Writer: Chuck Austen
Artists: Ron Garney (p), Mark Morales, Nelson & Randy Green (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with the X-Men horrified to find a number of mutants being held in the basement of an abandoned church, and it's clear these poor souls were not treated very well, as many of them are dead, or pretty close to it. After securing the scene and calling in the healers, we see Nightcrawler leads group of his teammates to Montana, where the Church of Humanity, the group responsible for this nightmarish situation, has set up shop. However after they arrive we see the X-Men find themselves under fire, and thanks to a powerful illusion caster several X-Men are seriously injured before Jean is able to take out the illusion maker. We then move inside where we find the villains are busy detailing their plan, which would've had Nightcrawler installed as the Pope, and during a public event Kurt's image-inducer would "accidentally" fail, thus revealing his demonic appearance. This group would the vaporize most members of the Christian faith by triggering the tainted wafers that would've been served to them as mass, and this would convince people the Rapture had begun. After a big finish where Nightcrawler & the lead villain exchange passages of scripture, the X-Men manage to put this sinister plan to bed, though the crazy Lorna managed to kill an ungodly number of people during this battle.
I have to say I'm continually surprised by the quality of Chuck Austen's work, as just when I think it can't possibly get any worse, he manages to find that new lower level. Now I've read his response to the online criticism to his work, in which he lumps everyone that critical of his work into the same category, as obviously they dislike his work because he's using these character's in bold new ways, and people these people obviously dislike his rock the boat style of writing. However, if this were true than these same people world also dislike Grant Morrison's New X-Men, which has not only made huge changes to the cast, but also fundamentally changed the whole premise of the series, as mutants are no longer hated & fear by humanity, but rather there seems to be a general sense of acceptance, that the mutants themselves are have difficulty embracing. So why am I loving Grant Morrison's work, while actively despising Chuck Austen's work? It's because he's done such a poor job justifying these changes, and this results in a title that feels like it's servicing the needs of the writer instead of the characters. Chuck Austen needs a psychotic members of the team, and presto Lorna is a lunatic. Chuck Austen needs a bit of press to show how daring he is, and presto we have Northstar, whom he promptly shuffles to the back of the shop once he gets the attention he was looking for. Plain and simple is bad writing being deliver by a bad writer.
In this issue Chuck Austen takes aim at the Catholic church, as he resurrects the patently goofy idea of the Church of Humanity, and proceeds to make it look even more laughable. Yes we have a plot in which the evil villains planned to install Nightcrawler as Pope, and when the world was watching they would cause Kurt's image-inducer to fail, thus exposing his demonic appearance. At the same time they would summarily vaporize every member of the Catholic faith by activating the tainted ceremonial wafers that these people had consumed in church. Thus the world would be convinced that the Rapture was upon them, and the people left behind would flock to the Church of Humanity in their hour of need. Now given that a key part of this plan involves the wholesale murder of pretty much every member of the faith who would freely accept the idea of the Rapture, I'm not entirely sure I understand the logic of this plan, but then again I really don't think we're supposed to think about it too hard, as it's not like Chuck Austen put much thought into it when he decided to foist it upon us. Then there's the equally unimpressive bit of writing in which Nightcrawler & the lead villain go at it in a battle of words and they toss lines of scripture at each other, in what I'm guessing is Chuck Austen's attempt at showing us these are religious characters.
Oddly enough as Chuck Austen manages to produce one of his worst efforts on this title, Ron Garney manages to offer up one of his better efforts, as even with three different inkers that normally suggest the book was racing to meet a deadline, the art has a nice tight look to it that I rather enjoyed. The characters are quite expressive as they react to the horrific situation that find in the basement of the church, and there's a pretty impressive double-page shot in the middle of this issue that shows us the X-Men racing into action. The art also does some strong work conveying the confusion that plays out when the X-Men are busy fighting illusions, while they get picked off from above by a sniper. Now there's some unusual moments like when the art offers up a panel where it looks like Cyclops took a bullet in the heart. However, with the notable exception of Havok's truly hideous costume the issue manages make the new costumes work exceptionally well, which is actually a huge step in the other direction. There's also some impressive little moments like the look of evil intent on Lorna's face as she kills the shooters, and Jean's little display of her Phoenix power was also quite strong. I also have to make mention of the cover, which left me quite excited that Philip Tan is coming on board for a brief run.
Looking up at what I've just written it almost seems like I've got an ax to grind when it comes to Chuck Austen, but I honestly can say I've never met the man, and frankly I agree with him that there are fans who can be too caught up in what's gone on before that they instantly reject anything new that is brought to the table (and yes I'll even admit to being part of this group of fans when it comes to certain characters). However, my problems with Chuck Austen's work are far more deep rooted, as frankly his writing is fundamentally flawed. The actions of his cast are driven solely by the needs of the writer, and not the story, and the plots he serves up range from plot by numbers predictable, to downright goofy, with this issue's adventure falling firmly in the latter category. He's a bad writer who embraces half-baked ideas, and I'm horrified by the prospect that he seems to be in the good graces of the higher ups at Marvel. For god sakes Tom Brevoort, keep him away from the Avengers.
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