Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Barry Windsor-Smith, and the issue is Uncanny X-Men #205, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated May 1986. Enjoy!
Back when I was first getting into comics, my best friend let me read a bunch of his X-Men comics, and it’s there I first saw Windsor-Smith’s art. I’m not sure if it was this issue or “Lifedeath” or even “Lifedeath II,” but it was one of them (in fact, I may have read them all at once, so I probably saw them all fairly close together). So this is one of the earliest X-Men comics I ever read, and it remains one of my favorites. When I was writing about Marc Silvestri, I mentioned that issue #255 is one of my favorites, and this one is up there as well. When I first read it, I had no idea who Katie Power was, who Reese and Macon and Cole were, or who Lady Deathstrike was (honestly, for the longest time I had no idea what Yuriko’s connection to Wolverine was, and I still forget the specifics – her dad invented the adamantium bonding process, is that right?), but it simply didn’t matter, because this is Claremont doing what he does extremely well, and it’s Windsor-Smith absolutely destroying it on art. So let’s take a look!
A few days ago, I showed an early example of Windsor-Smith drawing circuitry, and here’s an example from the more mature Windsor-Smith (he drew a Machine Man mini-series a few years before this, and the one issue I own doesn’t even show this much machinery). Windsor-Smith makes Yuriko’s transformation horrifying, much like he would with Logan’s years later, as he draws in every wire and circuit and patch on her body. He makes the goop she steps into viscous and tactile, so that it looks less like a liquid and more like tentacles reaching for her. He draws in slime on that black contraption in Panel 2, which makes it look even more like a monstrous womb than it already does, and he gets away with nudity because it’s a piece of circuitry where a nipple would be, as we all know that computers melding with human flesh is much less disturbing than something that nurtures newborns. Windsor-Smith thinks about where the wires would go and even adds a telephone wire to her head, which seems plausible in the mid-1980s but looks horrifying. I love that he draws Spiral’s cloak with very little interior line work, as it creates this solid block, uncorrupted by the sickening display around it. Spiral is just doing a job, man! Windsor-Smith colored this, too, and he uses his entire bright palette to make Yuriko even more computerized than ever. I also love that a thick wire extends from her eye and droops down in Panel 3. With her realization that she has become more machine than human, I like to think that Windsor-Smith meant this to be a tear but that she’s incapable of weeping anymore, so only wires stream from her eye sockets. That’s a good idea, isn’t it?
This panel is essentially pointless, as all it does it let us know that we’re in New York. Wait, a Marvel comic set in New York? Quelle surprise! Claremont, being Claremont, loads up the internal narration, but he and Orzechowski are nice enough to put it at the top, so we can look at the utter insanity Windsor-Smith brings to what could have easily been a throwaway drawing. He puts Christmas decorations at the top of the panel, which provides a nice border, then gives us a beautifully intricate street scene. The buildings are inked heavily, as Windsor-Smith spots blacks to create a wintry twilight, and then he uses warm colors to cut through the black and the cool blue. He even remembers to illuminate the sidewalk where the lights from inside the stores shine through, as well as the sides of the figures that face the store fronts. Even in the background, we get amazing details, as he places rough figures around the street lamp while inking in the shadows on the buildings even deeper in the back. He remembers to carve furrows in the snow on the street, as cars have been driving on it all day. This is really a tremendous drawing, and it’s not even all that necessary.
Yuriko and the Reavers (I don’t think they were called Reavers back then, but “dudes who used to be guards at the Hellfire Club before Wolverine carved them up and left them for dead, only for them to return when Donald Pierce turned them into cyborgs” is really long and I don’t feel like typing it more than once) have beaten Wolverine so badly that he doesn’t remember who he is and can’t even talk, so Katie Power does a lot of the talking in the early part of this issue. Can you imagine this kind of story today? Claremont begins this in the middle of the fight, and we don’t even get to see how Yuriko and her crew got the drop on Logan and beat him that badly. Claremont doesn’t need to show us to establish that they’re tough – just showing Wolverine reduced to an animal is enough. Today, we’d get a three-issue mini-series about how Yuriko tracked Wolverine, which would lead into a five-issue EVENT! mini-series about how she beat the shit out of him, and then, and only then, would we get a five-issue mini-series called Logan’s Revenge in which he heals, turns the table on them, and Katie kills Macon, Cole, and Reese with her energy rays and Yuriko and Logan fight for two straight issues. Yeah, and get off my lawn, you dang kids.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, this awesome issue. Windsor-Smith drew in every glob of snow (I assume he drew them), which had to drive him insane, as this entire issue takes place in a blizzard. It’s a great idea – it obscures a lot of the figures so they can sneak up on other characters, but because it takes place outside, no one is confined by walls – and Windsor-Smith really makes it work with the driving snow in almost every panel. I love his Logan – his hair isn’t too ridiculous, like a lot of other artists would make it, and he’s covered with hair, which all artists do, but in this story, it seems to make him more feral, probably because of the way Windsor-Smith draws him crouching a lot. Panel 2 is excellent, because at this time, we rarely saw the way Wolverine’s claws came out of the skin, but Windsor-Smith draws them almost like veins. It’s terrifically creepy. Windsor-Smith uses the snow to move us across the page, too, as we see in Panel 3 when it drives us to the right. He also uses it to obscure bodies, which then makes his blacks and colors stand out – the police in Panels 5 and 6 don’t even look drawn in, they look like Windsor-Smith just painted in their bodies. As usual, the line work is exquisite and very busy, but for a good reason – the hatching in Panel 6, for instance, makes Wolverine look roughed up (which he is) and the snow dirtier and more wind-blown (which is might be). Plus, there’s the Mature Windsor-Smith Face on Katie – small eyes in a wide face, with no cheekbones and a wide jaw line. That’s just how he does it!
Every page of this comic is tremendous, but this sequence is really nice. As I noted, the snow allows Windsor-Smith to move his characters around a lot, but it also makes the setting claustrophobic, as no one can see too far in front of them and nobody knows where to go for safety. Windsor-Smith uses this very well, as figures emerge from the snow, and it’s unclear if they’re good or bad – Panels 3 and 8 of the first page shows the Reavers approaching, but in between, a taxi appears, promising safety (but only very temporarily). The claustrophobia is great, too, as Logan and Katie are trapped in the taxi when the Reavers attack, and they have to leave quickly. Windsor-Smith’s continuing use of large snow flakes and thick, long lines also makes the scene feel more closed-in, as the weather surrounds Logan and Katie as much as the Reavers and Deathstrike do. Windsor-Smith, like so many other artists of a bygone era, uses a lot of panels per page, which automatically makes things more cramped, adding to the claustrophobia. Windsor-Smith, of course, is amazing with details, so we get the wonderful thick black lines on the door in Panel 2 of the second page when Wolverine punches through it, which makes it look beautifully crumpled, while he does a nice job mixing the glass shards with the snow. The Reaver’s gun in Panel 4 of that page is probably a bit busy, but still menacing-looking. Windsor-Smith’s colors are excellent, too. As we saw above, he gets rid of some of the holding lines in places and replaces them with colors, so we get the taxi exploding on the second page, where Windsor-Smith uses the oranges and yellows to create an intense fiery spot without using lines. It’s neat, and it shows what an artist can do when he or she colors their own work.
Wolverine regains his mind and tells Katie that she needs to close her eyes because there’s gonna be some killin’ (well, he tells her to trust him, as we see here, but later, we find out that means closing her eyes). Windsor-Smith again gives Katie the classic face, and he does a really nice job with Katie’s fear in Panel 4, as she’s not sure what Logan is going to do. He quirks her mouth a little, because she’s unsure what Logan is going to ask her to do, and Windsor-Smith raises her eyebrows a little and widens her eyes slightly as she anticipates the next instructions. Notice how Windsor-Smith lays out the page – the top four panels form a nice square (well, rectangle, but it’s close to being a square), with standard gutters and standard points of view. Then, when Wolverine shifts into killing mode, Windsor-Smith changes the panels to more vertical ones with no gutters, cramming the action closer together and speeding up the pace. The central image of Wolverine skewering Cole anchors the bottom row, as we lead up to it and then see the reactions to it, and while Windsor-Smith was one of those artists who went a bit crazy with Logan’s claws (man, they’re long), that’s an impressive panel in the middle of an impressive sequence. The details, naturally, are amazing, and Windsor-Smith knows where to focus to build the tension – we get the longer view of Logan underneath the planks, then a close-up of his claws, then a close-up on Cole as he’s about to be attacked, and then a medium-long view of Wolverine attacking. The time-honored use of silhouettes to show blood is a good way to go, not only because it makes it less gory but because of the surroundings – Windsor-Smith has already established that it’s night, so the darkness makes sense. The final two panels work well to isolate the bad guys – we know they’re not near each other, but just the fact that Windsor-Smith puts them in small “cages” of the panel borders makes it clear that they had their chance, and they’re about to become the hunted. Claremont explicitly states that, but Windsor-Smith does as good a job showing it as Claremont’s words do.
Six months ago (man, six months already?), I featured Paul Smith’s rendition of Wolverine’s fight with Silver Samurai, and now I’m showing another one! Much like Smith’s fight, Windsor-Smith uses “widescreen” panels, probably because it’s just two people facing each other, and the longer view allows us to see both of them move. As violent as Smith’s depiction of the fight is, his thin lines means it’s a bit more graceful, while Windsor-Smith’s thicker lines make this fight a bit more brutal. Wolverine, of course, isn’t wearing a shirt, which means Windsor-Smith can show his rugged torso and back, while Yuriko’s claws are far less elegant than Silver Samurai’s sword – Windsor-Smith makes them rough and a bit knobby. Windsor-Smith’s inking really works well here, as he uses blacks to show blood so he can get away with a bit more, but even more than that, both Logan and Yuriko just look like they’ve been utterly beaten up. As Logan gains the upper hand, Windsor-Smith does some nice work to get around whatever censors may have been watching – in Panel 2 of the third page, he rips out Yuriko’s telephone cord, and because Windsor-Smith earlier colored it red, it looks like blood spray even though it’s a cord. In Panel 3, it appears that Logan has ripped her chest opened, as Windsor-Smith draws what appear to be ribs jutting upward, but because of the way he designed Yuriko’s outfit, he could easily claim it’s her shredded tunic. Windsor-Smith also kills it on the faces of the figures, as neither Wolverine nor Deathstrike is in optimal condition, and their faces reflect their anguish. In Panel 4 of the first page, we see Logan’s pained expression as Yuriko swipes him on the chin. In Panel 3 of the second page, Logan looks pained as he attacks, as he’s trying to keep it together before he collapses and he’s also struggling to answer her charges. Of course, the final panel of the sequence, where we get the close-up of Wolverine, is terrific – Windsor-Smith draws him spitting blood with bared teeth and crazy eyes. Claremont, surprisingly, gives us a completely silent page, which means he resists telling us that Logan is under the influence of some blind rage (as he often does – “the man has become the ANIMAL!!!!” and shit like that) and leaves it to Windsor-Smith, who responds wonderfully. For someone with a relatively thick line and a tendency to draw bulky figures, Windsor-Smith remains wonderful at drawing fluid action scenes – this one flow wonderfully over three pages, as we can see each parry and thrust and counter. The two figures are posed very well, with the right amount of curviness in their bodies as they move around each other. This, like the Smith fight in issue #173, is just amazing. It’s part of why Wolverine became such a popular character.
After a page of chatting, Logan walks away on this famous page, which isn’t as much an example of great art as it is just an example of bad-assery. I’ve opined before that Claremont’s writing seems better when he has a good artist drawing him, which is why good comics are about two-thirds to three-quarters due to artwork (you know it’s true!), and this is an example of it. You cannot tell me that this page would work better with the exact same dialogue if June Brigman, who drew issue #204, drew this. I don’t have a big problem with Brigman, but she’s not in the same league as Windsor-Smith! Windsor-Smith still does a fine job with this – he draws Yuriko really well in Panel 1, as she looks up at Logan pathetically as he lectures her. Again, we see the rough inks that make her look brutalized (which she has been, except it’s self-inflicted), and the wonderfully detailed wiring that shows both sides of Spiral’s workmanship – it obviously works, but it also looks a bit slapdash. We also get the roughly inked Wolverine, who has been through hell and come out the other side, and Windsor-Smith does a great job with Claremont’s script here, as he puts Yuriko’s hand reaching plaintively for Logan in Panel 4 as he retracts his claws. What a great moment. Damn, Claremont was cooking on this issue.
While Claremont is good in this issue, Windsor-Smith was tremendous, and while I thought about showing issue #214 because it stars Dazzler, this issue is so kick-ass I just had to feature it. So tomorrow we’ll move on from the 1980s and finish with something Windsor-Smith really wanted to do for a long time. Is it “Weapon X”? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you? Find more Wolverine in the archives!
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