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Uncanny X-Men v1: Hope

Posted: Wednesday, November 15, 2006
By: Michael Aronson

Writer: Chuck Austen
Artist: Ron Garney

Publisher: Marvel

Collecting Uncanny X-Men #410-415

What am I, insane? Chuck Austen’s Uncanny X-Men run? Why don’t I pour Drain-O into my cereal and bathe in acid while I’m at it? It comes down to this: someone’s gotta tell it like it is. Someone has to let the world know which parts of his run are decent and actually harmlessly entertaining and which parts are a blight upon humanity. Those two extremes may not be well balanced throughout his forty-odd issues, but both were present.

Graciously, the run begins on a strong note, perhaps the highest point it ever reached. Some of these stories, or at least the individual chapters, are just damn good X-Men tales – especially the opening and the reintroduction to Northstar.

Hope contains the three-part titular story followed by three one-offs, these in a time during when nearly everything Marvel produced was written for trade. All the stories involved multiple ongoing subplots, some quite radical, many strictly adhering to X-Men continuity or other books of that time (in a good way – yes, really, this is the same Austen who ruined Nightcrawler).

The three-parter pits a collection of X-Men against Black Tom Cassidy, with Juggernaut coming to their aid. Jugs and depressed fish-faced mutant Sammy join the school while Angel undergoes a facelift and Iceman’s powers start to evolve. Meanwhile, a non-mutant nurse named Annie stumbles across a comatose Alex Summers, contacts Cyclops and accompanies them to Xavier’s where she becomes a resident nurse. All this, and Northstar probably gets better treatment in the fifth chapter than he ever has or will . . . and then the next chapter completely ruins it.

It’s really hard to say anything good about this collection without wanting to jump right into the bad, since we all know how much worse things get; still, I’m going to hold back.

Like I said earlier, some of this stuff really captures the essence of what the X-Men are about. Every line by Professor X has weight and insight, and though he’s a little too perfect, the theme of these stories is “hope” and the Professor’s outlook really drives it home. Though Annie’s situation is a little goofy – she’s fallen in love with a comatose man she knows she probably can’t have – she admits her hopeless romanticism, and there’s quite more to her than this infatuation – the bomb dropped on the last page of her solo story is a great one. And for his first appearance in this run, Northstar is characterized quite well – he’s a moody and unsympathetic dude, but not to the point that he’ll deny the truth and what’s really at stake. Also, the cast gest in some fun bickering from time to time and Wolverine’s role is surprisingly minimal.

Okay, made it. Now the bad stuff.

Austen’s characterization is marred by three major problems: an obsession with relationships, an obsession with sex, and tendency toward sexism. All of these go hand in hand, and they all rather spring up from one another in ascending order of offensiveness. So Paige Guthrie has a crush on Angel – nothing special, right? Not until Stacey X accuses her of rushing to his besides only because she’s horny for him and no other reason – Stacey knows that’s the reason because her sexuality powers can sense it. So Paige made an appearance as nothing but a lusty teen who gets into a catfight with Stacey. Stacey calls her all sorts of bitch-type names, ranting about her heaving and partially-covered chest, and Paige runs out of the room crying. Is this all necessary?

But none of this occurs in the last chapter, the travesty of the bunch during which Chuck Austen, competent writer, is once and forever replaced by Chuck Austen, Scourge of the Comics Industry. Northstar loses whatever edge he had in favor of an instant gay crush on Iceman. Iceman bitches out anyone who won’t sympathize with the problem he won’t share with anyone. Northstar gets catty when Iceman starts flirting with two breasts and her face. Clayface appears out of nowhere for meaningless action and a contrived climax.

And Northstar’s new costume? Not good at all.

If the last chapter weren’t so offensively stupid, I’d easily bump this collection up to four bullets. It really is that decent.

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