[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.