(Re-)Reading Uncanny X-Men: Lifedeath and Other Tales

My epic (re-)reading of Uncanny X-Men continues. The “re-” part of that is in parentheses because some issues I’ve read before, and some are brand new to me. I’ve never read through the entire series, and this is my attempt to do so, from 1963 until… Well, I’m not sure how far yet but at least until the first volume of Uncanny X-Men ended in 2011.

Click here for all my past installments, starting with the most recent. I actually started writing about this on social media, so you’ll notice that the oldest installment doesn’t go all the way back to the first issue of Uncanny X-Men. Eventually, I may go back and fill in the gaps. But for now…onward!

This batch of stories includes Uncanny X-Men #181-188, issues that were originally published with cover dates through the second half of 1984.

The last batch ended with the majority of the X-Men vanishing to participate in the original Secret Wars event. I won’t be covering that mini-series in this read-through, as I’m trying to avoid spin-offs and crossovers unless they directly include the main Uncanny X-Men series. After all, I’m kind of slow at this and I’d like to try to wrap this up before I die.

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Uncanny X-Men #181 “Tokyo Story” by Chris Claremont and John Romita, Jr.

Writer Chris Claremont and artist John Romita, Jr., continue their run together. This set of stories really build up nicely with a few plot threads drawn together into a pretty decent climax. There are some pretty solid emotional beats as well, so while I wouldn’t put it on the level of the Brood Saga or Byrne-era X-Men, the series is really humming along nicely during this period. There’s also one issue with guest artist Barry Windsor-Smith, which is gorgeous.

This is the arc where Rogue is first completely overtaken by the suppressed personality of Carol Danvers, Storm loses her powers, Rachel Summers and Forge are introduced, and Colossus and Kitty Pryde break up. The first two and Forge’s introduction are pretty closely connected. All of these things will have long-lasting effects to the characters, some for decades.

Rogue’s fretting over her uncontrollable powers, which absorb powers and memories from those she touches, will eventually become somewhat tiresome. But here it’s still very fresh, and the way we see her shift to Carol Danvers, without really realizing that’s what’s going on, is done really well here. I thought the unsettling reveal in particular was excellent. She essentially kidnaps Michael Rossi in trying to rescue him from an undercover mission gone wrong, thinking that she’s reuniting with an old boyfriend, but he’s never seen her before. The whole issue is pretty heartbreaking and one of the strongest in this period.

That story leads into the government going after Rogue with a weapon designed by a new character named Forge. The weapon detects aliens and mutants (basically, anyone not a normal human) and takes away their powers. Forge himself is a mutant (vague inventing powers), so initially this seems strange that he would betray his own people. But there are two things that clarify this. One is that the weapon was commissioned by the government and designed with the Dire Wraiths in mind, not mutants. The Dire Wraiths are an invading alien race that has been disguising itself as humans (a premise that will be used a few decades later in the Secret Invasion event, although with a much different execution). These creatures are the primary antagonists of the comic book series Rom, so it’s a little random to suddenly see them referenced here so prominently when the two books haven’t had that much of a connection until now. But both books exist in the Marvel Universe, so it’s not completely out of left field. The second aspect that clarifies Forge’s position is that he is actually quite ambivalent, even apathetic, about his own people. Or at least, he initially presents himself that way. Forge is Native American, and an early scene catches the end of a tense conversation with his former mentor Naze. Apparently Forge is neglecting his duties with their tribe, and Forge basically makes it clear that he doesn’t care and has rejected that life. While it’s specifically about his Native American tribe, and foreshadowing some demonic/magic shenanigans that show up soon, it’s also indicative of his initial disinterest in “his kind,” whether it’s Native American or mutant. But once he discovers that the new weapon he just handed over is instead going to be used to bring in Rogue, he suddenly seems to care a lot more.

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Uncanny X-Men #186 “Lifedeath: A Love Story” by Chris Claremont and Barry Windsor-Smith

Unfortunately, Storm is the one that gets hit by the weapon. Forge is able to bring her back to his place to try to help her. This is the issue that’s drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, and it’s such a fantastic character study. There are wonderful quiet moments, as the two characters awkwardly navigate each other and maybe even start to fall for each other. Both are rather stoic characters, and they both find ways to chip away the other’s walls. It’s a beautiful issue that ends with Storm rejecting Forge once she finds out his involvement with the government-sponsored weapon that stole her powers. I’m guessing that Barry Windsor-Smith had plot input because in the very next issue, Storm literally turns around and heads back to help Forge against a raid from the Dire Wraiths. Maybe this turnaround was planned but it felt like a betrayal of the previous issue’s ending that felt very much earned.

The break-up of Colossus and Kitty was also sad because it was so unnecessary. Last time, Peter was starting to get jealous of Kitty’s friendship with Doug Ramsey because they were closer in age and could connect about computer geek stuff. Then Peter and the rest of the X-Men were zapped off to another planet for Secret Wars, where he met this alien woman who had healing powers. The two fell in love as she helped him heal from near-fatal wounds. Then she ended up dying saving his life. So, yeah, pretty intense whirlwind relationship. Kitty takes it pretty hard, which is understandable for a 14-year-old having what I assume is her first heartbreak. Wolverine and Nightcrawler take Peter out to a local bar to really give him a hard time over dumping Kitty. Of course, it just so happens that the Juggernaut is hanging out in the bar too, and naturally a big fight happens. It’s pretty clear that Peter really lost some points with Wolverine. It’s probably the first time that Peter doesn’t come off as a genuinely decent guy. He thinks he’s doing the right thing, but he screwed up, and the implication is that it could harm the trust among the team. Allegedly, the break-up was editorially mandated because Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter didn’t like the idea of a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old dating. Peter might even be 19 at this point. So, yeah. I can see that. Kitty leaves during this arc to join Wolverine in a mini-series that I will not be reading now. Apparently that’s where she gains some fighting abilities training with Logan and officially takes on the name Shadowcat.

Finally, we have the introduction of Rachel Summers, the future daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey that we saw in the Days of Future Past two-parter. So yes, technically more of a re-introduction. The timing of this is interesting because during these issues, Senator Kelly begins proposing anti-mutant legislation, again hinting at the dystopian future glimpsed in Days of Future Past that will haunt this series for a long time to come. Rachel soon discovers contradictions in the history she knows, and concludes that the past she traveled back to is not her past. She comes into conflict with Selene, who will become a recurring villain for a while. Rachel has never resonated with me, she always seemed a bit dry as a character. But I definitely warmed up to her more here as she’s finding her way.

This set of issues also includes a running subplot of Professor Xavier being more active as the leader on missions, now that he’s able to walk again. Storm, who’s previously been in charge on missions for some time now, tries not to step on his toes. Government intrigue takes more center stage during this time too. Senator Kelly grows more as a threat, and Val Cooper becomes more prominent. She is initially pretty staunchly anti-mutant, but an encounter with Rogue opens her eyes more. Mystique also continues her undercover work in her guise of Raven Darkholme. In fact, Forge is her contact, and she brings Val to him to pick up the weapon, which then gets grabbed by another agent, Henry Peter Gyrich, to bring in Rogue. Raven, who of course had been Rogue’s adopted mother, flips out over this but she feels trapped by her undercover role to stop it. So instead she goes back to Forge to get him to interfere.

The interconnectedness of everyone just continues to get more convoluted but in reading the stories, it doesn’t weigh the book down yet. It just feels like a very flushed out and realized world where different people have different relationships with other people. So yeah, good stuff!

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