“It shall take a long-term, keenly processed, whole-world paradigm shift in our consciousness to perceive, acknowledge, and accept that all that we see, hear, smell, touch and taste are but five tiny shells on one small dune on the cosmic beach-head of Everywhere Else.” – Barry Windsor-Smith

I was completely taken aback when I first encountered the artwork of Barry Windsor-Smith. It was so different from the comic book art I was accustomed to. First of all, there were tiny lines everywhere. I got lost in the spaces in between them, swept away by their subtle dynamism. Characters looked rough and slightly askew, but they also had a smooth polished look to their features. They reminded me more of life model drawings than four color supermen. Windsor-Smith drew a side of my heroes I’d never seen before. Here were characters both regal and graceful, but also inhabiting strength and solidity. Seeing his work opened me up to the idea that comics could be so much more than I thought they could be. Figures inhabited their environments completely, they weren’t static paper dolls fighting in front of Colorform playsets. Clothes looked like something one could actually wear as opposed to painted on skins. Even folds in fabric were rendered with every detail (You have got to see the wrinkles in the sheets around Storm in the splash page of Lifedeath in Uncanny X-Men #186 to really understand what I mean). And what a name! I was convinced Barry Windsor-Smith was royalty.
Chris Claremont (You do know who he is, right?) has stated that his favorite Storm stories are Lifedeath and Lifedeath II. It’s a testament to his script and the real life grit of Windsor-Smith’s art that the story has remained such a powerful and integral part of Storm’s narrative. Here the mutant worshiped as a Goddess becomes a regular woman. She’s allowed center stage to undergo a myriad of emotional stages. I’ll never forget the scene where Storm tries champagne for the first time. It’s simply amazing.

 

Claremont defied traditional comic book narrative and allowed Storm to change. Well, it is change as much as a character that is a part of a franchise can change (When did we start thinking of everything as a property or a franchise? Do you remember when we were just reading stories instead of thinking of how they might be played out in film, video games and fast food tie ins?). I mean, how many times has Storm overcome her claustrophobia just to have another writer rehash another “I will be free!” Storm moment? Over the years, Storm has been interpreted so many times that her recent portrayals have lost some of the realism depicted in Lifedeath and its sequel. I believe the modern Storm needs to reclaim some of her beautiful history while moving forward to a more integrated Storm. She’s the sum of so many parts: thief, orphan, goddess, mutant, leader, and more recently, wife, queen and thanks to her co-starring in Reggie Hudlin‘s Black Panther, she’s found her blood relatives again (something I wish hadn’t happened to be quite honest–but it’s there, so we have to work with it). I think her recent stint as a member of the Fantastic Four was awesome and so much fun to read thanks to Dwayne McDuffie‘s scripting, but I’d like to see Storm take on a larger leadership role worldwide.

 

If the Avengers weren’t a steaming mess of distrust and division, I’d like to see Ororo fighting alongside Captain America in that title. But Cap’s dead. And the Avengers haven’t even avenged that. *shakes head* At the moment, Marvel Adventures Avengers is the only place you can see Ororo co-leading (!) the team alongside a living and breathing Captain America. Please do yourself a favor and pick up a digest of the first few issues of that title. Yeah, it’s all ages, but Jeff Parker makes me laugh out loud every time I read a comic that he’s written. It’s good clean fun, folks and it’s great to read stories where you don’t have to worry about who’s a damn skrull.

 

Okay, back to Windsor-Smith and Storm. If you were to check out Comic Book Resources X-Books Message Boards, you would eventually come across a long running joke among its members about Storm being a tranny (or a man). It isn’t too much of a stretch to tie the origins of that the joke to Windsor-Smith’s portrayal of Storm. His Storm looks rugged. She looks ready for a scrap. Combine that with her Claremont “I can do anything” attitude and her punk rock leather attire and the infamous mohawk, you have a rather startling change from the John Byrne uber-babe look that she is most known for. I mean, Windsor-Smith does draw Ororo in her Dave Cockrum designed outfit as part of a flashback in Lifedeath, but it doesn’t really gel. His superhero costumes lose some sizzle in translation. It helps that Storm’s punk rock outfit is club wear. Also, his drawing of the mohawk is paper thin, like a fin on a fish. Later, Art Adams would fluff it out like a Spartan helmet, but first we had to learn to live with Storm being mostly bald for a while. It’s not my favorite rendition of the mohawk, but I think it works perfectly with how stark and moody Windsor-Smith drew Storm. It’s like he understood that even though she lost her powers, Ororo was still a force of nature.
Here’s Barry Windsor-Smith’s Storm in a great dynamic pose. You can almost feel the winds blowing around you thanks to the diagonal lines contrasting the cloud curves. Go read Lifedeath now.