I recall finding Uncanny X-Men Annual #11 at a book trader (when it was new on the stands) and jumping up in glee at the image. Alan Davis was already a favorite illustrator of mine and seeing Wolverine, Storm and Psylocke featured so prominently made me squeal. I had a similar reaction a week ago when I discovered that the art for this Annual actually had separate pieces! So cool to find this out years later. Above, we witness our heroes fighting Horde, an alien warlord who made the X-Men travel to the Citadel of Light and Shadow where they had to fight against their hearts’ desires. However, this is not the complete cover. The background artwork was drawn separately and is featured below.
Today we continue our exploration of the X-Men artwork of legendary artist Paul Smith! This post contains 15 scans of original covers and interior pages ranging from Uncanny X-Men #166 (above) to #175. Smith’s X-Men run started on #165 and lasted until #175 (except for #171). These issues are collected in Essential X-Men, Volume 4. I highly recommend Smith’s X-Men/Alpha Flight mini-series (written by Chris Claremont) and the Kitty Pryde: Shadow and Flame limited series (written by Akira Yoshida). Also consider checking out The Golden Age and Leave It to Chance (both written by James Robinson).
Colossus is the main focus in the dynamic composition above as the X-Men (with Shi’ar Empress Lilandra Neramani) battle the Brood on their homeworld. In the upper left corner, the X-Men come crashing out of the character box and onto the title. I miss those little touches on comics these days.
This cover of Uncanny X-Men #169 is missing the title overlay, and one can see the brush strokes of the black areas. A wonderfully dramatic image, full of pathos. Maybe I say that in part because Angel is my second favorite X-Men member. Still, this is a great composition with a sense of immediate danger. Are the X-Men too late to save Angel?
In the same issue, on page 7, the X-Men attempt to stop Callisto (leader of an underground group of mutants known as the Morlocks) from making Angel into her boy toy. The bottom panel is especially awesome as Nightcrawler frees Colossus to do what he does best–turn to organic steel and smash stuff!
The X-Men return to the X-Mansion and attack the New Mutants on pages 2 and 3 of Uncanny X-Men #172. Everything has a concrete feel in this double page splash. From the soda pop can to the chunks of wall flying across the room, everything looks quite realistic. Smith grounds the fantastic strangeness of Nightcrawler teleporting within the mundane environment of the living room (even as it gets destroyed). Smith makes the X-Men’s costumes work while also depicting the regular clothes of the younger students. There is a strong sense of draftsmanship within the context of the surreal.
On page 24 of Uncanny X-Men #172, the effect of Storm’s increasingly uncontrollable powers come to a head as she absorbs lightning bolts back into herself, creating a kind of disastrous short circuit. Luckily, she is with the thief Yukio who saves her from drowning.
Page 26 of Uncanny X-Men #172 has Storm explaining how she is out of harmony with the world and therefore with her powers. She tells Yukio, “I envy your madness. It is a luxury denied me ever since my powers first appeared.” She has been losing her inner peace within. To make matters more complicated, the fiery bird effect confuses Storm and makes her wonder if the Phoenix has returned.
Page 5 of Uncanny X-Men #173 sees Yukio and Storm having to fight street thugs. Storm starts to throw caution to the wind and embrace her new wilder side thanks to Yukio’s influence. The effects of these moments would have long lasting repercussions for Storm’s character.
Page 22 of Uncanny X-Men #174 speaks for itself. But has the Pheonix truly returned or is something more sinister at work? I’m not going to spoil the storyline, but I will comment on how I love the way Phoenix’s curly hair mirrors the wispy spirals of the energy she wields. All of those bright action lines surrounding her bring to mind the light around a saint on a votive candle. She is maleficent but also divine ( Check out the cute Lockheed drawing at the bottom next to Paul Smith’s signature).
Everyone is battling Phoenix on this cover to Uncanny X-Men #175, but no one is making any difference in the final outcome. This cover is one of my favorites of Smith’s run because it is so full of elemental destruction. The ground is erupting, the skies are on fire and the X-Men are forced to run around pell-mell, trying to win a struggle in which they are simply outclassed.
The whole team is accounted for on page 5 of Uncanny X-Men #175 as Professor X attempts to locate the Phoenix via Cerebro, his mutant detecting computer. What happens next is not beneficent for the good Professor.
The X-Men fight Phoenix but fall quickly to her might on page 9 of Uncanny X-Men #175. This page sees Phoenix reflecting Storm’s powers back upon her and then she telekinetically crumples Colossus into a ball. Love the look on her face in panel four.
Cyclops (who appears to the X-Men as Phoenix) fights for his life against his team on page 21 of Uncanny X-Men #175. Storm takes the apparent threat seriously and Nightcrawler takes a chance using the Danger Room’s holographic systems.
On the next page (22), Cyclops systematically takes out Kitty and Kurt as he fights for his life against his teammates. Gaining control of the Danger Room shifts the odds in his favor. Once again, Wolverine and Colossus find themselves falling from the sky.
The following page (23) ends with Cyclops still trying to find a way to dispel the illusion his teammates are under. I love these two top panels with Rogue and Storm carrying Colossus and Wolverine. They show the women using their powers with such grace and power. Also, the men look solid and imposing even when being whisked aloft. Paul Smith’s storytelling is so successful to me because his art always has a sense of place, his characterization is consistent and his panels show great design sense. His linework is strong and uncluttered and he excels in depicting the mundane and the magical, creating a unique synergy of the two. His X-Men run will always remain a source of inspiration to artists across space and time.
Happy Ostara, peeps! In honor of this day of blood sacrifice (Nothing like killing your own son to impress your Godhead), I thought we’d take a look at the time when Storm decided that she would relax her vow of not taking another person’s life! Not her most glamorous time, certainly, but her toughest, as here we see that all that time training with Wolverine has paid off! What’s that, Callisto? You wanna kidnap boytoy Angel ’cause he’s pretty and all you Morlock folk are notsomuch? You wanna marry him? Really? Ooohkay. Er, I mean, no thank you. We like Angel up above ground where he can fly around and loan us money and hit on Jean Grey.
Oh, and Callisto? Joan Jett and Nick Fury called and they want their stuff back.
And there we go. Nobody thought Storm had it in her to stab the old girl in the heart. But she did. And she got Angel back and got her team safely home. She also earned the leadership of the Morlocks which is more of a punishment than a blessing, ’cause nothing good ever came of that (except the fierce vest she wore). See ya Cal. Never liked ya anyway.