Friday, April 21, 2006

THE UNCANNY X-MEN #205 Marvel Comics, 1986

(Crap! X-Men Week did not start strong this week, so I must extend it until May 1st! Annoying work and sleep got in the way this week. Stupid sleep...)

Uncanny X-Men #205 was the comic that made Young Dave think, “Man, wouldn’t it be cool if Wolverine had his very own monthly series?”

I wish I could travel back in time and stop Young Dave from thinking that. But back in the Eighties the only place you could get your Wolverine on was in the pages of The Uncanny X-Men or the occasional mini-series. Marvel caught on and launched a Wolverine series in 1988, and then proceeded to put him in EVERY SINGLE BOOK THEY PUBLISHED. Be careful what you wish for, eh, hoser?

This issue, a stand alone Wolverine story (guest-starring Katie Power of Power Pack!) by Chris Claremont and artist Barry Windsor Smith was so good that Young Dave couldn’t help but want more. When it was published in 1986, a perfect, precarious balance existed between Wolverine supply and demand. Windsor Smith returned to Wolverine with his legendary and lavishly illustrated “Weapon X” storyline in 1991-1992 in Marvel Comics Presents.

In “Wounded Wolf,” the cybernetic killer Lady Deathstrike and a trio of cyborgs hunt a wounded Wolverine through a Christmastime blizzard in New York City. Only the chance intervention of plucky five-year-old Katie Power of Power Pack saves Wolverine’s back bacon. The spirited girl keeps Wolverine one step ahead of his pursuers until his healing factor kicks in. Then he guts them like fish, the end.

We begin in a place called The Body Shop, where the revenge-crazed Lady Deathstrike has just been turned into a hideous adamantium cyborg by the mysterious six-armed Spiral. Now properly equipped for some Wolverine-killin’, Deathstrike teams up with Cole, Reese, and Macon, three Hellfire Club mercs with all kinds of crazy high-tech shit sticking out of them. Can Wolverine defeat these four super-enhanced killers?


Of course Wolvie comes out on top in the end, but in the beginning of the book, when he runs into Katie Power by chance in New York City, he’s in bad shape. He is hurt so badly that he has been reduced to a guttural, animal state. I get like that on the toilet sometimes. Seriously, I turn into frickin’ caveman William Hurt from Altered States. Not pretty.

I’m oversharing again, huh?

Let’s move on. Wild & wounded Wolverine grabs the girl and hoofs it off into the driving snow. He knows his hunters are not far behind. I’m not 100% clear why Wolverine grabs Katie Power. Warmth? A Human shield?

Most of the book takes place at night in heavy snow, and it’s full of dazzling lighting effects and moody coloring – all achieved without the fancy Photoshop lenses those kids use these days. Even printed on crappy newsprint you can appreciate the level of inventiveness and detail in Windsor Smith’s work. He is The Poo.

Young Katie and Wolverine are tracked down in a big construction site by the hunters. They move in for the kill, but Wolvie’s healing factor has repaired his previous damage and now it’s Go Time. He makes Katie cover her eyes, because what Wolverine does isn’t very pretty.

Wolverine dismantles the three cyborgs, ginsu ninja style. What kind of idiots follow Wolverine into a dark construction site, anyway? People that don’t need their intestines.

After taking out the trash, Wolverine carves up Lady Deathstrike. Sure, she gets a few good hits in, but the outcome is never in doubt. You gotta know that if you come at Wolverine with something sharp, he’s going to fuck you up real bad.

But will he kill you? Depends. Here, he leaves Lady Deathstrike unraveling like spaghetti in the snow, begging for death, for mercy. Wolverine sheathes his claws. Mercy?

“Earn it.”

That makes for a great ending but may not be so smart, because Lady Deathstrike comes back like, twelve more times and even shows up in one of the movies. Should have just ended it on that snowy December night in ’86, Wolvie.

Anyway, Wolverine comes and gets Katie Power, who has probably been watching the whole thing and is now traumatized for life.

I think that’s a nice ending.

Claremont always did a good job contrasting Wolverine’s noble, gentle nature with his batshit-crazy killer instincts, and this story is no exception. Throwing cute little Katie Power into the mix really helps lighten the story and sort of lets the reader into the narrative, if that makes sense.

Uncanny X-Men #205: Claremont knew what he was doing. Windsor Smith, who co-wrote the story, definitely knew what he was doing. “Wounded Wolf” is a great X-Men story, and reading it reminded me of that fragile time when Wolverine was still totally bad-ass.


Anonymous said...

It's sad what 'demand' in the 'supply and demand' can do to a great comic, concept, or what have you. Who's to blame here, really? Int he 80's a young SW couldn't get enough of the Canuckin' lovin', and in the 90's a young and disgruntled SW couldn't stand the sight of him. I don't know if I'll ever really like Wolverine again.

Even in X2, it seemed like certain lines were added just to give Wolvie's mug more screen time ("We'll be watching"... was that line really necessary? Didn't Prof. X leave it ominous enough?)

Anyway, I kvetch like an old man. Thanks for extending the X-tribute.

Anonymous said...

"What kind of idiots follow Wolverine into a dark construction site, anyway? People that don’t need their intestines."

You, sir, win.

Benari said...

One of my ALL-TIME favorite Wolverine stories.

It's a beautiful little piece of literature, ain't it?

of course, in a few months, Marvel will produce the book where a totally fucked-up Katie Powers suddenly remembers this traumatic repressed memory, goes psycho, and then rapes and kills Power Pack. Because, you know, that's what the fans want to see.

Winterteeth said...

Cole, Reese and Macon remain three of my favorite Claremontian subplots to follow. They were the guys Wolvie fucked up in the original Hellfire Club story (where he emerges from raw sewage to kill, kill, kill). They come back as cyborgs later (getting red hellfire costumes instead of blue, not as big an honor as one would assume). Lady Deathstrike teams with them here then Pierce hires them as Reavers. I believe one was killed attacking Muir Island and the rest ate it to Sentinel attacks (even though they aren't mutants!).

Ahhh, I feel better now. Thank you, Dave.

Tegan O'Neil said...

Heh. And if you follow the Claremont subplot to it's logical conclusion, they were killed practically as an afterthought, off panel if I recall correctly, in the first issue of Uncanny after Claremont left the book back in 1991. Which is pretty much the definition of cleaning house.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, what is it with Wolverine and young girls?

Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Katie Power and I'm sure there was another one I've forgotten....

Mighty odd, y'ask me....

Anonymous said...

I think he just likes being around people who are shorter than him. -alex

Anonymous said...

Man, I have this issue around here somewhere. It's a strong reminder that there was a time when I wasn't so tired of Wolverine. It's like, how many lame mini-series have been about him or featured him? And how many of these are mouldering away, forgotten in the back shelves of musty comic stores and at the bottom quarter bins with all the other lame Marvel mini-series.

Anonymous said...

Man, I forgot how good BWS is. I will have to dig this issue out of McGone's Long Box.... post-haste! Thanks for reminding me of just what an X-Geek I was back in the day, Dave.

Word Verification - and I swear to Gawd this is true - is axemange, that sudden itching you get after being attacked by a psychopathic lumberjack.

Anonymous said...

This was recently reprinted in the Marvel Visionaries: Chris Claremont hardcover, and deservedly so. It's one of his best stories. The themes presented aren't overbearing like they sometimes get, the dialogue is fine, the ending is pitch perfect. Good comics. Good, Good comics.

corbiscide said...

Econimics of scale need to be created for the life of a character. As an equation you'd put it like this.
Character Longevity = popularity + writing (+/- good or bad writing) - supply.
That didn't work but I was trying to agree with dave wolvey was and is a great character to write and read as this ish shows. But the overexploitation of the canuckle head has made many a fan go cold. Avengers Wolvey..... really what was Bendis thinking.

Anonymous said...

"And so, Mr. Logan, will you."

Flowery distribution of commas even sneaks into the speech of pre-pubescent children in Claremont scripts!

But I kid because I love. When he brings his A-game Claremont is a uniquely enjoyable read.

Peter said...

Man, this is one of those Uncanny issues I don't own and never get around to buying because it's so damn expensive (Wolverine + BWS = moneypalooza!) I think I really should end up getting it somehow. Or hmm, maybe Sequoia has it, I've never inquired, and then by extension we both have it ;)

I well remember reading all the Claremontean X-stuff first time around and being totally absorbed by the stories. While in the present, I am inclined to drop anything he's announced to work on. Sad how things change... (ditto for Wolverine, love his potential as a character, hate his existence as a mere money machine)

Since you wrote about one of the best, can we get one of the worst X-periences too? :D

Anonymous said...


That was my first X-Book and my first exposure to Wolverine. Blew my teenaged-mind when I read that.

Anonymous said...

God, I had forgotten how awesome Uncanny #205 was. Gotta dig that thing out of the garage this weekend. Cobwebs, dust, a spider or fifty...thanks a lot, Dave.

Amazingly, this wasn't even my favorite Claremont/BWS story, nor my favorite early semi-solo Wolvie story.

I thought "Lifedeath" in Uncanny #186 was one of the best single-issue stories I've ever read and definitely the best tragi-romance comic I've ever read. Claremont at his most insightful, showing us a Mohawk Ororo full of vunerable bravado and angry pain. And thanks to Terry Austin's simpler inks, I finally saw past Windsor-Smith's muddy self-inking to a genius of body language and tension. That opening page of Ororo laying deathly still in Forge's bed, a gorgeous figure so obviously gone from the world...beautiful, just beautiful. An issue of pure poetry.

As for Wolvie, as great as stuff like Uncanny #205 and the Wolverine LS were, my favorite was Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, especially ish #3. You expect him to say something like, "You were brave, pun'kin. Don't worry yerself now, you just rest an' I'll do what I'm best at," and then proceed to go berseker on Ogun. Instead, he takes Kitty out into the snow and leaves her broken in a blizzard. It hit home to me how much a broken, wayward man Logan was, the kind samurai who wanted to help the weak but also the animal who knew only the fit would survive. Surprisingly hardcore stuff for Claremont even at that time, yet Kitty walks out of the snow, picks up the sword of Clan Yashida, and becomes Shadowcat.

Anonymous said...

You know, "X-Men Week" could just consist of several different captions for that Cyclops picture and I'd still be happy. You rock, sir.

Anonymous said...

This issue is also one of the few times I was even remotely interested in anyone or anything related to Power Pack.

BWS art is pretty terrific here, but there are times that Lady Deathstrike's claws wouldn't cut through a stick of butter, let alone rend flesh/metal/stone.

The Hellfire commandos were great, though, and a terrific example of Claremont bringing back a long forgotten plot thread to excellent effect. (Unfortunately, it didn't always work nearly as well and damn near every writer in the 90's tried to rip it off)

Anonymous said...

So, for your first pass at X-Men week, you wrote one post about the X-Men, then one post about a Wolverine solo story? It seems that there's very little X-Men content to X-Men week.

Good thing you extended your deadlines. At this rate, we'll get 2 full posts about the X-Men. Awesome!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Roel, I guess you forget that life gets in the way, huh? Kind of like Dave said in bold type at the beginning of the article:

"Annoying work and sleep got in the way this week."

Anonymous said...

Roel, you should ask for your money back.

Phillip said...

Wow! A comic I've read! In floppy covered 75 cent format, even! Somehow, I never seem to have read any comic anyone else has ever lauded on Ye Olde Internets. O Happy Day! (And, it's a fucking fantastic comic, to boot! Bonus!)

gorjus said...

I started reading the X-Men with issue #185 (I was eight), and of course Wolverine quickly became a favorite. The wonderful quality you write of here, Dave, I have missed for so long that I'd forgotten it: the love for a character and the overwhelming desire for "more"!

I had the Art Adams Wolvie poster up on the back of my bedroom door into waaay deep into my teams. This issue was wonderful: first of all, it was a spotlight, which was rare for Claremont, he the masterful juggler of a case of dozens (Amanda Sefton? Stevie the dance teacher? Those folks in New Mutants that got turned into Indians??).

And it didn't insult the reader: today, this would be a six-part story, showing the capture, the battle, the torture, and so on. Here, the cover actually played a critical narrative role--that's as much as we see of the torture of the Wolverine. We know something bad happened, but we don't know what: our imagination writes the rest.

I love the contraposition of Logan with Katie, and that he told her his name. For some reason, this was a huge thing for me: famous terrifying secret agent/hero tells a little kid his secret identity. Instead of probing the prurient aspect of Wolvie's relationship with the younger set, I think it's really because these are the only people he can find it in himself to trust.

Great post, as always. I heart the Longbox. Thanks for reminding me of something that was very important to me, and that I'd forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Great issue, a true classic.

I love the ending, where Lady Deathstrike has Wolverine on the ropes.

Somehow he finds it in himself to fight back, crying, "I decide the time and place that I die, lady, and it sure ain't tonight!" Or something like that.

A stirring scene of a beloved character rallying his strength and taking down his enemy.

I must throw in my two cents that I didn't like Cole, Macon, and Reese popping up again and again. It really takes away from the savagery of Wolverine's assault on the Hellfire Club that those three keep living on...and on...and on...

And it didn't help that they were finally killed off-panel, as you guys have stated already. Way to rob the readers of a satisfying payoff. Same thing was done with the Marauders, Exodus, the Acolytes, and Fabian Cortez.

Anonymous said...

Aw, I was just kidding because I care! I guess sometimes "good natured joshing" comes across as "mean-spirited snarkiness." I should have added a Smiley-Face and an LOL or something...

Dave Campbell is awesome and everyone knows it. He's got a new kid, and even if he never posted again, the world would owe him a debt of gratitude due to his awesome Punisher comic strip.

Everyone relax. Carry on.

PS -- I want my money back.
PPS -- No, seriously, X-Men week did not come roaring out of the blocks.
PPPS -- Has anybody seen that movie with the monkey? It was pretty funny.

David Campbell said...

No worries, pal!

Anonymous said...

I remember reading this issue and really liking it when I was a kid. I didn't start reading X-Men until 207, and Wolverine was really messed up physically in that issue, and it was nice to see some back story to why that was.

I think that's what I miss from the older comics: that Wolverine healed fast, but he still got seriously hurt and it made you care for him. Now you get Wolvie torn in half by the Hulk and his body tossed in two different directions, but it's fine, because he has super-healing.

Anonymous said...

ah. 205. been my favorits book for so many years. been weird to see the story get played out in x-men 1 movie, though not nearly as cool. i don't think singer read this one. love BWS. love the body shop. loved this era...the stories were soooo good. man - what's the one with malice, hopping around in the form of a choker, from dazzler to wolvie, nd storm? claremont/BWS. yep. good ole days. i have two of these, and the cover is a theme on my phone. yeah.

Valerie said...

Pretty effective material, much thanks for your article.