The Austen Run, Part 1 – Uncanny X-Men #410 (2002)

Uncanny X-Men #410 (October, 2002)

“Hope, One of Three”
Writer – Chuck Austen
Pencils – Ron Garney
Inks – Mark Morales
Colors – Hi-Fi
Letters – RS & Comicraft’s Saida!
Edits – Mike Racht, Mike Marts, Joe Quesada
Pres – Bill Jemas
Cover Price: $2.25

One of the features I’ve long been considering for our little X-Lapsed Family of Content is — retrials.  Revisiting older runs, that I’d already read — to see how they’ve aged.  This idea came to me after receiving a bit of feedback about my dismissal of Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men as rather lazy and unambitious.  I had to admit to myself that it’d been ages since I read it… and, in reading that particular run piecemeal (remember, issues of AXM only came out when Whedon felt like actually sitting down and doing the thing Marvel was paying him for), so perhaps I was being a bit hasty… or biased… or whatever.

So, I sez to myself – “Self… you’ve already got an audio Sunday Special Series.  Why not have a written one as well where you can revisit and retrial some old X-Stories?”.  I then sez to myself, “Self, that’s a fun idea… but, ya know what – I’m not in the mood to read any Whedon stuff right now.”

So, we’re not going to start with Astonishing X-Men.  We’ll eventually get there… if I don’t get hit by a bus or distracted by a butterfly in the interim… but, I wanted to start elsewhere.

With a run so reviled… a run that had claimed so many X-Fans back in the long ago.  Friends, today we’re going to begin our revisit of…

Spanning from Uncanny X-Men #410 to #443, the Austen run ran for nearly two uninterrupted years.  If you’re saying to yourself, that’s a lot of issues crammed into less than two years… well, you’d be right.  Marvel was big on double-shipping back in those days (imagine that!), and they passed the savings (and quality) on to us!

Now, Austen would take over Uncanny from Joe Casey, who was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for our favorite mutants after years of baffling stagnation.  What Casey gave us instead was… Banshee in an SS Uniform, Stacy-X the Mutant Prostitute who sexually satisfied Bill Clinton during an unnecessary scene, and a twist on the Mutant Massacre… which replaced the Marauders with… some dude with a flamethrower calling himself Mr. Clean.

It wasn’t great.  It wasn’t necessarily bad — but, the cockiness with which Casey entered the gig really caused many an X-Fan’s x-pectations to soar.  The uninspired stories we wound up getting really didn’t live up to the hype.  Having to be compared to cohort Grant Morrison’s work on New X-Men only compounded the disappointment many of us felt.

So, what’s Marvel to do?  Why — they call in their favorite pinch-hitter of the day to swoop in and stop the bleeding!  Chuck Austen had been something of a utility player for Marvel since the Jemas/Quesada regime took over — and seemed to be getting gigs left and right — some fill-ins, some ongoing.  That’s a very Marvel thing to do… even to this day!  Just hand over a percentage of the line to a single writer, and — as we know, that never leads to things like stagnation, all of the characters having the same “voice”, or overall phoned-in efforts, right?


Anyhoo… enough pre-ramble – Let’s get into it — the can’t miss debut of Chuck Austen on Uncanny X-Men!

I almost used a cropped version of this for our “The Austen Run” banner…

In perhaps a sign of things to come, the Austen run begins in the only way it can — with someone taking a gob of viscous white fluid to the face.  Soon enough we might just be able to relate to this poor fella.  Anyhoo, this is Sammy the Fish Boy… or Squid-Boy.  He’s being “hated and feared” by a group of bullies, who surmise that he was the product of his mother “doin’ the nasty” with a bottle of Mr. Bubble.  I hope she managed to get a t-shirt out of the deal.

I wonder if Sammy’s mom thought it was as much fun to get dirty with Mr. Bubble as it was to get clean?

Anyhoo, they “fear and hate” Sammy for a bit before shoving him into a mud puddle and leaving him to writhe around a bit.  Sammy pulls himself up, declares that he’s the biggest loser who ever done lost.  Also, a turd.  He arrives home shortly after, and is informed by his mother that he’s gotta get himself cleaned up — they’ve got company tonight.  Sammy says he’ll be right there… but first, he’s gotta go out to the field.

Despite the fact that Mom says no… he does anyway.  This “field”, by the way, is basically a junkyard right in the middle of their suburban Vancouver neighborhood.  Sammy laments the fact that he looks the way he does… and wishes he wasn’t a Mutant.  Nothing we haven’t seen or heard before.  This is almost too traditional an X-Men story, innit?

Sammy climbs into his secret clubhouse… which, doesn’t seem like the most secure location to hide what he’s about to show us.  In addition to a swimsuit poster of “Brie!”, a poster of the cover of Uncanny X-Men #402 (March, 2002), those puppets from the N’Sync album cover, and some cans with the Ghost Writer thingie on it… Sammy’s got a gun!

Whodathunk this guy would be that up on pop culture?  Well, I mean… bygone pop culture — I dunno.  Whatever.  The important part is the gun of course.  Worth noting, Vancouver gets the Daily Bugle — that’s a heck of a circulation, innit?

So, Sammy’s got a gun… and he heads back home where he plans on ending his life.  Instead, he’s met with tonight’s dinner guest: Charles Xavier!  And he comes with an opportunity.  Sammy smiles and begins to cry… and, all joking aside, we get to see that this visit saved his life.  And again, all jokes aside, it’s actually quite well done.

Elsewhere, the Blackbird is headed toward Scotland for a mission.  Our team includes Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Angel, Monet, Iceman, and Stacy X.  Stacy is complaining that Chamber just upped and left the team to go off to college.  Perhaps it’s worth noting that Chamber was a (relatively speaking) high-profile “get” for the earlier Joe Casey run.  It felt as though Jono was being positioned as the (non Emma Frost) “breakout” star of the recently-cancelled Generation X.  That… didn’t quite work out.  Anyhoo, Stacy’s kvetchin’… and Monet shushes her by calling her a “mutant prostitute”, which would be like calling me an “idiot blogger”.  Sometimes things just are what they are.

Stacy claps back because, lest we forget… women be snippy at one another.

From here we get our ROLL CALL page, which gives us the run-down on our cast, including a reference to Stacy-X being “slutty yet fun”, as if to suggest that the two must be mutually x-clusive.  I hate being the guy who points out things from back in the long ago that “haven’t aged well”, but… yeah.  Anyhoo, not near as important as Stacy’s promiscuity… the Blackbird is coming under fire, and our heroes are very likely to die here.

We see in the distance that the Blackbird is being bombarded by flaming balls of fear and hate.  The X-Men attempt to eject from the ‘bird before it takes the brunt of it… Nightcrawler manages to make landfall, crashing into a castle… because this is Scotland, and everyone there lives in castles.

Back to B.C…. Professor X is chatting up the Squid-Boy family about this opportunity.  He’d like to take Sammy back with him to have him learn more about his Mutant abilities and whatnot.  Sammy notices Charles’ accent… and I have to remind myself that this issue isn’t too far off the earliest X-Men movies – so, yeah.  This quick chat is all it takes, before the day is through – Sammy’s on a jet to Xavier’s.

Outside, there’s a fella sorta rattling Charles’ cage about parking his jet in the middle of a residential neighborhood… which, yeah – he’s got a point.  Xavier promises it won’t happen again… but, in the event that it does, he’ll give the fella a tour of the rig.  Sammy is in awe of this, considering that Xavier, if he wanted to – could just use his “brain powers” to send this lookyloo away.  Charles says he’d never* do such a thing… which is absolutely adorable.  They board, and Sammy is introduced to Cat Beast.

Before they take off, Xavier uses his “brain powers” to deduce that Sammy’s got a gun.  That, of course, is a big no-no.  Sammy hands it over, claiming he only brought it because he didn’t want anyone else to find it and get hurt.  Hmm… shouldn’t lie to a telepath, but whatever.

I’ll credit Austen for his restraint in not having Charles ask “Is that a gun in your pants, or are you just glad to see me?”

Xavier then decides to check in on the Scotland-bound team… and finds that they’re all kayoed!  All x-cept Stacy.  She’s freaking out as none of the rest are breathing.  The Prof tries to calm her down and teach her C.P.R. – but she’s still all shades of wacked.

She finally calms down enough to let Xavier “take over” so she can administer C.P.R.  Moments later, Nightcrawler wakes up with an “Ay carumba”, which… I’m not even sure where to start with that.  He then spies Stacy blowing into Warren’s mouth… and accuses her of kissing him.  Ya know, I thought Kurt was a pretty x-perienced guy, you’d figure he’d know the difference between making out and saving a life — maybe all he knows of C.P.R. is what he’s seen on 90’s sitcoms where guys used it as a way to make out with unwitting and prone girls to great hilarity?

We wrap up the issue with the reveal that… the Juggernaut is here!

Well, there we have it – the first Chuck Austen issue of Uncanny X-Men… what’d we all think?

I think what struck me most was how, relatively speaking, “safe” this issue played things.  I mean, sure – there’s a bit of turn of the century cringe here… but, at it’s core, this is a pretty timeless sort of X-Men story.  The kind where, I’m sure we’ve already read something just like it… I just couldn’t point you to where.

This was so traditional, that it’s using tropes we still see today.  We’re given a fish out of water (har!) Point of View character, through whom we meet the X-Men.  What’s different in Sammy, however, is the way that he looks.  This isn’t a POV character like Kitty Pryde, Jubilee… or even Nathaniel Carver from Generation X (vol.2) – this is a kid, who, I believe is only supposed to be 10 years old at this point, who has been driven to the point of… well, we all saw what he very nearly did.

It’s almost hard to believe that such a by-the-numbers  (and mostly solid) X-Outing will eventually lead to things like the Draco, Lorna going nutty (because women be crazy, amirite guys?), Northstar showing up to repeatedly remind us of his sexuality, and all the banging (oh Lord, the banging).  There’s plenty of reasons why folks point to this era as the time when they finally walked away from the X-Books… but, we’re not to any of them just yet.

I suppose we could talk about some of the cringe and “haven’t aged well” stuff, eh?  Monet and Stacy’s snippiness was… ya know, I’m not even sure it’s that it “didn’t age well” – I’m not sure it was all that great back in 2002!  I’m sure there was a contingent of, in the immortal words of Bill Jemas, ahem “Fanboys who love Bad Girls” who dug them going back and forth — it’s as subtle as a kick to the crotch, and about half as fun.

We’ll give Austen a bit of slack here for now… we’ll be patient during this revisit, and allow him to establish a voice for his chosen characters.  So far, it’s shallow-city, but — again, there’s only so much you can do with a story where your titular heroes are only given a handful of pages to show their stuff.  I mean, that’s fair – right?

Anyhoo – I suppose this is the point in the discussion where I ought to begin my paragraph with the word “Overall”… and so…

Overall, this wasn’t half bad.  I’m not sure it was “half good” either, but it was (mostly) inoffensive… and my biggest complaint (from a storytelling angle) is that it’s probably a little too traditional.  I mean, it’s not going to be Morrison’s New X-Men… heck, it’s not even going to be Claremont’s X-Treme X-Men – but, we need an Uncanny, and here it be.

Please let me know your thoughts on this run… and this little side project!


2 thoughts on “The Austen Run, Part 1 – Uncanny X-Men #410 (2002)

  • I for one think that looking back at Chuck Austin's X-Men run will be a fun side project. I am anxiously awaiting next Sunday for your coverage of his second issue. And just for the record I really don't care for his X-Men run. But maybe that was just because it was being read alongside Morrison's X-Men run. Maybe in a solo state its not too bad. Let's see if you can change my mind.

  • Jeremiah

    The thing that gets me here is the art, but not that it's bad. To me it is that very late nineties, early 2000's art. The thick lines and "softer" & "flatter" coloring. It all just has a look to it, like weak-sauce Battlechasers or something. It's hard for me to describe but its the style or look that is the main thing that holds me back from re-visting the era.

    I've read next to nothing from this era X-books so I'm interested to see where you take this project.


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