[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]
When asked to pick out eight key X-Men stories from his 17-year tenure to be featured in the “X-Men Visionaries: Chris Claremont” volume, only five of the author’s selections were from Uncanny, and one of them was “LifeDeath.” In his written intro to the story in that same TPB, Claremont clearly is quite pleased with the comic, a “double-sized” collaboration with the phenomenally talented Barry Windsor-Smith.
Indeed, Windsor-Smith’s visuals are stunning to behold – densely packed while at the same time perfectly composed. His use of body language is phenomenally fluid and controlled, and he should be winning awards just for the way he draws rain.
Perhaps overly taken with the visuals provided by his collaborator, Claremont seems quite impressed with his own writing on the issue as well. He’s a little too close to the material perhaps, because Uncanny #186 is far from his best work.
The idea is quite nice. Her mutant powers now gone, Ororo finds herself both incredibly vulnerable and suddenly able to give free rein to her passions without worrying about how her emotions might adversely affect her environment. Quite reasonably then, in such a state, Storm finds herself instantly attracted to Forge, the first and only male she comes into contact with after losing her abilities.
The problem lies in the execution of the concept, which comes off as saccharine and insincere. We are meant to sense a palpable chemistry between Ororo and Forge, but the latter character is still too hazily developed at this point. And while Ororo’s sudden shift – from the forceful personality she’d developed over the last year back to her Byrne-era naivety – is, granted, the whole point of the story. But it is not at all convincing. The dialogue, too, is meant to be fraught with romantic tension, but it is awkward and forced. Note, for example, that at one point she says -- literally without preamble -- “My parents were killed by bombs. They leveled our house. My mother and I were buried in the rubble. I watched her die. That is why I am terrified of enclosed spaces. I have never told this, to any living soul.” Nowhere before this moment in Uncanny #186 (search hard if you must) has Storm had a claustrophobic reaction while in Forge’s presence, nor has the subject ever come up. Also, why does Storm refer to “living souls”? Has she talked about her parents’ death to dead souls? Awkward, hyperbolized non-sequiturs like this one typify the Ororo/Forge dialogue in “LifeDeath.” Claremont was explicitly proud of it, but it’s some of his weakest work. Compared to, for example, the effortlessly smooth dialogue in the John Bolton Classic X-Men backups or the heart-rending Peter/Kitty scene of just three issues ago, the dialogue in “LifeDeath” is downright embarrassing.
On the other hand, the extended middle sequence of the issue featuring Rogue versus the Dire Wraiths is rather tense, gripping stuff. The tightly arranged panels by Windsor-Smith in which Valerie Cooper smashes her way out of a crowded parking lot are particularly exciting, and the Dire Wraiths – who seemed so laughable in the previous issue’s cliffhanger – seem frightening and dangerous here. This is one of those relatively rare issues in which Claremont’s talent for writing action waxes, while his knack for character drama wanes.