back to the mansion. The newspaper clipping mentioned that Havok was killed aboard a plane loaded with explosives, which is not at all what happened to him, but I’m not familiar enough about the exact details of where the finale of X-Factor #149 took place, so it may be a cover-up to explain the time machine mishap rather than oversight on Austen’s part. Then again, later in his run he gets a familiar character’s last name blatantly wrong, so maybe not.
Anyway, overly contrived newspaper layout aside, Annie calls the X-Mansion and tells Cyclops of his brother’s survival. With his departure imminent, Annie takes the still-catatonic Alex to a secluded spot and declares her ill-thought out love for him, only to be overheard by Cyclops. Awwwwkward. Cyclops, apparently feeling bad for the lovestruck nurse, decides to match her awkward act with one of his own and decides to carry Alex back to the car rather than using the far more convenient wheelchair. It’s a brother thing. Not wanting her “love” to leave her forever, Annie decides to try to get hired on as his nurse. Rather than telling Annie of all the high-tech Shi’ar medical equipment that the X-Men have had sitting around for years, he vaguely mentions that Alex had a longtime love. Annie shakes it off and decides to come anyway, and Cyclops apparently agrees. And that is to be continued.
Back to the action. With all hope being lost in the Black Tom front, Nightcrawler figures the only way to calm Tom down is to get him off, so he gets Stacy X to use her pheromone zap to make Tom feel real good and the others manage to break free. Archangel manages to break his arm and his leg in the process, but we’ll get back to that. Feeling betrayed, Tom begins shaking the place apart only for Professor X to show up in the knick of time to rescue everyone. Well, except for Juggernaut, who gets knocked into the ocean, but fortunately Xavier JUST recruited a kid who can breath underwater. What are the odds? Squid Boy jumps in, convinces Juggernaut he has something to live for, and everyone heads back to the X-Mansion to take a breather.
And here’s what you need to know about the escape. As Stacy X is making the scene all kinds of uncomfortable with Black Tom, Archangel’s skin suddenly fades from the blue it’s been from the late ’80s back to caucasian. At the time it seems like it was done for no reason beyond there was no point to having him blue anymore, but it would seemingly factor into his developing secondary mutation, a plot element developed by Grant Morrison to give Emma Frost Colossus-like powers. Likewise, Iceman gets stabbed through the chest by Black Tom, which will factor into HIS secondary mutation, which ends up sucking a whole lot more. Nightcrawler doesn’t get a secondary mutation. There’s something much worse in store for him. Archangel develops “healing blood”, which apparently was intended to make him more like an angel, but had the rather unfortunate side bit of making him have to bleed all over people to heal them. It could be worse, though. He could have given the power to a woman.
The Tropes Explained
M is pulled into the story as a borrowed member from the X-Corp, though she has one line in which she calls Stacy X a prostitute (which is true) and then spends the rest of the story getting sucked from by Black Tom Cassidy. Wait, maybe I should rephrase that…
We introduce Sammy Pare, the amazing Squid Boy, who will factor into each and everything that the Juggernaut does during his time with the X-Men, save for a bedroom romp with She-Hulk, but we’re nowhere near that point yet.
Better the Way it was
Archangel’s healing blood is hinted at through the fading of his skin from blue back to white. Much like the return of his feathered wings long before, it’s a change that had no benefit whatsoever to the character. Only years later would it become important, during his time in X-Force.
My word that’s convenient
Overlooking contrived happenings in comics is a part of the ‘suspension of disbelief’ that is required to enjoy them, but the thought that a newspaper would just happen to have a picture of Havok and Cyclops, unmasked, together at the grounds of the mansion running in the area in which Havok’s catatonic husk was staying is a bit much.
And thus, the first story of Austen’s run comes to a close, with numerous stories opening up. Nearly everything in this issue will be picked up upon, and nearly every little bug that annoys nitpickers like me will also rear their heads once again. Next week we’ll be dealing with the three-issue down period that brings in two more members, gets rid of a straggler and has a lot more ‘ugh’ moments.
Images from Uncanny X-Men.net‘s excellent Spotlight On feature for Archangel, M, Juggernaut and Havok.
Missed a week? Glutton for more punishment? Click here for the rest of the Chuck Austen’s X-Men series!