Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Tales from the Carboard Box in my Closet #2
Big day tomorrow, as Civil War #7 is released and we are either satisfied or wholly underwhelmed with the results. I have unabashedly enjoyed the series thus far, and am looking forward to it. I'm no longer naive enough to think that "The Marvel Universe will NEVER be the same" - there will be a return to the status quo at some point; it's just a matter of how they get there and how long it takes them to get there.
To hold myself over, I will address a classic, and a favorite of mine
UNCANNY X-MEN #186
Story by Chris Claremont (script) and Barry-Windsor Smith (pencils)
Inks: Terry Austin
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Interestingly enough, I own this story in three different versions, none of which are the actual issue of Uncanny X-Men. I own Classic X-Men #90, I own the “coloring book” version from "Essential X-Men Vol. 5" and I own it in .PDF format from the "40 Years of X-Men" DVD-ROM. Because of restrictions on the DVD-ROM (probably to keep pesky bloggers from posting images all over the internet!), all images in this post are taken from the issue of Classic X-Men.
In a prior issue, Ororo lost her elemental powers after being hit by a blast from a weapon that was meant for Rogue. Forge, suffering from guilt stemming from being the creator of the weapon, has taken Ororo in and begun to care for her. She is unwittingly a guest of the very man who destroyed her, as she does not know that Forge created the gun.
The first image we see is Storm in her Mohawk/Morlock phase, crumpled on the bed, with the perfect caption - not heavy-handed, not underdone either.
Forge enters, attempting to rouse her, to no avail. Ororo remains, limp and lifeless. He offers her food and tea, but she won’t even acknowledge him. He storms out. Because this is vintage Claremont, we even get a little bit of expository angst from Forge.
Through Forge’s virtual reality house, we get a quick rundown of who Storm is, and how she has changed. I personally have always preferred the "Goddess" incarnation of Ororo – she is a great character who deserves to be regal and stately. I particularly enjoy her current portrayal in Black Panther. She has the temperament befitting a queen, but is unafraid to act.
In a VR flashback, we see what transpired the night Storm lost her powers, as well as Forge’s own doubts about the efficacy of his invention.
Forge saves Ororo’s life, but she wishes he hadn’t.
There is a brief interlude featuring Nightcrawler and Professor X., highlighting that Xavier’s Cerebro cannot locate Storm.
This is the perfect example of a comic I was unable to appreciate until I was much older. When I began my third stage of reading comic books, Mark Waid was just beginning to take over writing chores on the adjectiveless version of X-Men, and I was excited, because so much of what I had seen of the X-Men had felt like various incarnations of the team sitting around the mansion drinking coffee and talking about their problems. In one of Waid’s first issues, Beast, Bishop and Gambit went to stop a runaway subway car full of monsters – finally, the X-Men were off having adventures.
The reason I make this digression, is because this issue, for the most part, is two characters drinking coffee (or champagne) and talking about their problems. When I was a kid (four years old when this came out, and sixteen or so when I read the reprint), I would have flipped through this book and thrown it on the pile after realizing there was no brawl – character development and longterm-plotting be damned!
Now, at 27, I can appreciate a well-written story that focuses on characters. However, it’s not terribly exciting to blog about. There are a few interesting exchanges:
Ororo outlines her problems.
Ororo learns about Forge.
This leads us to another interlude, this one highlighting bureaucrat and Sharon Carter-wannabe Val Cooper, and her suit-wearing colleague’s encounter with a Dire Wraith (must have been when ROM was getting a big push). Honestly, the whole sequence feels like a throw in, almost as if to include *some* action amidst the dialogue.
Val’s pal gets his brain drained, literally, and the wraith attempts to kill Val in the same way, but Val is saved by Rogue, in her original short-haired incarnation [SIDEBAR: It wasn’t until Rogue had long hair that I knew she was a “she”. I don’t think I’d have the same problem now].
Rogue is only saving Val to find out about Storm. In the process, she learns the truth about Forge’s connection to Storm losing her powers.
Meanwhile, Storm and Forge grow more and more comfortable with one another. She dresses for dinner, but feels awkward and comes back dressed like a housepainter. He, in turn, tries to booze her up.
After chitchat about Storm’s past, the wheels come off!
Some unnecessary exposition by Storm – isn’t it obvious how small she feels against the storm? She could once control it, now she is at its mercy – do we need that explained?
While attempting to reach the Professor, Ororo finds Forge on the line with gub’mint stoolie, Henry Peter Gyrich. As she flees, she activates the virtual reality version of Forge’s past in Vietnam.
The issue ends with a confrontation. Most notable about these pages is the art – Windsor-Smith takes a static story – one with no action, merely conversation – and makes it dynamic. The intense detail of the rain and the scenery, as well as the clean lines of all the backgrounds combine to create a cross-hatched effect, taking Forge’s home and turning it into a confused, wild scene, where Ororo suffers. Much as Storm, with powers, often subconsciously affects her environment in a manner that correlates with her mood, her inner chaos here is reflected in the turmoil which surrounds her.
The issue ends with Ororo’s declaration – a reaffirmation of life. She symbolically turns her back on Forge, and walks out of the rain into a new future.
This story is everything good about Claremont’s X-Men – continuity-heavy (hey, I like what I like), gorgeous characterization, and intensity. The art, while not as synonymous with Claremont as that of John Byrne, Dave Cockrum, or even Jim Lee, tells the story beautifully.