Could Azazel's FIRST CLASS Role = Chuck Austen Comeback?

Wonder Woman. Black Panther. The Flash. Doctor Strange.

None of those iconic, long-running comic book characters have ever appeared in a live-action feature film. But as of today's release of X-Men: First Class, do you know who has? Azazel.

Yep, the same Azazel whose appearances have been limited to 2003's Uncanny X-Men arc "The Draco," a seven-issue story (counting the prologue in Uncanny X-Men #428, Azazel's first appearance) which revealed that the Biblical-era mutant was Nightcrawler's father. (And also, essentially, Satan. It happens.)

"The Draco" stands as one of fandom's most uniformly reviled superhero stories of the modern era. Reviewer Paul O'Brien called Uncanny X-Men #433, the penultimate installment of the storyline and reveal of Azazel's origin, "utterly dreadful" and remarked, "if you like this comic, you are objectively wrong."

In placing Azazel (played on screen by Jason Flemyng) in the film, director Matthew Vaughn and company have done something arguably historic: prominently used the comic book character least likely to be adapted to film, ever. Sure, there are other obscure characters in First Class, like Angel Salvadore, but she's a product of Grant Morrison's widely acclaimed stint on New X-Men.

And it's not like how in X-Men: The Last Stand some random lady with no lines would be listed in the credits as "Arclight" or how a generic Batman love interest would get an old name from the comics despite no other discernible resemblance, à la Elle Macpherson's "character" in Batman & Robin being called Julie Madison.

 

No, physically and power-wise, Azazel in X-Men: First Class is pretty much Azazel in "The Draco." Not only that, the movie is apparently quite good — currently notching an 87 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes — meaning that Azazel might have a chance for some degree of redemption in the eyes of fans.

And not just for Azazel, but maybe also for the guy who wrote "The Draco," Chuck Austen. For those who might not remember, Chuck Austen was an author and illustrator who came from roughly nowhere to end up writing just about every mainstream comic book in the early-to-mid 2000s — Uncanny X-Men, Action Comics, Captain America, Avengers — before pretty much disappearing from the industry entirely. He left Action Comics in controversial fashion, and returned to his adult comics roots with three issues of independent title Worldwatch, essentially a late-night Cinemax version of the Justice League. He wrote another adult comic, an English language manga for TokyoPop called Boys of Summer, but only one of three planned volumes ever saw print.

For the most part, comic book fans are a pretty fair bunch. Rob Liefeld has gotten some "extreme" criticism over the years, but still has ardent supporters. John Byrne has a reputation as an unyielding curmudgeon, but no one doubts his talents and contributions to the medium. But mention Chuck Austen, and readers are clearly still smarting from things like the age-disparate romance between Angel and Husk, and Havok's decision to dump Polaris for his nurse with an unpronounceable last name.

Still, though, there must have been something about his work that connected with audiences back in those heady days of the first George W. Bush administration. Austen seemed to fare best with critics when straying from the superhero mainstream — he wrote and illustrated the U.S. War Machine MAX miniseries, and Randy Lander gave the first issue a 9/10 "Highly Recommended" review back in 2001. Comics Bulletin called his MAX series The Eternal "haunting" and "humorous," and, in perhaps the most notable piece of praise, "well-written."

Austen paired with some big-name collaborators, too: He illustrated several issues of Elektra, which was written first by then-budding comic superstar Brian Michael Bendis, and later Greg Rucka. He worked on Avengers with current The Mighty Thor artist Olivier Coipel, and on Action Comics with Blackest Night/Brightest Day's Ivan Reis.

Though now Austen's X-Men run is primarily looked back on as a misstep at best and the darkest moments in the beloved franchise's history at worst, it wasn't treated that way at the time. Austen got the prime (though unenviable) slot of succeeding Morrison on New X-Men, and he wrote the high-profile Uncanny X-Men #423, a 25-cent issue (remember the trend of the super-cheap comic book?) timed to the release of X2.

The comic book industry is a business where no one really seems to be gone forever, and where polarizing figures like Jim Shooter still work steadily decades into their career. Provided fans can finally get past that Havok/Iceman/pee situation (don't worry about it), could X-Men: First Class inspire a Chuck Austen comeback in the near future, either as a writer or an artist?

That obviously remains to be seen, but until then, enjoy Azazel's status as the least likely comic book character to ever appear in a movie — unless Green Lantern has a post-credits scene starring the dead cat from Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal #3. 

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