[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.]
Another favorite of Claremont’s from among his own work on Uncanny X-Men, “Wounded Wolf” is the second issue (after #198) to feature full art and color by Barry Windsor-Smith. As such, the story is another treat for the eyes. Again, however, Claremont’s clear awe for Windsor-Smith’s storytelling abilities seems to make the author curtail his own.
The opening sequence – in which Lady Deathstrike is turned into a “cybernetic organism” by Spiral – is striking both for the pages’ boldly colorful design and for the text’s poetic opacity. But the scene is perhaps too opaque– Claremont is importing characters and concepts from other series, but not bothering to explain how it all fits together. For the record, Spiral first appeared – along with future X-characters Longshot and Mojo – in Ann Nocenti and Art Adams’ Longshot miniseries. Having also previously turned up in Uncanny #199 as a member of Mystique’s Freedom Force, the six-armed woman now inexplicably runs something called the “Body Shop,” whose purpose here would appear to be to manufacture cyborgs.
Lady Deathstrike, meanwhile, owes her existence to a Daredevil storyline by Denny O’Neil, and became a Wolverine villain in Alpha Flight issues 33-34. Her three henchmen are the former Hellfire Club mercenaries sliced up by Wolverine back in Uncanny #133. The reader is being asked here not only to recognize everyone without any helpful footnotes, but also to accept without any questions that these disparate characters have somehow ended up together at the beginning of “Wounded Wolf.”
At the end of the scene, Spiral compares herself to the devil, which at least makes plain that we’re looking at a very familiar trope: Spiral’s “Body Shop” is a place where people sell their souls to get their heart’s desire. Fair enough. But Claremont is still testing readers’ patience with such a cold plunge into the doings of esoteric characters whose dealings with each other have no precedent. (Indeed, Spiral shouldn’t even be on Earth anymore after the end of the Longshot miniseries: That discrepancy is explained later, in New Mutants Annual #2.)
From there, Claremont again leaves out pertinent information, as he jumps forward in time to show Wolverine covered in wounds and having regressed to a state of animal savagery thanks to a fight with Deathstrike and the Hellfire trio. How they managed to get the drop on him is left to the imagination, as is Wolverine’s presence in New York; he should still be in San Francisco with the other X-Men.
To Windsor-Smith’s credit, his powerful sense of motion and momentum is so strong that it’s easy to get swept into the story despite all of Claremont’s frustrating narrative gaps. But Claremont pushes things too far when he includes a member of Power Pack as a guest-star. A five-year-old girl whose superhuman ability is to create “power balls,” Katie Power is an absurd inclusion here. No doubt the point is to juxtapose one of Marvel’s most innocently pure superheroes against characters who exist on the extreme other end of the morality spectrum (Spiral and the Hellfire mercs on the far end, Wolverine and Deathstrike somewhere in the middle, etc.). But instead it just feels trite and silly, an effect that’s exacerbated by Claremont’s dialogue for Katie – surely the most unconvincing five-year-old voice ever contrived. (An example of how Katie speaks and thinks, when written by Claremont: “Where’s a telephone?! If I found one, I could call Power Pack to rescue us, or Wolverine’s teammates, the X-Men. Should I leave him ... and go look for one? Suppose I get lost from Wolverine then, and can’t find my way back?”)
This is a worthwhile issue for Windsor-Smith’s storytelling. Particularly fantastic is the Wolverine/Deathstrike fight at the end -- told in tiers of horizontal panels and thus becoming another link in the tradition begun by Miller with his Logan/Shingen sequence and continued by Paul Smith with Uncanny #173’s Silver Samurai battle. (Just as Smith topped Miller, Windsor-Smith now tops Smith.)
For Claremont, though, this one’s a misfire.