Having read a portion of Chuck Austen’s Uncanny X-Men run, I don’t think it would surprise anyone who has read it if I said it is a bad run. In a way, that is the nature of comics. Some authors’ runs are good, some alright, and some bad. It all really depends.
Chuck Austen certainly falls into the bad category. While he might not be at the top of everyone’s disliked list, I can’t recall the last time I’ve heard people say any of his comics were good. Points made for why he is considered a bad writer comes down to things like characterization, characters introduced, stories, and how he treated a number of female characters during his run.
Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, I do think there were good concepts in his run. That despite the stories themselves being executed poorly, the concepts themselves are not bad. For instance, Nightcrawler at one point being a priest, but not anymore isn’t a bad idea. It’s just how Chuck Austen choose to approach it that made it a poorly received story.
That said, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Chuck Austen’s two worst arcs happen to center on Nightcrawler (Holy War and The Draco). And while I might think there was potential for some concepts in both, I by no mean think they were good stories.
Because of that, I thought I would take these two arcs and see how I think they could have been made better. I finished Holy War earlier this month and I had read The Draco back in August. So I thought this would be a good time to look back at these two arcs and how I think they could have been written better.
I decided to divide it into two different posts so that each arc can be discussed as thoroughly as possible on their own. I’m starting with Holy War since it came first and isn’t as poorly received as The Draco (though not by much). And to approach it, I have divided it up into three parts: A brief synopsis of the story, what the problem was, and what I would do to fix them.
Holy War (423-424) was a two part conclusion to wrap up a plot point with the Church of Humanity. After an incident on the school grounds, the X-Men look to investigate. As it would turn out, Nightcrawler ended up becoming a priest though them. The only problem: none of the X-Men remember this happening when Nightcrawler knows he would have told them. When they go to look into it, not only do they find out that the Church of Humanity is attached to several deaths, but was looking to make Nightcrawler a pope only to then expose him as an antichrist so that they could convince people of the Rapture.
What Did Holy War Do Wrong?
For me, one major issues boils down to making Nightcrawler the figure head for this group’s plan. Yes, he looks sinister to the average person (a.k.a. he looks like a demon), but if there’s one thing Nightcrawler is known for is being a Catholic. Even if it’s not always front and center. So making him a pope only to make him an antichrist would feel wrong for the character.
I also feel like it’s super odd that people are surprised that Kurt would want to be a priest or had actually became one. While he might not “look the part”, his fellow X-Men should know that he’s Catholic. Heck, Logan and Kurt did talk about it during the Claremont run back in the 70’s and 80’s. So it’s not like him stating he’s religious is that much of an anomaly. It also shouldn’t be that farfetched that he could be a priest. Sure, it could be odd at first because they know people have given Nightcrawler flack for him being a “demon”, but not to the point that no one thinks he could be a priest. This issue hits Havoc the most since he was the most vocal about how Nightcrawler shouldn’t be a priest because of how he looks.
I also wasn’t too thrilled with how Cyclops approached Nightcrawler at the beginning. It’s more of a nitpick for me, but something about Cyclops how he approached Nightcrawler felt too belligerent for me. I get that six X-Men getting hurt was an issue, but lashing out at Nightcrawler felt like overkill.
How suggestive characters were in this arc is another issue. Both verbally and visually. I can agree that this was an issue because a lot of the comments and how one or two female characters looked felt unnecessary. And the story could have been fine without it.
Before I If I had to give this anything positive, its the art. I know the art might not mean much considering I’m mainly talking about the story itself, however, if there was one thing that I thought it did better than The Draco, it was that. Because while Philip Tan does the cover art, which is a critique for The Draco, the artwork in the story itself is fine.
What a Better Story Could Look Like
I have a few ways that this could have been fixed. First off, separate wanting to make Nightcrawler this antichrist figure and Nightcrawler being a priest. In theory I could see both being their own story. From there, I could see a few ideas playing out.
Note: Kurt is no longer considered a priest. There’s a panel or two that addresses this in I believe Legion of X. There, he states how he went through all the vows and such, but due to circumstance, certain things didn’t hold up any longer. The vow of chastity being one that didn’t hold up.
- Kurt becomes a priest, but leaves the church he’s stationed at because of overwhelming anti-mutant sentiments: This is one of two options where Kurt does become a priest, but decides to
- Kurt becomes a priest and the church he’s established at respects and appreciates him, but burnout and/or his heart not being in it anymore is what prompts him to retire: This one is a happier alternative to the previous one. Maybe he does go through the process of becoming a priest and finds a church where things work out for him. He’s respected and the people there accept and really like him. However, he ends up retiring. Maybe juggling his daily life, the X-Men, and priesthood makes him feel burnt out. Or perhaps, he feels as though his heart is no longer in it due to juggling everything and feeling like he isn’t as helpful as he could be. So he retires, leaving the church on good terms and is offered a position if he chooses to return in the future.
These are a ways I feel could have been a better story for Holy War. For me, I think if they removed the whole take down the Catholic Church by revealing Nightcrawler is the better option.
In conclusion, I do feel Holy War could have had the potential to be a good story had the story itself been written differently. Personally, I think if they just did a story focusing on Nightcrawler as a priest but eventually retiring, I think that would have been a better idea in the long run. Nightcrawler retiring on his own terms, be it from burnout or feeling it was his time, or the church loathing mutants, I feel would also be a reasonable way for him to no longer be a priest.
Note that I did consider an idea for the cult idea where a group tried to use Nightcrawler’s likeness for their cause. And in it, Nightcrawler would denounce it both in private and publicly (via a broadcast showing him taking down the cult that paraded around with his likeness). However, given how poorly received that angle in Holy War was, I thought it best to avoid what an alternative focusing solely on that would look like.
But what do you think? Do you think the concepts behind Holy War could have been good? Why or why not? How would you approach an altered version of it?