But then again, the title of this feature is carefully chosen – that question mark serves a vital purpose. The hint of uncertainty it introduces is vitally important, because it confirms what anyone who’s ever thought about their favourite bit of cover art will tell you; usually there’s at least 5 or 6 that come to mind immediately, all depending on who you are and what your comic reading history is. Hell, I thought of another 5 just whilst thinking about this one!
So yes, it’s me again, but I hope you don’t mind too much, as it’s a Paul Smith 80s classic this time round, and a reminder of childhood more vivid than any number of bad photographs of family holidays.
The Uncanny X-Men issue 173, Marvel Comics, September 1983
Cover art by Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek
Oh, so striking, so vivid in my mind. In truth the actual comic I had soon looked incredibly dog-eared, those staple edges eventually growing their own wonderful crows-feet, creases, tears, the works. Not because I didn’t care, simply because I loved it so much, and read it again and again and again and again. Reading until virtual destruction indeed. At this point 12 year old me had just discovered Nostalgia & Comics Birmingham and was beginning to realise that I didn’t need to get my comics via the irregular and very hit and miss newsagents of Dudley, but every month I’d still be found up town grabbing every Marvel comic I could afford.
You do have to remember the wonderful soap opera that was the X-Men at the time, with Chris Claremont completely in control of the mutant bit of Marvel. Of course, seeing as there were just two regular titles a month and maybe a couple of limited series a year from the mutant bit of Marvel (and that second title The New Mutants, had only started earlier that year). The mystique and a certain amount of mystery was still there, the storylines were controlled and concise, and there as a feeling of supreme superhero soap opera with a careful and considered guiding hand.
I’m not trying to come across as one of those ‘things were so much better in my day’ sorts, but honestly, in this small part of comics, it honestly was. I suppose it did help that I was just 12 at the time.
And to little 12-year old me that cover, featuring my favourite X-Men character and beautifully composed by Smith and Wiacek, was simply incredible.
Anyway, here we were, with Wolverine still a fanboy’s dream; a mystery man, brooding, mean. And now, in the just finished 4-issue Claremont & Miller limited series, the feral wild beast superhero was about to get married in Japan. Frankly, to little 12-year old me, it was bizarre.
And whilst Wolverine had been away in Japan, Rogue was accepted into the X-Men, despite crippling Carol Danvers (Ms Marvel) by stealing her powers and memories away, and since Danvers and Wolverine were very close friends, this was always going to be a troublesome meeting, especially at the wedding, especially when a poison attack on the team left just Wolverine and Rogue standing….
All this led to a great issue, focusing of Rogue and Wolverine, and redemption through battle. And all of it documented quite beautifully by Paul Smith….
But nothing inside, no matter how good it was, could match the visual punch of a crouching, charging Wolverine, ready for battle, Rogue in tow, not to be trusted, yet finding redemption by issues end.
So beautiful, so stunning, the stark lack of background merely emphasising the threat and menace of the figures. Thing is, I look at it now, I mean really look at it, and blow me, it’s a little ropey anatomically, certainly nowhere near Smith’s best work. But that’s not the point really, not of this sort of thing. This is all about that visceral moment where memory kicks in and transports me back once more to my childhood. Wonderful.