Saturday, October 15, 2011

X-Men: Curse of the Mutants - Mutants vs Vampires (comics)

Writers: Chuck Kim, Simon Spurrier, Chris Claremont and many more
Artists: Chris Bachalo, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Tim Green and many more
Collects: X-Men: Curse of the Mutants - Storm and Gambit, X-Men: Curse of the Mutants - Smoke and Blood, X-Men: Curse of the Mutants - Blade, X-Men vs. Vampires #1-2 and Uncanny X-Men #159

So, when they relaunched the X-Men book, they decided to treat it as an event of sorts, I guess you could say. They released a few different tie-ins alongside the story arc, which isn't something you see that often for your typical six issue arc. The only other arc to do that I can think of off the top of my head is Batman RIP, which rippled into some other ongoings (though I don't recall any tie-in one shots).

Thankfully the tie-ins were kept to a tidy number, enough to fill a trade paperback, so here it is.

X-Men: Curse of the Mutants - Storm & Gambit | Look, I make no bones about it. I'm a mark for Gambit. He's always been one of my favorite mutants. So a team up with Storm, another great character in the X fold? Yeah, I'll take some of that.

This one shot is probably the most directly tied to the main arc, as it showed the mission undertaken by the two heroes to recover Draculas body, which the X-Men kind of need, from an island of vampires. The reasons as to why these two were chosen are a bit flimsy - it's supposedly because they're both current or former thieves, but there's little real thieving involved and more fighting - but it's held together a bit more by the fact that the two have long been good friends and worked together in the past. Either way, it seldom matters, because what we get is a fun little done in one aside to the main story.

Chuck Kim writes a pretty damn good Gambit and Storm, that's for sure. Gambit works nicely as a foil and it's refreshing to see him do something other than worry about Rogue. He has a few nice moments in the course of the comic, plus what was probably the full out best page in the issue. Storm recieves the emotional arc, which ties nicely into her past characterization and makes some of her fears apparent. As far as I know, Chuck Kim only did editing work prior, but apparently he can script a good comic.

As for the art, it's typical Chris Bachalo. Which is to say that it's great, if you like his style. Bachalo typically takes some getting used to as far as his art goes, as it's cartoony and manga-esque at times. But it feels like there's an energy there and he can put together a nice page. I used to be put off somewhat by his work, but by this point I really like his work. Before long I may even love it.

If there's a negative point here, it's small but significant. There are a couple of pages in this comic where it feels like the inker fell asleep at the wheel. They look unfinished. More unfortunate, one of the pages that seems either uninked or poorly inked - it's way too rough and scratchy, which makes it jarring compared to the rest of the issue - is Gambits best moment in the entire issue. Proof that when one cog in the art screws up, it can bring a whole page down.

X-Men: Curse of the Mutants - Blood and Smoke | More X Club goodness by Simon Spurrier. The X Club seems to have it's detractors in some paces - mainly CBR - but screw them. I like these one shot X Club spotlights. Which makes the fact that an X Club mini by the same writer is on it's way good news for me.

This is another aside to the main storyline, but it's much more tangential. The X Club has some of the other victims of the main arcs opening scene to work on and they're trying to cure vampirism, or whatever hypnotic spell the people are under, if nothing else. They also have a big, nasty vampire locked up. This is not a good plan, as he escapes and Doctor Nemesis seals the lab off until the problem is dealt with.

Like with the Second Coming one shot, Doctor Nemesis has been the highlight for me. His particular breed of smug snark is pretty damn funny and it lends some levity to the generally morbid proceedings. I like all three members of the X Club in general, which to me is a testament to Simon Spurriers writing. After all, Matt Fraction did next to nothing with the team in the stories I've read of his run, so it had to come down to him to pull this off.

If there's a downside, it's the fact that the X Club unfortunately finds themselves unable to come up with a solution again. Which is not necessarily their fault. They can't solve the vampire problem in their one shot offshoot; the resolution has to happen in the main arc. So they're doomed not to succeed right from the start. Hopefully they get the chance to solve a problem in their own miniseries, instead of being hogtied by their accompanying event.

The art is perfectly suited to this manner of story. This is a primarily "dark" story, dealing with vampires that are perfectly okay with chomping down on a dude or three, not to mention dark in the sense that most of the comic is set in a dimly lit lab that loses power halfway through the issue. Gabriel Hernandez Walta uses a unique style that I assume is painted and it definitely managed to pull off a dark, grimy feel.

Good work all around; once again the X Club are a high point in a tie-in collection.

X-Men: Curse of the Mutants - Blade | Poor Blade. He's had three highly successful movies and is thus probably much better exposed to the general public than about eighty percent of Marvels stock of characters. Despite that, Marvel almost never does anything with him anymore; he hasn't had an ongoing or a miniseries in four or five years now and he very rarely appears even in a guest capacity. He's seen more outside of comics - in video games, for example - than he is in comics nowadays.

Lucky for him, then, that the X-Men are fighting vampires. Which is kind of his thing. Hence, his own one-shot. Savor it Blade; you're probably not going to get another for several more years, knowing Marvel.

This particular one shot, written by Duane Swierczynski, is more or less a prequel to the main event that is the Curse of the Mutants arc proper. The slayers - who hunt vampires for a living, of course - are being hunted down and killed one by one. Obviously this is a problem, so Blade rounds up the survivors and tries setting a trap. As you can probably guess, it goes horribly wrong, since otherwise there wouldn't have been any vamps left to bother the mutants.

It's okay, as far as the writing goes. The issue is mostly there to show how Blade got from point A to point B for the main arc. Still, it's not boring and I didn't lose interest. So that's a plus. Still, it left me desiring a proper Blade adventure by a good creative team, which I'm not likely to get. Blade seems to be one of those characters Marvels okay with letting go into obscurity for lengths of time.

The arts serviceable. I wouldn't say it's particularly great, but it's not bad either. Just not really noteworthy. One thing I noticed is that Blade seems to have a different hairdo these days; he looks a lot less like Wesley Snipes, which frankly was a good look for the character. But it's not a big deal. I think I saw a look like this in live action, so I assume the two-short-mohawks look was from that TV pilot that fizzled out a while back.

X-Men vs Vampires #1-2 | These issues are another one of those anthology deals the X line usually craps out whenever there's been a big status quo shift. Only this time, I guess they decided to do it for the vampires arc. Bad idea.

See, every short story included in this two issue anthology is basically an X man fighting a vampire. Then staking them or killing them some other way. That's it. Sure, a couple are fun - Gambits, where he related taking down a bunch of female vampires to relationships, is particularly great, as is the creative team for Blood and Smoke showing a vampire whale - but there's nothing else to most of them. None are offensively bad, just plain jane.

These anthologies seem to work better when they're stuck to the status quo changes that allow for a variety of shorts, so hopefully that will be where they stay; this just didn't work as well as the one shots did, which is a shame but probably unavoidable.

Uncanny X-Men #159 | This really doesn't have much of anything to do with the plot of Curse of the Mutants. Its only tie is the fact that it's where Dracula and Storm met for the first time. I assume it's here partly to pad the volume out a bit, which I don't really understand. As it is, the volume had a decent enough length and I simply do not understand why the Death of Dracula one shot - which had events that led to the attack on mutants - was left out in favor of this.

Just an odd, odd choice all around and I have to wag my finger at Marvel over leaving out Death of Dracula.

Still, it's an issue of the legendary Chris Claremont run of the X-Men - which is, of course, the run almost everything you ever see of the X-Men outside of comics is based on - so there's that. It's a bit of a dated read - Claremont always was heavy on the exposition - but it still holds up well as an entertaining story despite that. I just don't know why the hell it's here.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

This one managed to be a step above some other tie-in collections I've read. The two issue anthology was a bust, but two great one shots, a fairly decent one shot and an issue from the Claremont era outweigh it handily. If the anthology hadn't been so cookie cutter - and had Death of Dracula been included - this may have had a higher rating, as a fair amount of the contents are fun, enjoyable reading.

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