When I was in 9th grade, a part of the English class curriculum at my school was the famed William Shakespeare work The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Now this is going to date me a bit, but I remember which grade that happened because the entire freshman class at my school got to take a field trip to the cinema to see Romeo+Juliet – you know, the one with Leonardo DiCaprio. And really, nothing helps cement a lesson than a memorable field trip.
The point I’m making here is that when you come across a story solicited as a tribute to a work you’re familiar with, it’s easier to critique that story – especially if it misses the mark completely. She Lies With Angels is one of those stories.
Took Place In
Uncanny X-Men #437-441
Archangel (leader), Husk, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Polaris (the other five X-Men on the cover of #437 (Iceman, Northstar, Jubilee, Juggernaut, Havok (leader) do not appear in this story)
Others You Should Be Aware Of
The Guthrie clan (Ma, Josh, and Jeb)
In a Nutshell
Husk comes home to Kentucky when a family feud gets out of control just in time to catch her brother’s “forbidden” love in the middle.
As always, we’ll be going through the story with a sarcastic mocking tone, but in the process I’ll be pointing out the attempted ties to the original tragedy, and how it doesn’t work. Because I pretend to be smart, even though I just started this sentence with a conjunction. Shut up – this site says it okay.
We begin our tale of forbidden love in Cumberland, Kentucky, longtime home of the X-Men’s faithful family of southerners, the Guthries. Well, one of the homes at least. Originally, they were from the fictional “Cameron County”, then some writers stuck them in Tennessee, but Cumberland works as well as any, because it’s set in Eastern Kentucky and it has a history of coal mining, and that works.
Oh, I suppose I should mention that I was born and raised in Kentucky, albeit the northern more “socially acceptable” city of Louisville. I attended college at Murray State in the western side of the state, but I know many people from all over. So when the rare story falls into my neck of the woods, I tend to react positively. Unless of course the story deals with rednecks in high tech armor, but that would be ridiculous, right? Right?
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes! The rapscallion young Guthrie boy Jebediah is hanging out with his buddy Pete, Jr. who is of course black for the sake of having antagonists that are southern hillbillies. While looking over some cards, the two begin LOUDLY BASHING ANOTHER FAMILY, SUPPOSEDLY UNAWARE THAT ANYONE COULD HEAR THEM. This, of course, catches the attention of Abe Cabot, a member of the Cabot family who has a history of fussin’ and feudin’ with the Guthries.
And thus we have set up our Romeo and Juliet theme by introducing two warring families to represent the Montegues and the Capulets. The problem here is using the Guthries, that have been seen as a shining example of good manners and decency since Cannonball made his first appearance back in Marvel Graphic Novel #4. A big part of Romeo and Juliet is that neither family was in the right – the feud was pointless. But let’s continue.
Abe Cabot confronts the Guthrie boy in one of the most hilarious attempts at accent dialogue ever.
Abe hits the double whammy of insulting both mutants and blacks, then punches Jeb for emphasis. In another awkward bit of dialogue, Jeb informs them that he “just hit puberty” (Ding!) and shoots the Cabot boy with blue electric something-or-other from his eyes.
As panic ensues, complete with a cop yelling “What in tarnation” another Cabot comes up from behind and hits Jeb in the back of the head with a crowbar. Now I don’t know much about blunt force trauma, but if a beefy grown man (old enough to have a tattoo) swings a crowbar at a kid who “just hit puberty” in the back of the head, that kid is DEAD. Or at least unconscious for awhile before waking up with a serious slur and trouble controlling bodily functions. But instead, Jeb shakes it off as the cop swings his gun around asking everyone to calm down while everyone else fights and tosses out racial insults. Kentucky, am I right?
Long story short, the big guy throws his crowbar, Jeb blasts it out of the air with his electro-eyes and everything starts exploding, so the cop shoots him. And scene.
Back at the X-Mansion, we’re back to the will-they/won’t-they relationship of Husk and Archangel. Way back in Dominant Species, Archangel and Husk had the start of a relationship that kind of fizzled out through a series of issues including but not limited to age differences, returning ex-boyfriends, and naked taped farewells. So finally Paige just walks up to Warren like an adult and puts it all out, and he blows her off. Sad trombone.
But as fate would have it, Ma Guthrie calls about Jeb’s shootin’ so Paige brings Warren down to Kentucky to bleed on her little brother and make his owie go away. So at the Guthrie house, we gather up a handful of new characters including Pete, the local law enforcement with a thing for Ma Guthrie and Ray, a single dad who also has a thing for Ma Guthrie who happens to be black. This is so we can make the time-honored link to mutants and racism that is the core of the X-Men, or to make wafer-thin characters unlikable by having someone to yell “colored” at. Which ever.
Ray Junior “accidentally” points out that the entire scene was planned beforehand, which causes Sheriff Pete to report the incident, take the rascal in when he’s well, and then ban the Guthries from the town, because apparently he can do that. The reasoning here is that the Guthries are all crazy muties and the Cabots are hateful bigots, so the Cabots get to stay in town. But let’s wait for the reveal that the cop is crooked until later so we can all act shocked. Just practice your surprised face until we get there, okay?
The entire point here is to have the Guthrie family at fault for the initial incident to make it look like there is no “right side” in the Montague v. Capulet feud analogy that is being set up for the whole Romeo and Juliet thing. Except that you, the reader, are likely not stupid and have been following comics enough to know that the Guthrie family is a highly moral upstanding group, as demonstrated repeatedly by its representatives Cannonball and Husk. And even if you weren’t familiar with the Guthries, the entire rest of the story goes out of its way to set up the Guthries as the victims here. They are very much the “good guys”. You can see where the analogy is lost – and we haven’t even made it to the star-crossed lovers yet.
Anyway, since Ma Guthrie blames the whole thing on not having a father figure about (because we all know a single mother can’t possibly raise responsible children), Husk takes the time to mention the eldest home staying Guthrie sibling, Josh, and questions his whereabouts and everyone politely forgets that they just got banned from their hometown and excitedly talks about the hip show at “The View”. So let’s head over there!
We meet two waitresses at the View, awaiting the exciting show, named Rosalinda and Julia. Here’s where the Romeo and Juliet bit smacks the reader in the face, since (high school English lesson time!) we all know that in the source material, Romeo was intended to court a fair damsel named Rosaline, yet instead fell for the fair Juliet instead. You can see where this one is going. So for two pages, we get inner monologue boxes explaining Josh’s performance, with Rosalinda finishing up by letting us know that she and Josh are dating, only to find out that we’re actually getting Julia’s inner thoughts, wishing for Josh’s dreamy lyrics to be for her.
Back at the Guthrie Farm, the recently town-banned family finds themselves accosted by the Cabots who have pulled up with some of their shootin’ guns for a good ol’ fashioned stand-off. Apparently, the Cabots have come to beat the crap out of young Jeb, and even though the SHERIFF OF THE TOWN IS RIGHT THERE, only Ma Guthrie and a couple of X-Men are stopping them. Ma cites some of the things that Abe Cabot has done to them, including setting a barn on fire, poisoning a dog and beating the crap out of Jeb, which are all quickly dismissed as filthy lies. Now I can understand a lack of proof on the first two, but usually when someone beats the crap out of someone else, it’s not like it’s going to be a case of missing identity. But southern justice, or something, I guess.
Ma gets her own shootin’ gun tossed to her, but as the not-at-all crooked Sheriff stands in between them, we head back to the dreamy show at the View in which we find out that Rosalinda is actually a colossal bitch that despite being infatuated with the oh-so-dreamy singer an issue ago, is suddenly willing to blow him off and pretend there’s another guy involved just to play mind games, because apparently girls are bitches. Or at least this girl is since we’re going to have to spend the rest of the story ignoring the fact that our hero is cheating on his girlfriend because he decided to wait for eight years to tell a girl that literally works next to the girl he’s dating that he actually loves her. Seriously, pretend I didn’t say that. This is supposed to be true love.
So Julia goes to deliver Rosalinda’s “girl games” message to the band and finds that the wings that Josh displayed during his show aren’t just stage props, but actual feathered wings.
And let me take a moment here to talk about Josh Guthrie. This is not Josh’s first appearance, nor is it the first time he’s demonstrated a mutant ability. Josh’s mutant power is his singing voice, which as illustrated in this very story, can do crazy things and have hypnotic powers. The red wings on his back? Those came later, and for whatever reason, not a single person other than Julia makes a mention of them. True, secondary mutations were the rage at this point in X-Men history, but you’d think that at least one person would drop a mention. Or maybe he just has the old fashioned Warren Worthington style of strapping them under clothing thing down.
Back at the showdown, the sheriff explains why he shot the boy and then asks Ma Guthrie out to calm things, which of course angers Pa Cabot who starts a-shootin. Archangel uses his sword (he uses a sword, by the way), Husk uses her power (which doesn’t flash fry her clothes which was a plot point, remember) and the sheriff decides to arrest Pa Cabot for a-shootin’, which doesn’t go over well, since he’s a stereotypical hillbilly. A-hyuk.
Back in the love scene, Josh doesn’t care that Julia knows he’s a mutant, and realistically being that the Cabots are basically gunning down the Guthries because they’re ALL mutants, this isn’t really a big reveal. Anyway, Julia is shocked that Josh remembers her, even though he’s dating a close friend of hers and she works at most likely the only place his band plays at in the town. And even though they apparently haven’t seen each other in a whole long while, they are really close to kissing when the rude band member cuts in with funny quip.
So while Julia is all flustered, Josh tosses out that he’s seen her naked. And what every girl would say when the oh-so-charming tosses that out to his buds, she yells that she wasn’t even FULLY GROWN yet. Because that’s how people talk. So it doesn’t count, because he didn’t see her boobs. Because they weren’t there. Do you feel icky? I feel icky.
So they explain that when they were ten, the two of them used to go skinny dipping at the ol’ swimmin’ hole and then they hung out for a couple of weeks. But that’s not news to the band member, because apparently Josh has been telling him that story, even though he’s currently in a relationship with her co-worker.
So let me remind you here that this is supposed to be the generic love story and you’re supposed to be all on board for Josh being the awesome romantic finding his one, true love that he’s been dreaming about for eight years. Except that Julia works with his girlfriend. It’s not like they’ve been separated or anything. They’re in Cumberland, Kentucky. It’s not a big town. They’re acting like some kind of war has kept them nations apart, when really he’s had the hots for her all this time but he couldn’t be bothered to go mention it to her because he was chatting up the very next waitress. And this wasn’t even some kind of chance encounter that fate determined – this was a favor for a mutual friend. Now you may be thinking, hey Jacob, obviously they couldn’t be together because he’s a Guthrie and she’s a Cabot, right? Star-crossed lovers and all that. Well, funny thing.
You see, in all the time these two idiots have been dreaming about one another while being one friend away from each other the whole time neither one of them bothered to realize that they are members of the FAMILIES THAT ARE BLOOD FEUDING. So when the Grandma comes in to get the Cabot girl, everyone is all surprised and we have ourselves a love problem. Oh, and Grandma already knew Josh was a mutant. So everyone else is just stupid. But you already knew that.
So anyway, Ma Guthrie refuses to date the cop, then we get back to some of the worst dialogue ever as Josh explains why he loves Julia so.
The bandmate pulls over the car and tells Josh to go to her, and also mentions that he’s been hiding his wings from his family. And this bit of dialogue was probably tossed in to explain why no one knew that Josh had wings (they already knew about his mutant voice) but it doesn’t matter because no one mentions them anyway. So all that has been keeping Josh from reuniting with his one true love is one person telling him to go hit that. But you might recall that Josh already has a girlfriend, but she’s a bitch so she deserves it, am I right?
At the Cabot home, Pa Cabot punches Sheriff Pete because the earlier confrontation was supposed to end with all the Guthries being dead. Because that’s how Kentucky feuds end. Trust me, I’m from Kentucky. My family does this twice a year at least. But Pete got all panicked because Archangel was there, and then they toss out a little bit of a retcon.
For those not familiar with the Guthrie lineage, Cannonball’s story began with him giving up college prospects to go work in the coal mines because his father died of the black lung. It was a good way to get the whole rural thing going. But let me tell you, black lung is not something that can be mistaken for being poisoned by the mean family down the road. It doesn’t make even the littlest bit of sense and is a ridiculous bit of retconning that should not have even been allowed to go through.
I should also mention that by this point we have both established our Romeo and Juliet players, while also completely throwing out the core concept of the story behind it. The scene at the Guthrie farm and the subsequent reveal of the true intentions of the Cabots makes the Guthries the clear good guys and the Cabots the clear bad guys. In the original work, neither Montague nor Capulet were good or bad. Both sides were at fault, and thus neither Romeo nor Juliet could seek solace with the other’s family. Here, should Josh and Julia get together, all the Guthries would be fine with it, and who cares about the Cabots? They’re all a bunch of assholes anyway. It takes the whole dynamic out of it. Instead, Josh and Julia are just two teenagers who couldn’t be together because they were stupid. Which we’ve already established.
Oh, and the X-Men have just arrived. Well, not the whole team – just Wolverine, Polaris and Nightcrawler but don’t worry about them. They’re just going to be sitting in the barn for a couple of issues.
And now the whole thing gets stupid. Well, stupider. Pa Cabot takes Sheriff Pete down to a field where a bunch of scientists in lab coats are disassembling some kind of mechanical base with huge power armor suits. No, seriously. The dumb rednecks are unearthing tech armor that just happens to be sitting out of view in Cumberland, Kentucky. Here, I’ll show you so you know I’m not making this up.
At the Cabot “Mansion” (bwah ha), Julia is all upset that Grandma pulled her away from the boy she hadn’t gotten around to reconnecting with. Okay, well she does mention she got sent to boarding school, but I’m still not buying it. Anyway, Julia tells her Grandma that the Cabots are all a bunch of jerks for picking on the Guthries and talks about how much she looooooooves Josh, and the only thing that would make it better would be if the shirtless angel would just fly right up to her window.
Back at the Guthrie farm, Ma Guthrie talks to Paige about her trying de-hick herself, thinking she doesn’t care ab0ut the family. Well, they start to talk about that, but then they go on about that gorgeous Archangel who doesn’t seem interested in “poor white trash” like Paige…yet still Ma is happy that she loves him. Whatever.
In the barn, Archangel discusses the Guthrie/Cabot feud because that’s totally something that the X-Men should be concerning themselves with. You know, Phoenix destroying the planet, Magneto ravaging New York, Sentinels ruling a dystopian future, the Cabots poisoning the Guthries’ hound dog. But in the meantime, Warren takes a moment to apologize to Wolverine for being an ass all the time they’ve known each other, even though it’s something that Scott Lobdell took care of back when Psylocke needed the Crimson Dawn. But don’t mind me, I read comics. Since Archangel apologized, Wolverine is willing to listen about feudin’ hillbillies.
Back at the…ugh…tech armor site, Pa Cabot explains that Abe found this while shooting squirrels. Really. Go back and look at the picture, and think about it. Best find since Jed Clampett found his bubblin’ crude. They say it’s “leftovers from a big fight the X-Men had up here with some kind of religious cult”. I’m going to take their word for it, because I’m too lazy to try to find said fight, and the armor’s there. So now the redneck hillbillies have super mechanical armor. That’s not good.
Back at the mansion (Cabot, not X) Julia asks how Josh found her, even though she lives in the big honking mansion of town. No, he followed the light she radiated, which confused the birds to thinking the sun had already risen. Or so he says. All you bachelors out there needing hints on how to woo the ladies, Josh Guthrie has got the golden voice. He’s a mutant, dontchaknow?
And then we get the “romantic” dialogue. And it’s terrible.
- You’re like a winged messenger from heaven.
- Struck by lightning, and yet the power of the strike never seems to fade.
- Hate is a choice. Love is a gift. An edict. A command. Love doesn’t understand names or labels. It doesn’t ask permission. It demands obedience. Hate can change. Love cannot.
And then they kiss. Because after hearing words like that, all you want to do is jam something into his mouth, and if your mouth is all you’ve got, there you go. Grandma Cabot, who has been watching this whole thing, passes out for some reason. You might think it’s due to the sheer “romantics” of the moment, but I’m more inclined to think that it has something to do with her blood sugar level. She’s a bit of a fatty.
So all the horrible dialogue gone, Julia pulls away because he’s a Guthrie and she’s a Cabot and them’s fightin’ families. But then she says she’ll see him tomorrow and notices that her diabetic grandmother has just passed out.
So off Julia goes, even though she said she’d go tomorrow, to the ol’ swimmin’ hole for some hot sexing. And then the hillbilly robotech shows up.
Well, not really. You see issue 439 ends with two of them meeting at night (plot point) with the mecha armor Cabots being right there, and issue 440 starts up with the two of them lying together at dawn. So that means Pa Cabot just sat in his exo-suit watching his daughter get it on with one of them Guthrie boys. He truly is the villain of this story. Anyway, he shows up in the hi-tech armor and tells his daughter to get in the car. Seriously, he tells her to get in the car. They are in the woods, with this crazy armor on and he says get in the car. What car? There is no car! EEEERRRRGGGHH!!!!!
Excuse me, I need a moment.
Okay. Back at the Guthrie farm, Ma Guthrie confronts Archangel about his rather dickish ways of treating her daughter. He explains it that he put her in danger just because he likes her and got her killed (which he kind of did) so he feels all bad now. Paige overhears it and gets all pissy because he finally told what he was feeling to her mother instead of her. And then she tosses out the Betsy card.
But of course had you been familiar with the X-Men, you would have known that it was not Psylocke that broke up with Archangel, but vice versa. She never stopped loving him, he was just a jealous jerk who couldn’t handle her flirting with Thunderbird. What ever happened to Thunderbird? Is he still alive? Anyway, Archangel mans up and tells Husk she’s right and that he loves her and then they have sky sex in front of Ma Guthrie and the X-Men.
And now that all the romance is done with, we can get to the ACTION!!! Pa Cabot smacked Julia because she was talkin’ nonsense, but being that he’s wearing tech armor, it’s a big deal. Josh tries to check on her, but Pa shoots him instead, which gets the X-Men’s attention. Oh, remember the X-Men? They were sitting in the barn. Ma Guthrie runs back into the house and kisses Ray, who we now just have established is her love interest. Don’t beat yourself up if you missed it. Lacking characterization tends to do that. But it’s okay, because Sheriff Pete shows up and sees Ma Guthrie holding hands with Ray (who’s BLACK!) and OH MY GOD THE LOVE CRAZINESS IS ABOUND!
Bef0re we get to the obligatory fight scene in which every romantic pairing has at least one fatality, I’ll give you the rundown on the Guthrie/Cab0t goods.
- Josh Guthrie loves Julia Cabot, which is bad because the Cabots hate the Guthries.
- Sheriff Pete loves Ma Guthrie, but she does not love him and he’s in league with the Cabots anyway.
- Ma Guthrie loves Ray, who has zero characterization and as of thus far has been the “black father”.
- Paige Guthrie loves Warren Worthington and is completely okay with having sex in mid-air in view of one’s mother.
Caught up? Let’s go.
Polaris finds the armor goons but they toss out that the armor is “carbon composite” so her powers will have no effect, except for how magnetism works in reality, but okay she gets hit with a missile KABOOM! And Julia wakes up and sees that Josh is lying there seemingly dead. Her horrific outcry of her lover’s name knocks Archangel and Husk out of their sky sex mojo and since Paige realizes her brother’s name is Josh, she should probably go attack the metal armored guys running around. Makes sense, right?’
Wolverine finds Polaris and tells her that her costume is shredded, so she’s pretty much naked but she doesn’t care because she’s KER-AAAAAZY! And that’s it for those two in this story. The only reason Wolverine and Polaris were in this story was for her to get hit with a missile to shred her clothing and for her to not care that she’s naked.
Back at the swimming hole, Julia decides she can’t live without Josh, so she takes his body and goes into the lake for a good old fashioned drowning death. But wouldn’t you know it, Josh goes and manifests a THIRD mutant power and heals his wound, so he’s actually alive! But it didn’t kick in until the dumb girl done drowned herself, so all that’s left is the cliche knees on the ground scream.
Back at the Guthrie farm, which I guess is like three feet from the swimming hole because the tech suits just kind of showed up there (maybe they took the car, wah wah) the Cabots come attacking the Guthries, so Ray gets all the kids into Pete’s police car for safety sake. You know, instead of running to the barn or the open field or anywhere that is not an enclosed and easily exploding place. Ma Guthrie begs Pa Cabot to stop, but he ends up blowing up the police car anyway, cause he’s a jerk.
With nothing left but to kill Ma Guthrie, Pa Cabot is about to claim victory except for the oh-so-unexpected coming around of Sheriff Pete who jumps onto the armor, opens it, shoots Pa Cabot in the face, then gets smashed by the armor for good measure. Sad trombone. Ma Guthrie turns around to find that her kids are not actually dead, since Nightcrawler was put in this story just to teleport everyone out of the exploding police car. Well, except for Ray, because apparently Nightcrawler couldn’t reach him and just left him to die in the explosion. See, this is a homage to Romeo and Juliet, so every couple that gets paired up, at least one has to die. DEATH FOR ALL WHO LOVE! Of course the impact is lost because we never had a reason to give a damn about Ray, Pete, or hell even Josh for that matter.
Back to the swimming hole, Josh keeps trying to kill himself, only to heal over and over again. See, Chuck Austen is still trying to say that mutants evolve in packs, so there are angels and demons and whatnot. So Josh has the same powers as Archangel now, as well as his original power. It’s almost like they took an entirely different character and just plopped him right on top of Josh and called it a day, but that would be silly. And also no one mentions that Paige’s boy-toy is the spitting image of her brother. Creepy.
And thus we end our tale of love, Chuck Austen style with the post-mortem inner monologue of Julia Cabot telling us how drowning is not so bad and Josh should move on. And that’s creepy. But Josh remembers his one night fling with the girl he saw naked when she was 10 and ditched his actual girlfriend for and that will forever change his life. Or something.