Monday, February 25, 2013

1984 - Uncanny X-Men #186 "Lifedeath"

Uncanny X-Men #186
October 1984
Writers - Chris Claremont 
   with plot assist by Barry Windsor-Smith
Artists - Barry Windsor-Smith/Terry Austin

"Once upon a time, there was a woman who could fly."

Chris Claremont teamed up with Barry Windsor-Smith in 1984 for a double-sized issue of Uncanny X-Men. The art was a jarring break from the usual John Romita Jr. art.

However, this collaborative effort generated a sequel in Uncanny X-Men #198 "Lifedeath II" and a couple of other stand-alone stories in Uncanny X-Men #205 (which focused on Wolverine) and Uncanny X-Men #214.

This story was as elusive as its title "Lifedeath". "Lifedeath" is not a real word, but a mash-up of two opposed themes. These themes can be seen from several conflicting points-of-view, Storm’s and Forge’s. Storm had been stripped of her mutant powers and Forge was the mutant genius responsible for the weapon that stole her powers.

Their encounters were awkward, displaying their unfamiliarity with love and their need to deal with the attraction they felt for each other.

The awkwardness of a new relationship was in full display as Forge stumbled on every opportunity Storm gave him. Instead of emotionally investing himself, he doesn't say a word, doesn't try to understand or sympathize, and withdrew.

Storm felt she was living dead without her powers, living a “lifedeath”. Forge wanted her to emerge from this traumatized state, an emotional death, to living her new reality. The beauty of that conflict was that in between it was their love.

Driven by his guilt, Forge tried to help Storm readjust to her life without powers. But, she resisted his efforts. "This is not life, Forge, merely existence -- A shadow of what was. To believe otherwise is but the cruelest of deceptions." "I won't accept that. And now you've got to walk, like everybody else. The goddess has become just plain folks."

Forge's own troubled past surfaced in their interactions and he wanted to teach Storm the lessons that helped him recover. "With life, there are always options, possibilities -- hope. You never know what'll happen next -- for better or worse. Death may be certain, but it's also final. Once done, it's done -- there're no second thoughts, no going back." That early attraction they felt for each other was abruptly killed when Storm learned that Forge was responsible for her de-powered state.

“Lifedeath” is about the death of a dream, Storm's dream. But, it's also about the birth of hope, of hope for a future worth living for. As Storm said: "My feet may never leave the ground... but someday, I shall learn to fly again!"

Claremont explained his collaboration with Windsor-Smith (Amazing Heroes #75, July 1985):
"[Barry] had written long involved notes on the characterization, on aspects of the relationship between Storm and Forge, on how he might handle scenes. He was commenting on things that I had written in terms of the plot, making suggestions, all of which were germane, fascinating, interesting – and used, for the most part."

Re-reading this issue, I was reminded how I didn't like Barry Windsor-Smith's take on Storm. I loved the softer Storm drawn by Paul Smith and felt that Barry's Storm was too masculine. Although, there are a few stunning panels where I felt Barry actually got Storm right, he overall effort is impressive. I realized was how well Smith used body language. The emotional impact of a scene, whether it was tender moment or a moment of anger or an argument, you can see how it amplified the moment.

“Lifedeath” was a conflict between two characters with no real external forces, so there was a lot of Storm and Forge moving around, posturing, displaying their emotions while engaging in discussions. Glynnis Oliver's lavish colours and Terry Austin's lovely inks enhanced the beauty of Smith's work.

This memorable book is worth your time to track down. It's also available in the X-Men: Lifedeath Marvel Premier Edition.

# # #

- "The Uncanny" part of the logo was left off for this issue. I'm assuming it allowed more of Barry's art to show through


  1. There was a LIFEDEATH II - in Uncanny X-Men #198.
    It is also by Windsor-Smith.

    AND I recall reading there was supposed to be a LIFEDEATH III, but it ended up being turned into an original graphic novel (not X-Men) by Windsor-Smith when Marvel rejected it.

    He redrew the characters and tweaked it here and there.

    The STORM character was called Adastra.

    And the book was called Adastra in Africa (published by Fantagraphics).

    Aha! I found where I had read about it.
    Here's some more info on it if you wish:

  2. Wait, what—two characters speaking at (not always to) one another, no witty banter, no costumes in sight, no epic crossovers, lots of emotion, lots of beautiful artwork and Double-Sized? Yep, Marvel at its Eighties finest. Marvel NOW wouldn't have the cojones to do this today.

  3. Far be it for me to defend today's comics (and they're still not as good as what I remember from the 80s, obviously). But I've been surprised at how much I've been enjoying stuff from Marvel recently. (Issues of Hawkeye where he doesn't wear a costume or fire an arrow? At all? Is anyone at Marvel aware that this is going on?)

  4. Hey Andrew, I don't think you're defending, but instead raising the point I made in my Marvel-Nowish post. There's really great stuff happening at Marvel but it's buried in a lot of commercial crap that's really drowning out great titles like Hawkeye. I'm also really enjoying the Indestructible Hulk as well.

  5. Just stumbled upon this. Great overview and commentary. Quick anecdote. I was 11 when this came out and had been told by some older kids that X-Men were the bomb. THIS was the current issue when I went into my local comic book store to "check out X-men". Bought it. Took it home. Read it. It both bored and weirded me out. Couldn't believe this was the X-Men everyone had been raving about. It was so adult and action-free. Obviously a few issues later I got hooked. The interesting part though is that about a year ago I pulled out all my old X-Men comics from the 80's and THIS was the issue I found the most interesting. Way ahead of its time (but also of its can practically hear the Human League soundtrack!) Great stuff. Thanks for posting.

  6. Hey there The Colonel, thanks for the kind words and sharing the great story!

  7. I've never seen Barry Windsor-Smith's original pencils before, they are absolutely stunning. Thank you for sharing this, I've only just discovered your blog and it's fantastic.



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