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Pulp Culture
Marvel's go-to
writer makes an
'Uncanny' mess

June 12, 2003
By Franklin Harris

Inexplicably, Chuck Austen is one of Marvel Comics' go-to writers. Last week alone, Marvel released three Austen-scripted books: "Uncanny X-Men," "The Eternal" and "Captain America."

That's too much Austen even for me, so I'll forego the current issue of "Captain America" and look only at the other two titles.

First with writer Joe Casey and now with Austen, "Uncanny X-Men" has played a poor second to Grant Morrison's reliably clever "New X-Men." In terms of quality, if not sales, "Uncanny' even has slipped behind Chris Claremont's old-school "X-treme X-Men," which has showed signs of improvement of late.

You can't totally blame Austen. He inherited numerous mishandled storylines and character developments. Still, his attempts to clear the decks have been less than thrilling.

The most egregious examples are "Uncanny X-Men" issues 423 and 424, which comprise the two-part "Holy War" arc.

Here the X-Men face the Church of Humanity, a cult that seeks to wipe out all mutants, believing them to be an abomination in the sight of God. That's fine as far as it goes, but Austen's main goal with the story is to undo Nightcrawler's ordination as a Catholic priest, one of those incidents of bad character development I was talking about.

While Nightcrawler's faith has been an important part of his character since at least the early '80s, no one seems to have thought through the difficulties of having Nightcrawler enter the priesthood while remaining an active member of the X-Men. But rather than deal with the problem head on, Austen tries to wish it away. As we learn in "Holy War," Nightcrawler was never a priest at all. Rather, he was duped by the Church of Humanity, which sought to infiltrate and destroy the Catholic Church as part of a scheme so convoluted I won't attempt to explain it here.

It doesn't help that Austen has some particularly screwy ideas about Catholic theology. He seems to think Catholics believe in the same literalist interpretation of Revelation as do premillennialist evangelicals, complete with the Rapture.

But if Catholics have reason to be offended by Austen's stories, so too do homosexuals — to say nothing, I suppose, of Catholic homosexuals.

His take on the X-Men's resident homosexual, Northstar, has been nothing short of insulting. Northstar once was a well-rounded character (in the '80s, during John Byrne's run on "Alpha Flight"), but now he is just the guy who has the hots for every cute, male resident of Professor Xavier's mansion.

Austen fares no better with his mature-readers book, "The Eternal" No. 1.

The series is set millions of years ago. A race called the Celestials has dispatched another race, the Eternals, to prehistoric Earth to collect raw materials. The Eternals are all males, the Celestials having killed off the female half of the species. So, when the Eternals accelerate the evolutionary development of the primitive humans they find, they are delighted to see that evolved human females are physically compatible with them, if you know what I mean.

While I suppose Austen must have some grand design for "The Eternal," it reads like the love child of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Planet of the Apes." The first issue seems simply an excuse for an adolescent male sex/power fantasy. There is lots of sex, bondage and bare breasts, and none of the female characters is smart enough to talk. Nevertheless, our hero, an Eternal named Ikaeden, whose attitude is reminiscent of Charlton Heston's world-weary Taylor in the "Apes" films, falls for his smarter-than-the-rest love slave.

How romantic.

After all of this, it's no wonder I didn't take my chances with "Captain America."

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