Tainted Love In Tales from the Longbox – Uncanny X-Men #186 (1984)

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 186-00 Uncanny X-Men #186
“Lifedeath”
October 1984
Writer – 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.

Uncanny X-Men 186-01

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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.

Uncanny X-Men 186-03

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.

Uncanny X-Men 186-04

“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.”

Uncanny X-Men 186-27

Re-reading this issue, I was reminded how I didn’t like Barry Winsor-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.

Uncanny X-Men 186-30

“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.

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

Jason Shayer has 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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2 Replies to “Tainted Love In Tales from the Longbox – Uncanny X-Men #186 (1984)”

  1. I grew up in the world of comics, my first job being at a comic book store in the 80’s. I’ll be posting a 6 part story about it in a blog titled “Heroland” on generaldouchebaggery.com, which is more an unflattering look at the ‘behind the scenes’ of a comic shop and the lard assed con artists who took my one joy in life and made it a tearful shitstain, than a loving rememberance of the comic books I loved. That being said, X-Men and Spider-Man were my things and even though I didn’t really understand the complexities of this issue when I was a kid, I loved the art. I remember being pissed that it wasn’t a Romita Jr. effort (I have nearly his entire run of X-Men autographed), but it introduced me to Barry Windsor Smith who I would come to enjoy a great deal in Valiant comics and other Marvel efforts. Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory lane 80’s Marvel guy, we should bullshit some time.

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