Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Chris Claremont and John Byrne! Today’s page is from Uncanny X-Men #143, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated March 1981. Enjoy!
For their final issue together, Claremont and Byrne decided to revisit X-Men #96, in which a demon broke free into our world and only Storm could stop him. In this issue, the co-plotters decide that the gateway between the worlds wasn’t quite closed, and one demon is loose to stalk the Earth. This is the famous “Kitty Pryde as Ripley” issue, with the youngest X-Men alone against the demon. It’s a very good standalone issue from that master of long-term plotting, Chris Claremont.
This first page begins a flashback. This is the Ororo of X-Men #96, fighting against the N’Garai. She’s trying to destroy or otherwise close that cairn in the bottom right of this panel. Claremont explains who she is, what those things are (basically) and what they’re trying to do. That’s pretty handy. I do wonder how many people realized this was a flashback to a comic from almost six years earlier – were people hanging onto comics that long back in 1981? Claremont does let us know on Page 2 that this is a flashback, but I wonder how many people remembered this story if they had been reading X-Men for that long. I’m sure someone is reading this who bought both of these issues right off the newstand can tell me.
Byrne does a nice job with this page. This is a bigger panel than the original, which shows Ororo getting stabbed in the same manner, and although Dave Cockrum is a perfectly fine artist, the original panel is rather small, so Byrne can do a lot more with it. Her cry of pain is across the top of the page, but I’m not really sure that’s where we look first – Claremont’s caption box hovers right above her head, so we see her tossed hair and pained look first. Bryne moves us down her body, where we see the spear exiting her body between her breasts (I’m not going near the symbolism there!), and the spear itself points to her word balloon (her hand does this too, but the spear is more dramatic). We then continue to move down her body, and her legs frame the demons flying toward her. Byrne has a good amount of Kirby Krackle surrounding the weird energy that seems to help the demons levitate, and the crackling border of the energy directs us down to the cairn, letting us know exactly where the demons are coming from. It’s a very nicely designed page, with Storm obviously dominating it but Byrne never forgetting that he has to show other things on the page, too. Ororo is drawn like an actual woman, too, which is always nice.
Glynis Wein is the colorist for this book, and we see the familiar blue and yellow color scheme down at the bottom of the page, as the tree, ground, and the shadowed side of the cairn are colored blue (it’s nighttime), while the rest of the cairn is yellow. The blue also contrasts with the pink of the energy coming from the cairn – pink is a good “energy” color in comics, because it’s slightly bizarre and it also is set off nicely with the darker colors like blue. Terry Austin and Wein turn the demons into very dark creatures, with heavy inks and lots of black. It’s a good contrast to Ororo’s outfit, which is of course mostly black. Austin’s and Wein’s colors on Ororo’s costume make it sleek and sexy, while the blacks on the demons make them look twisted and disfigured. It’s interesting what the inkers/colorists can do with something as basic as black.
Claremont and Byrne had been together on the book for a bit over three years, and many people think neither ever reached the heights they achieved together on this title. Of course, this isn’t the last time they worked together, and we’ll see one more example of this team tomorrow for our last day of Claremont/Byrne “week”! Discover more keen comics in the archives!