Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #186

[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.]

Uncanny X-Men, The #186


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.


Matt Jacobson said...

BWS was the first artist who ever completely floored me with his work. I was probably 10 or 11 when I first saw this issue (and Lifedeath 2 simultaneously) and he's been one of my favorite artists since.

Geoff, are you reading this in the original issue, or in Essentials? I ask because BWS art looks better in full color - it's almost hypnotic in Lifedeath 2 (issue 198).

Geoff Klock said...

I am reading scans of the original comics. It is not great, but it is better than the black and white essentials.

sdelatovic said...

Jason, I never have anything meaningful to contribute in the comments to these posts, but I just want to say that I'm really enjoying them.

Jason said...

I appreciate it very much, Stefan! Thank you!

Anonymous said...


Credit where credit is due ... as I'm sure Jason would point out... Glynnis Oliver has as much to do with the beauty of the art as Smith.


That being said, I'm reading these in the black and white essentials and the art is still breathtaking.

This story does seem, on Claremont's part, to conscientiously create a work of 'art' something 'more' than just a typical comic story. This was a point in comics history where this sort of thing was becoming more prevalent. Comics creators had been unconsciously creating art for a while now and, as they started to recieve recognition for this, they started to Self-Concsiously create art which, unsurprisingly, can come across as rather self-conscious (Miller's Ronin, done around the same time, has the same problem). While Claremont's writing in this issue can be a bit cringe inducing Windsor-Smith's VISUAL storytelling is brilliant and above and beyond your average mainstream comic at this time.

Paul G. said...

"Windsor-Smith's VISUAL storytelling is brilliant"

Spot on. I haven't read this issue in over a decade (since it was reprinted in those early-90s X-Men Classics), but I still vividly remember Smith's images. From the smallest gesture (the way Ororo clutches the bedsheet around her as she descends the stairs) to the big ones (Rogue, in civilian clothes, flying toward the reader, spouting the typically Claremontian line, "Ah'm ROGUE!"). His storytelling was just leaps and bounds above Claremont's.

wwk5d said...

I always thought it was supposed to be over-rought and clunky...since this was all new to Storm. It works better that way since it's the first time in a long time she's with a guy in that kind of setting...I mean, the last time was with Arkon, right? And that was before she started having issues...

Aaron Forever said...

The dialogue between Ororo and Forge is cringe-inducing and forced because that's what conversation between two people that don't know each other but have an immediate attraction/chemistry sounds like.

And it isn't so implausible that a a newly emotionally freed Ororo, combined with her attitude since the Mohawk Action Storm (TM) transformation, might open up to a complete stranger, especially one she obviously is eager to know, about things that she wouldn't tell even her closest friends. It's one of those ironic things that real people do sometimes.

And I think it's a bit nit-picky to criticize the "I've never told another living soul" line. It is a relatively common expression, after all.

Jason said...

And the reason for Storm's weird, "This is why I am terrified of enclosed spaces" line? It seems like Forge should have said, "Oh, are you scared of enclosed spaces? I did not know that."

Gary said...

I read LifeDeath for the first time this morning. The genesis of the Storm comment that Jason finds so odd and forced is that Forge is not opening up to Ororo, and she's putting herself out there. Look at the panels above her confession. Storm and Forge are talking, they hit some topic Forge finds uncomfortable, and he changes the topic, literally turning from her to go check the food that's cooking. Ororo's comment is driven by her desire that he talk to her, reveal himself to her, and she, by way of exchange, puts out this huge thing from her life that she's never told another living soul. Forge does not rise to her quid pro quo offering, however, which feeds into her distrust of him when his part in her power loss comes to light.

Am I the only one bothered by Storm's blaming Forge for her power loss?

Anonymous said...

I've always thought the dialogue in the Storm/Forge portions was terrible, while the action Rogue sections were amazing. Claremont seems to do some of his worst work when he thinks he's doing his best.

Derek E