Uncanny X-Men #423


I have to say, the people who paid 25 cents for this comic were profoundly ripped off.

This review’s going to be a little different than other reviews and perhaps a little more difficult to pull off. See, it’s easy to make fun of #1 issues since they’re intended to indoctrinate the reader (be they old or new) into the new individual story arc that’s occurring within the book. But when you have a series that’s been going for 400+ issues, one would have to assume that there has been some sort of consistent quality that’s allowed it to last 35 years. Some could say that it’s just tradition, wanting to keep the book alive out of faith for the characters, but if that’s the case, they wouldn’t have started an entire new book for the Avengers after a 500+ issue run. I admit there’s an economic factor to that since #1 issues sell better than a book that’s on its 423rd issue. However, if you are picking up a book that has creative teams frequently leaving the book after a storyline or after a few story arcs, you want to make the stories consistently good so that new readers to the series won’t have any problem wanting to pick it up again.

Of course, the problem with this is that there are naturally going to be stinkers in a book and this one’s no different. Chuck Austen’s run on Uncanny X-Men caused a bit of controversy due to accusations of Mary Sue characters, retcons to established characters, poor characterization, and ridiculous plot points. I admit, I’m not familiar with a lot of Austen’s work, mostly because I don’t pick up much of his work, be it WorldWatch or Action Comics. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s unfair of me to think this comic sucks.

In preparation for setting up this site, I asked several message boards for recommendations for bad comics to review and Uncanny X-Men #424 was given as a candidate. I perused my local store’s back-issues for it, but sadly could not find it. However, since the story in question was a two-parter, I did manage to get my hands on #423. Eventually, I do plan on getting #424 because of what I’ve heard about it. I’m almost deadly-determined to do it for one specific reason that was cited for the contempt of it: disintegration communion wafers. Intrigued? So am I.

Before we begin, a minor rant – what is it with the propensity for some comics to include adjectives into their title? Amazing, Uncanny, Astonishing, Sensational, Irredeemable… shouldn’t just being a mainstream superhero or team be enough to justify its worth? Why do we need to feel that the book is special by having this description? Of course, this comic is special, just not in the way they wanted.

The cover makes no sense. It’s a token shot of Wolverine coming out at the camera all badass-like and all with broken chains behind him. However, while Wolverine is in the issue, at no point is he chained up (or is there even chains featured, for that matter). And a note on the artwork: his outfit is apparently so tight that we can see every sinew of muscle on his body, even in places I didn’t realize there were smaller muscles. Oh, and when did Wolvie pick up the anchored goatee? It just makes him look like a thinly-disguised villain and certainly not one of the most popular characters in comics. Also surprisingly, this comic is priced at 25 cents, possibly an indicator of how much faith Marvel editorial had in the issue. Joking aside, I’m not sure for what reason it was given a 25-cent price except as a possible promotion, but I’d think that Marvel would want to promote better material than this.

The first page is a recap of recent events and I have to say it’s refreshing to see that Marvel wants to let new readers be caught up on recent events, but they throw four paragraphs worth of material that could have been explained away in one sentence: teenagers have really complicated and crappy soap opera-like lives. Just to give a quick sum-up: Havok is out of a coma and in love with a nurse named Annie, but he accepted a marriage proposal from Polaris (which makes me happy to see a woman proposing to a man, but why the hell did he accept a marriage proposal from her if he didn’t love her?!), Nightcrawler recently stepped down as leader of the X-Men and encountered a “mysterious organization” known as the Church of Humanity, and a mutant named Chamber returned to the X-Men to find his girlfriend Husk now involved with Archangel. “But all these trying times at the Xavier mansion are only a small hint of the horrors to come…” Oh no, it’s a plague of carjackings!

We open the actual story with a montage of various scenes across the world, including a group of silhouetted soldiers along three crosses, a battle of Christian soldiers versus an unknown foe (which I can only presume to be part of the Crusades), a group of unidentified black people (some of whom seem rather overweight) wearing islander wear and holding books [??] while the background shows mountains and palm trees, a concentration camp, and an unidentified scene of a mass, open grave with several dead individuals within it while soldiers approach it, an unknown flag (featuring red and white stripes and some sort of grey shield on it) implanted next to the grave. And on their own, these could have been somber scenes (except for the odd scene of the islanders holding books. What the hell was that about?), but the narration captions ruin it all, right from the start:

“More people have died in the name of religion than have ever died of cancer. And we try to cure cancer.” Okay, how many stupid things can I count about just those lines? First of all, while it’s certainly true that religious fanaticism in one form or another is responsible for deaths spanning millennia, trying to compare it the amount of cancer deaths is just plain ridiculous. I’m not trying to underplay the seriousness of cancer, but the reason fewer people have died of cancer is partly because cancer is a disease that’s caused usually by factors outside of the control of individuals and because we have treatments for cancer, it’s more likely that people will live through it. There isn’t really a surgical procedure at the moment for ‘being blown into several million pieces by a suicide bomber’ or ‘getting stabbed in the face during the Crusades.’ Furthermore, trying to compare premeditated murder with a horrible disease and making it sound like religious fanaticism is worse than cancer is just horribly insensitive. “Gee, Billy, I’m sorry you have a tumor, but at least you weren’t made an example of by the whacko religious fanatics!”

On top of that, “And we try to cure cancer” is the height of terrible writing. Is the guy advocating that we try to cure religious extremism? Forgive my squirrelly ignorance, but again it’s trying to say that a disease and a murderous belief system are somehow on an even keel. But anyway, we haven’t even got to the actual story yet, so let’s continue: “What is it about our specific belief in God and his wishes that makes us so angry at the specific beliefs in another?” Um… It isn’t belief in God that does it; it’s believing that God doesn’t like other people’s beliefs that does it. Get your facts straight. Some of us believe in God and don’t have a problem with other people’s beliefs (unless those beliefs are the ones that say you should kill people for your beliefs, but I digress).

“What makes us take up arms against those who pray to the same God with different words — and make “Holy War” against them?” And again, he’s making a general assumption. I can assure you that the general beliefs of Christians tend to not match the general beliefs of Muslims nor do they match the general beliefs of Hindi, Buddhists, Shintoists, and etc. Saying that they’re “the same God with different words” is unbelievably offensive to those who hold their beliefs and ignorant of all the tenets and differences among the world’s religion. Anywho, we switch to a two-page spread featuring a group of X-Men at their school looking in shock as they see several members of their team quite literally crucified on their front lawn. The one closest to them has a sign on him that says, “Evolution is not the will of God.” I could also point out that it’s not his will to nail people up on crosses, but I’m sure I’ll understanding things with the ‘ironic’ quote from Deuteronomy that’s featured on the bottom talking about only the one true God and all.

Oh, and the crucifixions themselves? The artist screwed up big time. Each X-Man that’s nailed up has the spikes being driven through his palm and his feet and they’re hanging limply from the crosses. This is quite impossible. The weight of the body can’t be supported just from the palms – it’d rip the hands clean through. The only way this would work is if they had some sort of stool or something for their feet to stand on, otherwise the Romans would traditionally either tie the hands around the cross by the wrist or simply stab the nails through the wrists. Or maybe these X-Men have ‘super-weight-reduction’ as part of their mutations.

On the next page, the narrator (now revealed to be Nightcrawler) gives a breakdown of the members of the team. First is Jean Grey, who by now must have Frequent Flier Miles with as many times as she’s died. She announces that she’s not picking up any thoughts or heartbeats, declaring them all dead. Next is Logan, whom Nightcrawler says is, “Often called Wolverine because he’s short, tough, and has these hundred-inch claws that shoot out of each hand.” Just like a real Wolverine! Wolverine yells at the group to get them down as we’re introduced to Chamber and Husk. Chamber, according to Nightcrawler, is “A walking ad for how mutant gifts can ruin a good jawline.” I think I saw a public service announcement like that once.

As for Husk, he’d “explain her mutant power, but it disturbs me too much.” This from a guy who once appeared on a painted cover of a comic butt-naked in front of Wolverine without any intended comedy about the situation. For those wondering, Husk’s ability is to shed her skin into a different element, which really isn’t that disturbing compared to the guy with energy coming out of his mouth or the telepath with a cosmic bird for a soul. To make a long story short (too late), Cyclops concurs with Wolverine to get them down and Iceman objects, thinking the police will want to see it. In turn, Cyclops has what we call an ‘heroic spaz attack’ around here, once again yelling to take them down. By the by, the X-Men tend to go through a lot of uniforms and right now they’re wearing their worst – matching blue and yellow ensembles and Cyclops in particular has it worst with a huge-ass ‘X’ across his torso.

Cyclops tells Jean to contact the new nurse, Annie, and she complies, sending a telepathic call to her: “Annie? Annie, it’s me, Jean. I need — Annie, please stop screaming, it’s just telepathy, it’s not going to hurt — well, when you pull yourself together, can you join us in front of the school?” You know, if this is how they treat a regular human who’s rightfully panicking when she’s hearing a voice in her head communicating with her, I’ve got to say I understand why Homo sapiens are afraid of these guys.

Nightcrawler makes the comment that the police are going to be unhappy that they’re tampering with a crime scene and Wolverine just rolls his eyes at this and proclaims that, “When it comes to mutants — we are the police.” I certainly agree with Wolverine on this one, but it makes me scratch my head as to why Nightcrawler is so adamant about such a thing, since we know that the X-Men have more advanced technology available to them than local law enforcement. The others see that Jubilee has also been crucified and Wolverine runs to her. Iceman, in this stunning bit of revelation, says these words: “Right here, Logan. My God, it is her!” No kidding, Einstein – that yellow raincoat can be spotted a mile away. Wolverine and Iceman pull her down while Wolverine screams for help: “Where’s a healer?!” We need to travel into an Instance! “Where’s Xorn?! Where’s Worthington?! Where the hell is Worthington?!

All of a sudden, Nightcrawler has his own heroic spaz attack, looking up at the sky and screaming, “Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?Beep! This is God – your call is very important to us… “Or cry to you “violence!” And you will not save?” While some people have crises of faith like this, Nightcrawler just two seconds ago didn’t seem too put off that a bunch of his friends were nailed to a bunch of crosses, caring more about upsetting the possible police investigation.

Jean telekinetically carries two bodies back into the school as Nurse Annie asks who could do such a horrible thing to them. Iceman responds that it was by people who don’t like mutants, saying her name sanctimoniously to make her feel bad about her own prejudices. Nightcrawler’s narration pipes in with: “Annie the human. Annie the “enemy.”” Erm, maybe I haven’t read any X-Men books in a while, but I was under the impression that Professor Xavier thought that humans and mutants weren’t supposed to be enemies? Once again being a flip-flopper, Nightcrawler on the next page says in narration, “Don’t go there, Bobby” and then spouts off what I can only presume is a Bible quote since he says it with quotation marks in his narration captions.

In the next scene, Angel is lying in the middle of the medical bay with wires hooked up to him and all of the dead X-Men. With the time I’m sure it took them to set up this little display, I’m sure the bodies of all of them must have started to decay (at least the brain would due to lack of oxygen) so I don’t know what they’re hoping to accomplish with their little transfusion of Angel’s ‘healing blood.’ Wolverine, still screaming, asks how long it’s going to take. Angel tells him to calm down and reassures Husk that he’ll be fine. “You go worry about Jubilee and Angelo.” And, you know, the four or five other dead friends of yours, too, perhaps?

Cyclops pulls Nightcrawler aside, starting to give him instructions about assembling his squad when Nightcrawler interrupts, saying it’s not just his team anymore. Cyclops states that: “It is your team, Kurt. You wanted more responsibility and Xavier gave you the second squad. Whether you choose to follow up on the responsibility given to you is your business — but you are the team leader.” So, wait, he’s the team leader, but he doesn’t have to follow up on the responsibility of it if he doesn’t want to and yet you’re barking out orders to him? Is anyone following this logic? Nightcrawler states that he split his leadership responsibility with Angel (and in case you haven’t noticed, blue boy, Angel’s not exactly in a position to be giving orders at the moment). Cyclops interrupts him by saying that he “found it easier to be liked if you didn’t have to make the unpopular decisions. So you left those to Warren in order to continue being everyone’s happy-go-lucky best friend.”

He continues by giving a lecture on leadership: “Being a leader isn’t about being a friend, or being liked.” Well, I guess that explains why everyone thinks Cyclops is a stuck-up asshole – he is. “It’s about making the right decisions no matter how tough they are — or how unpopular they make you. So get your team to the conference room — and do it now.” Okay, I do actually agree with Cyclops on his description of leadership, but seriously, is now the best time to be giving lectures? Just take charge yourself, Cyclops – you’re still the overall field leader and you don’t want a conflict in the chain-of-command from Nightcrawler if he disagrees with you about something, do you? Jeez, he really is a dick.

Annie warns Angel that they’re getting close to a pint of Angel’s blood and he tells her to keep going. Husk tries to convince him to stop and Nightcrawler asks her to accompany him to meet with Cyclops and the others. Husk refuses, but Angel tells her to go with Nightcrawler, saying, “You’re really wasting your time here, anyway.” On its face, this may seem heartless, but seriously, it’s true – I mean, what’s Husk going to do to be helpful? Wilt away next to Angel while staring at him, perhaps? Husk and Nightcrawler react with shocked looks on their faces to this perfectly legitimate statement and walk off. Annie scolds Angel for his statement, defending Husk and saying that she suspects that she likes him a lot. Angel responds that he knows, but that she loves Chamber. Annie, reacting with a wonderful beside manner, responds, “What? The kid without a mouth? Please! There’s nothing to kiss!” Wow, such a sensitive nurse, isn’t she? “If you knew anything about women, handsome, you’d know there’s nothing more important than a man who can kiss.” Yes, because his personality has nothing to do with what a woman likes in a guy. Honestly, where did this woman get her nursing license, from the Gary Brodsky School for Women?

Switching scenes over to “The War Room,” we once again find Nightcrawler reciting Bible lines. I’m not including them here because these few lines of good writing weren’t written by the comic’s author. Cyclops wants to know who’s responsible for the attack and that he wants “hints, clues, rumors, psychic impressions, whatever you’ve got — and then we’re going to find these monsters!” Um… Cyclops? You see all that technology around you? How about you punch up some camera footage or something that might have shown who the people were who did it? Havok brings up the idea that with the crosses and religious symbols, it’s likely that it was the Church of Humanity that attacked them. Cyclops doesn’t know what he’s talking about and Nightcrawler explains that they’re “a bunch of clowns who think mutantkind is against God. Our team has faced them a few times in differing circumstances.”

Cyclops quickly asks several questions at once: “How many times? What’s their background? Where are they located and why weren’t we briefed on them?” Nightcrawler starts to answer and as soon as he brings up how he assumed Angel had briefed him, Cyclops goes nuts, yelling at him: “Dammit(sic), Kurt, are you brain-dead?! Did you or did you not ask Xavier for more responsibility at this school?!” Is this really the best time to be giving Nightcrawler a lecture about the finer points of command? Some of your teammates may have just died and it was due to a terrorist attack; worry about that kind of crap after you’ve captured the killers! But no, Cyclops rants about how it’s Nightcrawler’s responsibility to keep the other teams apprised of potential threats, “Especially if your team has failed to effectively deal with them.” Gee, Cyclops, you’re right. Say, how’s the Hellfire Club these days? Or Apocalypse? Or Mister Sinister? Or- well, you get the idea.

The others concur with my opinion of Cyclops being a dick, telling him he should calm down and we do get this humorous exchange of dialogue between Havok and Cyclops, mostly because Havok is so right:

“With all due respect, Alex, this doesn’t concern you.”
“With all due respect, Scottie — this is no time to be a tightwad.”

Meanwhile, back in the medical bay, Angel is getting light-headed from all the blood being drained from him (or maybe it’s just his confusion about why Wolverine’s still in the room when he told Husk she was wasting her time). Annie tells Angel that there’s no change in the conditions of the others and Wolverine confirms this, sadly ordering Annie to cut off the feed. Angel objects, trying to get them to hold off a little longer. “Warren, I can’t. Your healing thingie[!] isn’t replacing your blood as fast as I’m draining it.” ‘Healing thingie?!‘ Okay, seriously, this character could not have been a Mary Sue. There’s no way Chuck Austen would make his wife this stupid.

Wolverine once again tells Angel he needs to pull it and that they don’t need any more dead today. Jubilee suddenly asks who died in a weak voice, shocking the others. Wolverine goes down and grumbles to her that she had just died. Jubilee, in a bit of ‘humor,’ responds, “Dude. You ever hear the words “Mouth. Wash?”” Ever hear the words ‘Fashion. Disaster,’ Jubilee? But I kid Jubilee. I actually don’t hate her outfit that much, since it’s fairly original, it’s just that she needs a serious power upgrade other than simply shooting fireworks from her hands.

Back in the War Room (which is now tilted at odd angles for some reason), Cyclops wonders why the Church of Humanity, in its previous encounters, at first didn’t want to fight with the team but then began engaging them in combat. When asking what changed between the circumstances about Nightcrawler specifically (huh?!), Nightcrawler says that the “only major thing is that I renounced my priesthood…” Havok is shocked to discover that he was a Priest and Nightcrawler wonders why it’s so hard to believe. “Well, no offense, but look at you, pal. How would that work? Are you talking about being a priest to mutants?” Nice work paving the way for a peaceful future between mutants and humans, Havok. Real smooth. Iceman’s more surprised by the idea that he finally became a Priest and is confused about why the X-Men weren’t invited to the ceremony. Nightcrawler says they were invited and that they all attended. The group all stares at him in disbelief.

Back in the Infirmary, most of the others who had been dead are getting up, possibly indicating the shortest time for the Revolving Door of Death to turn (a single issue and 13 pages). However, all is not well, as Angelo is still dead. However, on the last panel of the page, you can see his eye partly open, which made me think at first that they were going to do a ‘humorous’ thing of him getting up then and laughing at the others, but alas, there is nothing but somberness. For some reason we have a single panel of Nightcrawler holding his head as Havok asks him what the Church could gain by making him think he was a Priest, with Nightcrawler answering that he doesn’t know. The scene switches to St. Michael’s Church in Brooklyn and from the looks of the page, the X-Men landed the Blackbird right in the middle of the flippin’ street. Word to the wise – just because your plane is a stealth plane doesn’t mean people can’t still walk into it, especially if it’s not cloaked or camouflaged in any way!

Nightcrawler explains that this is the place where he thought he was doing his priestly duties under a man named Father Whitney. It was also where he remembers his ordination ceremony took place. The others confirm that they don’t recall ever being here and Jean informs us that “there is some psychic residue of someone tampering with your mind, Kurt.” Oh, gee, THANKS, Jean, for telling us this rather useful bit of information NOW! Honestly, would it have been that difficult to clue Nightcrawler into the fact that it was likely his brain was getting screwed around with? Following the incident with you practically yelling at Annie about the telepathy, I can only assume that flaming bird in you must have laid an egg on your brain, jeez…

Nightcrawler states, “In a way, I’m almost relieved to hear you say that, Jean. I’d begun to question Father Whitney recently, in spite of his warmth and friendship toward me. It’s funny how kindness is often more truly just a pleasant act of selfishness, isn’t it?” Wow. Real deep, Kurt. Ladies and gentlemen, there you have the reason why so many superheroes were assholes during the Dark Age of comics: kindness = selfishness. Oh, and he also narrates another Bible quote, this time actually saying that it’s Proverbs 26:23. Why this one and not any of the previous ones? I refer thee to the book of Lewis, chapter 7, verse 3: poor writing and/or poor editing.

Cyclops, in a strategic maneuver worthy of Patton or Napoleon, tells Wolverine to cover their backside and for Polaris to go in from the back. Let’s see: guy who can regenerate from any injury and girl who can control metal (like, you know, the stuff that tends to be in a lot of churches) cool their heels while a group that isn’t exactly indestructible goes head-first into an unknown area with the potential of multiple engagements against forces that can tamper psychically with your brain. Remind me again why Cyclops is the leader? Oh yeah, he has to make those “unpopular, but necessary” moves that nobody else likes to do. Maybe they’re so unpopular because they’re downright stupid?

In any case, the group enters and finds the Church empty. Nightcrawler believes that he was indeed at the Church since he knew people saw him leave the mansion and that he never made a secret of the fact that he was training to be a Priest. Havok, once again demonstrating how Xavier’s lessons of tolerance and sensitivity are not wasted, says “But how, Kurt? I mean, come on. Look at you. You’re a devil in a house of God.” No, he’s a mutant in a house of God who somewhat resembles a demon. Sorry, you’re confusing him with Blue Devil. Wrong company, but an easy mistake to make.

After a smattering of irrelevant dialogue that reveals that Havok knows the book of Revelations (undoubtedly as foreshadowing for the second part of this book), Jean indicates that there’s blood on the floor. She even identifies it as mutant blood. And before I can make the joke about how in the heck she knew it was mutant blood, someone asks her that question. She indicates that she cal tell a lot of things about the place that they’re not going to like and instructs them all to stand back.

Jean suddenly has her Phoenix bird thing come out of her and wreck up the floorboards beneath them as Nightcrawler’s narration, for one last time, recites a Bible quote (sans explaining where the quote came from this time), with this one making even less sense than before as it references God making humanity in his own image and that they should fill the earth and subdue it. And the ‘shocking’ reveal at the end? We have the “and subdue it” end of the quote and then a double-page spread of a laboratory beneath the floorboards, where dozens of dead mutants are in various positions, be they in tubes, on beds, in wheelchairs[??], or shackled to walls. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you need to check every square inch of the house you want to buy before purchase.

The final panel is a confusing shot of a blue entity, supposedly still alive, with a tube going into its nose while its eyes are wide open. GASP! How will the X-Men survive this terrifying encounter with dead bodies?! Will Cyclops continue to be a moronic asshole to his teammates?! Will Nightcrawler act like a rookie when we know he’s been on the team for years?! Will Polaris actually get to say a line?! Will Nurse Annie read a medical textbook and learn that ‘thingie’ is not something a licensed caregiver should be saying?! Wow, isn’t it all just uncanny?!

Well, tune in for whenever I get a copy of Uncanny X-Men #424! In the meantime, I think YouTube has got some of the old X-Men animated series up.

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