Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jason Powell on Uncanny X-Men #198

[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.]

“LifeDeath: From the Heart of Darkness”

According to his intro to this story in his X-Men Visionaries volume, Chris Claremont intended this to be the middle part of a “LifeDeath” trilogy with artist Barry Windsor-Smith, but was never able to get it together with Windsor-Smith for the concluding chapter.

That explains the rather opaque final page of this story, wherein Storm decides (a bit arrogantly) that she is “a bridge, not simply between old ways and new, but races as well – between humanity and its mutant children!” This is actually an intriguing idea, and very evocatively phrased by Claremont. What it means on a practical level is a mystery.

It’s possibly worth noting that in New Mutants 32, published within two weeks of Uncanny #198, two members of the eponymous team travel back in time to ancient Egypt, where they meet a telepathic sorceress who is identical to Ororo, and claims -- after reading the New Mutants’ minds and seeing the image of Storm in their thoughts -- to be Storm’s grandmother “many times removed.”

There are also scattered references circa issues 187-193 (not to mention in Claremont’s Magik miniseries) to Ororo having some magic in her blood. Perhaps the final chapter of “LifeDeath” would have drawn all these strands together and made some sense of it all. As it is, the idea was never really explored after Uncanny X-Men #198. The franchise was about to go in other directions, with Claremont having – generally speaking – less control over matters. (He writes of having learned about Jim Shooter’s plans to resurrect Jean Grey during the same dinner at which he, Windsor-Smith and Ann Nocenti plotted issue 198). Storm’s “destiny” as revealed here can be chalked up to something lost in the shuffle.

With an ending obscured by opaque writing, this entire issue seems somehow lacking. The page in which Storm denounces her earlier, “Goddess” incarnation as “a sham” is interesting – almost a tacit ret-conning of her original, “classic” characterization as deliberate artifice on Ororo’s part. That has some interesting implications. But when the story becomes about an African village, it begins to feel forced. Claremont seems to make a fetish out of delineating the culture’s customs, history, problems, etc., rather than attempting to frame this material inside an engaging narrative.

Barry Windsor-Smith’s art in Uncanny #198 (he handles not only pencils and inks but colors as well) is always gorgeous and, at times, absolutely transcendent. Inspired by his collaborator, Claremont’s writing is equal in ambition, but ultimately falls short of Windsor-Smith’s standard.


hcduvall said...

I see that Claremont is getting two new series. One is his Genext thing, and I read the description of the first storyline being set in India and I couldn't help but think that something similar is going to happen there as his dip into Africa here. Though in his favor, when he's done it it's always felt more awkward than patronizing. There are plenty of creators that hurt my eyes from all the rolling that they do, when I hit a spot and think "Yeah, I saw that documentary too."

The X-Men Forever title he's also getting seems a little on the nose though. It's like sanctioned fan fiction.

Anonymous said...

Also, in the X-Men-Alpha Flight series, Kitty says that if everyone with magical powers dies, maybe Storm will die too.
Is it fair to refer to "Shooter's plans to resurrect Jean Grey"? According to Byrne, he and Stern presented Shooter with the X-Men-Avengers crossover that brought Jean back.IOW, Shooter just approved the idea.

Jon Brown said...

I am quite sure why you don't like the Lifedeath stories. These are some of my favorites. They are just filled with so much beautiful writing on Claremont's part. The dialouge between Storm and the village elder is just beautiful.

The ending panel, I thought, was a metaphor for Storm's role as an X-man. It is her finally coming to terms with her Kenyan past, her mutant-status, and her powerlessness. When she remarks about being a bridge between past and future, I thought of this as a metaphor for the role the X-men play -- advocating a future society and a better tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I had never thought about this before, but is this the first and only time someone who was not a mutant was an X-Man? Storm with no powers may have been a mutant deep down, you could argue. But it's interesting how groups like the Avengers are inclusive to mutants, but the X-Men, who are all about reconciliation between mutants and humans, have no humans on their roster. They've worked WITH humans before, certainly. They've been allies with Moira Mactaggert, Stevie Hunter, Tom Corsi, and others. But how about a human superhero who suits up and goes with them on missions?

Anagramsci said...

The Mimic wasn't a mutant, and he was "deputy leader" of the team for 3 issues, during the acclaimed (by me) Roy Thomas/Werner Roth era.

I love the Mimic!

Anonymous said...

IMS by the late 1980s non-mutants were popping up here and there in the X-books.

BTW, the Marauders re-appeared recently in one of the X-books, after an absence of more than a decade. By itself no big deal. But what struck me was that they were reappeared saying, basically, "We're back!" -- and without any additional introduction. It was clearly expected that the reader would know who the Marauders were, despite the fact that their last appearance (not counting alternative versions here) was around 1996. I found that slightly off-putting...

Anyway. I recall the 190s, like the 150s, as a lowish point in Claremont's run -- I didn't buy these issues and remember them barely or not at all. YMMV.

Doug M.

Dougie said...

I love Cal Rankin too.My mother read those Werner Roth issues to me so I'm very fond of that era. Goofy, Soap-y Cold War hi-jinks; like "Friends" with super-powers.

Anonymous said...

Great reviews - you really pick up on some of the subtelties in CC's writing.

I had also noticed the numerous clues Claremont would seed about Storm having the potential to be a great sorceress...during the fall of the mutants I think Forge comments that Storm controls the weather by essentially controlling energy and magic is just another form of energy...this would also explain why the Shadow King was obsessed with Storm and maybe how in Claremont's original plans for UXM 300 she would be an element that led to his downfall.

John V

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wwk5d said...

I guess I'm the opposite of you Doug...I loved the 190s and really enjoyed the 150s. Oh well.

I agree with Jon Brown, I love this issue for many of the same reasons. One of the best character pieces for Storm, and a great arc for her in general.

Funny thing, when I was younger, I HATED it. No action, and I didn't care for the art. I was a dumb kid lol