Tales from the Longbox – Uncanny X-Men #143 (1981)

Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.

Uncanny X-Men #143
November 1981
“Demon”
Writer/Co-Plotter: Chris Claremont
Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin

This brilliant, stand-alone issue of the Uncanny X-Men spotlighted Kitty Pryde, on her own in the X-Men mansion over Christmas. Now, hands up if you’re old enough to remember that crush you had on Kitty. This issue may remind you why you fell in love with her. For everyone else who’s probably a newer comic book reader and wondering what’s the big deal about Kitty, this issue will give you some insight into why she’s so cherished.

Take a moment to consider what was accomplished in these mere twenty-two pages. Before you get to the core story, you have an effective three-page flashback that explains the monster, a one-page prolog that demonstrates how deadly this monster is and sets the atmosphere, one page that moves the a subplot with Cyclops along, and two pages of character building with the rest of the X-Men. So that leaves fifteen pages. What can you do with fifteen pages? Claremont and Byrne show us that you can certainly do a lot.

In the aftermath of Jean Grey’s death and the Days of Future Past storyline, there wasn’t much time to spend on the newest X-Man, Kitty Pryde, who had joined in issue #129. Those fifteen pages showcased Kitty and gave us some quality 1-on-1 time with her. It’s also easy to forget, especially looking back knowing Kitty has been a successful X-Man, that fans didn’t really know how she would fit on the team.

Claremont and Byrne spent the remainder of this issue demonstrating Kitty’s resolve and resourcefulness, showing us that she had the wherewithal to be an X-Man. This issue was really Kitty’s baptism of fire as an X-Men and she comported herself rather well. It was also her first really opportunity to charm her teenage audience. And with fifteen pages, I think they did an admirable job at accomplishing all of the above.

Despite Claremont’s heavy narrative (take a look at page 18 if you’re wondering what I’m talking about), the story has a great roller-coast flow to it once the N’Garai demon attacks. While the story paralleled the movie Alien (1979) with its similar monster and premise, it successfully employed some of its cinematic devices, like the heart-pounding climax and the shock ending. For those of you who might think that the N’Garai demon was a little bit too much like Giger’s Alien, keep in mind the N’Garai first appeared in X-Men #96 in 1975, pre-dating the movie.

Uncanny X-Men #143 is simply a great X-Men issue and a fine example of what the Claremont/Byrne run was all about.

Jason Shayer has recently joined the Biff Bam Pop! writing team. He’s been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.

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3 Replies to “Tales from the Longbox – Uncanny X-Men #143 (1981)”

  1. This article makes me want to crack open some of my old copies of the X-Men. Nothing beats the general feel/smell/look of those early 80’s titles. There was just so much more there! and I’m actually a fan of the heavy narrative (back then), as long as it added to the story. The one thing I wasn’t big on was the Alien/Brood storyline that would rear it’s ugly head every once in a while.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jae. The 80s were indeed a magical time for comic books.

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