Chuck Austen’s X-Men: Day of the Atom

After a brief respite to push out Grant Morrison’s ideas, New X-Men has been switched back to its original Adjectiveless form for the ReLoad and Chuck Austen’s mess has been pushed over, giving hope that Uncanny could eventually get some of its long-gone prestige under Chris Claremont.

teamTook Place In
X-Men #157-160

Team Line-Up
Havok (Leader), Iceman, Wolverine, Juggernaut, Polaris, Gambit, Rogue

Others You Should Be Aware Of
Jay Guthrie, Sammy the Fish Boy, Nurse Annie, The Rest of the X-Men, I guess

In case you had forgotten (and I know it’s been a while), we last left our heroes in Kentucky in which Archangel and Husk finally got their act together and Austen having assembled his 10-man roster, was seemingly ready to push on.

Well, none of that really matters here, because five of his roster – Archangel, Husk, Jubilee, Nightcrawler and Northstar – are no longer on his team. The biggest factor here is the loss of Archangel and Husk who were pretty much his most-used characters. They and Nightcrawler were lost to Chris Claremont, though Archangel and Husk would not reappear for nearly a year. Nightcrawler would join up with the former X-Treme lineup, giving him a much better place alongside Storm, Rachel Summers and Wolverine for that old-school Claremont vibe. And no demon-Pope/dissolving wafer plots. Good for him.

Austen didn’t get left empty-handed, though. I suppose in exchange for the characters he gave up, he is given Rogue and Gambit from Claremont, and if you read X-Treme at all, you know that Claremont giving up Rogue was probably a really big deal. Unfortunately, she’s left in an odd position here. Through the latter half of X-Treme both Rogue and Gambit were powerless, using their wits and physical traits to stay relevant to the team. At the end of the book, Sage and Rogue had some kind of weird tryst arranged to restore Gambit’s powers (please don’t ask), but Rogue was still powerless. As this story opens, she seems to have regained her absorption abilities, but none of the other half-billion that she had during Claremont’s use of her.

I mention this because when I first bought this story a decade ago, no one really knew what she could or couldn’t do. There was no storyline mention of her having any kind of powers, and the art kind of positioned her like Salvador Larroca had no idea what she could or couldn’t do. I was writing for the now-defunct Mutatis Mutandis at the time and I recall having discussions on the boards where we debated the matter. It ends up being no flight, no strength, no invulnerability, though during her own solo book at the time she eventually permanently gets Sunfire’s powers. Again, less said the better.

Other than that, all Austen pieces remain in play. Sammy the Fishboy is back at the school (with his mother, even, for some reason), Josh Guthrie from She Lies With Angels is showing up (he’ll become a cast member of New X-Men: Academy X), and Nurse Annie and her boy Carter is still manning the coolest hangout in the school – the infirmary. Got it? Let’s begin.

At a temple in China, a bunch of monks are saying something in Chinese which an English-speaker in a suit asks what it means. An armed, uniformed soldier helpfully explains that it’s a warning of impending apocalypse, and then a black hole opens and pulls everyone in, including a very stereotypical figure pulling his family in a cart to get away. He doesn’t make it, and I care more about him than I did that fire kid from the last story.

Not exactly an effective means of escape.

Not exactly an effective means of escape.

Meanwhile, at the newly rebuilt and quite lovely Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, everyone’s favorite Nurse Annie asks her bf Havok to skip out on his duties so they can go outside and fornicate on the lawn. He turns her down, not for the sake of decency (it is a school, after all), but because he’s been newly instated as the leader of Team Austen (since the other two leaders were freed from the burden) and he has duties that don’t involve her insatiable want of the D.

But it’s not really his role as team leader that prevents him from dipping into the Nurse’s pool, but instead he decides it’s time to ask if she hooked up with Iceman the night before the wedding. You know, when he himself was still hooking up with Polaris. I suppose now that Archangel and Husk are together and no longer in the book, the only stable relationship left in the book has to be torn apart as well. After all the time and nonsense the two went through, NOW is the time to bring up what happened then. Havok argues that at least he was porking someone whom he KNEW, because obviously one can’t start a relationship with someone unless they have previously known them for years before.

I can seriously hear the female fandom crying out in anguish here.

So now that Havok has ruined Annie’s mood and likely the trust holding together the relationship, he walks out on her saying that the X-Men take precedence. It is at this point that you’re probably thinking that the main character of this book is an unlikeable, mopey jerk. After all, when Nurse Annie gets sympathy you know you’re on the wrong path. It gets worse.

Outside, Josh Guthrie is arriving at the school in a taxi, escorted by Ma Guthrie. And despite having a house full of young kids, she has decided to only bring Ray Junior, whose father you might recall was blown up real good by armored hillbillies. We’re going to assume that the kid became orphaned in the attack and Ma Guthrie has decided to raise him herself, since obviously she likes him more than her other kids. In fact, she actually has another of her kids, Melody, enrolled at this time too but Melody is nowhere to be found. I suppose she just isn’t EMOtional for that. Josh disses his Ma, the most sympathetic character ever, and enters the school. That makes another unlikeable sap right off the bat. Two for two.

Havok greets Josh along with Sammy the Fishboy, who is announced as being his roommate. Sammy mentions that Scott Summers asked them to show him around and Josh, despite being a member of one of the longest-running mutant families is the X-Men scene, has no idea who that is. Anyway, they first go into the newly redesigned Danger Room (complete with glass ceiling – and another thing Josh has no idea about) where Juggernaut is working out. Iceman walks in and blows a gasket that Juggs is being allowed to use the Danger Room since he’s a known criminal. Apparently he has just forgotten the last three or four stories of Juggernaut’s redemption. Alex is quick to bring up that Charles Xavier allowed Juggs to join, but Iceman argues that he no longer counts since he abandoned the school (oblivious and dickish, if you recall) and since Iceman is an original student, he should get to choose who stays and who goes.

It is at this point that we learn Iceman has now been locked into his ice form. You may remember that waaaaaaaay back in Hope, Iceman was skewered by Black Tom Cassidy which caused his body to begin icing up from the point of the wound. He defined it as his secondary mutation, but I really don’t think “activating your powers” counts as said mutation. It’s a ridiculously limiting thing to do to the character and does little more than make him angry and mopey. You know – like every other character we’ve met thus far.

Havok correctly points out that there’s more to the tension between the two of them than simply crankiness (Havok steals Iceman’s love interests – a decades-long trait) and decides it’s probably a good idea to get him off of his squad. Iceman, of course, decides to argue this saying that Havok isn’t a team leader. Havok puts the smack down on Bobby revealing that he sucks as an X-Man while the viewer gets a cheesecake view of Marvel Girl (for the fellas) and Bishop (for the ladies) working out.

Sexy.

Sexy.

Havok tells Iceman that the team assignments were put up on the school’s website (I wonder if the X-Men’s enemies check that), which Iceman says he can’t figure out. The group walks through the school’s atrium pathway, but Storm cuts in and says that even though there’s a lovely path through it, people aren’t supposed to cut through. Goddess knows it’s not like anyone should be able to enjoy their stroll through the mansion. Anyway, Storm takes the moment to show that Havok doesn’t check the website either, or simply skips all the matters that don’t have his name on them. Honestly, I used to do that in my old dorm’s newsletter.

As they cut into the cafeteria, Rogue and Gambit catch up with Havok to say that they want some time to themselves and would like to be removed from his squad. One would wonder why they don’t just do it. It’s not like any of the X-Men are being forced to be there (except for Juggernaut who’s on a plea bargain), but whatever. So finally, after walking through the Blackbird hangar, they finally arrive at Cyclops’s office…which apparently is connected to it. Weirdest laid out school EVER. But before any of them can ask Cyclops anything, they find pretty much every other X-Man of the period (Cannonball, Nightcrawler, Polaris, Wolverine, Jubilee, Husk, Archangel, Northstar, Beast, Shadowcat, Lockheed, Sage) also speaking up on the matter.

teamassingments

It’s a funny image, especially Wolverine’s line about not being physically able to be on all the teams. Having had enough of their bickering, Cyclops announces that no changes will be made and that’s final. The group moves on to the Cerebra chamber, of course back to being in it’s movie-based chamber). Emma Frost is there to give them their mission, and mentions that Sammy the Fishboy is there because he’s being fast-tracked because of his unique abilities. Keep in mind not only is he just like 14, but his ability is breathing underwater. The X-Men have had devices that allow that since, oh I don’t know, FOREVER. Uncanny X-Men #150, back in the early 80’s, had the X-Men swimming out of the downed Blackbird with them. Sammy would basically be the X-equivalent of the Super-Friends style Aquaman, except without the ability to contact fish. I could see how they’d want to rush him into action instead of the likes of Hellion (super-powerful telekinetic), Elixir (Omega-level healer) or Prodigy (able to use any skill of those he’s around).

Emma tells them the some kind of new mutant signature has popped up (apparently the first in “quite some time” despite being in the era where mutants were set to overtake humanity) which means the X-Men are going to China. Suddenly the signature grows immensely, and Polaris runs in to yell that “the magnetic fields” are tearing, whatever that means. Of course, around here magnetism is back to its Silver Age levels of being able to do anything, so I guess that works.

Havok’s team shows up at the source of the issue and Iceman takes the time to make asshole comments to Havok about stating the obvious until Rogue smacks him down by saying that no lady will ever love him. I’m paraphrasing, but it’s enough to get a pouty ice face.

BURN!  ..or freeze?

BURN! ..or freeze?

Polaris begins assessing the situation through magnets and Iceman slides them into the hole where they find the source – and wouldn’t you know, it’s Xorn. You remember Xorn, right? Morrison character, secretly Magneto, greatest reveal of a long time? Well, he’s back…sort of.

Now let’s pause for a second here and cut Austen some slack. Within the first issue of two of ReLoaded books (this and Excalibur), both Xorn and Magneto were both brought back, completely undercutting the main theme of Grant Morrison’s entire story (more on the Magneto side, since Xorn is established a separate character). During his time in New X-Men, Xorn was a very well-received character and the reveal that his whole persona was a fake which turned into a massive scale of villainy was not only a shocking moment, but also caused a genuine sense of loss for the persona of Xorn. I certainly had one. So Marvel editorial, in its infinite wisdom, decided that fans should be given Xorn back and left it to Chuck Austen to figure out how to do it. And introducing a new Xorn was pretty much it. Of course he botches it, but that’s for the next chapter.

Back at the mansion, Sammy is trying to connect with his new roommate Josh, now called Jay (since the book he would be appearing in already had a Josh in Elixir) but he’s too busy being sad and mopey. Sammy decides that he might try to help by having Jay talk about “her”, but as we all know from She Lies With Angels, the less said about Julia Cabot the better. I suppose I could also mention that Sammy has a PS2 hooked up on his bed but no TV. Not important, I just found it amusing.

Back in the Chinese hole, the X-Men begin talking amongst themselves about Xorn. Juggernaut is the voice of wisdom saying that it looks like everyone was being sucked into Xorn’s head until someone managed to get the metal helmet strapped onto him. The logic is that since “the original Xorn had a star for a brain” then this makes sense. Apparently no one else on the team ever knew that about Xorn even though it was one of those things that he mentioned all the time when he was at the school. But of course no one in Chuck Austen’s X-Men were allowed to communicate with the cooler teams unless they were being chastised for sucking (sorry, Nightcrawler) so I could see how that one would be missed. Juggs said he saw it on the bulletin board for the hilarious running gag that no one checks it.

Remember that botch I was mentioning? Here’s where it begins. You see, the “Star for a Brain” thing was disproven when Magneto revealed himself, and he even made fun of the X-Men for having ever believed such a ridiculous concept. You see, the story was concocted so he would never take his helmet off, since underneath he was actually Magneto and the X-Men knew the face. The problem with Austen’s “Xorn II” is that while he could have just been treated as the basis of the Magneto impersonation, instead the original is treated as he was initially depicted with everyone for some reason still thinking that the star brain and healing powers were genuine. They were not – Xorn never healed anyone. It was an illusion created using Magneto’s powers beyond the scope of simply using magical magnetism. It’s a brazen lack of understanding of the source material and it ruins the character of Xorn II before he even gets a chance.

Anyway, they all come to the decision that the magnetic distortion is coming from Xorn’s head so Havok decides that the only reasonable thing to do with this thing that just killed an entire village with his black hole dome is to take him back to a school filled with children. Excellent.

Back at said school, Jay gives the readers a recap of the sprout of his healing powers (giving him three powers altogether) and the death of his beloved Julia, but the story ends when he and Sammy find a bunch of kids talking to a tree about Juggernaut. The kids scatter and the tree seems to be just a tree, and this is shelved for the next story. It comes back.

As the X-Men leave the Xorn hole, Iceman becomes the voice of wisdom by saying that taking the black hole home is a terrible idea, but everyone dismisses him as stupid Bobby. Except for Gambit, who gets his second line in the entire story, but he too is dismissed. As Polaris pipes up that maybe this is just another plot by Magneto to infiltrate the school (no one brings up the matter of Wolverine having decapitated him), suddenly eight Chinese stereotypes show up and demand Xorn be handed over. And man, these guys are kind of offensive.

eightimmortals

Before Havok gets a chance to explain, he is dismissed as being “in China and not Chinese!” and then the eight attack with swords, blade feet, nunchaku, blow guns and the like. It’s a cheesy kung-fu movie enthusiast’s dream fight. While the rest of the X-Men are taking a beating, Gambit reveals for the first time that his powers have become kind of wanky as he has trouble charging up a card. Rogue saves her beau (or Lebeau, thank you) by tackling her opponent into his, but someone’s gun accidentally fires, clipping Gambit’s charged card, causing it to explode in his face, which blinds him.

Le-BOOM!!!!

Le-BOOM!!!!

Oh lord. Much like many things in Chuck Austen’s run, this moment defies a whole lot of long-established points, in this case how mutant powers work in regards to the user’s own body. For example, why doesn’t Cyclops’s optic blasts blow off his eyelids or hands when he’s blocking them? Why doesn’t Sunfire’s fire powers burn him when he flares up? Why does Banshee’s sonic scream not deafen him? It has long been established that mutants’ bodies metabolise their own abilities and even to a point those of their relatives. Remember the fight between Cyclops and Havok back in X-Tinction Agenda where they were blasting each other away with no affect? How about the fight between Banshee and Black Tom Cassidy where the men had to resort to a fist-fight? My point here is that Gambit’s body should be able to absorb the kinetic charge without being burned as he has been here. I guess if you want to you can dismiss it as his powers acting up, but it’s really dumb. I just hope it doesn’t lead to some kind of lame bonus power. That would be stupid…

Meanwhile, Havok is being sit upon by an old man speaking in hilarious broken English (“Why you kill all these people? Answer or I hit. I suppose everyone just die from global warming, hm?”) but Juggernaut mercifully throws two more people into them and yells at Havok to just blast them out of this scene. So Havok, ever careful about controlling his powers as to not seriously kill anyone, completely unleashes a full blast on them which hits all eight of the Immortals, none of the X-Men, and just barely misses the jet. Oh, but he did manage to clip the edge of Xorn’s helmet which opens a black hole. That makes Iceman right, which is never good.

As the plane rips apart, Havok decides to start blowing things up and finally begins using his powers to block the black hole, but announces that since he’s unleashing so much power that he won’t be able to hold it for long. It is at this crucial moment that Iceman decides to pick a fight with Juggernaut for a couple pages, undoing the props he might have gotten for being right about the “Xorn too dangerous for school” thing. Havok, despite using all his will to keep Xorn at bay, still manages to be the voice of reason and stops the fight but realizes that his team has no ideas on how to stop the matter. Because they suck. It is Team Austen, after all.

Back at the school, Sammy takes a moment to go tell Emma Frost about the tree thing while Jay hears music and investigates, finding the horribly named Mindee Cuckoo playing the piano. He wonders off and she calls him a “plebian” which no one actually says. She’s also playing nothing but eighth notes, if you read music. Sammy has the bad luck of interrupting an Emma Frost phone call, so when he correctly guesses that the tree is Black Tom Cassidy, she promptly boots him out of her office and says she’ll look into it. SPOILER ALERT: she doesn’t.

Back in China, the X-Men debate the idea of shooting Xorn into space (because, you know, an off-world black hole can’t possibly come back to them) when the Immortals show up and give their “our bad” about the whole misunderstanding and attacking bit and offer their help. But then Xorn starts talking and we get the first hint of the rather awful “brother Xorn” bit. The Immortals reveal that there is another Xorn helmet to block the black hole thing, but are conflicted in leading the X-Men there because it will certainly lead to conflict against their countrymen. Finally they decide to lead the X-Men to the facility, but not help them in. They also state that someone will need to stay behind in case troops show up, so Iceman and Juggernaut both volunteer and Havok settles their argument by telling them they can both stay. So two of the most powerful members of the team stay behind, while a seemingly powerless Rogue and a blind Gambit go off to sneak into the building. Oh, and Havok and Polaris have a somewhat tender moment, giving the first sign that perhaps it’s more than just Annie’s tryst with Iceman that may cause trouble in paradise. Havok is THAT guy.

It’s at this point that Xorn starts spouting off fortune cookie quotes, suddenly able to speak perfect English for the first time. As Juggernaut and Iceman ponder their meaning, the Chinese troops, led by the Collective Man (think Chinese Jamie Madrox) show up. If only they had been there like 30 seconds earlier they could of caught the rest of the X-Men. Or, you know, by looking down the quarter mile they’ve probably been able to travel in that time and see Gambit running into a tree or something. I doubt blind gags are above Austen.

Confucius say...

Confucius say…

The Immortals lead the X-Men to the secret tunnel that leads into the base’s backside (every good base has one!) and as they depart, one of the Immortals calls another “a whiny woman” for complaining. It’s actually the second time this insult has been used in this story – Juggernaut called Iceman the same a while back – but I initially ignored it because I thought it was just a Juggernaut thing. To use it twice in the same story is more of a sign of the writer, and judging by how women have been written throughout this series (sex-crazed drama holes) it’s not surprising. Bad? Absolutely. Surprising? Not so much.

They go through the tunnel, with Gambit apparently losing all guile and coolness he’s ever had by freaking out about every little thing that he hears while Rogue bumps him into things and Polaris just tells him to shut the hell up. Finally, they reach the end of the tunnel, but the Collective Man and army are waiting for them there. I take back what I said about them not seeing them before.

Anyway, cue the fight scenes. Iceman and Juggernaut having the “frenemies” brawl going while Wolverine hacks and slashes until Polaris just lifts everybody into the air and chucks them because, as you remember, magnets. Rogue and Gambit? They do nothing. Iceman gets dunked into a pond by a giant collective man, but he absorbs it and creates a giant ice-body for himself in one of those rare badass moments that Iceman gets where he makes good on the “he’s got so much potential” thing we’ve been hearing from everyone. When the fight ends and Juggernaut wants to make peace, he blows him off since after all, he is a colossal dick.

Since this is the final issue and they wasted most of it with fighting, instead of having an interesting infiltration of the base, Polaris uses her magical magnetism to scan the base and yank out the Xorn helmet. Of course, you might think that since they are getting this to replace the damaged one they would be a little careful with it, rather than say pulling through a stone wall. But what can you say? She’s ker-aaaazy!

Watch it!

Careful with that!

As Havok begins losing his charge and death seems likely, the other X-Men show up in the nick of time with the helmet. The army that was there? Well, they just walked away, I guess. The villains tend to do that in these stories. Apparently their desire to keep Xorn contained was not that big of an issue after all, and the X-Men simply take him home with them.

At said home, Havok apologizes to Nurse Annie and stops her from telling him whether she actually donked Iceman, while he himself sits in his frozen room staring at the only two pictures around – one of him and Lorna and one of him and Annie. On a scale of depressing things, that ranks decently high. No wonder he’s always pissy with Havok. Apparently he never bothered taking a picture with Opal Tanaka. Out on the grounds, Sammy takes Juggernaut to the tree, but Juggernaut politely dismisses the claim that it’s Black Tom and sends Sammy into the cafeteria to get a seat. When he’s gone, he calls out to Tom…and there’s our cliffhanger.

And that’s it. We now have a new Xorn, a blind Gambit, and a tree ready to attack the X-Men. We only have one Chuck Austen story left, and it’s a doozy. Come back next time to meet the new Brotherhood of Mutants that defies logic with its roster. And also meet Mammomax, the acid spewing elephant!

 

Missed a story?  Check out Chuck Austen’s X-Men for all of the ick!

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7 comments

  1. Bro, save yourself the agony and the misery. I read them just once and I honestly wish I didn’t. You will never get back the time or moments you could have been doing something more productive and certainly more enjoyable. My Austen-run is kept far away from my entire X-Men collection and they’ve never seen the light of day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In all fairness to the Gambit thing… It had been brought up in previous issues (can’t remember which specifically) that he’s not immune to his on power. There was one instance, shortly after he rejoins the team after his ‘trial’ by Magneto, where he’s standing on a deck and gets confronted by Rogue (or maybe it was Wolverine in regards to Rogue, I forget) and he’s charging a card and nearly forgets to release it, remarking that he nearly blew off his own hand…. But yeah the rest of this stuff is garbage

    Like

    1. I’m going to go looking for that and see if I can find it. It was established through the likes of Cyclops and Havok and Banshee and Black Tom Cassidy that siblings and cousins could absorb and metabolize the energy output. It’s why Sunfire doesn’t burn himself, or Iceman doesn’t suffer from hypothermia.

      Like

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