There’s a lot that’s hard to understand about Chuck Austen’s Uncanny X-Men run, widely considered to be the worst ever on the fan-favorite book. Why is there so much sex talk? Why is Polaris insane? Was Havok really so mad at Iceman that he’d make him a new body out of urine? What the hell is up with “The Draco,” the story arc that introduced Nightcrawler’s real parentage? Why did She-Hulk sleep with the Juggernaut???
More pressingly, why is ALL of this wrapped up in one volume called X-Men: Trial of the Juggernaut? Who is supposed to buy this?
And why is it called that when the “trial” is only about two issues, and “The Draco” is a full six (seven, if you count the prelude)? Wouldn’t that have been a better selling point? Argh, even 15+ years later, the decisions made about this continue to not make sense.
Though maybe publishing/marketing really did have the right idea, as Uncanny X-Men issue numbers 435 and 436 are pretty much the only decent things in this 392-page volume, nonsensical boot-knockin’ notwithstanding. Cain Marko has been trying to be heroic, but as Cyttorak knew when he chose him as his avatar, the Juggernaut is an engine of destruction without even meaning to be. She-Hulk makes him realize the continued error of his ways (maybe even with a small defeat of toxic masculinity?) on the way to the trial NOT actually happening, which is actually a breath of fresh realism, as settlements and plea bargains occur more often than we think.
Okay, the Mystique material from X-Men Unlimited #40 and #48 is pretty good, too. It’s a bit of a follow-up from “The Draco,” and shows Raven’s particular set of skills is valuable even to forces of (mostly) good. And I do mean ALL her skills, as there’s seduction involved in toppling a brutal regime. This along with the She-Hulk stuff might make you wonder if Austen didn’t actually have a dim opinion of women. Maybe the empowerment of owning their own sexuality was … ahead of its time? Make your own judgment.
We see more of Mystique’s machinations to start “The Draco,” as she’s making mischief and amusing herself around Europe “20 years ago” (is Nightcrawler really that young?). That is until she meets the beguiling Azazel, who later reveals himself to be one of the first mutants, like herself. The child they bear wrecks her grift, though, and then disappears in a puff of smoke when she drops it off a cliff.
Then we get six issues of … teleporters holding hands on an island? Azazel calling himself the biblical Satan, while his cronies think Warren Worthington is an actual angel, who doesn’t believe his (underraged?) girlfriend, Husk, can take care of herself? The climax probably sums up the worth of this tale, when Crazy Polaris opens a magnetic portal through someone’s gut to save the day.
How did Polaris get so crazy, you might ask? Well, the ultimate origin isn’t exactly revealed, but she really goes off the deep end when Havok stands her up at the altar because he decided he’s in love with a mutant-hating nurse he barely knows, so she goes all Magneto and tries to kill several people in Uncanny X-Men #425 and #426. The X-Men have always had their soap opera elements, but when reading this, it’s easy to think it’s all a little much.
Trial of the Juggernaut is rounded out with Uncanny X-Men #427, which is actually a nice little (though somewhat uncomfortable) story of helping others no matter who they are. Then we’ve got three Austen-penned issues of Exiles, #28-30, which seem to only be included here to show that, hey, sometimes Havok can be an assh**e, too.
The art on the Exiles issues (and the stuff from X-Men Unlimited #40) is bright and cartoony, with pencils from Clayton Henry and colors by Transparency Digital. It’s a good fit for what’s usually a fun book, but as you might expect, Austen makes this story a bit grittier, so there’s a little bit of a disconnect.
The rest of the art matches the stories’ tones, and is surprisingly somewhat consistent, despite the committee of Philip Tan and Avalon Studios on Uncanny X-Men #425, 426, and 429-433 (with Takeshi Miyazawa pinch-hitting on pencils for #434), Steve Kim and J.D. Smith on 427, Sean Phillips and Dave McCaig on 428, Ron Garney and Pete Pantazis on 435 and 436, and Chriscross with Chris Sotomayor on the X-Men Unlimited #48 material. Remember, of course, that this is the early 2000s, so consistent art emblematic of the time may not be what you really want.
When I agreed to review X-Men: Trial of the Juggernaut, it was with the thought that this run can’t possibly be as bad as it’s made out to be. For the most part, I was wrong. The volume is saved from complete pointlessness by the actual two issues of Juggernaut and the fun Mystique stuff, but the rest is pretty much exactly what you’ve been told it is, leaving two more questions to ponder: How did any of it get greenlit in the first place, and who thought it was a good idea to reprint it?