For part two of our weekly journey through Chuck Austen’s run with our favorite mutants, we come to a time filler period. “Hope” had kicked off the new run of Uncanny X-Men but the next high-profile event wasn’t ready so we get four issues of filler until we get around to “Dominant Species”. Shall we?
Archangel (leader), Nightcrawler, Iceman, Wolverine, Stacy X, Husk, Northstar
Others you should be aware of
Professor X, Sammy Pare the Squid Boy, Nurse Annie, Carter, Havok, Cyclops, Juggernaut
In a nutshell
Nurse Annie arrives at the Xavier Institute just in time to meet the X-Men getting back from the Hope mission and helps treat the X-Men despite having something against mutants. Northstar (who is gay) gets recruited, Iceman comes really close to adultery, Stacy X heads back to the X-Ranch for no real purpose, and Juggernaut trashes his old house.
Being that this block is four individual stories, this one will be a little longer than the others. Hit the jump and we shall begin! It’s a doozy!
We kick off the story with the adorable Nurse Annie and her son arriving at the Xavier Institute having been hired by Cyclops to care for the still-vegetative Havok. Immediately we learn that Annie doesn’t like mutants and that she “has her reasons”. If you don’t catch it the first time her narrative boxes mention it, don’t worry – she repeats the line over and over again. She is greeted by Husk, who apparently has come to the mansion while no one was looking. Cyclops is busy getting his brother settled in (since, you remember, he was carrying him) so he asked Paige to be the welcome committee for the new nurse and her son, and wouldn’t you know it that Paige decides its appropriate to show up in a sports bra and booty shorts. I would say this is the fault of the artist (ignoring for a moment that it’s one with the talent of Sean Phillips) but a) no one else is dressed like that and b) it plays into a bit of dialogue. We’ll get back to that.
Annie hits the ‘Dislike Me’ button right off the bat by asking Paige if she has dangerous powers that might hurt her son, then refuses to allow Professor X to contact her telepathically. Because she dislikes mutants. She has her reasons.
The X-Men are back from Hope and they are all banged up from the fight with Black Tom Cassidy. Well, almost all of the X-Men are back. M doesn’t show up with the rest of the team and no one bothers to mention what happened to her. I suppose she could have flown herself back to her X-Corp HQ, but really it’s just another sign of how meaningless her appearance in “Hope” was. But I promise, I’m over that.
It is in the hustle and bustle of the infirmary that we get two of Austen’s most prevailing themes that we will see throughout his run. Number one, Iceman has become a complete X-elitist and total dick to absolutely everyone. Number two, Austen doesn’t understand women. That is probably an unfair statement – after all, I don’t know the man – but at this point every female character he’s written (with dialogue at least) has only one purpose – being crazy in love with one of the guys and wanting to tap that. Husk practically drools over Archangel while he’s being treated for his broken arm and leg, only to get called out by Stacy X who herself is now smitten with the winged wonder. And how does she express it? She yells at Paige to put on a bra which makes the girl run off crying. Archangel calls Stacy jealous which doesn’t sit well so she yells out that she’s going to watch porn and storms off. And no, I didn’t make any of that up.
Anyway, Professor X starts going to work on pulling Havok out of his catatonia but is initially unsuccessful. The other X-Men debate on whether or not they should let Polaris know that Havok is alive and well (sort of). The argument here is whether she has the right to know because they broke up right before Havok vanished. No one apparently seems to think that she might still care for him after all the time they were together.
With no progress made on Havok, Professor X takes a moment to ask Annie about her Armenian heritage and we get a history lesson to compare her to mutants. He then offers her a job at the Institute, which I’m pretty sure Cyclops already did since she’s there and all, which she accepts. With introduction into the title complete, she checks on Paige who reminds readers that Annie doesn’t like mutants, then Annie herself reminds readers that she has her reasons, and the splash page reveals that Carter is a mutant.
Now let’s pretend for a second that we have any reason whatsoever to give a damn about Carter Ghazikhanian. The point is that he is a mutant and even though they have found themselves in a school made of, by and for mutants, Annie would prefer to keep that little nugget to herself. And they’re not even there because of Carter’s needs – they’re there because of an irrational love for a man in a vegetative state. And this is one of the core characters for the book, whom you would think the readers would be enticed into liking. Not in this issue…so moving on.
We pause for a moment to head up to Canada for another new recruit to the book’s lineup. With yet another dissolution of Alpha Flight, the various cast members had been floating around aimlessly and one of them apparently caught the eye of a certain Uncanny writer. Unfortunately, the only thing Austen apparently knew about Northstar was that he’s Canadian, he has super speed and that he’s gay. And the gay part in particular. In fact, that’s pretty much the only reason Xavier decides to recruit him at all. All that characterization that Northstar had been through in the two decades since his creation? You don’t have to worry about any of that. He’s gay. It’s cool.
Northstar nearly immediately refuses to join up with Xavier, but still agrees to go help Archangel’s team with a mission to find a newly registered mutant. Northstar shows up and gives a little bit of dialogue to remind us that Archangel isn’t blue anymore, and then the mission is off and running. They quickly find the kid – whose sole power is apparently to blow up – and decide to take him to a safer facility. Archangel decides to fly him, since blowing up in the plane would be bad for everyone else, but Northstar disagrees for a reason that isn’t altogether clear – he says that Archangel lacks the strength to survive should the boy explode in the air, so that leaves Northstar as the only possible solution.
What doesn’t work is that Northstar is no more suitable to survive any kind of explosion than Archangel is. His super power is speed and flight – there’s no strength, invulnerability or even enhanced durability anywhere in his power set. It’s not even for his speed as its quickly pointed out that the kid wouldn’t be able to handle Northstar’s fastest potential. Yet the X-Men all seem to think this is the only possible solution so off they go. But since flying through the sky towards their destination is boring, the two begin talking and Northstar identifies with the boy’s abusive power. And since he can’t make it four pages without mentioning it, Northstar tells the kid that his own father beat him when he found out he was gay.
And let me just stop you right there. It is with this revelation that Northstar’s backstory flies off the rails. Beyond not being able to make it past ten minutes without making a gay reference, Northstar has apparently forgotten what happened with his own family. His birthparents died not long after he and his sister Aurora were born, and then his adoptive parents died when he was six. That makes Northstar’s story either false to try to connect with the kid (something highly unlikely for the character) or simply an example of someone not noticing that Northstar’s only characterization here is that he’s gay. The kid, of course, is freaked out and wiggles out of Northstar’s grasp and begins falling to Earth since they are flying and all. Northstar catches him and once the two clear the air that they aren’t going to be hooking up with one another, the flight resumes. And then the kid explodes.
Remember when I said it was odd that Northstar claimed he would be fine should the kid explode? Turns out he wasn’t so when he took the explosion to the face (bad wording) he not only plummeted to the ground, but dropped the kid as well. Professor X chimed in to reveal (far too late for the second story in a row) that the kid’s explosions were automatic rather than a result of mood or control, but it was really a moot point since falling out of the sky had caused him to become mortally wounded. Northstar refused to leave his side for one last explosion, because it’s far more sensible for both of them to die anyway.
Northstar awakens in the infirmary a changed man and willing to join the X-Men. But he’s not the only one there, as Stacy X is unconcious in the bed next to him, heavily bandaged. Oh, did I forget to manage that? While they were flying near Northstar’s trek, Stacy’s scaly skin began peeling in a major way. The purpose of this or why it caused her such damage was never touched upon again. She simply left the infirmary and that was that. I suppose it was supposed to have something to do with her scaly skin, but we never heard another word about why it happened or what it meant for the character. I suppose it was just there because it looked cool. That’s a running theme we’ll be dealing with a lot.
The constant cycle of X-Men in and out of the infirmary is apparently a way to keep Nurse Annie relevant in the stories, as the next issue focuses on it a lot. Iceman has been skipping his follow-up checkup with Annie after being impaled by Black Tom, which Archangel brings up after Iceman gets on him about the unlikelihood of how quickly his broken arm and leg healed. Angel orders him to the infirmary where he is made fun of by Annie, who is still tending to Northstar and Stacy X. Iceman continues his reluctance to be checked out, which he reveals to Annie is because his wound hasn’t really healed as much as it’s begun sealing with ice. As he can’t revert the wound or the area around it back from ice, he believes that the attack triggered a secondary mutation that he’s slowly becoming completely ice. And what a cool and useful secondary power to have.
As Iceman swears Annie to secrecy and leaves, the Nurse comments that the usual brash Northstar was silent. She then quickly deduces that Northstar must have a crush on Iceman, which a sheepish look confirms for her. The completely naive and tactless Annie decides to help the two hook up, so she allows Northstar to leave the infirmary with Iceman to get dinner at the school’s cafeteria. Northstar carries on like a nervous teenage girl before the equally tactless Iceman decides to hook up with a random Genoshan refugee (with huge cans) whose entire purpose at the school since arrival has been to pleasure whomever walked near her. Earlier in the issue she offered Archangel to relieve the hurt caused by the recent demise of Psylocke over in X-Treme X-Men. You know, with her vag.
Iceman bails on Northstar and hooks up with girl, declaring that he’s formed an instant connection with her which he’s never felt with anyone before. But – UH OH – wouldn’t you know that the little slutty girl who’s been trying to hook up with everyone just happens to have an overly jealous husband (who resembles Batman villain Clayface) and he’s not exactly the type to listen to reason. Seeing Iceman in trouble, Northstar suits up and attacks with a vengeance, eventually splitting the mudman in twain and leaving him in a catatonic shock. Both he and his buxom
tramp bride are never to be seen again. Back in the infirmary, Northstar says there is no chance between him and Iceman (whom he knows is straight) and dismisses Annie’s claim that ‘maybe he just doesn’t know it yet.’
And with this we get yet another woman who’s only point in Austen’s comic is to throw herself at whatever male happens to be nearby. First we got it with Stacy X when she first tried to kiss Archangel during Hope, and then showed her jealous side when a half-naked Husk started throwing herself at Archangel. Nurse Annie was introduced already completely in love with a patient who has done nothing more than groan the entire time she’s known him, and Northstar, being gay in case you had forgotten, abandons his normal well-established snooty persona for a sheepish crush on Iceman. The thought of Northstar being even vaguely attracted to someone as childish and immature as Iceman is laughable, and I’m sure many Alpha Flight fans (and there are some out there) were likely peeved by the change here (it gets worse). Here we get an obscure mutant whose entire purpose is to cheat on her husband with whomever might be walking in front of her. The only woman yet to escape this trend was M, and that was merely because the writer seemed to have forgotten he put her into the story.
To finish out this four-part non-story chunk, we get another “Day at the Infirmary” tale while the X-Men take their downtime to interact with one another. Nightcrawler visits Iceman to invite him along on a journey with Angel and Stacy X to recover personal things from the whorehouse ranch where she used to live. Iceman states his unease of her being a part of their team, then makes the rather baffling comment that the only “true X-Men” are the original five members of the team. Nightcrawler – who himself has been a member of the team far longer in total time – is offended by this stupid, stupid excuses himself.
Stacy herself prepares for the journey by trying to bait Cyclops into a reaction by saying some of the various parts of her profession (she was a prostitute, in case you had managed to forget) very loudly. As they leave, Xavier tells Cyclops that he’s called Polaris who is coming in to be with Havok, but Cyke cuts him off and takes him into the hallway likely to tell him that the nurse has the hots for Havok and to be considerate for the utterly illogical crush. I should also mention that at this point the only actual procedure Annie seems to know is wrapping bandages around people. Anyway, the X-Men fly Stacy to the X-Ranch for no reason beyond Stacy getting to talk about naked pillow fights she and her friends used to have. Because, you know, that’s what girls do. I can’t tell if the story was told in jest or not. It certainly wasn’t drawn as such.
The final part of the story deals with the budding friendship between Sammy the fish-boy (he’s not a squid, after all) and Juggernaut who is still hanging out at the mansion. Juggernaut tires of the students around the school and decides to go for a stroll, and Sammy, who has still not been officially enrolled, wants to tag along. The two wander around for awhile until Sammy gets Juggs mad enough to chuck a rock at a house. But wouldn’t you know it that house just HAPPENS to be the house that he and his father Curt Marko lived in before they eventually moved in what would eventually become the X-Mansion. Now I’m not sure if it was a writer thing or simply the artist’s call, but whatever they were going for with the old Marko house comes off bordering between unlikely and ridiculous. The house is abandoned and slightly boarded up, yet it is still completely furnished and even has “Cain’s Room” labelled on one of the doors. I’m not sure if you, fair reader, have ever moved into a new house before, but I’m fairly certain that you don’t simply leave all your stuff in the old place before you do. Thank goodness no one touched it in all the years they’ve been gone (remember that both Xavier and Juggernaut fought in the Korean War).
In this story, Austen is trying to redeem Juggernaut to get him onto the X-Men. It’s not exactly an easy task being that the guy had been a signature villain for the better part of four decades. The very same aspect that made him such a jerk to begin with – the abuse he suffered from his father – is being used to make him a sympathetic character, and if you simply don’t think about the earlier stuff, it works okay. But having his old house a mere three miles from the X-Mansion is quite an odd move. Brian Xavier and Curt Marko met each other while working in a nuclear facility in New Mexico. Their origin did not precede that point and certainly didn’t involve this kind of closeness. But in all fairness it’s never been explained just where Cain Marko lived before meeting Charles because frankly it’s not that interesting. This, though, comes off as overly contrived. Long story short, Juggernaut tears the house down. The end.
And thus we clear four more issues with four more stories and not a thing has moved forward. But that’s okay – next week, we get werewolves.
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