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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

X-amining Uncanny X-Men #205

"Wounded Wolf"
May 1986

In a Nutshell
Katie Power helps a badly injured Wolverine fight Lady Deathstrike. 

Story/Script: Chris Claremont
Story/Art/Color: Barry Windsor-Smith
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
Editor: Ann Nocenti
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
In her Body Shop, the sorceress Spiral completes her latest transformation: that of Lady Deathstrike. Along with the former Hellfire Club soldiers Cole, Macon and Reese, Deathstrike, now equipped with cybernetic enhancements and claws of her own, departs to hunt down Wolverine. Later, Katie Power is in New York City singing Christmas carols with her class. In the midst of a worsening snow storm, Cole suddenly emerges, firing wildly and separating Katie from her teacher. Moments later, she stumbles into a badly-injured, near-bestial Wolverine. Though frightened, Katie quickly realizes Wolverine needs help, and does her best to get him away from his foes. The time she buys him enables Wolverine to heal enough to regain his senses. He thanks her for her help, then asks her to do maybe the hardest and bravest thing she's ever done: trust him.


As Deathstrike and the soldiers close in, Wolverine fights back, quickly dispatching Cole, Macon and Reese, leaving only Lady Deathstrike. They fight ferociously, with Wolverine eventually gaining the upper hand. Seeing the full extent of what she's done to herself, all in the name of wrongly-directed vengeance, angers and saddens him. Deathstrike begs for the mercy of death, but Wolverine refuses to kill her, saying if she wants mercy, she must earn it. The storm breaking, he returns to where Katie has remained hidden, and she swears she did as he asked, and didn't see or hear any of his fight. Katie admits that she's still a little scared of him, but Wolverine promises she'll always have a friend in him. As they leave to take Katie home, she tells him that he'll always have a friend in her as well.  

Firsts and Other Notables
Lady Deathstrike, last seen menacing Wolverine with a fancy sword and a gaggle of ninjas in Alpha Flight #34, receives cybernetic implants in the opening pages of this issue, along with a set of claws (one for each finger) that rival Wolverine's. This cyborg look will become her default look moving forward, as she rises to prominence as not just a recurring Wolverine antagonist but an X-Men villain as well.


Cole, Macon and Reese, the three Hellfire Club soldiers who Wolverine apparently slew in X-Men #133 before turning up as cyborgs in issue #151, also get cybernetic upgrades in this issue, and team-up with Deathstrike to take down Wolverine, beginning a partnership that will carry over into their association with the Reavers.


Spiral, last seen as part of Freedom Force in issue #199, is responsible for providing these cybernetic upgrades, as Claremont begins to expand the character beyond her role as Mojo's chief henchmen in the Longshot mini, establishing a penchant for striking Faustian bargains and skills at reshaping bodies and minds through a combination of magic and interdimensional science. Accordingly, her Body Shop (later Shoppe), the variably-located setting of her work, appears for the first time in this issue.


Katie Power, the youngest member of Power Pack, guest stars, appearing between issues #21 and #22 of her series. 

This issue opens in media res, with Spiral completing her work on Deathstrike, having already upgraded the others, with no mention or footnote to her earlier appearance in Daredevil or Alpha Flight. The story then jumps even further ahead, starting with Katie finding a near-bestial Wolverine in New York after he's already been attacked, captured, and escaped, with no indication of how he ended up in New York while the rest of the X-Men are still in San Fransisco.

This is the third collaboration between Claremont and Barry Windsor-Smith, following issues #186 and #198, and their first story to not center on Storm.

This issue is included in Chris Claremont's Marvel Visionaries hardcover collection. 

It's Statement of Ownership time again, and the sales continue to climb, rocketing towards the half million mark, with the average number of copies of each issue sold per month in the previous year reported at  449,870, with the single issue nearest to the filing date selling 474,412 copies, up from last year's totals of ~378,000 and ~387,000 (as a point of comparison, the best selling comic in July 2013 (Superman Unchained #2, sold just under 166,000 copies according to Diamond Comics Distributor, with the highest selling X-Men book, All New X-Men #14 (ranking 11th in sales for the month), selling just under 75,000 copies).

The Chronology Corner
Just prior to this issue, Wolverine appeared in Captain American Annual #8, which, while not technically the first meeting of those characters, in terms of both publishing and character history, still represents one of the first significant interactions between them, and as a result was a much sought after back issue in the 90s, when every major Wolverine appearance commanded top dollar. Nothing of much significance happens in the issue, Wolverine or X-Men related (certainly nothing to help set up Wolverine's appearance in this issue), which is why its not getting its own post.

This issue takes place at Christmas, presumably the same Christmas as depicted in Power Pack #20, mucking up the New Mutants internal timeline even further. SpaceSquid, you once again have my sympathies.  

Claremontisms
Lady Deathstrike "hoped -- prayed -- knew" her confrontation with Wolverine would come down to her and him.


The Best There is at What He Does
In a moment that falls on the right side of "much too twee", Katie offers a wounded Wolverine her coat for protection against the weather. 


Wolverine notes that Katie bought him time for his healing factor to repair his mind and restore some semblance of rational thought, the first indication that his power affects his mind as well as his body.


For Sale
There's a full page ad for the New Universe, Jim Shooter's ultimately-fruitless attempt to launch a new superhero universe to celebrate Marvel's 25th Anniversary.


Bullpen Bulletins
He also announces it in the Bullpen Bulletin in this issue.


It's in the Mail
The letters page is back, discussing issue #193. One writer offers up a No-Prize explanation for the conflicting depictions of Storm's mother.


It also mentions that inker Dan Green, absent since issue #200, will return next month after taking a break from the book to paint a Dr. Strange graphic novel by J.M DeMatteis.    

Teebore's Take
Though somewhat maddening, in terms of being a chapter in a larger narrative, what with the way it drops the reader into the middle of the story and features a pair of characters in Spiral and Lady Deathstrike that, at the time time, were largely unknown to all but the most diehard readers, with little introduction to them or any helpful footnotes (and certainly, this aspect of the issue bothered me as a kid, constantly making me feel like I was missing an issue somewhere), taken on its own merits, this is easily my favorite of all the Claremont/Windsor-Smith collaborations. Part of that is because, even at this point in his history, Wolverine is still a far more interesting character than even depowered Storm, and hasn't yet reached the tipping point of exposure where a Wolverine solo story has lost all novelty.

Part of it is also that Windsor-Smith is given the opportunity to draw some more traditional comic book action than the fallout to Storm's depowering or her African odyssey, and he rises to the occasion, turning in pages of atmospheric, highly-detailed, dynamic art, with the Wolverine/Lady Deathstrike confrontation in particular a standout, as he takes a cue from Frank Miller in the original Wolverine limited series and Paul Smith in his follow-up issues of Uncanny to depict their battle in a series of long, mostly silent panels.

Furthermore, while the idea of pairing the edgy, animalistic Wolverine with a far more naive and innocent character dates all the way back to Kitty Pryde's earliest appearances, this issue is one of the best "Wolverine/innocent girl" pairings, as the juxtaposition between the characters is heightened by just how young Katie Power is, and how apart, despite her superhuman abilities, she is from the world of Wolverine and the X-Men (making this issue also one of the best uses of X-Men's occasional dalliances in this era with Power Pack). Wolverine's desire to not only protect her physically, but protect her from the harsh realities he embodies, makes the proceedings far more compelling than the average "Wolverine fights to retain his humanity" stories (and, in the future, we'll get a lot of those), even the really well-drawn ones. 

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Magneto takes on the Avengers in New Mutants #40, and Friday, I dunno, Scott probably does something dickish in X-Factor #4, while next week, we take a look at the Firestar miniseries. 

16 comments:

  1. After reading this review I took a look at my copy of X-Men Classic #109 (Which reprints this issue), and damn does BWS do an amazing job showing Lady Deathstrike undergoing her transformation in the beginning. I have no doubt that this issue lead him to drawing the Weapon X origin story, which features a similarly brutal story.

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  2. Like you, this is my favorite of the Claremont/Windsor-Smith collaborations around this time, too. I've noted before that I don't really care for BWS's artwork, and that holds here, but this story is a lot more interesting to me than their other stories together, so that helps. Plus, as you note, the fact that there's some actual action in this one helps.

    I should note that I recently discovered a BWS job that I really like -- it's from a Claremont issue of Excalibur, and features Windsor-Smith's pencils inked by, of all people, Bill Sienkiewicz -- another artist who I don't usually care for. But somehow their work together on that issue looks terrific.

    This issue opens in media res, with Spiral completing her work on Deathstrike, having already upgraded the others, with no mention or footnote to her earlier appearance in Daredevil or Alpha Flight.

    I actually thought for years that this was Deathstrike/Yuriko's first appearance. I guess that speaks to Claremont's ability to bring readers up to speed. But just the same, the lack of footnotes is irritating.

    "Just prior to this issue, Wolverine appeared in Captain American Annual #8..."

    I have somehow never, ever read this issue despite the awesome cover by Mike Zeck and the fact that it's a Gruenwald-written issue from the Gruenwald run (my favorite era of Cap). The main reason is that, as you note, it was pretty expensive in the 90s, when I was working to collect all of Gruenwald's Cap issues. I suppose someday I'll get to it. At this point, I'm better off just waiting for Marvel to collect it in a trade or hardcover with other Gru issues.


    "The letters page is back, discussing issue #193."

    Good grief... a letters page that's a frikkin year behind is inexcusable. I recall -- coincidentally enough -- that this happened for a while on Gruenwald's Cap run as well.

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  3. @Ian: have no doubt that this issue lead him to drawing the Weapon X origin story, which features a similarly brutal story.

    You can definitely see seeds of "Weapon X" in this story. Heck, the cover alone would fit right in with that story.

    @Matt: I guess that speaks to Claremont's ability to bring readers up to speed. But just the same, the lack of footnotes is irritating.

    Yeah, I don't mind being made to feel like this is the character's first appearance (that's just good writing), but if its not, a footnote saying as much would be appreciated.

    I have somehow never, ever read this issue despite the awesome cover by Mike Zeck and the fact that it's a Gruenwald-written issue from the Gruenwald run (my favorite era of Cap)

    Despite my similar affection for Gruenwald's Cap, I've only ever skimmed the issue (mainly to see if there was anything that made it worth covering for these posts). I didn't see anything that made me feel like I was missing much, very much standard annual filler material (though one of the robots that features in Stern's final Avengers story, an underrated story IMO, is in it as well).


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  4. What I love about BWS's Wolverine is how beat up he looks. You can tell by his expressions, body language, and assorted wounds that Logan's been through hell. BWS's highly detailed line work sells it without being overrendered.

    Including a young character is a good idea, but having that character be 5 years-old stretched my disbelief too far. I think the story would have worked better with Rahne. Too bad Jubilee wasn't around yet.

    (Yes, she could be annoying, but I've always liked the Wolverine/ Jubilee partnership, especially in the Hama/ Silvestri years.)

    - Mike Loughlin

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  5. *&%@*%£% Claremont! *&%@*%£% Claremont and *&%@*%£% Christmas! It's almost as though a coherent timeline across decades of published stories is too much to ask or something!

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  6. This is one of my all-time favorite Wolverine stories -- and absolutely both Claremont and Windsor-Smith's best team-up as well as Windsor-Smith's best Wolverine story.

    But man, my brain completely screwed the order of issues around this time. I would have bet money that this happened after Rachel's departure. Everything between the trial of Magneto and 200 and the upcoming Mutant Massacre is mis-ordered in my head.

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  7. @Mike: You can tell by his expressions, body language, and assorted wounds that Logan's been through hell. BWS's highly detailed line work sells it without being overrendered.

    Well said. Agreed.

    Yes, she could be annoying, but I've always liked the Wolverine/ Jubilee partnership, especially in the Hama/ Silvestri years.

    Me too. In fact, I probably liked his pairing with Jubilee better than his pairing with Kitty, though that could just be because I grew up with the former and came to the latter, later.

    @SpaceSquid: *&%@*%£% Claremont! *&%@*%£% Claremont and *&%@*%£% Christmas!

    Ha! In Claremont's defense, the Power Pack issue wasn't written by him, so maybe this still fits with the Thanksgiving he mentioned in NM #37 (though obviously, New Mutants at this point is well past Christmas, several weeks, at least, having passed during their current story)?

    We'll have to see...

    @Michael: This is one of my all-time favorite Wolverine stories -- and absolutely both Claremont and Windsor-Smith's best team-up as well as Windsor-Smith's best Wolverine story.

    I've never actually read "Weapon X" in its entirety, but I imagine it would be pretty hard to beat this one in terms of being a great Wolverine solo story.

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  8. You know, reminiscing about this issue makes current Wolverine's rather abrupt, strident stance of "kids need to be protected from the horrors of battle at all cost" a little easier to swallow (at least the times Wolverine remembers this pledge, the little hypocrite.)

    As I write this though, I recall that even here that is contradicted. While Wolvie tells Energizer to shield herself from his carnage, he's upfront with her about his evisceration of Deathstrike and her henchmen and that his world isn't a pretty, safe, or nice. Katie is remakably understanding about this for a kid who calls him "Mr Wolverine." (Maybe this steeled her up for her guest apperence in Mutant Massacre. For a kid's book, Power Pack has seen a lot of death and destruction.)

    Also,while I liked this issue well enoguh, I never saw it as the "classic" others have. For one thing the screwy timeline others have mentioned (AND lack of follow-up on a supposed threat)left me confused, like a missed an issue. The other problem is that I never cared for Lady Deathstrike. I found her one-note and uninteresting and an awful precedent of the personality-free "bad girl with claws" trope that would infect 90s comics like the plaugue

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  9. I love, love, love BWS's colors here, as well as the art overall.

    I'm with you, Teebore, on what you say about the quality and the relative novelty of a Wolverine spotlight at the time.

    We've seen Logan in "berserker" mode but I'm not sure we've seen him feral like this yet — Hulk-like, animalistic for an extended period of time.

    The Christmas setting is a little weird, as this issue was released in February (dated May).

    I don't know that I've ever stopped to realize that the cover is only thematic, as it's Deathstrike et al. and not Wolverine getting all cyborg'd up in the issue.

    As I've said here before, #205 was my last issue of Uncanny as a regular, fairly longtime if not completely constant reader. The issue is plenty good enough to have hooked me if I were coming to the title new, but I hadn't enjoyed the series for a while. After deciding to quit with #200, I was moved to pick up #201 and then this, shortly filling in the interim issues as recent back purchases just to be completist. I'd been reading the series since #98 off-and-on as an occasional spinner-rack purchase, more regularly from #107 up and — except for dropping it briefly during Cockrum's return, which I also filled in as back issues — devotedly from near the start of the Paul Smith run, although that glory was short-lived.

    Since my X-Men reading after this issue has been scattered and rare, I wonder if Logan sparing Deathstrike out of some combination of compassion and lack thereof has come back to bite him in the ass to the extent that he's grumbled about not finishing her off here.

    The lettercol also has a couple of well-written entries on the whole mutant-bigotry thing as a social issue.

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  10. Chronology corner: In between Uncanny 151 and this issue, the three bionic Hellfire guys also appeared in Marvel Graphic Novel: New Mutants. (Although I think there are four of them in that story.)

    Reasonably significant, if only because it's in that New Mutants GN that we first see them working specifically for Pierce, who is also named as the guy who gave them their cybernetic upgrades. So it's a rung on the ladder toward the eventual "supergroup" version of the Reavers circa issue 248.

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  11. @Jonathan: While Wolvie tells Energizer to shield herself from his carnage, he's upfront with her about his evisceration of Deathstrike and her henchmen and that his world isn't a pretty, safe, or nice.

    Yeah, that's always been my big issue with the whole "Wolverine doesn't want kids getting involved" schism - from day one he's been all about not shielding kids from the grim reality of, well, reality. Granted, it's a far cry from that and tossing kids out like cannon fodder, but still.

    For one thing the screwy timeline others have mentioned (AND lack of follow-up on a supposed threat)left me confused, like a missed an issue.

    Yeah, that definitely left a bad taste in my mouth the first few times I read the issue. It took some time (and confirmation that I wasn't, in fact, missing an issue, including reading Lady Deathstrike's earlier appearances) before I came to appreciate it on its own merits.

    @Blam: We've seen Logan in "berserker" mode but I'm not sure we've seen him feral like this yet — Hulk-like, animalistic for an extended period of time.

    Good point. Short of a few panels in the flashback in Alpha Flight #33, I think this is the furthest gone we've ever seen Wolverine, certainly in the present day, so to speak.

    I don't know that I've ever stopped to realize that the cover is only thematic, as it's Deathstrike et al. and not Wolverine getting all cyborg'd up in the issue.

    I've also seen it suggested that the cover represents Wolverine's time as a captive of Lady Deathstrike and the commandos, occurring between the Spiral pages of the issue and Katie's appearance, but like you I've always considered it (at least when I have considered it) to be thematic.

    I wonder if Logan sparing Deathstrike out of some combination of compassion and lack thereof has come back to bite him in the ass to the extent that he's grumbled about not finishing her off here.

    Hopefully I'm not spoiling anything to say that, as far as I can recall, he's never directly referenced the events of this issue during subsequent encounters with Lady Deathstrike (though it's certainly possible he did in some random appearance of his that I've never read).

    @Jason: Reasonably significant, if only because it's in that New Mutants GN that we first see them working specifically for Pierce, who is also named as the guy who gave them their cybernetic upgrades. So it's a rung on the ladder toward the eventual "supergroup" version of the Reavers circa issue 248.

    For what it's worth, I did point out their presence in the New Mutants GN in my review of that issue, but given this issue's place as a stepping stone towards the eventual incarnation of the Reavers that specifically bedevils the X-Men, I probably should have highlighted their connection to Pierce again here.

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  12. "For what it's worth, I did point out their presence in the New Mutants GN in my review of that issue, but given this issue's place as a stepping stone towards the eventual incarnation of the Reavers that specifically bedevils the X-Men, I probably should have highlighted their connection to Pierce again here. "

    Perhaps. I never meant to imply that you were unaware of the New Mutants GN appearance, given how exhaustively you're going through every issue. I personally just felt compelled to mention it. Partly because I have a weird fascination with the Reavers.

    "It took some time (and confirmation that I wasn't, in fact, missing an issue, including reading Lady Deathstrike's earlier appearances) before I came to appreciate it on its own merits. "

    Over time, I've come to realize my main problem with the "in media res" aspect of this story is that we never learn how Deathstrike and the Hellfire Trio got the jump on Wolverine in the first place. You could argue that it doesn't matter ... they were just bad-ass enough to do it, and that's all you need to know.

    But in that case, I don't like how he takes the quartet down pretty darn easily over the course of this issue. They just don't come off all that badass in the sequences we are shown -- not compared to Wolverine anyway -- and that casts a lot of dubiousness, in my mind, over the premise that these guys got the drop on him to begin with.

    "Hopefully I'm not spoiling anything to say that, as far as I can recall, he's never directly referenced the events of this issue during subsequent encounters with Lady Deathstrike (though it's certainly possible he did in some random appearance of his that I've never read). "

    Wolverine #37, written by Hama ... references the events of the issue, quite explicitly in a way: Thanks to time-travel, Wovlerine and Deathstrike relive a few seconds of their X-Men #205 fight. (Katie Power even gets a one-panel cameo.) It is totally awesome, but it doesn't necessarily add any insights. It's just a cool allusion.

    As for the question of Wolverine regretting letting Deathstrike live ... FWIW, Deathstrike returns the favor around Uncanny #253, when she lets him escape the Outback rather than dishonorably tagging him with a sniper rifle (thus betraying the other Reavers who, she notes to herself in the moment, would have killed Wolverine while he was helpless, honor be danged).

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  13. @Teebore: // I've also seen it suggested that the cover represents Wolverine's time as a captive of Lady Deathstrike and the commandos, occurring between the Spiral pages of the issue and Katie's appearance, but like you I've always considered it (at least when I have considered it) to be thematic. //

    I read that interpretation catching up on Jason Powell's analyses. From a formalist perspective, it's a fascinating idea to have the cover reflect a particular scene not presented in the issue itself as a deliberate contribution to the narrative rather than as the usual come-on boiling down the story and meant to hook readers with a glance — especially in a case like this where there's a distinct break in the action between the prologue and the main story that sticks out like a sore thumb to many readers. I'm not convinced that the cover was actually created to address that in any fashion, but it's still neat to consider even as one of those possible, perhaps purely subconscious bits of elegance.

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  14. @Jason: But in that case, I don't like how he takes the quartet down pretty darn easily over the course of this issue.

    Yeah, there definitely is a disconnect between the villains who (presumably) ambushed, captured and brutalized Wolverine to the point that he became feral prior to the events of this issue and the ones who were easily dispatched by a now-weakened Wolverine in its pages.

    I suppose you could argue that post-escape Wolverine is more feral and thus harder to fight, but that kinda goes against the point of the story and how Katie helped him regain his humanity.

    Wolverine #37, written by Hama ... references the events of the issue, quite explicitly in a way: Thanks to time-travel, Wovlerine and Deathstrike relive a few seconds of their X-Men #205 fight.

    I'm aware that happened in that issue, but I've never actually read it. I look forward to doing so.

    FWIW, Deathstrike returns the favor around Uncanny #253, when she lets him escape the Outback rather than dishonorably tagging him with a sniper rifle

    Ah, good observation - even if it isn't specifically mentioned, that moment does make for a nice callback to this issue.

    @Blam: I'm not convinced that the cover was actually created to address that in any fashion, but it's still neat to consider even as one of those possible, perhaps purely subconscious bits of elegance.

    That's about where I fall on the matter as well.

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  15. I'm glad I'm not the only one who was confused by the abrupt start and introduction to LD and Spiral. I remember picking this up from the old issues box soon after I started into collecting them, and thinking I needed to get 204 to find out how it all started, and what had happened to Wolverine. Only to find a completely unrelated Nightcrawler story! I also had no idea LD had appeared earlier in other series, either. This issue is truly one of the greats of what I consider "classic" X-Men (whereas the Cockram/Byrne/Smith stuff always seemed like prehistory to me, as someone who was introduced to them in the late 80's). I also remember seeing BWS's Weapon X work in Marvel Comics Presents, and immediately recognizing the aesthetic from this issue. Cool stuff.

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  16. I never liked BWS's art in this or in the Storm issues. It renders characters into abstractions, with indistinct features and too much fluidity for me. To each his own, I suppose.

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