(Re-)Reading Uncanny X-Men: LifeDeath 2 and Other Tales

I was going to read up to issue #200, but looking at how Marvel collects these issues and how the book shifts course soon, I decided to stop a little early for this batch. So this covers Uncanny X-Men #194-198. Yes, only 5 issues. Next time will be more.

So yes, in case you’re just stumbling onto this for the first time, I am going through reading every single issue of Uncanny X-Men since it launched in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. In some cases, I’m re-reading issues, and in other cases, it’s my first time reading these stories. This is all thanks to Marvel’s wonderful subscription-based digital comics library, Marvel Unlimited. (Hey DC Comics, get on the ball.) I’m now up to the Fall of 1985. These issues are primarily by writer Chris Claremont and the art team of John Romita, Jr. and Dan Green, except one issue is illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith.

This period of X-Men continues to be a bit odd. These are all one-off stories with sub-plots bubbling throughout. Looking back, it kind of feels like some padding might be going on, like they know what they want to do next but they’re saving it for the big anniversary issue #200. So there are some set pieces being moved in place, some long-simmering sub-plots being addressed or wrapped up, and of course some superhero action to fill things out.

The highlight here, easily, is issue #198 by Claremont and Windsor-Smith (who even get cover credits, a rarity for Marvel at the time). Called LifeDeath II on the cover, the story is formally called “LifeDeath: From the Heart of Darkness”. This story follows up on a lot of the themes from the first LifeDeath story in issue #186. It again stars Storm, with no other X-Men appearing (other than some hallucinations of her teammates), and allows the character to face her fears and accept the changes she’s gone through, namely losing her powers. It wasn’t quite as wonderful as the original story for me, but it was still head and shoulders above the stories around it. It had me longing for a Storm series by Windsor-Smith but I can’t imagine he’d be able to hold a monthly schedule. Apparently there was to be a third LifeDeath story, but Marvel was uncomfortable with the ending. They claimed it supported suicide, which Windsor-Smith denied. But since he refused to change it, Marvel declined to publish it. Years later, Windsor-Smith apparently made some superficial changes to the story and published it as a black-and-white story in his own anthology comic as Adastra in Africa (later released as its own graphic novella).

With a comment made by Kitty in the issue before it, the cover depicting Storm in flight, and a scene in the issue where it appears Storm stops a sandstorm, I was really hoping she would get her powers back. Sadly it doesn’t happen, but it ends with a beautiful acceptance of her powerlessness, as well as how she let her powers distance herself emotionally from others. Storm is by far one of the richest characters in the X-Men, and one of my favorites, so this issue was a treat. I want to go on about this issue more but there are other stories to talk about.

Elsewhere in this run, Colossus and Kitty Pryde (now going by Shadowcat) get kidnapped by Arcade and the adventure lets them finally address the tension between them since their breakup. It ends with them agreeing to be friends. This issue wasn’t quite as satisfying as I was hoping. A lot is left unsaid between them, and it’s clear Peter has a lot of unresolved emotions and affection for Kitty. Previously it seemed like he was pretty determined to move on, but this story really establishes his pining over her for years to come. I’m hazy on their relationship between this period and the more recent present but I think this is basically the status quo of their relationship until Joss Whedon and John Cassaday reunite them in Astonishing X-Men around 2005.

Uncanny X-Men 195

Wolverine: Worst Babysitter Ever

This run also included a guest appearance by Power Pack, a pre-teen superhero team of siblings with their own comic book series that had been running for about a year at this point. I really adore Power Pack, especially when handled by their creators Louise Simonson and June Brigman, a fantastic artist who really brought the kids to life. Claremont and Romita, Jr.’s handling was pretty good too (although Romita’s proportions for children were a little off). The story itself was pretty dark – the Power kids wake up and their parents don’t remember them. Eventually it turns out to be the work of some rogue Morlocks trying to help one of their member whose kids were mysteriously killed. Basically they’re trying to replace some Morlock kids with Power Pack. Kitty Pryde steps up as a fill-in leader in the issue and proves herself to be quite competent. She must be about 15 years old now, but since that Wolverine & Kitty mini-series, she’s really grown up.

Elsewhere, Rachel Summers has a bit of a breakdown (not surprising considering her fragile emotional state since she first showed up) which leads into a confrontation with Magneto, who is suddenly hanging around. This is a really good scene that deals with both of the past they may regret and who they’re trying to become. Magneto has resurfaced as an ally following Professor X’s violent mugging. Actually, it’s weird that it’s referred to as a mugging because a gang of students weren’t trying to rob him. This was a hate crime. Anyway, he barely survived and his health has been teetering ever since. When the Beyonder from the original Secret Wars came back for the sequel (aptly titled Secret Wars II), Professor X thought he needed help and enlisted Magneto. It’s hasn’t been made clear why he reached out to someone who has been a bitter enemy since the X-Men’s very first adventure. While there have been hints of Magneto softening, I don’t remember Professor X witnessing anything to convince him of this. Maybe something happened in New Mutants? Or maybe Magneto was just the most powerful mutant he could call on. Regardless, all of the X-Men are justifiably suspicious of their sworn enemy suddenly hanging around the X-Mansion. And for some reason Lee Forrester is hanging around with him. She was the fishing captain that Cyclops worked for when he took a leave of absence after the Dark Phoenix Saga. Cyclops and Lee hooked up for a bit, ended up getting kidnapped by Magneto, and then drifted apart. More recently, Lee happened to pull Magneto out of the ocean and the two have been buddies since. Kind of weird, and it definitely feels like an issue or even a scene is missing to fill in some holes.

The other bubbling subplot is Nimrod. This stupidly-named character is from the future, possibly the same future as Rachel, and some kind of advanced Sentinel maybe? The time jump scrambled his programming somewhat so he’s trying to act like a superhero but closer to The Punisher than Captain America. Despite being overly violent, public sentiment is regularly shown to absolutely love him. I’m not exactly clear on the point of this whole thread. It almost feels like a subplot from another comic.

Anyway yeah. Again, nothing wrong with these issues. LifeDeath II was excellent but the rest feel like something is missing.

Next (for real this time): The Trial of Magneto

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